No Matter Where You Are, These Road Trips Are Sure To Inspire

There are many hidden gems within driving distance you might not know about

2020 was the year of the road trip. While 2021 will hopefully be different in many ways—a vaccine and turning the corner on the pandemic—traveling by RV isn’t going away. Local, short-haul trips that don’t require getting on an airplane are still popular. We’ve selected road trips that take you everywhere—from Nappanee, Indiana to a Texas Hill Country road trip, to a drive along South Dakota’s most famous highway. Sometimes it’s about the journey and the destination.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon, Utah

There’s truly gorgeous scenery striking out in all directions from Salt Lake City. This is Utah, after all. Visitors can breathe in the high-perched city’s crisp air and take in the mountain views—so perfect they look like stage backdrops—before motoring south.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road passes peaks and hiking trails. Take the slower, scenic route through Manti-La Sal National Forest and stop to explore aspen groves, sandstone canyons, and mountain lakes. It’s a good way to build up for setting eyes on Bryce Canyon—this jagged sprawl of red and apricot hoodoos towering above stretches of alpine forest is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, South Dakota

Some of the most incredible roads anywhere make up the Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway. Mix in America’s most patriotic monument along the way and you have a never-to-be-forgotten road trip. This 68-mile byway winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pine-clad mountains. Roughly a figure-eight route, the byway travels through portions of Custer State Park, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, near Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and the Black Elk National Wilderness Area. Highways 16A, 244, 89, and 87 combine to create the route.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good starting point is the town of Keystone near the foot of Mount Rushmore. Winding southwest on Highway 16A, also known as Iron Mountain Road, the route leads you around impressive wooden “pigtail” bridges. Continuing west into Custer State Park, Highway 16 intersects with Highway 87, also known as the Needles Highway. Here the road climbs around fantastic granite pinnacles. Twisting and turning between the Needles and through a tight tunnel/crack in the rock, this portion of the byway leads to picturesque Sylvan Lake.

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin to San Antonio, Texas

It’s easy to motor between these two Texas Hill Country cities in just over an hour. And, from Austin’s hip vibe, music scene, and beloved BBQ joints to the restaurants and art that flank San Antonio’s Riverwalk there’s plenty to keep visitors occupied. But adding in Fredericksburg really completes the triangle.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The German-settled town of Fredericksburg, surrounded by wineries, combines proud heritage with modern twists on its past, from food to art. Visitors can also take a detour to hike up the huge granite boulders of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (reservations required for weekends and holidays) before looping down to San Antonio where disused brewery Pearl is the place to hang out. The micro-district just off the Riverwalk has boutiques, a food hall, restaurants, and a hotel in buildings once dedicated to brewing beer. And don’t forget to remember The Alamo!

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

The longest of the state’s National Scenic Byways is Alabama’s Coastal Connection at 130 miles. True to its name, it connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes plenty of white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula.

Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the few scenic byways that include a ferry ride, the route features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Madison Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah to Jekyll Island, Georgia

Savannah wears its Southern charm like its majestic oak trees wear soft Spanish moss—with pure, old-fashioned elegance. Georgian mansions line the streets, brewpubs and art galleries take up old cotton warehouses by the waterfront, and cemeteries are filled with sculptures, tall mausoleums, and yet more moss-dripping oaks.

Jekyll Island, an easy, scenic drive along a coastline laced with beaches, marshes, and barrier islands, packs up the same charm and elegance and takes it to the seaside. One of Georgia’s Golden Isles, it’s accessible by car but feels cut off from the rest of the world. Windswept oaks and tangles of driftwood form a backdrop to soft-sand beaches while trails wind into the woods.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Los Angeles to Grand Canyon, California and Arizona

Few road trips are as awe-inspiring as a drive from Southern California to the Grand Canyon if you know how to do it right. From the otherworldliness of Joshua Tree National Park to the mountain biking, hiking, and golfing hub of Prescott to historic Route 66 in Williams and the vastness of the Grand Canyon; a road trip through the deserts, mesas, and forests of California and Arizona is hard to beat.

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A haven for artists, rock climbers, and adventurers, Joshua Tree has long been a destination for those seeking enlightenment and adventure. Mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Williams is located on the last stretch of Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40. Historic highway memorabilia are featured in kitschy shops and cafes. Carved by the mighty Colorado, the multi-hued rock walls of the Grand Canyon reveal millions of years of geologic history. On your return to LA, stop and become overwhelmed by the vastness of Mojave National Preserve.

Quilt Gardens, Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Heritage Trail, Indiana

Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic back roads. Explore country lanes dotted with Amish-owned shops showcasing handcrafted and homemade.

Many of the towns along the Amish Country Heritage Trail date back 150 years or more. Among these are Middlebury, tiny Shipshewana is known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through September and Goshen. There’s also lovely Nappanee, a bustling community of woodworking shops.

Rise ‘n Roll Bakery, Middlebury © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the Amish lifestyle you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. No utility wires lace farmhouses to poles, women in old-fashioned bonnets and long skirts bend to their task of hoeing gardens, men in 19th-century attire trudge behind horse-drawn plows across wide fields, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves on country lanes fills the air with staccato rhythms.

Worth Pondering…

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.

—Charles Kuralt

Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

The holiday spirit is in overdrive in this beautiful, bikeable state park

You may be desperate to inject some joy into 2020’s finale. A holiday getaway that’s semi-remote with space to roam while packing some good tidings and staying COVID-safe.

Then consider Jekyll Island. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never heard of Jekyll? Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized island off the coast of Georgia is one of four beautiful barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—collectively known as the Golden Isles. Jekyll was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides partaking in myriad loops of the lights drive each night, take a turn through the mini-golf course—currently adorned with sugar plums, swirly oversized lollipops, and the likeness of Frosty and friends. Honestly, after the year we’ve had, leaning into some old fashioned holiday cheer never felt more necessary.

But this quiet island hideaway is an ideal escape any time of year. Here are some highlights.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the island’s northern end, a spacious campground shaded with enormous oaks is a dreamy spot to park an RV or pitch a tent. It sits within walking distance to Clam Creek and just across from Driftwood Beach, so-named for the ancient trees that fell there due to myriad storms and beach erosion. 179 total campsites with 167 full hook-up sites (back-in and pull-through options) and 12 primitive tent sites are spaciously located within 18 wooded acres.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 20 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. You can rent from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn to explore the island’s coastal trails. At just seven miles long, it’s hard to get lost on Jekyll. 

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources on a Park Ranger Walk. Walk down a historic trail through one of the island’s most diverse habitats viewing Jekyll Island’s active bald eagle nest. On tour with Jekyll Island Conservation staff, learn the trail’s history, identify unique vegetation communities, and see examples of active wildlife research efforts.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Jekyll’s southern tip, the Wanderer Memory Trail is a new educational experience on Jekyll Island that tells the story of America’s last known slave ship, the Wanderer. The trail is located along the banks of the Jekyll River where the ship illegally came ashore 160 years ago with more than 500 enslaved Africans. Made up of individual exhibits, the trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship. Visitors of all ages will follow Umwalla’s journey from capture through freedom told through interactive exhibits along the trail.

Marshes of Glynn, Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)