There are few countries that can match the sheer diversity of scenic drives than the United States. From the rugged coastline of the Pacific Coast Highway to the snow-capped peaks of Montana, America has a scenic drive for everyone. We’ve already laid out how to get ready for your road trip, so it’s time to kick asphalt and count down the Top Five Scenic Routes in the USA.
California’s Pacific Coast Highway
First up on this list of scenic routes in the USA is the incredible Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). Stretching from the green hills of San Francisco to the sandy surf of San Diego, the PCH offers a coastal drive like no other. It’s a true American classic that needs to be on your bucket list.
The route is about 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) long and takes about 10 hours of driving time to complete. You’ll want to take a lot more time than that to explore the sensational coastal views, rugged mountains, pristine forests, quaint seaside villages, and world-class wineries.
Stop to see seals on the beach and humpback whales on their migratory routes. You can also enjoy some of the largest trees in the world. The list of attractions is so long that you could spend months exploring the PCH, but even if you’re in a hurry, at least make time to stop at Big Sur and the famous Bixby Bridge. The iconic stretch of coast is back in business after winter storms in 2017 closed roads and destroyed bridges.
It’s the perfect stretch to hop on a motorbike and feel the sea wind on your face or get the family together in the SUV for an amazing adventure.
There may not be a more scenic coastal drive in the U.S.
Hana Highway, Maui
At least, not in the continental U.S. If we’re including every state, then Maui’s Hana Highway warrants mention as well. If you want to make the most of your trip, book a room at a residence club like the gorgeous Hyatt Residence Club in Kannapali and explore the area after a great day trip of driving. The 103-kilometre (64-mile) stretch between Kahului and Hana is famous for many reasons, and the lush beauty is just one of them.
With its 617 switchback curves and 56 one-way bridges, this jungle drive is as challenging as it is stunning. It’s also been hilariously nicknamed the “Divorce Highway” for the strain it puts on couples.
You can hire a guide to take the pressure off, but for those who are prepared, the road offers many rewards. You’ll drive along high jungle cliffs plunging into panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you can check out the sacred waterfalls, swimming holes, lava tubes, and tropical flowers. It’s an American Road trip unlike anything else in the country.
Bring a map and an adventurous attitude.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina
Next up on this list of scenic routes in the USA is the 754-km (469-mile) tour between Virginia and Cherokee, North Carolina. Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway has become an institution and a must-visit for all self-respecting road-trip lovers. In fact, more people drive the Blue Ridge Parkway every year than visiting the Grand Canyon. Slowly winding your way through the stunning rugged landscape, you soon find out why.
With a speed limit of 45 m.p.h. and no big trucks allowed on the road, you’ll be free to relax and enjoy the ride. In addition to the sweeping vistas, dewy meadows, and craggy mountains, you can stop at dozens of attractions. This includes the massive Shenandoah National Park and its ancient caves, magical waterfalls, and hundreds of miles of hikeable trails.
If you don’t feel like taking your sweet time to soak in every single sight and sound, you could always drive the Appalachian Foothills Parkway in something a little bit… faster.
Utah’s Route 12
Love National Parks? How about natural monuments? Do you have strong feelings for sheer cliffs and spectacular forests, framed by a dramatic red rock desert? It took Utah four full decades to blast through the rugged hills of Utah’s Route 12. The results are worth it for road trippers.
It might be the most attraction-packed paved road in America. Sights and stops include Boulder Mountain, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, the Grand Staircase, and many more.
The entire 196-km (122-mile) stretch of scenic road is a pure driving joy. Stop at the 9,000-foot summit viewpoint to put it all together. Make your way through all of the epicness in one day, or take your time and stop at the many parks, monuments, and shops along the way.
Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Last up on this list of our top scenic routes in the USA is something completely different. Not every scenic drive has to be out in nature. Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive showcases some of the very best in American architecture as you traverse the 41-km (26-mile) stretch between Hollywood Road and Jackson Park.
Lake Shore Drive is the probably prettiest piece of urban roadway in America. From one of the tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower, to the elegant Burnham and Root’s Rookery, to sandy beaches, it’s easy to see why.
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