While coastal Oregon and Washington are undeniably breathtaking, we know you’ve already heard the hype on that particular Northwest magic. There is, however, much more wild territory farther afield that affords equally awe-inspiring road trips. You’re sure to feel like an intrepid explorer on these routes.
Selkirk Mountains Loop, ID, B.C., & WA
Circle around the imposing Selkirk Mountains range on a road trip through three of the Pacific Northwest’s most visually arresting, and arguably underrated, regions. On a counterclockwise route from Sandpoint, ID, head to Schweitzer Mountain Resort to detour on a gondola ride 6,400 ft up revealing an incomparable view of the Selkirks and Lake Pend Oreille (another good stretch break to admire the reflection of the range in the blue waters). Keep an eye out for black bears, elk, great blue herons, pelicans, and other wildlife along the way. Beer lovers can stop for a brew near Elk Mountain, the largest supplier of hops in the world, then picnic at pebbly Lockhart Beach on Kootenay Lake.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, MT
Within Montana’s Glacier National Park twists the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road. Though only 50 miles long, this route affords views of gleaming glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, vibrant wildflowers, and wildlife sightings such as bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Cross the Continental Divide at Logan Pass, the highest point in the park, and marvel at the glacial lakes and steep cedar forests as you ascend toward wide-open alpine meadows. With snowfall closing the route for much of the year, there’s no better time to traverse this breathtaking park than late summertime. If the tight, mountain-hugging turns intimidate you, take the route east to west to stay on the inside of the road.
Columbia River Gorge, OR & WA
One of the last legs of Lewis & Clark’s expedition, this region is mired in natural beauty on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the gorge. Adventure enthusiasts will have no lack of destinations to head towards with hiking trails galore, rock climbing, and some of the best kite surfing in the nation on the river. There are plenty of waterfalls lining the road as well, with Multnomah Falls being the most famous and arguably reason enough to drive this route in and of itself. Catch the best view from the stone Benson Footbridge crossing the creek by the lower falls. Relax in Hood River and sample their variety of outstanding local craft brews, and, if you’re of the mind, keep the journey going by venturing east through Oregon’s desert region or west all the way to the Pacific coast.
Park-to-Park Highway, WY
Hot springs, Old West throwbacks, fishing, and, oh yeah, Yellowstone National Park — does it get better? The full park-to-park highway once traced major national parks throughout the nation, and though it isn’t fully functioning today, the Wyoming portion encompasses a diverse range of worthwhile sites. Start in Cheyenne and head northwest, stopping to ogle the wagon ruts left from Oregon Trail days by the Fort Laramie National Historic Site, north of Guernsey. Fish for walleye and trout in Boysen State Park, then take the picturesque Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway toward Thermopolis for a soak in the natural hot springs. Finish up on the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway to Yellowstone’s east entrance, where the scenery is awe-inspiring enough to defy description.
The Richardson Highway, AK
With two 100-mile State Scenic Byways within its borders, this highway rewards drivers with up-close views of glaciers, multicolored mountain ranges, and steep canyons between Valdez and Fairbanks. Start by checking out retreating Valdez Glacier, and watch out for chunks of the iceberg plummeting into the lake below. Enter Keystone Canyon, where your drive will be flanked by fully vertical rock walls, and turn off to see Horsetail and Bridal Veil Falls. Cross the Tsina River Bridge, spanning a rumbling river in the deep canyon below, and continue on to Rainbow Ridge Scenic View, where a colorful display of reds, greens, yellows, and pastels covers the slopes. Finish in Fairbanks, where the town’s golden light shines til the midnight sunset.