9 Most Stunning Scenic Desert Drives In The US For 2024 (Photos)

The United States is home to some of the more amazing desert landscapes in the world.

And the good news for those who want to enjoy these views from the comfort of their cars is there are a number of scenic highways and roads that run through these desert areas offering breathtaking views and unique experiences.

Here are the nine most scenic desert drives in the United States, each offering something a little different but all offering amazing scenery.

Route 66 Through Mojave Desert, California 

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Travel the historic Route 66 through the Mojave Desert for a nostalgic journey back in time. 

This legendary path offers a unique blend of natural beauty and Americana, featuring vast, arid landscapes, iconic Joshua Trees, and quirky roadside attractions. 

Drivers can experience the solitude of the desert, explore ghost towns like Amboy, and marvel at the geological wonders of the Mojave National Preserve. 

It’s a trip that encapsulates the spirit of the American West.

US Route 163 Through Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah

Credit: Adam Simons, Photographer

US Route 163 cuts through the heart of Monument Valley, offering unparalleled views of its towering sandstone buttes and vast, sprawling deserts. 

This drive is a journey through scenes often depicted in Western films, showcasing the deep reds and oranges of the landscape, especially at sunrise or sunset. 

The road’s most photographed stretch, known as Forrest Gump Point, provides a panoramic vista that is quintessentially American and profoundly breathtaking.

Valley of Fire Highway In Nevada

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The Valley of Fire Highway winds through Nevada’s oldest state park, revealing ancient, weathered landscapes of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops nestled in gray and tan limestone mountains. 

The highway offers views of unique rock formations, petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years, and a diverse range of desert flora and fauna. 

Each turn presents a new, picturesque scene, making it a must-drive for nature lovers and photographers alike.

Death Valley Scenic Byway, California

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Traversing the hottest, driest, and lowest national park, the Death Valley Scenic Byway exposes travelers to extreme landscapes that are both daunting and beautiful. 

From the surreal salt flats of Badwater Basin to the colorful mineral deposits of Artist’s Palette and the mysterious moving rocks of Racetrack Playa, this drive showcases the dramatic diversity of Death Valley’s terrain.

Despite its foreboding name, the park bursts with life and geological wonders.

Saguaro National Park Loop, Arizona

Credit: Marcie Lischin Galcik, Photographer

Encircling the densest forests of the world’s largest cacti, the Saguaro National Park Loop offers a comprehensive view of the Sonoran Desert’s unique ecosystem. 

The drive through both the Rincon Mountain District (East) and the Tucson Mountain District (West) provides close encounters with the majestic saguaro cacti, panoramic views of desert landscapes, and the opportunity to spot wildlife such as the Gila woodpecker and desert tortoise.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive In Big Bend National Park, Texas

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This scenic route in Big Bend National Park offers diverse vistas of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Santa Elena Canyon, and the Chisos Mountains. 

Along the drive, visitors can explore historic ranches, volcanic formations, and the lush, green oasis of Cottonwood Campground. 

The drive culminates at the Santa Elena Canyon overlook, where the Rio Grande carves a dramatic path through sheer limestone cliffs.

Scenic Byway 12 in Utah

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Spanning some of the most rugged and picturesque landscapes in the American Southwest, Scenic Byway 12 weaves through the red rock deserts, lush forests, and towering plateaus of southern Utah. 

It connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, passing through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. 

Highlights include the jaw-dropping vistas from Hogsback Ridge and the otherworldly landscapes of Calf Creek Falls.

The Apache Trail (Arizona State Route 88), Arizona 

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The Apache Trail offers a rugged and scenic adventure through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. Originally a stagecoach trail, this winding road features steep desert mountain passes, magnificent lakes, and the historic Goldfield Ghost Town. 

The trail’s breathtaking views and challenging terrain make it a favorite among adventurers seeking to explore Arizona’s wild beauty.

Joshua Tree National Park Roads, California

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The roads through Joshua Tree National Park traverse two distinct desert ecosystems: the high Mojave Desert, home to the park’s namesake Joshua trees, and the lower Colorado Desert, characterized by ocotillo and cholla cactus gardens. 

The drive reveals striking rock formations, star-filled night skies, and unique landscapes that inspire awe and reflection. 

Key sights include Skull Rock, the Cholla Cactus Garden, and Keys View with its panoramic views of the Coachella Valley.