The best drives on the American West Coast

Kissed by the Pacific, home to friendly people and great food, the West Coast of the US is a massage for the senses. We list the region’s best drives

Route 116–the Sonoma County Scenic Byway

This drive is only 48 km long, but if you can, try and make a weekend of it. There are over 200 wineries along this drive, making it reminiscent of regions of France or Italy. Many of them are family-owned, open to the wine-lover to come and taste, eat al fresco, lie under a tree. The giant redwood and eucalyptus forests along the way are stunning to step out and spend some time in.

West Cascades Scenic Byway

Connecting Portland and Eugene, these 355 km offer up thundering waterfalls, lush ancient forests, and placid lakes. Nurtured by abundant rainfall, the Cascades Mountains are bursting with life. The lush forests are prime habitats for the Great American Bald Eagle, elk and deer. The rivers along the way support salmon and trout. Spectacular views of snowcapped mountains jump out at every corner—keep your camera handy.

Avenue of the Giants

This world-famous scenic drive is only 50 km long, skirting 51,222 acres of redwood groves in the form of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the world’s largest remaining habitat of virgin redwood. It is the perfect place for a picnic, a hike and a swim; you can also raft or mountain-bike through these ancient forests. A visit to the Rockefeller Forest is a must; 10,000 acres of beauty, littered with nature trails, and some of the tallest trees in the world.

Route 1–Big Sur Coast Highway

This big daddy of all epic drives is a destination in itself. Think of it as a long, but incredibly scenic roller-coaster ride. Many prefer the south to north route as this keeps them hugging the cliff faces. The other way down, and your wheel is often inches away from 200-metre drops into the roaring Pacific. It is probably about a three-hour drive, but put away your watch; make a whole day of it if you can.

Highway 101

Highway 101 snakes down the Oregon Coast from the Columbia river to California border, passing through Oswald West State Park, abundant with old-growth forests. Be sure to stop by the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and check out the lighthouse (built: 1873). Off the coast, try and spot the grey whales migrating to Mexico (late fall-early winter) and to Alaska (late winter-early spring).

Highway 112, Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway

Start off from Port Angeles in Puget Sound and follow the shoreline of a glacial fjord that connects the Sound to the Pacific Ocean. Depending on time of year, you can spot otters, eagles, and grey whales. This 98-km route is beautiful all year, with dramatic seasonal changes. Long stretches of the byway overlook beautiful beaches and wind-carved cliffs kissed by shimmering waters; this is a drive meant to be done leisurely.

Hells Canyon Scenic Byway

Featuring mountain lakes, a mile-deep gorge, and mountains 3,000 metres high, this is 330 km of the wildest, most beautiful terrain you will ever witness through your car window. Enjoy a spectacular view over lunch, of green, lush valleys backed by the snow-tipped Wallowa Mountains. If you dare, get on a raft and ride the Snake River.

Rim Drive—Crater Lake National Park

This almost-surreal drive is a 52-km loop around a lake of the deepest, purest blue filling up a caldera formed by the eruption of Mt. Mazama nearly 8,000 years ago. Crater Lake has inspired artists and nature-lovers for hundreds of years with its two picturesque islands, and the sheer, weather-hewn 600-metre high cliffs that surround it. This is a route with no stops, other than the exquisite photo-opportunities at every turn.

Highway 2–Levenworth/Lake Chelan

This route takes you into the North Cascades and cuts through the Skykomish Valley, past the delightful Bavarian-style mountain village of Leavenworth, famous for its Oktoberfest-style beer gardens, and wine tasting. Carry on down Highway 2 and take the alternative US-97 to Lake Chelan, a beautiful glacier-fed 88-km body of crystalline fresh water. Lake Chelan is where thousands come each season for wine-tasting, golfing, fishing, hiking, skiing and more.

Sierra Vista Scenic Byway

Nestled deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this drive offers stunning views of granite domes, mountain peaks, and sheer canyons. During fall season from September to November, the colours are spectacular, and the area is home to hikers, rock-climbers, birdwatchers and campers. Mile High Vista is the showpiece of the route, offering spectacular views of the famed Minarets, Mt. Ritter (4,000 m), Mammoth Mountain, and at least fifteen other peaks over 3,000 m.