I love a good road trip (well, who doesn’t?). They work for me.
I can be independent, have some sort of a plan (or not) and go exploring wherever my fancy takes me. Road trips mean being able to escape the weather if it’s horrendous or staying put for longer if the weather (and schedule) allow.
But beyond that, self-drive holidays are all about travelling in a campervan or in our 4WD and camping for me, and that means being able to feed myself. Road trips make travel a whole lot easier when you’re dealing with dietary restrictions.
Road trips can also be really tiring but that’s a topic for another post…
MY 7 FAVOURITE SCENIC DRIVES AROUND THE WORLD
Here are some scenic roads that I’ve enjoyed so much that the words stunning or breathtaking seem woefully inadequate.
1. HAINES HIGHWAY | ALASKA, US / YUKON, CANADA
Trip length: ~300km
This was one big surprise on our Canada road trip a couple of years ago.
Driving from the tiny town of Haines where our Alaska ferry docked to Haines Junction in the Yukon was filled with one brilliant moment after another. Stunning scenery, autumn colours and almost no one else in sight.
This highway doesn’t really seem to get the attention it deserves. Leaving Haines, you start off driving along the Chilkat River and as you gain in elevation, you’re flanked by barren mountain ranges.
These peaky mountains give way to the snowcapped ranges of the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and then Kluane National Park as you approach Haines Junction.
Driving this highway in autumn was beyond spectacular, the fall colours were insane.
There are no towns between Haines and Haines Junction. The only spot where you will have to stop is at the border crossing from Alaska into the Yukon, and possibly a million stops by the roadside to admire the ridiculously gorgeous scenery.
2. RHINE RIVER: KOBLENZ TO RÜDESHEIM | GERMANY
Trip length: ~70km one-way
We loved cruising alongside the Rhine River so much that we went upstream and then followed this up with a downstream trip the next day.
Wine lovers adore this region but I just enjoyed the scenic river bends, quaint towns at every corner, the rolling vineyards and a myriad of castles and ruins harking back to medieval times.
There are so many fairy tale towns to stop at that it might take you a day or two to make your way from Koblenz to Rüdesheim. We had a quick look around popular Sankt Goarshausen (ok, it’s a bit touristy) and Bacharach on the way back to Koblenz the next day.
The Stadtmauer-Rundweg (City Wall Circuit Walk) in Bacharach gives you great views of the town, the Rhine River and the surrounding vineyard hills.
Or if you’re keen, you could stop to admire the Lorelei statue in the middle of the Rhine. I found it to be a bit like the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen: Tiny and overrated.
But regardless, this region is simply scenic all around, and you could stretch those 70km across a couple of days or more to give you time to explore.
3. TOP OF THE WORLD HIGHWAY | ALASKA, US / YUKON, CANADA
Trip length: ~130km
From Alaska to Germany and back to Alaska and the Yukon…
Basically driving anywhere in the Yukon or Alaska during autumn feels magical but driving on top of mountain ridges was simply spectacular. The Top of the World Highway is a gravel road that skirts through a vast and remote landscape and crosses from Alaska into the Yukon.
It’s a road that’s only open for a few months a year (well, it’s actually open year round but the border crossing isn’t), and one from which you might hear horror stories about its condition. We drove it in September 2016 and it couldn’t have been more perfect!
The highway started as a pack trail and at some point was known as ‘ridge road’. It’s not hard to see why as you drive along the ridges…
We barely saw three cars go by… and unfortunately, we also saw no wildlife go by, which was a bit of a disappointment but I suppose that’s not the Top of the World Highway’s fault. Instead though, we got to enjoy a spectacular sunset so that more than made up for the lack of bears.
Apart from the amazing scenery around you, it’s worth driving this road because how many isolated border checkpoints have you crossed that actually close for a good part of the year?
4. BIG SUR | CALIFORNIA, US
Trip length: ~150km
Instead of Big Sur, I should probably have Australia’s Great Ocean Road here but it’s been such a long time since I’ve driven it that I can hardly remember it.
Big Sur is, however, still in my mind. And how can it not with its sweeping coastal vistas, rugged cliffs and a narrow, winding road that keeps you close to the cliff edge. It’s an exhilarating drive that’s also a lot of fun! Or at least that’s what I thought when mum and I drove it some years ago… 🙂
Weirdly, Hearst Castle was one of my favourite stops along this stunning road. And I think I would visit again if I had the chance because how often can you gawk at ridiculous mansions full of Graeco-Roman and who knows what else architecture?!
If I did the trip again, I’d probably stop at the various state parks for a bit of hiking and to get some (better) views of the coastline.
5. STUART HIGHWAY: DARWIN TO ALICE SPRINGS | NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA
Trip length: ~1,500km
Although not necessarily a road many think of as scenic, the sheer distance between Darwin and Alice Springs, 1,500km to be exact, is mind-blowing.
For vast stretches, there’s little to see, and yet, driving it is awe-inspiring as you cross from the lush, tropical north into drier desert country. Once you’re in Alice, you definitely feel like you’ve accomplished something.
For long hours, you pass through no towns or settlements, and the only contact with civilisation you have is with passing cars. Which, on occasion, can make you feel ridiculously excited.
Beyond the obvious detours to Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park or Nitmiluk Gorge, you could stop at Barrow Creek Telegraph Station. It’s one of four remaining telegraph station when the Overland Telegraph Line between Darwin and Adelaide was first established.
If you’d rather roam around and take a walk, stop at Devil’s Marbles (Karlu Karlu), ideally at sunset as you’ll see the rocks change colour then.
In any case, driving from Darwin to Alice Springs is one iconic, must-do scenic drive in Australia.
READ MORE: Highlights from a Northern Territory Road Trip
6. ICEFIELDS PARKWAY | ALBERTA, CANADA
Trip length: ~290km
From the Australian Outback to one of the most famous roads in North America: The Icefields Parkway.
Everyone who visits the Canadian Rockies also drives this road. And for good reason, it is stunning.
We drove the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff, and initially were a little underwhelmed.
Looking at my photos now, I can hardly understand why but at time we had just come from the Yukon – the territory of superlatives – that just wows you around every corner. The weather was less than ideal, and we were a little put off by the crowds on the road, at the various sights and in Jasper and (especially) Banff National Park in general.
That said, if you visit the Rockies, you cannot not drive this road. It is spectacular.
Just try and block out the crowds and make sure you arrive at waterfalls and other sights early, unless, of course, you love being surrounded by a hundred and one Chinese tourists taking endless amounts of selfies.
7. RED CENTRE WAY (NAMATJIRA DRIVE) | NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA
Trip length: ~80km (Turnoff to Glen Helen); ~280km for the entire Red Centre Way loop
Here’s another drive we really enjoyed in the Outback: Driving from Alice Springs to Glen Helen past the West MacDonnell Ranges.
I’d have to loved to drive the entire Red Centre Way to Hermannsburg and Finke Gorge, or even the Mereenie Loop to Kings Canyon, but we had little time on our hands and were in 2WD campervan.
Just driving Namatjira Drive between the turnoff from Larapinta Drive and Glen Helen makes for a great scenic drive though. There are so many spots you’ll want to stop at, from the Ochre Pits to Ormiston Gorge, or the Mount Sonder Lookout.
What incredible road trips have you taken? What scenic roads should I add to my bucket list?
MORE POSTS ON SCENIC DRIVES I’VE LOVED
If Jasper and Banff in the Canadian Rockies are too busy for you, try stunning Kananaskis Country just south of Canmore for some scenic driving or hiking.
In Australia, a drive through the Scenic Rim in Queensland is pretty special or for a nice scenic meander, explore the Glass House Mountains on the Sunshine Coast.
PIN FOR LATER.