The Most Scenic Drives in the United States

By Sri Teja Vemuri

Roll down your windows, turn up the radio, and let the beauty of America’s natural wonders take your breath away. With so many stunning routes to explore, it can be hard to know where to start. That is why we have put together a guide to the most scenic drives in the US – so you can sit back, relax, and soak in the sights.From the jagged coastlines of California to the rugged wilderness of Alaska, these roads will take you through some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes our country has to offer. So buckle up, grab your camera, and get ready for a journey you will never forget. Our guide will show you where to go, what to see, and how to make the most of every moment on the most scenic drives in the US.

Patchwork Parkway, Utah

If you are looking for one of the most beautiful scenic drives in America, Utah’s Route 143, also known as Patchwork Parkway, should definitely be on your list. This 51-mile (82-kilometer) route connects Heritage Highway 89 and Scenic Byway 12 and takes about two hours to drive.One of the unique aspects of this route is the historic pioneer communities located at either end, allowing you to experience a bit of the region’s rich history as you travel through it. As you drive, you will be following in the footsteps of Native Americans and American Pioneers who once traversed this land as they hunted and gathered.Interestingly, the road was named after the pioneers who used to lay quilts on top of the snow in order to protect their feet from the freezing cold. Today, it is a smooth and well-maintained drive that showcases some of the most breathtaking scenery in the area. So, if you are looking to experience some of the most beautiful landscapes America has to offer, be sure to add Utah’s Patchwork Parkway to your must-see list.

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Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania and Delaware

The Brandywine Valley drive may only span 12 miles, but it is considered one of the best scenic drives in the US, taking you through the stunning Brandywine River watershed and crossing two states – Pennsylvania and Delaware. The area is steeped in history, with the legacy of the du Pont family visible in their grand mansions, gardens, and museums. The Battle of Brandywine site also adds to the area’s rich past. Thanks to the efforts of the Brandywine Conservancy, the area has been well-preserved, with many of the historic homes and mansions open to the public for tours.One of the must-see attractions is the Brandywine River Museum, showcasing classic American artwork, including works by the renowned artist Wyeth. Whether you are a history buff, art lover, or simply enjoy breathtaking scenery, the Brandywine Valley drive is not to be missed.

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The Hawaii Belt, Hawaii

The Hawaii Belt is undoubtedly one of the best drives in the USA, encircling the Big Island and showcasing a variety of breathtaking landscapes. The 300-mile route along state routes 11, 19, and 190 takes you through deserts of lava, verdant jungles, farmland, active lava flows, snow-white beaches, mountains, and valleys. With so much to explore, most travelers opt to split the journey across several days to truly appreciate the local scenery and attractions.Kailua-Kona is an ideal starting point, where you can enjoy the famous Kona coffee and witness the town’s unique surroundings of hardened lava flows. Along the way, you will encounter charming towns and picturesque parks, offering endless opportunities to soak up the local colors and flavors. The Hawaii Belt is a must-see for anyone seeking an unforgettable driving experience in the USA.

Overseas Highway, Florida Keys

The Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys is often regarded as one of the most beautiful drives in America. This 113-mile (181-kilometer) stretch takes you through a series of roads and bridges, offering stunning views of the water and the surrounding landscapes. The bridges, originally built for Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway, are engineering marvels that have survived the test of time. While driving on the highway, you can still see remnants of the old railroad bridges, reminding you of the railway dreams that never came to fruition. The Seven Mile Bridge, in particular, is a breathtaking sight to behold. From Key Largo down to Key West, this drive takes you on a journey that is both historic and scenic, making it one of the most unforgettable experiences in America.

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Finger Lakes Region, New York

The Finger Lakes region in central New York State is home to some of the most beautiful highways in America. Eleven glacier-formed lakes, including Seneca, Cayuga, and Keuka, are shaped like fingers and extend for about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from Syracuse to Rochester. The lakeshores are adorned with picturesque farmland, charming towns, and more than hundreds of wineries. For an extraordinary experience, travel during autumn and witness the stunning foliage.

Most people choose a particular lake or town to focus on, as the region covers about 9,000 square miles (23,309 square kilometers). One of the most recommended routes is the 175-mile (280-kilometer) loop starting and ending in Ithaca. It takes a couple of days to complete, and it is worth it, as you will come across enchanting lakefront homes, farms, and vineyards. Do not forget to explore the area’s natural gorges with cascading waterfalls for a breathtaking day hike.

Pacific Coast Highway, California

Image: Tom Briskey on Unsplash

The Pacific Coast Highway, also known as Highway 1, is one of the most beautiful roads in America. This 123-mile (198-kilometer) stretch along the California coast is designated as the official PCH. The scenic drive takes about five hours, but drivers must be alert as the road has narrow shoulders, steep drop-offs, and hairpin turns.The best time for a leisurely drive is during the off-season when there is less traffic, and mudslides pose less danger. The route takes you through Big Sur with its majestic redwoods, Monterey Bay where you can see sea otters, and Sonoma County’s wine country. It is recommended to make stops and enjoy the scenic vistas. The PCH is an ideal destination for anyone who loves stunning views, road trips, and exploring the beauty of California’s coast.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana

Going to the Sun Road Montana

The 52-mile (84-kilometer) Going-to-the-Sun Road cuts through Glacier National Park in Montana, providing stunning views of the park’s diverse landscapes. The road takes about two hours to drive straight through, without stopping. At Logan Pass, the road crosses the Continental Divide at 6,646 feet (2,025 meters) above sea level.The drive encompasses all types of terrain in the park, from alpine tundra to glacial lakes and cedar forests. Visitors can even view actual glaciers from the road at the Jackson Glacier Overlook. Built specifically for traversing the park, the road is well-equipped with pull-over areas for taking in the breathtaking views. Named after a local mountain and dedicated in 1933, the road is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open from June through early fall, as winter brings too much snow for the road to be passable. Early spring is dedicated to snow removal by park personnel. The best time to drive the entire road and explore Glacier National Park is in the summer.

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Skyline Drive is a top scenic drive in the USA, offering 105 miles of breathtaking views through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The drive takes around three hours to complete without stops and features 75 overlooks to capture unforgettable photos. Visitors will see stunning mountains, valleys, and wildlife as they drive through the park. The speed limit is restricted to 35 mph to safeguard animals that cross the roadway. Skyline Drive also offers various visitor centers and campsites to explore along the way. The best times to experience the beauty of Skyline Drive are during autumn and spring when the park is full of colorful foliage and wildflowers.

Seward Highway, Alaska

Seward Highway, Alaska

Seward Highway in Alaska is a must-visit for those who seek a unique road trip experience. The 127-mile (204-kilometer) road connects Anchorage and Seward and takes about five hours to drive. However, most travelers prefer to stretch the journey over several days to fully explore the area’s wonders.Seward Highway is a triple designation road that holds the USDA Forest Service Scenic Byway, Alaska Scenic Byway, and All-American Road titles. The journey begins at the base of the Chugach Mountains and the Turnagain Arm shoreline, with picturesque waterfalls, and glaciers on the way. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot beluga whales, eagles, moose, and sheep. The best time to visit is during the summer, when sunlight hours are at their peak.The highway climbs 1,000 feet (304 meters) into the mountains and drops down to sea level within an hour. The drive then meanders through fishing villages, mining towns, and national forests. Stop off at Crow Creek Mine to pan for gold and cherish the true Alaskan adventure.

San Juan Skyway, Colorado

San Juan Skyway is an amazing 233-mile (375-kilometer) scenic drive that winds through the San Juan National Forest, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Colorado. It is considered one of the most beautiful roads in America. The road is popularly known as the “Road to the Sky” as it offers some of the most stunning views of the San Juan Mountains, ancient Native American pueblo ruins, and charming towns. With steep cliffs, alpine forests, and several campgrounds, this drive offers visitors an opportunity to experience the great outdoors by indulging in popular activities like mountain biking, hiking, and skiing.Whether you prefer summer or winter, San Juan Skyway is the perfect destination for a memorable road trip. The spring season brings along gushing waterfalls as the snow melts from higher up, while the summer boasts an array of colorful wildflowers. The fall season displays the mountains draped in shades of bronze and gold leaves, and in winter, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views and indulge in winter sports at the great ski resorts.

Summing Up

In conclusion, scenic road trips are a great way to explore the beauty and wonder of the United States. From the Pacific Coast Highway to the San Juan Skyway, these drives offer breathtaking views of natural landscapes, quaint towns, and historic sites. Whether you are seeking adventure or relaxation, there is a scenic road trip for everyone.These drives are also a fantastic way to connect with nature, experience local culture, and create unforgettable memories with loved ones. Whether you are driving through the mountains of Colorado or along the rugged coast of California, the journey is just as rewarding as the destination.

Top Questions Asked by Travelers About Scenic Highways of USA

When is the best time of year to drive the scenic highways in the USA?

The best time to drive the scenic highways in the USA depends on the specific highway and the activities you plan to do. Generally, spring and fall are good times to avoid crowds and enjoy cooler weather, while summer is a great time for outdoor activities like hiking and swimming.

Are there any precautions I should take when driving on scenic highways in the USA?

Yes, it is important to always obey traffic laws and be cautious when driving on scenic highways, especially in areas with steep cliffs or winding roads. It is also a good idea to check weather and road conditions before you go, and to bring plenty of water and snacks.

What kind of activities can I do on scenic highways in the USA?

There are plenty of activities to enjoy on scenic highways in the USA, including hiking, camping, fishing, sightseeing, and taking photographs. Some highways also offer opportunities for biking, horseback riding, and other outdoor adventures.

Are there any fees or permits required to drive on scenic highways in the USA?

Most scenic highways in the US are free to drive on, but some national parks and forests may require permits or entrance fees. It is a good idea to research the specific highway you plan to drive on and any nearby parks or attractions to find out about any fees or permits required.

Can I drive the Million Dollar Highway in winter?

The Million Dollar Highway is a scenic highway in Colorado that is known for its steep drop-offs and hairpin turns. It can be dangerous to drive in the winter due to snow and ice, so it is recommended to only drive it in the summer months.

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Vemuri Sri Teja
About the author

Meet Sri Teja Vemuri, a globetrotting wordsmith who believes that traveling is not just a hobby, but a way to broaden one's horizons and gain new perspectives