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The Best Driving Roads In The Western US

Posted in driving, Lists, Road Trips, Roads by Kurt Ernst | May 4th, 2011 | 6 Responses |

Travelling in style on the PCH. Image: Dayvroy

If you live on the left coast, chances are good you have your own list of favorite driving roads. The West has some of the best roads in the country, but it also has massive overpopulation (Los Angeles), earthquakes, wild fires and more annual rainfall (Seattle) than any place outside of Borneo. Maybe it all balances out, because on those rare occasions when you can run your ride of choice down your road of choice, the experience can be epic. I’m absolutely certain this list of best-west-coast-roads (as logged by AMA members) just scratches the surface, so feel free to send me your own personal favorites.

The Pacific Coast Highway, (almost) anywhere in CA

U.S. 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, stretches all the way from Dana Point (just north of San Clemente) to Leggett, which is directly in the middle of nowhere, a few hours north of San Francisco. I had a day to kill in San Francisco a few years back, so I opted to drive US 1 until I got bored. In a rented Toyota Avalon, it didn’t take more than about an hour; in the right car (a Boxster S, perhaps), you’d have zero chance of getting bored. If you head north of San Francisco like I did, don’t plan on finding much in the way of civilization, and resist the urge to go exploring on back roads. The area is, um, agriculture rich, and the local “farmers” don’t exactly welcome tourists.

Route 36, from Fortuna, CA to Susanville, CA

If you like winding roads that run through mile after mile of unspoiled wilderness, this is for you. There’s not a lot of civilization between Fortuna and Red Bluff, and there’s about as much between Red Bluff and Susanville. Gas up when you can and eat where you can, but in between enjoy the views of Lassen Peak and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Route 12, from Lewiston, ID to Missoula, MT

More unspoiled wilderness and more twisting ribbons of asphalt. Technically, Route 12 doesn’t take you into Missoula, MT, but it does get you to Route 93, which does if you head north. If you’re a fan of history, the road is roughly the same as the path travelled by Lewis and Clark, but you won’t have to worry quite as much about hostile Indians and grizzly bears. Getting to either Lewiston, ID or Missoula, MT can be a task, but driving Route 12 almost makes it seem worth any effort.

Route 58, McKittrick, CA to Santa Margarita, CA

If all you know about the state of California is restricted to what lies on the coast, Route 58 will open your eyes about the bulk of the state’s geography. Route 58 crosses mountains, winds through agricultural valleys and traverses lush, green hills. It’s a lot less remote than most of the roads on this list, and you could easily drive it in a long day trip from Santa Barbara.

Route 129, Clarkston, WA to Enterprise, OR

Sometimes, you just know that a road designer is also a gear head, and that’s certainly the case with Washington’s Route 129 (which becomes Route 3 in Oregon), The road offers up anything a car or bike guy could want, ranging from mountain switchbacks to arrow straight (but remote) segments for, um, top speed verification. It’s got plenty of elevation changes, too, as well as minimal traffic and mountain views. What more do you need to define a great road?

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6 Responses

  1. Set says:

    Bookmarked. Haha

    There’s some great roads in the foothills near Sacramento. You could easily get lost for a day or seven back there.

  2. Dr. Speed. says:

    How is the One Lap of America doing? Who is running in the top 10 thus far…

  3. PCH from around Huntington Beach till Newport Beach is the part I like the most. I once drove PCH towards Laguna Hills and it was a little bit scary due to the narrow road and too many curves.

  4. Austin Schutz says:

    Route 12, absolutely the best road in Montana, no question.

  5. Alex says:

    Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Highway are PERFECT drivers roads. I’m on Mulholland Drive at least 2 times a day and have learned to hit every line perfectly.. i even flogged a rental nissan cube up their once. Too good

  6. JediJoker says:

    *Ahem…* It is not U.S. Highway 1, but California Highway 1. And the “Pacific Coast Highway” is more than just CA 1.