We love road trips and sometimes, it’s the actually driving that is the best part. We have put together a list of our favorite scenic and beautiful drives in the Western US. A great itinerary and road trip will take advantage of these roads through awe-inspiring locations. Some of our pics are registered as “scenic byways” or “highways” and others are just favorite drives. How many have you driven?
Going to the Sun Road
Glacier National Park, Montana
The Going to the Sun Road (or Sun Road) traverses Glacier National Park in Montana and crossed the Continental Divide and Logan Pass. At 50 miles long, this road has been registered as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark as it was the first National Park project specifically intended to accommodate automobiles. The project took 12 years to complete and cost $2.5 million. Today, you can travel this route on your own (in a vehicle shorter than 21 ft ) or through the shuttle service. The season for this route is short, as it takes almost 10 weeks to plow annually. If you want to drive this road, make sure to plan your trip to Glacier National Park between mid-July and early October.
Drive this on our Tumbleweed Glacier Itinerary.
Colorado River Scenic Byway
The Colorado River Scenic Byway that we always route our clients through spans from the town of Moab, north along the Colorado River and through Castle and Professor Valleys. The first half of the drive heading North parallels the Colorado river where you can see rafters and jet boats, navigate the river. There are many trailheads along this route and beaches that line the river, so make sure to get out and explore a little. Towards the northern end of this drive, the gorge opens up and you will see the familiar scenery that has been featured in countless westerns movies, shows and dozens of tv commercials. This section of road is 44 miles and will take you about 2 hours to explore.
Big Sur Coastal Highway
Big Sur, California
This section of Hwy 1 on the Coast of California is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the US. The famous painter, Francis McComas, described this roadway as the “greatest meeting of land and water in the world” underscoring its designation as a National Scenic Highway and a California Scenic Highway. Stretching between Carmel to the north and San Simeon to the south, the 71 mile route twists along cliffs and redwood forests allowing ample opportunities to pull over and take in the sights. The Big Sur Coast is one of the most remote locations in California with one highway to access the length. The best time of year to visit Big Sur is in the fall when the marine fog layer lifts, crowds dissipate and the weather is warm.
Drive this on our Tumbleweed California Coast itinerary.
Historic Columbia River Highway
Hood River, Oregon
When making a list of the best scenic drives in the West, we have to include the Columbia River Highway, as it was the first planned scenic roadway in the United States and is a destination unto itself. The 77 mile stretch of Hwy 30 was built over 9 years and completed in 1922. The route itself follows the Columbia River past tumbling waterfalls, fern choked hiking trails and sheer walls of basalt. You can have a chance to visit the Bonneville Lock and Dam, famous Multnomah Falls, Rowen Crest viewpoint and the quaint adventure town of Hood River. This stretch of roadway is accessible by only a 30 minute drive from Portland and you can easily spend a few days in this area.
Drive this on our Tumbleweed Ultimate Oregon itinerary.
AZ Highway 163
Monument Valley Tribal Park, Arizona/Utah
This stretch of AZ 165 is really a true scenic byway. The drive is what it’s all about. Starting in Bluff, UT, follow the roadway into the Navajo Nation and through the red rock spires and bluffs of Monument Valley. Most visitor’s pass through, but if you have time to spare, you can camp or stay in a handful of accommodations centered around the Utah and Arizona border in Monument Valley. Goulding’s is a hub with gas, food, a campground, museum and hotel. This area has long been a popular place to film movies and the striking desert backdrop will surly be familiar. This area is a great stop when traveling between Moab and the Grand Canyon or Lake Powell.
Drive this on our Ultimate Utah itinerary.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
This 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway is a loop road in Custer State Park. Bighorn sheep, elk, coyote, wild turkey, or deer can all be spotted along the trail; however, the real showstoppers here are the 1,300+ head herd of buffalo that are sure to greet you! The loop road is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, allowing 1- 2 hours to complete. Make your drive in the early morning or late evening for your best chances for a “meet and greet” with the wildlife. If you are lucky, you might encounter some “wild” burros that are descendants of a herd that once provided trail rides in the State Park.
Badlands Loop Scenic Byway
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
This 39 mile loop is really the best way to get the most out of a trip to Badlands National Park. To purely drive it, it would take about an hour between Wall and Cactus Flat, but we never suggest that. There are dozens of stops along this route including dozens of lookouts, Cedar Lodge, Ben Reifel Visitor Center and the Fossil Exhibit. The landscape itself is really on display here in the Badlands. The steep rainbow colored slopes and dry grasslands are featured in this extremely eroded landscape. Featured in films such as Nomadland and Dances with Wolves, the Badlands Loop is more than a worth detour off Interstate 90.
Drive this on our Black Hills & Badlands itinerary.
Lake Tahoe Scenic Byway
Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Driving around Lake Tahoe will hit you with stunning view after stunning view. The drive along US 50, NV 28 and US 89 is best done in a clockwise direction so you can be on the lakeside throughout the 72-mile journey. There are plenty of places to stop along the way, so allow yourself at least 3 hours to explore, if not more. Crossing through both Nevada and California, make sure to carve out some time to pull over at Emerald Lake, one of the many sandy beaches on the southwestern shore, rent a boat at Zephyr Cove or grab lunch in Tahoe City. This drive can be done year round, except for winter, when parts of the route are not plowed.
Drive this on our Yosemite & Lake Tahoe itinerary.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Kings Canyon National Park, California
Although this drive is not known as much as the others on our list, it is equally as worthwhile. Located deep in the Kings Canyon wilderness, this Scenic Byway will get you away from the crowds and off the beaten path. The byway begins in the foothills outside of Fresno and then enters the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park descending 50 miles through Sequoia National Forest, then ends at the Cedar Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. Kings Canyon is one of the deepest in North America and you will experience more than 4,000 feet of elevation change in one direction. This is an out and back route, so you can turn around whenever you would like. Be prepared to pass alpine lakes, granite features and groves of sequoias.
Drive this on our Ultimate Sierras itinerary.
We hope we have given you some inspiration to get out on some of these roadways and drive. Please reach out if you would like to start planning your road trip with Tumbleweed Travel. We can organize your RV rental and campgrounds to hotels and rental car.