Growing up, road trips were always on the calendar for our summer vacations. We were one of those “are we there yet” families. I’m still a fan of hitting the open road—only now I can do it without my little brother crossing over the imaginary backseat line to intrude into my car space.
My road trip adventures have covered all types of highways and byways: winding mountain roads with gorgeous vistas, coastal drives along the ocean and straight stretches of highway through the heartland. With the diverse landscapes that make up the big beautiful land of the USA, there are plenty of road trips to choose from. Here are 5 of my favorites.
If you’re looking for a big dose of Americana, historic Route 66 is the road trip for you. The original route opened on November 11, 1926 connecting Chicago to Santa Monica along 2,448 miles of roadway. Over the years portions of the original route were replaced by interstates and America’s Main Street began to decline. Fortunately, in recent decades Historic Route 66 has been revived by communities along the route. Neon signs, Mom & Pop eateries, kitschy roadside motor inns and historic Route 66 markers serve as a reminder of days gone by along the “Mother Road of America.”
I never could resist quirky roadside attractions and Route 66 delivers them in abundance. You can catch the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois, the World’s (second) Largest Rocking Chair in Fanning, Missouri, and plenty of old style gas stations. Be sure to make a stop at the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo—a public art spectacle where 10 classic Cadillac cars are buried nose down in the ground.
It’s the kind of highway that needs to be driven in a convertible: California’s Pacific Coast Highway 1. From the waves crashing over the rocks in the Pacific Ocean below to the mountain goats precariously perched on the rocky cliffs, each turn brings another stunning vista. The PCH runs almost the entire length of the California coast, but if you can’t do the entire road, be sure to do the stretch from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Along the way you’ll pass fertile farmland, charming seaside villages, lonely lighthouses and the iconic Bixby Bridge in Big Sur.
Worth a detour is Monterey’s 17-mile drive through Pebble Beach and Carmel where natural beauty blends with posh multi-million dollar homes. You’ll probably recognize the Lone Cypress Tree—the symbol of Pebble Beach.
Beginning in the north at the edge of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles south to the Great Smokey Mountains of North Carolina. One of the country’s most famous scenic drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers a wealth of recreational and cultural experiences along the way. Delve into Appalachian history with a visit to Mabry Mill at Milepost 176. Ed and Lizzy Mabry’s gristmill is over a century old. This photogenic spot is arguably one of the prettiest on the parkway. Catch a cultural demonstration in the summer and fall and learn how the old-timers interacted with the landscape over the years. The onsite restaurant is a smart choice for a lunch break. You MUST try the grilled pimento cheese sandwich with fried green tomatoes, trust me. You can work off that tasty sandwich on one of the many hikes with trailheads just off the parkway.
The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 123 shares the intriguing story of the traditional folk music and dances that have been part of this region for decades at the Roots of American Music Museum. Don’t be surprised if you catch a live folk music or jam session while you’re on site.
With 5 national parks scattered across its landscape, it’s hard not to find a scenic road in Utah. One of the most aw-inspiring is Route 12—often referred to as A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway. Connecting Bryce Canyon with the Capital Reef, Route 12 is 122 miles of jaw-dropping beauty. This little slice of heaven on earth passes through Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon National Park. From there it climbs Boulder Mountain in the Dixie National Forest before ending at the entrance to Capital Reef National Park.
There aren’t enough adjectives to describe the spectacular scenery that blankets this part of the country. Multicolored sandstone cliffs, ancient Native American settlements and abandoned Western movie sets await at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Prepare to be wowed following the summit of Boulder Mountain where a 30-mile stretch of the byway winds through a forested landscape. The colorful Capital Reef National Park, the Circle Cliffs and the Henry Mountains are in view—all framed by the trees of Dixie National Forest. And make sure to spend some time hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park amid the brightly colored hoodoos and scented Ponderosa pines. Early risers can catch a dazzling sunrise at Sunrise Point.
On the Overseas Highway, hitting the open road also means hitting the open seas. This picturesque stretch of highway connects the Florida Keys to the mainland USA. You won’t find any twisting turning roads here, just clear turquoise waters as far as the eye can see. A highlight is the Seven Mile Bridge that anchors the keys together. This is the kind of drive where you’ll want to take your time exploring the sights along the way. This is a world of secluded islands, historic shipwrecks and some of the best fishing holes anywhere. And if you’re looking for wildlife, you’ll enjoy the turtles, dolphins and North America’s smallest species of deer standing just about 30 inches tall.
Worth a stop is the Turtle Hospital in Marathon—the world’s first licensed veterinarian hospital for sea turtles. Most of the residents are temporary but Bubble Butt is a permanent resident and he’ll be ready for you to feed him any snacks on hand before you head on down to the end of the road in Key West.
Are you a road trip fan? What are some of your favorite roads?
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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