5 Most Beautiful Drives in the USA

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Taking the scenic route in the United States means you can pick from a long menu of American landscapes. Deserts, mountains, seacoasts and river gorges—all are available to provide a memorable drive. From the hundreds of miles of highway on a typical American map, five spectacular routes are perennial contenders for the nation’s most scenic.

5 Columbia River Highway

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The Columbia River Highway, completed in 1922, was the first road to be built as a scenic highway. The road is divided into two sections that are separated by the 34-mile Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail, used by hikers and bikers. On the 24-mile western section, which begins in Troutdale, you pass a series of tall cascades, including Horsetail Falls and the 620-foot Multnomah Falls, with frequent glimpses of snow-capped Mt. Hood. In the east, between Hood River and the Dalles, the road runs 16 miles through steep canyons and a series of horseshoe curves known as the Rowena Loops. On both sections, overlooks and pullouts offer sweeping views of the Columbia River Gorge.

4 The Hana Highway

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In a state with plenty of scenery, the Hana Highway takes first place among many visitors as Hawaii’s most beautiful road. The road to Hana runs 50 miles along the northern shore of Maui, leading drivers through steep, slow turns and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Drivers can pull off the road for short hikes into a dense rainforest and a glimpse of high waterfalls. Along the way, the black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park attracts surfers and sunbathers.

3 Pacific Coast Highway

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A majestic ocean coastline frames a long section of the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California State Highway 1, which runs from Orange County in the south to Mendocino County in the north. The highlight of this route is the Big Sur region that begins south of Carmel and runs to San Luis Obispo. The steep slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains tumble down to the sea in a series of steep, sometimes vertical cliffs, routing drivers through a series of hairpin turns with postcard-perfect views. Several turnouts along the way provide a chance for a rest, a short picnic and some easy camera work.

2 Skyline Drive

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Skyline Drive runs north and south for a distance of 105 miles along the summits of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia. The road, the only route through Shenandoah National Park, was carefully planned for a leisurely drive. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour and the road includes 75 overlooks, where you can pull over and ogle the mountain scenery. In spring, the unmowed verges host a spectacular display of blooming wildflowers. Blue mists curl over the Appalachian peaks, while deer, black bear and wild turkeys dart along and across the road.

1 Monument Valley

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The towering mesas and rainbow-hued desert landscape of Monument Valley are icons of the American West. The awe-inspiring red-rock region is best appreciated with a drive north from Kayenta, Arizona, along two-lane U.S. 163. From Kayenta to Blanding, Utah, you can see dozens of strangely familiar “monument” formations, including the Mittens, Elephant Butte, Eagle Mesa and Sentinel Mesa. At the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal park on the Arizona side, enjoy an informative walking tour through the desert and close-up views of the formations.

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