20 U.S. Road Trips With Stunning Scenery You Have to See

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Gas prices are at their lowest point since 2009, which makes the idea of a road trip more attractive than it has been in years, especially when the journey is more important than the destination. These trips are for those who like to stop and take in the view -- and maybe do some Instagramming that will make office-bound friends more than a little jealous. From excursions that take drivers thousands of miles across the United States to shorter jaunts through idyllic mountain valleys, there is something for everyone in these scenic American road trips. Just make sure to research the route thoroughly before hitting the road.

PIG TRAIL SCENIC BYWAY, ARKANSAS

The Arkansas Ozarks' Pig Trail Scenic Byway clocks in at only 19 miles in length but has more than its share of natural beauty and gentle rolling hills. It may have been used by Native Americans or fur trappers, and was heavily trafficked during the Civil War by troops from both sides. Today, travelers enjoy mountain views, waterfalls, rock formations, and the beautiful Mulberry River. Given the short trip, it may be tempting to pay the $20 general admission (down to $10 for the youngest children) to see more than 130 exotic cats at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, but the Victorian-style town of Eureka Springs is free to walk around. The entire downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MEMORIAL PARKWAY, VIRGINIA

This 25-mile drive along the Potomac River is located mostly in Virginia, with small portions in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Originally called the Mount Vernon Memorial Parkway, it was renamed in 1929 and is maintained by the National Park System. Along the byway there are historic landmarks and monuments to visit, such as the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, which includes President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and a Sept. 11 Memorial. There are fees for parking or a bus tour, but walking the grounds is free.

SILVERADO TRAIL, CALIFORNIA

This short 29-mile route goes through the foothills of Napa Valley wine country, serving as a refreshing alternative to traffic-clogged Highway 29. Along with views of vineyards and mountains, there are a number of wineries with tastings and tours along the way. Before setting off, stop at the welcome center in downtown Napa or look online for two-for-one tasting coupons.

BADLANDS LOOP, SOUTH DAKOTA

Also known as Highway 240, this byway passes through 31 miles of buttes, cliffs, and spires, and showcases Badlands National Park with its array of rock formations (accessible for a fee of $15 a vehicle for seven days' access). The 30-mile loop off Interstate 90 can be completed in about an hour, but that's without stopping to enjoy the scenery along the way. There's also hiking in the park and interactive exhibits at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, where budding paleontologists can touch fossilized animal casts.

ACADIA ALL-AMERICAN ROAD, MAINE

The Acadia All-American Road is a short 40-mile journey through Acadia National Park in Maine and includes a spectacular view from Cadillac Mountain (past visitors say catching the sunrise from this peak is a must). As with many national parks, there is a $25 vehicle pass that gets visitors through the gates and lasts seven days, but there are also 16 "fee free" days throughout the year. There should be time to visit Thunder Hole, where the waves really sound like thunder, and explore the tidal pools of Otter Point.

TURQUOISE TRAIL NATIONAL SCENIC BYWAY, NEW MEXICO

Highway 14 links Santa Fe to Albuquerque, connecting travelers to old mines and ghost towns via the roughly 40-mile Turquoise Trail, named for early efforts of the native population to mine and use the stone. Anticipate an impressive view atop Sandia Crest, and for a unique and inexpensive break along the way, check out the Tinkertown Museum, a quirky, extensive collection of carved figurines ($3.50 for adults, $3 for "geezers," and $1 for kids 4 to 16).

HANA HIGHWAY, HAWAII

This gorgeous Hawaiian road trip along the eastern coast of Maui is 52 miles but not for drivers who are in a hurry; the roadway boasts 600 curves and a whopping 59 bridges (many of which are single lane). It clings to cliffsides in what travelers contend is a worthwhile but sometimes hair-raising trip. Along the way, stop at Pua'a Ka'a State Park to enjoy its waterfalls and swimming holes.

TALIMENA SCENIC DRIVE, OKLAHOMA AND ARKANSAS

Located in the Ouachita National Forest in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, the Talimena Scenic Drive takes drivers through 54 miles of mountain views (some visitors say the spring bloom and fall foliage are particularly worth visiting). On the Arkansas side, stop to view the Pioneer Cemetery, with 23 graves of early settlers. There are many stops along the way for taking in expansive vistas.

COLUMBIA RIVER HIGHWAY, OREGON

Running for 70 miles along the Columbia River, starting just east of Portland, Oregon, this route winds around waterfalls and the Columbia River Gorge to the drier eastern Oregon plateau. With construction begun in 1913, this was among the first scenic roadways in the United States and remains a National Historic Landmark. The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center Museum includes guided searches for animal habitats and live raptor presentations; admission is $9 for adults and children over 16.

TRAIL OF THE MOUNTAIN SPIRITS, NEW MEXICO

This curvy 110-mile road trip, peppered with steep switchbacks, traverses the high desert forests of New Mexico, passing Old West ghost towns and a copper mine. At the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, visitors can tour the cave homes of the Mogollons people from more than 700 years ago. Family admission to the caves is $10.

OVERSEAS HIGHWAY, FLORIDA

The striking Highway 1, also known here as the "Highway that Goes to the Sea," includes 112 miles of roadway and a total of 42 overseas bridges from Miami to Key West. The entire span can be traveled in about four hours, but it's better to take time to enjoy the trip. Keep an eye out for restaurants and attractions along the way. Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, with miles of trails and 84 protected species of plants and animals, costs less than $3 a person through honor-box donations. Stopping at Anne's Beach for a mid-trip wade on Islamorada is free, and so is the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key.

HIGHWAY 12 SCENIC BYWAY, UTAH

This 124-mile byway passes through plenty of glorious southern Utah canyonland, including Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest State Park, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The byway concludes at the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, heralded by miles of panoramic views. On the way are archaeological sites, cattle drives, hiking, sking, and more, depending on the season.

SEWARD HIGHWAY, ALASKA

Between the harbor town of Seward and the port town of Anchorage, this trail is 127 miles of mostly unspoiled wilderness. Pull over for salmon viewing at Moose Creek (a good summertime activity) or gaze at Kenai Lake, a uniquely shaped zig-zag lake in Chugach National Forest famous for its scenery.

NATCHEZ TRACE PARKWAY, MISSISSIPPI TO TENNESSEE

The historic, 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway meanders through Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee along a centuries-old route initially established by Native Americans, then used by early American explorers and tradesmen. There are a variety of ranger-led programs (all free) along the parkway, as well as hiking opportunities, prehistoric mound sites, and archaeological sites.

BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY, VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA

This ride promises views of the Appalachian Highlands like no other. The route boasts almost 300 scenic overlooks of mountains, waterfalls, and other natural wonders along its 469-mile path. Along the way, there will likely be opportunities for live music, such as performances at the totally free Blue Ridge Music Center. Programs led by National Park Service rangers can point out some of the area's elusive wildlife or some of the more than 50 threatened and endangered plant species.

DINOSAUR DIAMOND SCENIC HIGHWAY, COLORADO AND UTAH

Travel these 480 miles for breathtaking scenery and some nifty dinosaur history. Along the way, stop at Dinosaur National Monument ($20 a car for entry valid up to seven days) to check out dinosaur fossils and learn about the area in which the creatures lived and died. Arches National Park and Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and its museum can also be found along this route (adults pay only $5 to get in) as well as a few other stops that highlight the area's famous historic giant reptiles.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY, CALIFORNIA

Officially known as California State Route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway is a popular locale for a 656-mile road trip that begins in Monterey and ends in Morro Bay. Dazzling views of soaring cliffs along the Pacific Ocean coastline, paired with tight turns, makes this a scenic trip that takes about five hours to complete. Along the way, make sure to stop at the Bixby Creek Bridge for photos -- it's one of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world.

U.S. HIGHWAY 61, MINNESOTA TO LOUISIANA

This north-south, 1,400-mile road, also known as the Great River Road or the Blues Highway, generally follows the Mississippi River from the city of Wyoming, Minnesota, to New Orleans. It's hard to be bored traveling from the north shore of Lake Superior through Mark Twain country in Hannibal, Missouri, and St. Louis (where there are plenty of activities, including the city's zoo and science center, both with free admission). The trip includes the Mississippi River Delta and the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, where legend says blues master Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.

U.S. HIGHWAY 89, MONTANA TO ARIZONA

For an extensive north-south road trip along the Rocky Mountains, there is no more obvious choice. U.S. Highway 89 runs from near Glacier National Park in Montana to Saguaro National Park in Arizona. (The original route to Nogales, Arizona, along the Mexico border can still be traversed.) The highway goes to and through many breathtaking national parks -- including Yellowstone, Zion, and Grand Canyon -- along a 1,800-mile journey on a (mostly) two-lane highway.

HISTORIC ROUTE 66, ILLINOIS TO CALIFORNIA

From Chicago, to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 was one of the first highways in the original U.S. highway system. It has since been replaced in segments by the newer Interstate Highway System, but enthusiasts can still navigate many of the original 2,448 miles. The route is littered with old hotels and attractions from when the highway was at its peak, and many are still in business. Along the way is Seligman, Arizona, which has 456 residents and was an inspiration for the 2006 Pixar film "Cars." The Harvey House Railroad Depot in Barstow, California, now houses the free Route 66 Mother Road Museum.