I’ve driven Interstate 68 more times than I can count. It’s one of the main roads I take any time I’m traveling from the east coast to my hometown (Marietta, Ohio) or the town where my family lives now (Morgantown, West Virginia). I am currently engaged in a longstanding love-hate relationship with this road. I love it because the scenery is outstanding. The rolling hills of Appalachia surround you as you drive through, over and around them. I hate it because it’s a tough road to drive and being a passenger in the car on this road can be a terrible (and scary) experience if the driver isn’t sensible. The hills are steep, the curves are sudden and the cars travel quickly on this road.I once had an engine die on me on this road and, as I sat on the asphalt waiting for the tow truck to arrive, I admitted to myself that I wasn’t surprised. But in regard to a road trip, this is a wonderful road. The fact that it can be a challenging drive makes it more fun if you’re in good company.
If you have the time, stop at Cooper’s Rock State Forest, Cheat Lake, Rocky Gap State Park and Green Ridge State Forest.
Most people have heard of Route 66. It’s iconic. It’s a classic American highway recognized in pop culture and its expanse covers many U.S. states. The route original passed through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Although officially removed from the United States Highway System in 1985, many portions of the original road are now National Scenic Byways under the name “Historic Route 66.” This route, or any section of it, is a good way to see the countryside of the U.S.A. You’ll see the vast plains that define the term “big sky.” When you drive through the New Mexico and Arizona portions of the road, you’ll see vivid desert colors in the land juxtaposed with perfect pastel colors in the sky. My favorite thing about Route 66 is that it begins and ends with serene water views. Whether you wind up staring off into the Pacific Ocean or Lake Michigan, your journey through the desert can be complemented with a well-deserved swim if that’s what you want.You’ll hit plenty of towns along this route. Among the larger towns you’ll pass through are Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Los Angeles.
US Highway 2, through Michigan‘s Upper Peninsula, is pristine. This stretch of road is so relatively far out of the way that its untouched beauty is its main attraction. This trip is 290 miles. You’ll want to stop off and take a dip every time you see the waters of Lake Michigan glistening beyond the birch trees, and so you should. That’s what I did when I drove across this portion of Highway 2. The actual US Highway 2 spans from Houlton, Maine, to Rouses Point, New York, in one chunk. In another chunk, it spans from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Everett, Washington. I’ve driven on parts of 2 both east and west of the UP, but the UP section is my favorite. Begin this drive early in the day and be sure to stop for pasties for lunch. Although the water is cold, no beaches I’ve been to in the U.S.A. feel quite as clean as the Great Lakes beaches. Make sure to cross the Mackinac Bridge as part of this trip. Not only is it a beautiful bridge, but parts of the water have the same turquoise glow you’ll see in the Caribbean.You’ll pass through the town of St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie State Forest, Shingleton State Forest, Big and Little Bay De Noc, and Green Bay. Many of the beaches you’ll pass on this drive appear to be nameless. Travelers park on the road’s shoulder and walk through tall grass that masks the sandy shores.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for a reason. It’s a 469-mile stretch along the Blue Ridge, which is a mountain chain within the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains out west might be more grandeur, but I grew up in the Appalachians, so this drive has a special place in my heart. Contrast to the jagged, towering, snow-capped mountains you’ll see in the western parts of the U.S., the Blue Ridge Mountains are subtler in their majesty. You’ll see rolling hills upon rolling hills all the way into the horizon while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. When you feel moved to stop and take photos of the jaw-dropping landscape, you’ll find there are plenty of places to pull over and do just that. Buy some homemade jam, salsa or an assortment of other treats when you stop. These kinds of Blue Ridge specialties are widely available along the route and unlike so many gimmicky regional foods many of these offerings are worth the price.In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, you’ll pass through the Pisgah National Forest, Stone Mountain State Park and George Washington National Forest, among other destinations.
If you’re already in Idaho, chances are you’ve already had your breath taken away at the hand of your surroundings. But the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, also known as Idaho State Highway 21, will make you fall in love with the Idaho landscape if you haven’t already. Beginning in Boise, the “City of Trees,” this road is carved within the Boise National Forest and the scenery here is unbelievable. Flat pastures will merge into green hills that will remind you of photos you’ve seen of the Irish countryside. The highway begins at 3,000 feet above sea level. You’ll see the Boise River, the Boise River Diversion Dam, the Lucky Peak Dam and much more on this drive. Rocky mountains, summits good for stopping and taking in the fresh air, rushing waters and densely packed Pines make this drive worth the trip. It’s best to avoid driving this route in the winter. High elevation points throughout the highway are often closed during the winter because of snow.
[flickr image via bmarmie]