by Shane Boocock
Having spent nine years travelling the back roads of North America as a former tour guide, I’ve come to the realisation that the USA has some of the most spectacular road trips anywhere in the world. Here are five routes that I think you’ll enjoy once you get out on the open road. The best way to go about driving these routes is to hire a car or, better still, an RV (recreational vehicle – what we call a campervan) from a company like El Monte RV with hundreds or do what I do and pick up a new Rand McNally road map for under US$10 from most gas stations or Target stores. Just remember to stay to the right hand side of the road and enjoy the journey – the memories will last forever.
Highway 1 – San Simeon to Carmel, California
Most people begin their journey on Highway 1 in Santa Monica. Plan on a two day trip, including stops for meals, photographs, rest stops and tourist attractions. Take a leisurely drive along the Pacific coastline where otters and sea lions laze about and up to the giant redwoods in Big Sur where there are campgrounds and motels. It starts to get incredibly beautiful north of San Simeon, where the well- nown California attraction, Hearst Castle, lures tourists. From there on, the road winds, twists, spirals and bends in and out of windswept bays before traversing one of the world’s most dramatic sets of cliffs that drop off the Santa Lucia Range. ??Then there’s a 45-minute drive into the artist’s town of Carmel, which is worth a visit including a ‘pay to enter’ opportunity to drive the scenic road around Pebble Beach.
Going to the Sun Highway, Glacier National Park, Wyoming
This is Rocky Mountain country and this aptly named route, built in 1933, is all it’s made out to be and more. Your starting point will be either Kalispell or Whitefish before you enter Glacier National Park. Your first stop will likely be the campground just inside the lip of the park at Apgar on the shores of Lake McDonald, once home to Kutenai Indians. The park boasts 50 glaciers, rugged wilderness mountains, glistening lakes, river canyons and lots of grizzly bears. The 52-mile route, with numerous lookout points, switches back and forth on the ascent before reaching Logan Pass on the Continental Divide at 6680ft – the only place in America from where waters flow to the Pacific, Hudson Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of feet below lies the glacial valley, shaped like a well-worn saddle; thousands of feet above are high, snow covered mountains that dominate the skyline. Only open early June to mid-October.
Historic Route 66, Arizona
As you travel part of Route 66 in Arizona you’ll notice some authentic and historic Route 66-era, hotels, motels, trading posts and gas stations, many of them lovingly restored and preserved. Most of this route is now designated Interstate 40, so it is worth side-tracking off to small towns when possible to visit portions of the old Route 66 road. Starting on the edge of California at a town called Needles, make your way through Fort Mojave Indian Reservation to visit the small mining town of Oatman in the high mountains on some of the original trail. Eventually you’ll drop down into Kingman where, just out of town, you can pick up Route 66 out to Peach Springs and the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Take the opportunity to make a side trip to the Grand Canyon! Next is the high elevation town of Flagstaff where it’s worth staying overnight. Other side trips include a stop at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and a visit to Petrified Forest National Park.
Miami to Key West, Florida
This is a drive I first did in 1980 and I’ve driven it a dozen times since, never tiring of it. The hardest part is escaping all the Miami traffic, the strip malls and major stores that line the route for the first 25 miles. After that, you have 100 miles or so to lazily drive between some of the most beautiful islands in the Continental USA. The trip can be covered in about 3-4 hours, depending on traffic, but I suggest you stop off en-route to lap up the laid-back lifestyle that has been adopted down here. I’ve always camped at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo as the coral reef here is great for kayaking, diving or snorkelling. Marathon Key is also worth a rest stop, but the highlight is always Bahia Honda State Park where you can camp right on the water’s edge. The rest of the trip to Key West will entice you to try a fishing trip, some of the best in the States. Plan on spending at least three days in Key West at the end of your trip, as it really is the end of the road.
Zion Canyon National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Just entering Zion National Park will whet your appetite for what follows. Located 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, this little treasure is perfect to get started on. Watchman Campground is just inside the entrance. From here you can get shuttle buses to access the canyon proper. On Day 2, head west and drive through the single lane 1.1 mile tunnel built in 1930. Switch backs take you through a maze of fabled vermillion coloured rock formations before you drive to higher elevations on Route 89, turning west onto Route 12 and Bryce Canyon where you have the option of staying in motels, National Park campgrounds or private campgrounds.
• Get acclimatised to the Rv; adjust the mirrors, seats and switch on the headlights
• Buy a Rand McNally Atlas, campground directories and state maps enroute
• Drive on the right-hand side and watch out for blind-spot on right hand turns
• Beware of desert winds that turn your vehicle into a giant sail
• our Rv had no central locking – make sure all doors are locked
• Petrol averaged NZ$2.80 a US gallon at about 10-miles a gallon
• Buy an America the Beautiful: National Parks & Federal Recreational lands Pass – Annual cost NZ$115
• campground fees: From NZ$15 a night to NZ$50 in private campgrounds
• 4 berth RV rental: 7 nights NZ$1540 before discounts. Kitchen kit NZ$180, starter kit NZ$60, Bedroom linen kit NZ$70 a couple. Don’t forget you’ll also be billed for mileage and taxes
Accommodation on California Highway 1 trip:
LAX Airport, Los Angeles: Hacienda Hotel, w: www.haciendahotel.com
Santa Monica: Carmel Hotel, w: www.hotelcarmel.com
San Simeon: Best Western Cavalier Oceanfront Resort, w: www.book.bestwestern.com
Carmel: Lobos Lodge, w: www.loboslodge.com?
Accommodation on Going to the Sun Highway:
Kalispell, Montana: Hampton Inn Kalispell, w: www.hamptoninn.hilton.com
Whitefish, Montana: Rocky Mountain lodge, w: www.rockymtnlodge.com
St Mary, Montana: Glacier Trail Head cabins, w: www.glaciertrailheadcabins.com?
Accommodation on Florida Keys trip:
Miami: Ritz carlton, Key Biscayne, w: www.ritzcarlton.com
Miami South Beach: Gansevoort Hotel, w: www.hotelgansevoort.com
Key West: Cypress House Bed & Breakfast, w: www.cypresshousekw.com
Accommodation on Historic Route 66 in Arizona:
Needles, Xalifornia: Best Western Colorado River Inn, w: www.book.bestwestern.com
Flagstaff, Arizona: A shooting Star Inn Bed & Breakfast, w: www.shootingstarinn.com
Holbrook, Arizona: Travelodge Holbrook, w: www.travelodge.com?