The Most Scenic Drive in All 50 States
Photo by David Zaitz / Alamy Stock Photo. Design by Lauren DeLuca for Yahoo Travel.
By Aaron Miller
More often than not, interstates are full of barely alert drivers, endless miles of monotony, and truck stops with varying degrees of sanitation. They get you where you’re going, sure, but if you never stray from the highway, you’re missing out on all the great slices of Americana that you’ve probably only seen on NatGeo.
Fortunately, the Federal Highway Administration keeps a pretty solid database of the best scenic byways, and with a little extra digging where the government list falls short, we came up with the definitive guide to the most scenic road in each and every one of our 50 states. Happy driving.
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Credit: Flickr/Alby Headrick
Alabama: Highway 78
US 78 takes you through Alabama’s portion of the Appalachian Mountains, then transitions into the Talladega National Forest, all on a two-lane strip of tarmac that ebbs and flows with the terrain.
Credit: Flickr/Terry Feuerborn
Alaska: Haines Highway
It’s not the road or even the legendary Alaskan backdrop that puts Haines Highway at the top, because natural beauty is one thing Alaska has in abundance. Instead, the wildlife-watching opportunities along Haines are the differentiator. Also called Valley of the Eagles, it’s home to the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world.
Credit: Flickr/Martin LaBar
Arizona: Highway 179
Of course, you can never go wrong with Route 66, and Arizona is home to some of Route 66’s most iconic spots. Just outside of Sedona, however, is the Red Rock Scenic Byway, which boasts everything from breathtakingly beautiful rock formations to old Native American cliff dwellings.
Credit: Flickr/me and the sysop
Arkansas: Talimena Scenic Drive
The Talimena Scenic Drive is only about 54 miles on its own, but almost the entirety of that 50-mile stretch has brilliantly colored vistas and winding roads that are so fun people drive hundreds of miles just to enjoy them.
California: Pacific Coast Highway
The PCH is both one of the most famous and one the most picturesque roads in America, and with a seemingly endless array of corners, it’s almost a shame if you’re driving it with a destination in mind instead of just soaking in the journey.
Credit: Flickr/Ken Herrmann
Colorado: Pikes Peak
Colorado’s not exactly lacking for scenic drives, but the twisty stretch of tarmac on Pikes Peak is among the most storied in the entire US. Climbing up toward the clouds should be on anyone’s bucket list.
Credit: Flickr/Doug Kerr
Connecticut: State Route 197
Mile after mile of road goes by with not much more than a few feet separating you from densely wooded hills, and every so often, you’ll pass through a quaint little town that looks exactly how a quaint little New England town should.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Delaware: Kennett Pike
Delaware’s not exactly a large state, but there’s enormous wealth along this 12.3-mile stretch of Highway 52: plenty of beautiful hills, classic bridges, museums, and more exorbitantly nice estates than any one road should have.
Credit: Flickr/Milan Boers
Florida: Seven Mile Bridge
The open blue sea stretching out on all sides might get a little repetitive when you’re looking out the window, but it’s easy to appreciate the novelty of driving one of the longest bridges in the world.
Georgia: State Route 197
Head into the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty killer turns. Get out of your car, though, and you’ll see gorgeous scenery like this.
Credit: Flickr/Intiaz Rahim
Hawaii: Hana Highway
Let’s be realistic here. Hawaii isn’t exactly lacking when it comes to scenery. Still, the Hana Highway is a 52-mile stretch of winding asphalt that’s so tight, you’ll be doing good just to average over 30 mph. And that’s if you somehow manage to resist stopping to take pictures along the way.
Related: Life Lessons from Maui: What I Learned Driving the Crazy Road to Hana
Credit: Flickr/Vlad B.
Idaho: Swan Falls Road, Western Heritage Historic Byway
This is a good road if you like watching giant birds of prey. Or if you like tightly winding roads. Or steep gorges. Basically, it’s a good enough reason to go to Idaho.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Blututh
Illinois: Grandview Drive
Grandview is a relatively short stretch of road, but along it are some of the nicest homes in the state and outstanding views of the Illinois River. In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed it “the world’s most beautiful drive,” so it has that going for it too.
Credit: Flickr/Jonathan Parrish
Indiana: Old State Road 56
There’s a new Highway 56 in Indiana that runs along the Ohio River, and is itself a scenic route, but just a couple miles South of Aurora, take a turn off and find the old 56. On it, you’ll drive over a bridge that’s closing in on 140 years old. Don’t worry, it’s nice enough that it was actually restored a few years ago.
Iowa: Loess Hills Trail
Iowa has a bunch of formations called loesses, which are basically hills formed from silt. That means you see some pretty interesting topography as you go across the state. Plus it’s full of varied flora, resulting in some truly spectacular fall scenery that’s formally qualified as a National Natural Landmark.
Credit: Flickr/Kansas Tourism
Kansas: Route 66
The Mother Road only cuts across a tiny corner of Kansas, but that’s enough. Between Galena and Baxter Springs, you can find a good chunk of the classic Route 66 Americana vibe that so heavily influenced the movie Cars. Naturally, they want you to never forget that fact.
Credit: Flickr/Patrick Mueller
Kentucky: Route 77
What you’re looking at is called the Nada Tunnel, and while its name is taken from a long-gone nearby logging town, it’s also an apt description of the amount of space this one-lane tunnel has. It serves as the entrance to the Red River Gorge, which is on multiple government registers due to its beauty.
Credit: Flickr/Lars Plougmann
Louisiana: Bourbon Street
Bourbon Street isn’t just a Mardi Gras mecca. It’s a cultural icon that’s been ingrained in our society since before Eric Burdon made the “House of the Rising Sun” a household name.
Credit: Flickr/Chinmay Mishra
Maine: Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a beautiful place on its own, but toss in a smooth band of asphalt, and you have the most stereotypically gorgeous fall drive imaginable.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Maryland: Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway
The Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway is a cultural tour that runs through some of the nation’s most historic sites, from 18th-century courthouses and tea party locations, to former plantations.
Credit: Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
Massachusetts: Mohawk Trail
Despite conjuring images of a bunch of 1980s punks on motorcycles, the Mohawk Trail has been recognized for over a century as one of the most scenic roads in the entire Northeast. Don’t let a mere century fool you though, it was used for hundreds of years before that by Native Americans and early settlers.
Credit: Flickr/Autoweek USA
Michigan: Woodward Avenue
Detroit’s Woodward Ave is more than just an important stretch of road in America’s cultural and economic history. Every year, over 40,000 of the world’s greatest cars descend on Woodward to take part in a 16-mile cruise to celebrate the automobile and raise money for charity. And over 1,000,000 people show up just to watch that scenery in motion.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/McGhiever
Minnesota: Highway 61
Beautiful hills and stunning cliffs overlooking the Mississippi River are only part of the allure here. The road actually follows the contours of the river pretty closely, so you’re never too far from the edge. You might never want to stop, but unless you have your passport, you’ll have no choice after about two hours, when you hit the Canadian border.
Credit: Flickr/Scott Lipsey
Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway was once part of a vital supply route spanning Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Back then, though, the 444-mile route was walked by boatmen, who were responsible for floating goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, then getting home somehow.
Credit: Flickr/Michael Massa
Missouri: Little Dixie Highway
This is part of the same highway system – the Great River Road – that more or less follows the Mississippi all the way North, but in Missouri it’s the sections that turn away from the river that yield the best views.
Montana: Beartooth Highway
If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, there’s a fair chance you were on the Beartooth Highway, since it’s one of the few ways into the park. If you’re not the camping type, think of it this way: at over 11,000 feet it’s not too far off of Pikes Peak, is just as gorgeous, and is much less trafficked.
Nebraska: Highway 61
Kinda like Iowa, Nebraska has a bunch of hills that are really mounds of sand underneath a layer of plant life. Unlike Iowa, though, Nebraska dammed one of its lakes, and now has miles and miles of beaches like the one you see here.
Credit: Flickr/Howard Ignatius
Nevada: The Las Vegas Strip
Nevada actually has some amazing roads, especially up by Lake Tahoe, but for the sheer uniqueness of it, natural beauty isn’t beating the Strip.
Credit: Flickr/Doug Kerr
New Hampshire: Kancamagus Highway
State Route 112 has basically everything you would want in a road. Great overlooking spots, plenty of tall trees, lakes, mountains, even some legit American history sites, thanks to the colonial heritage.
Credit: Flickr/Doug Kerr
New Jersey: State Route 49
If you really want to debunk your New Jersey stereotypes – and face it, you’ve got a few – head down SR 49, because it has a little bit of everything N.J. has to offer. Come to think of it, that might not actually debunk any of those stereotypes.
Credit: Flickr/Michael Bautz
New Mexico: El Camino Real
This is certainly one of the most storied roads on this list. El Camino Real was first used by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century, but it’s also home to some pretty righteous rock formations.
Credit: Flickr/Andy Arthur
New York: Hawk’s Nest
Take Route 97 out of Port Jervis, and your next 90 minutes will be filled with an impossibly beautiful series of bends abutted by sheer rock faces on one side, and a steep drop overlooking the Delaware River on the other.
Credit: Flickr/Matthew Paulson
North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Part of a nearly 470-mile stretch that cuts through the heart of Appalachia, to do it right will take you more than one day.
Credit: Flickr/ND Parks and Recreation Department
North Dakota: Sakakawea Scenic Byway
Realistically, this is more historical than scenic. But that history is really, really cool – the Lewis and Clark exploration set up camp here. And sightseeing the Missouri River’s not too shabby either.
Credit: Flickr/Brent Moore
Ohio: Highway 52
Running next to the Ohio River for most of its path, Highway 52 runs right past some really awesome barns that are 100% Americana… right down to the tobacco advertising.
Credit: Flickr/Jack Gray
Oklahoma: Talimena Scenic Drive
The other half of the scenic drive that starts in Arkansas is just as sweet on the Oklahoma side of the border. As a bonus, there are tons of smaller side drives that are worth a random turn here and there.
Credit: Flickr/Doug Kerr
Oregon: Pacific Coast Highway
Yes, the 101 is the same coast-adjacent road that’s so gorgeous in California. And yes, Oregon has a few zillion beautiful roads, not the least of which is the Historic Columbia River Highway, but the combination of waves on rocks and trees on hills stretching on for miles is that hard to beat.
Related: Driving Up the Oregon Coast Takes a Backseat to No One
Credit: Flickr/Doug Kerr
Pennsylvania: State Route 125
Eastern Pennsylvania is a collection of rolling hills, forests, quaint picturesque towns, and abandoned coal mines. SR 125 is generally known as the king of the area and has a reputation for being too challenging for some motorcycles.
Credit: Flickr/Martin de Lusenet
Rhode Island: Ocean Drive
Rhode Island might be a pretty tiny state, but a cruise down Ocean Drive certainly makes up for it. Seemingly every house is a masterpiece that’s so well thought out you might forget to look at the ocean behind you.
Credit: Flickr/Brandon Hixson
South Carolina: Botany Bay Road
This may only be a 0.4-mile stretch of road serving as an entrance to an old plantation, but a) it’s really, really creepy in a Sleepy Hollow kind of way, and b) it’s located on Edisto Island, which is one of the most beautiful places in all of South Carolina.
Credit: Flickr/Kimon Berlin
South Dakota: Highway 16A
This is the highway that leads you past Mount Rushmore. It’s also not very long, so if you take it North, it merges with I-90 and heads right past Sturgis, home of the infamous annual Harley Davidson rally.
Credit: Flickr/Robert Du Bois
Tennessee: Tail of the Dragon
It’s only 11 miles long, and yet this stretch of Highway 129 has 318 curves, more than enough to lure enthusiasts who travel from across the country to try their hand at the beautiful, and sometimes dangerous, road.
Credit: Flickr/Claire Gillman
Texas: Davis Mountains Scenic Loop
At over 6,700 feet, this 75-mile stretch of road is officially the highest public highway in Texas. There’s also very little nearby in terms of populated towns, so you’ve got plenty of time to explore some of the great and not-so-paved rural routes in the area.
Credit: Flickr/Ken Lund
Utah: US Highway 89
Over the span of 124 miles, US 89 runs through basically every type of terrain Utah has, and Utah isn’t exactly a boring state when it comes to terrain.
Credit: Flickr/Ken Lund
Vermont: Connecticut River Byway
Do you like bridges? Yes? Good. Then this might be your favorite drive of all time. There’s literally a different bridge every few miles along the twisty path of US 5 and Vermont Highway 142. Not modern bridges, either. Old ones. The kind that have roofs, and that creak when you drive over them. There are 20 to cross, so definitely bring a camera.
Virginia: Skyline Drive
Really, Skyline is part of the same road as the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you can guess why it’s called Skyline just from looking at this photo. The speed limit here is 45 mph, and Virginia is infamous for its speed-limit enforcement, so this one’s really all about what you can look at as you crawl along.
Washington: Chuckanut Drive
State Route 11 North of Seattle is a tight and twisty trail – literally. It’s been around since 1895, though obviously the natural beauty of the densely packed forest and steep cliffs has been around for a little bit longer than that.
Credit: Flickr/Michael McDonough
West Virginia: State Route 16
West Virginia’s hilly terrain isn’t just pretty to look at, it had a huge effect on our nation’s prosperity as a coal-mining region. As you go up and down hills, and across gorges on bridges like the awesome New River Gorge Bridge (shown), you’ll also see the remnants of that mining tradition in the form of the ongoing reclamation projects, and closed mines.
Wisconsin: Marinette County Waterfalls Tour
There’s a 125-mile stretch of road in Wisconsin’s Marinette County that includes 14 different waterfalls along the way. Full directions are here, but the best part is most of them are close enough to the parking area that you can walk.
Credit: Flickr/Gerard Stolk
Wyoming: Beartooth Highway
As with Montana, the Beartooth Highway is the best of the best in Wyoming. The drops are steep, and you’re two miles in the sky, so you might just want to stop at the various vistas to get your photography done, mkay?
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