1YoT: The Best Drives On Our US Roadtrip

Unless we can think of another, this will be our last US post. But after driving across the country, both in the north-south and east-west directions, a list of our favorite drives is a must!

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Our Mazda3 Hatchback, the car we drove on our roadtrip. She handled it great!

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All packed up, and we still got more than 30 mpg. Also, its a good thing Leia is small; the only place for her was on our lap in the passenger seat!

Like our US history post, this won’t be an overall list of the best US drives, as there still are several (Blue Ridge Parkway, Million Dollar Highway, Utah Route 143, the Florida Keys) we haven’t done, and others (Big Sur, Kings Canyon, Route 66Monument Valley) we drove on other trips but not this one. This is simply a list of our favorite drives on our One Year of Travel roadtrip.

Alright, lets begin:

10. The dirt road to Garnet

It took a lot to get to Garnet ghost town, especially with our car, which was not designed for a dirt road journey. But we went slow and we made it: atop a 6000 foot mountain in the Garnet Range. The mountain was beautiful, the seclusion was peaceful, and the views were incredible. And Garnet itself was also a very cool place.

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9. Virginia/West Virginia Civil War Grounds

In addition to beautiful forestry and the Application Mountains, northern Virginia/eastern West Virginia is home to lots of Civil War action. Today, signs and placards have been placed throughout this area, detailing the events that went on at each specific location. These signs were so fascinating, every time we saw one we pulled over to read it. It was a lot of fun.

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8. Warm Springs Indian Reservation into Mt Hood National Forest

Despite one traversing a desert and the other cutting through forest, these two drives lead straight into each other. And one thing they have in common is that they are both spectacular. That and they both feature Mt Hood looming overhead, making them even more spectacular.

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7. The Columbia River Gorge

Less than fifty miles from the previous drive is another spectacular Mt Hood National Forest drive, this one through the Columbia Gorge. US-30, WA-14, and I-84 parallel each other through the Gorge; we spent a little time on each and they all were incredible. Additionally, we took the Bridge of the Gods to cross the Gorge; it was a beautiful bridge that made this drive even more spectacular.

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6. Badlands National Park

Not only were the Badlands beautiful, but driving through them was a ton of fun! No traffic, no slow curves, and the scenery made us feel like race car drivers, zooming through the American wilderness, leaving a trail of whatever was behind us in our dust. It was hard not to speed on this forty-five minute long drive (don’t worry, we didn’t, or at least when we did we didn’t get caught) and it was a ton of fun.

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5. Driving through New York City

Driving in NYC is crazy, so we took the subway everywhere. However, when it was time to leave, we found ourselves in Brighton Beach (southern Brooklyn) and wanting to head north. Luckily, it was Sunday, and so we were able to take Belt Parkway through Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, FDR Drive through Manhattan, Willis Avenue Bridge into Queens, and Interstate 87 through Queens, all without tolls or traffic. We zoomed straight through and it was a fun and beautiful drive; it was actually one of the highlights of our visit to New York City!

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4. Beartooth Pass

A summit once thought impossible to build a road through, Beartooth Pass crosses the Rockies, connecting Yellowstone to eastern Montana and rising to almost 11,000 feet as it passes through the Beartooth Mountain range. The road is steep, windy, and beautiful, and the views are even more so. This is an incredible drive that should be included in every list of the greatest drives in the country; I’m not sure why it so often isn’t.

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3. Going-to-the-Sun Road

Now we get to the first of two drives in this list that are generally considered the best in the US*. This one, one of the greatest engineering feats in the US highway system, was built between 1921 and 1932, and crosses the Rockies through Glacier National Park. Unlike Beartooth Pass, this pass “only” rises to 6,600 feet, but it does so through what is probably the most beautiful portion of the Rocky Mountains in the US. Today, the road is a National Historic Place, National Historic Landmark, and Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It is an amazing drive through an amazing place.

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2. Pacific Coast Highway

Number two on this list is the second entry that is generally considered one of the best drives in the US*. Of PCH’s two most famous sections, Inna and I had done Big Sur several times, so this trip we decided to drive inland and visit Pinnacles National Park instead. But Inna and I hadn’t driven PCH’s other most famous section, the Golden Gate Bridge, in years, so we made sure to do it on this trip. From the Golden Gate we continued north, and, after a brief stop in Davis, we took PCH through all of Northern California. Neither Inna or I had ever driven PCH up here and it was amazing. Most amazingly was Redwood National Park, where the sun set while we drove through; it was one of the most beautiful sights we have ever seen.

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1. Yellowstone’s Buffalo Country

There are two recommended buffalo country drives in Yellowstone: Grand Loop Road between Yellowstone Lake and Canyon Village, and US-212 east of Tower Junction. These drives are connected by Grand Loop Road, which continues north from Canyon Village, through the Dunraven Pass and over the Washburn Range, to US-212 at Tower Junction.

Inna and I didn’t see a single buffalo when we drove Grand Loop Road. Even so, the route, particularly the terrifying Washburn Range section (steep inclines/declines, very windy, sheer cliffs with no railing) was enough to warrant inclusion somewhere on this list. Now add the 500+ buffalo we saw on US-212, 100+ of them up close, and Yellowstone’s buffalo country easily becomes our favorite drive on our entire roadtrip.

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Look how close this buffalo is! There’s no way this drive wasn’t going to be number one on this list.

Honorable Mentions: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, White’s Pass, driving through the Black Hills, Presque Isle State Park, driving through Pittsburgh, and Skyline Drive.

* other drives generally considered best in the US are: Utah Route 143, Blue Ridge Parkway, San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway, the Road to Hana, and probably some others that people will get mad at me for not including here.

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