Forget the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty. In America, the car is still the ultimate symbol of freedom, empowering us to shift our daily routines out of idle and "go anywhere," as long as we make peace with the traffic report before we go.
But this summer, as cable news pundits have endlessly bellowed, a sinister villain threatens this freedom: Steep gas prices are spooking Americans away from the wheel. Over half (54 percent) of the 2,500 Americans surveyed by the U.S. Travel Association said that an increase in fuel costs would make them rethink their summer road trip plans, with 37.5 percent indicating that they'd drive shorter distances.
Determined to prove that shaving off a few miles from your drive doesn't herald an apocalypse of summer freedom and fun, our experts mapped out 15 short weekend road trips that will get you from point A to points B, C, and D while burning less than a single tank of gas - and we still took the scenic routes. Catch a glimpse of these stunning drives with our Short Weekend Road Trips slideshow.
Photo courtesy of Paul Lemke
Boston to Portland, Maine
Follow the Lighthouses to Maine's Culture Capital
The Route (123 miles)
After 70 miles of driving, stop at Maine's Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light, one of the world's most photographed lighthouses, in York, and Portland Head, the state's oldest lighthouse, in Cape Elizabeth, just before you reach Portland. In between, the town of Saco will fete its sesquibicentennial (250th anniversary) this summer with five weekends of celebrations, including a citywide scavenger hunt and guided walking tours, kicking off June 9. Once in Portland - the state's largest city and its cultural capital - check out attractions like the Portland Museum of Art (Maine's oldest and largest art museum), the Shipyard Brewing Company (with free daily tastings), and whale-watching cruises (offered May-October). Pop up to nearby Freeport for the L.L. Bean flagship store and outlet and the bizarre Desert of Maine.
Stay the Night
An eco-friendly bed-and-breakfast in downtown Portland, the Wild Iris Inn comprises seven unique rooms in an historic home. Rates from $149/night; www.wildirisinn.com
Photo courtesy of Jupiterimages
New York City to Woodstock, N.Y.
Sneak Off to a Hippie Hideaway, by Way of Army Headquarters
The Route (111 miles)
The Palisades Parkway and route 9W will take you along scenic overlooks of the Hudson and through Palisades Interstate Park and Bear Mountain State Park, though from there you'll have to take the Thruway to Woodstock in the Catskills. Get the Map
Throughout the summer, the United States Military Academy at West Point offers daily one- and two-hour tours (except during special events or holidays) of sites like the Main Cadet Chapel and Trophy Point (adult tickets $13 or $15). Once you arrive in Woodstock, don't mistake the town with the famous rock festival held in 1969 (that happened in Bethel, an hour-and-a-half drive away). What you will find are the 250-acre, 110-year-old Byrdcliffe Artists Guild art colony and numerous contemporary art galleries, as well as hiking and mountain biking in the Overlook Mountain Wild Forest. If you're still in a rock n' roll mood, pay your respects to the late Levon Helm, the legendary drummer for The Band who regularly held intimate jam sessions at his Woodstock home.
Stay the Night
The Woodstock Inn on the Millstream is a cozy 18-room B&B set on three acres of woodland within walking distance of the Village Green. Rates from $137/night (book far in advance for weekend stays); www.woodstock-inn-ny.com
Photo courtesy of Paul Brennan
New York City to Hyde Park, N.Y.
Enjoy Hudson Views, Haunted Towns, and Historic Mansions
The Route (83 miles)
Skip the Thruway for a more leisurely drive straight up Route 9, which hugs the east bank of the Hudson most of the way to Hyde Park, providing gorgeous river views. Get the Map
In the legendary Village of Sleepy Hollow, about 30 miles outside the city, watch out for the headless horseman on a visit to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Ichabod Crane creator Washington Irving and industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie are buried. If there's time, tour John D. Rockefeller's opulent historic home, Kykuit. Hyde Park also has its fair share of famous homes to visit: the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site and Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, Val-Kill, as well as the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site; all three will offer free admission June 9 (along with the rest of the country's National Parks). You may not be able to afford a private chef like a Rockefeller or a Vanderbilt, but you can get a world-class meal at one of the five award-winning, student-run restaurants at the Culinary Institute of America. Work off the calories from the truffle butter with a guided kayak tour of the Hudson with the River Connection.
Stay the Night
Bed down at the Journey Inn, with seven individually decorated rooms and a gourmet breakfast spread (think pomegranate poached pears and tarragon scrambled eggs). Rates from $150/night, two-night minimum stay required from May to November; www.journeyinn.com
Miami to Sanibel and Captiva Islands
Go From Beach Party to Beach Paradise, with an Everglades Excursion
The Route (150 miles)
From Miami, take the Tamiami Trail (US-41) through the Everglades for access to a greater variety of kitsch and natural attractions than you'll find on the parallel I-75. For ocean views, once you hit Bonita Springs take County Highway 865 along Estero Bay and Fort Myers Beach before the Sanibel Causeway turnoff. Get the Map
Traveling along the Tamiami Trail from Miami, you'll quickly encounter the Shark Valley entrance of Everglades National Park, one of the best locations for alligator spotting. Continue another 35 miles through Ochopee, where you'll find the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters (the Skunk Ape is the Bigfoot of the Everglades), the smallest U.S. post office, and Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe where you can try Everglades delicacies like frog legs and alligators. After a scenic drive along Estero Bay and Fort Myers Beach, you'll be on Sanibel Island, where you can enjoy the shell-covered beaches, watch for sea turtles and dolphins, and put your worries to rest, away from the hustle and buzz of Miami. Consider a bike tour of historic Old Town or visit one of Sanibel's theaters. Have a night out on Captiva Island at the Old Captiva House at 'Tween Waters Inn restaurant, where you can watch the sun set over the Gulf and feast on such fare as baked brie and Captiva Bouillabaisse.
Stay the Night
One thousand feet from J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is West-End Paradise, with six rooms and suites and access to a private beach and two private ponds, perfect for bird watching - herons, bald eagles, and anhinga birds are regulars. Rates from $90/night; www.sanibel-westend.com
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