The United States offers an abundance of breathtaking scenic drives, each with its own unique beauty. Take, for instance, the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, a winding route that takes you past limestone caverns, crystal-clear mountain springs, and the majestic Appalachian scenery. The landscape transforms with each season, providing ever-changing panoramic vistas.
These drives aren’t just about natural beauty; they often showcase remarkable human-made landmarks. When cruising along Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, your westward view includes iconic feats of American architecture, such as the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, once the world’s tallest building. Traveling along U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West, you’ll journey over coral reefs on the Seven-Mile Bridge, arriving at marinas where you can hand-feed tarpon and enjoy margaritas at beach bars playing Jimmy Buffet hits.
These road trips and more await you across the United States.
Breathtaking Scenic Roads in the USA
In this guide, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of the 16 most scenic roads in America, showcasing the stunning landscapes, cultural richness, and historic significance that each route has to offer. Whether you’re a nature lover, a history buff, or simply seeking the thrill of the open road, these iconic drives have something for everyone.
01. Blue Ridge Parkway, the Carolinas and Virginia
Spanning nearly 469 miles, the winding ribbon of asphalt that meanders through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks was purpose-built for explorers seeking the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a picturesque journey that enchants in every season, whether it’s the vibrant autumnal palette that graces its slopes, the lush forest canopy of summer, or the snowy wonderland of winter, which also caters to skiing enthusiasts.
In the heart of the mineral-rich Appalachian Mountains, visitors can even try their hand at gem and mineral mining, with emeralds, amethyst, rubies, topaz, and gold waiting to be discovered. For nature enthusiasts, the parkway is a haven, home to hundreds of bird species and a more extensive variety of trees than the entire continent of Europe.
02. U.S. 1, Florida Keys
Leaving the mainland behind and venturing into the tropical paradise of Florida’s Keys, travelers step into a world of beachside bars, aquatic adventures, and devoted Parrotheads (ardent Jimmy Buffett fans). Stretching from Key Largo to Key West, the Overseas Highway connects the islands like a string of pearls, offering glimpses of picturesque lighthouses, vibrant underwater coral reef parks, and the iconic Seven-Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world.
Along the docks at Islamorada, visitors can experience the thrill of hand-feeding bait fish to tarpon, some of which can reach over six feet in length. Moving farther south to Big Pine Key, you’ll have the chance to encounter the famous inhabitants of the National Key Deer Refuge, the diminutive and beloved Key Deer.
03. Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
Bluebonnets are iconic spiky blue wildflowers that paint the U.S. Southwest with vibrant hues. In the Lone Star State of Texas, where they proudly hold the title of the official state flower, these blossoms grace the landscape from March to May. To embark on this floral road trip, commence your journey in Austin, the city that hosts the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, a tribute to the first lady who championed national beautification efforts. Pay a visit to appreciate these native blooms, then set out on an eastward expedition via U.S. Route 290.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to sightings of bluebonnets gracing the roadside. As you venture towards Houston, make a stop in Brenham, the midpoint of your journey, and explore the official tourism website for the latest information on the best bluebonnet patches. In Houston, revel in the sight of these magnificent flowers flourishing in Buffalo Bayou and Hermann parks.
04. Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
Welcome to the highest continuously paved road in the United States, Trail Ridge Road. This remarkable journey commences at the Beaver Meadows Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park and ascends to an impressive altitude of 12,183 feet. As you traverse over the Continental Divide, tracing a path once traveled by Native Americans, be prepared to encounter elk, deer, and bighorn sheep in the awe-inspiring tundra above the tree line. After approximately two to three hours of scenic driving, you’ll arrive at Grand Lake, which boasts the title of Colorado’s largest natural body of water.
Here, you’ll find a historic town and a wealth of year-round aquatic activities. It’s important to note that Trail Ridge Road is not accessible year-round; it’s typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day and subject to favorable driving conditions.
05. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
One of the most awe-inspiring public works projects in the United States traverses the spine of the Rocky Mountains, offering breathtaking views of Glacier National Park’s snow-clad peaks, sub-alpine meadows, and pristine lakes as it crosses the Continental Divide. This remarkable 50-mile route usually takes around two hours to drive. However, in the winter, snowdrifts can reach towering heights of nearly 100 feet, rendering Going-to-the-Sun Road accessible only during the summer months when conditions permit safe travel. To deepen your understanding of the region’s glacier geology, indigenous Native American traditions, or the park’s intricate ecosystem, consider enhancing your road trip with an educational class at the Glacier Institute.
06. Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
Highway 101, serving both as a scenic route and the primary road on the peninsula, forms a circular path around one of the largest wilderness areas in the contiguous United States. Starting from the peninsula’s base, follow the counterclockwise route, which takes you into the enchanting Hoh Rain Forest, where ancient Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees dominate the landscape. From the top of Hurricane Ridge, located 18 miles off the loop from Port Angeles, you can enjoy panoramic views of the San Juan Islands.
During low tide, the pools along Olympic beaches teem with starfish, sand dollars, and crabs. While you can take a break in the mysterious logging town of Forks, a must-visit for Twilight enthusiasts, continue your journey to Lake Quinault Lodge if you’re seeking accommodation. The entire loop typically takes about six hours to complete without making stops.
07. Hana Highway, Maui
The T-shirts they sell proudly proclaim: “I conquered the Hana Highway.” This remarkable journey can take over two and a half hours to cover the 52 miles from Kahului to Hana. Along the way, you’ll wind past steep coastal cliffs adorned with lush mango trees, offering opportunities to indulge in banana bread from roadside stands and relish the breathtaking Jurassic landscapes at every twist and turn. In the quaint town of Hana on the eastern side of Maui, a cinder cone shields a red-sand beach where sunbathers, both nudists and endangered monk seals, lazily soak up the sun.
Just a short 30-minute drive past the end of the Road to Hana, you’ll discover the renowned Pools of Oheo, a series of seven gently cascading pools in Haleakala National Park, truly worth a visit.
08. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
The architectural icons of American design stand proudly like sentinels facing Lake Michigan along this urban route. Chicago’s skyline boasts truly mesmerizing buildings, from the imposing structure of the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower, once the world’s tallest), to the Belle Époque charm of Burnham and Root’s Rookery, and the sleek post-Bauhaus designs by Mies van der Rohe. It’s safe to say that this could easily be considered one of the finest routes for admiring architectural marvels worldwide.
While Lake Shore Drive may only stretch for a mere 15 miles, you’ll find yourself compelled to punctuate your brief journey with a visit to Millennium Park, where you can marvel at the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture, affectionately known as “The Bean.”
09. Route 12, Utah
The breathtaking beauty of Utah’s red rock landscape takes center stage on State Route 12, which gracefully winds its way between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. This 124-mile stretch is adorned with charming small towns and offers limited entry and exit points, making it a journey that demands a commitment to witness the dramatic sandstone canyons, vistas of purple sage, and the thrilling traverse along the narrow, cliff-hugging ridgeline road known as The Hogback, situated around the halfway mark. For a delightful caffeine infusion paired with an awe-inspiring view of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument, be sure to make a stop at Escalante’s artistic Kiva Koffeehouse, which is open from Wednesdays to Sundays between April and October.
10. 17-Mile Drive, California
The renowned 17-Mile Drive forms a captivating loop around the picturesque Monterey Peninsula on California’s coast. This privately owned road, maintained by Pebble Beach, meanders from the charming towns of Pacific Grove to Carmel, hugging the rugged Pacific coastline and weaving through sections of the exclusive Del Monte Forest, home to a prestigious golf community. Along with dramatic, wave-swept cliffs, thriving harbor seal colonies, and numerous scenic viewpoints, the journey treats travelers to breathtaking sunset vistas, making the $11.25 entry fee well worth it. Not far from the 17-mile Drive, the Monterey Bay Aquarium awaits with its sunlit kelp-forest tanks, interactive petting pool, and a massive million-gallon tank featuring giant sharks and graceful sea turtles.
11. North Shore Drive, Minnesota
The pristine shoreline of Lake Superior in Minnesota is a testament to the region’s glacial beauty. Duluth, a charming city along the lake, offers a picturesque walking path that showcases the city’s highlights, including a vibrant rose garden and a striking aerial bridge. Close by, you can witness ocean tankers anchored in the final inland port of the St. Lawrence Seaway, patiently awaiting the loading of iron and grain from the heartland of America before embarking on journeys across the globe.
Setting out from Duluth, a drive towards Two Harbors, just a short 30-minute journey away, treats you to the glistening expanse of the lake on one side and the majestic birch and Northwood maples rising on the other. Upon reaching your destination, you’ll encounter the Split Rock Lighthouse, now transformed into a museum, perched atop the rugged coast of Lake Superior.
12. Route 6, Massachusetts
The easternmost stretch of Route 6, an extensive road that stretches all the way to Bishop, California, serves as the connecting thread for Cape Cod’s picturesque landscape of sand dunes, pristine beaches, tranquil marshes, tidal ponds, and charming fishing villages. This scenic route leads you to Provincetown, renowned for its vibrant music festivals and art galleries. You can also explore the bay side, offering family-friendly beaches, or venture to the oceanside for breathtaking views of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Our top recommendation? Reserve a spot on a whale-watching boat tour, available from May to October, and witness the majestic humpback whales, the giant-winged New Englanders, as they grace the waters.
13. Olympic Peninsula Loop, Washington
Highway 101, both a scenic route and the primary road on the peninsula, encircles one of the largest wilderness areas in the continental United States. Starting from the peninsula’s base, follow a counterclockwise route to venture into the Hoh Rain Forest, a realm ruled by ancient Sitka spruce and western hemlock. As you ascend, enjoy captivating views of the San Juan Islands from the summit of Hurricane Ridge, situated 18 miles from Port Angeles.
During low tide, the pools along Olympic beaches teem with starfish, sand dollars, and lively crabs. Should you desire a pause in your journey, explore the enigmatic logging town of Forks, a must-visit for Twilight fans. Continue your voyage towards Lake Quinault Lodge if you seek a place to rest. The entire loop typically takes around six hours to complete, excluding any stops along the way.
14. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
The White Mountains offer year-round delights for outdoor enthusiasts, but the most breathtaking display occurs during the autumn months along New Hampshire’s 34.5-mile Kancamagus Highway. In October, dedicated leaf-peepers flock to witness the spectacular transformation of maples, alder, and birch trees, setting the landscape ablaze in vivid hues. Come spring, the route is adorned with yellow violets and wood anemones.
This scenic journey begins in Lincoln and concludes in Conway, or you can travel in the opposite direction, and typically takes two to three hours to drive. However, it’s essential to allocate extra time for frequent stops to explore the enchanting White Mountains on foot. One standout attraction is the half-mile hike to Sabbaday Falls, a three-tiered waterfall conveniently accessible from the road.
15. Anchorage to Valdez, Alaska
The journey from Anchorage to Valdez, a route that links Glenn and Richardson highways, leads travelers through ancient glaciers and into mountain ranges so abundant with peaks that many remain unnamed. Along the 300-mile stretch near Palmer, you can observe domesticated musk oxen, fascinating remnants of the Ice Age that are valued for their wool. As you continue, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline intermittently appears on the horizon. The final approach to Valdez is a dramatic one, involving a 30-mile descent from Thompson Pass, which sits at an elevation of 2,678 feet, down to sea level. This descent takes you through the captivating waterfalls of Keystone Canyon, ultimately opening up to the breathtaking expanse of Prince William Sound.
16. Silverado Trail, California
Embark on a road trip where the culinary delights rival the stunning scenery. The Silverado Trail, situated on the eastern fringe of Napa Valley and surrounded by numerous vineyards and wineries, offers California travelers an abundance of wine options and the chance to savor some of the most delectable dishes in the American culinary scene. For those not behind the wheel, a must-try experience is the Estate Collection tasting flight at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, renowned for its 1973 cabernet that made history by outshining French wines in a blind taste test. Meanwhile, food enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to dine at the three-Michelin-star French Laundry restaurant in Yountville.
Final Thoughts (Scenic Roads in America)
The scenic roads of America are more than just transportation routes; they are gateways to some of the most breathtaking sights in the world. From the rugged coastlines of California’s Pacific Coast Highway to the serene beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway, each road tells a story of America’s diverse landscapes and rich history. Whether you’re chasing fall foliage, exploring coastal cliffs, or gazing at towering peaks, these roads are your ticket to unforgettable journeys and timeless memories.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains offers a spectacular display of fall colors, making it a top choice for leaf-peeping enthusiasts.
Yes, the Pacific Coast Highway in California and the Overseas Highway in Florida are great options for RV travelers, offering scenic views and RV-friendly facilities.
Many of these roads have campgrounds nearby, such as those along the Alaska Highway. Be sure to check the availability and regulations for camping in each area.
Absolutely! The Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, for example, is known for its charming historic bridges and waterfalls, offering a glimpse into the region’s past.