Road running through the Valley of Fire in Nevada.

Must-drive roads in every state

Written by:
September 5, 2020

Must-drive roads in every state

Road trips are a classic American tradition.

The Great American Road Trip isn't quite as old as the car itself, mostly because of the roads that existed when the first automobiles were taking to the streets in the early 1900s. If today's drivers think winter potholes are bad, the streets when the automobile was first being developed were meant for horse and buggy. People still traveled, though, and the first successful cross-country road trip took place in 1903. It wasn't until cars became more accessible and paid vacation time was given to workers in the post-World War II boom that Americans really started turning their wanderlust into a trip from sea to shining sea.

There's around a car per person and 4.18 million miles of road in the United States, according to a February 2017 report by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. It's all but impossible to drive down every single one just like it's impossible to see everything the U.S. has to offer in only one trip. Stacker utilized the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration and state travel guides to locate must-drive roads in every U.S. state to help any would-be road tripper to narrow down their options. We researched roadways for the devilishly daring, the tranquil soul, the lonesome and lovesick, the wildlife lover, the fisherman and more, leaving no parkway unturned in order to bring joy to road warriors across the nation.

Walt Whitman understood the importance of traveling highways and byways, as made evident when he said, "I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me." Hit the gas pedal and take to an open road of your own this summer. Read on to learn about must-drive roads in every state. 

You may also like: Best scenic lookout in every state

Alabama: Lookout Mountain Parkway

Prepare for 93 miles of mountain laurel and rhododendrons. Lookout Mountain Parkway spans three states from Alabama to Tennessee, and it's home to the world's longest yard sale. Every August, people holding yard sales line the parkway with everything from bike parts and overalls to antique china and vintage luggage.

Alaska: Seward Highway

The 127-mile stretch between Anchorage and Seward is designated as a national forest scenic byway, offering astounding views of the glaciated Kenai Mountains. After heading out from Anchorage, make a quick pitstop at the Turnagain Arm Pit Shack for some roadside BBQ and Southern-style fried okra. 

Arizona: Apache Trail

Interested in rugged sandstone canyons and a ghost town? The Apache Trail, also known as Highway 88, snakes 45 miles through Arizonian peaks and valleys in an area historically known for its mining towns. For Wild West fun, stop by the Goldfield Ghost Town, a dusty old town with a steakhouse saloon.

Arkansas: Crowley Ridge Parkway

The Crowley Ridge Parkway emerges from northeast Arkansas, running along Crowley's Ridge for over 200 miles. Besides touring Civil War battlefields and bountiful orchards, visitors can stop by the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggott, where Ernest and Pauline Pfeiffer converted their old barn into a writing studio for Hemingway.

California: Pacific Coast Highway

Running along roughly 650 miles of craggy cliffsides on the Pacific Coast of California, Highway 1 boasts the Golden Gate Bridge, Big Sur, the boardwalk of Santa Cruz, Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the Danish Village of Solvang, the surf of both Santa Barbara and Malibu, San Diego's Sea World and more. The longest drive between In-N-Out locations is just over three hours.

Colorado: Pikes Peak Highway

Beginning at 7,400 feet, Pikes Peak Highway climbs an additional 6,715 feet in only 19 miles to the mountain's summit, which tops out at 14,115 feet. Don't forget a fishing pole, as the highway has three different well-stocked lakes to cast a line into. 

Connecticut: Connecticut River Loop

You don't have to travel to Europe to see a castle: There's one along the Connecticut River Loop. Passing through the iconic New England towns of Essex and Old Lyme, this 32-mile loop boasts a 20th-century castle. The Gillette Castle, built between 1914 and 1919, was originally owned by actor William Hooker Gillette, most notable for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Delaware: Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway

The Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway is for the old soul romantic. Along the approximately 12.25 miles of 20th-century mansions and enchanting gardens, stop by the 60-acre wild garden at the Winterthur Museum (former estate of Henry Francis du Pont) or see simply luscious native orchids in the garden of Mt. Cuba Center

Florida: A1A Coastal Byway

This 72-mile, mostly two-lane roadway boasts nearly 100 different art venues and premier galleries. Along the A1A, make a pit stop in St. Augustine, the nation's oldest city, to view the "Lost Colony" collection at the St. Augustine Art Association, which includes the works of E.B. Warren, Walter Cole, Tod Lindenmuth, William L'Engle, Emmett Fritz and others.

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

With views of the Chattahoochee River and the Appalachian Mountains, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway's 41-mile loop offers some of the most luscious views of Georgia's timberland. Four different states can be seen from the top of Brasstown Bald Mountain.

Hawaii: Hana Highway

Aptly nicknamed "The Divorce Highway," the Hana Highway in Maui is 52 miles of heart-stopping hairpin curves and one-lane bridges. Its dozens of blind spots make the roadway both dangerous and exhilarating. Imagine renting a convertible roadster to enjoy the seaside cliffs and waterfalls.

Idaho: Mesa Falls Scenic Byway

Only 26 miles long from its starting point in Ashton to its endpoint in the Island Park area, the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway is home to two of the most stunning waterfalls in the West, the Lower and Upper Mesa Falls. Plan to picnic at the base of the Upper Mesa Falls, which plunges a whopping 114 feet—as tall as a 10-story building.

Illinois: Ohio River Scenic Byway

The Ohio River Scenic Byway in Illinois travels along the Ohio River for 188 miles, passing through the Shawnee National Forest. For breathtaking views of the woodlands along this route, buckle up and hit the byway between spring and fall when the wildflowers are in full bloom.

Indiana: Historic National Road

Thomas Jefferson commissioned Indiana's 156-mile Historic National Road in 1806, making it the country's first federally funded interstate. For those looking for a retro experience, a pit stop at National Road Antique Mall in Cambridge City is essential. With over 85 antique dealers, finding vintage glassware will be as easy and breezy as the drive. 

Iowa: Loess Hills National Scenic Byway

With 200 miles of rolling hills and quiet prairies, the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is a road made for rolling the windows down. Take in farm after farm and wrap up the drive with wine tasting at Bodega Victoriana.

Kansas: Flint Hills National Scenic Byway

Flint Hills National Scenic Byway travels along the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, home to prairie dogs, tall grass and monarch butterflies. Grab brisket sandwiches and fried mushrooms at Hays House Restaurant in Council Grove—the restaurant was established in the mid-1800s by Seth Hays, great-grandson of American pioneer Daniel Boone.

Kentucky: Country Music Highway, U.S. 23

The relatively young Country Music Highway of eastern Kentucky wasn't recognized as a National Scenic Byway until June 2002. The 144-mile highway is a tribute to all the county music stars born in the region, including Loretta Lynn, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, Billy Ray Cyrus, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, and more. Around the area in June? Add the Seedtime on the Cumberland music festival to the list of necessary stops. 

Louisiana: Cajun Corridor Byway

No need to pack a picnic lunch on this road trip—eat your way across the 34-mile Cajun Corridor Byway one shrimp, crawfish and oyster at a time. Get gumbo at Suire's Grocery & Restaurant in Kaplan, devour a crawfish po'boy at Bon Creole in New Iberia, and wash everything down with oyster shots at Black's Oyster Bar & Seafood in Abbeville. 

Maine: Acadia All-American Road

Passing through Acadia National Park, the 40-mile Acadia All-American Road winds its way around overgrown forests and small coastal fishing towns. Shake off road fatigue in Bar Harbor, a picturesque yacht and lobster boat paradise in "Down East" Maine. Bar Harbor Lobster Company offers reasonably priced lobster plates and French fries and a rum bar to boot.

Maryland: Mason and Dixon Scenic Byway

Ease into the 102-mile Mason and Dixon Scenic Byway with downtime (and maybe a little fishing) at the Prettyboy Reservoir in Hampstead. If passing through Westminster during the middle of July, cruise over to Common Ground on the Hill Music & Arts Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

Massachusetts: Mount Greylock Scenic Byway

16.3 miles is a short distance to go for such a spectacular view. At 3,491 feet in elevation, Mount Greylock gifts its road trippers with a panoramic view of five different states. Henry David Thoreau climbed to the top of Mount Greylock in July 1844, and after a night's rest, he claimed to experience a kind of enlightenment.

Michigan: M-22

Hit the 116-mile M-22 scenic drive along Lake Michigan in the fall, when Manistee, Benzie and Leelanau counties are blanketed in hues of gold and orange. Find time to explore the lighthouses of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or nibble a Greek pizza at Riverfront Pizza in Glen Arbor before visiting The Cottage Book Shop. 

Minnesota: Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway

The Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway is 54 miles of country roads in the middle of Minnesota. Never without a lakeside view, this byway showcases lots of sandy beaches and swimming holes. Pull over at Pelican Lake to play a game of horseshoes on Breezy Point Beach. 

Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway

Crossing three different states, the Natchez Trace Parkway spans 444 miles of four diverse ecosystems. The riverine forest of lower Mississippi is a safe corridor for all kinds of mammals, and it's not uncommon to see red foxes, deer and river otters. Avid birder? Don't forget the binoculars—the Natchez Trace is home to 134 confirmed species of birds.

Missouri: Glade Top Trail

Cutting through the Mark Twain National Forest, the glades of this 23-mile trail are home to the roadrunner and Bachman's sparrow, a state endangered species. In the summer months, the rolling countryside is covered in yellow and purple coneflowers, daisy-like flowers that attract both birds and butterflies. 

Montana: Going-to-the-Sun Road

Open seasonally, the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana's Glacier Park is 50 miles of big mountains, plunging waterfalls and massive glaciers. For 33 miles of the drive, there isn't a single service station or restaurant to be found. However, travelers may meet a few mountain goats and bighorn sheep near Logan Pass.

Nebraska: Outlaw Trail

Infamous for harboring thieves and notorious ruffians, the Outlaw Trail along Nebraska Highway 12 stretches 231 miles from South Sioux City to Valentine. Make a stop in Crofton to hide out at the Historic Argo Hotel for a night or two, unless the paranormal activity in the hotel's basement is too spooky.

Nevada: Valley of Fire Road

It doesn't have the most inviting name, but the Valley of Fire Road is 23.3 miles of desert bliss. Surrounded by bright red Aztec sandstone formations, this bumpy roadway winds through the Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada's oldest state park. Hollywood is a big fan of this desert valley—in fact, it was here that Captain Kirk fell to his death.

New Hampshire: Mt. Washington Auto Road

Opening with one dirt lane in August 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is considered America's oldest manmade attraction. Its steep, winding climb and the area's ever-changing weather conditions make the drive unpredictable and dangerous. Drivers fond of heights and narrow mountain roads sans guardrails will find this roadway exhilarating.

New Jersey: Palisades Interstate Parkway

From the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey to the Bear Mountain Bridge in New York, the Palisades Interstate Parkway runs a total of 42 miles, offering stunning cliffside views of the Hudson River. 11 miles of the Palisades Interstate Parkway are in New Jersey, and this portion of the parkway boasts three different lookouts, each over 400 feet high.

New Mexico: Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway

The 84-mile loop of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway in New Mexico crosses the Rio Grande, the sage-covered mesa of Taos Canyon, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Hondo River and many colorful towns along the way. Brake for chicken-fried steak and eggs at Shotgun Willie's in Red River.

New York: Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway

Cascading waterfalls, quaint farms and villages and 16 different wineries make this road a must-drive. Looping all the way around Cayuga Lake, this 86-mile upstate byway has its own wine trail. And what would wine country amid waterfalls and gorges be without a handful of bed and breakfasts? 

North Carolina: Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap

Searching for a blood-tingling section of asphalt? With 316 hairpin curves in only 11 miles, the Tail of the Dragon has the thills that serious drivers dream about. This roadway isn't about its woodland scenery—it's about the road itself. Motorcycles and sports cars are highly recommended.

North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Scenic Byway

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Scenic Byway is more than a mouthful—it's a 13.7-mile loop through the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The open prairies of this region are home to bison and prairie dogs. Pause at the Oxbow Outlook toward the end of the byway for a sweeping panoramic view of the Badlands. 

Ohio: Hocking Hills Scenic Byway

The Hocking Hills Scenic Byway takes drivers deep into the rolling woodlands of southeast Ohio. Spanning from Rockbridge to Lancaster, this 32-mile roadway of unique rock formations, lush gorges and misty waterfalls is beyond blissful. Insider tip: push this drive off until fall, when the foliage is positively divine. 

Oklahoma: Wichita Mountains Byway

Oklahoma's Wichita Mountains Byway meanders 93 miles through rocky lowlands, prairies full of wildflowers and a handful of small towns. Grab a latte and blackberry scone at Cobblescones Coffee in Medicine Park before hitting the road to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, where it's not uncommon to hear a few wild turkeys gobble.

Oregon: Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

From one volcano to another, the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway begins in Mount Lassen, California, and ends nearly 500 miles away in Crater Lake, Oregon. The piney mountains and green valleys on the drive are gorgeous, but the scenic crown of this road trip is worn by the dark blue waters of Crater Lake that fill the caldera of Mount Mazama.

Pennsylvania: Gateway to the Endless Mountains

The Gateway to the Endless Mountains takes drivers deep into the greenery of what could be mistaken for Middle-Earth but is actually Pennsylvania. With spectacular views of the slowly winding Susquehanna River, this road offers 34 miles of natural splendor and wine. Stop in at the Grovedale Winery for a flight of red or white.

Rhode Island: Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive, also known as "Ten Mile Drive," traverses 10 miles along the Atlantic through Newport, Rhode Island. The drive is dotted with Gilded Age mansions, seaside towns and boutiques and sandy beaches. Around in July? Stretch your legs at the Newport Music Festival, which hosts over 60 classical concerts.

South Carolina: Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway

Rolling past orchards of peach trees and roadside farm stands, the Cherokee Foothill Scenic Byway runs along the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 112 miles. Two of South Carolina's most historic bridges are on the route. These are the Poinsett Bridge, the state's oldest bridge (built in 1820) and the Campbell Covered Bridge, the only covered bridge remaining in the state.

South Dakota: Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway

Custer State Park's 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway in South Dakota could theoretically take about 30 minutes to navigate, but it depends how many buffalo and bighorn sheep end up blocking the road. The windswept prairies surrounding the byway are home to deer, elk, coyote, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, mountain goats and a band of burros. Wildlife Loop, indeed.

Tennessee: East Tennessee Crossing

The East Tennessee Crossing stretches 83 miles from the Cumberland Gap to the Cherokee National Forest. This route follows the original trail of the Cherokee Warriors' Path, used by Native American tribes for trade. In Morristown, pile out of the car for a tour of the Crockett Tavern Museum, built on the site of the Davy Crockett's boyhood home.

Texas: Lonesome Highway

Why lonesome? Because drivers are more likely to encounter a tumbleweed than another vehicle on this highway. Spanning roughly 50 miles from Carlsbad, New Mexico, to Pine Springs, Texas, the Lonesome Highway is a straight and lonely shot into the Guadalupe Mountains. Bring along some Hank Williams.

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

Designated an All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 runs 123 miles through multiple state and national parks, including Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef. When you hit Escalante, pull over for the views and the coffee at Kiva Koffeehouse.

Vermont: Mad River Byway

The Mad River Byway winds through Vermont's Mad River Valley for 36 miles and features views of rugged mountain ridges, meandering rivers, farm stands and towns. Pick strawberries and blueberries at the Hartshorn Organic Farm in Waitsfield and eat the bounty on the banks of the Mad River.

Virginia: The Crooked Road

Bluegrass and country music fans, this 300-mile roadway is for you. The Crooked Road travels through the Appalachian Mountains, connecting major heritage music venues. Notable sites include the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Blue Ridge Music Center & Museum. Inspired? Pick up a handmade fiddle or banjo from Barr's Fiddle Shop in Galax.

Washington: Olympic Peninsula Loop

The Olympic Peninsula Loop is 329 miles of Pacific Coast beaches, mountain rainforests, bridges and artsy townships. And according to author Stephenie Meyer, the region's near-constant drizzle is highly agreeable to sparkly vampires: Forks, the setting of the "Twilight" series, is on the Olympic Peninsula Loop. 

West Virginia: Highland Scenic Highway

The Highland Scenic Highway is a 43-mile corridor through the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia. Enjoy a sack lunch on the grassy banks of Summit Lake and, if you have a fishing pole in the trunk, consider fishing for trout. Take a second stop at the Falls of Hills Creek, which boasts three cascading waterfalls.

Wisconsin: Great River Road National Scenic Byway

Rambling through 33 picturesque river towns, Wisconsin's 250-mile Great River Road National Scenic Byway awards its road trippers with parks, nature preserves, dairy farms, festivals, concerts, historic tours and more. Be sure to stop and shop the unique boutiques in Stockholm.

Wyoming: Beartooth Scenic Byway

At 10,947 feet in elevation, the Beartooth Pass on the Beartooth Scenic Byway is one of Wyoming's highest and most dangerous roads. This breathtaking two-lane roadway travels 67 miles from southwest Montana to northwest Wyoming, twisting its way to Yellowstone National Park. Warning: services along the route are limited, so plan the trip accordingly.

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