Hit the Highway: Best Road Trips of 2017
Americans love to travel, and no more so than by car. Motorists logged more than 3.2 trillion miles on U.S. roads and highways last year, the fifth straight year of increases, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. For travelers with an itch to hit the road, this list contains trips of all stripes, from national parks to historic places to culinary destinations.
Glacier National Park covers more than 1 million acres and is renowned for its breathtaking beauty. (The 1998 movie "What Dreams May Come" used the park as a stand-in for heaven.) Travel along Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile route with unparalleled scenic vistas. Overnight guests have their pick of more than a dozen drive-in campgrounds, backcountry chalets, cabins, and historic hotels.
There are few places better to visit than Texas for authentic barbecue. For meat lovers, a tour of some of the state's best barbecue is a tasty way to see some of the state. The Texas BBQ Trail runs near the state capital, Austin, and includes several stops at family-owned barbecue joints. Keep the trip cheap by sharing meals at each stop -- after all, Texas is known for large portions.
Retrace the path of Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones to the Field of Dreams (yes, that one) from Boston via Minnesota. Or make a pilgrimage straight to this free attraction in Dyersville, Iowa. School groups sometimes claim the field for games, but when it's open, everyone can take a turn running the bases or playing catch. Watch for ghost players to join the fun.
Also known as Highway 240, the Badlands Loop showcases the array of rock formations at Badlands National Park (accessible for a fee of $20 a vehicle for seven days' access). The 30-mile byway off Interstate 90 can be completed in about an hour, but that's without stopping to enjoy the scenery along the way. There's also hiking in the park and interactive exhibits at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.
The 1987 film "Mystic Pizza," which helped make a superstar of young Julia Roberts, will celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017. The name comes from an actual pizza shop in Mystic. Capitalizing on the movie's following, the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism created a self-guided Mystic Pizza movie trail map, which includes stops such as the lobster processing plant and Mystic Seaport planetarium, where characters work in the film.
Hana Highway, on the eastern coast of Maui, is 52 miles long but not for drivers who are in a hurry. The gorgeous roadway boasts 600 curves and a whopping 59 bridges (many of which are single lane). It clings to cliffsides in what travelers contend is a worthwhile but sometimes hair-raising trip. Along the way, stop at Pua'a Ka'a State Park to enjoy its waterfalls and swimming holes.
Chocolate lovers in the Midwest can head for the Blackhawk Chocolate Trail in northwest Illinois. A self-guided tour takes chocoholics through stops at cafes, candy stores, bakeries, and more. There are itineraries of different lengths, some requiring stopovers at local hotels. While it's free to stop into any location on the trail and browse, offerings of free samples vary, so expect to pay for a few treats along the way.
Among the sights on this scenic drive is Thor's Well at Cape Perpetua. It appears to be a bottomless sinkhole in the ocean, although speculation says it's only about 20 feet deep in reality. It can be dangerous to get close and mesmerizing to gaze inside. Heceta Head Lighthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is still sending its beam 21 miles out over the ocean. Only the ground floor of the tower is open to visitors, but the assistant lightkeeper's house operates as a bed and breakfast. Pay the parking fee to explore the tide pools and frolic on the small beach after a free tour.
Wisconsin is home to at least 60 artisan cheesemakers, who create everything from organic cheese to one-of-a-kind handmade batches. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism has put together several cheese tour itineraries including cheesemakers, restaurants, and wineries. One featured destination, Emmi Roth USA, won the top honor of World's Best Cheese in the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest.
Nature lovers who prefer to see wildlife from the safety of a car can take a road trip on U.S. 191 linking Jackson, Wyoming, with Yellowstone National Park. Once inside the park ($30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass), everything from moose to bears to wolves may make an appearance. Animals are abundant on the way there, as well, and free to see if you catch them. Jackson Lake and Grand Teton also offer the potential for amazing wildlife viewing.
Home to the Las Vegas Strip, Red Rock Canyon, and Hoover Dam, Nevada is ideal for a road trip, especially with its affordable camping accommodations and phenomenal stargazing. Its Loneliest Road, a stretch of U.S. Highway 50, earned its name because it follows the Pony Express route -- skirting mining camps and crossing impressive forested mountain ranges along the way -- through a desolate region. But the road still boasts plenty of distractions, including Great Basin National Park to sample stunningly diverse landscapes. Hike the forests filled with ancient bristlecone pines, tour the Lehman Caves, and camp under some of the darkest skies in the country, enjoying the star-filled heavens.
Between the harbor town of Seward and the port town of Anchorage, the Seward Highway spans 127 miles of mostly unspoiled wilderness. Pull over for salmon viewing at Moose Creek (a good summertime activity) or gaze at Kenai Lake, a zigzag-shaped body of water in Chugach National Forest famous for its scenery.
Take the scenic route through the Great Lakes region by traversing M-119, Michigan's 27-mile tree-lined route running close to Lake Michigan. Emmet County's scenic path is affectionately nicknamed the "Tunnel of Trees," with hardwoods and evergreens jutting up from the road's edge and forming a beautifully enclosed pathway. This stretch is also ideal for bike rides. Wind along the forested path from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, both spots near the lake worth exploring. Extend the trip by journeying to other idyllic attractions nearby such as Sleeping Bear Dunes and Mackinac Island.
The striking Overseas Highway, also known here as Highway 1 or the "Highway That Goes to the Sea," includes 112 miles of roadway and a total of 42 overseas bridges from Miami to Key West. The entire span can be traveled in about four hours, but it's better to take time to enjoy the trip. Keep an eye out for restaurants and attractions along the way. Stopping at Anne's Beach for a mid-trip wade on Islamorada is free, and so is the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key.