At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?
For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.
My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.
International UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico
The International UFO Museum and Research Center at Roswell is the focal point of the industry that has built up around The Roswell Incident, an event that took place nearby in July 1947. What’s beyond question is that something crashed. This could have been a UFO or a military project, either way, there appears to have been some kind of cover-up. The wealth of testimonies, photographs, and other exhibits leaves you in no doubt as to what they believe here.
Believers and skeptics alike are invited to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the famous “Roswell Incident.” Mix and mingle with UFO and space enthusiasts at the Roswell UFO Festival (July 1-3, 2022) while enjoying live entertainment, family-friendly activities, guest speakers, authors, costume contests, and maybe even an alien abduction.
Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District, Jekyll Island, Georgia
The Jekyll Island Club was called “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world” by Munsey’s Magazine. The Club House is now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the hotel and 33 other historic structures on 240 acres have been designated by the National Park Service as a Historic Landmark District. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can visit the museum and take a historic tour, plus visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
Located near Brunswick, Jekyll Island is one of the barrier islands designated as part of the Golden Isles. In addition to the historic district, recreation opportunities abound golf, biking, birding, fishing, swimming, and more. Other hotels as well as a campground with primitive and RV sites provide accommodations.
Bryce Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah
The views over Bryce Canyon are spectacular from any of the park’s 14 viewing points but Bryce Point, the last stop on the shuttle route allows you to appreciate the full scale of this natural wonder. Stand at the viewing point and the sheer breadth of colors of the hoodoos from snow white through pale rusty to brilliant orange is amazing. Bryce Point is also the starting point of the Rim Trail, a relatively easy hike that offers outstanding views of the hoodoos from above.
The Rim Trail passes by all the viewing points served by the shuttle (Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise Points) so you can hike as much or as little of the rim as you like. Drop your car off at the shuttle parking area opposite the visitor center.
Newport Mansions, Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island is where America’s wealthiest families chose to build their summer “cottages” in the late 19th century. Today, known collectively as the Newport Mansions and managed by The Preservation Society of Newport County, these lavish properties offer a rare insight into the Gilded Age of American history. The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, is the largest and most opulent of them all and was owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II.
Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, Toutle, Washington
If, like most people, you approach Mount St Helens by the northern route SR 504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center provides one of the best panoramic views along the way. As well as looking left towards the volcano, look down into the valley and you may be lucky enough to spot members of the elk herd that has moved into the mudflow area of the Toutle River Valley. Facilities available at the center include restaurant and helicopter tours.
Powerhouse Visitor Center, Kingman, Arizona
As its name implies, this 1907 building was once the source of electrical power for the city of Kingman and remained so until 1938 when the Hoover Dam was constructed. It was such an eyesore by the 1980s that the city considered demolishing the building but fortunately, it was saved, restored, and in 1997 reopened as the Powerhouse Visitor Center. Today it is also home to the excellent Historic Route 66 Museum which tells the story of the highway from its earliest years through the 50s and 60s.
Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont
Fans of “The Sound of Music” will love visiting the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Take one of the daily Von Trapp Family History tours. Pictures of the family and its history are also hung in public areas. For resort guests, there are a variety of activities for all seasons, tours, and food choices.
A variety of accommodations are available. History tours are $10 for adult guests, $5 for children, and $15 for adult day visitors. Services are available in nearby Stowe.
Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, South Dakota
This beautiful—and extremely photogenic—the lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. Described as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake offers a swimming beach and boat rentals and there’s a wonderful loop trail that leads between the rock formations that make this such a distinctive site.
The Sylvan Lake campground is open from late May to the end of September (not suitable for large RVs). The upscale Sylvan Lake Lodge, built-in 1937, is also nearby.
Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire
At 6,288.2 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869. Grades average 25 percent! Keep your eye out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the line about three-quarters of the way up. Enjoy far-reaching panoramic views at the summit on the Observatory deck on a nice day. The visitor center has snacks, restrooms, and a post office. And, don’t miss the Mt Washington Weather Museum.
Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls, Idaho
The Perrine Bridge spans the majestic Snake River Canyon on the northern edge of Twin Falls. The bridge is 486 feet above the river and 1,500 feet long and offers pedestrian walkways with views of the river, lakes, and waterfalls. BASE jumpers can enjoy the Perrine Bridge year-round as the launching point for parachuting to the canyon floor below.
Located on the south side of the bridge is a large parking area (RV friendly) with the Twin Falls Visitor Center and access to the canyon rim trails leading to the bridge. To the east of the bridge along the south rim of the canyon the dirt ramp used by Evel Knievel when he unsuccessfully attempted to jump the canyon on his steam-powered “skycycle” in 1974 is still visible.
Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota
Certainly one of the most famous roadsides stops out there, the Corn Palace is a great place to take a short break from the road while traveling across the prairie. Located a few miles off I-90 in Mitchell, South Dakota, The Corn Palace is a big building that’s covered in the corn! Each year, artists design murals that are created using nothing but locally grown corn. Inside the building is a small museum showing the site’s history dating back to 1892 and pictures of the murals from previous years, a basketball arena, and a gift shop.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential colony in the budding republic. The restored version of Colonial Williamsburg has provided the public with a detailed, vibrant re-creation of this city with the opportunity to travel back in time amid 88 rebuilt homes, taverns, restaurants, and shops.
Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia, was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth.
Colonial Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Each of these sites has its unique features and historical significance.
Lake Winnipesaukee cruises, Laconia, New Hampshire
Take a narrated day cruise on New Hampshire’s largest lake, Lake Winnepesaukee. The M/S Mount Washington holds over 1200 passengers and has several ports of call. Dinner cruises are offered in the evenings plus Sunday brunch and specialty cruises. Or, ride along on the M/V Sophie C, the only U.S. Mailboat on an inland waterway, as it delivers mail to five islands.
The season begins near the end of May and runs through most of October.
Hole N’ the Rock, Moab Utah
Located 12 miles South of Moab on Highway 191, ‘Hole N’ the Rock’ is a unique home and Trading post carved into a huge Rock. Take a tour through the 5,000-square-foot home with 14 rooms. Have a wander around the Gift store and keep the kids happy with a visit to the Petting Zoo and an ice cream from the General Store.
If you don’t already know that Gilroy is dubbed the Garlic Capital of the World, your nose might tell you as you approach the town. So will your eyes as you see not only plenty of garlic fields and numerous shops selling garlic and other produce, and garlic-related items such as garlic-flavored chocolate and garlic-flavored ice cream. The city also holds a garlic festival every year that has drawn worldwide attention. The Garlic Festival is held in late July each year (42nd annual, July 22-24, 2022). Some of the most interesting and longest-established garlic shops are located on Highway 101 on the outskirts of town.
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
The museum is just about all that remains of the original Owens-Corning Glass Factory in Corning. All but a few commercial products are now made in other parts of the world. The museum houses a fabulous collection of rare glass artifacts, a modern art/glass gallery, and several demonstration areas where visitors can watch glass being blown, heated, and worked into practical or artistic shapes. There is even an area where you can make your glass pieces.
A reasonable entrance fee covers two days which you might need to see everything. A cafe is on the premises to accommodate lunch guests. There is a massive gift shop, too, so you can purchase just about anything made in glass.
Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota
Love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore Wall Drug, not least because of the dozens of signs that announce its existence from miles away. The original signs were erected back in 1936 as owners Ted and Dorothy Hustead used the offer of cheap coffee and free ice water to tempt travelers to their drug store in the small town of Wall.
Today, the store is so tacky it’s brilliant with dozens of specialty stores and a collection of novelty items from fiberglass dinosaurs to animations that can be activated for a quarter. It’s not subtle but makes no pretense to be. Yes, they do still offer free ice water and coffee at 5 cents a cup.
Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Completed in 1914 as the estate of shoe tycoon Thomas Plant, Lucknow Estate, as it was called, is considered a prime example of Arts and Crafts architecture. Opened to the public in 1959, Castle in the Clouds is now a museum that preserves the opulent lifestyle of the period.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is known as the City Different and within one visit you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history of melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art. Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country, after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.
Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal.
The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.