American Road Trips: Top 15 Scenic Byways in Virginia, Maryland & Washington, DC

Follow these storied routes through the Capital Region for an unforgettable journey.

Scenic byways are roads recognised for their cultural, historical or recreational significance. Travel along the byways in and around Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia to explore charming towns, mountain vistas, lakes and historic landmarks — all the makings of a perfect American road trip. 

1. Historic Charles Street

Beginning in Lutherville and ending at Baltimore’s vibrant Inner Harbor, Historic Charles Street offers a perfect introduction to the art, history and culture of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Maryland, USA. You could drive this 12-mile byway in an hour, but you’d be wise to give yourself more time to explore the many museums, monuments, cafés and restaurants, shops and gardens you’ll pass along the way.

2. The Crooked Road, Virginia's Heritage Music Trail

Learn about Virginia, USA's rich folk traditions and hear more than 300 miles’ worth of bluegrass, gospel and mountain music at venues along The Crooked Road Music Trail. Highlights include the Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum in Franklin County, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol and the Floyd Country Store, where visitors can kick up their feet at the famed Friday Night Jamboree.

3. Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway

Get a taste of the tidewater region’s natural beauty and maritime culture on the 419-mile Chesapeake Country Scenic Byway, a series of roads connecting Maryland’s Eastern Shore. You’ll have ample opportunity to hike or paddle the shorelines, bike the backroads, feast on crab and walk the streets of some of Maryland’s most delightful small towns.

4. Colonial Parkway

Journey through 400 years of American history on Virginia’s iconic Colonial Parkway. A must for history buffs, this 23-mile scenic byway visits some of America’s most important colonial landmarks, including Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown Battlefield, site of one of the most decisive battles of the American Revolutionary War. Learn about the experiences of Virginia’s early English settlers, the lives of Indigenous peoples who populated eastern Virginia before Europeans arrived, and the soldiers who fought for America's independence.

5. George Washington Memorial Parkway

Hugging the shores of the Potomac River, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is a gateway to Washington, DC and a place to learn about America’s first president. Standout stops on this 41-mile byway include Mount Vernon, the treasured home of George Washington; Old Town Alexandria; Theodore Roosevelt Island; and The National Mall, which is home to some of the top attractions and things to do in Washington, DC.

6. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway

Learn the stories of those seeking freedom from slavery on this self-guided driving tour in Maryland, and explore Tubman's legacy at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park & Visitor Center. Several nature areas and arboretums give travellers opportunities to pause, reflect and appreciate the scenery along the 125-mile Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

7. Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway

This quintessential American road trip brings you to the heart of where the nation was born. Beginning just 20 minutes from Washington Dulles International Airport, the 180-mile Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway explores the lives of presidents, soldiers, abolitionists and freedom seekers at dozens of historic sites — ranging from the American Civil War battleground of Gettysburg to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. There is much in the way of natural beauty, too, with rivers, rolling vineyards, covered bridges, historic villages and national parks beckoning for a detour.

8. Maryland Historic National Road

There is perhaps no better way to experience Maryland, USA’s rich history and traditions than a drive on the Historic National Road. America’s oldest road, and a main route for early settlers travelling west in the 19th century, this 170-mile byway starts in Baltimore and knits together a tapestry of state parks, scenic natural areas, historic railroad stops and small towns with some of the best antique shopping in the Capital Region.

9. Skyline Drive

Mountain views are the main attraction on Skyline Drive, which creeps along the craggy peaks of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park for 105 miles. Take every opportunity to duck into subterranean caverns, hike to plunging waterfalls and treat your eyes to breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains — especially stunning when autumn colours are at their height.

10. Star-Spangled Banner Byway

Trace the path of British troops in the War of 1812 on this history-filled trail that follows the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. On the Star-Spangled Banner Byway, you’ll visit many small towns and historic sites where British soldiers marched, camped and advanced on American troops throughout the Chesapeake Campaign of 1814. The 100-mile drive culminates at Baltimore and Fort McHenry, the site of the battle that inspired Francis Scott Key to write America’s national anthem.

11. Mountain Maryland

Yes, Maryland has mountains — and this wonderfully wild, 193-mile trail is the perfect excuse to explore them. Stretching from Cumberland to Keysers Ridge in the state’s northwest corner, Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway crosses peaceful forests, inviting lakes and off-the-beaten-path historic sites in the rugged Allegheny Mountains. Aim your lens at the rushing Muddy Creek Falls in Swallow Falls State Park, or the famed Lover’s Leap in the Narrows, a photo-worthy section of Allegheny County near Cumberland.

12. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal byway immerses visitors in America’s short-lived Canal Age, with opportunities to wander charming canal towns, bike or paddle along Maryland’s “Grand Old Ditch” and take pictures of the scenic waterway from the deck of a mule-drawn barge cruise. The centrepiece of this drive is the C&O Canal National Historical Park, with its 74 lift locks and 184.5-mile towpath. With careful planning, this 236-mile byway — which extends from Washington, DC to Cumberland, Maryland — can be explored by bike, kayak or horse.

13. Cape to Cape

See Maryland’s most beautiful beaches and islands on the Cape to Cape Scenic Byway, snapping incredible sights like the wild horses of Assateague Island along the way. This 79-mile drive begins in Ocean City and meanders south to Maryland’s border with Virginia, giving travellers ample opportunity to paddle or fish in serene back bays, stop for relaxing beach walks and explore friendly small towns along the coast.

14. Blue Ridge Parkway

Be wowed by the spectacular scenery of the Appalachian Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway, dubbed “America’s Favourite Drive.” Photos ops abound, from the panoramic Peaks of Otter to the restored Mabry Mill, which offers cultural demonstrations and mountain music concerts in the summer and autumn. And the recreational possibilities are practically endless, with hiking trails for all levels, waterfalls, camping, fishing and other outdoor activities offered along the 469-mile drive.

15. Mount Rogers Scenic Byway

This two-part, 60-mile-long route takes you through the Jefferson National Forest into the heart of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, home to Virginia's highest peak. Nestled in southwest Virginia, Mount Rogers Scenic Byway is a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts, from hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail or Virginia Creeper National Recreational Trail to horseback riding or simply taking in the misty-mountain scenery.

Explore more scenic drives and American road trips in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia, USA: