A summer road trip is an American tradition. But for travelers who want to drive on the off-season, taking the scenic route during the winter has plenty to offer and possibly even more stunning views (not to mention less traffic). Snow-capped peaks, frozen forests, ice-strewn coasts and even crystal blue waters are all out there waiting to be explored, whether you prefer the winter-white roadways of the north or the sun-drenched byways of the south. Just keep an eye on winter weather to avoid driving in difficult conditions, and don’t forget to get out of the car and enjoy what these sites have to offer. Indeed, that’s encouraged on all of these top winter driving destinations.
This Winter, Take The Scenic Route On These Stunning Roads
1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
One of the country’s oldest and most popular national parks, Yellowstone, has become increasingly crowded during the summer months. In the winter, however, it’s a different story. The cold and snow keep away many fair-weather nature fans, but not the furry kind like bison and wolves—so the wildlife and winter views are stunning. Keep in mind that just one road is open at Yellowstone once November rolls around, but it’s a 50-mile stretch from the northeast entrance of the park to Mammoth Hot Springs that’s ideal for a shorter drive. There’s certainly no shortage of scenery on the way, which passes through the Tower-Roosevelt area that’s home to striking rock formations and the 132-foot Tower Fall waterfall. And while at the park, you can still visit sites in the interior, like Old Faithful, by reserving ranger-driven “snow coaches.”
2. Alaska Highway AK-1, Alaska
For a true “Up North” road trip, Anchorage, Alaska, is an ideal starting point. As the largest city in the country’s largest state, Anchorage offers easy access to rental accommodations and modern amenities. But it also marks the starting point for day-long road trips like the Turnagain Arm Drive. This spectacular 48-mile stretch of AK-1 South highway, connecting Anchorage with Portage, goes through the Chugach State Park along the Alaska coast, with the mountains on one side and the expansive tidal flats of the Cook Inlet on the other. To up the adventure levels, head in the other direction, following AK-1 and then AK-3 North, for a 113-mile trip from Anchorage to the colorful town of Talkeetna. The route “will make you feel like an ice road trucker,” according to Outside magazine, and you will end up in the city that inspired the TV show Northern Exposure.
3. Scenic Route 100 Byway, Vermont
On the other side of the United States, the northern reaches of New England are like an old-school Currier and Ives print come to life, with traditional country stores, snow-covered barns and rolling hills. Vermont’s Route 100 Byway, for instance, meanders 146 miles through 20 small towns near the eastern edge of the Green Mountains, combining friendly places to stop with the region’s distinctive natural attractions. Among the highlights: Moss Glen Falls, which is just off Route 100. It features a series of cascading drops that often freeze solid in the winter, creating incredible ice sculptures. It’s also worth noting that some of Vermont’s most popular skiing locations are on the Byway, including Killington, which features the largest vertical drop in New England.
4. The High Road (and the Low Road), New Mexico
The round-trip road trip from Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico, is a tour through the early history of the area, from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, home to Native Americans and Spanish settlers alike, to the Plaza del Cerro, built in 1749 by the Spanish and now their last remaining fortified plaza in the United States. The “High Road” to Taos currently follows a number of New Mexico highways and also goes through the 1.5-million-acre Carson National Forest, home to Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, black bear, mountain lions and more. Visit places like the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblo, birthplace of the Red Willow people, when you’re in Taos, then complete the 165-mile loop back to Santa Fe on the “Low Road,” starting on NM 68 along the Rio Grande.
5. Highway 1, Florida
If you like the idea of a scenic winter drive, but not the idea of winter weather, Florida’s Highway 1, from Miami to Key West, is 113 miles of beach-front beauty no matter what the season. That so-called Overseas Highway connects the individual Florida Keys with a series of connected bridges, allowing drivers to literally travel over the sea for much of the way. It’s a unique experience that takes you through some of Florida’s wildest habitats, where the Key deer and the alligator roam. Further, when you’re not driving, you could be diving, as the Keys showcase some of the finest SCUBA and snorkeling opportunities in the country.
Charles Krome is a car enthusiast and writer for CARFAX. No matter the season, he enjoys long, scenic drives and getting a little fresh air.