There’s no doubt the best way to see America is on a road trip. Where the adventure lies less in the destination, but on the road there with miles of eye-popping views and places to pull over for a gawk, a selfie, or a short hike.
We’re excited to share with you what we feel to be some of the best scenic drives in the the USA.
In this post you’ll find spectacular scenic drives that hug the rugged coastline, take you deep within ancient forests, scale the mountains for spectacular views, and traverse the wide, open colorful deserts.
This is just a short list of we have found to be the most scenic drives on our multiple and extended road trips across the USA. We have personally experienced all but the last three of the USA scenic drives on this list. Due to their extraordinary qualities we wanted to include them for you as a USA best, and we also plan on doing them ourselves.
The great thing about USA travel is there is beautiful drive to be found almost anywhere. Do your research to find the best ones for you in the region you are traveling in.
Scenic Drives vs Road Trips
It was difficult to decide which drives belonged our best road trips in the USA post or most scenic drives, as some can be both.
For this post, I decided it belonged in this category if the entire drive was scenic and (mostly) doable in less than a day. Some road trips incorporate scenic drives, but the entire experience may also incorporate small towns and other attractions.
Some can also extend miles beyond what you could do in a day, so therefore it becomes more of a road trip journey. Stay tuned because our best road trips in the USA post is coming next. (Join our email community so you don’t miss it)
As America is so huge, we know there are hundreds more scenic drives for us to do. Please leave your favorites in the comments below so we can add them to our list. It’s also very helpful for future people reading this post and planning their USA road trips.
All American Roads
Many of these scenic drives are designated All-American Roads (noted for each one), a title only given to a third of America’s scenic byways.
The Federal Highway Administration states that to achieve this status the road must
“possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a “destination unto itself.” That is, the road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.”
Skyline Drive, Virginia
The Skyline Drive catches the baton at the end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and runs through the entire 105-mile length of the Shenandoah Valley National Park on the crest of the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains.
Be prepared for endless viewpoints over the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Massanutten Mountain Range. Plan your drive well to incorporate hikes, picnic spots, best viewpoints, and lodges.
Some notable viewpoints: Range View Overlook (one of the best views of the northern section of the park), South River Overlook (great for sunrise), Baldface Mountain Overlook, and Moormans River Overlook.
Apart from the views, there are plenty of hikes you can enjoy. We recommend the relatively easy Dark Hollow Falls Trail.
Independence Pass, Colorado
At 12,095ft., Independence Pass is the highest paved mountain pass in Colorado. It is one of the most spectacular drives in the US passing clear rivers, beautiful valleys, steep peaks, and extensive aspen forests.
This 32-mile scenic drive takes you over the Continental Divide and through the US’s highest incorporated city, Leadville, which is a whopping 10,152ft high.
Leadville is a quirky town with a wild west history. We included Leadville in our small towns in the USA to love!
Kancamagus Scenic Highway, New Hampshire
No USA scenic drive list can be complete without mention of one of the most beautiful drives to experience Fall foliage: The Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.
Otherwise known as The Kanc, this 34.5-mile Scenic Byway takes you through the White Mountain National Forest offering stunning views of the White Mountains, the Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge reaching just under 3,000 feet at its highest point.
Be prepared for trees of maples, alder, and birch to be ablaze in full glory.
See all our tips here on planning a New England road trip.
Highway 12 Scenic Drive, Utah
One of the most beautiful scenic drives in the USA is Scenic Highway 12 in Utah.
It’s a must not miss thing to do in Utah.
Hwy 12 has pretty much earned the title of the most colorful of the nation’s 31 All-American Roads. It connects U.S. 89 near Panguitch on the west with S.R. 24 near Torrey on the northeast winding 124 miles through some of the most diverse and ruggedly beautiful landscapes anywhere.
It passes through Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks. A highlight for us was the section from Torrey near Capitol Reef to Escalante.
We have done sections of Highway 12 twice now and continue to be blown away by the lunar like landscape mixed in with every color of the rainbow and style of rock formation you can think of.
Read our guide to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (Highway 101), Oregon
Spanning 363 miles along the Oregon Coast, Highway 101 is an All American Road that deserves at least a section of it to be experienced as a scenic drive.
It’s hard to say which section as most of it hugs the coastline and offers endless scenic views.
The entire Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is included in our best USA road trip posts as it’s something worth savoring and lingering along on a multi-day trip.
In the South, the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor is known to be one of the most beautiful sections with dramatic cliffs, impressive sea stacks.
We also loved the section from Gold Beach to Humbug State Park and the section from the historic Heceta Head Lighthouse through Cape Perpetua to Thors Well for its jagged coastline, sea stacks, forest drops off into the ocean and tide pooling opportunities.
Read More: 13 Adventures for your Oregon road trip
Don’t miss Yachats Brewery near Thors Well for a local farm to table experience of quality food and outstanding beers. It’s typical Oregon – raw, rugged, and full of stories to tell.
Blue Ridge Parkway, NC – VA
Ready for what’s labeled as America’s favorite scenic drive through the Appalachian Mountains?
The Blue Ridge Parkway travels 469 miles through the North Carolina mountains and finishes at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It also gives you easy access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
There are mileposts (MP) along the way as handy reference points with plenty of places to stop for hikes, viewpoints and wildlife spotting. The parkway has become a paradise for birders: with over 50 resident species, it boasts more diversity than the entire continent of Europe.
It’s a panoramic drive year round, but many flock here during Autumn for the spectacular Fall colors. The Blue Ridge Parkway is also an All American Road.
Going to the Sun Road, Glacier NP, Montana
The spectacular, and renowned Going to the Sun Road will take you from the valley up to the highest peaks of Glacier National Park in Montana.
The 49-mile road has been carved into the edges of the mountain as it winds its way up to Logan’s Pass and then back down eastwards towards St Mary Visitor Center where it ends on the eastern shore of St Mary Lake.
You’ll be amazed by this engineering feat that offers incredible vistas, sheer drop offs and perhaps a little bit of terror.
Start early as the road can get very busy and finding a park at Logan’s Pass is challenging!
There are plenty of scenic overlooks and day hikes to enjoy along the way.
Read our in-depth guide on things to do in Glacier National Park, which includes the Going to the Sun Scenic Drive highlights
Burr Trail Scenic Drive, Utah
The 66-mile scenic drive in the Southern Utah is spectacular! (the photo above is one of my favorite views in the country)
The Burr Trail Scenic Byway winds through the deep red slickrock canyon and rolling desert forest of orange and green created by the Waterpocket fold.
The colors as you look back on the rocks are extraordinary: pink, grey, chocolate, orange, yellow, and white.
Burr Trail Road takes you through the most dramatic portions of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
It’s a more off the beaten path road trip experience.
Read more: Things to do in Capitol Reef National Park
North Cascades Scenic Drive
The North Cascades Scenic Highway covers 140 miles and passes through the stunning North Cascades National Park in Washington State. It’s hard to believe this is one of the least visited national parks in the USA.
Who would want to pass up these views and the opportunity to get up close to our disappearing glaciers?
The highway skirts the Skagit River through the park and has many incredible viewpoints like Ross Lake Overlook, Washington Pass Overlook and Diablo Lake Overlook.
This USA scenic drive makes up part of the Cascade Loop, a popular multi-day Washington road trip.
Read more in our guide on things to do in North Cascades National Park (including our hardest and favorite USA hike)
The North Shore Road, Nevada
Leave the neon jungle behind and enter a world of orange and red desert panoramas with colorful sandstone formations, rugged mountains and sweeping views of Lake Mead.
The 50-mile North Shore Drive is one of my favorite scenic drives in the USA. I’m surprised at how little attention it receives. You will find it in the northern section of Lake Mead Recreational Area in Nevada, less than an hour’s drive from Las Vegas (easy Vegas day trip for you)!
Be sure to stop off at the Northshore Summit Trail for a short hike up to a spectacular viewpoint from the mountain.
Read More: Check out our guide on things to do in Lake Mead, Nevada
TOP TIP: Continue the stunning beauty of this drive by allowing it to take you to the Valley of Fire State Park and loop back to Vegas that way! The Valley of Fire is a state park in the USA NOT to be missed.
Road to Hana, Hawaii
One of the most famous road trips in Hawaii is the 45-mile Road to Hana. We also included it in our top road trips in the USA post because you could break this up into a multi-destination road trip staying in different places along the way.
Most people do it in one day, therefore I’d consider it more of a scenic drive.
With 617 hairpin curves and 56 one-lane bridges, you’ll need a bit of stamina for this drive, especially for the long winding return road home.
The road is embedded on the side of the high jungle cliffs that plunge into the sea revealing panoramic Pacific Ocean views, bamboo jungle and Norfolk pines, sacred waterfalls and swimming holes, lava tubes, tropical flowers and roadside food stands.
Start early. Drive to the end first to miss all the traffic and then slowly make your way back incorporating all the stops!
Red Rock Scenic Byway 179, Sedona, AZ
Driving on this All American Road coming in from Phoenix was our first glimpse of Red Rock Country in Sedona.
It was nothing short of a religious, or spiritual, experience. The energy of those striking red rock formations captivates you with feelings of peace, introspection, and other-wordly connection.
The shortest of our scenic drive, the Red Rock Scenic Byway winds for 7 miles through Sedona offering views of iconic landscapes like Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Castle Rock and Cathedral Rock, Snoopy Rock, and in the distance, a glimpse of the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
It’s often called a “Museum without Walls.”
I think the best section is between the Village of Oak Creek towards Uptown.
Be sure to stop in Sedona and spend time enjoy the many wonderful hikes, viewpoints, and powerful vortexes.
Overseas Highway, Florida Keys
How does 113 miles driving across 42 overseas’ bridges sound?
That’s right! Bridges over the crystal clear water of the Florida Keys as you hop from island to island. The entire Overseas Highway carries US. Route 1 through the Florida Keys to Key West.
It is a USA scenic drive to experience – it also makes our USA road trip list, as we recommend you make this a multi-day journey with plenty of overnight stays along the way.
For many, a highlight of a visit to Florida Keys is driving the famous Seven Mile Bridge section located at the west end of the City of Marathon.
It connects Knight’s Key (part of the city of Marathon, Florida) in the Middle Keys to Little Duck Key in the Lower Keys. It can feel a little unnerving driving over all that open water, but the views all round are stunning!
The Florida Overseas Highway is an All American Road.
Read more places to visit in Florida, including Florida Keys highlights.
Monument Valley Scenic Drive (& Route 163), UT
From the Arizona border, Scenic Byway 163 travels northeast through Monument Valley and the land of the Navajo.
The red rock desert, spires, mesas and buttes have been the setting for countless movies and advertisements, especially from the John Wayne era.
And more recently famous for the sweeping Forest Gump views of Monument Valley upon approach from US 163.
Once in Monument Valley, one of my favorite scenic drives in America is the Monument Valley Scenic Drive. It’s a 17-mile loop road of unpaved dirt road taking you to all the iconic Monument Valley places.
Do the guided tour with a Navajo Guide. It gives you more insight into Navajo culture and the spiritual importance of all the formations. It also takes you into the private tour areas where you see even more stunning and unique rock formations. It’s one of our favorite USA experiences.
To extend this spectacular scenic drive, pass through Mexican Hat, named for the inverted sombrero-shaped rock formation visible from the byway, and then detour to Valley of the Gods, a 15-mile loop road offering more spectacular rock formations and landscapes. There are awesome free camping spots here as well.
Big Sur, California
Big Sur is a rugged stretch of California’s central coast between Carmel and San Simeon is probably the most scenic section of the Pacific Highway. It’s bordered to the east by the Santa Lucia Mountains and the west by the Pacific Ocean, and it’s traversed by narrow 2-lane State Route 1, known for winding turns, seaside cliffs and views of the misty coastline.
The classic All American Road twists along roughly a 90-mile-long stretch of Highway 1 coast. It is one of the best things to do in California and offers plenty of highlights like the famous Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Limekiln State Park, Pfeiffer Beach, and 17-Mile Drive.
The entire Pacific Coast Highway in California could be classified as a scenic drive. We’ve added it to our best USA road trips list instead as it’s more of a journey experienced over multiple days and destinations.
Read more: 30 Incredible Places to Visit in California
Lamar Valley + Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park
How can you not include a scenic drive that involves wildlife like packs of wolves running in the distance, herds of bison causing traffic jams, and grizzly bears roaming?
The Lamar Valley is a scenic drive to remember through Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. This valley is often referred to as “America’s Serengeti” because of it’s abundance of wildlife.
There are plenty of spectacular views and there are several hikes in this region also.
Hayden Valley is also a spectacular drive in Yellowstone and is full of bison. I never grew tired of those rolling green hills, with the Yellowstone river running through it, and steam rising up from the sides of the road reminding you of the unstable world that lived underneath you.
Read our full guide on things to do in Yellowstone National Park
TOUR IDEA: 4 days and 3 nights discovering the natural wonders of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Click image below to learn more:
Lost Coast Scenic Drive, California
We love being able to include lessor known scenic drives in the USA. The Lost Coast, located in Northern California takes some effort to reach, but it is worth it for its dramatic coastal views and black sand beaches.
You will think you’ve landed in Hawaii when you gaze upon Black Sand Beach for the first time. It was one of the most beautiful USA beach views for it’s uniqueness and complete surprise. You’ll also practically have this area all to yoursel, which is a California rarity!
We mapped out a road trip plan that encompassed a 107 mile loop from Ferndale along the Lost Coast Headlands and then around to the Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwood State Park (see next scenic drive).
Read our full guide on the Lost Coast and California Redwoods here.
Avenue of the Giants, California
Just when you think your Lost Coast road trip was coming to an end, you drive right up to Avenue of the Giants. What a way to combine two spectacular scenic drives in one.
The Avenue of the Giants is a 31 mile scenic road that snakes through the Humboldt Redwood State Park between Phillipsville (south) and Pepperwood (north).
It’s renowned for the soaring redwoods standing guard along the road. They are so close you could reach out your window and touch them. Careful you don’t side swap them with your mirrors.
Redwoods are some of the most majestic and beautiful trees you’ll ever see.
Humboldt Redwood State Park has the largest remaining old-growth redwood forest in the world with more than 17,000 acres of ancient coast redwood and Douglas-fir trees.
There are plenty of places to stop along the way and hiking trails to experience the redwood groves. See all our recommended stops in this post.
Columbia River Scenic Byway, Oregon
If you love waterfalls, hiking, wineries, fruit picking and scenic drives, the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon is for you.
Forming the border between Oregon and Washington, the Columbia River winds for more than 80 miles westward through the Cascade range into the Pacific Ocean just west of Astoria.
This is an all American Road filled with views of forests cloaked in ferns and firs, and the Columbia River framed by sheer basalt walls and gushing waterfalls.
It’s on this scenic drive that you’ll find one of the most famous and best waterfalls in the USA, Multnomah Falls.
The land bordering the river is protected as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and one of the best road trips in the Pacific Northwest.
Columbia River Gorge is located near Portland, Oregon and makes an easy day trip. Although we recommend staying much longer.
Read More: Highlights of a Columbia River Road Trip
If you don’t have your own vehicle, consider this Columbia River Gorges Waterfall Tour from Portland.
Badlands Loop State Scenic Highway, South Dakota
Curves twisting through walls of rugged rock pinnacles, buttes, and multi-colored spires. This is the Badlands Loop scenic drive through the Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
It’s a 39-mile loop drive with 16 designated scenic overlooks and eight hiking trails.
The native grasslands are filled filled with numerous species of plants and animals including pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs and buffalo. You may even see one of North America’s most endangered animals, the black-footed ferret.
The section between the section between Yellow Mounds Overlook and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is said to be the most spectacular.
Beartooth Highway, Wyoming & Montana
The Beartooth Scenic Byway was high on our list for our RV road trip, but due to time constraints and the size of our RV we decided against it.
This is one of America’s most famous scenic drives and is frequently called the “most beautiful highway in America“. This 68-mile, All American Road starts at Red Lodge in southwest Montana and winds through the rugged mountain region to meet up up with Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park.
The many switchbacks take you up to heights of 5,000 feet in elevation and offer high altitude vistas, snow-capped peaks (over 20 peaks tower above 12,000 feet) and bright blue alpine lakes of the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountain Wilderness region.
Beartooth Highway explorers often report sightings of both grizzlies and black bears, along with mountain goats, moose, elk, and wolves.
Look out for Bear’s Tooth, a jagged rock feature that resembles a bear’s sharp tooth.
Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado
Welcome to America’s Mountain – Pikes Peak in Colorado.
Named so because of the famous patriotic song “America the Beautiful,” which was written by Katherine Lee while soaking up the views of the valley below Pikes Peak.
Starting at US-24, near Cascade, the ascent is 30.57km (19 miles) long over 156 turns. Over this distance the elevation gain is 2.049 meters. The average gradient is 6.70%.This drive is not for the feint hearted!
This 19-mile American scenic drive twists and turns to reach 14,000 feet up to the clouds.
It’s one of the few mountains above this height that can be easily accessed to the public making this drive near Colorado Springs most visited mountain in North America and the second most visited mountain in the world behind Japan’s Mount Fuji.
The highway gives you a 360-degree view of all the beauty of the Rockies with views of lakes, mountains, wildlife and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can see Denver, Colorado Springs, and even as far as Kansas.
The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is another popular way to get up to the summit.
Don’t fancy taking on those steep turns on your own? Try this tour from Denver. It will take you to the peak AND also incorporates a visit to nearby spectacular Garden of the Gods. Check prices and availability here.
Comment: Your turn! Thanks for reading our suggestions on some of the best scenic drives in America. Now what would you add to the list, or which one of these was your favorite?