Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer, when vacationers take to the roads to seek beautiful and historic sites across the U.S.
Gasoline prices are still sharply below where they were a year ago. AAA Fuel Gauge Report shows the national average regular gas price at $2.628 per gallon at the start of May, which is about $1 a gallon cheaper than prices were for Memorial Day 2014. That makes a driving vacation a great option this summer. So let’s buckle up and hit the road.
Cape Cod Driving Tour
Beaches, resort towns, clams, lobster—the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts has it all. Easily reached from Boston, visitors can see some of the oldest settlements in the U.S. For example, Sandwich was settled by Puritans in 1637. It was named for the seaport of Sandwich in Kent, England, and is the gateway to the Cape Cod Canal. Follow Route 6 to see the Cape Cod National Seashore, which has some of the area’s best beaches and Massachusetts Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Wind up at the top of the Cape in Provincetown, a popular summer resort town. The spot was named by the Pilgrims, who landed there for 36 days in 1620 before heading for Plymouth.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Run by the National Park Service, this 444-mile drive cuts through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi and is known locally as the “Old Trace.” The history on this trail goes back nearly 10,000 years, as it was used by Native Americans, settlers, and U.S. presidents. It starts in Nashville and ends in Natchez, MS. Parkway visitors will find everything from prehistoric mounds like Emerald Mound (the second largest Mississippian-period ceremonial mound in the U.S.); a cypress swamp; and a Civil War battlefield at Tupelo, MS. Speed demons, beware: the top speed limit on the Old Trace is 50 mph.
Lake Michigan Circle Tour
Looping around the only Great Lake that lies fully within the U.S., the Lake Michigan Circle Tour takes you on state highways around Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. The complete tour is roughly 900 miles and would take nearly 15 hours of nonstop driving. Fortunately, a ferry service between Ludington, MI, and Manitowoc, WI, cuts the distance nearly in half. Tour highlights include the world’s 10th-longest suspension bridge, affectionately referred to as the Mighty Mac, which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas over the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet. It is also home to some of the world’s biggest freshwater dunes. In June, Mackinac Island hosts the Lilac Festival, with dozens of varieties including some that predate the Civil War. In July, the town of Traverse City, MI, hosts the National Cherry Festival.
Oregon’s Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
Already driven California’s Pacific Coast Highway? Hit the Oregon Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, which travels through remote areas that open to old-style seaside resorts, fishing villages, and agricultural valleys. This roadway goes down Oregon’s coastline along Highway 101. Highlights of the near-12-hour drive include an elevated view of the Pacific Ocean from 700 feet near Cannon Beach in the northern part of the tour, as well as Tillamook, home of Oregon’s largest cheese producer. Drivers who have had their fill of ocean views can motor roughly 70 miles east from Tillamook to visit Portland, or travel about 75 miles southeast and reach Salem, the heart of the Willamette Valley and Oregon’s wine country.
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