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My family and I will be driving around the USA this summer — east and west coasts, and across the southern coastal states. We'll be doing sightseeing, but I'm also wary of missing a lot of scenery by staying on interstates the whole time. What are some practical ways that I can identify portions of the country where it would be worthwhile to get off the interstate and take state routes?

I'm sure each small town tourist department will recommend that I drive slowly by their businesses, but on a nation-wide trip, how can I find the most scenic routes?

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    The road atlases I'm familiar with have scenic routes marked with green shading. – phoog May 10 '18 at 3:47
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    Note that Seattle -> San Diego -> Houston -> Jacksonville -> Boston is a straight 70 hour drive. I'm just worried you're not going to have much summer left if you try to get too scenic!! Don't miss the national parks, and don't miss the Big Sur - but I think some it is non-navigable following a landslide last year. – Strawberry May 10 '18 at 12:35
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    If you want scenic, I'm not sure why you'd be cutting across the southern part of the US. If you have a choice, there is probably more to see in the northern part. E.g. Going-to-the-sun Road in Glacier National Park is often rated as one of the most scenic roads in the world. – BlackThorn May 10 '18 at 15:24
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    Some good recommendations below. Be aware that the non-interstate routes can take significantly longer to get you from point to point (up to twice as long is not uncommon). I'd suggest picking scenic routes that occasionally intersect or run close to a highway on-ramp so that you at least have the option of shaving off some driving time if you find yourself behind schedule or inclement weather ruins the view. – CactusCake May 10 '18 at 15:49
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    I would challenge the notion that Interstates can't themselves be scenic routes. There are lots of incredibly scenic Interstates, especially in the West. Also, I would encourage you to make sure your planned route is reasonable as far as time is concerned. The U.S. is really big. Driving down the West coast, across the South, and up the East coast, even if you don't go down the FL peninsula, is a solid week of doing nothing but driving, eating, and sleeping, without time to stop and see any sights at all. You would also be missing places like Yellowstone and the Badlands. – reirab May 10 '18 at 20:44
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I would take a look at a site called Roadtrippers. It has exactly what you are looking for. They have article like "The ultimate road trip guide to I-90, from Boston to Seattle" and a whole bunch of different information about traveling not only in the US, but places all over the world.

Also, if you just google the interstate you will be on and add "tourist attractions" you will get a host of great information.

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    Seconded on using RoadTrippers. Although I would suggest changing the default "Distance from route" slider I tend to find it can suggest items well off your route if you don't change it, I tend to lower it to 20 miles. – JenniP May 10 '18 at 10:33
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The American Automobile Association (AAA) publishes many paper road maps and travel guides for its members. Their recommendations for particularly scenic routes are annotated by a dotted green line. For example, in the map below, US-1 along the coast of Maine is denoted as particularly scenic.

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(Image taken from this blog post, which contains many other tips.)

AAA does not sell its maps commercially as far as I can tell (though an Amazon search turns up some resellers); instead, they are provided free to AAA members. If you're already a AAA member, this might be a useful resource for you to tap.

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    +1 for paper maps, this will make your experience much more memorable – Guido May 10 '18 at 12:02
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    For what it's worth, other non-AAA maps may follow this same convention. I've seen dotted green scenic routes on a Rand McNally USA road atlas, for instance. – bjmc May 10 '18 at 16:51
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    This was the first thing I thought of, but you need to be a little wary - some of the scenic routes I've tried in the past are miles and miles of woodland which is nice if you want to stop & camp under the trees but doesn't fit my definition of "scenic driving". I suggest you first use paper maps to locate possibilities, then use something like Google Earth to check out what they really look like. – Dragonel May 10 '18 at 22:47
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    @Dragonel Those miles and miles of woodland might be much more scenic in the autumn. Not all scenic routes are necessarily scenic the whole year around. – David Richerby May 11 '18 at 14:17
  • Joining any state AAA wil get you maps at all of them and guidebooks. So join SoCalAA and Virginia AAA wil cheerfully give you services including travel advice – Harper May 11 '18 at 15:49
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America's Scenic Byways is a one-stop shop for scenic routes in the US. These are shown on a US map and also listed in text. The map makes it easy to find roads in or near areas you will be traveling through.

The site includes National Scenic Byways including All-American Roads, National Forest Scenic Byways (which pass through national forests), Bureau of Land Management Back Country Byways, as well as other scenic roads such as those designated as such by individual US states.

  • That's a great site. If they could put it together with the Roadtrippers interface, it'd be even better! – adam.baker May 13 '18 at 1:30
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The state of Oregon has specifically designated "Scenic Routes", perhaps other states have similar designations for some roads.

For the West Coast and especially through Oregon and Washington and Northern California just driving Hwy 101 is great for scenery. It can be kind of slow going at times so be prepared for that.

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If you're looking for scenic drive options, this is pretty easy to zoom in on with Bing/Google/YouTube.

Start a search with "overseas highway" and "17 mile drive" which are well known scenic routes in the US.

The results will contain lists of scenic drives and sites about scenic drives and you can branch out form there.

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Well, you know your own likes and dislikes. Factor those into the planning.

As a photographer and a lover of mountains, when I planned a 6 week holiday in the US I started with a big Ansel Adams book.

I picked a bunch of favourite photos, and strung together as many as I thought I could tackle, on an itinerary that worked for me.

And it turned out to be a fantastic holiday, covering diverse scenery from the northern AZ desert (Navajo Nation and the Grand Canyon of course) to Yellowstone.

As I kept to a relatively low average speed I couldn't avoid soaking up the atmosphere on the stretches between the major events, and those stretches provided a lot of unexpected highlights.

So, start by considering what you would like to see.

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For scenic drives, you're better off spending more time in the West. There's lots to like about the East Coast, but driving isn't one of them.

Here's a 1-day loop worth doing in Seattle.

As Strawberry said, you've got to do the national parks. Glacier, in particular, will blow your mind. Yellowstone is a few hours south, too.

If I were you, I'd skip the east coast entirely, rent a car in Seattle and spend a week in each national park on your way to the Grand Canyon.

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    The East Coast does have, among many things, one of the largest mountain ranges in the US. There's also the Everglades (in Florida), and the Great Smoky Mountains national park, and myriad more. Why do you recommend skipping that? Just because driving isn't very "fun"? The West has vast expanse of empty space compared to NE, where OP will just see desert for long stretches of time. This answer seems more of personal (subjective) ideas on what to see, not ways for OP to identify options and make their own decision. – BruceWayne May 10 '18 at 15:05
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    This answer seems to assume that the east coast consists entirely of congested cities, which is far from the truth. – David Richerby May 10 '18 at 15:51
  • @BlackThorn ...And the Rocky mountains are hills to folks living in the Himalayas...and those are small compared to Everest...etc – BruceWayne May 10 '18 at 15:54
  • A week in each national park, how long do you think people typically have for their holidays? – Summer May 11 '18 at 9:06
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    @JaneDoe1337 The asker talks about "driving around the USA this Summer—both coasts, and across the bottom." Boston-Jacksonville-San Diego-Seattle is already a full week even if you drive ten hours a day, so it sounds like they're proposing to spend a substantial amount of time on this. So, sure, people typically don't have that much time but it sounds like the asker does. – David Richerby May 11 '18 at 14:14

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