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The Best Scenic Drives in America
Experience the beauty of America’s diverse landscapes from behind the wheel with these unforgettable scenic drives.
Getting behind the wheel is one of the best ways to experience the beauty of America. The best scenic drives in the U.S. feature everything from ocean views to snow-capped mountains to intimidating desert landscapes. Pack a duffel bag for the road and hit the highway to take in these magnificent sights.
Hana Highway, Hawaii
The Hana Highway has earned a reputation as the most scenic road in Hawaii, quite an honor in such a beautiful state. The road hugs the rugged Maui coastline, revealing views of the ocean, jungle forests, and waterfalls, not to mention true Hawaii character like roadside fruit stands and patches of mango and avocado trees. The road’s 600 curves and four dozen one-lane bridges keep traffic at a leisurely pace, perfect for fully appreciating the scenery.
Best Time to Go: Try to avoid the rainy season, which happens during the winter months. Roads may be impassable at this time.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
To view the spectacular sights of Glacier National Park, drive the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, which passes glaciers, lakes, mountains and tundra as it crosses the Continental Divide at Logan Pass. The National Park Service has established a shuttle service so even those visiting the park without a vehicle can have the Going-to-the-Sun experience.
Best Time to Go: Due to snow and ice cover, the road is only open from June through early fall.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
The only challenge with the Blue Ridge Parkway is deciding which portion to travel, since a leisurely drive of its entire 469 miles could require a couple days. The trip is worth your time whether you start on the Virginia side in Shenandoah National Park or the North Carolina side in the Great Smoky Mountains. The highway features flowers, forests and waterfalls, plus attractions such as campgrounds, museums and historic trails.
Best Time to Go: The winter weather in Virginia and North Carolina can be unpredictable, so it’s best to do this drive between May and November.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Texas
Drivers on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive get a real desert experience, as the 30-mile road runs through the heart of Big Bend National Park. A portion of the scenic drive goes right to the edge of Mexico, following the twists and turns of the Rio Grande. Don’t miss Santa Elena, an impressive canyon on the border formed by 1,500-foot limestone cliffs on each side. You can take a backpack and hike along the canyon.
Best Time to Go: This drive is particularly popular during the winter holiday season (November through January) and during college spring break time in March. You can do the drive all year round, but if you want to avoid the crowds it might be best to skip travel during those times.
Big Sur, California
The most scenic portion of the Pacific Coast Highway, the 90-mile section known as Big Sur, takes road trippers through steep terrain along the Pacific Ocean. You’ll cross high bridges and watch the waves crash against rocky shorelines. The downside is that in some places you may encounter heavy traffic and impatient drivers, so take advantage of the pullouts to step out of the vehicle, breathe in the ocean air, and soak up the views.
Best Time to Go: It’s best to visit Big Sur in the spring or fall. The winter weather is unpredictable and the coast may be shrouded in fog during the summer.
17-Mile Drive, California
From State Route 1, turn off on 17-Mile Drive near Carmel for one of California’s most scenic drives. Sights along the road include the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links, densely forested areas, and the Pacific Ocean, where otters, whales and harbor seals can sometimes be spotted. Make sure to do some of the short hikes in the area – they’re breathtaking! The road meanders through a private community and there’s a toll – around $10 as of September 2013. Bike-riders, take note: Motorcycles are not permitted on 17-Mile Drive.
Best Time to Go: Take this drive in the fall or spring, when the skies are clear. If you want to do it in the summer, make sure to go in the afternoon after the morning fog has cleared. It is absolutely impossible to do this drive during big golf tournaments at Pebble Beach. Don’t visit in February during the Pebble Beach Pro Am and check out the U.S. Open website to see the schedule for other tournaments. For other events that may cause closures in this area, check out the events page on the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance official website.
Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, urban nightlife, and everything in between. He blogs about his adventures at http://quirkytravelguy.com.