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With the weather warming as spring rolls around, those sunny skies make a road trip sound rather tempting. And, it may be the perfect way to relieve some stress while still social distancing too. If you’re thinking about getting behind the wheel and cranking up the tunes, these top road trips provide the perfect adventure.
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The Overseas Highway will bring you all the way through the Florida Keys, starting from the tip of mainland Florida near Miami traveling 113 miles crossing over 40 trans-ocean bridges as it makes its way to Key West, the southernmost point. You’ll have breathtaking scenery in every direction, with one of the best stretches being Seven Mile Bridge, the longest bridge in the Keys, which traverses seven miles through dazzling blue-green waters. Plan to make multiple stops to take advantage of this snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is a must, with vibrant coral reefs, colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and shipwrecks.
The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival brings the opportunity to view a kaleidoscope of color with tulips blanketing the landscape every spring. It’s designed as a driving tour, making it the ideal springtime road trip, almost like the Netherlands, but with a backdrop of the stunning Cascade Mountains. The fields are centrally located in between La Conner and Mount Vernon with events and happenings sprinkled all around the valley, although La Conner makes a great base as a very picturesque, historic waterfront town.
Spring brings lots of color to the nearly 500 miles of highway that winds through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park, showcasing awe-inspiring Appalachian scenery. Starting in Hendersonville, North Carolina, you can enjoy the wide sidewalks that will be adorned with flowering planters, creating a scenic corridor for shopping and alfresco dining. Spend time in Asheville and perhaps visit the famous Biltmore Estate, one of the country’s few “castles,” before continuing to Skyline Drive in Virginia, the big highlight. From there you might choose to stay in the small town of Culpeper, with its Victorian and colonial-era homes, art galleries, antique shops, and plenty of enticing restaurants.
Spring is the best time for a drive through the Texas Hill Country with the wildflowers in bloom. In fact, you can even drive the scenic Wildflower Loop from the capital city of Austin. From there, the 90-mile journey west takes you west on U.S. Route 290 to U.S. Route 281 north to Burnet, where you’ll be able to marvel at a colorful landscape filled with brilliant bluebonnets. Continue to Fredericksburg to enjoy the area’s increasingly popular wine destination, picking up a bottle for a picnic.
While the stretch of US Highway 1 along California’s central coast through Big Sur tends to get the most press, in 2021 landslides have temporarily closed it off. A fabulous and often less-trafficked alternative is the drive north from San Francisco to Mendocino, with the landscapes reminiscent of Ireland. Along the way, you can experience top destinations like the Point Reyes National Seashore, and watch the seals and their pups near the mouth of the river at the small town of Jenner, as spring is the heart of the seal pupping season. The town of Mendocino itself is stunning, set atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific, filled with Victorian buildings and saltbox cottages.
Anytime is a good time to visit Hawaii, and along the northern coast of Maui, Hana Highway extends 52 miles, rounding nearly 600 curves along the way. The Plumeria trees will burst in time for Lei Day which is May 1st, but if you arrive early in the season, you can see humpback whales. No matter when you’re here, from this roadway there are black sand beaches and sweeping ocean views to enjoy, along with waterfalls and lush jungle. Around mile marker 11 look for a pullout along the road, taking the path to Lower Puohokamoa waterfall, which plunges 130 feet into a pool below. About 27 miles east of Kahului, pull over at the Garden of Eden and Botanical Arboretum where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed. Five miles further at Waianapanapa State Park, hike to a sea cave and you might even see the turn blood red due to the presence of millions of tiny shrimp.
If you’re looking for a longer adventure, a road trip through the Southwest covers 860 miles featuring six national parks. Start at the Grand Canyon, skipping the crowds by heading to the quieter North Rim to hike without the tourist crowds. In Utah, discover Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, perhaps pitching a tent to enjoy views of the moonlit hoodoos after dark. At Capitol Reef National Park, explore rugged canyons, domes, and arches. Conclude in Arches National Park with its unique red rock formations and some of the best mountain biking trails in the country – Moab makes the perfect base.
Joshua Tree National Park is an ideal road trip for Southern California residents, just a couple of hours from Los Angeles. Right inside the park, tackle the 70 miles of roads, breaking it up with multiple stops. By starting at the southern entrance, about an hour from Palm Springs, your first stop will be the visitor center to pick up a map. From there, visit Cholla Cactus Garden to see the Teddy bear cactus and other unique prickly plants. About 12 miles further, capture a photo of the famous Skull Rock, which looks just like a human skull. There are lots of huge rock formations to climb and countless Joshua trees, each of which seems to have a personality of its own. The town of Joshua Tree itself is well worth an overnight or two.
The Columbia River Scenic Highway is unlike most, built purely for the scenery. Easily reached from Portland, it begins in Troutdale following the Columba River Gorge for about 75 miles to The Dalles. It’s most renowned for its many waterfalls, with famous Multnomah and many others easily accessed from here. In the spring, they’re sure to be roaring. Enjoy the ever-changing perspectives of the gorge, which include sweeping panoramic vistas from 900 feet above the river, and make time for a hike or two with lots of trails just off the byway, many of which lead to hidden falls.
Two of the country’s most spectacular national parks, Grand Teton and Yellowstone are less than 100 miles apart, making it easy to visit both during just one road trip. Ideally, you will take a few days to explore both. You might stay in the town of Jackson near the base of the Teton Mountain range with spring bringing the annual wildlife migration, with elk, bison, deer, and moose heading for their summer homes. Afterward, travel the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway towards Yellowstone to witness its remarkable wildlife, geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and more. If you have more time, consider driving north to Montana’s Glacier National Park.
The Oregon coast offers some of the most magnificent views in the United States. Start in Astoria, a historic town located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, with Victorian homes spilling down the steep hills. Be sure to take in the panoramic vista from above at the Astoria Column on Coxcomb Hill. From there, head south on US 101, stopping off in Seaside with its many amusements, including an aquarium where you can feed the seals. Don’t miss Cannon Beach and hiking the trails along the coastal cliffs in Ecola State Park. Newport is a great place to spend the night, visiting the famous Oregon Coast Aquarium where “Free Willy” once called home. Continuing to Bandon near the California border, explore the 10-square-block historic business district on the Coquille River waterfront, home to one of the best places on the southern coast for fish ‘n chips, the Bandon Fish Market.
The Great Mississippi River Road parallels the east and west banks of the Mississippi River, traveling about 70 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Prior to the Civil War, it was lined with hundreds of antebellum plantation homes. There are still quite a few that remain and are open to the public for tours, starting with the Destrehan Plantation, one of the oldest and best-documented buildings from the state’s colonial period. Houmas House Plantation is another must-visit as one of the most beautifully restored Greek Revival plantation homes, and you won’t want to miss Nottaway, another favorite that also doubles as a resort with accommodations.
Spring is an ideal time to visit Phoenix with near-perfect temperatures, particularly during the earlier part of the season, when it tends to hover around the low- to mid-80s Fahrenheit. You may be able to catch spring training if you’re into baseball too. The best road trip will take you through Sedona where you’ll enjoy its rugged red sandstone rock formations and spiritual energy, best experienced on a hike, before continuing to Flagstaff, set within the world’s largest Ponderosa Pine forest. If you’re up for a longer drive, the Grand Canyon is just 75 miles from here.