In the comfort of your home-on-the-roam, explore the most overlooked spots along the country’s most iconic roads.
Road trips are a staple of the American dream. Each summer, tens of millions of Americans take to the open road. National Lampoon’s Vacation and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas reinforce the road trip trip as a popular pastime and a chapter of self exploration.
You may not have a window of time that’s large enough for a transnational escapade to Canada or Mexico. But across the country, classic routes steer motorists off the beaten path through areas of staggering outdoor beauty. The Blue Ridge Parkway, Oregon’s Highway 101 and the Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii, are among the most storied.
Iconic U.S. Road Trips
Here are several bedrock road trips that are full of adventure and will carry you through the country’s local culture, solitude and nature.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs from Virginia to North Carolina, consistently ranks among the most-visited national park sites each year—and it’s easy to see why. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, DuPont Forest features a short, easy hike that connects waterfalls, but if you push on farther you can connect up to five waterfalls. “The last two, including Bridal Veil Falls, are easy to get to, quiet and nice. It’s not a hard hike, it’s a longer hiker, so it discourages crowds. Pack extra water and a lunch,” says food and travel writer Jason Frye, author of Moon Blue Ridge & Smoky Mountains. Follow Frye at @beardedwriter.
Line up your road trip with at least one Friday night in Floyd, Virginia, milepost 165.3. “One of my favorite towns is Floyd. There are people there who have been in Virginia for generations, weird spots, academia, yurts raising alpacas next to multigenerational houses. These are the people making America great,” says Frye.
One of the best stops is the Floyd Country Store with a lunch counter, and simple food like $2 grilled cheese sandwiches and french fries. All of the aisles and shelving are on wheels, which get pushed aside on Friday nights to reveal a dance floor. They pull back a curtain for a stage area for bluegrass and old-time bands. “Cloggers, flat footers and square dancers show up for a $5 cover from 7-10:30 p.m. It’s super cool,” says Frye.
Highway 101, Oregon
The southern portion of the Oregon coast is less populated than the north. That said, north of Florence travelers can discover Cape Perpetua and Yachats, which comprise travel writer Judy Jewell’s favorite slice of coast along Highway 101, despite that they’re not totally deserted. Jewell co-authored the Moon Coastal Oregon travel guide with W.C. McRae.
Cape Perpetua is a geologic wonder with rocky basalt plateaus, scenic trails, tide pools, churns and spouting horns. Plus, you can pull out your camera at the highest viewpoint accessible by car along the Oregon coast. Refuel at Yachats Brewery, a cool, low-key local spot that excels at fermented beer and pickled vegetables.
“Old Town Bandon is a cute artsy community. South of downtown is a spectacular beach with huge rocks to wander through and birds galore,” says Jewell. Once a month, a labyrinth is created in the sand.
Farther south, between Gold Beach and Brookings, you can find solitude in Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. Explore all or a portion of the 27-mile Oregon Coast Trail as you soak in 300-year-old Sitka spruce trees, Natural Bridges—a collection of seven iconic arched rocks and blowholes—and Arch Rock, an overlook and picnic spot that overlooks a cluster of offshore sea stacks and islands.
Whale watching is prime off of Depoe Bay and Cape Lookout, near the town of Tillamook. “When whales migrate, which is basically spring break and Christmas break, you can hike on Cape Lookout Trail, a 2.5-mile one-way hike along a little, narrow finger of land that sticks out into the sea. It’s like 500 feet above the ocean,” says Jewell.
Hana Highway, Maui, Hawaii
The Road to Hana is a 64-mile ping-pong journey along the lush, jungle-esque rain forest coast of Maui and it’s a road trip of a lifetime. Allow a full day to motor from Kahului to Hana and back.
Grab breakfast in Paia Town, hike at Twin Falls (milepost 2), and stop to gawk at the surfers at Ho’okipa Lookout (milepost 9). Go all the way to Haleakala National Park to hike the ‘Ohe’o (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools). If the conditions are right, you can swim and hike through the bamboo forest of Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls, which feature a ginormous banyan tree.
Along the way, stop at a plethora of roadside stands for varieties of banana bread (the Halfway to Hana stand is at milepost 17). Throughout the drive, there are also carts at the end of locals’ driveways, which offer up delicious, moist, classic banana bread: Pay by the honor system. In Hana, do not miss Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food. Maui’s flavorsome locally-grown produce, tropical forest, ginormous royal waves, and pristine coastline make it absolutely sensational from soil to sky.
Leave No Trace
By far, summer is the busiest time for travel. National parks such as Yosemite and Rocky Mountain are beloved for good reason—though the most well-known national parks can begin to look like a theme park with chock-full campgrounds and bustling trails.
Regardless of where we roam, Leave No Trace is a list of seven principles everyone can use to ensure the protection of our shared wilderness. The tenets include: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.
If your spring is jam-packed, REI Adventures designs spectacular trips with expert, super fun local guides. Hike and bike the American Southwest or mountain bike the Grand Canyon and Bryce. Check out the full list of U.S. adventures here.