Summer is the time that folks in the Frommer's office start staring giddily at the windows, the wanderlust slowly rising with the temperature (and the humidity!). If, like us, summer inspires you to release your inner Jack Kerouac, it's time to think about hittin' the road.
Car travel has its own appeals: The freedom to quickly traverse a new landscape or to take it all in slowly, making frequent stops and detours, satisfying the curious urges that compel us to find out what's hiding off that little side road that barely registers on the map. And provided that you didn't suffer too much childhood trauma being packed into a station wagon barreling down the interstate towards some National Park you didn't want to go to anyway, it can be a great escape for a weekend, or a way to cover lots of territory with minimal costs for a more extended vacation. With this in mind, we at Frommer's wanted to list some of the best landscapes we've ever seen over a dashboard or through a passenger window. Some of these are probably right in your backyard, ready for an afternoon jaunt or a weekend escape; some you'll need to file away to add to that long-planned dream vacation (because we're not advising that you try to drive to Australia.) But all of them offer lots of opportunities for exploration, stunning photographs and that most precious commodity: escape.
We hope you find these tips helpful and thought-provoking.
High Passes, Peaceful Valleys: U.S. 285 in Colorado
- As a Denver native, whenever I have guests visiting from out of town, this drive is a must, because it shows very quickly (and very dramatically) some of the best that the Colorado Rockies have to offer. Start from Denver in the morning, and head southwest on 285 (Hampden Avenue) up Turkey Creek canyon. You'll soon catch your breath going around Windy Point and down Crow Hill into the town of Bailey, but these are just the warm-ups. Fifteen minutes past Bailey is Kenosha Pass, where you come around the curve and see all of South Park spread out in front of you. Pull over to the right -- here's your first good photo op. Contrary to what you might see on a certain television show, South Park is not a town but a wide, open valley between mountain ranges: what Coloradans call parklands (there's also a Middle Park and a North Park, but those aren't our concern here.) For more info on South Park, check out www.colorado.com/cms/index.php/id=495. Get back in the car and keep going; you'll see all of the ranchland and the headwaters of the South Platte river as you wind your way through the valley. At the south end of the park, you'll ascend a short slope and go over Trout Creek Pass, which means you're going big-time: soon the mighty Collegiate Peaks, the highest range in Colorado, will loom in the western sky. Before you get to the bottom of the valley, there's a well-marked turnoff for scenic views and a picnic area. If you didn't bring your own lunch, continue down the highway to Buena Vista for a meal. And here you have to make a decision: Want the highest, scariest road in Colorado? Go north on U.S. 24 to the turnoff for Colorado Highway 82 -- Independence Pass. It's only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though -- because even in the middle of summer, you'll see huge drifts of snow up there. Continue down 82 into Aspen (a good final destination for this drive -- just don't forget your wallet.)
If Glitter Gulch isn't your destination of choice, though, you can head south on 285 through the Arkansas River valley, (yes, that stream flowing by the highway eventually goes to Little Rock) and do some whitewater rafting -- this is the best in the state. Or keep driving, past the town of Salida (stop in town for great art galleries and cafÂ¿s) and eventually you'll descend into the San Luis Valley, even bigger and grander than South Park, with the jagged Sangre de Cristo range to the east and the wild San Juans to the west. Detour to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for some eye-popping geology (and a good play in the sand) and head to Alamosa for a great southwestern dinner. From here, you can continue southward to Taos and Santa Fe, go west to Durango and the Four Corners, or pop over to Interstate 25 for a 3-hour return leg to Denver. It's even possible to do it all in one (rather long) day. -- Nicholas Trotter
Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
- The world's largest sand island, Fraser Island, is on the World Heritage list and is the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand. Fraser Island is 161 miles north of Brisbane; the main gateway is Hervey Bay (www.herveybaytourism.com.au), where you'll find ferry services and four-wheel drive rentals -- the only way to drive around the island.
Start your (off) road trip at low tide on stunning 75-Mile Beach, an authorized road. The water crashes wildly on the shores here, making it unsafe for swimming, but great for the fishermen you'll see lined up along the foaming surf. From August to October the whale watching is superb. Don't miss a swim in one of the inland freshwater lakes (Lake McKenzie or Lake Birrabeen) where the water is clear, surrounded by sandy beach, and when I was there, clean and sweet enough to drink.
Virginblue (www.virginblue.com.au) and Jetstar (www.jetstar.com.au) have direct flights to the Fraser Coast from Sydney. Go with a group so you can share the driving and try to spend at least a night or two so that you can see more of the island. I recommend camping, but you can also stay at a resort. See Fraser Coast Holidays (www.frasercoastholidays.info) for more information. -- Margot Weiss
Holy _____! Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Most visitors hop on the rail line up to Corcovado (tel. 021/2558-1329; www.corcovado.com.br), and not unjustifiably -- it's one entertaining locomotive. But if you decide to maneuver your own way up the mountain, you'll save roughly $8 on the cost of a rail ticket and avoid long lines. All that, and driving gives you a chance to really soak in the surrounding, dense Tijuca Forest. Just be braced to brake -- there's a chance you might spot an exotic critter or two along the way.
Once you've wound your way up close to the summit and gone through the business of parking (there's a small fee), all that remains between you and the city's best view is a short hike or elevator ride to the very top. After you've taken in the area's stunning mountains, bay, and the vast expanses in between, be sure to pay homage to the famous Art Deco statue of Christ on your way out -- it's been lucky enough to sit at the apex, absorbing the amazing view, since 1931. -- Jennifer Reilly
Traveling the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia
- Getting there is indeed some of the fun when you're traveling between Vancouver and Whistler in British Columbia. The two-hour ride along the Sea-to-Sky Highway (aka Highway 99) is justifiably famous as one of the most scenic in the world. You'll travel a long and winding road that's currently being widened to accommodate an expected rise in traffic during the years preceding the 2010 Winter Olympics. Heading north out of Vancouver, you'll pass Horseshoe Bay and then skim the edges of Brittania Beach and the waters of Howe Sound before climbing into the glorious Southwestern mountains and passing through the eagle-viewing hotspots of Squamish and Brackendale. All along the route are stop-off points offering one marvelous view after another, year-round. If you want to stretch your legs during the spring, summer, and fall, be sure to check out the very scenic Shannon Falls (two miles south of Squamish, on your right as you head towards Whistler) and Brandywine Falls (about 26 miles north of Squamish).
Note: That aforementioned highway widening will result in summer lane closures over the next couple of years and severe weather conditions can also cause closures along the highway. Before you depart, check www.mywhistler.com for updates on lane and road closures so you don't get stuck. -- Naomi Kraus
Puerto Rico's Ruta Panorámica
- If chickens aren't crossing the road to slow you down, seemingly impenetrable fog is bringing your car to a near standstill; if it isn't mountain-peak chilly it's jungle-muggy; and if the stupendous view isn't making your head spin, it's sending you straight into the path of an oncoming truck. Yet few drives so fully reward your determination, bravery, and/or foolhardiness like Puerto Rico's Ruta Panorámica -- the string of scenic highways that runs, east to west, along the mountain ridge that forms the island's spine (the Cordillera Central).
At times, you'll cling to the mountainside on a pot-holed switchback for miles; it's single-lane at times, and accessible to trucks you can't see barreling around the rock face every time you zig or zag. You'll forget all mortal fear, though, when you reach some of the highest stretches, and the bosque and fog clear, and suddenly the Caribbean and the Atlantic spring into view -- at least until you have to veer the other way again.
This is not to mention the mountain hamlets lost in time, the sweltery rainforest planted with banana and citrus trees, and the high-altitude coffee plantations you'll pass along the way. Be warned, though: This is not a solo drive. You'll want to switch off with a partner, to take turns with the view and to watch each other's backs. And plan to take it slowly. -- Maureen Clarke
Rambling through the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts
- The section of Route 7 that meanders from Canaan, CT to Williamstown, MA, makes for an extraordinary scenic drive. This 50 mile route ambles through the quiet Massachusetts Berkshire towns of Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lenox, and Williamstown -- towns where a staid New England appearance belies a treasure trove of cultural riches. Not only can visitors enjoy picturesque vistas of white clapboard churches and colonial homes silhouetted against an ever-changing mountain backdrop, but they have dozens of cultural attractions to spice up a bucolic country drive. From visiting Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum, to Williamstown's renowned Clark Art Institute, or catching an outdoor performance at Tanglewood (summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra), there's something to delight every taste along this uniquely New England section of road. For more information on what's doing in the Berkshires, check out: www.berkshires.org. -- Marc Nadeau
The Romantic Road, Germany
- The Romantic Road is a picturesque route that winds through some of Germany's best-preserved medieval towns. My favorite stops are Würzburg, where you can visit the Residenz, a dramatic baroque castle; Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a tiny, charming village with city walls dating back to the 13th century; and Harburg, with a striking castle towering above the town's tiny, crooked stone streets.
From Frankfurt, take the A3 motorway to Würzburg and then follow the brown "Romantische Strasse" signs. For more information, visit www.romantischestrasse.com or www.germany-tourism.de. -- Jennifer Reilly
Heath, er, Head to Scotland: Edinburgh to Iona
- Driving from Edinburgh to the tiny island of Iona is the closest we've come to time travel. First stop: Stirling Castle. High on a basalt rock, the royal residence was home to Mary Queen of Scots as a small child. The Renaissance castle tour is one of the best in Scotland (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk). Head on to Callendar, a town straddling the centuries. Stop for pizza in a building that dates to the 1700s, when the "new" town plans were laid out. White stucco houses with geometric black trim define Bridgend, the old part of the village. Side trips wander into the "Lady of the Lake" country -- the Trossachs -- a naturalists' hotspot that became a national park in 2002 (www.lochlomond-trossachs.org). Many textures and colors come together in this low, heather-dominated landscape.
From Callendar, through Crianlarich, to just south of Fort William, we drove onto the ferry that crosses Loch Linnhe at Corran Narrows; we were the only car. We hit Scotland during a heat wave that burned the mists off; we could have been in in the rolling hills of Hawaii, although often it's rainy. Taking the road toward Strontian and then south to the Lochaline ferry brought us within sight of the Isle of Mull. A shack there sells burgers, fried veggies, and black pudding for any takers. We detoured to the multi-colored shops that hug the bay of Tobermory, so cute they attracted TV folks, who filmed a popular BBC children's show here.
The long, slow undulating road to Iona parallels the coast then cuts through sheep country. Pullouts accommodate oncoming cars where the road narrows to a single lane. Past Craignure, cottage-garden flowers signaled the approach of a small, waterside restaurant where we stopped for delicious, homemade soups and sandwiches (and it's very kid friendly). Another ferry crosses to serene, isolated Iona; no cars allowed. Walk through the meadows to the mostly 13th-century Benedictine Abbey, a pilgrimage site for many. St. Columba started a monastery here in 563 and later spread Christianity throughout the British Isles. Forty-eight Scottish kings lay buried here, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries. (Check all the ferry schedules and fare info at the Caledonian MacBrayne website: www.calmac.co.uk.) -- Naomi Black
The Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania & New Jersey
- What do Interstate 80 and the Appalachian Trail have in common? Whether you're zooming by at 65mph, or hiking across the footpath, I-80 and the Appalachian trail share a bridge nearly half a mile long at the Delaware Water Gap, which is, by definition, a geologic formation on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the Delaware River traverses a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. But as you leave New Jersey heading for the Poconos or the long, long Pennsylvania Turnpike, look out the window, pull off the road and take in the view. Just 80 miles east of New York City, it's one of the most beautiful stretches in the East. Beneath you is the Delaware River, around you reaching for the sky are the ancient peaks of the Appalachians. Below you in warm seasons, you can see people floating in kayaks and inner tubes. If you want to follow the river instead of crossing it, head up state route 209, passing through small towns like Bushkill and Dingman's Ferry (both of which have visitor centers with information about the 70,000-acre Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.) -- Kathleen Warnock
The Great Ocean Road: The Name Says it All
- After living in Syndey for almost six months, my friend Amalie and I decided to say goodbye to Oz with a good old-fashioned road trip. And Down Under, that means one thing: making your way to The Great Ocean Road (www.greatoceanrd.org.au). About an hour from Melbourne are more than 400 kilometers of tight curves and straight-aways high above breaking Pacific waves, overlooking and winding through vast mountains. You'll find many natural wonders to gasp at along the route here, but (even if it feels a bit touristy) don't miss getting out of the car to walk under through the tunnel and see the 12 apostles (of which I think I saw only 7, but who's counting?!). For more specifics on the sights, see www.frommers.com/destinations/greatoceanroad. Another experience to attempt during the drive is a horseback ride on the beach. I went with Great Ocean Trails, but just keep your eyes open for signs on the road as you're driving and pull off if you see something interesting.
If I were to do it again, I'd probably get a fast, red, sports car, but I must admit (embarrassingly), we took the curves in a rented gold Toyota Camry. And even in that sedan, we managed to get a speeding violation en route, but not realize it until the ticket arrived in our U.S. mailbox. Due to fixed speed cameras, it's very easy to get a speeding ticket without ever seeing or speaking to a cop in Australia, so don't say you weren't warned. Drive carefully (especially you, my fellow Americans, because Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road). For more information on driving regulations in Victoria, see this site. Still, don't let the road rules scare you into taking a tour bus here -- that looked scary to me.
Doing the drive over a few days makes it much more relaxing and enjoyable. Lorne is a good place for one overnight stop. I stayed at the cozy, comfortable, and affordable Erskine on the Beach (www.erskinehouse.com.au). The resort will be undergoing renovations until December 2005 and has closed its restaurant, but will still house guests. Check the website or call for update. -- Jennifer Anmuth
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