Families who want to avoid long airline security lines, cancelled flights and hotels with hefty price tags need look no further for aviation-free adventure and budget-conscious bonding than great American highways -- family road trips are all the rage.
The mother road of all road trip-friendly highways has to be Route 66. Running between Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 was called "the main street of America" for three decades. Then, in 1984, it was officially decommissioned and renamed "Historic Route 66."
You can take any stretch of the historic route and drive through miles of classic kitschy Americana. For instance, the "Cadillac Ranch" in Amarillo, Texas, is an iconographic "graveyard" of Cadillacs stuck in the dust like a 1950s version of Stonehenge. (Kids who loved the film 'Cars' won't want to miss it.) One major city on the route, Albuquerque, NM, itself is a budget traveler's dream. Unlike its sister city, Santa Fe, Albuquerque hasn't been overrun yet with chic boutiques, citified shamans and overpriced turquoise outlets.
It's still a bit gritty, real and great fun for kids. The city's old square, for instance, is bounded by attractions like a rattlesnake museum and New Mexico's only indigenous perfume boutique, which has been selling cowboy's and cowgirl's cologne for over 50 years. Log onto www.historic66.com for full travel details and descriptions of some of the last living treasures of quirky Americana.
Although 66 is the "Mother Road" of all American road trips, there are hundreds of equally quirky and scenic routes to take all over the U.S. Here are a few:
Highways 7 and 15, from the New York state line past Bridgeport, CT. Drive past lighthouses and through old-fashioned covered bridges.
In Massachusetts, drive through the Berkshires, stopping along the road for such attractions as the 200 year-old Red Lion Inn and the area's gold mine of antique outlets. The Berkshires is also one of the best places for book barns in the United States. These treasure troves of out-of-print books are the promised land for book lovers world-wide.
A drive along I-91 through Vermont will put travelers in proximity to maple syrup farms, fresh cheese (Vermont is known for its artisanal cheeses) and gorgeous vistas of rolling, verdant hills.
Drive Highway 56 in Kansas, from Great Bend through Dodge City to Oklahoma, stopping off in Dodge City, once called the "Wickedest City in the West" and one-time home of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Fun fact: Dodge City was the fictional home of the Gunsmoke television family.
The Arkansas Highway 7 Scenic Byway through the Ozark National Forest, in the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas allows drivers to experience the 1.2 million acre forest's more than 500 species of trees. You'll also drive past the tallest mountain in the state, Mount Magazine, and a wild but accessible underground cave, Blanchard Springs Caverns.
Highway 22 in Michigan, from the Leelanau Peninsula to Traverse City straddles the entire shore of the peninsula and is in the shape of an inverted "U." Traverse City is the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World, holding an annual week-long Cherry Festival the first full week in July. Besides cherries, the surrounding countryside produces grapes and is one of the centers of wine production in the Midwest.
Coastal Highway 1 follows the Pacific coastline from Baja, Mexico to the top of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The most scenic stretch is the 139 miles south through California from Monterey to Morro Bay near San Luis Obispo. Along this route you'll find some of the most amazing coastal scenery of Big Sur just outside your car window. At nearby San Simeon, the 100-room Hearst Castle, high in the Santa Lucia Mountains, overlooks the ocean. This lavish home of William Randolph Hearst, a self-made multimillionaire miner and rancher and ultimately, publisher became a state monument in 1951 and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California.
I-70, west of Denver to Utah, flows past Bryce Canyon and the Hoover Dam and was the first Interstate Highway Project begun in the United States. In Colorado and Utah, the route passes through the Eisenhower Tunnel, Glenwood Canyon and the San Rafael Swell. With an elevation of 11,158 feet, the Eisenhower Tunnel is the highest point along the Interstate highway system.