aerial view of cars driving along coastal road

Hop in the car to explore roads less traveled. (Photo: Getty Images)

Road Trips

Take a Road Trip Detour: 10 Epic Alternate Routes Worth a Drive

Make your next road trip a detour. Steer away from the typical tourist towns and traffic-clogged highways. Rather than drive well-worn U.S. road trip routes like the Pacific Coast Highway or Blue Ridge Parkway, head instead toward the smaller, but no less interesting and stunning, byways and old town roads that crisscross the United States.

Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

motorcycle on the beartooth highway
Ride the Beartooth Highway. (Photo: Getty Images)

American journalist Charles Kuralt once referred to the 64-mile Beartooth Highway as “the most beautiful drive in America” with good reason.

The curving route stretches from Wyoming to Montana and passes through hair-raising switchbacks, three national forests and a jaw-dropping 11,000-foot mountain pass before hitting Yellowstone National Park.

Along your drive you’ll be privy to views of alpine meadows, snowcapped Rocky Mountain peaks and gurgling streams marked by the occasional fly-fishing angler. Keep an eye out for mountain goats clinging to the sides of near-vertical mountain slopes, and look for moose and grizzly bears, too.

Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona

red rocks at dusk in arizona
Red rock formations loom in Arizona. (Photo: Getty Images)

Set out from Sedona on the Red Rock Scenic Byway and prepare yourself to be wowed by mind-bogglingly dramatic views of Arizona’s looming red rock formations, hoodoos, natural bridges and canyons. Stop to admire some of the more famous ones, like Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock and Devil’s Bridge.

What the route lacks in distance (nearly 15 miles round trip), it more than makes up for in noteworthy sites and hikes. Beyond seeing the red rock formations, you’ll want to stop and explore Native American cliff dwellings, check out the plant life and gnarled trees while hiking Little Horse Trail (three miles round trip), and trek to one of the so-called energy vortexes that dot the route.

Try to make at least part of the trip at sunrise or sunset when the rocks seem to positively glow in the gentle light.

Big Sur’s Old Coast Road, California

bixby bridge on the pacific coast highway
See Bixby Bridge from the Old Coast Road. (Photo: Getty Images)

Steer away from the Pacific Coast Highway’s long lines of traffic and take the road that is quite literally less traveled: Old Coast Road. This 11-mile unpaved treasure is mostly single lane and marks a former stagecoach route.

Best driven in a four-wheel drive vehicle, the road ascends through coastal grasslands, areas of redwood forest and canyons, and it offers crowd-free views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean’s dramatic, crashing waves.

Harriet Tubman Byway, Maryland and Delaware

Follow Harriet Tubman’s path to freedom along a self-guided tour of the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway. Tubman’s extraordinary tale unfolds along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where she escaped the owners that enslaved her, made the perilous journey to freedom in Philadelphia, and later returned at least a dozen times to shepherd her family and friends to freedom.

Tracked mercilessly by slave catchers, Tubman refused to cower, instead serving as an Underground Railroad “conductor” and, during the Civil War, acting as scout, nurse and spy. Pick up a map and audio guide at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek, Maryland. Stop at any or all of the 45 sites marking the drive to learn more about Tubman and the lives of enslaved people throughout the region.

Key stops include the Dorchester County Courthouse, a former home to slave auctions and a daring escape directed by Tubman; the Harriet Tubman Museum; the Bucktown Village store, believed to be where Tubman engaged in her first act of defiance against slavery; and Long Wharf, a center of the slave trade and arrival point for boats carrying slaves from Africa and the West Indies.

Pikes Peak Highway, Colorado

twisting road on Pikes Peak
Twist and turn on Pike’s Peak. (Photo: Getty Images)

The twisting, turning Pikes Peak Highway will test both your car’s mettle and your stamina for hairpin turns and ear-popping elevation changes as you wind your way up to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak.

Plan at least 1.5 hours to traverse the 19-mile route, though it’ll be more like three to four hours, depending on how often you want to stop and soak in the extraordinary views.

En route to the summit, make a quick stop at the Devil’s Playground (mile marker 16), where you can take an easy hike that affords views of the Platte River Valley and its waterways. Anglers should hit up the North Slope Recreation Area, where multiple lakes offer a chance to fish for trout at more than 9,000 feet above sea level.

Save your appetite for a stop at the Summit House, known far and wide for its fresh, hot donuts.

Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, Massachusetts

lighthouse at dusk
Get your fill of New England’s coastal charm. (Photo: Getty Images)

Get a feel for coastal New England’s villages, seaports and rocky shorelines on the 85-mile Essex Coastal Scenic Byway along Boston’s North Shore coastline. You’ll pass Colonial-era farms, charming coastal communities and historic working harbors while also having the chance to get active paddling waterways, swimming at beaches or hiking through parks.

This history-rich route lies within the Essex National Heritage Area and gives travelers the chance to explore the Great Marsh, New England’s largest salt marsh, as well as the region’s seafaring heritage at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Pay homage to area fishermen who lost their lives at sea with a visit to the “Man at the Wheel” memorial at Gloucester Harbor, and lighthouse lovers should pause to snap photos at the scenic Eastern Point Light in Cape Ann.

Texas Hill Country Trail, Texas

bluebonnet flowers in a field at sunrise
Travel to. Hill Country when flowers are in bloom. (Photo: Getty Images)

Escape the cities of Austin or San Antonio and take a ride through Texas Hill Country, which spans 25 counties in southeastern Texas. The region is home to — no surprise — rolling hills, limestone cliffs, granite karsts, fields colored by bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, and Spanish missions.

You can line dance in the dance halls of Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”), eat chicken-fried steak in Kerrville and throw back German beers in Fredericksburg.

Cool off at one of the many lakes and rivers fed by underground springs, take a paddle on the Colorado River or photograph the pink granite mountain at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Wannabe spelunkers can descend into underground wonders at Natural Bridge Caverns or Longhorn Cavern State Park, while hikers can visit the teeming waterfall at McKinney Falls State Park.

Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway

florida springs
Take a dip in crystal-clear springs. (Photo: Getty Images)

You’ll feel a world away from the Sunshine State’s crowded coastline and theme parks when you hit the Florida Black Bear Scenic Highway in Central Florida. Cutting through Ocala National Forest, this route offers a true taste of “old” Florida: the soothing quiet of scrub oaks and sand pine forests, with the trees’ crisp scent lingering in the air, crystal-clear natural springs, and yes, maybe even a bear sighting.

Stop by living history museums, like Barberville Pioneer Settlement; take a steep hike at Ravine Gardens State Park; cool off with a dip in the brilliant blue waters of Juniper Springs; or explore local waterways while kayaking at Silver Glen Springs.

Scenic Highway 197, Georgia

waterfall in forest
Sometimes it’s good to go chasing waterfalls. (Photo: Getty Images)

Long stretches of curving blacktop mark North Georgia’s Scenic Highway 197, slicing through Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and rewarding drivers with mountain views, multiple lakes and a dearth of traffic.

The road once served as a route for moonshine bootleggers during Prohibition, though today it’s better known for a smattering of tiny towns home to artisans making handcarved wood furniture, stained glass and pottery.

Hop on 197 in the tiny town of Clarksville (about a 90-minute drive from Atlanta), and as you wind your way through the dense woods and picture-perfect towns, make time to pause for a nature fix at Minnehaha Falls, as well as Lake Burton, where you can hop in a kayak or on a stand-up paddleboard or go for a quick dip in the sparkling water.

Blues Highway, Mississippi and Tennessee

Music aficionados may associate U.S. Highway 61 — the Blues Highway — with the classic Bob Dylan album, “Highway 61 Revisited,” and rank a journey along this storied asphalt highway on their road trip bucket list.

Running south along the Mississippi River from Memphis down to New Orleans, Highway 61 is indeed the birthplace of the delta blues. Travel all or part of the road and you’re likely to hear music of all kinds — gospel, soul, R&B and, of course, the blues — pouring out of juke joints, record shops, bars and churches.

Follow in the guitar picking and crooning as you hit up sights like the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis or the Ground Zero Blues Club and Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. In fact, this tiny town is said to be the true birthplace of the blues, as it was once home to icons like John Lee Hooker, Junior Parker, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker and many more.