Most landscape photographers have several “dream” locations that they would love to visit and photograph some day. Being a landscape photographer, whether hobbyist or professional, often leads to a journey to reach the spot that you want to photograph.
If you’re going on a journey, why not have some fun and get beautiful photos along the way?
A road trip can be a lot of fun and lead to some great photos. And if you’re taking a road trip you’ll want to consider finding the best route possible.
In this article we’ll feature 10 of the most scenic drives in the United States. All of these routes will lead to plenty of beautiful scenery and photo opportunities that will make it a memorable trip.
Related reading: 25 of the Most Surreal Landscaps in the United States
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana
Going-to-the Sun Road is the only road that crosses from one side of Glacier National Park to the other. It is a high, windy mountain road with steep drops off the side of the road, but it provides plenty of spectacular views. The highest point along the road is at Logan Pass at more than 6,000 feet in elevation and along the Continental Divide. The Logan Pass Visitor’s Center is a popular spot along the road.
If you’re planning a trip to Glacier National Park you’ll want to be aware that parts of Going-to-the-Sun Road are closed during winter due to snowfall. The exact dates depend on the weather, but typically the road is fully open by late June or early July, and it typically closes early-to-mid October. A free shuttle is available if you don’t want to drive.
It takes at least 2 hours to drive the 50 miles without any stops, and of course it will take much longer to photograph the journey. Gas is not available along the road, but you will be able to find food, accommodations, campsites, and visitor’s centers.
If you want to capture amazing mountain, glacier, lake, and wildlife photography, Going-to-the-Sun Road is an excellent choice.
Going-to-the-Sun Road by mcfisher / CC0
Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming
The Beartooth Highway is a scenic 68 mile stretch of US Route 212 along the Montana and Wyoming border. It runs from Red Lodge, Montana to Cooke City, Montana.
This scenic road reaches nearly 11,000 feet in elevation at Beartooth Pass. It is a steep, winding road with a lot of switchbacks and stunning mountain and lake views. Due to the high elevation and snowfall it is typically open only from mid May to mid October.
Beartooth Highway is a great option if you will be entering or exiting Yellowstone National Park to/from the northeast entrance.
If you are planning a trip be aware that weather can be intense at all times of the year. Wind can be quite strong, and snow storms are possible even in the summer.
Beartooth Highway by Acroterion / CC BY-SA 3.0
Paradise Valley Scenic Loop, Montana
Paradise Valley lies between the Absoroka Range and the Gallatin Range, with the Yellowstone River running through the valley. The Paradise Valley Scenic Loop is a 62-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 89 and East River Road (Highway 540). The Highway 89 portion of the loop can be busy in the summer because it leads to Yellowstone.
Along this scenic drive you’ll be able to capture photos of a beautiful valley and the surrounding mountains. These roads are open year round.
Paradise Valley by Tim Gage / CC BY-SA 2.0
Needles Highway, South Dakota
South Dakota Highway 87 runs through the beautiful Black Hills in the western part of the state. The northern 14 miles of this route is also known as Needles Highway because of the granite spires that surround the road. The road runs through part of Custer State Park, and is also part of the park’s Wildlife Loop.
Needles Highway is quite narrow at some points and includes some sharp turns. If you take the route you will be rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding landscape, and there are also some picturesque tunnels along the way. If you are in the area of Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, or Wind Cave National Park, a trip to Needles Highway is also well worth the effort.
Needles Highway by Eric Deluca / CC0
Minnesota State Highway 61
The North Shore Scenic Drive on Minnesota Highway 61 provides plenty of great places to photograph along the north shore of Lake Superior. The road runs from Duluth to the Canadian border.
There are countless places to stop and photograph along the way. Some of the most noteworthy locations include Gooseberry Falls State Park, Iona’s Beach, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Tettegouche State Park, Palisade Head, Cascade River State Park, Judge C.R. Magney State Park, and Grand Portage State Park.
Take a few days and enjoy this beautiful drive.
Judge C.R. Magney State Park by Dan CC BY-ND 2.0
Sawtooth Scenic Byway, Idaho
The Sawtooth Scenic Byway runs for about 115 miles from Shoshone to Stanley along Idaho Highway 75. Along this route you’ll travel through the beautiful Sawtooth Valley.
The road provides access to Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Black Magic Canyon, Redfish Lake, and Sun Valley Resort. Gas is available in the towns of Hailey and Ketchum.
If you want a nice drive with plenty of mountain views and beautiful lakes, this is an excellent option.
Sawtooth Scenic Byway by Dk4hb / Public Domain
Last Dollar Road, Colorado
Last Dollar Road is a dirt road between Telluride and Ridgway and is about 20 miles long. It’s best to have a 4 wheel drive with high clearance, and you’ll probably need to wait until early June for the snow to melt.
Don’t expect a quick ride. Traveling along the dirt road will be a little slow, and that is fine because you will want to stop and photograph the amazing mountain views along the way.
The best time to travel and photograph Last Dollar Road is in the fall. Late September is a great time to photograph the beautiful fall colors of this mountain landscape.
Last Dollar Road by Larry Lamsa / CC BY 2.0
Pacific Coast Highway, California
The Pacific Coast Highway provides spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and picturesque coastline. The scenery between Monterrey and Morro Bay (about 125 miles) provides plenty of spectacular views, including Big Sur and Point Lobos State Reserve.
The road runs along steep drops at some places, but overall it is a pretty easy drive. If you enjoy coastal photography this drive is for you.
Pacific Coast Highway by Foundry / CC0
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Skyline Drive is the main road that runs through Shenandoah National Park. It is about 105 miles long and includes 75 scenic overlooks that provide plenty of opportunities for photographing beautiful mountains.
Shenandoah National Park is one of the best national parks to visit if you want an easy scenic drive. Although this is a mountain road it is not that steep in most places, although it does wind quite a bit. The scenic overlooks provide plenty of places to stop and get out, and there are also many trailheads along Skyline Drive.
It will take about 3 hours to drive the length of Skyline Drive, not counting time for stops.
For more details on Skyline Drive and specific points of interest please see our Photography Guide to Shenandoah National Park.
Skyline Drive by Beau Considine / CC BY-SA 2.0
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway runs between Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. This mountain road runs for 469 miles, so you will need to set aside at least a few days to travel and photograph the entire length.
There are countless places to get beautiful views along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Some highlights include Mabry Mill, Humpback Rocks, Linville Falls, and Craggy Garden. If you want a relaxing mountain drive with plenty of photo opportunities, consider this scenic route.
Blue Ridge Parkway by Brian Leon / CC BY-ND 2.0