Five Scenic Driving Routes Worthy of a Summer Road Trip
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who first said, "It's not the destination; it's the journey." Although we can't be sure exactly what he was referring to, it's not difficult to imagine that if it were today, the quote would be about road trips. In the case of scenic driving routes, the journey itself is often the best getaway of all.
Whether you're looking for unforgettable scenery, heart-pounding outdoor adventures, or rich cultural experiences, western Canada and the Pacific Northwest are ideal for all your summer road trip ideas. These large, incredibly diverse areas have a ton to see and do, making scenic summer drives the best way to experience them. Here are five scenic road trips to consider, whether you have a few hours to spare or an entire week.
With the sparkling sea, dotted with islands, on one side of this stunningly beautiful winding road, the Sea-to-Sky Highway is easily one of Canada's most scenic road trips. The highway spans 163 kilometers (101 miles) from Vancouver to Whistler, so this is one of those scenic summer drives you can take even with limited time.
Instead of one main destination or endpoint, the Sea-to-Sky Highway is sprinkled with small towns, cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, and many fascinating interpretive sites. Shortly after Vancouver, you'll encounter the first of seven Cultural Journey interpretive kiosks — look for the distinct stands shaped as cedar-bark hats. These kiosks offer interactive information on First Nations history and the local land.
Aside from the interpretive kiosks, there are several other must-see stops on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Highlights include panning for gold at Britannia Beach, the magnificent Shannon Falls (also a great place for a picnic) and the Sea to Sky Gondola. Leave plenty of time for Squamish, where you'll find every type of outdoor recreation imaginable and enjoy local craft breweries and cideries. Finish your trip with a ride on Whistler's PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola, which is famed as the gondola with the longest unsupported span, as it transports you between both mountains year-round.
Starting in Victoria, the Pacific Marine Circle Route traverses Vancouver Island. You'll experience the vibrant capital city during the summer best; beaches, incredible restaurants, rolling vineyards, and spectacular restaurants — all within a few hours' drive. The Pacific Marine Circle Route runs for 289 kilometers, or 179 miles, making it one of the best shorter scenic driving routes. Drive the entire route in a day or make a long weekend road trip of it!
Start your trip by exploring the charming capital city, Victoria. Stroll the Inner Harbour, shop and try local restaurants, and be sure to check out some of the city's beaches and parks. Next up is Sooke, a hub for foodies and outdoor enthusiasts. Hike along the rugged coastline, take in the views of the Juan de Fuca Strait, and fish for salmon. In Port Renfrew, don't miss the tide pools at Botanical Beach.
Once you get into the Cowichan Valley, you have many options. Visit Cowichan Lake, the second-largest on the island, then head to Duncan, in the heart of the Cowichan Valley Wine Region. Go wine tasting and be sure to take the self-guided Totem Tour Walk. Finish on Malahat Drive, a stretch of Highway 1 that's widely considered one of the best summer road trips.
Moving from British Columbia to Washington, Stevens Pass Greenway is one of the most scenic driving routes in the Pacific Northwest. Part of the much larger Cascade Loop (well-known as "Washington's ultimate road trip"), the Stevens Pass Greenway is a 119-mile stretch following the Wenatchee and Skykomish Rivers. Start in Lynnwood and head toward Wenatchee or vice-versa.
Assuming you start in Lynnwood, you'll be just north of Seattle. Foodies and oenophiles, Lynnwood makes a great jumping-off point for exploring nearby Woodinville Wine Country. Next, stop in Monroe or Snohomish (or both!) for several eclectic attractions. Go antique shopping and stroll the riverwalk in Snohomish, and check out Monroe's The Reptile Zoo. Not far from here, stop to take in the 265-foot waterfall at Wallace Falls State Park.
In Skykomish, you'll feel as if you've been transported to another era. The tiny railroad towns and astounding natural landscapes everywhere you look have somehow remained untouched and pristine. Nearby Stevens Pass is a big skiing and mountain biking area year-round. One of your final stops should definitely be Leavenworth, an adorable Bavarian town near Lake Wenatchee. Of course, Wenatchee itself is one of the country's best driving destinations, situated at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers.
Another one of Washington state's scenic summer road trips, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway is a 350-mile drive that highlights the best of the PNW. The Byway traces the gorgeous Olympic Peninsula almost perfectly, runs right through Olympic National Park, and includes diverse terrain ranging from beaches to rainforests. You can start in Olympia and head toward Long Beach, or do this trip in reverse.
Along the way, stop in Port Townsend, the historic seaside community originally designed to be the “New York of the West." The 5.5-mile-long Dungeness Spit, the world's largest naturally-occurring sandspit, is another must-see. Stop at Hurricane Ridge, one of the most accessible mountains in Olympic National Park, then visit 90-foot Marymere Falls, the magical Hoh Rainforest, and Ruby Beach.
Although you can drive as little of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway as you want, it would be a shame to not hit all the highlights — as you can see, there are many, and this barely scratches the surface! If at all possible, make this one of your best summer road trips by taking several days to explore all the amazing sights.
There's no question that Mother Nature is at her very best in Alberta. Kananaskis Country, in particular, is home to endless spectacular natural scenery, outdoor recreation, and diverse wildlife viewing. Beginning in Calgary, the Kananaskis Trail takes you 300 kilometers (186 miles) through a whopping nine provincial parks and offers year-round adventure opportunities for everyone.
Keep your eyes peeled on this summer road trip for deer, elk, moose, and bears, and pack your outdoor gear. You'll have a plethora of outdoor activities at your fingertips, from hiking and biking to paddling and fishing. In between visits to all the provincial parks and impossibly blue lakes, some of the best stops include the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, Kananaskis Village (check out the buffalo at Boundary Ranch!), and Canmore, a hub for creatives, outdoor enthusiasts, and foodies alike. Looking to hit the links? Kananaskis Country Golf Course is a 36-hole course framed by towering mountains and glacier-fed creeks where wildlife often make cameo appearances.
Still want more? Make this one of the best summer road trips ever and tack on another day or two to explore awe-inspiring Banff National Park, about 185 miles away.
As you strike out on the highways and byways, know that a Coast Hotel is close by, to serve as a great launching pad for your adventures on the open road. Coast Hotels offers 35 properties in Western Canada and the US, with free wi-fi -- perfect for downloading your next google map.