10 Beautiful and Deserted Roads in the US

Aerial view of mountains and autumnal foliage on Dalton Highway
Alaska's Dalton Highway follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System for some 400 miles through the mountains. Piriya Photography / Getty Images

Road trips are often as synonymous with traffic jams and speeding semis as they are with picturesque rural landscapes, but the popularity of U.S. National Scenic Byways supports the theory that most drivers enjoy some traffic-free scenery. As it turns out, some of most beautiful roads in the U.S. are those least taken.

Whether you crave an adventurous (if a bit treacherous) journey through Alaska's mountains or a relaxing ride through the sun-drenched deserts of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona, these blissfully sleepy roads provide hundreds of miles of solitude and natural beauty. One even cuts through polar bear territory.

Here are 10 slow and scenic routes to travel in the U.S.

1
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Beartooth Highway, Montana and Wyoming

Beartooth Highway snaking through meadows, toward mountains
Ericliu08 / Getty Images

U.S. Route 212 is a 68-mile highway that zigzags through the mountains of Montana and Wyoming, crossing over Beartooth Pass (10,947 feet above sea level) before terminating at the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The altitude makes the trip incredibly scenic, but it also makes the road impassable for more than half the year due to snow. Beartooth Pass is usually open from Memorial Day through mid-October, but storms can occur even in the summer, temporarily blocking traffic or causing whiteout conditions.

The Montana portion of Route 212 is characterized by steep switchbacks and altitude changes of about 250 feet per mile. There are 20 peaks around the highest point on the road, plus a number of picturesque alpine forests and valleys. The steep drop-offs and severe curves mean that driving the 212 requires a steady set of nerves. This is perhaps what keeps the route so quiet.

2
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U.S. Route 50, Nevada and Utah

Route 50 cutting a path through the desert, toward mountains

John Elk III / Getty Images

U.S. Route 50 is a transcontinental highway whose Nevada portion was famously dubbed "the Loneliest Road in America" by Life magazine in 1986. The magazine meant it as a negative thing, but Nevada’s tourism bureau saw the publicity as an opportunity. When the fleet-tracking company Geotab compiled a list of the quietest roads in the U.S. in 2015, Nevada's Route 360 was chosen instead of Route 50. The latter was, however, chosen as the quietest in neighboring Utah.

The loneliest road tag likely hails from the lack of habitation as the road cuts across the Great Basin. Road trippers will encounter stark desert valleys and more than a dozen mountain passes. In Utah, there are canyons, passes, and long distances between service stations. This two-state trip is a daunting undertaking, with Route 50 covering 408 miles in Nevada and 334 miles in Utah.

3
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Highway 71, Nebraska

Aerial view of the Nebraska Sandhills and road

marekuliasz / Getty Images

Nebraska’s Highway 71 runs north-south for the entire length of the state. Located in the sparsely populated west, it passes through only a handful of small towns, the largest of which is Scottsbluff (population 15,000). In this part of the Midwest, agriculture reigns, so most of the scenery is dominated by farmland. However, the scenery is not as flat as you might expect: The Wildcat Hills, in the middle of the 170-mile highway, feature unique sandstone formations.

The town of Kimball, just north of the Colorado border, is near to the highest point in the state. Another interesting fact about this region is that it was once famous for its Cold War-era missile silos. Northbound drivers who continue into South Dakota might encounter more traffic, especially as they enter the popular Black Hills area.

4
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U.S. Route 160, Arizona

Red rock formations on the side of Route 160
Arco Images / Meissner Daniel / Getty Images

U.S. Route 160 starts in Missouri and runs 1,465 miles through Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico before reaching its terminus near Tuba City, Arizona. The 256-mile stretch in Arizona is the state’s least-busy roadway. It's one of the main roads through Navajo Nation, the 27,000-square-mile Native American territory still governed by the Navajo people. The large area has a population of only about 350,000, so vast stretches of the desert are empty except for the highway and some otherworldly rock formations.

Aside from the desert solitude, there's plenty to enjoy on this route. The strange Elephant’s Feet Rock is right next to the road. You can also see other sandstone formations, an ancient Pueblo cliff village, and "dinosaur tracks" near the end of the highway in Tuba City.

5
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Dalton Highway, Alaska

Snowy mountains on both sides of Dalton Highway
Piriya Photography / Getty Images

The 414-mile Dalton Highway runs from the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, all the way up to Deadhorse, an oil town on the Arctic Ocean. The highway is named after engineer James Dalton, an Alaskan who supervised the installation of an important radar system during the Cold War. Considering the August snowstorms, the hundreds of miles between gas stations, and the fact that less than half the highway is paved, the Dalton lives up to its designation as one of the nation's most dangerous roads. Many vehicles on it are trucks hauling supplies to the oil field.

For adventure-seekers, however, the scenery (and the potential to see a polar bear) makes it a worthwhile trip. The road traverses snow-capped peaks, crosses the famous Yukon River, and runs through Alaska’s trademark boreal forests, over the Arctic Circle. Drivers should carry a CB radio, extra tires, safety equipment, and survival gear on the Dalton.

6
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State Route 139, California

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge along California State Route 139
Bernie Friel / Getty Images

State Route 139 runs for 143 miles through northern California. It starts in the town of Susanville and terminates at the Oregon border, where it turns into Oregon State Route 39. The inland areas of northern California are among the least-populated in the vast state, which makes for a low-traffic trip. Route 139 passes through the 1.6 million-acre Modoc National Forest, known for its diverse ecosystems. The sometimes-stark landscapes here were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.

The road was originally planned to connect Oregon with Reno, Nevada, and to improve access to the national parks, forests, and monuments in the area. Development was quite slow, with sections remaining dirt or gravel even after a construction plan was in place. It is still mainly a two-lane road despite being part of the California system of highways.

7
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State Route 812, New York

Rocks and trees along Route 812 on dreary day

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

New York 812 starts in the Black River Valley in the Adirondack foothills and runs 80 miles to the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Ogdensburg. Upstate New York is famous for its natural landscapes, providing such a contrast to urban New York City. This route is stereotypically rural with a few hamlets and many small lakes and rivers along the highway.

Passport-carrying road trippers can cross the border on the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, then drive into Ontario on King’s Highway 16. The Canadian road runs from the border town of Prescott all the way up to Ottawa. Unfortunately, it merges onto the busier Highway 416 only a short distance from Saint Lawrence, so quietness on the Canadian side may prove relatively short-lived.

8
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Colonial Parkway, Virginia

Bridges over Colonial Parkway with springtime blooms

Unknown National Park Service photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

This 23-mile road in rural Virginia is officially known as State Route 90003. It's a scenic byway, so it draws some tourist traffic, but it's truck-free, and cars travel at sub-highway speeds (posted limits are usually between 35 and 45 mph). There are few intersections because traffic crosses over the parkway on bridges.

"Parkway" is an apt name for this tree-lined road, a pretty tunnel of shade. There are several historic towns along the route, and the bridges are made from brick so they fit with the colonial theme. The road has historical markers and places to pull off and get out of the car. Because of the lack of commercial traffic and more convenient alternatives for local commuters, you're likely to encounter only tourists on the Colonial Parkway, so traffic is usually light.

9
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U.S. Route 2, New Hampshire

Barns on the side of U.S. Route 2, New Hampshire

Doug Kerr / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

U.S. Route 2 consists of two east-west segments that cross the northern U.S. The road goes from Washington to Michigan, where it's interrupted by the Great Lakes. A second segment starts in upstate New York and runs through New England. The 35-mile section in New Hampshire is, according to Geotab data, the state’s quietest road.

Roads are generally low-traffic in rural New Hampshire. The entire segment of Route 2 goes through Coös County, the northernmost county in the state. It runs adjacent to White Mountains National Forest and passes Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. There are several small towns and hamlets along the way, and a couple of tourist attractions such as a Santa Claus-themed amusement park.

10
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State Route 32, Pennsylvania

Houses and trees lining Route 32 on wet day

Mitchazenia / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pennsylvania's State Route 32, also known as River Road because of its position on the bank of the Delaware River, runs along the New Jersey border for 41 miles. That George Washington and his troops famously crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War makes the highway — boasting a marker for the event — historically significant.

Because of the foliage, old-fashioned small towns, and river scenery, this is a popular route for a leisurely drive for both locals and visitors. Though traffic is comparatively light, the highway does pass through the main streets of several towns along the way — this is part of Route 32’s charm.