Often the best way to understand and appreciate a place is by seeing it from the road. Driving a car allows travelers the luxury of stopping along the way to take in the sights, try the local cuisine and view whatever wonders are on offer. In a country as vast as America, traveling by automobile has a long tradition and many scenic byways have become favorite sites for experiencing both the landscape and the culture.
Here are just a handful of highways that offer a perfect slice of Americana from behind the wheel of a car. Ranging from 40 miles to several thousand miles in length, there is a wealth of memories to be made from any of these scenic drives.
This iconic stretch of road has been lauded by songwriters for generations. Not for the traveling faint of heart, this road trip promises more than 2,000 miles of roadway to traverse, but delivers a wealth of quickly disappearing roadside Americana for the intrepid traveler to enjoy. Beginning near the shores of Lake Michigan in Illinois, the roadway winds through seven states, terminating in California on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. At times the route becomes lost in the rush to modernize American highways, but enthusiasts have meticulously plotted the course for modern travelers. Not only does the route offer glimpses of 1950s-era motels, diners and attractions, but also lush forests, vast grasslands and stunning desert vistas. There may be no better way to experience America than retracing this historic highway.
Skyline Drive in Virginia
This beautiful stretch of highway is actually the domain of Shenandoah National Park. Encompassing a vast swath of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this park boasts more than one hundred miles of roadway which allows for a leisurely pace when viewing the vast, tree-covered vistas. Each car is charged a nominal fee when entering the park; rather than being a toll to drive the road, this fee actually covers entrance to the park itself, allowing visitors to enjoy backcountry camping trips or an overnight in one of the many campground areas as well as the other delights the park has to offer.
At 1,500 miles, this highway offers travelers vistas of rocky cliffs and crashing Pacific waves as it traces the American coastline from Washington State to Mexico. Charming coastal towns, the booming California wine scene, the raw backcountry of Big Sur and the redwood forests are just some of the highlights offered to travelers of its scenic length. Dropping off the highway for a day or two allows for exploration and enjoyment of some of the finest wilderness areas in the country or shopping at some of the swankiest Los Angeles boutiques. Hotels, bed and breakfasts, camping sites and youth hostels offer a range of convenient accommodation for travelers.
Acadia Byway in Maine
While this scenic byway is a mere 40 miles long, visitors traversing its length can plan a trip that lasts far longer than the four hours recommended to enjoy its sights. Setting up a home base in the attractive city of Bar Harbor allows for serious exploration of all the attractions the area has to offer. Whale-sighting cruises, lobster feasts, antiquing, hiking, picnicking and a range of water sports are available to make a truly memorable trip. During the height of the autumn foliage season, the section of Route 3 that runs through Acadia National Park will deliver breathtaking vistas in bright autumnal hues.
Beginning in Minnesota, this ambitious roadway follows the length of the mighty Mississippi River as it undulates across the continent from north to south. Terminating in the Gulf of Mexico, it is the perfect catalyst for exploring regional cooking as well as enjoying the landscape as it changes from thick forest to wide prairie to mysterious swampland. The route traces musical history as well, offering travelers the opportunity to explore a range of classic American music styles from bluegrass to New Orleans jazz.
This piece was composed by Derek Florence, a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. Derek focuses on volunteering, adventure-seeking, vacations & traveling, extreme sports and other related topics; to learn more visit www.adventurescrosscountry.com.