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Most rewarding roads

Cherokee Foothills
On the outskirts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway is a winding two-lane that is a little-known alternative to busy Intersate
/ Source: Forbes Autos

BMW engineers at the company's Spartanburg, S.C., plant hit the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway to test vehicles under development. As it winds around the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this highway becomes a proving ground for how cars handle tight twists and turns.

Great roads aren’t just about speed and curves, though. They also offer stunning views and the potential for interesting pit stops. The Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, for one, touches the Cowpens National Battlefield in the small town of Gaffney, S.C., where many historians believe the war of independence turned in favor of the revolutionary army.

The Billy the Kid Trail, also known as New Mexico Highway 70, is another great drive among the ten we highlight in the accompanying . Michael Wallis, author of the book "Route 66: The Mother Road" recommends it. Some potential routes are mapped out and annotated at the Website, but our advice is to grab Route 70 in Roswell, head west to Hondo and then go northwest up into the Lincoln National Forest.

There’s a healthy dose of tourist kitsch on the way, perfect for families, not to mention genuine historic sites, such as the jail from which Billy the Kid escaped. It also hits the Lincoln National Forest, which is where the real Smokey Bear was found by rangers in the aftermath of a forest fire.

A road that rivals Highway 70 in New Mexico is U.S. 89. Whether you take it north or south, there are few in North America more spectacular than the stretch of U.S. 89 through Wyoming and Montana. It offers access to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, as well as the artistic and outdoorsy community of Livingston, Mont.

Autumn is only one drama in the year-round repertory of natural theater on this alternately exhilarating and soothing highway. U.S. 89 makes a drive in spring just as exhilarating. Along the shoulders, one can see buffalo, elk, fox, coyote, and even wolves.

Finding your own road
The National Scenic Byways program, located online at, offers a list assembled by driving enthusiasts all over the country of some of North America’s best roads. Dating to 1991 and combining the National All-American Roads and Scenic Byways lists, the program marks and documents local highways and recommends the best routes for travelers. It includes many roads for learning history and culture, and enjoying scenery.

Individual states have similar programs to designate scenic, historic, and cultural highways. The Utah state road map, for instance, offers 27 such highlighted routes.

While especially fine in the fall, the Jacob's Ladder Trail in western Massachusetts is a magnificent road all year round. Also known as Route 30, Jacob's Ladder is 33 miles of twisting blacktop that skirts the edges of the Berkshire Mountains between the towns of Russell and Lee.

The late William Whyte, a sociologist whose work helped to better understand urban environments, also studied the ways in which people remember country roads. His book "The Last Landscape" discusses how a single vista or a signature curve can become the memory for miles of highway.

That’s how people make mental postcards of the roads they travel.

With that in mind, we shuffle through a handful of such postcards, some personal favorites, and others recommended by those who have their own collections. Click to see our full list of the .