U.S. Road Trips

by umer | 2:20 PM in |

U.S. Road Trips
Nothing says summer like a road trip past wondrous natural sights, including waterfalls in Hawaii, the Badlands of South Dakota and picturesque small towns all across America. Many of these trips can be done over a weekend, making them an economical way to see the best the U.S. has to offer.

Route 66, New Mexico : One of the country's most famous highways, known as "the Main Street of America,” Route 66 ran all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles when it debuted in 1926. It has since been decommissioned, and in many locales replaced by interstates, but a thriving fan base has ensured that the route's retro-kitsch fame lives on. Tucumcari, N.M., still boasts a glowing strip of neon signs on "Motel Row," along with Route 66-themed murals dotted around the city. Williams and Seligman, Ariz., are two other top stops, with the latter home to the Historic Route 66 Motel and the Roadkill CafĂ©.
Looking for the road to outdoor adventure? The Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward is a top choice, with opportunities for skiing, rock climbing, glacier hiking, fishing and even windsurfing on Turnagain Arm. Beluga Point offers a lookout not just for the namesake whales, but also for Turnagain's occasional tidal bores — surf-ready waves of seawater roaring up the inlet. Nearby, close to Seward, Kenai Fjord National Park offers glaciers, bears and all-season opportunities for exploration — whether by foot, snowshoe or snowmobile.
What this 32-mile drive lacks in length, it makes up for in the otherworldly beauty of South Dakota's Badlands National Park. The deeply eroded rock formations, sometimes markedly striated, present an ever-changing tableau — and they're perhaps better experienced from a car than on foot, given that their name refers not just to their haunted appearance but also their challenging terrain. Four-wheel drives can find even more starkly desolate prairie scenes by exploring Sage Creek Road from a northern point on the loop.
There's no shortage of dramatic scenic drives in Hawaii, but the road from Maui's Kahului to the town of Hana may be the islands' most beautiful. This three-hour drive passes waterfalls, ocean views, roadside vendors and Haleakala National Park; bring a swimsuit for stops at the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo Gulch and hiking boots to follow trails off the highway to lookout points and campgrounds. You might also pack an overnight bag, because once you reach the highway's terminus in Hana, you're more likely to want to check out the area beaches than head all the way back to Kahului.
This often-overlooked 302-mile scenic drive is one of the Midwest’s most beautiful, following the Ohio River from East Liverpool, Ohio, to Cairo, Ill., where it meets the Mississippi. The Ohio section may be the route's loveliest, following the border with West Virginia past a national forest and through expansive countryside. Along the way, you'll find picturesque small towns, antique shops and even one of President Abraham Lincoln's boyhood homes, in Lincoln City, Ind.
Even if you haven't visited Glacier National Park, you may be familiar with the highway that runs through it — Going-to-the-Sun Road is featured in the opening credits of “The Shining.” This winding, 50-mile road can be covered in about two hours, but there's no reason not to linger, as it passes many of the park's best sights, like the Jackson Glacier Overlook.
U.S. Route 1 through the Florida Keys is as much an engineering marvel as it is a major highway. Built atop a former railway bed, the 127-mile Overseas Highway crosses dozens of bridges and at times seems to simply hover above the brilliant blue water below. It's prone to congestion, and speed reductions protect the endangered Key deer, only around 30 inches tall. But there are plenty of diversions before you reach the highway's southern terminus in Key West, like diving and snorkeling off Islamorada, or kayaking around the beaches of Bahia Honda Key.
Utah's Route 12 is a jaw-dropping, 122-mile tour of multiple national parks and some of the West's most dramatic landscapes. Both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks — filled with incredible geological formations, slot canyons, hiking trails and campgrounds — are easily accessible from Route 12. It's also a prime jumping-off point for the equally staggering Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway, though this more-than-50-mile drive is along dirt roads and may require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.
This may be the most beautiful section of the 655-mile Pacific Coast Highway, with an endless succession of viewpoints, many of them high above the ocean. Even driving only this stretch could take days, with myriad opportunities for exploring California's coastal towns. Highlights include picture-perfect Monterey, the incredible natural beauty of Big Sur, and William Randolph Hearst's eponymously named Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
Nearly 20 million people visit the Blue Ridge Parkway each year, and it's to the highway's credit that it never seems inundated with cars — what you’ll remember instead are the rolling Appalachian vistas, from Shenandoah National Park south to the Great Smokies. It's particularly gorgeous in spring and fall, though leisurely off-road activities abound all year, from fishing and picnicking to cycling and hiking. More ambitious hikers can reach the long-distance Appalachian Trail from its many intersection points with the parkway.
Vermont's Route 100 is best-known as a 200-mile stretch of heaven for leaf-peepers every autumn, but it's equally captivating in the summer, especially around the Fourth of July, when each of the small towns along its path puts on its best patriotic display. Top attractions along the way include Moss Glen Falls in Granville and tours of the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream factory in Waterbury — a family-friendly treat at $3 for adults, with kids 12 and younger free.
Cutting through some of West Texas' most spectacular scenery, U.S. Highway 90 connects San Antonio with Alpine — jumping-off point for Big Bend National Park — and the desert oasis known as Marfa. Once most famous for the eerie "Marfa Lights," the town is newly chic: It's home to a wave of new galleries and the Chinati Foundation, which was founded by longtime resident Donald Judd and has one of the country's most important collections of conceptual art, as well as an important writer's residency.