Pack Up the Car and See America
There are many scenic drives in the United States, but only a few are truly iconic. Some wind through dramatic mountain ranges, others along one coast or another. Some take you to or through national parks, monuments and seashores. Others are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's grassroots America's Byways program. Here are eight unforgettable routes — our picks as some of the most iconic drives in the United States.
1. Florida Overseas Highway
Built in the 1930s and rebuilt in the 1980s, the 106-mile segment of U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West, an official Florida Scenic Highway, offers many breathtaking water views. The engineering marvel that is Seven Mile Bridge just about spans the distance implied by its name — a world record when Henry Flagler financed its construction in the early 1900s — between the middle and lower Keys.
2. Blue Ridge Parkway
This 469-mile road from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is one of the South's most iconic drives. Highlights in Virginia include Rocky Knob and the Mabry Mill. In North Carolina, Mount Pisgah has a network of hiking trails and the historic Pisgah Inn
3. Acadia All-American Road
Beginning at Route 3 just south of Trenton on Maine's rugged coast, this 40-mile American byway loops around Acadia National Park, home of rocky shorelines dotted with tidal pools and dense woodlands rich in diverse wildlife. The route ascends to the summit of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, for an unparalleled 360-degree view of the coast (and a spectacular sunrise).
MIKE THEISS/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC/GETTY IMAGES
4. Silverado Trail
Now making its way through fields of grapevines, the 26-mile trail was originally built during the mid-nineteenth century California silver rush. From Napa to Calistoga, wineries surrounded by rolling hills and mountains are the main draw along this less-travelled route through wine country, but the Napa River Ecological Reserve in Yountville is also a welcome diversion.
5. Devil's Backbone
What's officially known as R.M. 32 is one of the Lone Star State's prettiest drives. It runs 50 miles, give or take, from Wimberley to Blanco, and along the way it navigates a winding ridge that showcases Texas Hill Country.
6. Beartooth Highway
With one terminus near the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the 68-mile Beartooth Highway was dubbed the most beautiful drive in America by late broadcasting legend Charles Kuralt. Open in summer only, the route traverses 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, going in and out of Wyoming en route.
7. Utah Highway 12
Bookended by two national parks — Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef — Highway 12 cuts through 124 miles of dramatic Southwestern red-rock scenery. En route, it also provides access to the lesser-visited Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
8. Route 66
Winding its way through six states worth of the small towns, farmlands, plains, forests, canyons, and deserts that embody the heart and soul of America, "The Mother Road" covers 2,400 miles between Chicago and Santa Monica. Built in the 1920s, the legendary highway was decommissioned in 1984, but was designated Historic Route 66 and it's still possible to follow much of the original road with careful planning.