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!)

Rocky Mountains near Canmore, Alberta, Canada

The Three Sisters (Canadian Rockies) and other mountains near Canmore, Alberta, are a spot that should make any driver want to pull over for a photo. © Randall Shirley

  1. 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).
  2. SuAu (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.

    SuHua Gong Lu or Su Au to Hualien Highway, Taiwan

    Image © Fred Hsu, Wikicommons

  3. 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).
  4. 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.

    Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany

    Neuschwanstein, Germany, is the castle all other castles only wish they were! Just one of the scenic payoffs on this drive. © Randall Shirley

  5. 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.

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22 Responses to “Most-Beautiful Drives in the World”

  1. Jane says:

    This summer we did Quebec’s St. Lawrence Route, which takes you through the Charlevoix region hugging the St. Lawrence River along the way. There is an adjacent tasting route where you can taste fine cheeses, beer and other local, organic fare. Start at the quaint town of Baie-Saint-Paul and end in Malbaie, where you can rest your bones for the night at the glorious Manoir Richelieu. Whale watching is just down the road in Tadoussac (or avoid the ferry and whale watch at Baie Sainte-Catherine).

    Other Canadian contenders: Icefields Parkway through Banff and the obvious Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler and Cabot Trail in Cape Breton……Ok, I’ll stop now.

  2. John Keegan says:

    The most beautiful road in the world in my book is the Amalfi Coast Drive in Italy. Mountains to the sea road cut into cliffs, picturesque villages, breathtaking views. It has it all.

    • admin says:

      Believe it or not, Italy is one travel “must see” I have not yet seen! I don’t know how this has happened, but it will be remedied in 2011 when my partner and I plan to spend at least a month there (he’s Italian).

  3. Kim Hoggan says:

    Two of my faves that I’ve been on over the last couple years are the Blue Ridge Parkway (portions of NC and VA) and the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland. So beautiful! Both of them are breathtaking in such completely different ways.

  4. Nigel Pottle says:

    One of the most amazing drives we’ve ever had was on La Espina del Diablo – The Spine of the Devil – on the highway from Durango to Mazatlan in Mexico. It runs along a ridge between two very deep valleys and twists and turns like a roller-coaster too. At times you have these incredible views to the left of steep mountains which are actually farmed – the farmers must have legs shorter on one side than the other. On the other side one looks out down to a flat plain far below. And at one particular area you get to see both sides at once. It’s a phenomenal road. We did it by a big commercial bus (thankfully) and the sad thing about that is that there was only one place where the bus could pull off – and it’s totally inconvenient for viewing. However, from the inside of the bus, the ride is worth every cent you pay for the trip

  5. Ruth Christensen says:

    Well, I have several I could choose: The most amazing for sheer drama and beauty has to be the Amalfi coast near Naples–as mentioned in another comment, above (can you say “one-way-road for a reason?”–some of those curves are either just hair-raising, or white-knuckle moments–but the sheer beauty of the ocean below makes the drive worth every nausea-inducing curve!); however, one can also get an adrenaline rush by driving the “million-dollar highway” between Durango and Silverton, CO (the best time is autumn for the gorgeous colors of the foliage, but do not ever try it in winter–you’ll never make it!–oh, and it’s also called the Red Mountain highway). Lastly–for nostalgia, I’d take any of the off-the-beaten-track roads in the Berkshires of western Massachussetts. Anywhere around Lenox and Stockbridge. Ahh….

  6. John Geary says:

    A couple of my picks: The Alaska Highway between about Mile 350, up to Liard River. It takes you past/through a couple of beautiful B.C. rocky mountain parks, Stone Mountain and Muncho Lake. It’s particularly pretty on the highway between the parks, reminds me a bit of the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff – without all the traffic and development. Fairly remote, very beautiful mountain vistas.
    The other one would be anywhere along the Central Oregon Coast. Most beautiful coastline in the world, bar none.

  7. Terry says:

    How about a road that Napoleon built while exiled on Elba? Travelling the portion on the north coast from the ferry port of Portoferraio easterly to Capo San Andrea on cliff-sides and around crazy turns you are assailed with sea views, glimpses of rural Italian life, small farms, tourist beaches, and dizzying drops. The two lane road twists into Marciano Marina, colourful and enticing, then heads inland and up switchbacks to an ancient hilltop town of Marciana Alta where I defy you to not stop! Then turn off and drive up to Poggio and that will be the second hilltop town you will want to live in forever, looking out to the Tyrrhenian Sea where it merges with the Mediterranean. Yes, you will gasp as you look down at a farmhouse and goats clinging to a tiny shelf below you, but you will anticipate every narrow curve because there is another quintessential Italian moment around it. Our final turn took us to a family-run hotel hanging on rocks above a small beach, with smiles and spring flowers welcoming us in for wine and seafood… and a view of Corsica in the distance.

  8. Brett says:

    It is hard to pick just one. There are the coastal highways, mountain highways, and prairie highways. One that I loved for the sheer altitude is Cuesta de Lipan in northern Argentina on the way to Chile. But then again the road from Rio to Paraty is amazing…….. Hmmmm I guess I don’t have a favourite.

  9. F Scott Smith says:

    The drive from Lihue to Hanalei/Princeville on the Hawaiian island
    of Kauai is spectacular and surprisingly serene. And don’t
    forget to see the Menehune fishponds and lunch at the St Regis
    Princeville overlooking the bay. There’s a reason Puff the
    magic dragon chose to live here.

  10. Harry Galer says:

    So many beautiful drives!

    Fort Collins, CO to Granite, CO, through Rocky Mountain National Park.

    The Million Dollar Highway, from Montrose, CO south to Pagosa Springs, CO.

    Through the Star Valley in Wyoming.

  11. Wade DeMordaunt says:

    Hmm. This group has pretty much skimmed off the cream, but still, my guess is Durango to Montrose, Colorado, late September. Depending on the moment, many diverse roadways could qualify.

  12. admin says:

    Interesting how many people have mentioned drives in Colorado and Italy. I’m going to Colorado next month, and Italy next summer. Will definitely try to do parts of these drives! That’s what I want 5faves to be about…exploring each others’ favorite travel experiences.

  13. Ross Mulhearon says:

    For me the Great Ocean Road drive from Adelaide to Melbourne in Australia is breathtaking.
    Australia has a law that forbids any sign along any government road and highway so the view is untouched. No 10kms to the next McDeath. Just a clear unabridged view of the country. In the half point is Port Campbell which is home the the 12 Apostles. We arrived and hour before the sun was to set. Watching the sun set on the ocean with massive stone fragments peaking out from the waters is a highlight that will be hard to forget. We stayed the night in Port Campbell and saw the 12 Apostles (which is now only 9 remaining ) and the vibe was totally different. Still fantastic, but not as mysterious and alluring as seeing them during sunset.
    The rest of the Great Ocean Road was peppered with endless cliff side views, a koala bear clustering in the woods, emu’s crossing the road, mango trees growing wild and farm free,
    and sunshine everywhere, everyday.
    Not to be missed. And I’m glad we didn’t.

  14. Blake says:

    Very few will know of this drive. It starts at Moody (a canyon near Rexburg, Idaho, ed.) and goes up the old Sheep Drive way; winds over the Bighole Moutains and ends up in Driggs, Idaho right below the Grand Tetons. It is just beautiful this time of year.

  15. Sue Jackson says:

    We’re big road trippers, so we have lots of favorite drives, including the drive from Zion NP to Bryce Canyon NP to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Also, the Blue Ridge Parkway through Shenandoah NP and driving from NM to CO to the Rocky Mtn NP – see a pattern? We love visiting National Parks!

    Sue Jackson

  16. Shane says:

    Paris to Nice
    Number 1 highway from San Francisco to southern California
    the oregon coast

  17. the Hamakua Coast from Waimea to Hilo on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

    Definitely with you on the Hohenschwangen to Oberammergau drive…jawohl!

  18. Remi Sinai says:

    Hi Randall, hi all,
    A bit late as a reply lol but interesting topic so here are my faves:

    – Mountain: Dolomites routes in general (South Tyrol, Italy), but the Bolzano-Cortina d’Ampezzo way in particular. Been traveling and driving around quite a bit and since I’m a mountain man this is the best I’ve experienced so far. I had a similar feeling in Yosemite, CA, but it’s not matching it – Dolomites are wider, more dramatic and more consistent from a road quality perspective along the way. Feeling was closer in the Canadian rockies and on a couple of Norwegian mountains, however the number of outstanding spots is less and more rare. I haven’t experienced neither Chile/Argentina yet (in a close future) nor the Southern NZ island nor even Japan so for the moment I’d generalize and say the European Alps (across France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria) offer the most beautiful and sick road tripping playground on this planet. Wonder how Chinese mountains in the western regions getting close to Nepal would score though…

    – Coast: I’ll have to say the great ocean road in Australia. Followed closely by the Hana road in Hawai, the pacific highway in California and the Amalfi coast in South Italy. Never done the ocean cloud route in Vietnam, the atlantic road in Norway nor the famous Taiwanese coast road though. Not sure if the overseas highway in Florida can be counted in, but that’s also amazing!

    – Valley/countryside: red rock road in the US, followed by the Irish countryside and Tuscany. I would add potentially NZ, Taiwan and China but… Not gone there yet.

Please add your fave, or your 5 faves on this topic