We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the very best road trips aren’t about the destination.
Especially in the RV world, it’s all about the journey — and making that trip as memorable, comfortable, and beautiful as possible. Seeking out the scenic view has been a road trip tradition since road trips were a thing. In fact, that’s one of the most attractive aspects of road tripping in the first place: You actually have the time (and are generally traveling slowly enough) to take in the beauty of the road you’re traveling. Don’t get us wrong, the views out of an airplane window can be beautiful… but it’s hard to pick out individual details from 35,000 feet!
Here at RVshare, we think RVing goes hand in hand with taking the back roads, the slow roads, the roads that don’t necessarily get you where you’re going fast… but which you’ll always remember. And many of the roads we’re about to talk about are so beautiful, you’ll be glad they aren’t getting you anywhere fast. In fact, you may just wish they went on even longer!
In this post, we’re going to talk about how to plan a road trip with scenic driving as a priority, as well as a few things to note about RV road tripping in particular. We’ll then go on to list a few of the very best scenic roads in America, from short (but stunning) jaunts to epic, hundred-mile journeys.
Along the way, we’ll give you all sorts of hints, tips, and tricks for making your upcoming RV trip the very best it can be. We’ll help you learn how to save money on the road, figure out how to choose a destination in the first place, and get a one-up on the stuff every old-hat RVer wishes they’d known before they first stuck the key in the ignition.
So buckle up, campers! It’s time to hit the road. And while it may not be a short journey, it’s definitely going to be a good one.
How to Become an Amazing Scenic Road Trip Planner
Even if you’re a seasoned pro at planning out epic road trip itineraries, you may be at a bit of a loss when it comes to figuring out the most scenic ways to get there. After all, for many road trip routes, the metric for a “good drive” isn’t the view so much as how fast it gets you there.
So if you’re playing itinerary maker and looking to take a trip on the slower, more sightly side, you may be wondering, “How do I plan my road trip without missing out on the most beautiful US highways?” Your road trip map may look a whole lot different if you’re prioritizing allure over alacrity.
The best way is to start by planning a trip just as you normally would: deciding what kind of trip you’re interested in, what kinds of vacation activities you want to do, and coming up with a list of potential destinations based off that information. Once you have an idea of where you’re going, then you can get serious about figuring out the best way to get there — or scenic byways to check out once you arrive. For example, many of the country’s national parks have designated scenic routes within the park boundaries or very close by, which may or may not require you to pay the park entrance fee to access. Even if there’s not a way to get where you’re going that’s both beautiful and useful, chances are there’s some back road in the area that offers a slower-paced look at your destination’s surroundings.
Along with researching the highways and byways within state and national parks, you can also run simple internet searches for “scenic byway + [your destination]” or “scenic drive + [target area zip code].” There are also lots of amazingly helpful road trip planning apps, like Roadtrippers, which make it super easy to plan your route while simultaneously discovering all sorts of cool sites, attractions, restaurants, and other diversions to stop at along the way.
RV Travel: What You Need to Know
One thing’s for certain: when it comes to taking a leisurely, scenery-heavy road trip, an RV is the way to go. (And yes, we say that all the time about any kind of travel… but think about it. The whole point of an RV is that you have your very own private bungalow along with you, so you can easily stop anywhere that looks interesting or extend your stay without a worry in the world!)
But as wonderful as it is to see those sweeping vistas through your RV’s gigantic, picture-window-like windshield, there are a few things you need to know ahead of time to have a successful RV road trip — even if you’ve had plenty of great road trips before in smaller vehicles and regular cars. For instance, even though traveling in an RV can save you a boatload on hotel costs, there are other expenses to consider, like gas, food, and campsite accommodation fees.
That’s right: it’s not always as simple as pulling your rig over to the side of some stunning road and making that epic view into tomorrow’s sunrise scene. Many campsites require nightly fees, even if they don’t offer many amenities or hookups — and at resort-style campgrounds with lots of features set in high-demand tourist areas, you might be paying as much as $100 per night!
There are a number of ways to cut down on the amount of cash you spend on simply spending the night. For instance, although they often do have some fees associated with them, public campgrounds in state and city parks are often much more affordable than privately-owned ones, and many do offer hookups, though they’re sometimes limited. (Psst: Not sure about the difference between public and private campgrounds? Check out this post to learn more about the distinction — and the pros and cons of each.)
But our very best advice for campers looking to maximize their fun while minimizing their travel budget is to sign up for a Passport America membership. Yes, there are tons of different discount camping memberships out there, promising everything from cheaper gas to community events. But Passport America is the only camping club that gets you a full 50% off your campsite accommodation fees at almost 1900 campgrounds across the country — including select locations in Mexico and Canada, if your passport is up to date and in order!
Many of the very best campgrounds in the nation participate in Passport America’s steep discount program, too; we’re talking about the kinds of resorts with pools, clubhouses, organized events, mini-golf, and more. Best of all? You’ll get a full year’s membership for less than $50 — and given the cost of campsite accommodation fees these days, that figure means the membership can easily pay for itself in just a single weekend!
Another great way to save cash on your RV adventure? You guessed it: renting through the peer-to-peer market at RVshare. We get it, we’re definitely biased… but you don’t have to take our word for it. Just ask around in the camping community, and you’ll quickly discover why this unique way to rent an RV is so popular.
Here’s how it works. If you don’t already have an RV of your own, you’ll obviously need to rent one — but you’ll likely wince at the prices you see listed on the big, commercial RV rental agencies’ sites. These large, national franchises (and even some of the mom-and-pop operations!) have lots of overhead expenses to consider, including keeping the lights on at the dealership floor and hiring a reliable customer service team, along with all the other costs that go into running an RV rental business.
An owner who lists their rig on RVshare, on the other hand, is probably just looking to earn some extra cash when their vehicle would otherwise be sitting empty. Because RVshare takes care of insurance coverage and 24/7 roadside assistance, the only cost to them is the regular wear-and-tear the vehicle will undergo during the trip — and they can pass those savings on to you by renting their motorhomes and travel trailers at a fraction of the cost you’d find them listed at with the big guys.
Finally, RVshare allows you the opportunity to experience a genuine camping lifestyle, navigating the world in a cozy home-away-from-home that’s actually been used, loved, and lived in. The vehicles you find at a commercial lot are usually extremely limited in scope, and mostly still sport their bland, just-off-the-factory-floor interiors. But with an RVshare vehicle, you’ll be traveling in a mobile home with character, and you might even get the chance to try out a unique rig like a fold-out camper or an Airstream.
Looking for even more ways to save money on the road — or prepare for your very first RV trip? Here are a few articles that might help.
- 5 Super Easy Ways to Save Money on your RV Rental
- 3 Easy Ways to Save Money on your Next RV Road Trip
- 8 Clever Ways to Save Money While Traveling in Your RV
- 13 Ways Renting an RV is Not What you Imagined
- 5 Common Misconceptions About Driving a Rental RV
- 7 Easy (But Exciting!) Road Trips for the First Time RVer
- First-Time RV Setup
- How To Find The Perfect RV Rental For Your First Camping Trip
Best Scenic Drives in the USA
Alright, enough chatter about logistics. You’re looking to take the ultimate American road trip, right?
If stunning scenery is what you’re after, here are 17 of the very best US trips to consider.
1. 17-Mile Drive, California
Don’t get us wrong: You should definitely take the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur. (In fact, for best results, start in San Diego and don’t stop until Vancouver.)
But this short, privately-owned drive around the jutting coastline of Pebble Beach is lesser known, though just as stunning. Coastal cliffs on one side and snow-white sand beaches on the other, all under the perfect ever-present breeze of central coast California… how can you go wrong?
Do note, however, that admission to 17-Mile Drive does require a fee of $10.25 per vehicle, which can be paid in cash only. This price is reimbursed with a $35 purchase at most Pebble Beach Resorts restaurants, except for Pebble Beach Market.
2. Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming
Winding its way through almost 70 miles of these two mountain momma states, Beartooth Highway is a must-do if you’re visiting nearby Yellowstone. It’s an easy way to get acquainted with one of the most biodiverse landscapes in the country — and a whole lot of natural beauty, to boot. Glacial lakes, forest-covered valleys, and waterfalls await, as do mountain goats, grizzly bears, and wolves. It’s definitely worth taking the slow way in the heart of America’s first federally-preserved ecosystems!
3. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Spanning more than 400 smoky, roaming miles, the Blue Ridge Parkway may just be correct in naming itself “America’s Favorite Drive.” If you take on the entire thing, you’ll pass through two states and countless ancient mountain valleys — not to mention all the unique attractions and stops there are to make along the way. Whether you go during the lush greenery of summer or the leaf-changing transition of fall, the view is a hard act to follow.
Along with hiking, biking, and other outdoorsy opportunities, this part of the country is also well-known for its delicious, estate-grown wines and craft beers. In fact, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds right past Asheville, which has one of the highest numbers of breweries per capita in the entire country.
4. Bluebonnet Trails, Texas
Although it’s just 35 miles outside of Dallas, you may not have heard of Ennis, Texas — but if you want to see one of the most heartstopping displays of bluebonnets in the country, you may consider typing it into your GPS. Designated by the state in 1997 as the “Official Bluebonnet City of Texas,” the town is also the nexus of almost 40 miles of wildflower-strewn driving routes, bubbling over with these violet beauties each April.
Even More Gorgeous Road Trip Ideas
We’re not done yet! If you’re looking for a scenic road in America, here are just a few to pick from.
5. Death Valley Scenic Byway, Death Valley National Park, California
Lowest, hottest, and arguably most surreal: Death Valley is well known to be a land of extremes. But even if you’re not prepared to tackle this demanding landscape on foot, you can get some taste of its intensity by simply driving through it.
Spanning 81 miles of CA-190 between Olancha and Death Valley Junction, this scenic road cuts right through the heart of the National Park — for which you will need to pay an entry fee. (Psst: If you’re doing lots of National Park travel this year, consider upgrading to an annual America the Beautiful Pass; it’s only $80, or even less for certain demographics, and you’ll get into over 2,000 federal recreational sites free of charge!)
6. Florida’s Route 17 Scenic Highway
Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard about the Overseas Highway and the Seven Mile Bridge. But if you want to see what real, old Florida looks like, you’ve got to head to the center, where live oak canopies are punctuated by vast fields of farmland that are still being worked to this day.
As you cut through the heart of the state on this 60 mile drive from Loughman to Sebring, you’ll pass citrus fields, farmhouses, lakes, and cold springs — which are definitely worth taking a detour for. At 74 degrees year-round, there’s never a wrong time to take a quick dip!
7. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
Another national park scenic byway, this drive may just be one of the most famous American roads on the list. But thanks to the area’s extreme northern latitude and elevation, you’ll have to time your trip right if you want to experience it!
Because of the ice and snow that give this Montana national park its name, many parts of Glacier are inaccessible for a broad swath of the year — including its most celebrated scenic route. The road may not be entirely plowed and clear for vehicular traffic until well into July, depending on the season.
But if you visit the Crown of the Continent in the summertime, you’ll be rewarded not only with this stunning drive, but with amazing hiking opportunities revealing high alpine lakes and forests that seem brought to life from a fairy tale. Just be sure to be safe with your food and hike in groups. Northern Montana is grizzly bear country!
8. Needles Highway, South Dakota
This 14-mile stretch of South Dakota Highway 87 was actually considered “impossible” to construct by its detractors back in the nineteen-teens — but sure enough, its builders persisted, creating a winding series of sharp turns through awe-inducing granite peaks and spires. The loop is only about 30 miles south of Rapid City, tucked in the northern section of Custer State Park. Since you’ll already be paying for entry, take advantage of the area’s ample hiking, fishing, and bison-watching opportunities — herds often graze and lounge just feet from the roadside.
9. Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Known by locals as “the King of Roads,” this historic scenic byway winds its way through the gorge, past waterfalls, streams, wildflowers, and plateaus. You’ll definitely want to get out your hiking map to figure out where along the way to stop and explore on foot.
10. Lemhi Pass, Montana and Idaho
Straddling the border of two of the most mountainous states in the union, Lemhi Pass passes through the Beaverhead range, a subset of the Bitterroot section of the Rocky Mountains. It follows the continental divide, meaning it’s a whopping 7,373 feet above sea level. And although it’s fairly easily accessible from either stateside (and has actually been designated a National Historical Landmark), it is an unpaved road, which means you may need to disconnect your tow vehicle before you venture down it!
11. Loneliest Highway, Nevada
U.S. Route 50 is actually a transcontinental road, running more than 3,000 miles from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento. That means it meanders through lots of rural landscapes — but the section that knifes Nevada in half was named “The Loneliest Road in America” by LIFE magazine back in 1986, and no one could really argue.
The nickname has stuck, as has the lack of population and traffic (so far). So if you’re looking to feel like you’re all the way out there, plan this driving route on the way to or from Las Vegas or Great Basin.
12. North Cascades Highway, Washington
Washington State Route 20 is the northernmost way across the Cascade Mountain Range, and is a subsection of the larger Cascade Loop, a 400-mile tour of this unique and stunning biosphere. Lush greenery, gem-like blue lakes, and precipitous cliff faces await the brave explorer who takes this trip through the American Alps.
13. Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park, Maine
Beginning (and ending) at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center inside Maine’s famous, granite-peak-studded Acadia National Park, this 27-mile drive showcases Acadia’s lakes, mountains, forest, and its signature rocky coast. If you drive a particularly large RV, however, be forewarned: much of the route is one-way traffic only, and it does traverse some narrow passages.
The Best Road Trips for Scenic Travel
Which is the best road? The most beautiful, of course.
14. The Road to Hana, Hawaii
You may have to fly (or boat, or… swim a long way?) to get there, but once you’re in — er, on? — the Aloha State, this epic drive awaits. Plush jungle landscapes and breathtaking coastlines combine to create one of the most visually diverse and stunning driving experiences in the country, all punctuated with fascinating historical and cultural sites where you can learn more about the early days of Hawaii.
15. Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway, Colorado
This 120-mile drive through some of the most beautiful parts of consistently-stunning Colorado will wind you by pouring waterfalls, glassy lakes, and small towns dotted with interesting attractions. Creede, Colorado, for instance, has a population of less than 300 — but its Repertory Theater was named “one of the 10 best places to see the lights way off Broadway” by USA Today. Creede is also home to the Underground Mining Museum, which can help you learn more about the silver boom to which the town owes its foundation… and the hardscrabble lifestyle of the men who actually did the digging.
16. Ten Mile Drive, Rhode Island
This scenic drive may be a short one — but it packs a whole lot of beauty into its handful of miles. (Besides, what else would you expect from the smallest state in the union?)
Traversing the perimeter of the peninsula south of Newport, this drive is divided into four legs: Brenton Cove Shore, East Passage of Narragansett Bay, Ocean Drive, and Bellevue Ave. You’ll see historic homes and mansions bespeaking a gilded age, when wealthy New Yorkers would make their way south to their Rhode Island summer homes in the late 1800s. You’ll also pass the state’s stunning Brenton Point State Park, whose windswept beaches draw both amateur and competitive kite flyers.
17. The High Road to Taos, New Mexico
Yes, there are more direct routes from New Mexico’s capital to its favorite ski bowl — but this slightly longer drive is sure to show you why artists like Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keeffe found the high desert landscape so intriguing. After taking 84 north to the south end of Española, you’ll cut east on 76 to pass through the charming little town of Chimayo, before meandering through a few more small towns within the pine-filled (and decidedly un-desert-like) Carson National Forest.
Finally, you’ll arrive in Taos, where the well-known mountains loom large over the striking cut of the Rio Grande Gorge. Don’t miss a stop on the bridge of the same name — but even if you’re not normally afraid of heights, be sure to prepare your stomach.
Ready to take a Road Trip in the USA to Remember?
Here’s the thing: considering how large and lovely this country of ours is, pretty much any American road trip can be one to remember. No matter which state you start in or what destination you’ve got your sights set on, there’s a gorgeous USA road that’ll take you there — even if it does take just a little bit longer than the most direct route.
Looking for even more amazing scenic USA road trip ideas? Check out our post about the best roads in America by state — so you can slow down and enjoy the journey no matter where you are or where you’re headed.
Happy trails to you, campers. May they always be the most scenic ones available, even if they’re not the fastest! After all, it’s not a race — it’s a journey.
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