Few countries in the world can claim the geographical accolades that the United States can. We are a country flanked by the two largest oceans in the world and contained on either side by coastal mountain ranges. In the middle, there are hundreds of thousands of lakes, rivers and canyons. And, with the introduction of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, Eisenhower’s proposed 41,000 miles of road made it infinitely easier to traverse our expansive country and see all those natural wonders.
By design, the interstate highways were meant to make the idea of traveling across the States more attractive, and also make evacuations from large cities easier (just in case the plot of Red Dawn played out). Apex-hunting and pulse-quickening drives were not on Ike’s agenda, but if there’s one thing all those (now easily accessible) lakes, rivers and canyons lay down, it’s unbelievable natural contours for perfect driving roads, as if Mother Nature herself is a speed freak. If you find yourself driving cross country on the interstate, make sure you set aside some time to take a detour on one of these hidden asphalt gems before you get to your “Point B.”
Hells Canyon Road, Idaho
Starting just across the river from Coopersfield Campground in Oxbow, Oregon, and continuing all the way to Hells Canyon Dam, the appropriately named Hells Canyon Road runs along the Snake River for 22 miles. Hugging the jagged canyon walls, the two-lane strip of blacktop undulates and creases the entire way. When you do eventually get to the Hells Canyon Dam, where only Park Service vehicles are allowed past, so you’ll have to turn around and head back the way you came. Going 44 miles out of your way never looked so good.
Drive Distance: 44 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: AMG GT C Roadster
Saddle Road, Mauna Kea State Park, Hawaii
Flanked by volcanos Muana Kea and Muana Loa on either side, Saddle Road isn’t short on breathtaking views. The naturally chaotic volcanic formations give way to the perfect canvas of asphalt and a scenic downhill run to the crystal-blue waters of the Pacific.
Drive Distance: 46 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Lexus LC 500
Route 245-Route 7-Route 26 Loop, Oregon
There’s no doubt Western Oregon is full of great roads. But what really makes these asphalt oasis some of the best in the country is that traffic is nonexistent. You’ll go for miles without seeing another car or truck, and if you do happen across a slower-moving vehicle, most of the time they’ll just pull over to get out of the way. They know why you’re there.
Drive Distance: 97 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Audi S4
Mulholland Highway, from Malibu Creek State Park to Route 1, California
PCH may get the spotlight for going the length of California, and for kissing the Pacific for most of it, but tucked away in the hills above California Route 1 are some of the best driving roads in America. There’s a whole web of banked switchbacks, cresting and dipping tarmac that branches out from Route 1 with Mulholland Highway at its center.
Drive Distance: 21 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Mazda MX-5
Route 9W to Storm King Highway, New York
Just short of an hour north of Manhattan is Route 9W. It’s a highway that starts out unassuming enough but then meanders around Bear Mountain State Park. Take the exit for Storm King Highway and the contemptuously named route leads you to and along the Palisades, a cliffside drive with views 1,000 feet over the Hudson River.
Drive Distance: 11 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Lancia Delta Integrale
Old Highway 95, White Bird, Idaho
Northern Idaho finds itself planted right in the middle of the American Rockies, so you’d be hard pressed to find boring roads anywhere, but Old Highway 95 is definitely a highlight. Old Highway 95 cascades down from the Rockies, out of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, and the road is akin to the Stelvio Pass in the Alps. Roads like this are few and far between in the world, let alone the United States. And when you get to the bottom, you can take “new” 95 back to the top, which isn’t a bad drive either.
Drive Distance: 16 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Toyota 86
Route 348, Helen, Georgia
The Rockies may have great driving roads, but because winter tends to be harsher in that part of the country, all the good roads shut down for safety. Down in the southern tip of the Appalachians, they don’t have those problems of inclement weather, and these roads boast a year-round apex hunting season. Route 348 serpentines across the wrinkled region of Northern Georgia, and although wintery weather is rare here, when it does snow it’s nothing AWD and a set of Blizzaks can’t handle.
Drive Distance: 14 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Ford Focus RS
M119, Harbor Springs, Michigan
If the Nurburgring is the “Green Hell,” then M119 north out of Harbor Springs, Michigan is probably the Green Heaven. Officially nicknamed the Tunnel of Trees, what M119 lacks in elevation change it makes up for in twisties and constant, peacefully green canopy. It’s a perfectly contoured northern section of Lake Michigan.
Drive Distance: 24 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Porsche 911 GTS
Route 82 from Twin Lakes to Aspen, Colorado
If there’s one great thing about driving through the Colorado Rockies, it’s that the weaving mountain roads, outlining valleys, rivers and an ocean of evergreens, provide great white-knuckle driving. The downside is, remote roads like Route 82 from Twin Lakes to Aspen are shut down during the winter due to snowfall. The limited window of drivability only entices a spirited summer drive.
Drive Distance: 37 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: McLaren 570S Spider
NV 158 to NV 157, Mount Charleston, Nevada
With more mountain ranges than any other state, there’s no doubt Nevada has a great crop of driving roads. Just 45 minutes west of Las Vegas, the run to the peak of Mount Charleston may be one of the shorter routes on the list, but it’s probably one of the better ways to shake any Vegas-sized stupor.
Drive Distance: 21 Miles
Best Car for the Drive: Ford GT