“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~Mark Twain
Evidently there is no firm rule for how roads are named. A parkway may be merely a nice stretch of good road, a street or drag, but better, a major scenic getaway, like the Garden State Parkway. Same with drive—who knows what it means? One would think a trail would be a walking or hiking route, like the Appalachian Trail; but some trails are paved and carry cars. Some nice drives have no special name, just a route number. Whatever the designation, here are some nice places to visit.
Kancamagus Highway (New Hampshire)
This National Scenic Byway tucked in the White Mountains, climbing to a high of near 3,000 feet, is short (less than 30 miles) but cool in summer and colorful in autumn, sometimes sporting moose. The western terminus, near Lincoln, is a gateway to Loon Mountain, Bretton Woods, the Omni White Mountain Resort, Mount Washington Cog Railway, Flume Gorge, Robert Frost’s home at Franconia Notch, Cannon Mountain Ski Resort, covered bridges, et al. Near the eastern terminus, Conway, you will find waterfalls and rocky gorges on the Swift River, a well-known covered bridge at Albany, and beyond North Conway, the Mount Washington auto route. There is so much to see and to do at each end of the highway, that the road between is a refreshing respite.
The middle of the road is where the white line is—and that’s the worst place to drive. ~Robert Frost
Route 100 (Vermont)
Near the junction of Route 100 and I-89, Waterbury, you’ll find the home of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. You’ll want to stop, of course. While you are there, you can tour their facility, sample their ice cream, buy hot sandwiches from a food wagon, sit outdoors while you listen to ad hoc mountain music, and take snapshots at their signs. Farther up the trail, along Route 100, you’ll find sugarhouses and maple forests, where trees are tapped. At the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, you can watch the making of apple cider and apple cider doughnuts—no place else on earth makes doughnuts this good. It is true: people travel for hundreds of miles to get fresh doughnuts hot off the cooker, buy a bag, sit down on the outside wrap-around porch, and eat the whole thing. You’ll come into the little town of Stowe. High, up in the hills, you’ll find the home of the Von Trapp family, of The Sound of Music fame; they still operate their business there, are now selling vacation homes, and will be glad to greet you. Returning to I-89, you’ll come across a place where glass is blown—well, several places, according to the website.
And if you’re unfamiliar with Vermont, then perhaps you are unaware that along the I-89 corridor, Vermont has some nice, new, spacious, rest areas serving complementary Green Mountain coffee. Drop in when you get a chance—and don’t be surprised if you find a greenhouse and a place to lounge.
Johnny Appleseed Trail/Mohawk Trail (Massachusetts)
Actually Route 2 across Northcentral Massachusetts. The eastern part, the Johnny Appleseed Trail area, is the birthplace of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and is known for its apples. At Orange, you’ll find Johnson’s Family Restaurant, Sugarhouse, and Gift Shop. To the west the Johnny Appleseed Trail connects with the Mohawk Trail and leads into the Berkshire Hills. North of the junction of Route 2 with I-91 (also known as the Mohawk Trail) is Moody country—Dwight L Moody, that is. He was born and reared at Northfield; here too he established his schools (Northfield and Mount Hermon) and had his publishing house (Fleming H Revell). Moody’s home and gravesite overlook the Great Meadow Road, which is part of the Connecticut River valley and one of the prettiest spots you’d ever want to see. South of the junction of Route 2 and I-91 is Historic Deerfield (an 18th-century village), Yankee Candle, Northampton (where Jonathan Edwards pastored), and several colleges (including Amherst, University of Massachusetts, and Mount Holyoke).
Hudson River Valley Byway (New York)
Historical sites abound on both sides of the Hudson River—alongwith a number of bridges, some toll, some not toll, depending on which direction you’re headed. South of Albany, Route 9J is closest to the river on the east; but if you go a little farther east, to Kinderhook, you can see Lindenwald, home of President Martin Van Buren, “the Little Dutchman.” Remember this area was settled by the Dutch, and many of its places and residents, even Roosevelt, are still distinguishable by their double-vowel names. Instead of returning to Route 9J, continue south on US 9, because that route becomes River Road, where you’ll find many of America’s Castles.
No doubt, you will be intrigued by Olana, the tall, red, Moorish-looking home of Frederic Church. South of that, in contrast, is the white Clermont Estate, home of Robert Livingston. You may be surprised at its tranquil, relaxed setting, where you can walk and enjoy the great outdoors. Clermont means “clear mountain” and was inspired by its view of the Hudson. Not too far beyond Clermont is the Beaux-Arts mansion of Ruth Livingston Mills, also referred to as the Staatsburgh State Historic Site.
Hyde Park was the home of President Franklin D Roosvelt. On the grounds of his estate, Springwood, are his Presidential Library and his and Eleanor’s graves. Eleanor also had a home of her own, Val-Kill, across town, where she lived with several women. Interestingly, Hyde Park is also the home of the Vanderbilt Mansion NHS, one of my favorite stops because it is not only majestic, but people friendly. The grounds are open until dark, and the trees are labeled, so you don’t have to wonder what they are; you can drive up and walk around as in a public park. Further, Hyde Park is home to the CIA—not the Feds, but the cooking school: the Culinary Institute of America. Like most cooking schools, it offers an inexpensive lunch.
Farther down the road, assuming you’re traveling north to south, you’ll find Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York—actually, there are several colleges and universities along the Hudson. Check it out. Poughkeepsie was also the home—Locust Grove—of Samuel FB Morse, inventor of the Morse Code, sometimes referred to as the American Leonardo Da Vinci, because he was both artist and inventor. Morse was a member of the Hudson River School of Painting, founded by Thomas Cole, who also had a home—Cedar Grove—on the west bank of the Hudson, opposite Olana. If you sit on Cole’s front porch, you can see where he got his inspiration.
Continuing south, you’ll come to West Point Military Academy, which has a breathtaking view of the Hudson. I have not been there since 9/11 so I do not know how security is now, but years ago you could drive around the property, see inside the chapel, and tour the museum. You’ll want to start at the Visitors Center, of course. Visible from West Point is Castle Rock, the private home of descendants of William Osborn, a friend of Frederic Church (Olana).
Immediately south of West Point is one of the most rugged places I’ve ever seen to cross a river: Bear Mountain. Who goes up to cross a river? But that is what you do at Bear Mountain, US 6, where you can cross toll-free east to west.
If you’re still on the east side of the Hudson, then continuing south of West Point, you’ll come to Tarrytown, site of Kykuit (home of John D Rockefeller), Lyndhurst (home of Jay Gould), and Sunnyside (home of Washington Irving)—Irving was the man who gave us the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane, and Rip Van Winkle. Kykuit is the least accessible: to get there you have to buy tickets and board a transit bus—you cannot drive up to the house. Lyndhurst has a gated entrance: you’ll have to pay just to get on the grounds; like Biltmore, staff offer lunch and dinner in the renovated stables. Sunnyside is whimsical, with costumed interpreters; if you don’t want to see the house, you can walk the grounds free.
Great Lakes-St Lawrence Seaway Trail (New York)
As the name implies, it is one of those roads that runs along a body of water—in New York, from the Eisenhower Locks to Niagara Falls. Along the route you’ll find lighthouses (30-Mile, Tibbetts Point, Charlotte-Genesee, Old Sodus, et al), historic sites (1,000 Islands, Boldt Castle, Fort Niagara), museums (Remington Art Museum). If you know anything about his art, I imagine you took Remington more for a bronco-buster than an Easterner from Ogdensburg, New York.
I enjoyed the drive, and the stops. What I did not like was the lack of signs. Unlike the interstate, which usually shares where to exit for gas and where the next rest area is—except in Vermont, which has outlawed such helps—this route does not even let you know where the next town is. So … I ran out of gas, pulled up into a farmer’s driveway while the car was still coughing fumes—did you know upstate New York is rural?—and, as if he hadn’t seen a visitor in some time and was delighted at the curiosity, he directed me to a convenience store with gas station.
I didn’t make it. Had to pull over, park, and walk. Nice country people would come by. “Do you need a lift?” “No, thanks. We’re out for an afternoon stroll.” Had to buy a pretty, bright red plastic, $20 5-gallon gas container—the cashier didn’t trust me to return hers …. Had to prepay before she’d turn on the pump. Once I got the car started again, I would gladly have filled up at her station; but since she had been so kind, I drove off—still needing gas …. Make sure you fill up before you head out, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
The whole object of travel is … to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land. ~GK Chesterton
Baltimore-Washington Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway (Greater DC)
Thanks to nature architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, who foresaw the necessity for grass and trees in the inner city, there are parkways and parks in and around major urban centers. The District is blessed to have several parkways, two of which are the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (BWP), MD 295—not to be confused with DC 295 or I-295—running from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport to US 50, and George Washington Parkway (GWP), running between I-495 and I-395 (Reagan National). Like every other road in DC, these parkways stay busy, so don’t be surprised if traffic slows dramatically or comes to a stop.
Driving the BWP, you’ll pass or see access to Greenbelt Park (managed by the National Park Service), Goddard Space Flight Center, Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Savage Mill, and Fort Meade. If you exit at Route 100, you will find a rotary, leading to a shopping center at Arundel Mills, Hanover, Maryland. If you take I-95/I-495, the Capital Beltway, inner loop, at Exit 25-A you can go right, to the University of Maryland, College Park, or left, to IKEA. Nearby is also a transit stop for the local commuter train.
Coming from the Beltway, I-495, into DC, the GWP passes CIA Headquarters at Langley, provides access to Theodore Roosevelt Island, the Mount Vernon Trail, the LBJ Grove, and Arlington National Cemetery. From the GWP you’ll have the choice of three bridges that cross the Potomac into DC: Key Bridge goes into Georgetown (you can see the school from the parkway); Roosevelt Bridge goes to the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial, Constitution Avenue, and the National Mall; and Arlington Bridge goes to the cemetery. If you pass up all the bridges, you will come to the Pentagon, I-395, Reagan National Airport, and Pentagon City (an even bigger shopping center than Arundel Mills). Leaving DC, the GWP will take you back to I-495, where you can head to Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, with its tall skyscrapers and large businesses.
Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia, North Carolina)
This is actually one seamless road, running between Front Royal, Virginia, and Cherokee, North Carolina. Skyline Drive, part of the Shenandoah National Park, is a toll road; Blue Ridge Parkway is not. Along the way are stops or interest centers: museums, campgrounds, country stores, gas stations, lodging, visitor centers, rustic farms, split-rail fence, mills, gift shops, even formal dining. Mabry Mill (in the photo) is an example of a multi-faceted stop. There are many, many overlooks, some with spectacular views of the mountains. If you are lucky, you may see wildlife such as chipmunk, squirrel, hedgehog, deer, and black bear. If you find a couple of cubs in the trees, as we did, perhaps you’d do better than to get out of your car to take snapshots or video. After all, the mother bear may not be far away.
On the other side of the Virginia border, the drive is marked by a number of tunnels. North Carolina is also the gateway to Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Though not very high compared to Western peaks, it, like Mount Washington, has an alpine environment. In addition to nature, Mount Mitchell offers lodging, dining, and gift shop.
Continuing south, you’ll have opportunity to explore Asheville, home of Biltmore, the largest home in America. The Asheville McDonalds in Biltmore Village is known for its fireplace and grand piano. Yes, McDonalds. Asheville is also home to the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. The Cove’s Chatlos Memorial Chapel was featured in one of the Bill Gaither videos.
Unfortunately, the southern terminus of the parkway, US 441 (entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains), is in Cherokee, North Carolina, on the Cherokee Reservation, where the Native Americans have built a multistoried casino. The city of Cherokee, as it used to be, with its little tourist shops, is boarded up like a ghost town. Thanks to the casino, no more trinket shop, no more candy store. And to ensure that autos at least drive by, the Cherokee have blocked the terminus of the parkway, forcing motorists to go through Cherokee on US 19 (a bad stretch of road). Therefore, I recommend getting off at Asheville and taking US 40 west back to civilization. If you want to go to Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and the Smokies, you can always use an interstate loop.
Outer Banks Scenic Byway (North Carolina)
The Atlantic coast of North Carolina is a chain of sandy barrier islands, called banks, enclosing shallow lagoons called sounds. More people-friendly than some lakeshores and seashores, the Outer Banks Scenic Byway allows access to the ocean and island-hopping. Once across Currituck Sound, if you head north on North Beach Access Road, you’ll come to Corolla, where you’ll find a Hampton Inn resort and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Headed south, you’ll come to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills. Given the opportunity, you’ll want to cross over to Roanoke Island so you can hear about the mysterious Lost Colony: over 100 colonists who simply disappeared—the settlers predated Jamestown (1607).
South of Roanoke Island, before you enter the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, you’ll come to Pea Island NWR. Continuing on the Outer Banks, you’ll find lighthouses (Bodie, Cape Hatteras, Ocracoke) and free ferries, but beware: the hop from Ocracoke is longer and some ferries intentionally slow down to make sure you miss the larger ferry (to Wilmington) and are forced to overnight on their tiny island—thereby assuring the locals some seasonal business.
At least, it happened to us. Irritated at the procedure, I did a U-turn, hopped a northbound free ferry, drove all the way back to Kill Devil Hills, and headed home. When I stopped for gas, a motorist, standing at another pump, asked, “Didn’t I see you on the ferry?”
I recognized him as one of the ferry attendants. “Yes. But I wasn’t hanging around.”
I haven’t been back since. If you want repeat business, you need to be nice to customers—and tourists.
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” ~Seneca
Copyright © 2011 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Cape Neddick Lighthouse, York, Maine