There’s something about spring that makes many of us want to grab our car keys. Maybe it’s that the season’s longer days mean there’s more sunlight to get out and enjoy; maybe it’s that the drab winter landscapes are newly ablaze with color. Maybe it’s just good old-fashioned spring fever, pushing us to get outside, to get out on the road for a new adventure.
“As the weather begins to get warmer, Americans feel ready to break free,” says Heather Hunter, a spokesperson for AAA. “And springtime, when many landscapes are in bloom, makes for especially beautiful drives.”
The season allows for some truly spectacular scenery when driving in places like Texas Hill Country—where the fields come alive with dazzling bluebonnets—or along the azalea-lined Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Road-tripping to other national treasures, like the Mississippi Delta and Utah’s Zion National Park, is much more pleasant in spring than in summer’s stifling heat. And still other drives, like those to California’s Big Sur or to the Florida Keys, are much less traffic-congested in spring than in more crowded holiday seasons.
Many of the drives on our list cover short distances; some would take no more than three hours if you made them without stopping. But since all offer numerous attractions outside of the car—including national parks where you can stroll through slot canyons and hike along wooded trails, or quaint towns filled with museums, historic sites and antique shops—we’ve turned them all into weekend itineraries.
Regardless of where your road trip takes you this spring, remember to take these precautions for safe driving suggested by AAA: Be sure your windshield wipers and blades are working properly (since spring can often bring rain); also, check your tire treads and pressure before heading out on unfamiliar roads. If your car doesn’t already have a GPS system, consider purchasing or renting one—nothing spoils a road trip like getting lost!
Portland to Cannon Beach and the Oregon Coast
Only a 90-minute drive from Portland, the mighty forests of the Pacific Northwest segue into long stretches of pristine beach. Start your drive on Route 26 West and head into Ecola State Park, where sunlight splinters into thick forests of Sitka spruce trees, many of them more than 300 years old. Follow the main road into the park, and in several miles you’ll begin to see the woods give way to sandstone bluffs overlooking beaches and the great expanse of the Pacific. Spend the night at the Stephanie Inn, overlooking the shores of Cannon Beach and the towering rock pinnacle called Haystack Rock. The next morning, cruise south on Highway 101 to Cape Perpetua, where the soaring cliffs look over the migration route of gray whales. 2 days, 373 miles
Big Sur, Avila Beach to Monterey, California
Highway 1 on the mid-Californian coast is the road you see in car ads, a stunning stretch paralleling the Pacific that really deserves to be driven in a red convertible. The most scenic section passes through Big Sur, where the highway edges jaw-dropping cliffs that plummet to the frothing waves a thousand feet below. Spend the first night at Avila Lighthouse Suites, in the sleepy hamlet of Avila Beach. The next morning, drive north and make stops at Hearst Castle and the beach of Piedras Blancas, where hundreds of elephant seals lounge, grunt and wrestle. Forty-seven miles farther north, you’ll come to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where hiking trails lead to waterfalls and through fields of wildflowers. After a late lunch at Nepenthe, continue north until you arrive in Monterey—home to one of the country’s best aquariums, waterfront bike paths and John Steinbeck’s famed (if touristy) Cannery Row. 2 days, 154 miles
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