Texas Scenic Drives
Texas has no shortage of scenic vistas to enjoy via a classic road trip. And the diverse topography allows for mountainous views, forested drives, and dramatic canyon descents. Despite your destination, these journeys will provide plenty of oohs, ahhs, and Instagram-worthy photo ops. Here are the top three areas for scenic drives in Texas.
Big Bend Area
A couple drives in and around Big Bend offer spectacular views that are unmatched in Texas and many parts of the Southwestern U.S. Starting in the western portion of Big Bend National Park, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive features vast vistas slowly transforming into striking views of volcanic rock formations reminiscent of an otherworldly scene straight out of a Star Trek episode (30 miles long, plan for at least two hours with stops at historic sites and scenic views).
Just west of the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park, featuring the River Road’s magnificent mountain views around each turn, with a compelling immediacy to the Rio Grande just a few feet away (50 miles long, plan for two-and-a-half hours). For those with an adventurous spirit (and high-clearance vehicle), head even farther west to the tiny village of Ruidosa, where a century-old adobe church marks the beginning/end of the extremely rugged Pinto Canyon Road to Marfa. The Chinati Mountains serve as a perfect picturesque backdrop, and the road is so rural, you may even lose track of its route. Talk about a road trip… (50 miles, plan for nearly three hours).
The Hill Country
A pleasant drive through the bucolic Hill Country provides visitors with sweeping views of rolling hills and sheer canyon walls lining the rivers that carve through limestone bluffs. The scenery isn’t as jaw-droppingly stunning as the Big Bend area, but there’s a pleasant appeal to the outstretched topographical diversity beckoning beyond the windshield.
Bandera, aka the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” is an ideal place to start a Hill Country journey, with its gentle pastures and scenic ranches. From there, head west on State Highway 16 and FM 337, where you’ll be treated to inviting scenery as you drive alongside the lazy Medina River. Things start to change as you get farther west and closer to the Frio River, which runs north-south along State Highway 83. Take a few hours to check out a swimming hole on the Frio, or even spend the night at a classic Hill Country cabin in a charming river community like Leakey or Concan (66 miles, plan for at least two hours).
Travelers can get their kicks along Texas’ entire stretch of Route 66 (along Interstate 40 in the Panhandle between Oklahoma and New Mexico), but the best collection of roadside attractions is between Amarillo and Shamrock. This eastern portion of the Panhandle is as flat as its name implies, but the compelling attractions—Art Deco-style motor courts, service stations, and diners—make the drive completely worthwhile. Amarillo is home to the famous Cadillac Ranch and Sixth Street’s historic storefronts, while tiny McLean and Shamrock offer iconic structures from the golden era of automobile travel. These small-town highlights include one of the country’s first Phillip 66 gas stations, and the amazing U-Drop-Inn tower, which offered food, gas, and lodging to weary Route 66 travelers (95 miles, plan for more than two hours).
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