Top Five Scenic Drives
1. The High Road, New Mexico
On the way to Santa Fe from Taos, take the High Road, a 105-mile stretch that alternates between rural mountain beauty and desert terrain. You'll pass through wide river valleys, aspen- and pinyon-dotted foothills of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains and pueblo villages pocketed by sandstone cliffs. Stretch your legs at Carson National Forest, where trails lead to groves of ponderosa pine and cedar. Keep an eye out for elk and golden eagles. Detour for lunch in Cordova, a wood-carving town cut with narrow roads, then take a stroll through the artistic village of Chimayo, lined with artist studios, galleries and handicraft stores housed in tin-roofed adobes. As you meander south along the juniper-speckled 503, enjoy distant views of the 13,000-foot Truchas Peak before you pass by the iconic 17th-century Nambe Pueblo, located about 30 minutes north of Santa Fe.
2. Park Loop Road, Maine
A 27-mile loop along Maine's rugged coastline, Park Loop Road begins at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center in the Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Fog-kissed lakes, maple- and birch-speckled forests and elegant rocky shores make this picturesque New England drive worth the $20 entry fee.
Must-sees include the 40-foot waves that crash against the rocky inlet at Thunder Hole, the pristine 290-yard stretch at Sand Beach and the evergreen-topped granite peak of Otter Cliff, one of North America's highest headlands at 110 feet. Although most of the loop is closed during the winter (usually from December to mid-April), you can access the most scenic two-mile stretch year-round. Afterward, snack on oysters and cocktails in the intimate oceanfront town of Bar Harbor, on the northeast end of the island.
3. Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
Take in glacier lakes, cedar forests, wildflower-freckled valleys and vertigo-inducing cliffs on the 53-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana's Glacier National Park. You can picnic next to roaming mountain goats at the Hidden Lake Overlook, and adventure-seekers can continue onto the 7.5-mile hike along Highline Trail. For a $25 park entrance fee, the road can be accessed June through early October, and portions remain open year-round for $15.
If you're driving during colder months, be sure to check the plowing status at Glacier National Park - Going-to-the-Sun Road before embarking on the two-hour drive on this National Register Historic Landmark.
4. Seventeen-Mile Drive, California
Once a carriage road leading to the 19th-century Hotel del Monte, California's 17-Mile Drive is an enchanting seaside loop on the Monterey Peninsula. Reserve three hours for the drive, and save $10 in cash for the entrance fee. A lonely cypress perched atop a rock marks the iconic landmark of Pebble Beach, elephant seals flock to the sandy cove at Fanshell Overlook during their annual mating season from April to June, and waves crash against Point Joe's rocky shoreline. Charming coastal vistas are plenty on the drive, but the sweeping panoramas of Monterey Bay from the grassy knoll of Lover's Point remain unparalleled. At the end of the loop, take a two-minute side trip to downtown Monterey for local-favorite lunch spots and the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Secluded swimming holes, eucalyptus-patched swaths and enchanting coastal views make the 38-mile jaunt between Pauwela to Hana the most scenic stretch on Hawaii's second-largest island. Before embarking on the five hours recommended for this coastal drive, peruse pint-size boutiques and fuel up on the daily catch at the Fish Market Restaurant in historic Paia. Fern-flanked trailheads can be accessed from the highway, from which you can hike to serene picnic spots along the bamboo-lined Waikamoi Ridge Trail and in the 26-acre Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden.
Need to cool off? Take a dip in the waterfall-fed swimming hole at Puohokamoa Stream, hike 1.2 miles past Makahiku and Waimoku falls for the seven "sacred pools" at Kipahulu, or find the trailhead that leads to the secluded copper-hued (and clothing-optional) cove of Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach). Have the camera ready for valley vistas at Wailua and coastal views at Kaumahina State Wayside Park.