The Best Scenic Drives in the South (2024)

The South is full of natural beauty and road trips are one of the best ways to experience it. Any of these scenic drives will take you past stunning landscapes and breathtaking views. So, grab your road trip essentials, fill up with fuel, and hit the road!

The South’s best scenic drives invite travelers to experience the landscape up close as they wind through small cities and tiny towns, beaches and mountains, rolling countryside, and deep forests.

Some of these drives are short, others are much longer, but no matter the length of your getaway, don’t forget to allow some time for side trips. Small towns, state parks, hiking trails, and historic markers await travelers willing to make a stop and set out on a rambling route to somewhere new.

Keep the camera handy because panoramic vistas, fields of wildflowers, and sandy beach scenes are just some of the sights to look for and marvel at as you navigate these scenic drives across the South. Once you’ve begun the drive, you’ll know that on these memorable Southern routes, the journey truly is the destination.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, Virginia

It’s no surprise that the Blue Ridge Parkway topped this year’s list of the South’s best scenic drives. A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

If you need ideas, check out:

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road, North Carolina and Tennessee

When you get to Newfound Gap, you won’t believe the wealth of overlooks, picnic areas, and trails to explore. Take this spectacular road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to experience the pristine wilderness that drives millions of Americans to this wildly popular park year after year. The views get increasingly breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple of gallons of driving.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 byway’s 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food in the destinations along the route.

Here is an article to help:  ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

For a dreamy drive, look no further than this Virginia road. Skyline Drive extends for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park following the crests of Blue Ridge peaks as it goes. That means vistas galore with views over the rolling Virginia landscape. It’s also a lovely place to watch the seasons change; visit in autumn to see the leaves turn.

That’s why I wrote Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive.

Lookout Mountain Parkway. Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee

Easily accessible from several states and a great day trip, the route along Lookout Mountain Parkway runs from Gadsden, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and passes through Georgia in the process. It’s 93 miles long and travelers are invited to stop for the nearby attractions—including waterfalls, canyons, and national parks—along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for scenic vistas as you make your way along the route.

Plan a day, plan a week. There is so much to see and do along the Lookout Mountain Parkway and you won’t want to miss a thing.

Come see…just for the fun of it!

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s last great wildernesses.

The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges (three national and one state): Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge. While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Here are some helpful resources:

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection, Alabama

This 130-mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Check this out to learn more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians.

From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Coast Scenic Byway, Mississippi

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36-mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway, South Carolina

This short 13-mile byway is a historic journey along the Ashley River. Plantations and expansive gardens dot the route along with significant Revolutionary and Civil War sites. This pastoral scenic drive makes an illuminating route to Charleston or a must-experience daytrip if you’re already there.

Step back in time and immerse yourself in history at Middleton Place Plantation. The National Historic Landmark preserves the stories of the Middleton family, the enslaved, and the freedmen. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was founded by the Drayton family in 1676 as a rice plantation. Built in 1738, Drayton Hall Plantation is a prime example of Palladian architecture and has never been restored.

Road trip planning

Road trips take a little planning. Here are a few tips that will help make your scenic road trip a success:

There is so much to see and do in the South

The South is home to many fascinating, attractive, and unusual destinations. Because the Southern states occupy a significant portion of the United States, anybody planning extensive travel in the country will inevitably find themselves in the region sometime. Once you arrive, you will be in for a real treat.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Plan the road trip of a lifetime with these spectacular journeys that highlight all the beauty America has to offer

Ready to hit the road? Whether you have a few days or more than a week, these unforgettable road trip routes are the ultimate way to satisfy a year of pent-up wanderlust (no passport required).

What’s a person to do after months of staying at home with only the option to fantasize about traveling and exploring new places? Easy question: Take an epic road trip.

This may well be the summer of the road trip as vaccines roll out and Americans begin planning vacations again. With that in mind, I dipped into my travel logs to come up with 15 of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. from Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 to Virginia’s Skyline Drive and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Alabama’s Coastal Connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Alabama’s Coastal Connection

This 130 mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail Loop

A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains northeast of Phoenix offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery.

Gold Rush Highway through Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams complement the stunning background of rolling hills.

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including GA-17/75, GA-180, and GA-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet.

Bayou Teche Byway at St. Martinville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

Golf Coast Scenic Byway at Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi: Gulf Coast Scenic Byway

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36 mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

This scenic 232-mile drive winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the best mountain views in the world. There’s so much to admire en route; as the Parkway approaches Asheville, it offers breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River and access to the area’s best hiking trails.

Covered Bridge Scenic Bway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Covered Bridge Scenic Byway

Covered bridges…Ohio once had more than any other state: over 2000 of them! You’ll come across four covered bridges on this route. This scenic byway travels across some of Ohio’s most beautiful countryside and many visitors choose to stop along its route to camp and savor the natural beauty of this area—and I suggest you do too!

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: The Newport Loop (Ocean Drive)

This famous drive loops around Newport’s rugged Atlantic Ocean coast passing by historic mansions built from 1865-1914. A highlight stopping point is Brenton Point State Park. Located at the south end of the island, Brenton Point faces out to Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ashley River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina: Ashley River Road

Part of Ashley River Historic District, this charming road is thought to be the oldest road in South Carolina still in use today. A moss-draped live oak tree canopy draped over the 11.5-mile stretch of the Ashley River Road preserves its historic character.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

It only takes about one hour to drive the loop of South Dakota Highway 240 between the towns of Cactus Flat and Wall without stopping but almost no one does that. This loop passes through the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires of Badlands National Park. Stop at any (or all!) of the 16 designated scenic overlooks for amazing photo opportunities.

Newfound Gap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap

At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is known as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains. The road passes through a variety of forest ecosystems ranging from cove hardwood, pine-oak, northern hardwood, and spruce-fir, similar to forests in New England and eastern Canada.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.

Edson Hill and West Hill Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Edson Hill and West Hill Loop

This scenic 10.5-mile drive loops around the Stowe’s village before traveling up Mountain Road—where you’ll have plenty of chances to stop, shop, or grab a snack on the way to Edson Hill. This drive will take you through farmland in the northwest corner of Stowe. Maple trees lining the road as you start up Edson hill and down West Hill are at their most beautiful in fall.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This scenic 105 mile byway travels through Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. It encompasses vibrant small cities, rural hamlets, mountains, rivers, national forests, and state parks as well as the national park.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius