2009 Summer Road Trips

Spontaneous Combustion


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An empty highway, a beat-up atlas, and no reservations—now that sounds like a road trip. To get you out the door and rolling this summer, we scoured the country for those lost stretches of blacktop where you can still find real adventure.

Rogue River

Rogue River Rogue River

Bear Camp Road, Oregon
80 miles

It's a rare road that traces a Class IV river, passes through 4,000-foot peaks, and ends at the Pacific. Which is why we love this 80-mile, one-lane, gravel-and-pavement affair through the heart of the Siskiyou National Forest. The route from the one-store village of Galice—start of multi-day Rogue River float trips—to Gold Beach puts you on the edge of pine-lined ridges before dropping you into the confluence of the lllinois and the Rogue. Four-wheel drive isn't necessary, but sturdy tires are—old rockslides near Galice Creek and dozens of blind corners mean you'll want to stick to the middle of the road. The drive takes three hours and offers vistas of coastal fog pouring over mountain ridges. PIT STOPS: Pre-drive, take a 13-mile, daylong river trip on the Rogue from Hog Creek to Grave Creek (seven miles from Galice) with Rogue Wilderness Adventures ($90; Once you reach the Pacific, rent a cottage with beach views at Turtle Rock Resort ($130;

Driving Highway 89

California, 282 miles

Casaval (courtesy of Chris Car/Shasta Mountain Guides)

This two-lane route connects Lake Tahoe with the Cascades, passing through the Sierra Nevada range and four national forests en route. Starting in Tahoe City, the highway stretches north through the 800,000-acre Tahoe National Forest and Plumas National Forest—a blend of streams, canyons, and valleys. After wrapping around Lake Almanor, 89 zigzags upward through Lassen Volcanic National Park, a 106,000-acre no-man’s-land home to bubbling mudpots. Here, the road tops out at an 8,400-foot pass before winding down to the foot of 14,162-foot Mount Shasta. PIT STOPS: In Lassen, hike the 7.4-mile Brokeoff Mountain Trail (info at the KohmYah-mah-nee visitor center; 530-595-4444). At drive’s end, rest up at the McCloud River Lodge (doubles, $90; Shasta Mountain Guides leads two- and three-day summit trips all summer ($450–$600; 530-926-3117).

Driving U.S. 85

Dakotas, 250 miles

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (courtesy of National Park Service)

To say that there’s absolutely nothing along the stretch of asphalt between Spearfish, South Dakota, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, is an overstatement—but not much of one. The prairie views are broken up only by the occasional antelope herd, busted railroad town, and steakhouse. But for the most part, this is the Great Plains as Lewis and Clark experienced it—endless grasslands and distant buttes that pass by at a crawl, even at 80 miles an hour. The payoff for all that lonesomeness is, at the end of the road, the geologically manic North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. PIT STOPS: Try the Pastime Club and Steakhouse, in Marmarth, North Dakota, for the best ribeye in the state (701-279-9843). When you reach the North Unit, hike the 18-mile Achenbach Trail, which winds through the water-scoured, red and blue Badlands.

Driving the Cherohala Skyway

Tennessee to North Carolina, 54 miles

Hitchhiking 101

Got plans for a road trip this summer? If you want to get really adventurous, click here for tips on how to hitchhike.

Once a wagon trail following the spine of the Great Smoky Mountains, this route is now a motorist’s dream: a $100 million road built in 1996 linking the Cherokee National Forest and the Nantahala National Forest. There are no gas stations along the way, so fill up in Tellico Plains, Tennessee. You’ll drive up to 5,500 feet, looking down on maple-covered hills and stopping at any of seven trailheads that lead into the absurdly verdant nearbyforest. PIT STOPS: When the skyway spits you out near Robbinsville, North Carolina, you can angle for brown and brook trout at Snowbird Creek with the Nantahala Fly Fishing Company (day trips, $225; Want faster water? Sixty miles southwest is the famous Ocoee River, site of the whitewater events at the 1996 Olympics; float eight miles of Class III–IV rapids with the Nantahala Outdoor Center ($90;

Driving Highway 50 and Red Mountain Pass

Colorado, 170 miles

Even when there aren’t avalanches flowing across it, Colorado’s Red Mountain Pass is the stickiest stretch of highway in the country. That’s partly because of its 8 percent grade, countless hairpins, and few guardrails, and partly because its cliffside views keep pulling your eyes off the road. The most spectacular approach is from the north: Head down the Rockies from Grand Junction on Highway 50 toward Montrose, where you’ll pick up Highway 550. The road begins to climb slightly to Ridgway and then sharply at Ouray. Between Ouray and Silverton, try not to look to your right, where the canyon drops off some 400 feet. PIT STOPS: A 35-minute detour north from Montrose brings you to the base camp of Black Canyon Anglers, who ply the Gunnison River (guided wade-fishing day trip for two, $475; Spend a night in Ouray at the Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs (doubles, $145;

Driving Highway 1

Maine, 100 miles

In summer, the southern section of this byway becomes a choked thoroughfare for tourists taking the “scenic route” to Acadia National Park. But the 100-mile stretch north of Mount Desert Island hugs the same coastline and is mostly empty. Leave the masses at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, the last mainland stop before Acadia, and drive 83 miles to Whiting, where you’ll head east for a coastal detour on 191. After 32 miles you’ll see the lighthouse at Quoddy Head State Park, the easternmost point in the U.S. Back on 1, hit Cobscook Bay State Park, home to some of the world’s highest tides (24 feet). PIT STOPS: Get your paddling fix in Machias Bay at Sunrise Canoe and Kayak ($55; At Cobscook, stick around for low tide. Pick up a hoe and roller (a half-bushel basket) at the ranger station and dig up a dozen soft-shell clams. It’s a messy affair, but, pan-boiled in beer, they’re unreal.

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