10 Last-Minute Road Trips for Columbus Day Weekend

Shannon McMahon, October 07, 2015
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    The beauty of fall road trips is that they often require minimal planning. It's low or shoulder season for many places, and rather than dealing with the fuss of air travel you can simply pack up the car, fire up the GPS, and go.

    Columbus Day weekend is perfect for this kind of impromptu getaway. It's not too late to put your spare vacation day to use: Take advantage of one of these scenic road trip routes around the country.

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    (Photo: Road to Keji in Fall via Shutterstock)
    Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire

    Need a reason to set out on a road trip in New Hampshire? It's leaf-peeping season.

    You don't have to be foreign to deciduous forests to appreciate the gorgeous fall foliage that serves as a backdrop to the Granite State's mountains, streams, and covered bridges. And whether you want to get inone last camping trip or just want to be out on the open road, there's no better stretch of highway in the Northeast than New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway (Route 112), which meanders 56 miles through the White Mountains.

    Stretching from Vermont to Maine, it's an ideal route for a trip across the region before a stay in Portland or Montpelier, or as a means exploring the natural waterfalls in and around North Conway.

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    (Photo: Albany Covered Bridge via Shutterstock)

    Overseas Highway, Florida


    For snowbirds, the Overseas Highway along the Florida Keys is paradise year-round. The southernmost end of US-1 is a narrow stretch of road suspended over the Florida Bay, making it easy to see sailboats and the coral reef alongside it. Drive the 97 miles from Key Largo to Key West for a romantic weekend in Florida, or head the opposite way and continue on to Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton.

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    (Photo: The Old and New Seven Mile Bridge via Shutterstock)

    New England/New York to Montreal, Canada


    Montreal is no more than a day's drive away from anywhere in New England or New York State. If you're looking for a road trip that's more of a means to an end than a meandering adventure, head to Quebec's French- and British-influenced capital city for food tours and festivals.

    Taking I-87 or I-89 through New York or Vermont offers spectacular views of the Adirondacks and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Once you arrive, being surrounded by French-speaking Canadians will make you feel like you're vacationing in Europe.

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    RELATEDMontreal and Quebec City: Killing Two Birds With One Stone

    (Photo: A walk in Montreal woods during foliage season via Shutterstock)

    Pacific Coast Highway, California


    With a range of road-trip options, California's 655-mile Pacific Coast Highway offers some spectacular views while connecting Seattle to San Francisco, San Francisco to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to San Diego. Make pit stops at all or some of these trendy cities, and head to Hearst Castle, a historic mansion in San Simeon, just south of San Jose. The massive home is nestled amongst the Southern Coast Ranges and is open for public tours.

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    (Photo: Bixby Bridge on Pacific Coast Highway, California via Shutterstock)

    Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana


    Marvel at this scenic mountain passage's lakes and cliffs before snow covers it in a few short months. Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road that crosses Glacier National Park, and its beauty is briefly summarized in a line from the film Forrest Gump ("It looks like there were two skies, one on top of the other."). Going-to-the-Sun Road spans 53 miles and offers hiking trails and waterfalls that are worth the stop.

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    RELATED13 Best National Parks to See in the Fall

    (Photo: Beautiful Autumn Colors of Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana via Shutterstock)

    Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina


    Scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles of gorgeous vistas and protected biodiversity that connects Virginiaand North Carolina. The area's mountains are some of the highest in the eastern US, and are particularly beautiful in the fall. Lookout points offer views into valleys, lakes, and parks ideal for a picnic pit stop. Mount Pisyah campground is ideal for a final camping trip before North Carolina's chillier winter months arrive.

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    (Photo: Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway via Shutterstock)

    Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania


    Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley is home to wineries and gardens frequented by travelers who arrive by the carload. Taste local merlots, stroll Longwood Gardens, and learn about modern art at the Brandywine River Museum. The valley is known as the "England of Pennsylvania" thanks to Civil War-era poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, and the area is accessible by Route 100, which stretches into nearby Delaware.

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    RELATED10 Great Wine Region Getaways for Fall

    (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)

    Columbia River Highway, Oregon


    With sightseeing tours, waterfalls, and lookout points, Oregon's 75-mile Columbia River Highway is a perfect oasis for exploring. It's the first planned scenic highway in the country, with hiking trails that make it perfect for exploring waterfalls and natural gardens in the Columbia River Gorge's rainforest. This route is perfect for a getaway to Portland for food tours, beer tastings and river rafting expeditions.

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    RELATEDThe New Food and Drink Capital of the US Will Surprise You

    (Photo: Multnomah Falls Autumn, Fall Bridge Columbia River Gorge, Oregon via Shutterstock)

    Highway 2: Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, Nebraska


    Bird watch and stargaze in Nebraska's enormous, grassy sandhills on a journey across the Cornhusker State. Highway 2 is home to Carhenge (an odd take on Stonehenge made up of old cars), a museum dedicated to the Old West's pioneers and Native Americans, and wildlife refuges teeming with biodiversity. Gas stations, hotels, and inns are far and few along this route, so be sure to plan pit-stops ahead of time if you don't plan on driving all 422 miles at once.

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    (Photo: Curtis Cronn via flickr/CC Attribution)

    Route 66, Chicago to Albuquerque


    America's most famous highway, historic Route 66 is the dedicated road-tripper's route from Chicago to Santa Monica. That entire trip takes 26 hours without pit-stops, but getting to New Mexico from the highway's Chicago end takes 19 hours—an ambitious but long-weekend-friendly drive. 

    The sites along the way, from desert sunsets and Native American tribe sites to retro motels and diners, make it well worth the drive. Don't miss Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas—a graveyard of retro cars spray-painted and stickered by passing tourists.

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    (Photo: Tucumcari, U.S.A via Gimas/Shutterstock.com)

    Read the original story: 10 Last-Minute Road Trips for Columbus Day Weekend by Shannon McMahon, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

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