5 Great Scenic Interstates in the U.S.

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A massive rockslide carrying boulders the size of cars recently shut down Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. That stretch of highway is an incredible engineering feat. The 12.5-mile segment features some 40 bridges and viaducts, miles of retaining walls and three tunnels. Many people who’ve driven through the canyon claim it’s the most scenic spot in the entire Interstate Highway System, which now covers almost 50,000 miles. Whether you agree or not, here are five other scenic interstate routes that probably belong on your bucket list if you love travel in the U.S.

 

5. I-15 Through the Virgin River Gorge (Arizona)

Interstate 15 through Arizona's Virgin River Gorge offers great scenery and a challenge to drivers. Credit: Arizona DOT

Interstate 15 through Arizona’s Virgin River Gorge offers great scenery and a challenge to drivers. Credit: Arizona DOT

When this section of highway opened in 1973, it was the most expensive stretch of rural interstate ever built; when you see the massive gorge, you’ll understand why. I-15 mostly follows the Virgin River through the gorge, crossing it in five places. Limestone walls tower more than 500 feet above the highway in places. It’s a fun, challenging drive, especially heading downhill (southbound).

 

4. I-93 Through the Franconia Notch (New Hampshire)

The Franconia Notch area along I-93 is a great place to slow down and appreciate nature. © Gail Frederick

The Franconia Notch area along I-93 is a great place to slow down and appreciate nature. © Gail Frederick

The famous Old Man of the Mountain rock formation is long gone, having collapsed in 2003, but Franconia Notch State Park is still a scenic wonder. The eight-mile section of I-93 through this park is known as the Franconia Notch Parkway, and is reduced to two lanes with 45 mph. There are plenty of opportunities to get out and see the sights, or take a hike if you have the time.

 

3. I-90 Through Snoqualmie Pass (Washington)

Snoqualmie Pass is a great drive in warm weather, but can be brutal when snowstorms cause backups along the route through the Cascades. © Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

Snoqualmie Pass is a great drive in warm weather, but can be brutal when snowstorms cause backups along the route through the Cascades. © Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

If you’re driving this route, best do it in warm weather. Although the Washington DOT keeps this pass through the Cascades open year-round, with annual snowfall of up to 400 inches, this is the worst stretch of interstate for winter weather. Some of the traffic backups due to bad conditions reach epic proportions. But in nice weather … just take a look at the photo.

 

2. I-84 Through the Columbia River Gorge (Oregon)

The blue waters of the Columbia River provide a sharp contrast to the gorge walls along I-84. © Sarunas Burdulis

The blue waters of the Columbia River provide a sharp contrast to the gorge walls along I-84. © Sarunas Burdulis

There’s plenty to see and do along this scenic stretch of highway. The Columbia River is never far from sight, the blue waters providing a stunning contrast against the gorge. There are several exits along the route where you can get off the highway and see something interesting, such as the towering Multnomah Falls, which are actually visible from the interstate. Or hop off I-84 for a few miles to take the Historic Columbia River Highway. Towns such as Hood River and Cascade Locks have some eclectic restaurants and experiences to explore.

 

1. I-70 West of Denver Through Utah (Colorado, Utah)

The Rocky Mountains loom dramatically over this stretch of Interstate 70 west of Denver. © Cobalt 123

The Rocky Mountains loom dramatically over this stretch of Interstate 70 west of Denver. © Cobalt 123

The above photo of Interstate 70 just west of Denver is great, but there are so many other incredible sights along this 500-mile stretch of highway between Denver and its terminus in central Utah. The route cuts through some of the most rugged terrain in the U.S., and passes through the Eisenhower Tunnel, at more than 11,000 feet the highest point on the Interstate Highway System. There are too many scenic highlights to mention here, including the stretch in Utah that passes through the Spotted Wolf Canyon and the massive geological formation known as the San Rafael Swell. If you’re planning a cross-country trip, find a way to work this route into your plans. Be forewarned: one stretch of highway in Utah is the most desolate interstate in the U.S., with no services for 106 miles.

 

One More: I-70 through Glenwood Canyon (Colorado)

The 12.5-mile stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon is a manmade and scenic wonder. © Tera Bass

The 12.5-mile stretch of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon is a manmade and scenic wonder. © Tera Bass

As noted in the introduction, this route through Glenwood Canyon in Western Colorado is both a manmade and scenic wonder. Given the difficulty of the construction, it was the final stretch of the main interstate highway system completed when it opened in 1992. There are rest areas to stop and take in the scenery.

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The author is a longtime professional journalist who has interviewed everyone from presidential contenders to hall of fame athletes to rock 'n' roll legends while covering politics, sports, and other topics for both local and national publications and websites. His latest passions are history, geography and travel. He's traveled extensively around the United States seeking out the hidden wonders of the country.