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Crowds Drive You Crazy? 8 Wide-Open Stretches That'll Have You Road Tripping (PHOTOS)

Posted: 03/21/2012 7:00 am

According to a recent Expedia poll, 25 percent of men and 33 percent of women have "not but always wanted to" drive across the USA. I've always wanted to do this, too, and actually am planning to this spring, if all goes to plan.

But if you're not that ambitious, here are eight amazing shorter road trips that showcase some of the best scenery and wide-open spaces that America has to offer.

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  • Las Vegas to Idaho: 500 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> Follow U.S. 93 from Las Vegas all the way up to Twin Falls, Idaho. <strong>What to expect:</strong> The stark landscape of the northern Mojave, quiet ranch towns, the scented scrub and snowy peaks of the Great Basin, the impressive Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls. Continue another hour north (on the much busier State Route 75) and you land smack in one of the Continent's most exclusive ski resorts, Sun Valley. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> Midway, take a break in <a href="http://www.elynevada.net/" target="_hplink">Ely</a> for a dose of the Silver State at its most old-school: nickel slots at the historic Hotel Nevada and fresh and delicious American Chinese food at the retro-fab Happy Garden.

  • Maine, Way Up North: 265 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> U.S. 1 and 1A from Fort Kent to Machias, ME. <strong>What to expect:</strong> Route 1 without traffic lights and dated shopping centers may be hard to imagine for residents of the Eastern Seaboard who know it as one of the region's most congested roads. But before this iconic coastal highway gets started for real on its route down to Key West, Florida, it runs quite the lap through Maine, from Fort Kent in the far (far!) north -- bring your French phrase book -- to the little town of Machias, down along the Atlantic coast. Long ago superseded by more direct and efficient roads, this section of asphalt is almost an afterthought, particularly if you stick to U.S. 1A, which bypasses the largest population center along the way, Presque Isle. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> With the highway running within miles of the international border most of the way, opportunities to duck into New Brunswick are numerous. Bring your passport for re-entry, of course, because that's now the law.

  • Old South to New South: 444 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> Natchez Trace Parkway from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. <strong>What to expect:</strong> It begins with a classic and ends in one of the region's most forward-thinking towns. Most people wouldn't think of pairing the two together -- they're night and day different -- but too many people forget that these towns are historically linked by the old portage route, now a beautifully-designed National Parkway, the scenic (and largely quiet) <a href="http://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm" target="_hplink">Natchez Trace</a>. On a typical day, away from the two cities of any size along the way -- Jackson and Tupelo, Mississippi -- you'll barely encounter a soul. Just thick forests, open fields and, in spring, plenty of blossoming things. <strong>Pit stops:</strong> At the southern end of the parkway, it's all Antebellum charm all the time at the historic <a href="http://monmouthplantation.com/" target="_hplink">Monmouth Plantation</a>, an impressive estate re-imagined into a hotel that's often surprisingly affordable. At the other end, make time for Nashville's super-cool dining and nightlife.

  • River to River in the Northwest: 128 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> U.S. 12 from Walla Walla, WA to Lewiston, ID. <strong>What to expect:</strong> "Where exactly is Walla Walla?" That's a real question I've been asked in Seattle. The answer: It's nearly five hours away, in the southeastern corner of Washington state, about as far as you can get from the Pacific Northwest of the popular imagination. It's also about as far away as you can get from crowds and still be on a paved road. Hop on U.S. 12 at the Columbia River, where it hooks a left up and away from the state line with Oregon; the highway winds through farmlands and vineyards and into the appealing city of Walla Walla, still connected to the outside world only by two-lane highways. Leaving town, the region's iconic grassy hills and the small farming towns nestled among them make for an almost hypnotic ride down to the Snake River, which carves its way out towards Idaho and the historic city of <a href="http://www.cityoflewiston.org/" target="_hplink">Lewiston, Idaho</a>. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> Definitely break this one up into a multi-day trip; Walla Walla's restaurants and wine tasting rooms -- not to mention its laid-back, friendly vibe, particularly on weekdays when it's almost strictly locals -- invite sticking around awhile.

  • Out on the Edge in West Texas: 50 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> FM 170 from Presidio to Lajitas, TX. <strong>What to expect:</strong> Running almost entirely through state park lands in the Big Bend region of West Texas, this winding and scenic road follows a particularly pretty stretch of the Rio Grande, marking a particularly empty -- and largely unguarded, let alone marked -- stretch of the United States-Mexico border. You'll end up in the tiny town of Lajitas, which is comprised entirely of an <a href="http://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/" target="_hplink">upscale golf resort</a> that's worth at least a night's stay. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> Pause for a dip -- or for lots of them, in fact. Not only is it fun, you can also impress your friends with Facebook pictures of you swimming to Mexico. (Forget what you've seen on the news: It's quite safe around here.)

  • West of the Divide in the Dakotas: 300 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> U.S. 85 from Deadwood, SD to Williston, ND. <strong>What to expect:</strong> Too many people approach The Dakotas from east or west, treating it as something to get through on their way to elsewhere. Stick around and explore the remote western side of both North and South with a route that leads you through some of the most appealing scenery between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Start in the Black Hills of South Dakota or the grasslands up North; either way, U.S. 85 is your guide. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> From <a href="http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm" target="_hplink">Mount Rushmore</a> to Hot Springs to the Wild West theme park that is <a href="http://www.deadwood.com/splash.cfm" target="_hplink">Deadwood</a> (it's actually pretty cool, trust us on this), you can't beat the Black Hills (or the nearby Badlands) for choice. But don't overlook the excellent Roosevelt National Park and tiny Medora -- a bit of the old west preserved in aspic -- up north. In Williston you'll see a true boomtown, exploding population-wise and otherwise with the discovery of oil in the surrounding Bakken region. Keep going and you'll end up in Saskatchewan before too long. If that's your thing.

  • The Other New York: 89 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> Lake Ontario Parkway from Rochester to Youngstown, NY. <strong>What to expect:</strong> Robert Moses was famous in New York -- and to urban planners everywhere -- as a man possessed by the need to build highways; one of his greatest follies, the entirely unnecessary <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Ontario_State_Parkway" target="_hplink">Lake Ontario Parkway</a>, stands today, largely empty at any given time, a wide open pathway that's unbeatable on a sunny summer day as a way to experience the mellow beauty -- forests, meadows, orchards and vineyards -- of the part of New York that belongs to the Great Lakes region. You'll begin on Rochester's bustling lakefront in the Coney Island-esque Seabreeze neighborhood and end in the charming towns of Youngstown and Lewiston, New York, down along the Niagara River. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> Go for a swim, weather permitting, at Hamlin Beach State Park, thirty miles west of Rochester along the parkway -- far enough out of town to keep things super quiet on weekdays. Once you hit Niagara County, be on the lookout for the many tasting possibilities along the growing <a href="http://www.niagarawinetrail.org/" target="_hplink">Niagara Wine Trail</a>. And of course, just up the escarpment, there are some falls that you may have heard of.

  • Leaving San Diego: 45 miles

    <strong>Route:</strong> Highway 94 from San Diego to Boulevard, CA. <strong>What to expect:</strong> Southern California has a reputation for sprawl, but if you head just 10 miles east on Highway 94 out of downtown San Diego, the suburbs quickly give way to splendid scenery, rugged peaks, green valleys and tiny towns that show no sign of being aware that we're in the 21st century now. You're pretty much at the end of the line here, which you see when you pass the whistle stop of Boulevard and down into the almost ghost-town of Jacumba, California (pop. 561 in the last census); that wall that you keep seeing on your right? That's the border. <strong>Pit stop:</strong> Chill in the charming town of Campo for a dose of history and a taste of the local wines, which are getting better every year.

  • Colorado highway

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/12445875/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome">AshBartolome</a>:<br />Driving through Colorado mountains during solo cross country road trip April 2009

  • Overlooking my morning road journey

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/12445875/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome">AshBartolome</a>:<br />Sitting on Red Rocks in Colorado during solo road trip

  • Small town in Illinois

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/12445875/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome">AshBartolome</a>:<br />I would travel off course into random small towns through out my cross country journey

  • The only living thing I saw there

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/12445875/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome">AshBartolome</a>:<br />Traveling through the quiet canyons in Moab, Utah during my solo cross country road trip

  • Watching another sunset on the road

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://graph.facebook.com/12445875/picture?type=square" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/AshBartolome">AshBartolome</a>:<br />Driving through Wyoming during my solo cross country road trip

  • Lots of long roads on my solo trip

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/CraigInCT"><img style="float:left;padding-right:6px !important;" src="http://s.huffpost.com/images/profile/user_placeholder.gif" /></a><a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/CraigInCT">CraigInCT</a>:<br />The route I took in the summer of 2005

 

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