There’s nothing like arriving at a rental car counter and learning you’ll be walking away with keys to a convertible. I’ve experienced this happy surprise a couple of times so far in my travels, and it’s fair to say I’m hooked. When the drive is the main event, it feels right to get some wind in your hair.
After getting home from a recent road trip through the Tetons that left me overwhelmed by their beauty, I wondered: Where else are the world’s best drives? We asked our Facebook community to share their most gorgeous road trips, and the answers have us dreaming about our next adventure. Whether you’re riding solo with the top down or cozied up in a car full of friends, let these beautiful landscapes prove that the journey really is the destination.
"There is a point when you are driving north up to Taos, New Mexico, where the view of the Rio Grande Gorge takes your breath away, backdropped by the Taos Mountains. I’ve driven it all my life and it always makes my heart flutter." —Delia Castillo
Pacific Coast Highway
"The Hana Highway on Maui, Hawaii. Such beauty with incredible twists and turns! But the drive through the Blue Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina was incredible, too. As was the drive from Bergen to Førde in Norway." —Bente Humphrey
"I-24, through Chattanooga, Tennessee. Nothing too fancy, right? I’ve got 13 years’ worth of memories on that drive each month. Enjoying the time with my family visiting ours. I was with my daddy on the back of a motorcycle, one of the first times I saw the place. Just holds a very special place in my heart." —Laura Davis
Sea to Sky Highway
"Sea to Sky Highway between Vancouver and Whistler in British Columbia. I cried, it was so beautiful." —Alexi Sakalik
Australia, South Coast
"Perth, Australia, to Albion and then the long drive along the southern coast until eventually ending up in Adelaide. In 1969. Lucky to be alive. The surfing along the South Coast of Australia is not for the timid." —Bob Eldredge
"Several, but [Persepoli], Iran takes my heart. I have traveled across ancient Persia. Great landscapes, good food, kind people." —Valentina Teslazero
"What, only one? Kruger National Park, the coastal route between Cape Town and Point of Good Hope in South Africa, and the Garden Route in South Africa. North and South Islands of New Zealand. Top of the World Highway of the Alaska-Canada Highway. Berlin to Munich, Germany—the Autobahn! You can go fast and very fast. It’s a beautiful thing." —Sherwin Pe Benito
Virginia-North Carolina: Tangled Up in Blue
Spanning two states and 469 miles without a single stop sign or traffic light, the winding Blue Ridge Parkway unspools along ridgetops, into fertile valleys, and past the highest peak east of the Mississippi (Mount Mitchell) as it links Waynesboro, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Mountains to Cherokee, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains. "If your bladder could hold out and you have enough gas, you could drive the entire length of it without ever stopping," says Dan Brown, a retired superintendent of the popular parkway.
Of course, farms, fields, and small towns offer plenty of diversions worth braking for, and most people linger longer than one day. They climb Sharp Top Mountain in Virginia, as Thomas Jefferson once did, eat cornmeal cakes at the historic Mabry Mill, or wander beneath the white oaks, red maples, mountain magnolias, black cherries, and tulip poplars at Flat Top Manor, gorging themselves on bluegrass music and Americana.
Backstory: The ridge's name comes from the soft blue haze that seems to wrap the mountains from a distance.
Inside track: Famous for the high drama of its fall foliage, the route inspires no less awe the rest of the year, insists Brown—from spring's blooming blankets of wild ginger, trout lily, and jack-in-the-pulpit wildflowers and budding trees to the summer's "plush southern Appalachian landscape" of verdant green, as well as the "bleak," beautiful winter.
Read more in "License to Thrill" in the August/September 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler (subscribe here).