There’s nothing quite like hitting the open road in America. Traveling along the interstate may be the quickest way from A to B, but what if your destination is the road itself? I encourage you to get off the redundant 4-lane super highways this summer and take the scenic route.
Iconic Scenic Drives in America
Before I started flying for a living, I would take many cross-country road trips around the diverse countryside in America. I saw some incredible scenery along the way and it continues to be one of my favorite pastimes. Flying is a great way to get close to some of these iconic drives, where you can then rent a nice new car to enjoy the drive. Go for a convertible so you can feel the breeze and have an unobstructed view.
Pro Tip: When searching for flights, consider taking one-way flights in and out of different cities and a one-way car rental to maximize your time. There is often an extra fee to drop off car rentals in another location, but the fee may be worth it. Sometimes car rental companies have discounted one-way rentals if a vehicle needs to be relocated. These can even include RV rentals or camper vans. Have a look at sites like Apollo, Cruise America, Imoova, Jucy USA, Road Bear RV, and Transfercar for any relocation specials. Many of the domestic flight deals we list can be bought one-way for half the roundtrip price.
Here are some of the most scenic drives around the United States.
Pacific Coast Highway
States: California / Oregon / Washington
One of the most famous highways in the world, a drive along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is on many people’s bucket list. With scenic views along the entire west coast, the hype certainly holds up. In Washington and Oregon, drive along U.S. Route 101. Don’t pass up the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The remote coastline is a fun place to explore on an ATV or just enjoy the scenery.
In California, you’ll pass through the incredible Redwood Forest with trees as tall as the skyscrapers in the city. Eventually, you’ll link up with CA State Route 1 and pass through what I consider the best section of this scenic route. The section between San Francisco and Los Angeles is some of the best stretch of road I have ever driven. Wind along the coast and enjoy sunny California locales such as Big Sur and Santa Cruz.
Where to stay on the road: The Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge has reopened and Big Sur is back in business. Lodging in Big Sur can cost some major moola. Stay in nearby Carmel Bay where you can get a hotel such as the Carmel River Inn at an affordable rate.
Blue Ridge Parkway
States: North Carolina / Virginia
This great roadway stretches 469 miles along a portion of the Appalachian Mountains. You can drive through the Great Smoky Mountains or Shenandoah National Park. A few highlights on the road include Sherando Lake and the Roanoke River Gorge in Virginia. In North Carolina, don’t miss Mount Mitchell State Park, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi River.
Where to stay on the road: Stay a night at Cedar Crest Inn when you pass through Asheville. The historic home has the classic southern charm and an antique décor for your stay in this eclectic town.
“Aruba, Jamaica, oh I want to take ya” …
Sorry, I can’t seem to get this song out of my head.
“Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go” …
You may be singing a famous Beach Boys song all the way along this drive from Miami to Key West. In your search for Kokomo, you’ll span many endless bridges as you hop between the islands. Try to time your drive during the sunset for an unforgettable scene.
Where to stay on the road: Once you make it to Key West, enjoy a stay at the Sheraton Suites Key West. The resort has ocean front suites and a shuttle to take you downtown to revel in the nightlife scene.
Pikes Peak Highway
Driving to the summit of Pikes Peak will give you the chance to see five states on the clearest days. Just off of Highway 24, you’ll take the Pikes Peak Highway for 19 miles of mountain terrain. Watch out for wildlife sightings such as Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep and yellow-bellied marmots. Some have even claimed to spot Big Foot in these parts so keep your eyes peeled.
Where to stay: The Cliff House at Pikes Peak gives you great views of the peak from your room. Relax in the jacuzzi while admiring the nature of Colorado.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
States: New Mexico / Texas
Once the longest road in North America, the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Spanish for “Royal Road of the Interior Land”) follows the Rio Grande from just north of Santa Fe to the U.S. / Mexico border in El Paso. From there, the historic trail extended all the way to Mexico City. You’ll find a lot of history along this route, dating back to the prehistoric inhabitants almost 3,000 years ago. Today, the scenic byway mainly follows interstate 25 (formerly followed US 85), but make sure to get off the superhighway and on the two-lane highways when you are able. You’ll be rewarded with stunning desert landscapes in this remote part of the country.
Where to stay on the road: When you pass through Albuquerque, stay a night at Hotel Chaco. This luxury hotel will give you an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Enjoy some lovely countryside and quintessential New England architecture on a drive through rural Connecticut. The rolling hills along Routes 63 and 4 between Goshen and West Cornwall bring you through vineyards and farmland. Drive north on Route 7 through the Housatonic State Forest, and then take Route 44 west to Lakeville. From there, take the beautiful drive south on Route 41 until you reach Route 4 again to head back east. You'll pass through Mohawk State Forest on the way back to Goshen.
Where to stay on the road: Go for a night at The Litchfield Inn and enjoy charming rooms with an old world feel and modern amenities. If you stay in the fall, you’ll be blessed with some impressive fall foliage.
See all of our current airfares to Hartford (BDL).
States: Arizona / Utah
The drive along Highway 163 between Arizona and Utah brings you to one of the most majestic landscapes on the planet. The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park lies near the border and you won’t be disappointed camping out in this area to enjoy sunsets that may make you wonder if you’ve somehow traveled to Mars. The vast terrain of red rocks and sandstone towers sure seem other worldly and are a good reminder of America’s diverse landscape.
Where to stay on the road: Getting to Monument Valley will take you some time as it is quite far from any major airport. If you’re not the camping type, and want a good night’s rest nearby Monument Valley, check out Desert Rose Resort & Cabins for a comfortable rustic retreat in Bluff, Utah.
Highway 61 – North Shore Scenic Drive
Pop in the classic album from one of America’s most storied songwriters and enjoy an incredibly scenic drive along Minnesota’s north shore. Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited was named after US 61, which stretched from the Canadian border through his birthplace in Duluth, MN, and southward following the Mississippi all the way to New Orleans. Some of the most scenic portions of this old highway are along Lake Superior following the current MN State Highway 61 between Duluth and Grand Portage.
If you’ve never seen the Great Lakes before, you may think you’re looking at an ocean as you gaze out at the largest freshwater lake in the world. Stop by Gooseberry Falls State Park for an enjoyable walk and a great spot for a picnic. As a native of northern Minnesota myself, I often return here to relive my youth skipping rocks in the water. There will be many lighthouses on the way as well, such as the Split Rock Lighthouse, which rests at the edge of a towering 133-foot cliff.
Where to stay on the road: The Larsmont Cottages on Lake Superior will give you a great lakeside stay complete with an outdoor hot tub and a fire pit to roast some marshmallows and tell ghost stories at night.
Header image by EpicStockMedia via Shutterstock. Overseas Highway and Litchfield Landscapes photos courtesy of TripAdvisor.