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Carly Manning | 06.14.2019

There’s nothing quite like the open road. Windows down, music up, the wind in your hair, and the freedom to roam wherever it takes you. Road tripping is one of the best ways to see the glorious beauty this continent has to offer, which is why we’ve rounded up some of the best North American adventure highways and scenic byways to help you plan the ultimate summer road trip.

 


A sailboat abandoned at Smathers Beach following a hurricane in 2017. Erik Jarvi.

The Overseas Highway, Florida Keys, Florida

Distance: 133 miles

Also known as U.S. Highway 1 or “the highway that goes to the sea,” this is one of the most unique roads in the country and nothing short of spectacular! Worries fade away as you leave the hustle and bustle of Miami behind and head south toward the relaxed city of Key West. Surrounded by vibrant turquoise water, you’ll cross a series of 42 bridges connecting each of the Florida Keys, including the epic Seven Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world.

While you’re passing through:

  • Curry Hammock State Park: Created in 1991, the park is an ecological haven for mangrove swamps, hammock trees, and many of the Florida Keys' iconic animals. It's a good place for birdwatchers, fishermen, and beach-goers
  • Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge: The perfect place to paddle. Stretching from north of Marathon to north of Key West, the refuge includes miles and miles of unique coastal habitat.
  • Smathers Beach: A half-mile white sandy beach along Key West's Atlantic coast. It is the island's premiere public oceanfront, and it is easily accessible for a day of fun in the sun.

 


Unique landforms of Badlands National Park at Deer Haven. Chad Hellan.

Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway, South Dakota

Distance: 31 miles

This road trip may be on the shorter side, but it sure packs a punch. The little two-lane road weaves through the steep canyons, cliffs, multi-colored spires and grasslands of Badlands National Park. If you feel like stretching your legs, jump out at any of the eight trails and 15 overlooks along the way.

While you’re passing through:

  • Deer Haven: the famous and only wooded area in Badlands National Park that supports plenty of wildlife. Camp where you like and enjoy the views.
  • Castle Trail + Medicine Root Trail Loop: Nearly all of Badlands National Park is open to off-trail hiking and backpacking, but if you're looking for a well-marked trail to guide you on your excursion, the Castle Trail and Medicine Root Trail Loop is hard to beat.
  • Wind Cave National Park: Known for its calcite formations called boxwork, 95 percent of the world's boxwork formations are found in Wind Cave.
  • Rankin Ridge: one of Wind Cave’s best trails offering expansive views of the easterly edge of the Black Hills.

 


The Diablo Lake Overlook in North Cascades National Park. Brandon Fralic.

Cascade Loop Scenic Highway, Washington

Distance: 440 miles

Despite being located only than 2 hours from Seattle, North Cascades National Park is one of the least visited in the country. It’s certainly not for a lack of stunning scenery, so escape the crowds and check out the hidden gem that is the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway. This grand road trip is really just Washington showing off as you journey through jagged mountain peaks, fruit orchards, alpine lakes, and lush evergreen forests.

While you’re passing through:

 


Stunning views of the Canadian Rockies at Dolomite Pass. Kevin Murray.

Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada

Distance: 144 miles

This beautiful parkway through the Candian Rockies takes you past some of the most spectacular scenery in Canada, and even the world. If Gatorade blue glacier-fed lakes are your thing, then make sure you hit this one up in the summertime before they freeze over. This road passes through or close by four National Parks - Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho, and Banff. We suggest giving yourself plenty of extra time to allow for all those photo ops along the way. The wild beauty here is simply astounding!

While you’re passing through:

  • Dolomite Pass: An accessible way to see expansive views of huge alpine lakes, old-growth forest, fields full of wildflowers, wildlife, and a rugged moonscape.
  • Mosquito Creek: Even during the busier summer season, this trail receives less traffic than other sections of Banff National Park.
  • Johnston Canyon: A gorgeous walk through a narrow canyon with intimate views of Johnston Creek before it converges with the Bow River. Expect crowds.

 


One of the waterfalls on the Twin Falls Hike. Tyson Gillard.

Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii

Distance: 64 miles

A drive through straight-up paradise, the Hana Highway is popular for a damn good reason. This epic road trip along the east coast of Maui has multiple sights and stops along the way including black sand beaches, bamboo forests, and breathtaking waterfalls. Set out early enough, and you’ll be able to beat the crowds to enjoy these sights all to yourself. It’s also a really fun road to drive, winding through 60 crazy curves and crossing 59 bridges.

While you’re passing through:

  • Wailua Falls: Widely renowned as Maui’s most-photographed waterfall.
  • Pools of Ohe’o Gulch: Of all of the adventures within the Haleakalā National Park, the pools are probably the most legendary.
  • Twin Falls Hike + Wailele Farm: Three (not two!) waterfalls and the Wailele Farm stand, one of the best snack stops on the Hana Highway.
  • Hana Bay Beach: Arguably the best place for swimming along Maui’s east shore.

 


McWay Falls and the Pacific Ocean from an iconic overlook. Patrick Mueller.

Pacific Coast Highway, California

Distance: 140 miles

There are no shortage of things to do and sights to see in California but driving the Pacific Coast Highway should be right up there on your list. If you’ve got time to explore the epic 655 miles from San Francisco to San Diego then go for it! For those who aren’t quite as lucky but still want a good dose of the Cali coast, we suggest taking on San Fran to Big Sur. This dramatic coastline is home to must-see sights such as Bixby Creek Bridge, McWay Falls, and the elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park.

 


Wildflower-filled meadows and a rugged skyline at Bliss Pass. Stephanie Keene.

Beartooth Highway, Montana + Wyoming

Distance: 68 miles

Experience jaw-dropping scenery on this classic northwest road trip. The Beartooth Highway seriously delivers with thrilling hairpin turns and switchbacks, wildlife galore, and epic mountain vistas. This is pure #nofiltersneeded natural beauty! The open road will lead you right to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. This highway is closed during winter and intermittently at other times due to weather, so make sure you do your research before setting off.

While you’re passing through:

  • Rock Creek Vista Point: Driving south, the first taste of the forest views to come.
  • Bliss Pass: An extraordinary trek through striking wildflower meadows and up to a mountain pass with unique vantage points of upper Slough Creek and Pebble Creek.
  • The Thunderer: On the outskirts of Lamar Valley, famously known for its plentiful wildlife inhabitants, they can be seen here along an off-trail trek to an Absaroka summit.

 


Layers on layers of ruddy rock in Utah's Capitol Reef National Park. Denis LeBlanc.

Highway 12, Utah

Distance: 124 miles

Some of the best landscape in the southwest, Highway 12 is a red rock-lover’s paradise! Marvel at colorful ancient geological formations and breathtaking views as you travel through Utah’s Wild West. Highlights, of course, include the two national parks you’ll pass by—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon—as well as three equally impressive state parks at Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Anasazi State Park Museum.

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