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Most Scenic Highways in the U.S.

6 minute read

By Alannah Koene

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. is home to many scenic highways, including the Pacific Coast Highway, the Cascade Loop and the Overseas Highway.
  • Road trips along scenic highways provide travelers with memorable and immersive experiences of the landscapes and towns they visit.
  • From the rugged peaks of the Cascade Range to the desert basins of Arizona, U.S. scenic highways traverse diverse and iconic areas.

Road trips through the U.S. have long provided travelers with unique and invigorating experiences along lonely roads and through isolated wilderness. From the rugged coast of Maui to the dramatic mountain views of Colorado, the U.S. provides countless scenic highway drives with incredible diversity.

Fill the tank, embrace the open road and check out some of the most scenic highways in the country. You won’t regret it.

1. Pacific Coast Highway, California

First established in the 1930s, the Pacific Crest Trail stretches over 600 miles along California’s rugged and stunning coastline. Travelers can complete this journey in as little as 10 hours, but the opportunities to explore the scenic mountains, forests and beaches along the route make it worthwhile to spend several days on the highway.

Most people start the highway from San Francisco, checking out Golden Gate Park and many other local attractions. After passing through Santa Cruz, travelers drive along redwood forests and dreamy coastlines to eventually reach Los Angeles and San Diego.

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2. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Intended as a leisurely and relaxing tour through North Carolina and Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders for about 469 miles to link the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Also known as America’s Favorite Drive, the parkway follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains to reveal stunning views of vistas, rugged peaks and sweeping landscapes.

Some points of interest along the highway include the historic estate at Moses Cone Park, the Rough Ridge hiking trail, Mount Mitchell and Whitewater Falls.

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3. Route 100, Vermont

At 216.6 miles, Route 100 is Vermont’s longest and most scenic highway. It meanders along the eastern edge of the Green Mountains through the center of the state. The highway runs through some of Vermont’s best-known tourist towns, including Wilmington, Warren and Stowe, and links popular skiing and riding destinations.

This trip is great in the summer since activities such as swimming, sailing, fishing and hiking are easily accessible from the highway. If you’re visiting in the fall, take in the fiery foliage of the changing leaves.

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4. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana

Located in the Glacier National Park in Montana, Going-to-the-Sun Road is so scenic that it nearly blends into its mountainous backdrop. Spanning 50 miles and crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, the road traverses through alpine glaciers, rugged mountains and vibrant wildflower valleys.

The entire drive can be completed in a few hours, but it’s worth starting the trip early in the morning to stop at certain landmarks. This journey includes the 8,991-foot-high Heaven’s Peak, the Weeping Wall waterfall and Jackson Glacier, the seventh-largest glacier in Glacier National Park.

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5. Trail Ridge Road, Colorado

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, the Trail Ridge Road was established in the 1930s. Called a scenic wonder road of the world, the highway traverses 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake and reaches 12,183 feet of elevation to seemingly take travelers to the sky.

The elevation changes allow for dramatic shifts in scenery. The road may pass by thick forests of fir and spruce one moment only to suddenly reveal a windswept alpine tundra. Travelers often see vibrant colors of wildflowers and alpine plants and may get a glimpse of wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, moose, elk and pikas.

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6. State Route 12, Utah

State Route 12, also known as Highway 12, “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” is a designated All-American Road located in central Utah. Spanning about 123 miles, it traverses from Panguitch, through Dixie National Forest and Bryce Canyon National Park, over the Escalante River and Hogback to finally end near Capitol Reef National Park.

From grand plateaus, the Red Canyon and endless public land to explore, Route 12 has all the makings of a memorable road trip adventure.

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7. State Route 89-A, Arizona

Arizona is home to many scenic drives that wind through stunning panoramas, but State Route 89-A is the first in the state to receive the scenic road designation. It was established in 1927 as State Route 79 but eventually grew to 80 miles from Prescott to Flagstaff.

Route 89-A represents Arizona’s quintessential landscapes, including dense pine forests, red sandstone formations and desert basins. The road winds along hairpin corners through the Black Hills, the historic mining camp of Jerome and the ruins at the Palatki and Honanki Heritage Sites.

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8. The Overseas Highway, Florida

The Overseas Highway in Florida is often called the Highway that Goes to Sea. A modern wonder of highway infrastructure that stretches from Key Largo to Key West, the 113-mile highway leapfrogs through the Florida Keys via 42 bridges. It’s also the only Florida highway to earn the All-American Road designation.

Although the road is often busy with travelers and tourists, you get incredible views of the seemingly endless tropical waters. Highlights of the journey include the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, Sombrero Beach and Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

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9. The Hāna Highway, Hawaii

Connecting Kahului to the town of Hana in Maui, the Hāna Highway is one of the world’s most beautiful highways. It follows the rugged Maui coastline along one of the few unspoiled areas of Hawaii for 52 miles. Despite its relatively short distance, the trip can often take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours as there are many single-lane bridges and treacherous corners.

However, the slow pace of the highway allows for leisurely viewing of gorgeous island views. Highlights of the Hāna Highway include lush rainforests, the panoramic Huelo Lookout, the cascading Hanawi Falls and the black sand beach of Wai-anapanapa State Park.

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10. Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

Established in 1936, Beartooth Highway is an All-American roadway that connects the towns of Red Lodge and Cooke City along the border of Montana and Wyoming. The 68-mile highway begins dramatically at Yellowstone National Park and snakes up steep mountainside switchbacks to gain about 5,000 feet.

At 10,947 feet above sea level at its summit, Beartooth Highway reveals stunning views of rugged areas with glaciers, crystal-clear alpine lakes and lingering summer snow. Through Beartooth Pass, travelers get a glimpse of the highway’s namesake, a spire in the mountainous horizon called Na Piet Say or Bear’s Tooth.

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11. Cascade Loop, Washington

The Cascade Loop in Washington is the ultimate road trip. Taking travelers through the diverse sections of the state and cities, such as Seattle, Anacortes and Everett, the Cascade Loop covers 440 miles of varying highway infrastructure. Although this journey can be completed in 2 days, most travelers enjoy driving the loop slowly to fully appreciate the beauty of the trip.

Stevens Pass winds along the western slopes of the Cascade Range and through dense evergreen forests. The town of Leavenworth brings a European flavor to the trip and segues into the beautiful Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The seaside towns of Whidbey Island provide historic charm, and the North Cascades are world-renowned for jagged peaks and alpine adventures.

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12. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

Called The Kanc by New Hampshire locals, the Kancamagus Highway is named the last sagamore of the Pennacooks. Staked in the 1930s and officially opened in 1957, the highway winds across New Hampshire from Lincoln to Conway for about 34.5 miles.

Traversing through the White Mountain National Forest, the highway is home to scenic vistas with views of the White Mountains, the Rocky Gorge, Lower Falls and the Swift River. It’s also home to several hiking trails, stunning wilderness and wildlife such as porcupines and moose. The highway is open year-round, but fall delivers an especially striking experience with vibrant colors as the leaves change to bright red, orange and yellow.

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Alannah Koene

Writer

Alannah Koene is a content writer based in Victoria, British Columbia. Although she writes for a range of topics, her professional writing often focuses on business and lifestyle. Spending much of her time exploring the outdoors through sport, Alannah aims to share her perspectives through writing and content.

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