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Outdoors

6 of America’s Most Underrated Road Trips

By Nicole Villeneuve
Read time: 5 minutes

Road trips have been a time-honored American tradition since the 1920s, when the iconic Route 66 gave motorists a way to easily and independently travel across state lines. While the U.S. certainly has its share of famous routes, there’s also an endless array of under-the-radar trips that allow road trippers to discover new places, learn new histories, experience different cultures, and enjoy scenic vistas from the comfort of their vehicles. Here are six of America’s most underrated road trips to escape the crowds on your next vacation.

Columbia River Highway – Oregon

Bridge and mountains along the Columbia River Highway in Oregon
Credit: vitpho/ iStock via Getty Images 

Oregon’s Columbia River Highway, built between 1913 and 1922, was the first planned scenic roadway in the United States. Spanning approximately 75 miles from Troutdale to the Dalles, it served as a blueprint for other paved scenic roadways around the country. The design incorporates arching bridges, rock tunnels, and the beautiful Vista House, where you can take in the view of the mighty Columbia River surging 750 feet below. From this summit, the road winds down in figure-eight loops that take drivers through mossy forests, past the 620-foot Multnomah Falls, and by scenic vistas of this awe-inspiring river gorge. After you’re finished, it’s easy to understand why they call the highway the “King of Roads” and “A Poem in Stone.”

North Shore Scenic Drive – Minnesota

Lone car next driving by fall foliage along the North Shore Scenic Drive in Minnesota
Credit: Willard/ iStock via Getty Images 

Any drive along the Great Lakes is bound to be a beautiful one, but the North Shore Scenic Drive is a true stunner. Stretching approximately 154 miles from Duluth, Minnesota, to the Canadian border, the route offers unparalleled views of the northern shores of Lake Superior — the largest of the Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. The drive passes through charming towns and rugged coastal landscapes, allowing for opportunities to stop for food and drink while also taking in expansive forests, waterfalls, and beaches studded with colorful agate stones (Minnesota’s state gemstone). Other highlights include Gooseberry Falls State Park, wildlife spotting around the Sawtooth Mountains, and Split Rock Lighthouse, a historic structure perched on a cliff overlooking the stunning lake.

The Blues Highway – Tennessee and Louisiana

Marker for the Blues Highway (Highway 61) in Louisiana
Credit: Tiago_Fernandez/ iStock via Getty Images 

Music fans, take note: The Blues Highway — stretching from Nashville, Tennessee, to New Orleans, Louisiana — is a journey deeply rooted in the history of American music. The route, also known as Highway 61, explores Delta Blues landmarks where artists like Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley recorded iconic songs, the vibrant French Quarter of New Orleans, and the groundbreaking jazz heritage of Preservation Hall. Of course, the Blues Highway is not without its natural beauty. Mississippi’s Natchez Trace Parkway offers a look into the area’s Native American history, as well as views of southern cypress swamps. And Louisiana’s Tunica Hills, with its spring-fed waterfalls and lush green hardwood, contains some of the state’s best-kept landscapes.

High Peaks Scenic Byway – New York

Curve in roadway along the High Peaks Scenic Byway in New York
Credit: aoldman/ iStock via Getty Images 

The spectacular Adirondack Mountains are on full display on a drive along the aptly named High Peaks Scenic Byway. This upstate New York route is a short, but stunning slice of scenery. Coming in at just under 30 miles long, the byway starts in the town of Keene and runs to Lake Placid, leading travelers along the highest peaks of the Adirondacks, by breathtaking bodies of water such as Chapel Pond and Roaring Brook Falls, and through charming towns and dense forests — which are particularly stunning during autumn. There are plenty of places to pull over and take in the fresh air and scenery along the drive, as well as numerous trailheads for those who want to access more active recreational opportunities such as canoeing, biking, fishing, or cross-country skiing.

Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway – California

View of the Sierra Nevada mountain range from the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway in California
Credit: Noppawat Tom Charoensinphon/ Moment via Getty Images 

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway up the coast of California is one of the most famous and beautiful road trips in the world. But the Golden State is home to much more than Big Sur scenery — as evidenced by the diverse landscapes of the Eastern Sierra Scenic Byway. Stretching along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the byway showcases a panorama of alpine lakes, rugged peaks, and desert expanses. The elevated mountainous terrain also offers breathtaking views of Mono Lake, whose famous salt waters are visible from miles away. Furthermore, the byway offers the opportunity to visit the ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, home to some of the world’s oldest trees, as well as Inyo National Forest, home to 14,500-foot Mount Whitney — the highest peak in the contiguous United States.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway – New Mexico

Walking path to archaeological site along the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway in New Mexico
Credit: Teresa Kopec/ Moment via Getty Images 

Winding through the rugged landscapes of the Four Corners region — where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet — is the Trail of the Ancients. The byway reveals the history of the region’s early Puebloan peoples — ancient cliff dwellings, underground kivas, and etched rock art provide a glimpse into the culture that once thrived in the area. At the heart of the trail lies New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park, known for its intricate stone ruins of what was once a major gathering place for the ancestral Puebloans. The Trail of the Ancients offers not only a vast historical and cultural journey, but it also takes travelers through striking desert landscapes filled with massive sandstone buttes, colorful canyons, and expansive skies. 

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