Road trip towns to tease the senses this summer
Summer is the quintessential time of year in which American families pack up the car for the beloved road trip. Folks often head to one of the nation’s awe-inspiring parks, frequently overlooking the small towns in between. A few years ago, as part of the Travel Channel show, “Best of the Road,” I solidified my love for small town America and the back roads that lead to the heart of a nation.
As publisher of Mike’s Road Trip, I try to shine a spotlight on communities that exemplify excellence that is often only found in larger cities. Each of these small towns has everything you would want for a memorable road trip vacation; from outstanding lodging options, culinary delights, sensational scenery, to fun activities. So pick one of these ten towns near you and hit the road for an adventure. Let the road be your page. The experiences be the ink. And, in 300 miles you’ll have a chapter that will last a lifetime.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a Victorian mountain village nestled in the Ozarks with copious things to see and do. You can zip-line through the forest, watch big cats feed at a wildlife refuge, view breathtaking vistas and scenic overlooks, fish in clear trout streams, photograph waterfalls or stroll through the colorful gardens surrounding an ancient burial ground—if that doesn’t make your spirits soar, check out one of the famous haunted houses. To stir the soul further, head into downtown for some live music at any number of venues—one of the best spots…Basin Park for a free community concert.
Lake Placid, New York played host to the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, and one could argue that it was the last of the small town Olympics to be held. The area still attracts world-class athletes for summer and winter training. While there is a lot of Olympic history to explore, Lake Placid is certainly not defined by it. Outdoor enthusiasts will rejoice…from skiing, bike riding, hiking to an array of water sports. Outdoor beauty is everywhere you look…from the lakes, rivers, waterfalls to the dense forest that shimmers in the fall with its brightly colored foliage—a sign that winter festivities are just around the corner. Read more about my road trip to Lake Placid. Note: MRT contributor Archana with TravelSeeWrite really recommends Whiteface Lodge while staying in Lake Placid.
Leavenworth, Washington is a Bavarian-themed community, and when I say “themed,” I mean embraced through-and-through. From its architecture to the attire. The look/feel of Leavenworth is reminiscent of a hillside community along the banks of the Rhine River. With over seven hundred miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, you can devour nature. Or, you can relax at one of the many luxurious lodging choices in town, several right next to the Wenatchee River (the West’s version of the Rhine!). If you’re into spas, theater, festivals, geocaching, wine tours, museums, or drinking beer from a stein, you’ll find that too. Read more my winter road trip to Leavenworth.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is located about an hour north of Albuquerque and offers a more relaxed and highly impressive array of amenities. There are many high-end B&Bs, resorts and spas in town, all of which provide a unique southwestern experience. The dining options are distinct and impressive, rivaling that of larger cities with its innovative creations and overall selection. Santa Fe is extremely well-known for its art scene—it’s actually a way of life, and has been for centuries. If museums or perusing art galleries isn’t your thing, not to worry, there is a plethora of other activities. From architecture, New Mexican cooking classes, to nightlife, there is something for everyone in Santa Fe. Read more about my road trip to Santa Fe.
Asheville, North Carolina is a bevy of beer, beards and bears…that’s the title of a blog post I wrote recently. The burgeoning craft-beer scene apparently boasts more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city. At any given time you can enjoy over fifty local beers on tap or in the bottle, and, there is no shortage of annual festivals to celebrate the artisan suds. When it comes to “beards,” for some reason they are quite popular in Ashville and you’ll see every style under the…chin. As far as bears…Asheville is one of the entry points to the Great Smokey Mountains, where in the summer there is a good chance you’ll see bears roaming and foraging. Of course, there is a lot more to Asheville than just the three B’s, most notably is the ostentatious Biltmore Estate. (Let’s make that four B’s!) Read more about road trip to Asheville.
Port Orford, Oregon is so small, that if you blink, you might just pass right through town and not even know it. Regardless of its small stature, the coastal community of Port Orford has much to offer. There are more than half a dozen art galleries; from the whimsical, to the ultra-modern. There are several lovely B&Bs in town, some offering individual romantic cabins in a tranquil setting, to say nothing of the rugged ocean views. You will also find several tasty places to eat…from the hi-end, to the eccentric. You won’t get bored either. Heads State Park is a great place for hiking and unobstructed ocean views. Read more about my road trip to Port Orford.
Charlottesville, Virginia is located along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During its long and illustrious existence, Charlottesville (aka C’Ville) has been able to maintain its small town charm. Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, called Charlottesville home—his presence still felt, remembered and revered. The focal point of the community is the Downtown Mall, where on Saturdays you’ll find a farmer’s market at which many of the local restaurateurs get their ingredients. You’ll also find a rich art scene, over twenty wineries and some award-winning small-batch breweries to explore. Read more about my road trip to Charlottesville.
Telluride, Colorado is tucked into a box canyon surrounded on three sides by majestic 14,000-foot peaks. The area is known for its outstanding snow skiing, but this winter wonderland has much more to offer. Celebrated for its history, culture, festivals and spectacular scenic beauty, Telluride has extraordinary recreational opportunities. Many large cities have public transportation, from subways, buses to light rail, in Telluride…it’s a gondola. You also won’t find any chain restaurants, stores or stoplights, but you will find Colorado’s longest free-falling waterfall. With the town’s colorful Victorian-era homes, clapboard storefronts, boutiques, art galleries, gourmet restaurants and historic buildings…Telluride is an enchanting place to explore.
Lewiston, New York is located just beyond Niagara Falls and has a vibrant culinary and cultural scene. This small village boasts at least a dozen marvelous restaurants, and, the area’s outdoor “ArtPark” plays host to many well-known musical acts each year, as well as other art and cultural events. Located along the Niagara River, there are lots of fun activities to enjoy…from Jet Boat rides, strolls along the embankment, to kayaking. Of course the grandeur of Niagara Falls is not far away, which offers a host of activities beyond the falls; including, Old Fort Niagara, The Niagara Falls Culinary Institute, a developing winery trail, and, the historic Lockport Locks on the Erie Canal. Read more about my road trip to Lewiston and Niagara Falls.
Bardstown, Kentucky might be best known for being the bourbon spirits capital of the world, however in 2012 it was named the ‘Most Beautiful’ small town in America by Rand McNally and USA Today. If you’re not a bourbon fan, don’t let that stop you from visiting Bardstown, the distillery tours and tastings might make convert out of you…as they did me. The history of bourbon making is fascinating, as are the distilleries and sites themselves. For more than 225 years the southern hospitality, historic surroundings, fine restaurants and friendly accommodations in Bardstown have made folks feel right at home. Civil war history runs deep in these parts, and a tour of the various museums and sites will surely be an education you’ll not soon forget.
If you’ve taken a road trip to any of these ten wonderful small towns, please leave a comment below and share your favorite aspects or experiences.