I firmly believe the traveller’s mantra…trips are about the journey, not the destination – and sometimes, the detours make the best memories.
While it’s entirely possible that one person’s travel treasure can be another’s trash, sharing insider tips with others is one of the best parts of returning from any road trip. For me, the lure of the road is constant and my travel bucket lists are infinite. Picking favourites is almost impossible, but I’ve tried – by curating a list of Extraordinary Places – to enhance your next road trip.
What is an Extraordinary Place?
Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.
Here are just some of the places that I love the most – that is, until I hit the road again and discover new favourites. Explore my list and start planning your next road trip today.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
There are, essentially, three ways to experience the Grand Canyon: The more remote and less crowded North Rim; the more developed South Rim with more amenities; and the rigorous Rim to Rim hike, which lets you experience both.
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic colour and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 445 km long, up to 30 km wide and 1.6 km deep.
Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 493,076 ha and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of the raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States. Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations, while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Mesa Verde (Spanish for green table) offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home from about AD 600 to 1300. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the U.S.
About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years, they and their descendants lived and flourished here – eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls.
Then, in the late AD 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.
Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts
The Freedom Trail is a red (mostly brick) path through downtown Boston that leads to 16 significant historic sites. It is a four-kilometre walk from Boston Common to the USS Constitution in Charlestown. Simple ground markers explaining events, graveyards, notable churches and other buildings, as well as an historic naval frigate, are stops along the way.
In 1974, Boston National Historical Park was established. The National Park Service opened a visitor centre on State Street, where they give away free maps of the Freedom Trail and other historic sites, as well as selling books about Boston and U.S. history. Today, people walk on the red path of the Freedom Trail to learn about important events which led to independence from Great Britain.
History nerd that I am, I can’t get over how much happened in such a small area. I love that you can take your time walking it. Travelling on the Freedom Trail shows you how small historic Boston really was. The trail is free, clearly marked and you can walk at your own pace. Be sure to wear your comfy shoes, as you’re in for an awesome hike.
Vermont State House
Against its backdrop of wooded hills, the Vermont State House is one of the most picturesque state houses in the country. This state house is Vermont’s third and was built in 1859 on the same site as the second. It was reconstructed with a similar plan, but on a larger scale and with a distinct ornamental scheme reflecting the Renaissance Revival style popular at the time. The state house was rebuilt over the course of two-and-a-half years and cost $150,000. It remains one of the nation’s oldest and best-preserved state capitols still in use. On the front portico ─ which is the only remaining portion of the earlier Greek Revival State House of the 1830s ─ stands a statue of Ethan Allen, fabled leader of the Green Mountain Boys.
Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah
This great Navajo Nation valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 121 to 300 m, framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is spellbinding.
It’s about 25 km from Bluff to the eastern entrance on the right of Valley of the Gods, a miniature version of Monument Valley without the crowds. Its mesas and spires are formed of the same Cedar Mesa sandstone as the somewhat larger formations at Monument Valley. The 27-km loop drive on a dirt road is suitable for most vehicles in good weather. Definitely drive this beautiful, lonely loop ─ though not in a large RV and not towing a trailer. Heavy rains often make this road impassable.
Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah
Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. Most of Lake Powell, along with Rainbow Bridge National Monument, is located in Utah. It is a major vacation spot that approximately two million people visit every year.
Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam, which led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869.
The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport, along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and is a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial pre-eminence at the turn of the century. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and, later, in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire located in the Lakes Region. It is approximately 33 km long (northwest-southeast) and ranges from 1.6 to 14 km wide (northeast-southwest), with a maximum depth of 54 m. The centre area of the lake is called The Broads.
The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size and it’s indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 463 km. The driving distance around the lake is 101 km. It is 153 m above sea level.
Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation operates the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia ─ the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest and most populous outpost of empire in the New World.
Meet a nation-builder such as George Washington or Edith Cumbo and admire the craftsmanship of some of the best artisans in the world. Family activities include a horse-drawn carriage ride, numerous dining choices and a Haunted Williamsburg ghost tour. At the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, explore colourful, whimsical folk art and decorative art objects.
New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia
When the New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, a travel challenge was solved. The bridge reduced a 40-minute drive down narrow mountain roads and across one of North America’s oldest rivers to less than a minute. When it comes to road construction, mountains do pose a challenge. In the case of the New River Gorge Bridge, challenge was transformed into a work of structural art ─ the longest steel span in the Western Hemisphere and the third-highest in the United States.
Home to the New River, which drops 228 m over 106 km, adventuresome rafters and kayakers have long been drawn to this whitewater area for its class five rapids. The New River ─ which flows northward through low-cut canyons in the Appalachian Mountains ─ is one of the oldest rivers on the planet. New River Gorge National Park encompasses more than 28,329 ha of land along the New River.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 18-m sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 517 ha and is 1,744 m above sea level.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
The best way to experience Shenandoah is on Skyline Drive. It’s one of the most incredible drives in America. When you enter from the north, you start by descending into an old-growth forest and then climbing the ridge with its sweeping curves that feature scenic vistas of rolling forests and mountains on either side of the road. When you reach the end of the road, you’ll want to hook up with the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby to keep enjoying the great views.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts – the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the rivers themselves. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits, this landscape of canyons, mesas and deep river gorges possesses remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. With elevations ranging from 1,127 to 2,194 m, Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters and fewer than 10 inches of rain each year. Even on a daily basis, temperatures may fluctuate by as much as 50 degrees.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian Mountains culture, this is America’s most visited national park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park preserves a rich cultural tapestry of Southern Appalachian history. The mountains have had a long human history spanning thousands of years from the prehistoric Paleo Indians, to early European settlement in the 1800s, to loggers and Civilian Conservation Corps in the 20th century. The park strives to protect the historic structures, landscapes and artifacts that tell the varied stories of people who once called these mountains home.
The Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island
The Cliff Walk along the eastern shore of Newport is famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s gilded age. Wildflowers, birds and geology all add to this delightful walk. What makes Cliff Walk unique is that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District.
In 1975, the walk was designated as a National Recreation Trail ─ the 65th in the nation and the first in New England. The walk runs for 5.6 km and about two-thirds of it is easy walking condition. Parts of the southern half of the walk are a rough trail over the natural and rugged New England rocky shoreline. Walkers need to be especially careful and alert in these challenging sections.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
People are drawn to the rugged beauty of Badlands National Park. These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse and sabre-toothed cats once roamed here.
The park’s 90,652 ha protect an expanse of mixed-grass prairie on which bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets live today. Located in southwestern South Dakota, Badlands National Park consists of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires.
Administered in two units ─ Sage Creek and Conata Basin ─ the area is open for backpacking and exploration. The Badlands were the filming location for both Dances with Wolves and Armageddon.
Please Note: My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will continue in the Winter issue.
Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!