Long holiday weekends aren’t just for sleeping in and backyard barbeques. Holidays like Memorial Day should be spent in remembrance of those who gave — and those who gave all — by hitting the open road to see some of this great country for which they fought. There are a ton of great roads out there, twisty, straight and some off the beaten path. We’ve listed some of the best (and some less-traveled) for your vacation enjoyment and paired them with the ideal vehicle to maximize the experience.
Bar Harbor Loop – Acadia National Park, Maine
Length: 25 Miles
The uppermost of the New England states has some great driving roads, and the Bar Harbor Loop in Acadia National Park is one of them. Head south to take in the view of Eagle Lake, or head down Route 233 to Route 3 (“Sound Drive”) and to the coast and through Seal Harbor, then loop back north to Bar Harbor. You’ll drink in breathtaking views of the coastline, mountain byways with lake views and billowy fog that adds an air of mystery — all this over well-paved roads and plenty of places to stop for food, coffee and the after-drive brew pub adult beverage.
The Right Car to Drive: BMW M6 Gran Coupe
Kolob Terrace Road – Zion National Park, Virgin, Utah
Length: 24 Miles
This one, found in southern Utah, is more obscure, but it’s worth the venture. Start your trip in Virgin, UT at Kolob Terrace Road and head north. You’ll wind your way through beautiful Zion National Park to the Kolob Reservoir. Views of the Kolob Mountain through the pines are breathaking, and you can even take your ride off-pavement above the reservoir. You’ll enjoy some of the twisty roads on your way through Zion, and the ascent of 5,000 feet is rife with great views. The quality of the path varies greatly, so it’s best to take an SUV with great driving dynamics, especially in winter.
The Right Car to Drive: Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Elk Creek Winery Loop — Owenton, KY
Length: 120 Miles
Another great drive that’s well under the radar, this long loop starts and ends near Pee Wee Valley, KY, not far outside Louisville. From Middleton, KY, head east on US 60 to Frankfort and then head north on US 127. Make your way up to Owenton, and then drive your way west to I-265 and complete the scenic loop. On your drive, you’ll head up and down rolling hills with panoramic views on a mostly two-lane road. Highway 227 heading south from the winery has some of the best driving with a very twisty path where you can mash the throttle a bit and exercise your turning skills, but exercise care, as there are a fair number of small houses along the road. Reward yourself at the Elk Creek Winery in Owenton.
The Right Car to Drive: Porsche Boxster GTS
Denali Highway, Alaska
Length: 135 Miles
Alaska should be on your bucket list, and the Denali Highway is one of the best Alaskan drives both in spite of and because of its rough nature. It’s a mostly gravel highway that leads from Paxson to Cantwell, and as a result isn’t well traveled; you can’t exactly mash the gas because the speed limit is 30 mph, and be selective about when you head there since it’s closed to traffic from October to May. But all this aside, it is an unrelentingly stunning drive with views of glaciers like the Maclaren Glacier and peaks in the central Alaska Range such as Mount Hayes, Mount Hess and Mount Deborah — all with elevations above 11,000 feet. The trip may not be a fast one, but we doubt you’ll want it to be since the landscape is one of the finest in the world. Bring a car that’s as tough as the day is long and built for off-road adventure at its most scenic.
The Right Car to Drive: Land Rover LR4
U.S. Highway 212
Length: 949 Miles
If you think you can toss the family into the minivan and drive this beast without vomiting, you’d better keep the bread truck parked in the garage. 212 is both utterly gorgeous as it heads through the heart of the natural west and brow sweat-inducing with its numerous elevation changes and tire squealing switchbacks. Prepare yourself for a long-term commitment: 212 is almost a thousand miles long and snakes its way through four states, beginning in Edina, MN and snaking its way through South Dakota and Wyoming before ending in historic Yellowstone National park in Montana. You’ll need a comfortable car but one that still can rip the apexes.
The Right Car to Drive: Audi RS 7
Copperhead Loop – North Carolina
Length: 77 Miles
North Carolina boasts some of the best twisty driving the country has to offer, and the Copperhead Loop is a drive you won’t soon forget. It’s easy to access from major roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway but is still a well-kept secret among drivers. This loop offers technical curves to test even the most experienced rider, as well as relaxing sweeping turns and rapid elevation changes. Lose the brogues and put on your driving shoes, shades and gloves: the route has plenty of switchbacks and awesome sweepers to fill your afternoon with automotive thrills.
The Right Car to Drive: Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Papakolea Beach – South Point, The Big Island, Hawaii
South Point is not only the southernmost point on Hawaii’s Big Island, it’s also the southernmost point of the the whole United States. There’s no easy access to this venue, but that’s exactly why it’s one of the great Hawaiian experiences: to get to the obscure green sand beach on the island’s southern tip, you’ll need a 4×4. Take South Point Road past the not-so-visitor-friendly Visitor’s Center and be prepared to go even further than where the cars are parked. Take things slow and steady, and you’ll be rewarded with some serious off-road driving and access to one of the most unique beaches in the world.
The Right Car to Drive: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Triple State Mississippi River Run (MN, IA, WI)
Distance: 74 miles
Visit three states in a day without needing to stop for gas. Start in Brownsville, MN and head down Route 26 to Lansing, IA; then go east on 82 over the Mississippi river and into Wisconsin; cruising along the eastern shore of the river on Wisconsin 35 will eventually lead you to another river crossing that finishes your loop in Minnesota. Plenty of hills and elevation changes make for a spirited drive that’s the perfect length. Stop at the various wildlife refuges and parks on or near the loop to make the drive a whole-day affair.
The Right Car to Drive: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon
California State Route 1
Distance: 655 miles
CA SR 1 is on everyone’s best drives list, and for good reason. It’s long enough for a full day’s drive, stunning enough to keep you awake the whole way and cuts its path through big cities and less populated areas for maximum variety. It spans most of the coastline and stretches from US 101 near Leggett in Mendocino County all the way south to I-5 near Dana Point in Orange County, hitting the Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area and some of the most beautiful coastlines in America. Just make sure you bring plenty of sunscreen when you do the route with the top down. Your forearms and forehead will thank you.
The Right Car to Drive: Ferrari California T
Pikes Peak – Manitou Springs, Colorado
Distance: 24 miles
If you have a fear of heights, this drive is not for you. But if your idea of a great vacation outing involves a seriously twisty path and stomach-churning vertical drops, the Pikes Peak Run is your drive of choice. It starts in beautiful Manitou Springs, CO. Get to US-24 W and look for signs. The Pikes Peak Hwy changes into Pikes Peak Toll Rd where there’s a steep toll fee, which is entirely worth it. This is where the Pikes Peak Hill Climb takes place every year, but if you’re smart, you won’t try to match speeds. Focus on the awesome switchbacks that are reason enough for the drive. You’ll be challenged by the drive and rewarded by the view at over 14,000 feet.
The Right Car to Drive: Subaru WRX STI