Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

A few of my favorite driving vacations across America

According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 Americans, commissioned by car rental company Hertz, more than 80 percent plan to take a road trip this summer, and 86 percent agreed they are more likely or as likely to hit the road compared to previous years. While local COVID restrictions remain a factor when preparing for a vacation, 52 percent of respondents plan to resume travel as early as June. Domestic travel will be key as 74 percent said they would stay in the U.S. including 42 percent planning to visit the South and, 32 percent visiting the West.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the pandemic in retreat, many Americans are heading out on the open road eager to rediscover the country. Why not join them in an RV?

The following collection of road trips features intriguing routes and destinations from South Carolina to Arizona. There’ll be encounters with history in Charlestown and Savannah, natural wonders to explore in the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest, and good food in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It’s a moveable feast for a nation on the move once more.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deliciously Diverting Road Trips through the Deep South

A Deep South road trip is a fantastic way to experience the sights, food, and culture of the South. Some of the best southeast destinations are New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah. When you set out to drive to New Orleans you’re better off taking it slow. You could drive from Nashville to New Orleans’s French Quarter in less than eight hours but what a pity that would be. Opt instead to take a slower, far more scenic route.

Charlestonn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first road trip starts in Nashville. Before leaving Music City consider exploring a few of the city’s unique neighborhoods including Opryland/Music Valley, East Nashville, and Germantown. Learn about the state’s history at the (free!) Tennessee State Museum and hit some balls at Topgolf.

Ambrosia Bakery, Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this amazing tour from Tennessee through Mississippi and Louisiana you’ll be passing through sultry small towns that invite you to linger and enough poignant sites of American history to keep you engaged. Chief among them: the Mississippi towns of Tupelo, Oxford, and Natchez. From there drop into Louisiana for a po’boy sandwich and pecan praline cheesecake at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge before arriving in New Orleans to partake of its everlasting party. You can never run out of things to see in New Orleans, the most popular destination in the Bayou State, and for good reason. The music is magnificent and the architecture amazing. It isn’t called the Big Easy for nothing. Then there’s the food—an unapologetic celebration of simple carbohydrates.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another amazing Deep South road trip itinerary includes Charleston and Savannah. Charleston is the perfect place for your first stop. Charleston exudes Southern charm. Meander cobblestone streets lined with elegant mansions, a vibrant downtown with eclectic shops, arts and culture, music, and nightlife. The Historic Charleston City Market which spans four blocks is brimming with food, art, sweetgrass baskets, clothing, toys, jewelry, crafts, and so much more from over 300 vendors. It has a food scene that is one of the best in the country and there is a lot to see and do. Savor diverse cuisine from around the world and Southern specialties like fresh oysters, crab cakes, and pan-roasted boat catch. Save room for decadent desserts.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also a number of museums and old houses that are worth visiting including Charleston Museum and the Old Slave Mart Museum which offers an emotional but realistic look into life as a slave. Head out of town and visit some of the old plantation homes around Charleston. There are four within a twenty minute drive of the city: Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place Plantation, and Drayton Hall.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading on to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery). Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah has a totally different vibe to Charleston and there’s plenty to see and do here as well. Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Travel to the Old West

Any list of cross-country trips should include Route 66, the country’s “Mother Road” between the Midwest and California before the Interstate Highway System. It’s going back in time! On this 2,448-mile-long drive, you’ll pass by iconic monuments like the St. Louis Gateway Arch and quirky roadside attractions like Illinois’s 1924 Ariston Café and the Cadillac Ranch art installation in Amarillo, Texas.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Arizona, slight detours will take you to Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks. If there’s one place you’re planning to go when you visit Arizona, there’s a good chance it’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the most popular of all of these great road trips in the Southwest and with good reason! It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a truly awe-inspiring place to visit. Standing over the canyon, it seems to go on forever! It’s a striking place to visit and nowhere else will you feel so small, in a good way.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Petrified Forest National Park you’ll find remains of a colorful prehistoric forest, some of the logs more than 100 feet long and up to 10 feet in diameter. But there’s so much more: artifacts of the ancient indigenous people who lived here including the remains of large pueblos and massive rock art panels, fossils of plants and animals from the late Triassic period (the dawn of the dinosaurs), and a striking and vast Painted Desert (a badland cloaked in a palette of pastel colors).

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend the night in Holdbrook’s real cool Wigwam Motel comprised of 15 large wigwam sleeping units and vintage cars including a 1932 Studebaker and an RV. Continue on to Kingman and visit the old powerhouse which has been converted to a Route 66 Museum and visitor’s center. The Powerhouse Building is also home to Arizona’s Route 66 Association. Tucked away on a very old section of Route 66, Oatman is about 25 miles from Kingman. As with most mining towns of the Old West, Oatman is a shadow of its former self. Upon entering the historic old downtown, visitors are greeted by wild burros that roam up and down the main street hoping to get a healthy snack.

In California, you’ll pass near the desert wilds of Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks before concluding the trip in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific Ocean.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Out on the Third Coast

It’s got to be the easiest “long” drive in Texas: south from Austin on U.S. Highway 183—Lockhart, Luling, Gonzales, Cuero, and Goliad; State Route 339 to Tivoli and 35 to Rockport. One of the reasons to enjoy U.S. 183 so much is that it’s not a very modern road, not efficient in the Point-A-to-Point-B way that interstates are. In fact, for much of its length in this part of the state, it follows the old stage route from San Antonio to Indianola, winding, and dipping, crossing rivers and creeks at natural fords. If the verdant roadside landscape and gentle hills aren’t distraction enough, there are the Victorian courthouse squares along the way. Every one of those towns—with the exception of Tivoli—has one.

Presidio la Bahia, Goliad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 183 means a trip into history. The first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired near Gonzales and in Goliad, you will pass Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga on the right (now a state park) and Presidio la Bahia established in 1749 on the left. The Capilla or chapel (Our Lady of Loreto) has been in continuous use as a church since about the time of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It was at Goliad that the Mexican Army on the orders of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna massacred 342 captured Texas soldiers on Palm Sunday in 1836. A monument marks their gravesite.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here too, some seven years before the Goliad massacre, Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza was born. Zaragoza would go on to lead the Army of the East to victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862. Cinco de Mayo, a national holiday in Mexico, is still celebrated here.

Just past the presidio, it’s a left on State Highway 239, a half-hour drive along the San Antonio River Valley and through the pastures and grain fields of O’Connor Ranch to Tivoli.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then it’s a right on State Highway 35—a flat, straight drive through the cotton fields and rust-red acres of sorghum. To the right near a rest stop stands a sabal palm, remnant of one of just three native species of palm that once flourished here. Farther ahead to the left is Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, winter home to most of the world’s population of whooping cranes.

You’ll cross the causeway at Lamar Point to Rockport-Fulton‘s towering, twisted oak trees (the town is built on aptly named “Live Oak Peninsula”). RV parks here are plentiful.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive out State Highway 361 and onto the ferry for the short boat ride to Port Aransas and check out the sights: the World War II gun emplacements overlooking the Gulf beach and channels (German U-boats were active in the area early in the war), the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and its modest aquaria, and The Tarpon Inn whose lobby walls are covered in trophy tarpon scales dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. President Franklin D. Roosevelt fished here and a signed scale and photo grace the walls.

The sunset paints the water deep, liquid blues and golds and pinks. A quick jaunt to Mustang Island State Park and then it’s back into Rockport to your campsite.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun and surf, music and food, and the glory of an unwinding road!

Worth Pondering…

I hear the highway calling. It’s time for a road trip.