From the dazzling and rocky seascapes of the Northern Coast to the sun-drenched beaches of Southern California, this road trip is filled with scenic vistas, sandy beaches, majestic cliffs, and ancient forests. Pacific Coast Highway, California State Route 1, runs north to south along the coast through (sometimes unnerving) twists and turns that curve through seascapes, mountain roads, and redwoods. SR 1 starts near Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point, California up to its northernmost part near Leggett as its intersections with US Highway 101.

Quick TipAt times, parts of the road are closed by frequent landslides, especially during seasonal rains. Check the weather and to see if the route along SR 1 is open. [Want to try something different? Take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the coast and avoid the traffic issues.]

This road trip is broken up into three parts—Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. I recommend heading north to south as you get closer and better views of the water. Feel free to mix it up! The endpoint is Dana Point, where Highway 1 ends.

Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip — Northern California Itinerary

This portion of the Pacific Coast Highway focuses on northern California and works its way down to the Marian Headlands and San Francisco.

How long? 200 miles, around 5 hours without stops. If you plan on stopping for camping or trails, make it a two-day trip.

When to go? Without much winter weather, it’s popular all year long. Winter, spring, and fall are optimal as summer can bring in fire season. Summers are also really foggy going down the coast.

Fort Bragg

MacKerricher State Park

24100 Mackerricher Park Rd, Fort Bragg, CA 95437

MacKerricher State Beach [J.smith [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]]
MacKerricher State Beach
Start at this spectacular 2,200-acre preserve, with more than 10 miles of ocean frontage, cliffs, beaches, and headland. Playful seals bask on the rocks below Laguna Point, and you can find fields of tall grass, and poppy in the park as well. For people interested in preservation, you can find a wetland ecosystem and native dunes at the Ten Mile Dunes complex. The park is also home to more than 90 species of birds. Walk down the Haul Road Trail, which hugs the coast for several miles.

Jug Handle State Reserve

CA-1, Fort Bragg, CA 95437

Jug Handle State Reserve [Miguel Vieira [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]]
Coastline at Jug Handle State Reserve
The next stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, Northern California Itinerary journey is Jug Handle State Reserve, another dream for geology-geeks (like me). Coastal erosion and shifting land masses have led this 776-acre park to have five marine terraces of sediment. Each terrace has its own history, and each layer of sediment is 100 feet higher and about 100,000 older than the one beneath it. The lowest terrace supports prairie, followed by a redwood forest, followed by a pygmy forest of cypresses and pines. You can walk along a well-marked 2.5-mile Ecological Staircase Trail that explores flora and fauna at three wave-cut terraces. There is also a sandy beach where you can stop and view both the terraces and the ocean.


Russian Gulch State Park

CA-1, Mendocino, CA 95460

Russian Gulch State Park [© Frank Schulenburg from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Waterfall_in_Russian_Gulch_State_Park.jpg]
Waterfall at Russian Gulch State Park
South of Point Cabrillo, you’ll cross the Russian Gulch Bridge, where you can stop and view the bridge, take the North Trail Trailhead or visit Russian Gulch, State Park.  Beaches, coves, tide pools, and woodland forests make this park. You can find 15 miles of trails, with five miles open to bicycles, with the Headlands Trail offering different views of the Pacific Ocean and the Devil’s Punch Bowl sinkhole. This point of interest is a 200-foot-long sea cut tunnel that collapsed at its inland end. Going deeper into the park, you can find woodlands of pine, maple, alder, and laurel trees along with a 36-foot waterfall. Swimming is allowed from the beach at the mouth of Russian Gulch Creek, along with SCUBA diving and tide pool exploring.

Little River

Van Damme State Park

8001 CA-1, Little River, CA 95456

Van Damme State Park [Jimmy Coupe [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]]
Van Damme State Park
Van Damme State Park is a 1,831-acre park where the forest meets the sea. The park offers a lush fern-filled forest, scenic beach, and ten miles of hiking trails that lead into the mature forest with Douglas firs, Pacific hemlocks, and redwoods. Walk along the Fern Canyon Scenic trail, into Fern Canyon with its growth of assorted wildflowers, rhododendrons, and trees. The trail itself is east of the beach while the parking lot is to the west. Don’t try to swim at this beach, however, as like most of the northern coastal beaches, the waves are cold and swift. Also, it gets fairly chilly and foggy even during the summer, so bring a light jacket.

If you only have an hour at this stop, the state park suggests taking Airport Road out to the pygmy forest. A 5-mile walk through the redwoods and ferns is another amazing trail with beautiful views.

Point Arena

Point Arena Light Station

45500 Lighthouse Rd, Point Arena, CA 95468

Pointe Arena Lighthouse [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/12019-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1599168">David Mark</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1599168">Pixabay</a>]
Point Arena Light Station
Point Arena Lighthouse is two miles north of Point Arena, once a busy logging port. The 115-foot Lighthouse Tower and its 1896 Fog Signal Building can be toured by climbing up its 147 steps. You’ll also take in stunning views of the sea and coastline, including the 23 acres of coastline nearby. Museum and tower tours are currently $8 per person for ages 12 and up, $1 for ages 5 to 11, and free for those under 5.


Gualala Point Regional Park

42401 CA-1, Gualala, CA 95445


Gualala Point Regional Park

Gualala Point Regional Park is where the Gualala River meets the sea. You can stop and walk the 2.9 miles of trails that connect the beach to the coastal bluffs and estuary. Rarely ever crowded, this beach is popular for whale watching, beachcombers, and day hikers.


Fort Ross Chapel [By User:Introvert - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=525364]
Fort Ross Chapel

Salt Point State Park

25050 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450

Salt Point State Park is a 6,000-acre state park with over 20 miles of hiking trails and 6 miles of rocky coastline. It’s a beautiful place to stop on the ride for a (stony) walk along the shore. Stump Beach is a great little beach with lots of driftwood and mountains on both sides. You will also have limited cell service, so be sure to print out directions when going in. It’s also close to the next stop, Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Fort Ross State Historic Park

19005 Coast Hwy, Jenner, CA 95450

This 3,400-acre park offers unspoiled natural landscapes in addition to a reconstruction of an Imperial Russian-era fur trading outpost. Surrounded by redwood forests and sandy beaches, the park was established in 1090. Fort Ross itself was active from 1812 to 1841, built by representatives of the Russian-American Fur Company. The park includes the 1836 Rotchev House, the Kuskov House, a weathered redwood blockade, a commander’s headquarters, and a Russian Orthodox chapel, crowned by two towers.


Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

17000 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville, CA 95446

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

One of the first virgin redwood preserves, Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve preserves 805 acres of coastal redwoods. Twenty miles of trails with varying difficulty lead you dense forests of pine and oak into the slopes of McCray Mountain, and fields of wildflowers. The tallest tree in the park is the Parson Jones Tree, which is more than 310 feet in height and is less than a mile from the park’s entrance. Also, less than 0.5-mile from the park entrance is the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be over 1400 years old. One of the easiest one-mile is the Pioneer Nature Trail that leads from the park entrance to the Armstrong Tree and Forest Theater.

Bodega Bay

Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Head Trail Beach

3799 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923

Sonoma Coast State Park on Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/abalboa-8748544/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3335157">Angelito Balboa</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3335157">Pixabay</a>]
Coastline at Sonoma Coast State Park
Moving through the village of Bodega Bay, famous for its seafood and harborside views, you’ll find Bodega Head, which marks the start of the Sonoma Coast State Beach. This chain of parks spans 17 miles from Bodega Head down to Vista Trail. Bodega Head itself is the rocky headline that forms the entrance to the harbor. There are many hiking trails on the ocean side. Picnicking beneath the cliffs of Schoolhouse Beach is another great option.


Tomales Bay State Park, Heart’s Desire Beach

"Adam Derewecki</a> from <a href=

Protected by winds by Inverness Ridge, this park covers the 13-mile inlet that separates Point Reyes from the mainland. The park is divided into three distinct park areas, with Heart’s Desire Beach which offers a gently sloping, surf-free relaxing seashore that is the heart of the state park. Hiking trails lead to Indian Beach, Pebble Beach, and Shell Beach. In addition to the beaches, you will also find forests, grassy meadows, and marshes with a variety of trees, wildflowers, and wildlife.

Point Reyes National Seashore

1 Point Reyes-Petaluma Rd, Inverness, CA 94937

The Point Reyes National Seashore extends around the Point Reyes Peninsula, a craggy stretch of shoreline that extends for some 70 miles. Expansive sandy beaches, open grasslands, grassy hillside, and forests cover this park. You can also walk a short paved loop that explores the San Andreas Fault Zone. Take a leisurely drive through Inverness Ridge to the beaches and wildlife viewing areas. Whale watching is a popular activity as you can watch gray whale migrations from the Chimney Rock and Lighthouse areas. It is a huge park, so stop by the Bear Valley Visitor Center to get different itineraries for your stay.

Quick Tip In 2019, the National Park Service is restoring the Lighthouse so there will be closures. Check the state website for specific dates.

Mill Valley

Muir Woods National Monument

1 Muir Woods Rd, Mill Valley, CA 94941


Muir Woods National Monument [PictorialEvidence [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Inside the Muir Woods National Monument
The last remaining strand of redwoods in the Bay Area, Mui Word’s Cathedral Grove soar up to 250 feet above the forest floor. Over six miles of trails lead visitors along the banks of Redwood Creek and into the heart of the grove. The trails include a 1/2 hour loop, a 1-hour loop, and a 1 1/2 hour loop. Longer trails lead up into surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park. Climb up the Ben Johnson and Dipsea trails for views of the treetops, Mount Tamalpais and the Pacific Ocean.

Quick TipThere is no cell phone service or WiFi at or around the monument. Be sure to print your directions (or Atlas), reservation or shuttle ticket in advance. What shuttle? You might want to get a hotel in Sausalito and then take the shuttle up to Muir Woods. Will save you the headache of getting a reservation for personal vehicles. Plus you’ll already be in town for the next and last stop. Also, reservations are now required for private vehicles and shuttle riders going into the park, so plan ahead.

After visiting Muir Woods, you’ll head south on SR 1 to where it merges with 101 down into Sausalito.


Marin Headlands

Fort Barry, Building 948, Sausalito, CA 94965

View of San Francisco from Sausalito on Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/fortechsol-391099/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=859244">Kathryn Fortin</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=859244">Pixabay</a>]
Marin Headlands overlooking San Francisco Bay
Just north of San Francisco, lies the Marin Headlands, a 5-mile stretch of coastal basalt headland, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. White sand beaches, rounded hills, and seaside cliffs. Before you head to the coastline, stop at the Marin Headlines Visitor Center at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads. Take in the astonishing views of the Pacific Coast and drive along Conzelman Road to the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can access the Marin Headlands off Highway 101 from Rodeo Avenue Exit and Trailhead. While in Sausalito, check out some of the area’s other attractions.

  • Vista Point (Us-101, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito, CA 94965) or Battery Spencer (Conzelman Road, Sausalito, CA 94965). With magnificent views of the bridge, these are two of the places to get a fantastic view of San Francisco. It does get very crowded at the Vista Point so Battery Spencer may be the better bet.
  • Sausalito Boardwalk (Sausalito Yacht Harbor, Sausalito, CA 94965). Walk along the harbor and enjoy the beautiful boats along with restaurants, shops, parks, and cafes.
  • Sausalito Ferry (Anchor St & Humboldt Ave, Sausalito, CA 94965). Wanting to venture into San Francisco (without the drive)? The Sausalito Ferry drops you off at the end of Market street within walking distance of Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.

Pacific Coast Highway Pinterest

Ready to keep going? Here are the two other itineraries for following the Pacific Coast Highway.

How long does the full route take? From MacKerricher State Park in Northern California to the southern point in Dana Point, the drive takes just a little over 12 hours without stopping. I highly recommend breaking this up into three portions and taking your time. The dramatic sweeping views of the ocean to the West and the mountains to the east are meant to be traveled slowly. This portion covers the Northern California part from Fort Bragg down to San Francisco.

What time of year? Summers are the busiest time of year, and you can honestly spend half of the day on the road going between Malibu and Santa Monica as everyone heads to the beaches. Spring and the Fall are the best time of years, especially with the weather. Winter is the rainy season and is more likely to have mudslides and other issues along the route.

Pacific Coast Highway - Like it? Pin it.

Finally, What to Pack?

Disclosure: The links below contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Ready to hit the road? Be sure to pack along some must needed items for your trip.

Road Trip Essentials - Cooler Weather

Road Atlas



Light Jackets

First Aid Kits

Roadside Assistance Kits


Travel Camera




Backup Battery Chargers

Looking for national and state parks in California? Click here

Going hiking (or during the rainy season)? Check out some ideas for rain gear

Central California, often called the Big Sur Coast, stretches between beautiful Monterey and San Luis Obispo. Wave-battered cliffs, shady forests, sandy beaches, and rich history make up this portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

How long? 158 miles, about 5 or more hours without traffic or stopping for much. Roundtrip? It is around 313 miles, or 7 hours without traffic (coming back up 101 rather than Rte 1). Traffic is key—this stretch can get CROWDED during the summer months.

When to go? Optimal all year long. Be sure to watch out during the rainy season of mudslides. Summers are also really foggy going down the coast, and hotel and flight costs are also highest during this season. Offseason is considered December to March, although April and September can also offer great prices. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket as the weather can be changeable and windy along the shore.

This itinerary will start in Monterey. The closest airport is Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC), but flights from Oakland (OAK) or San Francisco International (SJC) may be slightly cheaper. This Pacific Coast Highway Central California style starts up north and heads south along the highway so that you are driving closer to the ocean. Either way, have fun!


Cannery Row. [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/12019-12019/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=71836">David Mark</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=71836">Pixabay</a>]
Cannery Row at Night

Cannery Row / Monterey Bay Aquarium

886 Cannery Row, Monterey, CA 93940

Start this section of the Pacific Coast Highway in Monterey, a beautiful seaside community south of San Francisco. Festivals can be found year-round, and most of the city can be tracked by foot. Cannery Row is a picturesque street that offers restaurants, shops, waterfront hotels, a wax museum, and the top-notch Monterey Bay Aquarium. The seaside marine park is full of over 35,000 animals in 2.3 million gallons of water. Parking can be tricky, so the afternoon is a good time as there are usually more spaces than first thing in the morning.

Pacific Grove

Asilomar State Beach

Sunset Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Follow Ocean View Boulevard along the shores of Monterey Beach, where you’ll see Lovers Point Park and Point Pinos Lighthouse in what has been called Butterfly Town USA, Pacific Grove. Next, go to Asilomar State Beach, a narrow, one-mile strip where you can go for scenic walks along the beach and through the Asilomar Dunes Natural Preserve. The preserve has several boardwalks that provide panoramic views of the beach and the Pacific Ocean.

17-Mile Drive

Pebble Beach and 17-Mile Drive Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/skeeze-272447/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1650666">skeeze</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1650666">Pixabay</a> []
Pebble Beach and 17-Mile Drive

Pebble Beach

17 Mile Dr, Pacific Grove, CA 93950

After Asilomar State Beach, Sunset drive intersections with 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road which hugs the Pacific coastline. Going down this short road, you can see 1920s mansions, rocky headlines, and the Pacific Ocean. There is an admission fee of $10.50 per vehicle, and the drive is open to the public from sunset to sunrise. You can find tour maps online or at the entrance tollgates. This route helps you avoid some of the traffic that occurs on the Pacific Coast Highway as you head into Carmel-by-the-Sea.


Point Lobos [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/PicsByJana-2753358/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2282950">Jana Last</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=2282950">Pixabay</a>]
Point Lobos State Park

Carmel River State Park

26478 Carmelo St, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Once in Carmel-by-the-Sea, follow Scenic Road down to Carmel River State Beach, one of the less crowded sandy beaches. The beach features a 1-mile-long protected beach with a lagoon. Monastery Beach is popular with scuba divers. History lovers should also stop at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo del río Carmelo or Misión de San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, first built in 1797.

Point Lobos State Reserve

62 CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

Continue down the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) toward Point Lobos State Reserve, a scenic coastal area with trails that wind around steep paths to land’s end. You can see down to the inlets and watch the surging waves crash onto the inlet and sea lines on the small island that fringe the mainland. Walk down to Whalers Cove, a small cabin from the turn of the century.

Garrapata State Park,  Soberanes Point

Whale Peak Trail, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923

In the southern portion of Carmel-By-The-Sea lies Garrapata State Park, a 2,939-acre park with rocky headlands in the north and sandier beaches to the south. Highway 1 passes for four miles through the borders of the park. If you’re interested in pulling over, gates 13, 15, and 16 offer some of the best scenery in the park and cross Soberanes Point. This is a 1.8-mile loop trail with wildflowers and a rocky shoreline. You can pull over into any of the other trailheads (such as Soberanes Canyon Trailhead) in the

Point Sur State Historic Park

CA-1, Monterey, CA 93940

The Pacific Coast Highway continues down the coast across the famed Bixby Bridge, and you’ll find turnouts for dramatic overlooks. Five miles to the south of the bridge, the drive nears the 92-acre Point Sur State Historic Park, with an 1889 Point Sur lighthouse (which is currently closed for tours).

Big Sur

Big Sur [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/466654-466654/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1008190">D Thory</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1008190">Pixabay</a>]
Big Sur

Andrew Molera State Park

45500 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Heading down Highway 1, the road then navigates through Andrew Molera State Park, with wind-sheltered beaches, stark cliffs, meadows and rivers, and a 3,450-foot mountain. This park is officially in Big Sur and is still relatively undeveloped. Pull over and go hiking on the Andrew Molera Loop (ridge/coast loop) and beachcombing in this beautiful park. You do have to pay $10 to park, but you can use the receipt at the next stop, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Pfeiffer Big Sur Rd, Big Sur, CA 93920

The Pacific Coast Highway then curves inland a little and passes through the town of Big Sur and along the valley of the Big Sur River. On this river lies Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which covers approximately 1,006 acres of land on the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Trails lead through a redwood grove to waterfalls and up to pools edge with smooth boulders. The trails are fantastic, with lots of wildflowers and trees. Just be sure to check the trails as they have seasonal hours and may be closed. About a mile south of the entrance, you can also take Canyon Road for Pfeiffer Beach. It’s a small privately-owned beach, which charges a separate entrance fee, where small batches of the beach can be found among caved rocks. While heading through the parking area down Route 1, you’ll also find a couple of gas stations on the side of the highway to buy gas and snacks.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920

After leaving the Big Sur State Park, you’ll follow Pacific Coast Highway as it descends nearly 1,000 feet above the sea into the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Due to severe storm damage, the park has been closed during the week but is still open on the weekends. Otherwise, I’d highly recommend taking the Overlook Trail that navigates cliffs high above the ocean. These ragged cliffs here are incredibly high and hazardous; there is also no beach access. Redwood trees grace the park’s interior. You can still see the McWay Cove Waterfall near mile marker 36, which is an 80-foot waterfall.

Quick TipYour cell service will be spotty in this area. You’ll lose your access to directions on your smartphone. Be sure to print out your directions or take an Atlas just in case.

Limekiln State Park

63025 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Heading further south on Highway 1, you’ll pass through Limekiln State Park, a 711-park with a sandy beach, redwood forest, and 100-foot Limekiln Falls. Four historic kilns, used in the making of mortar and cement in the late 1880s, can be reached by an easy 0.5-mile trail through the redwoods and footbridges. None of the trails are too long or difficult. After finishing the inland trails, take the road that goes under Highway 1 and out to the beach.

Sand Dollar Beach (plus Jade Cove)

CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920

Continuing on the Pacific Coast Highway south, you’ll meander past Sand Dollar Beach in San Padres National Forest. It’s a great stopping point if you want picnics, viewing the ocean, or looking for Jade-filled rocks along the beach. Look for the Jade Cove Parking Lot signs and park there and follow the trail down to Jade Cove. The beaches themselves are hemmed in by cliffs, with semiprecious bits of jade rocks. Here’s the trick. The beach itself is down a steep escarpment (and you’ll need to take the bottom half via rope), so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a day trip. If you decide to walk down the side, be sure to wear hiking boots and sturdy footwear as the worn paths can get slippery. However, the views from the top of the bluff are stunning. (I’m afraid of heights so I stay “upstairs.” LOL) Here is a great blog from Monterey Farmgirl called Sand Dollar Beach & Jade Cove in Big Sur with a lot of extremely useful information from someone more local (it was extremely helpful for the trip).

San Simeon

Hearst Castle [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/sarangib-37542/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1043075">Bishnu Sarangi</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1043075">Pixabay</a>]
Hearst Castle

Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452

Built between 1919 and 1947, Hearst Castle San Simeon State Historical Monument is a palatial estate holding a treasure trove of paintings, mosaics, tapestries, and statues. The 250,000-acre spread was conceived by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan as La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” The estate, which includes the gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways encompass 123 acres. Choose from one of the different types of tours at the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, where you can also grab a bite to eat. Prices start at $25 for adults, $12 for children ages five through twelve, and free for children five and under. Nearby, take a tour of San Simeon’s 70-foot, 1874-era Piedras Blancas Light Station or visit one of the area beaches, including the William R. Hearst Memorial Beach or Hearst San Simeon State Park.

Morro Bay State Park

60 State Park Rd, Morro Bay, CA 93442

Morro Bay, California

Morro Bay State Park on the Morro Bay lagoon features a marina, natural bay habitat, lagoon, and the Morro Rock landmark. A saltwater marsh can be found on the northeast edge of the park. You’ll find ample opportunity for hiking, sailing, fishing and bird watching. A museum features the ecological and cultural history of the area. While in Morro Bay, feel free to take the time to visit Morro Rock, the Museum of Natural History, and the Morro Bay National Estuary. Interested in visiting the beach? The Morro Strand State Beach is a protected beach that is not as busy as many of the other state beaches.

Pismo Beach

Pismo Beach [Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/comuirgheasa-3235861/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3598669">Ciarán Ó Muirgheasa</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=3598669">Pixabay</a>]
Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves Park

2701 Price St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449

Perched atop oceanfront bluffs sits Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach. This 11-acre park includes a grassy area for picnics, an amphitheater, and a large play area with a dinosaur-based theme. You can also see the caves in the cliff-faces once you move beyond the playground and start walking through the gardens. It sits at the end of Shell Beach and is just a little fun distraction just right off the freeway. Nearby are Pismo State Beach (399 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449), Margo Dodd Park (Shell Beach), Eldwayen Ocean Park,  and the Monarch Butterfly Grove (400 S Dolliver St, Pismo Beach, CA 93449).

Pismo Beach Pier at Sunset
Pismo Beach Pier at Sunset

That’s it for this stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway Itinerary!

Ready to go back to Monterey? Once you’re finished, take Highway 101 back up through San Luis Obispo, San Miguel, and it will take you up to outside of Salinas, CA. Highway 68 will take you back east into Monterey or you can continue north into San Francisco and go up the coast for the Northern portion of the Pacific Coast Highway.

Keep going south? If you want to continue on with the Southern California portion of the highway, follow Highway 1 down through Santa Maria and down into Santa Barbara.

Finally, What to Pack?

Disclosure: The links below contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Ready to hit the road? Be sure to pack along some must needed items for your trip.

Road Trip Essentials - Cooler Weather

Road Atlas



Light Jackets

First Aid Kits

Roadside Assistance Kits


Travel Camera




Backup Battery Chargers

Looking for national and state parks in California? Click here

Going hiking (or during the rainy season)? Check out some ideas for rain gear


The 4-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, “The Strip,” is known as the capital of glitter and glam with its concentration of resort hotels and casinos, quick-hitch wedding chapels, and neon signs that light up the desert sky. While marble and earth tones are slowly beginning to replace the old-school neon and faux-crystal of yesteryear, Sin City is still an entertainment mecca where you can find shows, buffets, and entertainment 24 hours a day. What many tourists may not know is that just beyond Nevada’s city of lights is a vast landscape of unexpected treasures. Here’s a list of more than 7 natural attractions near Las Vegas, Nevada.

How Long? One way, it’s 456 miles. That’s excluding the side trip to Red Rock Canyon Scenic Loop, which is right outside of Las Vegas. That’s around 9 hours if you do not stop anywhere. Then you have to turn around and head back. It’s easy a three-day weekend road-trip from Las Vegas.

You can always break it up into segments. A straight trip from Las Vegas to the Great Basin National Park is a five-hour drive, heading north on Highway 93. It all depends on what all you wish to see.

If you’re planning for a full week, you can also jump over to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest or down to the Mojave National Preserve.

Time of Year? Year-round, with one caveat. As you get into the higher elevations, especially near Echo Canyon State Park and Great Basin National Park, the trails or campgrounds may be closed due to seasonal weather. However, the closer you stick to Las Vegas, the easier it’ll be.


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Start in Las Vegas

This road trip assumes that you are starting from a downtown hotel in the Las Vegas Strip. Whether you are staying at the Mirage, The New York-New York Hotel & Casino, or the Luxor, take the Las Vegas Freeway ( I-15) South to Loop I-215. Loop I-215 will take you around to the Great Basin Highway, which turns into I-11. Take the Highway 93 exit to Boulder City Parkway and then follow the directions from there.

Lake Mead Recreation Area, Nevada
Lake Mead Recreation Area, Nevada

Lake Mead Natural Recreation Area

601 Nevada Way, Boulder City, NV 89005

Backing up more than 100 miles behind Hoover Dam, Lake Mead is the world’s largest man-made lake that encompasses 1.5 million acres. At 110 miles long, Lake Mead is a mecca for swimmers, divers, windsurfers, boaters, and tourists lining up to see the Hoover Dam. The park has nine wilderness areas to explore with trails, including the Historic Railroad Trail that overlooks the Boulder Basin area.

Hoover Dam, Nevada
Hoover Dam, Nevada

Hoover Dam

81 Hoover Dam Access Rd, Boulder City, NV 89005

Okay, so it’s manmade but it overlooks one of the natural wonders in the area. Less than an hour from downtown Las Vegas is the Lake Mead Recreation Area, Hoover Dam, and Lake Las Vegas. Considered one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th century, the 726-foot gravy-arch Hoover Dam harnesses the power of the Colorado River feeding into Lake Mead.

Start with the guided tour of the Hoover Dam tour, which includes a 1-hour guided tour of the powerplant and passageways within the Dam. From the observation deck, view a panoramic vista that includes Lake Mead and the Colorado River. Take one of the large elevators 500 feet down into the wall of Black Canyon and walk through a 250-foot long tunnel drilled out of the rock. From there, you can view the 650-foot long Nevada wing of the power plant along with its generators.

Boulder Beach

Boulder City, NV 89005

Located about five miles north of Hoover Dam, Boulder Beach is one of the more popular areas of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. It’s not a traditional beach with sand. It has rocks, lots of rocks, right before the water. It’s an oasis in the desert. However, it is beautiful in its own way with the starkness. A large campground area and places for boating and swimming are also available.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park

29450 Valley of Fire Hwy, Overton, NV 89040

As you head north, the Valley of Fire State Park borders the northern arm of Lake Mead. The Valley of Fire Highway offers stunning views of the red rocks. These red sandstone formations were formed from shifting red dunes over 150 million years ago. The bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops are settled in gray and tan limestone throughout the park that contains ancient, petrified trees and 2,000 years-old petroglyphs. Interpretive trails lead past these petroglyphs and up into the red rocks. The visitor center also offers exhibits on the ecology, prehistory, history, and geology of the park.

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada
Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge, Nevada

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge

Mile Post 32 HWY 93, Alamo, NV 89001

As US-93 runs north between the lean hills of the Sheep Range to the west and the Delamar Mountains to the east, the desert landscape can look deserted. However, underground water feeds the Lower Pahranagat Lake that leads into a sprawling 5,380-acre wildlife refuge. Part of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the refuge has an abundant of songbirds, wildlife, and hiking trails. Free camping can also be found at the Upper Lake part of the refuge. The Upper Lake Trail is a three-mile loop that goes around the Upper Lake and eventually connects with the Waterway Trail. A parking lot is available near the Upper Lake Trail.

You can also find gas, restaurants, and groceries in Alamo, Nevada, which is located three miles north of the refuge.

View from Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive, Nevada
View from Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive, Nevada

Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive

Rainbow Canyon, Nevada 89008

South of Caliente, Nevada, the Rainbow Canyon Scenic Drive is a 21-mile side trip down State Highway 317 that takes you to Rainbow Canyon. Stained by minerals into a kaleidoscope of color, Rainbow Canyon is surrounded by the gentle Meadow Valley Wash. The Canyon lies between the Clover Mountains to the east and the Delamar Mountains to the west, lying 3,000 feet below the mountain peaks. The drive follows the Meadow Valley Wash, which collects just enough water for cottonwood trees to grow along its banks. Highway 317 also connects you to archeological sites such as the Kershaw-Ryan State Park.  Not too far from Rainbow Canyon, you can also visit the Elkin Schoolhouse State Historic Site. The road is subject to washouts so check road conditions.

Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada

Cathedral Gorge State Park

111, Cathedral Gorge State Park Road, Panaca, NV 89042

As you continue along Meadow Valley Wash, you’ll enter Cathedral Gorge State Park. The park is a 2,000-acre park that offers a visitor’s center, walking trails, camping, and a trailhead up to Eagle Point. Cathedral Gorge is spiked with buttes and columns that rise above 4,800 feet in elevation. Miller’s Point Overlook, a mile north of the park’s entrance, is also a great place to take in the broad views of the Cathedral Gorge. Miller’s Point also has a one-mile trail that connects the overlook to the picnic area within the park.

Storm approaching Cathedral Gorge State Park. Source: Frank Kovalcheck on Flickr
Storm approaching Cathedral Gorge State Park. Source: Frank Kovalcheck on Flickr

Echo Canyon State Park

State Routes 322, Pioche, NV 89043

Echo Canyon State Park has a 65-acre reservoir that abuts steep rock walls, a perfect setup for echoes. Golden eagles soar through Eagle Valley and campers and hikers are known to enjoy the variety of songbirds, hawks, eagles and other birds that soar throughout the region. Hike the Ash Country trail, a 2.5-mile trail that climbs 300 feet up to the rim of the valley. The hike then descends into the Ash Canyon with its steep-sided walls and dramatic views. Camping is also available onsite, with flush toilets, an RV hook-up station, and drinking water at each site.

View of Wheeler Peak at the Great Basin National Park. Source: National Park Service
View of Wheeler Peak at the Great Basin National Park. Source: National Park Service

Great Basin National Park

National Park, 100 Great Basin, Baker, NV 89311

Nevada’s only national park, the Great Basin National Park includes everything from the majestic crown of Wheeler Peak and Mount Washington to the caves and some of the world’s oldest trees. Drive the park’s 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive through forests of spruce and limber pine on a 3,400-foot climb from the visitor center. This drive will take you to the overlook of the glacier, centuries-old trees, and mountain caves.

Wheeler Peak on the way up the Summit Trail; parts of the remaining part of the glacier can be seen from here. Source: National Park Service
Wheeler Peak on the way up the Summit Trail; parts of the remaining part of the glacier can be seen from here. Source: National Park Service

Wheeler Peak Glacier

Nevada’s only alpine glacier sits at the base of Wheeler Peak, measuring 300 feet long and 400 feet wide. Alpine glaciers are the types that sculpt mountain ranges, such as the one at the South Snake Range. You can view the glacier from the Wheeler Peak Overlook on the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive or take the Bristlecone/Glacier Trail 4.6 miles roundtrip to the foot of the glacier. At the end of the scenic drive, the Snake Range includes twisted pines in the rock-strewn soil that are estimated to be up to 3,000 years old.

Note that due to its high elevation, Wheeler Peak Campground closes for the season at the end of September.

Pools found within the Lehman Caves. Source: National Park Service
Pools found within the Lehman Caves. Source: National Park Service

Lehman Caves

5500 NV-488, Baker, NV 89311

One of the 40 known caves in the Great Basin National Park, Lehman Caves are the only caves open to the public. View four distinctive groups of caves, including the Lehman Hill Caves, Baker Creek Caves, Snake Creek Caves, and Alpine Caves. Most of these caves are at high elevation, such as the Alpine Caves or the highest solution cave in the park, the High Pit at 11, 200 ft. The bottom of the High Pit is impacted by snow. The deepest cave in the park at 480 feet is the Long Cold Cave, which is also at an elevation of about 10,000 feet.

After visiting the Great Basin National Park, turn around and head back to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a circular loop. However, you’ll have the opportunity to see many of the early attractions from a different viewpoint.

Once you finish the four- to five-hour route back to Las Vegas, you can either immediately head west or spend the night and start fresh in the morning.


Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive

Visitor Center, 1000 Scenic Loop Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89161

Located just 17-miles west of the Las Vegas strip is the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, a 13-mile path that takes you through the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The horseshoe-shaped drive takes you past spectacular sandstone cliffs. Turnouts along the way lead to stunning vistas and 26 numbered hikes and trails that can be found on a downloadable map. Take a short hike to Lost Creek or Pine Creek Canyon or longer ones such as the White Rock Mountain Loop or Grand Circle Loop. To find a list of hiking trails, visit the Red Rock Canyon Visitor’s Center or download the information online. If rock climbing is more your speed, you’ll find plenty of activities with the great boulders and sheer rock faces.

Happy Traveling!

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Plan Your Next Adventure


It’s hot outside, brutally hot. However, it’s never too soon to start planning your Fall road trip when the temperatures will cool down and the leaves turn vibrant colors. The Green Mountains’ of Vermont are a perfect Fall getaway to view the best of New England’s foliage. In Fall, the Maple trees lining the Green Mountain Highway explode with brilliant colors. As Robert Frost said that Vermont is “a state in a natural state.”  Another great thing about Vermont? It can be explored year-round, with cooling water holes in the summer and plentiful skiing the winter.

This road trip starts in Albany, New York. Why New York? Because it’s the closest major airport (read, cheaper flights) to Wilmington, Vermont. If you are planning on driving up from Boston, drive the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Wilmington, Vermont. Wilmington has a small, regional airport for those local to New England. The ride from Albany into Wilmington also takes you through the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. It’s a beautiful introduction to Vermont.

Tips Before You Hit the Road

  • You will be heading up and down some steep mountains (not hills) so check your vehicle’s air pressure and make sure they are perfectly inflated. Also, perform basic car maintenance to ensure that your brake and transmission fluids are filled.
  • Speaking of mountains, check your speed while going downhill. Try not to go down any faster than you went up and try not to ride your brakes.
  • Don’t hug the center line when driving around a curve. The mountain roads are narrower than the highways and some of these roads are simple two-lane roads.
  • Before going off-road or into some of the regions, check the local weather for road conditions or flash flood warnings.
  • Higher elevations can lead to dehydration, thus leading to altitude sickness. Carry plenty of water for each person and keep hydrated.
  • Don’t wear flip-flops, sandals, or other simple shoes. You never know when you might want to take a quick walk or hike up to see the vistas. Wear hiking boots, tennis shoes, or other durable shoes that cover your entire feet.

How long? Depending upon when you start, and if you like to take hikes, it can vary from a few hours to a weekend trip. I would recommend two days to fully take in all that the area has to offer. Spend the night at one of the area’s hotels or go camping at any of the nearby parks. Montpelier, Vermont’s capital city, is about half-way through the tour, so that might be a great place to stop for the evening. If you plan on just driving through, then you could do it in a day quite easily. Just remember that you will be navigating mountain roads, so you will be (or should be) going slower and it can get tiring navigating the twists and turns. Plan for 35 mph in some of the local areas.

Time of Year? Late September into October is when the area is at its most beautiful, with color lighting up the Green Mountains to fiery shades of orange, gold, and red. The summer months are also good for finding cool spots in the heat by visiting numerous waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. Some of New England’s largest ski resorts are here, so it is also a great winter getaway. Maybe I should change the answer to “year-round?”


Map not working on your phone? Try this one.

Vermont Fall in the Green Mountains Itinerary

Start in Albany, New York

From Albany, follow I-787 N to NY-7 E. Once you enter into Vermont, take VT-9 E to Wilmington, Vermont. On your path, you will cross the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest for some spectacular views on your way to your first stop.

Mount Olga, Vermont

Mount Olga Fire Lookout Tower inside Molly Stark State Park

Mt. Olga Trailhead Parking, Guilford, VT 05301

Continue on Route 9 past Wilmington, Vermont to Molly Stark State Park. The Mount Olga Fire Lookout Tower is a moderately easy hike that provides a cool overlook of the area. This tower, constructed in 1930, is used as a popular hiking destination and viewpoint within the mountain. The rolling hills of New Hampshire are viewable to the east. The crimson maples and canary-yellow birch trees are visible in early Fall and make an impressive start to a Fall road trip. Note that the first half of the hike up to the tower is all uphill and you don’t have much of a view. Heading downhill is easy, and the view’s worth it. If you don’t feel like hiking up to the tower, visit the park’s recreational area along Route 9 (Molly Stark State Park, 705 VT-9, Wilmington, VT 05363). A path also leads to the summit of 2,415-foot Mount Olga.

By Magicpiano - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48887261

Townshend State Park

2755 State Forest Rd, Townshend, VT 05353

As you drive into Townshend, Hemlocks and Hemlock-Northern Hardwood trees cover the nearby mountains. Townshend State Park, in the tiny village of Townshend and Townshend State Forest, provides stunning views of Bald Mountain and the nearby river valley. At the park, access one of Vermont’s most beautiful bridges—the Scott Covered Bridge. The Bald Mountain Trail passes various waterfalls, pools, and wooded ravines lead to the 1,680-foot summit of Bald Mountain. From the overlook, you can view the farms and forests along the West River valley.  Additional trails are available that are less strenuous that still provide spectacular vistas.

Jamica State Park, Vermont

Jamaica State Park

48 Salmon Hole Ln, Jamaica, VT 05343

In the 772-acre Jamaica State Park, The West River loops eastward toward the bulk of Ball Mountain. In the Fall, the trail leading from the park along the water is an unbeatable walk with a wide variety of trees. Cobb Brook plunges 125-foot plunge at Hamilton Falls. The path is relatively flat for over two miles and then becomes rocky for a couple of more miles. No swimming is allowed (or recommended) at the Falls due to the rocky environment and swift currents. If In the summer months, you can also go swimming at the Salmon Hole (but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it in the fall). If you are not interested in a nature hike to the Falls, then continue driving West into the Winhall Municipal Forest.

Stratton Village, Vermont

Stratton Village (Stratton Mountain Resort)

Stratton Mountain, 5781 Mountain Road, South Londonderry, VT 05155

During the winter months, Stratton Village is like a Swiss village located in the Alps with the magnificent ski slopes of Stratton Mountain Resort looming nearby. In the Fall months, you can still visit the village and the resort, but the forest around you is alive with colors of red, orange, and yellow trees that dot the landscape. The village has a variety of shopping centers and places to eat, similar to Estes Park in Colorado. Stratton Mountain is Vermont’s highest peak and plentiful hiking is nearby. Visit the Stratton Fire towner from a .75-mile beginner route from the gondola tower.  After taking in the view from the peak, we’ll head back down to visit the 18th-century town of Weston, Vermont.

Old Mill Museum, Weston, VTOld Mill Museum

4 Park St, Weston, VT 05161

The Mill Museum is an 18th-century grist mill that evokes the Vermont of yesteryear. The museum is also within walking distances of the village of Weston’s shops and stores. Next to the museum is a colonial-era residence that dates from 1795 with time-period furniture, kitchen tools, and toys. The trees, millpond, and waterfall of the Mill is also a great place for photography. While in Weston, visit the Vermont Country Store (657 Main Street, Weston, Vermont 05161) for everything from antiques to practical goods. The Weston Village Christmas Shop (660 Main Street, Weston, Vermont 05161) is also a popular place to purchase some Christmas ornaments from around the world.

Near Ludlow, Vermont in the Green Mountains

Okemo Mountain Resort

Mountain Lodge at Okemo, 318 Mountain Rd, Ludlow, VT 05149

Okemo Mountain Resort is a year-round attraction that has everything from a zip line to downhill mountain biking. The best part of this trip is simply the drive up to the resort, where you will pass the beautiful forests up to stunning views. You can also ride the Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster, which takes you on 1,600-foot climb followed by a 375 vertical-foot descent along 3,100 feet of track that follows the contours of the mountain (think Six Flags roller coaster). You can also follow a paved road to Okemo’s 3,343-foot summit or take a hike from the resort itself.

By Dsdugan - Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44840081

The Plymouth Notch Historic District (President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site)

3780 VT-100A, Plymouth, VT 05056

The village of Plymouth Notice is a tiny hamlet where time has stood still. Surrounded by hills, the 19th-century settlement is where President Calvin College was born and raised. Similar to the Lincoln Home national park, the little crossroads settlement called the Plymouth Historic District remains virtually the same as it did during Coolidge’s time. Visit the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site, a 19th century home with original period furnishings. Along with the house, you can also see the little one-room schoolhouse, the Union Christian Church built in 1840, the Florence Cilley General store, the Wilder Barnes and house, and the cheese factory where the president’s father once worked.

Gifford Woods State Park, Killington, Vermont

Gifford Woods State Park

34 Gifford Woods Acc, Killington, VT 05751

This 113-acre park is known for the Gifford Woods Natural Area. One of the few remaining old growth forests in the northeastern United States, the 7-acre old-growth northern hardwood forest is perfect for viewing Fall foliage. The Kent Brook Trail is a one-mile loop that goes through the hardwood forests of the park and the Gifford Woods Interpretive Trail is a shorter loop at .3 miles.

Montpelier, Vermont’s Capital City

Montpelier, Vermont’s Capital City

115 State St, Montpelier, VT 05633-0004

This tour winds down in Montpelier, the capital city of Vermont. The gold-domed Greek Revival State House was built in 1859. The design of the building is reflective of the style of the nation’s capital building. The dome is currently under renovation, but you can still tour the grounds and the building for free. Self-guided tours are available, or you can take a half-hour tour. One additional site that I would suggest is the Bragg Farm Sugar House & Gift Shop (1005 Vt Route 14 S, Montpelier, VT 05651-9765) for a true taste of Vermont. The Maple syrup season in Vermont is late February through April, so if you want to experience the maple sugaring process, Fall isn’t the best time to go. However, the town is lit up with the brilliance of Fall colors, so you’re not missing out on much by visiting this capital city.

Elmore State Park, Wolcott, Vermont

Elmore State Park

56 Patch Ln, Wolcott, VT 05680

The blaze of color fully ignites the Green Mountains as you begin heading into the colder valley and temperate lowlands. Stop at Elmore State Park to hike up to Elmore Mountain to view the abandoned fire tower at the summit. From the summit, you have a perfect view of the fall foliage below. The foliage is also reflected in the waters of Lake Elmore, which has a swimming beach and picnic area.

By Patrick from Barrington, RI, Moretown, VT, United States - Church and Autumn Leaves - Stowe, VT, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11770456

Stowe, Vermont | Stowe Community Church

137 Main St, Stowe, VT 05672

Charted in 1763, Stowe is a classic New England village in the Green Mountains. The narrow spire of Stowe’s Community Church is most recognizable of Vermont’s Route 100s many country villages. The church was plotted in 1818 and is still one of the most recognizable structures in the mountains. From the 10-mile drive up from Waterbury, you’ll also see a magnificent view of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Mount Mansfield State Forest rises from the west and CC Putnam State Forest is visible to the east.

Ben & Jerry's Waterbury Factory Tour & Ice Cream Shop, Waterbury, Vermont

Ben & Jerry’s Waterbury Factory Tour & Ice Cream Shop

1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Route 100, Waterbury, VT 05676

While it may seem strange to go on a tour of an ice cream shop in the Fall months, the Waterbury Factory tour on Route 100 is a must see. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield set an ice cream shop in a converted gas station in 1978, and this area has been known for Ben and Jerry’s ever since. The thirty-minute tour is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. It’s also a beautiful area, especially during the Fall foliage season.

Texas Falls Recreation Area

Texas Falls Recreation Area (Middlebury gap)

Hancock, VT 05748

After passing by the college town of Middlebury Gap, take time for a small picnic at the Texas Falls Recreation Area. Take a one-mile hike up to where the Hancock Branch of the White River into one of New England’s most beautiful waterfalls. A viewing area and small suspension bridge leads to a trail at the bottom of the stream. The walk down to the stream can be a little tricky (especially after rain), but the toilet facilities and picnic beaches make for a great stop to enjoy lunch in all of nature’s beauty.

Deer Leap Trail (Rutland, VT)

Deer Leap Trail (Rutland, VT)

139 U.S. 4, Killington, VT 05751

Finish off the final part of the tour in beautiful Rutland, Vermont on Route 7. Rutland is the third largest city in Vermont and the site of the Vermont State Fair. The city’s downtown is listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Places to see include Wilson Castle and Hildene-The Lincoln Family Home. Outside the town near the Pico Mountain Ski Resort is Deer Leap Trail. Take the 2-mile hike to an outlook with an absolutely incredible view. The trail can be steep in places, but you can go to certain points and still have an amazing view.

Afterward, follow the route back down south on US-7 to VT-279 into Bennington. Then take the VT-279 exit from US-7 and follow it into Troy, New York. Then take I-787 into Albany, New York.

Recommended Items

Reusable Water Bottle

High-Protein Snack Food

Hiking Shoes

Atlas & Compass

A sense of humor ?

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Plan Your Fall Adventure


Big Bend National Park County is stark, isolated, and beautiful. It’s roughly the size of Rhode Island and is a world of contrasts. You have the Chihuahuan Desert, the Chisos Mountains, and the Rio Grande River. It’s a mixture of deep canyons and towering peaks, grassy fields, and sandy slopes, and every type of desert wildlife. It’s a trip everyone should make at least once in their life.

This road trip is going to start in Midland, Texas. Why? One is that I grew up around there and have made the trip multiple times, so I have a good understanding of where to start. Two is that with the big oil boom happening out there, more people are probably going to start from Midland than from Abilene. There’s also the Midland International Air and Space Port, which is one of the largest airports in this region. If you are not living in the Midland-Odessa area, it’s an easy flight where you can rent a car and start driving.

Midland to Balmorhea State Park, located in what some call the entrance to the Big Bend Region, is a good two-and-a-half hour of driving. Most of it through remote rural towns and some ghost towns. It’s not your typical drive through forested hills and multiple exits for McDonald’s. So, I’m going to give some helpful tips from a native desert dweller before you hit the road.

Tips  Before You Hit the Road

  1. Do some basic car maintenance. If it is a rental car, you should be fine but still double check. Why? You are driving into some remote areas where cell phone signal is nil. This is especially with some providers. I never had luck with Sprint and had to switch to AT&T, which can still have spotty coverage. You may also be an hour between shops that offer mechanic services. Be prepared.
  2. Get gas and get gas often. As someone who grew up near this area, my biggest suggestion is always to stop and get gas when you see a (reputable) gas station. There are stretches where you can quickly go 60 miles without a single gas station. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize it’s through steep grades and windy mountain passes.
  3. Bring water and lots of it. You are driving through the majestic Big Bend and up into the mountains, but you are still in the Chihuahuan desert. You will get dehydrated faster than you think you will. Throw a 12-pack of bottled water (per person) in the back seat or the trunk, and you’ll feel better later. One gallon per person also works. It gets seriously hot ya’ll.
  4. Expect to lose cell phone coverage. If you are addicted to your cell phone, this might be a good time to decompress. Coverage is spotty in some regions, especially where you drop behind a mountain or in a canyon. In the park itself? Almost no coverage. Luckily, there are ranger stations and people always searching for the area. West Texas is also full of some really friendly people, and most are more than willing to let you borrow their landline if you need it. Just tell people before you leave that you will be not available via cell for a few hours.
  5. Print out or write down this itinerary. Also, get an Atlas. You can keep it on your phone or put a plan on Google Maps, but again, you will lose service. Then what? Keep an Atlas in the car and also print out this road trip. The Atlas won’t help you with gas stations, so I’m going to try and keep you as full as possible.


How long? About 588 miles or 10 hours, without stops. As I said, this is a weekend trip (because you have to turn around and drive back).  A three-day weekend would be perfect to explore and enjoy this vast area. If you genuinely want to white-water raft and go on an outdoor adventure, a full week is perfect!

Time of Year? Spring and the fall are the best times of the year for this trip. You can do it in the summer but check the weather forecast. Some areas near Alpine are noticeably cooler than other parts of West Texas but down in the canyons? It’s hot. However, plenty of people who grew up in West Texas make the trip during the summer months so as long as you take precautions (fuel up often and take water), you’ll be fine.


Map not working on your phone? Try this one.


West Texas and Big Bend Itinerary

Start at Midland International Airport

Midland, Texas, is halfway between Dallas/Fort Worth and El Paso, conveniently located on Interstate 20. It’s a great place to start the somewhat isolated tour as you can find everything that you need in this large (and ever-growing) town.

I’m going to start off this road trip a little differently. Rather than listing places to see, I’m going to start with a list of gas stations near the start of the route at the Midland Airpark. If you already live in Midland, you know where to go and get gas. However, if you flew in and rented a car, you should be good to go. Just stop and get some snacks and water. As you go through the itinerary, you’ll see this little gas icon every time there is an opportunity to get gas.

Gas Station marker

Pilot Travel Center, 4015 FM1788, Midland, TX 79706 (Near I-20)

Sun Mart TEXACO, 4098 FM1788, Odessa, TX 79765

Flying J Travel Center, 5900 E Interstate 20, Odessa, TX 79766


The drive from Midland to Balmorhea State Park is a long and isolated one once you get past Monahans or Pecos. It can also be beautiful in its simplicity and very peaceful.

Side trip!  Monahans Sandhills State Park, 2500 E Interstate 20 Exit 86, Monahans, TX 79756

Over 3,800 acres of white sand dunes can be found off I-20 near Monahans in the Monahans Sandhills State Park. It’s very similar to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and is an excellent place to stop and take pictures.

The drive from Midland International Airport is a little under two and a half hours or 129 miles.

Photo of the main swimming area at Balmorhea. Author Credit from Wikipedia: By Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8898502
Photo of the main swimming area in Balmorhea

Balmorhea State Park

Balmorhea State Park, 9207 TX-17, Toyahvale, TX 79786

Balmorhea State Park is a welcoming oasis on your drive through the desert. Swimming at the two-acre concrete swimming pool formed by the waters of the San Solomon Springs is a West Texas summer tradition. Locals often learn to swim in a shallow stream that runs down to the pool before moving to the deeper waters with its sand, rock, and native aquatic plant-covered bottom. [As a kid, I thought it was slime. Too much Nickelodeon.] You’ll also be swimming with the fishes as different kinds inhabit the waters. The pool is undergoing renovations in the early part of Summer 2018, but you can always view the area and the springs themselves. It should be open by Spring 2019.

Gas Station marker

I-10 Valero Fuel Travel Stop, TX-17, Balmorhea, TX 79718

Alon Gas Station, 305 S Main St, Balmorhea, TX 79718

Gascard, 305 S Main St, Balmorhea, TX 79718


Fort Davis National Historic Site

Fort Davis National Historic, Fort Davis, TX 79734

Established in 1854 on the San Antonio-El Paso Road, Fort Davis is located on the bank of Limpia Creek. The fort’s restored buildings include twenty-four roofed buildings and over 100 ruins and foundations. Silhouetted against the red-rock walls of Hospital Canyon and the Fort Davis Mountains, Fort Davis itself is a charming little town. While here, visit the McDonald Observatory [3640 Dark Sky Drive, Fort Davis, TX 79734 ] outside of town to view some stunning views of both the land and the sky. If you like historical downtowns, visit the Hotel Limpia and Masonic Lodge. I stayed at the Hotel Limpia back when doing an article on Prude Ranch (another great stay!) and it was well worth it. The whole town is a little mountain town with historical roots and a peaceful vibe. Also, there is limited cell phone service through the entire town.

Alpine alt text for attributing author: By Patriarca12 - Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64096921
View from top of Hancock Hill of Alpine, Texas

Museum of the Big Bend

400 N Harrison St, Alpine, TX 79832

Alpine is one of the highest towns in Texas atop several mountains which top 6,000 feet. It’s a perfect spot for getting a bite to eat, viewing the beautiful murals painted around town, or visiting the Museum of the Big Bend, located at Sul Ross State University. Alpine and the surrounding area is a well-known watering hole in the summer as the temperature can be lower by ten degrees or more than the desert around it.

After Alpine, the tour begins going into the mountains of the Big Bend National Park, so if you are even less than a quarter of a tank from full, stop and get gas.

Gas Station marker

Stripes, 700 E Ave East, Alpine, TX 79830

Alon Gas Station, 800 E AVENUE E, Alpine, TX 79830

Alon Gas Station, 801 NE 1st St, Marathon, TX 79842
[Has a fully equipped service station in case of tire punctures, etc.]

Near Permission Gap in Big Bend National Park
Near Persimmon Gap in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Persimmon Gap Visitor Center

Persimmon Gap Visitor Center, Main Park Rd, Alpine, TX 79830

As you head past Alpine, you’ll enter the Big Bend National Park through the Persimmon Gap, a large mountain pass at the north end of the park. Desert blankets the 800,000-acre park in 98% of it. Over 1,200 different species of plants exist in the vast park as do all types of wildlife, including 400 different types of birds. The diversity of species is the higher than any found at any of the national parks. South of Persimmon Gap are the Chisos Mountains, with its 7,835-foot Emory Peak. These mountains are covered with high-country trees such as Douglas firs and Ponderosa pines.

Follow the Rio Grande River through Big Bend National Park
Follow the Rio Grande River through Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande Village Visitor Center

450, Rio Grande Rd, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

As the road heads from the entrance towards the Rio Grande Village Visitor’s Center, two of the park’s most prominent peaks can be seen off in the vista. The Elephant Tusk if off in the distance to the south and the Chilicotal Mountains are closer to the road. In the Rio Grande Village area, you can take a short nature trail that loops around the floodplain before climbing to an overlook that looks over the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico and the Rio Grande. The view from this overlook is fantastic at sunset. The river allows easy access to canoeing and kayaking. There are also plenty of bird-watching trails. FYI, the “village” is a campground; you may find it on your map as Rio Grande Village Campground.

Gas Station marker

Rio Grande Village Store, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

This store is an excellent place to stop for gas, food, and if you need it, a shower.

Panther Junction Service Station, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

The service station is on Gano Springs (Park Route 12), just west of where Main Park and Gano Springs/Route 12 intersect.

Dusk at Big Bend National Park
Dusk at Big Bend National Park

Chisos Basin Visitor Center

142 Chisos Basin Rd, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

Follow the six-mile Chisos Basin Road, which winds over two thousand feet above the desert floor. Not recommended for RVs over 24 feet or trailers longer than 20 feet, the road has steep grades (as much as 15%). Go to the Basin Visitor Center, about 100 yards east of the Chisos Mountains, to view exhibits on native plants, animals, and birds. Permits for visitor’s use are issued during regular business hours, and entrance fees can be paid at the visitor center. If you feel like getting out and walking a trail or two, the Window Trail is a leisurely stroll that gives beautiful vistas through a break in the basin wall.


Cacti to be seen on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Cacti to be seen on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

Heading on Route 188, a turnoff leads south onto the thirty-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The road winds along the Rio Grande with some of the historical and geologic features that Big Bend National Park is best known. The Chisos Mountains loom in the eastern horizon while the Burro Mesa is in the West. The so-called Window is a V-shaped cleft that is a striking view at sunset. The road then takes some sharp curves, and steep turns with a look at Mule Ears Peake. The 1,000-foot-tall Cerro Castellan looms overhead as you near Castolon Historic District, an old army post. Continue driving about eight miles farther to the west to Santa Elena Canyon.


Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon, Texas 79852

Famous for its white-water rapids trips, Santa Elena Canyon is also known for its dramatically beautiful canyon walls. The Santa Elena’s tall cliffs go up to 1,500 feet. You can arrange white-water trips in nearby towns such as Lajitas. Park and you can wade through the mud into the other side of the canyon but be sure that you have some water to wash off your feet. It’s a short hike to get into the canyon, and the view is gorgeous. Wear hiking shoes.  [Side note: if you are at all claustrophobic, skip this venture and move on to Terlingua.]

Near Terlingua, Texas in Big Bend National Park
Near Terlingua, Texas in Big Bend National Park

Barton Warnock Visitor Center

70 hc, Terlingua, TX 79852

The Barton Warnock Visitor Center is the eastern visitor center for the Big Bend Ranch State Park near Lajitas and Terlingua. The center offers an archeological, historical, and natural history profile of the region. It also provides a two-acre desert garden and an interpretive center. Terlingua is a popular tourist destination and is known for its popular chili cookoffs held throughout the year. The “proper” part of the town is a ghost town with old buildings and historic sites. If you go into the part of the area that extends into Study Butte has some local dining spots and area shopping.

Gas Station marker

Alon Gas Station, TX-118, Terlingua, TX 79852

Lajitas General Store, 55 Main Street, Lajitas, TX 79852

El Camino del Rio or “The River Road.”
El Camino del Rio or “The River Road.”

El Camino del Rio or “The River Road.”

FM 170 from Terlingua to Presidio

One of Texas’ best scenic routes, El Camino del Rio follows the twists and turns of the Rio Grande between Lajitas and Presidio. After you leave the Barton Warnock Visitor Center, you’ll drive down Farm Road 170 to the town of Lajitas, an old west town that has unique shops and is popular with tourists. As you traverse around the road, the views of rugged mountains and dark, lava flows capped with hardened ask are a photographer’s dream. You’ll pass by Madera Canyon, climb a steep grade to the top of Santana and down into Tapado Canyon and Fort Leaton State Historic Park. Note that this road can be a challenge for motorhomes, trailers, and motor coaches. Also, slow down.

Fort Leaton picture attribution: By Carol M. Highsmith - Library of CongressCatalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2014630294Image download: https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/highsm/26000/26094a.tifOriginal url: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.26094, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51149159
Fort Leaton State Historic Park

Fort Leaton State Historic Park

FM 170, Presidio, TX 79845

Fort Leaton is at the western edge of the Big Bend Ranch State Park. If you love adobe architecture, you will want to stop and view this old pioneer trading post, built in 1848. Plants in the park range from cacti to cottonwoods. There is also a picnic area and public bathrooms. Presidio is also a great little town on the Texas/Mexico border where you can spend the night, eat, and get gas. It also has an airport if you wanted to fly directly into this area.

Twenty miles north of Presidio on Highway 67 is the ghost town of Shafter and the Rio Grande Mining Company.  Shafter used to be called “the richest acre in Texas” due to the millions of dollars’ worth of silver from the local mines. Little remains of the town today except for the crumbling ruins.Gas Station marker

Toms Service Station LLC, 203 O Reilly St, Presidio, TX 79845

Exxon, 104 O Reilly St, Presidio, TX 79845

Thriftway, 504 Erma Ave, Presidio, TX 79845


Marfa alt text for attributing author: By Mathieu Lebreton from Paris, France - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathieulebreton/7838597002/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64062560
Downtown Marfa, Texas.

Marfa, Texas

Marfa And Presidio County Museum, 110 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843

Known for the mysterious orbs known as the “Marfa Lights,” Marfa is a small city that is currently known as an artist’s hubs. I used to frequent the town in the late 90s, and it has grown exponentially since that time (there’s traffic now!). There is a viewing station 9 miles east of town on Highway 90 towards Alpine where you can see if you can spot the Marfa Ghost Lights on the foothills of the Chinati Mountains. (For the record, I’ve never seen them, so I can’t say too much.) Spend the night at the Hotel Paisano for a little Spanish flair or one of the other hotels in the area. Before you head back, visit the Marfa and Presidio County Museum at the intersection of Highway 67 and San Antonio Road. It’s a museum about local settlers and military history in a 1880s adobe home.

Gas Station marker

Stripes, 109 E San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843

WTG MARFA, 100 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843

Webb’s Brit Texaco Services, 317 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843 [car service]

Marfa is the last stop on the tour before you go back through Fort Davis and back towards Midland.

Recommended Items

Reusable Water Bottle

High-Protein Snack Food

Car Emergency Kit & First Aid Kit

Hiking Shoes

Atlas & Compass

A sense of humor [It’s an adventure these days without a phone] ?

Sunset in Big Bend National Park
Sunset in Big Bend National Park

Seriously though, most of all, have fun! It’s one of the untouched areas left in Texas and is breathtaking at any time of year.

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Plan Your Next Adventure


The Missouri Rhineland winds through the Missouri River Valley from the suburbs of St. Louis to Jefferson City. This region is called “wine country” due to the soils that line the southern bank of the river. The soils are excellent for growing wine, grapes, and (of course) corn. The Rhineland was named for its similarities to the Rhineland region in Europe. Some of the oldest wineries in America were founded here, especially near Augusta and in Hermann at Stone Hill. During Oktoberfest, you’ll find towns that still celebrate their German heritage in style.

This tour will take you through Missouri wine country to see the industry that has won multiple national awards. Even if you are not a fan of wine, it’s still a beautiful area with rolling hills, vineyards, and rich earth. The German heritage is also seen in its architecture that that still stand over 150 years later.

How long?  About 123 miles or a minimum of three hours. The hills are steep, and the roads are usually two-lanes with speed limits of 35 m.p.h. at times. Best advice? Slow down. You’ll also find tiny little “German villages” on the route to explore. The bridge on Highway 94 in Hermann is under construction so you must take local road P as an alternate and it also goes through some great places, but the road is not one to be speeding on.

Add 30 minutes if you are leaving St. Louis to drive to St. Charles, Missouri.

If you are starting from the Kansas City metroplex, add an additional two hours and a half hour to drive to Jefferson City and reverse the directions. (Or, you can simply drive four hours to St. Charles and then start the tour.] Plan for a full day of driving.

Time of Year?  The best times to visit are from April to November as the roads can get dangerous in the winter months. Check for any flash flood watches or warnings as some of the roads can be closed by heavy flooding. You will see signs everywhere warning about low water crossings.


Map not working on your phone? Try this one.


Missouri Rhineland / Wine Country Itinerary

Start from St. Louis, Missouri

Side-trip. If you are driving from St. Louis, Missouri, why not stop off in Florissant, Missouri, to view the oldest church in Missouri. Old St Ferdinand Shrine at 1 Rue St Francois, Florissant, MO 63031. The parish was established in 1789 and the original part of the church was built in 1821.

Historic Downtown St. Charles (since 1769)

230 S. Main Street, St. Charles, MO 63301

St. Charles, Missouri, was once the last outpost for westward-bound pioneers and where Lewis and Clark launched their expedition to the Pacific. French-Canadian settlers called the spot Les Petites Cotes after “the little hills” in the 1700s. Settlement of the city dates to 1769. The city also served as the nation’s first state capitol. Little Hills Winery in historic St. Charles used to operate in a building erected in 1805. It is the first recorded deed on file and was one year after Lewis and Clark arrived in the area. Unfortunately, the shop closed in early 2018, but it is still interesting to see one of the oldest structures in the region. The historic downtown district also has shopping, restored historic structures, and other sites to help you get into the mindset to go back in time through the Rhineland of Missouri.

Since no wineries are left in downtown St. Charles, drive up and down Main Street to view some of the oldest parts of the city.


Chandler Hill Vineyards

Chandler Hill Vineyards, 596 Defiance Rd, Defiance, MO 63341

The history of Defiance, Missouri, goes back to 1804 with explorer Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Daniel Boone. The Daniel Boone Home, a four-story, Georgian-style home, can still be explored today. In addition to a long history, four wineries also operate within a two-mile radius and nearly a dozen more wineries operate over the next 15-miles on the way to Dutzow. This area, that goes to Augusta, Missouri, is the oldest wine district in the United States. Chandler Hill Vineyards is a young winery, operating since 2008, but it has some of the most picturesque views of the region.

Additional wineries in this area include:


Mt. Pleasant Estates and Winery

5634 High St, Augusta, MO 63332

When Germany immigrants flooded the area back in the 1800s, they brought with them their love of flowers, Teutonic architecture, and their wine-making skills. Eleven wineries operated near Augusta until the Prohibition era when they were closed. Time moved on and many of the wineries reopened. The area outside of Augusta was designated as the first American Viticultural Area (wine growing) in 1980. Brothers George and Frederick Muench founded the winery in 1859 and built the cellars in 1881. The winery still uses the cellars today to age the wines and Augusta Ports.

Additional wineries include:


Blumenhof Vineyards and Winery

13699 South Highway 94, Dutzow, MO 6334

Dutzow is Missouri’s oldest Germany settlement, founded in 1832. The vineyards at Bluemnhof were established in 1979 with the first vintage in 1986. Blumenhof, which means “Court of Flowers” in German,” has won a wide variety of awards at prominent wine competitions. Near the old town of Pinckney on MO-94 is St. John’s United Church of Christ that was built in 1870 and is one of the few remaining structures in the area that survived the floodwaters of 1993.

Historic Downtown Washington, Missouri

123 Lafayette St, Washington, MO 63090

In the middle of Missouri wine country sits Washington, Missouri, a charming small town on the Missouri River. The town was the site of the San Juan del Misuri, established in 1796. The renamed town was plotted out in 1829. Thanks to the influx of anti-slavery Germany settlers, Washington, Missouri was a union holdout in a state that supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. There are over 40 wineries within an hour of the town, but since we’ve already explored so many, I figured it was time for a history break. Here are a few of the historical sites to see in this old German settlement.


Stone Hill Winery

1110 Stone Hill Hwy, Hermann, MO 65041

Sign for Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri. Taken on a Missouri wine tour.

Hermann, Missouri, is one of the state’s hidden gems. Founded in 1837 by German immigrants, Hermann, Missouri, is considered the heart of the Missouri Rhineland region. The town’s German-American heritage can be viewed at the Deutschheim State Historic Site and in its downtown. The Pommer-Gentner house was built in 1840 and the Carl Strehly house, built in 1842, are two of the oldest surviving buildings in town. Stop at the Hermann Riverfront (free parking!) for a great view of the Missouri River. Hermann is a great weekend get-away in and of itself.

The oldest winery in Hermann is Stone Hill Winery, established in 1847. Norton, Missouri’s official state grape, is grown here. The winery has won more than 4,000 awards since 1988. Stone Hill Winery offers guided tours and tasking, along with a vintage restaurant that specializes in German and American cuisine.

Additional wineries include:


Canterbury Hill Winery and Restaurant and Jefferson City

1707 S Summit Dr, Holts Summit, MO 65043 (winery)

201 W Capitol Ave, Jefferson City, MO 65101 (capitol building)

As you near the capital of Missouri, you’ll see the northern edge of the Ozark Plateau and the southern part of the Missouri River. The capitol dome rises from a bluff overlooking the river in historic Jefferson City. Sitting on the western edge of Missouri wine country, the city has several wineries within a short drive.

Additional wineries and nearby places include:

Have some spare time after visiting Jefferson City? Go south and explore the Missouri Ozark Country.

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Plan Your Next Adventure


From the rugged steep peaks of the Organ Mountains to the largest rock etchings in North America, the stunning contrasts of southern New Mexico can be viewed at any time of year. Plains meet craggy alpine peaks and the white sands roll across the northern horizon. Visit the nearby Mescalero Cultural Center, International Space Hall of Fame, or Alamogordo just outside the Lincoln National Forest. Explore the Chihuahuan Desert and find history, plentiful shopping, and a giant sandbox for kids of all ages. This road trip through New Mexico is exploring the southlands through the Land of Enchantment.

How long? If you include side trips, it’s around 298 miles, about six-and-a-half-hours. Of course, this assumes you don’t stop at any of the destinations. It’s a doable one-day trip if you start early in the morning and plan to spend all day driving, visiting the sites, and then heading back to Las Cruces. It might be a fun weekend trip if you spend the night in Ruidoso or at the Inn of the Mountain Gods (I highly recommend doing so).

Time of Year? This road trip can be done year-round. Summer temperatures can get toasty, but that’s to be expected. April, May, October, and November are prime months to visit.


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Scenic Southlands Itinerary

Start from Las Cruces


Las Cruces, New Mexico

La Plaza de Mesilla, Calle Principal, Las Cruces, NM 88005

Las Cruces is a vibrant, old city on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Less than an hour from El Paso, Texas, the city has a shared history and geography as the Texas border town. Start out at the Mesilla Plaza and visit outdoor shopping areas, musicians playing in the gazebo, and traditional architecture. Also, like hot food? The Walk of Flame Green Chili trail will lead you to places where you can sample everything from green chili ice cream to green chili hot dogs. The fertile Mesilla Valley has also been growing wine back to the late 1500s. Sample a glass of wine at the Rio Grande Vineyard and Winery and other wineries around the city.

View of the Organ Mountains in road trip in New Mexico.
View of the Organ Mountains in Southern New Mexico.

Organ Mountain National Recreation Area

15000 Dripping Springs Rd, Las Cruces, NM 88011

Pre-American, New Mexican, and American history can quickly be seen as you cross this steep mountain range that rises above the desert. The Dropping Springs Visitor Center has an array of interactive displays about the geography and ecology of the area. During the rainy season, the nearby Dripping Springs Natural Area is transformed into a gushing waterfall that you can hike to. The La Cueva rock shelter was occupied for thousands of years and you can hike from the visitor’s center to view the site. While it is illegal to disturb or remove any artifacts, you can still view them as you walk along the trails.

White Sands National Monument Visitor's Center.
White Sands National Monument Visitor’s Center.
White Sands National Monument. Bring water and a sense of adventure. (Seriously, lots of water).
White Sands National Monument. Bring water and a sense of adventure. (Seriously, lots of water).

White Sands National Monument

19955 US-70, Alamogordo, NM 88310

As you continue down NM-70, you’ll quickly spot the dunes of the White Sands National Monument across the northern horizon. Known for its rare white gypsum sand dunes, these 230 square miles of the preserve is one of the world’s most beautiful sandboxes. Walk down the Dune Life Nature Trail for interactive exhibits on the wildlife that survive in the area.

The eight-mile Dunes Drive loops around from the White Sands Visitor Center to the dune field and then loops back around. The heat in the summer can exceed 100 degrees so plan accordingly. You can simply stay on Dunes Drive and see the area without ever leaving your car (or AC). Otherwise, bring more water than you think; one gallon (four liters) per person per day is recommended by the National Park Service.


Stop at Big Daddy’s Diner, 1705 James Canyon Hwy, Cloudcroft, NM 88317

The next portion of the drive will take you through Alamogordo, New Mexico, and up a steep ascent on Route 82 into the Lincoln National Forest and Cloudcroft. The increased elevation brings a decrease in temperature and greener landscape. Pine trees and apple orchards can be seen along the route. Stop at Tunnel Vista overlook to see both the forested mountains and the desert floor that you are rising above. Cloudcroft is a city perched at 8,700 feet and is a popular winter destination. Stop at the popular Big Daddy’s Diner on James Canyon Highway for a bite to eat and to sample the local ambiance.

National Solar Observatory

3004 Telescope Loop, Sunspot, NM 88349

If you’re a fan of astronomy and want to take a side trip, take the 17-mile Sunspot Scenic Byway and head down to the National Solar Observatory. You’ll pass evergreens and an array of wildflowers on your way up to the National Solar Observatory. While there, walk around the telescopes and view exhibits about the history of the observatory. Park and get a first-hand look at solar flares and sunspots.


Mechem Dr., Ruidoso, NM 88345

As you snake through the mountains, you’ll venture into the mountain resort town of Ruidoso. This town is great in the summer as you can keep cool while visiting many of the towns unique shops and centers. Mechem drive is the main drive. You can buy jewelry at Apache Trading, visit pottery shops, or go for a walk. Many of the roads are two lanes and get crowded fairly fast during the day. Look for the public parking signs, park, and then walk from there while exploring downtown. It’s not that big and you’ll spend less time sitting in your car when the traffic makes you feel like you are in Estes Park in June.

Feeling whimsical? Visit the Hondo Fairy Garden about 24 miles east of Ruidoso near Hondo. It can be a lot of fun, especially if you have children (or are a child at heart).

Smokey Bear Historical State Park

118 Smokey Bear Blvd, Capitan, NM 88316

Located in the heart of Capitan, the Smokey Bear National Historic Park is a place where visitors can learn all about the orphaned little bear cub with burned paws to rose to fame as an icon for forest fire prevention. Once he passed away, he was laid to rest in his hometown and his burial site can be viewed within the park. His legacy was then passed on to another orphaned black bear from the Lincoln National Forest. [If you need a good cry, look at the pictures of the baby cub with Judy Bell, a little girl who was instrumental in getting him to eat after he was rescued as a cub.]  At the visitor’s center, take a tour to learn about the area, forest health, wildfires, and fire ecology. You can also explore information about the state’s natural resources. Capitan’s original train depot and a playground can also be found at the site.

Looking out over the Valley of Fire Volcanic monument on road trip through New Mexico.
Looking out over the Valley of Fire Volcanic monument on road trip through New Mexico.

Carrizozo Malpais (Valley of Fires Recreation Area)

6158 US-380, Carrizozo, NM 88301

Approximately 5,000 years ago, Little Black Peak volcano erupted and flowed 44 miles into the Tularosa Basin. From the Valley of Fires Recreation Area, you can view the barren rock that solidified into tiny peaks. Tenacious drought-resistant plants surround the area and a short ¾-mile loop trail will take you across a cracked terrace onto the solidified lava flow. A variety of birds, such as owls, hawks, cactus wrens, sparrows, and eagles can be found in the area. It’s a short little side stop just four miles west of Carrizozo. It has picnic shelters, tables, potable water, and vault toilets throughout the park.

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

3 Rivers Rd, Tularosa, NM 88352

Carved centuries ago by the Jornada Mogollon people, the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site is unique for the being one of the largest rock art sites in the Southwest. Scattered over 50 acres in the northern part of the Chihuahuan Desert, there are more than 21,000 petroglyphs of humans, animals, birds, fish, geometric, abstract, and other designs. View a small pueblo ruin and hike up from the visitor’s center to have a grand view of the Sierra Blanca in the east, the San Andrews Mountains in the western horizon, and the White Sands to the south.

Alamogordo & International Space Hall of Fame

3198 State Rte. 2001, Alamogordo, NM 88310

Continuing south on NM-54, you’ll finish in the city of Alamogordo in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert. Space development is local history in this area, so you can find a variety of sites and museums to cool off in the desert heat. At the International Space Hall of Fame, you can take a simulated walk on Mars and view exhibits that talk about space exploration from the earliest rocketry experiments. The New Mexico Museum of Space History is also nearby and not too far from New Mexico’s space center.


From Alamogordo, continue your way back down NM-54 towards Las Cruces or even further south to El Paso. Carlsbad Caverns is a solid three-hours east of Alamogordo, but it’s another great place to visit and cool off in the underground caves.

Plan Your Next Adventure


From alpine forests to mirrored lakes, Colorado’s Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway skirts between the Roosevelt National Forest and the Rocky Mountain National Park. This byway was originally part of a link between Longs Peak and Pikes Peak. You can explore many of the old mining towns along the route and find some ghost towns as well. Roads along these mountain lanes are mainly two lanes, so you won’t want to rush it. There are also plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the view.

Hint: CO-7 near Estes Park is also known as South St. Vrain. As you view directions, you will sometimes see CO-& or roads with the name Vrain. It’s the same road.

How long? About sixty-two miles from Central City to Estes Park. However, I would give yourself up to 2 hours. In the summer (especially around Estes Park), give yourself up to three. Or four. Heading from Denver to Central City can easily add on another hour. To loop back around to Denver from Estes Park is another hour and a half, so this tour can easily be a days drive if you stop at everything.

Time of Year? I would go from May to October. The Spring can be nice, but just make sure to check the weather as pop-up snow and winter storms can occur. In the winter? If the weather is nice and you know there isn’t much snow, it might be an adventure. Just be careful. Trust your gut, check the weather, and remember the Donner Party (or the Shining.) Seriously though, many of these roads are not available year-round due to winter weather and the high elevation, so plan accordingly.


Map not working on your phone? Try this one.


Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway Itinerary

Start from Central City

Central City, Colorado

Teller House, Eureka St, Central City, CO 80427

Central City is a former mining town founded in 1859 during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. The rush financed many of the Victorian structures that still stand in the downtown area. Teller House, which now operates as a restaurant, was built in 1872. The City Central Opera House (124 Eureka St, Central City, CO 80427) was constructed in 1878 and is still in use. Oscar Wilde and Buffalo Bill Cody were known to have visited the opera house and today you can view events such as summer music festivals. Just up the hill from Central City is the ghost town of Nevadaville with original buildings and several historic mines. If you want a short excursion, you can follow Central City Parkway and take the Nevadaville Road on the left or simply take a (steep) hike up into the town.

Nederland, Colorado
(Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest)

Carousel of Happiness, 20 Lakeview Dr, Nederland, CO 80466

As you begin heading north towards Nederland, Colorado, you will drive through the magnificent Roosevelt National Forest. As you begin climbing the gorge, you will be able to see Buckeye Mountain to the west and Tungsten Mountain to the east. The drive also passes the entrance to the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. In Nederland, visit the Carousel of Happiness to view hand-carved animals on a restored 1910 merry-go-round. Nederland was founded in 1874 and has plenty of old buildings to explore in its historic downtown. You can also drive out to Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest paved road on the U.S. mainland!

Pine Trees in the Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Denver, Colorado.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Brainard Lake Rd, Ward, CO 80481

The Brainard Lake Recreation Area is where the looking-glass lakes called the Red Rock and Brainard offer a great stopping point for views and activities. A short trail leads up to Long Lake Trailhead, which offers superb views of nearby peaks. Off-season, when the gates are closed, head over to the Brainard Gateway Trailhead (Brainard Lake Winter Lot), with a warming hut, bathrooms, and parking for the snowshoe and ski access. Better yet, visit the town of Ward, Colorado, a former mining town in 1860, and look around the near-ghost town. The town has a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a general store in case you need a snack.

Peaceful Valley Campground

Middle Saint Vrain Creek, Boulder, CO 80301

From Brainard Lake, the CO-72 drops back into a valley along a creek and some hairpin turns. You will soon arrive at the Peaceful Valley Campground, where you can view some great scenery and wildlife. If you are not planning on camping, continue the drive into a tunnel-like canyon walled by granite cliffs. After a slight panic attack (okay, just me), you’ll soon turn west onto CO-7 E.

Saint Malo’s Chapel on the Rock

10758 CO-7, Allenspark, CO 80510

North of Allenspark, Colorado, is the St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, also referred to as Chapel on the Rock. The church was built in the 1930s out of a large rock formation just east of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The structure has been damaged by sporadic landslides, floods, and fire. It is undergoing renovations and is occasionally open to the public. However, you can still view the majestic structure from the parking lot or as you drive nearby.

Want to Hike on the Edge? Visit Longs Peak Trailhead

Longs Peak Trailhead, 1398 Longs Peak Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517

No? Skip to Enos Mills Cabin
(You can still see Longs Peak in the distance)

6760 CO-7, Estes Park, CO 80517

The Longs Peak Trailhead hike is a 16-mile round-trip hike to the tallest summit in Colorado, Longs Peak. At 14,259 feet, the hike is not for inexperienced climbers as it has narrow ledges, loose rock, and steep cliffs. It’s a climbing hike. You can always drive down the Longs Peak Road to the trailhead and view the campground. The mountain is visible in the distance.

Either after you visit and complete the trailhead, or just take a glimpse, head up CO-7 to Enos Mills Cabin. The museum also includes a short nature trail that leads you to the original homestead cabin of Kansas Enos, considered to be the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” The cabin was built by Enos as a 15-year-old in 1885. Admission can be steep ($20 per adult), so you may want to drive by and continue up to Lily Lake.

Lily Lake Loop

Lily Lake, Estes Park, CO 80517

Lilly Lake, once the home of a field full of lilies, is full of a variety of ducks, mallards, Canadian geese and an occasional moose. A 0.8-mile hiking trail goes around the lake and is easy enough for all skill levels. It can be crowded as it is used by locals and tourists, but it has a great visitor’s center with clean restrooms.

Estes Park

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, 1000 US-36, Estes Park, CO 80517

Estes Park is called the “Eastern Gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park.” Surrounded by the soaring vistas, the town is a popular resort year-round. This is especially true in the summer; if you find a parking space, grab it. It may be a while before you find another one. The city is walkable so you can visit many of the shops and galleries on foot along Elkhorn and Morain avenues. The Riverwalk is fun too.

The Beaver Meadow Visitor’s Center is a great place to stop and watch a 20-minute video about the Rocky Mountain National Park. Before you start heading east into exploring the park, even more, you can get an idea of what to see, do, and so forth. The historic Stanley Hotel (333 E Wonderview Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517) is also nearby and is a popular spot both for its history and for serving as the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.


If you have more time and feel like continuing your tour, dive deeper into the Rocky Mountain National Forest. Take US-34 east out of Estes Park and continue to Loveland, Colorado, an hour away. In fact, if you are planning on spending the night, Loveland has more affordable hotel rates that might make your trip easier. Also, it’s a stunning drive, especially in the summer.

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The area in Northwest Illinois called the Driftless area is also called the Land the Glaciers Forgot due to its high bluffs and land of rolling hills along the Mississippi River. In geological terms, the 10,000-square mile area is called that because of the absence of glacial drift. This stretch of land also reaches into northeastern Iowa and southwestern Wisconsin. Most of the Prairie State is known for its flatlands, so this area is renowned for its scenic beauty and is a great weekend getaway from the Chicago or Madison areas.

How long? The itinerary starts in Galena, Illinois, which is approximately three hours from Chicago, Illinois and a little under two hours from Madison, Wisconsin. It ends in the town of Fulton, Illinois. The route itself is around 100 miles and can take a little over two to three hours if you stop and explore. This can easily be a one-day road-trip depending on how long it takes you to get there.

Time of Year? The most beautiful time of year would be in the Fall, especially as the leaves begin to turn. However, it is popular year-round.


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Illinois Driftless Area Itinerary

Start in Galena

Galena History Museum

211 S Bench St, Galena, IL 61036

Galena was a 19th-century boomtown that was the site of the first major mineral rush in the United States. Most of the town has been preserved as a living history museum. You can find a charmingly restored brick and limestone mansions and the main street that still reflects the historical architecture of the area. The Galena History Museum is a great place to start your tour of the town. Other attractions include the Belvedere Mansion, Dowling House, or Old Market House. The outside of the Vinegar Hill Lead Mine is also interesting, but I think it’s closed now so you can’t go inside.

Scales Mound

Council Hill Station, 6521 N Hill Rd, Scales Mound, IL 61075

The drive from Galena to the village of Scales Mound follows the Stagecoach Trail. As you drive this route, you will find a collection of carefully preserved houses and businesses near and in the village of Scales Mound. The town started as a tavern (Scales Mound Tavern) in 1830 and had one of its first schools in 1831. The present town was started in 1853 and 90% of the town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Go two miles northeast of town for Charles Mound, the highest spot in Illinois at 1,234 feet. Access to the Charles Mound is limited due to it being on public property; public access is limited to the first weekend June through September.

Apple River Canyon State Park

8763 E Canyon Rd, Apple River, IL 61001

Continuing the Stagecoach Trail, you will pass the town of Apple River and find the Apple River Canyon State Park, a 1,907-acre park with limestone cliffs and deep ravines. It is an excellent place to go bird watching and to trace the river along the babbling stream. The pitted canyon walls are carpeted with mosses and lichens and rare ferns.

Long Hollow Scenic Overlook

2918 US Hwy 20 W, Elizabeth, IL 61028

Right outside of Elizabeth, Illinois, pause at the Long Holly Scenic Outlook for a scenic view of the county of Galena and Jo Daviess. You can see the visible crest of Charles Mound to the northeast with green hills and shade trees can be seen all around. It’s not someplace that you need to linger, but it does have picnic tables, shelters, and restrooms.

Hanover Bluff Nature Preserve

Hanover, IL 61041

This nature preserve is the first dedicated preserve to represent the Illinois portion of the Driftless Area. The preserve covers 1,100 acres. The large forest areas are a great place to see the scenic wonders of the geological landscape. Trails and parking are available on S. Hanover Hill Road.

Mississippi Palisades State Park National Natural Landmark

Mississippi Palisades – National Natural Landmark, Savanna, IL 61074

Your next stop will be the stunning Mississippi Palisades State Park, a 2,500-acre park with tree-lined bluffs along the Mississippi River. The park is rich in Native American history, and if you follow the routes on the southern part of the park (search for the Mississippi Palisades National Natural Landmark and enter from the south end), you will find an easy walking trail to oversee the area. There are twelve miles to the top for the more experienced hikers; many of which trace the old paths followed by the Native Americans of the past.

Thomson Causeway Recreation Area

Potter Rd, Thomson, IL 61285

This little island is situated on the Mississippi River and is a peaceful spot for wildlife viewing, camping, or picnics. It is adjacent to the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, so you can easily see many water-loving creatures that live on this sandbar. There are also miles of walking and hiking trails if you feel the need to get out and shake off the long drive.

Lock and Dam No. 13 Recreation Area

Lock and Dam No. 13, Fulton Township, IL 61252

If you’ve ever wanted to view the sight of a barge locking across the Mississippi River, you can do so at No. 12 from a visitor’s observation platform. From here, you can watch the ships enter and exit the Lock, including tugboats that push the barge down the river. In the winter months, there is also a high likelihood of seeing the multitude of Eagles that are in the area.

Heritage Canyon

515 N 4th St, Fulton, IL 61252

Heritage Canyon, with its smithy and one-room schoolhouse, lies at the north end of the town of Fulton. The 12-acre nature walk has wooded structures dating back to the 1800s. You can find these structures by looking for the numbered yellow arrows on the brick paths.

Dutch Windmill

415 10th Ave, Fulton, IL 61252

This authentic working windmill is a great place to finish your tour along the Mississippi River and the Driftless Area. The windmill was manufactured and pre-assembled in the Netherlands and then constructed on the flood control dike in Fulton, Illinois. You can also visit the Cultural Center and see some Dutch Culture first hand.

If you’re making the trip in August, you can go on down to Port Byron for the Port Byron Great River Tug Fest along the banks of the Mississippi.

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At the crossroads of Central Texas, West Texas, and South Texas, the Texas Hill Country has something for everyone. Find swimming holes fed by rivers winding beneath limestone bluffs, woodlands filled with wildlife, and a pink granite mountain located near one of Texas’s favorite shopping town. Step back in time by exploring the Alamo or one of the German settlements from the mid-1800s.