Are you ready to discover a different side of Texas? Then it’s time to ditch the guidebooks, rev up your engines, and hit the open road. We’re about to embark on a journey through the seven most scenic drives in Texas.
From rolling plains to towering peaks, vibrant wildflowers to awe-inspiring wildlife, Texas is a land of endless beauty and diversity. And there’s no better way to experience it than through a good old road trip. So whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or just a wanderer at heart, buckle up because these drives have something for everyone.
So, let’s get started and see where the road takes us!
1. Route 66: The Mother Road Beckons
Let’s kick off our adventure with none other than the iconic Route 66, or as it’s fondly known, the “Main Street of America.” This legendary road has inspired countless songs, stories, and even a TV show.
Mapping the Journey
Starting in Chicago and ending in Santa Monica, Route 66 cruises straight through the heart of Texas. Here, we’ll be focusing on the Texas stretch, which runs from the vibrant city of Amarillo to the tiny town of Glenrio, straddling the Texas-New Mexico border. It’s a straight-shot drive, flat and easy-going, spanning approximately 178 miles of pure nostalgia and ever-changing scenery.
Worthwhile Stops: Amarillo and Cadillac Ranch
Our first stop? The bustling city of Amarillo. Amarillo, meaning “yellow” in Spanish, is a vibrant hub with plenty of attractions. Be sure to visit the historic 6th Street, known for its vintage shops, eateries, and neon lights.
A short drive west from Amarillo, you’ll encounter an unusual sight—a row of ten Cadillacs buried nose-down in the ground. Welcome to Cadillac Ranch! This wacky public art installation is a staple of Route 66. So grab a spray can and leave your mark on these graffiti-covered cars.
MidPoint Café: The Heart of Route 66
As you journey further along Route 66, you’ll stumble upon Adrian, home to the famous MidPoint Café. Sitting exactly 1,139 miles from both Chicago and Santa Monica, it’s the halfway point of Route 66. Pop in for a slice of their acclaimed “ugly crust” pie, a warm cup of coffee, and bask in the rich history.
Glenrio: Ghost Town with a Story
Finally, our Route 66 adventure in Texas winds down at Glenrio, a near ghost town that whispers tales of a bygone era. Once a bustling spot for travelers, it’s now a hauntingly beautiful relic of the past. The abandoned Route 66 motels, gas stations, and diners make for intriguing, albeit eerie, photo opportunities.
Landscapes: A Visual Feast
What’s the journey without the scenery? As you cruise along Route 66 in Texas, you’ll see it all—rolling plains stretching out to the horizon, charming old Texas towns, sprawling sunflower fields, and one of the most breathtaking sunsets you’ll ever witness.
2. Willow City Loop: A Twisted Trail of Texas’ Treasures
Grab your sunglasses, turn up the radio, and buckle up. Next up, we’re heading to the Texas Hill Country for a scenic drive unlike any other—the enchanting Willow City Loop.
Taking the Loop
Located between Fredericksburg and Llano, this 13-mile country road might not seem like much at first glance. But you’re in for a treat! This winding two-lane road twists and turns, taking you on a magical journey through the heart of Texas’ rustic charm.
Notable Nooks: Willow City
At the heart of our loop lies the quaint hamlet of Willow City. Dating back to 1849, this place is old-school Texas at its finest. Its small population and rustic charm offer a serene respite from the hustle and bustle. So take a moment to soak in the peace and quiet—it’s as refreshing as a cold sweet tea on a hot summer day.
Blooming Marvelous: Springtime Spectacle
If you time your drive right and hit the loop in spring, you’ll be greeted by a carpet of Texas wildflowers. The bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and prairie verbenas paint the landscape in vibrant shades of blue, red, and pink. Nature lovers find it to be their paradise, and photographers consider it the dream scene!
Hills, Creeks, and Everything In Between
As you navigate the loop, you’ll discover the land rolling out in front of you, decked out in the greens and browns of untouched nature. Be prepared for steep hills that lead to stunning vistas of the surrounding country. Descend into the lush valleys, and you’ll find crystal-clear creeks babbling along the limestone bedrock.
Eye Out for the Wildlife
The loop isn’t just about stunning landscapes; it’s also home to an array of wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer darting across the road, wild turkeys strutting their stuff, and birds of prey soaring overhead.
3. Lonesome Highway: Embrace the Open Road
Next, we’re heading to a highway that’s as poetic as it is scenic: the long and stretching Lonesome Highway.
Navigating the Long, Lonesome Road
The Lonesome Highway runs east-west, connecting Carlsbad, New Mexico, to the tiny West Texas town of Mentone. It’s a long, straight shot of about 50 miles, cutting a path through the Chihuahuan Desert. So get ready to embrace the solitude and feel the romance of the open road.
Embracing the Solitude
The real charm of the Lonesome Highway is the solitude. Here, it’s just you, the road, and the vast, sweeping landscapes. It’s a place to unplug, unwind, and let your mind wander as the miles pass by.
Eye-Catching Attractions: Pecos River
One of the few but rewarding breaks in the scenery is when you cross the Pecos River. The Pecos, one of the major tributaries of the Rio Grande, adds a welcome splash of color to the desert landscape. Enjoy the panoramic view from the Pecos River Bridge. It’s a perfect spot for some fantastic photos along your scenic drive in Texas.
Diverse Desert Landscapes
Driving along the Lonesome Highway, you’ll get a taste of the desert’s unique beauty. First, the flat, expansive plains stretch out to the horizon, dotted with resilient desert flora. As you get closer to Mentone, you’ll start to see the characteristic sand and shale dunes of West Texas.
The Lonesome Highway isn’t just about the daytime views. As night falls, look up. Without any city lights, you’ll have an unobstructed view of the star-studded Texas sky. It’s the perfect ending to your journey on this serene and soulful road.
4. River Road in Big Bend: A Frontier Adventure
We’re heading back to Big Bend, but this time, we’re taking a detour. So brace yourselves for the wild and untamed beauty of River Road.
Charting the Course
Running along the southern edge of Big Bend National Park, River Road offers an exciting 51-mile journey. It’s an unpaved dirt road that weaves through deserts, mountains, and along the Rio Grande River. You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle, but the unforgettable adventure is well worth it.
The Old West
One of the unique aspects of River Road is its link to the Old West. Along this Texas scenic drive, you’ll come across remnants of old trading posts, ghost towns, and ranches, telling tales of frontier life. It’s like stepping back into a long-lost era.
Mariscal Mine: A Nod to the Past
Among the must-visit spots is Mariscal Mine. Abandoned since the 1940s, the mine once produced nearly a quarter of the quicksilver in the U.S. The ruins offer a fascinating peek into the region’s mining history and a great backdrop for some unique photos.
Raw Beauty: The Rio Grande
As you cruise along River Road, you’ll often have the Rio Grande River at your side. The river carves a path between the U.S. and Mexico, creating a stunning landscape of towering cliffs, swift rapids, and peaceful stretches of water.
A Night Under the Stars
Once the sun sets, you’re in for another treat. With no light pollution, River Road offers some of the best stargazing in Texas. It’s the perfect end to a day of exploration.
5. Padre Island National Seashore: Where the Road Meets the Sea
It’s time to swap those rolling hills and desert plains for sandy beaches and crashing waves. Get ready for a sun-soaked journey to the Padre Island National Seashore.
Setting the Course
Stretching 70 miles along the Texas coast, Padre Island National Seashore offers a scenic drive like no other. Imagine it: miles of untouched beach to your right, lush dunes to your left, and a clear blue sky above.
Beach Bum Paradise
On Padre Island, the beach isn’t just a destination; it’s the main attraction. So soak up the sun, take a dip in the warm Gulf waters, or enjoy the tranquillity of this unspoiled stretch of coast.
Unique Sights: The Laguna Madre
Keep an eye out for the Laguna Madre, a hypersaline lagoon on the western side of the island. It’s one of only six hypersaline lagoons in the world, and it’s a stunning sight to behold.
Bring your binoculars! Padre Island is a paradise for bird watchers, with over 380 bird species recorded here. From colorful spoonbills to majestic peregrine falcons, you never know what you might spot.
Sea Turtle Hatchlings: A Must-See
If you time your visit right, you could witness one of nature’s most magical events: sea turtle hatchlings making their way to the ocean. It’s a rare and heartwarming sight, and it’s all part of the Padre Island experience.
6. Texas State Highway 16: A Tour Through the Heart of Texas
Let’s take a ride on Texas State Highway 16. Spanning over 540 miles, it’s the longest state highway in Texas, making it another scenic drive.
Mapping the Journey
Highway 16 stretches from the Mexico-U.S. border near Zapata to the Oklahoma border near Shamrock. Along the way, it offers a taste of everything that makes Texas so special, from charming small towns to diverse landscapes.
The Hills Are Alive: Texas Hill Country
One of the highlights of Highway 16 is the stretch through the Texas Hill Country. This region is renowned for its rolling hills, vibrant wildflowers, and crystal-clear rivers. It’s pure, unadulterated Texas beauty.
Fredericksburg: A Taste of Germany in Texas
While cruising through Hill Country, be sure to stop in Fredericksburg. This quaint town is known for its German heritage, delicious cuisine, tasty wine, and the fascinating National Museum of the Pacific War.
Cowboy Culture: Bandera
Further along Highway 16, you’ll come to Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Here, you can experience authentic cowboy culture, from honky-tonk bars and rodeos to horseback rides and cowboy church services.
Graham: A Walk on the Wild Side
Before leaving the rural beauty behind for the urban buzz of Dallas–Fort Worth, make a stop in Graham. It’s home to the Wildcatter Ranch, where you can try your hand at skeet shooting, archery, or even a guided off-road tour.
7. Davis Mountains Scenic Loop: An Elevated Escape
Ready to reach new heights? Let’s head to the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop, a high-elevation drive that’ll take your breath away!
Plotting the Path
Located in West Texas, the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop offers a stunning 75-mile route that circles through the most extensive mountain range in Texas. It’s a ride that offers cooler temperatures, gorgeous vistas, and a refreshing change of pace.
Peak Performance: The Mountain Landscape
The Davis Mountains thrust up dramatically from the surrounding plains, forming a landscape of rugged peaks, sprawling plateaus, and deep canyons. As you drive, you’ll be immersed in this extraordinary mountain scenery.
Historic Fort Davis: A Trip Through Time
Midway through the loop, you’ll come across the historic town of Fort Davis. Make sure to stop by the Fort Davis National Historic Site, where you can explore restored frontier military buildings and learn about the region’s rich history.
McDonald Observatory: Star-Studded Skies
One of the must-see attractions on the loop is the McDonald Observatory. The high elevation and remote location make for some of the clearest night skies in the country. Be sure to plan a stop here for a stargazing session—it’s an out-of-this-world experience!
Davis Mountains State Park: A Breath of Fresh Air
For outdoor enthusiasts, a detour to Davis Mountains State Park is a must. Hiking trails, bird-watching opportunities, and picnic spots abound in this gorgeous park.
We’ve cruised down Route 66, basked in the coastal beauty of Padre Island, and ascended the breathtaking Davis Mountains. Each road is unique, and each view is a surprise; these scenic drives in Texas have shown us the Lone Star State like never before.
But remember, the journey is just as important as the destination. Each scenic drive is a story waiting to be told, a memory waiting to be made. So whether you’re hitting the road for the thrill, the peace, or the sheer love of driving, remember to take it slow and soak it all in.
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