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6 road trips stops along the underrated Gulf Coast

By Terry Ward
updated September 29, 2021
Coastal Mississippi Beach Blvd Credit Coastal Mississippi 1
Coastal Mississippi

On a recent road trip with my family from Pensacola, Florida, west along Interstate-10 through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got a taste of all I’ve been missing out on in the Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure this stretch of Interstate-10 and the backroads branching off make for the the most underrated road trip in the South. Read on for a six great stops to make during a road trip along the surprising Gulf Coast.

ALABAMA

Meet sloths and lemurs at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

There is so much to love at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, Alabama, it’s hard to know where to start. Dubbed “The little zoo that could” for how it’s survived three major hurricanes (and now the pandemic, too), this beautiful and largely open-air facility offers phenomenal animal encounters you hardly find everywhere, including the chance to hand-feed sloths for just $19.95 per person (in addition to zoo admission, which is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids ages 3 to 12).

Whatever you do, don’t miss the zoo’s butterfly exhibit, featuring a jaw-dropping collection donated by a local resident that’s housed inside a room designed to look like a field research tent. Hundreds of incredible butterflies and moths (some with patterns on their wings that look just like snake heads, to scare off predators) are the stuff of pure wonder.

Even if you’re not visiting the zoo itself, you can still have lunch on a spacious deck overlooking the grounds at The Safari Club (no zoo admission required), where a menu of delicious wood-fired pizzas, Gulf Coast seafood and more awaits.

For a bike ride through Gulf State Park, Alabama

Home to bobcats, bald eagles, alligators, owls and many more animals, Gulf State Park (free admission) has 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks that are a blast to explore by bicycle.

The park even has a free bike share program you can access with your smartphone. And you can rent tandem bikes and trailers for pulling kids along the trails, too, through Beach Bike Rentals in Orange Beach, Alabama (all rentals come with helmet and locks, starting from $25 for the day).

When you’re not paddling through the coastal habitats, make time to relax at Gulf State Park’s two miles of white sand beaches and check out the Gulf State Park Campground, one of the best places to put up a tent or pull in with an RV in the state.


Shrimp boats at sunset. Credit: Coastal Mississippi.

MISSISSIPPI

Hang out in the adorable town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Continuing west along Interstate-10 into Mississippi, plan to spend a night or longer in the adorable coastal town of Ocean Springs, where a stay at the new-in-2020 Beatnik hotel (rooms from $157 per night) is nothing short of revelatory.

The property has just four cabins decorated in mid-century boho style, each with a private patio complete an outdoor shower and hammock. There’s a communal plunge pool and fire pit, too, where guess gather for socially-distanced drinks at sunset.

Stroll along Front Beach, the town’s small sandy beach, or visit the many outdoor galleries and cafes in Ocean Springs’ compact downtown. The best spot for a delicious and budget-minded breakfast is undoubtedly The Greenhouse on Porter, right next to the Beatnik, with heavenly housemade biscuits slathered with honey butter.

Mississippi Aquarium

Brand new in August 2020, the Mississippi Aquarium (admission $29.95 per person, $24.95 for kids ages 3 to 12) in Gulfport houses over 200 species of animals and native plants within indoor and outdoor exhibition areas overlooking the Mississippi Sound in downtown Gulfport.

Among the many interesting animals you can see here are bottlenose dolphins, cow nose rays, American crocodiles and green-winged doves.

Visitors age 10 and older can even get into the water with SeaTREK ($79.95 per person), a two-hour experience during which you don a helmet and enter one of the aquarium’s habitats to see fish, sharks and rays upclose from a perspective that’s similar to a scuba diver’s vantage point.


LOUISIANA

Go deep into Honey Island Swamp on a bayou tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell, Louisiana

This Florida girl got an education on the difference between the Everglades and freshwater bayou habitats during a fascinating tour by boat into Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish with Cajun Encounters (from $57.50 per person, $37.50 for kids ages 3 to 12).

We spotted wild boars sloshing around the bald cypress tree-filled bayou (essentially a flooded forest, as the guide explained it), learned all about the mythical bayou swamp monster called Letiche and even visited a floating village that looked like something straight from a Swamp People episode.

Private and group tours are available.

Take a family-friendly hike with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana

Prefer to stay on dry land when exploring the bayou? A Louisiana Master Naturalist is your guide during hikes that can be as easy or adventurous as you like with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana (the company also offers paddling tours and canoe and kayak rentals).

I loved exploring trails maintained by local Boy Scouts troops at Northlake Nature Center with our guide, Chad Almquist, who showed my kids how to scoop up crawfish and tiny minnows using nets in the shallow bayou waters. Our hike led us along boardwalks and trails through wetlands and hardwood forests where we scouted for salamanders under rocks and spotted native birds (private tours from $49 per person).

 

 

 

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Road Trips

3 rad road trips to visit Utah’s best state parks

With so many spectacular national parks in Utah, its state parks are often overlooked. But don't sleep on them, Utah is one of the most beautiful states in America!To help you in your quest to visit these under-appreciated areas, we’ve gathered basic itineraries for three road trips that take you to 11 of Utah’s best state parks. Remember to do research ahead of time if you’re traveling during the era of COVID-19. Not all visitor centers may be open, and typical gear rental options may not be available. Wasatch Mountain. Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr Creative Commons License. Road Trip #1: Antelope Island, Wasatch Mountain, and Millsite Often, red rocks are the only thing associated with Utah’s nature scene, but this landscape is only one part of what Utah offers. Embark on this three-day road trip to see what we mean. Parks on Road Trip #1 Day 1: Antelope Island State Park After entering the park, hike the 1-mile Buffalo Point Trail, stopping to soak in views of Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. Once you’ve worked up a sweat, head down to take a dip at Bridger Bay Beach. After you’re done bobbing around in the salty water, drive the rest of the park's road. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for large animals such as bison, pronghorn, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. Day 2: Wasatch Mountain State Park Distance from Antelope Island: 1 hour, 30 minutes Hike the 6.1-mile trail to Lake Mary via Catherine Pass. Just be sure to get an early start and have a backup plan for parking as this is a popular trail. If you’re comfortable with adding on less than a mile, take two detours to visit Lake Catherine and Lake Martha while you’re on the trail. Day 3: Millsite State Park Distance from Wasatch Mountain: 3 hours Bring your water vessel of choice for a phenomenal day of paddling on the beautiful waters of the Millsite Reservoir. With stunning views all around, you won’t want to get out of the water. Dead Horse Point State Park. Photo by Fabio Achilli. Flickr Creative Commons lIcense. Road Trip #2: Goblin Valley, Dead Horse Point, Edge of the Cedars, and Goosenecks This three-day road trip showcases both the natural and cultural resources Utah has to offer by delivering otherworldly views and teaching you about Anasazi history. Parks on Road Trip #2 Day 1: Goblin Valley State Park Venture to another planet on your first stop of this road trip. Goblin Valley State Park transports you to Mars as you hike among astonishing sandstone formations. Explore the Valley of Goblins, a free-roaming area without trails. Once you’re ready for a slight change in scenery, head to the campground with a frisbee (or rent one) to play on one of the most unique 9-hole disc golf courses you’ll ever find. Day 2: Dead Horse Point State Park Distance from Goblin Valley: 1 hour, 45 minutes This often-forgotten Moab state park offers similar views to Canyonlands National Park with far fewer visitors to share them with. Complete the 5-mile loop on the rim to hit as many scenic overlooks as possible. Day 3, Part 1: Edge of the Cedars State Park Distance from Dead Horse Point: 2 hours At this park, you’ll step away from the focus on natural resources and turn your attention towards history and culture instead. Edge of the Cedars State Park includes a museum housing fascinating exhibits such as an incredible collection of Ancestral Puebloan pottery. After you’ve finished exploring the museum, gain a better understanding of how people used to live there by wandering the ruins outside. You even have the opportunity to enter a 1,000-year-old kiva! Day 3, Part 2: Goosenecks State Park Distance from Edge of the Cedars: 1 hour After you’ve finished exploring Edge of the Cedars, take the short drive to Goosenecks State Park. Goosenecks is an interesting park in that it does not hold any hiking or biking trails within its boundaries. This means it’s best to simply enjoy the park via an overlook accessed by your vehicle. Bring a picnic to extend your time spent watching the San Juan River carving the rock below. Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo by Jeff Hollett, Flicker creative commons license. Road Trip #3: Escalante Petrified Forest, Kodachrome Basin, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Snow Canyon This four-day road trip incorporates quite a few unique activities in Southern Utah, including sandboarding, geocaching, and hiking inside lava tubes! Parks on Road Trip #3 Day 1: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park After stopping by the visitor’s center to learn about petrified wood and how it’s formed, take a stroll through the park to see this magnificent phenomenon with your own eyes. A 2-mile trail combining the Petrified Forest Trail and the Sleeping Rainbows Trail will take you through lava flows and oodles of petrified wood. Day 2: Kodachrome Basin State Park Distance from Escalante Petrified Forest: 1 hour Explore the towering spires of Kodachrome Basin State Park by foot! The park has put together a geocache challenge that takes you on four trails. GPS coordinates for this challenge are found on Kodachrome Basin’s website. Save the geocache located on the Cool Cave loop for last so you can traverse the rest of the 6-mile Panorama Trail loop if you have the time (and energy). Day 3: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Distance from Kodachrome Basin: 2 hours Bring along (or rent) a sled or snowboard to shred some sand in this wild landscape of sand dunes. Once you’re ready for a change of activity, go explore the dunes on foot! Just be sure to stay aware of ATVs as off-roading is a popular activity in the park. Day 4: Snow Canyon State Park Distance from Coral Pink Sand Dunes: 1 hour, 30 minutes Finish up your road trip with a long day of two hikes at Snow Canyon State Park. The first is the 4.8-mile Snow Canyon Overlook Trail, one that rewards you with a remarkable view at the end. The second is the 2.3-mile Lava Tube Trail, one offering the rare experience of meandering through–you guessed it–lava tubes! We hope these itineraries help you explore some of the lesser-known areas of an absolutely phenomenal state. Be sure to let us know in the comments which road trip you’d go on and whether we missed any of your favorite Utah state parks!

Road Trips

How to make your car road-trip ready

This content is sponsored byAre you ready? Not so fast. More than 60 percent of American families hit the road on vacation, and an estimated four out of 10 drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns The top reasons for roadside emergencies are fairly predictable: Are you one of the two-thirds of American drivers who don’t test their car batteries? Are you the one in five who has no idea how to change a tire? Are you one of the four in 10 who don’t carry an emergency kit onboard? Here’s how to ensure your next road trip goes off without a hitch. 1. Give your car a checkup You know the drill: Schedule a maintenance checkup in advance of your trip. Check the oil, fluid levels, battery, and tires. Make sure you have air in your spare tire. Sure, this seems obvious, but chances are you haven't done it yet, right? Keep a basic car care kit in your automobile © Getty Images 2. Carry an emergency kit Auto science is not rocket science: Pack a mobile phone and charger that can plug into your car, a flashlight (with fresh batteries and backups), a first-aid kit, a basic tool kit (including tire-pressure gauge and adjustable wrench), windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks for both humans and pets. Assembling an emergency kit may seem like a hassle. You know what’s an even bigger hassle? Being stuck on the side of the road without any of the things on this list. Set good habits to keep your keys where you need them © Getty Images 3. Don’t get locked out Carry extra car keys, take a moment to grab your keys before exiting the car, and check the batteries on keyless-entry remotes and smart keys and keep them protected from water and other hazards. Some drivers find establishing consistent car-key habits (you might even call them rituals) helps them keep track of their keys. For instance: Always store keys in the same place, say the word ‘keys’ out loud before leaving your vehicle, and change batteries on remotes at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. Make sure your car insurance is up to date © Getty Images 4. Audit your insurance Double check your car insurance to make sure you have a printed copy of your policy and you are up to date on payments. Nobody wants to get in an accident far from home without the proper insurance. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet, and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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Road TripsBudget Travel Lists

10 of the most scenic drives in the USA

This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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Road Trips

5 fall foliage road trips through New York State

So now, it’s a good time to jump on a road trip. Here are our suggested itineraries for a four-day road trip throughout upstate New York. However, read up on CDC and statewide COVID-19 mandates before heading out. For reference, I Love New York, the state’s tourism board, puts out a weekly fall foliage map report on their website. Chasm (Little Grand Canyon of East), New York. ©ujjwalstha/ShutterstockRoad trip 1: The Adirondacks Where to Stop: Lake Placid tells about the 1980 Winter Games with present-day restaurants and attractions and is close to the High Peaks Wilderness. Its challenging 46 Peaks will reward you with sweeping foliage views. Eight miles from Lake Placid, Saranac Lake has a buzzing downtown with shops, galleries and restaurants, or see Saranac Lake 6ers, a close-by collection of six beautiful peaks. Or jaunt along the scenic route to Tupper Lake and to the Wild Center, whose Wild Wild platformed trail heads across the treetops. The Tawahus Road leads to the Upper Works Trailhead, which provides an alternative route to traditional northern or eastern access to the High Peaks Wilderness. Trails at the Crown Point State Historic Site, on the shores of Lake Champlain, lead to two Revolutionary War-era fort ruins. In Bolton Landing, Adirondack Extreme Adventure Course is the largest aerial tree-top adventure park in the U.S. The Lake George area is a premier hiking destination with unparalleled beauty of the Adirondacks. Some hikes, such as The Pinnacle, jaunt along wooded trails with a switchback or two to ease the climbing burden. Where to eat: In Lake Placid, Golden Arrow’s restaurant, Generations, is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with grown and raised locally menu. Up the road from Crown Point State Historic Site, Gunnison's Orchards & Bakery serves up fresh-baked pastries, bread, cookies, pies, and their cinnamon cider donuts. End your day at Ledge Hill Brewery, for handcrafted ales and lagers mindfully brewed in Westport. Road Trip 2: Capital-Saratoga Where to stop: Starting from the Helderberg Hilltowns, John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville is perched atop the Helderberg Escarpment, with panoramic views of the Hudson-Mohawk valleys and the Adirondack and Green mountains. After hiking along the park’s Indian Ladder Trail, take a nine-minute drive to Indian Ladder Farms in Altamont. Kids can pick apples and pet farm animals and parents can unwind at the cidery and brewery tasting room. Lastly, at Falls View Park, marvel at Cohoes Falls, New York State’s second largest waterfall. Where to eat: Nine Pin Cider, New York's first farm cidery, has a tasting room in Albany’s Warehouse District, with a rotating selection. Find a traditional or a new flavorful spin on the apple cider donut at Cider Belly Doughnuts, in the heart of downtown Albany. Afternoon sun on sunset rock during Autumn, overlooking North-South Lake in the Catskills Mountains of New York. ©lightphoto/Getty Images Road Trip 3: Hudson Valley Where to stop: From New York City, first explore the lower Hudson Valley river towns, beginning in Tarrytown at the Lyndhurst Mansion along the Hudson River. Next, drive north to Garrison to see the Manitoga/The Russel Wright Design Center, the former home of industrial designer Russel Wright. Then, Dia:Beacon is a contemporary art museum in a Nabisco box-printing factory, whose exterior grounds were designed by artist Robert Irwin. Head to the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge connecting Poughkeepsie and Highland. From Highland, drive north approximately 25 minutes to Kingston to check out the historic waterfront district. Pumpkin and apple picking can be done at Samascott Farm Orchard and Golden Harvest Farms in nearby Valatie. Where to eat: In Tarrytown, stop by the Sweet Grass Grill for a local and seasonal focused meal. In Kingston, Outdated Café has a range of salads, egg dishes, and more; purchase antiques too. For drinks, hot spots include River Outpost Brewing (Peekskill), Wolf & Warrior (White Plains), Decadent Ales (Mamaroneck), Sing Sing Kill (Ossining) and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company (Elmsford). Road Trip 4: Central New York Where to stop: From the North, the Scenic Byway - Route 20’s scenery offers unique of shopping experiences. Lake Classic Outfitters will fit the bill at Sam Smith’s Boatyard and The Blue Mingo Grill overlooking Otsego Lake. In Cooperstown, find not only the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but also the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmers’ Museum. Main Street is the visitor hub with baseball-themed shops, eateries and the home of Doubleday Field. Where to eat: Grab a bite to eat and an ice cream with a life-sized Elvis statue at Jerry’s Place just before reaching Cooperstown. Brooks’ House of BBQ is how to fill your belly when traveling from Oneonta in the south, or try a Bohemian-feel, experiential meal at Origins. In Cooperstown, Alex’s Bistro is a local favorite with flavor concoctions unmatched. The Middle Falls At Letchworth State Park In New York. ©Jim Vallee/Shutterstock Road Trip 5: Finger Lakes Where to stop: This trip takes you from Canandaigua along Routes 5 and 20 and down to Naples, home of the grape pie. County Road #12 Scenic Overlook, Kershaw Park and Onanda Park in Canandaigua offer scenic vistas and fresh lake water. In Naples, go to Artizanns for NY made souvenirs and stop by any of the local stands for Grape Pie. In Canandaigua, there’s a cute Main Street with all kinds of shops and a couple of roof top bars. Take a fun farm diversion to go to Lazy Acres Alpacas in Bloomfield. Finger Lakes National Forest, the only national forest in New York State, is located on a ridge between Seneca and Cayuga lakes with over 30 miles of interconnecting trails. They include the 12-mile Interloken Trail, which is part of the Finger Lakes Trail Association network. The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail lies between the villages of Penn Yan and Dresden and measures nearly seven miles of wooded trail and along waterfalls. Where to eat: Ethnic diversity is noticeable in Canandaigua’s restaurant scene or check the craft breweries in the area. In Naples. Monica’s Pies is known for its grape pie and Brew and Brats at Arbor Hill has locally made sausages, pies, wine and beers.