Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Plan the road trip of a lifetime with these spectacular journeys that highlight all the beauty America has to offer

Ready to hit the road? Whether you have a few days or more than a week, these unforgettable road trip routes are the ultimate way to satisfy a year of pent-up wanderlust (no passport required).

What’s a person to do after months of staying at home with only the option to fantasize about traveling and exploring new places? Easy question: Take an epic road trip.

This may well be the summer of the road trip as vaccines roll out and Americans begin planning vacations again. With that in mind, I dipped into my travel logs to come up with 15 of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. from Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 to Virginia’s Skyline Drive and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Alabama’s Coastal Connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Alabama’s Coastal Connection

This 130 mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail Loop

A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains northeast of Phoenix offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery.

Gold Rush Highway through Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams complement the stunning background of rolling hills.

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including GA-17/75, GA-180, and GA-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet.

Bayou Teche Byway at St. Martinville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

Golf Coast Scenic Byway at Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi: Gulf Coast Scenic Byway

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36 mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

This scenic 232-mile drive winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the best mountain views in the world. There’s so much to admire en route; as the Parkway approaches Asheville, it offers breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River and access to the area’s best hiking trails.

Covered Bridge Scenic Bway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Covered Bridge Scenic Byway

Covered bridges…Ohio once had more than any other state: over 2000 of them! You’ll come across four covered bridges on this route. This scenic byway travels across some of Ohio’s most beautiful countryside and many visitors choose to stop along its route to camp and savor the natural beauty of this area—and I suggest you do too!

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: The Newport Loop (Ocean Drive)

This famous drive loops around Newport’s rugged Atlantic Ocean coast passing by historic mansions built from 1865-1914. A highlight stopping point is Brenton Point State Park. Located at the south end of the island, Brenton Point faces out to Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ashley River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina: Ashley River Road

Part of Ashley River Historic District, this charming road is thought to be the oldest road in South Carolina still in use today. A moss-draped live oak tree canopy draped over the 11.5-mile stretch of the Ashley River Road preserves its historic character.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

It only takes about one hour to drive the loop of South Dakota Highway 240 between the towns of Cactus Flat and Wall without stopping but almost no one does that. This loop passes through the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires of Badlands National Park. Stop at any (or all!) of the 16 designated scenic overlooks for amazing photo opportunities.

Newfound Gap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap

At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is known as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains. The road passes through a variety of forest ecosystems ranging from cove hardwood, pine-oak, northern hardwood, and spruce-fir, similar to forests in New England and eastern Canada.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.

Edson Hill and West Hill Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Edson Hill and West Hill Loop

This scenic 10.5-mile drive loops around the Stowe’s village before traveling up Mountain Road—where you’ll have plenty of chances to stop, shop, or grab a snack on the way to Edson Hill. This drive will take you through farmland in the northwest corner of Stowe. Maple trees lining the road as you start up Edson hill and down West Hill are at their most beautiful in fall.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This scenic 105 mile byway travels through Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. It encompasses vibrant small cities, rural hamlets, mountains, rivers, national forests, and state parks as well as the national park.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

Road Trip Inspiration

The summer of 2021 is going to be all about road trips

Many Americans and Canadians are planning their next road trip right now. Planning a trip is actually good for you. Nearly every respondent (97 percent) to a survey from Destination Analysts said having a trip planned makes them happier overall. Plus, 71 percent of respondents reported feeling greater levels of energy knowing they had a trip planned in the next six months.

A study recently released by the vacation rental house website Vrbo states, “Families are making up for travel time lost during the pandemic. According to Vrbo, 82 percent of families have vacation plans for this year, evidence of that pent-up demand for travel. Whether it’s by RV or auto, road trips are expected to be the number one vacation choice for most of us this year.

The United States and Canada are made for road trips with beautiful scenery and wide-open spaces, making it easy to socially distance along the way. To kick off the Year of the Road Trip, I’ll feature a special itinerary focusing on bucket list destinations that feature some of the most spectacular locations as well as some lesser-known places yet to be discovered.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Scenic Drive of a Lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

Columbia Icefields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” are the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 80,000 acres in area and 328 to 1,197 feet in depth and receive up to 23 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 90 mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”. Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area. Prior to the development of the wine industry, almost all of the agricultural land in the Oliver area was planted first to ground crops and later to fruit trees such as cherries, apples, apricots, and peaches.

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before becoming a wine destination, the Okanagan was a family holiday spot, best known for its “beaches and peaches”—the lakes with their sandy shores, boating, and waterskiing as well as the countless farm stands offering fresh produce and fruit. The beaches and peaches—and cherries, apricots, and apples—are still there, and the Okanagan still welcomes families. But now the RV also comes back loaded with cases of wine.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Land of 41 Breathtaking Waterfalls and Counting

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater-rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The whole Wells Gray area is part of a massive volcanic complex that dumped lava over the landscape, which hardened into lava rock called basalt. During the last ice age, glaciers covered the basalt. When the volcanoes erupted underneath the glaciers, the ice melted, causing huge floods that carved deep river canyons.

Seven of the Park’s waterfalls originate on the Murtle River, but perhaps none are more famous than Helmcken Falls, and the very reason Wells Gray Park exists. The fourth largest waterfall in Canada, Helmcken cascades 462 feet to the canyon below. The fact you can access it just steps from the road is really an added bonus. The viewing platform hangs over the lip of the canyon providing a panoramic view of the Murtle River tumbling in the distance. For an up-close-and-personal view of the falls, strike out on a one-hour hike along the Rim Trail where you’ll find waterfall views seen mostly by birds.

Bakersfield Gate © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ever Walked the Streets of Bakersfield?

Despite its size, Bakersfield, California, is a large small town. It has the conveniences and amenities of a large urban area, but visitors comment on others smiling and saying ‘hello.’ With music, festivals, outdoor activities, performs arts and sports, there are ample activities for visitors to explore and reasons for a return visit.

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bakersfield’s historic and primary industries are oil and agriculture. Oil was discovered in 1865; by 1870 more than 600 people called Bakersfield home. In the 1930s, Bakersfield saw a surge in population from those fleeing the Dust Bowl. In 2013 Kern County produced more oil than any other county in America. Kern County is a part of the highly productive San Joaquin Valley and ranks in the top five most productive agricultural counties in the U.S. Major crops for Kern County include grapes, citrus, almonds, carrots, alfalfa, cotton, and roses.

The city gained fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s for the Bakersfield Sound, an electric guitar-driven subgenre of country music that commercially dominated the industry for more than a decade. Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Dwight Yoakam were its best-known stars.

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buck first recorded “Streets of Bakersfield” in 1972 and re-recorded it in 1988 as a duet with Dwight Yoakam, again hitting No. 1.

Opening in 1996, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace is a must-see for visitors to Bakersfield. The all-in-one restaurant, museum, and music venue spotlights the rich history of the Bakersfield Sound and the career of Buck Owens. The Palace is home to countless items of memorabilia from Owens’ early days to his time as co-host of Hee-Haw and his final years as a living legend. Until his passing in 2006 Owens would perform each weekend for fans that came from across the globe to pay homage to the star. 

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This way to the Little Creamery

Founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, Blue Bell began operation making butter. In 1911, ice cream for local consumption began production. Ice cream distribution was limited to the small town of Brenham in the Brazos River country of south-central Texas about 70 miles west of Houston. As transportation improved, distribution expanded. The company name was changed to Blue Bell Creameries in honor of a Texas wildflower in 1930. A reproduction of one of the first route trucks, a 1932 Ford, sits outside company headquarters.

Blue Bell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rest is history! Blue Bell ice cream flavors are often the exciting grand finale to any celebration. The products are now sold in 22 states according to its website. That’s quite a change for a company that still promotes itself as a small town business selling a locally produced product. “We eat all we can and sell the rest,” one of the company’s favorite marketing slogans says.

Blue Bell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The century-old, Brenham-born brand offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like cookie two-step, mint chocolate chip, and pistachio almond. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all!

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

24 Reasons to Stop Dreaming About It and Travel NOW

Stop dreaming about it and just do it. The time is NOW.

There are a hundred reasons why you shouldn’t embark on your right now—but there are even more reasons why you should. You work hard for those vacation days to freely take a few weeks to yourself.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter what it takes, traveling should be everything you hoped it would be and more. You’ve only got one life to live, so get in everything you deem worthwhile while it still seems like a good idea. And, taking a dream summer vacation is most certainly a good idea—and the time is NOW.

But back to that one specific vacation, you keep daydreaming about. The Grand Canyon, Historic Route 66, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Mount Rushmore! They’re all on our list.

We looked to travelers past and present to share their insight into why you should stop dreaming about it and travel NOW. Ahead, you’ll find 24 reasons why you should start (or finish!) planning that dream summer vacation.

USS Lexington, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out There

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.

—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond (1697-1780)

Why We Travel

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.

—St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin the Journey

If we wait for the moment when everything is ready, we shall never begin.

—Ivan Turgenec (1818-1883) Russian writer

Learn From History

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes (1596-1650) French philosopher, mathematician, scientist

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smell the Roses

That delicate forest flower, With scented breath and look so like a smile, Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould, An emanation of the indwelling Life, A visible token of the upholding Love, That are the soul of this great universe.

—William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) American poet

Explore the World

Oh, the places you’ll go.

—Dr. Seuss

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Connect with Nature

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs (1837-1921) American naturalist and nature essayist

Explore Wild Outdoor Spaces

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) American writer, critic, and naturalist

Roseate spoonbills at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try Something New

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama (1935-)

Experience More

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

—Michael Altshuler, American writer, speaker, and leadership trainer

Carriage tour in Historic Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reconnect with Wilderness

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…
—John Muir (1838-1914) Scottish-American naturalist and author

Love Nature

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) essayist, naturalist, and philosopher

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Expand Your Horizons

You lose sight of things…and when you travel, everything balances out.

—Daranna Gidel

Walk Amid Nature

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English poet and playwright

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk in the Woods

To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) American poet

Learn to Go with the Flow

An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.

—Gilbert K. Chesterton (1874-1936) English writer, poet, and philosopher

Helena, Montana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drop the Itinerary

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.

—Douglas Adams (1952-2001) English author

Learn Something New

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Mary Ritter Beard (1876-1958) American historian

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn from Nature

The world is not to be put in order; the world is order incarnate. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.

—Henry Miller (1891-1980) American writer

Enjoy the Journey

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Essayist, playwright, and poet

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make Memories

Take only memories leave only footprints.

—Chief Seattle (1786-1866) Suquamish chief

Find a Reason to Journal

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

—Moslih Eddin Saadi (1210-1291) Persian poet and writer

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just Enjoy the Journey

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

—Lao Tzu (601 BC-531 BC) ancient Chinese philosopher and writer

Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Experience the cultural, historical, recreational, and scenic qualities of these roads less traveled

These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.

Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sky Island Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 27.2 miles

Plan for three to six hours to drive, including backtracking.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your journey among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet, passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Enjoy spectacular views and recreational opportunities from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

All-American Road

Length: 124 miles

Allow three hours to drive or three days to experience the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional 124 mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. You’ll encounter archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities while driving this exhilarating byway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 44 miles

Two hours to drive the byway

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

All-American Road

Length: 180 miles

Depending on route, allow four or five hours to drive or two days to visit the byway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild, along with colorful wildflowers and rare cheniers shaped by salty winds

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 40 miles

Three hours to enjoy the byway

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

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado and Utah: Trail of the Ancients

National Scenic Byway

Length: 480 miles

Nine hours to drive (including backtracking) or six days to enjoy the byway

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the long and intriguing occupation of the Four Corners region by Native American peoples. Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. World-renowned Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Four Corners Monument are highlights on the trail.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

The 10 Best Road Trip Routes in America

America has some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth and there are plenty of scenic drives around the country that show off dramatic landscapes and dreamy sunsets

With spring officially here and warmer, longer days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to plan a spring road trip. Nothing beats packing up the RV, making some new playlists, and heading off for a road trip. Here are 10 of my favorites from sea to shining sea.

Hit the road!

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

San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park

As biomes go, deserts often get a bad rap but taking a 225-mile spin from the sandy shores of San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is anything but dry. This Southern California road trip is spiritual, stylish, and outdoorsy. The first stop as you head east over the San Jacinto Range is Julian, a nostalgic town with u-pick apple orchards and the famous Julian Pie Company.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Press on through vista-filled mountain passes to Anza-Borrego Desert, California’s largest state park. Every spring it’s one of the most reliable spots to peep a super bloom. It has great hiking with chances to see 2,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs or bighorn sheep. Nearby Galleta Meadows contains 130 mammoth steel sculptures by Ricardo Breceda. Borrego Springs, an artist colony, is a good place to stop for lunch and gallery hopping. The Salton Sea has excellent birding as it sits along the Pacific Flyway.

Palm Springs reveres its mid-century modern architecture and Rat Pack roots but embraces its natural environment at the Coachella Valley Preserve and the Living Desert. Spend a day opting outside at Joshua Tree National Park, slightly larger than Rhode Island and full of strange Seussian trees and don’t leave before the stars come out as it’s a certified dark skies park.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway

The Trail of the Ancients which traverses Colorado and Utah is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country including Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde National Park. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one very long day but following a seven-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved, save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway as it descends to the Valley of the Gods offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469-mile drive connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—and it is the most visited road controlled by the U.S. National Parks System. This journey is epic at any time of year but in autumn when the colors begin to change and the trees glow with vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows you’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier drive and road trip destination in North America.

Giant sequoias © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California’s Giant Sequoias

When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! The giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base and this differentiates them from coastal redwoods which are typically measured in height.

This specific journey north from San Francisco spans 900 miles and it will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first redwood noted by naturalists in the 1850s and should the weather permit give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it.

Bourbon Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail (with a designated driver)

Traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can take three days or three weeks. It is whatever you make of it so stop by the gift shops, take distillery tours, and soak up the history lessons, and the tasty beverages. Having a designated driver each day of your road trip makes all of this possible and safe.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

True to its name the 130-mile-long Alabama’s Coastal Connection 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. The scenic byway 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!”

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. In addition to beach access points to uncrowded sands, there are hiking trails through a maritime forest and coastal dune habitats with views of saltwater lagoons, freshwater lakes, the beach, the bay and the chance to see wildlife. A number of waterfront towns line the coast. The artsy Eastern Shore enclave of Fairhope has a pier jutting a quarter-mile into the bay with an adjacent beach park and shady areas for a quiet picnic.

Bayou Teche at Breau Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Deep Bayou Drive from NOLA

You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west (in your RV, of course) to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The area is known for its swampland dotted with moss-draped cypress trees teeming with wildlife which makes it the perfect destination for bird watching, paddling, fishing, and numerous other outdoor activities.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best road to drive is Highway 31 which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with garlands of moody Spanish moss that dangle from oaks and cypress trees while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons. Nature watchers and photographers have immediate access to some of the best birding sites in North America including Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge) with its expansive shoreline and bottomland hardwood forest. At last count, birders have spotted 240 species here. In the evenings, snowy, great and cattle egrets, little blue herons, green herons and yellow-crowed night herons gather to roost. Be sure to tour the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site where you’ll learn about the area’s Creole and Cajun history and culture.

RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstate 90

Not for the faint of heart, I-90 spans from sea to shining sea. From Boston to Seattle, this 3,024-mile highway travels through 13 states and features niche attractions like the Jell-O Gallery Museum in Le Roy, New York, the birthplace of Superman in Cleveland, and the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Indiana. Some larger attractions not far from I-90 include Mount Rushmore, Niagara Falls, and national parks including Yellowstone and the Badlands.

Chippewa Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Atlantic Coast

America’s longest north-south interstate, I-95 stretches for more than 1,900 miles down the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Miami with plenty to see and do along the way. Road trippers can kick off their journey with a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine followed by a stop in Boston to explore the cobblestone streets and the city’s waterfront neighborhood. Further adventure await in New York City with endless sights to see, things to do, and places to eat before venturing on to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Continue down the coast to the scenic shores of Outer Banks in North Carolina then explore historic downtown Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Daytona Beach before reaching your final destination in Miami.

Mississippi River near Memphis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great River Road

The Great River Road has been dubbed “The Best Drive in America,” covering 3,000 miles from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. While it would take about 36 hours to drive this entire route, travelers can make a spring (or summer) vacation out of this journey that follows the Mississippi River through 10 states. Starting in Minneapolis road trippers can visit the famed Mall of America or one of Minnesota’s 11,842 lakes before heading south to Wisconsin. This historic route also features iconic monuments like Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, and streets like Beale Street—otherwise known as “Home of the Blues” —in Memphis and the French Quarter in New Orleans. Road trippers can rest and recharge at numerous campgrounds and RV parks along the way.

Worth Pondering…

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

—George Harrison, Any Road

The Amazing Story of Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climbs into Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

An impossibly long trailer negotiating hairpin mountain turns does not seem to be the stuff of successful movies, yet Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a big hit with the 1953 film, “The Long, Long Trailer”. The studio was wary of the film, thinking that people could stay home and watch the couple on TV for free.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arnaz reportedly made a $25,000 bet that the movie would make more money than the highest-grossing comedy at the time, “Father of the Bride,” starring Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Arnaz was right. The movie grossed an astonishing $3.9 million as people were thrilled to see Lucy and Desi up to their antics in living color.

Coachella Valley from the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The very long trailer used in the film was a 36-foot Redman New Moon model which could barely be turned around the sharp mountain curves featured in the movie. Many of the scenes were filmed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Portal Road to Mt. Whitney but some were shot on the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway, State Route 74, which climbs from Palm Desert to Mountain Center up a remarkably steep and tortuous grade.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palms to Pines Road started from the Gillette Ranch on what was then called the Palm Springs-Indio road. Construction started in September 1929 and finished August 1933. A total of 37.1 miles requiring 747,600 cubic yards of excavation and was paid for by funds from Riverside County and the U.S. Forest Service. Before the road, the Palms to Pines Trail was used by horseback riders and intrepid outdoorsmen having been originally scratched into the steep escarpment by M.S. Gordon around 1917 following ancient Cahuilla trails.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilson S. Howell became a familiar figure not only in Coachella Valley but throughout the county in the years of crusading for the new road. He took a 10-cent school protractor and cutting the mountainside vegetation for an improvised surveyor’s stand, he sighted a feasible way up the mountain side through wild shrubbery. Today the highway is an established route of travel, one of the most enchanting in the country.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Howell believed in San Jacinto Mountain and in Coachella valley—and in their linking highway. He acquired 2,000 acres equal distance from Hemet, Indio, and Palm Springs. Howell likely owned the land first and was a booster of the road in order to make his holdings more valuable by luring patrons up the mountain to his little Ribbonwood outpost. Either way, he certainly was the “patron spirit of the Palms-to-Pines highway.”

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For almost two years before construction began on the highway in 1929, several different factions clamored for routes that would benefit them. Three routes were in contention. One was prohibitively expensive. Another was advocated by Palm Springs businessmen who wanted a route that would go directly through Palm Canyon. Others wanted a route that would go through Pinyon Flats. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce even tried to influence the decision by hinting that they would not make a proposed financial contribution if the highway did not go through Palm Canyon. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians nixed the Palm Canyon route and the road was put through Pinyon Flats from Palm Desert. 

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We began our trip at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains Visitor Center, located on Highway 74 in Palm Desert. Pick up a map and some visitor information but take note: the Visitor Center is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Departing the Visitor Center heading south on Highway 74, we almost immediately begin winding our way up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. There are beautiful views spanning Coachella Valley and ample opportunity to take them in. Part way up the mountain is a large viewpoint with plenty of parking where we stopped to take in the sights and snap a few photos.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we continued up the mountain, the road began to unwind itself and we started to notice a change in vegetation. Short gangly pinyon pines began to emerge from out of the rocks and as the highway unfurled through the small towns of Pinyon Pines and Pinyon Crest, it became evident how these places got their names.

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway through this region began to unfold like a roller coaster with a series of wide ripples. Again, the vegetation changed and we noticed more pine trees as the land becomes less rocky. 

Along the Palms to Pine Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highways 74 and 371 meet in Paradise Valley. The Paradise Valley Cafe is a popular place for travelers. For backpackers the Pacific Trail passing nearby. Here’s where we departed Highway 74 driving southeast on Highway 371 to Cahuilla and Aguanga and Highway 79 south to Warner Springs and Santa Ysabel. Our destination: the mountain town of Julian for its famous apple pies.

Worth Pondering…

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor

Rôder with Family

How about y’all? Do you like to rôder?

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination to pack up the RV and rôder.

Whether you’re coming for the weekend or planning an extended stay, the Happiest City in America has plenty of family friendly things to do. From foodies, history and cultural buffs, and geocachers to the more adventurous outdoor activities, Lafayette has the perfect experience waiting for you.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what are you waiting for? Let’s go rôder!

Are you overwhelmed with all of the things to do and experience? There’s no shortage of ways to experience the Happiest City in America and its nearby communities. Here are some of my favorites for first-time visitors and those already in love with all things Cajun.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish is surrounded by wetlands, so there’s no better way to experience the area than by boat. Hop aboard a swamp tour via airboat, or rent a kayak. It’s also a birding paradise. Visit Bayou Vermilion, Lake Martin, or Avery Island with binoculars in hand. Admire the plant life on the Lafayette Azalea Trail or Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre complex with azaleas, camellias, and even wildlife. And don’t forget your camera!

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette Parish has received countless awards for its culinary scene, including Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a chile pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the best-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo. The Lafayette area also has both down-home eateries that have been here for decades and new restaurants with modern interpretations of the traditional cuisine.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette is known as “The Hub City” because of its proximity to major roadways heading north, south, east, and west that lead locals and visitors to explore smaller towns. Though Lafayette is the largest city in the region, a great portion of its rich culture here is driven by surrounding communities, the gems that make up Acadiana, a 22-parish (county) region. Here are some smaller towns that are a short drive from Lafayette and are well worth the trip.

Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott – 5 miles; 13 minutes from Lafayette

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudin. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge – 9 miles; 10 minutes from Lafayette

Breaux Bridge was given its name from an early Acadian family who built a bridge over the Bayou Teche, a main waterway used during the Acadian’s arrival in the 1700s. The bridge over the Teche now celebrates the town’s other title, given to it by the Louisiana Legislature in 1959. Yes, without argument, Breaux Bridge is “The Crawfish Capital of the World”.  Its downtown district is the perfect day trip destinations for a main street walk and bite to eat. Take note, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival is held annually in May. Breaux Bridge’s downtown district is worth a visit during any season for shopping, dining, and live music. Check out venues like La Poussiere, Buck & Johnny’s Pizzeria, and Tante Marie’s Kitchen for a weekly live music schedule.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinville – 16.3 miles; 26 minutes from Lafayette

St. Martinville is the parish seat of St. Martin Parish. It lies on Bayou Teche and is the third oldest town in Louisiana with many buildings and homes with historic architecture. The historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church and La Maison Duchamp on Main Street are part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. St. Martinville is also the site of the “Evangeline Oak”, featured in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem about the Acadian expulsion. It is also the site of an African American Museum and is included as a destination on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail which was established in 2008.

Tabasco on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Iberia – 20.5 miles; 32 minutes from Lafayette

The McIlhenny Company still operates at its original home on Avery Island which is a must-do when visiting New Iberia. Built on a salt dome, it’s a mysteriously beautiful place where the red chile peppers grow, the factory hums, and abundant wildlife can be seen in Jungle Gardens. Tour the history and production of TABASCO Sauce including TABASCO Museum, Blending and Bottling, TABASCO Country Store, and 1868! Restaurant. Experience the natural beauty and tranquility of Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre semitropical garden on Avery Island. Enjoy the gently rolling landscape, botanical treasures, and abundant wildlife. Attractions range from beautiful flowers to birds to Buddha (a magnificent centuries-old statue on the grounds). Thousands of snowy egrets nest in Bird City.

Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

For barbecue, the outdoors, and small-town vibes

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind you, Texas is big. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, though, are strategically placed for day trips.

Here, the best road trips in Central Texas.

Historic Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country

Call it kitsch appeal, call it hokey, but the Texas Hill Country is one fantastic region. There are the little German towns in the center, like Kerrville and Fredericksburg, and dozens of other small towns nestled in the rolling hills. There’s canoeing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking along the numerous rivers, and LBJ Ranch and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Blanco River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For beautiful scenery and cool water

When you think of a relaxing vacation near water, Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Central Texas is peppered with a number of watering holes, lakes, rivers, and creeks that help soothe the intensity of the summer heat, as well as hikes and trails galore.

McKinney Falls State Park near Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the Austin city limits, you have Barton Springs, Bull Creek, and Shoal Creek and their associated greenbelts as well as Lady Bird Lake. But if you’re looking for something a bit more off of the beaten path, head out a little farther into the Texas countryside to explore these alternative options.

San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Float down the San Marcos, Comal or Guadalupe rivers

Since the summers get real hot in Central Texas, be well-prepared for this aspect of reality. That being said, relaxing outdoor activities—and floating down a gentle river is a popular summer pastime. There are actually are three major rivers popular for floating in this area. There’s the spring-fed San Marcos, which is located in the town of San Marcos exactly halfway between Austin and San Antonio; the short, spring-fed Comal, located in New Braunfels a little south of San Marcos; and the Guadalupe.

San Marcos River in Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve never gone tubing before, here’s what to expect: You’ll be sitting in a giant inflatable tube with your friends. Many float rental places offer string you can use to tie your floats together into a large raft. You’ll start upstream at the rental facility’s dock, float down to a certain stopping point, and then the facility will bus you back to your starting point.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike at Enchanted Rock

One of Texas’ most frequented state parks this scenic area near Fredericksburg boasts 11 miles of trails and a namesake 425-foot granite centerpiece. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. Arrive in the morning avoid the crowds. Remember to bring solid hiking boots—conquering the rock’s peak is the equivalent of a 30-to 40-story stair climb. 

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayak at Blanco State Park

A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. Choose from a full hookup camping site or site with water and electricity. Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River State Park is a great spot for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors. Many folks come here to swim but the park is more than a great swimming hole with beautiful scenery and colorful history. On the river, you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and kayak or canoe the Guadalupe River which boasts the 5 mile Guadalupe River State Park Paddling Trail.

Guadalupe River State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While on land, you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watch. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Camping is the way to go, here with 85 campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water, and electricity.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene

In Gruene (pronounced like the color green), floating up and down the Guadalupe River on the weekends is a way of life. Gruene is designated a historic town by the state of Texas. Part of that history is musical. The oldest dance hall in the state of Texas (still in its original 1800s-era building) is most famous for its country concerts, but swing, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, and folk musicians (both up-and-comers and big names) take the stage, too. The likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage at Gruene Hall, a true must-stop when you’re passing through. Limited seating is first-come, first-served, so give yourself plenty of time to grab a beer and find a seat on the benches in the back.

City Market BBQ, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

Luling is home to some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only 3 meats—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative new-comer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins!

Zedler Mill on the San Marcos River at Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather paddle than swim, you can rent kayaks and canoes on site.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Schulenburg is not the Hill Country and not the lakes but is nestled in between the hills. And not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either. Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Praha © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

St. Mary Catholic Church at High Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Scenic Highway 28

Experiencing the history and culinary delights of the Southwest along a legendary trail that connects the centuries

The Don Juan de Onate Trail invites today’s travelers to follow in the hoof prints of the Spanish conquistador and his band of 400 colonizers in 1598 as they journeyed from New Spain (Mexico) north to find the fabled Cities of Gold in what is now northern New Mexico. 

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Onate and his men, traveling El Camino Real (The Royal Road) that stretched from Mexico City to northern New Mexico reached Paso del Norte (El Paso) on April 30. He claimed the land in the name of the King of Spain and continued days later along the Rio Grande to eventually establish the first Spanish capital at Okkay Owingeh Pueblo. The drive along the trail (Highway 28) is one of the Las Cruces area’s most scenic routes crossing and flanking the Rio Grande from El Paso to historic Old Mesilla.

Mesilla Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mesilla Plaza, a National Historic Landmark, represents an excellent spot to understand the area’s bicultural roots and begin an afternoon trek along the Don Juan de Onate Trail. The 1848 Treaty of Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and established the village as part of Mexico. Mesilla became part of the United States in 1854 with the signing of the Gadsen Purchase on the plaza. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A number of historic 19th century stucco-clad adobe structures clustered around the plaza impart the look and feel of Old Mexico. Wander the plaza to learn about the colorful past of what in the 1880s was the largest town between San Diego and San Antonio.  Mesilla’s dirt streets saw the passing of the likes of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and other Wild West legends. The sprawling La Posta Restaurant just off the plaza preserves the only station still standing on the Old Butterfield Trail (1850-1861).

Spotted Dog Brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s thirsty traveler might want to make a quick stop less than a mile from the plaza on Highway 28 at The Spotted Dog Brewery to try one of more than a dozen handcrafted beers. Continuing south through the fertile Mesilla Valley, the rural two-lane road passes fields of corn and cotton on its way through several small villages including San Miguel whose picturesque church and cemetery beckons to passing shutterbugs.

Stahmann Farms pecan trees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south, we slip beneath a verdant canopy of pecan trees that mark the world’s largest, family-owned pecan orchard, Stahmann Farms. Signs warn against the temptation to stop along the highway and pick up a few of the tasty nuggets from more than 180,000 trees that represent southern New Mexico’s largest crop.

Mesilla Valley cotton fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further down the trail sits the community of La Mesa, home to a National Register of Historic Places property—Chope’s Café and Bar.  The rustic complex of three adobe buildings erected by the Benavides family, the oldest dating to circa 1880, is another must-see for any out-of-town guest. Here you can rub elbows with local Harley Davidson club riders and La Mesa farmers while watching sports on several big screen TVs and listening to country and rock classics on the digital jukebox.

Mesilla Valley red chili crop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little further along El Camino Real are several stops on the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail in what is known as the oldest wine producing region in the United States: La Vina (the state’s oldest), Mesa Vista (one of the newest), and Sombra Antigua which operates amid the state’s oldest commercial vineyard. 

Rio Grande Winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the return trip we make a stop at the Rio Grande Winery just a few miles south of Mesilla only to learn that it’s closed for tasting Monday through Thursday. What sets Rio Grande Vineyards & Winery apart from similar establishments in southern New Mexico is the incomparable view of the Organ Mountains. In their tasting Room, visitors may view a number of old photographs of their family, talk with the winemaker, or just relax and enjoy the grand view of the Majestic Organ Mountains and of course enjoy a Taste of New Mexico.

San Albino Cemetary along Scenic Byway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the afternoon, I realize that like the Spanish explorer of more than 400 years ago, I may not have found the Cities of Gold, but I struck it rich in experiencing the history, wines, and culinary delights of the Southwest along a legendary trail that connects the centuries.

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Everything You Need to See and Do on an Arizona Road Trip

There’s more to the Grand Canyon State than its namesake

Arizona is brimming with surprisingly underrated and unique cities and towns and southwestern dining guaranteed to take your taste buds for a ride. So grab your camera, hiking boots, and sense of adventure and hit the back roads of the Wild West for an unforgettable journey.

Old Presido district, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enveloped by the vast Sonoran Desert, Tucson is a vibrant and colorful southwestern city. Barrio Viejo, meaning old neighborhood in Spanish, is an area near downtown Tucson that is an important, historical part of the community. The original Barrio neighborhood built between 1880 and 1920 using traditional Mexican Village architecture, houses were built of thick-walled adobe with a flat roof, wood beams, and ocotillo, or saguaro cactus ribs, coverings.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At nearby Saguaro National Park witness the towering saguaro cactus—crowned king of the Sonoran Desert—in its native environment. Then, hike to the pinnacle of Mount Lemmon—just north of Tucson, it’s the highest point in the Catalina Mountains.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just under two hours from Tucson and a 20-minute drive from Phoenix, Scottsdale is a balmy retreat stationed on the edge of the Valley of the Sun. Here, you’ll find high-end shopping, world-renowned spas, and a variety of hiking adventures.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 179 is the most scenic between the two destinations. It passes by Casa Grande Ruins, one of the largest prehistoric structures on the continent. Additional outdoor attractions in Scottsdale include the Desert Botanical Garden and Camelback Mountain. See an abundance of cacti, succulents, and colorful wildflowers at the gardens before a four-hour climb to the top of the mountain for 360-degree views of Scottsdale and neighboring Phoenix.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two hours north is Sedona, a destination for spa enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, and outdoor adventurers alike. This mystical retreat is flanked by red-rock buttes, steep canyons, and pine forests shaping an otherworldly environment that’s equal parts Wild West and understated luxury.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get there by continuing along Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Break for dessert along the way at Rock Springs Cafe. This landmark, famous for its award-winning pies, was established in 1918. Its close proximity to the highway makes it convenient for road-trippers. Indulge in a seasonal treat like the strawberry rhubarb crumb pie or try its best-selling Jack Daniel’s pecan pie.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A beautiful two-hour drive from Sedona, the magic of the Grand Canyon awaits. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is the cherry on top of an Arizona road trip experience. Take 89A out of the Sedona. Break at Midgley Bridge on the outskirts of Sedona for a quick hike down Oak Creek Canyon.

The Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out El Tovar Hotel. This historic property opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for the past 100 plus years. Mere steps from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar is both elegant and rustic with breathtaking views from every window. The resort’s Dining Room is as close to the canyon as you can get and the authentic cuisine is almost as memorable as the views from the tables closest to the windows.

El Tovar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experts say the South and North Rims are the best places from which to behold the scale of the natural landmark. The South Rim, right outside El Tovar’s doors, is accessible year-round. Look forward to hikes of varying lengths that cater to explorers of every skill level. Plan a hike at sunrise and bring along a breakfast picnic.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, a water sports lover’s paradise, is another three-hour drive north. Continue along 89A toward Utah and reserve several hours for a tour of Antelope Canyon. Weave through the winding walls of this sandstone formation with a camera in hand; the wave-like structures and light that breaks through the canyon’s slots are straight out of a photographer’s fantasy.

Navajo Bridge near Page © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches into southern Utah. It’s part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, perfect weather, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground. Rent a houseboat, stay at the campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

Wahweep RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Page, check into Wahweep RV Park or adjacent Lake Powell Resort. This serene and peaceful property nestled in the heart of the desert boasts old-fashioned allure and modern comforts.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The magic of Horseshoe Bend is a mere stone’s throw south of Page. One of the most iconic venues in Arizona, this unusually shaped bend in the Colorado River is best enjoyed from an overlook that towers 4,000-plus feet above sea level. The easy hike from the parking lot to the overlook is less than a mile.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area. Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”. There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.