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We all love a good road trip, with new places and gorgeous outdoor spaces ticking away like miles on the odometer. Let’s be honest, though: Hours in the car often call for a break and a much-needed stretch of the legs, especially for the kids. What better way to do so than lacing up your shoes and hitting a trail? Just park the car from time to time and grab your daypack. Here are some of the best hikes to enjoy alongside four of America’s most iconic drives.
Highway 101: The Oregon Coastline
Extraordinary views and Oregon’s natural wonderland are easily accessible off Highway 101, the legendary route hugging much of the state’s 362-mile coastline. Start your journey in beautiful Astoria next to the Columbia River with a stroll down the Riverwalk. The chance to point out sea lions to the kids are plentiful. Iconic Haystack Rock in picturesque Cannon Beach is a short beach walk away, and the 3-mile Clatsop Loop delivers wonderful forested paths leading to remarkable cliffside views. The best vantage point on the coast is atop Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita. In Pacific City, the fresh-baked bread and healthy menu at Grateful Bread Bakery make for a tasty stop. The hike up Cape Kiwanda here is a nice mile-long, hand-in-hand stroll to see sandstone cliffs. The fire pits and ocean views at Coho Oceanfront Lodge in Lincoln City will make the whole family happy. Next, hike to Thor’s Well via the Captain Cook Trail near Yachats. End near Gold Beach with stunning stretches of Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor by accessing trailheads off the side of the highway.
Blue Ridge Parkway: Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 miles through Tennessee and Virginia. Enjoy a weekend of waterfalls, rolling pasture, and mist-drenched mountains on trails for all ages along the northern section of this iconic drive. In the north, Humpback Rocks Visitor Center near Lyndhurst provides kids with fun on the Mountain Farm Trail, a .25-mile hike through an outdoor museum reminiscent of an 1890s mountain farm. The photo from 20-Minute Cliff Overlook might be the best of the trip, and White Rock Falls Trail at milepost 20 leads to a falls and swimming hole. The cozy mountain-vibe at Peaks of Otter Lodge makes for a nice midway stopover. If you start your drive from the south, spend an afternoon in Rocky Knob Recreational Area. Explore the old Mabry Mill sawmill, Black Ridge Trail offers good views from atop Black Ridge, and Rocky Knob Picnic Area Trail’s 1-mile loop is a pleasant walk through large oak, ash and hickory trees. Just be sure to be in Floyd before nightfall for the Friday night jamboree at The Floyd Country Store. The old-fashioned milkshakes and hand-dipped ice cream are a delicious bonus.
Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco to Los Angeles
Don’t rush this exhilarating, cliff-hugging drive next to the Pacific. Your time on the road and trails with the family will be well spent. Just north of San Francisco, Point Reyes—your first stop, stretches toward the sea. Learn about Coast Miwok culture on the paved Kule Loklo Trail. Tomales Point Trail departs from a historic dairy ranch and meanders two miles to a point. M’omelettes and French toast at Mama’s on Washington Square is a must in San Francisco. The PCH connecting Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea is one of the most scenic stretches in the world. Hop out at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in Big Sur for an easy path leading to 80-foot high McWay Falls, then enjoy the spoils of the road back at Big Sur Lodge. In Cambria, hunt for sea glass on Moonstone Beach with the family (yes, your dogs can come too!) and enjoy sweeping ocean views along the 2-mile boardwalk. Inspiration Point above Santa Barbara doesn’t disappoint at sunset. End this amazing drive with dreamy Los Angeles views above the famed Hollywood sign.
Route 66: California to Texas
It’s the mother of all drives, taking road trippers on a 2,400-mile journey through the heart of America, then and now. Make it a two-week family trek or map out a weekend section, and don’t forget to explore the parks, rugged canyons, desert landscapes and extinct volcanoes on foot along the way. The road begins in Chicago, but here we explore its western half.
California: Three hours east of the Pacific Ocean’s alluring embrace, the desert takes over and dominates the senses. Soak it up by hiking Amboy Crater just outside of Amboy, a middle of nowhere 1950s time capsule famous for Roy’s Café and Motel. A 3-mile round trip trail leads up to the 6,000-year-old, 250-foot extinct volcano summit providing a beautifully stark desert landscape background perfect for a triumphant family photo-op.
Arizona: Since the ’20s, the land that now makes up Petrified Forest National Park was a must-stop for Route 66 wanderers. Today, hike various designated trails and off-trail adventures good for all skill levels. Snap a family photo above red, blue and purple hills while strolling Painted Desert Rim Trail, an easy mile-long loop. Spectacular views of colorful badlands reward everyone on the 3-mile round trip Historic Blue Forest Trail. If paved trails and a city setting is what you’re looking for, make your way to Flagstaff for the day. The Route 66 Trail follows old sections of the road, allowing a kid and pet-friendly urban exploration of the historic downtown district. Settle in for the night at Little America Flagstaff and be sure to order hot dogs and burgers from the walk-up counter at Route 66 Dog Haus.
New Mexico: You can’t visit Albuquerque without getting your kicks on Route 66 at Lindy’s Diner, one of the longest operating diners on the road. Fill up on everything from a full stack of pancakes to their famous wings, then walk it all off at Petroglyph National Monument. Hundreds of petroglyphs are seen along three trails, each ranging from one to two-mile round-trippers. Volcanoes Trail provides expansive views of Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains. If you find yourself in the western part of the state, explore El Malpais National Monument near Grants. Moderate loops wind through the trees and treks over ancient, jagged lava flows make things a little more difficult.
Texas: Hey mom, or dad! Impress your kids by devouring the legendary 72-ounce steak at The Big Texan in Amarillo. Kids will also love the property’s Old West decorated Big Texan Motel, while the comfy beds will allow you to recover from your food coma. Celebrate your victory (or the attempt at least) at Palo Duro Canyon State Park the following day. This canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon and offers over 30 miles of trails that explore canyon floors and iconic rock formations. CCC Trail is a 2.7-mile out-and-back trek with awe-inspiring views. If your kids are older, the 6-mile Lighthouse Trail to the 310-foot high rock formation known as the Lighthouse is worth the hike.
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