Driving during wintertime is less than ideal, and a lot of things can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Aside from knowing your long road trip basics, you have to pack and prepare for extremely low temperatures (most of the time), have the right vehicle, and drive more carefully.
That said, there are definitely some trips that are meant to be taken during the winter. Moreover, considering there are generally fewer tourists, some stops just look and feel way better during the winter.
If you’re one of those adventurous souls who want to go on an epic winter road trip, you’re in luck! In this article, we’ve listed some of the best winter drives in the country, and the best cars to do them in!
Winters in the country’s northeastern region are characterized as cold, harsh, and basically anything but great. The roads can get very slippery, which can severely limit your mobility. That said, the northeast does offer a variety of scenic drives, and with proper driving and the right vehicle, winter road trips in this region can be just as safe as the winter drives in other regions.
The Green Mountains (Scenic Route 100 Byway), Vermont
No winter road trip list would be complete without mentioning Vermont’s Scenic Route 100 Byway. Spanning nearly 150 miles along the eastern edge of the Green Mountains, it provides picturesque views and connects some of the best skiing and riding in the country! Winters can be brutally cold here, so if you plan on doing some skiing, make sure you bring the right ski jacket with you!
Car rental agencies near the area: Hertz Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Ideal vehicles: Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Renegade, Volvo S90, Toyota RAV4
Albany to Lake Placid, New York
Obviously, Lake Placid is one of the most well-known winter destinations in the country. That said, the journey to Lake Placid is equally rewarding. Roughly 140 miles via the I-87 and off Exit 30, it is beautiful in any season. It features many popular stops such as Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls. Moreover, as you get off of the Northway at Exit 30, Keene Valley offers breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains!
Car rental agencies near the area: Alamo Rent A Car, Hertz Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Avis Rent A Car, Thrifty Car Rental, Dollar Car Rentals, Budget Car Rental
Ideal vehicles: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback
Hudson Valley, New York
Just north of Manhattan, the 150-mile Hudson Valley features numerous quaint towns, wineries, museums, and magnificent winter scenery. A designated National Heritage Area, the Hudson Valley offers a great mix of history, culture, and recreation. While it’s more known as an autumn getaway destination, driving through the Hudson Valley during wintertime is just as rewarding.
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Advantage Rent a Car, Hertz Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, Thrifty Car Rental
Ideal vehicles: Volvo S90, Nissan Altima AWD, Toyota Camry AWD
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Often described as a quintessential summer road trip, Cape Cod is not the first thing that comes to mind when you’re planning a winter drive. That said, the drive through the 62-mile-long Old King’s Highway offers stunning views of Cape Cod Bay, and the fact that there’s not a lot of tourists means you can tour Cape Cod (mostly) in peace.
Car rental agencies near the area: SIXT Car Rental, Avis Car Rental, Thrifty Car Rental
Ideal vehicles: Jeep Compass, Jeep Wrangler, Volvo S90
While generally associated with the hot desert climate, winter conditions in some parts of the American southwest can be extreme. Temperatures can reach below freezing, and trails can become icy and/or covered in snow. However, some parts of the southwest do have ideal winter conditions. In these parts, conditions for outdoor activities (and road trips!) can, more often than not, be ideal.
Arches National Park Scenic Drive
The Arches National Park is known for its beautiful sandstone sculptures and massive red rock formations. While it’s already one of the most beautiful destinations in the country any time of the year, it’s definitely something to behold during winter, when its rock formations are draped in snow. Its 22-mile paved scenic drive features stunning views and offers easy access to the park’s main attractions!
Car rental agencies near the area: Budget Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Avis Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, Hertz Rent A Car
Ideal cars: Toyota Rav4, Subaru Outback, Toyota Camry AWD
Santa Fe to Taos through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico
The drive from Santa Fe to Taos through the High Road is roughly around 105 miles; and while it’s known for its many sights, where it winds through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is really what makes this trip worth it. Featuring stunning views of the snow-capped Truchas Peak, this is one winter drive you shouldn’t miss.
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Budget Car Rental, Alamo Rent A CAr
Ideal cars: Ford Escape, Nissan Altima AWD, Jeep Compass
Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive, Arizona
Another great scenic drive in the American southwest is the 30-mile drive along state road 89A from Flagstaff to Sedona, through Oak Creek Canyon. This route features snow-covered Ponderosa Pine, Walnut, and Oak Trees, as well as scenic stops such as the Oak Creek Vista, which features a breathtaking view of Northern Arizona.
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car, Thrifty Car Rental, Avis Car Rental
Ideal cars: Toyota Rav4, Volvo S90, Jeep Wrangler
Valley of Fire Scenic Byway, Nevada
One of the shorter and more accessible drives on this list, the 37.7-kilometer Valley of Fire Scenic Byway features amazing views of the state park’s majestic red Aztec sandstone formations. While the summer desert heat can be unbearable, the state park experiences a pleasantly mild winter–ideal for winter road trip newbies! The Valley of Fire State Park features a variety of hiking trails, and if you want to make stops, take in the scenery and do some hiking, make sure to bring a reliable hiking travel backpack with you!
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz Car Rental, Budget Car Rental, ACE Rental Cars, Payless Car Rental
Ideal cars: Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Compass, Toyota Camry AWD
Snow and subzero temperature are staples of a typical midwestern winter. While native midwesterners tend to love it, it can be extremely brutal for people not used to it. That said, the American midwest is also known for its beautiful winter scenery and the slew of fun outdoor activities that come with the holiday season. In fact, it can be argued that the midwest is most beautiful during wintertime. The routes below attest to this.
Parke County, Indiana
Boasting bright snowy meadows, frozen rivers, and a total of 31 historic covered bridges, Parke County is one of the best winter drives in the Midwest. With five well-marked 30-mile (mostly flat) driving routes, it’s also one of the easiest drives on this list!
Car rental agencies near the area: Avis Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, Budget Car Rental, Dollar Car Rental
Ideal cars: Ford Escape, Nissan Altima AWD, Toyota Camry AWD
Northern Door County, Wisconsin
If you’re looking for a change of scenery, then the Northern Door County drive is for you. Roughly 85 miles along Wisconsin Highway 57 from Green Bay to Gills Rock, the route is dotted with quaint coastal towns and small restaurants. It also features a variety of cross-country skiing trails. Additionally, Death’s Door at the very tip of the peninsula is a great spot to catch the Midwestern sunrise and (if you’re in luck) the Northern Lights!
Car rental agencies near the area: Hertz Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Dollar Car Rental
Ideal cars: Volvo S90, Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Compass
Badlands National Park Loop Road, South Dakota
With a total of 16 designated overlooks featuring breathtaking views of snow-covered buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires, the 31-mile Badlands Loop Road Byway is one of the most recognized drives in the country. It’s beautiful in any season, but it takes on an ethereal look during winter that makes a great contrast against the harsh Midwestern winter.
Car rental agencies near the area: Alamo Rent A Car, National Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Ideal cars: Toyota Rav4, Nissan Versa, Honda CR-V AWD
North Shore Scenic Drive, Minnesota
Designated as an All American Road, the 154-mile North Shore Scenic Drive between Duluth and the Canadian Border offers picturesque views of birch and pine forests, snow-covered cliffs, and a beautifully eerie (and slightly frozen in some parts) Lake Superior–the world’s largest lake by surface area. If you plan on doing some winter hiking, the Kadunce River Wayside Trail just a few miles north of Grand Marais features a small frozen waterfall.
Car rental agencies near the area: Priceless Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Avis Car Rental
Ideal cars: Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Renegade, Ford Explorer
Winters vary greatly across the western region of the country. While some parts like low elevations on the West Coast experience mild winters with little to no snow, the more mountainous areas as well as the inland northwest have bitterly cold winters. That said, winter drives in the country’s western region are some of the more popular drives on this list.
Yosemite National Park, California
Winter in Yosemite is quite harsh. While a lot of the roads within Yosemite National Park are closed during the winter, it does have some roads that remain accessible all year. Driving through the roughly 8-mile Yosemite Valley reveals breathtaking snow-covered conifers and granite monoliths. While this is one of the best winter drives on this list, it’s ideal to check the national park weather forecast first before pushing through with it.
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz Car Rental, National Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, Hertz Car Rental, Fox Rent A Car
Ideal cars: Jeep Grand Cherokee AWD, Kia Telluride AWD, Subaru Outback
Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
Formally known as U.S. 550 and stretching about 25 miles through Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway features incredible mountain views. That said, it is quite narrow and is notorious for getting incredible amounts of snowfall every winter. Moreover, some sections of the road don’t have guard rails. Needless to say, while the views are incredible, this winter drive is not for newbies!
Car rental agencies near the area: NÜ Car Rentals, SIXT Car Rental, Routes Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Thrifty Car Rental
Ideal cars: Jeep Wrangler, Subaru Forester, Subaru Outback
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Whether you’re starting from South Lake Tahoe or Incline Village, the 72-mile trip around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful winter drives in the country. The snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains are reflected on the surface of Lake Tahoe. Moreover, the area offers a variety of trails for snowshoeing, skiing and winter hikes!
Car rental agencies near the area: Avis Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Budget Car Rental, ACE Rental Car
Ideal cars: Toyota Camry AWD, Subaru Outback, Subaru Forester
If you want to go on a winter drive to escape the cold rather than embrace it, then these routes are for you. The country’s southeastern region enjoys a sub-tropical climate that includes hot, humid summers, and mild, crisp winters. Nevertheless, if you plan on exploring the southeast with family, it’s important to stay hydrated under humid conditions. So don’t forget to pack the right water bottle for all your family members!
Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Spanning 105 miles between Front Royal and Rockfish Gap, Skyline Drive is the only public road through the Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive goes through the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It features panoramic views of rocky summits, rolling mountains, and dense forests.
Car rental agencies near the area: Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car, Avis Car Rental, Budget Car Rental, Dollar Car Rental, National Car Rental
Ideal cars: Toyota Camry AWD, Mazda3 AWD, Nissan Altima AWD
Great Smoky National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
Stretching over 81 miles from Gatlinburg to Asheville, this drive passes through the Great Smoky National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The drive features stunning mountain views and over 187,000 views of old growth forest!
Ideal cars: Jeep Wrangler, Volvo S90, Toyota Rav4
Florida’s East Coast, Florida
Spanning 470 miles from St. Augustine all the way to Key West, a winter drive through Florida’s East Coast is one of the best winter drives for people who hate the winter cold. There’s nothing like experiencing a bit of summer during the wintertime!
Car rental agencies near the area: Hertz Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, ACO Rent A Car, Green Motion, Routes Car Rentals
Ideal cars: Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Frontier, Lexus ES 300h