Travelers love hitting the road. Whether you’re revving the engine in your motorcycle, turning up the radio in your convertible, or hitting the gas in your minivan, scenic byways beckon visitors of all walks of life. Everyone loves to see the crashing waves against a rocky shoreline or the towering snow-capped mountains stretching into the clouds.
But which state has the most scenic roads? If you’re heading out on a road trip, don’t skip out on Oregon. You’ll be sorry you did!
What Is the Most Beautiful Road in the US?
It’s impossible to identify the most beautiful road in America. Some travelers love the Pacific Coast Highway in California or the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana. Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Forest and Brandywine Valley through Pennsylvania and Delaware are also favorite scenic drives. You can encircle the entire Big Island along the Hawaii Belt in Hawaii.
Although there are numerous beautiful byways throughout the US, one state, in particular, has the most scenic drive: Oregon.
What Is the Most Beautiful State to Drive Through?
Oregon has 29 designated Scenic Byways and Tour Routes. You might see red deserts, snow-capped mountains, and rocky coastlines along one road. It’s truly a beautiful state to drive through with its glacier-topped volcanoes, lava fields, abundant farmlands, and wild rivers.
Whether you’re driving north to south or east to west through the northeastern or southwestern part of Oregon, a scenic drive is waiting.
Which State Has the Most Scenic Roads?
As just mentioned, Oregon has 29 Scenic Byways and Tour Routes. These include historic landmarks along the Oregon Trail, as well as ghost towns and ancient Native American ruins. But beyond the history of this part of the country, the landscapes are stunning.
View the gorgeous Pacific coastline along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. Marvel at the monstrous height of Mount Washington and gaze in awe at the Three Sisters volcanoes.
Then there are all the waterways, rivers, and lakes scattered throughout the state. They offer beautiful scenery, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing opportunities.
Traveler’s Tip: Whether you’re out for lake views in the summer or a fall leaf color tour, here are the 10 Best Scenic Drives in Michigan.
Best Scenic Drives in Oregon
Of the 29 routes, eight stand out as the best drives in Oregon. They feature varied landscapes even along the same byway. You might drive through miles of fir forests and then miles of a river basin.
Along the way, there are plenty of cute towns with historical significance, and shopping, dining, and recreational activities.
The Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is 363 miles of beauty. It spans the entire west coastline of Oregon from Brookings in the south all the way up to Astoria in the north. Crossing numerous waterways, this scenic route includes the Necanicum River, the Siletz River, the Alsea River, the Coquille River, and the Chetco River.
It also goes through the Coos Bay and the Bay City areas. This route will also take you over Tahkenitch Lake, Siltcoos Lake, Devil’s Lake, and the Pacific Ocean waterway between Oregon and Washington state.
There are also numerous state parks where you can stop for a break or enjoy outdoor recreation like hiking or biking. Visit the Columbia Bar where the Columbia River crashes into the Pacific Ocean at Fort Stevens State Park. Trek into the sandy coves of Ecola State Park and view the harbor seals at Port Orford Heads State Park.
Additional spots worth stopping in include:
- Columbia River Maritime Museum
- Yaquina Bay Lighthouse
- Oregon Coast Aquarium
- Hatfield Marine Science Center
- Heceta Head Lighthouse
The Pacific Coast Byway isn’t just a beautiful drive, although the scenery is worth the drive itself. There’s also so much to do along the route!
Historic Columbia River Highway
Known as “King of the Roads,” the Historic Columbia River Highway Scenic Byway was America’s first scenic highway and is a National Historic Landmark. It’s a trip you can take in one day to drive the 70 miles through the towering walls of the Columbia River Gorge.
Whereas the Pacific Ocean marks the western boundary of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, the Sandy River forms the western boundary of this route. It begins in Troutdale and ends at Dodson.
The Portland Women’s Forum State Scenic Viewpoint is the first panoramic view of the majestic Columbia River Gorge. You’ll want your camera handy here. As you travel from Crown Point, you’ll witness five stunning waterfalls.
This includes the 620 ft Multnomah, one of the tallest waterfalls in America. This area is also a great place to get out and hike. You’ll find even more waterfalls hidden deeper in the forest.
At the Bonneville Lock and Dam, check out the Visitors Center and the underwater viewing area. The Sturgeon Viewing Center offers a chance for visitors to see 10-foot, 425 lb, 60-year-old Herman the Sturgeon. Next is the Hood River area, where the Mount Hood Scenic Byway begins. Enjoy scenic overlooks all over this part of the Historic Columbia River Highway.
The byway begins again in Mosier and ends in The Dalles. Here you’ll witness the transformation of the fir forest into a ponderosa pine and oak forest. Stop at Rowena Crest to view the spring wildflowers.
When you end at The Dalles, explore the historic downtown murals of Native American life. Also, check out the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. With all the geological formations and small towns along the route, it’s no wonder this is one of the best drives in America.
In southern Oregon, you can travel 140 miles of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway from Diamond Lake Junction in the north to Klamath Falls in the south. It includes looping around the largest lake in America, Crater Lake, a 1,943-foot deep crater resulting from an eruption of the ancient Mt. Mazama.
Crater Lake is also a national park. The north entrance is usually only open June to October because of snow, but the south entrance is open year-round. By driving clockwise around the rim, you’ll be able to easily pull off at many of the beautiful overlooks.
After leaving Crater Lake National Park, stop in and visit the Fort Klamath Museum and learn about the 1863 military post. Then the byway leads you to Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon’s largest freshwater lake. Here, you can stop for some hiking and fishing adventures. At Mount McLoughlin and Howard Bay, pause to check out the white pelicans and bald eagles.
The byway ends at Klamath Falls, where walking trails and waterways are other places for birding. Visit the Favell Museum, where 100,000 Native American artifacts are showcased. The Bear Valley National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge are just a few miles south of Klamath Falls across the California border.
McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass
This 82-mile loop route encircles the Mount Washington Wilderness area northwest of Bend, Ore. McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass is home to several endangered species, forests, grasslands, river valleys, and volcanic geology. Start your drive in Sisters, where the 10,000-foot towering peaks of the Three Sisters volcanoes stand majestically.
Follow the byway counterclockwise to Camp Sherman, where you’ll find a beautiful overlook facing Mount Jefferson. Gaze at Mount Washington before climbing to Santiam Pass. Here, you’ll also pass by Lost Lake. It’s a mysterious phenomenon that fills up with water every spring and disappears in the fall.
The next section of the byway runs parallel to the West Cascades Scenic Byway. You can also hop on the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail. This scenic trail was named one of the “10 Great American Mountain Biking Trails” by Outside magazine.
Ancient volcanic lava flow formed Clear Lake, Sahalie Falls, and Koosah Falls. More lava fields continue along the scenic byway on McKenzie Highway.
The Lava River National Recreation Trail, a paved interpretive trail, winds through numerous lava formations near the end of the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass. Windy Point offers the last overlook spot before the route returns to Sisters.
From Mount Hood National Forest south to Willamette National Forest runs the 215 miles of the West Cascades Scenic Byway. Mountain lakes, fir forests, hot springs, and powerful rivers capture the Oregon landscape here.
In Estacada, where you’ll begin, the Clackamas River is a favorite for kayaks and rafters. The Clackamas River Trail, a hiker-only trail, is easily accessible as you enter the Mount Hood National Forest. Continuing along FR-46, you’ll pass the Olallie Lake National Scenic Area, the Breitenbush River, and the South Breitenbush Gorge National Recreation Trail.
Fishers will enjoy Detroit Lake, and visitors will enjoy panning for gold at the Wild and Scenic Quartzville River. The waterfalls and lava flow of the Upper McKenzie as the West Cascades Scenic Byway connects with the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway.
Belknap Springs is home to a mineral springs spa, and farther west is the Belknap Covered Bridge, a location that has had a covered bridge since 1890. Towards the end of the route, get out and walk the Delta Old Growth Nature Trail near the Delta Campground.
At Box Canyon, the byway leaves the McKenzie River and begins to follow the Wild and Scenic North Fork Middle Fork Willamette River. Oregon’s longest covered bridge at 180 ft, Office Covered Bridge, is in Westfir, concluding the West Cascades Scenic Byway.
Another Southern Oregon scenic drive is the Oregon Outback, a 171-mile north-south drive from La Pine, Ore., the border of California. Reminiscent of the Australian Outback, this drive is a lesser-known pass through forests, plains, and rocky outcrops. Its ruggedness leads to a different type of experience.
A 325-foot national natural landmark greets you at Fort Rock. The oldest known shoes in the world, carbon-dated to be at least 9,300 years old, were discovered at Fort Rock Cave.
Your next stop at Paulina Marsh is a great location for birding. Just ahead is Picture Rock Pass. You can park and take a walk along the Medicine Man Trail and view the Three Sisters volcanoes.
The 18,000-acre Summer Lake Wildlife Area is a perfect spot to watch migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway. Paisley is a good stop for fishers who want to cast their lines for trout. It’s also home to hot springs, shopping, and dining.
The next scenic view along the Oregon Outback is the largest exposed fault scarp in North America, Abert Rim. You’ll likely see hang gliding and paragliding enthusiasts in the skies here.
Oregon’s tallest town, Lakeview, is home to Oregon’s only geyser. Old Perpetual goes off regularly from October to May.
If you want to explore more remote areas of southern Oregon, detour to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, where you’ll see the fastest land mammal in North America, the pronghorn. You might also see bighorn sheep, golden eagles, and prairie falcons.
Mount Hood Scenic Byway
Oregon’s highest peak is the centerpiece of the 105 miles of the Mount Hood Scenic Byway. Twelve glaciers surround the summit of Mount Hood, and this beautiful byway is the best way to get a full look at this dormant volcano.
The eastern end of the byway starts at Hood River, an area known for its fruit-processing for the valley’s orchards. The Mount Hood Scenic Byway travels through the Hood River County Fruit Loop. Here, you can view the area’s orchards, forests, and farmlands. Stop in at various farm stands and tasting rooms along the way.
Then the byway turns west around the mountain and crosses the White River. If you want to follow the Oregon Trail, stop at Barlow Pass and venture back into the 1800s.
Sandy is on the western side of the byway and provides ample opportunities for fishing. The Sandy Ridge Trail System also gives mountain bikers a growing network of trails. Here, you’ll also want to stop at the Jonsrud Viewpoint that overlooks the Sandy River Valley and the looming shadow of Mount Hood.
It’s incredible to imagine what the Oregon Trail travelers must have felt after passing through this treacherous terrain. The byway ends near the Sandy River Delta at the Lewis and Clark State Recreation Site.
Blue Mountain Scenic Byway
Located in northeastern Oregon, the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway is 145 miles from Interstate 84 to Umatilla National Forest. Beginning at Heppner Junction and continuing through Ione and Lexington, the byway goes through the ranching country of Oregon. Once you get into Heppner, stop for an OHV ride through the Blue Mountains. You can also go fishing in the Willow Creek Reservoir.
The 1.4 million acres of the Umatilla National Forest offer additional opportunities to stop and enjoy the outdoors. There’s plenty to do here, including camping, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Then pass through the town of Ukiah and the Bridge Creek Wildlife Area. You’ll see Rocky Mountain elk between December and May. The North Fork John Day Wilderness and campground area mark the end of the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. This is a great area for trout and steelhead fishing.
Is a Scenic Drive Through Oregon Worth It?
If you’re heading out west to the Pacific Coast, don’t hurry through the state of Oregon. Take a few weeks to explore all of the different scenic byways. Stop at the overlooks, hike a few trails, and visit the museums and quaint shops. Oregon is a beautiful state, and one drive won’t capture all of its beauty.
The only question is, which scenic byway will you take first?