It's hard to resist the lure of the open road when summer rolls around — and with our editors' favorite scenic drives across the United States, you'll know exactly where to point your car this year. We've listed our favorites from west to east — including everything from the obvious Highway 1 in California to the less-obvious — but brilliantly named — Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana. We've picked routes for their history (U.S. Route 1 in New England and Million Dollar Highway in Colorado); for their natural scenery (Blue Ridge Parkway, Red Rock Scenic Byway, Highway 12); for their romantic appeal (routes through Sonoma and Napa); and for their remote wild beauty (Hana and Seward highways). Best of all, most of these routes make for splendid drives all year long, so you can get out and explore their bounty whenever the mood strikes. So rev your engines ... and hit the road.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Stretching some 469 miles along the Southern Appalachian Mountains and linking two eastern national parks — Virginia's Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains — the Blue Ridge Parkway has often been referred to as "America's Favorite Drive." It's certainly the country's first rural parkway — parts of it date back to 1930s (when construction began as a make-work project during the Depression) — and the longest, with breathtaking scenery and dozens of recreational opportunities to distract you when you need to stretch your legs.
Though some may argue that autumn is the best season to drive this stretch, as the brilliant fall foliage is in full effect, May is also a superb time to head this way, to witness the profusion of wildflowers in bloom along the elevated mountainsides. Also included in this scenic route is the impressive Skyline Drive, a 105-mile swath of road that cuts through Shenandoah National Park. Of course, no nature drive of this sort would be quite complete without wildlife sightings: Keep an eye out for resident whitetail deer and black bears.
It's no wonder the aloha 'aina (love of the land) spirit is the bedrock of Hawaiian tradition. A drive on Maui's beloved Hana Highway (also called "the road to Hana") offers such an awe-inspiring display of natural beauty that you'll soon revel in the same sentiment. This serpentine trek starts off in Paia, famous for its surfer-swept shores, and zigzags east along the coast for more than 50 miles, all the while embracing 600 hairpin curves, 54 one-lane bridges, and some of the island's most spectacular sights. Indeed, Keanae Arboretum (an exotic botanical garden), Waikani Falls (a trio of crashing chutes), Ka'eleku Caverns (an ancient cavern system created from a lava flow thousands of years ago), and Waianapanapa State Park (home to a famous black-sand beach and fresh-water caves) are all in close proximity.
Your excursion will land you in the sleepy coastal village of Hana, where you can take up shack and relish the quiet countryside and local culture or, continue a tad further to Haleakala National Park where you can cool your jets in Oheo Gulch (aka the Seven Sacred Pools). Keep your windows down as you go and breathe in the sweet air infused with eucalyptus and ginger. To get the most out of the drive, pick up a "The Hana Road Self-Guided Drive" CD from the Shell gas station on Route 380 in Kahului; it narrates the journey and highlights all of the must-sees.
California's State Route 1 (a.k.a. Highway 1) skirts the Golden State's glorious Pacific coastline from "So Cal," near San Luis Obispo northwest to the forests of Monterey. While the twists and curves, and occasional precariously-perched cliff-top road, may prove challenging at times (one section has been ominously dubbed Devil's Slide, thanks to landslides and erosion that have occasionally made the road impassable), the magnificent vistas of ocean waves breaking on rocky sea-sculpted shores, windswept beaches dotted by frolicking otters or sea lions, and magnificent forests presiding above it all can rouse even the wariest of drivers behind the wheel.
Forays into charming little coastal towns, like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Laguna Beach, as well as into the trilogy of Californian cultural centers at Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, are met by attractions ranging from historic missions to magnificent mansions (don't miss San Simeon's mountaintop Hearst Castle). There are also endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, particularly around the Big Sur area, where you can hike through redwood forests, comb the beaches for shells and jade, and camp under the stars.
Windswept red-rock canyons, towering sandstone formations, pristine lakes, and pine- studded mountain ranges combine for an altogether over-the-top sensory experience in Southern Utah. The setting for several stunning national parks, this remarkable road connects those at Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, and offers unique beauty and seemingly limitless recreational opportunities on a stretch of land between the two parks' boundaries.
Utah Highway 12, also known as Highway 12 Scenic Byway, is one of only 27 nationally designated All-American Roads — the highest honor a road can get for attractive scenery. This spectacular route travels away from Bryce Canyon, through the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, and over the forested Boulder Mountain and the Dixie National Forest, before winding down near the entrance to Capitol Reef. The scenery is unforgettable along the entire length of the road — especially during the brilliant red-rock sunsets that provide a glorious grand finale to a day's driving adventure here.
This spectacular 52-mile drive is the best way to see the dramatic remnants and rugged path left by gargantuan glaciers in Montana's striking Glacier National Park. Only open from early-June to mid-October (or until first snowfall), the Going-to-the-Sun Road, aptly named for its ever-escalating sky-high stretch with switchbacks up and over the magnificent Continental Divide, traverses Glacier National Park from West Glacier to St. Mary and covers untapped wilderness, rugged mountains, glistening lakes, deep river gorges, glacial canyons, and the long Garden Wall. This sharp ridge forms the Continental Divide, the only place in the country where water flows to the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay.
The road offers multiple lookout points, among them the 6646-foot-high Logan Pass, which ranks as one of the Divide's most impressive vantage points, and Jackson Glacier Overlook, 2 miles beyond Siyeh Bend, where remnants of the mammoth ice formations that carved the park's harsh terrain and contoured its valleys can still be seen. Indeed, the many jaw-dropping views and hiking opportunities along the way will have you making frequent stops to get out and explore; a few backcountry lodges, chalets, and campgrounds are available too, should you decide to prolong your trip by spending the night.