14 Beautiful Winter Drives Around the United States

Million Dollar Highway in Colorado during winter
Photo: Getty Images

Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.

The arrival of winter means a reduction of tourists (and traffic) in many popular domestic destinations, so it can be the ideal season to explore America's open roads. Plus, cruising through a sparkly white winter wonderland is the perfect activity to set the mood for the season, like exploring a real-life snow globe.

Keep in mind that winter driving requires its own set of precautions: the more majestic the conditions, often the more dangerous the road, especially when navigating unfamiliar routes. The Department of Transportation recommends stocking your ride with a basic winter survival kit containing a flashlight, batteries, blankets, snacks, water, gloves, boots, and a first-aid kit. (Tire chains, an ice scraper, jumper cables, and road flares couldn't hurt either.) Always confirm that your vehicle's maintenance is up-to-date before embarking on a winter trip.

Related: How to Winterize Your Car for All Weather Conditions

From Alaskan fjords to New Mexico's high-desert pueblos to covered-bridge country in Indiana to rocky Colorado peaks, here are America's top winter road trips to plug into Google Maps before the first peek of spring.

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Arches National Park, Utah

America's Best Winter Drives: Arches National Park, Utah
NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank

Starting Point: Moab, Utah

The Route: 36 miles on the park's Scenic Drive

What to Expect: Beautiful any time of year, Arches National Park's natural sandstone sculptures assume an ethereal quality when covered in a layer of snow and bathed in soft winter light — much to the delight of desert photographers. The paved scenic drive provides easy access to park attractions like Wolfe Ranch; the Windows Section, home to some of the park's largest arches; and the Delicate Arch viewpoint, the world's most famous arch.

Where to Stop: Park in the Windows Section to stretch your legs on a half-hour stroll beneath North Window or Double Arch; pretend you've traveled back to the 1800s with a stop at Wolfe Ranch.

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Seward Highway, Alaska

America's Best Winter Drives: Seward Highway, Alaska
© Alaska Stock / Alamy

Starting Point: Anchorage, Alaska

The Route: 49 miles on the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Portage (Or go car-less on Alaska Railroad's Aurora Winter Train between Anchorage and Fairbanks)

What to Expect: Find the epitome of beautiful winter scenery in the Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm, and alongside Kenai Lake on Alaska's Seward Highway. Turn back after reaching the ghost town of Portage or steel your nerves — and make sure you have chains — for the mountainous remainder of the journey all the way to Seward.

Where to Stop: The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center provides a close-up view of native wildlife that were injured and can no longer survive in the wild, like reindeer, lynx, moose, and grizzlies. The tiny settlement of Whittier (about halfway between Anchorage and Seward) once went viral as "the city under one roof."

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Yosemite National Park, California

America's Best Winter Drives: Yosemite National Park
© Don Smith / Alamy

Starting Point: Groveland, California

The Route: 46 miles on CA-120 from Groveland to Yosemite Valley

What to Expect: Driving through Yosemite Valley in the off-season reveals an awe-strikingly silent winter wonderland. Snowfalls coat its granite monoliths and transform the billowing cascades of Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls into frozen sheaths of ice. The park has many annual winter road closures but Yosemite Valley and Wawona remain accessible by car all year, with Wawona Road (Highway 41), El Portal Road (Highway 140), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 from the west), and Hetch Hetchy Road open year-round.

Where to Stop: The adventurous set can enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing mid-December though early April, when the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road is plowed to the Badger Pass Ski Area.

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Parke County, Indiana

America's Best Winter Drives: Parke County, Indiana
Vicki Newlin

Starting Point: Rockville, Indiana

The Route: There are five driving routes to choose from, each around 30 miles

What to Expect: With 31 historic covered bridges, Parke County is known as The Covered Bridge Capital of the World, and you can explore the many rustic structures by car, bike, or motorcycle (though we recommend sticking to a heated car in the wintertime!). The vibrant red bridges — many built in the 1800s and still in use — cross icy rivers and streams, contrasting gorgeously with snow-blanketed meadows.

Where to Stop: If you dare, walk the haunted Sim Smith Bridge and see if you can hear the ghostly horse and buggy that never seem to arrive.

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Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

America's Best Winter Drives: Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
AFP/Getty Images

Starting Point: Front Royal or Rockfish Gap, Virginia

The Route: 105 miles between Front Royal and Rockfish Gap

What to Expect: The Blue Ridge Mountains are arguably the prettiest peaks in the eastern United States, and Skyline Drive carries travelers right along their crest, offering panoramic views over the frosty valleys below. It's the only public road through Shenandoah National Park, but parts of Skyline Drive may close during inclement weather conditions. In the heart of winter, waterfalls crystallize but many of the 500-plus miles of trails in Shenandoah National Park remain open for snowshoe and ski enthusiasts.

Where to Stop: Stick to the 35 mph speed limit and pick any of the 70 overlooks along the drive for sprawling views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the Piedmont to the east. Watch for wildlife, too — though many animals hibernate, foxes and bobcats remain active all winter.

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Million Dollar Highway, Colorado

Million Dollar Highway in Colorado during winter
Getty Images

Starting Point: Ouray or Silverton, Colorado

The Route: 24 miles on US 550 between Ouray and Silverton

What to Expect: Is this Colorado road called the Million Dollar Highway for its million-dollar views? Or because an early traveler was so spooked by the route's steep climbs and hairpin turns that he claimed he would never travel it again, not even for a million dollars? Or because it reportedly cost a million dollars a mile to build? Whatever the case, this dramatic drive is part of the San Juan Skyway, a Colorado Scenic Byway, and offers breathtaking mountain views.

Where to Stop: The winding, high-altitude Million Dollar Highway is a dangerous drive, so only stop in the ghost towns along the way, not on the route.

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Great Smoky National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

America's Best Winter Drives: Great Smoky National Park
Getty Images

Starting Point: Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or Asheville, North Carolina

The Route: 81 miles on US 321 and I-40E or US Highway 441 and the Blue Ridge Parkway

What to Expect: The drive between Gatlinburg and Asheville passes through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and provides a wintry window into southern alpine wilderness. The route that picks up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Cherokee, North Carolina, is considered the scenic route, but if you opt for the shorter route, you can pull over to admire all 4,928 feet of Mount Cammerer (and trust us, neither route is short on beautiful winter views).

Where to Stop: Play for a day at Ober Gatlinburg, a mountainside amusement park with skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and more — the 2.1-mile Aerial Tramway from downtown Gatlinburg to the top is a scenic treat in itself. In Asheville, a tour of the 8000-acre Biltmore Estate is a must.

08 of 14

Stowe to Rochester, Vermont

America's Best Winter Drives: Stowe to Rochester, Vermont
Dennis Curran, VermontVacation.com

Starting Point: Stowe or Rochester, Vermont

The Route: 50 miles on VT-100

What to Expect: Every road through Vermont is scenic, but the rural Vermont Route 100 (VT-100) is the best of the lot, especially if you take time to pause in the Green Mountain villages of Wilmington and Weston and tour the Mad River Valley and Moss Glen Falls.

Where to Stop: Almost every village on the route offers a quaint country store, but Weston's Vermont Country Store is the ultimate pitstop for practical souvenirs — ever since the store's 1946 debut as a catalog, everything in its inventory "must be useful, work, and make sense" — and unique regional treats, since many items are made in Vermont. And it may be winter, but the Ben & Jerry's factory in Waterbury is nevertheless a must-visit.

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Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

America's Best Winter Drives: Yellowstone National Park
© Spring Images / Alamy

Starting Point: Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

The Route: 47 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance on the Grand Loop Road or 28 miles on the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway from Cody, WY, to Yellowstone

What to Expect: Yellowstone's typical summertime traffic jams thin out to lightly populated wolf-spotting groups and the occasional bachelor bison (older males that have left the herd) in the winter. Most park roads close to regular traffic during winter, so the only way to visit Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and other hotspots during this time of year is via guided snowmobile or snowcoach.

Where to Stop: Ski, snowshoe, or walk upon miles of trails through the Upper Geyser Basin.

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High Road to Taos Scenic Byway, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico road with snow
John Elk III/Getty Images

Starting Point: Santa Fe or Taos, New Mexico

The Route: 56 miles through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Santa Fe and Taos on NM 76

What to Expect: A multi-hour journey into high-desert beauty will reward you with sights of snowflakes dusting junipers and piñon pines as you travel past the 14th-century Nambé Pueblo and wood-carving village of Cordova. You'll marvel as the snow-capped Truchas Peak rises 13,100 feet high in the distance and the valley spreads below.

Where to Stop: San José de Gracia de Las Trampas is a National Historic Landmark and San Francisco de Asís Mission Church also dates back over 200 years. Santuario de Chimayó is believed to be located on sacred earth with miraculous healing powers.

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Northern Door County, Wisconsin

America's Best Winter Drives: Northern Door County, Wisconsin
DoorCounty.com/Door County Visitor Bureau

Starting Point: Green Bay, Wisconsin

The Route: 85 miles on Wisconsin Highway 57 from Green Bay to Gills Rock

What to Expect: Northern Door County provides the Upper Midwest with its own Cape Cod experience: think coastal towns, local shops, and individually owned restaurants that invite a heartwarming winter escape. Like diving into the frigid National Seashore, only the bravest winter adventurers make it all the way to Gills Rock at the top of the peninsula.

Where to Stop: At Newport State Park, 26 miles of trails are open during winter for cross-country skiing, and in 2017, the park was designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association, so it's a great place to go stargazing.

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Lake Tahoe, Nevada

America's Best Winter Drives: Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Getty Images

Starting Point: Incline Village, Nevada, or South Lake Tahoe, California

The Route: 72-mile drive around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe

What to Expect: In winter, the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains reflect off one of the deepest lakes in North America, casting breathtaking scenes on its glassy surface — an especially resplendent sight in winter. It takes about three hours to drive the perimeter of Lake Tahoe without stopping, but plan extra time for whatever beauty captures your attention along the way. The route on the eastern side of Lake Tahoe (in Nevada) is a National Scenic Byway and is considered one of the most beautiful drives in America.

Where to Stop: Sand Harbor, part of the 14,300-acre Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, is an ideal place to dip your toes into the icy lake (it never freezes but does get as low as 37 degrees) before hitting the trails for a winter walk, snowshoe, or ski.

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Lakes to Locks Passage, New York

America's Best Winter Drives: Lakes to Locks Passage, New York
Courtesy of www.visitlakegeorge.com

Starting Point: Waterford or Whitehall, New York

The Route: 60 miles on US-4 between Waterford and Whitehall, NY

What to Expect: The Lakes to Locks Passage travels north/south for 234 miles through New York State, but the stretch between Waterford and Whitehall is especially beautiful — and it's a National Scenic Byway.

Where to Stop: Enjoy views of the Hudson River and Champlain Canal along the drive, and about midway through, stop at The Schuyler House, built in 1777 as the home of General Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton's father-in-law. It's where the wedding of Hamilton and General Schuyler's daughter, Elizabeth, took place in 1780, and today it is part of Saratoga National Historical Park.

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Florida's East Coast

St. Augustine, Florida at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Getty Images

Starting Point: St. Augustine or Key West, Florida

The Route: 470 miles; take I-95 from St. Augustine to Miami before switching to the scenic Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West (or vice versa)

What to Expect: Not up to battling winter road hazards? Florida has scenic drives a'plenty, but heading south along its eastern coast — from St. Augustine, America's oldest city, all the way to Key West, the southernmost point of the continental United States — showcases the best of the Sunshine State. Skip chilly temperatures and enjoy Florida's glorious take on winter: Expect sand in place of snow and palms instead of pines.

Where to Stop: Explore must-stop Florida highlights like historic St. Augustine, the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the Palm Beaches, Miami (make sure to stop for a cortadito in Little Havana for a perfect behind-the-wheel perk-up), and the Florida Keys, where you'll cross the famous Seven Mile Bridge on your way to Key West.

Updated by Crai Bower
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