On the Road: 6 Scenic Highways to Explore in the United States

For some, summer travel translates to traffic and navigating congested highways. For others—the bold—it is the draw of the open road and taking a road trip that excites. Fortunately, America still offers plenty of scenic highways to enjoy when driving anywhere from sea to shining sea. So if you are considering a road trip summer getaway, here are six scenic highways located in the lower 48 states to consider to reenergize your soul.

Route 66

route 66 - scenic highways
Josh tree highway with Route 66 pavement sign in California’s Mojave desert.

Nothing is more famous than Route 66—the original highway taking folks from Chicago to Los Angeles. And although not “officially” still a single route, the majority of what was completed in 1926 still exists and offers a completely different adventure than the modern interstates.

For the dreamers, this American icon travels through St. Louis, Oklahoma City, and Albuquerque, along with countless other towns, and includes hundreds of roadside attractions. So take the time and make plans to get your kicks on Route 66.

Overseas Highway

Scenic Highway in Key West, FL
Aerial view of the Overseas Highway leading to Key West, Florida.

Known as a winter escape, the Florida Keys might not be as popular in the summer, but don’t let that deter you from a visit. Plenty of festivals and activities attract tourists to this part of South Florida, plus the simple beauty of driving through the islands and its 42 bridges to Key West remains as scenic and panoramic as ever regardless of the season.

The 160 miles from Miami to the famed mile marker zero (mm0)—the end of the road in Key West—can easily be made in one day. But why not stop along the way to enjoy the other Florida Keys destinations, such as Key Largo, Islamorada or Marathon?  There is a lot more to the Florida Keys than Key West.

Badlands Scenic Byway

Badlands loop scenic highway
Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway.

Traveling Interstate 90 may not seem like a bucket list road trip, but once you take the exit for the scenic bypass, you’ll know why you traveled to South Dakota.  This relatively small state road (30+ miles) offers 15 overlooks and scenic views of colorful spires, cliffs and some of the vastest landscape available in the country. Plus, since you made the journey all this way, definitely spend time in Badlands National Park and Custer State Park to see Bison—and of course make the patriotic pilgrimage to Mount Rushmore, too.

But don’t think it is all nature or US history in these parts. There is also shopping at Wall Drug, a destination with potentially more signage reminders and mile markers than the infamous South of the Border off Interstate 95.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Mountains along the blue ridge parkway
View of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Mountains from Craggy Pinnacle, North Carolina.

Essentially bookended by National Parks, the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway starts after the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, and ends at the Great Smokey Mountain National Park in North Carolina.  This scenic bypass moves at a slower pace (35–45 mph) through much of this treasured area and offers plenty of camping opportunities, scenic overlooks, and rest stops.

If you get thirsty, there are plenty of Blue Ridge wineries just off the highway to delight the palate.

Pig Trail Scenic Byway

scenic highway through the Ozark Mountains
Byway through the Ozark Mountains with fall foliage.

This winding passage complete with hairpin turns and steep hills connects the central part of Arkansas to the northwestern corner. Traversing the Ozark National Forest, this pass can also lead to further exploration of the entire Ozark Mountains, a prime location inside the “Natural State.”

With the byway name correlating to the local University of Arkansas “Razorbacks,” the road especially impresses in autumn. Many locals take it to attend university football tailgates, and others to appreciate the colorful foliage and the chance to see male elks compete for female attention during an Arkansas sunset.

Pacific Coast Highway

Pacific Coast Highway at Garrapata State Park
Pacific Coast Highway at Garrapata State Park, California.

A trip to the left coast is not complete without taking the Pacific Coast Highway. The famous stretch—from San Francisco through Big Sur and continuing down the California coast—is worth the drive. Passengers can enjoy the views, but drivers need to stay focused on these dangerous roads. It is best to split the driving time or stop at lookouts along the curvy California cliffsides. With campsites and lodges available, spend some time appreciating the incredible starry night sky.

These are just six scenic highways to consider when planning your holiday road trip somewhere in the lower 48, but there are plenty more. Currently, the US government recognizes All-American Highways and Scenic Bypasses through its America’s Byways program. With over 150 nationally, it may be the perfect resource when planning your next American road trip.

About the Author

Craig Zabransky is an ex-global management consultant for top-tier banks gone rogue. After a year-long travel sabbatical, he decided to leave Wall Street to pursue his passion for travel. With the belief travel is a gateway to positive life change he podcasts, writes, blogs, and photographs his adventures to inspire others to take and make adventure in their life. To date, he has traveled through more than 55 countries, 40 U.S. States, 5 continents, and is still traveling from his home in the Florida Keys. For more of his story visit his site StayAdventurous.com.
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