As you make your plans to step cautiously back into the world this summer, might we suggest revisiting one of the most American of vacation pursuits: the road trip.
Taking the long way has been a time-honored tradition since even before Eisenhower laid out his interstate highway system, and with (relatively) cheap gas and the freedom to finally stretch our legs again, there’s rarely been a better time to grab the keys and make the journey your destination.
But this year, we’re doing things a little differently. Rather than setting out to piece together a compendium of drives that will meander through all the country’s must-see parks, landmarks and monuments, we set out to appeal to travelers who prefer their driving to be a bit more, ahem, spirited.
The list below is a celebration of the drivers drives, the scenic detours, the two-lane blacktops that make your hairs stand on end and tie your stomach in knots. It’s been a long year, and there’s nothing more cathartic than getting behind the wheel and reacquainting yourself with the immaculate landscapes this country has to offer.
And so we reached out to a handful of notable car enthusiasts and friends and posited them with a single query: What are your favorite driving roads, and why? To help you plan the road trip of your heel-toe-shifting, canyon-carving dreams, here are their responses, complete with suggestions on where to eat, sleep and play along the way.
“For a day full of the twisty stuff, it’s hard to beat the awesomely named Tail Of The Dragon near Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Pick up route 129 near Chilhowee Lake in Tennessee, and get ready for more than 300 white-knuckle turns. To make a luxury weekend out of it, the incomparable Blackberry Farm resort is less than an hour away.”
at Blackberry Farm. Even if you don’t plan to splurge for a stay, the cuisine — much of which draws on its Smoky Mountain heritage — alone is worth the trip.
at the Park, for a hike up Clingmans Dome, the summit of which is not only the highest point in Tennessee, but the third highest east of the Mississippi. Enjoy 360-degree views from the spaceship-shaped observation tower once you’ve arrived.
“I went to college at Stanford, which gave me access to some of California’s best driving roads. There are two incredible routes from Carmel to Santa Barbara, which is a perfect way to spend a day’s drive. Route CA-1 takes you along the coast with stunning vistas of the sea and is a quintessential California drive. Yet to really open a car up, I prefer taking the inland route US 101 for some great twisty roads with a stop at the wineries of Paso Robles along the way.”
–Devon MacNeil, vintage rally driver and Principal of WeatherTech Racing
at Il Cortile Ristorante should you find yourself in the mood for some upscale, contemporary Italian — all the ingredients are locally sourced and the pasta is made in house. Be sure to ask for their wine list, which features a lot of regional wines, picked especially to complement the fare.
in for a libation at the town speakeasy, 1122. To find it, head to Pappy McGregor’s Pub in downtown Paso Robles. Once inside Pappy’s, continue through the dining area and out onto the rear patio. After that, turn left, then again at the door and press the doorbell once.
“Skyline Drive between Rtes 33 and 64 northwest of Charlottesville is textbook though severely limited speed, and a constant rate of distracted-onlooker tourist groups can occasionally make parts of it a disappointment. But there are always great roads between Rte 66 and 34 south to Charlottesville. Basically, you could start at the Marriott Horse Ranch and drive south in any number of directions on country roads until you pass Charlottesville. Winding, smooth roads with sunshine flickering between the trees and openings that reveal vast green farmland … I wish it were neverending. Blue Ridge Mountains surround you on the horizon, hardly any traffic, and even the worst-condition roads are stellar compared to anything up north. You have everything from ‘keep your eyes glued to the road’ technical to casual country curves … and every view is perfectly picturesque. There is almost always a soundtrack/score playing in my head when I think of these routes; driving here has a rhythm to it that allows you to enjoy the endurance of the snaking roads that seem to connect and interconnect as they keep on going through.”
“When I moved to Oregon in 2017, I assumed I’d find myself living in the shadow of California. Then I started driving the state’s rugged coastline in my ‘99 4Runner, only to discover a preserved slice of the Pacific Coast Highway that’s since become one of my favorite stretches of road in the entire country. It begins in southern Oregon along the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor, where old-growth forests find solitude among steep cliffs and sea arches, and ends in the sleepy northern town of Astoria, where the mighty Columbia River meets the sea. Along the way, you’ll find quaint waterfront communities, mountainous sand dunes and iconic landmarks like Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock. Though the drive itself takes less than eight hours, I recommend stretching the journey over 3-4 days to enjoy one of the best roads of the Pacific Northwest.”
-Cameron Vigliotta, Editor, InsideHook
“One of the best driving experiences I have is driving really fast across Monument Valley in the middle of summer. Everything about it is intense, the heat, the solitude and the long straights that disappear into a heat haze. In 2018 I drove along 163, past the spot where Forrest Gump famously ran. I was being followed by a Ferrari 458 and I was almost flat out in my GT3 … we were like two jet planes screaming across the desert towards the iconic monuments. Stop at the Monument Viewing Area and stare at those things for an hour! I also highly recommend driving from Denver to the West Coast through Death Valley and Area 51.”
“From Manhattan’s West side, drive North and connect with the Palisades Parkway, a scenic but boring no-tolerance-for-speeding zone. You have several options for exits: Tiorati Brook Road (exit 16) is usually a nice intro; otherwise, going farther north and taking exit 18 to grab Seven Lakes Drive is equally nice, with long sweepers as you drive back south. Tiorati Lake is wonderful. The view from the top of Bear Mountain is great, with amazing hiking trails (the actual Appalachian Trail goes through here!). Once at Tiorati Circle, take the west exit to Arden Valley Road and the fun begins. You have a five-mile race track, several hairpin turns, sharp angles and variance, a ton of elevation changes. It’s ultimately relaxing, surrounded by dense woods as you carve through, but it’s a tiresome workout by the end, as it keeps you extra sharp at all times. This one has a warning to really watch for bikers/hikers/deer/etc. Come back when it’s not crowded! Trust me, it’s worth it, a real timeless classic.
“Take Palisades Parkway past Bear Mountain State Park and continue onto US-6E/202. Cross Bear Mt Bridge and stay right for an absolutely amazing cliffside run. It’s a very technical 3.5-mile roadway with severe downhill and off-camber turns … and a beautiful near dropoff if you’re a poseur or you haven’t serviced your brakes recently. Rock wall on one side and crazy view on the other. You definitely have to mind your line here with other vehicles and impending doom, snug in between scenic overlooks and parkway connections. And like skiing in many ways, going back up is a chore only to experience the absolute thrill of coming back down.”
at the cafe at the Bear Mountain Inn, which can be easily accessed from the Appalachian Trail. Grab a cold soda or a hot cocoa, depending on what time of year you’re visiting.
for a hike around the Bear Mountain Loop via the Appalachian Trail.
“(My wife) Kate and I now spend our summers in western North Carolina in a region blanketed with lush vegetation, an abundance of waterfalls, tunnels and scenic vistas, but best of all great roads for motoring. When we are hosting guests, our favorite loop begins in Brevard, NC (about 30 miles west of the Asheville, NC airport) and has three sections as follows:
First Section (Hwy 276): Begin (or end) at Hawg Wild BBQ in Brevard, NC and head north on Hwy 276. You’ll be climbing about 4,000 feet in the first 20 miles until you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. Points of interest on the first section include: Looking Glass Falls, Sliding Rock and Biltmore’s The Cradle of Forestry, the first forestry school in America.
Second Section (Blue Ridge Parkway): Enter the Parkway and proceed south about 15 miles to locate State Rd. 215. (At this point, if you’re interested in an ice cream break I recommend a short detour by turning north to the Pisgah Inn about 5 miles up the road.) Here you’re traversing the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the views are magnificent. There are many inviting excursions or viewing locations along this section including Skinny Dip Falls at milepost 417.
Third Section (State Rd. 215): Depart the Parkway onto State Rd 215 heading south toward Rosman. This section is all downhill with more twists, turns, streams and waterfalls. For a little scientific departure you will find The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute just south of Balsam Grove.
When you reach Hwy 64, turn left to return to your starting point in Brevard about 10 miles up the road. Estimated drive time is approximately 2 1/2 hours. Our favorite time of year is late October, but this is a drive you can enjoy all year round.”
–Ford Heacock III, Car Collector and founder of Heacock Classic Car Insurance
at The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute. Check out the planetarium or their Dark Sky Park (one of only two in the state of North Carolina) for the real thing. Plan your trip right and you may just score front row seats to a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event.
“Over the years I found myself exploring the remote roadways outside Seattle. It didn’t take long to find old-growth forests, alpine lakes, and natural deserts untouched by chaotic suburban crowds. Soon enough I was frequenting what some refer to as the Great Northern Road through Washington. Starting in Everett (just north of Seattle), head east on U.S. Highway 2 through the hemlock forests of the Cascades for hours until the landscape suddenly transforms. Dense backcountry gives way to lush farmlands and orchards as far as the eye can see. Along the way, stop in the Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth for a refreshing pint at Icicle Brewing Company and throw on hiking shoes to explore the Enchantments. Make a pit stop at Dry Falls just outside Coulee City, and wander the Brown’s Addition neighborhood to stretch your legs in Spokane. You’ll be happy you avoided the bustling crowds on I-90.”
-Cameron Vigliotta, Editor, InsideHook
“In the summer of 2018 I spent a few days driving from Vail to Napa Valley. Napa was supposed to be the end point, but after one day of rest I wanted to get to the coast. I didn’t have a route in mind but somehow stumbled upon one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever been on. The route is primarily along CA 128, which starts out as a lovely country road past vineyards. Things get more fun as the curves get tighter and tighter; there are some incredible corners that are almost banked like a race track. Eventually you end up following the road into the Navarro River Redwoods State Park, and you go from bright sunshine to an amazing canopy of giant redwoods and shaded roads. After a while you pop out at US1 on the coast, and you can drive a few miles north to the Albion River Inn. I did this one in a 2018 Porsche 911 GT3.”
for a kayak on the Mendocino coast. From mild to wild, there’s a little something for every skill set.
“I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several years of the Colorado Grand Rally in a number of vintage cars, which is one of my favorite events of the year. Though the route varies, it always takes us through 1,000 miles of incredible mountain roads which are as exciting to drive as they are to see. Route 131 from Vail to Steamboat Springs is a particularly memorable one, but a little internet sleuthing may let you find some of the guidebooks from years past to retrace the entire route.”
–Devon MacNeil, vintage rally driver and Principal of WeatherTech Racing
at Primrose restaurant once you arrive in the old-school ski town of Steamboat, where you’ll find upscale takes on cowboy favorites like Angus steak, quail and pork tenderloin.
“Whenever I needed a little stress relief from life in New York City, I would grab a proper sports car and head up the Hudson. The Saw Mill River Parkway can be a blast and the roads around Harriman State Park and Bear Mountain are a blast, but for a screensaver-worthy road a blast up Hawk’s Nest Highway in Port Jervis, NY, is a can’t miss. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes outside the city, and is a section of Route 97 which hugs a cliff along the Delaware River, which makes up the New York/Pennsylvania border. The combination of the views and hairpin turns make it worth zipping up and down a few times in both directions. Once you’ve exorcised your demons on the curves, calm your nerves and quench your thirst at the Fox N Hare Brewing Co.”
–John Munson, automotive journalist and owner of Charleston Motorcars
Good turns make for good drives, and the canyons above Los Angeles offer some great ones. A can’t-miss drive for me is Angeles Crest Road. It runs along Highway 2 north of LA, and offers plenty of switchbacks and high speed straightaways that feel lightyears away from the city. There’s rarely law enforcement, and most of the “traffic” you encounter are other sports cars or motorcyclists. There are plenty of run off areas as well which make for great photo opportunities with your cars.
–Chip Eggleton, Vintage Porsche Racer and PCA Instructor
One of the absolute best driving roads in the country is in one of the least expected places: Idaho. Old Highway 95 comprises three sections with a series of switchbacks that will test your skills as well as any alpine mountain route. You’re dead in the middle of nowhere near a Native American reservation, but a day on this road in a proper car is worth it. Head towards the town of White Bird and get off the new Highway 95 to the old one by following the signs. From there you’ll hit Old White Bird Grade and Old Winchester Grade roads, which give you some great straightaways and elevation changes as well as some nice views, but the real fun comes on the section known as The Spiral Highway near Lewiston. They say it’s the road that inspired the song “Hot Rod Lincoln,” and it’s the sort of tight turn after tight turn motorhead dreams are made of.
–Andrew Eagan, Builder and driver at A&R Autowerks
at the Wildside Steakhouse and Saloon, where you’ll find both chicken fried steak and chicken fried chicken on the menu.
at the White Bird Battlefield, the location of the first battle of the Nez Perce Flight of 1877, for a self-guided tour.
“For a drive that’s as pretty as it is exhilarating, head to MI-119 in Michigan. It runs along the shore of Lake Michigan and is known as the ‘Tunnel of Trees’ for the full tree coverage, making it a great run in the fall. While not as technical of a drive as Idaho skills wise, you can still gather plenty of speed on the long curves and straightaways. Once you’ve had your fill of the driving and the views, get a beer and some pierogi at the Legs Inn.”
–Andrew Eagan, Builder and driver at A&R Autowerks
“If you are visiting Maine from somewhere else, the best move is to fly into Boston and drive all the way up to Acadia National Park. It is an absolutely magnificent drive. You never know what kind of weather you are going to get, but no matter what, it’s beautiful. Every time that you stop there is a conversation. Everywhere you go feels like a small town.
One of the first towns you will hit is Kennebunkport, where I live. There are a lot of amazing places to stop for a bite, and people have really tried to support them during this past year. I have to recommend a stop into Musette.
The next stop is Rockland, where you go check out the museum and the Wyeth Center. There are so many things to explore. Getting back on the road you can stick with your coffee, or if you are feeling particularly adventurous with your drink options, you should check out the Maine soda Moxie. There’s a place called Graffam Bros Lobster in Rockport where you can still get it in the bottle.
One of the other crucial food destinations is Lost Kitchen, which has incredible food and is in Freedom, Maine. The rest of the trip up takes you by Moose Point State Park, and if you are in a convertible the wind will be brushing on your face.
Once you are in Acadia try to get a mountain bike and explore all the little carriage roads in the park. There is so much great mountain biking in the area. Give yourself as many days as possible, so that you can hit each of the little towns in the area, too.”
-Patrick Dempsey, actor and ambassador for Porsche Design
at Lost Kitchen, in Freedom, though reservations are made lottery style and requests are only accepted by mail. In short, plan ahead. Far ahead.
at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia to watch the sun rise. It was built in the late 1800s and is still considered one of the most picturesque lighthouses in all of Maine.
“While Texas has more than its fair share of long, flat, boring roads well watched over by highway patrolmen, the Lone Star State is also home to one of the most famous twisty loops in the nation. Head about two hours west of San Antonio into the heart of central Texas and you’ll find State Roads 335, 335 and 337, which are affectionately known to motorcyclists and driving enthusiasts as the Three Twisted Sisters. Picking 337 up near Mansfield Park in Bandera and completing the loop will give you four to six hours of scenic and technically demanding driving, depending on whether or not you factor in a stop at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum outside Vanderpool and an ice cold beer or two at the Bent Rim Grill near Leakey.”
“For decades, Motor City’s dominance in the automotive world meant most car magazines were based in the vicinity of Detroit, which led petrol-happy auto journalists all through neighboring states in search of great roads for their test drives. A longtime favorite are the curving back roads near Hocking Hills State Park, one 14-mile loop of which was so beloved by a particular magazine it’s still today known as Car and Driver Loop, about which legendary C&D writer John Phillips once scribed, ‘The driving route is maybe the best in the world, this side of the Nürburgring.’ To get there, take US-33 about an hour southeast of Columbus until you hit 664 outside of Logan. While there are a number of great roads in the area, the Car and Driver Loop consists of taking 664 to 56, and the 56 to 374, where a left turn will ring you all the way back to 664 will all of the curves, elevation changes and straightaways one would expect from the famed German racetrack. While the drive itself is scenic enough, a stop at the waterfalls in nearby Cedar Falls makes for a great photo-op.”
– John Munson
for a hike down to Old Man’s Cave. The trail is only about a mile, but it’s the best of the seven Hocking Hill trails, and steeped in local history.
“Though it gets its nickname for being a preferred shortcut for college fans to get to Razorback games in Fayetteville, this collection of turns and switchbacks through a canopy of foliage does quite resemble a porcine tail. The scenic byway through the Ozark Mountains has been named one of the top drives in the country, and this 19-mile road is well worth the visit. From Fayetteville, take 16 down to 23, then Interstate 40 over to 49 to take you back to where you started. To get the most of the road, it’s best to hit it in the morning and have it to yourself, so make an early morning breakfast stop at the Farmer’s Table Cafe, and if you fancy a dip or perhaps a bit of tubing, the Mulberry River is right along the route home.”
at the Farmer’s Table Cafe — breakfast is served all day, Tuesday-Sunday.
at the Mulberry River for some tubing. If you’re visiting in the summer months when temperatures are known to exceed 100 degrees, you’re going to want to make it a point to cool off somewhere.
“If you’ve managed to find yourself in a great car in the easternmost region of Alaska, well, we’ve got some questions. But we’ve also got a suggestion, which is to rip that car along what’s known as Top of the World Highway, a nearly 80-mile stretch that has been referred to as the most beautiful drive in the country. Beginning in the small town of Jack Wade, these wide open roads offer incredible views, elevation changes, challenging turns and endless straightaways. To get the most out of it, you’ll want to bring a passport, as about halfway through you’ll hit the literal ‘must-stop’ of the Canadian border, where Alaska Route 5 then becomes Yukon Highway 9. While the country may change, the thrilling drive most certainly doesn’t.”
“The Big Island is known for having more of the world’s climate zones in one place than perhaps anywhere on earth, and there’s a legendary road that will take you right through them, from active volcanoes to Pacific beaches. Known as Saddle Road to locals, Hawaii’s Route 200 cuts through most of the island, linking the junction of Route 190 near Waimea to the shores of Hilo. Though it ends at sea level, it reaches elevations of up to 6,765 ft along its 50+ miles, and if you can get an appointment to visit the legendary Mauna Kea Observatory, you won’t regret it it. End your drive with a Mai-Tai and some live music at the Hilo Town Tavern.”
at the Hilo Town Tavern. Order a Mai-Tai and some Hawaiian Chili Pepper Garlic wings.
at the Mauna Kea observatory for some of the best views on the Big Island. Do make sure to plan in advance, though. The observatories are technically private research facilities and not open to the public, but a trip to the summit area is still definitely worth your while.
Additional reporting by Lindsay Rogers