Saved by the Thruway

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1991
Saved by the Thruway

Rise up, ye subway riders, and grab the car keys. Ten quick trips for the city dweller.
By David Noland

Consider your life. You're a working stiff, bound to the city, unable to spend a leisurely week or two sampling the joys of the American road. Depressing, isn't it? But wait! Before you sell the car and spend all your gas money on subway tokens, take a look at these condensed road trips (leave Friday/return Sunday). They may not be what you'd call Epic Summer Drives, but one of them will get you out of town for the weekend. And that's something, right?

The Adirondacks
From the nation's biggest city to a million-acre wilderness? No problem. Take the New York State Thruway to Albany and the mountainous vistas of the Northway, one of America's most scenic highways. Exit the Northway at Route 73, which takes you west alongside the trout-rich Ausable River and into the town of Lake Placid. Spend the night at the Interlaken Inn. The following day, take Route 86 west through the mountains to Saranac Lake. (Stop for a Purdyburger and some local color at the Elm Tree Inn in Keene.) After lunch, follow Route 3 to Tupper Lake, then Route 30 down to Blue Mountain Lake and the nation's best collection of lake boats at The Adirondack Museum--everything from birchbark canoes to hydroplanes. Camp overnight at nearby Forked Lake or Lake Durant, then pick up Route 28 east, which will deliver you back to the Northway and home.

From Seacoast to Swamp
After the dash to Macon on I-75, meander along Highway 23 south through the Georgia backcountry to Folkston. Then turn east on Route 40 and hop the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore, where the wild horses still outnumber humans. (For a splurge, stay at the Greyfield Inn, a former Carnegie mansion.) The following day, head back on 23 to Waycross, rent a canoe at one of the many roadside stands, and get lost for a while in Pogo's own swamp, the Okefenokee. When you emerge, stop for a swordfish dinner at Blueberry Hill in Hoboken, on Highway 82 just east of Waycross. Then steer west on 82 to Highway 84, and in about 70 miles you'll run into I-75, which will get you home fast.

Shenandoah Country
Head west on I-66 to the town of Front Royal, Virginia, and get yourself onto one of the country's premier scenic roads, the Skyline Drive. Meander south at 35 mph through the Blue Ridge mountains to Waynesboro, where the road turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stretch your legs along the Appalachian Trail, which roughly follows the road. After your hike--and you may even want to camp for a night along the trail--pick up Route 60 east to Route 26 and follow it south to Appomattox, where Lee surrendered to Grant in 1865. Return to Route 60 and pick up Route 20 north through the rolling piedmont toward Charlottesville. Home is a straight shot up Route 29, though you may want to spend Sunday night at the swank Inn at Little Washington, just a quick jog west on Route 211.

The Boundary Waters
Take I-35 north to Duluth, then head up Lake Superior's rugged north shore on scenic Highway 61. After a night at the Lutsen Resort, in the town of Lutsen, retrace about 35 miles of your drive along 61, turning north on Highway 1 to the town of Ely, hub of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, home to the best flatwater paddling in the nation. Rent a canoe from Tom & Woods' Moose Lake Wilderness Canoe Trips in Ely, put in at Wind Lake, paddle to an invitingly isolated island, and spend the night camping. Don't forget to hang your food (chipmunks are everywhere!) and don't worry, you'll still be back in plenty of time for the drive home. For a last taste of big woods, take the Echo Trail west out of Ely to Highway 53 south and back to I-35.

The Spoon River Valley
The Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive is a "good old country affair," according to Angelo Forneris, who for 50 years ran the Forneris Grocery in the little town of Ellisville, Illinois. To get there, take Interstates 55 south and 74 west to Peoria, then follow Route 116 west to the town of London Mills. Driving south along the Spoon River, follow the red-and-white signs to Ellisville, Havana (stay at the McNutt House Inn), and Dickson Mounds, site of a Native American burial ground and a museum. You might also want to bring along a canoe or bicycle, as the Spoon River is an undersung paradise for canoe campers and the backroads of Fulton County are perfect for gentle, scenic rides. Highway 136 east will get you back to I-55 and home.

The Cumberland Plateau
At Crossville, peel away from the throngs of I-40 traffic headed for the Great Smokies and drive north on Highway 127 to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, an uncrowded refuge along one of Tennessee's last free-flowing rivers. After a raft or kayak trip through the Big South Fork's 600-foot-deep gorge (for rentals or shuttle service contact Cumberland Rapid Transit near Jamestown), head back down 127 to 52 east and the historic town of Rugby, where catfish and Yorkshire pudding await at the Harrow Road Café, and where you can spend the night at The Newbury House, a Victorian inn. The next day, rejoin 127 going south through the Sequatchie Valley. After a detour west on Route 30 to 262-foot Fall Creek Falls, stay on 127 all the way to Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain. I-24 will zip you home from there.

Canyon de Chelly
Drive west on I-40 to Gallup, then go north on Highway 666 and west on 264. Turn north again on Arizona 191 toward the town of Chinle, home of the Thunderbird Lodge and Canyon de Chelly, a red sandstone labyrinth where the canyon floor is off limits to gringos without appointments. But if you contact the Canyon de Chelly visitors center, you can clamber down 600 feet of slickrock walls on a secret trail and camp out with a Navajo guide at the canyon's bottom. Back on 191, head north to Mexican Water, then east on 160 (which becomes Highway 64 at the state line) through Shiprock--a Magritte painting come to life--and back south to Albuquerque on lonesome, rolling Route 44.

Canyon Country
Just south of Provo at the town of Spanish Fork, turn off I-15 onto Highway 6 and head southeast toward the former haunts of Edward Abbey. Go east at I-70, then south on Highway 191 to Moab. Try a sunset hike to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or bike along the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands. There's also Class IV whitewater nearby on the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon (for information, contact Tex's Riverways in Moab). The best place to stay--or just eat dinner--is Pack Creek Ranch, 16 miles south of town off 191. Scenery junkies will no doubt prefer the long way home: 191 south to Blanding, then north on 95, east on 24, west on I-70, and another northbound stretch on 28 to I-15.

The Cascades Loop
Head north on I-5, then east on Route 20, which plunges into the remote heart of North Cascades National Park, a wilderness of hiking and riding trails, lakes, and whitewater. Spend the night camping, or stay in one of the cabins of the Ross Lake Resort, a hike-in floating lodge on Ross Lake. For a taste of the frontier, stop by the town of Winthrop for lunch the next day. Then, just past the town of Twisp, turn south on scenic Highway 153 and take it to Highway 97, which follows the Columbia River south. Turn back west on Route 2 over Stevens Pass and try the Wiener schnitzel at the Terrace Bistro in Leavenworth, a Bavarian-style town that seems transplanted from the Alps. From there, just continue west on Route 2 toward Everett, I-5, and home.

Wine and Redwoods
Head east over the Bay Bridge on I-80 and stay with the interstate to Route 29, which runs north through the heart of the Napa Valley wine country. When you stop for tastings, don't swallow too often; you're driving, remember. At Calistoga, Route 128 going west takes you past more wineries to fabled Highway 1 and the foggy Victorian village of Mendocino. For lunch, try the Café Beaujolais. After a 40-mile jaunt up the coast, take Highway 101 to the 300-foot redwoods at Richardson Grove and the quaint Benbow Inn in the town of Garberville. The next morning, work your way west to Shelter Cove, the jumping-off point for a spectacular and wholly uncrowded hike north along the Lost Coast. It's the only part of the California shoreline that has yet to be developed, and the beach camping there is the best in the United States. Then, for a straight (but scenic) shot home, take Highway 101 all the way south to the Golden Gate.

David Noland is a frequent contributor to Outside.

Copyright 1991, Outside magazine

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web