12 Unbelievable Road Adventures
CALIFORNIA: Venture into Death Valley
Journey through the hottest, driest, and lowest place in North America on the Death Valley Scenic Byway (CA 190). The 81.5-mile route begins at the eastern entrance of Death Valley National Park and ends at the park’s western boundary. Along the way, you’ll be driving through a remote desert realm boasting eroded badlands, colorful canyons carved by ancient rivers, and dizzying views of the Black Mountains and Sierra Nevada mountain range.
To go hiking, carry plenty of drinking water and detour off the byway on some of the park’s nearly 1,000 miles of paved and dirt backcountry roads. Cooler months (November to March) are best for hikes to salt flats, dunes, canyons, and creeks. From Furnace Creek—home to natural springs, a visitor center, golf course, and luxurious The Oasis at Death Valley resort—turn south on Badwater Road to hike the Gower Gulch Loop trailhead. The 4.3-mile loop leads through otherworldly Golden Canyon, one of the many Star Wars’ filming locations found inside the park.
ARIZONA: Experience adventure on the rocks
The short, 7.5-mile, Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR 179) is long on adventure possibilities. Bring your bike, and any gear you need to hike, camp, and go rock climbing along the route, which winds through a desert wonderland dotted with sculpted rock formations. Named Arizona’s first “All-American Road” in 2005, the byway runs north to south from the Coconino National Forest to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a concrete-and-glass monolith perched high atop the red rocks south of Sedona.
Side roads and trailheads are invitations to explore more. To hike and rock climb, however, you’ll need a pass from one of the Red Rock Country Gateway Visitor Centers. As you pass the Village of Oak Creek, look for Bell Rock, a behemoth, bell-shaped butte thought to be a vortex, or swirling center of energy from within the Earth. To get closer to the legendary butte and, perhaps, experience its mysterious natural power, park at the Bell Rock Vista Trailhead and bike or hike the 3.6-mile Bell Rock Pathway trail.
OREGON/CALIFORNIA: Ignite your sense of adventure
Witness the primal power of nature on the dazzling Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. The 500-mile route through the volcanic highlands of northern California and southern Oregon passes steaming hot springs, towering waterfalls, and nature-carved wonders like Crater Lake National Park and Lava Beds National Monument. Use Apple CarPlay, standard in the new 2020 Prius, to create an epic soundtrack choosing playlists on the fly (while staying focused on the road) to fit the ever-changing views.
The byway is designed to showcase jaw-dropping scenery, not get you where you’re going quickly. If possible, spend at least five days making all or part of the drive. The Prius' roomy cargo space easily can handle all the food, supplies, and gear you’d need to camp and stargaze at night and explore each day. Among the route’s amazing must-try adventures is hiking the Bumpass Hell Trail in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail name alone is worth it, and you’ll see Big Boiler, one of the planet’s hottest fumaroles with top temps reaching up to 322°F.
MONTANA/WYOMING: Reach new heights on the Beartooth Highway
The Beartooth Highway (US 212), an All-American Road connecting Red Lodge, Montana to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, leads past 20 peaks of more than 12,000 feet and over the 10,900-foot-plus Beartooth Plateau. Maneuvering through the 69-mile route’s multiple switchbacks and cliff-hugging turns requires keeping your eyes squarely on the road; no problem when you can access playlists, podcasts, and other road trip essentials using Apple CarPlay, standard in the new 2020 Prius.
The route typically is open Memorial Day weekend to October, and periodically closes due to snow or mudslides. Stop at the Gardner Lake pullout to take in the views, maybe spot bears and Bighorn sheep (bring binoculars), and challenge your lung capacity with a short, steep hike down to the water’s edge and back. The hike is only 1.5 miles roundtrip, but the entire trail is 10,000 feet or more above sea level. If you plan to make multiple stops, get an early start. The wild and winding Beartooth isn’t a drive you want to make in the dark.
ALASKA: Be amazed by glaciers, whales, and wildlife
Experience the full jaw-dropping glory of Alaska’s natural wonders on the Seward Highway. The 127-mile scenic byway meanders from Anchorage south to Seward through south-central Alaska’s Chugach National Forest. Making the drive gives you a front-seat view of snow-capped peaks, fjords, glaciers, lakes, meadows, and wildlife-rich wetlands. Although mud, ice, snow, and rain regularly affect road conditions, the available AWD -e on the 2020 Prius is designed to provide the traction you need to keep moving in any weather.
Pull off the road at Beluga Point to watch for the overlook’s namesake white whales in the waters of Turnagin Arm. At mile 3 on the byway (just before you arrive in Seward), take the nine-mile detour (open May to mid-November) to Exit Glacier, the only area in Kenai Fjords National Park that’s accessible by road. Learn about glaciers at the Nature Center here, then take one or more of the several short walks leading to up-close views of Exit Glacier. For a more strenuous adventure, plan ahead for a 8.2-mile round-trip day hike to Harding Ice Field, North America’s third largest at 700 square miles.
COLORADO: Wind through rugged Rocky Mountain National Park
Get eagle’s-eye views of Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road, the 48-mile National Scenic Byway that runs through the park from Estes Park to Granby, Colorado. Climbing 4,000 feet in only minutes, the route makes the above-the-tree line world of the alpine tundra accessible to adventurous road trippers. At the loftiest, windswept elevations (the road’s highest point is 12,183 above sea level), watch for bighorn sheep, marmots; see sweeping views of alpine peaks, Front Range cities, the Great Plains, and a huge swath of the Rockies; and, at the height of summer, hike through the carpet of colorful blooms blanketing the tundra.
The wildest part of the ride is the descent, which begins with the white-knuckle hairpin bend at Medicine Bow Curve and twists down through the pines to the valley floor. On the greener, lower-elevation stretches, watch for moose, elk, and other wildlife. Extend the adventure by spending the night at the historic Grand Lake Lodge (open May to October), overlooking Colorado’s largest natural lake.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Summit the Northeast’s highest peak
Elevate your road trip experience by driving to the “Top of New England,” on the historic Mount Washington Auto Road. Designed in 1861 as a scenic touring route, the privately-owned, toll road typically is open mid-May to mid-October, but can be closed anytime due to poor weather or high winds. The drive begins at elevation 1,670 feet and climbs to the 6,288-foot summit, highest point in the northeastern United States. Vehicles making it up earn the coveted “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker, frequently spotted in New England, but not so easy to get.
The narrow road doesn’t have guardrails or shoulders, and there’s a mile of hard-packed gravel near the midpoint. Making the climb in a Prius with available AWD-e really helps, particularly on the steep 22 percent grade on the final stretch to the top. Fall foliage season poses an extra challenge, since leaf-peeping drivers regularly slow down to see the views. The Prius' dynamic radar cruise control will help you stay a safe distance away from the car in front of you, even if it unexpectedly stops.
MAINE: Go with the flow
Parallel historic river trading routes of the Abenaki people on the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway. The 78-mile drive winds through the rugged, wilderness of western Maine from the intersection of US 201 and ME 43 to the Quebec border. Roadside markers (in English and French) share the history of the adventurous loggers, immigrants, and Revolutionary War heroes who followed the same path. From the road, you can see mountains, rivers, lakes, spectacular foliage in fall, and, often, moose. But, the best way to experience the byway is by stopping to camp, hike, or get out on the water.
Bring a rigid kayak (easy to carry using the Cargo Cross Bars available on the 2020 Prius) or rent an inflatable one to launch your own adventure on the Dead and Kennebec Rivers. The Byway runs through the heart of The Forks, Maine’s premier whitewater rafting country, where the two rivers intersect. Buy a one-day fishing license and bring your gear to fish for brown and rainbow trout, and salmon in the swift-flowing waters of the Kennebec.
OREGON/WASHINGTON: Explore the Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Highway leads past waterfalls, moss-covered cliffs, across the spectacular Bridge of the Gods, and through small towns and wildlife-rich areas in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Cool, moist conditions along the route regularly creates low-hanging water vapor, which enhances the dramatic vistas, but also decreases visibility. Fog lights on the Prius with available AWD-e make it easier to safely navigate any foggy stretches you encounter, particularly along the river’s edge.
Although the west-east drive from Troutdale, Oregon to Maryhill, Washington is only 90 miles, you’ll want to spend at least a couple of days. Follow in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by pitching a tent at Washington’s Columbia Hills Historical State Park (open April to October). A favorite of rock climbers and water-lovers, the 3,637-acre camping park is home to Horsethief Butte and Horsethief Lake. Strap a standup paddleboard or kayak to the Prius' available Cargo Cross Bars, and fold the rear seats down to stow paddles, camping equipment, and any other gear you’ll need to channel your inner explorer.
OKLAHOMA/ARKANSAS: Cruise along mountain crests
Snaking 54 miles through the unspoiled Ouachita National Forest, the Talimena National Scenic Byway serpentines down Winding Stair Mountain and follows the spine of Rich Mountain along the border of southeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas. There are no services along the way, making the Prius' 50 mpg (combined city/highway estimates)—highest of any vehicle equipped with AWD—a huge asset. While you won’t have to worry about stopping for gas, you will want to pull off the road to picnic, play, or even spend the night in wild spaces like Arkansas’ Queen Wilhelmina State Park, Talimena State Park, and Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area in Oklahoma.
Since the byway is the gateway to pretty much any imaginable outdoor adventure (think: rappelling and rock climbing; bass and trout fishing; horseback riding; camping; canoeing; and mountain biking), don’t skimp on the gear. There’s lots of cargo space inside the Prius and removeable cross bars on top to haul bigger stuff like kayaks and bikes.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Roll with rock stars
South Dakota is home to two rock star road trips: the 38-mile Badlands Loop Road (SD-240) through the bedrock moonscape of Badlands National Park and the 68-mile Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway around hairpin curves, through granite tunnels, and past monumental rock carvings in the Black Hills. On the way to the Badlands Loop, stop at the iconic Wall Drug Store for a selfie with the Giant Jackalope. In the national park, the extreme road capabilities of the Prius with available AWD-e will make it easier to spot real wildlife—like bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and prairie dogs—on the 10-mile, gravel-road detour to Robert’s Prairie Dog Town.
The Peter Norbeck Byway is a twisting, turning, nearly figure-eight loop that begins and ends near the foot of Mount Rushmore National Memorial and passes by the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial, the world’s largest rock sculpture. Apple CarPlay, standard in the new 2020 Prius, supports other apps on your iPhone, so you could listen to an American history podcast while rolling past the monuments. Pack all your camping gear (the Prius’ roomy cargo space can handle it), and carry your bike up top to spend a couple of days at Custer State Park. The 71,000-acre wilderness park has nine campgrounds, miles of hiking and biking trails, and free-roaming buffalo.
NEVADA: Play on water, land, and snow at Lake Tahoe
Dubbed “the most beautiful drive in America,” the Lake Tahoe’s Eastshore Drive (NV 28, US 50), a National Scenic Byway, runs 28 miles along the mostly undeveloped, eastern side of the cobalt-blue lake. In addition to jaw-dropping views of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada peaks, the route opens the door to a wealth of outdoor activities. Pack gear for whatever sport is in season—from skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing in winter to warmer-weather camping, kayaking, mountain biking, and windsurfing.
Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake, is unbelievably blue, so you’ll want to make the drive north to south, hugging the shoreline as closely as you can the entire way to soak in the views. Begin at the California border in Nevada’s North Lake Tahoe town of Crystal Bay and end at the border 28 miles south in the aptly named town of Stateline. May to October, stop at Sand Harbor State Park for water sports (kayak and SUP rental available) and tent camp near the lake at Nevada Beach Campground.