From the coast to the desert, here are nine road trips that will have you road-tripping through America’s finest landscapes. Some are RV-friendly while others may require a smaller vehicle to navigate.
Catalina Highway – Arizona
The Santa Catalinas crowned by 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon rise in ragged ridges at the northern edge of Tucson. Explore this rugged world with a scenic drive up the Catalina Highway also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway.
The 30-mile paved road winds up through dry desert terrain, past rocky outcroppings, pull-outs offering stunning vistas, and mid-level forests teaming with leafy oak trees. Don’t forget your jacket as temperatures can drop as much as 30-degrees from the bottom to the top of the road.
Trail of the Ancients – Utah, Colorado, and Arizona
Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.
The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument.
You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods. Cross the San Juan River in the tiny one-horse town of Mexican Hat, gaze in wonder at the postcard-ready views of the Monument Valley, and finally end up at the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Northern Arizona.
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Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway – Louisiana
This Louisiana byway reaches through three of the state’s southern parishes—St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary—as it winds through Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin from Morgan City to Arnaudville. Travelers can make stops along the byways 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food.
Skyline Drive – Virginia
Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails. Warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.
If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.
Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.
Scenic Byway 24 – Utah
Starting near the City of Green River, Utah Route 24 creates a grand loop through the south-central slickrock desert and ends up back on I-70 to the west near Aurora. A section of this meandering drive between Loa and Hanksville turns the spotlight on Capitol Reef National Park. Here the scenic drive follows the Fremont River, an oasis in a parched environment.
The 378 square mile Capitol Reef Park can be viewed as a northern extension of the huge Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, covering an additional 1.7 million acres. Capitol Reef is a sightseers and hikers’ paradise with deep red monoliths, sculpted spires, graceful arches, mesmerizing canyon mazes, and the imposing Waterpocket Fold.
Various side roads and unimproved roads have the tendency to turn this scenic drive into a weeklong adventure. With historic structures and plenty of grand views, this route earns plenty of raves from those who have gone before. Miles from any large city, this is a true off-the-beaten-path experience.
Texas Hill Country – Texas
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Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson who led a campaign to beautify American cities, vast swaths of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country and now their bright blue blooms signify the advent of the spring season.
While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet which is widely known as the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.
Newfound Gap Road – Tennessee and North Carolina
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is split in two by a single major two-lane roadway that crosses through the heart of the park and over its highest mountain gap.
This scenic drive is known as the Newfound Gap Road or US Highway 441. The roadway follows rivers, climbs steep slopes, and offers incredible views.
In the spring months, this route is awash with color as the wildflowers come alive and the trees begin to sport their bright green new leaves. A must-see are the rare Purple Catawba rhododendrons found only at high elevations that reach their peak of bloom along this well-known drive by early June.
I’ve put together my favorite itineraries to make it easy for you to explore your own backyard—wherever your backyard may be.
Mingus Mountain Scenic Road – Arizona
Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start a mile high, finish a mile high, and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon, the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls.
Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.
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Indian Creek Scenic Drive – Utah
Amidst the red rock of the Moab area, the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic byway leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Traversing across high sage plains, the route eventually leads to Indian Creek and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site.
This Utah Scenic Byway traverses a high altitude (6,000 feet) sage plain before plunging into Indian Creek Canyon on its way to Canyonlands National Park. Along the way it passes the Dugout Ranch, one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in southeast Utah. The byway accesses Newspaper Rock BLM Recreation Site and cuts through the Canyon Rims BLM Recreation Area, a vast landscape of desert and low elevation mountain terrain with hiking and four wheeling opportunities.
Beginning at the junction of US Highway 191, 14 miles north of Monticello, the paved Byway travels west across the sage plain and descends the switchbacks into Indian Creek Canyon. It follows the canyon until the landscape opens out into a broad valley at which point the Byway accesses a county road which leads to the Abajo Mountains and Beef Basin within the larger Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The byway terminates at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.
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Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.