Scenic Road Trips with Unforgettable Stops along the Way

Road trip! Arguably the two sweetest words in the English language, right?

If the United States is good at one thing when it comes to infrastructure planning, it’s probably the highway system. Originally founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, the U.S. Highway system is the backbone for domestic trade and travel and has almost become a cultural phenomenon for the country.

Van life, car culture, and road trips aren’t uniquely American but they are easily folded into the highway-centric lifestyle of most Americans. In fact, taking road trips isn’t even for the destination; it’s for the travel itself!

Today, we are all about celebrating the journey over the destination and a road trip is the epitome of that. Let’s take a look at some of the most scenic road trips in the U.S. plus some of the best stops along the way.

There are a ton of roads and scenic highways in the U.S. and it isn’t possible to include them on every list. Here’s my take on some of the most notable (in no special order), doing my best to spread them across the country in a way that includes the major regions. Let’s get started!

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most famous drives in all of the United States, potentially the world. In fact, it’s more than just a road; it’s a journey through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina and is absolutely gorgeous. From north to south, it’s America’s longest linear park and one of the most popular destinations for campers, hikers, and day trippers.

Tip: Take the trip during peak season in the fall for some of the best views of your life.

The Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It is at a high elevation most of the way and passes along rocky ridges, stunning valleys, and through some of the best forest land and farms along the east coast.

On top of the scenery, it’s a fantastic way to learn about the culture of Appalachia since there are countless towns, parks, museums, and attractions it takes you through or near on the journey. The Parkway spans 469 miles and can be driven in about 12 hours, but you’ll want to take your time and explore some of the best stops along the way.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable stops along the way include:

  • Natural Bridge (Milepost 61.6)
  • Peaks Of Otter (Milepost 86)
  • Mabry Mill (the most photographed site on the parkway) (Milepost 176.1)
  • Blue Ridge Music Center (Milepost 213)
  • Linville Falls (Milepost 316.4)
  • Little Switzerland (Milepost 334)
  • Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast (Milepost 355.4)

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Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Route 66

Route 66 is pretty much THE symbol of America’s spirit of adventure and freedom. It was one of the first national highways for motor vehicles in the United States, established in 1926, and it ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California covering a total of 2,448 miles.

It crossed eight states and three time zones, all the while passing through some of the most diverse landscapes in the country. It also connected some smaller towns and rural communities that otherwise would have been isolated from the rest of the nation.

Route 66 became an icon in American popular culture. It had nicknames like the Mother Road and the Main Street of America. Many people drove along Route 66 during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II when a huge country-wide migration to the west began. Later, it became a popular destination for tourists, bikers, and road trippers who wanted to experience authentic Americana along the way.

Route 66 was gradually replaced by the Interstate Highway System, however, and the last section of Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985. That being said, many parts of the original route still exist and are preserved as historic landmarks or designated as scenic byways. While the stops along the highway are mostly icons now, the drive itself is incredible unique and showcases tons of landscapes only found in those portions of America.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable stops along Route 66 are:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago (Illinois), the starting point of Route 66 where you can see a sign that says Begin Historic Route 66
  • Chain of Rocks Bridge (Missouri)
  • Cadillac Ranch (Texas)
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
  • Wigwam Motel (Arizona)
  • Santa Monica Pier (California): The end point of Route 66 where you can see a sign that says End of the Trail

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Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Route 12 Utah

Route 12 in Utah is a 124-mile highway that runs from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park passing through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area along the way. Essentially, this trip is an outdoorsy person’s absolute paradise plus you get to drive on some incredibly scenic roads.

During the drive, you get incredible views of red rock formations, canyons, mountains, forests, deserts, and rivers. It takes about three hours to drive without stopping, but you’ll want to stop often. Many people even spend a week or two and take the time to hike and camp all around the parks nearby.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the must-see spots along Route 12 Utah are:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Garfield County)
  • Red Canyon (Garfield County)
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park (Kane County)
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Garfield / Kane Counties)
  • Calf Creek Falls (Garfield County)
  • Boulder Mountain (Wayne / Garfield Counties)
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Wayne County)

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Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.