A big part of an American road trip is to get your music blasting as you head out on the highway and soak up the sights and the scenery. Southwest USA, where we did our road trippin’, has no shortage of highways and byways which eat up miles of eye-popping views. Here are my top five scenic drives in America’s Southwest guaranteed to get your wheels rolling.
America’s Scenic Drives
America has a collection of 150 roads which are designated “distinct and diverse” called National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads. Each road has qualities that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations because of them. To be included each road must have at least one of the following attributes; cultural, natural, historic, recreational, archaeological or scenic. The most scenic drives of all are called All-American Roads and must have at least two of these qualities.
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Big Sur Coast Highway, California
Big Sur Coast Highway forms part of the Pacific Coast Highway which is officially known as California State Route 1 so it’s only natural that this comes first in my list. After our epic whale sightings in Monterey Bay we drove from Monterey to Big Sur. It’s one of the most famous drives in America treating road trippers to epic views of soaring cliffs, sparkling blue seas and rolling surf. You may even spot whales and sea lions. Take the 17-Mile Drive through Pebble Beach ($10 toll) for gorgeous views which include the iconic Lone Cypress. Further south is Bixby Creek Bridge, one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world. Photo tip – just after you cross the bridge (going south) there’s a pull-in area which is great for shots looking back towards the bridge.
Length: 123 miles / 198 km
Route: This scenic drive begins in Monterey, California and travels the coastline on Highway 1 to San Luis Obispo
Type: All American Road
Death Valley, California
The views as we drove through Death Valley were constantly changing from areas of parched cracked earth to shimmering mirrors of sparkling white salt deposits. There were pops of colour in the ochres of Mustard Canyon and striations of rust-red rock. Zabriskie Point dazzled with views over The Badlands of pastel pinks, golds and graphite grey colouring the undulating landscape as it rippled into the distance.
Death Valley in Eastern California is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America so avoid taking your road trip during the summer months. We were there in late September and the temperature hit 108 degrees.
Length: 81.5 miles / 131.2km
Route: Take Highway 190 from one side of the valley to the other East to West or vice versa depending on your itinerary. The byway cuts through the national park so there’s a fee of $20 per car.
Type: National Scenic Byway
Las Vegas Boulevard, Nevada
Number three in my top five drives is not to be confused with ‘The Strip’ in Las Vegas this stretch of Boulevard runs between Sahara Avenue and Washington Avenue near The Stratosphere and is the shortest in my list at under 3.5 miles. It’s one of only three urban scenic byways in the US and is worth checking out for its vintage Vegas neon signs which have been restored and installed along the roadside. You can see the Hacienda Horse and Rider at Fremont Street, Binion’s Horseshow and the iconic Silver Slipper along this byway which takes only 15 minutes to drive. Nearby is the Neon Boneyard where you can take a tour of hundreds of old hotel and casino neon signs from the fifties and beyond.
Length: 3.4 miles / 5.5 km
Where: The byway starts at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. Head south along Las Vegas Boulevard for 3.41 miles until the byway ends at the intersection of Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Type: Urban National Scenic Byway
Historic Route 66, Seligman, Arizona
No road trip would be complete without taking in a section of the Mother Road and we got our Route 66 kicks at Seligman in Arizona. Seligman fully embraces its Route 66 history and it’s allegedly the town that Pixar based the film ‘Cars’ on. The town is quirksville personified and is filled with kitsch Americana and Route 66 memorabilia. It also has it’s fair share of local characters who are more than happy to tell you their tale.
Length:1408.6 miles / 2266.9 km in total
Where: The Arizona segment of Historic Route 66 is made up of seven sections of Route 66 which don’t all join up with each other. The first section follows I-40 through Holbrook before a small section in Joseph City. The third section goes through Winslow, and the fourth through Flagstaff. The fifth section goes through Williams and the sixth is a little place in Ash Fork. Finally, there is a long section heading west on SR 65 from Seligman to Topock.
Type: All-American Road and National Scenic Byway
Red Rock Scenic Byway, Sedona, Arizona
There are two Sedona drives that form part of America’s Scenic Byways; The Red Rock Scenic Byway and the Red Rock Loop. The smaller Loop is north of the town and the Scenic Byway is south on the way to Oak Creek but both are easily accessible and well worth driving. The town is surrounded by a stunning landscape of red rock buttes, rust coloured pinnacles and sandstone columns set against clear blue skies. The sandstone rock glows in the sunshine and it’s worth taking your hiking boots and getting out into the landscape to soak up the positive energy that the area is said to emit. It can be especially felt at Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte in the picture above on the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Read more about our vortex experience in Sedona.
Length: 14 miles / 22km in total (Red Rock Loop 7.5 miles / 12.1 km)
Where: The Red Rock Scenic Byway begins in the town of Sedona (US 89A from Flagstaff and I-40/I-17). Follow the AZ 179 from Sedona south to Oak Creek where the drive finishes. Some parking areas in the Red Rock Loop need a $5 parking permit.
Type: All-American Road and National Scenic Byway
Well, those are my top five scenic drives in the Southwest USA and I think they were all memorable for different reasons. Have you been on an American Road Trip? Which part of the US did you road trip in and what was your favourite scenic drive?
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