Warm weather signals the beginning of summer and with it driving takes on a whole new joy. Imagine sunny days with the wind in your hair as you coast along Going to the Sun Road. Imagine listening to the kids giggle in the back seat as you lick ice cream cones on the coast of Maine. Explore the Old West on Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway, breathe in the salty air as you cruise the Florida Overseas Highway, and sample old-time America on Route 66. These ten sure-to-please routes are as much about the drive as the stops along the way.
Florida Overseas Highway
Stretching 113 miles from Miami Florida to Key West, the Florida Overseas Highway cuts across vast expanses of water to connect the islands of the Florida Keys. While it takes only four hours to drive end to end, you can easily turn this into a week-long adventure with stop for ice cream, days at the beach, and diving or snorkeling. Starting from Miami, you’ll cross forty-two bridges on the path to Key West, the southernmost point of the United States. The highway was originally built in the late 1930s. A railroad connected the islands prior to the highway, which follows part of the route of the railroad and makes use of the coral bedrock that supported the rails.
California’s Highway 1
Highway 1 winds along the scenic Pacific coast of California, passing mountains on one side and crisp blue ocean on the other. The Big Sur section is a National Scenic Byway and when you drive along the mountain roads, you’ll understand why it was selected. As you pass through the Santa Lucia Mountains, look out for Cone Peak, the highest coastal mountain in the continental US soaring about a mile above sea level. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive here: both the birding and whale-watching are excellent.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Named America’s Favorite Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles and links Smoky Mountain National Park with Shenandoah National Park. Along the nearly 500 miles of historic roadway you’ll drive through tunnels, spot cows and wildflowers, and encounter over 200 scenic overlooks. Allow plenty of time to hop out and take photos, have picnics, or even hike one of the 100+ hiking trails accessible from this route. Want to keep driving? Add the Skyline Drive, 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, and/or a spin through the Smoky Mountains to your trip.
Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar stretch of US 550 runs 25 miles from Silverton to Ouray, Colorado. The two-lane road winds through the San Juan Mountain where you’ll encounter steep cliffs and hairpin turns cut into the mountainside. The thrill of the drive is half the fun out here, but if you can pull your gaze from the cliffs, the mountains are spectacular. Million Dollar Highway is part of the San Juan Skyway, so if you’re looking for more than a day trip, check out the rest of the Skyway’s 233 miles.
Maine U.S. Route 1
Route 1 stretches across 527 miles along the eastern border of Maine from Fort Kent near the Canadian border to Kittery on the edge of New Hampshire. From the north, you’ll begin in Aroostook county, the largest county east of the Mississippi. Aroostook is farm country with rolling hills, potato farms, and windmills cropping up along the drive. Further south, you’ll tour the Maine coast. Stops at lighthouses, clam shacks, and the beach are sure to delight the kids (and kids at heart). A stop in Portland promises fine dining, coffee shops, museums, and shopping. Just south of Portland you’ll find Portland Headlight, America’s oldest lighthouse. And for a taste of my childhood, stop for ice cream at Len Libby on route 1 in Scarborough.
Going to the Sun Road
From end to end it takes 2 hours to drive the 50 miles of the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park. However, most take half a day or more to explore this drive. You’ll want to leave time to ditch the car for a few minutes, walk around, and check out the scenery. Be sure to stop at Jackson Glacier Overlook – the best place to see a glacier from Going to the Sun Road. You may also experience delays along the way from wildlife – Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep enjoy hanging out near Logan Pass. There are also frequent road closures in fall, winter, and spring due to an ongoing reconstruction project and unpredictable weather, but even doing just part of this drive is incredible.
Road to Hana
52 miles of Hawaii’s Highway 36, the Road to Hana, includes over 600 curves, 59 bridges, and countless stunning vistas. Although you can do this drive in just a few hours, why not make a day (or several) of the trip? With beaches and ocean on one side and waterfalls on the other, there are many natural sights to tempt you. Consider picnics on the beach, getting up close to waterfalls after an easy hike, and diving down into that beautiful blue ocean. Or perhaps you’d rather just keep driving that convertible you rented to enjoy the weather? No problem, connecting roads are scenic, too.
Great River Road
The Great River Roads follows the length of the Mississippi and is among the longest and oldest scenic byways in the U.S. It covers over 2,000 miles and passes through 10 states. While a steamboat trip is a classic way to see the Mississippi, spending a couple of weeks driving along its banks will give you a great sense of the river as well. Begin in Minnesota and wind your way down the length of the country. The road ends in bustling New Orleans – the perfect place to celebrate a successful road trip with drinks, seafood, and jazz.
While this iconic American route no longer exists on modern maps, you can drive existing stretches with the help of the National Historic Route 66 Foundation. Eighty-five percent of the route from Illinois to California is still driveable today. So grab a map and your keys and get going! While many businesses shut down and families skipped town to look for new work when the highways bypassed route 66, a number of great places persevered and happily serve travelers looking for a slice of old-fashioned Americana (or apple pie…).
The Grand Circle road trip showcases the national parks of the American Southwest. The trip is a loop that most begin and end in Las Vegas. Along the way, Grand Circle connects Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Grand Canyon National Park. Inside and outside of each park, red rock, mesas, and arches greet the eye – a bright landscape found nowhere else in the US. You’ll be able to hit the highlights on a week-long family vacation bty camping or staying in lodges along with way. With more time, you can get an in-depth view of each park – any one of them boasts enough activities to fill a summer.