When you say the words “road trip,” what comes to mind? Endless hours spent staring out the window at nondescript highways, questionable food choices and likelihood that someone in the car will ask “Are we there yet?” approximately 37 times? Or are road trips an adventure, a chance to take in beautiful scenery while enjoying the freedom of the road? Do you believe flying robs you of the opportunity to enjoy such mind-blowing attractions as the world’s largest rubber band ball or the oldest frying pan in the county?
Whichever category you fall into, there are some road trips that are bound to make you happy. The U.S. is full of scenic drives that you can tackle in just a few days.
Route 1, Maine
Route 1 snakes along the coast of Maine from Kittery all the way to Houlton, and is either the beginning or the end of the storied route, depending on who you ask. Begin in Kittery, where you can score some deals in the outlet shops, and head north through small coastal towns all the way to Bar Harbor, in the shadow of Cadillac Mountain. Stop in the beach towns of Ogunquit, York and Old Orchard (all but deserted in the winter months, but teeming with activity in the summer), spend the night in Portland where you can explore cobblestone streets in the Old Port and then continue north through Rockland and Camden all the way to Bar Harbor. You may want to reserve a full-sized rental car for this trip, since you’re bound to be tempted by the multitude of antique and handcraft shops along the way.
Monterrey to Morro Bay, California
While the Pacific Coast Highway along the California coast is arguably one of the most scenic roads in all of the U.S., the portion extending from Monterrey to Morro Bay is one of the most beautiful sections. Begin the 198-kilometre drive in Monterrey, and head south along the two-lane road that hugs the cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean. In the winter, watch for migrating whales near Point Lobos State Preserve, or watch sea otters in their sanctuary that extends south from Carmel. In addition to the natural beauty this route will also take you over the incredible Bixby Creek Bridge and Hearst Castle, both worth stopping to explore.
Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina
Known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” this 755-kilometre scenic highway travels through the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina. One of the highlights of the trip is the 169-kilometre section known as Skyline Drive, which takes you through the Shenandoah National Forest high above the tree line. Whether you do the entire drive or just a section, you’ll be enthralled by the rolling hills and pristine forest — and potential for encounters with wildlife, including deer and bears.
As one of the few roads with the designation of “All-American,” so given for a high level of attractive scenery, Highway 12 in Utah is almost 200 kilometres of spectacular views. Starting the trip at Bryce Canyon, drive east through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park and Dixie Forest to the entrance of the Capitol Reef National Park. The road travels through pristine mountain forest and red-rock canyons, past sandstone formations and clear lakes, and offers plenty of opportunities to stop and check out the view along the way. The best time to take this drive, which can fill the better part of a day, is during sunset, when the red rocks seem to blaze in the fading light.
Stretching from southern Montana all the way to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, the Beartooth Highway climbs to above 3,000 metres and offers sweeping vistas of mountains, waterfalls, meadows and more. Start the drive in Red Lodge, Montana, an old mining down, and drive south, climbing through rolling hills until the elevation becomes steeper. At Vista Peak, you can take in the views across Rock Creek Canyon; later, after reaching the summit at Beartooth Pass, you’ll descend into Wyoming past Beartooth Falls and Lake Creek. The drive itself is only 109 kilometres, but generally takes at least three hours to complete thanks to the treacherous terrain and frequent stops to take in the view.
Taking one of these road trips — or any of the literally hundreds of other scenic drives in the U.S. — give you a chance to see some of the most incredible scenery in the world while spending quality time with your loved ones. So instead of heading to the city for the weekend, hit the road instead — and don’t forget your camera!
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