Wednesday, June 02, 2010

5 day road trips around Washington DC

Hey Jamie,

Hope this beautiful weather is finding you well, where-ever you are. I am writing to ask for some advice on a road trip I am trying to plan for July.

My English sister-in-law and her Irish husband are coming for a visit in July. We live outside of DC in the Virginia suburbs and the 4 of us would like to plan a 4 or 5 day road trip while they are here. Ken has never been in America and Karen has visited only the larger cities, Boston, LA, etc.. Because of that, we want the trip to include very little freeway driving and LOTS of highway and scenic byway driving. We would like the trip to originate here outside of DC and possibly make a big loop - north, west, south, east, and north again, or vice versa of course. We are interested in the fun off-beat tourist attractions, and roadside architecture, as well as yummy food and even a few standard touristy things too.

Do you have any suggestions for us? I have read so many books and looked at so many websites, I feel overwhelmed with our choices. We could go north to New York, West to Indiana, South to Tennessee.....??? YIKES! Any advice is appreciated.

Thank you!

~Melania (and the British Invasion)


Hello Melania --

Many thanks for your nice note. I myself am married to one of these "British Invaders", so I think I can help you show them some interesting places.

You've got a pretty good menu of destinations ahead -- fun, food, funky Americana, all linked by some fab scenic drives. DC is a great place to start, because it has so much history and also because nice open countryside is pretty close. What I've come with for suggestions could be done as one big "Figure 8" road trip, and also could work as a DC-based day-trip or two (staying home at night, saving some $$...?) and one nice bigger loop.

The day trippy destinations I suggest would be heading north into Pennsylvania, toward the famous "Dutch Country", which is full of tacky funny tourist sights and some very pretty countryside (Plus Amish horse-drawn carriages and "all-you-can-eat" smorgasbord !

Also here is the Harley Davidson factory, which is open for tours -- and has a big gift shop, for those all-American souvenirs.

This trip could also stop at some "real" attractions, like Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields -- which are both pretty to look at and profound to think about. All this is just over an hour from Arlington (traffic permitting)

I cover a lot of this trip in the Appalachian Trail chapter of my "big" book, and in an even newer (fully updated late 2009!) mini-book just on the Appalachian Trail.

(And I should say, both of these books are 2 or 3 years more up-to-date than the info which is on the website...)

Places to see on a bigger, longer road trip: I'd suggest you start by heading west, driving through the "Horse Country" area around Middleburg and maybe making your way to Harpers Ferry, high above the Potomac River. From here you could do the Skyline Drive south thru Shenandoah Nat'l Park, and / or tour the nifty small towns of the Shenandoah Valley (like Winchester, Staunton and Lexington, home of Stonewall Jackson.)

For an unforgettable all-American experience, stay the night near Lexington and catch a movie at Hull's Drive-In.

Back over the mountains, Charlottesville is a pretty place, with good food and all the Thomas Jefferson history you could want.

And if you really want to do some driving, the Blue Ridge Parkway will wind you south and west to Asheville, which is another characterful small city -- with the biggest house in the USA, Biltmore (once home of the Vanderbilts, and now open for tours). Asheville is adjacent to the lovely Great Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park, and is also home to one of my favorite minor league baseball teams, the Asheville Tourists, offering another all-American moment for your overseas visitors to enjoy!

Asheville via the Blue Ridge Parkway (and/or I-81, America's prettiest Interstate!) is about a 500-mile drive from DC, so you could do all of the above and get there and back in a very nice 3 or 4-day drive. Sound good?

Obviously there are lots and lots of other ideas -- I've avoided suggesting the coast (Rehoboth or Ocean City MD?, or the Outer Banks of NC??), which is always nice but probably much more crowded than the mountains. That said, you may like crowds -- and if so, Ocean City on a sunny Saturday is a sight you may well want to see!

Hope this helps, and Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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