Miami: Home to one of America’s longest underground tunnels. If Elon Musk had his way, this would be a reality sooner rather than later. Logistically speaking, however, building a drivable tunnel underneath South Florida isn’t a simple feat. As we learned from the “Florida Tunnel to the Bahamas” experiment in the ‘80s, it would take years of planning and very clever structural engineering, let alone millions of dollars, to accomplish. But if it’ll reduce traffic on 826 or in Midtown Miami, we say burrow away! Give us a Port of Miami Tunnel 2, Electric Boogaloo! Give us freedom!
Wishful thinking aside, this recent article got our noodles noodling about the best tunnels we’ve ever driven through — and the ones we’ve yet to see. From those long underpasses that seem to go on forever, to the sharp-swerving tunnels that push your stomach up into your throat, here are our picks for the coolest tunnels in America. If you’re looking to take a scenic drive near you, or you’d just like to nerd out on tunnels with us, definitely check these out.
1. Martin Grade Scenic Highway – Okeechobee, FL
Call us biased, but we can’t help but put South Florida’s very own “tunnel” at the top of the list. (No, not the mile-long Port of Miami Tunnel, though that one’s pretty fun, too.)
Although it’s not a typical tunnel, per se, The Grade’s charming 12-mile stretch to Old Florida is covered by a stunning, dense canopy of 100-year-old oak trees, which makes it appear like a natural underpass. The enchanting fairytale setting is enhanced by the swamps that surround historic Lake Okeechobee, the thousands of birds singing, and the ranchland vistas peppered along the route. It really is one of the most scenic drives in South Florida, no question.
Do yourself a favor and take an afternoon trip down Martin Grade, the picturesque South Florida road that time forgot. While you’re at it, look into these other great sightseeing spots near Miami, including Old Cutler Road, and feel free to go kayaking through some local mangrove tunnels on your Florida Keys vacation, too.
A trip through The Grade is your chance to utilize your Honda Pilot’s panoramic rear roof. Slide it open and allow your passengers to enjoy a full 360-degree view of this attractive South Florida attraction. Windows down. Moonroof open. Breezy afternoon. How can you go wrong?
2. Whittier Tunnel – Anchorage, AK
What’s the polar opposite of South Florida? Alaska.
In August, the average temperature in Anchorage reaches a high of 61 degrees; in South Florida, we get 88 degrees. Every calendar year, Alaska accumulates 79 inches of snow; Miami hasn’t seen snow since 1977. Alaska’s tallest mountain, Denali, is 20,000 feet above sea level; Florida’s highest natural point is Britton Hill, which sits 345 feet above sea level.
The one thing we do have in common with our northern neighbors is a cool bridge surrounded by nature. Like the Martin Grade Highway, Anchorage’s Whittier Tunnel (aka. The Anton Anderson Memorial) offers picture-perfect views of the natural environment. There, you can take pictures of Maynard Mountain and the Chugach Mountain Range, as well as nearby glaciers and rivers.
What makes Whittier one of the coolest tunnels in America is its history and uniqueness. At 2.5 miles in length, it’s the longest one-lane, bimodal (dual-use) tunnel in all of North America. As such, it runs on a strict schedule — perfect for sightseers who want to snap some photos — with both vehicles and trains passing through at certain times. In between trips, the tunnel is aired out with jet turbine ventilators to improve breathing quality and reduce inhaled pollutants.
3. Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel – Washington County, UT
At 1.1 miles in length, Zion-Mount Carmel is the longest tunnel in Utah, and the second-longest tunnel in the west. What puts this Utah tunnel on the map isn’t its length, however.
Designed to flow with the natural profile of Pine Creek Canyon, Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a stunning work of engineering. Starting in 1927, entrances were mined out from rock formations, and several viewing galleries were blown into existence to provide light and ventilation throughout the tunnel. As an added effect, these galleries provide brief, mysterious glimpses into the national parks through which the tunnel travels.
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, and it was deemed a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2011. It’s a sight in and of itself, which is surprising considering the looping tour of Zion consists of Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, and the Grand Canyon!
Towing a horse trailer or a utility trailer with ATVs to the Grand Canyon with your Honda Ridgeline? You’ll want to look into getting a Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel Permit for your trip. While the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds* with ease, the tunnel itself doesn’t accommodate anything wider than 7’10” or taller than 11’4” during normal use. The tunnel must convert to one-lane travel for you to pass, which is what your permit pays for.
4. Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel – Clear Creek County, CO
Driving the Eisenhower might make your ears pop, so bring some chewing gum for the 1.7-mile drive through the Continental Divide. That’s because the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel sits 2.1 miles above sea level, making it the highest elevated road tunnel for cars in the entire world. With the exception of the Whittier, it’s also the longest mountain tunnel in the U.S.
Although quite the shortcut, many tourists skip the Eisenhower entirely and opt for the incredibly scenic yet goosebump-raising turns of Loveland Pass, the highest mountain pass in the entire state of Colorado. It’s a somewhat treacherous road, especially during the icy winter months; but anyone who lives for hairpin turns and twisty roads should absolutely check out Loveland Pass in the summer. To each their own.
5. Tunnel Log – Sequoia National Park, CA
Is it a real tunnel? No, not in the grand scheme of things. Is it weird, wacky and fun? Yes, yes and yes! California’s famous Tunnel Log, located near Moro Rock in the Sequoia National Park, is one of the area’s coolest attractions — with a cool history to match.
Rumor has it, in 1937 the giant 275-foot-tall sequoia tree fell and blocked the road. Far too large to move, the tree presented a problem for road workers. Instead of chopping it all away, they bypassed it by carving a 8-foot-tall, 17-foot-wide tunnel, preserving the 200-year-old tree in the process. Little did they know, it would become one of the most iconic “tunnels” in America, with thousands of vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians passing through every day.
6. Nada Tunnel – Powell County, KY
Located on Route 77 in Kentucky, the Nada Tunnel, with its forebodingly mossy entrance promising great adventures, is both frightening and captivating.
Built for trains in 1910, this one-lane, 900-foot road tunnel is the “Gateway to Red River Gorge,” offering a direct link to all of Daniel Boone National Forest. Within the tunnel, you can literally reach out and touch the jagged limestone rocks that make up its walls. Just keep an eye out for oncoming headlights!
It’s also locally known to be haunted by the ghosts of workers who’d perished during the tunnel’s original demolition. We can’t attest to it being a haunted tunnel, but anything’s possible.
7. Needles Eye Tunnel – Custer County, SD
Plan a road trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills to take a scenic tour on Needles Highway. This winding, twisting, curvy highway (87) is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, and it houses one of the most claustrophobic road tunnels in America: Needles Eye Tunnel.
The Needles Eye Tunnel is 12 feet high and just 8 feet (and change) wide — by comparison, the Honda Passport is about 6.5-feet wide, excluding side mirrors — which is extremely tight by tunnel standards. Many travelers stop to take photos, especially when larger vehicles attempt to navigate the small tunnel. The gorgeous surrounding scenery doesn’t hurt, either.
To make things better (or worse, depending on your level of claustrophobia), Needles Highway is home to another 14 miles of tight tunnels, twists and turns. This is the kind of scenic drive that’s perfect for Honda Civic drivers, if we do say so ourselves.
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