Looking to take a California road trip? Norcal has some of the most beautiful scenery in all of the state. You won’t want to miss out on these incredible scenic drives in Northern California.
From driving through majestic redwood forests, to roads that offer scenic views of best Norcal beaches and the foggy coastline. There are also drives that pass by massive volcanoes, cute mountain towns, beautiful lakes, and drives go right through the heart of the wine country.
Scenic Drives in Northern California
Pack your bags and get ready to experience Northern California from a new point of view. Make sure you stop to explore some of the cute towns along the way, and don’t forget your camera, because you are going to want to remember this Norcal road trip.
1. Mt. Shasta Cascade Loop
This 205-mile loop is one of the top scenic drives in Northern California. Just make sure that you plan your trip during the spring or fall since some of the roads close down in winter due to heavy snowfall.
Plan your trip during spring to see pretty wildflowers, or in the Fall to enjoy the colors of the fall foliage. You can complete the drive in one day, but you might want to take a couple days so that you can stop at the sights along the way.
The Mt. Shasta Cascade Loop starts in Redding CA. If you have never been to the Sundial Bridge, first take a quick walk across this glass bridge. Then you will then head north on I-5 where you will pass over Shasta Lake. Here you can stop and take a 2-hour tour of Shasta Lake Caverns which includes a boat ride across the lake.
You will continue north on I-5 and will pass through the small town of Dunsmuir CA which is home to Castle Crags (you can see the Crags right from I-5) and Hedge Creek Falls. The falls are located right off I-5 and are only a 0.6 mile hike.
As you continue you will see majestic views of Mt. Shasta before turning onto CA-89 (one of the most scenic highways in California). After you pass through MCcloud Ca, you can stop and visit the three tiers of McCloud Falls.
From here you will continue on CA-89 until you reach McArthur-Burney Falls State Park. The hike down to the base of Burney Falls is a 1.2 mile loop. From here you will continue to Lassen Volcanic National Park and then back to Redding.
If you choose to just drive the Mt. Shasta Cascade Loop, or stop at all the sights along the way, you will be rewarded with some of the most amazing views of the Shasta Cascade region in Northern California and you will have a chance to see some of the best waterfalls in the state.
- Length: 205 miles
- Time: 3 hr. 52 mins.
- Prime Season: Spring, Summer, and Fall (not advised during winter)
- Route: Sundial Bridge Redding, to Shasta Lake / Shasta Lake Caverns, to Castle Craigs State Park, to Hedge Creek Falls, to McCloud Falls, to Mcarthur-Burney Falls, to Lassen Volcanic National Park.
- View the Mt. Shasta Cascade Loop on Google Maps
2. Highway-1 Coastal Road Trip
This 185-mile scenic drive along Highway-1 travels along the stunning coastline of Northern California. Offering breathtaking Pacific Ocean views, while passing by some of the prettiest beaches, and through State and National Parks.
You begin the drive on Highway 101 in San Francisco by heading north and crossing over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Next you will head toward Highway-1. Along the way you can stop and explore the Redwoods Trees of Muir Woods National Monument.
Next, you can drive by the white sand and stunning blue waters of Stinson Beach. From here you will head north on Highway-1 to the Point Reyes National Seashore, where you will experience scenic views of the rocky headlands and expansive beaches.
Make sure you check out the popular Cypress Tree Tunnel and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. You will continue heading north on Highway-1 which runs just off the coastline through the lush green countryside until you reach Bodega Bay. This is where Highway-1 runs along the coastline. The ocean views along this stretch of highway are some of the best in the state.
Once you arrive in Point Arena, make sure you stop and see the Point Arena Lighthouse. They even offer daily tours, so you can climb to the top of one of the tallest lighthouses in California (115 ft.). During whale migration season, November through March, you might even spot some gray whales off in the distance.
Next, you will reach the Mendocino Headlands State Park. Here you will find miles and miles of trails with stunning Redwood Forest and Coastal views. This scenic Northern California drive ends in the small oceanside town of Fort Bragg which is home to the world famous Glass Beach.
- Length: 185 miles
- Time: 5 hr. 10 min.
- Prime Season: November through April
- Route: Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, to Muir Woods to Stinson Beach, to Point Reyes National Seashore, to Point Arena Lighthouse, to Mendocino Headlands State Park, to Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
- View the Highway-1 Coastal Drive on Google Maps
3. Napa Valley Silverado Trail + Safai West
This two-lane country road travels right though the heart of the Napa Valley Wine country. The Silverado Trail was originally built in the 1850’s during the silver rush. Today it is a well known scenic drive that has world class wineries and gently rolling hills covered in grapevines.
This scenic drive starts from Napa and ends in Calistoga. It takes about 1.5 hours to complete the Silverado Trail, but you could make a day trip out of it by stopping at some of the wineries along the way. Most of the wineries offer tours and wine tasting for a true Napa Valley experience.
To start this drive, you will head North on the Silverado Trail out of Napa. You will quickly find yourself surrounded by Chardonnay grapevines. Once you are near the town of Yountville, most of the grapevines will be Cabernet Sauvignon. You will take a short detour from the Silverado Trail to get to downtown Yountville.
The small town of Yountville is known for its renowned restaurants and for establishing the first vineyard in the Napa Valley.
You then will head back to the Silverado Trail and continue driving until you near Moore Creek Park, here you can choose to take a short drive to the park, or just continue on the Silverado Trail. Moore Creek Park sits next to Lake Hennessey and is a great place to relax in nature or explore some of the many hiking trails.
You then will return to the Silverado Trail and continue on to Calistoga which is famous for its mineral rich waters, hot spring spas, boutique shopping, and easygoing relaxed vibe. Make sure you check out some of the amazing wineries in this area.
Next, you will want to head to the Old Faithful Geyser of California where you can see the geyser erupt water as high as 60 feet into the air every 15 to 30 minutes. If you still have time left in your day you can continue your scenic drive on Porter Creek Rd. until you reach the Safari West Wildlife Preserve, where you can take a tour and see wild animals such as cheetahs, giraffes, lemurs, buffalo and zebras.
- Length: 54.2 miles
- Time: 1 hr 33 min
- Prime Season: Spring, Summer, and Fall
- Route: Napa, to Yountville, to Moore Creek Park, to Calistoga, to Old Faithful Geyser, and to Safari West.
- View the Napa Valley Silverado Trail on Google Maps
4. Coastal Redwood Highway
This is one of the best scenic drives in Northern California if you want to drive through groves of giant redwood trees. In addition to seeing some of the biggest coastal Redwood trees in the world, you will also get to experience some scenic ocean views and you might even spot some wild Elk along the way.
From Leggett, you will head north on Highway-101. Just a few miles north of Leggett you will enter Richardson Grove State Park where the highway will get narrow and start winding through giant Redwood Trees.
After driving through this first Redwood Grove you will continue North on Highway-101 where you will reach the next grove of Redwoods called The Avenue of the Giants. This has been called the finest forest drive in the entire world.
You can see the ancient trees right from Highway-101 (the highway is built through the middle of them) or you can stop and explore the popular Founders Grove which is a half-mile trail that features some of the tallest trees in the area.
Next you will continue North on 101 where you can enjoy the views of the Eel River. Then you will arrive in the Eureka which would be a great stop for lunch. The drive continues north where you will begin to see glimpses of ocean views.
Make sure you watch for Wild Elk as you enter into Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. It is recommended to take the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway that is right off Highway-101 where you will see even more Redwood Trees.
Eventually you will drive through Redwoods National and State Parks where you will see the best ocean views and more massive trees before entering Crescent City.
While you are here make sure you take time to check out Battery Point Lighthouse and drive down Pebble Beach Drive where you can see some of the best ocean views in Northern California.
You can end your drive at Crescent City, or continue from Crescent City up Highway 199 for about 15-minutes to Jedediah Smith State Park where you will again, drive right through another grove of giant Redwood Trees.
- Length: 181 miles
- Time: 3 hr 42 min
- Prime Season: Spring, Summer, and Fall
- Route: Leggett, to Richardson Grove, Avenue of the Giants, to Eureka, to Newton Drury Scenic Parkway, to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, to Redwood National and State Parks, to Crescent City, to Battery Point Lighthouse, to Pebble Beach Drive and to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
- View the Redwoods Coastal Highway Drive on Google Maps
5. Lake Tahoe Loop
Half of this 72-mile drive around the lake is located in Nevada, while the rest of it is in Northern California. This drive only takes about 2-hours, but you should plan at least half a day so that you can really stop and enjoy some of the beautiful spots along the way.
Since this is a loop, you can start this scenic drive at any point along the route. It is recommended to drive the loop in a clockwise direction so that it will be easier to enter the pullouts and make stops along the way.
This drive features stunning views of the emerald blue waters of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, all while driving through the scenic pine trees that surround that lake.
The loop starts out at South Lake Tahoe and where you will head west on CA-89. In about 11-miles you will reach the Emerald Bay State Park Lookout. Where you can take some time to explore Emerald Bay State Park, or continue heading North on CA-89.
Next, you will reach D.L. Bliss State Park, and then Inspiration Point Vista out where you can see stunning views of Emerald Bay. Then you will pass through Tahoe City. Continue heading north on CA-89 until you will pass by Kings Beach which is a great spot to stop for lunch.
After leaving Kings Beach, you will be passing over the border into Nevada. You then head south to Memorial Point Scenic Overlook and Sand Harbor. If you have time you can drive up to the Heavenly Ski Resort and Ride the Gondola for even more stunning views, or you can head back to South Lake Tahoe where the drive ends.
There is a reason that many regard this scenic drive in Northern California as one of the best drives in all of America. With the beautiful views, lakeside towns, state parks and beaches, this is a drive that everyone should experience at least once.
- Length: 72 mile loop
- Time: 2 hours (with no stops)
- Prime Season: Spring, Summer, Fall
- Route: South Lake Tahoe, to Emerald Bay State Park Lookout, to D.L Bliss State Park, to Inspiration Point Vista, to Tahoe City, to Memorial Point Scenic Overlook, to Cave Rock State Park, to Zephyr Cove, to Heavenly Ski Resort, and back to South Lake Tahoe.
- View the Lake Tahoe Loop on Google Maps.