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The 6 Road Trips to Take Before You Die

We’ve talked about how to save money on a summer road trip, and the seven hottest road trips you could take.

But what about the best  road trips?

To answer that question, we’ve come up with a list of drives that we think all road warriors should take at some point in their lives. To make it doable, we limited it to roads within the U.S. And to even be considered for the list, they had to be officially recognized by the Department of Transportation as an All-American Road: a special designation for highways that are “tourist destinations unto themselves.”

So here are the six road trips we recommend you add to your bucket list:

 

1. Overseas Highway

US-Route1-Florida

Overseas Highway. Photo Source

Where:  From Homestead to Key West, Florida, a distance of 128 miles.

Why:  As the name suggests, this island-hopping stretch of U.S. Route 1 allows you to drive over land and sea. It is essentially a series of bridges, the longest of which spans almost seven miles, connecting the many islands that make up the Florida Keys. Reach Key West, and you’ve literally driven to the end (or the beginning) of the mainland U.S. highway system.

When:  Route 1 in Florida made our list of the hottest roads because of its high average temperatures; it never really cools down much there. This makes winter the ideal time to visit, as the sunshine and warm weather are a welcome change from snow and ice.

Continue on to:  You can’t drive farther than Key West, but continue north from Homestead on U.S. 1 and you’ll get to visit Miami, NASA’s Cape Canaveral, and Daytona Beach (just in time for the February Daytona 500).

 

2. Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue-Ridge-Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo Source

Where:  Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, a distance of 469 miles.

Why:  Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway is essentially a National Park all to itself, and has been the most-visited part of the National Park System every year since 1950. Meandering through the Appalachians, the Parkway is a relaxing drive through beautiful forests dotted with endless scenic overlooks, picnic areas, and hiking trails. To ensure you take your time and don’t miss anything, the top speed limit is just 45 miles per hour.

When:  During the fall, when the leaves change color.

Continue on to:  Skyline Drive, which is a continuation of the same highway. It runs through Shenandoah National Park for 105 miles, and is a National Scenic Byway in its own right.

 

3. Trail Ridge Road

Trail-Ridge-Road

Trail Ridge Road. Photo Source

Where:  Estes Park to Grand Lake, Colorado, a distance of 48 miles.

Why:  Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the U.S., and the only way to see Rocky Mountain National Park by car. With no shoulders or guardrails and steep cliffs in place of road ditches, the drive can nerve-wracking for people afraid of heights. But you’re rewarded with stunning views from the top of the world, as the road crosses the Continental Divide and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet.

When:  During the summer months only. Due to heavy snowfall, the road is closed throughout the winter and spring, and usually opens around Memorial Day.

Continue on to:  While Trail Ridge is the highest paved through road in the country, the highest paved dead-end road is at Mount Evans. The road to the Mount Evans summit reaches 14,240 feet, more than 2,000 feet higher than Trail Ridge Road, and offers views of well over 50 miles in almost all directions. The summit is about 100 miles south of either Estes Park or Grand Lake, with each drive giving you long looks at the two different sides of the Front Range.

 

4. Historic Columbia River Byway

Historic-Columbia-River-Highway

Historic Columbia River Byway. Photo Source

Where:  From Troutdale to The Dalles, Oregon, a distance of 75 miles.

Why:  This is the original, the very first planned scenic highway in the country, built 100 years ago for people driving Model T Fords. It runs through the Columbia River Gorge, a canyon up to 4,000 feet deep which has been an important route through the mountains since the days of Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail. The highway travels along the south wall of the gorge (or through it, via tunnels). Besides giving great views of the gorge and river, the road passes by several waterfalls, including the 620-foot-tall Multnomah Falls.

When:  Some waterfalls along the route only appear during the spring, which is also the greenest season in the gorge and the best time to view wildflowers along the many hiking trails.

Continue on to:  The Mount Hood Highway, a Scenic Byway with all the best views of the famous mountain. When combined with the Historic Columbia River Byway, it forms a loop that begins and ends in Portland.

 

5. Big Sur/San Luis Obispo North Coast Highway

Big-Sur-Coast-Highway

Big Sur. Photo Source

Where:  From Monterey to San Luis Obispo, California, a distance of 135 miles.

Why:  The entire Pacific Coast Highway is worth a drive, but this stretch midway between L.A. and San Francisco is considered the best of the best. It actually gets All-American Road status twice: once for the northern half (Big Sur Coast Highway), and once for the southern half (San Luis Obispo North Coast Highway). (That’s right: the southern part is the “North Coast,” and the northern “Big Sur” means “Big South.” Go figure.) The route winds its way along coastal cliffs, with impressive arched bridges leaping over many of the coastal inlets. Whales and elephant seals can sometimes be seen from the road, along with soaring redwood trees, waterfalls, lighthouses, and the famous Hearst Castle.

When:  Fog is common along the route during the mornings or late afternoons; the autumn months are most likely to give you clear views.

Continue on to:  More of the Pacific Coast Highway, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and another All-American stretch of the road in Oregon.

 

6. Seward Highway

Seward-Highway

Seward Highway. Photo Source

Where:  From Anchorage to Seward, Alaska, a distance of 125 miles.

Why:  Unless you live in Alaska, this will be the hardest road for you to get to. By car, it’s over 5,000 miles from where we started in Key West, and even from Seattle it’s a 47-hour drive to the starting point in Anchorage. Once there, though, you’ll get to see things that are hard to find in the lower 48: glaciers, beluga whales, tsunami-like tides, and about 420 million acres of unspoiled wilderness. The road is paradise for skiers, kayakers, photographers, bird-watchers, and fishermen.

When:  During the summer, unless you have a snowmobile. Seward Highway passes through the Chugach Mountains, which average 50 feet  of snowfall each year.

Continue on to:  Denali National Park, which begins about 120 miles north of Anchorage, but is so large that you don’t reach the main visitor center until you’ve traveled another  120 miles. But there you’ll see Mt. McKinley, which at 20,237 feet is more than a mile higher than the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.

Your Turn

What must-see road trip would you recommend? Tell us on our Facebook page or Twitter account.