The South's Best Scenic Drives 2020
Southerners of a certain age will remember childhood family road trips when our parents would leave before dawn (no AC in the car), and the kids would argue over who got to ride on the armrest in the front seat, up high between the adults, where we could see out. We travel more wisely now, with custom temps for everyone and safety precautions no one had heard of back in the day—but that’s just all the more reason to love a road trip. The best ones are scenic drives, relaxing meanders through a beautiful countryside or shoreline, with no need to look at the clock or the calendar and no hesitation about stopping along the way to savor a view or sample the local barbecue. Most of readers’ favorite drives share one of two geographic jewels: the mountains or the sea. Whether your ideal ramble takes you high into Appalachia or skirts the Atlantic, travels horse country or wine country, you’re sure to find your dream journey among our top ten scenic drives.
10. State 399 at Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)
Start at Navarre Beach and head west toward Pensacola right around sunset. It’s an unforgettable drive, with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Santa Rosa Sound on the other, unspoiled white sand and blue water all around, the whole scene softened by a coastal sky painted in pinks and corals.
9. Virginia Wine Trails
From the Blue Ridge to the Chesapeake, Monticello to the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia is definitely for (wine) lovers, with almost 300 wineries and vineyards in the Commonwealth. Choose your region and plan your trip here.
8. State 12 at Cape Hatteras National Seashore (North Carolina)
This two-lane highway threads Ocracoke, Hatteras, and Bodie Islands, with the powerful Atlantic Ocean on one side and the calmer waters of four sounds—Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, and Pamlico—on the other. Prepare for incredible seascapes.
7. Overseas Highway (Florida)
What began as a railroad from mainland Florida to Key West eventually became one of the most breathtaking drives in the South, including Seven Mile Bridge over the gleaming turquoise waters of the Keys.
6. Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Shaped roughly like an upside-down triangle—the three points being Louisville, Lexington, and Loretto (just southeast of Bardstown)—the Bourbon Trail takes you through horse country and some of the prettiest landscapes in the state. All this plus sipping opportunities aplenty.
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5. Lookout Mountain Parkway (Alabama/Tennessee)
A series of state and local highways make up this beautiful parkway across Lookout Mountain, beginning at Noccalula Falls Park in Gadsden, Alabama, passing through Georgia (within detour range of Cloudland Canyon State Park), and ending in Chattanooga, Tennessee, easily one of the South’s best cities for outdoor fun.
4. Natchez Trace Parkway (Mississippi/Alabama/Tennessee)
Both a National Park and a 444-mile scenic drive, the Parkway roughly follows the Old Natchez Trace, a trade route used by Native Americans, traders—anybody en route from Mississippi to Tennessee by way of Alabama. Enjoy outdoor recreation and visit historic sites along the way. (FYI, you’ll traverse some sparsely populated miles where major exits can seem pretty far apart, so pack snacks.)
3. State Road A1A (Florida)
Maybe it’s not the fastest route from northern Florida to Key West, but it has to be the most interesting. Though you won’t always have an ocean view, occasional glimpses of the Atlantic and the colorful coastal towns you’ll ramble through make this road serious bucket list material.
2. Skyline Drive (Virginia)
There are seventy-five overlooks along this 105-mile meander through Shenandoah National Park, offering spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and abundant Instagram opportunities.
1. Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina & Virginia)
The wildly popular 469-mile drive through Appalachia is divided into four regions—Ridge, Plateau, Highlands, and Pisgah—and bookended by two Southern treasures, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park.