5 Awesome & Affordable American Drives
Every corner of the U.S.—including yours!—offers a bold, beautiful road trip that rolls out an unforgettable vacation at a reasonable price. Here, five that we bet you haven’t taken yet.
The largest of the five national parks at 527 square miles, Canyonlands includes the northern Island in the Sky section (all grand, wide canyons), and the more intimate Needles, where pygmy juniper trees decorate the ground, and hundreds of layers of sandstone fan out in phyllo-like sheets. The black stone of Newspaper Rock is covered in petroglyphs that were scratched over a 2,000-year period by native tribes (Anasazi, Fremont, Paiute, and Navajo). It's an impressive collage of images: men on horseback hunting antelope, oversize gods sprouting horns and antlers. Get a good head start on tomorrow by staying in Torrey, where the Cowboy Homestead Cabins will welcome you (cowboyhomesteadcabins.com).
Torrey is the gateway to Capitol Reef, the least well known of Utah's five national parks. Route 24 cuts through it, threading a high valley carved by the little Fremont River. The 10-mile Scenic Drive leads to a long wash (a dry canyon that becomes a river after heavy rain). The walls rise hundreds of feet on both sides as the dirt road twists its way through the increasingly narrow canyon.
Splurge on Bryce Canyon Lodge (brycecanyonlodge.com) for a night—ask for a lovely balcony with rough-hewn logs for a railing. At Bryce, the altitude ranges from about 7,900 feet to more than 9,100 feet. Two of its best overlooks are at Agua Canyon and the rock window called Natural Bridge.
When you get to Zion, you may want to opt for the park's most rewarding short hike, the half-mile-long Canyon Overlook Trail. Private cars are no longer allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive north of the visitors center, so catch the free shuttle to the Riverside Walk trail, which leads to the Narrows, a 16-mile trail that doubles as the bed of the Virgin River. After hitting five national parks along this great drive, collapse into a comfy bed at the Canyon Ranch Motel (canyonranchmotel.com) after soaking in its outdoor hot tub!
Key West to Key Largo
Lined with Victorian mansions and late-19th-century commercial buildings, Key West's main road, Duval Street, is a picturesque thoroughfare pocked with rocking-loud bars. A quieter side of Key West is immediately apparent when you turn onto Petronia Street, heading into the Bahama Village neighborhood.
At Blue Heaven restaurant (305/296-8666), in a courtyard that was the scene of boxing matches during the Depression, tables sit under a canopy of trees, a balmy breeze stirring their leaves, and at least a half dozen of Key West's free-roaming chickens scratch around for crumbs. The special is a lobster melt—like a fancy tuna melt—and it's as good as it sounds.
Catch the tour at the Little White House (305/294-9911), an 1890 house on Key West's former naval base. Harry Truman vacationed there 11 times during his presidency.
Don't miss Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, a daily event since the sixties. Grab a margarita from a stand and wander among the crowds and street performers before turning in at the Chelsea House (chelseahousekw.com), in a converted Victorian house surrounded by a garden that makes it feel private and tranquil, though it's just a stone's throw from Duval Street.
Before hitting the road the next day, stop by the Hemingway Home and Museum (hemingwayhome.com), where Ernest Hemingway lived with his second wife, Pauline, and their two sons from 1931 to 1940. It's said that Hemingway was given a six-toed cat—often called "mitten cats"—by a friend who was a ship captain; many cats, most of which are its descendants, live on the grounds today. As the writer quipped, "One cat just leads to another." And speaking of animals, don't miss the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (keywestbutterfly.com), where you'll be amazed at the sight of so many elusive, fluttering beauties.
When it's time to head north, Route 1, the Overseas Highway, is a sight in itself. In the 1880s, Henry Flagler, an original partner in Standard Oil, began developing resorts along Florida's east coast. He also started buying up and connecting the state's railroad lines. St. Augustine, Palm Beach, and Miami all owe their development to Flagler's efforts. Between 1905 and 1912, Flagler constructed the Over-Sea Railroad, 156 miles of track—much of it on trestles over open water—that linked Miami and Key West. When the first train rolled into town in 1912, it was greeted by 15,000 townspeople. Unfortunately, a fierce hurricane ripped through the Keys in 1935; an 18-foot tidal wave and 200-mile-per-hour winds washed out the embankment and mangled tracks, but the bridges and trestles stood. In 1938, the federal government took over the route and built the Overseas Highway. Route 1 is the main (and often only) road on the narrow strips of land that are the various keys. Mile-marker signs, which start from zero in Key West, are used as locators for addresses along the highway.