Friday, October 15, 2010

Southern Pacific Road Trip - October!

Hi Jamie!

My friend and I have been wanting to take a roadtrip for quite some time. We plan on starting in Washington, DC, and doing a round-trip style trek to the west coast and back. The only months we will both be free would be mid October, November, and early December. I'm nervous about the weather during this season, and wanted to know your advice on the best general routes for the late autumn time frame.

Thank you so much for your time!




Hi Jennifer --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA -- and as much as I wish I could control the weather, I think that will be the main determining factor for your late autumn road trip.

Basically, the main advice would be to head south -- just like all those migrating waterfowl, flying down to the Gulf Coast for the winter. But you don't have to bomb along I-95 -- if you have the time to amble, there are some lovely ways to go. Starting from DC, in October, the obvious route would be to follow what I call the Appalachian Trail; it's lik ethe hiking route, but for cars and drivers (and day-hikers, too). This follows the Skyline Drive west from DC and south, linking up with the Blue Ridge Parkway via Asheville NC, for glorious "fall foliage" driving all the way to Atlanta.

And if you prefer oceans to mountains, October and even November can be lovely times to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and other wild areas of the Atlantic Coast

Florida of course is a classic winter road trip destination, but If you have more limited time, I would detour around Atlanta to see Savannah and Charleston, two lovely old cities. There are many nice beaches nearby (like Georgia's Jekyll Island, and Cumberland Island for a bit more "wildness"). You could then go west, detouring to New Orleans or the rural Deep South, depending on your taste.

(The famous "Fall Pilgrimage" in Natchez MS runs thru mid-October, I think).

From here west it's a bit of a long-haul -- at that time of year, I prefer the route via Houston (and maybe Galveston), and Austin, and San Antonio, then up thru the "Hill Country" along my "US-83 / Road to Nowhere" route, maybe visiting Carlsbad Caverns (which, because it's indoors, is nice at any time of year).

Then on to California! If the weather's looking good, I might suggest veering slightly north. to follow Route 66 up through Santa Fe NM and the Grand Canyon. Because these are high elevation attractions, if you wait until full winter hits, you may get snowed out -- the rim of the Grand Canyon is around 8000 feet above sea level, and gets a lots of snow (which is pretty, but an obstacle to hiking.) Taos New Mexico is gorgeous at any time of year, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas it's very special -- they light up the plaza with "farolito" lanterns, which look magical.

But if the weather's already turning, you may prefer to stay south, and follow my "Southern Pacific" tour via Tombstone and Tucson, and on to San Diego.

Then on the way back east, you can visit the places you had to race past on your way west -- London Bridge at Lake Havasu has an irresistible kitsch value -- hopping on to Interstate freeways when driving in inclement weather, or at night.

Interstates are dull, but very much safer than the "old roads" I recommend for the sort of scenic, recreational driving I proselytize about in Road Trip USA.

OK, that's a lot of slightly random road trip advice -- I cover all these routes in my "big" Road Trip USA book, and have done more recent "mini-books" on the Appalachian Trail, Atlantic Coast and Great River Road trips, too . Hope this all helps you have a great trip,

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


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