Some may get their kicks on Route 66, but those familiar with the Southern U.S. know the South has several routes worthy of a song. Whether in a convertible with the top down or riding with two wheels on the open road, these drives through the South offer everything that encompasses this beautiful region—rugged mountains, rolling hills, stretches of beaches, and everything in between.
- Coastal Highway Route 17The reconstructed Tyron Palace. Highway 17 heads straight through New Bern, the original capital of North Carolina.
This nearly 1,200-mile highway runs through five states along the Atlantic coast, giving it the moniker the Coastal Highway. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do and see along this route. Most won’t have time to cover it all, but the Carolinas on Highway 17 are a must.
In North Carolina, Highway Route 17 runs straight through New Bern. Serving as the state’s first capital, the historic town is rich with architecture of varying styles from early colonial homes to the Victorian period. Many early homes have been turned into bed and breakfasts, perfect for the driving-weary traveler. Many of them are located on Pollock Street, in the historic downtown district, as are plenty of restaurants. Later, head toward South Carolina and make a stop at Pawleys Island. The city encompasses the laid-back style of the Lowcountry and is a great place to kick off your shoes for a bit and just enjoy the view.
- Blue Ridge Parkway Mabry Mill off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 469-mile parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. (Photo courtesy of Torsten Henning)
The most popular time of year to cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway is the fall. The 469-mile drive that connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Shenandoah National Park is ablaze with reds, oranges, and golds as the leaves slowly turn from their summer hues. It’ll take a handful of days to complete the trip, cruising at a comfortable speed.
Needing a rest? Nestled between two mountains and overlooking Abbott Lake, the Peaks at Otter Lodge in Bedford, Virginia, has been a traveler favorite since 1964. Once you cross into North Carolina, take the mountain road leading to Mount Mitchell State Park, the highest point east of the Mississippi. The park has a concession stand and full-service restaurant from May to October.
- Highway 16 in Texas
Highway 16 through Texas Hill Country passes through towns as unique as Texas itself. Pictured is a cowboy mural in Bandera, Cowboy Capital of the World. (Photo courtesy of Billy Hathorn)
A favorite among the motorcycle community, the hills and turns of Highway 16 through Texas Hill Country will satisfy any set of wheels. Starting in San Antonio, you’ll head into Hill Country through Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Past the honky-tonks and cowboy hats (depending on how much time you have), Bandera is a small town in beautiful country.
Not much further down 16 is yet another “capital”: Medina, the “Apple Capital of Texas.” To taste the best of Hill Country orchards, make a quick stop at The Love Creek Orchard or The Apple Store for an apple pie or some apple butter. Or wait a minute and stop in Kerrville. Take a break to order the chicken fried steak at Billie Gene’s Restaurant. It’s almost as good as the view of the Guadalupe River from the patio.
And keep in mind that Texas Hill Country is also wine country. Stay on Highway 16 to Fredericksburg to see Texas’s first wine-growing appellation, Bell Mountain Vineyards.
- U.S. 1 through Florida This sign designates mile zero of U.S. 1 in Key West, Florida, the southernmost tip of the United States
To catch the most scenic drive in Florida, head off the mainland where U.S. 1 is known as the Overseas Highway as it heads into the Florida Keys. It’s 113 miles from the mainland to Key West, your final stop on U.S. 1.Before heading out, make sure you have your snorkeling or diving gear. Key Largo calls itself the diving capital of the world for good reason as the home of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. And it’s your first stop in the Florida Keys. You’ll also be driving over 7-Mile Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world, which connects Knight’s Key (part of Marathon) in the middle keys to the lower keys, landing on Little Duck Key.
There’s more than enough to see and do along the way, but your ultimate destination is Key West, the southernmost city in the U.S. Take in more diving or try some authentic (and non-green) key lime pie after finishing a plate of the best and freshest seafood the Keys have to offer.
- Natchez Trace ParkwayThe Natchez Trace is arguably the most historical drive through the U.S., used by Native Americans and animals long before the colonists came
In use for centuries by Native Americans, the 444-mile original Natchez Trace begins in Natchez, Mississippi, off Liberty Road. From Natchez, the parkway extends through Alabama and into Tennessee, ending in Nashville. And if you’re going to take the Trace, you need to see the remnants of history along its trail.
A glimpse of the Old Trace can be seen at various points but not easily. North of Tupelo, you can see the Old Trace as well as the thirteen graves of unknown Confederate soldiers. Sadly, many soldiers were buried onsite, with no marker bearing their names. In Tennessee, two strips of the Old Trace are driveable, measuring about two miles long each. The entire drive from Natchez to Nashville is filled with history lessons from early Native American history to the gravesite of Meriwether Lewis to remnants of the Civil War.
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