With a stunningly diverse range of landscapes and climates, the U.S. is filled with countless scenic roads from coast to coast. Mountains, valleys, forests, canyons, coastlines—you’ll see all of these and more when you embark on the best drives in the country. Though you can find beautiful stretches of highway just about anywhere you look, we’ve picked out the most beautiful ones, which will take you through the most thrilling landscapes around the U.S. Get ready to be inspired by our journey across America’s most scenic roads.
by Zachary Laks
Blue Ridge Parkway
WHERE: Virginia and North Carolina
Cruise against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains on 469 miles of natural splendor. Nestled among more than one hundred species of trees as well as habitats for 59 species of birds, the Blue Ridge Parkway brings nature lovers amazingly close to constantly changing landscapes. Make time to stop at Milepost 5.8 at the Humpback Rocks for hiking trails and scenic picnic opportunities amidst the 19th-century farm buildings and natural rock formations. The Marby Mill at Milepost 176, originally built as a sawmill and gristmill, now stands as a landmark and gathering place for the community, with live music on Sunday afternoons. The best sunrises and sunsets can be seen from Waterrock Knob, Milepost 451.2.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's North Carolina Mountains Guide
Cades Cove Drive
WHERE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
The Cades Cove Drive is an eleven-mile, one-lane scenic loop around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Free and open to the public, from sunrise through sunset, the drive brings riders deep into a region where bears and deer roam free. Along the paved road, you'll pass deserted yet well-preserved cabins, stores, barns, and mills dot the way. Pick up the $1.50 guidebook at the beginning of the loop for an informed tour as you cruise along. The speed is kept to a low average of about ten miles per hour throughout the loop to optimize wildlife sightings.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Great Smoky Mountains Guide
WHERE: New Hampshire
The Kancamagus, pronounced “Kank-ah-mah-gus,” is a 34.5-mile scenic byway that cuts through the middle of White Mountain National Forest. The area is known for exquisite fall foligage, drawing leaf enthusiasts here annually. Be sure to make time to stop at the famed Sabbaday Falls, where water rushes from 45 feet into a serene brook. The Lower Falls on the byway are also worth stopping for, as the myriad waterfalls pour into a natural swimming area. As it is unsupervised, it is advised only to swim in The Lower Falls when water is calm and not at full force. Note there are no gas stations, restaurants, or hotels along the route, so be prepared for a half-hour plus journey through the woods.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New Hampshire Guide
Road to Hana
Travel through paradise along the 50-mile Road to Hana, Hawaii's treasured scenic roadway. With 620 curves along coastlines and mountainsides, as well as 59 bridges, the Road to Hana connects Kahului with Hana in east Maui. Waterfalls, scenic outlooks, and opportune swim holes are mapped out by local guidebooks available at the beginning of the drive—best planned as a day trip, returning before sunset. Be sure to take turns driving as the harrowing curves and steep cut-offs require a driver's full focus on the narrow roads. Along the way, be sure to pick up some of the locally-made banana bread.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Maui Guide
San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway is a scenic, 233-mile loop in southwest Colorado through the San Juan Mountains. The drive, which takes an estimated seven hours to complete, is a wonder to behold as you pass peaks that reach up to 14,000 feet. The Million Dollar Highway stands as the skyway's most rewarding and challenging stretch—a 25-mile passageway through the Uncompahgre Gorge, where sharp turns, no guardrails, and narrow roads rewards drivers with immense scenic vistas of mythical landscapes, waterfalls, and off-the-grid exploration.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Southwest Colorado Guide
Connecting Parowan and Panguitch, the 55-mile Patchwork Parkway takes drivers through Dixie National Forest, where majestic geological rock formations, lakes, and streams abound. The road hugs the eastern edge of Panguitch Lake, a glistening body of water known for its excellent fishing. Make a pit stop between Milepost 8 and 9 for a mile hike to the Hidden Haven, where a secret oasis awaits with a waterfall and rock climbing. Despite its short distance, the route offers a surprisingly dense collection of ecological experiences. Be sure to make your way 30 miles south from Panguitch to Bryce Canyon. The spectacular rock formations (known as hoodoos) create a mesmerizing stone forest.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Utah Guide
WHERE: Carmel, California
When you're driving on Carmel's 17-Mile Drive, your destination is the journey itself. At $10 per car for non-residents, the route circles the exclusive Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove neighborhoods on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Upon paying the toll, visitors receive a map with the best spots for turnouts to capture the perfect photo. Drive alongside some of the world's most exclusive golf courses, many of which offer fine dining to the public. Among the attractions, the Lone Cypress, a single Monterey cypress tree, stands as a landmark and the official symbol of Pebble Beach. Save your toll receipt, as some Pebble Beach resort restaurants will credit the fee towards your tab.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Monterey Guide
Acadia National Park Loop Road
Situated on an island, the 27-mile route explores the park's eastern terrain delivering Atlantic beaches, fresh-water lakes, forests, and multiple hiking and climbing trails along the way. There is a $20-per-car fee to complete the loop, but the solitude and serenity of Maine's landscapes is worth it. Along the way, stop by Thunder Hole to experience the force of the sea, as this small inlet provides thunderous bursts of water as high as 40 feet on windy days. Cadillac Mountain, part of the loop, is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view the sunrise in the U.S. from October 7 through March 6.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Maine Guide
High Road to Taos
WHERE: New Mexico
Journey through remnants of Old Spain set in the rolling Sangre de Cristo Mountains as you travel from pueblo to pueblo along this 56-mile stretch. Beginning just north of Santa Fe, the byway heads north, where 360-degree views of endless mountainous terrain await. Make time to stop in the pueblos for authentic New Mexican crafts like woodcarvings, pottery, and rugs. The recognizable San Francisco de Asis Mission Church stands as a landmark and must-see in Taos. This quaint town is brimming with culture, boasting remarkable galleries of contemporary and classic artwork and a summer scene filled with family activities. Before you go, indulge in the delicious red and green chile at Ranchos Plaza Grill (8 Ranchos Plaza); no trip is complete without the indomitable sopapilla.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's New Mexico Guide
Tap into Vermont's untethered scenic beauty with the sprawling 200-mile Route 100, which runs nearly the entire length of the state. Start in the south, heading north from Stamford, and prepare to pass through more than 20 towns offering unique local goods and fine dining. Drive along the east edge of the Green Mountains, where lakes and rivers are prime for fishing and swimming, as well as canoeing and kayaking. The Route is dotted with art and craft studios, all dedicated to local workmanship. One weekend a year, these studios open their doors for an Open Studio Weekend. Check out the detailed map here and be sure to stop for some of these local gems. Vermont takes great pride in its local beer brewing culture. Seek out The Alchemist's famed Heady Topper double IPA beer along the way. Retailers usually sell out of their weekly shipments within an hour.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor's Vermont Guide