Hit the Road

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One of the most scenic (and historic) rides you can take on the East Coast begins about an hour from downtown DC at the Front Royal entrance to Skyline Drive.

From here, you can take a leisurely cruise along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Rockfish Gap about 105 miles away near the U.S. I-64 interchange and then, if you like, continue your journey on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Parkway parallels U.S. I-81 all the way to Lexington and Roanoke, Virginia and continues to its terminus near Asheville, North Carolina.

The pace is gentle (35-45 MPH speed limits) but you’ll want to take your time. There are billion-year-old rock outcroppings, magnificent valleys and vistas (some with 50 mile views), elevation gains up to 3,300 feet, abundant wildlife, trails – everything you need to take your mind off the faster pace of everyday modern life.

Both Skyline Drive and the Parkway can be accessed at multiple different points along their lengths, making them convenient to reach and ideal for half-day, full-day or multi-day excursions. The Parkway is extremely popular with bikers, RV’ers and nature lovers and the good news is that with the exception of portions of Skyline Drive close to DC, it’s rarely crowded – in part because the surrounding areas are generally very rural.

One of the most enjoyable sections is the approximately 150 mile piece of the Parkway that begins near Lexington, Virginia (home of VMI) and the locally famous Natural Bridge and (for the adventurous) Natural Bridge Zoo. Here you can take your own safari – and meet Ostriches, Emus, Elephants, Bison and other big game animals up close and personal on the free-ranging 100-plus acre campus. Exit the Parkway onto RT. 11 North and travel three miles.

Continuing southbound will take you into Roanoke, Virginia – where you can stop at the overlook on Mill Mountain and see a locally famous 50 foot neon star (Roanoke got its name, the Star City, for this reason) as well as magnificent views of the Roanoke valley. Exit the Parkway at about milepost 120 onto the “Mill Mountain” spur; parking is near the top.

Roanoke proper has numerous other attractions and makes a great pit stop. Exit the Parkway onto US 220 North to get downtown.

From there, you can saddle up again and proceed up into the mountains of Floyd County, the cute little one stoplight (literally) town of Floyd and the nearby Tuggles Gap restaurant at about milepost 165. Tuggles Gap is a famous biker watering hole and local attraction just off the Parkway (visible from the road) on US 8. On most warm spring/summer days you’ll find at least a dozen bikes lined up out front – and lots of good conversation waiting for you inside. Don’t be afraid! It may look like a dive, but the people are some of the nicest you’ll find. To get to downtown Floyd, exit the Parkway just before Tuggles Gap onto Rt. 8 and take a right at the stop sign. Rt. 8 will take you directly into downtown Floyd, where you can visit the Floyd Country Store and enjoy live Bluegrass music on Friday and Saturday nights and other venues.

A bit farther southbound past Rocky Knob Recreation area (milepost 169) (camping/hiking opportunities) lies Chateau Morisette – home of the Back Dog and one of Virginia’s premier wineries. Exit the Parkway at milepost 171.5 and follow the signs to the winery.

After you’re done there, you may want to stop by Mabry Mill – where they serve some of the best buckwheat and sweet potato pancakes in the country. During the summer months, the restored circa 1900s Mill is open to the public and there are “period” interactive exhibits such as blacksmithing in a working forge.

Campgrounds or rustic cabins are available nearby for overnighting, too. Or you can stay in one of the several hotels available in or near the town of Floyd.

Other Must-Do Trips:

1. Pacific Coast Highway

Highway 1/US101; runs along the ocean from Southern California near LA to Northern California/the Golden Gate Bridge. Take two days – or two weeks!

2. Tail of the Dragon/Deals Gap

This “318 curves in 11 miles” stretch of US 129 in TN near the NC border is well worth going out of your way to experience. A mecca for motorcyclists; just watch out for the cops – and the curves!

3. AIA/Intracoastal Waterway

Incredible sea-side views from Key West to the tip of Georgia, including barrier islands. Not to be missed.

4. Acadia Byway

Maine Rt.3 through Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, the only national park in America’s Northeast; appx. 40 miles of incredible scenery, including rugged, California-like coasts. Ferry rides are a popular attraction.

5. El Camino Real (King’s Highway)

Texas Route 21 from Toledo Bend Reservoir near Milam to San Antonio; East Texas’ oldest highway. It dates to 1690 and follows the course of old Indian trails.

6. Big Cottonwood Canyon//UT90

This is one of Utah’s best roads; dramatic views through the Wasatch National Forest/King’s Peak (13,584 feet), the highest point in the state. Overnight/outdoor camping/hiking opportunities available.

7. Bush Highway/Saguaro Lake

85 miles, round-trip, not far from downtown Phoenix, AZ. Tremendous high-country desert views, including Tonto National Forest. See Blue Heron and other wildlife at Saguaro Lake.

8. Kahinahina Scenic Drive

This 37 mile road provides unique, close-up views of Mauna Kea from appx. 6,500 feet above sea level to nearly 10,000 feet. Plan on at least half a day to see all the sights along the way.

9. US 89 Montana, Great Falls to Browning Road

Route 89 runs north-south all the way from the Mexican border at Nogales, Arizona to the Canadian border at Glacier National Park. This stretch – about 124 miles – takes you from Great Falls through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning. Rocky mountains to your left, the Great Plains to your right.

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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