The Complete Guide to Shenandoah National Park

Cruise scenic Skyline Drive, explore mountain trails, and find serenity at this Virginia treasure
Gushing waterfalls. Rolling mountains. Granite peaks. Lush valleys. Ninety-plus streams. Fog oceans that tumble over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Animals and wildflowers aplenty.

With such an abundance of natural beauty Shenandoah National Park ranks as one of Virginia’s wildest yet most serene destinations. Author Bill Bryson calls it “possibly the most wonderful national park I have ever been in.”

Native Americans wandered this area for millennia to hunt, gather food, and collect materials for stone tools. Shenandoah is a Native American word that some historians believe means daughter of the stars.

European hunters and trappers arrived in the 1700s followed by settlers and entrepreneurs who launched farming, logging, milling, and mining operations.

In the early 1900s inspired by the popularity of Western national parks, Virginia politicians and businessmen pushed for a park in the East and President Calvin Coolidge signed legislation authorizing Shenandoah National Park in 1926. Roughly 465 families had to leave their homes after the state of Virginia acquired the land but a few stubborn mountaineers refused to go, living the rest of their lives in the thick woods.

In 1931, the federal highway department began building Shenandoah National Park’s signature attraction, 105-mile Skyline Drive which runs north to south through the length of the park. Two years later, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s pet New Deal programs—started constructing its infrastructure from overlooks to picnic areas and FDR dedicated the 197,438 acre park in 1936. Fast forward to 2022 and this Old Dominion beauty now attracts 1.5 million visitors annually.

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Plan your trip

From Washington, D.C., Shenendoah National Park is an easy 71-mile drive southwest. It’s also a doable drive from Philadelphia (210 miles northwest of the park) and Raleigh, North Carolina (218 miles south).

In the park, mileposts along Skyline Drive will help you locate significant sites from lodges to trailheads. The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is at mile 4.6, for example; the Harry F. Byrd Sr. Visitor Center, mile 51. The numbering system starts in the north at the Front Royal entrance (mile 0) and ends at the southern Rockfish Gap entrance (mile 105). Two middle entrances are Thornton Gap (mile 31.5) and Swift Run Gap (mile 65.7). The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle (annual Senior Pass, $20).

In October, the most-visited month throngs of leaf lovers arrive for fall foliage but autumn’s reds and golds are worth the extra traffic and overflowing parking lots on Skyline Drive. Come on a weekday for smaller crowds. The leaves change sooner at higher elevations so explore the park’s lower points between the Front Royal and Thornton Gap entrances if you go later in October.

The park website posts a frequently updated report on when the leaves will hit their peak colors. Don’t count on posting foliage photos on social media while in the park. Cellphone service is spotty at best though the two lodges and visitors centers offer Wi-Fi.

You’ll see stunning sights any season you visit. May brings woodland flowers such as trillium, which grows near streambanks and other wet areas. Columbine, milkweed, and other wildflowers take the floral stage in June; black-eyed Susans and goldenrods often bloom into fall.

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Other seasonal draws

Waterfalls are typically fullest in spring and fall and some park visitors favor the quiet of winter. Sure, it’s cold—average high temperatures in the mid to upper 30s—but you’ll experience the park in a completely different way.

You’ll see deeper into the woods in winter because there’s nothing obstructing your view. You’ll see more of the rock outcrops and you might see more deer because they’re not blocked by the vegetation. And the lighting in the wintertime is beautiful.

December through March are the least-visited months—the facilities are closed then so bring food and plenty of water—and May and September tend to be quieter as well. Summer can be hot and humid (this is Virginia) but July’s average high temperature is a comfy 75—and Shenandoah is typically up to 10 degrees cooler than muggy D.C.

Restrooms are available at the park’s picnic grounds (some are pit toilets), visitor’s centers, lodges, waysides, and camp stores. You’ll find portable toilets at the Panorama Comfort Station (mile 31.6) and at the Beagle Gap parking area (mile 99.5).

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Where to stay and eat

Some national parks have iconic hotels worth seeing even if you’re not a guest but Shenandoah National Park’s two lodges are pleasant places to stay, not must-see attractions, each offering a mix of rooms, cabins, multiunit lodges, and suites. Their advantage over gateway-town hotels: The lodges and the park’s cabins and campgrounds are within easy walking distance of trails and you can revel in Shenandoah’s quiet, woodsy seclusion.

Big Meadows Lodge (mile 51) near the Byrd Visitor Center was built in 1939 using local chestnut trees and stones from nearby Massanutten Mountain. From the lodge’s wood-paneled lobby enjoy the sweeping view of 30-mile-wide Page Valley. Walk just a mile at sunset to Big Meadows the park’s largest meadow and you’ll see whitetail deer grazing; in August, you might spot bears dining on blueberries. The lodge is open from early May through early November.

If you book the Skyland lodge (mile 41.7), request a room with a balcony overlooking Massanutten Mountain and Page Valley. With Skyland’s elevation at 3,680 feet, Skyline Drive’s highest point you’ll get jaw-dropping views. The property is open April through November.

For something only slightly more rustic, settle into a cabin in the dense woods at Lewis Mountain Cabins (mile 57.5)—no Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, or kitchen but you’ll have a bathroom, electricity, and an outdoor grill. Rentals available from April through November.

Whichever option you choose book at least three to four weeks in advance for spring and summer and 10 to 12 months ahead for fall-foliage season.

Shenandoah National Park’s five campgrounds—spread out along Skyline Drive in secluded, tree-filled locales—open at different times between March and May and then close in fall. Driving an RV? Stay at Mathews Arm (mile 22.2), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), or Loft Mountain (mile 79.5). For showers and washing machines choose Big Meadows or Loft Mountain. Dundo (mile 83.7) is for groups of seven to 15 people.

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Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) is exclusively first come, first served; the other campgrounds accept reservations while also offering limited spots on a first-come, first-served basis. Nightly permits range from $15 to $50. Book up to six months in advance at recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

Ready for some Virginia cuisine? At Big Meadows Lodge, the Spottswood Dining Room serves Southern favorites such as fried chicken along with wow-inducing views of Page Valley on the pet-friendly terrace. Skyland’s Pollock Dining Room also mixes regional dishes with valley views. The must-try dessert at both restaurants: blackberry ice cream pie.

Seven shady picnic grounds lie between miles 4.6 and 83.7 tucked away from Skyline Drive noise. Overlooks make appealing picnic spots, too. Or walk to easy-to-reach summits such as the 1.6-mile round-trip Stony Man trail (mile 41.7). Sit on a rock, eat your PB&J and gaze out at the mountains and valley. If you didn’t pack a lunch the wayside food stops located every 25 miles on Skyline Drive sell carryout meals, groceries, and camping supplies. Or stop by Addie’s Corner at Skyland for sandwiches, pastries, beverages and snacks.

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Things to do

Driving

Cruising Skyline Drive to see the sights—that is Shenandoah National Park’s must-do activity. The speed limit is only 35 mph but you won’t want to zoom past the gorgeous scenery. Whether you drive all 105 miles or just one lovely, leafy portion, stop for the panoramic views at some of the 75 overlooks. Two recommended by park staffers: the Big Run (mile 81.2) and Range View (mile 17.1).

On a clear day you see ridge after ridge after bluish ridge and you don’t see a lot of development when you look down into the lowlands below. The same thing with Big Run—it’s all wilderness.

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Hiking

For all of Skyline Drive’s two-laned delights, hiking is the best way to experience Shenandoah National Park’s sights, sounds, and smells—take your pick from 335 trails (including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail). Since park elevation peaks at about 4,000 feet, even the steepest hikes aren’t as daunting as their Western counterparts.

The 2.4-mile round-trip Compton Gap trail (mile 10.4) takes you on the Appalachian Trail to a T-like intersection. Go right and walk 0.2 miles for splendid views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Go left 0.2 miles to a unique geologic formation: clumps of polygonal columns formed by ancient lava flows. The path is steep but worth the walk.

If you have accessibility issues, set out on the flat-and-mild, 1.3-mile Limberlost (mile 43), the park’s only wheelchair-friendly trail. Rest on its benches and enjoy mountain laurels and bird calls. (Listen for towhees—the distinctive call sounds like, “Drink your teeee. Drink your teeee.”) Nearby streams and plentiful food such as apple trees attract black bears, too. Shenandoah National Park rangers advise making noise so bears know you’re nearby—they’ll usually run from humans—and staying at least 150 feet away if you see any. The bears are not aggressive but do not approach a mama with her cubs.

Waterfalls are among the park’s most soul-soothing sites. Winding streams, hovering trees, crashing water—what’s not to like? The moderate Whiteoak Canyon Trail (mile 42.6) features two falls but to reduce fatigue hike 4.6 miles round trip to the spectacular first falls—the Upper Whiteoak Falls—rather than walking to both. The reason: The trail descends (as do all the park’s waterfall trails), so you endure the steep part on the way back. Before reaching the falls, side trails lead to a stream where you can walk on flat rocks, hear the thunderous rapids and feel cool air emanating from the water.

Hard-core hikers favor Old Rag, a strenuous 9.2-mile round-trip hike up Old Rag Mountain. Its multiple heart-pumping highlights include a rock scramble (you’ll be clambering over rock faces, often using your hands for balance) and a summit.

Tackle it on a weekday; this popular hike gets crowded on weekends when you may even experience lines at narrow passages which can feel more like a day at the DMV than a national park. You can’t access Old Rag from Skyline Drive; rather, you’ll need to take route 600. For directions to the trailhead, type in the address of Old Rag’s newest parking lot—2923 Nethers Road—into a mapping app.

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Stargazing

Amateur astronomers often host night sky presentations discussing celestial wonders and pointing out notable planets and stars. They typically set up telescopes on Rapidan Fire Road leading into Big Meadows, near the lodge.

You can also attend a free outdoor “Under the Stars at Shenandoah National Park” presentation held monthly at the Big Meadows or Skyland lodges (time varies based on sunset). Talk topics range from meteorites to star life cycles.

Each August, the park hosts Night Sky Festival, a weekend with presentations from rangers, astronauts, and guest speakers on interstellar subjects.

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Bird-watching, horseback riding, fishing

Prefer animals over Alpha Centauri? If you’re a bird lover, meet an owl, raptor, and a red-tailed hawk in the ranger-led Birds of Prey program held four times a week at the amphitheater in the Big Meadows picnic ground (mile 51.2). Equestrians clip-clop across 200 miles of horse trails. Skyland Stables (mile 42.5) offers guided horseback and pony rides throughout the day.

Anglers can cast in more than 70 streams with 38 species of fish, from brook trout to fantail darters.

Touring

Thanks to fishing, Shenandoah National Park can claim Herbert Hoover slept here. Frequently. In 1929, the then-president bought 164 acres for Rapidan Camp near Skyline Drive’s midpoint, as his personal fishing hideaway welcoming big-shot guests such as Thomas Edison and Charles Lindbergh. The camp sits near two streams that merge to form the Rapidan River surrounded by hemlocks.

Make reservations online for a 2.5-hour ranger-led tour of the property and Hoover’s wood cabin named the Brown House to distinguish it from the White House. The simple-but-pretty interior has been restored to its 1929 appearance with much of the furniture original although replica handmade Navajo rugs are most striking. Ride a minibus from the Byrd Visitor Center to get there or hike 4 miles round trip from the Milam Gap parking area (mile 52.4).

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Gateway towns

Front Royal

Download a walking tour from the local visitor’s center to take in the must-see sites in this town 1 mile from Shenandoah National Park’s north gate. Its charming historic district teems with antique shops, restaurants, and attractions such as Belle Boyd Cottage (a tour reveals sizzling stories about Belle, one of the Confederacy’s most infamous spies).

Drop into Spelunker’s for its frozen custard and burger which a Washington Post food writer declared a culinary masterpiece.

Stay at the nearby L’Auberge Provençale, named one of the world’s 50 best romantic getaways in 2020 by Travel + Leisure. Rooms at the 270-year-old home in White Post (13 miles northeast of Front Royal) start at $180 a night, but the fresh croissants, French antiques, and Provençale designs make the inn worth the splurge.

Waynesboro

Here, just 5 miles from the southern Rockfish Gap entrance, you’ll find some of Virginia’s best trout fishing as well as canoeing and kayaking on the 4-mile Waynesboro Water Trail.

At the town’s annual Virginia Street Arts Festival, artists paint large murals on buildings.

From the patio at the Basic City Beer Co. take in a back-wall mural titled Isabelle—a gripping black-and-white closeup of a woman with a yellow flower in her mouth—while drinking a honey-hued malt lager.

The Fishin’ Pig’s T-shirt worthy name might lure you in for a bite but locals come for the fried catfish.

Luray

Luray Caverns, one of the East Coast’s largest caverns draws visitors to this town, 10 miles west of the Thornton Gap entrance.

But also make time to view regional artists’ work at the Warehouse Art Gallery and sip a latte at chill coffee joint Gathering Grounds.

Check into the stately Mimslyn Inn or the wooded Shadow Mountain Escape where four timber-frame cabins feature European decor and exposed oak-beam ceilings.

Sperryville

Tiny Sperryville sits near a gushing stream 7 miles east of the Thornton Gap entrance. At Headmaster’s Pub, replenish those calories you burned hiking with the pub’s juicy burgers made from grass-fed beef. Also have some fun in its game room with air hockey, pool tables, and old-school pinball machines (some not even digital).

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En route

If you drive through Charlottesville, take time to explore this charming college town 25 miles east of the park’s Rockfish Gap entrance. Thomas Jefferson designed the University of Virginia at age 76 as “the hobby of my old age.”

A must-see: The Lawn, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the social centerpiece of campus since the university opened in 1819. Academic buildings border the long, grassy courtyard at both ends with student and faculty housing along the sides. Also tour Jefferson’s exquisite home, Monticello, 2 miles outside the city.

Back in town, stroll the pedestrian mall for the people watching, window-shopping (book lovers should browse the New Dominion Bookshop) and dining. Duck into the Whiskey Jar for top-notch Southern cuisine, but save room for peanut butter pie at the Pie Chest.

Virginia has nearly 300 wineries, many clustered outside of Charlottesville. Jam-band rocker and former Charlottesville resident Dave Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards, about 20 minutes southeast from town. Enjoy a bottle of the house white out on the patio for views of rolling, vineyard-covered hills. If you prefer a pilsner, the Shenandoah Beerwerks Trail guides you to 15 breweries.

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Driving to the park via Interstate 81, stop by Staunton, 17 miles west of the Rockfish Gap entrance. The city escaped the Civil War unscathed and publications such as Architectural Digest and Smithsonian have raved about its well-preserved Main Street where quaint 18th- and 19th-century buildings thrive as restaurants, shops, theaters, and more.

For a local history lesson, take the Historic Staunton Foundation’s walking tour, offered every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, May through October. Afterward do lunch at LUNdCH from owner/chef Mike Lund, former chef de cuisine at the world-renowned Inn at Little Washington.

Coming from Washington, D.C., don’t miss the massive Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum near Dulles airport. The museum’s collection includes the Concorde, Enola Gay, the Space Shuttle Discovery, and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest aircraft ever flown.

Shenandoah National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact box

Location: Virginia, about 75 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.

Size: 197,438 acres

Highest peak: Hawksbill, at 4,051 feet

Miles/number of trails: 518 miles along 335 trails

Main attraction: Skyline Drive

Entry fee: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days; annual Senior Pass $20

Best way to see the park: By car and by foot

When to go to avoid the crowds: December through March

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

The Best Scenic Drives in the South (2024)

The South is full of natural beauty and road trips are one of the best ways to experience it. Any of these scenic drives will take you past stunning landscapes and breathtaking views. So, grab your road trip essentials, fill up with fuel, and hit the road!

The South’s best scenic drives invite travelers to experience the landscape up close as they wind through small cities and tiny towns, beaches and mountains, rolling countryside, and deep forests.

Some of these drives are short, others are much longer, but no matter the length of your getaway, don’t forget to allow some time for side trips. Small towns, state parks, hiking trails, and historic markers await travelers willing to make a stop and set out on a rambling route to somewhere new.

Keep the camera handy because panoramic vistas, fields of wildflowers, and sandy beach scenes are just some of the sights to look for and marvel at as you navigate these scenic drives across the South. Once you’ve begun the drive, you’ll know that on these memorable Southern routes, the journey truly is the destination.

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Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina, Virginia

It’s no surprise that the Blue Ridge Parkway topped this year’s list of the South’s best scenic drives. 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.

If you need ideas, check out:

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road, North Carolina and Tennessee

When you get to 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 increasingly breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple of gallons of driving.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © 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 byway’s 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food in the destinations along the route.

Here is an article to help:  ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

For a dreamy drive, look no further than this Virginia road. Skyline Drive extends for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park following the crests of Blue Ridge peaks as it goes. That means vistas galore with views over the rolling Virginia landscape. It’s also a lovely place to watch the seasons change; visit in autumn to see the leaves turn.

That’s why I wrote Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive.

Lookout Mountain Parkway. Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee

Easily accessible from several states and a great day trip, the route along Lookout Mountain Parkway runs from Gadsden, Alabama to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and passes through Georgia in the process. It’s 93 miles long and travelers are invited to stop for the nearby attractions—including waterfalls, canyons, and national parks—along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for scenic vistas as you make your way along the route.

Plan a day, plan a week. There is so much to see and do along the Lookout Mountain Parkway and you won’t want to miss a thing.

Come see…just for the fun of it!

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

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).

Here are some helpful resources:

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection, Alabama

This 130-mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Check this out to learn more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians.

From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Coast Scenic Byway, Mississippi

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36-mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ashley River Road National Scenic Byway, South Carolina

This short 13-mile byway is a historic journey along the Ashley River. Plantations and expansive gardens dot the route along with significant Revolutionary and Civil War sites. This pastoral scenic drive makes an illuminating route to Charleston or a must-experience daytrip if you’re already there.

Step back in time and immerse yourself in history at Middleton Place Plantation. The National Historic Landmark preserves the stories of the Middleton family, the enslaved, and the freedmen. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was founded by the Drayton family in 1676 as a rice plantation. Built in 1738, Drayton Hall Plantation is a prime example of Palladian architecture and has never been restored.

Road trip planning

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

There is so much to see and do in the South

The South is home to many fascinating, attractive, and unusual destinations. Because the Southern states occupy a significant portion of the United States, anybody planning extensive travel in the country will inevitably find themselves in the region sometime. Once you arrive, you will be in for a real treat.

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

National Historic Landmarks: 2,600 Locations and Counting

From sea to shining sea, these are 15 of America’s best historic landmarks

Since 1960, the National Historic Landmark program has marked around 2,600 locations of special significance to the foundation and development of the United States. The sites range from The Alamo in San Antonio to the Historic Williamsburg in Virginia.

Almost all locations are found within the U.S., its territories, or areas the U.S. used to control such as the Federated States of Micronesia. Only one site lies in a completely sovereign nation that has never experienced any U.S. administration—the North African country of Morocco. 

Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the U.S. as a sovereign nation by order of Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Abdallah on December 20, 1777. Due in part to the treaty of peace and friendship the two nations signed in 1786 (which created the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship in U.S. history), Morocco bestowed a sprawling mansion (now called the Tangier American Legation) upon the young nation in 1821.

The mansion is situated in the medina or walled city of Tangier, once Morocco’s diplomatic capital. The building has served many purposes throughout the years including acting as a consulate, espionage headquarters, and Peace Corps training facility. It became a historic landmark in 1982 and is still officially owned by the U.S. It is leased to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies which continues the nearly 250-year friendship between the two countries.

National Historic Landmarks Program

National Historic Landmarks are historic properties that illustrate the heritage of the United States. The over 2,600 landmarks come in many forms: historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts. Each National Historic Landmark represents an outstanding aspect of American history and culture.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. King Ranch

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 5, 1961

Location: Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Willacy Counties, Texas

Description: In 1853, Captain Richard King purchased a creek-fed oasis in the Wild Horse Desert of South Texas. King now covers 825,000 acres—more land than the state of Rhode Island. Over 160 years, King Ranch led some of the first cattle drives, developed the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle, bred the finest Quarter Horses, and produced champion Thoroughbreds—all under its iconic Running W® brand. Today’s King Ranch is a major agribusiness with interests in cattle ranching, farming (citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, and turfgrass), luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tombstone Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona

Description: It would be hard to get more Old West in Arizona historical towns than Tombstone (The Town Too Tough To Die). It is one of the most frequented destinations in the state for history buffs since this is home to the famous OK Corral where the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday gunned down the ornery Clanton-McLaury gang. But there’s a lot more to Tombstone including a rich silver mining history and clashes with the Apaches.

Tombstone has done much to preserve its Old West atmosphere. The main street is still dirt and cars must share the road with horses, Western wear shops, restaurants, and saloons line the wooden sidewalks. Historic sights include the Birdcage Theater and Tombstone Courthouse.

Fort Adams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fort Adams

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 8, 1987

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The second largest bastioned fort in the US, Fort Adams was the key to Narragansett Bay area defenses, from 1799 to 1945. It was designed to be the most heavily armed fort in America and to garrison 2,400 troops. Three tiers of guns defended Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. Situated at the mouth of the Newport Harbor, the fort offers a panoramic view of both Newport Harbor and the East Passage of Narragansett Bay.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. USS Lexington 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 31, 1903

Location: Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas

Description: The Fore River Shipyard of Quincy Massachusetts built U.S.S. Lexington for the US Navy in the early days of World War II with the ship being commissioned in 1943. Named to commemorate the earlier Lexington which had been lost in the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington would serve the US Navy until the 1990s. Lexington was decommissioned in 1991. During its career, it received eleven Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. It was donated as a museum ship and is moored in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. It was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission-turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working tradespeople, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Presidio la Bahia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 24, 196767

Location: Goliad, Goliad County, Texas

Description: Presidio La Bahía is a fort located in Goliad, Texas. Its official name is Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de la Bahía and it was built and utilized by the Spanish Army. The fort was originally founded in 1721 and it was home to many Texas Revolution conflicts including the Battle of Goliad and the Goliad Massacre.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

15 Bucket List National Historic Landmarks in America (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, these are America’s best historic landmarks

What are some bucket list national historic landmarks that you want to see during your lifetime?

I will give you my list of the 15 National Historic Landmarks you’ll want to see in your lifetime. Maybe you’ve already been to a few of these incredible sites. There’s no reason why you can’t go back, however. Or you might want to see some of the ones you haven’t been to yet.

This list includes American landmarks which are managed by the National Park Service as well as others which are not.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

El Tovar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. El Tovar

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Description: This celebrated historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon first opened its doors in 1905. El Tovar was one of a chain of hotels and restaurants owned and operated by the Fred Harvey Company in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. The hotel was built from local limestone and Oregon pine. It cost $250,000 to build and many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. USS Drum 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Labrot & Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 16, 2000

Location: Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky

Description: Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Massachusetts Statehouse

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: Designed by Charles Bulfinch, the new and current State House has served as the seat of the Massachusetts government since its opening in 1798. Holding the legislative and executive branches, it sits adjacent to the former site of the historic Hancock mansion. 

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Santa Fe Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Santa Fe Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: The Santa Fe Plaza, part of the Santa Fe Historic District is the heart of Santa Fe. It has been the social, political, commercial, and public center of Santa Fe since it was established in 1610 by Don Pedro de Peralta.

Today the Santa Fe Plaza is popular for tourists who are interested in Spanish, Native American, and Mexican cultures. Throughout the Plaza, one can find native jewelry, art, designs, music, and dances. Many annual events are held at the Santa Fe Plaza including Fiestas de Santa Fe, the Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Bandstand, and the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Middleton Place

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 11, 1971

Location: Dorchester County, South Carolina

Description: Middleton Place is a 65-acre, 18th-centuryth -century rice plantation. The plantation is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The plantation is now a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as the gentlemen’s guest quarters and is the only structure still standing of the original three-building residential complex.

Fort Davis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Fort Davis

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Jeff Davis County, Texas

Description: Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and to control activities on the southern stem of the Great Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails.

Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and the frontier military; the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, all-black regiments established after the Civil War, were stationed at the post. When not chasing renegade bands of Apache or bandits, the soldiers helped build roads and telegraph lines.

Read more: Fort Davis National Historic Site: Frontier Military Post

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Union Oyster House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Union Oyster House

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 5, 2003

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: The Union Oyster House located on the Freedom Trail enjoys the unique distinction of being America’s oldest restaurant. This Boston fixture, housed in a building dating back to Pre-Revolutionary days started serving food in 1826 and has continued ever since with the stalls and oyster bar, where Daniel Webster was a constant customer, in their original positions.

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Roma Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Roma Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 4, 1993

Location: Roma, Starr County, Texas

Description: Over two centuries of Texas borderland heritage surrounds the plaza in the historic river town of Roma. The plaza’s surviving structures as well as surrounding buildings trace Roma’s heritage back to its Spanish Colonial roots, providing a visual reminder of the beautiful border architecture once thriving throughout the region. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. San Xavier del Bac Mission

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Pima County, Arizona

Description: Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

The mission’s white walls and soaring bell tower can be seen for miles around and the site attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. Plan to spend an hour or two walking the grounds of the mission and exploring the interior. I was awed by the glowing white walls against the deep blue sky—all set off by rugged desert terrain.

Read more: Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

Fort Ticonderoga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Fort Ticonderoga

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Essex County, New York

Description: Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon is a large 18th-century star fort built by the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in northern New York. It was constructed between October 1755 and 1757 during the action in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War often referred to in the US as the French and Indian War.

The fort was of strategic importance during the 18th-century colonial conflicts between Great Britain and France and again played an important role during the Revolutionary War. The name Ticonderoga comes from the Iroquois word tekontaró:ken meaning “it is at the junction of two waterways”.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

Preparing for Sweater Weather

The fall equinox arrives on Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.
—Philip Larkin, British poet (1922–86)

It’s officially the last day of summer which means that pumpkin spice and sweater weather are basically upon us. Rather than bemoan the end of one season, I’m looking forward to everything autumn brings with it—including crisp morning air and apple cider. Consider today’s post your fall kickoff complete with a leaf-peeping guide and some great road trips for the season.

Saying farewell to the long, warm days of summer can be bittersweet but the sheer majesty of the changing fall foliage makes the transition a little bit easier. As autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter days set the trees ablaze with color, now is an ideal time to plan a leaf-peeping road trip, hike, or other excursion to take in the views.

It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
—Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fall season officially begins on Saturday, September 23. This date marks the autumn equinox or the date between the summer and winter solstices when day and night are nearly equal lengths. (We also know it as the first day of the year when you can order a pumpkin spice latte with no shame.)

During an equinox, the Sun crosses what we call the celestial equator—an imaginary extension of Earth’s equator line into space. The equinox occurs precisely when the Sun’s center passes through this line.

After the autumnal equinox, days become shorter than nights as the Sun continues to rise later and nightfall arrives earlier. This ends with the winter solstice after which days start to grow longer once again. 

The word equinox comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal” and nox, the Latin word for “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length.

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

But why do leaves change color in the fall?

Autumnal leaves in vibrant hues are a beautiful part of the season but those leaves are also a vital part of keeping trees alive. The trees with leaves that change color in fall are deciduous. (Evergreen trees with needles which stay green to continue the photosynthesis process through the winter are coniferous.) Deciduous trees usually have large, broad leaves.

Most of the year, these leaves are green because of the chlorophyll they use to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. The leaves convert the energy into sugars to feed the tree.

As the season changes, temperatures drop and days get shorter. Trees receive less direct sunlight and the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down.

The lack of chlorophyll reveals yellow and orange pigments that were already in the leaves but masked during the warmer months. Darker red leaves are the result of a chemical change: Sugars that can get trapped in the leaves produce new pigments (called anthocyanins) that weren’t part of the leaf in the growing season. Some trees like oaks and dogwoods are likely to produce red leaves.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When do fall leaves change color

Leaves can change their color from as early as mid-September through early November. Typically, the second and third weeks of October are the peak times but it shifts depending on your location and your local weather conditions.

Foliage starts to change in the northern-tier states out West and in the Midwest by late September. By October 2, the leaves in some areas will be past their prime. 

Much of New England as well as the Pacific Northwest will be at or near peak fall color by October 9. 

A little further south in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mid-October is your best bet.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina/Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See below for times of the year of peak foliage around the country:

  • Oregon: Best viewed while driving along scenic highways from mid-September through mid-October; however, color conditions vary daily based on humidity and fog density. 
  • North Carolina: North Carolina’s leaf patterns move east across the state. The first leaves in the western part of the state begin to peak the week of October 9. By October 23, the entire state should peak and the show will be pretty much over by November 1.
  • Vermont: Optimal viewing from September 18 through October 2 although the leaves will begin to change in early September.
  • New Hampshire: Leaves in New Hampshire will be at their best the last week of September. By October 16 most of the state will have changed.
  • Washington: Washington State leaves normally hit their peak the week of October 9 and past their peak by October 23.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations for viewing fall leaves

Here is a list of my picks for the most idyllic spots in the U.S. for viewing fall leaves. Some are off the beaten path, some are on more popular, scenic routes for you to enjoy whether on foot or by vehicle. I’ve also included the dates for peak foliage viewing for each location.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Peak Viewing: October 9-28

Virginia’s Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The speed limit is 35 mph with 75 overlooks to pull over and enjoy the sights of the Shenandoah Valley below. Often called one of America’s favorite mountain drives, Skyline Drive is “good for the soul.” 

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

Moab, Utah

Peak viewing: Mid September to mid October

Aside from aspens, cottonwoods, and other deciduous trees making the slow turn to brilliance, the abundant sandstone rocks change colors here, too. Shorter days and angled fall light combine to give Moab’s signature sandstone deeper, more varied colors than usual. Several different leaf-peeping routes include the La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway, the Gemini Bridges Trail, the Poison Spider Mesa Trail, and the Moab Rim Trail. Jeeps are required on all routes except the La Sal

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

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Peak viewing: Mid to late October, depending on elevation.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any terrain more perfectly orchestrated for fall color viewing than the Great Smoky Mountains. Lots of sumac adds to the brilliant reds but the Park boasts an amazing diversity of trees and terrain that add to the color spectrum—some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway. 

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

Kancamagus Scenic Highway, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Peak viewing: September 25-October 7

The Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire known by the locals as The Kanc provides some of the most spectacular fall foliage viewing in New England. The Kanc’s 35-mile scenic pass that connects Lincoln to Conway (Route 112) has some tricky hairpin turns and no gas stations so be prepared. It does have plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the grandeur of the vistas. 

Julian apples © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Peak viewing: Early to mid-November.

In Julian, autumn is the grandstand season both for apple-pie eating and leaf-peeping. Sample the town’s homemade apple confections then watch black oaks do their color-changing trick at Lake Cuyamaca in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. A scenic 45-minute drive leads to Palomar Mountain State Park where you can put some miles on your feet while you admire bracken ferns and leafy oaks on the Thunder Ridge and Chimney Flat Loop. Or hike the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, home to some of the oldest and largest black oaks in San Diego County. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!

—A. A. Milne

The Ultimate East Coast National Parks Road Trip 

From Shenandoah in Virginia to Congaree in South Carolina, this road trip hits four national parks, covers 780 miles, and guides you away from the crowds

How’s the saying go? “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” But if you want to connect the most spectacular East Coast national parks and experience the best adventures in between maybe the saying should go: “It’s not just the destination because the journey is kickass, too.”

Follow my plan and you’ll paddle wild rivers, climb storied cliffs, and find yourself in miles of empty, stunning wilderness. Set aside a couple of weeks to complete the whole drive or carve off one leg at a time.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Royal, Virginia to Afton, Virginia

Distance: 108 miles

Route: This is a short but worthy stretch of road through Shenandoah National Park and some gorgeous mountain drives along the way.

The park: Just 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park protects a particularly pretty stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains offering a quick getaway for denizens of the Mid-Atlantic. And they show up—nearly 1.6 million of them visited the park in 2021. And most stick to Skyline Drive which draws a line through the middle of the park or flock to the summit of Old Rag, a dramatic, rocky peak with tough climbs and killer views.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To avoid the crowds, try the 3.4-mile Chimney Rock loop hike. Or bring your fly rod. The park is packed with pristine backcountry trout streams, 70 of which hold healthy populations of native brook trout. Rapidan River, a headwaters stream, offers cool history along with its bevy of trout as President Hoover established a mountain retreat where two streams join to form the Rapidan.

Need to know: You can fish for trout year-round in Shenandoah but Rapidan is catch and release only.

Stay: Skyland puts you in the heart of Shenandoah as the park lodge occupies 27 acres off milepost 41 of Skyline Drive. Even better than the location are the digs: newly renovated rooms and cabins are well appointed and the mountain views from 3,680 feet are stunning.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Afton, Virginia to Fayetteville, West Virginia

Distance: 170 miles

Route: You’ll head deep into the heart of the Southern Appalachians to explore the 63rd and most recently designated national park—New River Gorge with one of the region’s deepest gorges and some of its tallest mountains.

Detour: About 60 miles away in nearby West Virginia, Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is a hotbed of traditional climbing with hundreds of established multi-pitch routes that traverse the mountain’s unique fins of Tuscarora quartzite which rise from the canopy like a dragon’s back. If you have time, sign up for a three-day trad camp where you’ll master anchors and protection placement.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park: The 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park protects some of the best whitewater rafting and rock climbing on the eastern seaboard. Less known? The 13-miles of singletrack built specifically for mountain biking. Hit the Arrowhead Trails on the south side of the gorge for fast and pedaly flow through a dense hardwood forest. The three-mile long Adena loop has the toughest climbs and quickest descents.

Need to know: Unlike many national parks, bikes are allowed on a variety of trails throughout New River Gorge including some non-technical paths that cruise by historic mining camps.

Stay: The cabin-heavy Adventures on the Gorge Resort sits on the rim of the New River Gorge, with a 350-acre campus packed with ziplines, pools, aerial adventure courses, and low key restaurants. The resort’s in-house guides will take you climbing and rafting, too. Choose from glamping tents to deluxe cabins.

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

Fayetteville, West Virginia to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Distance: 275 miles

Adventure along the drive: Take a quick detour back into Virginia on your way to Tennessee to stop at the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area—5,279-foot Rogers is the tallest peak in the state. Start in Grayson Highlands State Park and hike four miles through high-elevation mountain balds, scramble over rock outcroppings, and spy the herds of feral ponies that live free range on the ridges.

Detour: Before you hit the Smoky Mountains, soak in one of the only natural hot springs in the Southern Appalachians in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Mineral waters fill tubs in the Hot Springs Resort and Spa on the edge of the French Broad River. Book a private tub and make time for a beer at Big Pillow Brewing in downtown.

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

The park: A little over 12 million. That’s how many people visited the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year. That’s the bad news. The good news? Most of those people stick to the scenic roads and short nature trails which means the best way to ditch the crowds is to hit the backcountry. Head to the less crowded eastern side of the park accessed at a remote entrance to the park off of Heintooga Ridge Road to backpack or trail run the 13.8-mile Hemphill Bald Loop which cruises along at 5,000 feet in elevation across mountain top meadows before sinking deep into a forest of old growth poplars, babbling trout streams, and remote campsites.

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

Stay: Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year with 10 locations.

Eat and Drink: Skip the madness in Gatlinburg and head to the much quieter Townsend where traditional Southern fare is given an upscale treatment at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro. What isn’t grown onsite is sourced locally. Cheese plates are dressed with home-grown figs, and local trout is paired with tomato jam and grits.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Columbia, South Carolina

Distance: 230 miles

Route: This route begins on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most biodiverse in the country and ends in a serene swamp with a stop in everyone’s favorite North Carolina mountain town of Asheville along the way.

Adventure along the drive: Just outside of Asheville, The Riveter combines professionally built bike jump lines with a 16,000-square foot climbing gym, yoga studio, and bar. Send it inside and out then cross the street and grab a beer at Sierra Nevada’s sprawling East Coast campus.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Detour: The Chattooga River in Georgia offers 20 miles of class III-V whitewater in a pristine setting that’s designated Wild and Scenic and was the filming ground for the cult classic film Deliverance. It’s one of the most unique rafting experiences you can get on the East Coast because the number of rafters is limited and groups are spaced out to preserve the remote nature of the river. Knock out eight-mile section 4 for the biggest rapids or combine sections 3 and 4 as an overnighter with a riverside camp.

The Park: Congaree National Park doesn’t get the recognition of Great Smoky but don’t let the lack of hype—or crowds—deter you. The landscape is unlike any other as the park protects the largest expanse of old growth bottomland forest in the east. The best way to explore the park is by boat paddling a canoe along Cedar Creek where a marked 15-mile trail takes you through gnarled cypress knees and loblolly pines that reach more than 100 feet tall.

Need to know: There’s no current in the creek, so it’s an ideal out-and-back paddling adventure.

The Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay: Congaree is just 30 minutes from downtown Columbia where Sesquicentennial State Park offers 69 sites with water and electric service. Alternatively, stay at The Barnyard RV Park in nearby Lexington.

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.

—John Denver

The Blue Ridge Mountains Are Fall Road Trip Gold

Foliage as far as the eye can see

It’s hard not to be drawn to those majestic blue peaks running down the western spine of the Old Dominion. Part of the Appalachian Range—and one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, dating back more than 1 billion years of existence—the Blue Ridge Mountains are home to America’s Favorite Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a stretch of one of the most visited footpaths in the world, the Appalachian Trail.

The spring shows off the first blooms of dogwood and redbud but the high season around these parts is fall when visitors swarm to see the glorious, flame-colored foliage. Here, there’s a setting for every speed whether you’re cruising along the scenic Skyline Drive at 35 mph or doing some extreme hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

Following are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Located at the northern end of the Blue Ridge, Shenandoah rocks a whopping 500-plus miles of hiking trails. Bears, wild turkeys, and deer are out in large numbers in the spring and summer; in the fall it’s all about chipmunks. Hikers can cross the Appalachian Trail off their bucket list (about 105 miles of the iconic trail runs through Shenandoah), tackle sweeping summits, and go chasing waterfalls.

If you plan to camp out or book lodging in the park reserve your spot a good year in advance—particularly if you’ve got your eye on October, the busiest time of year. For a great place to stay near Shenandoah post up in a camping site at Big Meadows where you can spend your evenings stargazing.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive

Shenandoah surges in the fall months when tons of people come out to do the Skyline Drive. The 105-mile highway runs through the park along the crest of the mountains and has 70 overlooks along the way that are perfect for selfies or a panoramic portrait of the hazy blue peaks and fiery orange treetops. The drive has a 35 mph speed limit and is absolutely packed with cars so come prepared with snacks and a high-octane leaf-peeping playlist.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

One slow-paced, less-crowded alternative to Skyline Drive is the Blue Ridge Parkway boldly nicknamed America’s Favorite Drive. The full 469-mile parkway stretches from Rockfish Gap at the southern end of Shenandoah, trails through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and ends in Cherokee, North Carolina. More than 200 miles of this gorgeous road run through the Blue Ridge Mountains at a meandering 45 mph.

Highlights along the Virginia stretch include the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests plus a number of overlooks with incredible mountain scenery. Pick a scenic spot for a picnic like Mabry Mill (the Parkway’s biggest attraction, located at Milepost 176), or catch some authentic Appalachian mountain music in Southwest Virginia. If you need speed you can still access the various attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway at a number of access points off the major north-south Interstate 81.

Mabry Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crabtree Falls

About six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Nelson County, Crabtree Falls is the highest vertical drop in Virginia and one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. Crabtree has five major cascades spilling down more than 1,200 feet. The first overlook is near the parking area and easily accessible and experienced hikers can tackle the trail to the upper falls and an additional four overlooks.

The Mill Mountain Star

Should you ever find yourself driving on Interstate 81 near Roanoke, Virginia, one of the finer roadside attractions in the state is the Mill Mountain Star (also known as the Roanoke Star). The world’s largest free-standing illuminated star made its debut as a Christmas decoration in 1949 and quickly became the iconic symbol of this railroad town. Fun fact: It was dedicated by Roanoke native John Payne, who played Fred Gailey in the original Miracle on 34th Street.

Giant stars aside, this area also happens to be a bucket-list destination for cyclists; it’s been designated “a silver-level ride center” by the International Mountain Biking Association. The extensive greenway system is great for casual riders and families while the challenging terrain at Carvins Cove attracts mountain bike aficionados from across the country. Whether you bike, hike, or drive up the view of the Roanoke Valley from the top of Mill Mountain is worth it.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia’s Triple Crown on the Appalachian Trail

Hikers can catch three of the most stunning vertical ascents on the Appalachian Trail in one 32-mile loop known as the Triple Crown (you can also do any of these hikes as a standalone from their trailheads). You’ll need some serious bouldering skills—and some climbing gear—to make it up the rock walls to Dragon’s Tooth, a 35-foot quartzite rock spire. Next, a moderately difficult hike will take you to McAfee Knob, a huge rock ledge offering incredible panoramic views of the mountains (a great spot to watch the sunrise, too). The final gem on the last stretch of the loop is Tinker Cliffs which is made of limestone that’s more than 250 million years old.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rogers

The highest peak in Virginia at 5,729 feet, Mount Rogers has one of only six living high-altitude spruce-fir forests—the only one of its kind in the state. The downside is that the thick forest and rhododendron thickets make it tough to get a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings. But ambitious hikers approaching the summit from the Massie Gap Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park may be rewarded with a different spectacular sight—wild ponies.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Music Center

If you got really into the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, you’ll want to check out this region where music icons like Ralph Stanley, The Carter Family, and The Statler Brothers were discovered. Southwest Virginia is known for its Appalachian musical heritage, from old-time string bands and bluegrass to gospel and blues. The Blue Ridge Music Center—one of the major venues on Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail—is located at the bottom of the state off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 213). You can usually watch a concert whenever the center is open or tour the museum to learn about the history of music in the mountains. Come in August and you can catch the annual fiddler’s convention in the nearby town of Galax.

Asheville, North Carolina

Want to keep the Blue Ridge Mountains party going but miss the comforts of city life? Continue just a few hours southwest to Asheville where you’ll find a high concentration of hipsters and a local culture to match. Hit the non-profit Center for Craft to check out boutiques and small-batch vendors, hang out at Fleetwood’s for rock bands and comedy nights, or find your niche and try your hand at one of The Chop Shop Butchery’s classes. You can always head out of town for a day trip deeper into the mountains to natural havens like Pisgah National Forest. Afterward, you’ll still have plenty of time left to get down to some classic bluegrass hits back in town.

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

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 Ultimate Guide to Shenandoah National Park

All you need to know about trails, campgrounds, and mountain adventure

When mentioning Shenandoah National Park, visitors often get that faraway look in their eye fondly recalling adventures at this scenic mountain jewel rising high atop Virginia’s Appalachians.

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive which runs 105 miles down the length of the 300-square-mile sanctuary. Additionally, beyond Skyline Drive lies another Shenandoah where bears roam the hollows and brook trout ply the tumbling streams. Trail-side flowers color the woods. Quartz, granite, and greenstone outcrops jut above the diverse forest allowing far-flung views of the Blue Ridge and surrounding Shenandoah Valley. It is this beauty near and far that creates the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah—the first of Virginia’s national parks—was dedicated on July 3, 1936. Cobbled together along the Blue Ridge from Front Royal to Waynesboro, the long narrow preserve divides the beautiful Shenandoah Valley from the rolling Piedmont to the east. The park contains a wide array of flora and fauna as it rises from a mere 550 feet at its lowest elevation to over 4,049 feet at its highest atop Hawksbill. The park clocks in at 200,000 acres with over 500 miles of trails offering plenty of room to spread out and enjoy any type of outdoor adventure you can think up.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the traditional lands of the Manahoac, Shenandoah’s mountains and valleys have long called to humans in some way or another. European colonizers arrived in the 1750s and throughout the rest of the 18th and 19th centuries, the area was farmed, logged, and mined. Some recognized the touristic value of the area, however, and conversation about building a nature reserve began in the early 20th century. Eventually, the land was seized via eminent domain (a move that displaced hundreds of families that lived there), and the park was established in 1935 built and maintained by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the park first opened, nearly a third of it had been cleared by logging, farming, and tree blight. Today, mature forests have grown atop of these scars and a profusion of wildlife make their homes in and beneath the canopy: black bears, bobcats, migratory birds, amphibians such as the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, and more. 

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains starting in the north at Front Royal to Waynesboro where it meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Skyline Drive is Shenandoah National Park’s linear conduit with 75 overlooks connecting travelers to all the major visitor centers, campgrounds, lodges, picnic areas, and most trailheads. Concrete posts numbered every mile keep you apprised of your whereabouts.

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Fall is the most popular time to travel along Skyline Drive with its colorful foliage from late September to mid-November. But spring offers the most colorful wildflowers along the drive as well as blooming azaleas and mountain laurels.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Front Royal to Thornton Gap

Driving Distance: 31.5 miles

This most northerly section winding through the park’s North District rises from the town of Front Royal. Climb to the historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (Milepost 4.6). Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (Milepost 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. At Mathews Arm Campground (Milepost 22.2) numerous hikes are available from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (Milepost 24.0). Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (Milepost 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap

Driving distance: 34 miles

The Central District from Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap is the land of superlatives—the highest park elevation, the highest point on Skyline Drive, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (Milepost 33.5). Pinnacles Overlook (Milepost 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area. Hike to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak from Milepost 46.7. The next must-stop is Big Meadows (Milepost 51.0) which includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Related article: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Consider camping at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (Milepost 57.5). The pull-through and back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. It offers a more serene experience than Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit the 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (Milepost 62.8).

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swift Run Gap to Rockfish Gap

Driving Distance: 40 miles

The South District holds claim to the longest and most quiet section of Skyline Drive. It is also long on wilderness and less on developed facilities. Known for its extensive rock formations, talus slopes, and outcrops, the South District reveals the most untamed side of the park highlighted by the trails of the Big Run area.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The primary developed area is at Loft Mountain with a camp store and the largest campground in the park. Dundo Picnic Area and group camp is the only other developed facility in the South District. Overlooks are plentiful from this segment of Skyline Drive. Heading south from Swift Run Gap, you can see the geologically revealing peaks from the Rocky Mount Overlook (Milepost 71.2) where boulder fields known as talus slopes are exposed. The Loft Mountain area is found at Milepost 79.5. A side road takes you to appealing Loft Mountain Campground which also offers showers. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entrances to Skyline Drive:

  • Front Royal at US-340
  • Thornton Gap at US-211
  • Swift Run Gap at US-33
  • Rockfish Gap at I- 64 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway)
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Trails

Shenandoah is a hiker’s paradise—trails lined with wildflowers, mushrooms, and berry bushes weave and dip through valleys and across peaks delivering full-sensory journeys through lush forests of red oak, chestnut, maple, and yellow poplar trees.

The wild and less seen side of Shenandoah awaits those who leave Skyline Drive behind and take to their feet. The rewards increase with every footfall beneath the stately oaks to rocky vista points and into deep canyons where waterfalls roar among old-growth trees spared by the logger’s axe. In other places, your footsteps lead to Shenandoah’s pioneer past. Discover both the human and natural history of Shenandoah.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out the staircase of cascades that run along Dark Hollow Falls Trail (1.4-mile loop), take in the views from Shenandoah’s tallest peak on the Hawksbill Loop (3-mile loop), or find Lewis Falls tucked away on the side of the mountain behind Big Meadows (3.3-mile loop). 

Long-distance hikers won’t be bored here either because 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) runs through Shenandoah—follow the famous trail for maximum mileage gains and access to many shorter trails along the way. Besides the AT, perhaps the most well-known long hike is the Old Rag Circuit, a 9.4-mile loop that takes you up to the rocky peak of its namesake mountain via a steep climb and some rock scrambling; you’ll need a day pass ticket.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping and Campgrounds

Skyline Driver runs 105 miles along the crest of Shenandoah’s the Blue Ridge Mountains and given the slow speed limit on Skyline Drive (35 mph) plus the 70+ scenic stop-offs it can take you hours to get from one end of the park to the other. Pick your campground strategically—you’ll want to stay relatively close to the trails you plan to hike if you don’t fancy a lengthy drive to get there.

Related article: Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and they give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mathews Arm

  • Location: Milepost 22.2
  • Elevation: 2,920 feet

The hilly campground has first come, first served and reserved sites most of which are shaded. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and a tow vehicle. No electric or water hookups. Campground has potable water spigots and a dump station. The higher elevation keeps it a good 10 degrees cooler than the Shenandoah Valley below.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Meadows

  • Milepost 51.0
  • Elevation 3,480 feet

Big Meadows Campground is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the Park with three waterfalls and Big Meadows within walking distance. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lewis Mountain

  • Milepost 57.5
  • Elevation 3,390 feet

This is the most centrally located of all Shenandoah’s campgrounds and the smallest. The 30-site locale offers first come, first served sites only. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. No electric or water hookups or dump station. The campground has potable water spigots.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Loft Mountain

  • Milepost 79.5
  • Elevation 3,320 feet

Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in the Park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to the east and west. Two waterfalls and numerous trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby. The Appalachian Trail circles around the campground highlighting the richness of hikes nearby. The hilly campground has first come, first served, and reserved sites. The pull-through and deep back-in sites can handle most RVs and tow vehicles. Note, however, that the low canopy and trees on some turns can present challenges for taller RVs. No electric or water hookups. The campground has potable water spigots and a dump station.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips for planning the perfect trip to Shenandoah

From keeping safe to packing the right clothes here’s what you need to know before you go:

  • Respect the wildlife and be prepared for bears: Shenandoah is known for its above-average population of black bears so hike smart—make noise, bring bear spray, and use bear-resistant containers if you’re backpacking.
  • There are ways to avoid crowds: Shenandoah’s proximity to the nation’s capital means that crowds can get dense, particularly in the warmer months. Visit during the week for more solitude and hit the trails early to score parking and a quiet trail.
  • Pack for all weather and dress appropriately: Due to Shenandoah’s relatively high elevation in comparison to the surrounding areas, it’s not unusual for weather conditions to quickly change, be it fog, rain, or snow. Check the weather before you go out and bring layers to ward off moisture and chill from the cool mountain air.
  • It’s not free to visit Shenandoah: Like in most US national parks, you’ll either have to pay the $30 single car entry or opt for an annual pass. The entry fee does not include camping fees, which have recently been upped to $30/night in all developed campgrounds.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 199,000 acres, 40 percent designated as wilderness

Established: May 22, 1926

Location: Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

Park Elevation: 550 feet-4,049 feet

Park entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Speed Limit: 35 mph

Recreational visits (2021): 1,592,312

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning Daughter of the Stars.  Natives used the area for hunting and shelter. Miners and loggers used it to harvest valuable resources. Soldiers used it as a fighting ground. Shenandoah is the name of a river, mountain, valley, county, and many other things so the origin of the National Park name is unclear.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is undoubtedly the most popular and the most difficult hike in the park. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But for those of you ready to take on the challenge, you will find yourself in the clouds. The circuit hike is about 9 miles with significant elevation change and strenuous rock scrambles. This hike takes 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—waiting in line to pass through scrambles is par for the course. Hitting Old Rag on a weekday and/or during off-season is a much more pleasing experience. As of March 1, 2022, those wishing to hike Old Rag are required to purchase a day-use ticket.

Related article: Finding Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Beyond

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: The Skyline Drive scenic byway is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road travels through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.Stops along the way bring you to trailheads where you can explore the forests, waterfalls, rocky areas, and hopefully have a wildlife sighting. It’s a pretty amazing place in terms of wildlife—there are black bears, deer, woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, skunk, fox, coyotes and wild turkeys, just to name a few of the types of animals you might run into out there. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know? 

Skyline Drive rides the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park and joins the Blue Ridge Parkway which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina. As an aside, this is the same ridge that was walked by American Indians and early settlers of Virginia. 

Shenandoah is without a doubt one of the coolest leaf-peeping spots in the United States when fall foliage changes color each year. 

Worth Pondering…

If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.

— Bill Bryson

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