The 5 Most Scenic Drives in America
May 18, 2020
The United States boasts an incredible 4 million miles of public roads and the biggest total road network in the world, so it’s not hard to see why the road trip is such a cherished American tradition. There is so much to discover along those 4 million miles, from the breathtaking sea-cliff views of the Pacific coast to the tree-lined mountains of North Carolina. The best way to see everything, of course, is by car. So pack your camera backpack and load up the snacks, because we’re going for a drive!
- Pacific Coast Highway Through Big Sur, California — The PCH (California 1) spans the California coast from Mendocino County in Northern California all the way to Orange County, but the most scenic pocket is arguably the stretch that cuts through Big Sur. The 72-mile portion closely hugs the coast, providing breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, ages-old redwoods and a number of reinforced concrete bridges, including the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge (pictured below). The rugged seascape, rock-enclosed beaches and Bohemian galleries at Big Sur demand at least a one-night stopover, but longer is always better here! Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey and Morro Bay are must-stop towns along the PCH, too.
Bonus: Detour off the 1 at Monterey to experience 17-Mile Drive, a striking sea-view road that cuts through Pebble Beach Golf Course. Look out for the storied Lone Cypress. Note that 17-Mile Drive is private and the entry fee is $10.50 per vehicle.
- Hana Highway through Maui, Hawaii — Windy, narrow roads and tropical rainforest views are to be expected on Maui’s 64.4-mile Hana Highway, which spans the northern coast of the island from Paia to Kipahulu. Along this drive, which takes about two and a half hours to conquer, drivers and passengers can take in the spectacular Maui coastline, waterfalls, beaches and an incredible 52 bridges. You’re going to want to make sure you’ve got your drone case ready to go on this mind-blowing cruise!
- The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia — Trees, mountains and wide-open vistas are the primary draw for drivers traversing the 469 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway is actually considered America’s longest linear park, spanning stretches of Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it’s particularly popular for leaf-lookers in the fall. Since the parkway stretches for nearly 500 miles, it makes a great multi-day scenic road trip, but even small portions of the road will do, as there are many great stops along the way.
- Overseas Highway between Miami and Key West, Florida — The famed Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1, not to be confused with California State Route 1) is marked by its long, sea-spanning bridges, including the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge. This tropical cruise runs for 106.5 miles and slices through Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and Key West, and there are plenty of enjoyable stop-off points if you want to take a break to swim, shoot some photos or eat. Because the highway is single-lane in both directions, traffic can be tough during peak season and on holiday weekends. But it’s South Florida, which means the weather is desirable year-round, so we recommend hitting the Overseas Highway during the milder off-season (after spring break but before it gets too hot).
- Independence Pass through the Rockies, Colorado — If steep drop-offs and single-lane roads that hug mountainsides don’t get you excited, do not attempt Independence Pass! Crossing the Continental Divide, this is the high mountain pass in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains that provides unbeatable views of the alpine tundra at 12,095 feet as well as a clear view of Colorado’s highest mountain, Mount Elbert. Because of the treacherous roadway, the Pass is only open part of the year, usually from Memorial Day through late October or early November, but make sure to check with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CODOT) before you go.
Bonus: Love steep, mountainous roads? You can’t miss Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park! This National Park roadway features 11 miles of road above treeline with an elevation of 11,500 feet and many awe-inspiring views.
Immortalize Your Road Trip Memories
The all-American road trip. It’s a rite of passage and a tradition as beloved as apple pie. It’s not a bad way to see the country, either. And these popular scenic drives aren’t the only ones to add to your list, either. Each state has its own unique natural splendor best seen by car, you just have to keep your eyes open and go exploring. Pelican can help you capture your road trip memories, so be sure to bring a photography backpack to keep your expensive camera gear safe as you cruise!
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