If cabin fever is starting to set in, we’d like to remind you of a great way to keep a six-foot distance between yourself and your fellow humans: Go take a solo drive. In our travels we’ve found some of the best roads in America, and this list has half a dozen of our favorites—roads that are not only challenging, but not overly crowded, even when people aren’t sheltering in place.
A little conscience-clearing disclaimer: If your locality is restricting non-essential travel, please obey those mandates. Also, don’t drive like a loon. Emergency services folks have more important things to do than peel you off a tree and treat you for blunt-force trauma.
Remember, you don’t have to drive at crazy speeds to have a good time—take it slow, concentrate on your technique, and enjoy the scenery and the solitude.
When the time comes to wring out the year’s best cars for our annual All-Stars Competition, we go to Palmdale, California. Our 31-mile loop starts where Elizabeth Lake Road meets San Francisquito Canyon Road. We head southeast on SanFranCan, then turn left on the brilliantly named Spunky Canyon Road. We cruise slowly through town—wait for it, wait for it—then Spunky Canyon narrows down and turns up the volume with epic curves and plenty of elevation changes. The road T-bones Bouquet Canyon Road, where we turn left for some high-speed action (never exceeding the speed limit, of course, officer). At Elizabeth Lake Road we turn left, cruising gently as we contemplate the consequences of our life decisions, then we hang a left on San Francisquito and do it all over again.
Ninety miles northwest of New York City is Port Jervis, gateway to the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway—70 miles of squiggly pavement that traces the Delaware River as it divides New York from Pennsylvania. Most traffic sticks to Route 17 (itself the scenic alternative to the Thruway), so chances are you’ll have the curves and the beautiful views all to yourself. There are plenty of places where it’s safe to stop, get out, and enjoy the dramatic scenery and the solitude. Some of the best views can be found at the Hawk’s Nest near the southern terminus, where the road clings to the mountain with the Delaware running far below.
If you’re afraid of heights, don’t bother with this one. The Mt. Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, climbing some 9,000 feet over its 27-mile length to the summit of Mt. Evans where you’ll park your car 14,130 feet above sea level—15 feet higher than the summit of Pikes Peak, located about 90 miles south. The drive up Mt. Evans passes through five climate zones, and the views, as you can imagine, are breathtaking. So is the altitude, so make sure you prepare properly and are in good physical condition. Route 103 breaks off from I-70 about 35 minutes west of Denver, and the road to the top is usually only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day (check its status on this Forest Service site). The drive can get crowded on summer weekends, but with the populations sheltering in place, you might get it to yourself.
The Pig Trail Scenic Byway is a 25-or-so mile route through the Ozarks that is legendary in the region, both for its curvy pavement and its non-stop beautiful scenery. Head north out of Ozark, Arkansas on AR-23, and the magic begins just past I-40 as you enter the Ozark National Forest, and continues all the way until 23 runs into AR-16. The foliage is spectacular, though the pavement can be rough and the road can get crowded on weekends. Drive carefully, as this is a popular road with motorcyclists.
Malibu is a home to many of the best roads in America, and while our favorite area road (The Snake on Mulholland Highway) remains closed due to fire and rain damage, there are plenty of other good drives. Decker Canyon is one of our favorites: Ten action-packed miles from the Pacific Coast Highway to Potrero Road, where the route re-joins civilization. Decker is almost non-stop twists and turns, and the downhill run back to the coast offers spectacular views of the ocean. Some of the corners are blind and narrow, so take your time, use the turnouts, and watch for oncoming traffic crossing over the double-yellow.
The Motor City is surprisingly short on good driving roads, but if you wander an hour or so west of Detroit, you’ll find some halfway-decent twisties near a township called Hell—not the best roads in America, perhaps, but still good fun. A couple of Brand X automotive awards use this area for their testing, and while it’s no Malibu, there are some enjoyable curves to be found. This 15-mile loop of choice has good curves and lovely scenery: Go west out of Hell (like a bat!) on Patterson Lake Road, left on Unadilla Road, jog left on Kaiser Road then right on Hadley Road, left on North Territorial Road, and left on Hankerd Road, which becomes Glen Brook. When you get back to Patterson Lake, you can turn right and return to Hell from whence you came, or turn left and do it all over again. We generally choose option B.
Have a favorite road of your own? We’d like to add it to this list. Email a Google link, a description of the route and why you love it to [email protected].
Which state has the best roads?
Some of us think California is home to the best driving roads in America, while others hold the best pavement is found in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. But if it’s scenery you’re after, southern Utah is hard to beat.
What is the scariest road in America?
We’ve scared ourselves on several roads. The narrow canyon roads in Malibu have some blind turns that have brought us up short on occasion, but we’d have to say that the narrower sections of the Mt. Evans Scenic Byway are the most alarming, especially for those afraid of heights.
What is the most scenic highway in America?
America is home to some amazing scenery, and picking the best is not easy. We’d pick Scenic Byway 12 in Utah. In a country full of spectacular scenery, this is among the best.
What is the most scenic drive in the United States?
No question—the classic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway. Malibu is cool, but the most breathtaking scenery is to be found well to the north, between Morro Bay and San Francisco.
What is the best road trip in the USA?
We have a big, beautiful country to explore, and picking the best road trip is nearly impossible. Avoid the boring Interstates and take the back roads to any of our suggested drive routes, and any road trip can be the best.