It’s easy to overlook and underappreciate the roads that crisscross our towns, states and country. After all, they are usually what separate us from where we want to be – the more pavement behind us, the closer we are to our stop. But sometimes, the road itself is the destination. Sometimes, cruising along a winding byway is the best part of your trip. Such is the case with the most scenic roads of the Northeast.
Note: Due to the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, please see official websites before visiting to check for restrictions or closures.
Maine: Park Loop Road
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include a drive through Acadia National Park, the sole national park in the Northeast. Park Loop Road leads travelers on a 27-mile journey around the eastern edge of Mount Desert Island. It might seem like a short trek, but it’ll take longer than you expect. There are countless areas to pull over and get an even closer look of the area’s ponds, mountains and shoreline.
Want to extend your drive? Turn onto U.S. Route 3 to discover more of the island’s coastline.
New Hampshire: Kancamagus Highway
While we could never pick a favorite, New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway is certainly one of the most scenic roads of the Northeast. And though the area’s natural beauty makes it a worthwhile destination any time of the year, at least one visit during the fall is a must.
The 34.5-mile National Scenic Byway cuts through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, making it one of the country’s ideal spots for fall foliage viewing. Speaking of mountains, “The Kanc” winds its way up to an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet, providing visitors with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Much of the route’s path downward runs parallel to the rolling waters of the Swift River.
While you don’t need to leave your vehicle to enjoy the sights of the Kancamagus Highway, there’s even more picturesque sights just off the paved path, including waterfalls, gorges and covered bridges.
Vermont: Green Mountain Byway
Vermont’s Route 100 runs north to south nearly the entire length of the state, but it’s a small, 11-mile stretch between Waterbury and Stowe that has earned special designation. The Green Mountain Byway travels between its namesake mountain range to the west and the Worcester Range to the east. Along the way, it winds past 4,395-foot Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Visitors will also be greeted with the picturesque backdrop of meadows, farmland, forests and historic residences.
Although it’s a short drive, travelers can easily spend a full day in the area. The local towns and villages are home to an array of attractions, including the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory.
Massachusetts: The Mohawk Trail
Completed in 1914, the Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway is one of the country’s oldest auto-touring roads. The route covers nearly 70 miles across western Massachusetts and takes visitors to dense forests, waterfront vistas and historic towns. In total, the byway runs parallel or crosses five major rivers. For a one-of-a-kind sightseeing stop, pull over in the town of Shelburne Falls to get a firsthand look at the Bridge of Flowers. This historic crossing, which traverses the Deerfield River, is covered with thousands of flowers and shrubs. The roadway is also home to more than 100 other attractions, including everything from old Pilgrim churches to state parks.
Connecticut: State Route 169
State Route 169 runs north-south through the state’s northeast corner, known to locals as the “Quiet Corner.” As the moniker implies, driving along this byway is like traveling back to a much simpler time. This 36-mile strip of pavement leads travelers past picturesque villages, farmsteads and historic Colonial structures, as well as scenic woodlands and photo-worthy foliage.
Rhode Island: Ocean Drive
Rhode Island isn’t nicknamed the Ocean State for nothing, and there’s no better way to witness the seaside beauty than by cruising along Ocean Drive. This 10-mile shoreline drive runs along the southern tip of Newport. Along the way, travelers are greeted by unmatched views of the city’s surrounding waters, islands and bridges. The area is also home to Newport’s historic Gilded Age mansions. As you reach the eastern end of Ocean Drive, feel free to travel by foot along the famed Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile path gifts visitors with a front row seat to Rhode Island’s natural beauty.
New York: Upper Delaware Scenic Byway
When it was constructed in 1939, New York state Route 97 was proclaimed “The Most Scenic Highway in the East.” While plenty of roads have been paved since then, few compare to this spectacular drive. Known today as the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway, the thruway runs alongside the Delaware River for roughly 70 miles. Twisting and turning hundreds of feet above the river, the scenic byway provides breathtaking views of the surrounding valley and cliffs. The serpentine stretch isn’t the fastest route from point to point, but the journey is well worth it.
New Jersey: Palisades Scenic Byway/Henry Hudson Drive
Beginning at the George Washington Bridge and traveling north, these two roadways run parallel to each other along the Hudson River. Along the way, they climb New Jersey’s Palisades cliffs. The elevated height provides stunning views of New York City and there are several designated outlooks along the byway. Both roads run through the lush Palisades Interstate Park, which offers visitors 2,500 acres to explore.
When it comes to choosing your path, know that Henry Hudson Drive is closer to the water but often filled with cyclists and hikers, making it a slightly more challenging drive.
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What are your favorite scenic roads in the Northeast? Tell us in the comments.