Every well-rounded bucket list includes a few good road trips. While you’re likely to have traveled some of the greats—Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway—there are lesser-known drives that are equally worthy of a few tanks of gas.
Travel the Country’s Loneliest Road
When Life magazine dubbed U.S. Route 50 through Nevada the loneliest road in America in the 1980s, it didn’t mean it as a compliment. Instead of ignoring the article, the Nevada Commission on Tourism capitalized on it, creating a passport of sorts for travelers to get stamped along the way. At the end, passport holders can collect a certificate that attests to the fact that they survived the country’s loneliest road.
The former Pony Express route spends 400 miles in Nevada, a journey through desert landscapes punctuated by mountain ranges. Highlights along the way include Virginia City, a former boomtown where Mark Twain was once a reporter; Grimes Point Archaeological Area, containing petroglyphs that are thousands of years old; and Sand Mountain, a 600-foot-tall, 2-mile-long dune blown together by the sand from the beaches of a prehistoric sea that long ago covered the state. The old mining town Eureka is worth a stop for its well-preserved buildings (thanks to brick construction), including an opera house from the 1880s and a newspaper office turned museum that still has its original pressroom equipment. Cap the trip in Ely with a ride on the Nevada Northern Railway, the best example of a standard-gauge short-line left in North America.
Drive through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to See 5 Waterfalls
Running 15 miles from Bessemer to the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Ottawa National Forest, the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway is a pleasant, two-lane road that meanders past oldgrowth hemlocks, undulating hills and photo-worthy wetlands. In the distance, catch a glimpse of the Porcupine Mountains. Toward the northern end of the heavily wooded roadway, five waterfalls compete for attention: Great Conglomerate, Potawatomi, Gorge, Sandstone and Rainbow. Take the time to visit them all and then contemplate your favorite over a picnic lunch—it isn’t easy to choose!
In this area, many opt to trade in four wheels for two feet, at least temporarily, and hike a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which spans seven states. Along this particular stretch, bald eagles have been known to nest.
Cruise America’s First Scenic Highway
When Samuel C. Lancaster was tasked as the engineer for the Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon, he knew he had a challenging yet special project on his hands. “Instinctively there came a prayer…that we might have sense enough to do the thing in the right way…so as not to mar what God had put there,” Lancaster said. From 1913 to 1922 that feat was accomplished when Lancaster expertly blended the road into its environs and allowed automobile drivers—a small percentage of the population at the time—to see the Columbia River Gorge in a way they never could before.
A hundred years later, the drive is no less magical. Running from Troutdale to The Dalles, the 70-mile byway takes travelers past flowing waterfalls, sweeping panoramas, hiking trails of all degrees of difficulty, 150 rare plant species—16 of which can only be found there and, of course, the towering cliffs that make up the Gorge. Stop at the Vista House at Crown Point for your fill of both beauty (unbelievable views) and history (the photogenic gray sandstone building is a National Historic Landmark).