I know that the notion of ‘driving around’ for ones vacation is anathema to many of you, but, for others (including me!) it evokes the perfect getaway – all the joys of travel with no real time limits or group restrictions, no compromise on itinerary or route and umpteen opportunities to deviate at a whim.
We’ve driven extensively in Europe, but have also rented cars in North and Central America, Africa (Namibia, Morocco), Middle East (Jordan, Oman) and Australia (camper van) and it’s really our vacation of choice. Our ideal trip begins with the touring and ends with a few days of doing absolutely nothing at a beach or pool (but that doesn’t always work out).
The following is just a medley of suggestions rather than detailed itineraries – maybe just enough to sow seeds of an idea in the head!
There’s no particular order or duration…….
1.Arizona / Utah
I think you could return to this region every year for a decade and not see everything. The deserts of south west US are nothing less than a geological wonderland – offering up the amazing National Parks of Southern Utah, Sedona and Grand Canyon in Arizona, not forgetting Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, picturesque Horseshoe Bend…. The difficulty here is being selective because of distance and park fatigue – of course you can always skip across to Vegas when all that natural beauty becomes too much for you!!
We’ve visited all the above but on four different trips (I think!). We’ve used Las Vegas and Phoenix Airports (but only because they offered the best international option at the time of booking). We always visited the area in high summer – yep HOT! – but the only real crowds were at the Grand Canyon and even that was ok..
Monument Valley / Arches N.P. / Grand Canyon
Bryce Canyon / Horseshoe Bend
Zion N.P. / Antelope Canyon / Sunset in Sedona
2.Blue Ridge Parkway / Great Smoky Mountain National Park
This is very accessible from the east coast hubs – Washington or Charlotte airports for us. It’s all very green (a bit like home) and I’d prefer the arid landscapes further west but the area is hugely popular and the GSMNP is the busiest in the country. The route begins at Shanandoah National Park and then joins the Blue Ridge Parkway and on down towards the Smokys, taking in the lovely towns of Charlottesville and Asheville. You can visit Monticello – Jefferson’s Plantation (you’ll recognise the house from the reverse side of the 5 cent / nickel coin) or George Vanderbilt’s country estate – Biltmore House (America’s largest home!)
We didn’t do this as one trip due to time constraints – we spent a week on the Parkway as far as Asheville and on another occasion visited the GSMNP (from the Tennessee side).
Blue Ridge Parkway
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
We sandwiched this drive – to the Everglades and on to Key West – between the Theme Parks of Orlando and our few days at Clearwater Beach before heading home. Who doesn’t want to see crocodiles and Key Largo! It meant retracing our steps – or road miles – to and from Key West but hey – its worth driving it twice!
The Highway 1 route from San Francisco to LA must be the best known self drive in this part of the world but you can extend it into a great loop incorporating Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Death Valley or even go as far as Las Vegas.
From san Francisco to L.A.
Tahoe / Death Valley / Yosemite
Ah – something special about this one – and funny contrasts – open road one day and city centre walkabouts the next. This one should not be rushed so you’d need to allow at least two weeks, especially for detours to Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Joshua Tree, etc……
6.Pennsylvania / New Jersey
This region mightn’t spring to mind when planning a road trip but if you’re tight on time…. We’ve spent two short breaks in the area – and I mean short – just a few nights – but we did the brilliant Gettysburg tour and visited the traditional Amish community in Lancaster County on one trip and very recently we’d a few even shorter day excursions in New Jersey….. Newark Airport is perfect – means you can just pick up your car and avoid NYC and off you go…
Gettysburg / Lancaster County / Atlantic City
Wildwood / Princeton University / Cape May
7.The Midwest / West
We crammed far too much into a 2 week loop here – Denver / Salt Lake City / Grand Tetons / Yellowstone / Cody / Devils Tower / Mount Rushmore / Black Hills of Dakota / Badlands….. and that’s just off the top of my head!! But great bucket list stuff!
SLC Temple / Grand Teton NP / Yellowstone
Devils Tower / Mount Rushmore / Badlands NP
I said Ten American Trips – not US Trips….
Very like home – even the accents!!! Outdoor enthusiasts will love it here but there are other surprises – the archaeological site at the Colony of Avalon, the famous Ferryland Lighthouse Picnic and the colourful houses of St. Johns….
We flew in to Deer Lake (from Toronto) and out of St Johns (home via Newark). We just had 7 nights which wasn’t enough – 10 nights would have been good.
Gros Morne N.P. / Whale watching / St. Johns
You can head off on a very accessible loop from Cancun or wherever you are based on the Costa Maya – in just 3 or 4 days, you can search out and swim in a few cenotes, explore the colonial towns of Merida and Valladolid, visit the ancient ruins of Uxmal, Kabah (and others off the usual tourist trail), wander the yellow city of Izamal and linger as long as you wish in the sacred city of Chichen Itza – now imagine enjoying all that but not on a tour bus!
Merida / Uxmal / Cenote
Kabah / Izamal / Chichen Itza
Fly-drive is a hugely popular option here – cloud forest, volcano, wildlife, beach….. It’s as good as it always looks in those brochures!!
There you have it …..the list isn’t complete – I didn’t include Louisiana, Tennessee or our very first one from Connecticut to Cape Cod in 1983! (it’s not that they’re not worthy – I just wanted a roundy ten!!).
And looking ahead….
Hopefully we’ll make it back there for some more driving. If so, these are on the list…
New England in the Fall
Pacific Coast north from San Francisco to Seattle
Disclosure / Attribution
I’m not sending you anywhere I haven’t visited myself but I have cheated a bit (well – a lot!) on the photos. 2 reasons – I’m missing photos from several years so have huge gaps in my travel records but, also – some of these trips go back a bit so I must also admit to laziness and not rooting out the old photos and scanning them (now WHAT did I spend all of Covid doing!).
The following are my own – Arizona / Utah, Blue Ridge Parkway / GSMNP, Route 66, Costa Rica and most of New Jersey. The rest are courtesy of Wikimedia (no restrictions).