The Land above the Canyons: Top 10 Options for Fun in the Monticello Area

And no I’m not talking about visiting your Uncle Monti & his cello

With towering mountains, vast red rock canyons, hundreds of hiking trails, world-famous snow, and endless outdoor recreation, Utah is a major playground for adventure. The only hard part is deciding where to begin.

If you’re itching to get out the door, you can’t go wrong with a trip to the “Land Above the Canyons.” We’re talking about none other than Monticello (mon-ti-sel-oh). It may be a small town (2020 population: 1,935) but it packs a big punch. You’ll finally have some solitude in your life (get away from the hustle and bustle) along with some super real adventures! From hiking, biking, ATV riding, golfing, and camping, you’ll never have a dull moment in Monticello. If you want the chance to experience everything Monticello has to offer you’ll definitely need a few more days than you had originally planned. You can feel free to go visit ol’ uncle Monti and his cello if you fancy, or you can pack your bags and head out for an amazing southeastern Utah adventure.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A high-elevation town on the edge of Utah’s Canyon Country, Monticello lies on the sheltered eastern slope of the Abajo Mountains overlooking a maze of sandstone canyons and plateaus. The Abajos, topped by 11,360-foot Abajo Peak, are Monticello’s summer paradise with mild temperatures, cooling rains, and recreation sites scattered through Manti La Sal National Forest.

Monticello is also a place where Utah’s past brushes against the present with ruins and rock art from the Ancient Ones scattered in nearby Bears Ears National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument. The town is also a starting point for the 480-mile Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, a huge highway loop lined with scenic views and important archeological sites.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are a few things to add to your bucket list when you go.

Bears Ears National Monument: Indian Creek and Shash Jáa Units

Distance from Monticello to Indian Creek Unit: 20 miles

Distance from Monticello to Shash Jáa Unit: 61 miles

Bears Ears National Monument has a rich cultural heritage and is sacred to many Native American tribes who rely on these lands for traditional and ceremonial uses. Outstanding opportunities to hike, visit cultural sites, backpack, mountain bike, float the San Juan River, and ride OHVs exist within the monument boundaries. Other world-class activities include scenic drives, photography, rock climbing, camping, paleontological exploration, and wildlife viewing.

Bears Ears National Monument has two units: the Shash Jáa Unit to the south and the Indian Creek Unit to north.

Nawspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newspaper Rock

Distance from Monticello: 21 miles

Extra, extra, read all about it! You can see all the news you can’t actually read at one of the West’s most famous rock art sites. The rock is called Tse’ Hane in Navajo, or “rock that tells a story.” There are hundreds of petroglyphs here that feature a mixture of forms including pictures resembling humans, animals, tools, and more esoteric, abstract things. The 200-square-foot rock site is a part of the cliffs all along the upper end of Indian Creek Canyon. Indian Creek Canyon is a popular Utah destination for rock climbers who flock to the Wingate sandstone for its pristine cracks which are scaled with traditional climbing aids. However, the common nature lover will still get much out of the scenic drive; better still, the road leads to The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Take your family past this historic site and see if you can decipher the rock’s story for yourself!

Canyonlands National Park, Needles District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Needles District

Distance from Monticello: 32 miles

The Needles District forms the southeastern portion of Canyonlands National Park. Its signature features are colorful sandstone spires—hundreds of them poking up from the desert floor. There are also entrenched canyons, natural arches, and sheer-walled cliffs in this vast, rugged landscape. This area is famous for its rough jeep trails, including some that rank with the most challenging in the world. You need a high clearance 4X4 vehicle optimized for off-road travel to drive some of the routes here.

Hole N” the Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N” the Rock

Distance from Monticello: 38 miles

Imagine living in a 5,000-square-foot home that’s carved directly into a large cliff. It’s a very unique way to go about building a house! That was the vision of a man named Albert Christensen in the 1940s. Christensen spent 12 years digging, carving, and blasting out a rock home for his family to live in. He also opened a unique diner where travelers could stop for lunch. After he died in the late 1950s, Christensen’s wife Gladys continued to live in their rock home and run the diner. She and her husband are both buried near the rocks they called home. The ‘Hole N” the Rock’ house has 14 rooms including a fireplace with a 65-foot chimney, a deep French fryer, and a bathtub built into the rock.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Distance from Monticello: 66 miles

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moki Dugway

Distance from Monticello: 75 miles

Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well-graded switchbacks (11 percent grade) which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below. The term “moki” is derived from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods

Distance from Monticello: 68 miles

Perhaps one of the most intriguing names of all of the destinations in San Juan County is the Valley of the Gods. While similar to the geography found at Monument Valley to the south, this Bureau of Land Management area sees much, much less traffic, thereby adding solitude to its beauty. A number of tall, red, isolated mesas, buttes, and cliffs tower above the valley floor and can be seen while driving along the 17-mile gravel road on which it sits. Carved over the course of 250 million years from the Cedar Mesa sandstone, the variety of formations shows the power of time, water, wind, and ice at play in this desert landscape.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

Distance from Monticello: 66 miles

The six abandoned Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Hovenweep National Monument are impressive not only for their excellent state of preservation but also for the diversity in the structures including square and circular towers, D-shaped dwellings and many kivas (Puebloan ceremonial structures, usually circular). The park preserves 700-year-old—and even older—archeological sites that visitors can access by paved and dirt roads. Hovenweep boasts incredible skies for night viewing and has been named a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.

Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway

Distance from Monticello: Mile 0

The Trail of the Ancients, a federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan Country of southeastern Utah providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists.

Manti La Sal National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreate in Manti La Sal National Forest

If you’re in the mood for some fishing, cross-country skiing, mountain climbing, or hiking, the Manti La Sal National Forest is the perfect destination for your favorite outdoor recreational activities. The forest features more than 1,600 miles of streams, 8,100 acres of lakes, and hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing and off-road trails, so there’s plenty to explore.

Worth Pondering…

Sometimes a day trip isn’t about where you’re going. Sometimes it’s just about going. About straying off the interstates and hitting the back roads to see what you can find.

A Journey of Incredible Beauty: Trail of the Ancients

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence

Far too often we consider the roads that we travel purely as a means to get from point A to point B. Most spend far more hours in their cars commuting and running errands than truly enjoying what lies beyond the edge of the asphalt or concrete. But once you hit the road in your recreational vehicle, why not get off the roads most traveled and take in the breath-taking splendor of America’s system of scenic byways?

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients, a federally designated National Scenic Byway circles through the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) Country of southeastern Utah, providing opportunity to view scenic landscapes, archaeological, cultural, and historic sites, as well as Natural Bridges and Hovenweep (also in Colorado) national monuments, Monument Valley, Edge of the Cedars State Park, and Manti La Sal National Forest. It’s a land filled with 250-million-year-old rock formations, mysterious Anasazi ruins, and remnants of long-ago Mormon pioneer families, all but undiscovered by crowds of tourists. An extension of this route continues into Colorado to Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, and Ute Mountain Tribal Park.

Take your time and savor the sights—and along much of the route…the silence. Attempt this 482-mile drive (366 miles in Utah; 116 miles in Colorado) in a single day or two and you’ll miss the point. This landscape took thousands of years to create; you’ll never appreciate it at 65 miles per hour. Instead, take a week or more, stopping to walk through the numerous parks, preserves, monuments, and unnamed places whose beauty defies categorization. Start at any point along the route.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway enters Utah east of Monticello on U.S. Highway 491 and continues to the junction in Monticello with U.S. Highway 191. Turn south onto U.S. 191 and travel to Blanding where you’ll find Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, a good stop for an introduction to the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pre-history of the area. Visitors can walk the paths through the ruins and climb into the kiva via a ladder, just as the original residents did. Exceptionally rare and well-preserved artifacts are at the heart of the museum exhibits.

Utah Highway 261 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Blanding the route follows U.S. Highway 191 south to the junction with Utah Highway 95 and continues west on Highway 95 to Utah Highway 261 passing Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Butler Wash Ruins, about 10.5 miles west of Blanding, has cliff-type dwellings located under rocky overhangs in a lush green valley along the river. An easy half-mile hike allows closer views. Eight miles further west along Highway 95 brings you to Mule Canyon Indian Ruins at milepost 101. Adjacent to the road, the site contains dwelling units, a reconstructed open kiva, and round tower—all made of stone.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few more miles and you’re at Natural Bridges National Monument about 35 miles west of Blanding. Located atop a 5,500- to 6,500-foot mesa a nine-mile, one-way, paved loop road winds through the park, revealing spectacular views of deep pinyon-filled canyons with scattered ancient cliff dwellings and three of the world’s largest natural stone bridges. Bridges differ from arches in that they are created primarily by stream action; whereas arches are created primarily by rain and wind.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bridges in this monument are all easily viewed from overlook areas along Bridge View Drive, or you can hike down into the canyon and walk under them. Interpretive signing is present at each overlook. Horsecollar Ruin Overlook Trail is mostly level and leads over the mesa to the edge of White Canyon. The small cliff dwelling is unique in that it is still plastered. The doorways to the two granaries are shaped like the horsecollars used in harness equipment. A small campground is limited to RVs less than 26 feet but an overflow area on the edge of the park has plenty of room.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Natural Bridges National Monument, the Trail of the Ancient Scenic Byway turns south at the junction with Highways 95 and 261. Along this route you’ll find access to Grand Gulch Primitive Area and hiking trails on the mesa top. Prior to dropping off the Moki Dugway is County Road 274, a 5-mile remote dirt road leading to Muley Point which has been listed by National Geographic as one of the most outstanding views in America. From its magnificent overlook you’ll peer deep into the San Juan River Canyon and onto Monument Valley 25 miles or so in the distance.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The infamous Moki Dugway is a 3-mile stretch of unpaved road that descends 1,000 feet down tight switchbacks from the edge of Cedar Mesa into the Valley of the Gods. The dugway itself is a historic part of the trail, built during the uranium boom to accommodate ore trucks that traveled from the mines on Cedar Mesa to the mill near the Navajo community of Halchita across the San Juan River from Mexican Hat. Never planned for public use, Moki Dugway is not recommended for RV travel.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the bottom of the Dugway our journey continues past the entrance to the little-known Valley of the Gods and onto the junction with Utah Highway 316 which leads to Goosenecks State Park. Although Valley of the Gods is not listed as a site on the Trail, it is worth visiting. The 17-mile loop drive on a native surface road leads among sandstone monoliths which have been given fanciful names such as Seven Sailors, Southern Lady, Rooster Butte, and Battleship Butte.  The valley allows a close-up look at towers and mesas of multicolored sandstone and other sedimentary rocks in subtle shades of pink, red, gold, orange, and purple. The sandstone monoliths here are reminiscent of Monument Valley. This route puts travelers on Highway 163, between Bluff and Mexican Hat.

Goosenecks State Park is another adventure in geology revealing the skeleton of the earth in the layers formed by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River is one of the most striking examples of an “entrenched river meander” in North America. Like a snake the river twists and turns and coils back on itself for a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west as it flows toward Lake Powell. Over 300 million years of geologic activity is revealed from Goosenecks State Park. Located at the end of Highway 316, Gooseneck is a wilderness park encompassing 10 acres.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Highway 261 continues to the junction with U.S. Highway 163 and the town of Mexican Hat. Founded in the early part of the 20th century during an oil boom, Mexican Hat has a population of less than 100 and functions mostly as a stopover point for visitors on their way to Monument Valley or as a base for river expeditions.

At the junction turn right to enter Mexican Hat and on to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in countless Western movies directed by John Ford. An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

After exploring the wonders of Monument Valley retrace your route for 21 miles to Mexican Hat on U.S. Highway 163 and continue east to the pioneer-era town of Bluff on the edge of the Navajo Nation. Snuggled up against the San Juan River, the town was settled by the famous “Hole-In-The-Rock” expedition of Mormon pioneers in the 1880s. Continue past Bluff and travel east on Utah Highway 262 towards the town of Aneth and follow the signs to Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known for its square, oval, circular, and D-shaped towers, Hovenweep National Monument protects six prehistoric clusters of Native American ruins. Established in 1923, the villages date from the Pueblo period of the mid 13th century. They are spread over a 20-mile area along the Utah-Colorado state line. Unlike the large ruins at Mesa Verde, these are approachable and the visitor can wander among the fallen walls and consider the people who built them.

From Hovenweep return to Aneth and drive southeast on Utah Highway 162 and Colorado Highway 41 to the Four Corners and northeast on U.S. Highway 160 to Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Part of the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park has been set aside to preserve remnants of the Ancestral Puebloan and Ute cultures. The Park encompasses approximately 125,000 acres around a 25 mile stretch of the Mancos River. Within the park are hundreds of surface sites and cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs.

Mesa Verde National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Ute Mountain, drive north on U.S. Highway to Cortez and Mesa Verde National Park. Fourteen centuries of history are displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde offers an excellent opportunity to see and experience the life of the Ancestral Puebloans. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 450 and 1300, when the Ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area. 

The park is split into a series of sub-mesas all bearing different names. There are thousands of archaeological sites across the park and excellent interpretive loops and scenic pullouts. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option, or walks through less rigorous self-guided routes are also available. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this note we end our fascinating discovery of an ancient land of incredible beauty.

Worth Pondering…

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

—Marcel Proust, French novelist

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