This past year, COVID-19 forced many of us to cancel international vacations, as well as many domestic trips that would require a plane ride. While many have chosen to pause all their travel for a bit, some folks (myself included) have opted to venture out close to home with a good old-fashioned road trip.
Remember those? Growing up, that was sort of our family’s answer to not having any sort of travel budget. In addition to our annual beach vacation, we’d visit relatives in Chicago, Ohio and Florida. Nothing too crazy, but those trips were memorable. My husband’s family embarked on a cross-country RV vacation from West Virginia to California when he was about six years old, hitting all the national parks and landmarks along the way. The 70s-era photos of that trip are sheer perfection.
When travel opened back up again this summer, our family hit the road with mini-vacations to Asheville, Beaufort and Winston-Salem (North Carolina), Sea Island (Georgia) and Coastal Florida. And my road trip wish list just keeps growing. There are so many places to explore that speak to your interests — whether you crave outdoor time, want to be awed by panoramic scenery or want to eat your way through a destination. Here are a few road trips that should be on your radar.
If you’re a history buff
Consider a road trip from Williamsburg, Virginia, to Washington, D.C. It’s only about a 2.5-hour drive from Williamsburg to D.C. (depending on traffic, of course), but you can stretch this one out as long as you want. Take time really dig into the historic stops. At Colonial Williamsburg, hear historical speeches from costumed interpreters and see what life was like in Colonial America. Many of the buildings there are original to that time period (or were restored to their original style). Make sure to visit the other two spots that make up the Historic Triangle. Historic Jamestown is the original site of North America’s first permanent English settlement. Yorktown was first occupied by the Native-American population for at least 10,000 years before the Europeans arrived. It was also the site of the final battle of the American Revolution when Lord Cornwallis surrendered his British Army. Historical landmarks in Richmond, Virginia, include the Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Virginia’s capitol building and the home of civil rights activist, teacher and businesswoman Maggie Walker. A White House tour, as well as visits to the Smithsonian Institution museums, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and other landmarks are recommended.
If you’re a national park nut
Hit the Coastal Trail at Maine’s Acadia National Park. The park is arguably one of the country’s loveliest, but doesn’t seem to get hyped up as much as some of the more famous western parks. Build in extra time for taking lots of pictures. Your Instagram feed will be well sated along this road trip — stunning photographic opportunities abound. Start off at Sand Beach to Otter Point. You can get there easily by car along the main park loop. Head to Cadillac Mountain, the east coast’s tallest mountain within 25 miles of the shoreline. Sunrise and sunset views here are ridiculously gorgeous. Drive to Jordan Pond and stretch your legs around the lake (the 3.4-mile Jordan Pond Loop Trail). Refuel with smoked salmon, lobster cakes and a famous popover from Jordan Pond House restaurant. The hills off in the distance are known as The Bubbles — and you can hike them. Boulder Beach (not its official name) is one of Acadia National Park’s iconic gems. Huge rugged pink granite formations line the coastline. Another picturesque scene is the Bass Harbor Head Light. It’s one of Maine’s most photographed lighthouses.
If you’re an adrenalin junkie
Thousands of motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts hit the curvy 11-mile stretch of Tail of the Dragon (designated US 129) throughout the spring, summer and fall. It begins at Deals Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Tail of the Dragon is not for the faint of heart — turns are tight and the drive requires concentration and caution. Though the road is bordered by the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest, this isn’t your average sight-seeing road trip. The road itself is the main attraction. Take a break at the Calderwood Overlooks. This scenic spot provides a beautiful view of the Cheoah Dam, which was featured in the movie “The Fugitive.” Calm your nerves a bit and take the Cherohala Skyway that wends through the Cherokee and Nantahala National forests. Find your center with a walk through the ancient trees within the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
If you’re a beach bum
Hit Florida’s scenic 113-mile Overseas Highway. You’ll drive over the emerald waters that separate the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico capped by azure blue skies during this idyllic road trip. The highway was built on top of the Henry Flagler’s historic Florida and East Coast Railroad. The keys comprise five regions — Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and Key West. The whole chain is a designated Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The drive crosses 42 bridges, including Flagler’s storied Seven Mile bridge over Pigeon Key. Enjoy snorkeling in Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the first underwater preserve in the nation. Stop in Marathon for a visit to the Dolphin Research Center where you can take a walking tour or go all in with a dolphin swim. Bahia Honda State Park in Big Pine Key boasts one of the best beaches in the U.S. The park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset. But if a few hours here isn’t enough for you, book one of their rental cabins and enjoy the white sand beach a little longer. The number of things to explore in Key West are almost limitless. Peruse the shops and galleries along Duval Street, take in an unforgettable sunset at Mallory Square, visit Ernest Hemingway’s House, or dive the world’s third largest barrier reef. For more ideas on what to do along this road trip, read “The Bridge Through Paradise.”
If you’re a foodie
Barbecue/barbeque fans can get their fill along a mouth-watering road trip along the North Carolina Barbecue Society Historic Barbecue Trail. Whether your ‘cue style tends to lean Eastern (vinegar based) or Western/Lexington-style (more ketchup based), you’ll find something delicious along this route. The trail includes 20 stops that have all met strict NC Barbecue Society qualifications. Each restaurant must prepare their barbecue the old-fashioned way — pit cooked over wood or charcoal — and their sauces must be made from scratch. Additionally, each stop must have operated continuously for at least 12 years. The trail begins in Ayden, North Carolina, at Skylight Inn, a landmark barbecue joint that’s delighted taste buds since 1947. Other stops include B’s Barbecue (Greenville), The Pik-n-Pig (Carthage), Smiley’s Lexington BBQ (Lexington), Bar-B-Q King (Lincolnton) and Hubba Hubba Smokehouse (Flat Rock). The trail ends with Herb’s Pitt BBQ, located in Murphy. Looking for more food-related road trips? Read our “Tasty Trails” article for inspiration!
Please note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions. Please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips.