There’s no shortage of stunning road trips to be had. The hard part is figuring out which one to do first.

It’s difficult to appreciate the miracle of the automobile while parked in gridlock traffic. And it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the scenery when boxed in behind a semi truck. Exit the city streets, and enter onto America’s highway system, though, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better way to tour the country. You can cruise along the sunny Pacific Coast Highway in California through Big Sur, climb along the Rockies’ jagged peaks up the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana, or wind your way along the glacier-riddled Seward Highway in Alaska — and, really, that’s just the start. In fact, there are more than 800 federally recognized “scenic” highways, byways, and roads in the U.S. So change the oil, check the tires, and get your next adventure started by taking a drive on one of these five quintessential American road trips.

Blue Ridge Parkway

469 Miles, from Waynesboro, Virginia, to Cherokee, North Carolina

People travel from all over the world to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, and for good reason. Coined by the United States Park Service as “America’s Favorite Drive,” the 469-mile-long two-lane road winds its way through some of the most stunning vistas in the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks. In the summer, you can spot more than 50 species of birds in the area, and the high elevation summits of the Craggy Gardens provide a veritable carpet of wildflowers. In the winter, there are countless snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities along the entire length of the drive, and almost no crowds (unlike during the summer and fall). Check out the Peaks of Otter Lodge for some great, easy winter trails, and the only concession open year-round on the road. And, of course, In the fall, the parkway affords some of the best, most expansive views of autumn colors in North America.

Start planning your trip here:

blueridgeparkway.org

Highway 1

496 Miles, From San Diego to San Francisco, California

One of the country’s most celebrated highways, California’s State Route 1 runs directly along the edge of the Pacific Ocean for more than 600 miles, from the Mexican border to Mendocino County. To put it simply: There just is no better way to see the West Coast, because you can’t get much closer to it without being in the water. Most people choose to do the slightly shorter, 496-mile stretch from San Francisco to San Diego, however, since each of those cities has a major airport and rental car facilities nearby. You still get to see most of the highlights, though, including the towering redwood forests and rugged coastline of Big Sur National Park, the hyper-opulent Hearst Castle State Park (which was originally built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst in in 1947 and boasts 165 rooms on 127 acres), the Santa Ynez wine country, as well as the surfers’ paradise of Santa Cruz and other “SoCal” beach communities like Huntington Beach, Dana Point, and San Clemente, just to name a few.

Start planning your trip here:

visitcalifornia.com/trip/highway-one-classic

Going-to-the-Sun Road

50 Miles, From West Glacier to St. Mary Montana

Built in 1932 and named a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1985, the Going-to-the-Sun Road miraculously bisects the width of Montana’s Glacier National Park, crossing the Continental Divide, and the heart of the Rocky Mountains, at 6,646 feet. It is, perhaps, one of the most oddly and aptly named roads on the continent; considering, for much of the 50-mile drive, you are driving toward the sky. This precariously placed two-lane way deserves a slow pace (max speed limit is 25 mph for much of the road’s length), and all of your attention, but the mountain views are decidedly worth it. Lower portions of the road are open year-round, but if you want to drive the whole stretch, you’ll need to do it sometime between mid- to late-June and early October. Snowdrifts at the top of the pass can approach nearly 100 feet tall in winter, and the alpine portion of the road closes.

Start planning your trip here:

nps.gov/glac/planyourvisit/gtsrinfo.htm

The Seward Highway, Alaska

127 Miles, From Anchorage to Seward, Alaska

There is not a single billboard along the entire 127-mile length of the Seward Highway. There are hardly any towns either, for that matter; just four, and that’s counting the harbor towns of Anchorage and Seward, the two cities that bookend this remote highway. What this road lacks in big city splendor, it more than makes up for in jaw-dropping rugged beauty, however. Driving south from Anchorage, you immediately enter the mountain-lined fjord of Turnagain Arm, which is home to Beluga whales and one of the largest tidal variances in North America, which produces a monthly bore tide large enough to surf on. On your way, take the gondola up Mount Alyeska to the Seven Glaciers Restaurant for a 5-star meal and a mountaintop view of (you guessed it) seven glaciers. Continue south, and you’ll wind your way through deep mountain valleys, and past so many cascading waterfalls, you’ll lose count.

Start planning your trip here:

alaska.org/guide/seward-highway


North Shore Scenic Drive (Minnesota State Highway 61)

149 Miles, From Duluth to Grand Portage, Minnesota

On the surface, the 149-mile North Shore Scenic Drive, also known as Minnesota State Highway 61, seems like a world-class coastal drive by any standard. A remote, rugged shoreline surrounded on one side by a deep, green forest which bursts into a vibrant yellow and orange in the fall, and a wide-open expanse of blue on the other. Its particular uniqueness, however, comes from the fact that the wide-open blue space is actually the largest lake in the world (by surface volume). Traveling north from Duluth, the world’s farthest inland port city, more than 50 cascading whitewater creeks make their way under the road to join with Lake Superior before you hit Grand Portage. Be sure to check out the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse on your way, too. It stands on the edge of a sheer 130-foot cliff that drops straight to the water. You can’t miss it.

Start planning your trip here:

northshorevisitor.com

Don’t live near one of these roads? Don’t worry. You can rent a car at any major airport and be on your way within a couple hours, if you want. You also don’t have to worry about putting miles on your own vehicle that way, too. Just make sure you pack some comfortable car outfits, like the cozy Foxtail Fleece Hoody for winter or one of our soft heritage tees for summer. So go get your things, and get on the road!

What are some of the most breathtaking drives you’ve taken? Be sure to share your top recommendations in the comments.

Related Links:

  1. Outdoor Adventures: the Most Scenic Drives in the Country
  2. Across the Southwest
  3. Overland Journey Through Zambia