July 14, 2014 — It’s summertime and that means it must be time to plan a road trip – either for now or in the fall when the weather cools and traffic subsides. We are pretty sure that most baby boomers have a few routes on their personal bucket lists. In this article we will list 12 of our personal favorites to help you consider the possibilities. We also invite our members to suggest their “bests” in the Comments section below. You can subscribe to our free weekly newsletter to get more retirement ideas like this.
Types of great highways
You don’t have to drive far to find a great road – just about everyone probably has a favorite highway in their own part of the country. One that is near us in Connecticut is Route 154 between Guilford and Stony Creek (which is a great place to have lunch or take a boat tour of the Thimble Islands).
We think there are several factors that can make for a great, scenic highway. Some roads we list here combine many of these reasons.
– Views of the water
– Breathtaking mountains
– Amazing natural features
– Beautiful vegetation, especially seasonal
– Historic houses and buildings
– Fun to drive
Some Great Road Trips
This list was compiled from our personal experience and from a review of other articles on the subject. It is highly subjective, and that’s why we invite you to suggest your own favorites! Don’t forget that you can multi-task while exploring these wonderful roads – use the occasion to visit some potential retirement towns and communities in the surrounding area. To find them, use our State Directories. For some of these roads we’ve provided a link to our review of a nearby community that you might find interesting.
– Overseas Highway – Route 1 from Key Largo to Key West, FL. The first part of this highway from the FL mainland to Key Largo is boring. But from Key Largo through Islamorada to the terminus of Route 1 in Key West is incredibly beautiful. You’ll frequently be beside a turquoise sea. You will cross the 7 mile bridge. And you will be following the route blazed by Henry Flagler’s short-lived Florida East Coast Railroad to Key West. The movie “True Lies” has action scenes and a spectacular helicopter/car chase on this highway.
– Pacific Highway – Route 1 – California, Oregon, and Washington. Just about anywhere from Santa Barbara to the Canadian border on this road will produce jaw-dropping scenery of the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains. Although this highways has 123 official miles, Route 1 is much longer. Driving it you need to be alert for mudslides, sharp turns, and detours. The 17-Mile Drive (it is actually less than that) goes across California’s Monterey Peninsula from the Pacific Grove to Carmel, while passing by to the famous Pebble Beach golf community. North of San Francisco don’t miss Mendocino or Eureka.
– Utah Route 12 – This, one of the most stunning roads in the world, runs from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park. The route goes for an 124 miles at significant altitudes (9000′) as goes through forested mountains to the amazing bald mountains in Boulder. That’s where you should have an amazing lunch or dinner at the Hells Backbone Grill. From there the road begins following a narrow ridge along the red canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Not too far from there is the growing retirement town of St. George, definitely worth a visit.
Kancamagus Highway – New Hampshire. This 34.5 mile scenic drive along New Hampshire’s Rt. 112 in Northern New Hampshire offers some of the best Fall Foliage viewing opportunities. It has been designated an American Scenic Byway. Campton is an interesting stop a bit south of this road.
The High Road, Scenic Byway – New Mexico . This road follows several routes as it runs between former Spanish colonies Santa Fe and Taos. A friend just took this road and loved it for the ancient Indian pueblos, deserts, wildflower meadows, and artists’ colonies.
Beartooth Highway – Montana and Wyoming. Charles Kuralt called this the most beautiful highway in America. U.S. 212 runs from the northern entrance of Yellowstone near Cooke City to Red Lodge, Montana through Absaroka-Beartooth National Wilderness. At one point the road is just a few feet under 11,000′. Your editor went hiking here last year and it is beautiful!
Delaware Water Gap, PA and NJ. Interstate 80 hits an impressive obstacle as it crosses from Pennsylvania to New Jersey – the Delaware Water Gap. It is hard to keep your eyes on the road as you confront the evidence of natural forces that constrict the Delaware River here.
Highway 2, Nebraska. This discontinuous highway has 2 segments. The western segment begins at the South Dakota border northwest of Crawford and ends southeast of Grand Island at an intersection with Interstate 80. The eastern segment begins in Lincoln and ends at the Iowa border at Nebraska City. Along its more than 200 miles it features dramatic sandhills, remote countryside, expansive farmland, marshes and wetlands, winding rivers.
Loop Road, Acadia National Park – Maine. Thanks to the Rockefeller family this beautiful National Park is protected and easily enjoyed. See the views from the top of Mount Desert Island to stunning Bar Harbor below. Like most of the roads listed here, this 27-mile, two-lane artery is much less crowded in the off-season.
Route 6 – Cape Cod, Mass. Allocate some time to explore this charming 117-mile route that wends through Cape Cod. You will go through forests, past saltbox homes in colonial villages, tidal ponds, and eventually end up at the Provincetown harbor. Don’t miss the towering sand dunes and beaches. Be sure to eat at the Lobster Pot in Provincetown.
Going to the Sun Road – Montana. Almost every list of the most scenic roads in America includes this drive that goes through Glacier National Park. You’ll see mountain peaks, snow, and follow the Continental Divide in the Rockies. Beautiful Whitefish isn’t on this road, but is definitely worth a detour.
Tail of the Dragon – Tennessee/North Carolina. Like we said, there are all kinds of reasons to pick a great road. This one is famous for its degree of difficulty and road excitement The official road is just 11 miles. People who love to drive come here to experience the sharp curves and thrills in their motorcycles and sports cars. The advice is not to come for the scenery (which must be nice) – you need both eyes on the road! It was featured in the movie Two Lane Blacktop, and Harrison Ford jumped from the dam here in The Fugitive. North of here Maryville, Tennessee is worth visiting as a potential retirement town.
More Great Roads
While searching the Internet for great scenic roads we also saw plenty of references to even more. We’ve listed some here for possible inclusion on your bucket list.
– Trail Ridge Road – Colorado
– North Shore Drive, Minnesota
– Bluebonnet Trail, Texas
– Skyline Drive – Shenandoah National Park
– Natchez Trace – Tennessee and Mississippi
– Columbia River Gorge (Washington/Oregon)
– Hawaii Belt – The Big Island
– Finger Lakes region of New York
– Seward Highway (Seward to Anchorage, Alaska)
– The San Juan Skyway – Colorado.
– The Brandywine Valley trek – Pennsylvania and Delaware.
– Cumberland National Highway (US 40) – Maryland and Pennsylvania
One of the best things about retirement is your chance to work on checking off your bucket list items. If driving some of the most scenic roads in America is on your list, start working on these, plus any we might have overlooked! And while you are out, check out some of the neighboring retirement towns (you will find plenty of them in our State Directories).
Please share your ideas and comments about your favorite scenic highways, both in the U.S. and around the world, in the Comments section below.