A great summertime drive starts with a route that blends long, unbroken miles of countryside with a little history and a lot of spectacular natural scenery. Add a few uniquely American towns and some cool roadside attractions to the mix and you have the makings of some wonderful driving memories. Every car enthusiast has a favorite. Here are a couple of ours.
Mount Washington Auto Road
Built in 1861, this historic road is known for steeps grades and amazing views on the nearly 5,000-foot climb to the highest peak in the Northeast United States. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
The road to the top of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington starts out tame and tree-lined near the bottom. But the road narrows the higher you travel, and in some places has no guardrail separating your vehicle from what more than a few drivers describe as “a guaranteed death drop” on the right hand side of the car.
If you start the climb early, you’ll have fewer drivers to squeeze past on the way down. And if you think you’d have to be crazy to take a classic up this torturous, white-knuckle route, just remember that the oldest auto race in the United States, the Mount Washington Hilltop Auto Race, was first held here in 1904.
Opened in 1996 and designated a National Scenic Byway, the Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. Rising and falling through low mountains and valleys ranging from 900 to over 5,000 feet in elevation, the roughly 40-mile road is a nature-lover’s dream thanks to its many scenic pull-offs. Make sure you gas-up prior to making the crossing as there are only a few scattered restrooms located along the route.
One of West Michigan’s most famous highways, M-22 travels north for over 100 miles through the heart of America’s “Third Coast”—the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline—into the award-winning wine region of the Leelanau Peninsula. M-22 also passes through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted the “” in 2011 by viewers of ABC’s Good Morning America. Here the road is dotted by farm stands, winery tasting rooms and many historic towns, including the unique “seaside” fishing village of Fishtown in Leland.
The Yellowstone Trail gets props for how little some sections of it have changed since a group of South Dakota businessmen took it upon themselves in 1912 to create the “first transcontinental automobile highway across the northern tier of states from Washington through Massachusetts.” Unlike the Lincoln Highway dedicated in 1913 and cutting through Middle America, the Yellowstone Trail continues to follow slower, less traveled roads.
We first became aware of California’s most scenic highway when readers clued us in back in 2012 (“Ten Great Driving Roads You May Not Know”). SR 74 is actually a combination of two highways (Pines to Palms Scenic Byway and the Ortega Highway) linked by a busy 25-mile section that is better forgotten. Starting in San Juan Capistrano, the stretch known as the Ortega Highway winds about 25 miles up and over the mountains of the Cleveland National Forest before dropping down into Lake Elsinore. The scenery improves 25 miles later when you reach the Palms Highway, which goes up and over the San Jacinto Mountains and the San Bernardino National Forest before ending in Palm Springs.