Best Scenic Drives
If you’re thinking of taking a road trip on the highways and byways of America then these scenic routes are some of my favourites to navigate. Having spent nine years travelling the back roads in North America as a former adventure tour guide, I’ve come to the realisation that the USA has some of the most spectacular road trips anywhere in the world. It’s the allure of the open road and the “unknown” that lurks in the shadows that brings me back time and again. So, here are five routes that I think you’ll enjoy once you get out on the open road.
The best way to go about driving these routes is to hire a car or an RV (recreational vehicle - what we call a campervan) from a company like El Monte RV, who have a variety of rental locations across the USA. You can also hire a GPS, or do what I do and pick up a new Rand McNally road map for about US$10 from most gas stations or Target stores. Just remember to stay to the right hand side of the road and enjoy the journey…the memories will last forever. 1 Highway 1 – Santa Monica to Carmel, California This route can be driven from either direction in two or three days, however most people begin their journey on Highway 1 in Santa Monica. Your first stop should be the rich playground of Santa Barbara, sometimes known as the American Riviera, a place that’s famous for it’s beautiful Mediterranean like climate and expensive homes, it’s beaches and the Santa Barbara Pueblo Mission, built in 1786. Further north you’ll pass through Pismo Beach and Morrow Bay where otters and sea lions laze on the Pacific shoreline. It really starts to get incredibly beautiful north of San Simeon where the well-known California attraction, Hearst Castle, lures tourists inside it’s marbled walls. The road then starts to twist, spiral and bend in and out of windswept bays before you begin climbing high into the cliffs of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range. Before you know it you’ll arrive under a canopy of giant redwoods in Big Sur where there are numerous, luxury resorts, campgrounds and motels. The next day is a 45-minute drive into the small but popular town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, home to Clint Eastwood and many famous gallery artists.
2 Going to the Sun Highway, Glacier National Park, Wyoming This is Rocky Mountain country and this aptly named route, built in 1933, is all it’s made out to be and more. Your starting point will be either Kalispell or Whitefish before you enter Glacier National Park. Your first stop will likely be the campground just inside the lip of the park at Apgar, on the shores of Lake McDonald…once home to Kutenai Indians. The park boasts 50 glaciers, rugged wilderness mountains, glistening lakes, river canyons and lots of grizzly bears. The 52-mile route with numerous lookout points switches back and forth on the ascent before reaching Logan Pass on the Continental Divide at 6, 680 feet (2,030 m). This is the only place in America where it’s waters flow to the Pacific, Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of feet below is the glacial valley, shaped like a well-worn saddle; thousands of feet above high, snow-covered mountains dominate the skyline. It is only open early June to mid October. 3 Historic Route 66, Arizona As you travel part of Route 66 in Arizona you’ll find some authentic and historic Route 66-era, hotels, motels, trading posts and gas stations, many of them lovingly restored and preserved. Most of this route is now designated Interstate 40 so it is worth ‘side-tracking’ off to small towns when possible, to visit portions of the old Route 66. Starting on the edge of California at a town called Needles make your way through Fort Mojave Indian Reservation to visit the small mining town of Oatman, in the high mountains, on some of the original Route 66. Eventually you’ll drop down into Kingman where just out of town you can pick up Route 66 again taking you out to Peach Springs and the Hualapai Indian Reservation, where you can take a one day Colorado River rafting trip or experience the Grand Canyon SKYWALK in an area know as Grand Canyon West. From Peach Springs there are more stretches of Route 66 before you eventually reach the Arizona town of Flagstaff, which is worth staying overnight.
4 Miami to Key West, Florida This is a drive I first did in 1980 and I must have driven it a dozen times since and I never tire of it. The hardest part is escaping all the Miami traffic and the strip malls and stores that line the route for the first 25 miles (40 km). Then you have 100 miles (160 km) or so to lazily drive between some of the most beautiful islands in the Continental USA. The trip can be covered in about 3 - 4 hours depending on traffic but I suggest you stop off enroute to lap up the laid-back lifestyle that has been adopted here. I’ve always camped at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo, as the coral reef here is great for kayaking, diving or snorkelling. Marathon Key is also a worthy rest stop but the highlight is always Bahia Honda State Park, where you can camp right on the water’s edge. The rest of the trip to Key West will entice you to try a little fishing, some of the best in the States. Plan on spending at least three days in Key West at the end of your trip, as it really is the end of the road. 5 Zion Canyon National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Just entering Zion National Park will whet your appetite for what follows. Located 300 miles (480 km) south of Salt Lake City, this little treasure is perfect to get a road trip started on. Watchman Campground is just inside the entrance. From here you can get shuttle buses to access the canyon proper. If you have time for just one hike make it to the top of Angels Landing and all will be stunningly revealed below. The next day head west driving through the single lane 1.1 mile (1.76 km) tunnel, built in 1930, that cuts through a range of strikingly bright red, orange and powdery white sandstone deposits. Switchbacks take you through a maze of fabled vermillion coloured rock formations before you drive to higher elevations on Route 89 before eventually turning west onto Route 12 to Bryce Canyon. Here you have the options of staying in motels, National Park campgrounds or private campgrounds.
St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park