By Randall Shirley
I was just interviewed on CBC Radio 2 about what Canadian road I think deserves to have a song written about it (I’ll do a fave Canadian roads post later, and reveal my choice on the day they air my interview…stay tuned). It got me thinking about my truly favorite drives in the world, based on how beautiful the scenery is.
What are some of yours? Feel free to comment at the bottom (it’s easy, promise!)
- Banff to Dead Man’s Flat, Alberta, Trans-Canada Highway 1 (map). I’ve been on many gorgeous drives through magnificent mountains, and hands down, this is my world’s most-beautiful drive…with a couple of caveats. It must be done west-to-east, and preferably in the early evening. Just as you pass the town of Canmore (some great places to eat there, try the Crazy Weed) the Three Sisters mountains dominate the landscape; also prominent are the East End of Rundle, and Mount Lawrence Grassi. The peaks of Mount Lougheed (it has three) and Wind Mountain almost seem like dominoes stacked ready to fall along the south side of the highway. I’ve pulled over many, many times just to stare in awe at this magnificent scenery…and it’s not even inside the national park! (Of course, just about every drive in the Canadian Rockies is gorgeous).
- SuAu (蘇澳) to Hualien (花蓮) Highway (蘇花公路),Taiwan (map). Riding as a passenger is the only recommended way to do this dizzying road—most locals won’t drive it themselves. I’ve done it twice, both times on a public bus. When it got a bit scary, I just lifted my arms and yelled like a school-kid on a roller coaster, and shouted “it’s just like Disneyland” in Chinese. The locals were likely more scared of me than of the bus driver’s skills. Taiwan’s north-east coast is, for the most part, a very steep mountain range with peaks jutting straight out of the sea and reaching thousands of feet into the air. The tiny highway that’s been built between the fishing village of SuAu and the marble quarry / tourist town of Hualien literally clings to the sides of cliffs, sometimes clinging to the cliffs several hundred vertical feet above the rocks and pounding surf below. There’s good stuff to do on both ends of the road: the seaside seafood restaurants in SuAu are excellent, and Hualien is the gateway to Taroko Gorge National Park.
- Ulm to Helena, Montana, I-15 (map). I’ve been lucky enough to drive this stretch of I-15 about 20 times as it passes through the headwaters of the Columbia River. It is pastoral and gorgeous. The river always has a few fly fishermen hoping for a great catch. This is “River Runs Through It” country at its finest. The highway is an easy drive (it’s an American freeway, after all), and Helena is a lovely city with plenty of places to eat and sleep (Great Falls, um, not so much).
- Hohenschwangau to Oberammergau, Germany (map). On a late winter drive, my partner and I discovered there are so many scenic payoffs on this drive through the Alps it’s hard to fathom. Payoff #1 is is Neuschwanstein Castle, the impossibly romantic castle that all other castles wish they were (it helps to be built by a homosexual king who’s trying to gain the attention of a prominent opera composer). From this castle, we drove slightly into Austria on a freeway before veering onto a tiny country highway, deep in the mountains for a stop at the also magnificent Linderhof Castle (same gay king, same composer infatuation), and onward to the lovely Bavarian village of Oberammergau…famous for its Passion Play. We just had coffee and chatted with friendly locals.
- Bryce Canyon to Boulder, Highway 12 (Hogsback), Utah (map). This stretch of highway requires full driver concentration, because if you put the car in the ditch, it’s hundreds of feet down on both sides. Southern Utah’s “red rock country” contains some of the most unique scenery in the world, and while the tourists throng to spots like Zion National Park (and when the tourists are gone, that is an amazing place), intrepid travelers like me go in search of roads less traveled. Highway 12 transports you to many of those spots, including Kodachrome State Park and interesting towns like Escalante and Boulder. On the north end of the drive Capitol Reef National Park is a lesser-visited treat.