Life can be about a journey, not a destination, on a classic road trip. A quintessential part of Americana, there’s much to see, sea to shining sea.
Could there be anything more classic than Route 66? At one point stretching 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, the roadway may have changed a lot since 1926 (thankfully you won’t be traveling in a Model T!), but there’s still plenty of time travel with a classic feel traversing the longest uninterrupted stretch from New Mexico to Arizona. Start in Gallup or Grants, New Mexico, and grab a piece of Native American art at a trading post. Next in Winslow (yes, of the Eagles’ song fame), admire the classic brick buildings before heading to Meteor Crater, 35 miles east of Flagstaff. It’s as wide as 20 football fields. Along the way, listen to classic tunes at vintage gas stations, and fill up on burgers and fries at diners at most turns. Next comes a true highlight in Williams, where there are thrills and chills thanks to a zipline adventure and Bearizona, where wolves, buffalo and, yes, bears roam among pine forests waiting for you to drive through. The Grand Canyon Railway is sure to be a highlight, and the historic express train to the South Rim is a two-hour and 15-minute extravaganza with Western entertainment both aboard the train and at the Williams Depot — and some lovely views, of course. Six classes of service transport families to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon. Extend your trip with newly refurbished accommodations at the Grand Canyon Railway & Hotel.
National parks, gorgeous beaches and cool cities await when you start out in the Pacific Northwest and trek all the way down to San Francisco. Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and the Experience Music Project all beckon in the home of Pearl Jam and the original Starbucks. See all of that and Seattle’s underground city before grabbing your wheels for a three-hour drive to Portland. The more scenic route is west into the Olympic Park Peninsula. A good pit stop is at Olympic National Park; some of the best views are at Hurricane Ridge. Portland’s got plenty of cool craft breweries, can’t-miss Voodoo Doughnuts and the International Rose Test Garden. There’s plenty to see in Eugene and on the Oregon coast, but once you hit California, get your camera ready — you’re in Redwood territory. You can even drive your car through some of the trees at Redwood National Park. The Pacific Coast Highways twists and turns are next, and fans of amusement park rides will be happy. Stop in Mendocino overnight for crashing waves, cute shops and delicious seafood, before heading along the Sonoma Coast. You’re golden once you head over the Golden Gate Bridge toward your final destination: San Francisco. Chinatown, Coit Tower and Alcatraz all welcome your visit.
Why save all the fun for summer? There’s less traffic and more color in autumn in New England on a foliage tour; late September through mid-October are usually peak times to check out crimson, amber and ochre hues. Thankfully, ice cream is a year-round treat, so Ben and Jerry’s is always in order. Head to Waterbury’s rolling hills (Route 100) in Vermont and fuel up before heading higher at one of several nearby hot-air balloon ride companies. You’ll admire New England’s highest percentage of maple trees, especially in Green Mountain Forest. Thirty-seven miles along the Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) in New Hampshire separate Lincoln to Conway; you can zipline Bretton Woods ski park or take the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway at Franconia Notch State Park, and wander hiking trails at Flume Gorge. Massachusetts’ Mohawk Trail through the Berkshires offers artsy small towns and farm-to-table dining. Starting in Williamstown, the Route 2 trail meanders east through North Adams (also home to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art). Charlemont’s Bissell Covered Bridge makes for an Instagram-worthy detour on Route 8A.
The Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t technically a national park in name, but it is in deed. Each year more people drive its 469-mile stretch than visit the Grand Canyon, for a path that connects the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks. Start at Royal Front in Virginia, traveling along Skyline Drive. Shenandoah National Park and its 500 miles of trails, waterfalls and caves (Luray Caverns) are up next. Try an overnight at rustic Big Meadow Lodge, where you can truly escape it all thanks to no Internet or TV in the wood-paneled rooms or cabins. Once you get into Virginia, there’s still lots to see and do: Humpback Rock, Crabtree Falls, Cave Mountain Lake Conservation Area and Natural Bridge Rock, 20 stories of solid rock. Grandfather Mountain State Park’s challenging trails and cliffs are meant only for experienced hikers, so for families with smaller kids, Sugar Creek Gem Mine may be more in order. The artsy enclave of Asheville, North Carolina, is up next before heading to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.