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
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
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 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
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
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.