Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Plan the road trip of a lifetime with these spectacular journeys that highlight all the beauty America has to offer

Ready to hit the road? Whether you have a few days or more than a week, these unforgettable road trip routes are the ultimate way to satisfy a year of pent-up wanderlust (no passport required).

What’s a person to do after months of staying at home with only the option to fantasize about traveling and exploring new places? Easy question: Take an epic road trip.

This may well be the summer of the road trip as vaccines roll out and Americans begin planning vacations again. With that in mind, I dipped into my travel logs to come up with 15 of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. from Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 to Virginia’s Skyline Drive and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

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

Alabama: Alabama’s Coastal Connection

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.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail Loop

A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains northeast of Phoenix offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery.

Gold Rush Highway through Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams complement the stunning background of rolling hills.

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including GA-17/75, GA-180, and GA-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet.

Bayou Teche Byway at St. Martinville © 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.

Golf Coast Scenic Byway at Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi: Gulf Coast Scenic Byway

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.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

This scenic 232-mile drive winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the best mountain views in the world. There’s so much to admire en route; as the Parkway approaches Asheville, it offers breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River and access to the area’s best hiking trails.

Covered Bridge Scenic Bway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Covered Bridge Scenic Byway

Covered bridges…Ohio once had more than any other state: over 2000 of them! You’ll come across four covered bridges on this route. This scenic byway travels across some of Ohio’s most beautiful countryside and many visitors choose to stop along its route to camp and savor the natural beauty of this area—and I suggest you do too!

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: The Newport Loop (Ocean Drive)

This famous drive loops around Newport’s rugged Atlantic Ocean coast passing by historic mansions built from 1865-1914. A highlight stopping point is Brenton Point State Park. Located at the south end of the island, Brenton Point faces out to Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ashley River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina: Ashley River Road

Part of Ashley River Historic District, this charming road is thought to be the oldest road in South Carolina still in use today. A moss-draped live oak tree canopy draped over the 11.5-mile stretch of the Ashley River Road preserves its historic character.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

It only takes about one hour to drive the loop of South Dakota Highway 240 between the towns of Cactus Flat and Wall without stopping but almost no one does that. This loop passes through the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires of Badlands National Park. Stop at any (or all!) of the 16 designated scenic overlooks for amazing photo opportunities.

Newfound Gap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap

At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is known as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains. The road passes through a variety of forest ecosystems ranging from cove hardwood, pine-oak, northern hardwood, and spruce-fir, similar to forests in New England and eastern Canada.

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.

Edson Hill and West Hill Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Edson Hill and West Hill Loop

This scenic 10.5-mile drive loops around the Stowe’s village before traveling up Mountain Road—where you’ll have plenty of chances to stop, shop, or grab a snack on the way to Edson Hill. This drive will take you through farmland in the northwest corner of Stowe. Maple trees lining the road as you start up Edson hill and down West Hill are at their most beautiful in fall.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This scenic 105 mile byway travels through Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. It encompasses vibrant small cities, rural hamlets, mountains, rivers, national forests, and state parks as well as the national park.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Located in Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world

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. There are 75 scenic overlooks that 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.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side (right side if you are traveling south) of the road. These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The mileposts begin with 0.0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The speed limit is 35 mph. It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day. Clearance for Marys Rock Tunnel (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) is 12 feet 8 inches.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 laurel.

The Park has three districts, each with its own characteristics—North, Central, and South. Explore each district. Try new places and discover new wonders!

Along Skyline Drive © 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 historic Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (MP 4.6), once a dining hall with a stellar view. After orienting, consider walking the Fox Hollow Interpretive Trail. Next, stop at Hogback Overlook (MP 20.8), the longest overlook in the park. Views stretch wide to match the overlook. Walk to Piney River Falls from Milepost 22.1.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overnight at Mathews Arm Campground (MP 22.2) and enjoy numerous hikes directly from your campsite. Grab some ice cream during the warm season from Elkwallow Wayside (MP 24) or enjoy your own meal at the adjacent picnic area. Don’t miss the view from Thornton Hollow Overlook (MP 27.6) before rolling into Thornton Gap.

Along Skyline Drive © 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—highest park elevation, highest point on Skyline Drive, most land mass, two lodges, two campgrounds, historic cabins, trails galore, and two visitor centers. Some would argue the best views, too. Start your view-fest from both road and trail by hiking to Mary’s Rock from Meadow Spring parking area (MP 33.5).  Mary’s Rock has 360-degree vistas from an outcrop and is a favorite lookout in the park. Pinnacles Overlook (MP 35.1) presents auto-accessible views and a nearby picnic area.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider an overnight at Skyland Lodge (MP 41.7) and combining it with a hike to Stony Man, highest spot on the Appalachian Trail in the park. Speaking of high points, it is a ritual to head to Hawksbill, the park’s highest peak, from milepost 46.7. At the peak you will find an embedded directional indicator, pointing out all the sights you will see from this lofty height.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next must-stop is Big Meadows (MP 51) where deer are often spotted. Big Meadows includes a lodge, campground, visitor center, dining, and picnicking facilities. Explore the displays here; this visitor center is a great place to stop and learn about the park. Big Meadows Campground is the park’s highest at 3,500 feet. Load up with goodies at the camp store or hit the lodge dining hall. Nearby waterfall walks include Dark Hollow Falls, Rose River Falls, and Lewis Spring Falls.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the site of the first presidential retreat from Milam Gap (MP 52.8), Rapidan Camp where Herbert Hoover trout fished and entertained world leaders. Agile teens and adults will have fun navigating the boulders of the Bearfence Mountain Rock Scramble (MP 56.4). Enjoy great views, too. Consider renting a cabin or pitching your tent at smallish Lewis Mountain Campground (MP 57.5). It offers a more serene experience than does Big Meadows Campground. Finally, visit 83-foot South River Falls from the South River Picnic Area (MP 62.8).

Along Skyline Drive © 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. Interestingly, despite being very rocky the area also has the park’s biggest stream in Big Run, plus other aquatic destinations such as Doyles River and Moormans River. 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.

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 (MP 71.2) where boulder fields, known as talus slopes, are exposed. Another geological show is revealed at Rockytop Overlook (MP 78.1). At the Loft Mountain area (MP 79.5) you can obtain supplies, books, and souvenirs at the camp store. A side road takes you to Loft Mountain Campground that also offers showers. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy three major waterfalls on one loop hike from Browns Gap (MP 83.0)—two on Doyles River and one on Jones Run. Browns Gap is also a jumping off point for exploring the wilds of Big Run with cool clear pools for a summertime dip. The park narrows heading south, limiting opportunities. However, a short walk to Chimney Rock from Riprap parking area (MP 90.0) will put an exclamation point on your Skyline Drive experience. 

Along Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

7 Fall Inspired Road Trips

Whether you’re craving a day trip or a longer getaway this autumn, here are great destinations for a fall road trip in the US

The air is crisp, homemade pies are bubbling, and pumpkin spice lattes are in high demand. What better way to take in the splendor of the fall season than with a selection of scenic road trips. America is ideal for scenic road trips year-round but there is something special about the changing leaves colors that make for an essential experience.

Take in the changing trees, inhale the crisp fall air, and taste local foods on one of these seven road trips across the United States.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

Launched in 1935 as a New Deal project, the Blue Ridge Parkway took 52 years to complete and is now one of the country’s most iconic highways. Come fall, it’s also one of its most vivid. To make the most of the experience, give yourself plenty of time to cruise from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina (the most popular segment of the 469-mile road). You’ll want that time to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, pop into Blue Ridge Music Center for a little bluegrass, and savor both barbecue and fall colors.  

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown 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.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country, Texas

You can begin your journey into Texas Hill Country from Austin or San Antonio; limestone and granite hills radiate out from both cities. They’re also where the worlds of cowboys and wine collide. For the former, head to Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”); for the latter, check out the wineries that line Wine Road 290 in Fredericksburg. There are more than a dozen other towns to explore including New Braunfels (where two rivers flow through) and Lockhart, the state’s barbecue capital.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina to Tennessee

A skinny highway winds through mountains blanketed only by trees with nothing but more mountains in the distance. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. The route stretches from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee, crossing through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. There are scenic vistas along the way but more adventurous travelers can hike one of 29 trails along the route or fly-fish in Tellico River near the end of the skyway.  

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Whether you tool along by car over the historic 105-mile Skyline Drive or take a hike on one of the Park’s 500+ miles of trails, autumn beauty will surround you in October and early November. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. The 75 overlooks offer unforgettable views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Virginia piedmont to the east. The mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Road to Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. 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.

Worth Pondering…

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

—William Cullen Bryant

Shenandoah National Park: Daughter of the Stars

Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park presents the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the heart of the Appalachian Trail

Stretching more than a hundred miles along the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, Shenandoah National Park offers a patchwork quilt of wilderness and pastoral landscapes underpinned by stories from more than 300 years of history. Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails, and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 much more, so, the origin of the National Park name is unclear. Daughter of the Stars! That’s beautiful!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five hundred miles of trails consisting of 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, lead visitors to waterfalls, panoramic views, protected wilderness, and preserved human history in the Shenandoah Valley. A park full of recreational opportunities for the entire family, Shenandoah is worth repeat visits.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Shenandoah so special? First, consider panoramic views from overlooks scattered on lofty Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway that 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 create the unforgettable Shenandoah experience.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Scenic Byway rides along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the heart of Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive draws over 1.2 million visitors every year and is famous for bursting into a landscape of rainbow-colored foliage every autumn.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 laurel.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, located at:

  1. Front Royal, accessible via I-66 and U.S. 340
  2. Thornton Gap, accessible via U.S. 211
  3. Swift Run Gap, accessible via U.S. 33
  4. Rockfish Gap, accessible via I-64 and U.S. 250
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the 105-mile stretch which climbs to 3,680 feet above sea level, you’ll have the opportunity to pull off the road at 75 scenic overlooks and take part in an array of recreational activities—from hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

A climb to the top of Old Rag Mountain is Shenandoah’s most popular and most dangerous hike. It certainly isn’t for everyone. But those who are ready to take on the challenge will find themselves in the clouds. Be sure that you are physically able to complete this hike. The circuit hike is about 9 miles. There is a significant elevation change (2,415 feet) and a strenuous rock scramble that requires good upper body strength. Allow 7-8 hours and sometimes longer depending on how many people are out there—a line up to pass through scrambles is par for the course. The best time to enjoy Old Rag is during the week when there are significantly fewer people. 

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park has an entrance fee of $30, payable at one of the four major entrance stations. The fee is good for 7 consecutive days, even if you leave the park.

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