Valdosta Daily Times


December 29, 2013

American Road Trips for a New Year


- — The Pacific Coast Highway: Considered by many the USA’s premiere road trip, the coastal highway winds 1,700 miles along the Pacific Coast from southern California to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The scenery is simply breathtaking with stops that include Hearst Castle, Big Sur, San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, and Olympic National Park. Open the windows and enjoy the fresh air as you drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and watch giant container ships glide underneath. Stare in wonder at the towering redwoods of northern California. Stop in Tillamook, Ore., and enjoy a tour of the Cheese Factory. Walk the beach in the Kalaloch area of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and renew your spirit with the ocean breeze and pounding surf. It would be easy to spend most of a summer on this spectacular road trip. We know, because we did.

Kid stops: San Diego Zoo in Balboa Park; Sea Center at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History; Skunk Train through the Redwoods in Mendocino, Calif.; Lewis & Clark National Historical Park in Astoria, Ore.; Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park, Wash. State parks and beaches are accessible along much of the route. San Francisco offers so many sites and activities for children the city is worthy of a separate trip.

Florida State Highway A1A and the Overseas Highway: This 600-mile trip traces Florida’s Atlantic coastline from northeast of Jacksonville to Key West.  Interesting stops along the way include St. Augustine, the oldest town in the U.S. (sort of); Daytona Beach, where you can drive on the beach; Canaveral National Seashore; and the John F. Kennedy Space Center. Highway A1A meets U.S. Highway 1 in Miami. Thus, begins the scenic 127-mile drive on the Overseas Highway that boasts 42 bridges, including famed Seven Mile Bridge. This stretch has numerous outdoor attractions where you can swim with a dolphin, stroll through a rescued bird sanctuary, and tour a turtle hospital. Much of the road parallels Henry Flagler’s Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad that commenced operation in 1912 and was destroyed by a 1935 hurricane. The rail line was later converted to an auto route that today remains visible for long stretches. We consider Key West to be Florida’s premiere destination.

Kid stops: St. Augustine’s Marineland; John F. Kennedy Space Center; Palm Beach Zoo and South Florida Science Museum; Everglades National Park; Florida Keys Eco-Discover Center; Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. Public beaches line the Florida coast and a variety of interesting stops for kids are scattered along the Overseas Highway.     


Newfound Gap Road/Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive: This seamless and leisurely drive through three contiguous national parks offers some of the East Coast’s most scenic landscapes. Thirty-two-mile-long Newfound Gap Road cuts across Great Smoky Mountain National Park and connects with the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, which, in turn, connects with Shenandoah National Park’s 105-mile-long Skyline Drive that follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This wonderful drive is void of billboards, traffic lights,

roadside trash, and speeding 18-wheelers.

We have taken this trip numerous times and look forward to doing it again. The ideal seasons are spring when blooming plants are plentiful and fall when foliage is near its colorful peak. Six national park lodges offer fun places to overnight along the way.   

Kid stops: Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, Tenn.; Whitewater rafting near Asheville; Roanoke’s Virginia Museum of Transportation. National Park Service visitor centers along the route offer videos, exhibits, and Junior Ranger programs that provide entertainment and excellent learning opportunities for children.


U.S. Highway 2: The northernmost U.S. highway zigzags through mountain ranges, traverses the northern Great Plains, and swings around lakes as it connects Everett, Wash., with Houlton, Maine. The entire route, including a 700-mile stretch in Canada, covers approximately 3,300 miles. In the West, it crosses the North Cascades and the Rocky Mountains; while in the east, it meets the Green and White Mountain ranges. In between, it passes through small towns with local museums and inviting coffee shops. In western Montana, the highway curves around the southern border of magnificent Glacier National Park. Here you should choose a short detour on Going-to-the-Sun Road that bisects the park. Driving through Minnesota (including Duluth, the birthplace of Bob Dylan) will make clear why the state bills itself “the land of 10,000 lakes.” The trip offers a peek at three Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, and Huron. In the Canadian section spend time in Ottawa, the country’s beautiful capital city. Following a visit to Montreal, the road turns south and reenters the U.S. Arriving in Bangor, Maine, consider Alternate 1 and visit Acadia National Park.

Kid stops: Coulee Dam tour and light show; Spokane’s Riverfront Park; Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site near Williston, N.D.; Bemidji’s Headwaters Science Center; Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie; Ottawa’s Parliament Building and changing of the guard; Montreal Biodome; Vermont Capitol tour in Montpelier.

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