9 Top U.S. Road Trips

Gas prices be darned, driving is still the most popular way to get around–and often the cheapest. No surprise then that more than 34 million people are expected to hit the road next week for the July 4 holiday weekend, according to AAA, even with gas prices nearing $4 a gallon in many places. (Airfares, by comparison are up 6 percent from last year, according to AAA, with the average lowest fare around $228 round-trip.)

Part of the allure of driving is the freedom and spontaneity that auto travel affords you. Outside of booking hotel rooms and filling the gas tank, there’s almost no pre-planning required. (And waiting till the last minute can actually work in your favor with accommodations: apps like Hotel Tonight focus on finding same-day deals at local hotels.)

Where to go?

Where to go?

Gas prices be darned, driving is still the most popular way to get around–and often the cheapest. No surprise then that more than 34 million people are expected to hit the road next week for the July 4 holiday weekend, according to AAA, even with gas prices nearing $4 a gallon in many places. (Airfares, by comparison are up 6 percent from last year, according to AAA, with the average lowest fare around $228 round-trip.)

Part of the allure of driving is the freedom and spontaneity that auto travel affords you. Outside of booking hotel rooms and filling the gas tank, there’s almost no pre-planning required. (And waiting till the last minute can actually work in your favor with accommodations: apps like Hotel Tonight focus on finding same-day deals at local hotels.)

The only question then is: Where to go? We pulled together nine drivable destinations, each in a different region of the country, so you can make a long–or short–weekend trip of it. Start your engines!

If you live in New England...

If you live in New England...

Go Coastal. 

With more than 3,500 miles of coast, a road trip along the water in Maine is a visual paradise. And it’s less crowded than the beach-studded shores further south. Look out for some of the five-dozen historic lighthouses that dot the coastline. Most are open for viewing. (For those that aren’t, you can arrange to visit later during Open Lighthouse Day in September.)

Worth a Pit Stop: If you’re traveling near Portland, don’t miss a trip on Route 77 to the Portland Head Light, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. Located in Fort Williams Park near the Cape Elizabeth town line, it was first lit in 1791. Afterward, have a bite at The Lobster Shack, a family-owned restaurant since 1969. Over lobster rolls, you can gaze at this famed lighthouse perched across the bay. 

If you live in the Northeast...

If you live in the Northeast...

Lounge in Lake Country in the Empire State.

Yes, when you think of New York, it’s hard not to think of The Big Apple. But, let’s face it, no one enjoys driving in New York City. Plus, the prices for hotel rooms can be prohibitively expensive. And did we mention the oppressive summer heat? (In fact, many of the city’s inhabitants themselves escape on weekends in search of cooler, and quieter, destinations.) Instead look to the heart of the state, the gorgeous Finger Lakes region. The destination gets its names from the configuration of 11 lakes, fanning out from Great Lake Ontario to the north. The result of this natural beauty? An agriculturally rich region that’s not just worth a visit for fishing and boating but also amazing wines. Yes, wines…

Worth a Pit Stop: To the south, arrange a wine tour near Keuka Lake on Route 14A in Penn Yan to taste award-winning Rieslings at Ravines Wine Cellars or Black Russian reds from McGregor Vineyards. The tour allows you to take a break from driving to imbibe (and time to sober up). Book a room at the centrally-located Viking Resort on the lake. At about $70 a night, you may consider extending your stay.

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic...

If you live in the Mid-Atlantic...

Vacation in Virginia.

When it comes to patriotic destinations, you don’t need to stay in Washington D.C. Drive about three hours south to Virginia where more than 3,000 miles of scenic drives await you. One that stands out: The 23-mile Colonial Parkway jaunt connecting historic Jamestown to Colonial Williamsburg to the Yorktown Battlefield of the Revolutionary War. When it comes to leisurely driving, it doesn’t get much better than this tree-lined road. It is restricted to passenger cars only. And be ready for a bounty of pull-offs for photo-ops at the James and York rivers between history lessons.

Worth a Pit Stop: Book a night and dinner at the Duke of York hotel at the end of the road near historic Yorktown. Staying at this waterfront area gives you the chance to get off of land for a few hours. Then arrange a cruise on a tall ship at the nearby Riverwalk Landing pier. 

If you live near the Great Lakes...

If you live near the Great Lakes...

Check out the cherries in Michigan.

Celebrity chef Mario Batali touts a “love affair” with the Traverse City region in Michigan because of its culinary offerings. The food is acclaimed all year round. But the National Cherry Festival between late June and July is worth a trip alone. Not a fan of the stone fruit? There are also more than 40 different wineries and a dozen distilleries in the area. Cheers. 

Worth a Pit Stop: In the fall, you can choose from many unforgettable foliage tours. But the summer can be beautiful too. A best bet: The 45-mile Old Mission Peninsula Tour that starts at Traverse City and winds up, as you pass orchards, farms, woodlands and vineyards, at Northern Michigan’s oldest historic hotel, Old Mission Inn on route M37. This friendly, no-frills hotel in operation since 1869 will keep you on budget—and coming back for more. 

 

If you live near the Rocky Mountains...

If you live near the Rocky Mountains...

Go gold-digging in Colorado.

Booms and busts are nothing new to Colorado. Ever since the mining days of the late 1800s, the “gold in them thar’ hills” have lured workers by the droves with make-it-rich schemes. Some towns like Breckenridge have reinvented themselves as ski destinations. Others, like Idaho Springs, still celebrate their glory days. And why shouldn’t they? Back in the day, Argo Gold Mine Mill, off of I-70 from Denver, was the largest mill in the world, processing over $100 million in gold ore.

Worth a Pit Stop: After taking a tour of the Argo Gold Mine and Mill and the nearby Phoenix Gold Mine (where you can try your luck panning for gold), take a drive up Mount Evans by way of State Hwy 103. This 14-mile route rises 14,200 feet above sea level on the highest paved road in North America. 

If you live in the Southwest...

If you live in the Southwest...

Try the highs and lows in New Mexico.

When most people think New Mexico, they either think Tex-Mex cuisine or vistas straight out of a Georgia O’Keefe painting.  (She lived in Santa Fe.) Those who are fans of the X-Files and other conspiracy theories, on the other hand, seek out Roswell in the southeastern part of the state. With its rich history as the site of a UFO crash, as well as its UFO Museum and Research Center, your three-hour trip from Santa Fe on Route 285 will take you light years away. 

Worth a Pit Stop: Take a trip on Route 380 from Roswell to the Bottomless Lakes. This cluster of lakes became New Mexico’s first state park in 1933. Though not bottomless, but actually huge sinkholes, they get their name from the seemingly endless depths of its greenish-blue waters. Check out Lea Lake. It is the deepest, at 90 feet, and it is the only one where swimming is allowed. 

If you live on the Pacific Coast...

If you live on the Pacific Coast...

“Cruz” in California.

Popular California has a lot to offer, from San Diego’s beaches to Los Angeles’ nightlife to San Francisco’s restaurants. Much of the state is so rich in culture and activities that it can be hard to find an area worth a drive where you haven’t visited already. Sure, a trip of the scenic Pacific Coast Highway (PCH-1) is a must-do, but where should you end up?  How about Santa Cruz: it offers something for everyone from Redwood forest to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and beach boardwalk. 

Worth a Pit Stop: Visit The Mystery Spot, near Santa Cruz off of Route 1. Discovered in 1939 by surveyors, this 150-foot tourist attraction swears it defies all laws of physics and gravity. Berkeley experts in 1999 explained that it is really just a visual illusion at play. 

If you live in the Northwest...

If you live in the Northwest...

Wander through Washington.

Washington State has a lot to offer all kinds of visitors, from Seattle’s vibrant music scene to the breathtaking San Juan Islands. But for driving, nothing beats a trip on U.S. 101, where you can circumnavigate the one-of-a-kind Olympic Peninsula. Here, you’ll find 73 miles of protected coastline to take in. Gas up the tank. Every road trip should be this gorgeous.

Worth a Pit Stop: The rainforest in the Olympic National Park is your best excuse to get out of the car. A hike among this jaw-dropping vegetation, from carpets of mosses to looming coniferous trees, is just what getting back to nature means. Then, come nightfall, be sure to have arranged a stay at the budget-friendly, rustic Sol Duc Hot Springs in the Park. After a day of hiking, nothing feels much better than a dip in one of the three Mineral Hot Springs on the property. 

If you live in the Southeast...

If you live in the Southeast...

Picnic in the Panhandle.

Move over Disney World, Miami and Palm Beach. When it comes to the open road, nothing in Florida compares to putting the pedal to the metal along the northwest coast of the state, in the region known as the Panhandle. This swathe of 200 miles encompasses Alabama in the west, Georgia to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. But we love the 90-mile ride from Pensacola to Panama City Beach on Highway 98. And did we mention how wonderful the Sunshine State looks from inside an air-conditioned vehicle?

Worth a Pit Stop: At the end of a long hot road trip, you can cool off quickly with a dip in the Gulf of Mexico by way of the white sands of the Gulf Islands. Here you can rent a boat, camp, or just have a picnic between a swim in the sea. One visit and you’ll be thankful this shoreline is federally protected.

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