Best Road Trip Rest Areas

Filed Under: United States

Travelers acquire favorite destinations, routes, hotels, cities, beaches and parks. But favorite rest stops? Yes, many drivers do have short lists of preferred rest stops -- some for the views, others for the amenities and at least one for the wildlife. 

Rest stops on the Interstate Highway System, which are officially called safety rest areas, are modeled after roadside parks, according to the nonprofit Rest Area History. The original idea was to “provide minimal comfort amenities for the traveling public … toilet facilities, drinking water, picnic grounds and information.” 

But you can’t keep creativity down, and in the early 1960s, “safety rest area sites emerged as unique and colorful expressions of regional flavor and modern architectural design,” according to the Rest Area History website. Here are 5 rest areas routinely lauded by road trippers.

Best View

The Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook on US Route 89, in Bear Lake, UT, sits within Cache National Forest in northeastern Utah. The area affords stunning views of the eponymous lake and surrounding mountains. There’s a vivid and helpful map of the Bear Lake Valley posted on an open air stone-and-timber shelter. There’s also a short scenic trail and a memorial plaque to the poet May Swenson, a Logan, UT, native.

Best Wildlife

Four miles southwest of Patagonia, AZ, on State Highway 82, is a rest stop that draws birders from around the country. The Roadside Rest Area, according to the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, has yielded sightings of the rare rose-throated becard, which nests in the sycamores along nearby Sonoita Creek, along with broad-billed hummingbirds, canyon wrens and Bell's vireos. For the best chance to spot cool birds, the observatory advises crossing the highway (carefully!) and walking along a fence that designates private land along Sonoita Creek.

Best for Pets

The Guilford Welcome Center, on Interstate 91 in southern Vermont, was the first welcome center on a federal highway when it was built back in 1958. It relocated to its current site in 1999. The post-and-beam barn, with a massive window facing rolling hills, won an award from the Travel Industry Association of America for the breadth and depth of information provided about the state, and for its extensive, pleasant and pet-friendly grounds. Travelers appreciate the facility’s architectural beauty, free WiFi and maple-sugar candy samples at the information desk.

Best for Families

The Tamarack Tourist Information Center, in Beckley, WV, at exit 45 of the West Virginia Turnpike (I-77), greets travelers with a crowned roof reminiscent of 1950s drive-in diners. Many things make this a family haven: the varied arts and crafts for sale from artisans all over West Virginia, many of whom make crafts on-site; live performances by regional musicians, theater groups and storytellers, along with occasional films, in a 178-seat theater; and the food, which is prepared by chefs from the nearby Greenbrier resort.

Best for RVs

The Randolph C. Collier rest area on Interstate 5 in far northern California, just south of Hornbrook, CA, wins praise from RVers on numerous fronts. First is the scenery: The rest area is tucked into a grove of trees along the Klamath River and is far enough below the highway to lessen noise for picnickers and overnighters alike. The area also has a separate parking area for RVs, which further enhances a sense of “rest,” versus the “use the restroom, hurry up and leave” vibe common at many rest stops. The stop is named for Randolph Collier, a California state senator from 1938 to 1976 who was known as the “Father of the Freeways” for authoring the Collier-Burns Highway Act of 1947, which fueled highway construction in the state.

Next time you zip past a safety rest area, think about the history, culture and scenery you might be passing up!