I shared 9 Qualities of My Perfect Road Trip recently which are 9 things I try to include on every road trip. This post will go more in depth on each of those areas with specific examples to inspire you for your next road trip!
As a reminder the 9 qualities are –
- Experience Something Novel
- Hike with a Purpose
- Space to Rest and Relax
- Opportunity to Learn
- Something that Stretches My Comfort Zone
- Scenic Drive
- Unique Stay
- Small Town with a Coffee Shop
- Beautiful Vistas
Experience Something Novel (New & Unusual)
This can be the location itself, geological features, gardens, wildlife sightings, the mode of transportation, or anything else new. or unusual.
- I got to see a bear along our hike to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park and we also saw a bear and along the road in Yellowstone. A bobcat crossed the road in front of us on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park. We got to see big horn sheep in Valley of Fire State Park and also in Custer State Park. We saw mountain goats in Spearfish Canyon and bison in areas of Texas, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
- Novel experiences can also be a unique geological feature like Antelope Canyon, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, the Grand Canyon, and Petrified Forest National Park.
- Novel for me was also a train ride on the Royal Palm Railway in Florida and the ferry I took to Martha’s Vineyard.
- New and unusual things can include a show, like seeing Hamilton in Philly, the Boston Ballet, the Blue Man Group or Cirque Du Soleil.
- Sometimes just a place itself is new or unusual like Marfa, Texas which is known for it’s unique art culture, Roswell, New Mexico which has a flying saucer shaped McDonalds or Virginia City, Nevada which is an historical mining town on top of a mountain. Quirky areas, small towns, or big cities may be new or unusual.
- Gardens are another way to have a new experience. On a trip with my dad, we visited the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska as well as the Munsinger Gardens in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Hiking with a View or Experience at the End
I use the All Trails app for all my hikes and can sort by distance, elevation, or for filters like waterfalls. I also look at suggested hikes on park websites with unique features like arches, lakes, or even petroglyphs.
- Waterfalls are an easy way to find something worth hiking for. We use the filter feature on AllTrails for hikes to find places like Yellow Branch Falls in South Carolina, Laurel Falls in the Smoky Mountains, Taughannock Falls in New York, Crabtree Falls in Virginia, and Cucumber Falls in Ohiopyle State Park
- Pick a hike with a lake view. Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park had a beautiful lake view with rock walls and waterfalls in the distance. Hidden Lake was also in Glacier and had a lake at the base of the mountain range.
- You can also hike to some type of rock formation like Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon or almost any of the hikes in Arches National Park like Devil’s Garden Trail or Delicate Arch Trail. You can also find a very well known arch in Canyonlands National Park or one lesser known arch in Capitol Reef. If you are interested in acres of unique rock formations, check out Goblin Valley State Park in Utah.
- Petroglyphs are also worth the hike as you can see ancient people’s markings on the rocks. You can find them in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona as well as Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
Space to Rest and Relax
This can look different for everyone in terms of what space to rest and relax looks like. For me it’s something often unplanned, or loosely planned like spending time exploring a town for an afternoon, finding a spot for sunset, reading, or taking a nap.
- One way we create space to rest and relax on a road trip is booking 2 nights at the same hotel. This often means we will have less driving since we are staying in the same location.
- Another way to rest is the sunrise or sunset somewhere. We’ve enjoyed sunrise from a ledge in Grand Canyon National Park, our balcony in Sedona, and in Joshua Tree. We’ve gotten to sunset spots like Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
- I stayed in an Airstream with a record player in Colorado and just sat and read with a record playing in the background for a few hours which was incredibly relaxing.
- Going on a walk around somewhere like Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Leigh and String Lake in Teton National Park, as well as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming were some of my favorite relaxing walks on a trip.
- Sitting outside and enjoying the sunshine and nature like we did on our patio at the Dove’s Rest Resort in Texas and the cabin in Glacier National Park.
Opportunity to Learn
The way you like to learn can vary as well. I tend to learn most on my own first. This can be reading a book, listening to a podcast, or researching an area online. Museums and visitor centers are hit or miss for me, as are tour groups. I don’t enjoy being in a crowd of people, or feeling “stuck” somewhere so I usually opt out of those experiences unless there is something unique about it.
- We did an audio tour via car through Guide Along Tours in both Badlands National Park and Glacier National Park.
- I read a book about Crazy Horse prior to our trip out west where we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial. I read about Palo Duro Canyon in the book Empire of the Summer Moon about the Commanche Indians and I also read about Theodore Roosevelt prior to our trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
- We listened to a podcast from Joseph Marshall III (author of the Crazy Horse book) about his life growing up Lakota as well as customs and traditions of the Lakota people prior to visiting Devil’s Tower.
- We visited the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming on our western road trip which is enormous and likely would take days to see the whole thing but I went
- When in Boston, we had a tour with someone dressed up in period dress who walked us around various parts of the Freedom Trail.
- In Wind Cave National Park, you have to go into the cave with a ranger. We happened to have a very energetic ranger who told some great stories on the tour.
- Teddy and I watched a documentary about Hoover Dam prior to our visit. It made our appreciation for the spot so much greater when we were there in person.
- On two different trips, I spent some time in train museums – one in Durango, Colorado and the other was the Union Pacific Railroad museum in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Something that Stretches my Comfort Zone
This is another one that will look different for everyone, but for me it’s been having conversations with strangers when I solo trip, doing physically challenging things, as well as mentally challenging things like dealing with car issues in the middle of nowhere, choosing to enter a cave or taking dogs camping for the first time.
- I talked to a man at a coffee shop in Fort Smith, Arkansas for an hour and got great travel tips from him. I also talked to a man at the post office in Mesa Verde National Park who had lived in the same area I’m from and we chatted about the area and he gave me some suggestions of what else to do in Colorado. I’ve split fries and burrata with a family in Colorado and a woman at a bar in Ft. Lauderdale. I had a great conversation with a woman at Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado. I am an introvert so things like this are not as easy for me as they are for others.
- Longer or harder hikes like the Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier, the “hike” up the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs, and the Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro.
- I ran a half marathon outside Glacier National Park and that in itself was hard but incredible.
- I really do not like heights, so these go on my stretch list to – Going to the Sun Road, Hyner View, Pike’s Peak, and Mount Washington.
- I hate caves so the fact I’ve been in so many is surprising – Mammoth Cave National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Indian Echo Caverns, Luray Caverns, and Wind Cave National Park.
- I’ve had to trade in my rental car while on a road trip twice during my adventures and also had to get a piece on my car replaced in a city in Florida during another trip. These are my least favorite on a road trip.
- Camping with two dogs when we’re still RV newbies is a challenge in itself.
These include just beautiful highways, back roads, or high elevation roads in the US.
- Higher elevation roads include Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, the road up Mount Washington in New Hampshire, Pike’s Peak in Colorado, and Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Beautiful highway drives include Escalante in Utah, Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina, Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, Route 163 that goes through Monument Valley, the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, and the River Road in the midwest.
- Other roads that make the list include the Needles Highway in South Dakota, Utah’s Highway 12, historic route 66, the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop in Texas, and Highway 207 in Texas through the Palo Duro Canyon.
- And some popular scenic drives in the National Parks include the Badlands, the Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, North Cascades, Mount Rainier and through Petrified Forest.
Unique isn’t necessarily pricey, although it could be. Some of my favorite unique stays were under $120/night. What makes them unique is that it doesn’t look like other chain hotel rooms. While there’s something comforting about knowing what to expect at a chain hotel, there’s something exciting about a new experience, especially while traveling.
- I stayed in an Airstream for the first time (well before I owned an RV) in Salida, Colorado and it’s still one of my favorite experiences.
- The ghost town of Terlingua, Texas is also a favorite stay that occurred on my trip to Big Bend National Park. The view outside of the room overlooked the National Park.
- I love a good cabin stay and Teddy and I have had the opportunity to stay in the Tetons at Colter Village and in Glacier at Apgar Village.
- A lodge is another unique stay. A few that I’ve stayed at include Glacier Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, Zion Lodge, and the two lodges inside Shenandoah National Park.
- Four of the best stays Teddy and I have had together were either a small farm stay or a historic stay. Each room was uniquely decorated, and there were common areas that everyone could enjoy. The common areas were where we met others and had some of the best conversations with other travelers on any trips we’ve taken. Those include The Beacon Bed & Breakfast in Hartwell, Georgia, the Mountain Meadows Lodge in Killington, Vermont, the Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs, Virginia, and the Red Rose Motel & Tavern in Roscoe, New York.
- Other memorable unique stays that include an overnight outside of Joshua Tree at the Ramsey 29 Palms, the Graduate Hotel in Oxford, Mississippi (though I’d love to stay at every single one), Garden of the Gods Resort in Colorado Springs, the Hotel Trundle in Columbia, South Carolina and the Oak Lodge in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.
Small Town with a Local Coffee Shop
I put the two of these together rather than separate. I love a small town, but I especially love coffee from a small town shop. I’ve had some great conversations in a local coffee shops and gotten great travel recommendations from locals. I usually just go on Yelp when we’re in an area or where we will be traveling through and look at reviews and photos.
- One of my favorite coffee shops was in Le Claire, Iowa at Cody Road Coffee. Buffalo Bill was born in this area, so it was western themed inside and had some historical info.
- Rise Up Coffee in West Ocean City Maryland is another favorite. I found it a few months ago and every time we visit OCMD now, we have to stop. They have not only incredible coffee, but also this incredible burrito that I literally dream about. It has Tater Tots, Chorizo, Black Beans, Cheese, Sour Cream & Pickled Jalapeños on it. I don’t even like Jalapeños but I’m a huge fan of this burrito.
- Sometimes I’ll try a coffee shop because it’s unexpected. Like Kaffee Vonsolln in Portsmith, NH which is German inspired.
- Teddy and I also love a coffee truck. We stopped at one in Wall, South Dakota as well as in Malta, Montana. And our favorite happens to be in Elizabethtown, PA and is called Good Day Coffee. They have the best chai I’ve ever had in my life.
- Other unique coffee shops include Fort Smith Coffee Co in Arkansas, Espresso Y Poco Mas at La Posada Milagro in Terlingua, Texas, Buddy Brew Coffee and Oxford Exchange which are both in the Tampa, Florida area, Attitcus Coffee in Park City, Utah, and V6 Coffee Bar in Marathon, Texas.
- One coffee shop that I’m determined to visit but was closed when I drove through on two trips is Kiva Coffee House in Escalante, Utah.
There are so many different ways to take in a beautiful view while traveling. It can be via car, a hike, a short walk, from a restaurant, or from your overnight accommodations.
- Some of my favorite vista views were by car. The view of the valley on the way up to Mesa Verde National Park as well as the viewpoints from the road at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park both in Colorado were incredible. Other beautiful vistas that are easily accessible by car include Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, the drive through Joshua Tree National Park especially at the Cholla Cactus Garden, the view at the top of Airport Mesa in Sedona, and the drive down into the canyon at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
- Some of my favorite hiking vistas include the fire-tower in Big Horn National Forest, the hike to Laurel Falls in the Smoky Mountains, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, the Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Providence Canyon State Park in Georgia, and the Santa Elena Canyon in Texas.
- Views you can get to via a short short walk include to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park, Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, and the overlooks in Canyonlands National Park.
- In Grand Teton National Park Teddy and I were able to celebrate our engagement with a beautiful view from our dinner table in the Mural Room. We also enjoyed the views of the Kennebunk River as we ate our lobster rolls at The Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Maine. At the Odell Lake Lodge and Resort in Oregon, I had a hamburger and fries with the most incredible lake view.
- Some of the best views from our accommodations include the lodges in Shenandoah National Park, the view from Garden of the God’s Resort of Pike’s Peak, the view of the Mule Ears in Big Bend National Park from La Posada Milagro, the Glen House at the base of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and the Orchard Inn in Sedona with views of the red rocks.