Susie and I have been traveling 3-4 weeks a year for about 30 years. Our favorite travel adventure is a road trip.
Although urban destinations have their allure, nothing beats the sense of freedom and exploration that a road trip brings. What’s around the curve in the road? What’s around the bend in the trail? What will we find at a roadside stall?
I don’t recall where our first road trip was. Since we’ve been to San Francisco many times, the top contender is Big Sur, that portion of the Pacific Highway between Carmel and San Simeone ( where Hearst Castle is). We’ve driven Big Sur at least three times, most recently in 2011 as part of a larger 500 mile trip driving the California coast south from Eureka, near Oregon.
Not only is Big Sur one of the most scenic coastal drives in the country, it is also a trip that can be done in one day. And you do need a full day to fully experience the 75 miles of exhilirating mountainous coast views. Plan to stop about every quarter mile.
The second contender for first road trip, and certainly the first long distance road trip, was the Blue Ridge Parkway / Shenandoah National Park to D.C. We’ve also driven this at least three times. On one trip, we returned through a “historic” route which included Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown and the scenic Outer Banks of North Carolina. The problem with the Blue Ridge Parkway is that the Smoky Mountains are…well, smoky. It’s not unusual for haze to obscure the view.
Most of our road trips have been in the west. Lots of road and lots of scenery.
We took three weeks to drive a grand circle from Seattle across the northern Cascades into Glacier and then south to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We returned through southern Idaho. which included visiting the very eerie “Craters of the Moon” national monument.
After Big Sur, Glacier’s 50-mile Going to the Sun Highway is probably the second most scenic one day drive in the country. This is pretty much an “all day” drive too.
Yellowstone’s diverse geography easily makes it the most scenic national park in the country. I don’t know anywhere else where I can see bison roaming huge meadows and then be in a geyser area an hour later and finally at a spectacular waterfall another hour later.
Although it’s close, I’ll give the Oregon coast a slight edge over the California coast (excluding Big Sur.) We took three weeks to drive the entire Oregon coast from Astoria then headed east to take in Crater Lake and then up to the Columbia River Gorge, after which we looped back to Portland by Mount Hood. It happened to be cherry season and we gorged on fresh picked Bing cherries selling at the farms for 50 cents a pound.
Another road trip was to drive the short Washington coast, which focused on Olympic National Park. We also took in Mt. Rainier. Our hike to Paradise was thwarted by snow even though it was June.
Our favorite road trip is the national parks of southern Utah. There are many parks and each one features unique geography. Our favorites are Bryce Canyon and Arches. The drive to Four Corners and Mesa Verde is also awe inspiring. Between the cave / cliff dwellings and petroglyphs you can’t help but wonder about the life the Anasazi managed to build in a rather inhospitable area.
You can see more photos of these trips at my travel photo website.
Perhaps the iconic American road trip is Historic Route 66. I’ve never been interested in driving the entire 2,450 miles between Chicago and L.A., but we’ve driven three short portions of it out west.
The first time was when we were driving between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon’s south rim. We drove Route 66 in the Kingman, Arizona vicinity. Other than Kingman, it was pretty isolated and not very scenic.
On a trip to southern Utah, we drive a portion of Route 66 near Flagstaff, which was a stop on the way to Sedona. That was more scenic.
Our third time on Route 66 was when we were in New Mexico and drove to the Zuni reservation to buy their wonderful jewelry direct from the artists. We returned through Gallup, which is on Route 66. That is a very nice town!
And if you need any more incentive to hit the road..