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Loreah Winlow | 07.06.2021

This article has been updated. It was originally published in June 2019.

We are unbelievably spoiled in the U.S. for road trip opportunities, and what better time to explore the open road than summer or early fall? National Scenic Byways—roads recognized by the Department of Transportation as possessing one or more of the following six intrinsic properties: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic—offer access to some of the most unique and recreationally rich public lands in our country. From high alpine lakes to fiery red rock deserts, from verdant forests to raw coastlines, these roads provide access to incredible landscape and ecological diversity. 

With seemingly endless opportunities for road tripping, choosing a route for your next adventure trip can take some research, so we put together a short list of exceptional scenic byway road trips with a few adventures along the way that we highly recommend. 


The Linn Cove Viaduct during the height of the autumn turn. Jesse Weber.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Its 469 miles of adventurous opportunities between North Carolina and Virginia make the Blue Ridge Mountains one of the most sought-after road trip areas in the east. Check out 15 Must-Do Adventures Along the Blue Ridge Parkway for even more options!

  • Linn Cove Viaduct: While it's gorgeous in the fall for leaf peeping, the Linn Cove Viaduct is a marvel of engineering that earned awards and took 20 years to build.
  • Skinny Dip Falls: Unfortunately for the nudists out there, Skinny Dip Falls is a little deceiving. Fortunately for the families out there, it’s a great little side adventure for the kids!
  • Art Loeb Trail: Another opportunity to peek above the tree line, Art Loeb is long 30-mile hike (shuttle recommended)!

North Cascades Highway 20, Washington

Washington state has so much to offer in the outdoor world. Its lakes and mountains make it a mecca for hiking, climbing, camping, and skiing. The North Cascades Highway 20 alone offers an opportunity for any of these activities, depending on the season. Note: Highway 20 usually closes in the winter when it’s especially snowy, so plan accordingly.

  • Thornton Lakes Trail: Not for the faint of heart, this 10-mile hike with nearly 3,500 feet of elevation gain is an excellent opportunity to cross narrow bridges and enjoy summit views of several peaks in the area, high alpine lakes, and perennial glaciers. If you’re up for it, it is absolutely worth the effort!
  • Hidden Lake Lookout: One of my personal favorites, Hidden Lake is still a place I talk about after traveling the world during the 10 years since I finished this hike. If you get there first, you can even sleep in the fire lookout at the top!
  • Rasar State Park Campground: Looking for some rest and relaxation along the way? Rasar’s campground hosts beautiful forested and lakeside campsites that will give you the opportunity to take some time off the road and find quietness and presence in the chaos of road tripping.

Cascade Lakes Loop, Oregon

Oregon isn’t just about jaw-dropping coastlines. Head inland, and you’ll find the deepest lake in the U.S., Crater Lake, created by a collapsing volcano around 7,700 years ago, and some of the best sport climbing at Smith Rock. Love beer as much as I do? Bend, Oregon, is full of incredible breweries too!

  • Newberry National Volcanic Monument: Described as one of the “Northwest’s greatest undiscovered gems”, the mile-long lava river cave alone is worth the stop!
  • Little Crater Campground: Sun in the Pacific Northwest is always a welcome gift. This perfect little campground is just the place for a sunshine sanctuary during a potentially rainy trip!
  • Paulina Peak Hiking Trail: A sunny-day hike, Paulina Peak offers incredible panoramic views—weather depending, of course.


The Alpine Loop Scenic Byway just after the fall turn. Kyle Jenkins.

Alpine Loop Scenic Drive, Utah

Tucked away in the Uinta National Forest, this Alpine Loop offers spectacular views in any season, but especially the fall. Lying in the northeast corner of Utah, you can drop into this drive on a southern Idaho adventure or on the way to Yellowstone from the south. Take the scenic route!

  • Timpanogos Cave National Monument: Caves are otherworldly and a little creepy—anyone else see The Descent? Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush that attracts me to them still.
  • Horsetail Falls via Dry Creek Trail: A great hike for all abilities. It can be an easy 4-mile there-and-back to the falls, or continue another 3 miles past the falls on Dry Creek Trail for an approximately 10-mile out-and-back.
  • Timpooneke Campground: Looking to hike a couple trails in the area or getting antsy and want to get on two wheels for a bit? Timpooneke Campground features high-elevation camping (7,400 ft) with access to several different trailheads to explore.

Zion Park Scenic Byway, Utah

Utah is flooded with road trip destinations. Zion National Park is just one of many to explore, and if you’re heading that way anyway, any of the “Big Five” national parks is worthy of its own road trip—or perhaps more than one. As far as Zion is concerned, here are a few highlights to visit on your way.

  • Angels Landing: A somewhat difficult hike due to the elevation gain and exposure, there are ropes in place to hold onto if heights aren’t your thing. This hike is definitely worth the peril. Shuttle buses can take you close to the trailhead from the visitor center.
  • Emerald Pools Trail Hike: There’s nothing like a waterfall in the desert; there’s something primal about it. Although almost anywhere in Zion is breathtaking, it’s nice to explore some of the wetter areas as well. Emerald Pools is a 3-mile loop hike that features a seasonal 110-foot waterfall in the heart of Zion National Park.
  • The Narrows: This slot canyon is recommended particularly because it doesn’t require technical gear to navigate. There are options to rappel (canyoneer) in areas, but those are considered other trails. The Narrows is a non-technical hike that’s about 6 miles long. Heavily trafficked during certain seasons and prone to flash floods during the rainy season, this hike is absolutely worth the traffic.

San Juan Skyway, Colorado

One of the most dangerous roads in the U.S., the San Juan Skyway doesn’t lack for thrills. But the unprotected turns above steep drop-offs have a very worthwhile payoff. Its peaks are tinged red and green with minerals that once beckoned rampant speculation, and the drive is a regular feature for organized automobile tours like the Colorado Grand.

  • Park Point: The highest point in Mesa Verde National Park, this is an ADA-accessible area with spectacular views.
  • Prater Ridge Trail: Located at the only campground in the area, Morefield Campground, this trail is about an 8-mile loop that gains a lot of elevation in the first mile but levels off from there.
  • Far View Sites: If you’re a history buff like me, these ancient Pueblo villages are a must see!


The oldest living tree specimens are bristlecone pines found in the White Mountains east of the Sierra. Shaun Hunter.

Eastern Sierra Highway, California

Highway 395 stretches all the way from Southern California to Yosemite, a dry landscape that features one of the world’s hottest places, fantastic granite bouldering and climbing near Bishop, the eastern gateway to Yosemite at Mono Lakes, and specimens of the world’s oldest living trees in the White Mountains across Owens Valley.

  • Tuolumne Meadows: Yosemite’s eastern portal features serene meadowlands beneath Cathedral Peak.
  • Mono Basin National Scenic Area: At the intersection of Highway 395 and Highway 120 out of Yosemite, Mono Lake is a refuge for migratory birdlife and tufa towers, unique geological formations on the shore of this saline lake.
  • June Lake Loop: This year-round destination is a great stop for a variety of adventures. June Mountain Ski area is an excellent winter destination, while summer months are excellent for trout fishing and hiking in the area.
  • Mammoth Rock Trail: The Mammoth Lakes Basin features a wide range of lovely hiking trails for all fitness levels, including Mammoth Rock and its optional Class 3 scramble to the summit.
  • Lake Sabrina: Especially photogenic in the fall during the aspen turn, Lake Sabrina offers the opportunity to rent kayaks or canoes to paddle in its waters. Lake Sabrina also offers a loop hike.
  • Whitney Portal: A stout first climb for inexperienced mountaineers, Mount Whitney is California’s highest point and a day-hike challenge for those with a high level of fitness. Otherwise, it’s a magnificent overnight camping trip.

Lost Coast Highway, California

California has thousands of miles of roads worthy of road trips, and amid its multitude of national parks the Lost Coast Highway is especially noteworthy. Relatively remote, it features a wild coast dotted with the 1% of old-growth redwood forests that remain since logging operations began in the 19th century.

  • Lost Coast Trail: Let’s get those restless legs moving! A 24-mile one-way (shuttle recommended) hike should do the trick.
  • Paradise Royale Mountain Bike Trail: Happen to bring your bike along? Paradise Royale is a great place for intermediate to advanced riders.
  • Redwood Campground: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, this is what I think of when camping comes up in conversation: tall trees and quiet streams. Sign me up!


Mount Lemmon's Windy Vista Point at sunset. Loreah Winlow.

Sky Island Scenic Byway, Arizona 

 It’s not all saguaro cactus and desert in Arizona. Mount Lemmon has been a sanctuary for people and animals alike for thousands of years to avoid the summer heat.

The above options are a great place to start your research for honing in on outdoor adventure-themed road trips, but the list of options doesn't end here. Discover more great destinations, campgrounds, hikes, backpacking trips, and other Outdoor Project adventures in the onX Backcountry GPS app


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