Who doesn’t appreciate winding drives through the lovely countryside? But for a truly memorable road trip choose a location and route that aligns with your passions.
To help, I’ve put together itineraries for specific interests from a national parks tour to a spiritual journey to a southern odyssey.
Stunning national parks
Where to: Utah
I have a hundred favorite road trips but I always come back to Utah and the “Mighty Five” which is what they call the five magnificent national parks you can visit on a loop around the southern part of the state.
Itinerary: Starting from anywhere on Interstate 5, the first park to visit is Zion, the oldest and arguably most beautiful park in Utah and that’s a big statement. Zion is huge and mystifying and you understand immediately why it awed early travelers who left these rock faces and canyons with place names like Angels Landing and the Great White Throne.
Many visitors combine Zion with a trip to Bryce Canyon which is more of a pocket park. Stare down into the park’s stunning natural amphitheater—the technical term used by geologists (rather than a canyon)—to discover fanciful windows, jutting daggers, chiseled spires, and exquisite bracelet-thin archways seemingly erupting from the fantastical landscape.
Because of the park’s smaller size, you can achieve a lot here in a day or two. Several novice trails by the park’s main entrance offer a glimpse of the area’s glorious mountain scenery and profusion of flora and fauna.
If you continue north from Bryce there’s Capitol Reef, the second largest of the Mighty Five but one that too often gets overlooked. Its most recognizable feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long monocline warp (or step-like dip) in the Earth’s crust. These tilted sandstone layers eroded over time to form an extraordinary landscape of serrated peaks, surreal domes, deep-slot canyons, and mesmerizing formations that straddle different elevations and ecosystems.
Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest and you could spend days getting lost in the 527 square miles of river canyons and mesas but the Island in the Sky area is the most accessible. Pick almost any spot and just gawk at the miles of mesas and sandstone cliffs.
The town of Moab is a fantastic base for exploring this area. It’s considered the adventure center of the Southwest because there is so much to do: bike riding and hot-air ballooning and biking and its proximity to Canyonlands and Arches.
The park’s 18-mile-long Scenic Drive showcases an array of delicate sandstone arches, deep gorges, rock catacombs, and open valleys among other natural wonders. The most recognizable red stone monoliths and monuments have official names and monikers but sometimes it’s best to skip the guide books and maps in favor of finding a trailhead and letting the awe-inspiring landscape stir your imagination. Balanced Rock needs you to get up close to take a look. The boulder on top resembles a mushroom cloud.
Plan your trip to the Utah parks with these resources:
- Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks & Must-See Hidden Gems
- If the Outdoors is your Thing, Utah is your Place
- Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?
A deeper consciousness
Where to: The healing energy spots of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert
Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.
The desert areas have been a sacred space for centuries for Indigenous populations and you can still experience the mind-body power of those rituals and ceremonies in whatever way you choose even if it is simply by driving and noticing what’s around you.
Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it.
Itinerary: Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.
Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit.
Plan your trip to Sedona with these resources:
The Deep South
Where to: Savannah to Charleston road trip
Driving from Savannah to Charleston is pretty straightforward. If you’re starting in Savannah, you’ll take I-95 North to US-17 North. But along the way, some interesting stops are worth a visit.
I recommend several days in Savannah before beginning the drive to visit attractions like Forsyth Park, the Bonaventure Cemetery, and the River Street waterfront area.
Itinerary: Just a 15-minute drive north of Savannah, you’ll find the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. This 30,000-acre wildlife refuge is home to birds, alligators, and other marsh-dwelling flora and fauna. You could easily spend an entire day hiking, biking, and kayaking at this nature-lovers paradise.
Next, you’ll drive about an hour northeast to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. St. Helena Island is the perfect place to immerse yourself in natural beauty and learn about Gullah culture.
In the center of the island, surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak trees, you’ll find the Penn Center, a 50-acre historic district comprising 25 historic buildings and structures.
From St. Helena, continue driving one island further and you’ll arrive at Hunting Island State Park. This State Park is known for having five miles of amazing beaches and a lighthouse that dates back to the 19th century. You can even climb the lighthouse stairs for a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and wetlands. After visiting the lighthouse, you can spend time exploring the beach or head down to the Nature Center where you can learn about local wildlife.
Backtrack through Hunting Island and St. Helena Island to the coastal town of Beaufort. Next, we’re heading inland to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Sheldon Church dates back to the mid-1700s. Today, the ruins are hauntingly beautiful and surrounded by a lush landscape. The property is located right off Old Sheldon Church Road and has informational markers.
From the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, head northeast to Edisto Island. Edisto is a peaceful vacation island south of Charleston that’s perfect for a bit of relaxation.
Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy.
Head to Edisto Beach State Park to stretch your legs on one of the many hiking paths or visit the environmental education center to learn more about the island. The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet.
If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront.
The last stop on this Savannah to Charleston road trip is Folly Beach. Take a stroll along the Folly Beach fishing pier or spend some time meandering through the beachy downtown neighborhoods.
After you’ve had your fun in the sun, head north for about 20 minutes and you’ll be in the heart of Charleston. You may have reached your destination, but the adventure isn’t over. Charleston has tons of things to see and it’s a great destination to explore for a few days. You won’t want to miss walking along the waterfront park or strolling past one of Charleston’s most colorful streets, Rainbow Row. Hop aboard a historic harbor cruise for a guided tour of the city or try some of the best local flavors on a guided food tour.
Plan your trip to the Deep South with these resources:
- Savannah: Sweetheart of the South
- Charleston: Deep South Charm
- The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston
If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then that beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese monk and Zen master, How to Love