Has the gloomy weather got you itching for an escape? While it’s totally understandable why you might be ready to book a ticket to Mexico or sign up for a cruise, there is another option: Start planning a road trip. As the spring starts to thaw icy roads and the sun comes out again, there are no shortage of super-worthwhile journeys right in your home country that won’t even require you to check a bag.
1. Redding, California
Waterfalls, volcanoes, and caves, oh my. Redding, CA isn’t so much a destination as the hub for outdoorsy road trip adventures. But don’t overlook Redding’s charms, where folks will unreservedly call you “hon” and give you pointers on the best secret hikes the place has to offer.
Take a trip north along the Waterfall Loop for stops at Lion Slide Falls, Burney Falls, and three glorious falls at McCloud River, none of which are far from the car but have an optional hike from bottom to top. Take a quick detour to Mt. Shasta, a cute hippie town named after the serious-looking volcano that’s never far from view (and is also ripe for adventuring).
If you’re up for another full day, head an hour east to the “miniature Yellowstone” Lassen National Park and spend the day sniffing sulfur hot springs and getting a sense of how volcanic activity shapes a landscape. For those wanting a workout, a trip up Lassen Peak is worth crossing off your bucket list.
For dinner in Redding, you can get fancy at organic, local, seasonal Moonstone Bistro or go casual at The Park, a food truck oasis where you can sample different cuisines and hang out by a fire pit or play a life-size games of chess.
2. Durham, North Carolina
City slickers looking for small-town charm will adore Durham, North Carolina. Spend a night downtown at the artsy, modern Unscripted Durham, where locals hang out at the rooftop pool bar that overlooks the city, and where guests can take a complimentary Brunch & Burn fitness class.
Landmarks like Duke University’s chapel and downtown’s American Tobacco Campus, which has been converted to restaurants and meeting spaces, are where you’ll get your best only-in-Durham photos. Take a guided cycling tour of the city’s murals or stretch your legs at free-to-the-public Duke Gardens, which includes everything from native and regional plants to a beautiful Asiatic arboretum. For more natural beauty, head 10 miles to Eno River State Park to hike among shrubs and pines or kayak along the river.
History buffs only need take a 10-minute drive west to Bennet Place to learn about the site of the largest surrender during the Civil War, or 10 minutes north to Duke Homestead, the former farm and factory of tobacconist Washington Duke, after whom the local university is named.
3. Enchanted Highway, North Dakota
There are more than just wide open spaces in North Dakota — there are also stunning public art structures along the aptly-named Enchanted Highway. Located down a small road near Gladstone, mid-way between Bismarck and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the giant scrap metal structures — which include Geese in Flight, Deer Crossing, and Grasshoppers — are the creation of artist Gary Greff, who designed the pieces to help draw attention to his small hometown, Regent.
Once you’ve enjoyed the sculptures, head west on the 94 to the small tourist town of Medora. A population of less than 200 people live there year-round, but once warm weather hits, people flock to the area. The Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park offer excellent hiking opportunities, and a good chance to see wildlife like prairie dogs, feral horses and American bison. The Medora Musical, which plays every night during the summer, is great historical entertainment based on the old west and the life of President Theodore Roosevelt.
4. Cascade Loop, Washington
If the mountains are calling, there are few places better to answer them than along the Cascade Loop in Washington. Whether your jaw is dropping at the glaciers of North Cascades National Park, you’re enjoying a ferry ride across the Puget Sound, or crossing the massive bridge at Deception Pass, this is a scenic trip that won’t let you down.
A few high points along the way: After making your way through the North Cascades National Park (where you could easily spend a week hiking and camping), Winthrop is Western-style tourist town where you can find lodging or a campground. Leavenworth is also a worthwhile stop, both for it’s Bavarian-themed downtown (you’ll find plenty of beer and pretzels here) and the nearby hikes to gorgeous places like Colchuck Lake.
Lastly, the ferry (yes, you can take your car) from Mukilteo to Clinton is short but enormously beautiful. If you’re up for camping, drive through Whidbey Island and reserve a spot at Deception Pass State Park, where it’s hard to beat the sunset from the middle of the bridge.
5. Utah-Arizona Border
Get two states in one on this trip: Northern Arizona and super southern Utah. Page, Arizona makes a good launching pad for the area’s adventures, and the uber-popular Horseshoe Bend is a quick drive down the freeway and a short, relatively flat walk to the canyon’s edge. If you can score a permit, The Wave is also a once-in-a-lifetime hiking opportunity, though nearby Antelope Canyon is similarly beautiful and easier to secure entrance.
If you’re into water sports, you might as well experience Lake Powell while you’re in the area, and the Glen Canyon Dam visitor center is a great way to understand the geologic history to the area.
The absolute best accommodations, however, are going to be a two-hour drive away and over the border to Utah. The View Hotel in Monument Valley is exactly what it sounds like: an excellent view of one of the most iconic desert sceneries. The red buttes that rise off the ground will make you feel like you’re on a movie set, and since every room in this hotel has a balcony, you won’t even have to put on pants to enjoy it. But pants will be necessary for the Wildcat Trail, a four-mile hike that takes you through the buttes and on the edges of local reservations — the only trail in the area that visitors are permitted to walk without a guide.