Road Trippin’

It’s about the journey

From the coast to the desert, here are nine road trips that will have you road-tripping through America’s finest landscapes. Some are RV-friendly while others may require a smaller vehicle to navigate.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina Highway – Arizona

The Santa Catalinas crowned by 9,157-foot Mt. Lemmon rise in ragged ridges at the northern edge of Tucson. Explore this rugged world with a scenic drive up the Catalina Highway also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 30-mile paved road winds up through dry desert terrain, past rocky outcroppings, pull-outs offering stunning vistas, and mid-level forests teaming with leafy oak trees. Don’t forget your jacket as temperatures can drop as much as 30-degrees from the bottom to the top of the road.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients – Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods. Cross the San Juan River in the tiny one-horse town of Mexican Hat, gaze in wonder at the postcard-ready views of the Monument Valley, and finally end up at the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Northern Arizona.

Related Article: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Bayou Teche Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Teche National Scenic Byway – Louisiana

This Louisiana byway reaches through three of the state’s southern parishes—St. Martin, Iberia, and St. Mary—as it winds through Bayou Teche and the Atchafalaya Basin from Morgan City to Arnaudville. Travelers can make stops along the byways 183 miles to explore inviting small towns, go kayaking in Breaux Bridge, and enjoy authentic local Cajun food.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive – Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails. Warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.

If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24 – Utah

Starting near the City of Green River, Utah Route 24 creates a grand loop through the south-central slickrock desert and ends up back on I-70 to the west near Aurora. A section of this meandering drive between Loa and Hanksville turns the spotlight on Capitol Reef National Park. Here the scenic drive follows the Fremont River, an oasis in a parched environment.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 378 square mile Capitol Reef Park can be viewed as a northern extension of the huge Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, covering an additional 1.7 million acres. Capitol Reef is a sightseers and hikers’ paradise with deep red monoliths, sculpted spires, graceful arches, mesmerizing canyon mazes, and the imposing Waterpocket Fold.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Various side roads and unimproved roads have the tendency to turn this scenic drive into a weeklong adventure. With historic structures and plenty of grand views, this route earns plenty of raves from those who have gone before. Miles from any large city, this is a true off-the-beaten-path experience.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country – Texas

The Texas Hill Country, located west of Austin and north of San Antonio, features a landscape dotted with lush rolling green hills, spring-fed rivers, and charming small towns.

Related Article: Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson who led a campaign to beautify American cities, vast swaths of bluebonnets were planted across Texas Hill Country and now their bright blue blooms signify the advent of the spring season.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there are countless nature trails, first-timers should start in Austin and take U.S. 290 west to Johnson City’s lovely Wildflower Loop. Then hightail it along U.S. 281 N to the town of Burnet which is widely known as the official bluebonnet capital of Texas.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Road – Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is split in two by a single major two-lane roadway that crosses through the heart of the park and over its highest mountain gap.

This scenic drive is known as the Newfound Gap Road or US Highway 441. The roadway follows rivers, climbs steep slopes, and offers incredible views.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the spring months, this route is awash with color as the wildflowers come alive and the trees begin to sport their bright green new leaves. A must-see are the rare Purple Catawba rhododendrons found only at high elevations that reach their peak of bloom along this well-known drive by early June.

I’ve put together my favorite itineraries to make it easy for you to explore your own backyard—wherever your backyard may be.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road – Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start a mile high, finish a mile high, and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon, the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Scenic Drive – Utah

Amidst the red rock of the Moab area, the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic byway leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Traversing across high sage plains, the route eventually leads to Indian Creek and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Utah Scenic Byway traverses a high altitude (6,000 feet) sage plain before plunging into Indian Creek Canyon on its way to Canyonlands National Park. Along the way it passes the Dugout Ranch, one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in southeast Utah. The byway accesses Newspaper Rock BLM Recreation Site and cuts through the Canyon Rims BLM Recreation Area, a vast landscape of desert and low elevation mountain terrain with hiking and four wheeling opportunities.

Indian Creek Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning at the junction of US Highway 191, 14 miles north of Monticello, the paved Byway travels west across the sage plain and descends the switchbacks into Indian Creek Canyon. It follows the canyon until the landscape opens out into a broad valley at which point the Byway accesses a county road which leads to the Abajo Mountains and Beef Basin within the larger Canyon Rims Recreation Area. The byway terminates at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Related Article: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

10 Amazing Places to RV in April

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

April is when many RV destinations begin to bloom. Deserts of the Southwest bask in perfect temperatures, the calm before the summer sizzle. Elsewhere, there are springtime celebrations to mark the joy of a new season. It’s shoulder season at beach escapes everywhere from Florida to Southern California.

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and continues to impact travel. Canadian snowbirds didn’t flock south this winter. Naturally, RVers are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2020.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

A perennial stopover between Charlotte and Atlanta as well as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Greenville has become a destination in its own right. The walkable downtown, Instagrammable Main Street, and culinary scene are easy draws. Foodies can choose from cuisines reflecting a variety of cultures, authentic barbecue, and James Beard Award-nominated dishes. Greenville’s thriving arts community includes public sculptures and murals, the Peace Center (home to Greenville Symphony Orchestra), and the annual Artisphere which showcases 135 artists. Don’t miss 26-acre Falls Park on the Reedy. Plan to spend a day exploring the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail. Walk, run, or bike this 22-mile trail system which tracks along the Reedy River, an old railroad corridor, and city parks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona

The Grand Canyon and Sedona— when paired together—provide a magical landscape overload.

In the case of Sedona that landscape may literally be magical as the town is home to so-called vortexes where various energies align to create spaces for communing with, well, whatever intangible thing it is you’re seeking. But don’t let that distract you from the red rock buttes and cliffs that jut out of the ground at most every turn. The Grand Canyon, of course, needs no introduction and the popular South Rim entryway is a scenic two-hour drive from Sedona. Sedona itself has numerous hiking trails for every skill level and you should also make time to visit Red Rock State Park and Oak Creek Canyon.

Louisiana swamp tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana Swamp Tours

Louisiana serves up a lot more memorable experiences than just bowls of its famed gumbo.

To experience an indelible part of the state’s past, present, and future visit the mysterious and exquisite swamps throughout south Louisiana, home to one of the planet’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Perceived as beautiful and menacing, south Louisiana’s ancient swamps have long captivated writers, historians, and travelers. Just the name “Louisiana” brings to mind images of moss-draped oak trees, bald cypresses with massive, bottle-like trunks, and flat-bottom boats effortlessly gliding through waters populated with alligators. On a south Louisiana swamp tour, you’re likely to see all of those plus some unexpected surprises. All swamps have their own stories to tell and with the help of expert local guides you’re guaranteed to have the kind of adventure you’ll only find in Louisiana.

Chattanooga Choo Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Tennessee

To save Chattanooga’s Terminal Station (the first railway station in the south when it opened in 1909) from being demolished in the 1970s, a group of businessmen invested approximately $4 million into turning the Beaux Arts structure into a vacation destination. In addition to hotel rooms, the terminal complex also has retail shops, a comedy club, and a stunning rose garden. Recently procured by hospitality brand Life House Hotels, the property has debuted a new look with a new wine bar, 40-seat cinema, a recording studio, and revamped suites inside historic Pullman train cars.

Blue Bell Vreamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington County, Texas

Have you seen those iconic photos of a lone live oak tree on a small rise overlooking an endless field of bluebonnets? It may well have been snapped in Washington County. With old courthouse squares alive with shops and cafes, frequent town festivals, and historic Texas-independence sites, you can’t get more stereotypically small-town Texas than this. Sitting equal distance from Houston and Austin (about 70 miles from either), Washington County makes an easy country escape from the city. No town is more than 40 miles from the region’s main center, Brenham, home of Blue Bell ice cream.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Worth a visit any season of the year, Natural Bridges is particularly spectacular and enjoyable in spring. Take in the three towering natural bridges (Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu) from overlooks along Bridge View Drive, a paved 9-mile loop road, or by short hikes from each trailhead. For those who are looking for a longer hike, an 8.6-mile loop trail will take you past and/or under all three bridges.

And don’t hurry back; after dark, the skies around Natural Bridges provide a breathtakingly celestial view with thousands of stars visible. You’ll camp in solitude among the juniper trees at the Natural Bridges campground. The campground is conveniently located next to the visitor center off the main park road. Campsites are first-come, first-served and open year-round. Each site has a fire grill, picnic table, and tent pad but no running water, electricity, or hookups. Ranger-led Dark Sky Astronomy Programs are offered spring through fall. Call ahead for details.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road, Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start out a mile high, finish a mile high and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls. Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of culture in the loudest, brightest, and most exuberant sense. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. (San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.)

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Site, Arizona

The rich history of Tombstone has been celebrated time and again by Hollywood because of the interesting characters and rough tendencies of this once thriving Arizona town. A well curated display at the courthouse gives visitors an insider look into the life and times of the Earp family and their exploits during their time in Tombstone. While in Tombstone, don’t forget to stop by the OK Corral, the site of a famous gun battle that helped shape the history of the town. 

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

The Grandest Drive in Arizona

Follow Highway 89A and hold on tight

Everyone has a favorite road, often some less-traveled stretch of curvy blacktop through an area of scenic countryside. What I consider to be one of the grandest drives in Arizona fits that bill and beats the heat is a federally recognized scenic byway that climbs tall mountains, traverses sweeping grasslands, encounters the grandest of vistas, and passes through historic towns along the way. 

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures.

Watson Lake and Granite Dells, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Prescott, drive north on Highway 89 until you hit the intersection with 89A in the direction of Jerome. This piece of roadway was constructed in the 1920s as something of a shortcut over the crest of Mingus Mountain between Prescott and Jerome which was then a thriving copper-mining town. Again, it can be challenging, but in a good way.

Highway 89A climbing Mingus Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peaking at 7,000 feet, the 34-mile trek at higher elevations passes through tall-pine forest. The road twists through canyons and over crests with impressive climbs, dazzling drop-offs, and views that make you want to stop the car to get out and stare. There actually are quite a few pullouts for parking and enjoying the ambience with several of them in the narrow and absolutely stunning valley that you encounter while approaching Jerome. Look far ahead for a sighting of the red rocks of Sedona in the distance.  You’ll want to stop to bask in the glory of the view.

Highway 89A descending Mingus Mountain to Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The descent proves just as steep and curving as the climb up the mountain. But since you’re not hemmed in by a canyon the views are more dramatic. Take advantage of the pullouts to stop and marvel at the details. You’ll see evidence of mining activity as you get lower. Pass through a rocky cleft then wind around a few more curves and you’ll be pulling into Jerome. Now you can relax. 

Highway 89A through Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance to Jerome happens suddenly; one moment you’re on this mountain road and the next you are on a narrow stretch of village streets. Small homes perch above you on the left and below you on the right with ancient concrete walls and curbs lining the road. Go slowly through here as there are homes and businesses packed close to the street and usually bands of tourists wandering around aimlessly. 

Highway 89A through Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One final curve to the right and you’re in downtown Jerome with its reclaimed century-old buildings, shops, art galleries, cafes, and bars including the Spirit Room, a longtime favorite for locals, out-of-town visitors, and bikers of the Harley-Davidson variety. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome has a boom-to-bust ghost-town history that builds on its charm. From the 1890s through the 1920s, Jerome was a copper-mining boom town fading through the Depression of the 1930s, coming back as copper demand grew during the war years, and then shriveling up in the 1950s from a peak population of about 4,400 to a low of fewer than 100. 

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To make things worse, soil subsidence on the town’s precarious incline on the side of Cleopatra Hill caused by deforestation, fires, and mine blasting made major buildings collapse and some homes slide down the hill. 

Cleopatra Hill, Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet Jerome’s rugged historic beauty cast its spell on artists and offbeat souls who repopulated the town restoring its homes and its downtown as well a regular destination for a steady flow of tourists and shoppers.

Tuzigoot National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave Jerome, be aware that the town of Cottonwood in the broad valley below the mountain range is a nice place to stop. There’s also an incredible prehistoric pueblo ruin called Tuzigoot National Monument just to the east.

Highway 89A traveling from Cottonwood to Sedona Arizona 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are still enticed, continue on 89A into Sedona with its towering red rock formations and popular downtown then through lush Oak Creek Canyon up an amazing set of switchbacks to the surface of Mogollon Rim above and on to Flagstaff which sits at 7,000 feet elevation. 

Highway 89A through Oak Creek Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

None of this lengthy trip on Arizona 89A will be in the least bit tedious, especially newbies who will be enthralled by the continuous and ever-changing array of remarkable scenery. I’ve been on this route many times and never tire of it.

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