The US isn’t just the home of the brave, but home to some of the most excellent stretches of roads to drive through—and some passes do require a bit of bravery to undertake. The best part about living somewhere so epically big, is that something as simple as getting from point A to point B can be a genuine adventure. From the Pacific Northwest to the noble South, we’ve rounded up the 15 greatest drives in America.
Of course, all tastes are represented, whether you love sky-high mountains or crimson deserts, prefer an ocean view or the smell of pine. A few drives may even have a bit of everything. After all, this is America.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
Any self-respecting Angeleno driving to the Bay Area, or San Franciscan going south, will leave enough time to take the Pacific Coast Highway there—and possibly back. It’s not the fastest route, but you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by avoiding this charismatic drive. Ever legendary, the PCH is lofted above the water placed in perfect parallel with the Pacific Ocean. The drive is also filled to the brim with noteworthy stops including, but not limited to, Monterey County, Ventura, Malibu Beach, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara.
Highway 163, Utah and Arizona
Highway 163’s most famous spot is Mile Marker 13, and understandably so. There’s few instances of nature’s artful hand that’s as perfect. The cool sky that often looks ceremoniously purple is complemented by the iconic crimson peaks of Monument Valley, which is framed by the orange and green ground below it. Moreover, Highway 163 is quintessentially American, from its cultural immortalization in Forrest Gump to the Navajo Reservations that it passes through. Fans of classic Westerns will immediately recognize Monument Valley’s tribal park, where countless movies were shot.
Highway 145, Colorado
Bounded by 14,000-foot mountains, spruce trees, and the sharp yet sweet smell that comes with those trees, Highway 145 in Colorado is a true adventure. It goes through the exceptionally craggy peaks of the San Juan Mountains and mountain communities like the always charming Telluride. The aspen-covered Dallas Divide looks photograph-worthy all year long. For more epicness that makes you contemplate life and existence, take a detour to Moab in Utah.
Hana Highway, Hawaii
If Gilligan and company ended up in this seemingly untouched Eden, they probably wouldn’t have wanted to be rescued. The Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii, winds along the coast and into the zen-enhancing Haleakala National Park. The drive itself includes cascading waterfalls, lush green jungle, and bridge roads that make you feel like you’re flying. The Hana Highway is often considered one of the most beautiful experiences in the state, which is saying a lot.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
Like a mini Swiss Alps (but not so mini really), Going-to-the-Sun Road is situated in Glacier National Park. We’re talking snow-covered peaks, subalpine meadows, beautiful blue bodies of water, and goats frolicking adorably. The trip itself is bookended by glacier-carved lakes, starting at Lake McDonald and ending at St. Mary Lake. From textures to colors, this road hits all the senses.
Scenic Byway 12, Utah
Utah is an incomparably breathtaking state, so it’s no surprise that they lay claim to a few of the most majestic drives in the country. Scenic Byway 12 connects Bryce Canyon Park with Capitol Reef Park, making this drive a sort of “best of the American Southwest” tour. From roads rising above the desert to red and orange sandstone terrain, Byway 12 even comes complete with a fun, twisty path near the Hogback vista point.
US Route 1, Alaska
Traveling from Anchorage, often referred to as Alaska’s cultural soul, to the Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, Route 1 is a veritable survey of the state’s natural beauty. When traveling on this road, you’ll come across glaciers, lakes, rivers, the colossal Brooks Range mountains, and even the passageway to Denali National Park. Stop in if you want to see North America’s tallest mountain. Everything about this road has a feeling of vastness that truly showcases Alaska’s role as our country’s last frontier. Even the sky seems closer to earth. And it wouldn’t be Alaska’s greatest hits without the Northern Lights, which you can view in Fairbanks, right by Route 1.
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
New England’s falls are pretty postcard worthy, but the Kancamagus Highway turns the volume up past the end of the knob. Also known as NH-112, Kancamagus winds into the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains just above the state’s dazzling lakes. It literally looks like a Thomas Kincaid painting, from autumn’s burning reds and bright oranges, to the century-old farmhouses that are, dare I say, a heart-warming sight. If you’re looking for an antidote to general cynicism, I recommend an October drive through the Kancamagus Highway. The further north you go in New England, the earlier fall sweeps through, and the longer it lasts.
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
If you want to experience a comprehensive full circle view of that stupefying formation we call the Rocky Mountains, look no further than a drive through Trail Ridge Road in good old Colorado. You’ll drive anywhere from 4,000 feet to around 11,500 above sea level, through exquisite high-alpine topography, populated by bighorn sheep, elk, and goats. This photographer’s dream is only open from May to November though. As expected, the winters get pretty unforgiving.
North Cascades Highway, Washington
Add the street cred badge to your road trip sash, by driving through the rugged roads and high mountain passes of Washington’s North Cascades Highway. Okay, so it isn’t as dangerous as it sounds, at least not when it’s open. Since the North Cascades aren’t strangers to avalanches though, this drive is often the last to reopen in the year. When you are able to travel through this marvelous stretch, you’ll enjoy soaring leafy forests, snow capped mountains with rivers running through them, and bald eagle sightings. Nothing more American than that.
Overseas Highway 1, Florida
This tropical paradise of a drive stretches from Key West to Key Largo and is riddled with several options for entertainment, all of which are delightfully on-brand for Florida. Leave early and drive Highway 1 at a leisurely pace, stopping at beach bars for fresh juice, or margaritas if it’s your last stop of the day, and partaking in some water sports along the way. Also known as the Overseas Highway, this route connects all of the islands together, providing you a crystal blue and aquamarine backdrop the entire time.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway is compelling on two fronts. First of all, it’s a great feat of engineering. The Blue Ridge Aqueduct in North Carolina, for example, meanders far above the gorgeous trees, providing you an aerial survey of the land. Second, that very land you’re passing through is stunning. A sight to see all year long, but especially in the fall, the drive is populated by maple trees, sourwoods, and poplars. Foggy mornings provide a mesmerizing swirl that travels through and around the vegetation, making you feel like you just drove right into a Tolkien tale.
Highway 101, California and Oregon
Despite Californians constantly pitting Highway 101 against the Pacific Coast Highway, I think the comparison is apples to oranges. Moving from California up into Oregon, Highway 101 displays the boundless beauty of the Pacific Northwest, carrying on where the PCH leaves off in a way. Highway 101 runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, but is flanked by towering douglas firs and refreshingly mild forests. Combine that with grandiose sea stacks, and you’ve got one of the most uniquely diverse terrains in the world. You’ll also pass plenty of America’s best landmarks including Oregon’s Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor and California’s Redwood Forests.
Highway 50, Nevada
For you paranormal fans out there, Nevada’s Highway 50 aka The Loneliest Road, adds diversity to this list. It’s not epic or breathtaking, but it’s one heck of a head trip. It’s a chilling stretch, filled with ghost stories and legends. Here’s just one: At a certain point in the road, some say that the glowing lanterns of the spirits of dead miners will cross the street every night. They were trapped in a nearby cave, and are forever trying to find their way home. For hundreds of miles, there’s literally nothing to see on Highway 50 but open spaces, and hopefully that’s the only haunting thing you’ll experience there (unless you’re a ghost hunter, that is).
Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
Most things are bigger in Texas, but the Bluebonnet Trail is one of the shorter drives on the list. Quality over quantity though, as it’s one of the best springtime drives in the world. Head to the town of Ennis, otherwise known as the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas, anytime between late March and mid-May to see the flower-clad route in full bloom. The blue, violet, and green hues are accented with exquisite oranges, all so shockingly vibrant you’d think you stepped into an Instagram filter. The trail also travels through the Highland Lakes waterfront communities.