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7 Most Scenic Drives in the United States

Most Scenic Drives


Photo by Jeff Hitchcock / CC BY

Across America, the Land of the Free lays claim to some of the most scenic byways anywhere on earth. From the sparkling Florida Keys, up across the majestic Rocky Mountains, over the “Mother Road” and along the Golden State’s coast, here are seven of the most scenic drives in the United States…

 

1. OVERSEAS HIGHWAY  |  Florida

Overseas Highway


Photo by Milan Boers / CC BY

Often called “The Highway that Goes to Sea,” the Overseas Highway is nothing short of a modern day wonder. The highway is frequently described as the “magic carpet” that carries drivers from Florida’s mainland across countless small islets down to Key West, the southern most point in the U.S. With seascapes as brilliant as a painter’s palette, the Overseas Highway takes you through landscapes of deep blues and greens, swaying palms and rustling pine trees where gliding pelicans, dolphins and manatees rule the waterways. While not a part of the new highway, the Old Seven Mile Bridge was an engineering marvel of its time, part of Henry Flagler’s historic railroad, and is now a foot and bike path that parallels the highway.

 

2. GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD  |  Montana

Going to the Sun Road


Photo by GlacierNPS

Going to the Sun Road


Photo by Jeremy Bronson / CC BY

The Going-to-the-Sun Road, generously called a two-lane highway, snakes a 50-mile path through Montana’s Glacier National Park. Crossing the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, at an elevation of 6,646 feet, the winding mountain road was completed in 1932 and is now designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Bisecting America’s most majestic national park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road traverses the park in an east-to-west direction, from the sleepy little town of West Glacier, Montana to Canada. Along the route visitors will witness breathtaking alpine vistas, wind-swept glaciers, wildflower-filled meadows, ancient cedar forests, crystal-clear glacial lakes, elk, mountain goats, and the occasional grizzly bear, all while having access to viewpoints, hiking and mountain bike trails.

 

3. LAKE SHORE DRIVE | Chicago, Illinois

Lake Shore Drive


Photo by Roman Boed / CC BY

Lake Shore Drive in Chicago has been called the most beautiful extended stretch of urban parkway anywhere in the U.S. Bordered by Lake Michigan to the east and parks and skyscrapers to the west, the 15-plus mile drive passes by beaches, boat harbors, museums, ball fields, noted restaurants, picnic grounds, wildlife sanctuaries and the nationally-recognized Lincoln Park Zoo. At the southern end of Lake Shore Drive, Jackson Park was home to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the Museum of Science and Industry still occupies the spot today. Not to be outdone by the natural beauty of the area, Soldier Field with its landmark colonnades dates back to the 1920’s and is home to pro football’s Chicago Bears.

 

4. BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY & SKYLINE DRIVE | Virginia

Skyline Drive


Photo by Navin75 / CC BY-SA

Skyline Drive


Photo by daveynin / CC BY

The Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t just a road, but a trip back in time that tempts visitors to explore a nearly 500-mile journey into America’s past. Here travelers can partake in the area’s rich cultural heritage of the native American Cherokee people’s traditions, crafts, music, agriculture, interpretive exhibits and programs. As the name suggests, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds it way through the outstanding scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountain’s winding hills and rolling valleys that are part of one of the most-visited areas of the U.S. National Park System. Along the route recreational opportunities abound, with camping, hiking and biking trails, swimming, wildlife viewing and fishing.

 

5. PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY | California

PCH


Photo by Michael Gray / CC BY-SA

Pacific Coast Highway


Photo by Rian Castillo / CC BY

California’s Pacific Coast Highway, also referred to as California State Route 1, winds its way alongside the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean for almost 550 miles. Known as one of America’s most-beloved driving destinations, the Pacific Coast Highway was constructed in 1934 and required 15 years to finish. The highway, on the ocean side of the road, provides an unobstructed view of California’s jagged coastline for its entire length, winding alongside sea-lion covered rocks and towering cliffs sometimes shrouded in curtains of dense fog. Below the highway, the pristine beaches and crashing surf beckon to the hardiest of hikers to climb down for a stroll along the sea.

 

6. ROUTE 66

Route 66


Photo by Marc Tarlock / CC BY-SA

Known as the “Mother Road,” among other names, Route 66 was the first highway connecting the American Midwest to California. Established on November 11, 1926, Route 66 originally covered 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California and once brought fortune to many of the communities fortunate enough to be in its path. Also known as the “Will Rodgers Highway,” Route 66 served as the major migration route for those moving west during the 1930’s Dust Bowl era, with the original highway passing through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. While Route 66 is no longer a continuous road, being removed from the U.S. Highway System when it was replaced by the Interstate System, several preservation groups have worked to have sections of the road that still pass through Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri and Illinois designated National Scenic Byways.

 

7. TRAIL RIDGE ROAD | Colorado

Trail Ridge Road


Photo by daveynin / CC BY

Trail Ridge Road


Photo by Arkansas Shutterbug / CC BY-ND

Splitting North America in a general north-south direction, the Continental Divide is literally the spine of the continent and the place where Lewis and Clark once looked for the “Northwest Passage,” a waterway where they believed boats would be able to cross the divide. While no such passage exists, the continental divide is a place of high peaks and high drama with Trail Ridge Road being the highest continuous road in the America. Built over a 10-year period, from 1929 to 1939, Trail Ridge Road takes motorist from Estes Park at the beginning of the route through Rocky Mountain National Park, crossing the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, and on to the trail to abandoned Lulu City, a mining town that dates back to the 1880s. An interesting stop along the way is the historic Stanley Hotel, used for the setting in Stephen King’s “The Shining.”