Nothing reminds me of summer more than a family road trip. Two days after school let out, we’d pile in the car on the first leg of summer vacation to visit our extended family. A few weeks later we’d head out on an epic road and camping trip. Before the invention of ipods, netbooks, and portable DVD players we amused ourselves playing I- Spy and the license plate game. We had travel bingo, a magnetic checkers set and more crayons than I care to think about. With a little imagination we survived and thinking about punching my sister in the backseat, my Dad stopping at every rest stop and seeing a unique license plate will always stir up memories of those summer road trips.
Now that it’s just Danny and I, we road trip without the crayons, but it’s still our favorite form of travel. We love the complete freedom of going wherever whenever. Usually we try to make a vacation out of it and hit the road to someplace we can hike, bike or camp. Some of our happiest days of our trip around the world were road tripping in Argentina, South Africa and Laos. Sure it was different driving on the opposite side of the road or on a motorbike in a developing country, but nevertheless there’s a certain romantic appeal to touring an area on your own. We probably never would have discovered Steers Burgers in South Africa or Isla de los Pajaros in Argentina which inspired Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s description of a hat in The Little Prince on a regular tour.
In honor of the weather turning warm and with summer just around the corner here are some of my favorite U.S. road trips. Still on my list are Seward Highway in Alaska, and California’s Route 1 near Big Sur. What’s on yours?
U.S. 1: It’s an epic trip for sure from Maine to Key West. From the tropics to the mountains and dense forests of our border with Canada this 2,377 mile route will take you through more small towns than you can shake a stick at. I can’t say that we’ve driven the route in its entirety but we have seen it’s beginning in Key West and been pretty darn close to its end in Maine. In fact, we even own a souvenir Route 1 mile zero road sign!
Blue Ridge Parkway: Winding its way through the Appalachian Mountains and two national parks, this is a stunning drive and one of our favorite places to go when we lived in D.C. Since the road cuts through park land, there are plenty of places to pull off the road and hike, bike or camp, making it a favorite weekend destination. The leaves are breathtaking in the Fall, but it’s also the most crowded time of year, and there’s plenty of spectacular scenery in the spring and summer. In Virginia there are a number of caverns just off the highway, nothing that will take your breath away, but interesting diversions nonetheless. If you camp, watch out for the black bears, which are usually harmless, but are curious about your food!
Sonoma & Napa Valleys: A few years ago we were out in San Francisco and wow this area is gorgeous. We loved driving through the vineyards and enjoying the relaxed pace of some of the smaller wineries. Although we didn’t get a chance to get out and hike, there is also a hiking trail near Lake Sonoma, which would probably make for a great picnic. Did I mention the vineyards and wine? It’s a great region to explore, but if you’re into hitting as many vineyards as possible, you’ll miss the spectacular scenery and surroundings.
Red Rock Scenic Byway in Sedona: You’d have to be crazy if this scenery didn’t impress you. The vibrant red clay punctuated by green trees and the occasional cactus flower will make your pictures look professional to everyone back home. It’s an incredible drive along the Red Rock Scenic Byway through Coconino National Forest and don’t be surprised if you see desert animals along the way. I can’t really put into words how beautiful this area is. Even now, having been there, when I see pictures of the area I swear they’ve been enhanced. It’s just that beautiful. Although my hike ended well after sunset, there are other shorter hiking trails in the area, just plan ahead because the desert is dark at night!