Scenic views and historical sites are revealed along the way.
By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
Trails usually bring to mind hiking boots and a walking stick, but paved driving trails require a vehicle. The ones described here are a delightful variety. Some are long while others are quite short, but they all go to spectacular places, both natural and historical. Most of them have trail guides and/or information available on the Internet, so you can do some detailed planning before hitting the road.
1. South Carolina Cotton Trail
Trail signs guide you through the countryside, highlighting the importance of cotton in the American South. Starting at Bishopville in the west or Dillon in the east, you’ll have the opportunity to visit museums, old homesteads, lush gardens, cotton fields, mineral springs, and many African-American historical sites. Fall is a wonderful time to drive the Cotton Trail, with comfortable days and cool nights (www.sccottontrail.org).
2. Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail
This trail is a series of loop routes linking wildlife-watching areas with hiking/biking trails. The Coastal Trail includes barrier islands, cypress swamps, huge stands of forest, and salt marshes. The Great Falls Loop features lakes, ponds, and stands of old pines. As for wildlife, the sky is never without birds; a nearby refuge has a bird list of more than 300 species. Also keep an eye out for white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, and even skunks. The nearby Virginia Living Museum houses more than 200 species of native wildlife. No wonder it’s a favorite place for photographers (www.dgif.state.va.us/vbwt).
3. North Carolina Birding Trail, North Carolina
This state gets its share of nature lovers “migrating” through, especially in spring and fall when birds are most abundant. Birders and history buffs alike can enjoy this statewide driving trail, which links great bird-watching sites with communities and local historical and educational attractions. You can even order a trail map to the natural habitats in state parks, national wildlife refuges, and national seashores at www.ncbirdingtrail.org.
4. The Seaway Trail, New York And Pennsylvania
How about a 454-mile scenic route along the shores of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River? It leads you through quaint villages, laid-back fishing ports, and restaurants. Numerous lighthouses along the way are open to the public. Seaway Trail Pennsylvania extends the trail along Lake Erie, Pennsylvania’s scenic “Beach Resort,” and increases the total distance to 518 miles. Visit the Seaway Trail Discovery Center in Sackets Harbor, New York, or look it up online (www.seawaytrail.com).
5. Trail Ridge Road, Colorado
This 45-mile scenic drive offers visitors a spectacular view of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is the highest continuous motorway in the United States, and more than eight miles are at an altitude above 11,000 feet. The name “Trail Ridge” comes from its proximity to historic pathways used by American Indians crossing the Rocky Mountains. A number of stone-walled turnouts are situated along major curves and provide great views for visitors (www.rockymountainnp.com/rmnp-areas-trailridge.html).
6. Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail, Virginia And Tennessee
This historic route was blazed by the legendary frontiersman in 1775, and used by hundreds of thousands of settlers heading to the Cumberland Gap. You’ll travel through tall mountains and ridges, looking down on rivers and streams flowing through the valleys. In the fall, the views glow with vibrant color. This driving trail, coupled with existing state and federal parks, helps make tourism a vital part of Lee County, Virginia (www.danielboonetrail.com).
7. San Antonio Missions Trail, Texas
This trail is only 25 miles long and runs through mostly urban areas, but it starts with the historic Alamo (San Antonio de Valero Mission) and then continues to four other historic missions: Concepcion, San Jose, San Juan, and Espada. All are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Each mission is different, so you’ll want to see them all. Four of the five churches are still in use (www.nps.gov/saan).
8. Mohawk Trail, Massachusetts
The Mohawk Trail was the first scenic road in New England, opening in 1914, and it still remains one of the most popular drives in the Berkshires. It stretches for 63 miles and acts as an access point to 50,000 acres of state parks and forests (www.mohawktrail.com).
9. Washington Heritage Trail, West Virginia
Three counties on the eastern panhandle of West Virginia are rich in American history. The 127-mile driving trail loops through Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties, tracing the footsteps of George Washington and his family. You’ll see places that truly can claim “George Washington slept here,” as well as the site of the nation’s first warm springs spa and the hangout of a famous female Confederate spy. Five 18th-century towns and their surrounding wilderness still exist. In addition to homes and sites related to George Washington, the trail has museums, historic districts, parks, and much more (www.washingtonheritagetrail.org).
10. Trail Of Tears National Historical Trail, Georgia To Oklahoma
In the late 1830s more than 16,000 Cherokee men, women, and children were forced to leave their homes in Georgia and other states and make an 800-mile trek to Oklahoma. It was a rough journey, since the tribe had very little clothing, shelter, or food, while they faced disease and the elements. It’s estimated that more than 4,000 of them died along the way. The Cherokee tragedy is now commemorated by the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which passes through portions of nine states, including state parks, state forests, and national forests (www.nps.gov/trte).
11. Lakeview Drive, North Carolina
This is a short but beautiful scenic drive from Bryson City, North Carolina, into the southern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s one of many drives in the park, and although it’s a mere six miles long, it provides spectacular views of Fontana Lake and the Appalachian Mountains. Lakeview Drive was never completed, so locals have dubbed it “The Road to Nowhere” (www.sherpaguides.com/tennessee/great_smoky_mtns_np/auto_tours.html).
12. Kentucky Artisan Heritage Trails
You can discover Appalachia a mile at a time on this group of 17 (yes, 17) driving trails, all in southeastern Kentucky. These trails lead through the “Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky,” where you’ll be surrounded by local culture and scenic beauty, quaint towns, and rural byways. Detailed maps and Web pages at www.kaht.com/tours/tours.htm help guide you to special places of interest, where you can enjoy stepping into the beauty of Kentucky before you even get there.
13. Fayetteville, North Carolina
Nicknamed “America’s Hometown,” Fayetteville displays its variety with 750 miles of themed driving trails. Choose from routes highlighting the Civil War, architecture, plank roads, historical gardens, and much more. Or download maps from the Web site and create your own special driving trail (www.visitfayettevillenc.com/culturalheritagetrails).