The 8 Best Scenic Road Trips in America

With over 4 million miles of roads weaving their way throughout the US, there is no end of opportunities to explore

Few things having to do with travel will be unchanged in the post-coronavirus world but of all the ways we travel the road trip might be least affected—at least from a regulatory standpoint. No one will tell you to wear a mask or take your temperature, or demand blood work before you hit the road this summer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Utah’s red rock country to Louisiana’s peaceful national wildlife preserves, these road trips deserve a spot on your bucket list. Whether you’re looking to experience a stunning mountain view, charming local towns, or rich American history, plan your next getaway with one of these scenic road trips.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Utah Road Trip: Scenic Byway 12

The road trip: One of the most beautiful stretches of road in the US, Scenic Byway 12 spans 124 miles in Utah’s red-rock country. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch, not far from Bryce Canyon National Park. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best South Dakota Road Trip: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

The road trip: Allow four hours to drive this 68-mile byway or one day to fully experience it. This byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles and over pristine, pine-clad mountains.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Virginia Road Trip: Colonial Parkway

The road trip: The Colonial Parkway not only illustrates the English colonial experience in America, but is also an outstanding example of American parkway design. Retaining its original scenic and historic integrity to a remarkable degree, the 23-mile roadway stretches from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown.

Colonial Parkway Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: This All-American road connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona Road Trip: Red Rock Scenic Byway

The road trip: The Red Rock Scenic Byway is your gateway to the world-famous Red Rock Country of Sedona. Take 20 minutes to drive this byway, but allow several days to include all activities along the byway.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Arguably the best way to experience the beauty of the Red Rock Country is to go into the wilderness and soak it in and that’s exactly what you’ll be doing by hiking any of over 80 trails interspersed throughout the area.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Washington Road Trip: Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway

The road trip: Take a ride on the Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway, an amazing 150-mile road trip revealing the story of the Ice Age floods when vast reservoirs of water flooded and receded from this valley hundreds of times.

Smokian Resort on Soap Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Between three state parks, a national wildlife refuge, visits to the Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, or Othello’s Sand Hill Crane festival (23rd annual, March 20-22, 2020), you’ll find something for the whole family.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best North Dakota Road Trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit

The road trip: This 36-mile scenic road trip offers about two hours of breathtaking overlooks and trailheads. As you weave through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, keep your eyes open for wildlife, such as bison, deer, antelopes, and prairie dogs.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Walk through Ridgeline Nature Trail, go on a guided hike with a ranger, or spend the night at Cottonwood Campground.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Louisiana Road Trip: Creole Nature Trail

The road trip: The Creole Nature Trail, one of only 43 All-American Roads in the U.S., runs 180 miles through three National Wildlife Refuges.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: The main route is U-shaped with spur roads along the Gulf shoreline and angling into other reserves like Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge and the Peveto Woods Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary. This is the Louisiana Outback.

Best Texas Road Trip: Gateway to Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road trip: On this 80-mile drive from Marathon to Big Bend National Park, get comfortable and take in the dry, desert landscape of Texas. You’ll enjoy views of the Chisos Mountains, various species of cacti, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a coyote.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pit stops: Big Bend National Park is the end destination, as well as the highlight of this scenic road trip with its mountains, canyons, wildlife, and more.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

Scenic Byway 12: An All American Road

Located in southwestern Utah, Scenic Byway 12 is nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon

A 121-mile-long All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after entering the southwestern terminus at Highway 89, the scenic byway passes through U.S. Forest Service’s Red Canyon and two short tunnels in bright red rock masses.

Established in 1924, Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Scenic Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About two miles northwest of town is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing. Camping is available.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other?

The way that nature strings together the best that the Southwest has to offer in high density of scenery, iconic national parks, state parks, museums, and scenic backways.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Scenic Byway 12. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929