Image: The Richardson Highway with the peaks of the central Alaska Range in the distance
Alan Majchrowicz / Alamy  /  Alamy
The Richardson Highway, with the peaks of the central Alaska Range in the distance, runs between Valdez and Fairbanks.
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updated 4/20/2011 9:43:38 AM ET 2011-04-20T13:43:38

“In our red rental car, we passed 617 white-knuckle switchbacks, 56 one-lane bridges, and tons of waterfalls as we traveled away from civilization,” says Kim Binsted, an astrobiology professor at the University of Hawaii who last month drove the length of Maui’s Hana Highway — one of the most heart-clutching and beautiful drives on the planet — with her best friend.

Slideshow: American's most scenic roads

“To everyone in this country, the car represents freedom, mobility, and the control you feel over your destiny/destination,” says Callie Khouri, Oscar-winning screenwriter of Thelma & Louise.

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From the dramatic California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country — and some stellar standouts. We’ve picked the American routes with heart-stopping views. On the winding Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, don’t be surprised if the morning mists seduce you like a country melody. The 469-mile road, which turned 75 years old last year, wends its way past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty, offering different panoramic vistas depending on the season.

But sometimes it’s the man-made sights that make the trip. As you cruise on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive, the view to the west includes the greatest hits of American architecture, such as Willis Tower, better known as the Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world. To the east, there are 26 miles of Lake Michigan beaches.

And on U.S. 1 from Key Largo to Key West, travelers are treated to a good time, Florida style. The island chain’s stretch of road encompasses everything from underwater coral reefs and 7 Mile Bridge, one of the longest in the world, to marinas where you can hand-feed tarpon, and beach bars filled with Jimmy Buffett fans drinking margaritas.

So bring a friend or your family and hit the road. In Khouri’s words — go see what America tastes like.

Copyright © 2012 American Express Publishing Corporation

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