The open road (Photo: Thinkstock)
A good road trip depends on a lot of things. There’s the chemistry of the passengers, the music and munchie selection, and of course the overall comfort of the car, but without an awesome road to ride, it’s really no more than a plus-size commute.
Good thing the world is full of interesting highways, byways, and all manner of paved paths that are open to cars; the only trick is knowing which ones you want to take. If you really want a road trip that rocks, consider cruising along some of these amazing roads from around the world.
They’ll take you through national parks, weave you through the side of a mountain, and lead you out onto the open sea before you get to the end of the line. You’ll drive over the highest blacktop in America and along the longest road in the world, and you’ll discover towns you’ve probably never heard of.
These roads are all great to know, but if your destination isn’t here, look near the place you’re heading to. The success of a road trip depends on a lot of things, but it’s only as great as the roads you take.
Trail Ridge is the highest paved road in the country. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
You’ve got only till the middle of fall to cruise across the highest paved road in the U.S., a scenic byway through Rocky Mountain National Park that bombards you with wild vistas of the snowy peaks as it brings you up to 12,183 feet, well above the tree line, and over the Continental Divide. There are no shoulders and few guardrails, so when snow starts falling by mid-October the road closes down.
Into a mountain on the Guoliang Tunnel Road (Photo: wyz 0wyz/Flickr)
Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
It takes only a few minutes to mole right through this 3/4-mile-long tunnel road that was carved like Swiss cheese into the side of one of the Taihang Mountains, but it’s one of the wildest rides in Asia. At the end is the bucolic village of Guoliang, whose villagers carved the 13-foot-wide and 16-foot-high channel in the ’70s in order to connect their home with the outside world.
You’ll go through 48 switchbacks on the Stelvio Pass. (Photo: Paul D’Ambra/Flickr)
Stelvio Pass, Italy
It takes a car that can handle turns and a strong stomach to make it through the Passo dello Stelvio in the Italian Alps. There are 48 switchbacks over undulating roadway that top out at just over 9,000 feet, making it one of the highest-altitude asphalt roads in Europe. The reward for such a ride? Ridiculous views of the Alps, and at the top is Stelvio Glacier, home to some of the continent’s best skiing.
The Albany Covered Bridge on the Kancamagus Highway (Photo: Jasperdo/Flickr)
Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire
Take your wheels along this 34.5-mile scenic drive, known as “the Knac,” in northern New Hampshire, and you’ll drive over curvacous passes in the White Mountains that look out onto an endless sea of Appalachian green. Go during fall, however, and it’s one of the best (and earliest) places to ride among fall’s changing foliage.
Aerial view of Overseas Highway, Florida (Photo: Thinkstock)
Overseas Highway, Florida
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to drive over the sea, take your car along this 127-mile ribbon of road that connects the Florida Keys. When you come to 7 Mile Bridge, one of the world’s longest, crank up the Jimmy Buffett while the road unfurls over turquoise tides as far as the eye can see and disappears into the endless tropical horizon. Last stop: Key West.
The Road to Hana leads to a small town on Maui’s east coast. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Road to Hana, Maui
The Road to Hana is so scenic it has its own day tours, but when you drive the 68 miles of pavement that connects Kahului to the small town of Hana on Maui’s east coast, you can discover its wonders at your own pace. It passes between picture-perfect beaches and wild tropical rainforests, over no fewer than 59 bridges (46 of which are one-lane) and past countless waterfalls. The trip takes about two and a half hours without stops, so it might be worth considering an overnight in Hana.
The Pan American Highway is the world’s longest. (Photo: Thinkstock)
The Pan American Highway, North, Central and South America
Driving from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Argentina is a 3,000-mile or so rite of passage for serious road trippers. Considered by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the longest “motorable” road on earth, the route is not so much one road as a conglomeration of international highways and dirt paths that threads together 15 countries, through wild jungles, mountains, and deserts, breaking only between Panama and Colombia, where you have to ferry your car to keep going.
Germany’s Autobahn 81 at night (Photo: Thinkstock)
Autobahn 81, Germany
The famed Autobahn is one of the few places on earth where you can actually flirt with those red regions of your car’s speedometer without the worry of a fine. It’s a big road, though, and contrary to popular belief, a lot of it is subject to speed limits and mired in traffic. But you’re free to go full throttle along the sparsely traveled 120 miles from Gottmadingen, on the border with Switzerland, though farms and the Black Forest, and on to the vineyards of Weinsberg.
Getting lost is a pleasure on the Ruta Panorámica. (Photo: Steven Isaacson/Flickr)
Ruta Panorámica, Puerto Rico
It’s known as the “Scenic Route” in English, but the name gives you only half the description. It’s also a 167-mile poorly marked maze of roads that cascades from east to west though the sleepy towns of the island’s central highlands, gorgeous jungle valleys, and coffee plantations. Even with GPS, you’re bound to get lost — but when every turn is more brilliant than the last, it will be hard to care. Still, give yourself a few days for this one and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
Skipper’s Canyon Road offers great views. (Photo: Tania and Warwick/Flickr)
Skipper’s Canyon Road, New Zealand
Once you get used to driving on the left side, maneuver your car over this scenic road forged by the hands of miners 140 years ago during the New Zealand gold rush. The road clings to the side of the canyon, doling out dramatic views as it heads toward Shotover River. Because it’s so dangerous, many car-rental agencies in New Zealand forbid drivers to use it — just one more reason to make a local friend.