RV Road Trips
RV road trips, perhaps more than any mode of travel, embody the maxim, “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.” This is especially true of longer-distance sojourns, those unrestrained by tight schedules and thoroughly inviting of curiosity-stoked side trips.
Many camper chase the RV adventure grail to an almost eternal life on the road. For those who want to sample this great land of ours in more manageable bites, we offer the suggestions below for cross-country RV adventures.
Rocky Mountains: Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Glacier National Park, Montana
Why start in Albuquerque? After just 63 miles you'll have an excuse to get out and explore the cafes, galleries and shops of Santa Fe. From there, roll up to Taos (70 miles), home of the oldest continual Native American settlement in the US (1,000+ years). Head through Colorado's Buena Vista Plateau, beneath a sky-piercing line of 14,000-foot peaks, then into Leadville and over 10,424 Tennessee Pass. Work your way northwest through Steamboat, then north to Jackson, WY, Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, through Missoula, MT, and into Glacier. On each successive leg of this journey you’ll see more wildlife and fewer people.
Gulf Coast Plus: Padre Island, Texas, to the Florida Keys
South Padre Island, TX, is the wispy tail of a string of barrier islands and, resting just north of the Mexican border, is an ideal starting point for a southern RV adventure. Beyond the tiki bars and seafood restaurants, Padre Island National Seashore beckons with miles of rustic beach and excellent fishing. Head north into Corpus Christi, featuring the Art Museum of South Texas and the impressive Texas State Aquarium.
Next, wend northeast through small, Gulf Coast towns towards the Cajun joie de vie of Lafayette and Baton Rouge. Find live music on Royal Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter. After a deep-sea fishing charter out of the Biloxi, MS, city port, ramble though Alabama’s coast and down to Destin, FL, a burgeoning fishing-golfing-fun-in-the-sun city. Pick your way down the Florida barrier islands from there, but don’t miss the left turn in Naples onto Alligator Alley, an arrow-straight road lined with subtly beautiful swampland and wildlife. Take a deep breath to survive Ft. Lauderdale-Miami traffic (or wild nightlife – your choice), then roll out to the Florida Keys and let the island vibe take over.
Pacific Northwest: Olympic National Park, Washington to Lake Tahoe, California
There aren’t many places in the US where you can combine dramatic coastline, sleepy villages, giant redwood forests, wide beaches, temperate rainforests and 14,000-foot peaks. In fact, there is only one: The Pacific Northwest. Start at the top of the map, on Highway 101, which dances around Olympic National Park, WA, through Native American villages, loamy forests, and salmon and oyster fisheries. Crossing the Columbia River into Oregon brings a series of quaint towns – Gearhart, Seaside and Canon Beach (although fog – not sun – is the summer norm). Continue south into Redwood National Park, where you pick up Route 96, which angles east through yet more dramatic scenery to Mount Shasta – the town and the 14,162-foot peak. Here you can hike in snow in midsummer, fly fish abundant streams and sit down to candlelit dinners in town. Next up: Route 89 south through Lassen Volcanic National Park and down to Lake Tahoe.
New England Double Dip: Coast to the Mountains
Start in southern Connecticut, and pick your spots. Here are a few: The boutique-riddled towns of Guilford and Madison; the leafy lanes of Old Saybrook and Old Lyme; the expansive sands at Hammonasset Beach State Park; and the convivial atmosphere of Mystic and Stonington. Tour the seaside mansions of Newport, RI (but skip the raucous party scene in town) before wheeling out to Cape Cod, MA. Every town on the Cape has its charm: the swaying marsh grasses of Sandwich, the hilly seascapes of Orleans, Cape Cod National Seashore beaches outside Wellfleet, shops of Chatham and lobster rolls of Provincetown.
Unless you have an amphibious RV, double back, somehow avoid Boston traffic and head north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, some of the more extreme terrain in the East. The town of Jackson, in the shadow of Mount Washington, makes a nice base for exploring. Finish the adventure with the 140-mile ride to Burlington, VT, an earthy, vibrant college town on the shores of Lake Champlain.
I could go on, but after all this musing about long road trips, I've got some RV shopping to do. See you out on the open road!
John Briley's longest road trip took him from Park City, Utah, to Washington, DC, by way of Lake Tahoe, Santa Barbara, Las Vegas and New Orleans.
From seasoned road tripper Mike Shubic to founder and CEO of RoadTrippers.com James Fisher, meet the panel of advisors behind Travel’s Best Road Trips 2015.