Scenic Road Trips


Were you inspired to hit the road by the big Rim Country Classic Auto Club Beeline Cruise-In April 28 or maybe the Cannonball Phoenix Spree May 5? Maybe the Rim Country Corvette Club show May 12 will urge you to get that motor running.

With summer just around the corner, the open road beckons.

First, have the car thoroughly checked out by a professional mechanic to make sure all is well. Probably the best time to travel is late spring or early fall when the roads are less crowded and the weather milder.

Where to go? That’s up to you, but keep in mind you want fairly good roads so you won’t beat up your car.

Today, we’ll suggest a few interesting and scenic road trips for your consideration.

California’s Big Sur country is very scenic. Old Route 1 extends almost the entire length of California, but one of the favorite portions is taking the 90 miles from San Simeon, which is near San Louis Obispo in central California near the coast, up to Carmel. There are no big towns, only a few small convenience stores. The road twists along tall cliffs and the ocean for much of the drive. You’ll find free-spirited people on bicycles along the way, so be careful. If you are in the mood, stop and do some hiking. This is a very picturesque area and photography is a must for many.

The highway north of Oakland and the Bay area is also scenic — all the way up to Portland if you have the time. You can take Route 5 through Red Bluff and Redding, Dunsmuir, Yreka on to Medford, Ore. and continue on to the City of Roses, Portland. There will be tall mountains, mostly on your right side, tall pines and beauty everywhere you turn. Plan to spend at least two days sightseeing in Portland before moving on.

Not too far away are Seattle and the beauty of that area. And there is so much to see and do here with the car. To the east are the Cascade Mountains and National Park. West is the Pacific Ocean and south is the Olympic National Park.

North of Seattle is Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. You could spend a week touring these splendid sights.

From the shores of Puget Sound, take U.S. Route 2 east upward into the Cascade Mountains. This stretch is about 135 miles of twisty roads, but you should take time to scout the area for trails and head south on U.S. Route 97 to Ellensburg for some rock climbing.

Why not see the glaciers in northern Montana? Glacier National Park is not known to many, but it should be. The Going-to-the-Sun Road runs east to west for some 50 miles. Go past Lake McDonald to Saint Mary and from there, decide where you wish to go. You will also cross the Continental Divide at an elevation of more than 6,000 feet. There are big horn sheep and other animals along the way.

Colorado is most scenic any time of year. The Rockies are something special as far as scenic driving is concerned. Near Telluride, but worlds away, is a 24-mile stretch of U.S. 550 taking visitors back in time to the old West. The road conditions are not the best, but the mining towns of Silverton and Ouray in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado traversing the Uncompahgre Gorge to the summit of Red Mountain are breathtaking. Bring your hiking boots to walk the trails just off the roads. Most of this drive cuts through a National Park covered in yucca, juniper, cacti and pinion pines. If you are of an older age, you may recognize some of this country from the 1940s and 1950s movies shot on location here.

Close to home is the Red Rock Scenic Byway that extends from Flagstaff to Sedona through Oak Creek Canyon south. After some time in Sedona, perhaps lunch, get on route 179 south to Interstate 17 near Rimrock. A camera is a must on this trek, also.

If you are a birder, you might try island hopping along the Georgian coastal barrier islands. This is the southern east coast and the atmosphere is casual and scenic. Some of these islands can only be reached by ferries. You might begin in Savannah and head about two hours to Brunswick. Drive over the causeway to St. Simons. This is the largest of the upscale populated islands and you will find historical sights along the way. From here you will find Laughing gulls, Royal and Caspian Terns, red-throated Loons and many more species. Along the sea-lined road will be Mediterranean style mansions. You can also take a guided walk to view nesting loggerhead sea turtles.

As we have suggested in several past travel articles, road trips through the neighboring valleys of Sonoma and Napa can be a rewarding experience, especially if you are a fan of fine wines. You will find historic spots along the roads as well as quiet nature alongside the rows of grape vineyards. There will be rather frequent wine-tasting available as you drive along, so have fun here. When you get to Calistoga, stop and soak in the mud baths that are available. Many people feel these are healthy. When you are cleansed, return to the Bay area and San Francisco for a seafood dinner.

The Florida overseas highway is most interesting. You drive 105 miles through the chain of islands from Key Largo south on U.S. Route 1 to Key West. During this time you are either on a bridge or causeway surrounded by shimmering water. There was once even a railroad on this route. You will drive through Tavernier, Islamorada, Marathon and Big Pine Key before reaching Key West. Key West is populated by some 30,000 sun worshippers and it is the closest U.S. land point to Cuba which is 90 miles away.

Getting back to the western part of the country, Mount Rushmore is always a sight to behold. You can drive some 200 miles in South Dakota on Interstate 90 across the Missouri River through striking grasslands to Route 83 and turn off at Murdo for buffalo burgers, which are tasty and great.

Back to California, the drive from San Francisco to south of Monterey and Morrow Bay is 49 miles of scenic pleasure. Get on State Road 1 along California’s central coast and simply head south to Monterey. The road is steep down to the ocean, so be careful and take time. There is much to do in the Monterey area including museums, interesting shops and much more.

If you happen to be in Hawaii, and on the island of Maui, take a rented car to Hana. This is a serpentine highway on the rural east side of the island and will show you some of the wild beauty and sleepy villages along the road to Hana. It is only 60 miles, but take time to make the drive. You’ll be glad you did upon arrival. Hana is a small town, but beautiful. Plan to spend the night here. You could continue the next day to Haleakala National Park.

If you decide to take a trip in the fall, consider U.S. Route 1 in Maine. You will have an unobstructed front-row seat to the state’s hardy coastal beauty. Drive north through laid-back Ogunquit before reaching Kennebunkport and its seaside mansions. The Bushes have a home here and stay for the summer period. Then head to Portland and eventually Freeport, home of L.L. Bean. Further north, the landscape becomes more ruggedly striking. You will witness strong tides at West Pembroke. The trip ends in the tiny city of Calais at Canada’s border.

The United States is so vast that you can find scenic drives all over our fair nation. You may have your favorites. Have a good drive and be safe.


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