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

Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana and you’ll find yourself transported back to a time when life was less hectic

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Conveniently located just off I-10 at Exit 109, three hours east of Houston and two hours west of New Orleans, Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks, and strolling the length of the strip can easily fill an afternoon.

The origins of this charming town date back to 1771 when Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux bought land in the present-day city of Breaux Bridge and in 1799 built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for family and neighbors. Area residents and visitors soon knew of the bridge and began calling it “Breaux’s bridge”, later adopted as the city’s name.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received its official founding in 1829 when Scholastique Picou Breaux drew up a plan called Plan de la Ville Du Pont des Breaux. The Catholic Church parish was created in 1847 and Breaux Bridge was officially incorporated in 1859. Back in 2009 Breaux Bridge celebrated its 150th birthday.

Breaux Bridge is the gateway to authentic Cajun culture in south Louisiana with traditional Cajun and funky Zydeco music, world-famous cuisine, and a rich history filled with interesting stories. Breaux Bridge is home of the world famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival every May, where thousands converge on the little city to pay homage to Louisiana’s famous crustacean.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is the town’s largest attraction. Taking place each year on the first weekend of May (April 30-May 2, in 2021, this down-home festival is an ode to the humble mudbug, one of the area’s major exports and a favorite for Cajun food lovers.

With three stages featuring the most popular Cajun and Zydeco musicians in the region, dozens of food vendors cooking crawfish (and other Cajun favorites) in every way you can imagine, a midway with rides and games, and more activities like crawfish races and crawfish eating contests, it’s a one-of-a-kind event that’s worth a trip.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smaller events take place in town several times a year. The Tour du Teche, a large paddling race that takes place over three days each October and stretches the entire length of the Bayou Teche, passes through town. The annual Breaux Bridge Cajun Christmas Parade takes place the first Sunday after Thanksgiving and rings in the Christmas season with a Louisiana flair.

Just outside of Breaux Bridge is the gorgeous Lake Martin, a wildlife-filled preserve and rookery that’s protected and administrated by the Nature Conservancy. You can drive or walk along the edge of the lake and see alligators, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, nutria, and many more critters of various sizes hiding among the bald cypress and water lilies. There are several tour operators offering boat tours: Champagne’s Swamp Tours dock right at the entrance to Rookery Road and offer an eco-friendly tour experience. You can also rent canoes and kayaks and take your own trip around the lake.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a bit further out of town, in the neighboring hamlet of Henderson, you’ll find access to one of the largest swamp ecosystems in the United States, the Atchafalaya Basin. McGee’s Landing Basin Swamp Tours take you into the basin for a look at some of the plant and wildlife that thrive in its murky waters, including the aforementioned gators and water birds. And it goes without saying, the fishing’s great here and in Lake Martin. They don’t call Louisiana the Sportsman’s Paradise for nothing.

Cafe des Amis, Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic byways through this part of the state offer visitors a unique experience of the Cajun and Creole lifestyle. They are selected for their recreational, scenic, historic, cultural, archeological, and natural resources. Your senses are inundated with sights, sounds, and tastes that could only come from south Louisiana. Breaux Bridge is part of Bayou Teche Scenic Byway which winds through south Louisiana’s lush swamps and moss-draped bayous.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge is a hotbed for Cajun and Zydeco music, and it’s easy to find in town. The famous Cafe des Amis (140 East Bridge Street) features Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning which pairs decadent brunch items with live zydeco music. You’ll also find live acoustic music here several nights a week.
Pont Breauz’s Cajun Restaurant (325 West Mills Avenue), formerly known as Mulate’s, is a legendary Cajun food and music venue that offers live traditional Cajun music every night of the week, alongside a tempting menu of classic Cajun and Creole dishes.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joie de Vivre Cafe (107 North Main Street) is a coffee shop and ad hoc community center that features Cajun music jam sessions on weekend mornings, as well as evening concerts, poetry and literature readings, and other cozy cultural events.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

What we admire—and secretly covet—is their love of good food combined with a zest for life that they proudly call joie de vivre.

—Linda Carman

History and Culture along Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Immerse yourself in Acadian culture

The Bayou Teche Scenic Byway received the prestigious designation of National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration on February 16, 2021.

Located along the Bayou Teche National Water and Paddle Trail in the heart of the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, the byway is home to an incredibly beautiful natural landscape and winds through four parishes—Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, and St. Mary.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To receive a national designation, a road must possess intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant. The road, the attractions, and the amenities along the route must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche Byway stretches down through South Louisiana like a snake that can’t make up its wind which way to coil. Native Chitimacha believed a giant snake carved out the waterway creating the zigzag path now popular with paddlers. Historian Harnett T. Kane once said the bayou is “past in Louisiana,” a witness to historic events and the varied people who called the Teche home: Creoles, Cajuns, Native Americans, and Africans, among others.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique natural beauty and history of Bayou Teche Byway is why a 125-mile route through three parishes—St. Mary, Iberia, and St. Martin—has been designated a Scenic Byway. Here you’ll find breathtaking scenic views of live oak trees draping moss over the placid waters and unique wildlife and migratory birds visiting through the Mississippi Flyway.

Evangeline Memorial along the Bayou Teche in St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bayou attracts thousands each year for its fall Tour du Teche annual race for canoes, kayaks, and pirogues (the traditional Cajun canoe) along with many other paddle races. The Brownell Memorial Park and Carillon Tower in Morgan City and the 9,000-acre Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge are musts for nature lovers. Brownell offers cabins for rent and tent camping and RV spots and the refuge features four hiking trails in addition to canoe launches.

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

Along the Bayou Teche Byway’s banks are numerous historic towns from the predominantly French towns along the upper Teche such as Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville to the more Anglo-Saxon culture of Franklin with its more than 100 historic properties many on the National Register of Historic Properties and several open for tours.

Mural in Acadian Memorial Museum, St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums include the Chitimacha Museum and the Charenton Heritage Museum in Charenton providing history on the bayou and its native inhabitants, the Jeanerette Museum offering 200 years of the sugarcane industry and other history, and the International Petroleum Museum and Exposition in Morgan City.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morgan City to Franklin

Stroll Morgan City’s historic district where you can browse antique shops or view the Atchafalaya River from a wharf-side pavilion. For a closer look at the Great Atchafalaya Basin (and maybe a ’gator or two), take a guided swamp tour in nearby Patterson. There you’ll also find a branch of the Louisiana State Museum noted for its displays on aviation and the cypress industry. Next stop: Franklin, whose more than 400 historic properties include the Grevemberg House Museum, a gracious antebellum townhouse filled with Civil War artifacts and antique toys. Pause for a hamburger or po-boy at Iberia Cash Groceries then visit Charenton where the Chitimacha Museum reveals the history of Bayou Teche’s early inhabitants.

Tabasco factory on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Franklin to New Iberia

In the town of Jeanerette, be sure to sample the French bread and ginger cakes at LeJeune’s Bakery whose owners still use the bakery’s original 19th-century recipes. Farther along the byway in New Iberia stands Shadows-on-the-Teche. The antebellum home built by a wealthy sugar planter now is a museum surrounded by graceful live oaks. Near New Iberia, tour the Avery Island factory where world-famous Tabasco pepper sauce is made. The plant’s founder also created a 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary here. Stroll through azaleas and camellias, glimpse a deer in the garden, and step onto a boardwalk for a view of resident alligators.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia to Arnaudville

As you make your way toward Arnaudville, stop in St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. The Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in St. Martinville recalls the chilling expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia as told by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “Evangeline.”

Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Breaux Bridge, visit Café des Amis, where the menu includes beignets, couche-couche (battered cornmeal cooked in a hot skillet and topped with milk or syrup), andouille or cheese grits, and crawfish étouffée—and that’s just for breakfast. About 10 minutes from here is Lafayette, considered the unofficial capital of Cajun country.

A trip along Bayou Teche is a good way to sample Louisiana hospitality, hear toe-tapping music, and as the locals say “pass a good time.”

Worth Pondering…

Jambalaya (On the Bayou)

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954