The idea of taking the family on a classic road trip to nowhere is not as common as it was decades ago, before new multi-lane roads were paved across America. Iconic highways like Route 66 were well-traveled paths for exploring new sites while escaping everyday life for a short while. Nowadays most travelers have specific destinations and they want to get there as quickly as possible. Driving aimlessly, with no particular plans or itinerary is much more of a rarity, and it’s a real shame.
This great and huge land we call home is riddled with small country roads and highways which are all too often passed by in favor of faster moving interstates. The quaint mom and pop diners located off the beaten pathways have yielded to chain restaurants and truck stops where rushed travelers wolf down overpriced meals, anxious to get back on the road.
Here are some good reasons to slow down. Take some pictures. Reacquaint yourself with your family. Remember them? Hop off of the interstate and forget about the crowded tourist haunts for just once. See the real America where the scenery is still picturesque perfect and the people aren’t herding heads of tourists through turnstiles. If you aren’t certain where you can still take a pleasant non-rushed road trip like in days of yore, perhaps this list of America’s less-traveled back roads will get you started.
Byway 12 – Utah
Also known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” what could more refreshing than breathing in the eye-candy of Utah’s Red Rock Country? The road winds itself past huge sandstone rock formations, areas of forestation decorated with orange hoodoos and alpines, lakes, and desert brush. It’s the only place in the world where the flowering Red Canyon Beardtongue grows, and you won’t find it sprouting by an interstate.
Byway 12 runs between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks and the good people of Utah claim it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. The highway runs a total distance of 150 miles, but an extra 120 miles can be added for side trips which can be enjoyed along the way, such as visiting the ruins of an ancient Native American village. Since some travelers prefer taking three or four days to fully explore the area, hotels, motels, and campgrounds are scattered here and there. And don’t worry. Nobody in the country ever goes hungry. Hint: Try Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm for the best vittles anywhere!
The Natchez Trace Parkway – Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee
The Natchez Trace Parkway runs 444 miles through the time tunnel of history. Before it was paved the trail was walked by early Native Americans, fur traders, slaves, soldiers, European settlers, and boatmen known as “Kaintucks” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Parkway begins in Natchez, Mississippi, and ends in Nashville as it runs through three states and past the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. There are hiking and biking trails along the journey for stretching those cramped legs out amid the wonders of nature. Want to go horseback riding? No problemo.
Stately manors and small hospitable southern towns full of meat-and-three diners are strung from one end of the parkway to the other. A popular landmark is the birthplace of Elvis Presley and portions of the original trail are still accessible. Accommodations are no problem, to include lots of campsites for tents and/or RV’s. The trail ends in Nashville and what could be better than some live music and a cold one after several days on the road?
Ohio River Scenic Byway – Ohio
This one gently rolls for 450 miles alongside the Ohio River from East Liverpool to Cincinnati. Travelers along the route will pass Shawnee State Park and Wayne National Forest where there are no shortages of nature or beauty.
From the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century the ceramics industry was the focal point of East Liverpool. Today, the Museum of Ceramics serves as a standing testament to the enormity of product once produced there.
Nobody traveling the byway can stay in their vehicle for long with all of the antique shops, artist studios, and farmers markets. Other adventures include canoeing, exploring caves, hiking, and staring at a sky full of stars. Several wineries beckon visitors, and stately manors are open for touring. To make your trip especially special, stay at B&B’s for the ultimate experience. Once in Cincinnati, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House are almost required visits.
Cayuga Lake Scenic Byway – New York
This one is shorter than the others at only 87 miles. But. What an amazing 87 miles it is. It starts at Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in the north and comes to a halt in Ithaca as it circles the shores of Cayuga Lake, the longest of the 11 Fingers Lakes.
The beauty along this route is spellbinding, especially in the Fall when the leaves shine a brilliant hue of orange and reds. New York state is well known for its prize-winning wine which can be found fermenting at multiple wineries. Fresh apple cideries and craft breweries set amid rolling hills offer travelers a taste of their creations.
Once in Ithaca, the Ithaca Farmers Market at Steamboat Landing is where you can pick up handcrafted items, antiques, produce fresh off the vine, and all sorts of odds and ends.
Scenic Highway 30A – Florida
Do you like deserted white sand beaches? How about sand dunes, state parks, coastal lakes, salt air, and fresh seafood? If you do, this is the drive for you.
The Underwater Museum of Art should not be missed, especially if the kids are along. Off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park is the worlds only permanent underwater sculpture exhibit. The small beach town of Seaside is considered the birthplace of New Urbanism and The Truman Show was filmed there. If you’re hungry, try Airstream Row for the hippest of possible experiences. Vintage trailers serve as restaurants, each one offering different options.
All across America these all but forgotten roads, byways, and highways exist. You won’t have 18-wheelers blowing you off the road or billboards lined up in a row. You’ll find the peaceful and relaxing experience which can only coe from following the road less traveled.