I hate cars in cities, but I love real road trips. You know, the ones in which there’s no set route, no obligations, and no timetable whatsoever. You find a place to sleep every night, decide to stay in some town one extra day because you loved a particular bar, or take an unexpected detour to see a meteor crater you never knew existed. I’ve had some of the best weeks of my life driving with friends in Europe, from the sinuous sierras of Cádiz, Spain, to the gentle fjords on the west coast of Sweden. But nothing prepared me for the majestic scale of the natural landscapes in the United States, a universe of infinite prairies, forests, and mountains without equal. I can’t count the number of times we had to stop the car, get out, and look around us in awed silence, not a single sign of civilization on the horizon.
That’s why I love this visualization of America’s quietest routes, which maps the places where you can experience those moments of solitude and awe.
Compiled by the company Geotab, the map ranks the least-traveled and most scenic highways in the country. It also includes a top 10 list chosen by the landscape photographerJames Q Martin. Number one his the list? Alaska’s Dalton Highway, State Route 11, which, according to Martin is a 414 miles of wild mountain ranges and boreal forests that “reaches the top of the continent, and would literally allow you to see a polar bear in the right circumstances.”
Number two in the ranking goes to U.S. Route 50, in Utah, 335 miles of road that goes from Nevada’s state line to Colorado’s state line and runs through two National Parks and the Great Salt Lake Desert.
Every state has one route in this guide, but in terms of the best routes on the map? I might pick Wyoming’s route 212, which I know very well; a friend and I spent two weeks visiting every entrance to Yellowstone National Park, waiting for the 2015 government shutdown to end. We never got into the park, but those roads and views–snaking through Utah to Idaho to Montana to Wyoming–were impossibly beautiful. Or US Route 160 in Arizona, which features 256 miles of Cinemascope-style landscapes worthy of John Ford. Or State Route 139, whose 143 miles of open Californian plains made me want to buy a horse to complement my cowboy boots and hat. After clicking through this guide, I still do want a Mustang– but of the Ford variety. About as much as I want summer to come so I could drive it along these roads.
You can explore the map, and plan your next trip, here.