It’s so easy (or is it?) to hop on a flight these days; paid time off is limited, and travelers want to get the most out of their vacations — which, to many, means more time spent in the destination.
But we’ve all heard it before: It’s the journey that counts, not the destination.
While we find that we ourselves often prioritize the destination, particularly when we have just a weekend to spare, there is something to be said for miles and miles of open road — especially when it’s surrounded by stunning natural beauty. From Red Rocks views to crystal-clear Pacific Ocean vistas, these are the six drives in the Western U.S. that you have to take in your lifetime.
1. HIGHWAY 1, CALIFORNIA
California 1 is perhaps the most famous road in the country — and the most beautiful. No wonder it’s featured in scores and scores of songs; U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike plan out road trips traveling down California 1 in order to take in the gorgeous scenery — and hopefully find themselves along the way.
Spanning over 655 miles, this coastal drive starts in the northern parts of Mendocino County and snakes down to Orange County, running concurrently with U.S. 101 along the way — including in a stretch across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
At times quite steep and/or twisting, California 1 can be difficult to navigate (particularly in foggy weather), but it affords some of the best views of the Pacific Ocean in the world.
Hotel Pick: In Fort Bragg, The Inn at Newport Ranch sits right off California 1 and has stunning views of the ocean throughout the property.
2. HIGHWAY 101, OREGON
North of California 1 is where adventurous travelers can pick up Oregon 101, which runs all along the coast of Oregon.
Like California 1, it can be hazardous at times — it’s very mountainous, and landslides can cause frequent closures. Most drivers, however, find the ocean views are well worth the slow trek, and Haystack Rock — a sea stack rising out of the water at Cannon Beach — makes for great photo ops.
Hotel Pick: Tolovana Inn is a mid-range beach property right off the highway, with views of Haystack Rock.
3. WHITE RIM ROAD, UTAH
Situated in Canyonlands National Park, White Rim Road is no easy drive — but it is easy on the eyes.
Thrill seekers follow the 100-mile loop either in four-wheelers or on mountain bikes, taking in gorgeous mesa vistas along the way. Views include rivers, red rocks and sights such as Labyrinth Canyon, and various camping grounds are set up along the route; most spend two to four days on the road.
Hotel Pick: Less than two hours from Canyonlands National Park, Red Cliffs Lodge delivers a unique Wild West experience in a picturesque red-rock setting on the banks of the Colorado River.
4. U.S. ROUTE 550, COLORADO
Though many sections of U.S. Route 550, which spans over 300 miles, are quite beautiful, the stretch between Silverton, Colo., and Ouray, Colo., is particularly stunning. Known as the “Million Dollar Highway,” these 25 miles send travelers through natural scenery such as mountains, forests and valleys.
It can be quite dangerous, however; the route is characterized by hairpin turns, steep ascents and narrow lanes — and much of it lacks guardrails.
Hotel Pick: Telluride’s Mountain Lodge is about an hour-and-a-half from the Million Dollar Highway, and many skiing the mountain will take the trip for the scenic drive.
5. AVENUE OF THE GIANTS, NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
Running parallel to California’s Highway 101, Avenue of the Giants is a scenic detour that many consider a must when exploring Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Though there are some twists and turns, this route makes for a much easier drive than California 1 slightly south, and all along the 32 miles, drivers will see other travelers who have pulled over to take photos of the, well, gigantic redwoods.
Highlights include three drive-thru trees, the Immortal Tree (which is over 950 years old) and Founder’s Grove (an easy, scenic half-mile hike).
Hotel Pick: In Garberville (just north of the Avenue’s southern entrance), Benbow Historic Inn opened in 1926 and has welcomed everyone from the Prince of Jordan to Cher — although nowadays it largely attracts older couples seeking peace and quiet for a mid-range price.
6. RED ROCK SCENIC BYWAY, SEDONA, ARIZ.
Sedona is most famous for its stunning red rocks, which are particularly beautiful in the glow of sunrise and sunset when you’re driving down the seven-and-a-half miles of the Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Views along the route are highlighted by red rock mesas and the nearby Mingus Mountains. The road is generally flat and easy to navigate; visitors often pull over for stunning photo ops.
Hotel Pick: Hilton Sedona Resort & Spa also affords spectacular views of the area, including from the golf course, tennis courts, pool and various rooms.