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BY REBECCA KINNEAR
Take The Scenic Route On Your Next Road Trip
When you’re craving wide-open skies and gorgeous scenery, an epic road trip is just the ticket. And the journey is just as important as the destination. These three scenic drives across the United States promise unparalleled landscapes, from red rocks to verdant mountains to the rugged Pacific coast. Compile the perfect playlist and hit the open road.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Spanning 469 miles from North Carolina to Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders through the Appalachian Mountains with elevations ranging from 650 to 6,000 feet. The speed limit along the road, which is maintained by the National Park Service, is only 45 mph, forcing you to slow down and take in the view. Rather than driving the whole thing, pick a section to experience. You’ll pass through tunnels, over bridges and viaducts, and past dozens of scenic overlooks. Pull over whenever the mood strikes for spontaneous photo ops, or discover one of the several hiking trails that are also accessible along the route. The road is open year-round, but plan a trip for autumn when the mountains are saturated with fall colors.
Craggy Gardens Craggy Gardens is a high-elevation summit boasting some of the best floral displays along the Parkway, including a rhododendron garden that blooms in early summer. It’s also a popular spot to watch the sunrise or sunset.
Linville Falls Linville Falls is a short, moderate hike suitable for all ages, which offers several vantage points of this impressive waterfall and gorge.
2. Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Oregon
Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a 363-mile route hugging Oregon’s coast travels from Astoria in the north down to Brookings in the south — about 7.5 hours from start to finish. The coastal scenery here is unlike anywhere else in the U.S., with rugged cliffs, old-growth forests, rocky tide pools, and peaceful seaside coves. Along the way, explore quaint beach towns, hit the hiking trails, or simply watch the waves roll in along the scenic shoreline.
Ecola State Park Stretching along 9 miles of coastline, Ecola State Park features a network of hiking trails, including an 8-mile segment of the Oregon Coast Trail. Cannon Beach is a popular spot — not only is it one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, it also served as a backdrop for the ’80s movie “The Goonies.” Rising 235 feet from the edge of the shoreline is Haystack Rock, one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks.
Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area Located between Depoe Bay and Newport, Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area was once a sea cave, but after years of crashing waves, the rock headland now resembles a bowl shape. Watch tide breakers surge in and out of the crater, or during low tide, hike down to explore the rocky shoreline and tide pools. Then rest your head at one of three nearby resorts within a 20-minute drive — WorldMark Gleneden or WorldMark Depoe Bay to the north, or WorldMark Schooner Landing to the south.
Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor Close to the California border, the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor is a 12-mile stretch with secluded beaches and distinctive rock formations, like Arch Rock and Natural Bridges, dotting the sea.
3. Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona
Though this drive is only 7½ miles, Red Rock Scenic Byway is by far one of the prettiest in the U.S. Winding through Sedona and the Coconino National Forest, the route is surrounded by the towering red rock formations the region is known for. Stop at one of the overlooks to admire the scenery, and visit two of the area’s most famous spiritual vortexes, Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. And after a day of adventure, stay at Club Wyndham Sedona.
Chapel of the Holy Cross Just off the byway, the Chapel of the Holy Cross is an architectural marvel. The chapel was inspired and commissioned by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and completed in 1956. Keep an eye out to spot its 90-foot cross from the road, then either drive or hike to the chapel to see the sleek building built into Sedona’s red rocks up close.
Cathedral Rock Even if you don’t believe in the positive earth energy people believe emit from spiritual vortexes, they’re still a beautiful sight to behold. Cathedral Rock is a sacred area in Native American history, and can be accessed from a few different places with moderate to no hiking.
Bell Rock Bell Rock is easy to spot from the Red Rock Scenic Byway, and there are several trails that lead to it. Bell Rock Pathway and Bell Rock Trails are wide and great for beginners. If you’re looking for a little more challenge, try Courthouse Loop. Remember to bring water!