While there are some great cities and metropolitan areas in the state of Texas, there is also ample room to explore. If you fancy a road trip then there are plenty of options for making your way across desert landscapes, down long highways, past creeks, and roaming bison.
You may want to get the camera out along the way to capture some gorgeous sights and wildflowers. In this guide, we will look at 17 of the best scenic drives in Texas (Also check out Different Nicknames For Texas) you simply must take.
- Willow City Loop
- Highway 207
- El Camino Del Rio
- Canyon Sweep
- Highway 90/385
- Lonesome Highway
- Devil’s Backbone
- Texas Lighthouse Trail
- Texas Swiss Alps
- Bandera Pass
- Route 66
- Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
- Texas Hill Country
- Highway 16
- Highland Lakes Drive
- Davis Mountains Scenic Loop
- Bluewater Highway
Some of these scenic drives are best considered seasonal, and that’s certainly the case for Willow City Loop which can be found in central Hill Country.
Aim to complete this 23-mile route in spring between the months of March and May to see the beautiful wildflowers in all their blossoming glory. That includes the state flower, the Texas bluebonnet, as well as Mexican poppies and Indian paintbrushes.
While there are native trees, deep canyons, gorgeous meadows, and rolling hills to enjoy too. Try not to worry if you arrive a bit early or a bit later in the year than that suggested period as the meadows will still have some stunning blues, as well as yellows and greens to gaze at too.
The route is just east of Willow City itself, close to Fredericksburg, and begins with Ranch Road 1323 where you can take a left onto Willow City Loop.
2. Highway 207
While a few tourist guides may tell you to head into Palo Duro Canyon State Park, you can get a pretty good view of the canyon from the highway. Highway 207 to be exact which lasts for 48 relatively quiet miles that head for the rocky red landscapes.
Part of the route is part of Canyon Sweep so you may want to deviate a little as it passes from Claude on the way to Silverton. You could take your time and grab an off-road Jeep at Merus Adventure Park or take out a mountain bike in Claude.
At Silverton, you could take in Caprock Canyons State Park or Turkey Canyon Creek which offer the sight of even more vistas, perhaps herds of wild roaming bison, and a few more trails. This is the ideal scenic drive for catching a glimpse of red rock amidst some spectacular views.
Also known as the River Road, El Camino Del Rio is one of those scenic drives that you can only do in Texas. The 59-mile-long desert route gets you close to the border with Mexico and follows the route of the Rio Grande.
The River Road itself typically relates to the stunning bit of FM-170 that lies between the towns of Lajitas and then Presidio which crosses Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Then again, there is another even more tricky River Road a bit east of the route yet still inside Big Bend National Park. This one goes between a few potential stops which include Rio Grande Village, and Mariscal Mine, all the way to Castolon.
You will need a specific vehicle for this trip, specifically one that has a high enough clearance and four-wheel drive as driving off-road is prohibited.
For such an adventure, you may want to take your sweet time so pack a sleeping bag and some supplies then book a roadside campsite.
4. Canyon Sweep
You can complete Canyon Sweep in an afternoon though you should take your time over it. The route goes for 126 miles so give yourself at least two, possibly three, hours driving time during which you can admire some of the state’s most historic, and frankly beautiful, areas.
That includes a few lakes along Highway 86 that are great to stop at if you want to take some photos of the local wildlife. The route begins in Quitaque then heads northwest in the direction of Canyon before turning decidedly west on Highway 86.
Follow the route through Silverton then make a right as you hit TX-207. A mere 10 miles further down the road is Tule Canyon which was carved out by Tule Creek while you will cross.
Expect to see several ranches before finishing up at the second-largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro Canyon. If you fancy seeing another canyon that you can head on to Caprock Canyons State Park.
There are several ways to Big Bend National Park and one of them begins in Marathon at the intersection of US-90 and US-385.
While US-385 ends up in South Dakota, US 90 heads east-west for a truly stunning route along the mountain range as the road curves with the scenery.
Granted, you may not see many signs of civilization along the 59 miles as you head to Guadalupe Mountains but you will see Guadalupe Peak which hits an elevation of 8,751 feet.
The scenic drive is actually one stretch of US-62 combined with US-180 and you may not even see another car. You will see huge open skies and gorgeous West Texas vistas which are asking to be captured by a wide-angle camera lens.
For anyone wanting to take in the beauty of Hill Country then traverse along the Devil’s Backbone, all 50 miles of it. The drive time may only be a single hour without stops so it is certainly not as intense as it sounds.
This is a typically relaxed route that follows one ridge as it goes through some of the most picturesque parts of Texas Hill Country. That includes a loop between the charming towns of Blano and Wimberley that may be worth a stop if you wish to take a break during the drive.
Then again, there’s also Jacob’s Well which is a vivid blue swimming spot which is ideal for a dip. For another change of scenery, try Blanco State Park or take a picnic to enjoy Devil’s Backbone Overlook.
Along the way, you should see limestone hills, decidedly thick vegetation and a few plateaus too which is why it’s called Hill Country.
If you fancy a drink then there is only one place for it; Devil’s Backbone Tavern which dates back to the Thirties and is even reported to be haunted, as is the entire area.
The Lighthouse Trail begins close to Canyon and is a mere 5.7 mile back trail going through Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
You should see a stunning skyline, gorgeous wildflowers, and awesome mountains. Try to time your visit well as it can get scorching hot during summer.
While it is a fair way away from Europe, there is plenty of green to admire in the 107 miles along the Texas Swiss Alps. Begin in Bandera on Highway 470 then head west towards Concan and as the route turns to Highway 83, make a turn to go north to Leakey.
Once there, head back on the 337 in the direction of Medina and cut over to Vanderpool, or take the loop to go the other way around for big views. The designated driver will not be able to partake but a stop at Lost Maples Winery may be in order too.
10. Bandera Pass
For a bit of history, head onto the Bandera Pass for a route that was followed by Texas Rangers, Native Americans, Spaniards, cattle drivers, and the US Army. The road was once gravel but you can enjoy the scenery of Hill Country on a paved road.
11. Route 66
One of the most historic drives in Texas is Route 66, though a lot of it has been replaced by Interstate 40. A lot of that same culture and history remains along with a few ghost towns such as Vega, Shamrock, and McLean though prioritize a stop in Amarillo.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive only takes 45 minutes one way for the full 31 miles which may make a slight indentation into your chosen playlist. You can treat it as a loop if you are south in Big Bend National Park.
The paved route makes its way through the gap between the Burro Mesa and the Chisos Mountains so you can take in some gorgeous geological sights that are particular to the area.
Several overlooks are dotted along the drive including Mule Ears Viewpoint which includes some stunning vistas of Mule Ears Peaks. At the end of the route, you should arrive at Santa Elena Canyon which is one of the most picturesque and popular spots in the entire national park.
Take your time to soak in the sights but also some historical sites too including the remains of what was once a homestead at Sam Nail Ranch.
For a trip through Texas Hill Country, use farm roads 187 and 337 as well as Highway 16, 27, 39, and then 46 while also embarking on US Highway 290.
The first two farm roads should include some lovely foliage while the first four highways should have some turns through the likes of Bandera, Medina, and Kerrville.
Then there’s US Highway 290 close to Fredericksburg where you can visit The Lyndon B. Johnson State Historical Park.
14. Highway 16
If you enjoy Fredericksburg, or intend to visit there, then try Highway 16 and take in a few small towns along the way. This is a 38-mile-long route from Llano to Fredericksburg that should feature wildflowers including the Texas Bluebonnet and a few canyon views.
You can still see some bluebonnets on the Highland Lakes Drive as well as six Hill Country towns which should take two hours to finish. Take Highway 16 just north from Kerrville and head to Llano then make a right onto Highway 29 towards Burnet.
Another right then go south on Highway 281 towards Johnson City. Once there, head west back to Fredericksburg on Highway 290.
If it is mountains you want then give yourself at least 90 minutes for the 75 miles and embark on the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. You may imagine the Lone Star State to be relatively flat yet out in Southwest Texas, you can expect to see elevations that go beyond 7,000 feet.
Mount Livermore even hits 8,383 feet which has to be seen to be believed. It may even appear that the mountains are floating a few feet over the Chihuahuan Desert until you get a little closer.
Begin the scenic loop in Fort Davis which has a formidable elevation of its own as the highest town in all of Texas. Along the way, you can expect to see geological formations that have stood for millions of years and then green slopes decorated with pine trees.
Take your time at the start as Fort Davis includes a former frontier front from between 1854 and 1891 that’s still pretty well preserved.
If you fancy a break from seeing the mountains then you can nip off to the McDonald Observatory to look at something else from a distance or head to Madera Canyon.
Though there is plenty of land to explore in Texas, there are also coastal drives that are well worth delving into.
One is the Bluewater Highway which goes from Surfside Beach just south of Houston and stretches to the very tip of Galveston Island so you may want to head there for the start of summer before it gets overly busy.
If you can time the drive to see the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico then even better. Another highlight will be when you cross San Luis Pass Bridge which is a mere 1.3 miles in length and does require a $2 toll (bring cash).
Further attractions include Galveston Island State Park, San Luis Beach, Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier, and Galveston Seawall.
For a state that is almost 900 miles across, there are plenty of scenic drives to embark on in Texas. A lot of them involve canyons and red rocks while others are more sedate and ideal to see the state flower, the bluebonnet.
If you want a drive to remember, then take Route 66 for the sheer history behind it as well as the associated culture.
Texas Hill Country is well worth exploring too yet so is the border with Mexico which you can explore on El Camino Del Rio, also known as the River Road that follows the route of the Rio Grande.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you were to embark on a drive across Texas then fill up the tank as you have 870 miles to consider. That should go border to border and take between 14 and 16 hours so you may need to consider stopping for gas twice and taking some supplies with you. Take a few comfort breaks too as you should stretch your legs.
On the upper east side of the Lone Star State is the city of Texarkana while on the lower west side is El Paso. These two cities are typically the ones used to mark the longest distance across the state.
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