Anybody can hop in their car and go for a cruise down any main street in suburban America. It’s simple. Easy. Unchallenging. But it takes a person with a certain amount of juice to drive down an unknown road in an unknown place not knowing what’s around the next bend.
We think your juice levels are topped off and that you’re ready to set off into the unknown in a perfect rental car. Since we’re deep in the middle of our adventure series, we thought we’d put together a list of five of the most scenic and adventurous roads in all the land that will dazzle you, excite you, and make you wonder why you haven’t gone on these drives sooner.
There are roads and then there are these roads.
San Juan Skyway – Colorado
Rugged mountain passes, sheer cliffs leading down to raging rivers, and some of the best ski towns in the country is what will greet you along the San Juan Skyway. Begin this must-do road trip in the town of Durango. Take your rental car north on U.S. Highway 550 until a sign welcomes you to the town of Silverton. Take a pit-stop at the San Juan County Historical Society where the Mining Heritage Center is located. But don’t hang out there too long because this drive is just getting started. Get back on 550 north and cruise a stretch of asphalt that’s known as the Million Dollar Highway. It follows the Uncompagne River Gorge for 8 miles and is a sight to be seen. It will eventually lead you through the old mining town of Ouray, past Ridgeway and Placerville. And finally, you’ll reach Telluride. Ride the free gondola to the summit and enjoy a lunch at Allred’s Restaurant while taking in 360-degree views of the mountains. Yes, it’s that awesome.
Billy the Kid Scenic Byway – New Mexico
Billy the Kid blazed a trail of mischief and mayhem through America’s Southwest like a horseback-riding, six-shooter-wielding Tasmanian devil. So much so that the state named a scenic byway after him. Start in Lincoln, the historical home of The Kid, and head west through the winding roads of Lincoln National Forest to Fort Stanton. Explore the grounds of the old military post or stay on the road towards Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan. Stretch your legs in the two acres that make up the park and pay your respects at the grave of the original Smokey Bear—he was an orphaned bear cub found in the 50s during a raging wildfire. Capitan is great, but your journey doesn’t end there. The Kid’s Scenic Byway continues down New Mexico State Road 48 through a mixture of high desert plains and thick pine forests until Ruidoso is laid out before you. It’s here at Ruidoso Downs Race Track where you can add to your travel budget as long as you pick a few winners.
Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia and North Carolina
For 469 miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. And not one mile of it is disappointing. You may not have time to travel all 469 miles so start off in the small Virginia town of Meadows of Dan. Load up on fuel for the body at the Mabry Mill Restaurant. Their grilled pimento cheese and country ham sandwich will fill you up enough to make the 35-mile drive through lush woodland to the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia. This place hosts a summer Roots of American Music Concert Series so time your drive-thru just right and you’ll be able to catch an amazing blue grass show. There’s nothing like dueling banjos on a summer evening in the North Carolina countryside. But your swan song on this journey won’t end for another 77 miles across the Virginia/North Carolina border at The Blowing Rock. This attraction is an Instagram fiend’s delight.
Centennial Scenic Byway – Wyoming
From the towering Teton Range and Green River Valley to small towns like Jackson, this spellbinding journey needs to be high on your list of scenic roads to drive. And this journey should begin at the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale. Hey, since you’ll be in the mountains, it’d be good to brush up on your knowledge in the way of the mountain man. Once you harness the spirit of Jim Bridger, cruise north on U.S. Highway 191 through the Wind River Range and Hoback Canyon—even iPhone photos taken here look like they could grace the pages of “National Geographic”—and then stop in Jackson. Set aside some time to go mountain biking on Snow King Mountain’s insane network of trails. Trade two wheels for four and get back on the road. Back onto 191 and then U.S. Highway 26 east for a total of 86 miles to Main Street, Dubois. This place is the epitome of an Old West frontier town. Heck, people still hitch their horses instead of parking their cars in front of storefronts. Visit the Dubois Museum to learn everything you’d like to know about this town.
Route 100 – Vermont
Vermont: that state in New England with maple syrup and super troopers and freezing ski resorts is a vacationer’s dream. Especially a vacationer like you who has decided to experience it in a car via Route 100. Extending from just inside the Canadian border south to the bottom of the state, the drive along Route 100 is unforgettable. From Newport, it’s a mere 49 miles through small villages and farmland, thick woods and covered bridges. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the town of Stowe appears. The Stowe Village Historic District is more than charming and is a great option for an afternoon stroll. Pick up a few souvenirs from some gift shops before continuing your journey south towards Waterbury. It’s here, just outside of town where you can take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour. See how the delicious ice cream is made and get treated to samplings of any number of your favorite flavors. Maybe even a few secret ones. Let that sugar buzz carry you even further south through the towns of Killington, Ludlow, and Wilmington. Congratulations, you just drove the length of the state.
We hope we’ve inspired you to go, explore, and to have an adventure like never before. This guide to the five best scenic drives in the USA should help give you a head start.