In this day and age, we’re all about getting where we’re going, but what if we took a little extra time to stop and smell the roses? Road trips are an amazing way to explore rarely seen parts of America. The South is an especially picturesque region packed with charming small towns and major cities. Book your vacation rental ahead of time, so you’ll have a comfy place to rest your head and prepare for the next day’s adventures. Take a look at the most scenic routes situated in the South.
1. The Great River Road
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not entirely in the south, but this list had to include what is considered by some to be the best drive in America! It passes through 10 states and hundreds of river towns and is arguably the longest and most important scenic byway in America. It takes about 36 hours of straight driving to travel from north to south along the byway, but most people take four to 10 days to really enjoy the sites. You’ll pass through tiny riverside villages and vibrant metropolises, so you’ll have your pick of cozy cabin vacation rentals or big city apartments. There are countless things to see and do along the Great River Road. Since you’re following the Mississippi River, we, of course, recommend some of the river-related attractions, but it’s the Little Dixie Highway in Missouri where the road turns from the river that yields the best views.
2. Talimena Scenic Drive
The Talimena Scenic Drive is only about 54 miles, but you’ll be treated to some of the most breathtaking vistas that Arkansas has to offer. Starting in the town of Mena, make a pit stop at the East End Visitor Information Station north of town for a map and any additional information. Then, follow along the crest of Rich Mountain and Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. Along the drive, there are many historic sites and places to stop for a picture or . Many of these sites have information about the natural and historical significance of the area, so you can discover interesting facts about the natural environment, the prehistoric Caddoan people, early settlers of Rich Mountain, the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Choctaw Nation in Indian Territory. Your leisurely drive ends at the intersection of U.S. Highway 271 and Oklahoma Highway 1.
3. Overseas Highway
Florida is so much more than Disney World or that massive building where you check in for your Caribbean cruise. The Overseas Highway is one of the world’s great scenic drives and the only road to Key West. This 113-mile drive between Key Largo and Key West crosses 42 bridges, but the main event is the Seven Mile Bridge. Finished in 1982, the longest bridge in the Florida Keys is even wide enough to pull over to take a selfie. As you drive over the bridge, be sure to check out the original bridge nearby. The old structure, complete in 1912, was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” because just attempting to build something so ambitious over miles of and a bottom was unheard of. There are plenty of other attractions in the Florida Keys like the quirky shops and restaurants, natural areas, and beaches, but it’s tradition to make a pit stop at Alabama Jacks and Mrs. Macs in Key Largo.
4. Scenic Highway 197
Get the beaten track and head to Northeast Georgia’s Scenic Highway 197. Start your journey east of Demorest and head north towards the historic town of Clarksville. You can either continue north or take a little detour west to enjoy the beauty of Lake Burton, Lake Rabun, and Lake Seed. You can also venture to Alpine Helen. While State Route 197 is only 29 miles long, this drive is all about the stops along the way. Shop for handmade regional arts including pottery, painting, stained , woodcarving, and rustic furniture. Take a break at Soque River for some trout fishing. If you’re quiet enough, you might see some deer roam in the nearby woods. Other sites along the way include the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and Moccasin Creek State Park.
5. Blue Ridge Parkway
This nearly 470-mile stretch of road cuts through the heart of Appalachia through Virginia and North Carolina. It connects Shenandoah National Park on its northern end and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on its southern end. To enjoy this treasure trove of natural beauty, you should definitely take a few days. That way, you can really relax and enjoy the tradition of a lazy drive through the countryside. While this drive is great any time of year, it’s extremely popular in the fall to see the leaves change to vibrant reds and oranges. Other popular activities along the Parkway are hiking and wildlife viewing.
6. The Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway
The Appalachian Highlands Scenic Byway passes through some of the most scenic areas of the State of Alabama. At approximately 80 miles in , you could easily do this drive in a couple of hours, but do yourself a favor and set aside the entire day. You’ll want the extra time to enjoy the scenery and explore the quaint historical towns along the way. From south to north, follow Alabama Highway 9 until it intersects with U.S. Highway 78 on the outskirts of Heflin. From there, the byway heads west through the Choccolocco State Forest and follows along the Dugger Mountain Scenic Drive. Continue northward along Highway 9 through the towns of Ellisville, Centre, and Leesburg where you’ll see beautiful, sweeping views of plantations and cotton fields set within deep mountain valleys. At Blanche, head west along Alabama Highway 35 to ascend Lookout Mountain, and then, end your trip in the town of Fort Payne.
7. Davis Mountains Scenic Loop
You might associate Texas with rolling tumbleweeds and spiny cacti, but West Texas’s David Mountains are covered with golden grasslands, and oak trees, and more than 8,000 feet of rocky spires and escalating peaks. It’s a far cry from the flatness of the surrounding desert. In fact, this 75-mile stretch of road is the highest public highway in Texas, at 6,700 feet above sea level. Grab a vacation rental in the bucolic town of Fort Davis and set aside the afternoon to meander the David Mountains Scenic Loops. Your first stop should be Davis Mountains State Park, a 2,700-acre park known for its hiking, equestrian trails, and dramatic views of a 19th-century military post. Continue on and you’ll understand why Davis Mountains are referred to as a “sky island.” There are no billboards or gas stations and you’ll find many plants and animals that are hard to find anywhere else in Texas.
8. Bluebonnet Trail
It’s no wonder that scenic drives from Texas made it on this list. It is the biggest state after all! This drive between Austin and Houston is most beautiful between March and May when the wild bluebonnets (the Texas state flower) are out in full force. To really admire these native Texan flowers, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center. You’ll also pass a chain of seven interconnected lakes on the Colorado River, including Lake Buchanan. This wilderness resort area is extremely popular with boaters, fishermen, campers and swimmers. There are also gravel shores along portions of the lake that are perfect for sunbathing.
9. Cherohala Skyway
This National Scenic Byway opened in 1996 and cost $100 million to construct. Crossing through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, the views are more than priceless. The Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40 miles long. Start at the Cherohala Skyway Visitor Center in Tellico Plains for some free maps, driving conditions, and local souvenirs. All of the profits from the visitor center gift shop go back into maintenance for the Skyway, so you don’t have to feel guilty about buying a few extra gifts. If you don’t want to sit in the car the whole time, stretch your legs with some hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and bird watching, all of which are popular in the area.
10. Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway
The Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway is a 419-mile cultural tour from Chesapeake City in Maryland to Crisfield. Follow the bay’s edge through some of the nation’s most historic sites, from 18th-century courthouses and tea party locations, to former plantations. Starting in Chesapeake City, you can look out the 14-mile-long Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. Head south towards Beach, a summer town on the Elk River that’s popular with swimmers and anglers. Other popular activities in the area include biking and kayaking. Just be sure to stop for a bite to eat because you’ll be dining on some of the nation’s best seafood!
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