There’s something about the open road that just screams freedom. There are no busy airports, no delayed flights, and no lost suitcases. Even if you planned your route and booked your vacation rentals, there are loads of detours and can’t miss stops along the way. Take your time and explore! A trip down the East Coast will take you from 17th-century historic towns to colorful Key West. Visit the beach, hike through the woodlands, eat at a vintage diner or grab a souvenir in a charming small town. Whatever your taste, there’s something for everyone along the East Coast. Here are our 10 favorite scenic drives on the East Coast.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway will force you to take your time and enjoy the scenery. This almost 500-mile drive between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina is full of twists and turns and has a strictly enforced 45 mile per hour speed limit. In some points along the way, the speed limit is lowered to 25 mph! This panoramic drive is perfect for travelers seeking Appalachian overlooks and a paradise for birders. With over 50 resident bird species, it boasts more diversity than the entire continent of Europe. The drive is great year-round, but especially popular when the leaves start changing color in the fall. Beware that traffic can build up during October as people slow down to catch a glimpse and a picture of nature’s colorful display.
2. Skyline Drive
Nearby Skyline Drive takes you through Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Take this route if you’re looking for perfect views of the Piedmont Valley to the east and the Shenandoah River Valley to the west. This 105-mile scenic drive is also great during the fall, but also offers close to 70 scenic overlooks.
3. Kancamagus Scenic Byway
Kancamagus Scenic Byway is a 34.5-mile section of Route 112 running through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. The Byway is lovingly referred to by locals as the “Kanc,” but it of course, popular among locals and tourists alike. It’s especially popular during the fall leaf-viewing season, and since the road is free of homes and service stations, you get a view without distraction. This is also a great drive to take during the spring to see yellow violets and wood anemone. If you have some extra time, take the half-mile hike to Sabbaday Falls, near Waterville, NH, to visit a three-tiered waterfall with easy access to the road.
4. Historic National Road
The 170-mile Historic National Road in Maryland was originally built to increase transportation and settlement in the West. Along with this scenic drive, you’ll journey through 300 years of history. The byway can be driven in one or more days, with cities like Baltimore, Catonsville, Ellicott City, Mt. Airy, Frederick, Middletown, Hagerstown, Cumberland or Grantsville making perfect places to stop and stay at a vacation rental for the night. The Historic National Road is yet another hot spot for fall foliage viewing.
5. US 1
A little further south is US 1 which runs between the beach and Interstate 95 along Florida’s east coast. The 2,376-mile stretch of highway connects Fort Kent, Maine, and Key West, Florida and passes through every state on the eastern seaboard. In the portion from Key Largo to Key West, get ready to experience everything that Florida has to offer. That means a paradise of beach bars, water sports, and the 7 Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world. Make a pit stop at the docks at Islamorada where you can hand-feed bait fish to tarpon more than six feet long.
6. Acadia National Byway
The Acadia National Byway is a designated All-American Highway by the U.S. Department of Transportation. For 40 miles, it winds along Maines coastline, past granite peaks, craggy outcroppings, coastal fishing villages and lush old-growth forests. The drive technically takes 3-4 hours, but you could spend an entire week in the region! Feast on fresh lobster, go rock climbing, or just take a hike.
7. Gulf Coast Road Trip
Route 98 from Florida to Mississippi is not only ideal for beachgoers, but will also introduce you to the unique ecosystem that’s home to thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, and other wild creatures. Start in Tallahassee and head towards Apalachicola. Your first stop is only 30 minutes away at Wakulla Springs State Park where you can spend the day exploring the large freshwater springs, or take a riverboat tour or glass-bottom boat tour. There are more great state parks along the way, like St. Joseph Peninsula State Park and Gulf Shores National Park.
8. Route 6
Route 6 is an 18-mile route that links Cape Cods network of sand dunes, beaches, marshes, tidal ponds, and quaint fishing towns. The drive is short, so you can spend extra time in Provincetowns art galleries or Cape Cod National Seashore. The summer is the perfect time to book a whale-watching boat tour. Keep your eyes peeled for a big-winged New Englander or humpback whale!
9. Ocean Drive
This 10-mile coastal drive offers historic mansions and spectacular views over Narragansett Bay. Appreciate the Gilded Age “cottages” and opulent homes along with the beautiful maritime scenery. If you’re a history and war buff, definitely do not miss historic Fort Adams which garrisoned soldiers for more than 125 years.
10. Park Loop Road
This 27-mile loop through Acadia National Park can be completed in an hour, but you’ll definitely want to give yourself plenty of time to appreciate the high ridgelines, sheer rock precipices, and rugged coast of the North Atlantic along the way. Spend an extra day on a lobster fishing boat or exploring the ocean-side cavern called Thunder Hole which with a plume of the foamy surf as waves beat the shore.
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