As Ralph Waldo Emerson so famously noted, “life is a journey, not a destination.” While this quote has become something of a cliché, the truth behind it is more relevant than ever. Getting behind the wheel and cruising through the most breathtaking scenery and cityscapes the world has to offer should be on every adventure seeker’s bucket list.
But where to begin? It’s hard to imagine that most highways or stretches of road are chock full of inspirational views and noteworthy sights. Don’t fall into the trap of a boring road trip: check out the most stunning and unique road trip routes below and start planning your escape. Whether exploring the coast of Hawaii or getting lost in the lush landscape of Vietnam, you’ll never regret driving down these memorable roadways.
Badlands Scenic Byway – South Dakota
The Badlands Scenic Byway (also called Loop State Scenic Byway) is considered one of the top scenic drives in America. Curving gently through the protected Badlands National Park, this route takes travelers right by enormous buttes, colorful rock spires, and perilous cliffs. There are 15 overlook points where you can pull over, stretch your legs, and get swept up in the majesty of the rock landscape.
If you’re blasting through you can cover the 31-mile stretch of road in a little over an hour, but what’s the rush? Stop by the visitor center or romp along one of the eight trails open to the public.
Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia to North Carolina
You and your companions can make your way through the Great Smoky Mountains while taking in nearly 500 miles of Appalachian panoramic views. The Blue Ridge Parkway that tumbles through the Carolinas and Virginia is covered in a thick canopy of tantalizing forest throughout the year, where the temptation to pull over and set out on a day hike is constant.
Fun fact: there’s more diversity of bird species along the Blue Ridge Parkway than in the entire continent of Europe, so if you’re an avid watcher be sure to bring a guidebook and your trusty pair of binoculars.
Pacific Coast Highway – California
The legendary Pacific Coast Highway is a staple of American lore and a perennial favorite for motorcyclists, who traverse the 147 mile highway with nary a care in the world. Hug the steep cliffs on one side and drink in the mesmerizing view of the Pacific Ocean on the other as you make your way along the California coastline.
Along the way you’ll drive through the iconic Big Sur and come face-to-face with towering redwood groves and plunging cliffs that spill into the ocean. Drive all the way north to reach Morro Rock, a volcanic cone dating back 23 million years.
Hana Highway – Hawaii
The snaking path of the Hana Highway along the coast of Maui is flanked with lush green vegetation and mango trees that seem like they’re constantly in bloom. Pull over frequently to buy bread, jewelry, leis, and fruit from the local vendors, and to take in the splendid tropical outlooks.
Be warned: the highway contains over 600 hairpin curves, and the speed limit is 25 miles per hour at most to account for the difficulty. Brace your nerves, bring your camera, and don’t worry about the time. Expect delays – there are more than 50 one-lane bridges along the 52 miles of road.
Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway – Utah and Colorado
Also known as simply the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway, this mythical stretch of road along canyons and prairies in Utah and Colorado creates a diamond-shaped loop, hence the name.
Paleontology enthusiasts will be delighted to know that several fascinating stops along this highway showcase impeccably preserved dinosaur fossils and prints, including the Dinosaur Quarry near Jensen, Utah, and Dinosaur National Monument. If you’re lucky you may even witness an expert unearthing a new fossil when you visit the quarry! Even if you’re just here for the nature you’ll love the views of red-rock canyons, stunning geological formations, and winding rivers.
The Alcan Highway – Canada to Alaska
Largely referred to as just the Alaska Highway, this roadway tempts thrill-seekers every year with a vast, untouched wilderness far off the beaten path. Constructed during World War II, the highway was considered the most comprehensive construction project since the Panama Canal.
Road trips along this 1,300-mile highway serve as the subject for many a piece of journalism. Described as a “wonder-filled trip of a lifetime” in the LA Times and a “road trip through the wilds” in The Guardian, the Alcan Highway will plant you in the middle of a the sprawling, breathtaking terrain in Canada’s Yukon and British Columbia territories.
Great Ocean Road – Victoria, Australia
Experience the spectacular topography native to Australia by taking a meandering trip down the famed Great Ocean Road. You can easily spend a week exploring the huge variety of terrain and destinations along the Great Ocean Road, whether you want to meet some koalas in a eucalyptus forest or go surfing on the coast of a sleepy seaside village.
It’s possible to take a quick trip from Melbourne in a day, but we recommend getting fully lost in all the Great Ocean Road has to offer. Journey along Victoria’s southern coast and find time to go kayaking, scuba diving, or hiking.
Amalfi Coast Road – Italy
If you haven’t guessed yet, many ideal road trip routes are situated snugly along a beautiful coastline. This holds true for Amalfi Coast Road in Italy, which is home to a terrific juxtaposition of terrifyingly vertical mountain cliffs and picturesque Mediterranean towns. Only make the trip if you’re a seasoned driver – the road is known for its unforgiving curves, occasional narrowness, and zigzagging layout.
When you tour the dramatic and colorful coastline you may recognize the unbeatable views: the Amalfi Coast Road has been featured in films ranging from Humphrey Bogart’s “Beat the Devil” to the more modern “Under the Tuscan Sun.”
Cairns to Cape Tribulation – Queensland, Australia
If you embark on a road trip along the path between Cairns and Cape Tribulation, also called the Great Barrier Reef Drive, you can journey along the edge of two different UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Wet Tropics Forest of Queensland and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef.
Dip your toes into the water and enjoy the view overlooking the Coral Sea, and explore the rainforest settlement at the road’s end in Cape Tribulation. The entire stretch is very tourist-friendly but is also remote enough that you can slip off the grid and explore on your own with little trouble.
The Atlantic Road – Norway
Voted the “Norwegian construction of the century” in 2005 by national broadcaster NRK and chosen as the “world’s best road trip” by The Guardian, The Atlantic Road in Norway is the closest you’ll get to driving atop the actual ocean. The 8.3 kilometer span of bridges and roads connects the lone isle of Averøy with the mainland of Norway.
The lush coastal surroundings as you hop from island to island along the route are only matched by the magnitude and ingenuity of the engineering that made the road possible. Stop off at any of the popular viewing points for an unbeatable ocean vista.
Romantic Road – Germany
Romp through the mountains and forests of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg when you set out on your road trip along Germany’s Romantic Road. Get lost in wine country, explore ancient cathedrals, and gape at colossal castles while you traverse this 350 kilometer stretch of road heavily promoted after World War II to encourage tourism.
The medieval architecture of the towns along the Romantic Road transport you to a time apart from time, promising couples a nice retreat from reality. Visit between May and September for a chance to attend any of the historical festivals held in the region and load up on zesty beer and tasty food.
Durban to Cape Town – South Africa
As Sarah Morrison remarked a few years ago in Independent, you can’t get the full spectrum of the South Africa experience unless you embark on this lengthy road trip route. The scenic and meandering path between Durban and Cape Town clocks in at approximately 1,600 kilometers: you’ll need more than a week to truly appreciate the wide array of beaches, mountain ranges, plains, and forests.
Wildlife roams freely near the roads, and you can spend the night in literal treehouses along the way. Spend a few days hiking in the secluded forests and along the dazzling rivers of South Africa.
The Garden Route – Western Cape, South Africa
This coastal stretch of road between Storms River and Mossel Bay is a must-visit attraction of South Africa. The route got its name from the sheer biodiversity of the plant life in the region, assisted by the countless lagoons and lakes scattered across the coast.
Many marine and nature reserves are located along the Garden Route to break up your road trip, and you can immerse yourself in the local wine scene at several vineyards. Plan a beach day to soak up the sun, but be warned that the Garden Route is a perennial tourist favorite and you may need to compete for your favorite spot of sand.
Wild Atlantic Way – Ireland
You can’t simply drive through the world’s longest signed coastal route – The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland is an experience that must be felt. Sneak away to a secluded beach, scale a mighty sea cliff, and breathe in the salty air as you enjoy the unique culture of local towns and cities.
Given the length of the Wild Atlantic Way you’ll never run out of attractions: tour a castle, spend time at Killary Harbour, go pub-crawling, or shop for the finest woolen sweater in the region. We recommend choosing your destinations ahead of time so you’re not overwhelmed with options.
Ring Road – Iceland
Officially known as Route 1, Ring Road in Iceland covers more than 1,300 kilometers as it circles around the entire island, connecting many major cities and forming the eponymous ring. Many travelers make their way to Iceland for the remarkable scenery, including active volcanoes, gigantic icebergs, and the ever-fascinating Northern Lights.
The landscape transforms endlessly as you make your way around the island, offering up seemingly infinite opportunities for once-in-a-lifetime photos. The weather and conditions are often known to be extreme, so do your research before you go and accept that you’ll often be out in the elements.
Hokkaido Scenic Byway – Japan
The Hokkaido Scenic Byway is actually comprised of six separate scenic byways all located on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan. Travelers can enjoy a vast range of astonishing nature and man made marvels: stroll through an immense field of lavender, hike near the base of an active volcano, and take a dip in a relaxing natural hot spring.
There are many resorts, restaurants, and entertainment venues along the scenic byways, as Japan’s tourism department has worked diligently to create an idyllic road trip experience on Hokkaido. Compare the various byways online before you go to guarantee a wonderful trip.
Hải Vân Pass – Vietnam
The Hải Vân Pass in Vietnam is a majestic mountain route that serves as a large natural barrier, stretching for over 20 kilometers along Vietnam’s Highway 1. The pass is full of incredible views, whether you’re seeking ruins of the Champa kingdom or deserted remains of strategic outposts during what the Vietnamese refer to as the “American War.”
Most of the traffic along this route is comprised of two-wheeled vehicles like motorbikes – locals take a faster route through a tunnel underneath. Try out some terrific seafood at local fishing villages or climb high into the mountains to find yourself among the clouds.
Uruguay Coast – Uruguay
The 400-plus mile coastline of Uruguay presents one of the most accessible road trips for explorers who love a little variety. Sandy dunes and unpopulated beaches are just a few miles down the road from swanky resorts and glamorous villas.
Soak in the scenery of Cabo Polonio and work on your tan in the beaches of La Paloma and Jose Ignacio. Don’t miss the Colonia del Sacramento, which was established as a Portuguese colony in 1680 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Foodies can’t go wrong with the delectable assortment of local cuisine!
Pack your bags and embrace the open road while learning more about the world around you on any of these truly unforgettable road trip routes. And be sure to browse our entire collection of road images for more inspiration.