Newsletter, North America, Trip Reviews, USA

Ten of the Best American Scenic Byways

13/03/2017 by .
Amangiri Photo copyright Amanresorts 4

Everyone’s heard of Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, two of the greatest road trips in the USA, but there are over 100 other stunning scenic drives which needn’t take you weeks to complete. These are America’s National Scenic Byways.

To become a National Scenic Byway a drive has to fulfil one of several criteria. It can be nominated for things like scenic beauty, archaeological interest, historic or cultural interest, and other factors. Under these terms even the Las Vegas Strip has qualified a National Scenic Byway, although the vast majority are what you would expect from the term – drives through areas of exceptional natural beauty.

If you’re driving in the USA then note that there are also State Scenic Byways, and that sometimes Scenic Byways are called Scenic Highways, and don’t always have the words Scenic Byway in their name, like the Natchez Trace Parkway. Oh yes, there are also All-American Roads which, along with the National Scenic Byways, go under the umbrella description of America’s Byways.

Confused? Yes, well maybe we should settle for saying that these are all great drives with amazing views. Here in alphabetical order is my pick of ten of the best National Scenic Byways in America.

Beartooth Highway

BeartoothHwy near BeartoothPass Wikimedia Commons

The Beartooth Highway is both a National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road, but more importantly it’s been called ‘the most beautiful drive in America’. It takes you from Red Lodge in Montana, through the Beartooth Pass at 10,947 feet, and delivers you through pine forests and past mountain lakes to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The road is usually only open from about May to October.

The Driver’s Rest

Cowboy’s Lodge is in Gardiner, minutes from the entrance to Yellowstone, and although rustic in looks its four villas have all the modern comforts and some have impressive views.


Billy the Kid Trail

Billys Cabin 2

The Billy the Kid Trail is a National Scenic Byway that winds through the wooded hills of New Mexico, in the shade of the Sierra Blanca Mountains. It was a trail that William Bonney, better-known as Billy the Kid, was familiar with. It includes the Lincoln County Prison, where he stayed after his arrest by Sherriff Pat Garrett.

The Driver’s Rest

The 4-star Ruidoso River Resort  is right on the Ruidoso River and its condo apartments provide stylish home comforts in a mountain location.

Blue Ridge Parkway

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Part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which in turn are part of the Appalachians, the Blue Ridge Parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. Safe to say that if you’re into mountains then this 469-mile drive through Virginia and North Carolina is for you.

The Driver’s Rest

Beauchamp House at the Montfair Resort Farm  offers privacy, stunning views, a front patio with Adirondack chairs, fishing, use of canoes on the lake and a wonderful quiet setting near the Shenandoah Valley.

Utah’s Scenic Byway 12

Highway 12 Scenic Byway Red Canyon 2008 Steve Greenwood

Given the title A Journey through Time, Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 starts in the little town of Torrey and then winds through wooded forests with views of Boulder Mountain (11,317 feet) which stands above the Dixie National Forest. The road takes you to Bryce Canyon National Park and through the Red Canyon, to see those stunningly dramatic Utah rock formations.

Image (c) Steve Greenwood

The Driver’s Rest

The 5-star Amangiri is an ultra-stylish contemporary hotel which seems to be an organic part of the landscape and which offers free guided desert hikes.


Chinook Scenic Byway

Chinook Pass Fall Colors

This drive of almost 100 miles along the Chinook Scenic byway takes you through the forests and canyons of Washington State. The first stretch follows the White River and then goes into Mount Rainier National Park, with terrific views of Mount Rainier, the state’s highest mountain at 14,411 feet. The road leaves the National Park through the Chinook Pass which is closed in winter, so May till November is your window of opportunity to do this one.

The Driver’s Rest

The Alta Crystal Resort is just outside the northeast entrance to Mt Rainier National Park, in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Its Honeymoon Cabin offers a private luxury retreat.

Death Valley Scenic Byway

DeathValley Dunes5 Wikimedia Commons

This Scenic Byway goes through Death Valley National Park and a great way to enjoy it is by driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas, which also takes you, in total contrast, through the Sequoia National Park. On the Death Valley stretch is the mesmerising desert scenery of rocks and sand dunes, and you’ll also pass through the lowest, the driest and the hottest places in the United States. This is one where you really have to research the weather and time your drive. In 2001, for example, there were a record-breaking 154 consecutive days where the temperature did not fall below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some summer!

The Driver’s Rest

With restaurants run by star chefs Gordon Ramsay and Guy Savoy, and a Nobu Restaurant, the Augustus Tower at Caesars Palace is one of the most luxurious stays on the Las Vegas Strip.


Florida Keys Scenic Highway

Florida Keys Scenic Byway Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Keys Scenic Highway is a unique and truly spectacular drive from Key West to Key Largo. Its 110 miles link 43 of the 1700 islands that make up the Florida Keys, so you alternate from driving over the ocean to driving over the keys, and given Florida’s reputation as the Sunshine State there’s a strong chance you’ll be doing it under bright blue skies and over dazzling water. Then when you get to the end you get to turn round and do it again.

The Driver’s Rest

Casa Marina  in Key West is a historic oceanfront hotel which opened in 1920 and whose Oceanfront Suites have private balconies.

Natchez Trace Parkway

Natchez Trace Parkway Clinton Mississippi Wikimedia Commons

One of the most delightful drives in the USA, the Natchez Trace is for those who would like to travel back in time to a golden age of driving. For the most part the speed limit is 50mph, apart from a stretch where it’s down to 40mph.  It takes you at this leisurely pace for 444 miles through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, through a relaxing rural landscape where time seems to have been forgotten.

The Driver’s Rest

The Parkway starts just outside Nashville where the Gaylord Opryland Resort is a must for music fans. Its atrium definitely has the wow factor, there are numerous restaurants, bars and cafes, and it’s walking distance from the Grand Ole Opry if you want to take in a show.

Seward Highway

Seward Highway Wikimedia Commons

The Seward Highway may only run for 125 miles, between Seward and Anchorage in Alaska, but they are 125 of the most scenic miles you’ll find. The road was only finished in 1951, and takes you through varied landscapes of meadows and mountains, through forests and alongside fjords. You might see whales, seals and otters, or when going through the forests look for bears and moose. Few drives anywhere in the world can provide such contrasting opportunities.

The Driver’s Rest

Book a Harbour View room at the Harbor 360 Hotel in Seward, which gets its name from the 360-degree views of Seward Harbor and the mountains of Alaska all around.

Top of the Rockies


Starting in the upscale ski and resort town of Aspen, the Top of the Rockies National Scenic Byway only runs for about 75 miles (with an optional extension) but as most of that is at a height of over 9,000 feet it justifies its name.  It isn’t just about breathtaking mountain views, though, as it passes through historic mining communities including Leadville. At 10,152 feet this is the highest incorporated city in the USA. The drive heads north through the Colorado Rockies, crossing the Continental Divide twice, and ends near another renowned ski resort, Vail.

The Driver’s Rest

The Four Seasons Resort in Vail is a modern luxury resort hotel that stands at the foot of Vail Mountain.

Featured image (c) Aman resorts.

Do you agree with Mike’s choices?  If you have your own preferred byways then let us know about them!

Tell me more about Ten of the Best American Scenic Byways

You can find a full list of National Scenic Byways on the Federal Highway Administration’s official website.

Specialist fly-drive operators to the USA include Trailfinders , American Sky for motorhomes  and Exsus for luxury fly-drives with special touches


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