Photo: Mt. Washington Auto Road

The Best Roadside Scenic Viewpoint in Every State

United States Road Trips Insider Guides
by Matthew Meltzer Jan 23, 2019

Road trips are about a great many things. Cool playlists of the best song about every state. Excuses to eat more fast food in a week than you have since 2014. Gas station bathrooms. But they’re also about breaking up the monotony of the open road with a rest at a scenic lookout over something you’ve never seen before. It could be a mountain range, sprawling desert, or sweeping view of a modern city, but there’s something about scenic viewpoints that make us want to take a few minutes and appreciate the magic. After we post a picture, of course.

Each state offers plenty of these scenic overlooks, but we hit up locals and worked with the folks at Geotab — who found the highest paved road in every state — to find the best scenic viewpoints in every state that don’t require more than a car to reach.

Alabama: Vulcan Park, Birmingham

Downtown Birmingham, Alabama, from Vulcan Park

Photo: Rob Hainer/Shutterstock

The world’s largest cast iron statue isn’t just any 100,000-pound, 56-foot rendering of the Roman god of fire and forge. It’s a tribute to the iron-smelting past of the city below, standing atop Red Mountain as a reminder of where the city’s been and where it’s headed. A short drive up to Vulcan Park rewards you with the best view of the Birmingham skyline, as well as a historical museum that tells the story of the city.

Alaska: Atigun Pass

snowy mountains in Alaska

Photo: Leonie Wharton

This section of the Dalton Highway is not so much an overlook as an immersive glacial mountain experience, where you step out of your car and feel like you’ve dropped into the thick of the Alaskan wilderness. The road is at 4,757 feet above sea level, winding through the Brooks Mountain range before reaching its highest point at the continental divide. It’s been featured on Ice Road Truckers and recorded the coldest temperature ever in the United States at -82 degrees back in 1971.

Arizona: The Abyss at Grand Canyon

spectacular viewpoint along Hermit's roadside on the Colorado River and the South Rim of Grand Canyon in Arizona

Photo: Nina B/Shutterstock

Almost any overlook at the Grand Canyon could qualify as the most scenic in Arizona, and many are so driveable you’ll end up sharing the view with every RV west of Texas. But this one along Hermit’s Rest Road just west of Mojave Point has a sheer 3,000-foot drop right off the edge, giving you the best perspective of both the depth and expanse of the Grand Canyon.

Arkansas: Lodge at Mt. Magazine State Park

Mt. Magazine State Park in Northwest Arkansas is home to the highest point in the state at 2,753 feet. You’ll have to hike a bit to get to that vantage point, but drive up to the lodge inside the state park and you can get some fantastic views over the valley below. Catch it during a summer lightning storm, and it’s a panorama of skylit electricity that’s both awe-inspiring and a little scary.

California: Battery Spencer Overlook

Golden Gate Bridge spanning the water

Photo: canadastock/Shutterstock

Picking the best scenic overlook in California is about as easy as picking its best taco, but the view atop this winding road just north of the Golden Gate bridge combines the best aspects of the state’s scenery in one tidy view. You’ll see the green rolling hills, deep blue water, whispering fog, city skyline, and the state’s most recognizable landmark without having to even turn your head. If you’re adventurous, try cycling up here on a windy day; you’ll almost think the view is worth it.

Colorado: Rainbow Curve Overlook

Young girl looking through a viewfinder in Estes Park

Photo: Davis Tilley Photography/Visit Estes Park

Colorado is basically one giant scenic overlook of a state, so a Rocky Mountain road trip might have you making more stops to take pictures than you make for food and restrooms. The state’s highest drive (we mean that literally) is along the Trail Ridge Road in Estes Park, the highest continuous paved road in the United States. The road, like most in Colorado, is teeming with overlooks, but the one at Rainbow Curve boasts unique views of Horseshoe Park, Alluvial Fan, and the Beaver Ponds. And if you don’t agree with us, keep driving — you’ll find another one in 10 minutes.

Connecticut: East Rock Park, New Haven

Though people don’t typically associate sweeping urban views with Connecticut, East Rock Park on the border or New Haven and Hamden looks down from the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, over the Mill River Valley, and onto the New Haven skyline and Long Island Sound. The park stands 350 feet above the city, and the easy drive to the summit rewards you with a rose garden at the base and a bird watching area and botanical greenhouse at the top.

Delaware: The Point, Cape Henlopen State Park

There aren’t a lot of places where you watch the sun rise and set over water in the same state. All of Florida. The Hawaiian islands. And The Point in Cape Henlopen State Park. Here you can drive up to the point at sunrise and see the sun come up over Delaware Bay, spend your day exploring the beaches, then return to see the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean with the historic lighthouses shining brightly in the golden evening.

Florida: Watson Island, Miami

The Miami skyline from Watson Island

Photo: Chris LaBasco/Shutterstock

In a state where most of the highest points are freeway onramps, scenic lookouts aren’t exactly abundant. But one of the cooler ones is on the minimally developed Watson Island between Miami and Miami Beach. Here you can pull right up to the shore and look west towards the massive Miami skyline, which is especially scenic as the sun sets behind it. Or gaze east at the cranes and cruise ships at the Port of Miami and the lights of Miami Beach in the distance.

Georgia: Brasstown Bald

Scenic overview in Georgia with red-orange trees

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Georgia’s highest point is the rare peak that’s completely accessible by car, its observation tower and visitors center sitting right along State Route 180. This spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest and marked the end of the now-defunct Tour de Georgia cycling race.

Hawaii: Haleakala Summit

Beautiful sunrise scene on Haleakala Volcano, Maui Island, Hawaii

Photo: Galyna Andrushko/Shutterstock

Maui might get one of the last sunrises in America, but it’s probably the best. Take a pre-dawn drive up to the top of the Haleakala volcano and you’ll see the orange light of morning peek over the Pacific Ocean and onto the volcano floor. Just make sure you make a reservation; the sunrise here has gotten so popular that you now must reserve a space to drive up between 3:00 and 7:00 AM. If you want to go any other time, though, it’s all yours.

Idaho: Galena Summit

Road through snowy mountains between Stanley and Ketchum, Idaho

Photo: Lee O’Dell/Shutterstock

Idaho, like any mountainous state, has no shortage of road-trip-highlight scenic overlooks. Though competition is tough, our pick is this spot just outside Ketchum on Highway 75. It stands 8,701 feet above sea level and offers views out over the entire Sawtooth Valley, a 15-by-30-mile wilderness surrounded by the jagged Sawtooth Mountains. From here, you can also see the headwaters of the Salmon River, which runs for 900 miles from here out to the Pacific Ocean.

Illinois: Montrose Beach, Chicago

A cyclist rides along the park area at Montrose Beach, a popular area in Chicago during the summer that overlooks the skyline

Photo: Page Light Studios/Shutterstock

Though Southern Illinois does have some scenic rolling hills and a killer wine region, this beach a couple miles north of downtown Chicago provides the best perspective on the sprawling skyline of any beach along the lake. Here you’ll get the full expanse of Lake Michigan and the towers beyond, and if you’re up for a walk, you can head out to the jetty and join the fisherman for a better, unobstructed view.

Indiana: Horseshoe Bend

The tightest bend along all of the Ohio River is right next to the town of Leavenworth, Indiana, where barges and other commercial ships slowly navigate the treacherous turn. Visitors to this spot in Southern Indiana can stop at the Overlook Restaurant and enjoy the show while birds soar above the riverside cliffs.

Iowa: Mt. Hosmer

Iowa is surprisingly scenic if you’re into stuff like sweeping bluffs over river valleys. Assuming that’s your scenic jam, head up the narrow winding road to the top of Mt. Hosmer, where a 450-foot bluff stands atop the Mississippi River. The mountain is named for Harriet Hosmer, a sculptor who won a foot race to the top during a steamboat layover in 1850.

Kansas: Schrumpf Hill

Along the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway you’ll see some of the last remaining tallgrass prairies in North America, which looks a bit like an African savannah minus the giraffes. The scenic landscape is best observed from the Schrumpf Hill overlook along Highway 177 south of Cottonwood Falls. Once you arrive, you’ll find a 360-degree view of the prairie and interpretive panels explaining the local plants and animals.

Kentucky: Devou Park, Covington

View of Cincinnati from Devou Park in Covington, Kentucky

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Cincinnati has one of the most under-appreciated skylines in the country, but one trip to this park in suburban Covington will convince you it’s among the nation’s best. The hilltop green space looks down onto the Ohio River, across the many bridges that connect Covington and Cincinnati to the striking skyline beyond. Head to Devou Park at twilight to watch the city go from bright daytime colors to white blinking lights, an experience that’s especially enjoyable during the annual BLINK festival where light art installations take over the city.

Louisiana: Pointe-Aux-Chenes

Louisiana bayou at sunset

Photo: bayoumamma

Bayou scenery may not be for everyone, but if you appreciate the serenity of a marshy wetland, you’ll find no better place to take it in than Pointe-Aux-Chenes. This little spot along Island Road near Houma runs along the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary and is a perfect place to pull off and look at migratory birds landing on the water. It’s not a striking mountaintop or a bright city skyline, but for rural Louisiana, it’s just about heaven.

Maine: Mt. Battie, Camden Hills State Park

Hiking to the top of Cadillac Mountain might be the quintessentially Maine thing to do when looking for a scenic viewpoint. But that also involves, ya know, hiking. Not always fun in Maine year-round. So stay in your nicely heated car and head to Camden Hills State Park off Route 1 where Mt. Battie Road takes you to the top of the park. At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of Penobscot Bay, Camden Harbor and the surrounding mountains.

Maryland: Black Walnut Point, Tuckahoe State Park

Chesapeake Bay at sunset, in Tilghman Island, Maryland

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Hard to argue with the mountain views from venerable Dan’s Rock in Western Maryland. But it’s also hard to climb all the stairs to go see it. Much easier, head to the end of Route 33 on the Eastern Shore and this point with 180-degree views of Chesapeake Bay. It sits on the southern tip of Tilghman Island in Tuckahoe State Park, and in addition to the sparkling water, you’ll likely see osprey, ducks, and a smattering of bald eagles.

Massachusetts: Western Summit

View of the mountains in Massachusetts

Photo: Eugene Michalenko, Mohawk Trail Association

Snow-capped mountains and steep valleys aren’t exactly the scenery most associated with the Bay State. But travel the Mohawk Scenic Byway and you’ll be treated to the kind of alpine scenery one typically associates with places further west, as well as views across the Connecticut River and into the towns below. The view from the West Summit viewpoint seems like a scene from somewhere in Wyoming, especially in winter where the snow drapes itself over the landscape and makes the tiny town of Florida, Mass, the picture of charming New England mountain town.

Michigan: Arcadia Overlook

Inspiration Point On Lake Michigan

Photo: ehrlif/Shutterstock

Near the top of the mitten southwest of Traverse City, highway M-22 runs along the coast of Lake Michigan and is one of the quintessential drives in the Great Lakes. Along this road you’ll find the Arcadia Overlook, also known as Inspiration Point, which stands 370 feet up with views over the shoreline. If you’re looking to stretch your legs a little after the drive, head up the 120 stairs to the top of the overlook for the best view in the state.

Minnesota: Palisade Head Scenic Overlook

Palisade Head in Minnesota

Photo: Lisa Crayford/Explore Minnesota

Minnesota’s North Shore Drive is a little slice of the Pacific Coast Highway in the Midwest, a meandering scenic byway that runs 150 miles along the cliffs beside Lake Superior. A couple miles north of Silver Bay you’ll hit this scenic outlook, where from 180 feet above the lake you’ll see the Sawtooth Mountains to the northeast, the Split Rock Lighthouse to the southwest, and Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands south across the lake. If the viewpoint looks familiar, you probably recognize it from the final scene of the 1993 thriller The Good Son starring Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood.

Mississippi: Bluff Walking Trail, Natchez

The stroll along Mississippi River atop the bluffs of Natchez is the most scenic pedestrian route in Mississippi, a trip through both serene nature and the city’s history as it passes by several Victorian homes along Clifton Street. You can drive up to a lookout over the bluffs at Silver Street, a perfect spot for sunset over the mighty Mississippi. And if you’re up for a little cardio, traipse down a 200-foot staircase to the base of the bluffs.

Missouri: Lake Taneycomo, Point Lookout

Scenic lookout in Missouri

Photo: James Little

Lake Taneycomo was created back in 1913 when the Power Site dam blocked off the White River in one direction, and the Table Rock Dam stopped it in the other. The result is one of the most beautiful fishing destinations in the state, best viewed by pulling off Highway 165 near College of the Ozarks in the appropriately named town of Point Lookout. From here you’ll see the gentle Missouri hills surrounding the lake, with the Table Rock dam standing in the distance.

Montana: Heaven’s Peak Lookout

A view from Going to the Sun Road at Glacier National Park

Photo: tusharkoley/Shutterstock

If you’ve been to Glacier National Park, we don’t need to tell you about Going-to-the-Sun Road, the two-lane stretch of asphalt that bisects the park and surrounds you with towering white mountains. Along its 50 miles you’ll find mountain lakes, thick forests, arctic tundra, and the Continental Divide. You’ll also find the aptly named Heaven’s Peak, where the imposing glaciers stand over bright green forests, appearing so close you could almost run across and start climbing.

Nebraska: Carhenge

With a serious tip of the hat to the bizarre chimney rock at Scottsbluff, you won’t find a more unique viewpoint in Nebraska than the famous Carhenge. This stop along the famous Gold Rush Byway (US-385) is a complete replica of Stonehenge, made completely from old cars. The attraction also includes other sculptures made from old automobiles and automobile parts, and though it may not be a lookout in the traditional sense of the word, it’s the coolest roadside sight in the state.

Nevada: Mt. Rose Highway Scenic Overlook

Scenic lookout in Nevada

Photo: Laura Rose Robb/TravelNevada

Nevada is a funny state for scenery because while most associate it with big swaths of desert, it’s also home to half of Lake Tahoe and some of the best mountain lake scenery in America. Views of the lake are especially nice along the Mt. Rose Highway where, during summer, you’ll see emerald mountains dropping into the deep blue lake, and in winter you’ll catch it all draped in a blanket of white.

New Hampshire: Mt. Washington Auto Road

This 7.6-mile drive up the highest point in the northeast is the first and oldest man-made attraction in the US and is basically one giant scenic overlook. Here you’ll experience the bizarre weather in four different ecological zones, where you can go from sunny to raining to occasionally snowing on the same ride. Each overlook offers a different perspective on the mountain, and because it’s so short, it’s designed for you to pull over and explore each one.

New Jersey: Liberty State Park

The City of New York as seen from Liberty State Park

Photo: Sorbis/Shutterstock

Not that we’re ones to dispute the natural beauty of the Meadowlands, but often the finest views in the Garden State are of another state altogether. Like the best rooftop bar in New Jersey. Or this park across the Hudson River from Manhattan, offering the best views of New York City in either state. It’s also easily accessible from Jersey City, Newark, or really anywhere a PATH train can take you. Or you can take a ferry across from Manhattan.

New Mexico: Anderson Overlook

Anderson Overlook, New Mexico

Photo: The Perfect/Shutterstock

The Land of Enchantment has some fantastically striking scenery, from red rocks to sand dunes to snow-capped mountains. Finding places to view it isn’t always straightforward since this massive state is pretty sparsely populated and much of the scenery is on Native American reservations. If you find yourself along Highway 502 near Los Alamos, take a rest at Anderson Overlook, where New Mexico’s signature mountains, mesas, and valleys are all in abundance.

New York: Terrapin Point, Niagara Falls State Park

As we mentioned in our entry on New Jersey, the best views of New York City are actually in another state. The best views of Niagara Falls, however, are squarely in New York at Goat Island inside Niagara Falls State Park. Stand out at Terrapin Point and you’ll literally feel the 675,000 gallons of water that rush over the falls every second, and a trip at dusk provides some of the most spectacular sunset photography in America.

North Carolina: Looking Glass Rock Overlook

Though the lookout at milepost 417 along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville is nothing to sneer at, with its Insta-perfect view of one of the largest masses of granite in the eastern United States, it’s still probably better known as a (figurative) jumping off point. The rock itself is a massively popular climbing destination, and the lookout also serves as the trailhead to Skinny Dip Falls, a commonly visited easy waterfall hike.

North Dakota: Painted Canyon Visitors Center, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Just before you hit the town of Medora along I-94 you’ll find the best place to view the splendor of the North Dakota Badlands. If you’re enticed by the bright colors and jagged rocks, you can continue along I-94 to the 36-mile scenic loop that runs through the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where you might also catch prairie dogs and wild horses in their natural habitat.

Ohio: Scenic Overlook on the Scioto Trail

The best viewpoints in Ohio are the ones you see just before getting your face peeled back on one of the epic roller coasters at Cedar Point. For a view that won’t require an hour-long line, head out US-23 to Scioto Trail State Park, where a drive through the rolling hills brings you to the creatively named Scenic Overlook right off North Ridge Road. It looks out onto the Ohio River valley and the surrounding woodlands and is, as you might have guessed, best visited in the fall.

Oklahoma: Quartz Mountain Resort and Nature Park

Quartz Mountain Resort

Photo: Quartz Mountain Resort/Facebook

While we wouldn’t exactly jump to call this the Jade Mountain of the heartland, this resort in the Wichita Mountains on Lake Altus offers viewpoints of twin mountains that are vaguely reminiscent of St. Lucia’s Pitons. Views from the road leading into the resort and from its 18-hole golf course are pure Midwestern lake paradise, and in a state where both elevation and water are at a premium, a resort that combines them both is easily tops for drivable scenic lookouts.

Oregon: Neahkahnie Viewpoint

Oregon coastline view from the Neahkahnie Viewpoint

Photo: Oleg Moskaliuk/Shutterstock

Just north of Cannon Beach along historically scenic US-101 sits the Neahkahnie Viewpoint, where you’ll stand on the side of a green mountain looking down onto the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean below. While the roadside view here is fantastic, for an even better vantage point drive a couple hundred yards up the road to the Neahkahnie Mountain Trailhead. Then take the eight-mile loop for one of the most scenic hikes in the state.

Pennsylvania: Loyalsock Canyon Vista, Worlds End State Park

Worlds End State Park is a bit of a misleading name as it’s pretty smack in the center of the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania. The hikes here are the Keystone State’s finest, but if you’re not up for walking, head down Mineral Spring or Cold Run Road to this viewpoint where you might not be standing at the World’s End, but it sure will feel like it.

Rhode Island: Prospect Terrace, Providence

On the east side of Providence off Congdon Street you’ll find this hidden gem of a park, with perfect views of the city skyline and the colorful houses that lead up to it. The park is also the burial place of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, whose iconic statue is the cornerstone of the park.

South Carolina: Wildcat Falls

Wildcat Falls near Rock State Park in Greenville, South Carolina

Photo: Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Upstate South Carolina might not get the tourism hype of charmingly flat Charleston, but it also boasts the best scenery in the state, both on and off the road. Typically, southern waterfalls like this one along scenic Highway 11 near Cleveland are far off the road, but travelers can just pull off to the side of the road and enjoy the power of Wildcat Falls. Those willing to leave their cars for a minute can venture a little closer and get a stunning close-up picture of one of the state’s best natural sights.

South Dakota: Pinnacles Overlook, Badlands National Park

The eerie, red-striped canyons and fingers of Badlands National Park are some of the most mysterious sights in America, best experienced at sunrise when the colors seem to change by the minute. Take a pre-dawn drive into the park and find the Pinnacles Overlook, which gives the most expansive perspective of the buttes, canyons, and gullies that make up the Badlands, providing the best place to set up a tripod and capture the spectacular sunrise.

Tennessee: Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

You likely won’t be the only person — or even the 100th person — in the flying-saucer-like observation tower at the top of Clingmans Dome. The third-highest peak in the eastern United States sits in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited park in America and a venerable logjam of people during the summer. That said, the crowds don’t flock here because the view is average, and the parking lot a mere 300 feet from the summit makes it easily accessible.

Texas: FM 170 (River Road)

View of the Rio Grande on the border of Mexico and the United States from a lookout in Texas

Photo: jamsedel/Shutterstock

There’s a lot of driving to be done in Texas, and even the proudest Texan has to admit it ain’t all beautiful. But this stretch of road from Presidio to Study Butte runs right next to the Rio Grande as it winds its way through the mountains. The road has a number of scenic overlooks, but generally the higher you get the nicer the view. In true Texas style, take your time and stop to appreciate them all.

Utah: Summit, Scenic Byway 12

Scenic road in Capitol Reef National Park at sunset

Photo: Paulista/Shutterstock

Utah is another place you could just pull over by the side of most highways and have a first-class viewpoint. But Scenic Byway 12 is the state’s asphalt crown jewel, running from Panguitch to Torrey through all the red rock and green forest that make this part of Utah so beautiful. The road climbs through the Dixie National Forest topping out at 9,000 feet, where you’ll have a sprawling view of Henry Mountains, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and striking red rocks of Capitol Reef National Park.

Vermont: Mt. Philo Summit, Mt. Philo State Park

view from Mount Philo of rural Vermont farm valley in autumn

Photo: vermontalm/Shutterstock

Vermont’s first state park was established atop the 968-foot Mt. Philo, a 237-acre swath of greenery with views of the Lake Champlain Valley and Adirondack Mountains. The park’s main road sits right off US-7 and is a short drive to the parking lot at the summit. Even before cars, the summit was accessible via an old carriage road, built to service the historic Mt. Philo Inn, which is still standing just outside the park.

Virginia: Culler’s Overlook, Shenandoah River State Park

In fall, the Shenandoah Valley is an explosive tableau of reds, oranges, and yellows, one of the biggest leaf-peeping attractions in the Mid-Atlantic. Take a drive to Shenandoah River State Park and make a quick left onto Overnight Road, where a small parking lot sits next to the best lookout in the state. Here you’ll gaze over a meandering bend in the river while the colorful hills of the countryside spread out beyond.

Washington: Sunrise Point, Mt. Rainier National Park

Washington, Mount Rainier National Park

Photo: Danita Delmont/Shutterstock

Getting up close and personal with the fifth-tallest mountain in the United States would seemingly be a task for someone with ice picks and crampons. Not the case at Mt. Rainier, where you can pretty much drive up to the base of the glacier at Sunrise Point where only a short field of evergreen trees separates you from the snow. Now getting to the top of that thing, that’s another story.

West Virginia: Peak of Spruce Knob

View from Spruce Knob, West Virginia

Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Fun fact: America’s first national recreation area was Spruce Knob in northeastern West Virginia at the top of the Allegheny Mountains. The road to the peak was only paved in 2008, where the view offers a glimpse over the rows of mountains leading to the horizon. Just be forewarned that this summit is best visited during the summer. Though the winter views can be spectacular, the road there is not maintained.

Wisconsin: House on the Rock

The House on the Rock is one of America’s great oddball attractions, a massive estate built atop a rock with… everything. There’s an organ room. A circus room. A doll carousel room. It’s like someone took Graceland, mixed it with the St. Louis City Museum, threw in a heavy dose of backstreets New Orleans, and placed in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. On a mountaintop. In Wisconsin. There might be prettier views in America’s Dairyland. But no way there’s a better viewpoint.

Wyoming: Clay Butte Lookout

Beartooth Butte viewed from Clay Butte Fire Lookout in Wyoming

Photo: Jim Parkin/Shutterstock

The Beartooth Highway holds the distinction of being the highest road in two different states, running from Red Lodge, Montana, to the northeast border of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. While it’s full of jaw-dropping views of the Northern Rocky Mountains, the best view is off Forest Road 142, which takes you to the Clay Butte Lookout. The road’s not exactly smooth, but it leads to a historic tower that’s been around since 1942.

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