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10 Best Scenic U.S. Highways

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Summer means many things, but to many Americans, it’s all about hitting the road on vacation. 

This year, stay off the major interstates and instead spend time on some of the country’s more scenic highways and byways. The following list is by no means exhaustive, but we think it is a nice starting point and includes some truly beautiful landscapes. If none of the roads listed is near you, you can find those that are by visiting “America’s Byways,” presented by the Federal Highway Administration, at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/.

Now, some of our favorite passages:

1.    Pacific Coast Highway
Bixby Creek Bridge PCH Big Sur

The PCH (California State Route 1) runs for 655 miles along the California coastline. Depicted here is the Bixby Creek Bridge near Big Sur.

2.    Blue Ridge Parkway
Blue Ridge Parkway

Running for 469 miles, the Parkway connects 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties, mostly along the Appalachian Blue Ridge mountain chain.

3.    Columbia River Scenic Highway
Columbia River Scenic Highway

At just 75 miles, this is a rather compact thruway, but it contains vistas that you’ve seen in a seemingly endless parade of car commercials. Located in Oregon between Troutdale and The Dalles, building the highway took nearly ten years, from 1913 to 1922, and cut through the Columbia River Gorge.

4.    Overseas Highway
Florida Oversea Highway

This 113-mile roadway is the main link between Miami and the Florida Keys. It serves as the Florida portion of U.S. Highway 1 which serves the East Coast. U.S. 1 runs 2,369 miles from Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canada–US border, south to Key West , making it the longest north-south road in the country. 

5.    Going-to-the-Sun Road
glacier-national-park

Located in Glacier National Park in Montana, it is the only road in the park that crosses the Continental Divide. It traverses the Divide at Logan Pass at an elevation of 6,646 feet. The road was constructed between 1921 and 1932, and is the first public road to have been registered as a National Historic Place, a National Historic Landmark, and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

6.    Natchez Trace Parkway
Nachez Trace Parkway

A two-lane thoroughfare that runs 444 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. It was built to commemorate the Old Natchez Trace, a forest trail first used by Native Americans, and then by settlers, traders, and emigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries.

7.    Taconic State Parkway
Taconic State Parkway NY

Franklin D. Roosevelt was instrumental in the construction of this 104-mile road to provide access to existing and planned state parks in the State of New York. The limited access highway runs from the Hudson River to the Connecticut and Massachusetts state lines along the Taconic Mountains.

8.    Highway 50
US 50

Running 3,000 miles from Ocean City, Maryland to San Francisco, California, in 1986 Life Magazine named the Nevada portion “The Loneliest Road in America” as it crosses several large desert valleys separated by numerous mountain ranges towering over the valley floors, roughly following Pony Express routes used in the 19th century.

9.    Utah State Route 12
Utah State Route 12

Crossing part of both Dixie National Forest and Bryce Canyon National Park, this 112-mile roadway continues through the small towns of Tropic, Cannonville, and Henrieville.

10. Vermont Route 17
Appalachian Gap

The Appalachian Gap (or “App Gap”) near Waitsfield, Vermont is one of the most challenging sections of highway in the state, and offers some of its most beautiful vistas of the Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondack Mountains. Not only is it twisty, Route 17 provides sustained grades of 15% plus.