The most jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, smile-inducing drives I've discovered so far.. revealing the wild essence and majestic wonder of "America-the-Beautiful" that I think are meant to be experienced and appreciated without the pressure of a deadline. I found these by spontaneously steering OFF interstates and stumbling onto some of this country's incredible National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads - truly some of the greatest contributions of this country's pioneers. (hint: the "All American Roads" are the especially breath-taking gems) You can also log on to this handy website and actually plan your trip in advance if you prefer. Seriously friends, fill your gas tank, charge your camera battery, set the cruise control, and let yourself get lost on some of these long, quiet, winding two-lane wonders at some point in your life. What you find will be well worth the extra time, gas and miles. I assure you.
I might put this in my top 3 or 4 drives that I took in America. It's that spectacular. Starting out in Flagstaff, elevation 7-10k feet, you slowly descend down gradual switchbacks carved into the thickly forested mountains, until you get to a point when you look out and you see tall ancient skyscrapers of red rock. Wow. The climate changes from cool to hot, and the local culture changes just as radically. Take this drive down south, past Sedona and into the flat lands, and then back up if you can. Like nothing else on earth, I'd imagine.
Perhaps one of the great drive granddaddys of them all.. *especially* if you have the good fortune of 'going topless' in a convertible! From the rocky shores of Pebble Beach near storybook Carmel, to the sweeping stretches of roadway carved into cliffs Cypress-sweet Big Sur, past San Simeon and the great Hearst Castle where giant elephant seals sunbathe on the beach, past the glowing shores of Moonstone Beach, and into storied Santa Barbara... all of it so beautiful, it'll almost make you cry.
Just off CA-101 is a meandering two-lane road that weaves under the canopy of America's oldest and most awe-inspiring forest. It might be the ideal road to drive a convertible along, especially you go when there isn't much tourist traffic. Drive really slowly, and look way, way, way up. This incredible drive weaves through tiny little towns with quaint B&B's and hand-made signs. You can almost imagine life here 100 years ago.
One of the nation's officially designated "All American Roads", this drive takes you from the high altitudes of Telluride past three 14,000' peaks, past thick majestic Ponderosa pines, down through tiny towns with one-tank fill-up stations, through old west mining towns, down toward Mesa Verde near the Four Corners. Take big, slow, deep breaths here with the windows or top down, and take your time!
Aptly named drive into one of America's most underrated and unsung but pristine national parks that takes visitors through thick shady pines, past deep blue glacial rivers and lakes, and up up up up up along snow-covered mountains and glaciers where furry white mountain goats roam freely along the roads. Not advisable if you have an unreliable vehicle or fear of heights.
Skip the interstate if you're not in a rush, and hop on this scenic byway that runs through the mountains and artsy mining towns just east and parallel to it, from Santa Fe down to Albuquerque. The earth is arid here, and towns are modest. But tucked among them are many talented artisans and colorful shops that make hunting for unique treasures a memorable delight. More here
Wow, what a road. America's longest rural parkway and yet another officially designated "All-American Road". From the Appalachian border of Tennessee to western North Carolina in the heart of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, all the way up into Virginia. Not for the weak of stomach with winding turns and many tiny stone tunnels, but the reward is views for days. A 45 mph speed limit is pretty strictly enforced.
Wanting to avoid I-90 as I left Cleveland, I followed a local road that hugged the coast of Lake Erie through stately grand suburbs and candy-colored towns. This was not an Ohio I'd ever heard about or imagined. Huge prewar mansions on the water, grand Victorian style B&Bs welcoming guests, small-town America celebrating a love of the American corvette. Charming.
Many people visit Mt. Rushmore at some point in their lives, but I'm not sure how many take the time to take this slow, winding, drive through the great natural thickness of the Black Hills in all its ancient glory. I think some of the oldest limestone and granite rock formations in North America are found here, pushed and twisted in giant, strange, angular, craggy spires. Minus the paved road, you can imagine what it looked like when native American Indians thrived here, like the Lakota Sioux and legendary Crazy Horse. And if you're lucky like I was, you might see a herd of big-horned mountain sheep grazing in the woods just next to the road.
You wanna know more about America's birth? Skip I-64 and take a slow curious drive along this federally designated Scenic Byway, past incredibly preserved plantations that hosted our Founding Fathers, early presidents, and Civil War battalions. Do you hear the ghosts of Independence Day past? Incredibly educational and stirring. More here