National Geographic selected US Route 89 as the #1 Drivers’ Drive in the world in its recently published book, Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Spectacular Trips. Having driven over 20,000 miles on Highway 89, I couldn’t agree more. I have my favorite sections that I look forward to on our road trips and here is my list of the top five. I selected these places not only because they are fun to drive but also because they are outstanding examples of the variety of landscapes along US 89.

1) Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Arizona

Spring flowers bloom along the Pinal Pioneer Parkway, historic US Route 89, Arizona

Spring flowers bloom along the Pinal Pioneer Parkway

From Oracle Junction north of Tucson to Florence, this 42-mile section of historic US 89 (now AZ 79) is known as the Pinal Pioneer Parkway. Crossing the high Sonoran desert, the road is lined with ancient many-armed saguaro cactus and forests of chain fruit cholla. Black Mountain dominates the view to the east and in the distance are the the Tortilla Mountains. To the south, the peaks of the Santa Catalina Mountains rise to over 9000 feet. Spring and fall are the best times for this drive when wildflowers and cactuses are in bloom. At the mid-point of the drive is a memorial to the cowboy actor, Tom Mix, who died in a car crash nearby in 1940.

See the Nogales to Tucson Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.

2) Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona

West Fork of Oak Creek, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona

The West Fork of Oak Creek in Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek flows south from the edge of the Colorado Plateau through Sedona to the Verde River. The 16-mile stretch of historic US 89A (now AZ 89A) from Sedona to the Oak Creek Vista Overlook takes the traveler through a wonderland of creek-side cottonwood and sycamore trees. Oak Creek has cut down through ancient layers of sandstone and limestone forming red and white cliffs that tower above the road. There are a number of parking areas and campgrounds that give access to the creek for hiking and picnicing. The switchbacks at the head of Oak Creek Canyon mark the transition from the lowland desert and the central mountains of Arizona on to the Colorado Plateau.

See the 89A-Prescott to Flagstaff Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.

3) Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, Utah

Logan River, Logan Canyon National Scenic Byway, Utah

The Logan River in the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

Logan Canyon is 40-mile stretch of US Route 89 between Logan in the Cache Valley and Garden City on the shore of Bear Lake. From the Wasatch-Cache National Forest boundary east of Logan, the road climbs steadily alongside the Logan River until it reaches the summit at the Bear Lake overlook. The forest-lined drive offers many places to stop for a picnic or to camp for an extended stay. The canyon is also renowned for its display of brightly colored fall foliage. From the summit, US 89 drops quickly to the shore of Bear Lake.

See the Brigham City to Montpelier Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.

4) Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

The Tetons from Glacier View Turnout on US Route 89, Wyoming

The Tetons from Glacier View Turnout on US 89

For 45 miles US Route 89 lies inside Grand Teton National Park. Ten overlooks and picnic areas line the highway, providing spectacular views of the jagged eastern face of the Teton Range. Each is a photographer’s delight, with the Snake River in the foreground in the southern stretch, and Jackson Lake reflecting the mountains in the north. Although the road is open year-round, the most colorful time to drive it is in the fall when the leaves are turning and the air is crisp and clear.

See the Jackson to Gardiner Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.

5) Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Montana

Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Little Belt Mountains, Montana

The Kings Hill Scenic Byway in Montana

Passing through the Lewis and Clark National Forest, this 71-mile long section of US 89 winds its way along mountain streams through the Little Belt Mountains. Along the road are many outdoor recreation opportunities from fly fishing in the summer to snowmobiling in the winter. One of the highlights is a short hike to Memorial Falls located about a mile and a half south of the town of Neihart. Sluice Boxes State Park is near the northern end of the scenic byway. This primitive state park contains the remains of mines, a railroad and historic cabins lining Belt Creek through a beautiful canyon carved in limestone. A seven-mile long trail winds through the park giving access to its rich history and spectacular geologic features.

See the White Sulphur Springs to Great Falls Road Trip Guide for more points of interest on this section of US Route 89.

Do you have a favorite scenic drive on US Route 89? Tell your fellow travelers about in the comments section below.

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9 comments

  1. Comment by Lee

    Lee Reply October 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    James – I got my dates wrong. We are leaving the Saturday before Thanksgiving, which is probably why most of the hotels were filled up, but we were fortunate to get a room at the Maswick Lodge at the Grand Canyon. We hope to squeeze in Bryce Canyon and the Best Friends Sanctuary before heading to our friends in Henderson, Nevada. Thank you for your recommendations – we’ll be sure to have dinner at the El Tovar. Will let you know what a great trip we had when we return!
    Lee

  2. Comment by Lee

    Lee Reply May 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    My husband and son and I are thinking about traveling from SF, where we live, to see the Grand Canyon, as well as Zion and Bryce parks in August. We will have approx 6 days and not a whole lot of money. What route would be most interesting for a 12-yr-old? Also, any ideas on hotels to stay at would be appreciated.
    Thank you!
    Lee

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply June 3, 2011 at 7:43 am

      Here is a possible itinerary for the trip you are thinking of doing in August. The summer months are the busiest season for tourists in this area, so be sure to make reservations well in advance. The only way I could figure to do this trip is to do two long drives at either end in order to maximize your time in the national parks.

      Day 1-San Francisco to Kanab, Utah, 765 miles, 15-16 hours with meal and gas stops. I recommend staying at Quail Park Lodge in Kanab. It is a 50’s-style motel that has been completely refurbished. They even have loaner bicycles for touring Kanab.

      Day 2-Recover from the long drive and visit places around Kanab. Your son will enjoy going to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and taking the tour. Nearby is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, a fascinating area of bright pink sand. Or you could head east on US 89 to the Paria River and do a day hike into the Narrows.

      Day 3-Grand Canyon North Rim, 80 miles, 1.75 hours. The North Rim of Grand Canyon is not far from Kanab, so you could do it as a day trip. At the visitors center, hike out to Bright Angel Point for a spectacular view of the canyon. Then drive around to Point Imperial and Cape Royal.

      Day 4-Zion National Park, 42 miles, 1 hour. Zion is a beautiful drive from Kanab. The Scenic Drive in the park is closed to cars in the summer so you will need to park in Springdale and take the free shuttle bus into the park. Ride the bus to the end of the road, then hike the Gateway to the Narrows Trail. The other trail that is fairly easy and very beautiful is the Emerald Pools Trail from Zion Lodge.

      Day 5-Bryce Canyon National Park, 80 miles, 1.75 hours. You have a choice here. You could do this as a day trip from Kanab or move to the Lodge at Bryce Canyon or a motel in the nearby town of Panguitch. Your son will probably enjoy a stop at the rock shops in Orderville along the way. In Bryce, there are many view points along the road with access to trails below the rim.

      Day 6-Return to San Francisco

      For detailed maps, road descriptions and photographs, check out the Kanab to Sevier Road Trip Guide on our website. You can also purchase our Road Trip Map Book in either the printed version or as a downloadable e-book.

      Let me know if I can answer any more questions. Have a great trip and let us know how it goes.

      • Comment by Lee

        Lee Reply June 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm

        James, thank you so much – this sounds like a perfect itinerary! I especially like the mention of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, as we are all animal lovers and I’ve read about this wonderful facility. We are now thinking of postponing our trip to November, when it would be cooler and hopefully not so crowded. Thank you so much for your recommendations, and I’ll definitely let you know how it goes!
        Lee

        • Comment by James Cowlin

          James Cowlin Reply June 18, 2011 at 6:37 am

          November may be a little late for this itinerary. The road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is usually closed by the end of October when it starts to snow. If you can make your trip in early to mid October that would be ideal. The weather will be mild and the crowds will have thinned out considerably. Fall in the Kaibab National Forest is beautiful when the aspens leaves turn bright yellow. If you can’t make it then, Zion and Bryce Canyon are open year ’round so there is plenty to see and do.

          • Comment by Lee

            Lee October 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm

            Hello again! Now we are planning to leave on November 12, drive halfway to the Grand Canyon and arrive at the canyon on the 13th, where we will stay for 3 nights, and then drive to Las Vegas to visit friends for 2 days. If you have any suggestions as to where to stay halway or two-thirds way from SF, it would be appreciated, as well as what is a good hotel at the canyon (south side). Thank you!
            Lee

          • Comment by James Cowlin

            James Cowlin October 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm

            Sorry, I don’t have any recommendations for places to stay between San Francisco and the Grand Canyon. I’ve done the drive several times but always in one long day.

            On the south rim of the Grand Canyon you have your choice of six lodges. The oldest and fanciest is El Tovar which is a treat if you can afford it. The others are more or less modern motels with typical accommadations. You can get more information and make reservations on the Grand Canyon Lodges website: http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/. Even if you don’t stay at El Tovar, try to have dinner in the dining room. It is a truly unique experience but you might have to make reservations a day in advance.

            I hope you have a memorable trip. Let us know how it goes.

  3. Comment by Dan Smith

    Dan Smith Reply May 19, 2011 at 10:48 am

    I’ve got a business trip planned to Salt Lake City on June 6th completing on June 8th. Then, I’ll be on vacation and plan to drive to Tucson arriving on June 12th. Can you provide some detail on the ‘must see’ things if I travel on Highway 89?……also, lodging/restaurants, etc. recommendations?
    Appreciate any help.
    Danny Smith

    • Comment by James Cowlin

      James Cowlin Reply May 20, 2011 at 6:25 am

      You will find lists of attractions between Salt Lake City and Tucson in the Road Trip Guides on out website. The guides are also available as an e-book or printed magazine. The e-book is hyperlinked to websites for more information about national parks, museums and other special places to see. Here are a few recommendations: In the Sanpete Valley, take the side road through Spring City to see a historic Mormon town, which is now an artists’ community. Of special note is Jock Jones’s workshop where he handcrafts Windsor chairs and Joe Bennion’s Horseshoe Mountain Pottery. In Ephraim, check out the art show at the Central Utah Art Center. Panguitch is the gateway to Bryce Canyon and Zion. There are several motels there and you’ll enjoy dinner at the Cowboy Steakhouse. In Mt. Carmel take a tour of the the home and studio of Maynard Dixon, In Kanab, we have stayed at the Quail Park Lodge, a 50’s style motel that has been lovingly refurbished and the Rocking V is a great place of dinner.

      Take 89A out of Kanab and then visit the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The views of the canyon from the lodge are spectacular and the food is pretty good. Continue on 89A and stop at Navajo Bridge to walk out on the old bridge 470 feet above the Colorado. Next stop could be the trading post at Cameron and a tour of the gallery there for a look at some beautiful Navajo and Hopi arts and crafts. The side road through Wupatki and Sunset Crater is worth the time. In Flagstaff, Little America is a nice place to stay and we love the craft beers and pub food at Beaver Street Brewery.

      Take Arizona 89A down through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona where there are many resorts and some fine dining. Continue on 89A through the Verde Valley to Jerome, a historic copper mining town, that is now full of art galleries and craft shops. If you stay on 89A over Mingus Mountain, you’ll wind up in Prescott. Wander around Wiskey Row and visit the Sharlot Hall Museum. Continue south on 89 through the Peeples Valley and Yarnell. The pastries at the Cornerstone Café are to die for. Next stop is Wickenburg. Take the walking tour of the historic buildings and visit the Desert Caballeros Western Museum.

      Phoenix is the biggest city on historic Route 89, full of nice hotels, restaurants and art museums. To reconnect with historic 89, take US 60 to Florence Junction, then south on AZ 79 through Florence and the Pinal Pioneer Parkway to Tucson. Our favorite for Mexican food is El Charo in downtown Tucson.

      I hope this helps. Tell us how your trip goes and if you find any special places to recommend.

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