On the Road
While many travelers are familiar with more well-known road trips across America such as Route 66 and California's Highway 1, the country is dotted with a wealth of under-the-radar alternatives that offer plenty of excitement with less mileage. So when you're looking to hit the road for some new discoveries — but don't have time for a long cross-country voyage — remember you've got options.
Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway
This roughly 150-mile loop starts approximately 40 miles north of Albuquerque and winds its way east toward Santa Fe through the scenic Santa Fe National Forest and Valles Caldera National Preserve. You'll spot towering volcanic cliffs rising above the path of the Jemez River, plus a colorful dam and hot springs pools.
Wisconsin Highway 57
Extending north from Milwaukee up the coast of Lake Michigan, this 191-mile roadway deposits travelers at the northern tip of Wisconsin's intoxicating Door County peninsula. Often referred to as the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," Door County is packed with parks and beaches that provide plenty of opportunities to get out of the car and breathe in the fresh lake air.
High Peaks Scenic Byway
This 30-mile scenic byway explores some of the most stunning terrain in New York's almost incomprehensibly massive 6.1 million-acre Adirondack Park. Also known as New York State Route 73, the byway passes through more than 40 of the highest peaks in the region as it makes its way southeast from the laid-back resort town of Lake Placid.
Historic Hills Scenic Byway
This laid-back 105-mile route traverses abundant historic sights in the rolling hills of southeast Iowa, extending west from the town of Donnellson. Along the way, you'll pass through 15,000 acres of public land including two state forests, three state parks, and parts of the Des Moines River. Be sure to snap photos of Iowa's oldest courthouse, a log cabin church from the 1850s, and Iowa's only Civil War battle site — the northernmost battle of the war.
Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway
With rugged canyons and vibrant red-hued mesas, this roughly 42-mile trail shows off a landscape one might not immediately associate with the state of Kansas. Proving that not all of the Jayhawk State is flat farmland, this southern Kansas route heading west from the town of Medicine Lodge also features a wealth of Native American historic sights and ample outdoor recreation near Coldwell Lake.
St. Croix Scenic Byway
With nearly two dozen scenic byways, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is a highly underrated road trip destination. Among the state's best options is the 124-mile St. Croix Scenic Byway starting at Point Douglas outside Minneapolis and extending north along the path of the beautiful St. Croix River to the town of Sandstone. Watch as the wild river valleys in the south transition into more rugged bluffs as you head north.
Big Smoky Valley Scenic Drive
Most people associate Nevada with desert, but this 100-mile stretch of State Route 376 in central Nevada tells an entirely different story as it introduces adventurous road trippers to the state's Big Smoky Valley. You'll have plenty of room to yourself as you pass through the little-visited Arc Dome Wilderness flanked by mountains such as the 11,781-foot Arc Dome.
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New Hampshire Coastal Byway
Yes, there is a coast in New Hampshire. And while its 18-mile coastline is the shortest of any state, it packs a lot of punch into a short distance from Seabrook to Portsmouth. Connecting 10 units of the state park system including the iconic Hampton Beach State Park, this short but sweet one-hour cruise is an instant mental reset.
Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway
Less than two hours north of New York City, this 52-mile route has long been providing a nature escape for weary New Yorkers. With most of the route extending along New York State Route 28, the byway passes a number of cute towns and offers plenty of options for side trips to see sights such as the scenic Ashokan Reservoir and world-famous town of Woodstock.
Wichita Mountains Byway
Observe wild bison from out your window as you navigate this 93-mile jaunt through Oklahoma's highly underrated Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and the scenic valleys of the 550-million-year-old Wichita Mountains. While only around 2,400 feet in elevation, these rugged beauties provide the perfect environment for quieting your mind after weeks cooped up indoors.
Related:Route 66: Then and Now
Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway
Hidden in the often-overlooked northeast corner of Utah hides the stunning natural wonder that is the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. The 200,000-acre outdoor wonderland of canyons and forests carved by the Green River is best enjoyed along this stunning 82-mile road trip from the town of Vernal north to the Wyoming border, passing through Ashley National Forest.
Winding 22 miles through an endless amalgamation of high-altitude mental therapy, this lesser-known Colorado road trip just outside Breckenridge is something of a local secret. The hour-long drive tops off at 11,481 feet and offers ample opportunities for hiking right along the side of the road, allowing travelers to marvel at the sun-soaked mountains and lakes below while listening to the soft sounds of aspen trees shimmering in the wind.
Mirror Lake Scenic Byway
One of Utah's highest roads reaches an elevation of 10,687 feet as it crisscrosses through the massive Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest from the town of Kamas (15 miles east of Park City) to the Wyoming border. Picturesque waterfalls and pristine lakes dot the landscape as you traverse the forested valleys of the largely undiscovered Uinta Mountains.
North Carolina, Tennessee
This lesser-known, more recently completed 43-mile national scenic byway showcases the best of the border region between western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee as it makes its way up 5,400-foot mountain peaks on the North Carolina side before carving through the heavily forested Tennessee backcountry. With sweeping views and little traffic, driving this road is basically like being in a car commercial.
Copper Country Trail
This 47-mile scenic byway explores the history and scenic beauty of one of America's most underrated natural treasures: Michigan's Upper Peninsula. While investigating the area's rich history of copper mining, don't forget to take side trips to nearby state parks and gorgeous coastal overlooks dotted throughout Michigan's wild and rugged Keweenaw Peninsula.
Amish Country Byway
Turn off your phone and unplug from modern life for a while as you meander this 76-mile route through rural Ohio. The rolling hills and pastoral landscapes will give you a sense of a bygone era which continues to reject modern convenience to this day, dotted with plenty of historic sights related to Amish and northern Appalachian culture.
Sky Island Scenic Byway
This short scenic drive north of Tucson packs a lot of action into just 27 miles. Climbing more than 6,000 feet as it passes through several distinct landscapes from the Sonoran Desert to the Santa Catalina Mountains, this unique winding roadway allows visitors the chance to experience all four seasons in just one trip.
Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway
This 112-mile stretch of scenic beauty tucked away in the northwestern corner of South Carolina outside the endlessly charming city of Greenville follows an ancient two-lane Cherokee path through forested mountains and rolling hills at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From waterfalls and state parks to small towns and peach orchards, this road has it all.
Talimena National Scenic Byway
This peaceful 54-mile meander through southeast Oklahoma and western Arkansas crests at the highest point between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains, offering visitors A-plus mountain vistas as far as the eye can see. Be on the lookout for the occasional black bear, roadrunner, and other wildlife as you pass through a number of state parks, national forests, and other wilderness areas.
Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway
Hello, beautiful. This untamed 61-mile treasure located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park is an under-the-radar gem for adventure seekers. With no shortage of mountain vistas, glacial valleys, and giant sequoias at a top elevation of 8,700 feet, this route passes through the "California Alps" in their most natural state.
Florida Black Bear National Scenic Byway
While the alligator is the most-well known of Florida's animal inhabitants, the Florida black bear can often be spotted near the side of this 116-mile hidden gem in central Florida north of Orlando. Winding through the unique sand pine environment of Ocala National Forest, this scenic jaunt will have you looking at the Sunshine State in a whole new way.
Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway
Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia
Extending from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Monticello, Virginia, this 180-mile drive claims more historic sights than any other as it spans three states along the road "Where America Happened." From Civil War trails and wineries to battlefields and historic downtowns, you won't have to travel far to get an intimate glimpse into the creation of the country.
North Shore Scenic Drive
This 154-mile byway follows the shoreline of Lake Superior from the highly underrated town of Duluth, Minnesota, to the Canadian border. Along the way, you will pass through seven state parks with access to the massive Superior National Forest and quaint resort towns such as Grand Marais and Lutsen. Streams, waterfalls, bluffs, and endless coastal beauty abound.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
This stunning 66-mile stretch of road starts just outside Bend, Oregon, as it winds its way through central Oregon's pristine Deschutes National Forest. With more than 150 alpine and high volcanic lakes in the region including the picturesque Sparks Lake and Hosmer Lake backed by the snow-capped mountains of the Cascade Range, there's scarcely a bad view in sight.
Outer Banks Scenic Byway
This road passes through 21 coastal villages along a 138-mile stretch of romantic barrier islands that are the Outer Banks off the coast of North Carolina. Packed with stunning beaches, quiet nature preserves, historic lighthouses, and charming small towns, the road also offers you the option of hopping a couple ferries to keep the exploration going.
Alabama's Coastal Connection
Crank "Sweet Home Alabama" at top volume with the windows down as you cruise this 130-mile stretch of Alabama coastline through an array of landscapes from small towns to wildlife preserves. Looping around Gulf State Park and Shelby Lakes, the route also passes the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.
Highland Scenic Byway
This 43-mile excursion travels through an undeveloped portion of Monongahela National Forest in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The paved two-lane road is short on people but high on views of the mountains and valleys of the Allegheny Highlands that surround the roadway, which also passes a number of scenic overlooks, creeks, and lakes.
Creole Nature Trail
This 180-mile jaunt through the unique wilderness of southwest Louisiana offers an up-close look at the culture and landscapes of the "Louisiana Outback." Winding through a variety of wildlife refuges populated by birds, alligators, and other creatures of the swamp, the All-American Road also offers detours to area lakes and Gulf of Mexico beaches.
Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway
Traverse the northernmost section of the U.S. mainland along this 61-mile cruise perched on the northwest corner of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Also known as State Route 112, this road trip offers opportunities for everything from eagle and whale watching to Native American cultural exploration, so you'll want to leave yourself plenty of extra time.
The Death Drive
Extending 120 miles from Las Vegas to the border of Death Valley National Park, the Death Drive is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the Vegas Strip. Dotted with funky biker bars and abandoned ghost towns as it makes its way through Desert National Wildlife Range and the rugged wilderness around 11,916-foot Mount Charleston, this road will have you seeing Nevada in a whole new light.