So even as Europe opens this past week to Americans, travel is still tricky. Each country of the EU can implement its own rules. You still need a negative Covid test to return to the USA, and that can happen even if you’re vaccinated and have no symptoms. Hawaii dropped inter-island testing this past week too.
As the world tenderly begins to open up, this summer is again a great time to explore the USA. While our grandest travel plans may remain yet on pause, not all vacation hope is lost. As countries and states ease restrictions and hotels, national parks, and other attractions cautiously begin to reopen, the allure of the open road is strong. A recent survey by MMGY Global found that 68 percent of U.S. consumers feel safest in their cars.
No matter where you live, there’s likely a scenic drive nearby, be it a forest-lined highway or a sunny, shore-hugging route. Leave the logistics to your Virtuoso travel advisor, and your itinerary can include chic (socially distanced) overnights at Virtuoso hotels, foolproof directions, and expert insight on the best roadside seafood shacks, uncrowded parks, and more.
Here, a few ideas that will have you ready to load up the car:
North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway
Stretching 469 miles between Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway cuts through the Appalachian Highlands, showcasing waterfall-dotted hiking trails, family-run wineries and breweries, and bluegrass jam sessions along the way.
Don’t Miss: The Linn Cove Viaduct and Grandfather Mountain for some of the parkway’s best photo ops, the High Country (Boone, Blowing Rock, and Banner Elk) for small-town exploration, and Virginia’s Grayson Highlands State Park for horseback riding. “Two of my favorite stops are Asheville’s Folk Art Center and Mount Mitchell State Park,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Yolanda Robertson. “At 6,683 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point in North Carolina. You can see to Virginia and Tennessee from the top.”
Overnight: Off Mile Marker 178 in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, the 51-room Primland Resort features lodge-style accommodations, private cottages, and treehouse retreats overlooking the mountains. (Plus yoga, stargazing, golf, and many other outdoor activities.)
Pro Tip: “Keep towels, extra clothes, and shoes for everyone handy, as many of the roadside trails have creeks and rivers for wading,” Robertson says. “And download driving directions; some areas are remote and it can be challenging to get a cell signal.”
Montana: Going-to-the-Sun Road
The 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road bisects Glacier National Park’s glacial lakes, valleys, and cedar forests, while climbing to an altitude of more than 6,400 feet. Many find the two-lane road’s cliff-hugging panoramas exhilarating, but, for some, it’s definitely a white-knuckles-on-the-wheel experience. “It’s worth it for the spectacular mountain views that are accessible right from your car,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Kristen Nix. “You don’t have to get out into the backcountry to experience some epic scenery.”
Don’t Miss: Nix recommends the 5.4-mile Hidden Lake trail near the Logan Pass Visitor Centre, which cuts through alpine meadows before leading hikers to a popular overlook.
Next Stop: A four-hour drive south in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, the 23-cabin Triple Creek Ranch keeps guests busy on fly-fishing trips, cattle drives, and more.
Texas: Hill Country
This bucolic Central Texas region, north of San Antonio and west of Austin, is blanketed in bluebonnets in March and April and beloved by day-trippers looking to cool off in its spring-fed natural swimming holes in the summer. It’s all about slowing down here – in small-town general stores, at hilltop wineries, and with plenty of Lone Star style.
How to Go: Virtuoso advisor Brandon Cosinteno recommends using Austin as a home base for day trips into the country. His pick: The 107-room Miraval Austin, a wellness-centric retreat outside the city in the Balcones Canyonland Preserve. “It’s a great place for solitude and to rest and relax, and it pairs well with the rest of Texas Hill Country,” he says.
Don’t Miss: Krause Springs in Spicewood for swimming, and the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area outside of Fredericksburg for hiking – it’s the country’s largest pink granite monadnock. Nearby, in Texas Wine Country, dozens of tasting rooms welcome visitors, including Cosinteno’s favorite, Augusta Vin.
California: Pacific Coast Highway
The 1,675-mile Pacific Coast Highway stretches all the way from San Diego to Washington State, but the coastal road’s most iconic portion lies between Los Angeles and San Francisco. And while you technically could make that drive in about nine hours, the PCH (aka State Route 1) is meant to be savored. There are too may blufftop viewpoints, laid-back coastal towns, and oceanfront restaurants to rush things.
Overnights: Any of the Virtuoso hotels along the PCH are a solid bet – Virtuoso advisor Lauren Grubbs recommends spending a night in Malibu or Santa Barbara, at the Malibu Beach Inn or the Rosewood Miramar Beach. “It’s the cool new kid in town,” she says of the latter. “It has a very residential feel, like you’re staying in your best friend’s family mansion. Ride down to Coast Village Road in Montecito in one of the hotel’s pastel-colored buggies – it’s very photo-worthy.” In Big Sur, the adults-only, 39-room Post Ranch Inn can quickly turn a weekend trip into the ultimate romantic getaway.
Natural Wonders: Pull over and snap some photos at the viewing areas that overlook the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery near San Simeon, Big Sur’s McWay Falls Lookout, and the Bixby Creek Bridge near Monterey.
Read More: Long Weekend: Big Sur
Florida: Overseas Highway
Built in the late 1930s over much of Florida’s former East Coast Railroad, the 113-mile “Highway that Goes to the Sea” is a series of 42 low-slung bridges that connect Miami and the Florida Keys, culminating at the southernmost point in the U.S. – Key West.
Must-Stops: Key Largo for roadside conch fritters and key lime pie slices; Islamorada and Marathon to go diving or fishing; and Key West for beaches, old Hemingway haunts, and nightly sunset celebrations in Mallory Square. “Get out on the water as often as you can,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Karen McAlpin. “Kayak around the mangroves at sunset, or have your advisor book a sunset cruise on a schooner or a sailboat.” Socially distanced accommodations at Key West’s 40-room Sunset Key Cottages include Victorian-style homes with wraparound verandas and easy beach access.
Pro Tip: Pack snacks. From Miami, the first half of the drive is a straight shot over the water – there isn’t anywhere to stop until you get to Key Largo.
Maine: US Route 1
Between the New Hampshire border and Acadia National Park, Route 1 in Maine covers some of the best of the state’s 5,000-plus miles of coastline, from quintessential lighthouse-dotted fishing villages and oceanfront oyster farms to rocky beaches and yes, so many lobster rolls. “There’s really nothing like a Maine summer,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Keri Forbringer. “We’re so far north and east that we have long days with late sunsets – perfect for exploring!”
Don’t Miss: A few of Forbringer’s favorite stops include The Holy Donut in Scarborough (“the best donuts you’ve ever had”), the Portland Head Light (“the best for that traditional Maine lighthouse picture – bring a picnic blanket and enjoy the views from Fort Williams Park with a lobster roll from the Bite Into Maine food truck”), downtown Camden (“plenty of shops to explore, and lots of sailboats and scenic views”), and the Schoodic Peninsula (“the quiet side of Acadia”).
Pro Tip: “Have cash for some of the smaller food trucks or roadside fruit and vegetable stands,” Forbringer recommends. “Farmers and fishermen often sell seasonal produce, like fiddleheads in the spring or blueberries in the late summer.”
Overnights: Check into Cliff House Maine near Cape Neddick, the White Barn Inn or Hidden Pond near Kennebunkport, or the Inn by the Sea, just south of Portland.
Read More: A Gourmet Maine Road Trip
Hawaii: Hana Highway
Also known as the Road to Hana, the 64-mile Hana Highway connects Paia and Hana on Maui’s lush northeast coast. It’s a leisurely drive, thanks to multiple one-lane portions of the road, hundreds of hairpin turns, and inviting waysides that invite Aloha State travelers to pull over for a picnic, swim, or hike.
Bonus Drive: “Most people turn back at Hana, but I recommend continuing the adventure along the southern slope of Haleakala,” says Virtuoso travel advisor Larry Klein. “A good portion of the road is one lane and either rough pavement or dirt, but it’s worth it. The views are unreal – both of the ocean and the volcano because of the scale of the terrain.”
Home Base: Most of Maui’s best resorts are located on the west coast near the towns of Wailea and Kapalua – both are about a 30-to-60-minute drive from the start of the Hana Highway. The sleek oceanfront villas at the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort have private pools, gourmet kitchens, and direct beach access.
Pro Tip: ”Bring water bottles and snacks,” Klein says. “There are fruit stands and some other vendors, but no real restaurants to stop at for a meal.”
Note: There’s currently a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for travelers visiting Hawaii, in effect through July 31.
This article originally appeared on Virtuoso.com, under the title Our Favorite Drives in the U.S. and is written by Amy Cassell. Reproduced with permission.