Interstates let you cross the country, but great highways make you drive through it. This summer, don't sit in front of a screen. Get out, chase apexes, and see something real. This should help. Don't forget your right foot.
Tourist materials tout the cooperatively named Cherohala Skyway, a linguistic stew of "Cherokee" and "Nantahala," and the fact that the road, a National Scenic Byway between Tennessee and North Carolina, cost north of $100 million. It was worth the money, but the dangerous sweepers and preponderance of tourists make it best for leisurely drives. And while the most famous stretch of pavement here is a section of US 129 known as the Dragon—318 curves in just 11 miles—recent publicity has made that road crowded and frustrating on anything but odd-hour weekdays. This isn't a bad thing. The Dragon can get old, and many of its corners are predictable arm-busters that just require tire grip, not skill. But chiefly, the road's fame saps traffic from the area's other routes, many of which are arguably better. Start on 129, but don't stop there. Make random turns. Get lost. Backtrack and start over if you're accidentally spit out into civilization, but there's so much to drive here that you likely won't be. If you really want out, link up with US 74 and head to Asheville, North Carolina, one of America's coolest small towns. —Michael Frank
PEANUTS AND CRACKER JACKS
Take in a game at the circa-1924 McCormick Field, home of the single-A Asheville Tourists, where a seat behind home plate will set you back just $11.
PADDLE THE FRENCH BROAD RIVER
Stand-up paddleboarding is all the rage because it's more challenging than sitting in a canoe, even on calm water. On the French Broad, it offers the added advantage of letting you paddle directly to several restaurants and bars.
STAY IN STYLE
There are a lot of well-worn older resorts and spas in the Southeast ... and you should avoid them. The Grand Bohemian is new and slick, part of Marriott's boutique Kessler Collection and decidedly unchainlike; think Bentley, not Buick.
SOUTHERN, MINUS THE CARDIAC ARREST
The Tupelo Honey Cafe will serve you up some mean pulled pork and cheesy grit cakes, but the draw here is the modern take on the local vernacular—you can get your food sautéed or even baked. And if you want a side of veggies, that doesn't have to mean deep-fried okra.
SHRED SOME SINGLE-TRACK
This part of the nation has created some of the country's most talented mountain bikers; vistas are breathtaking, and there are constant challenges. Pisgah National Forest, outside Asheville, is a great place to start.Info and rentals at .
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Porsche Boxster
$50,450, 265 hp, 206 lb-ft
One of the most rewarding sports cars on the market. Takes to lumpy roads (and thus, Appalachia) like a duck to water. People will tell you the (larger, more expensive) 911 is better. We suggest you stop listening.
TENNESSEE: Leiper's Fork to Lebanon/Natchez Trace, SR 141
This piece of National Scenic Byway is an engaging, haphazard mix of broad sweepers with good sightlines and sudden, tight corkscrews. Connect it (via SR 49/52) to the more consistently swooping and diving 141 into Lebanon. Diversion: Wilson County Fair, Lebanon; home of both a demolition derby and a tractor demolition derby. BEST DRIVEN: Early mornings.
ALABAMA: Leeds to Montgomery/SR 25, I-65
A hidden-gem two-laner: 31 miles of sharp transitions, undulating heaves, and cascading descents. Diversions: Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham. Barber's motorcycle museum is staggering, around 1200 bikes, and its collection of Lotus street and race cars is superb. The track also houses the Porsche Sport Driving School and countless pro road-racing events. BEST DRIVEN: Indian summer weekdays.
As my smoke-upholstered Mercury Grand Marquis rental climbed another steep grade, its dust-covered windshield revealed the Chinati Mountains and the Rio Grande hundreds of feet below. Suddenly, I got it. I understood why the woman I rented a room from in Terlingua the night before told me that the town's residents took a vow of poverty to live there. This stretch of Chihuahuan Desert is one of the wildest, most beautiful places in the country, and one of the best ways to see it is by driving FM-170, a stretch of two-lane blacktop that roughly connects Terlingua with Big Bend Ranch State Park and Presidio, a border town around 115 miles to the west. Locals call this highway River Road because it ambles alongside the Rio Grande. Skip the pull-offs for Closed Canyon and the set built for the movie Lone Star. Ignore the rest stop full of Harley riders shading themselves under permanent teepees. As I drove, Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely" crackled on the AM radio, underlining the gorgeous cliché out the window. The winding road took a lot of my attention, but I whipped out my iPhone anyway. I had to record video footage to prove that you can still get to a place like this. —Jesse Will
DINE IN A GHOST TOWN
Terlingua was once a thriving mining town, but it went dark as demand for cinnabar waned. But tourism (and, we like to think, a connection to Carroll Shelby, who once had a ranch there) relit its storefronts. You can now catch great live music and a darn good burger at the Starlight Theatre, a former movie palace built in the 1930s, now the liveliest spot in the middle of nowhere.
A tough day hike up Emory Peak gets you to the highest point in Big Bend, one of America's less celebrated, but still glorious, national parks. At elevation, it feels as lonely and isolated as the map of its 1200 square miles would suggest.
CULTURE, HAUTE CUISINE, AND KITSCH
About an hour north of Presidio is Marfa, where you'll find everything from great roadside dives like Borunda's Bar & Grill (113 S. Russell Street) to Modern art at the local Dia outpost. For funky lodging in a variety of outrageously decorated trailers, try El Cosmico.
DRIVE A NATIONAL PARK
Big Bend is one of the few of our nation's "best ideas" that allows serious off-roading. Don't take a Grand Marquis; you won't get far. You'll need anything from a sturdy motorcycle to a Range Rover (just not the Evoque). And you'd better have the tools to get yourself unstuck, like a trail jack and a winch. Permits are required to camp.
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Dodge Charger SRT8
$47,245, 470 hp, 470 lb-ft
The only affordable, big-gun Detroit sedan left. If you cross Texas in one of these and can't get yourself arrested, see a doctor, because you don't have a pulse.
OKLAHOMA: Sand Springs to Boise City, ID/US 412
A full-throttle road through Indian Territory and what was literally No Man's Land: Today's Panhandle was from 1850 to 1890 a lawless plain inhabited by Comanche and outlaws. Diversion: B&K BBQ, Woodward; some of the best brisket in the state. BEST DRIVEN: Good pretty much whenever.
KANSAS: Rosalia to Manhattan/US 77, SR 18
The Flint Hills are outside the Great Plains norm. The path wends through a veldt of open-range cattle. Diversion: Tallgrass Brewing Co., Manhattan; try a Buffalo Sweat stout. BEST DRIVEN: Any time a thunderstorm's cut the heat.
ARKANSAS: Conway to Branson, MO/SR 25
A long cruiser; lots of undulation as you climb into the Ozarks. Diversion: Outlaw Run, Branson; world's only wooden roller coaster with an inversion (and a 16-story drop). BEST DRIVEN: After Labor Day, when Branson tourist traffic wanes.
Growing up in the Northwest, I'd spend all winter waiting for the rain to stop so I could head into the mountains and go backpacking. It didn't hurt that getting to the mountains was just as much fun as being there. Washington is dominated by elevation change, and the hills offer almost as many switchback-filled roads as towering pines.
It's hard to pick just one, but for me, Hurricane Ridge is the essence of Northwest driving. This 5242-foot climb from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to a high ridge above the treeline is full of fast sweepers that wind through old-growth forest. At the top, the road breaks through to subalpine meadows filled with flowers and marmots. It's one of those drives where you can't lose—as you settle into a rhythm in the smoothly radiused lower section, take your time and enjoy the scenery. Views of the Olympic Mountains to the south are stunning. And don't fret about that Seattle rain—the ridge is sheltered from the drizzle by those mountains to the south. After the triplet tunnels, set the scenery aside, because the road gets amazing.
Be warned: Sunny weekends attract crowds, and the ridge highway is a biker favorite. Get the most out of the road by tackling it on a weekday morning, when you'll have the place mostly to yourself. But above all, take time to grab a deep breath of mountain air. A place like this makes even a native pause to appreciate why we put up with the rain—and why we keep sweet-handling cars in our garages. —Alex Kierstein
STAY IN STYLE
There are plenty of average hotels on the peninsula, but the smart move is to ditch the Motel 6 and stay in a historic hotel at the intersection of nice and funky. Try the Bishop Victorian Hotel in downtown Port Townsend—it's historic, dog-friendly, and two blocks from the bay.
LEARN A DIRTY ART
DirtFish Rally School, less than an hour southeast of Seattle, will teach you the skill of going sideways off-pavement. They'll give you the basics and provide the cars, and the school's three-day course counts toward a Rally America unrestricted license.
Great beer is as much a part of this area as flannel shirts or jagged lumps of earth. Sample or stock up at the Port Townsend Pourhouse, which—are you sensing a pattern?—is 200 feet from the water.
RAFT THE HOH
Washington's Olympic Peninsula houses one of the few temperate rainforests in the United States. There are hundreds of trails through the forest, but the best way to see the incredible natural beauty there is to find the Hoh River and get on a raft. The river intersects US 101 on the peninsula's west side; start there, go inland, and get wet.
BIG OL' FILTHY OPPO
The Olympic Peninsula hosted the last World Rally Championship event in the U.S., during the 1980s. The Olympus Rally is now part of the Rally America National Championship. Hordes of spectators travel to watch and party with racers; join them in late June.
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Audi TT RS Coupe
$58,095, 360 hp, 343 lb-ft
The modern version of Audi's legendary 1980s Quattro coupe: turbocharged, two doors, all-wheel drive, limited production. Changes how you view rainy days and dirt roads. Civil insanity on the hoof.
WYOMING: Jackson to Thermopolis/US 26
Park the Grand Tetons in the windshield for a solid hour until you crest Togwotee Pass, then roll down 38 miles of fresh, curvy pavement, the result of eight years of construction. Diversions: Wind River Canyon Whitewater, Thermopolis; guided fly fishing and rafting class-IV rapids on the Bighorn River. BEST DRIVEN: July to September.
WASHINGTON: Randle to Woodland/NF 25, SR 90
The first 30 miles of this secret back entrance into Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are pure bliss—a winding, sluicing, semiterrifying charge along the bunched-up spine of the central Cascades. Be careful within the park; rangers hand out hefty fines. Diversions: Detour up NF 83 to view the mouth of the mountain's still-steaming crater; hike/bike the Ape Canyon Trail, one of the most stunning volcanic-peak pathways outside Hawaii. BEST DRIVEN: Clear summer days.
I have friends out west who think that we Wisconsinites live in a flat cornfield, and that's the way we like it. Keeps the riffraff out. But the geological truth is that the southwestern quadrant of the state was never glaciated and is a Cotswolds-like paradise of ridges, valleys, red barns, trout streams, and winding roads.
I live right at the edge of this "driftless" area and always head west toward the Mississippi River when driving something fun. A typical loop might be to start at New Glarus, a Swiss settlement with appropriate architecture and oompah music, heading west on County H, then jogging northwest on F, 39, K, H, and F to the accurately named Blue Mounds. Follow ID west, turn north on T, right on 23 and stop at Taliesin East, the Frank Lloyd Wright estate. Take 23 north to N, west to 80, and north to 33. Follow 33 to La Crosse and stop at Dave's Guitar Shop on 35. Bingo. Now haul your new guitar south on 35 along the Mississippi and loop back to New Glarus on 56 and 14, then follow the intricate circuit board of county roads (130, 23, and 91 for instance) back down to 39. If you have time, you can swing a little farther south to the scenic old lead-mining town of Mineral Point and have a pasty (meat-and-potato pie) at the Red Rooster Cafe.
Or just get a gazetteer and go anywhere, randomly left and right, in this area. You can't lose. We're hillbillies with Scandinavian (or Cornish, Swiss, or German) accents. It's the Nordic Ozarks. —Peter Egan
VISIT FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT'S HOME
It burned to the ground twice, but Wright rebuilt, and now Taliesin East, his family's summer estate, is a National Historical Landmark and a worthy stop for any fan of America's father of modern architecture. Tours are by appointment, so call ahead: 877-588-7900.
HAVE A CORNISH LUNCH
Right, we lied. Mineral Point was founded by Cornish miners, not Scandinavians. For evidence, hit the Red Rooster Cafe (158 High Street, Mineral Point) for savory stuffed pies called pasties. Speaking of pie, they're good at that, too.
SLEEP, NOT TOO FANCY
The little river town of Trempealeau, with the rustic old Trempealeau Hotel, is unfussy and inexpensive. But there's an excellent dining room and saloon downstairs, and when the weather's nice, you can sit on the porch and watch riverboats ply the Mississippi.
SWITZERLAND, MINUS THE ALPS
At the start/end of the route is the traditional Swiss village of New Glarus, with a great bakery and good bars nestled in a valley right next to the Sugar River bicycle trail. The award-winning New Glarus Brewing Co., site of frequent R&T staff pilgrimages, is nearby.
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata
$24,515, 167 hp, 140 lb-ft
If you need us to explain this, you aren't the kind of person who will understand. But here goes: Fun matters. Power isn't everything. You can go faster on four wheels, but more smiles? No.
OHIO: SR 78
Start at the road's beginning in Clarington, at the junction of routes 7 and 78. Then run west over 108 blissful miles of fast, lightly traveled pavement until you hit Athens, home of Ohio University. This road is so good it's in our private stock, so keep it to yourself. Diversion: Athens is a hidden gem. Spend a day there getting lost, eating weird college food, and diving into the hills for drives. BEST DRIVEN: Any time school is out.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Black Hills/SR 87 (Needles Highway)
Moto fans know all about nearby Sturgis, and they know to take on the Needles Highway, a.k.a. SR 87, early to beat the motorhomes to the road's tight hairpins. Catch your breath and ogle the towering rock spires (the "needles") overhead. Diversions: Nitro National Pro Motorcycle Hill Climb and the Buffalo Chip concert series, both in Sturgis the first week of August. BEST DRIVEN: Weekday mornings.
Beaches, not roads, are the secrets on Nantucket, the tiny island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. And yet, even without some paved gem hidden beyond the scrub oak, there's no better place to spend a day behind the wheel.
The idea is simple: Bring something basic with four-wheel drive, slap an oversand vehicle permit on the bumper, throw various necessities in the back, and ditch the map. Nantucket is rigorously protected from overdevelopment, a 50-square-mile postcard of cottages, hydrangeas, and back roads made entirely of sand. Even with years of experience on the island, it's easy to get lost, which is why we treat my brother's Grand Cherokee like a rolling footlocker, equipping it for just about any contingency: sunscreen, towels, baseball gloves, clam baskets, boogie boards, and surf-casting rods for when we make the trek to Great Point, carving tracks on the sandy peninsula like a skier in fresh powder. Spare cash for pints of Whale's Tale Pale Ale at Cisco Brewers; a set of chipped bocce balls for an impromptu game on Tom Nevers Beach.
Nantucket's roads are largely straight and flat, and you'll never feel the need to test the speed limit, let alone nail an apex. And yet there's no simpler way to recapture what a car meant to 16-year-old you, trapped and stir-crazy with school and family. It's the freedom to explore and get lost, windows down and the sun on your left arm, music blaring and all the other wheeled clichés that are true at any speed. And more powerful than you remember. —Josh Condon
RISE EARLY FOR WARM DOUGHNUTS
Nantucket's Downyflake, a 60-year-old institution, is the last vestige of a once-vast doughnut empire.
STOP FOR A SIX
Stop at Cisco Brewers (5 Bartlett Farm Road) and try local beer in a relaxed outdoor setting. Cisco also produces its own whiskey, rum, and vodka products, and it has its own winery.
You can picnic at Cisco, so pick up a lobster roll or fresh seafood at Straight Wharf Fish Store (4 Harbor Square) beforehand.
CATCH YOUR OWN
The waters near the airport are a great place to cast for blues; try roughly a mile offshore Nantucket Memorial Airport. Bonito Bar, on the ocean side near Tuckernuck (a separate island off the west coast, but part of Nantucket proper) is good for a variety of fish, as are Great Point and Dionis Beach.
... BUT YOU'LL NEED GEAR
There are lots of choices for scoring fishing gear. Try Bill Fisher Tackle (137 Orange Street) or Nantucket Tackle Center (41 Sparks Avenue).
Bartlett's Farm (33 Bartlett Farm Road) is great for local produce, snacks, etc.
LET THE LOCALS COOK
Brant Point Grill at the White Elephant (50 Easton Street) or the Summer House (17 Ocean Avenue, Siasconset) are both excellent for food and views. Brant Point is right on the harbor. Summer House is in the quaint village of Siasconset (better known as just "Sconset") and is part of a cottage/B&B. You can dine indoors, but it's better to sit outside, with the informal vibe (paper plates, plastic cups) and amazing view.
GET AN OVERSAND VEHICLE PERMIT
Call 508-228-6799 or visit
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Jeep Wrangler
$23,290, 285 hp, 260 lb-ft
Old-school bones—two live axles, a roll bar, and not much else— open sky. Charmingly crude, like an old pickup or an MG TC. And if you're hell-bent on relaxation, it's really the only thing for a New England summer.
PENNSYLVANIA: Hellertown/SR 212, SR 412
These two highways contain enough hallows and challenges to boil your adrenal glands. Shockingly, they're just 90 miles from NYC and 60 from Philly. Diversion: Pottsville's Yuengling Brewery predates the microbrew craze by 17 decades. BEST DRIVEN: Summer evenings.
NEW YORK: Kingston to Johnsburg/SR 28
A local byway that becomes 200 miles of sudden drops and off-camber, decreasing-radius corners from the Catskills to the Adirondacks. Diversion: The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, worth it even if you don't like the sport. BEST DRIVEN: Indian summer.
VERMONT: Burke/SR 15, SR 16, SR 122
The biannual race up Burke Mountain is one of the hairiest hillclimbs in the nation: 2.3 miles, 30 turns, 20 percent grades. BMW motorcycles vied for top honors in 2012, but a GTI-powered VW Rabbit pickup wasn't far behind. BEST DRIVEN: Fall.
Highway 33 is all suburb, dusty orange orchards and dustier oil fields where it branches off the 101 Freeway. North out of Ojai, the going gets good. The 33 muscles into Los Padres National Forest through chaparral and steep canyons, climbing constantly with fast and gently cambered sweepers. It's a lonely road, and better for it. Frequent turnouts offer vistas and mountain quiet, but who wants to stop on a road this perfect? Unnecessary downshifts in old stone tunnels are a better way to spend your time.
After Rose Valley Road, Highway 33 flits to the ridgeline, then back down through gunsight canyons. At its peak, the road reaches 5160 feet. The best corners fade soon thereafter. Old, tough California lives on the other side of the summit.
Leaving the mountains, you choose a destination for the first time in hours. Highway 166 follows the Cuyama River west to civilization. It's better to stick with the 33 as it borders the spooky and beautiful Carrizo Plain, where the San Andreas Fault surfaces, then plunges again. Taft and oil country bake under the sun to the east.
James Dean stopped for gas and donuts at Blackwells Corner, then exited Highway 33 and met his fate when a college student named Donald Turnupseed turned left in front of his Porsche. Retracing Dean's steps and following the road he never finished takes you to the coast through wine country. From there, it's easy going to the 101 and the lights of L.A. in the south. —Chris Cantle
Skip the chain and caffeinate like a local at Ojai Coffee Roasting Co.
GET PAST THE VELVET ROPE
Collectors Guy Webster and Mike Taggart have amazing private auto/moto collections, open by invitation only. It's worth hanging around Ojai's breakfast spots, being friendly, and asking the locals for an in. Or you could email Guy and ask nicely.
THE CUT OFF
Stop at the base of the Matilija Dam—shoddily built in 1947 for flood control and an eyesore ever since—to see what protest art looks like. Artists rappelled down the dam's face and painted massive scissors and a dotted line, indicating the excision most locals would like to see happen to the poorly built structure.
A HIKE AND A DIP
The Upper North Fork of the Matilija Trail is at the end of the Matilija Canyon Road. Although the trail is blazing hot in summer, it leads to cool waterfalls and secluded swimming holes.
RACE ON THE CHEAP
Pro-style kart racing is just as much fun as racing in actual cars, because having your butt an inch from the ground makes 50 mph feel like 150. But it all comes down to good instruction, which is why we like the Jim Hall Kart Racing School. And with lessons starting at $225, it's a relative steal.
TACOS PESCADO EN EL MUELLE
Beach House Tacos (668 Harbor Boulevard, Ventura) is a hole-in-the-wall on the Ventura pier. Order the fish tacos and take in the view. Then price local real estate listings.
THE PERFECT CAR FOR IT
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
$54,995 (coupe); $59,995 (convertible) 662 hp, 631 lb-ft
Six hundred and sixty-two horses. A top speed of either 155 mph (convertible, sane) or 200-ish (coupe, insane). Nose-heavy, but legs longer than Charlize Theron. Chews up desert like nobody's business.
UTAH: Moab to Monument Valley to Capitol Reef/SR 191, SR 89
This loop cuts south, then back west and north by Lake Powell, gunning across hundreds of wide-open miles. Diversion: Shooting Star Drive-In, Escalante; watch movies from inside 1960s Cadillacs. BEST DRIVEN: Late summer to early November.
NEVADA: Topaz Lake to Mt. Shasta, CA/SR 395, SR 89
Head northwest out of Tahoe and you'll miss the crowds and gobble 300 miles over two 10,000-foot passes. Diversion: Oregon Creek swimming hole, Nevada City; clear, deep, cold. BEST DRIVEN: August.
NEW MEXICO: Taos Loop/SR 522, SR 38, SR 64
From Taos, head north through Red River, then down through Questa and back to Taos. You'll roll by small towns predating 75 percent of Anglo-American history. Diversions: Mante's Chow Cart, Taos; don't ask questions, just get the Frito pie. BEST DRIVEN: All summer.