One of America’s greatest claims to fame is the overbearing number of well-kept roadways — all of which can provide countless hours of fun, immersion, and understanding of the country’s most elusive areas. Since the first asphalt-strewn expanse was devised all the way back in 1870, dubious drivers have scoured the nation’s recesses to find the most beautiful drives known to man — and maybe even to break a law (or three) along the way. But throughout history, the reality of the country’s road-faring heritage has become even clearer.
From the enormous Redwood forests of the west coast to the expansive, rolling hills of the east, the grandeur of America’s densely packed highway, byway, and interstate system has left many drivers in absolute awe. Below, we’ll run through a handful of the best driving experiences around, outlining highly-renowned roadways that have earned their praise after decades of use. Sure, there are way more roads out there that are worthy of our time and effort — but for the sake of foundational knowledge, we’ll start with a dozen of the best driving roads in the United States.
Route 66, Arizona
As one of the most famed exchanges in the United States, U.S. Route 66 established a primary means of transport from the upper midwest to the west coast. After a time, it became widely known as “The Mother Road” — helping to foster America’s expansion to the west, and stretching from Chicago, Illinois all the way to Santa Monica, California. After it was built in 1926, it served as the primary route for the migration of individuals seeking to escape the inconveniences of the east, as well as the dreadful 1930s Dust Bowl. Due to its reputation as the Main Street of America, use of the byway drastically increased after WWII, when returning veterans saw that road trips through the west’s plentiful vistas, towering mountains, and expansive canyons might be the perfect chance to reconnect with their families. Though the original route covered over 2,448 miles of American soil, Arizona’s leg is certainly one of the most appealing, providing the perfect illustration of renowned landmarks such as the Painted Desert, Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest.
Highway 1, California
California’s Highway 1 is a legendary expanse of asphalt that stretches over 630 miles of the west’s prized Pacific coastline. It all began in the 1930s after a small, intermediate section was implemented as a means of transport through Big Sur. Later, the State Route would become a major thoroughfare for California, acting as a primary roadway used to traverse through the heart of the state’s largest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. From sleepy, serene beach towns all the way to the state’s northernmost expanses, the winding roads of Highway 1 lead travelers through a number of the west coast’s most beautiful pieces of terrain. Some 30 years later, in 1964, the entirety of the highway would finally receive its designation as a State Route, giving it the official title of California State Route 1.
Pikes Peak, Colorado
Colorado is home to some of the most beautiful country in North America — fortunately, that also makes it a prime location for a number of the country’s most aesthetically pleasing driving roads. Pikes Peak, in particular, takes the cake as a technical expanse of asphalt that’s so well received, it even hosts the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb. The circuit, established in 1916, takes place every year as a venue for trucks, motorcycles, cars, and ATVs to prove their worth on the gravel and blacktop. Initially, the hill climb was comprised of various sections of unpaved roadway, making it tough to negotiate at high speeds — but following a number of complaints and litigations by the Sierra Club due to damage continually caused by erosion, the city of Colorado Springs was mandated to resurface the entirety of the run. By 2011, the final stretch of gravel and dirt was officially paved. Though the roadway only covers 13 miles of Colorado’s most beautiful mountainsides, it’s the elevation that matters — by the end of the route, you’ll be sitting at 14,110 feet, giving you panoramic views of the best territories the Rocky Mountains have to offer.
San Juan Skyway, Colorado
As another of the state’s “All-American Roads,” the San Juan Skyway is a scenic loop of surfaced asphalt that stretches nearly 236 miles through Colorado’s Scenic and Historic Byway system. As per its name, the Skyway traverses through one of Colorado’s most iconic ranges, the San Juan Mountains, offering staggering views of surrounding wildlife, various 14,000+ foot peaks, and a serene, road trip-able style that will have you pulling over so often, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself behind schedule. A large portion of the route takes place in the famous Uncompahgre National Forest, chock full of interesting, unique towns and shops that are certainly worthy of your visit. And if you’re feeling extra touristy, you can always hop off the Skyway to head out to Telluride — an old mining town that hosts one of the best skiing and snowboarding areas in the United States.
Saddle Road, Hawaii
Hawaii might seem like a far cry for most avid road trippers, but those who brave the state’s numerous dangers are certainly in for a memorable experience. The tropical island’s Route 200 (which is known among locals as Saddle Road) has garnered the respect of both fledgling and professional drivers the world over, thanks to less-than-exemplary driving conditions, various unpaved, unkept portions, and single-lane bridges that lend themselves to danger. A number of other external inhibitors, such as dense fog, rain, and exceedingly low visibility have kept motorists on the island from traversing the route on a regular basis, citing it as one of the most “adversarial” stretches of roadway within the state. These days, the entirety of Saddle Road has been sanctioned, repaved, and re-aligned to meet modern standards, while retaining the original grandeur for which the route has become known. Though it spans only 52 miles of the oceanic local’s numerous areas, the views are more than exemplary — volcanoes, snow-capped mountaintops, lava, and expansive sightlines of the Pacific Ocean are just a few of the wonders awaiting travelers who take to the state in droves. And if you’re looking for the fastest way to travel between Hilo and Kailua-Kona, there’s no better route. Word is, you might even be able to access the state’s renowned Mauna Kea Observatory if you’re lucky.
Tunnel Of Trees, Michigan
As one of the presiding routes of the famed Michigan M-119, the Tunnel of Trees has quickly become a renowned route that many travelers look forward to when traversing the upper northeast. It’s been dubbed as one of the most scenic drives in the nation, thanks to immaculate colors during the spring and fall, and an endless array of overarching canopies during the warmer months. If you’re not too keen on the hardwoods and evergreens, there are a number of notable spots to stop and photograph your surroundings during the 27-mile route, boasting a variety of shops, restaurants, and historical areas that can turn a quick trip into a day-long affair. Cyclists, motorcyclists, and day-drivers come from around the country to partake in the beautiful route, so be sure to share the roadway — and keep in mind that the “tunnel” itself only spans from Harbor Springs to Good Hart.
Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun road is special — mostly because it’s the only stretch of asphalt that road-weary travelers can use to traverse one of the nation’s most mesmerizing national parks. Located in the upper expanse of the state’s fabled Rocky Mountain range, the “Sun Road” reaches a staggering 6,646-foot elevation, spanning across the Continental Divide and Logan Pass. At over 50 miles long, the roadway exhibits some of Glacier National Park’s most beautiful views, natural wildlife, and historic landmarks — but during the winter, Going-to-the-Sun changes its character entirely. With massive snowdrifts as large as 80 feet in height, the mountainous, canyon-filled route is overtaken by the winter weather. During the summer, however, the roadway is a joy to drive — hairpin turns, narrow, two-lane byways, and low-hanging rocks make the Sun Road a treat for those who are looking for immaculate views and immersive driving in the nation’s great green north.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
New Hampshire might be a little low on the radar for most drivers, but the state’s Kancamagus Highway is surely a massive bonus for those who are making their way from Lincoln to Conway. During the fall (and spring), the trees of the White Mountain National Forest provide exquisite views during the entirety of the trip, as well as an immaculate experience while following the steadily flowing Pemigewasset River. Various rivers and waterway converge during the length of the route, giving you an ample opportunity to stop, enjoy nature, and cool off. Aside from numerous hairpin turns, iconic locations, and campgrounds, the highway provides access to some of the state’s best hiking trails, giving you even more of a reason to get outside and explore during the most temperate times of the year.
Hocking Hills Loop, Ohio
Ohio is a far cry from the expansive forested roadways of the west, but what it lacks in crystal-clear coastal waters and towering pines, it more than makes up for with its secluded backroads. Hocking Hills Loop happens to be one of Ohio’s most scenic routes, providing a number of rollercoaster-like dips, turns, and ascents that make it the perfect getaway for a weekend of fun driving. The route takes sightseers through the foothills of the state’s Appalachia, giving individuals an extensive collection of roadways to enjoy at their leisure. The unison of Route 664, 374, and 56 is the roadway’s best-kept secret — thanks to the convergence of the different circuits, the perfect “loop” is formed. Every year, some of the most renowned car manufacturers from Detroit head to Hocking Hills to test, deploy, and evaluate their upcoming vehicles on the stellar roadways — a testament to the areas legendary scenery, performance-oriented blacktop, and interesting layout.
Tail Of The Dragon, Tennessee
Tennessee’s Tail Of The Dragon is a diamond in the rough — that is, if you’re not familiar with the beauty that the state exudes during the spring and fall of each year. As part of the U.S. 129, the roadway plays host to over 318 notable curves, turns, and deviations, all within an 11-mile stretch of asphalt. It spans the border of North Carolina and Tennesee, giving drivers an impeccable view of the states’ brilliant foliage, autumn colors, and stupendous peaks. It even traverses a section of the area’s renowned Great Smoky Mountains National Park, giving drivers a number of areas to stop, relax, and plan the perfect day trip. Better yet, there are only two crossroads on the entirety of the roadway, giving you a (virtually) non-stop shot from start to finish.
Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Utah has quickly become one of the go-to destinations for out-of-state drivers — if not for its elaborate landscape, beautiful country, and unique ecosystem, then certainly for the Scenic Byway 12. This beautiful expanse of asphalt hails from Bryce Canyon all the way to Capitol Reef National Park, spanning 124 miles of the state’s mesmerizing mountains, canyons, and topography. Rugged red rocks, dense shrubbery, and towering pines demarcate the state’s most popular landmarks, including Boulder Mountain, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and parts of the Aquarius Plateau. Once you’re done traversing the entirety of Byway 12, don’t forget the state’s other stunning roads — there’s no shortage of interesting, bucket-list-worthy byways to take your mind off being a productive human being.
Cascade Loop, Washington
It almost goes without saying that Washington is home to some of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest roadways, and the Cascade Loop is no exception. As a constant on the “bucket list” of most American road trippers, the 440-mile route cuts through a number of the state’s most prolific areas, including the Skagit Valley, Columbia River, and Methow — all of which offer their own unique views of the country’s northwesternmost area. As with most prominent roadways in this part of the country, the Cascade Loop offers drivers an exemplary look into the small but intricate villages and forested areas that define the great state — but be sure to head up there at the right time, the winter can bring copious amounts of snow and far less color.
20 Best Driving Gadgets
If you’re planning to make a trip out to one of America’s most unique driving experiences, you’re going to need a companion to help get you there. Check out our guide on the best driving gadgets to ensure a safe, stress-free excursion.