15 May 2017

Top 10 summer drives

Memorial Day is nearly here, which means summer is around the corner. Have you made travel plans? If not, here are 10 suggestions for incredible drives around the U.S. that will hopefully inspire and motivate you to hit the road. The only question is, are you driving your classic? But that’s not much of a question, really, is it?

Enjoy and please share your suggestions in the comment section below. Our suggestions, in no particular order:

The Million-Dollar Highway – Colorado
The highway’s name alone should tell you something. But the 220-mile loop from Durango, Colo., north to Ridgway via US-550 and then west to Placerville (via Colorado-62) and south to Dolores (via Colorado-145), is truly incredible. Full of switchbacks, curves, and breath-taking drop-offs, the route may test your skill, and it will definitely test your car’s brakes, steering, suspension, and carburation. Plan accordingly, and have a blast.

Woodward Avenue – Michigan
If you’re near Detroit during the Woodward Dream Cruise, this is a must. But if you can’t make it then, at least take the time to cruise America’s first paved road. In 1909, Woodward Avenue was paved in concrete between 6 Mile and 7 Mile Roads. Today, Woodward (which stretches from Detroit’s center to its suburbs) is still packed with car-culture hot spots like Pasteiner’s Auto Zone Hobbies, Vinsetta Garage, M1 Concourse, and the Highland Park Model T assembly plant.

Great Smoky Mountains – North Carolina
Another fun, twisty route heads south from Chilhowee, Tenn., to Topton, N.C., via US-129. From there, head north via US-74 to Almond, N.C., back west to Robbinsville on North Carolina-28, 143, and Tennessee-165 to Tellico Plains. Jump on US-411 and Tennessee-360 and finally, loop around Little Tennessee River to State Route-72 and back to US-129 to Chilhowee. The 172-mile loop features the Great Smoky Mountains’ rolling hills and should take you a bit over four hours. Note that some sections are very curvy and you might encounter high-speed sports car traffic.

Anchorage to Seward – Alaska
Few people have been lucky enough to experience this drive, but the scenery is incredible. It’s a simple 2½- hour drive from Anchorage to Seward, Alaska, only 127 miles. However, bordered by the jagged Chugach Mountain peaks and the Turnagain Arm’s scenic coastline, you’ll want to pull over every tenth of a mile to snap photos and admire the wild landscape. Kenai Lake is particularly gorgeous, but picking one spot is akin to choosing your favorite child.

The Tunnel of Trees – Michigan
It’s just a 20-mile stretch on Michigan-119, way up north. The designated Scenic Heritage Route is also undivided and lacks a centerline. Wait ’til you see it though. It’s definitely not a high-speed route, more about the relaxed drive than your destination. If it seems too remote to detour, plan a drive from Minnesota or Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and swing down to loop around Lake Michigan.

The Loneliest Road – Nevada
It’s a section of US-50, which runs from W. Sacramento, Calif., to Ocean City, Md. This part runs through northcentral Nevada’s vast, desert heart. If not for law enforcement or wildlife, this endless dragstrip would be ideal for top-speed runs. The drive isn’t for everyone (the road’s nickname is appropriate), but if you just want to hit the road without a destination in mind, this is probably that road.

Pacific Coast Highway – California
Much like the route from Anchorage to Seward, Alaska, the Pacific Coast Highway is beautiful. However, PCH is much longer, running from San Diego to San Francisco. There are also many scenic opportunities along the way, as well as points of interest, like the Hearst Castle, Big Sur, and Los Angeles, which might just be Mecca for car folks.

The Berkshires – Massachusetts
It’s just 30 miles from Lenox to Russell, Mass., but the drive through rural western Massachusetts is very pretty. Spotted with small towns and mountain spring runoff glistening down rock walls, there are also plenty of trails right off the road if you’d like to walk the woods a while, too. When you’re done, head into Springfield or down to Hartford, Conn.

The Badlands – South Dakota
Head south from Spearfish, S.D., into the Black Hills National Forest via U.S.-85 and -385 to Wind Cave N.P. The towering limestone cliffs shepherd you along the set of the cancelled TV show “Deadwood.” When you reach Hot Springs, head west into Wyoming and cut north, back to Spearfish. It’s about 250 miles and requires almost five hours, non-stop.

The National Park Trail – Utah
Arguably the prettiest real estate in the continental U.S., you’ll want to return here often. From Bryce’s hoodoos to Arches National Park’s arches, you’ll see it all. Beginning in Zion National Park, head east and then north to Bryce Canyon N.P. Once more east and north to Capitol Reef N.P., then east again to Canyonlands N.P. and finally north to Arches N.P. The orange, iron-rich land will paint your route the entire way and you can either head south to Arizona’s Grand Canyon or east to the aforementioned Million Dollar Highway. If you’re going, we’re jealous.

44 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Wil Schubeb SoCal May 17, 2017 at 15:54
    A good driver road:Big Sur? Think again. A portion of scenic Highway 1 that runs through California's gorgeous Big Sur will be closed for up to a year, as crews begin the long work of demolishing and replacing a damaged bridge. California transportation officials condemned the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge on Feb. 21 when it buckled to the point of near-collapse after taking a beating from winter storms. Crews began demolition Monday, and officials announced it will take nine months to a year to complete construction on a replacement. That means a major detour for travelers heading to the area, one complicated further by other closures along Highway 1 from mud and rock slides caused by an extraordinarily wet winter. As it turns out, however, now isn't a great time to visit Big Sur anyway. Many Big Sur parks will be closed until June - cleaning up weather-related problems of their own - and several others are still closed from last year's Soberanes Fire.  The closure is certainly a nuisance for tourists, but the effect is staggering for local residents. The roughly 450 people who rely on the bridge to get in and out of town have been completely cut off, relying on self-governance, helicopter food drops and foot trails to get by.  "We really buckled down," Doris Jolicoeur, of Deetjen's Big Sur Inn, told The Mercury News. The inn has been rationing food as well as propane to run refrigerators and freezers, she said, as the community switches into survival mode.  If you're set on visiting the area this year, you can check travel updates on Caltrans' QuickMap online. 
  • 2
    Dennis here May 17, 2017 at 16:06
    "Top 10 summer drives"... yet you post a picture of Kenai Lake in winter??? Come on man...
  • 3
    Philip Tron Moorhead, MN May 17, 2017 at 17:34
    Add the highway between Bozeman, MT and West Yellowstone. It follows the Gallatin River.
  • 4
    Richard Placak Atascadero ca May 17, 2017 at 17:51
    You can't take hwy 1 from SF south. A bridge was washed out during the winter, will not be replaced until September if than.
  • 5
    ken alberta canada May 17, 2017 at 18:15
    how can you have a list like this and not include the Going To The Sun Highway, otherwise known as Logans Pass in Glacier National Park Montana!!
  • 6
    Albert Provence TX May 17, 2017 at 18:38
    News Flash.....Highway #1 is closed. There was a land-slide and you cannot get past Big Sur going south. The highway is closed to all traffic.
  • 7
    Mike Forest Palmdale, Ca. May 17, 2017 at 18:42
    Yes. Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a beautiful road and, technically, it does run from San Diego to San Francisco. But, unless you like city driving, it doesn't really start until San Luis Obispo. Just south of Monterey it turns back into city driving and the traffic can be horrible. Also, you get to put up with mini-vans and motorhomes along the whole route. Don't go during or after a bad storm. The road has a tendency to disappear from rock slides and may be closed for quite some time. Otherwise, don't be in a hurry and take in the sights along the way. Hearst Castle us a don't-miss location and the sunset is incredible (If it's not foggy). Enjoy your drive. I've been over it many times, mostly in a Porsche 914-6, and I love it.
  • 8
    Diane Brandon Portland, OR May 17, 2017 at 19:05
    Much of Highway 1, referenced in your Pacific Coast Highway-California paragraph is closed while the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge in Big Sur is being repaired--storm damage so severe it had to be demolished and is being re-built. This bridge is just south of the Coast Guard station. Here's a link with more information: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/14/highway-1-wrecking-ball-problems-cause-big-sur-bridge-demolition-delay/
  • 9
    Harbormate Grand Marais, Michigan May 17, 2017 at 19:14
    Love your list. If you plan on more of the same in the future you'll want to check out Alger County, Michigan's H58 which connects Grand Marais and Munising via Picturedrocks National Lakeshore. It is about 50 miles long and skirts Lake Superior. Lots of curves and scenery.
  • 10
    Peter Fuerst California May 17, 2017 at 21:47
    FYI The Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1, is closed in several places because of bridges out and several slides from this winters storms. Check the local conditions before you try it , its a long way back around.
  • 11
    Jonathan del Pozo TX May 17, 2017 at 22:43
    The Pacific Coast Highway actually runs from San Diego all the way to Canada!! Has slight detours leaving the coast but goes back. Used to run the entire route via motorcycle back in the late 1960's. Pack a lunch! Great run.
  • 12
    Scott Allred Chico CA May 18, 2017 at 13:27
    I have been in 6 of these, and would agree they are wonderful. Interestingly, the drive from Anchorage to Seward is, indeed, beautiful, but one still needs to get to Alaska to drive it! I did by driving the "AlCan Highway" in 2003 with my wife and two children. To this day it was the best trip we had, and we drove to all 49 US States! I would add that highway as a great summer drive! I would also add a wonderful drive is the California 89 from the Cal. 395 to Interstate 5. It passes through Monitor Pass, Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Valley, Lake Almanor, Mt. Lassen, Burney Falls, and right by Mt. Shasta. I've driven it in my Convertible - a wonderful drive! There are plenty of places to spend the night, camping or in hotels.
  • 13
    John Curts Hemet, CA May 18, 2017 at 01:52
    Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy. 1) in California is spectacular. But a bridge replacement near Big Sur has closed this section of highway until September 2017 (estimated). Check for reopening for travel on this section of highway.
  • 14
    Dave Cherrick WA May 18, 2017 at 02:29
    From Mt. Vernon, WA, (just 1 hour north of Seattle) enjoy four great drives. 1.) Chuckanut Drive north to Bellingham from Burlington. 2.) Go west on Hwy 20 to see views from top of Mt Erie, Deception Pass, and Port Townsend. 3.) Head NE from Sedro Wooley to Nooksack Falls and Artists Point at the summit of Mt. Baker, and 4.) lastly, take Hwy 20 east and do the Cascade Loop which will bring you through the American Alps. Stay in Mt. Vernon at the Swiss Family Farmhouse...featuring a 2 car, secure garage and a 5 bedroom farmhouse built in 1909,
  • 15
    Eliot Brown CO May 18, 2017 at 15:37
    If you enjoy the Million Dollar Highway, stop in to Telluride for an overnight and visit this town on the national Historic Register
  • 16
    Bill Maloney Wilmette, IL May 18, 2017 at 08:39
    My bucket list just got longer. Thanks for the article.
  • 17
    Gerald Mitchell Southfield, Mi. May 18, 2017 at 08:58
    I cruised Woodward Ave. in the mid 1950s to early 1960s. That's when Woodward made it's reputation as the place to cruise, or more correctly to go "Drag Racing". We would try to hit a red light first in line with from 2 to 4 cars waiting for the light to change. Wheels spinning and lots of noise. Always on the lookout for the "cops".Lots of fun. Lots of noise. Often hit 80 to 100 MPH. Never got a ticket. Don't know why. The Woodward cruise today is a 4 lane parking lot. I go to the cruise today with friends who want to go. Hard on people, hard on cars, lots of noise and fumes. If you have never seen it, it is a get to Detroit's northern suburbs in the third weekend in August and enjoy. You might say once is enough, but you will never be sorry you did it. You will tell your friends about it for years to come.
  • 18
    CJ Foster Michigan May 18, 2017 at 09:13
    I love the tunnel of trees.... I also like how the text states no centerline but the picture shows a double yellow.
  • 19
    mIKE g California May 18, 2017 at 11:48
    The Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is CLOSED south of Monterey and north of San Simeon due to winter mudslides destroying a bridge. It will not open for at least a year.
  • 20
    Ron Harris Newport Beach, CA May 18, 2017 at 00:31
    If you plan to drive the coast of California on Highway1 North of Hearst Castle, don't! Highway 1 is closed due to a major bridge being out near Big Sur. The bridge is suppose to take more than a year to repair. If you go to the Castle you'll need to double back and take Highway 46 to pass Robles and then go North on Highway 101 to Highway 68 into Monterey/Carmel/Pebble Beach. Enjoy and drive safely.
  • 21
    Stanley Wainwright Charleston, SC May 19, 2017 at 10:06
    Y'all come to the Charleston low country. . No toll roads. Sea oats. Big dunes, Southern Comfort and Eastern sunrises. All classics. For now.
  • 22
    vince muniga Grosse Pointe Park May 22, 2017 at 13:50
    Make that left on 2 off the Mackinac Bridge in the upper peninsula in Michigan and you've got a heck of a drive along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The first week of October is spectacular with color.
  • 23
    James FLORIDA May 22, 2017 at 15:59
    For a really great drive check out the Natchez Trace. 444 miles from Natchez, Miss to Franklin, Tn with no stop lights, stop signs, billboards or any kind of advertising at all, even on vehicles using the road is allowed. 55 mph top speed. One of a kind road. Check it out here. https://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm
  • 24
    Bruce C CO May 26, 2017 at 14:48
    I've driven all of these except Alaska. Hwy 50 in Nevada and Hwy 12 in Utah are two of my favorites. But there are so many more good roads!
  • 25
    Chris Y Los Angeles June 8, 2017 at 16:56
    If replacing the storm damaged bridge near Big Sur wasn't bad enough, PCH/Hwy 1 in CA just took another much bigger hit when a landslide involving 1 million tons of rock created 13 acres of new land and coastline, burying a section of Hwy 1 under 65 feet of dirt and rock near the area where it is already closed due to the bridge repair.
  • 26
    Gary L. Green New Kent County, VA June 17, 2017 at 14:55
    Regarding the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. You only told part of the story. While the trip around the park is great, the route (don't have the number in front of me) over the top of the park, from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC is spectacular. Your "bit over 4-hours" makes it more of a road race than a road trip. We spent two-days in the area. The circle beginning with the Tail of the Dragon day one and the trip across and back on day two...time to enjoy the scenery. By the way, if you're traveling there from the north plan an additional three-days to get there from Afton Mountain, VA to Ashville, NC via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Oh yes, we'll do it again.
  • 27
    ed sturgis sd June 17, 2017 at 15:07
    Re: Badlands. Your badlands ride directions offer a great ride but they don't take you anywhere near the Badlands which are east of Rapid City. If you are going to be in the Black Hills stay at Rush No More RV Resort and Cabins. Check out the car show there the first Saturday after Labor Day. rushnomore.com
  • 28
    Lee Amalfi Coast June 17, 2017 at 15:16
    Nothing beats it!
  • 29
    Loren Moore Dearborn, Michigan June 17, 2017 at 16:10
    I have tried twice to drive on the Great Smokey Mountain road. Everytime I would have a jerk riding my rear bumper like he was in a Nascar race! I had a wife and two small kids with me at the time in our minivan. I couldn't enjoy the drive or the scenery. Couldn't wait to get to the first place I could turn around and get off of that road. I would have loved to have punched these jerks in the mouth!
  • 30
    Jim Arizona June 17, 2017 at 16:59
    The Badlands National park in South Dakota is located east of Rapid City and south of the town of Wall. The drive you described is a nice tour of the Black Hills National Forest.
  • 31
    Roger Humphrey IA June 17, 2017 at 17:09
    Over the last 3 years my wife & I have ridden a motorcycle on the Million Dollar Highway (2015), did the same around the Grand Canyon (2016 - while there, we also travelled through Zion National Park), and just got back from motorcycling to Moab UT to visit Arches & Canyonland National Parks (5/23/2017). Each trip was the best kind of adventure, with natural beauty that needs to be seen in person. The most challenging was Colorado's Million Dollar Highway. I had to keep serious focus on the road (not paying attention to all of the switchbacks would undoubtedly have ended tragically) but I still was able to enjoy everything that makes the ride worth doing (spectacular scenery around each turn). The other 2 trips were just as grand as the 1st, but I will spare the details by saying that if you love nature, plan on being overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of each location. My highest recommendation.
  • 32
    Derek L San Jose, CA June 17, 2017 at 17:56
    I've lived in the SF Bay Area for over 40 years. My wife and I love road trips. CA, IMO, is one of the best states for exploring by car, RV. etc., for a weekend, a week, whatever. Sometimes Central Nor Cal and Nor Cal to Oregon, get overlooked. From Monterey and north of, has some of the best coastal roads and views and inland to Yosemite, The Gold Country, The Sierras, and too many long two lane roads to mention. I think some forget that once you get north of The GG Bridge, 101 north, goes right along the coast and all the way up to the Oregon border. Offering much more rural areas to see and explore, i.e. all the Redwood forests and parks. Way less tourists and congestion. Make sure you have a GPS so you can explore without getting lost. It's much easier to lose your way in Nor Cal than going south of The Bay Area. If you want a week long or longer road trip, starting from The Bay Area, take Highway 1 North until it ends, west of Mendocino. Then continue on Highway 101 north, it will take you slightly inland, still beautiful, until you get to Eureka. From that point, continuing north on 101, which will travel along the very edge of the coastal waters, for hundreds of miles north. You can stay right on the coast taking 101 all the way north to almost the Canadian border. This is a bucket list trip!! I enjoy it much more than going south from Monterey to San Diego on Highway 1. Way too much congestion, with a big city feel starting in Santa Barbara continuing south. If you take the entire route from SF on Highway 1 to 101 North to Seattle, I like to spend 3-4 nights to get there. This allows time for side trips inland to see Mendocino area, Redwood forests, or whatever all the way up. There's also Lake Shasta, The Shasta Trinity National Forest. The list just goes on and on. This is truly one of the best scenic trips in the U.S. If this piques your interest, explore some online maps that show Highway 1 and 101 North traveling along the coast. Also be sure to look at inland areas of Northern CA. Taking the trip in any of the four seasons is possible and each are unique. A 4x4 SUV in the winter is almost a must. The rest of the year a car is fine, but an SUV, on such a long round trip, is much more comfortable any time of the year. Renting one can be expensive and worth considering for a true journey of a lifetime. Young kids, <12, may have a hard time with long stretches of driving and may not appreciate it like an adult will. Put this trip on your Must Do Vacation List!!
  • 33
    Con Mead WA at present June 17, 2017 at 21:18
    I drove the million dollar hwy in a 2013 Ferrarr 488i, a very quick trip.
  • 34
    Denny K Paul CA June 17, 2017 at 22:43
    I live just south of Carmel off Hwy 1 on the road to Big Sur. The bridge is closed about 26 miles south of Carmel, but that 26 miles is beautiful and there are some wonderful stops and restaurants in that section. The bridge is scheduled to open in September, but that will just allow you to get to the landslide which is about 40 miles further south. There is no know date to open the landslide area. For the foreseeable future Hwy 1 is going to be two dead end roads, one from the north and one from the south. The northern section, even just the 26 miles from Carmel to Pfeiffer Bridge is truly beautiful with many tourist services along the way.
  • 35
    Gerald Arcuri Thousand Oaks, CA June 17, 2017 at 11:18
    The Pacific Coast Highway has its beauty, and there are stretches which are still somewhat enjoyable to drive. But summer traffic cancels out most of the enjoyment along much of the route. Face it - California has too many residents and tourists to find very much in the way of enjoyable driving. As for L.A. being "the Mecca" of automobiles? Only if you enjoy waiting in line for everything. As for me, I'll take Highway 33 out of Ojai, or Colorado's Million Dollar Highway, or Utah's southeastern rural highwyas anyday over PCH.
  • 36
    Earl Colvin Birmingham, AL June 17, 2017 at 11:32
    Probably the most beautiful and comfortable road in the USA to drive in the summer is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It runs from Cherokee NC to Virginia on top of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • 37
    Earl Colvin Birmingham, AL June 17, 2017 at 11:35
    Probably the most beautiful and comfortable road in the USA to drive in the summer is the Blue Ridge Parkway. It runs from Cherokee NC to Virginia on top of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • 38
    Bob CALIFORNIA June 17, 2017 at 12:58
    Highway 1 north of the Bay Area is open, with some construction inconvenience. It is a great drive. A bit slower than the central coast part of the road, but the scenery more than makes up for it.
  • 39
    Herb R. Pa. June 18, 2017 at 09:00
    I would like to add to your list of beautiful drives. The Blue Ridge Parkway and The Skyline Drive from North Carolina To Virginia in the summertime. In some places you above the clouds.The speed limit is 45mph on part of it and 35mrh on part of it. Very nice scenery and lots of wildlife.
  • 40
    bblhed Western CT June 18, 2017 at 09:10
    I saw this list and thought, I like a senc drive I must look. I liked the idea of the Lenox to Russell, Mass run, but would add this for the autocentric out there, start your run at Lime Rock Raceway and from there head North on Route 7 then 7A to Lenox. As for your recomendation of heading To Springfield and then on to Hartford, I say don't ruin a wonderful day in the woods with a a City, or at least know that Springfield and Hartford are both traffic riddled hardscapes before you arrive. I also would like to add that I am amazed that the Blue Ridge Parkway didn't make the list. How could you leave out a road so nice they made it a National park?
  • 41
    Mark Portland, Oregon June 18, 2017 at 11:47
    The Columbia River Gorge from Troutdale to Hood River has been included in the top ten previously. Fifty-five spectacular miles any season, any time of day. Get off I-5 and drive the original Scenic Hiway. Lunch in Hood River, the windsurfing capital of the world. Then go south on 35 up the Hood River Valley AROUND Mt. Hood to Government Camp up to 6'000' to Timberline Lodge, down to a meal at Huckleberry Inn. Then home to Portland on 26--not so spectacular. A day trip, maybe 175 miles. I get to drive it weekly to get to ski patrol. Classic Western Beauty.
  • 42
    John V. Baton Rouge, LA June 18, 2017 at 00:09
    Gee, I wish that someone would have mentioned that the PCH was closed... twenty or thirty times... :) I was a bit disappointed that you didn't find any great drives south of about St. Louis. The Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive through Virginia is beautiful in the Fall. The Colonial Parkway through Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown, VA is a short drive (23 miles each way), but the first weekend in November when the leaves are changing is like driving through a postcard of the area. Like the Natchez Trace, there are no commercial vehicles allowed and no advertising, stop lights/stop signs, etc. I've never driven the "Devil's Backbone" but I hear that it is a great / challenging drive.
  • 43
    Tom Molter Spokane, WA June 19, 2017 at 00:53
    The north Cascades highway from Twisp, WA to Burlington, WA-stunning, and only open half the year.
  • 44
    Kevin Seabrook, TX July 2, 2017 at 21:29
    If driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix AZ, take Alt 89 instead of I-17. A few miles out of Flagstaff, you'll drop down into Oak Creek Canyon via several switchbacks. The scenery is magnificent as the canyon slowly opens up on the way to Sedona. You can take 179 from Sedona back to I-17 to complete your trip to Phoenix. One tip though: avoid driving this at 8 am in the summertime, as the traffic backup to enter Slide Rock State Park before it opens can be more than a mile long on this 2-lane highway.

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