With summer comes the return of verdant forests, mountain passes, ocean views, architectural wonders and one legendary Shakespeare festival. That’s why now is the ideal time to hit the road. These hand-picked driving adventures, each studded with stop-worthy destinations, are the perfect ways to kick the season off right. You don’t want to wait another year to see ten of America’s favorite pit stops.
- Triple Play: Baseball, Art and Nature in Upstate New York
From New York City, head north into the peaceful country roads of the Catskills before popping out into picturesque Cooperstown, with its National Baseball Hall of Fame and small but impressive Fenimore Art Museum. Continuing west, you’ll hit the culture-academic centers Oneonta and Ithaca, the spectacular Corning Museum of Glass and Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention, in 1848 (March is Women’s History Month, after all).
- Flower Time: Hill Country, Texas
Spreading west between the perfect bookends of San Antonio and Austin is Hill Country—a series of small hill-and-valley towns, originally settled by Czechs and Germans, with a landscape best known for its carpet of wildflowers, peaking in March and April. Cruise along back roads in search of purple winecups, orange Indian paintbrushes and brilliant bluebonnets (the state flower), or partake in other area lures: two-stepping, cowboy-boot shopping, winery hopping and excellent antiquing.
- Cherry Blossoms and History: D.C. and the Shenandoah Valley
Beginning March 29, the National Cherry Blossom Festival turned the nation’s capitol into a riot of color. But the beauty doesn’t end there: Journeys through the surrounding countryside lead to the two outstanding National Parks: the historic Harpers Ferry, in West Virginia, and Shenandoah National Park, encompassing a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains and soon to be bursting with wildflowers.
- Beaches and Southern Charm: Florida’s Panhandle
Spring was the official start of the season in these parts, but summer’s the ideal time for an excursion from Tallahassee to Pensacola, along the sparkling Gulf Coast. The state capitol, rich with history and Spanish moss, exudes a Southern vibe, while the 571,088-acre Apalachicola National Forest is a leafy haven. Be sure to stop in quaint Apalachicola before hitting the Emerald Coast and scenic Route 30-A, bursting with beach towns like wild Panama City and serene Seaside, and ending in lovely Pensacola.
- Painted Deserts: Utah’s Scenic Byway 12
One of the most scenic drives in the country is Utah’s Route 12—which can also be one of the hottest, come summer. It’s jam-packed with spectacular natural sights, including the intense reds, pinks and whites of Capitol Reef, Kodachrome Basic State Park, Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon, with its Pink Cliffs and surreal collection of pinnacles and spires.
- Northwest Drama: Redwoods and Shakespeare
Northern California was rainy in spring—but summer promises more sunny days. And traffic-free roads? A shoe-in. A several-day loop takes you through tiny hippie towns like Arcata and Mount Shasta, and along the Pacific Coast to stunning Redwood National Park, home to the 1,000-year-old trees plus hiking trails, camping spots, and meadows of purple lupine and wild elk. A stop in Ashland, Oregon, lets you catch the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, running till fall.
- Grapes and Cherries: Grand Traverse, MI
Start in hip Traverse City before wending your way up and down the peninsulas of Grand Traverse Bay—Old Mission and Leelanau—otherwise known as cherry country. Harvest time isn’t till July, but since mid-spring the orchards have burst with pink blossoms that perfume the air and brighten your journey to lighthouses, calm bay beaches, artsy little hamlets, two dozen wineries, and the spectacular Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.
- Southwest Pennsylvania
Lying between history-laden Gettysburg (home to Gettysburg National Military Park) and culture-rich Pittsburgh are a couple hundred miles of rolling hills, graceful small towns like Hanover and Bedford, lush state parks, and two Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces—Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, open for daily (except Wednesday) guided tours.
- The Overseas Highway and the Florida Keys
You can’t get lost with this itinerary, as only one road—Route 1—takes you island hopping along South Florida’s chain of 45 keys. But oh, what a road it is (after you get through the water-blocking development of the Upper Keys). Cruise through the heat, crossing over some 40 bridges along your way. The area’s riches are evident from top to bottom, with hidden beaches, excellent snorkeling, top-notch eateries and lovely historic districts. Key West is the treasure at the end of the rainbow.
- The Wild West: Driving Maui
The cliff-side drive along Maui’s eastern shore—the Hana Highway—is famed for good reason, as its narrow passes and ocean vistas are stunning, to say the least. Just be sure to follow it up with a trip around its less-discovered (and traffic-free) west side, from Kapalua, where the resort region gives way to a single, winding lane that hugs sheer cliffs and emerald-green tropical valleys, affording incredible views of the Pacific and making you sweat through hairpin turns. (Neither drive is for the faint of heart.)
Miles: 68 (Hana), 25 (Western route)