10 of the Best Scenic Drives in National Parks

National parks with the best scenic drives

A trip to a national park is about more than just the destination. It’s the journey to these remote corners of preserved natural wonders that are equally enticing including drives to and around the parks.

In fact, many US national parks are best seen from your car—really. We’re not saying you shouldn’t get out and breathe the fresh air and smell the flowers and hike a trail but to get the best overview of wilderness and wildlife scenic drives can’t be beat. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips to consider when planning a road trip to a national park 

Prepare your vehicle: National parks are often located in remote areas and it may be a while for help to arrive if you break down. So be sure your vehicle is fully serviced and has a full tank of fuel before you start your adventure.

Download directions: Speaking of being remote, you may not have cell service or Wi-Fi in the parks so make sure to save routing info (including this story) to your phone in advance of your trip. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack snacks and water: Don’t count on food or supplies on the road—bring everything you need with you including picnic supplies (and be sure to carry out anything you carry in with you). 

Following are 10 of the best US national parks for scenic drives this summer and beyond.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for Seussian landscapes

The route: Park Boulevard, drive from North (SR-62) or South (I-10) entrances

Route length: 35 miles

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few roads pass through Joshua Tree but entrances at both north and south ends of the park connect in a cross-park scenic drive with spur roads to specific attractions. Driving the park north to south will give you roadside views not only of plenty of the park’s namesake trees but notable landmarks like Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rock formations. As you continue south watch as the landscape and flora transform from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to get an idea of what you’ll see on a drive through Joshua Tree National Park? Pick up a copy of The Lorax by Dr Seuss. The scraggly armed trees with tufts of needles reaching towards the sky strongly resemble a “truffula tree” and the entire desert landscape has an almost whimsical feel. Make no mistake though, the rocky wonders and unusual vegetation you’ll see driving through this park—which straddles the Mojave and Colorado deserts—are both real and incredible.  

Read More: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.  

Best scenic drive through the park: best for fall foliage

The route: Newfound Gap Road from US 441

Route length: 29 miles

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main gateways to Great Smoky Mountains are the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina. Between the two is the scenic Newfound Gap Road which winds for 29 miles neatly bisecting the park on the only pavement traversing the Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest national park in the east and the most visited park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains stretches from North Carolina to Tennessee. This park is ideally situated for driving itineraries with 384 miles of roads from which to choose your driving adventure. Newfound Gap, named for the high mountain pass at the state line, offers views for days, great animal spotting, and a high perch to view the hardwood forests and changing leaves come the fall. 

Cades Cove is by far the most popular site in the park. You can meander along the 11-mile driving loop through pastoral landscapes to historic log cabins and churches all the while viewing wildlife without ever having to leave the comfort of your car. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for natural architecture

The route: Arches Scenic Drive

Route length: 18 miles

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches’ Main Park Road traces 18 miles from the entrance to Devils Garden Campground on a paved roadway with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s epic arches and other rock formations. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The red sandstone arches that give this Utah national park its name seem too perfectly balanced to be created by something as fickle as wind and sand. Surely, you’ll think as you drive around the amazing structures, a human architect must have lent a hand? This drive will take you past all of the soaring highlights; be sure to get out the car to get the full scope and perspective of these towering rock formations. 

Tip: After your visit here, you can add stops to southern Utah’s BryceCanyonlandsCapitol Reef, and Zion for an epic Utah national parks RV road trip. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park features trees dating back more than 200 million years that have turned to stone by absorbing minerals from the water that once surrounded them. The park also includes fossilized flora and fauna, petroglyphs, wildflowers, colorful rock formations, and wildlife. Hiking trails allow visitors to see the petrified wood, petroglyphs, and fossils.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for petrified logs

The route: Petrified Forest Road

Route length: 28 miles

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trip from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles. There’s so much to see from the Painted Desert in the north to the southern half of the drive where most of the petrified wood lies. Hiking trails along the way take visitors close to the sights. Starting in the north at Exit 311 off I-40, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see an 18-minute film, hands-on exhibits, and a short walking trail.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive passes through a variety of environments, colorful rock formations, and scenic pullouts with spectacular views. At the Crystal Forest Trail, petrified logs can easily be seen within steps of the parking area. It’s possible to spot wildlife along the drive as well.

Read More: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

With over 229 square-miles, more than 35 hiking trails, and cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for towering monoliths

The route: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Route length: 54 miles

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 54-mile route starts at the intersection of Highway 9 and I-15 about nine miles east of St. George and ends at the Mt. Carmel Junction. From November until March, you’ll be able to drive the entire route but from spring through fall the Zion Canyon section is closed to cars. Take the free shuttle which makes nine stops and takes about an hour and a half.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park features the same dramatic desert landscape associated with the park’s main section: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus, and wooded trails along twisting side canyons.

Read More: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for panoramic canyon views

The route: Desert View Drive

Route length: 23 miles

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert View Drive portion of SR-64 is a scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. Private vehicles can drive east along the canyon rim for 23 miles to the Desert View Services Area and the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Desert View Watchtower is located at Desert View. Traveling west, other stops along this route include Navajo Point, Lapin Point, Tusayan Pueblo and Museum, Moran Point, Grandview Point, Duck on a Rock, and Pipe Creek Vista.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.

Best scenic drive through the park: 700 years of Ancestral Pueblo history

The route: Mesa Top Auto Loop

Route length: 6 miles

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites. From remains of early pithouses and masonry villages to multi-storied cliff dwellings, archeological sites along this loop show how early Pueblo architecture evolved.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the road, you’ll find short, easily-accessible paved trails to view twelve archeological sites. Short trails along the Mesa Top Loop lead to surface sites such as pithouses and pueblos; overlooks of cliff dwellings tucked into alcoves; and viewpoints where you can enjoy the beauty of the landscape that was home to generations of Ancestral Pueblo people.

Highlights include Square Tower House Overlook, and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View and Sun Temple. The Mesa Top Loop Road is open daily, 8:00 am to sunset.

Read More: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventure, historic sites, and dark skies rank among the features visitors enjoy in Big Bend.

Tip: Big Bend is best enjoyed from late fall through early spring. Winter months bring beautiful days and pleasant temperatures. Summer months are scorching and outdoor recreation can be uncomfortable and unsafe. In the winter, five visitor centers are open, ranger programs occur more frequently, and local outfitters offer more activities. In the summer, many of these operations are reduced.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for historic and geologic features

The route: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Route length: 30 miles

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the most interesting of the paved sightseeing routes in Big Bend National Park giving the greatest variety of habitats, geology, and a variety of interesting short walks and interpretive pull outs.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road skirts the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains climbing up to one the park’s most outstanding views at Sotol Vista then winding down to parallel the Rio Grande at Castolon Historic District and winding up at Santa Elena Canyon trailhead where the pavement ends. Heading south from the Ross Maxwell junction there are a number of pullovers to interpretive sites, trailheads to short and longer hikes, and scenic vistas.

Read More: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Most scenic drive through the park: best for surreal and otherworldly

The route: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

Route length: 39 miles

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (also known as SR-240) connects the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall. This scenic route winds up and down the contours of the Badlands with numerous opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 16 designated scenic overlooks that make for outstanding photo opportunities. Don’t miss the Big Badlands Overlook in the east or the Door, Window, and Notch Trail turnoff just a few miles further south down the road; in the west, make sure to stop at the Pinnacles Overlook and the Yellow Mounds Overlook towards the western end of the loop road. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Most scenic drive through the park: best for colorful wildflowers

The route: Skyline Drive

Route length: 105 miles

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness. The only public road through the Park, it takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the Park on a clear day.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These cement posts help you find your way through the Park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 in Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the Park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the Park, at mile 51.

Read More: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Road Trippin’

It’s about the journey

From the coast to the desert, here are nine road trips that will have you road-tripping through America’s finest landscapes. Some are RV-friendly while others may require a smaller vehicle to navigate.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina Highway – Arizona

The Santa Catalinas crowned by 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon rise in ragged ridges at the northern edge of Tucson. Explore this rugged world with a scenic drive up the Catalina Highway also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 30-mile paved road winds up through dry desert terrain, past rocky outcroppings, pull-outs offering stunning vistas, and mid-level forests teaming with leafy oak trees. Don’t forget your jacket as temperatures can drop as much as 30-degrees from the bottom to the top of the road.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients – Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods. Cross the San Juan River in the tiny one-horse town of Mexican Hat, gaze in wonder at the postcard-ready views of the Monument Valley, and finally end up at the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Northern Arizona.

Related Article: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Bayou Teche Scenic Byway © 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 byways 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive – Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails. Warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.

If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24 – Utah

Starting near the City of Green River, Utah Route 24 creates a grand loop through the south-central slickrock desert and ends up back on I-70 to the west near Aurora. A section of this meandering drive between Loa and Hanksville turns the spotlight on Capitol Reef National Park. Here the scenic drive follows the Fremont River, an oasis in a parched environment.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 378 square mile Capitol Reef Park can be viewed as a northern extension of the huge Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, covering an additional 1.7 million acres. Capitol Reef is a sightseers and hikers’ paradise with deep red monoliths, sculpted spires, graceful arches, mesmerizing canyon mazes, and the imposing Waterpocket Fold.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Various side roads and unimproved roads have the tendency to turn this scenic drive into a weeklong adventure. With historic structures and plenty of grand views, this route earns plenty of raves from those who have gone before. Miles from any large city, this is a true off-the-beaten-path experience.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country – Texas

The Texas Hill Country, located west of Austin and north of San Antonio, features a landscape dotted with lush rolling green hills, spring-fed rivers, and charming small towns.

Related Article: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson who led a campaign to beautify American cities, vast swaths of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country and now their bright blue blooms signify the advent of the spring season.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet which is widely known as the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road – Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is split in two by a single major two-lane roadway that crosses through the heart of the park and over its highest mountain gap.

This scenic drive is known as the Newfound Gap Road or US Highway 441. The roadway follows rivers, climbs steep slopes, and offers incredible views.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the spring months, this route is awash with color as the wildflowers come alive and the trees begin to sport their bright green new leaves. A must-see are the rare Purple Catawba rhododendrons found only at high elevations that reach their peak of bloom along this well-known drive by early June.

I’ve put together my favorite itineraries to make it easy for you to explore your own backyard—wherever your backyard may be.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road – Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start a mile high, finish a mile high, and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon, the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Scenic Drive – Utah

Amidst the red rock of the Moab area, the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic byway leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Traversing across high sage plains, the route eventually leads to Indian Creek and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Utah Scenic Byway traverses a high altitude (6,000 feet) sage plain before plunging into Indian Creek Canyon on its way to Canyonlands National Park. Along the way it passes the Dugout Ranch, one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in southeast Utah. The byway accesses Newspaper Rock BLM Recreation Site and cuts through the Canyon Rims BLM Recreation Area, a vast landscape of desert and low elevation mountain terrain with hiking and four wheeling opportunities.

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the junction of US Highway 191, 14 miles north of Monticello, the paved Byway travels west across the sage plain and descends the switchbacks into Indian Creek Canyon. It follows the canyon until the landscape opens out into a broad valley at which point the Byway accesses a county road which leads to the Abajo Mountains and Beef Basin within the larger Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The byway terminates at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Related Article: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Related Article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

Related Article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

Related Article: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

On the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

“On the Road Again” is easily considered Willie Nelson’s signature song. On a flight together, Nelson was asked by the producers of the Honeysuckle Rose film to write a song about touring to be used as the movie’s theme song. By the time they had landed, the lyrics to “On the Road Again” had been composed. The song rolled up to No. 1 in 1980 and earned a spot in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many aspects to travel. We go to places we’ve never been because we want to be surprised. We travel to see new sights and experience fresh things. We seek new places that might teach us about the world and ourselves.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While your plans may be for travel to a specific destination, a road trip need not be limited to getting to one location as fast as possible. Throughout America there are National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, ready to introduce you to memorable adventures off the interstate while driving toward your primary destination.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two road designations include a collection of 150 diverse tracks identified by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as possessing intrinsic qualities that make each route particularly worthy of a driving experience.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Scenic Byway designation recognizes roads with one (or more) of six attributes contributing toward a unique travel experience. They must be scenic (natural and manmade), natural (undisturbed beauty), historic, recreational, archaeological, or culturally significant.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All-American Roads meet the same criteria, but must also feature multiple qualities of national significance. Also, All-American Roads must be considered worthy as stand-alone destinations.

Related: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“These roads are truly unique,” says Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration. “They are special routes that offer unequalled ways to enjoy different facets of America. Sadly, too few people know they exist.”

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get your “personal mental engine” started thinking about the possibilities, here is a sampling of these federally recognized routes to whet your appetite for adventure as you get “on the road again.”

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

State: Utah

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it is far and away the best.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail

State: Louisiana

Designation: All-American Highway

Length: 180 miles

Often referred to as “Louisiana’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, and Cajun culture await discovery along this route through the marshes of Louisiana.

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway

States: Colorado and Utah

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 512 miles

If you have children interested in dinosaurs, this route encompasses one of the best areas in the world to find dinosaur fossils and for the public to see what paleontologists have uncovered. Key attractions include active quarries where you can watch paleontologists search for fossils embedded in stone, backcountry sites where you can view dinosaur fossils and footprints, and museums that display fossils, replicas, and information about dinosaurs. Nearby “side trips” include Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

States: North Carolina and Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 469 miles

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Santa Fe Trail and Historic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway

States: Colorado and New Mexico

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 565 miles

The Santa Fe Trail was one of America’s first trade routes. Operating between 1821 and 1880, it was critical to westward expansion, and remnants can still be seen along the byway. The byway partially follows the route and passes Fort Union National Monument where 170-year-old wagon ruts are still visible. Other points of interest include stage stops, trading posts (Brent’s Old Fort), pictographs, and the longest dinosaur track in North America.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Fort Gaines) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

State: Alabama

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 130 miles

This route and the waterways it follows are significant to the state of Alabama and the region for many reasons. Among them are the National Historic Landmarks of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, the protected lands of the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Gulf State Park, beaches and sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes scrub forests, freshwater swamps, and uplands.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

State: South Dakota

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 68 miles

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

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway

State: Ohio

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 76 miles

Discover the cultural and historic treasures of the Amish and northern Appalachian people as you drive around the curves and over the hills of the pastoral countryside. Experience simple living and sustainability along charming country roads, taking you to a bygone era still present, manifest in the people and their lifestyle.

White Mountain Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain Trail

State: New Hampshire

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 100 miles

The White Mountain Trail offers New England’s most rugged mountain scenery as it travels through three historic “notches” or mountain passes. Views abound of villages and unspoiled National Forest. Stops include views of Mount Washington and the grand Mount Washington Hotel, mountain cascades, wildlife, and the Appalachian Trail.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Great River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great River Road

States: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 3,000 miles

This byway twists and turns through 10 states as it meanders vertically through the center of the nation. It follows the entire route of the iconic Mississippi River from its Minnesota source at Lake Itasca to where it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Along the byway, there are thousands of places to visit, and more than 70 official interpretive centers such as museums and historical sites, as well as charming, small river towns and one-of-a-kind mom and pop restaurants.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway

States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 180 miles

The 180-mile Journey Through the Hallowed Ground byway corridor from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Monticello, Virginia is “Where America Happened.” It is said that this three-state route spanning Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia holds more historic sites than any other in the US. It was an active transportation route during the Revolutionary War, a critical transition zone for the Underground Railroad, and a key battleground during the Civil War.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

State: Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 23 miles

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 route connects the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

States: California and Oregon

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 500 miles

Several scenic days await exploration along this route connecting Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, and Tule Lake National Monument. Crater Lake National Park is also on the route. The violent eruption of the Mt. Mazama volcano 7,700 years ago was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Lava flows sealed the bottom of the caldera, creating Crater Lake, the seventh-deepest lake in the world. Along the route, a 33-mile drive around the rim of the lake offers spectacular views.

Related: The 7 Most Scenic Drives in the Country to Add to Your Bucket List

The scenic byway also passes numerous mountain communities as it traverses the dramatic volcanic landscapes.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a Highway

Life is like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
Come on. Give me give me give me give me yeah

—recorded by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991)

America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on a spring road trip adventure

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of America’s Byways collection, a road must-have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most scenic and culturally significant byways in America for your spring road trip adventure.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Tennessee

Length: 41 miles

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. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake, and many Cherokee sites. This byway in particular is known for its fall colors.

Related Article: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

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

Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2000)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Georgia

Length: 40 miles

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

The beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds this route as it encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Winding through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians, you will find vistas atop Brasstown Bald that are jaw-dropping and the cooling mists of waterfalls are plentiful. Everywhere scenic wonders fill this region. Colorful wildflowers, waterfalls, and dazzling fall colors are some of what you will see. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

Designation: All-American Road (1996/2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural, Natural

Location: Louisiana

Length: 180 miles

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you drive the Creole Nature Trail, the prairies and marshes of Louisiana’s Outback may appear peaceful and tranquil, but don’t be fooled. These lands and waters—both salt and fresh—are teeming with life and activity. There are 28 species of mammals, more than 400 species of birds, 35 amphibians and reptiles, 132 species of fish, and thousands of migrating butterflies in the spring and fall.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Related Article: Scenic Route It Is

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Norris Freeway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Recreation

Location: Tennessee

Length: 21 miles

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Norris Freeway, located in eastern Tennessee, is steeped in American innovation history. The byway crosses over the Norris Dam which was built to control the flooding in the Clinch and Powell River Watershed. Nearby is the Museum of Appalachia. A Smithsonian affiliate, the museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village and offers cultural and historical exhibits as well as a home-style restaurant.

Related Article: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock All American Road

Designation: All-American Road (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic, Recreation

Location: Arizona

Length: 8 miles

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, this route is often called a “museum without walls.” The byway winds through the evergreen covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Carolina

Length: 112 miles

Michael Gaffney Cabin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best ways to see the Upcountry is to hit the Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway (SC-11). This will take you from the Georgia/South Carolina border at Lake Hartwell through the rolling hills of Piedmont all the way to historic Gaffney. A replica of the city’s founder homestead, The Michael Gaffney Cabin, is located in the heart of downtown.

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

Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural

Location: Louisiana

Length: 183 miles

Related Article: Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

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

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 three parishes, St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary, along LA-182 and LA-31. With an authentic, walk-able oil rig; stately historic homes; swamp and paddle tours; and tasty Cajun fare, the scenic self-guided tour has something for everyone from the history buff to the avid outdoorsman.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it far and away the best.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural

Location: Ohio

Length: 160 miles

Related Article: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 160-mile Amish Country Byway boasts views of natural vistas along winding curves and over rolling hills. In addition, this charming country byway offers visitors a fine selection of Amish country cooking as well as sites featuring the culture and history of Amish and German people. Celebrate the lifestyle of a place and people who defy modern conveniences while enjoying the simple pleasures of farm life and country living.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Winter Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on a winter road trip adventure

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of America’s Byways collection, a road must-have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most scenic and culturally significant byways in America for your winter road trip adventure.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

Designation: All-American Road (1996/2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural, Natural

Location: Louisiana

Length: 180 miles

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture, and more can be experienced as you travel along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Download the free personal tour app (search “creole” in your app store.) Once on the trail, open the app and make sure your location is enabled. It’s like having a personal tour guide in the vehicle with you!

Related: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Highway 30A

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural

Location: Florida

Length: 18 miles

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Highway 30A has many unique features including 15 rare coastal dune lakes, the historic beach town of Grayton Beach, charming Seaside, and access to three state parks and a state forest. Meandering along an 18-mile stretch of Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, the road is naturally scenic by nature. It runs along soft white sand beaches, over coastal dune lakes, through quaint beachside towns with pastel cottages, and through large swaths of natural lands.

Middleton Place along Ashley Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ashley River Road

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2000)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Location: South Carolina

Length: 11 miles

Magnolia Plantation along Ashley River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover the history of European and African settlement, commerce, and industry from colonial times to the present by traveling along the Ashley River Road, the oldest road still in use in South Carolina. This corridor is particularly significant to the area because it demonstrates the first colonial efforts to develop and maintain roads and waterways for public benefit. Along the way, visitors will have the opportunity to explore historic sites such as St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and Middleton Place.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Sky Island Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sky Island Parkway National Scenic Byway (Catalina Highway)

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural

Location: Arizona

Length: 27.2 miles

Sky Island Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The journey starts among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert and climbs to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Spectacular views and recreational opportunities abound -from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2009)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Carolina

Length: 17 miles

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto Island National Scenic Byway is known for its views of natural beauty. One of the hallmarks of the byway experience here is traveling under the Spanish-moss-draped live oak canopy and past multiple pristine waterways that meander throughout the island offering expansive views of marsh and seabirds feeding on their shores. And when the Byway terminates at the Atlantic Ocean/Edisto Beach, it’s clear to the traveler that Edisto Island is a very special protected place—it’s like visiting the South Carolina Lowcountry of half a century ago.

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

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2009)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Alabama

Length: 130 miles

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

Beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood you’ll ever put in your mouth are all yours to enjoy on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Visit the Coastal Connection to take in the natural beauty and experience all there is to see and do. Historic Forts Gaines and Morgan stand united around the mouth of Mobile Bay. The Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, and Gulf State Park provide more than 12,000 acres of protected lands along the coast. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge boasts habitats including beaches and sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes, scrub forests, freshwater swamps, and uplands.

Related: Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 54 miles

Zion Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Virgin River runs alongside the Byway and offers opportunities for recreation as well as important riparian habitat for wildlife. Hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, and river tubing provide recreation options for every ability and interest. Highway 9 is the major road providing access to Zion National Park. It winds past the park visitor center and museum, and past many famous Zion landmarks. It provides access to Zion Canyon (accessible by shuttle only during the tourist season) and then goes through the park’s mile-long tunnel. It cuts through the park’s Checkerboard Mesa area and then ends at Highway 89 at Mt Carmel Junction.

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

Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural

Location: Louisiana

Length: 183 miles

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

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 three parishes, St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary, along LA-182 and LA-31. With an authentic, walk-able oil rig; stately historic homes; swamp and paddle tours; and tasty Cajun fare, the scenic self-guided tour has something for everyone from the history buff to the avid outdoorsman.

Related: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Fall Road Trip

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock All American Road

Designation: All-American Road (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic, Recreation

Location: Arizona

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Length: 8 miles

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, this route is often called a “museum without walls.” The byway winds through the evergreen covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

The high desert power, diversity, and sense of intimacy with nature is amazing. Inhabited for thousands of years, the stunning red rocks are alive with a timeless spirit that captivates and inspires.

A1A Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway

Designation: All-American Road (2002/2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Recreation, Historic

Location: Florida

Length: 72 miles

Related: Moab’s Scenic Byways

A1A Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the northern boundary of St. Johns County, the Byway bisects the seaside luxury and golf mecca known as Ponte Vedra Beach, and weaves through America’s oldest city, St. Augustine; finally ending at the terminus of Flagler County at a seaside park named for a true folk hero, the Gamble Rogers Memorial Park on Flagler Beach, the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway connects State Parks, National Monuments, stunning beaches, nature trails, boating, fishing, preserves, estuaries and all of America’s diverse people.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

The Top 10 in 2021

Today, I’m delighted to bring you RVing with Rex’s Best of 2021: a collection of articles about RVing and the RV Lifestyle

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.
—Brad Paisley

Hello, RVing friends! The year has turned over and another 12 months of RVing, photography, hiking, and birding has crept by.

I tried to squeeze in all of the things I didn’t get to do this year into the last remaining days of 2021. Truth be told, we weren’t able to do a lot of things.

We can all agree this was a year like no other, at times feeling like a refugee from reality.

Sonoran Desert near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who is pumped for 2022???

(cicadas chirp loudly)

Yeah, that seems to be the general vibe. While a new calendar year typically means exciting new opportunities, a chance for a fresh start, 2022 feels like it could just be another disappointing sequel to 2020 and 2021.

Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It makes sense—we’re all beaten down. We’ve socially distanced, worn masks, Zoomed into important events for what seems like an eternity. And each time we made progress toward normalcy a new variant came along and pushed us back into the Twilight Zone.

As each new variant arrived, lockdowns and quarantines returned. We circled back to the same old, same old, expecting different results.

Related: Best of 2020: Top 10 RVing Articles of 2020

I don’t have a feeling next year is going to be different, better.

Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some day in the future, this thing will transition into an endemic virus and we can go back to talking about all the things we talked about before COVID, like…yeah, I forget too.

As the year mercifully comes to a close, RVing with Rex celebrates the must-reads that you loved the most over the past 12 months. I’ll start off by doing a sincere thank you so much for reading this year and returning frequently to read my latest articles. Thank you for your continuing support!

The End is almost here!

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is article # 1,065 since my first post on January 16, 2019. Okay, the end isn’t near, but the end of the year is almost here, and it’s time to think about wrap-ups as 2020 draws to a close. The end of the year is the traditional time for doing a summary and some reflection.

Looking back there were certain events and articles that kindled reader interest.

Related: Top 10 RV Travel Tips of All Time

It’s always fascinating to look back and see what stories enjoyed the most readership and interest that year. The results often confound my expectations.

Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I check my readership data for several important reasons. First and foremost, I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what my readers actually want to read. While it’s tempting to assume I know what you want to read—my gut and personal preferences have some definite opinions—but the data is the reality.

This is actually a relief as it gives me a concrete direction on what types of content to focus on going forward. I can’t always provide the content that’s most wanted as I attempt to keep the blog well-rounded and offer something for all RVers—and wannabes—but the readership data is a fantastic guide.

Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing with Rex would like to wish its readers a safe and happy New Year.

Here are the top 10 most read and most popular RVing with Rex posts of the year, listed in the order of their readership numbers.

The top 10 most popular articles of 2021 were…

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Absolutely Best Road Trips from Houston

Texas lends itself well to adventure

Originally Posted: March 17, 2020

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. 10 Amazing Places to RV in January

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

Originally Posted: January 4, 2021

Related: Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Real Florida Comes Alive at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This state park offers many opportunities to observe the Real Florida and its wildlife

Originally Posted: January 13, 2021

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Pros and Cons of Buying a Travel Trailer

A travel trailer offers the amenities of a home with the portability of a trailer

Originally Posted: August 8, 2020

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

If you’re planning on snowbird RVing this winter consider one of these state parks. They all offer warm weather and beautiful views of the Gulf or Technicolor deserts.

Originally Posted: January 5, 2021

Related: Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Truth BBQ, Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Everything a foodie should know about the Lone Star State

Originally Posted: January 20, 2021

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. National Monuments Feature Places for Reflection and Hope

From the legacy of ancient peoples to Colonial times

Originally Posted: January 18, 2021

Tiffin motorhome at Jackson Riviera Casino RV Park, Jackson, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. THOR Buys Tiffin Motorhomes: What Happens Next?

THOR Industries Buys Tiffin Motorhomes

Originally Posted: January 16, 2021

Buckhorn Lake RV Park, Kerrville, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Announcing the Absolutely Best Campgrounds and RV Parks for 2021

Explore this guide to find some of the best camping locations across America

Originally Posted: January 3, 2021

And the most popular article of 2020 is…

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Absolutely Best Road Trip from LA to the Grand Canyon

This road trip goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA

Originally Posted: July 26, 2020

A Happy New Year to all my readers. Best wishes for 2022. Find what brings you joy and go there.

Fountain Hills, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May the months ahead be filled with great RVing experiences! Remember, the journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing. Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Worth Pondering…

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light,

The year is dying in the night.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow,

The year is going, let him go.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

The Most Exhilarating Drives in Arizona

Here are a few Arizona roads to add to your bucket list

Arizona isn’t just desert, saguaros, and blue sky. Arizona is chock full of brilliant roads for scenic driving enjoyment.

Here are five Arizona roads you might consider adding to your bucket list.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail

lf you like your roads unpaved, occasionally one lane and blind mountain turns without a guardrail, then the Apache Trail (AZ-88) is for you. While there is blacktop from Apache Junction to just past Tortilla Flat, from there the road is at its most primitive. It hugs the sides of the mountain, alternating from two lanes down to one with either no guardrail at all or the mere illusion of one crudely fashioned from narrow pine boards that wouldn’t stop a coyote.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catalina Highway

Entering the Santa Catalina Mountains just 25 miles northeast of Tucson, you’ll find yourself accelerating at the foot of Mount Lemmon. Named for botanist Sarah Plummer Lemmon, you’re going to have a lot more fun than she did in 1881 when she made the first ascent by horse and on foot.

Related: Scenic Route It Is

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Climbing to over 9,000 feet, with a nearly 7,000-foot elevation change in a mere 24 miles, the Catalina Highway (also called the Mount Lemmon Highway) is a brilliant ascent with countless curves, numerous vistas, and three major switchbacks. The best news is since there’s only one paved road up this mountain when you reach the top, you’ll have no choice but to turn around and let gravity assist in your descent.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little over halfway down, at the apex of the biggest switchback, do yourself a favor and pull off at Windy Point Vista. There’s a scenic overlook that gives a great view of the descending road and a great photo op. Take it in.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

While perhaps any old strip of Historic Route 66 can provide a bit of a warm fuzzy, there are some stretches where that nostalgia can also live in the here and now. When they built this road, they weren’t blasting and bulldozing through mountains to straighten the path. The road went where they could find a place to lay it down.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in Kingman, head west off I-40 towards Los Angeles and you’ll find yourself without a lot of company on the stretch of Old Route 66 to Oatman. More than half of this 26-mile adventure is made up of long straight stretches occasionally interrupted by a simple curve.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But be ready for the twisties as you near Oatman. It’s those last nine miles from Cool Springs to Oatman that supply many (perhaps even most) of the photos you see of Arizona Route 66. Keep your eyes peeled as you slow to enter the town. Oatman prides itself on the wild burros that roam the streets, and you wouldn’t want to be the ass who wrecks his car swerving to miss one of the town’s furry little friends.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 89A

Another brilliant bit of rapidly rising mountain two-lane is AZ-89A, from Prescott Valley to Cottonwood. You’ll climb over 2,000 feet on this 31-mile stretch of tight bends and switchbacks through the Mingus Mountain area.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those wanting to obey the multitude of 15, 20, and 25 mph curve signs (certainly you among them) have plenty of scenic turn-offs. Go on a weekday. Tourists own this road on weekends, as the old mining town of Jerome is quite the destination and 89A is the one road there.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

U.S. 60 through the Salt River Canyon

In the middle of the 32,000 acres that are the Salt River Canyon Wilderness, State Route 60 is a narrow ribbon buckling through the harsh terrain. By starting in Apache Junction you’ll traverse the 1,200-foot-long Queen Creek Tunnel cutting through the mountain at a 6 percent upward grade.

Related: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Salt River Canyon Wilderness © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now you’ll climb 4,000 feet via tight bends, S-curves, and the three consecutive switchbacks plunging into the canyon. The first half of this trip twists through the Tonto National Forest with views of the Superstition Mountains—the second half winds through the more brutal terrain of the Fort Apache Reservation where you’ll chase the Salt River for a while. Here, the canyon dictates the road. There shouldn’t be a lot of traffic, so it’s good for a scenic drive.

Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend time exploring Superior, Miami-Globe, and Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park before continuing onto San Carlos Reservation with stops at Apache Gold Casino and RV Park and Peridot Mesa, a broad hump of land often ablaze with poppy fields starting in late February and carrying on through March.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just past mile marker 268 on U.S.-60, turn left on a dirt road marked by a cattle guard framed by two white H-shaped poles. It is recommended that you drive a half-mile down this road. We just parked and walked around and saw poppies, lupines, globemallow, desert marigolds, phacelia, and numerous other flowers along the road and sweeping down hillsides. It was an amazing sight.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

The Strip barely scratches the surface

Las Vegas is located in the desert, so daytime temperatures in the summer regularly reach triple digits which can put a damper on outdoor activities. On the plus side, the winter heat is a nice escape for anyone fleeing ice and snow.

Las Vegas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather-wise, the best times to visit Las Vegas are spring and fall with highs hovering around 70 degrees in March and the low 80s in October. March, April, May, October, and November have the best weather for walking the Las Vegas Strip and getting out in the desert for hikes, and exploring the vast wilderness.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So your idea of fun isn’t drinking yard-long margaritas inside a mind-bending, alternate universe? I get it. One of the benefits of enjoying a city in the middle of a vast wilderness is, in fact, that wilderness. When you’re in Las Vegas, you’re not limited to casinos on the Strip. Some of the grandest scenery is just a short drive away. Whether you head to the Valley of Fire, the famous Hoover Dam, or Death Valley, we’ve got where to go and what to do in each. These are the very best day trips from Las Vegas.

Not only are these destinations beautiful but whether you drive north, south, east, or west out of Las Vegas you’re sure to see mountains, canyons, or lakes, making each trip about far more than the destination but the whole road trip too!

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to Know Before Going on a Road Trip from Las Vegas

Located in the desert, Las Vegas and the surrounding areas are known for varying temperatures throughout the day and year. While these destinations are beautiful year-round, the weather plays a significant role in choosing when to travel.

During the summer months, it’s best to avoid the hottest desert locations located at low elevations. If you visit then, plan more intense activities during the morning and evening hours and plan for scenic drives and swimming during the day. Fall and spring generally have more moderate temperatures allowing for more physical activities during the day. Surprisingly, many places in the desert are occasionally hit with snowstorms during the winter. So stay up to date on weather conditions no matter the season you decide to travel.

The Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

The close proximity of national parks, recreation areas, and other cities make Las Vegas one of the best cities to road trip from. In any direction you travel, you’re sure to hit a beautiful site. Here are some of the best road trip destinations from Las Vegas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Distance from Las Vegas: 31 miles

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures can be harsh, from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore close to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Distance from Las Vegas: 37 miles

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoover Dam is one of the most recognizable and iconic manmade structures in the world, a 726-foot-high concrete arch-gravity dam that was completed in 1935. Until you visit Hoover Dam it’s difficult to appreciate its sheer size. It’s a dizzying sight from the dam itself. And it’s quite sobering, too, since more than 100 people lost their lives in the building of this spectacular feat of engineering. There are fun stops to make on the way back from a dam visit to complete the trip.

Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seeing Hoover Dam and getting a good tour of the place is crucial to understanding the point in American history when it was built. Take the Dam tour, a one-hour guided tour of the powerplant and its passageways. The tour starts with a film about the development of the dam and includes an elevator ride to the Nevada wing of the plant and eight of the dam’s generators as well as into the tunnels that served as inspection areas.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 130 miles to the West Rim (Skywalk Canyon Overlook); 280 miles to the South Rim; and 270 miles to the North Rim

John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” A universally recognizable iconic destination, Grand Canyon National Park is a true marvel of nature that’s on every RVer’s bucket list.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million years ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re seeking a secluded escape to Mother Nature, you should be prepared: The Grand Canyon can be very crowded. The South Rim—home to the Grand Canyon Village and the well-worn Bright Angel Trail—is particularly popular for sightseers and hikers. It is on this side that you’ll find the most amenities. However, for a true escapist experience, head to the North Rim.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 161 miles

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat Zion National Park. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards, and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

Related: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not surprisingly, Zion boasts towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides. The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. The Watchman is even more ornate and colorful as it soars 2,555 feet from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 186 miles

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths (popular with rock climbers), and oases. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. This outstanding scenic point overlooks a breathtaking expanse of valleys, mountains, and deserts.

Related: Joshua Tree National Park Turns 25. But what is a Joshua tree?

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees, giant boulders, cholla cacti, and rugged mountains are some of the classic wonders that make up Joshua Tree National Park. The hiking is fantastic! There is a variety of self-guided nature trails and longer hikes that offer different perspectives of the park. The aptly-named Jumbo Rocks has a half-mile nature walk to Skull Rock and the Barker Dam walk (1.1-mile loop) is interesting in terms of the cultural history of the area.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 256 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Erosion has shaped colorful limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes collectively called “hoodoos”.

Related: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points. Hiking is the best way to experience stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Distance from Las Vegas: 280 miles

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona. If you admire exquisite art or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona. If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona. Sedona is a must-stop.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6 More Road Trips from Las Vegas (In case you’re not inspired yet!)

Mount Charleston (42 Miles): A cute mountain town, perfect for getting out into nature.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nelson Ghost Town (48 miles): Just past Henderson and Before Boulder City take a right (south) on 95 South and visit this old Gold Mining town now loved by photographers and music video producers alike.

Lake Havasu (155 miles): Visit the famous London Bridge or get out on the lake for some watersports.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (217 miles): And while there be sure to add on a visit to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and Antelope Canyons.

Related: Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park (379 miles): The giant trees of Sequoia will fill you with awe—and give you a crick in your neck from staring up at them.

Road Trips from Las Vegas: Final Thoughts

With so many beautiful places located around Las Vegas make sure you get out of Sin City and explore the natural wonders of the desert! With activities for all types of adventurers, there is something for everyone. It’s rare you’ll drive more than an hour without stopping to take photos of the impressive sites!

Worth Pondering…

Las Vegas is a 24-hour city. It never stops.

—Eli Roth

On the Road to your Perfect Summer Road Trip

Everything you need to know to plan your Arizona road trip

Driving around Arizona, the sixth largest state in the US, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported into the middle of nowhere, or even onto another planet—in one moment you’re surrounded by rocky red buttes, the next saguaro-speckled desert-scapes and then, verdant valleys.

Arizona is what road-trip daydreams are made of. But this is a destination that also richly rewards those who linger a little while and set off on foot to explore spectacular hiking trails and quirky desert towns.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

In the late 1800s, tens of thousands flocked to Bisbee hoping to prosper from the copper, gold, and silver deposits that were quickly mined to depletion. Today, it’s home to about 5,000 and remains a popular tourist destination to those from all over the state. The town is named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the Copper Queen Mine.

Copper Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re looking to dive into a little Arizona history, Bisbee is home to the state’s first golf course, Turquoise Valley; the first community library, Copper Queen; and America’s oldest ball field, Warren Ballpark all dating from the 1800s—and all still in operation and open to the public. You can also take a ghost tour, try out a variety of healthy food restaurants, or grab a drink at the famous St. Elmo, the oldest continually operated bar in Arizona.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

A day trip to red rock country is always a good idea. Psychics claim Sedona is home to powerful earth energy vortexes that can uplift believers with a spiritual experience. But even New Age naysayers appreciate the town for its spectacular red-rock scenery. Hike to the top of Cathedral Rock, one of Sedona’s four strongest vortexes, and browse in Main Street art galleries and, yes, New Age shops. Drive the Red Rock Scenic Byway, a 7½-mile stretch of Arizona 179 that winds through pine-tree-studded forests and past soaring red-rock spires shimmering with energy vortexes.

The Chapel of the Holy Cross, which sits right on the edge of stunning red cliffs is a beautiful site to see and the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village provides a serene outdoor space for shopping. Slide Rock State Park, originally a private apple farm is now a unique attraction where visitors can ride down a “natural” water current over smooth sandstone.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The name “museum” is deceiving. You’ll spend most of your time outdoors at Tucson’s 98-acre desert enclave that includes a botanical garden, zoo, aquarium, natural history museum, and art gallery. Exhibits of desert animals show bobcats, javelinas, and a mountain lion.

Duck into the hummingbird aviary to take selfies with the birds as they hover over a flower; marvel at the raptors overhead in the Birds of Prey demonstration at 10 a.m. daily and stop in the Reptile Hall to safely view the venomous critters you don’t want to meet in the desert.

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly

Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon. Though only a fraction of the Grand Canyon’s size and majesty, Canyon de Chelly offers more than a rugged landscape. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. Canyon de Chelly’s blend of landscape and cultural heritage allows a glimpse at an area originally inhabited 4,000 years ago and which still sustains people today.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

Once considered the wickedest town in the West, this mile-high former copper-mining town was rife in its 1890s heyday with drunks, gamblers, and ladies of the night. After the mine closed in the 1950s it became a ghost town.

Today Jerome is a vibrant artist hub and tourist destination filled with boutiques, galleries, wine-tasting rooms, and restaurants. Take a ghost-town tour, pan for gold at the old Gold King Mine, or learn about the area’s history in the Mine Museum at Jerome State Historic Park.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake

An unlikely gem in the desert foothills of southern Arizona, Patagonia Lake’s 265 surface acres provide boating, fishing, and bird watching. Patagonia Lake State Park’s popularity soars in the summer when visitors crowd its small beach, thanks to water far cooler than found in an Arizona swimming pool.

The lake was created as an attraction to sell lots in a subdivision, but the land was sold to the state when costs soared out of reach. The park has accommodations for RV and tent camping, as well as cabins for those who’d like to stay awhile longer. 

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

Follow in the footsteps of a legendary cast of characters when you mosey down these wooden sidewalks. Horse-drawn stagecoaches still clip-clop along the street, steely-eyed men in black frock coats still march toward a date with destiny, and it’s easy to forget what century it is.

At one end of Allen Street, you can walk into the O.K. Corral to see the famous gunfight reenacted. At the other end, you can tour the Birdcage Theatre where more bodies fell and ghosts still linger.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets. The oldest continuously inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman.

Watson Lake, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

As Arizona’s original capital, this haven in the pine forests between Phoenix and Flagstaff has more than earned its spot among Arizona’s most captivating towns. While it retains a bit of Western charm like many of the state’s other small towns, it also offers a unique, laid-back atmosphere featuring events like art fairs at the Courthouse Plaza and shows at the historic Elks Theatre. It’s also the perfect town if you’re in the mood to explore a great beer scene. Hit the ever-popular Prescott Brewing Company or The Palace, an iconic saloon that’s been slinging drinks since 1877. Plus, just a few miles away from downtown, visitors can enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities—from fishing to kayaking—at scenic Watson Lake and Lynx Lake.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind, these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937