THE SCENIC ROUTE
Great American Drives
From dramatic sea-sprayed coastlines to rambling country roads, here are nine worthy reasons to fill up your gas tank.
VERMONT ROUTE 100
Stamford, Vt. to Newport, Vt., 216 miles
Snaking through the center of Vermont all the way from the Massachusetts border to Canada, Route 100 feels less like a state highway than one long, rambling backcountry path. A strict billboard ban preserves every vista as the road winds between the peaks of Green Mountain National Forest and passes through quaint valley towns like Hyde Park and Weston, population 631. With only farm stands, country stores, and covered bridges breaking up the landscape, you'll consistently feel 200 miles from the 21st century.
Don't miss: The seven-mile stretch through Granville Gulf State Reservation, a favorite for leaf peepers, is also home to the multitiered, 35-foot Moss Glen Falls, which can be seen from the road.
Trip tip: The Vermont Curiosities guidebook ($16) goes beyond foliage, introducing travelers to little-known gems around the state, from roadside barbecue joints to hole-in-the-wall museums.
GREAT LAKES SEAWAY TRAIL
Massena, N.Y. to West Springfield, Pa., 518 miles
Consider this scenic waterfront byway an inland version of California's Route 1—minus the traffic. Among the highlights of the 500-plus-mile drive: the St. Lawrence Seaway's imposing Eisenhower Lock, the 28 historic lighthouses skirting the shores of the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, and Lakes Ontario and Erie, and the country's ultimate aquatic spectacle, Niagara Falls. Forty state parks along the way supply ample spots for camping, as well as opportunities for everything from bird-watching to shipwreck diving.
Don't miss: Presque Isle State Park, a sandy, 3,200-acre peninsula near Erie, Pa., has miles of untouched beaches to explore.
Trip tip: Ditch the tired car games in favor of the Seaway Trail's new geocaching trail: a high-tech treasure hunt where you use a GPS unit to locate natural and historic landmarks. Supplies are available at the Seaway Trail Discovery Center's online gift shop.
BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Waynesboro, Va. to Cherokee, N.C., 469 miles
One of the New Deal's most ambitious endeavors, this curvaceous "park to park highway" links Virginia's Shenandoah National Park with North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains via dozens of hairpin turns and 26 tunnels cut through Appalachian granite. Spot a 19th-century farm or postage-stamp-size town at the bottom of a verdant mountainside and you'll realize how seemingly unchanged the road remains since its inception in 1935.
Don't Miss: Concerts of traditional Appalachian banjo and fiddle music start at 10 a.m. Sunday through Thursday at the Blue Ridge Music Center, located in Galax, Va.
Trip Tip: Banjo music is the ideal soundtrack for this drive. Get in the mood with Drive Time: Blue Ridge Parkway($8), a CD compilation of Appalachian music with songs by Aaron Copland and John Williams.
FLORIDA'S OVERSEAS HIGHWAY
Key Largo to Key West, 113 miles
Spanning more than 100 miles of the Florida Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean, this one-of-a-kind road is actually the largest segmented bridge in the world, crossing the water in 42 places as it hops across the 1,700 islands of the Florida Keys. At dozens of spots along the route, side streets let drivers tackle a stretch on foot or bicycle, or break for snorkeling through a shipwreck at San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park and sunbathing at Bahia Honda State Park.
Don't miss: The Seven Mile Bridge—only a slight exaggeration, at 6.79 miles long—connects the Middle and Lower Keys and rises 65 feet above the water, high enough to gain unobstructed 360-degree visibility.
Trip tip: Read Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, which is set in Key West; then visit the eccentric author's home, now a museum at the end of the highway.
HISTORIC ROUTE 66
Chicago to Los Angeles, 2,448 miles
First immortalized by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, this original mega-highway has long personified the American dream of escaping hard times and making it big out West. Although you won't find the 84-year-old road on maps anymore (it's been replaced by segments of the Interstate Highway System), you can still follow the classic drive from the small towns of the Midwest and Great Plains through the deserts of the Southwest and on to Los Angeles.
Don't miss: The 400-mile-long Oklahoma portion best embodies the retro spirit most 66 travelers are looking for, with ghost towns like Texola and Americana-rich sights such as the 66-foot-tall soda bottle marking Pops restaurant in Arcadia.
Trip tip: Find (and stay on) the historic route with Here It Is! Route 66 The Map Series (historic66.com, $12), eight foldout maps with full driving directions and recommendations for the most worthwhile stops.