Top 10 scenic routes for every explorer

What makes a great driving road? For some it’s the scenery on the horizon, for others it’s the greatest number of twists and turns along the segment of pavement. Or why not both? The Great White North certainly has no shortage of such examples – we’ve highlighted a handful of cross-country favourites below, as well as a few international routes thrown in that should be on the top of any auto and travel enthusiasts’ bucket list. 

Prince Edward Island – North Cape Coastal Drive

Arguably one of the best ways to see P.E.I. is navigating the winding 350-kilometre North Cape Coastal Drive. A good departure point is Summerside, the second largest city in the province about an hour outside of the capital Charlottetown, from there heading towards Malpeque Bay and up the western part of the island to North Cape and then back down and around.

Several points of interest exist in the area, among them the Canadian Potato Museum showcasing the largest potato sculpture in the world; the house/tavern/chapel made out of 25,000 recycled bottles in Cap-Egmont; and the West Point Lighthouse housing a museum and a four-star 13-room inn that makes a perfect place to break halfway.

Nova Scotia – Cabot Trail

A well-known destination for petrolheads, Cabot Trail is coined as “one of Canada’s ultimate scenic highways” representing a 298-kilometre tour through Cape Breton Highland National Park and the Atlantic Coast. Try starting at Baddeck and ending at Chéticamp going counter clockwise.

While doable in a day we recommend taking at least two or three to fit in spots like the Uisge Bàn, where a cascading waterfall await hikers; the Parks Canada Lantern Walk guided by a representative who tells tales (and ghost stories) of early settlers; and the grave of the Unknown Sailor at White Point paying tribute to fishermen lost at sea.

Alberta – Icefields Parkway

The Icefields Parkway, also known as Highway 93, links Banff National Park and Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies, and over 232 kilometres motorists are treated to views of more than 100 ancient glaciers including the Athabasca Glacier, dramatic rock spires and emerald lakes set in valleys thick pine and larch forests.

Note:
a valid day or annual national parks pass is required to drive the parkway and can be purchased from the government online or at select in-person locations listed on the website: www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/admission. Free for youth under 17 and new Canadian citizens.

British Columbia – Nanaimo to Tofino

Even though it doesn’t have a cool name, one is not needed as the spectacular natural beauty of Vancouver Island is well encapsulated along this short-but-sweet road trip spanning 207 kilometres. Taking three to six hours depending on pace and stops, the route goes up mountains, past old growth forests and around bodies of water.

Coombs Old Country Market is worth the five-minute detour where goats are often found munching happily on grass atop the roof, seemingly oblivious to the goings-on below. And for those interested in seeing what an 800-year-old, 75-metre-tall Douglas Fir tree looks like, be sure to drop by the Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park.

Tennessee/North Carolina – Tail of the Dragon

Another locale popular with the two and four-wheel crowd is the much-vaunted Tail of the Dragon. Less than 18 kilometres in total length, a whopping 318 curves are crammed into the section of US 129 between Chilhowee Lake in Tennessee and Deals Gap Mountain pass just across the North Carolina state line.

Visit Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort for a night’s stay, camping, to fill up gas or load up on snacks and memorabilia in the shop. Afterwards, check out the Cherohala Skyway approximately 58 kilometres away offering an amazing, elevated perspective of the entire region and plenty of places to park and admire the landscape.

Oregon – Historic River Highway

Most car enthusiasts know about the Pacific Coast Highway and rightfully so, with its more-than 1000-kilometre-long view of the ocean. But that’s not the only magnificent stretch of waterfront asphalt on the American west coast. Enter the Historic Columbia River Highway (HCRH) in Oregon, which runs from Troutdale to The Dalles.

Not only is the HCRH the first paved road in the Pacific Northwest, but the first designated scenic highway in the U.S. Bordering the Columbia River Gorge, the canyon boasts sheer walls of basalt accented by ferns, rare endemic plants and is home to no less than five waterfalls: Latourell, Shepperd’s Dell, Bridal Veil, Wahkeena and the 189-metre Multnomah.

Japan – Mount Haruna

Fans of the hit Japanese drifting anime Initial D will recognize this as the home turf of the main character Takumi Fujiwara and his legendary Toyota AE86. In real life Akina is actually called Haruna, a dormant stratovolcano in the Gunma Prefecture featuring five ways up and down the mighty mound via automobile (preferably something lightweight and rear-wheel).

The most famous is the Jomo-Sanzan Panorama Highway, containing all of the off-camber, gradient shifting hairpin turns and switchbacks depicted in the show. Pro tip: first timers should go during the day when visibility is greatest as there are many blind corners and certain points where the lane narrows down to a single car width.

Ireland – The Wild Atlantic Way

Number one on the list for longest drive is this epic 2,500-kilometre journey connecting Malin Head, County Donegal in the north to Kinsale, County Cork in the south. Mother Nature is in full display throughout the route with towering cliffs, deserted bays and beaches and weather-beaten islands.

And here’s a fun fact for Star Wars lovers. Episode VII “The Force Awakens,” Episode VIII “The Last Jedi” and Episode IX “The Rise of Skywalker” were all partly filmed along Wild Atlantic Way at Loop Head, the Dingle Peninsula Skellig Michael Island off the coast of Kerry.

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