Texas

9 Best Texas Scenic Drives for Enjoying the Lone Star State Countryside

best scenic drives in texas
Texas bluebonnets off a Willow City Loop county road. Photo: JB Manning / Shutterstock

Think Texas is all tumbleweeds and empty desert? A scenic drive in the state will prove just how wrong you are.

(Though if vast desert is what you’re after, you’ll find that, too.)

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that holds true when it comes to driving distances. According to the Texas Almanac, the state is 801 miles from north to south and 773 miles from east to west. That means that it’s possible to drive for 12 hours in one direction and still be in Texas. Another way to visualize it: It can be faster to drive from El Paso to San Diego (crossing two other states over, mind you) than driving from El Paso to Houston.

With Texas’ vast expanses comes varied terrain, including picturesque mountains, rolling green hills, open plains, and stretches of coast. If you want to see the highlights of the Lone Star State’s diverse and beautiful landscapes, then these are the best scenic drives in Texas to put on your bucket list.

1. Willow City Loop

Willow City Loop scenic drive
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: It’s one of the most popular ways to enjoy the state’s wildflowers.

  • Distance: 23 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 50 minutes

Driving the Willow City Loop doesn’t require too much preparation seeing as it’s only 23 miles long. While short on distance, the rural stretch of road delivers on views as it’s located in a beautiful part of the  state’s central Hill Country. Expect to see a mixture of gentle hills, grassy fields, and native trees.

The absolute best time to take this drive is during the wildflower season, around March through May. During spring, you’ll be able to see a sea of color along the road made by a plethora of bluebonnets (the state flower) and other beautiful flowers like Indian paintbrushes and Mexican poppies. Just be mindful as you drive around because the road winds through private property.

2. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Soak up the rugged, majestic beauty of Big Bend National Park.

  • Distance: 31 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 45 minutes (one way)

Find yourself down south in Big Bend National Park? Then you should make some time for the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Snaking between the Chisos Mountains and Burro Mesa, this paved route takes you past some of the amazing geological features that make this region unique.

Along the drive, you can stop at a few different overlooks, including Mule Ears Viewpoint where you can see impressive vistas of Mule Ears Peaks. The end of the road brings you to Santa Elena Canyon, one of the most picturesque places in the whole park.

Yes, the views are excellent, but that’s not all Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive has to offer. There are points of historical interest too, such as the the remnants of a former homestead at Sam Nail Ranch.

3. Davis Mountains Scenic Loop

Davis Mountains Scenic Loop drive
Photo: Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock

Why you should go: See what the mountains of Texas are like on the state’s highest highway.

  • Distance: 75 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Texas has mountains? You betchya. Out in West Texas, the Davis Mountains reach an elevation of 8,383 feet (Mount Livermore) and a few other peaks in the range top over 7,000 feet. To get a sense of this landscape, hit the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop.

This route starts in Fort Davis, which holds the title of the highest town in Texas, elevation-wise. Fort Davis also has a national historic site that’s known as one of the best surviving examples in the Southwest of a frontier military post. From there, you travel along TX-118 and TX-166 through desert as mountains rise in the distance. The McDonald Observatory is also along the way if you’re looking for a fun stop.

4. Lonesome Highway

Lonesome Highway scenic drive texas
Photo: Dmitry Shlepkin / Shutterstock

Why you should go: Be the only car on a drive leading to the Guadalupe Mountains.

  • Distance: 59 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 50 minutes

When talking about mountains in Texas, you can’t forget about the Guadalupe Mountains. Guadalupe Peak (or Signal Peak) is the highest peak in the range. It reaches an elevation of 8,751 above sea level, making it the highest natural point in the state. And getting to the Guadalupe Mountains can be an adventure itself as you drive along the aptly named Lonesome Highway – a stretch of US-62/US-180 next to the national park.

Really, “lonesome” is no joke. You won’t find much civilization along this scenic but remote strip, and chances are there will be hardly any other cars out there with you either. What you will have are wide open skies and beautiful West Texas vistas. Bring a wide-angle camera lens for the best photos.

5. Texas Swiss Alps Scenic Drive

Lost Maples State Natural Area
Lost Maples State Natural Area. Photo: Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock

Why you should go: For quintessential Hill Country vistas.

  • Distance: 107 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 2 hours

Okay, no: you probably won’t feel like you’re in the Swiss Alps along this scenic drive like the name suggests, but you will be treated to some excellent views that define the Hill Country landscape. There’s lots and lots of green, and the elevations range from 1,400 to 2,150 feet above sea level.

To do the Texas Swiss Alps Scenic Drive, start in Bandera – the Cowboy Capital of Texas – on Highway 470 and drive west towards Concan. When the road turns to Highway 83, go north to Leakey. When you get to Leakey, make your way back on 337 towards Medina. You can also just as easily take the loop the other way around, or make the loop shorter by cutting over to/at Vanderpool. The drive is all about big views, though you will be able to stop at a the Lost Maples Winery along the way.

6. The River Road

Castolon texas scenic drive
Castolon Tree Vista Overlook. Photo: David Adams / Shutterstock

Why you should go: A remote adventure by the Mexico border for those with the right kind of car.

  • Distance: 59 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 4 hours

The River Road, also called the El Camino del Rio: this scenic desert drive lies near the Texas-Mexico border and roughly follows the Rio Grande. Depending on who you ask, The River Road usually refers to the picturesque stretch of FM 170 between Lajitas and Presidio, crossing Big Bend Ranch State Park.

However, another more rugged River Road lies just east of that within Big Bend National Park, running between Rio Grande Village, Mariscal Mine, and Castolon. Keep in mind that to drive along this route, you’ll need a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle (off-road driving is strictly prohibited.) To extend your trip into a longer adventure, reserve a primitive roadside campsite along the way.

A great side trip is the 6.5-mile Mariscal Rim Trail, which brings you to the narrowest and steepest of the park’s canyons.

7. Devil’s Backbone

Blanco State Park texas
Blanco State Park. Photo: Philip Arno / Shutterstock

Why you should go: A loop that takes you through the gorgeous Hill Country.

  • Distance: 50 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour

The name may sound intense, but not to worry: The Devil’s Backbone drive is a laid-back route following a ridge through the Texas Hill Country. This loop goes between Blanco and Wimberley, both charming towns with worthwhile attractions to break up your drive. Consider stopping at Blanco State Park and Jacob’s Well, a bright blue swimming hole loved by tourists and locals alike.

As you drive past lush vegetation, limestone hills, and plateaus, you’ll get to see how the Hill Country gets its name — and why people love it so much. For a break, have yourself a little picnic at the Devil’s Backbone Overlook. You might also want to stop in at Devil’s Backbone Tavern, a honky-tonk from the 1930s that some say is haunted. In fact, some people claim this whole Devil’s Backbone area is haunted, but you can be the judge of that…

8. Bluewater Highway

Bluewater Highway scenic drive
Photo: K I Photography / Shutterstock

Why you should go: A seaside drive to rival southern California.

  • Distance: 40 miles
  • Drive time without stops: 1 hour

If coastal drives are your thing, then the so-called Bluewater Highway is for you. This route reaches from Surfside Beach (a city south of Houston that locals simply call “Surfside”) all the way to the tip of Galveston Island, a popular tourist destination, especially in the summertime.

One of the highlights of this drive is crossing the San Luis Pass Bridge, which was built in 1970 and is 1.3 miles long. Just remember to have the $2 in cash to pay the toll. Other attractions you pass along the way include San Luis Beach, Galveston Island State Park, the Galveston Seawall, and the Galveston Historic Pleasure Pier. Kids and adults will have fun with the boardwalk rides, games, and 3D movies at the pier.

Pro tip: Time your drive along the Bluewater Highway to catch the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico.

9. Canyon Sweep

Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Photo: Silvio Ligutti / Shutterstock

Why you should go: See two impressive canyons, including the “The Grand Canyon of Texas.”

  • Distance: 126 Miles
  • Drive time without stops: 2 hours

Did you know that the second-largest canyon in the country is actually in Texas? It’s Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, and not too far from there, there’s another one at Caprock Canyons State Park. The drive between the two spots is referred to as the Canyon Sweep, and there are actually a few different routes you can take.

One option goes up from Quitaque to Claude and then through the city of Canyon to Palo Duro Canyon. Some people looking for a picturesque drive focus solely on that scenic stretch of TX-207 between Claude and Silverton. You can also take Highway 27 for most of the drive if you’re tighter on time. Whichever way you decide to take between those gorgeous red rock canyons, you’ll see views of the plains that stretch all the way to the horizon.

Explore More in Texas

Sign up for Weekend Wanderer to join thousands of readers getting epic travel and gear ideas every week.


Seen in: Road Trips, South, Texas

Find your next adventure

Sign up for Weekend Wanderer and join thousands of readers getting epic travel ideas weekly.

Related Posts