Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Experience the cultural, historical, recreational, and scenic qualities of these roads less traveled

These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.

Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sky Island Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 27.2 miles

Plan for three to six hours to drive, including backtracking.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your journey among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet, passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Enjoy spectacular views and recreational opportunities from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

All-American Road

Length: 124 miles

Allow three hours to drive or three days to experience the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional 124 mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. You’ll encounter archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities while driving this exhilarating byway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 44 miles

Two hours to drive the byway

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

All-American Road

Length: 180 miles

Depending on route, allow four or five hours to drive or two days to visit the byway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild, along with colorful wildflowers and rare cheniers shaped by salty winds

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 40 miles

Three hours to enjoy the byway

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

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the 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.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado and Utah: Trail of the Ancients

National Scenic Byway

Length: 480 miles

Nine hours to drive (including backtracking) or six days to enjoy the byway

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the long and intriguing occupation of the Four Corners region by Native American peoples. Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. World-renowned Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Four Corners Monument are highlights on the trail.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jamie Francis

A Utah Road Trip: Natural Bridges, Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods & More

This route provides breathtaking views of some of Utah’s most beautiful sites

It’s nearly impossible to drive any kind of distance in Utah without going through some spectacular countryside, no matter what route you choose. However, there is one drive a bit off the beaten path that is not nearly as well known as other scenic drives and designated scenic byways and yet is truly worthy of a day trip.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting this 130-mile journey from our home base at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, we drove our toad north on US-191 to Blanding, then took a left turn to head west on SR-95.

With every bend in the road, we found ourselves craning our necks to take in the stunning views. Enormous, patterned red rock walls lined the sides of the road, and mystical red rock formations rose up from the horizon and changed shape as we passed them by. The landscape was vast, open and colorful, and completely devoid of the human touch. Everywhere we looked, we felt inspired by the wondrous creations of a divine hand.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road was first constructed in 1935 as a gateway from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument and remained unpaved through the 1960s. It wasn’t until the ’70s that portions of the road began to be paved. Yet, because it doesn’t link any major towns or cities, we found that as we passed by one glorious red rock vista after another on our way to Natural Bridges, there was rarely another vehicle on the road.

Driving west on SR-95 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several miles before reaching the national park gate we left SR-95, heading west on SR-275 to the park gate. Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area. It is rather remote and not close to other parks and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge.

Continuing our road trip, we retraced our route on SR-275 and SR-95, traveling south on SR-261 to Muley Point, Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before descending Moki Dugway, you may wish to stop at the fantastic vista at Muley Point. To reach Muley Point, take the first road to your right (west) at the top of the dugway. The Muley Point Overlook provides viewers with a panorama of the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and the vast, sweeping valleys of the desert valley below. 

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also spelled Mokee, the term “moki” is derived from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Moki Dugway was constructed in the 1950s to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods lies below the Moki Dugway overlook. You enter another environment as you descend from scrub forest to desert.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley near many of the formations. Short hikes are necessary to reach some, but most can be seen from the road. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Days can be spent by anyone with a camera and time. As is usual in this stark landscape, morning and evening are the best times to take photos. The Valley of the Gods is full of long and mysterious shadows in the evening. The morning sun shines directly on the valley and its towers.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road exits onto US-163 about 7.5 miles north of Mexican Hat. Pointing our toad east for 17 miles and we’ve back at our home base in Bluff.

Worth Pondering…

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!

—Emily Dickinson

Stunning Fall Drives across America

A dozen scenic routes across America—each of which we’ve driven through the years—will blast the blues from your soul and you’ll appreciate the season anew

America’s interstate system makes it relatively quick to travel from coast to coast—at least compared to the Lewis and Clark days. By some estimates, a cross-country road trip can be done in less than a week—if you’re willing to drive around 10 hours a day. But during this autumn season you’d be making a big mistake if you didn’t slow down and soak up the scenery. The reds, yellows, and oranges of the foliage blanket parts of the country for just a few short weeks. Plus, there are pumpkin patches, apple orchards, and all kinds of fall fun to make the journey even more memorable.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While people often plan major vacations far from home during leaf-peeping season, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on many travelers’ usual plans. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on this seasonal show, though. Every state has fantastic drive through gorgeous autumnal scenery that is sure to make your jaw drop. To help you enjoy some of the nation’s finest RVing with Rex compiled a list of stunning fall drives across America.

There’s truly no region of the country without a road trip worth taking this time of year.

Ready to hit the road for an autumnal adventure? Click through to see these stunning fall drives.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red is among the quintessential fall colors and when in Arizona there’s no better place to be surrounded by this autumnal hue than on the Red Rock Scenic Byway. It serves as the gateway to Sedona’s famous rock formations. Plus, visitors can also see well-preserved prehistoric petroglyphs on their road trip.

Gold Rush Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Highway 49

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprang 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 and ponderosa pine stud higher slopes. The old mining towns along the Trail retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

Make sure you pack a lunch if you’re embarking on Georgia’s Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway—it brims with picnic-worthy spots. The byway looks out onto the Chattahoochee National Forest where you’re sure to see lovely foliage. The best views, though, can be found at the top of Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest point and a spectacular place to see the fall colors.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

Bring a cooler if you’re hitting the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road in Louisiana—the route is chock-full of places to stock up on fresh seafood. The road provides an up-close view of nature’s bounty, including Gulf of Mexico beaches, wildlife refuges, wetlands, and small fishing communities during one of the most beautiful times of year.

Heritage Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana: Heritage Driving Tour

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi: Highway 90

Highway 90 spans from West Texas to East Florida but one of the most gorgeous sections of the road can be found in Coastal Mississippi. From Waveland and Bay St. Louis to Moss Point, you’ll cross two magnificent bay bridges and travel through tiny towns with tons of Southern charm. Plan to make time for outdoor attractions along the way including marsh tours, sunset music cruises, and fishing charters to enjoy the temperate fall weather.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests thus the name ‘Chero…hala’. Connecting Tellico Plains, Tennessee to Robbinsville, North Carolina, the Cherohala Skyway was opened and dedicated in 1996. This beautiful route has since been designated a National Scenic Byway. The elevations range from 900 feet at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Botany Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina: Botany Bay Road

We would not put a stretch of road that clocked in at just 6.5 miles if it wasn’t really, really something to see. Botany Bay Road is the entrance to a plantation-turned-wildlife-management area. Slow down to a crawl—safety first—and watch the trees lacing together overhead in an eerie, Sleepy Hollow kind of way. Drive back and forth a few times, why not. When you’ve taken all the photos you can stand, don’t worry—we didn’t bring you here just for 6.5 miles of road. You’re on Edisto Island, one of the most beautiful places in all of South Carolina.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Cades Cove Loop Road

Experience the verdant valley of Cades Cove in the Great Smokies of Tennessee during peak fall foliage season. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road showcases the region’s autumnal beauty, historic sites, and viewing of white-tailed deer, coyotes, turkey, black bears, and other wildlife.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Highway 12 Scenic Byway

From Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Dixie National Forest, you’ll pass one epic site after another on a trip on Utah’s Highway 12. Fall brings about some of the best weather to make the journey plus plenty of stunning scenery.

Stone Valley Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Stone Valley Scenic Byway

For a fall drive that truly feels like an escape head out on Vermont’s Stone Valley Scenic Byway. The 30-mile route follows the Green Mountain range up through the center of the state where you’ll see rustic farmlands bedecked in fall colors, valley pasturelands, and lake shores.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is a 105-mile journey along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The landscape is spectacular in the fall with trees transforming into every shade of yellow and red imaginable and piles of crunchy leaves lining the drive like confetti. Skyline Drive’s nearly 70 overlooks give you practically endless opportunities to soak up the scenery.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail

The narrow, winding, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail invites you to slow down and enjoy the forest and historic buildings of the area

Straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in the ancient Southern Appalachians, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is almost as renowned for its well-preserved pioneer settlements as for its natural beauty. More than 90 historic structures—homes, barns, churches, and gristmills—have been preserved here, including the largest collection of log structures in the eastern United States.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses over 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine areas in the East. An auto tour of the park offers a variety of experiences including panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching up mountains to the horizon.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No place this size in a temperate climate can match the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s variety of plant and animal species. Here are more tree species than in Northern Europe, 1,500 flowering plants, over 200 species of birds, and 60 of mammals.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 270 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars.

During our recent visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park we drove the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It offers mountain streams, old-growth forest, and a number of well-preserved log cabins, grist mills, and other historic buildings.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From River Plantation, our RV park nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevierville, we drove through not one, not two, but three tourist traps (and shopping destinations) with heavy stop-and-go traffic—Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg—in order to reach Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We turned off the main parkway in Gatlinburg (at traffic light #8) and followed Historic Nature Trail to the Cherokee Orchard Road and entered the national park.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Passing the Noah “Bud” Ogle and Rainbow Falls trailheads, we began the one-way Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This narrow, but paved, road twists and turns for 6 miles beside forests, waterfalls, and mountain streams.

Roaring Fork is the name of the stream which the road roughly parallel. It is one of the larger and faster flowing streams in the park. Drive this road after a heavy rain and the name will be apparent.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We passed several historic structures including the old Jim Bales place and the small two-room cabin where Ephraim and Minerva Bales raised nine children. But their situation was not at all unusual, and individual privacy was something these people knew little about. Life for the Bales family was as sparse and hard as the ground around them.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Eph” and “Nervie” owned 70 acres of rocks and cultivated 30 of them. The rest remained in timber for cooking, heating, and construction use. The house was never larger than it is now, except for a missing back porch.

The large cabin was the living room; the smaller one, the kitchen. Building required trees and hard work, so no one built anything larger than necessary.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The corn crib stands beside the house. Small, almost fragile, it is typical of many outbuildings on Roaring Forks. Its size tells us something about life here. Why build a large crib when a large crib was practically impossible. Rocky fields lay all around the house and up the hillside across the creek leaving little land for corn to grow.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road passes by the fence in front of the house, splitting the farm in two. One quickly feels the harshness of travel here. Rocks, rocks, nothing but rocks. Whether clearing fields, trying to farm, or making fence, moving rocks was a way of life.

Life was a difficult struggle for these mountain people.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular scenic drive with continuing traffic with most trailheads at capacity leaving few parking options! It’s an enjoyable scenic area but not the place to find solitude. But, where to go to beat the crowds?

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.

The winds will flow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

—John Muir

Scenic Route It Is

When it comes to RVing most folks know the timeless mantra, “It’s not about the destination; it’s the journey”

With travel restrictions being lifted across the U.S. and Canada, it’s time to start dreaming about your next journey. As you figure out where that adventure may lead, consider what you want to see along the way.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How about choosing the scenic route? It might take longer, but we promise it is worth it!  And even as travel restrictions are being lifted, it might be a while before gatherings and events take place. So, scenic route it is!

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is something magical about the open road as you watch the world pass by through the window of your RV. Sometimes the journey from point A to point B is a dreaded chore, but if you’re traveling along any of these scenic roads you’ll want to soak up every second of the drive. Just make sure to take your eyes off the landscape and watch the road every now and then! 

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As states begin to reopen, consider planning an entire trip around one of these routes, making stops along the way and helping contribute to the local economies of each small town.

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona

Just outside of Sedona, the Red Rock Scenic Byway boasts everything from breathtakingly beautiful rock formations to ancient Native American cliff dwellings. If you’re a believer in the supernatural, you’ll find the Byway is sprinkled with what like-minded folk refer to as “vortexes” of spiritual energy—two of the biggest are Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock, formations which are stunning regardless of your personal beliefs.

Route 66

Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time to vintage Americana along Route 66. This highway was the route many travelers took during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s looking for a better life. Stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, much of Route 66 is still drivable and loaded with vintage neon signs, deserted gas stations, classic diners, and interesting people. Recently, many locations on Route 66 are getting revitalized providing even more photo opportunities.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina. This highway starts at 800 feet in elevation and climbs over mountains as high as 5,390 feet at Santeetlah Overlook on the state border. Enjoy mile-high vistas and great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon Highway, Arizona

Climbing more than 6,000 feet, Mount Lemmon Highway begins with forests of saguaro cacti in the Sonoran Desert and ends in a cool, coniferous forest in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Prepare yourself for breathtaking views and a climate change that would be similar to driving from Southern Arizona to Canada in a mere 27 miles. Each thousand feet up is like driving 600 miles north offering a unique opportunity to experience four seasons in one trip. This scenic drive begins at the northeastern edge of Tucson.

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California Highway 49

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 and ponderosa pine stud higher slopes. The old mining towns along the Trail retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway, South Dakota

Driving the Needles Highway isn’t about getting to the next destination—it’s about taking in the scenery. Highway 87 in South Dakota might not be that long, but it’s 14 miles of really awesome road that twists and turns its way through some of South Dakota’s most stunning natural scenery. This curvaceous stretch of narrow pavement, known as Needles Highway, travels through unique rock formations in the southeastern portion of Black Hills National Forest.

Botany Bay Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay Road, South Carolina

We would not put a stretch of road that clocked in at just 6.5 miles if it wasn’t really, really something to see. Botany Bay Road is the entrance to a plantation-turned-wildlife-management area. Slow down to a crawl—safety first—and watch the trees lacing together overhead in an eerie, Sleepy Hollow kind of way. Drive back and forth a few times, why not. When you’ve taken all the photos you can stand, don’t worry—we didn’t bring you here just for 6.5 miles of road. You’re on Edisto Island, one of the most beautiful places in all of South Carolina.

Worth Pondering…

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing.

Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Are you ready to pack up and hit some of the most scenic drives in America? Then get in your RV and go. These highways and byways are high on our bucket lists.

No mode of travel is more American than the road trip. It’s a national rite of passage. Getting tired of sitting at home? Get in your RV and go for a drive. America offers beautiful and breathtaking scenic drives you can take with the family. Some of the roadside attractions may still be closed because of the pandemic but the vistas are ever-present and beautiful as always.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are dozens of travel quotes we could use to preface this list, but we’re going to assume that you already know that traveling isn’t always about where you end up―it is just as much about how you get there. With travel restrictions due to COVID-19, there has never been a better time to take a scenic drive just for the experience.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to Model T days, folks have been hitting the wide-open road to explore every nook and cranny of the 3,000 miles that lie from sea to shining sea. From mountain roads with hairpin turns to stunning seaside escapes to good ol’ Americana history, here are six epic road trips to travel this summer.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66: Illinois to California

During the 1940s and ’50s, the 2,500-mile stretch of road from Chicago to Santa Monica, California was the American road trip. That changed with the development of the interstate system which rerouted large portions of the highway to larger interstates.

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even so, tourists from around the globe still follow the famous path (or at least sections of it) past vintage neon signs, retro roadside motels, multiple national parks including the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon, as well as kitschy Americana stops such as Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona and cool art installations such as Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia and North Carolina

Spanning 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this stunning parkway winds its way through the forested peaks that belong to some of the oldest mountains in America.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is lush and green through the spring and summer months, but the road is most spectacular in autumn when the rolling landscape is painted with fiery shades of red, yellow, and orange usually at its crest late-October to mid-November.

Route 89 in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 89: Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana

Far less famous than Route 66 but just as gorgeous, Route 89 is sometimes called the National Park to Park Highway. Truly ambitious road warriors can take the road less traveled by starting in Arizona, moving through Utah and up to Wyoming and Montana.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway passes 150 towns, cities, and reservations, seven national parks (including the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Yellowstone), and three giant geographic regions (Basin and Range, Colorado Plateau, and the Rockies).

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway: Ohio

The 72-mile Amish Country Byway boasts views of natural vistas along winding curves and over rolling hills. On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of “eyeglasses” shape throughout Holmes County. That’s fitting, because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, large white houses, and red barns. In addition, this charming country byway offers visitors a fine selection of Amish country cooking as well as historic sites featuring the history of Amish and German people.  Because of the unique agriculture and culture of Amish Country, you must share the road with Amish buggies, agriculture equipment, and cyclists.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12: Utah

Utah is a place unlike anywhere else in the world! With so many sights to see, Scenic Byway 12 is the perfect road to take you right through the heart of it all. It passes through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Boulder Mountain with gorgeous views at every turn in between.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This highway cuts right through the center of the state, making it the ideal route to take when you’re on an RV trip visiting Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, and Capitol Reef. 

El Camino Real: New Mexico

Historic Mesilla along El Comino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.” 

Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe along along El Comino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead man”) before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate’s journey. 

 Worth Pondering…

The journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing.

Edisto Island’s Botany Bay Preserves Plantation Landscape

Botany Bay is one of the most serene and beautiful locations in the Lowcountry

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront that you’ll never forget. The area lies near the North Edisto River just south of the intensely developed resort islands of Kiawah and Seabrook and just north of the rapidly developing Edisto Beach area.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area’s location near the North Edisto River places it within the boundary of the ACE Basin Focus Area, one of the largest remaining relatively undeveloped wetland ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The features of this wildlife management area are characteristic of sea islands along the lower southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed, providing coastal habitat for a wide range of wildlife species, including loggerhead sea turtles, the state-threatened least tern, and neo-tropical songbirds like the painted bunting and summer tanager.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. Simply pick up a free self-guided driving tour guide at the information kiosk and you’re on your way. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree. Look for colonies of resurrection fern growing on the spreading oak limbs. After a rain, the leaves of the resurrection ferns turn a beautiful bright green.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get to the four-way stop, turn right into the beach access parking lot. There you’ll find the trailhead to the half-mile Pockoy Island Trail where a causeway built by slaves takes you over the marsh and through a densely wooded hammock. Then cross a small barrier island to arrive at the preserve’s 2.8 miles of seashore.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion on Botany Bay Beach has left a “boneyard” of dead trees along the sand creating a unique coastline you’ve got to walk to fully appreciate. Shell collection is prohibited; as a result the beach is full of whelks, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters, sea stars, and sand dollars. The best time to visit the beach is at low tide when a wider section of the shoreline is exposed.

Botany Bay Preserve ice house © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue the driving tour by staying on the beach access road until you get to another parking area just past the four-way stop. It’s a short walk from here to two small buildings built in the 1800s. The white wooden Gothic Revival structure once served as the icehouse (pictured above) for Bleak Hall. In the old days, ice shipped from the north was packed in sawdust and stored in the tabby wall foundation.

Botany Bay Preserve tabby shed © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The other building is a tabby gardener’s shed (pictured above) erected next to the now overgrown Japanese formal garden, the first of its kind in North America. The camphor, olive, and spice trees are long gone but ivy, several types of privet, and a few other exotic plants still thrive along the edges of the old garden.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Farther along is another tabby structure. During the Colonial period, it was used as a barn and later it was used as equipment shed. The road then takes a couple of sharp 90-degree turns, winding along the salt marsh and offering spectacular views of Ocella Creek. This section also features lots of century-old live oaks draped in Spanish moss.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, you’ll pass the chimney of a slave house and a couple of ponds created in the 1970s as a habitat for wood ducks, wading birds, and many aquatic species. Cross the dike and you’ll enter the former Sea Cloud Plantation.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The final section of the driving tour features the remains of the Sea Cloud Plantation house and a brick beehive built by slaves in the 1700s as a source of drinking water.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay is free and open to the public except on Tuesdays and during scheduled hunts. Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Botany Bay Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Flagstaff to Sedona…and Beyond

A roller coaster ride filled with views of breathtaking rock formations and a kaleidoscope of wildlife and foliage along Highway 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona

Flagstaff is just 27 miles north of Sedona on Arizona Route 89A (possibly one of the most visually stunning scenic drives in Arizona) and features a geographic view of Mt. Humphreys, a 12,633 foot extinct volcano that is surrounded by Ponderosa Pine trees that famously give off a vanilla aroma during the spring and summer seasons.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This gorgeous gash in the landscape has a spectacular feature: you can drive through it! Take a scenic detour off Interstate 17 by exiting onto AZ 89A toward Sedona. A wonderful road built in 1929 it runs the entire 13-mile length of the canyon. During the 2,500-foot elevation drop into Sedona the pine trees fade in your rearview mirror as brilliant orange-and-red sandstone bluffs and steep canyon walls appear on your right.

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These formations not only surround Sedona but they appear to hover over it. (At certain points along Route 89A, the jagged mountain faces almost seem within reach.)

The forested canyon floor ranges from a mile wide at the top end to 2.5 miles at the mouth, and up to 2,000 feet deep from the creek to the tops of the highest sheer red cliffs.

State Route 179

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Sedona, AZ-89A splits to head west. Stay south on State Route 179 to revel in the area’s spectacular scenery. From Sedona, State Route 179 (Red Rock Scenic Byway) winds 7.5 miles south through the Coconino National Forest along some of the most gorgeous red-rock sandstone and geological formations in the country. There are several places to pull off the road and stare at the grand and vibrant otherworldly landscape.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In about 3 miles, look for Cathedral Rock (6246 SR-179), the Empire State Building of Sedona’s skyline. Back on State Route 179, continue south and in less than 1 mile turn east (left) onto Chapel Road and drive 1 mile to view the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Built in 1956, the pyramidal structure juts dramatically from the surrounding red rocks.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away on the banks of the gorgeous Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is a nod to Mexican architecture and artisan culture both in name and purpose. It’s a beautiful little arts and shopping village characterized by pretty cobblestone streets and vine-covered walls that lie under the shade of enormous sycamore trees making it an extraordinarily picturesque destination. With an unimaginably diverse range of arts and crafts, there’s something for everyone in this unique little enclave.

Red Rock Crossing

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back on Highway 89A just beyond the southern edge of Sedona you’ll see signs for Red Rock State Park. Make a left onto Red Rock Loop Road; just off that beautiful road, you’ll find Red Rock Crossing. The Crescent Moon Picnic Area is a green and tranquil spot with several nice walking trails and a swimming hole called Red Rock Crossing.

Red Rock State Park 

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nature preserve and environmental education center, Red Rock State Park offers more stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife.

Tuzigoot

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stick with AZ-89A south through the town of Clarkdale where you can check out Tuzigoot National Monument an interesting pueblo ruin atop a hill just above the town. The pueblo was built by the Sinagua people, who thrived in this arid region for nearly 10 centuries. Tuzigoot, built in AD 1125, was a communal home occupied by a clan of peaceful Sinagua farmers for close to 300 years.

Jerome

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Clarkdale, AZ 89A climbs a series of switchbacks to Jerome. This mostly abandoned mining town is perched high on the side of Mingus Mountain. In the early 1900s as many as 15,000 people lived and worked in Jerome once known as the “Wickedest Town in the West.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

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

On the Road Again: RV Travel the Hot Post-Coronavirus Travel Trend

America is slowly but surely reopening for business

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak winds down, everyone is thinking about their next adventure. However, many are wary of crowded spaces. Many travelers will be replacing journeys to big cities with trips to smaller towns closer to home. But what if there was a way to see the country without stepping foot inside an airport or hotel? Welcome to the world of RV travel!

Utah Scenic Byway 279 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campers and RVs have been around for a long time. Covered wagons pulled by horses were technically the first campers ever. While the history of the RV is somewhat up for debate, the Smithsonian states that the first RV was unveiled in 1910 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Called the Touring Landau, it was quite luxurious for the time and even included a sink with running water. It was for sale at $8,250 dollars.

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, the industry was off and running. As America developed its roadways and as national and state parks were established the drive for adventure had people hitting the road in record numbers. From Dutchmen and Shasta to Airstream and Winnebago, recreational vehicles were suddenly everywhere.

Botany Bay Plantation Road, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVs are now more popular than ever. Whether it’s buying your own or renting RVs through sites like Cruise America the old notion that RVing is only for snowbird retirees has gone out the window.

Geauga County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And why shouldn’t RVs be popular with people of all ages? If you include the price of your plane ticket, plus nightly hotel charges, RV travel is cheaper, plus, you get to sleep in the great outdoors. Camping in a national or state park and hearing the sounds of nature is a great way to add a whole new dimension of adventure to your road trip. Another benefit that many travelers love is that most campgrounds are pet-friendly so nobody in the family gets left behind.

Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing better than having your own space to come back to after a day of hiking or biking, lounging on the beach, or exploring a recreation area. Shower up, cook your own meal, relax with your favorite book or show, and settle down in your own bed. An RV is your self-contained home on wheels and gives you plenty of choices about how your travel experience looks and feels.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great road trip is more than getting from point A to point B. It functions as a restart button; a cruise control for the mind. But it’s also a chance to gain inspiration, connect with a corner of the world different than your own, and make lasting memories.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here we provide suggestions for four road trips that wind through backroads, small towns, natural wonders, historical markers, quirky sites, and unforgettable views. Whether you’re searching for rural charm or a history refresher, these trips encourage you to stop along the way and take your time. Or maybe you don’t want anything out of a road trip other than an empty path, a warm breeze, and the sweet taste of freedom.

Either way—let’s hit the road.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as one of the nation’s best and most beautiful drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. It follows the Appalachian Mountains—the Blue Ridge chain, specifically—from Shenandoah National Park in the north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Because the Blue Ridge Parkway connects two national parks, it’s easy to visit both during your drive.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Coulee Corridor Scenic Byway, Washington

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

Take a drive 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. Between three state parks, a national wildlife refuge, visits to the Grand Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, you’ll find something for the whole family.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 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.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”