Before we left our friends Vickie & Daniel gave us the book National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways, a compilation of the best drives in the US as decided by National Geographic.
We’ve used this book quite a bit to help determine a more interesting way to get from point A to point B in some places. Other times we just land upon an awesome drive that we weren’t expecting at all.
I’ve been keeping a running list in my head of my favorite drives along the way. Here are the five most notable ones so far.
5. Iron Mountain, Route 16A, South Dakota
The drive between Wind Cave National Park and Mount Rushmore takes you through Custer State Park, where you can’t miss a massive bison herd, over rolling hills, through dense forests and huge grasslands, over several high mountain overlooks, through a few picturesque tunnels, and right up to a surprisingly impressive view of 4 presidents’ faces staring out of the mountain straight ahead.
4. Blue Ridge Parkway & Skyline Drive, North Carolina & Virginia
We drove this parkway from South (Great Smoky Mountains NP) to North (Shenandoah NP) just after peak color-changing season, but still enjoyed the incredible tunnels of orange and gold through the vast forests of the Appalachians. Many (many!) scenic overlooks provide stunning vistas of the mountains and valleys—still very impressive even to these Rocky Mountain dwellers.
3. Highway 99 from Vancouver to Lillouet, British Columbia
As soon as you leave Vancouver to the north, you’re instantly torn between views of the stunning high mountain peaks to one side and the deep inlets of the ocean fjords to the other side. British Columbia’s coast is edged with fjord after fjord, each of which is surrounded by dramatic mountains that seem to rise right out of the ocean. Along this drive you’ll pass through even more majestic mountains, roadside lakes like glass, and Western Canada’s ski mecca, Whistler.
2. Icefields Parkway, from Jasper to Banff, Alberta
We live right next to the most impressive mountains in the contiguous United States, but we were mezmerized by the Canadian Rockies. The mountains may not be as tall, but they have been magically carved by thousands of years of glaciers and rivers. The resulting landscape is so imposing and extraordinary that a stop along any section of this parkway to see the glaciers right up close will leave you breathless.
1. Highway 1 & 101, the Pacific Coast Highway, Northern California & Oregon
Starting north of San Francisco, this mostly 2-lane highway rolls over seaside hills, across meadows with happily grazing cows, next to cliffs that drop directly into the expansive ocean below, and through the most charming little coastal towns with beautiful cottages and fishing-boat-filled marinas, all the while within view of the seemingly endless Pacific Ocean. You can stop to watch the humpback whales on the sea, take a stroll on a rocky beach, or enjoy one of the many amazing crabmeat sandwiches (or Sarah’s favorite—fresh oysters). This drive will be hard to beat!