Looking for Your Next Favorite Road Trip? You Need to Take a Scenic Byway!

Take a scenic byway on your next road trip

In This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie sang the words, “As I went walking that ribbon of highway / I saw above me that endless skyway.” If Guthrie was singing about some of the most beautiful ribbons of highway in the United States, there’s a good chance he was talking about one of the country’s scenic byways.

In both popular culture and our imaginations, we tend to romanticize road trips as epic journeys across the nation’s vast highways. The only problem is there’s nothing romantic about our nation’s highways. Either you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic as you pass through a major metropolis or you’re the lone motorist on an eerily empty stretch of cornfield-lined pavement. We almost take for granted that the great American road trip should be on a highway—but we’re forgetting about a far more attractive alternative: scenic byways.

National Scenic Byways are officially designated roads that meet a set of government-defined criteria. To become a scenic byway, a road must be recognized for one or more of six intrinsic qualities which include archaeological, cultural, natural, historic, recreational, or scenic significance. As their name suggests, these roads are the most scenic way to see the country by far. Here’s why your next road trip should be on a scenic byway.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The difference between a byway and a highway

On the surface, distinguishing a highway from a scenic byway might sound complicated. The differences, however, are quite obvious especially when you first make the switch from highways to byways. Highways are wide roads connecting big cities, built to facilitate the flow of heavy traffic. Though they can be found all over the country, they’re a staple of major metropolitan areas with high population density. Though highways are certainly the most efficient way to travel, they’re often not free with many requiring tolls to pass.

Byways, by contrast, tend to be narrower, secondary roads often located in rural areas. You won’t find scenic byways wrapping around major cities but rather serve as a means of connection for those living in less populated areas. They’re unstructured, unsurfaced, or even covered with grass.

The National Scenic Byways Program started in 1991 when Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act which aimed to promote roads of special aesthetic or cultural significance. Some byways are even designated All-American Roads which must meet two (instead of just one) of the intrinsic qualities mentioned above. All-American Roads are considered to have unique features that can’t be found anywhere else in the US. Many even consider these roads to be destinations on their own.

Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why ride a byway?

If you still find yourself tempted by the efficient allure of the highway, there are plenty of reasons to give scenic byways a shot the next time you hit the road. The biggest benefit of scenic byways is the access they provide to local experiences like food, history, and scenery. From New Jersey to California and everywhere in between highways feel pretty homogenous. Byways don’t circumvent an area’s natural beauty in favor of efficiency— they take you through the heart of forests, mountains, and small towns giving you a reason to look out the window.

The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, for example, gives drivers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway in Maine gives you a sampling of Maine’s natural beauty: lakes, forests, farms, rivers, and wildlife. Meanwhile, the Mohawk Trail Byway in Williamstown, Massachusetts marks where Benedict Arnold led an army during the Revolutionary War, and where the Mohawk tribe battled the Pocumtucks. That’s a slice of culture you just can’t get on a highway.

Byways are also beneficial for local communities. Rather than spending your money at the McDonald’s in the highway rest stop, you’ll be passing through small towns. That means local shops, restaurants, and a warmer introduction to an area than you’d ever receive at a highway visitor center.

Trade the highway McDouble for some steak tips at a local barbeque joint. Rather than stretch your legs at a nondescript rest stop, park on a town’s Main Street and go exploring. A more intimate travel experience isn’t just beneficial for you but for the people living there too. Whether it’s patronizing family-owned restaurants, shopping at small boutiques, or filling up at an off-the-beaten-path gas station, the local economy will thank you.

Explore the byways

Now is actually the best time to start exploring the country’s scenic byways. These are a few byways you should keep on your radar for your next road trip.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Red Rock Scenic Byway 

Winding through Arizona’s Red Rock Country, the Red Rock Scenic Byway is often called a museum without walls. Traversing incredible red rock and desert landscapes, State Route 179 runs south from Sedona through the Red Rock State Park to the junction with Interstate 17. There are also several trailheads accessed directly from the road offering numerous options for day hikes. Don’t miss the Cathedral Rock and the Bell Rock vista at the start of the southern trailhead.

If you need ideas, check out: Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Alabama Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

About 130 miles long, Alabama’s Coastal Connection showcases the best of the state’s Gulf Coast from quiet bays and wildlife-rich sanctuaries to immaculate white-sand beaches and historic forts. Alabama’s southern tip offers five different possible itineraries based on your interests, whether it’s history, food, or nature. The full route runs from Spanish Fort through Daphne and Fairhope via Magnolia Springs and Elberta to Orange Beach, along Gulf Shores to Dauphin Island and finishes in Grand Bay.

Check this out to learn more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

Just 76 miles long, the Amish Country Byway might seem like a drive you can complete in a few hours but factor in the cultural and historic treasures dotted along the road and you’ll need at least a day. The road curves through and over the hills of pastoral countryside making it easy to forget about the trappings of modern life. Be sure to visit Amish museums, farms and antique shops, and enjoy some seriously good cooking in one of the many places to stop for a bite.

Here are some helpful resources:

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway

It twists and loops over just 70 miles yet this Black Hills byway is the perfect introduction to South Dakota’s breathtaking landscapes. The route is actually four interlacing roads including Needles Highway where the drive takes you through narrow tunnels and below towering granite pinnacles. It also cuts through Custer State Park where buffalo graze the fields and passes Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

At just under 123 miles, this All-American Road cuts through some of the state’s most spectacular scenery (and it’s up against some strong competition). Starting in Panguitch and unravelling east to Torrey, the road feels like it’s always been here curving past moon-grey mountains and ducking under peach-rock arches. Make a brief detour to see Escalante Petrified Forest, filled with fossilised trees. 

Read more: Scenic Byway 12: An All American Road

Colonial Parkway

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

Connecting three of Virginia’s most historically significant cities, the Colonial Parkway links Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Only 23 miles long, the byway is intended for sightseeing so is free of trucks and commercial vehicles and is still a remarkable example of such American parkway design. 

Check this out to learn more: Live in Colonial Times: Experience the Revolution in a Revolutionary Way

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture, and more can be experienced as you travel along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. Download the free personal tour app (search “creole” in your app store.) Once on the trail, open the app and make sure your location is enabled. It’s like having a personal tour guide in the vehicle with you!

Here are some helpful resources:

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

The beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds this route as it encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Winding through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians, you will find vistas atop Brasstown Bald that are jaw-dropping and the cooling mists of waterfalls are plentiful. Everywhere scenic wonders fill this region. Colorful wildflowers, waterfalls, and dazzling fall colors are some of what you will see. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake, and many Cherokee sites. This byway in particular is known for its fall colors.

If you need ideas, check out:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Worth Pondering…

I had spent the day, as Chuck Berry once sang, with no particular place to go. And getting there was half the fun.

The Great American Road Trip: Born in 1856

Whitman describes a trip on which he is embarking. He describes himself as being “healthy and free,” and he realizes he is the only person who is in complete control of his life; he chooses his own destiny.

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Indian Creek Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great American Road Trip was born in 1856 with the publication of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road.”

Or at least that’s how the idea of such a journey came into being since 164 years ago there were no states between Texas and California, let alone cars, highways, or motels. A traveler’s creature comforts back then consisted of liberty and opportunity.

Plano Bridge along the Painted Churches tour in Fayette County, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whitman saw the (future) American Road Trip as a metaphor for democracy. In the new republic, a man had the freedom to go anywhere.

But for decades after Whitman’s poem, America’s “long brown paths” went nowhere.

A scenic drive in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1903, when Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, his dog Bud, and a mechanic named Sewall Crocker set out in a red Winton touring car to claim America for the automobile, barely 150 miles of paved road existed in the entire country. A friend had wagered Jackson $50 that it would take him at least three months to drive from San Francisco to New York. In the end, it took 62 days of hard slogging.

On the road to Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jackson’s feat quickly inspired imitators like the Murdocks, the first family to drive across America. In 1908, Jacob, Anna, and their three children successfully navigated the journey with the help of a personal mechanic for the car and a Winchester rifle for the coyotes.

Along Bush Highway, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to be outdone, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey led the first all-female road trip in 1909, tearing across the country at speeds of up to 42 miles an hour—when not being towed by horses.

Sharing the road in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road situation remained a literal mess when Dwight D. Eisenhower joined a military convoy on a trip across America in 1919. At times the drivers averaged a mere 6 miles an hour. Those two months on the road helped to convince the future president that a complete overhaul was needed. His answer was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the construction of the Interstate Highway System.

Driving Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The law spurred millions of Americans to take to the open road—and legions of filmmakers and novelists to write about it.

Explaining the point of “On the Road” (1957), Jack Kerouac wrote that the novel tried to recapture a sense of meanings—embarking “on a tremendous journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America.” 

Driving Montgomery to Wetumka, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Steinbeck took on a similar quest of rediscovery and reconnection—with his driving companion a poodle—and wrote about it in “Travels With Charley in Search of America” (1962). The author finished his journey with his hopes dashed, feeling lost, and worried about the rapid changes overtaking his country.

Schnebly Hill Road near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, Steinbeck fared better than most film characters who attempt the Great American Road Trip. In “Easy Rider” (1969), Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are pursued by murderous bigots; in “Thelma and Louise” (1991), the problem seems to be every American male.

On the road to Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, today’s family road trips don’t lack for human comforts—just a full tank of fuel and a great playlist.

But oh, the options today!

Smartphones or music players can plug directly into the RV’s sound system with a USB cable or auxiliary.

Mokee Dugway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And yet, there’s a lot to be gained from abandoning yourself to the mercies of local radio stations. It’s a chance to ride along, even briefly, with local color that’s otherwise passing too quickly outside the window—the DJ’s accent, charmingly quirky small town ads, music from artists not yet known beyond their part of the country.

Just a fleeting reminder that digital conveniences can deprive us of the analogue pleasure of immersing ourselves in somewhere new.

Worth Pondering…

The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.

3 Classic California Road Trips to Drive in Your Lifetime

California’s iconic sunshine, endless outdoor experiences, and ever-changing landscapes is your road trip dream come true

California is, hands down, one of the best places for a road trip. It’s the third largest state in the US and its 164,000 square miles are packed with glorious, varied terrain highlighted by 66 scenic byways. Rocky desert landscapes give way to rolling farmlands, and two-lane highways carve through quiet groves of towering sequoias before climbing into the high, rugged peaks of the 352 mountain ranges.

Famous Sundial Bridge at Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With all that, it’s no wonder you simply cannot get to know the Golden State unless you hit the road. We’ve gathered together three essential California road trips to get you started. Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Distance: 188 miles

Lassen Volcanic National Park and the area around form one of the more beautiful parts of California especially if you’re a mountain junkie who loves craggy peaks and volcanic rock. But it’s one that even locals often miss, partly because of its distance from major population centers. But those who make the trek should plan for a minimum of three days with plenty of day hikes and geologic curiosities—this is, after all, volcano country. 

Sacramento River as seen from the Sundial Bridge in Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in Redding, a bustling city on the Sacramento River, travel north on 1-5 to Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. Continue north on I-5, passing through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and maybe stopping to take in the ragged spires at Castle Crags State Park before reaching Mount Shasta where you can stop to stroll through town or hike in the mountain’s foothills.

Lassen Peak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, escape from the interstate and head south on Highway 89. This section of the highway is actually part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway which travels from Oregon in the north down to Lassen along the Cascade Mountain Range. Take some time to hike McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and see the 129-foot-tall waterfall that shares a name with the park. Or kayak and paddleboard on serene Lake Almanor. Finish your trip with a day, or two, wandering through Lassen Volcanic National Park which is filled with mud pots, geysers, lava fields, shield and cinder cone volcanoes, mountain lakes, and even a few green meadows where you’ll find wildflowers in the spring. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Highway (Highway 49)

Distance: 295 miles

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or “49ers” who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike it rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada too. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start off with a history lesson at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, just north of Oakhurst. As you drive north along the route, you’ll pass a number of Gold Rush–era buildings and towns. In Coulterville, Hotel Jeffery, first built in 1851, is known for paranormal activities and claims John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt as past visitors. Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 Historic State Park gives a glimpse of what transportation was like in the late 1800s and Columbia State Historic Park and the town of Jackson are both well-preserved mining towns. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 49 passes over the South Fork of the American River near Placerville which is a popular place for river rafting. A little farther north here, in Coloma, you can actually try your own luck with a gold pan at Sutter’s Mill in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Continue up through Auburn State Recreation Area where the north and middle forks of the American River meet stopping in Auburn’s Old Town and later Nevada City for Victorian-era homes and a little more historic charm.

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Murphys© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there Highway 49 heads northeast through Tahoe National Forest but there’s more mining history to see before you end in Vinton. Be sure to stop at Empire Mine in Grass Valley, one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and richest gold mines in California.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Drive

Distance: 290 miles

Plenty of travelers make the trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to marvel at its spiky namesake trees. But many think of Joshua Tree as a destination and miss out on all the beautiful and sometimes quirky things the deserts of Southern California have to offer along the way. In fact, you should really spend a full week exploring the rock formations, wildflower meadows, art installations, and architectural hot spots of this region.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in San Diego, point your vehicle northeast on Highway 163 to Highway 78 heading toward Julian, a year-round getaway for the day, a weekend, or longer. Julian is also well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round. Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue east to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, famous for its wildflower super blooms in the springtime. But even when the flowers aren’t blooming, the landscape is striking, with its badlands, slot canyons, and cactus forests. Near the park entrance, keep an eye out for the 130-foot prehistoric animal sculptures created by Ricardo Breceda.

Borrego Desert sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you’ve explored the park, you can either head north on Highway 79 and cut through Anza en route to Palm Desert—the drive through wooded Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is a nice break from the desert sun—or continue on Palm Canyon Drive toward the Salton Sea.

Salton Sea from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in late afternoon light © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Salton Sea is fascinating: It’s one of the world’s largest inland seas and is rapidly drying up. Skirt the southside of the body of water then make your way toward Slab City, an abandoned Navy base that’s become an off-grid living community and the massive, hand-built and brightly painted art piece Salvation Mountain just outside.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Slab City, take Highway 111 north to Palm Springs, an oasis of midcentury modern architecture that’s home to plenty of pools that provide respite from the heat. From Palm Springs, follow Highway 62 to Yucca Valley and Pioneer Town for a drink or a meal or maybe a concert at the famous saloon Pappy and Harriet’s. Joshua Tree has long attracted artists and bohemian types, so while there’s plenty of natural scenery to enjoy such as Jumbo Rocks or Skull Rock.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Are you ready to pack up and hit some of the most scenic drives in America? Then get in your RV and go. These highways and byways are high on our bucket lists.

No mode of travel is more American than the road trip. It’s a national rite of passage. Getting tired of sitting at home? Get in your RV and go for a drive. America offers beautiful and breathtaking scenic drives you can take with the family. Some of the roadside attractions may still be closed because of the pandemic but the vistas are ever-present and beautiful as always.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are dozens of travel quotes we could use to preface this list, but we’re going to assume that you already know that traveling isn’t always about where you end up―it is just as much about how you get there. With travel restrictions due to COVID-19, there has never been a better time to take a scenic drive just for the experience.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dating back to Model T days, folks have been hitting the wide-open road to explore every nook and cranny of the 3,000 miles that lie from sea to shining sea. From mountain roads with hairpin turns to stunning seaside escapes to good ol’ Americana history, here are six epic road trips to travel this summer.

Historic Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66: Illinois to California

During the 1940s and ’50s, the 2,500-mile stretch of road from Chicago to Santa Monica, California was the American road trip. That changed with the development of the interstate system which rerouted large portions of the highway to larger interstates.

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even so, tourists from around the globe still follow the famous path (or at least sections of it) past vintage neon signs, retro roadside motels, multiple national parks including the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon, as well as kitschy Americana stops such as Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona and cool art installations such as Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia and North Carolina

Spanning 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, this stunning parkway winds its way through the forested peaks that belong to some of the oldest mountains in America.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is lush and green through the spring and summer months, but the road is most spectacular in autumn when the rolling landscape is painted with fiery shades of red, yellow, and orange usually at its crest late-October to mid-November.

Route 89 in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 89: Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana

Far less famous than Route 66 but just as gorgeous, Route 89 is sometimes called the National Park to Park Highway. Truly ambitious road warriors can take the road less traveled by starting in Arizona, moving through Utah and up to Wyoming and Montana.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway passes 150 towns, cities, and reservations, seven national parks (including the Grand Canyon, Glacier, and Yellowstone), and three giant geographic regions (Basin and Range, Colorado Plateau, and the Rockies).

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway: Ohio

The 72-mile Amish Country Byway boasts views of natural vistas along winding curves and over rolling hills. On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of “eyeglasses” shape throughout Holmes County. That’s fitting, because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, large white houses, and red barns. In addition, this charming country byway offers visitors a fine selection of Amish country cooking as well as historic sites featuring the history of Amish and German people.  Because of the unique agriculture and culture of Amish Country, you must share the road with Amish buggies, agriculture equipment, and cyclists.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12: Utah

Utah is a place unlike anywhere else in the world! With so many sights to see, Scenic Byway 12 is the perfect road to take you right through the heart of it all. It passes through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Boulder Mountain with gorgeous views at every turn in between.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This highway cuts right through the center of the state, making it the ideal route to take when you’re on an RV trip visiting Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, and Capitol Reef. 

El Camino Real: New Mexico

Historic Mesilla along El Comino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico. The route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.” 

Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe along along El Comino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The byway begins just north of Las Cruces, in Fort Selden, built in the mid-1800s to protect local settlers and travelers on El Camino Real and continues to cross 90 miles of flat but waterless and dangerous desert, the Jornada del Muerto (“journey of the dead man”) before reaching Socorro. The road then heads north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe reaching its end at San Juan Pueblo, the first capital of New Mexico and the end of Don Juan de Onate’s journey. 

 Worth Pondering…

The journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing.

Enjoy Arizona’s Beauty Year-Round!

It’s always postcard perfect somewhere in Arizona, no matter what time of year it is

In the high plains and elevation of Arizona, the changing of the seasons is always a wonder to experience. It’s often hard for visitors to imagine how different things can be one season to the next.

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway at the Grand Canyon depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This round trip departs from Williams around 65 miles south of the Grand Canyon. At first, it’s hard to marry the dense pine forests that surround the train with the desert colors of the landscape that waits. Eyes peeled for elk, coyotes, condors, and bald eagles, you’ll reach the popular South Rim a little over two hours later. If you choose to return the same day, you’ll have about four hours to marvel at its beauty; it’s understandably tempting to spend at least a night to more fully appreciate this wondrous natural phenomenon.

Canyon de Chelly National Park

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800-foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls.

Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive is a 14 mile drive along Route 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon is a breathtaking stretch of beauty on a winding road that climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona to the top of the Mogollon Rim. The scenic drive can ascend the canyon from Sedona or descend from Flagstaff. Either route is equally breathtaking as you slowly descend or ascend through picturesque forests.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park is the place to discover the intricate beauty and seasonal faces of Arizona. Encompassing 323 acres, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panorama vistas, natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, and specialty gardens.

Catalina Highway

Along Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catalina Highway, also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, climbs Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina Mountains. You won’t get all the way to the 9,100-foot summit on this drive, but don’t be surprised if the temperature at the end is 30 degrees lower than when you started your drive. And enjoy the cooler weather. Even in September, you might need a sweater.

Prescott

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet above sea level amongst ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees with four beautiful and distinct seasons. Once the territorial capital, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks. Enjoy breathtaking landscapes complete with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows filled with wildlife.

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve with stunning scenery. The creek meanders through the park, creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. Trails wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the best scenery in central Arizona can be seen along the Apache Trail. A route for the adventurous traveler, the trail is partly paved with a section of the route graded dirt. Along a loop drive of 80 miles, you will find spectacular scenery to rival any in the state. The unpaved section of the trail provides magnificent views of the mountains with forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes along the way.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Stretching for 469 miles of pure, breathtaking beauty, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains

A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nation’s first and longest rural parkway began as a 1930s depression-era public works project. Taking over 52 years complete, it was designed to simulate a park-like environment, blending natural surroundings and panoramic views with farms, streams, forests, and local culture.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain, twisting and turning through the beautiful mountains. From Shenandoah National Park, the scenic drive travels along the Blue Ridge Mountains for 355 miles. Then, for the remaining 114 miles, it skirts the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, and the Balsams before finally ending in the Great Smokies.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enticing nature lovers, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans more than 70,000 acres of forest and includes 14 vegetation types, 1,600 vascular plant species, and 130 species of trees.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a break along the way, visitors can stop at a visitor center and learn more about the area from the many exhibit and restored historical structures. The drive is long, but there are more than 100 trails along the Parkway for travelers to stretch their legs. In addition to hiking, the parkway also offers bird-watching opportunities, horseback riding, ranger guided walks, and nine campgrounds, on top of ample opportunity to photograph America’s Favorite Drive.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The magnificent views and historic attractions are too numerous to enjoy in just one trip which may be why the region attracts so many repeat visitors. It doesn’t matter whether you start from the north or south or anywhere in between—just don’t be surprised if you wander in and out of the parkway during your explorations.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll need over a week on the Blue Ridge to adequately absorb all that surrounds you. With more than 260 overlooks, each stop provides one dramatic scene after another.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road is narrow winding in some sections and tunnels have height restrictions, RVs of all sizes have been traveling the parkway for years. Of course, your everyday explorations will be best enjoyed using your dinghy; we based our coach in RV parks along the way, moving several times as we traveled south. The many entrances to the parkway allow you to enter or exit easily.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap (milepost 0), our first stop was the visitor center at Humpback Rocks (milepost 5.8) where we gathered information and talked with the ranger on duty.

You’ll find a visitor center and campground with 24  RV sites at Otter Creek (milepost 60.8).

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the Peaks of Otter (milepost 85.6), another visitor center provides more park information. There, we also explored the Johnson Farm, restored to 1920s appearance.

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s best-loved attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflects the old mill. The slowly turning waterwheel spills a small cascade of water into the pond while, inside the mill, park interpreters give demonstration on the workings of the gristmill.

Moses H, Cone Memorial Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The North Carolina section of the parkway starts at Milepost 216.9, outside of Cumberland Knob.

Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style. The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304) hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed and a model of the construction technique highlights a visit to the Linn Cove Visitor Center.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A slight detour at milepost 355.4, via State Route 128, led us to the highest point east of the Mississippi River. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell offers incredible views of color-washed lower elevations.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway has six exits in the Asheville area. So there’s no excuse not to stop off in that charming city on your summer vacation and tour Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest private home.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parkway south of Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its range of elevation. From about 2,500 feet, it gradually rises to 6,047 feet at the parkway’s highest point, Richland Balsam Gap, milepost 431, and then descends to just over 2,000 feet, all through the undeveloped beauty of national forest.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Excuse me…but is this Heaven?

Road Trips Ratings: America’s Classic Routes Analyzed

If the prospect of going on a road trip around the U.S. seems like a cool thing to do this summer, a new study may be able to give you some inspiration for some good routes to take

The all-American road trip has been a great way to explore the country since the early 1900s, with certain routes becoming iconic vacations for seeing landmarks, visiting cities, and simply enjoying the open road.

But what does modern data tell us about the true appeal of these journeys? Geotab has used review ratings, traffic data, and a country-wide survey to score 50 classic routes.

Research shows how each route has its own strengths and appeal. Here is a selection of 16 dynamic trips highlighting different aspects of the results.

Monument Valley Trails

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Awe-inspiring views of the rock formations of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods, and Natural Bridges are enough to make this road trip an all-time classic.

Mesa Verde and San Juan Mountains

Mesa Verde © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Combining the best of both worlds, this trip starts out with an outdoor adventure in Mesa Verde and continues to the old mining towns of southern Colorado.

Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dubbed “America’s Favorite Drive,” this scenic route attracts tourists from all over the country with its stunning scenery of the Appalachian Mountains.

Grand Canyon Road Trip

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unforgettable canyon panoramas, the classic red rock desert, and the history preserved in the many mining and logging towns of Arizona are all preserved on this route that passes through one of America’s most recognizable—the Grand Canyon.

Bryce and Zion National Parks

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A spectacular adventure in the red rock country of southern Utah, it’s a tale of two national parks—Zion and Bryce—both offering breathtakingly beautiful sights.

Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A journey through the enchanting landscapes of America’s most popular national park complete with plenty of opportunities to marvel at the breathtaking scenery.

Fall Foliage Drive

Vermont in autumn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best taken in autumn, this road trip showcases New England’s foliage in its colorful splendor. Stretching from Connecticut to New Hampshire there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor exploration and taking in the beautiful scenery along the way.

US-1 in Florida

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Showcasing some of the best that Florida has to offer, this route has it all—the history of old Latin towns, the science of NASA’s Space Center, the thrill of the Daytona Speedway, and miles of beautiful beaches, of course.

Around the Big Bend

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set in wilderness of West Texas, this road trip brings together the peaceful beauty of Big Bend National Park, the vast expanses of the Chihuahua Desert and the rustic vibe of the small ghost towns dotted along the highway.

Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Designed to provide unparalleled views of the surrounding land, the famous Skyline Drive offers picturesque countryside with stunning vistas, and beautiful scenery.

Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One to challenge the fall foliage of New England, this road trip brings out the beauty of the Texan bluebonnets and other wildflowers, all the while offering ample opportunities to try the famous Texas BBQ and enjoy the local culture.

Black Hills of South Dakota

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A trip into the wilderness of South Dakota’s Black Hills, this route offers a fascinating journey through the peaks and valleys complete with the Mount Rushmore monument.

Louisiana Cajun Country

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A fascinating journey into Acadiana, this road trip delves into the once French-speaking territory renown for the vibrancy of its culture, music, and food.

The Iconic Route 66

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in Chicago and ending on the California coast, this road trip takes you down the road once dubbed the “Main Street of America”. No longer a major artery of trade and commerce, it’s now a staple on many road trip bucket lists.

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trip takes you around what was once an enclave of Dutch culture and language. Set mostly around Lancaster County, it offers a fascinating glimpse of the Amish lifestyle.

On the Gold Rush

Amador City along the Gold Rush Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A journey in the trails of the fortune-seekers panning for gold in the day of Gold Rush, this trip is set along CA 49 where the history of the Golden State unfolds in the many towns that once epitomized the land of promise and opportunity.

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

A Classic Summer Road Trip

Making your summer vacation a classic summer road trip

Since Jack Kerouac and his compatriots road tripped down American highways in the 1950s and infused our culture with the fantasy of freeway freedom, the cross-country road trip has established itself as a summer must-do.

Yet while it remained firmly entrenched in the American consciousness, the actual practice of road tripping as a popular vacation choice declined from the early 1970s to the early 2000s as the travel industry packaged family vacations at affordable rates for middle-class families.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But as interest in adventure, sustainability, and the oft quoted “authentic” experience increased, sitting in an RV drinking Arizona Iced Tea and driving a scenic byway seemed more appealing to today’s travelers than sipping watered-down piña coladas at an all-inclusive beach resort.

Plus: in the land of the free, what could be more liberating than a full tank of fuel and the open road?

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just get out and enjoy the ride, on these and other scenic routes in the sprawling, beautiful United States of America.

Utah and Arizona: Grand Circle Tour

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This road trip takes thrill-seekers to six national parks including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and the Grand Canyon. Other natural wonders on the route include Monument Valley and Lake Powell, a winding reservoir rather than a lake. Road trippers will have a one-of-a-kind adventure with views of desert lakes and barren mountains, and experiences like guided horseback tours, ATV trails, and river guides.

South Carolina: Botany Bay Road

Botany Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This short stretch of road serves as an entrance to an old plantation, but A) it’s really, really creepy in a Sleepy Hollow kind of way, and B) it’s located on Edisto Island, which is one of the most beautiful places in all of South Carolina.

Botany Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto, the state tree. Look for colonies of resurrection fern growing on the spreading oak limbs. After a rain, the leaves of the resurrection ferns turn a beautiful bright green.

West Virginia: State Route 19

New River Gorge National River and Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Virginia’s hilly terrain isn’t just pretty to look at, it had a huge effect on the nation’s prosperity as a coal-mining region. As you go up and down hills, and across gorges on bridges like the awesome New River Gorge Bridge (shown above), you’ll also see the remnants of that mining tradition in the form of the ongoing reclamation projects, and closed mines.

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most scenic roads in America, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile road that winds along the crest of the Appalachian Mountains providing an unique view of picturesque landscape and history. The Parkway connects Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park at the north end with North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the south end.

Virginia: Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Really, Skyline is part of the same road as the Blue Ridge Parkway, and you can guess why it’s called Skyline just from looking at the above photo. The speed limit here is 45 mph, and Virginia is infamous for its speed-limit enforcement, so this one’s really all about what you can look at as you crawl along.

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

The Needles rock formations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This 68-mile byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake (pictured above), the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

New Mexico: El Camino Real

Governors Palace along El Camino Real in Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1598, Don Juan de Onate led 500 colonists through the remote and unfamiliar country now known as New Mexico, and the route Onate followed became El Camino Real, “the royal road.”

Old Mesilla along El Camino Real © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is certainly one of the most storied roads on this list. El Camino Real was first used by Spanish explorers in the late 16th century, but it’s also home to some pretty righteous rock formations.

Worth Pondering…

Let’s Go RVing! Moss is starting to grow on my non-rolling stone! It is definitely time to get back in the RV and out on the open road.