The Most Breathtakingly Beautiful Road Trips in America

There’s no better way to explore America than from behind the wheel of an RV. Discover my picks of the 10 best road trips in the U.S.

You could say that life is one big road trip but that is bordering a little too close to poetry. Why not just go on a big ol’ RV journey instead? America is filled with incredible roads that stretch on and on, traversing stunning sights and memorable spots that have dominated travel bucket lists for years. You’ll need plenty of fuel in the tank and a carefully curated list of road trip tunes lined up but the rewards are seemingly endless.

My selection of the best road trips in the U.S. will take you through a whole lot of incredible scenery not to mention a healthy portion of the weirdest things on the planet. There’s a lot to love out there.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Route 66 All-American Road

Best road trip for American kitsch

Route: Chicago to Los Angeles

Length: 2,250 miles

Recommended time: 1–2 weeks

Details: It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that Route 66 is the most iconic road trip on the planet. Nicknamed the Mother Road, Route 66 has permanently ingrained itself in the international psyche as the original US road trip. Starting in Chicago, it crosses eight different states and connects travelers to national parks, weird but wonderful roadside attractions, and tons of vintage Americana.

Planning tip: The route can be driven in pieces or all at once but I suggest allotting plenty of time to explore—distances are long and the activities are numerous.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Route 66:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Blue Ridge Parkway All-American Road

Best Appalachian road trip

Route: Cherokee, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Recommended time: 2–5 days

Details: This spectacular route takes you through the heart of America’s oldest mountain range delivering view after view of rolling green mountains chock full of enchanting hiking trails, thundering waterfalls, ancient rock formations, and prolific wildlife. Part of the National Park Service (NPS), the Parkway begins adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passes through the spectacular Pisgah National Forest, several state parks, and recreation areas before ending at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park.

Detour: In addition to state and national parks many one-off hikes originate along the parkway. Consult trail maps to avoid missing some of Appalachia’s top routes.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the Blue Ridge Parkway:

3. Pacific Coast Highway

Best road trip for Pacific views

Route: San Diego to Seattle

Length: 1,600 miles

Recommended time: 8–12 days

Details: The Pacific Coast Highway delivers one of the US’ most iconic road trip experiences linking together the West Coast’s most notable metropolises, quirky California beach towns, ancient redwood forests, and the dramatic capes and pools of the Pacific Northwest. The route includes Highway 1, Highway 101, and I-5 starting in San Diego; it winds up the coast through LA, Big Sur, San Francisco, and Redwood National and State Parks eventually terminating in Seattle.

Planning tip: Always check for road closures, particularly in the Big Sur area where rockslides are common along the sea cliffs.

4. Natchez Trace All-American Road

Best road trip for Southern history

Route: Pasquo, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi

Length: 444 miles

Recommended time: 2–3 days

Details: The path for the Natchez Trace was originally carved not by humans but by buffalo that wandered the region from middle Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. Indigenous hunters and traders soon followed and later the route became a full-fledged thoroughfare for European colonists, soldiers, and dignitaries. Today, a trip down the Trace yields gorgeous scenery, historic towns, and the experience of traveling on one of the most storied roads in the country.

Merritt Island National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Florida U.S. Highway 1

Best road trip for Gulf Coast culture

Route: Amelia Island to Key West

Length: 545 miles

Recommended time: 6 days

Details: Florida’s U.S. Highway 1 runs the length of the state’s Atlantic Coast before banking east at Miami and ending in stunning Key West. This sublime multi-day journey takes you through tons of Florida’s most iconic stops: historic St Augustine, windswept Canaveral National Seashore, NASCAR-fueled Daytona, laid-back Fort Lauderdale, and the glam and glitter of Miami and South Beach.

Planning tip: Hurricane season lasts from June through October with the most active months being August and September and has the potential to significantly affect Florida. If you’re visiting during this window, keep your eyes on the forecast.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Florida U.S. Highway 1:

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Badlands – Black Hills Loop

Best road trip to experience the Great Plains

Route: Badlands National Park to the Black Hills

Length: 330 miles

Recommended time: 2 days

Details: If you want to get a taste of how expansive the Great Plains are head to South Dakota for this fascinating road trip through a state of huge ecological and cultural importance. Start your trip at the mind-bendingly beautiful Badlands National Park before looping over to the Black Hills, home to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park. Along the way, take in views of thriving buffalo herds, fascinating rock formations, and plenty of rolling hills.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in the Black Hills and Badlands National Park:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. San Juan Skyway All-American Road

Best road trip for Rocky Mountain peaks

Route: Loop that begins and ends in Durango

Length: 236 miles

Recommended time: 1–3 days

Details: The San Juan Skyway delivers some of the Rockies’ biggest views in high definition. This route which includes the renowned Million Dollar Highway leapfrogs across central Colorado’s mountainous core connecting Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Mesa Verde National Park known for the cliff dwellings left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Whether you’re a history buff, ski bum, landscape photographer, or simply someone who enjoys a thrilling drive, San Juan Skyway has something for you.

Planning tip: A fact that can be deduced by its name, the San Juan Skyway runs through high-altitude terrain and that makes road conditions somewhat unpredictable particularly during shoulder season. Always check for closures or local warnings before heading out.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the San Juan Skyway:

8. Richardson Highway

Best road trip for Alaska outdoors

Route: Fairbanks to Valdez

Length: 364 miles,

Recommended time: 2–4 days

Details: No road trip list would be complete without a journey through the country’s largest, northernmost state. The Richardson Highway, Alaska’s oldest highway connects Fairbanks with Valdez winding past dramatic mountain peaks and glaciers and giving travelers a front seat to some of the country’s most jaw-dropping natural attractions. Be sure to make pit stops for hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and of course, photography.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Scenic Byway 12 All-American Road

Best road trip through red rock country

Route: Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park

Length: 122 miles

Recommended time: 1 day

Details: Southern Utah feels like an entirely different planet and this backroads route takes you through the best scenery this geologically diverse state has to offer. Start your journey in the town of Panguitch right outside of Bryce Canyon and follow the road through red rock canyons, historic towns, and pine forests until you finish your journey in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the west’s best-kept secrets.

Detour: From Torrey, it’s an easy 2.5-hour drive to Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches making these routes the best way to see Utah’s Big 5. And the road itself takes you through some amazing lunar-like scenery that contrasts sharply with the red rocks – wild.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Scenic Byway and beyond:

Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Coastal New England

Best road trip for Atlantic maritime vibes

Route: New York City to Portland, Maine

Length: 430 miles

Recommended time: 3–5 days

Details: Prep yourself for seafood chowder, picturesque oceanside towns, and all the lobster you can handle, this coastal New England trip will help you find your sea legs. Start in New York City and make your way north along the coast stopping to enjoy the lovely beaches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts’ wealth of historical heavy hitters, and New Hampshire’s lighthouses before arriving in culinary-minded Portland, Maine.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in New England:

Worth Pondering…

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

Joshua Tree Parkway of Arizona: A Worthwhile Pit Stop along U.S. 93

Most travelers who visit Arizona are surprised to find that the state has such a unique and diverse topography. Flat desert with saguaro, craggy rock summits, ponderosa pine forests, and frosty snow-capped mountains and all this terrain can be accessed by highways and by-ways. One of the most beautiful drives in Arizona is the Joshua Forest Parkway also known as Scenic Route 93.

Although the Joshua Tree National Park in neighboring California gets far more attention, Arizona’s Joshua Tree Scenic Parkway is pretty spectacular too. While not an official park or destination, there are a few spots to pull off and take in the sights. It’s unique, especially looking to the west where a ridge of mountains serves as a magnificent backdrop.

But did you know you can drive through a Joshua Tree forest in Arizona? It’s true. On U.S. 93 between Wickenburg and Wikieup, a 7-mile stretch of road graced on both sides with Joshua Trees and other hardy desert plants.

If you ever find yourself cruising U.S. 93 between Wickenburg and Kingman, do yourself a favor and plan a quick pit stop to see Arizona’s own Joshua Tree Forest.

Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re like a lot of people when you hear Joshua Tree, one of two things come to mind:

  • Joshua Tree National Forest in California
  • The fifth studio album by the rock band U2

In the 1980s, Joshua Trees became immortalized after the release of the U2 album by the same name. The image of the band in the California desert with a lone Joshua Tree in the background made the yucca specious illustrious with fans, many of whom roamed the California countryside in search of the exact spot in which the famous photo was taken. (The Joshua Tree shown on the U2 album died in 2000 and a plaque now commemorates its place in history.)

While California has the greatest concentration of Joshua Trees and a dedicated National Park, Arizona has a scenic parkway dedicated to the unusually distinct shrub. Along U.S. 93 between Wickenburg, Arizona, and Las Vegas, Nevada there is a small but concentrated stretch of Joshua Trees that is worth a stop.

Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But first, what is a Joshua Tree?

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia) is actually not a tree at all. It happens to be the largest variety of yucca and can grow to more than 20 feet at an average of only one-half inch per year. It provides a habitat for many birds, mammals, and reptiles—and a spectacular visual for us humans.

Why is it called Joshua Tree?

When Mormon settlers first saw the plant they dubbed the Joshua tree; it reminded them of the Biblical story in which the bushy-bearded biblical leader reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. When Territorial Governor John C. Frémont caught sight of it during an 1844 trek through the Mohave Desert, he called it “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.”

Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree quick facts:

  • New seedlings may grow at an average rate of 3 inches per year in their first ten years then only about 1.5 inches per year after that
  • The trunk consists of thousands of small fibers and annual growth rings making it difficult to determine a tree’s age
  • Each plant has a deep and extensive root system with roots reaching as many as 36 feet deep
  • Can live for hundreds of years; some specimens survive a thousand years
  • The tallest trees reach about 49 feet in height
  • Flowers grow in panicles that appear from February to late April
  • Joshua trees usually do not branch until after they bloom
Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive, which is familiar to anyone who’s road-tripped from Phoenix to Sin City (or vice versa), officially begins near the small town of Wikieup, a dot on the map that’s better known for its pie (you’ll pass Luchia’s) than for its tourism cachet. Other landmarks in town include the Snoopy-piloted Wikieup arrow along with the Wikieup Trading Post and Eat at Joe’s Barbecue as well as the creosote-peppered hills that surround Bronco Wash.

Heading south on U.S. 93 around Milepost 127, you’ll come to the Big Sandy River, and unless it’s been raining, the river is probably just that—big and sandy. Beyond the Big Sandy, sheer, eroded cliffs loom speckled in spots with saguaros and scrub. Pale, striated canyon walls straddle the highway—green, yellow, white, and taupe—and the mountains stretch for miles in front of you.

Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Milepost 147, you’ll start seeing giant boulders piled on top of each other. They look like hoodoos with saguaros in between. The rocks are an interesting sight but not as interesting as Nothing. Blink and you’ll miss it but Nothing was a real Arizona town and you’ll see it off to the left. It’s marked with a sign and a pile of … well, junk. You’ll have to see it for yourself but Nothing really is something.

Joshua trees become the focal point of this drive around Milepost 162. One of the first you’ll see is a large, gnarly fellow off to the right, and then several more in rapid succession. They’re reminiscent of the baobab trees made famous in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and if your imagination is active, you might see a little blond boy emerge from the trees with a dog and a well-protected flower in hand.

Joshua Tree Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By Milepost 169, the forest of Joshua trees is dense and you’ll see a sign that reads, Joshua Tree Parkway of Arizona. It’s a label that formalizes the obvious—that this is an incredibly scenic drive that passes through one of the most spectacular landscapes in the Southwest.

The route continues to Wickenburg, a classic Old West town that celebrates the state’s cowboy heritage with the Desert Caballeros Museum and a string of Western-themed shops and restaurants. It’s a great place to visit, but the highlight of this drive is the trees. Or, rather, the Yucca brevifolia.

Worth Pondering…

I speak for the trees.

—Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

20 Scenic Road Trips to Take This Summer in Every Part of America

No matter where you are, an unforgettable road trip is never far away

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. For these 20 road trips, that is definitely true.

America is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, it is home to mountains, prairies, canyons, deserts, lakes, beaches, forests, and just about any natural landscape you can imagine. If you like road trips, a lot of these incredible landscapes are accessible by road with tons of sights to see and other adventures waiting around each bend. If you’re not a fan of road trips, well, this list might change your mind.

Every corner of the United States has some incredible sights to see and whether you’re looking for history, nature, interesting small towns, or anything in between, there’s a scenic drive for you. Take advantage of the warm weather and check out these summertime drives; the adventures won’t disappoint.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northwest

Spirit River Memorial Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington: Spirit Lake Memorial Highway 

The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is the only scenic byway in the U.S. that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone. This scenic and historic route is a 52-mile journey into the scene of epic destruction that Mount St. Helens caused when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Along the route are four distinct interpretive and tour centers: Silver Lake, Hoffstadt Bluffs, the Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, and Johnston Ridge. Each one tells a different part of the story from the natural history before the May 1980 eruption, the aftermath, reforestation efforts, and the natural recovery of plants and animals. 

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northeast

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Green Mountain Byway

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Little River, Smugglers Notch, Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests are along the route. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: Ocean Drive

This loop around the island’s coast is full of seaside views, charm, and historic homes to excite the imagination. Along Harrison and Ocean Avenues, a plethora of 1865-1914 mansions from the Gilded Age come into view that were once summer homes and getaways for the financially and socially elite but now many of the Newport Mansions are open to public tours. For outdoor fun, stop at Brenton Point State Park to enjoy the water or a nice picnic spread.

Lancaster County Amish Country Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Amish Country Drive

A visit to Amish country is a worthwhile addition to your summer drive plans. When all else fails and you’re looking for the idyllic peacefulness of a pure country drive, circle around the city of Lancaster and see some of the gloriously beautiful landscapes. Unplug and experience communities of people who aren’t affected by the hustle and bustle of modern life, instead keeping their treasured traditions alive and strong to this day.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Midwest

Heritage Trail Driving Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana: Heritage Trail Driving Tour

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

Peter Norbeck Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Embracing South Dakota’s pastoral landscapes, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway winds its way from Rapid City terminating at Mount Rushmore. This 70-mile route graces travelers with landmarks like the intriguing Needles Eye and the monumental Rushmore Presidents. En route, small towns like Keystone and Custer dot the journey lending aid if a leg stretch is overdue. Amidst this, Sylvan Lake, a man-made marvel provides a serene break. Its creation is attributed to Peter Norbeck and his predecessors. Norbeck was the byway’s namesake as well as South Dakota’s former governor in the early 20th century. Lastly, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first week in August (August 4-13, 2023) showcases the byway’s lively side, drawing motor enthusiasts nationwide.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of eyeglasses shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadways are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance. Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southwest

Gold Rush Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or 49ers who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike its rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail

This historic road covers some of the most rugged terrains in Arizona. The land surrounding the road rises steeply to the north to form the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and to the south to form the Superstition Wilderness Area. Steep-sided canyons, rock outcroppings, and magnificent geologic formations are all along the road. Water played a major role in creating the beauty of the area, and it also provides numerous recreation opportunities. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring section. The road hangs on the side of this high-walled canyon and winds its way along tremendous precipices that sink sheer for hundreds of feet below.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

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

Palms to Pines Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Palms to Pines Highway

The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way. Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climbs into Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road 

The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was designated by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1984. This route follows US 89A through the scenic canyon made popular in the 1920s when it was discovered by Hollywood. This scenic road offers a rare opportunity to study a variety of elements within a short distance. The road traverses seven major plant communities as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation, and precipitation. It begins near the town of Sedona and runs in a northerly direction through Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim, traveling areas rich with geologic formations similar to the Grand Canyon

Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: Scenic Highway 28

Roughly paralleling the Rio Grande River, New Mexico Highway 28 travels from Mesilla to Canutillo (at the New Mexico-Texas state line). Along the drive, the Stahmann Farms pecan trees have grown over the roadway making for a sight straight out of a fairytale. Highway 28 is also home to Chopes Bar & Café, known for its tasty New Mexican food. Rio Grande Winery Vineyard & Winery and La Viña Winery are also hot spots along the roadway and very much a testament to New Mexico’s thriving, the centuries-old wine industry.

La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: La Sal Mountain Loop

From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab. It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southeast

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

The Colonial Parkway, a scenic roadway that spans 23 miles serves as a time machine transporting visitors to the colonial era of Virginia. Connecting three significant historic sites, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, this picturesque drive offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Colonial Parkway winds along the Virginia Peninsula linking three pivotal sites in American history. This well-preserved roadway takes travelers on a journey through time, immersing them in the story of America’s colonial beginnings. With its carefully designed architecture, stunning views of the James River, and access to iconic landmarks, the Colonial Parkway provides a unique opportunity to explore Virginia’s colonial heritage and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s roots.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky: Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway

Here’s a must-do for every American history buff. Explore the land of Honest Abe’s youth as well as several significant Civil War sites. Learn what Lincoln’s log cabin life was really like at the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, Kentucky; then visit Lincoln’s birthplace and the original Lincoln Memorial at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. If you’re so inclined, you can pair these educational adventures with a stop or two at one of the many breweries and distilleries the area is famous for such as Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap Road

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

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This stunning drive runs a length of 105 miles north and south through Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite its lower latitude, in the winter driving conditions can be rather sketchy, with its altitude bringing in more snow, ice, and cold.

In the summer this ice gives way to views of green rising high out of the Shenandoah Valley. While driving through the elevated winding road, you’ll feel tucked away in the green forest at the top of the ridge and then be rewarded with expansive views of the valley far below at the many scenic viewpoints along the road. In the fall and winter, though, you’ll see even less crowds and even better colors.

Bayou Teche © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

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

Road trip planning

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

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

The Coast-to-Coast Road Trip is 120 Years Old

In 1903, a Vermont doctor bet $50 that he could cross America by car. It took him 63 days, $8,000, and 600 gallons of gas

The coast-to-coast road trip, that American essential, turns 120 this year. In 1903, Horatio Jackson and Sewall Crocker became the first people ever to drive a car from one side of the United States to the other.

Cars were an exciting novelty at the time and their numbers were exploding—from 8,000 in 1900 to 32,920 in 1903—but many still considered the horseless carriage a passing fad. There were few suitable roads let alone a nationwide road network. So theirs was an adventure like none before. And it all started with a $50 bet.

Horatio Nelson Jackson (1872–1955) was a medical doctor from a prominent Vermont family. One of his brothers was the mayor of Burlington. John Holmes Jackson won the 1917 mayoral election with a margin of just 10 votes, a record matched by Bernie Sanders in 1981. Another was the lieutenant governor of the state.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No maps, no car, and very little driving experience

Jackson was an early automobile enthusiast. While in San Francisco (which he and his wife had reached by train), he accepted a bet that he could drive a car cross-country. He took the wager despite not owning a car, having very little driving experience, and not having any useful maps.

>> Related article: Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

For such practical matters, Jackson enlisted the help of Sewall K. Crocker, a driver and mechanic, and on his advice purchased a 1903 Winton. He named the two-cylinder, 20-horsepower touring car Vermont. The two left San Francisco on May 23 with their car stuffed with sleeping bags and blankets, rubber suits and coats, an ax and shovel, a Kodak camera and a telescope, a rifle and a shotgun, spare parts, and tools, and as many cans of gas and oil as they could stow.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plan was to avoid the deserts of Nevada and Utah and the higher passes of the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies so the expedition swung north to follow the Oregon Trail in reverse. They were only 15 miles into the journey when the car blew a tire and they had to use the only spare they had brought.

North of Sacramento, a woman misdirected them for a total of 108 miles so her family could see their first automobile. When more tires blew out on the rocky road towards Oregon, they wound the rope around the wheels. Along the way, they wired the Winton Company for supplies to be sent ahead. Nevertheless, they occasionally had to walk or cycle long distances to find gas, oil, or spare parts.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bulldog named Bud

In Idaho, Jackson and Crocker acquired a bulldog named Bud as a traveling companion and fitted him with goggles to keep the dust from his eyes. And then the press caught on. Jackson, Crocker, and Bud became celebrities. Reporters and ever-larger crowds awaited the trio at every stop.

Despite more hardships—they lost their money and their way on the road to Cheyenne forcing them to go without food for 36 hours—things got easier once they crossed the Mississippi as there were more paved roads in the eastern half of the country.

>> Related article: No Matter Where You Are, These Road Trips Are Sure To Inspire

When they arrived in New York City on July 26, 63 days after leaving San Francisco, they had completed the first cross-country road trip in American history. And it only took them about $8,000 ($260,000 in today’s money), financed entirely by Jackson, and 800 gallons of gas. They never collected the $50 wager.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bud retired to Vermont with Jackson and his wife. Jackson went on to receive multiple medals for his active service in World War I and became a successful businessman in Vermont. His only other car-related feat of note is a traffic ticket for breaking the 6-mph speed limit in Burlington. In 1944, he donated his car to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on permanent display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. with the added likenesses of Jackson and Bud. Crocker died in 1913 at the young age of 30 but that is hardly a reason for leaving him out.

The cross-country adventures of Jackson and Crocker bring to mind a few other long-distance record-breakers such as Lewis and Clark or Phileas Fogg (the latter admittedly fictional). Their groundbreaking trip was the subject of a book (Horatio’s Trip) and a Ken Burns documentary of the same name with Tom Hanks voicing Horatio Jackson.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip on Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No household names

Despite the book and the documentary, the pair has never quite become household names on par with aviation pioneers such as Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart. The cross-country adventurers who followed in their tire tracks and are even less remembered though they are on a map and table in the 1907 Blue Book brings their accomplishments back from oblivion for just a moment.

Jackson and Crocker hadn’t even arrived in New York when two other car expeditions left San Francisco for New York. E.T. (Tom) Fetch and M.C. Krarup would get there in 61 days, two days faster than the originals. Lester Whitman and Eugene Hammond took 73 days setting a slowness record.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A year later, Whitman got his revenge. With his new teammate Charles Carris, he shaved off almost a month of the previous record driving from San Francisco to New York in just under 33 days. In so doing, Whitman became the first person to drive coast to coast twice.

>> Related article: Texas Road Trips Sampler

There were no fewer than four coast-to-coast drives in 1905. Reversing the direction, the first three left from New York to arrive in Portland, Oregon. The first two were obviously in a race against each other both leaving on May 8 and both in eight-cylinder Oldsmobiles.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip with Forrest Gump © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three hurrays for Percy Megargel

But who won? The table says Dwight Huss and Milford Wigle completed the crossing in only 44 days versus 51 days for Percy Megargel and Barton Stanchfield—but it shows both teams arriving on June 21. It seems likely Megargel lost (arriving on June 28 instead of June 21), because he went straight back and tried again, this time with David Fassett. Their time was a disappointing 84 days. The pair returned to New York by car setting off from San Francisco but the result was even worse: 201 days. At least Megargel was the first person ever to drive coast-to-coast three times.

The year 1906 saw three coast-to-coast road trips. William Gehr and W.E. Canfield brought their wives with them—also a first. Whitman and Carris broke their speed record crossing the country in just over 15 days. Richard Little and D. Haggerty arriving in San Francisco 24 days and eight hours after leaving New York would have made headlines just two years earlier. But by that time, the novelty, if not the attraction, of coast-to-coast road trips had already started to wear off.

A cross coast-to-coast road trip in Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final note on Horatio Nelson’s maiden trip

As the road transport paradigm shifts from fossil fuels to electric, there’s a whole bunch of early automotive records now ripe for a do-over including Horatio Jackson’s coast-to-coast road trip.

>> Related article: Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

In 2022, Jack Smith and two friends did just that. They retraced Horatio’s route in a 1964 VW Bus that had been converted into an electric vehicle. It went well enough for them to immediately double back: “Once we reached New York City, we turned around and followed the 1913 version of the Lincoln Highway back to San Francisco,” Jack writes.

Worth Pondering…

Do you know why a vehicle’s WINDSHIELD is so large and the rear view mirror is so small? Because our PAST is not as important as our FUTURE! So, look ahead and move on. 

Texas Hill Country Is the Ultimate Road Trip

Texas Hill Country with its winding roads and hilly vistas of live oak trees and prickly pear is one of the most scenic places in the Lone Star State and offers some of the best wines east of California

With its scenic beauty, quaint towns, fascinating history, and varied attractions, the central part of the Lone Star State has all the makings of a fun-filled RV getaway.

For many folks, Texas evokes thoughts of flat cotton fields, desert, the humid eastern piney woods, the Gulf Coast, big cities such as Dallas and Houston, or a state so large it seems to take forever to drive across. Yes, Texas is all of these and more.

Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Hill Country at approximately 31,000 square miles is the fourth-largest region in Texas. This vast, rural region of south-central Texas is conveniently close to all major cities. Its rolling hills are only an hour-long drive from Austin and San Antonio and a four-hour jaunt from Dallas and Houston. 

The hills dotted with sprawling cypress and oak trees make for an idyllic road trip route that’s especially picturesque in spring and fall. Some of the lushest fields of bluebonnets bloom in spring and there’s nothing more Texan than a bluebonnet photograph.

Guadalupe River State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Motorcyclists enjoy riding the hilly, curvy, and wooded byways and highways. Visitors may see deer and other wildlife as well as Texas Longhorns grazing in fields.

I will hit a few highlights of what this large, diverse region has to offer for travelers of all ages as we journey from east to west.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s start our trip across the Hill Country in New Braunfels located on I-35 a short distance northeast of San Antonio. New Braunfels and the Canyon Lake area just a few miles to the north are home to various RV parks. Many RVers, especially young families, make New Braunfels a destination.

Besides being close enough for day trips to San Antonio, New Braunfels and the surrounding area offer attractions for visitors of all ages. One hot spot for cooling off is the Schlitterbahn Water Park which boasts 51 attractions including rivers, rides, chutes, and slides that draw tens of thousands of visitors every year.

Texas Hill Country near Kerrville© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those looking for a natural water attraction might want to take a dip in the spring-fed Comal River in New Braunfels. At only 2.5 miles long it is one of the shortest navigable waterways in the United States. Tubing in the river is a fun way to cool off on a hot day. Another fun family destination is the Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo.

More on the Texas Hill Country: A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

Gruene in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Braunfels isn’t just for kids. Settled by Germans in the mid-1800s, the Gruene Historic District within the city limits was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The renovated historic buildings now serve as bed-and-breakfast inns, restaurants, art galleries, antique and gift shops, and a general store. You can enjoy live entertainment at Gruene Hall, Texas’s oldest continually operating dance hall. Gruene also is a popular launching place for kayaking and tubing on the Guadalupe River.

Greune in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One busy tourist destination a few miles up I-35 at exit 200 in San Marcos is the location of the Premium and Tanger outlet malls. With more than 200 stores combined at the malls, shoppers will find plenty to occupy their time.

A favorite German restaurant, the Alpine Haus is in New Braunfels at 251 S. Seguin Ave. It sits back off the road in a historic house built in the mid-1800s. The period décor is attractive, the food is deliciously cooked in Bavarian style, and the service is excellent.

Buesher State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A block down Seguin Avenue from the Alpine Haus is the oldest continually operating bakery in Texas. Naegelin’s Bakery has been serving authentic German pastries and strudel since 1868.

Just a few miles north of New Braunfels are Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River. Several RV parks in this area will appeal to those who desire a resting place away from the city and the highway. This also is a good area for those who enjoy nature. Boating and fishing are popular on Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River attracts kayakers and tubers. Area outfitters rent tubes and provide transportation for those who glide down the gentle Guadalupe. A well-maintained nature trail awaits exploration below the Canyon Lake Dam

Guadalupe River at Kerrville in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With approximately 50 wineries and tasting rooms in Gillespie County, this is the most-visited wine region in Texas. And if you thought wine wasn’t a thing in Texas, the state has eight recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). In fact, Texas is the fifth-highest wine-producing state and is home to the fifth-highest number of wineries, according to data from WineAmerica.org. Texas wine isn’t new but it is rapidly growing and the quality is only getting better as growers perfect the grapes that do best in the rocky Texas soil.

More on the Texas Hill Country: Head For the Hills: Texas Hill Country

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But wineries aren’t the only attraction. Tourists visit Fredericksburg to browse the art galleries, leather shops, boutiques, brew pubs, and other venues in its historic downtown. Lunch and dinner breaks find visitors in one of several German restaurants on the main street.

The city is a year-round destination: Oktoberfest is a no-brainer in the fall but the holidays make Fredericksburg look like a gingerbread village.

Fredericksburg Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a long history of German influence, Otto’s German Bistro is the best place in town for a Texas German dinner. For the brunch lovers, Hill & Vine offers a unique brunch menu with black-eyed pea hummus and peachy pecan pancakes. Short on time and need a bite to go? Hye Market and Deli has delicious sandwiches, perfect for lunch in between tastings. 

National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A visit to Fredericksburg isn’t complete without a stop at the National Museum of the Pacific War. The museum holds interest for visitors of all ages. Plan to spend several hours to see it all. The facility is open Wednesday through Sunday. Admission prices vary ranging up to $20 for adults.

Texas Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many Fredericksburg RV parks and campgrounds are within minutes of historic Main Street and major attractions while others are located in nearby municipal and state parks. Choose from Fredericksburg RV Park, The Vineyards of Fredericksburg RV Park, Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, Oakwood RV Resort, and Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After dark, nearby Lyndon B. Johnson State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park while the one-of-a-kind Luckenbach General Store, Bar & Dancehall hosts a nightly picker’s circle.

More on the Texas Hill Country: “Howdy, y’all” to these Small Texas Towns

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, the 36th president was born, reared, and died. Perhaps no other president is more closely identified with one parcel of real estate including his birthplace, boyhood home, and ranch as well as his ancestors’ pioneer settlement.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature enthusiasts can experience the nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. A billion years ago, the large pink granite dome known as Enchanted Rock was part of a big pool of magma miles under the earth’s surface. It pushed into the rock above in spots, then cooled and hardened, turning into the large granite dome it is today. The dome has drawn people here for thousands of years, and today, visitors can hike, backpack, rock climb, bird, and even stargaze, as the park is designated an International Dark Sky Park.

Lady Bird Johnson Regional Park near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short drive west on Texas Highway 16 finds some visitors dreaming of their youth and days gone by. Street Dreams is an auto dealership that specializes in classic and collector cars and trucks as well as related memorabilia. The two showrooms are crowded with 30 to 35 vehicles, all ready to drive away. This mini museum is worth a visit. Yes, walking among and looking at these cars does cause one to dream.

Marcos in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby Bandera is known as the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Here, you can attend rodeos, visit the Frontier Times Museum, hike in the 5,400-acre Hill Country State Natural Area or at the nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area, and listen to country music in the 11th Street Cowboy Bar. Kayaking on the Medina River and horseback riding are other favorite activities.

Schulenberg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to all I have mentioned in our drive across the Hill Country, more than a dozen state parks and natural areas offer miles of hiking trails, bird-watching (including the rare yellow-cheeked warbler) locations, kayaking spots, and the opportunity to observe thousands of bats emerge from an old tunnel.

Being rural and dotted with small towns, this area also boasts dozens of fairs, festivals, and farmers’ markets throughout the year.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although I have highlighted just a little of what the Texas Hill Country has to offer, I hope I have sparked your interest in visiting this beautiful part of Texas which can satisfy diverse interests and promises fun for all ages.

Read Next: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for your Next Road Trip

Discover America’s scenic byways on your next road trip adventure

There are few things as classically American as a good-old-fashioned road trip. But that’s what happens when your country doesn’t have a robust rail system: come vacation time, your family hits the open road. It was, after all, John Steinbeck in Travels with Charley who noted that “Every American hungers to move.”

There is something romantic about hitting the open road, a journey that is both physical and emotional. The great thing about a road trip compared to any other type of travel is that we don’t always know what’s going to happen on the way. Sort of like the journey of life, no?

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 next 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!

Get more tips for driving Creole Nature Trail

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.

Get more tips for driving Red Rock All-American Road

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

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.

Get more tips for driving Blue Ridge Parkway

Lakes to Locks Passive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lakes to Locks Passage

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Recreation

Location: New York

Length: 234 miles

Lakes to Locks Passage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the story-filled regions that connect New York’s historic water of Lake Champlain and Lake George with the Champlain Canal and Hudson River to the south and the Chambly Canal to the Richelieu and St. Lawrence Rivers of Quebec to the north.

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.

Get more tips for driving Cherohala Skyway

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.

Get more tips for driving Scenic Byway 12

Russell-Brasstown 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 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.

Get more tips for driving Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

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

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.

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Panguitch Lake along Utah’s Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The route skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing. This topmost rise of the geological “Grand Staircase” showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Dakota

Length: 70 miles

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This byway winds 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. Forming a figure-eight route, the byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Get more tips for driving Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

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 Ultimate Guide to Planning a Cross-Country Road Trip

Plan a route from sea to shining sea—without breaking the bank

Road trips have always been part of America’s DNA and despite skyrocketing gas prices there’s still never been a better time to see just what those amber waves of grain are all about. For many remote work has left the door wide open for new methods (and longer timelines) for exploration.

Whether by motorhome, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, camper van, or whatever trusted stagecoach you’ve got sitting out in the driveway, pulling off a cross-country road trip is incredibly rewarding—but it does take planning. From trip planning to money-saving, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Rawhide Western Town in Chandler, Arizona along I-10 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning the route: north, south, or a little of both

Arguably the most important part of planning a cross-country road trip is to decide how to get from coast to coast. You’ll hear people talk about the “north” route, I-90 from Seattle to Boston, or the “south” route, I-10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. I don’t like having to choose so my road trip route incorporates a little bit of both. Also, consider the season; I don’t recommend either I-90 or I-80 during winter.

Black Hills of South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most important thing is to design the road trip around what inspires you (more on this later). For me, that means the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the Smoky Mountains, Charleston and Savannah, and the Southwest which dictated that we drive the northern route and then pivot straight south before turning east again and then zig-zagging a few more times and taking the southern route to the Southwest.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Write down the following numbers:

  • How many days do you have for your road trip?
  • Approximately how many miles do you intend to cover?

Start by making a list in Google Maps of all the places you want to see. You may be surprised at how naturally a route forms. You also may be surprised at how little time it takes to get from one place to the next, especially in the East.

Related article: Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What are the most miles you’d be comfortable driving in one day? Start by considering how many hours you’d feel comfortable behind the wheel then convert that into miles.

How many days do you want to do zero driving? Consider days spent exploring towns or in national and state parks. Likely, you won’t want to drive every single day of your trip.

These numbers should give you some clarity on what your itinerary will look like.

Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometimes following a pre-planned itinerary takes a lot of the guesswork out which many people prefer. Everyone’s tolerance for driving is different, too; you’ll need to gauge your threshold. Don’t plan to cross the country in six days if you can only handle four hours of driving at a time.

Amish Country in northwestern Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create your itinerary

Now, start plotting days out so you can see them. You can use whatever works best for you. There are also road trip planning apps out there.

Once you have a basic itinerary drafted, run through it and see how it feels. Is it too rushed? Are you trying to cover too many miles? Do you think you could squeeze more stops in?

Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make any tweaks you feel are necessary. Even though this will hopefully be a pretty solid plan my advice is to always think of it as a guide rather than something that needs to be followed 100 percent.

Here are a few more questions to ask yourself as you’re making alterations to your itinerary:

  • Does it feel balanced?
  • Do you have all your long drives at the beginning of the trip?
  • Will you feel exhausted when you reach your final destination or will you be ready to rock?
  • Do you have time in your schedule to be spontaneous?
  • What would happen if you don’t get home on the exact date that you planned?
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan ahead for national parks

Part of the adventure of a cross-country road trip is leaving room for improvisation. We don’t book RV parks and campgrounds until a day or two before our planned arrival which is great because we can be on our timetable. But this can become an issue around the national parks where campgrounds can often be booked months in advance.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As badly as you want to see Zion and Bryce Canyon, well… so does everyone else in America. It’s vitally important to plan and know each park’s entry restrictions. Consider springing for the $80 America the Beautiful National Park pass which provides access to all National Park Service sites as many times as you want in 12 months. In short, if you plan to go to more than three National Parks in one year, this is a good investment. If you plan to spend considerable time in one state or a region, look into those state or local passes too.

Related article: Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Design the road trip around what inspires you

Don’t miss out on great parks like Arches because you forgot to get reservations. If summer’s come to an end, you may get lucky—many parks, like Yosemite, do away with the reservation system after September 30. On the flip side, other parks like Glacier National Park or the Grand Canyon North Rim close their scenic drives in the colder months when snow is expected. It pays to do your research.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beat the crowds by going in the off-season—fall is an especially great time to visit—or opt for less-visited national parks that everyone seems to forget about. Get creative: America is full of gorgeous state parks, national forestsnational monumentshistoric parks, roadside attractions, and much more.

Gettysburg National National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set a road trip budget

Unless you’ve got a bottomless bank account (wouldn’t that be nice?!) you’ll probably want to set some sort of road trip budget. Now, this will vary from person to person. For some, it might be more or less a target to aim for but you’ve got flexibility. And for others, it’s a strict number that you’ll need to be very mindful of the entire trip. Whichever sounds like you, setting a budget is important. 

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

If you can, skip traveling to popular places over holiday weekends and possibly the week before and after as prices will be inflated (plus, it’ll be extra crowded).

Road trip costs to consider include:

  • Fuel: This category is pretty straightforward
  • Accommodation: RV parks and campgrounds
  • Food: Restaurants AND groceries; also, the cost of snacks, coffee, alcohol, ice cream… ALL the good stuff
  • Entertainment: Fun things you plan to do along the way—hiking permits, entry fees, tours, rental equipment
  • Miscellaneous: The little expenses that don’t fit elsewhere—like propane, parking fees, tolls, medicine, paying for Wi-Fi, toiletries, souvenirs, gifts
  • Emergencies: We all hope to avoid unforeseen circumstances but, they do happen. This might include RV repairs, medical expenses, etc.
La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t get gouged on fuel prices. I secretly get excited when we save money on diesel fuel. One great app to save money on gas is Gas Buddy. Simply input your location and Gas Buddy shows you the cheapest gas around you. This app alone can save you hundreds of dollars when traveling across the US. Independent truck stops often offer diesel fuel at 50 to 60 cents per gallon cheaper than the majors like Pilot/Flying J and Loves.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, driving the speed limit will help you stretch your fuel—not to mention, it’s kind of the law. Speeding can lower your fuel economy by as much as 30 percent. When you get up to places like Montana where the speed limit is 80 mph you’ll see how quickly your tank drains.

Turning off toll roads is another money saver. It never adds that much extra time and you can score substantial savings. There are some cities where tolls are unavoidable but in others, these are only slightly faster and the tolls can add up quickly. Driving from New York to Washington, DC, for example, can cost as much as $35 in tolls—each way. In cities that are infamous for their tolls, like Chicago, do a little pre-planning so you find the best route for your trip and don’t get stuck paying unnecessary fees for tolls.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have meals “on deck”. You can make some epic meals on the road but not every meal has to be fancy or overly planned out. Have some meals on hand that are just that—super simple to make.

We always have several “reserve meals” that don’t require much preparation for travel day.

Wild Turkey Distillery in Kentucky Bourbon Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dining out can be one of the biggest money sucks. It may seem like sacrilege to not be seeking out the best thing to eat in each town along your route but whittling your list down to the absolute can’t-miss spots will be lighter on your wallet. Texas BBQ joints are pretty high on my must-do list.

Eat out for lunch instead of dinner. If there’s a restaurant you just have to try, plan to go there for lunch instead of dinner. Restaurants often have items that are similar to their dinner menu with smaller portions sizes and smaller price tags. This is a great way to try a specific restaurant while still sticking to your budget.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find free things to do

No matter where your road trip may take you there should be a ton of free (or inexpensive) activities to do. Simply Google “free things to do in (enter city name here)” and you should find enough to get you started.

Alternatively, you could replace “free” with “cheap” for some more options.

Galt Farmers Market in Central Caliroenia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free activities that to seek out include:

  • Hiking and walking trails
  • Farmers markets
  • Local parks
  • Beaches
  • Visitor centers
The Okefenokee in southern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you hit the road…

Make sure everything on the RV and toad/tow vehicle is in good working order. This means checking the tire pressure, lights, oil, transmission fluid, and all the features before heading out each day. Don’t forget preventative maintenance.

Related article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

World’s Largest Roadrunner, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be prepared for things you didn’t prepare for

Even with the most detailed and extensive planning, things happen. But being open and flexible to mishaps is how to not let them ruin your day. If and when something goes wrong, remember to not panic. Trust that you’ve prepared yourself as best as possible and you’ll get back on track in no time.

Inconveniences are also exacerbated by exhaustion, so remember to take care of yourself on the road. Eat plenty of healthy food, drink water, and get a good night’s sleep before a long driving day. Leave the windows open for airflow, especially if you’re feeling sleepy. If you need to take a power nap, find a well-lit, safe area. This should not be a chore. Driving at your best is going to make the trip infinitely better.

Other than that, fire up your best road trip playlist, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

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

Discover America’s scenic byways on a summer 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 summer road trip adventure.

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 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.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: South Dakota

Length: 70 miles

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This byway winds 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. Forming a figure-eight route, the byway travels through Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Related Article: Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

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 is far and away the best.

Sky Island Parkway Scenic Byway © 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 Scenic Byway © 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.

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

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (1998)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic

Location: New Hampshire

Length: 100 miles

White Mountains Trail Scenic Byway (Mount Washington Cog Railway) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains have long been known for natural splendor, cultural richness, historical charm, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the eastern United States. The White Mountains Trail encompasses all these aspects throughout its 100-mile route. The Trail is a loop tour that winds through sections of the 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest and past many of the region’s most popular attractions. 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.

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Frankfort Pike Historic and Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic

Location: Kentucky

Length: 15.5 miles

Old Frankfort Pike Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Frankfort Pike National Scenic Byway extends 15 miles through a rural landscape that embodies the Bluegrass unlike any other. Here, internationally recognized Thoroughbred horse farms, diversified farms, country stores, railroad towns, and scenic landscapes have evolved over the past 250-plus years. Along the Byway are opportunities for a horse farm tour or a short side trip to neighboring attractions like Keeneland Race Track National Historic Landmark, Weisenberger Mill, and the historic railroad town of Midway.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Hovenweep National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Archeological

Location: New Mexico, Colorado, Utah

Length: 480 miles

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway (Mesa Verde National Park) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway provides a unique, well-preserved view of the history, memories, and traditions of the native peoples who lived in the American Southwest as hunters and gatherers thousands of years ago. The region and the scenic byway protect sacred archaeological remains and cultural and historic sites and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the landscapes while experiencing ancient native cultures.

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

Cherokee Foorhills 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

Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway (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.

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Panguitch Lake)© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Utah’s Patchwork Parkway (Cedar Breaks National Monument) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The route skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing. This topmost rise of the geological “Grand Staircase” showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.

Related Article: The Guide to Driving the Back Roads

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

Designation: National Scenic Byway (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Natural, Historic

Location: Virginia

Length: 23 miles

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Colonial Parkway is a twenty-three-mile scenic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown. It connects Virginia’s historic triangle: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Several million travelers a year use this route to enjoy the natural and cultural beauty of Virginia. The Parkway serves as a thoroughfare unifying culturally distinct sites crossing several pristine natural environments while still maintaining the National Park Service’s prime directive to conserve the scenery and provide enjoyment of the same.

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

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