After spending too much time around the house in recent years, the summer and fall of 2023 are the perfect seasons to go on a revitalizing road trip. So, pack up the car and head out with your favorite traveling partner for a journey of adventure to a long-planned destination or just to see where the road may take you.
Starting in the western Virginia town of Front Royal, Skyline Drive is a 105-mile-long parkway that meanders along mountain crests through the heart of the Shenandoah National Park. Four access points on the road and a speed limit of 35 mph make Skyline Drive a relaxing ride through the densely forested highlands. Side trips can include caverns, historic battlefields, and riverside hiking trails, while Big Meadows at the halfway point is a popular stop for lunch or an overnight stay. Charlottesville’s college town is just a few miles from the road’s southern terminus near Waynesboro, where scenic Skyline Drive directly connects to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
If you’ve got a road-trip bucket list, the Blue Ridge Parkway should be at the top. Riding along the backbone of the Appalachian Mountains for 469 miles in western Virginia and North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an engineering marvel where every turn reveals another postcard for America the Beautiful. Rising to elevations as high as 6,000 feet, the two-lane highway is carried across ravines and other roads by more than 170 bridges and through the mountains in 26 tunnels. Big trucks and commercial billboards aren’t allowed on the route, where the maximum speed limit is 45 mph, a leisurely pace that makes it possible to enjoy the views while driving and at the 200 scenic overlooks along the way.
From Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains, you could drive the entire Parkway in about 14 straight hours. But, this national treasure is best savored in segments as a multi-day adventure, with plenty of time to stop at historic sites, folk-art centers, and nature preserves with hiking trails and waterfalls. At each of the two dozen Parkway access points, there are welcoming towns with local restaurants, shops, inns, and unique attractions from the Peaks of Otter to the Biltmore Estate. And, while the toll-free road is open year-round, it’s best to check the National Park Service website and download the app for road-condition updates and timing for the peak colors if you’re planning a spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway tour this autumn.
THE TENNESSEE MUSIC HIGHWAY
The official “Tennessee Music Highway” is a 210-mile stretch of Interstate 40 from Nashville to Memphis. Still, you can nearly double the length of that trip and see the entire song-filled state by starting in the eastern Appalachian Mountain region. The city of Bristol is known as “The Birthplace of Country Music” because many of the genre’s early innovators, like the Carter family, came from the area, having taken elements of traditional folk- and bluegrass-style music to create a uniquely American sound. And, just south of Knoxville, stop in Pigeon Forge to enjoy Dolly Parton’s musical theme park at Dollywood.
Heading west on I-40 past Crossville and Cookeville, you arrive in Nashville, the world-famous “Home of Country Music.” Most of the major recording studios and touring performers are based here, often appearing at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. You can also head downtown for special shows at the Opry’s original location in Ryman Auditorium or catch a rising star at one of the dozens of nearby nightlife venues.
Along the Tennessee Music Highway are sites devoted to legends like Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Eddie Arnold, and Tina Turner, as well as unique attractions like the International Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The tour reaches its crescendo on Beale Street in Memphis, where pioneering blues musicians established the style that led to modern rock-and-roll. It’s only fitting that your last musical stop is the final home of “The King,” Elvis Presley’s Graceland Estate.
THE NATCHEZ TRACE PARKWAY
From Nashville, TN, to the banks of the Mississippi River, the Natchez Trace Parkway is a scenic 444-mile recreational roadway through parts of three southern states. It roughly follows the ancient track used first by Native Americans and later by European settlers to traverse the wilderness region. Along the way today are historic sites, casual country diners, rural towns with cozy inns, and portions of the original trail that you can hike on foot or explore on horseback.
Major attractions include the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum in Tupelo and the riverfront town of Natchez. From there, you can jump on to the Mississippi Blues Trail, an authentic American musical journey that takes you north to Tunica or down to the Gulf of Mexico coast.
U.S. HIGHWAY 17
Often called “The Coastal Highway” because it links major cities on the Southeastern Atlantic seaboard, U.S. Highway 17 rolls for just over 1,200 miles through five states. But, the north-south route actually begins in the Virginia mountain town of Winchester, followed by a leisurely ride through the countryside past Fredericksburg and directly to the Yorktown historic site near Williamsburg.
The North Carolina section of U.S. 17 is probably the most scenic, passing over estuary bridges and through delightful waterfront towns like Edenton and New Bern on the way to the port city of Wilmington. Next up is the Carolina Grand Strand around the vacation hub of Myrtle Beach, followed by the South Carolina coastal gems of Charleston and Beaufort.
On the Georgia side of the border is Savannah and the state’s Sea Islands on the way to Jacksonville. The next stretch goes through “Old Florida” towns, past Orlando, and through the Fort Myers-Sarasota area to a southern terminus in the Gulf Coast town of Punta Gorda.
U.S. Highway 17 isn’t a parkway or an interstate, so you’re going to encounter local traffic on this road trip. Most of the big urban areas have marked “Alt 17” routes that keep you moving on less congested bypasses. But, if you have a few days or more to travel, with overnight stays in historic downtowns or nearby beach resorts, a road trip on “The Coastal Highway” is a great adventure that includes visits to many of the South’s finest destinations.
THE FLORIDA KEYS OVERSEAS HIGHWAY
You won’t actually leave the country if you take a road trip down the Florida Keyes Overseas Highway, but you will end up at the southernmost point in the continental United States. Originally established as a train route in 1912 and later converted to a roadway as the final stretch of U.S. 1, the Overseas Highway flies above the water and leapfrogs between islands on 42 bridges for a total of 113 miles. Starting on Key Largo south of Miami, the roadway takes you past the popular sport-fishing destinations of Islamorada and Marathon to state parks and marine sanctuaries in the Lower Keys. Your final destination is Key West, with its famous homes, lively arts community, and nightly waterfront sunset celebrations.
Reposted from an article in Ideal-LIVING Magazine, 2023 Summer Issue – Best Places to Live