6 road trips stops along the underrated Gulf Coast
On a recent road trip with my family from Pensacola, Florida, west along Interstate-10 through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got a taste of all I’ve been missing out on in the Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure this stretch of Interstate-10 and the backroads branching off make for the the most underrated road trip in the South. Read on for a six great stops to make during a road trip along the surprising Gulf Coast.
Meet sloths and lemurs at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
There is so much to love at thein Gulf Shores, Alabama, it’s hard to know where to start. Dubbed “The little zoo that could” for how it’s survived three major hurricanes (and now the pandemic, too), this beautiful and largely open-air facility offers phenomenal animal encounters you hardly find everywhere, including the chance to hand-feed sloths for just $19.95 per person (in addition to zoo admission, which is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids ages 3 to 12).
Whatever you do, don’t miss the zoo’s butterfly exhibit, featuring a jaw-dropping collection donated by a local resident that’s housed inside a room designed to look like a field research tent. Hundreds of incredible butterflies and moths (some with patterns on their wings that look just like snake heads, to scare off predators) are the stuff of pure wonder.
Even if you’re not visiting the zoo itself, you can still have lunch on a spacious deck overlooking the grounds at(no zoo admission required), where a menu of delicious wood-fired pizzas, Gulf Coast seafood and more awaits.
For a bike ride through Gulf State Park, Alabama
Home to bobcats, bald eagles, alligators, owls and many more animals,(free admission) has 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks that are a blast to explore by bicycle.
The park even has a freeyou can access with your smartphone. And you can rent tandem bikes and trailers for pulling kids along the trails, too, through in Orange Beach, Alabama (all rentals come with helmet and locks, starting from $25 for the day).
When you’re not paddling through the coastal habitats, make time to relax at Gulf State Park’s two miles of white sand beaches and check out the, one of the best places to put up a tent or pull in with an RV in the state.
Hang out in the adorable town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Continuing west along Interstate-10 into Mississippi, plan to spend a night or longer in the adorable coastal town of, where a stay at the new-in-2020 hotel (rooms from $157 per night) is nothing short of revelatory.
The property has just four cabins decorated in mid-century boho style, each with a private patio complete an outdoor shower and hammock. There’s a communal plunge pool and fire pit, too, where guess gather for socially-distanced drinks at sunset.
Stroll along Front Beach, the town’s small sandy beach, or visit the many outdoor galleries and cafes in Ocean Springs’ compact downtown. The best spot for a delicious and budget-minded breakfast is undoubtedlyright next to the Beatnik, with heavenly housemade biscuits slathered with honey butter.
Brand new in August 2020, the(admission $29.95 per person, $24.95 for kids ages 3 to 12) in Gulfport houses over 200 species of animals and native plants within indoor and outdoor exhibition areas overlooking the Mississippi Sound in downtown Gulfport.
Among the many interesting animals you can see here are bottlenose dolphins, cow nose rays, American crocodiles and green-winged doves.
Visitors age 10 and older can even get into the water with($79.95 per person), a two-hour experience during which you don a helmet and enter one of the aquarium’s habitats to see fish, sharks and rays upclose from a perspective that’s similar to a scuba diver’s vantage point.
Go deep into Honey Island Swamp on a bayou tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell, Louisiana
This Florida girl got an education on the difference between the Everglades and freshwater bayou habitats during a fascinating tour by boat into Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish with(from $57.50 per person, $37.50 for kids ages 3 to 12).
We spotted wild boars sloshing around the bald cypress tree-filled bayou (essentially a flooded forest, as the guide explained it), learned all about the mythical bayou swamp monster called Letiche and even visited a floating village that looked like something straight from a Swamp People episode.
Private and group tours are available.
Take a family-friendly hike with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana
Prefer to stay on dry land when exploring the bayou? A Louisiana Master Naturalist is your guide during hikes that can be as easy or adventurous as you like within Covington, Louisiana (the company also offers paddling tours and canoe and kayak rentals).
I loved exploring trails maintained by local Boy Scouts troops atwith our guide, Chad Almquist, who showed my kids how to scoop up crawfish and tiny minnows using nets in the shallow bayou waters. Our hike led us along boardwalks and trails through wetlands and hardwood forests where we scouted for salamanders under rocks and spotted native birds (private tours from $49 per person).
3 rad road trips to visit Utah’s best state parks
With so many spectacular national parks in Utah, its state parks are often overlooked. But don't sleep on them, Utah is one of the most beautiful states in America!To help you in your quest to visit these under-appreciated areas, we’ve gathered basic itineraries for three road trips that take you to 11 of Utah’s best state parks. Remember to do research ahead of time if you’re traveling during the era of COVID-19. Not all visitor centers may be open, and typical gear rental options may not be available. Wasatch Mountain. Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr Creative Commons License. Road Trip #1: Antelope Island, Wasatch Mountain, and Millsite Often, red rocks are the only thing associated with Utah’s nature scene, but this landscape is only one part of what Utah offers. Embark on this three-day road trip to see what we mean. Parks on Road Trip #1 Day 1: Antelope Island State Park After entering the park, hike the 1-mile Buffalo Point Trail, stopping to soak in views of Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake. Once you’ve worked up a sweat, head down to take a dip at Bridger Bay Beach. After you’re done bobbing around in the salty water, drive the rest of the park's road. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for large animals such as bison, pronghorn, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. Day 2: Wasatch Mountain State Park Distance from Antelope Island: 1 hour, 30 minutes Hike the 6.1-mile trail to Lake Mary via Catherine Pass. Just be sure to get an early start and have a backup plan for parking as this is a popular trail. If you’re comfortable with adding on less than a mile, take two detours to visit Lake Catherine and Lake Martha while you’re on the trail. Day 3: Millsite State Park Distance from Wasatch Mountain: 3 hours Bring your water vessel of choice for a phenomenal day of paddling on the beautiful waters of the Millsite Reservoir. With stunning views all around, you won’t want to get out of the water. Dead Horse Point State Park. Photo by Fabio Achilli. Flickr Creative Commons lIcense. Road Trip #2: Goblin Valley, Dead Horse Point, Edge of the Cedars, and Goosenecks This three-day road trip showcases both the natural and cultural resources Utah has to offer by delivering otherworldly views and teaching you about Anasazi history. Parks on Road Trip #2 Day 1: Goblin Valley State Park Venture to another planet on your first stop of this road trip. Goblin Valley State Park transports you to Mars as you hike among astonishing sandstone formations. Explore the Valley of Goblins, a free-roaming area without trails. Once you’re ready for a slight change in scenery, head to the campground with a frisbee (or rent one) to play on one of the most unique 9-hole disc golf courses you’ll ever find. Day 2: Dead Horse Point State Park Distance from Goblin Valley: 1 hour, 45 minutes This often-forgotten Moab state park offers similar views to Canyonlands National Park with far fewer visitors to share them with. Complete the 5-mile loop on the rim to hit as many scenic overlooks as possible. Day 3, Part 1: Edge of the Cedars State Park Distance from Dead Horse Point: 2 hours At this park, you’ll step away from the focus on natural resources and turn your attention towards history and culture instead. Edge of the Cedars State Park includes a museum housing fascinating exhibits such as an incredible collection of Ancestral Puebloan pottery. After you’ve finished exploring the museum, gain a better understanding of how people used to live there by wandering the ruins outside. You even have the opportunity to enter a 1,000-year-old kiva! Day 3, Part 2: Goosenecks State Park Distance from Edge of the Cedars: 1 hour After you’ve finished exploring Edge of the Cedars, take the short drive to Goosenecks State Park. Goosenecks is an interesting park in that it does not hold any hiking or biking trails within its boundaries. This means it’s best to simply enjoy the park via an overlook accessed by your vehicle. Bring a picnic to extend your time spent watching the San Juan River carving the rock below. Kodachrome Basin State Park. Photo by Jeff Hollett, Flicker creative commons license. Road Trip #3: Escalante Petrified Forest, Kodachrome Basin, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Snow Canyon This four-day road trip incorporates quite a few unique activities in Southern Utah, including sandboarding, geocaching, and hiking inside lava tubes! Parks on Road Trip #3 Day 1: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park After stopping by the visitor’s center to learn about petrified wood and how it’s formed, take a stroll through the park to see this magnificent phenomenon with your own eyes. A 2-mile trail combining the Petrified Forest Trail and the Sleeping Rainbows Trail will take you through lava flows and oodles of petrified wood. Day 2: Kodachrome Basin State Park Distance from Escalante Petrified Forest: 1 hour Explore the towering spires of Kodachrome Basin State Park by foot! The park has put together a geocache challenge that takes you on four trails. GPS coordinates for this challenge are found on Kodachrome Basin’s website. Save the geocache located on the Cool Cave loop for last so you can traverse the rest of the 6-mile Panorama Trail loop if you have the time (and energy). Day 3: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Distance from Kodachrome Basin: 2 hours Bring along (or rent) a sled or snowboard to shred some sand in this wild landscape of sand dunes. Once you’re ready for a change of activity, go explore the dunes on foot! Just be sure to stay aware of ATVs as off-roading is a popular activity in the park. Day 4: Snow Canyon State Park Distance from Coral Pink Sand Dunes: 1 hour, 30 minutes Finish up your road trip with a long day of two hikes at Snow Canyon State Park. The first is the 4.8-mile Snow Canyon Overlook Trail, one that rewards you with a remarkable view at the end. The second is the 2.3-mile Lava Tube Trail, one offering the rare experience of meandering through–you guessed it–lava tubes! We hope these itineraries help you explore some of the lesser-known areas of an absolutely phenomenal state. Be sure to let us know in the comments which road trip you’d go on and whether we missed any of your favorite Utah state parks!
How to make your car road-trip ready
This content is sponsored byAre you ready? Not so fast. More than 60 percent of American families hit the road on vacation, and an estimated four out of 10 drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns The top reasons for roadside emergencies are fairly predictable: Are you one of the two-thirds of American drivers who don’t test their car batteries? Are you the one in five who has no idea how to change a tire? Are you one of the four in 10 who don’t carry an emergency kit onboard? Here’s how to ensure your next road trip goes off without a hitch. 1. Give your car a checkup You know the drill: Schedule a maintenance checkup in advance of your trip. Check the oil, fluid levels, battery, and tires. Make sure you have air in your spare tire. Sure, this seems obvious, but chances are you haven't done it yet, right? Keep a basic car care kit in your automobile © Getty Images 2. Carry an emergency kit Auto science is not rocket science: Pack a mobile phone and charger that can plug into your car, a flashlight (with fresh batteries and backups), a first-aid kit, a basic tool kit (including tire-pressure gauge and adjustable wrench), windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks for both humans and pets. Assembling an emergency kit may seem like a hassle. You know what’s an even bigger hassle? Being stuck on the side of the road without any of the things on this list. Set good habits to keep your keys where you need them © Getty Images 3. Don’t get locked out Carry extra car keys, take a moment to grab your keys before exiting the car, and check the batteries on keyless-entry remotes and smart keys and keep them protected from water and other hazards. Some drivers find establishing consistent car-key habits (you might even call them rituals) helps them keep track of their keys. For instance: Always store keys in the same place, say the word ‘keys’ out loud before leaving your vehicle, and change batteries on remotes at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. Make sure your car insurance is up to date © Getty Images 4. Audit your insurance Double check your car insurance to make sure you have a printed copy of your policy and you are up to date on payments. Nobody wants to get in an accident far from home without the proper insurance. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet, and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
The short daylight hours and cold temperature invite us to stay indoors but venturing out to a National Park in the midst of winter has its own benefits—less people. The swarming crowds of summer are gone, offering a chance to see these splendid parks at your leisure and appreciate the landscape, often blanketed in snow. There are plenty of winter activities inviting you to enjoy the snow, such as hiking, tubing, sledding or cross-country skiing. Visiting in winter requires being extra prepared with proper hiking shoes and adequate clothing for freezing or below zero temperatures so make sure to pack your gloves, scarves, ear muffs and rain gear. Big Bend National, Texas Big Bend National Park, located in the western region of Texas and bordering Mexico, encompasses part of the Chihuahuan Desert and Rio Grande. The park was created in 1944 and there are fossils dating over 130 million years ago that highlight the expansive geological diversity. The Chiso Mountains are a special part of this park because the entire mountain range—spanning 40 square miles—is within the confines of the park and formed from volcanic activity in the Eocene epoch. Snow isn’t common in the winter and day time temperatures are often in the 70’s, making it great weather for hiking. Though be prepared for near or below zero weather as the cold sets in as soon as the sun goes down. Hop in the car and enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that leads to Santa Elena Canyon, a 1,500-foot vertical chasm made of limestone and is along the border between Mexico and Texas. Stop frequently on this 30 mile road, where there are plenty of overlooks and monuments or turn off and hike on one of the many well-marked trails. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Bryce Canyon is magical in winter with layers of snow set against the red rock hoodoos and spires. Located in south central Utah and established as a park in 1923, ponderosa pines and fir-spruce forests thrive along with plenty of wildlife in this amphitheater shape of plateaus and meadows. The park has 56 square miles to explore. Some roads, including Fairyland Road and Paria View Road are left unplowed where you can traverse the expansive snow with snowshoes or cross-country skis. Sections of the Rim Trail are open as well where you can enjoy the vistas of the Main Amphitheater and the Bristlecone Loop Trail. You can also opt for sledding above the rim, one of the few areas where this is possible. If you want a break from the snow, hop in your warm car and stop along at some of the main vista points to take in the views. Bryce Canyon in winter. Credit: Mike Nielsen, Flickr creative commons Glacier National Park, Montana Glacier National Park, created in 1910, has over a million acres with an ecosystem that has been protected and mostly undisturbed. Snow blankets the mountain peaks and glaciers and the coniferous forest of larch, firs and spruce trees serve as a backdrop for Lake McDonald. Mountain goats, Bighorn sheep, beavers, nine species of bats, as well as Grizzly Bears are just some of the 71 different types of mammals that live in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the highlights—spanning 50 miles with challenging, hairpin curves. This is the only road that crosses the park and passes through the Continental Divide, though during the snow filled months only certain parts of the road are accessible. Upper Lake McDonald is a popular snow area where you can ski up to McDonald Falls or Sacred Dancing Cascade. Visit Marias Pass, known by the locals as the “summit,” where skiing and snow activities are often ideal. There are plenty of routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoe fans who want to experience the solitude in this vast oasis. Olympic National Park, Washington Covering almost a million acres and spanning from sandy beaches to mountain peaks to lush fir and cedar tree rainforests, the geography of this park is unique. Created in 1938, it is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as an International Biosphere Reserve. In the colder months, Olympic National Park is beautifully draped in snow with a myriad of activities to partake in. Hurricane Ridge is a haven for snow lovers, offering downhill skiing and snowboarding and an area for tubing and sledding or just playing in the snow. There are several trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, who prefer to head into the backcountry or connect with nature as they traverse the white powdery snow. There are frequent storms on the Pacific coast in winter so being attentive to weather conditions is fundamental. Between bouts of harsh weather, low tide is an optimal moment to take a stroll along the sandy beach. Visit the Hoh rainforest in the north of the park where you can surround yourself among a variety of trees, including Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Douglas Fir or go towards the southwestern area of the park and hike in the Quinault rainforest with a distinct geography of alpine meadows, lakes and peaks carved by ice. Because of the geography of this park, the weather can change at a moment’s notice so keep this in mind when planning your trip and once you arrive with your day to day plans. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park. Credit: Steve FUNG, Flickr creative commons Yosemite National Park, California Waterfalls, meadows and the granite wall of half dome makes Yosemite famous. The park was first protected in 1864 and became part of the National park service in 1890. The beauty of visiting in the colder months is experiencing this 1,200 square mile park when crowds have dissipated, offering plenty of solitude.Yosemite Valley and Wawona are accessible year-round by car but many roads close due to the snowy terrain, making traversing by foot one of the best ways to enjoy the park. Many trails are open with various options from easy and low-key hikes to more challenging ones where you can navigate through coniferous forests filled with ponderosa and sugar pine, incense cedar, white and Douglas fir trees or stare up at Giant Sequoias. Yosemite in Winter. Credit: Yūgen, Flickr Creative Commons Temperatures can be mild during the day, although freezing temperatures and snow are common. If you time your visit when there is snowfall, typically between December- March, winter wonderland options abound from sledding, tubing, snowshoeing or snowboarding and skiing down the oldest slope in California on Badger Pass. Curious about snowshoeing? Take a ranger-led snowshoe walk where you’ll be in a good company while you learn about the sights, although be prepared for sore muscles afterwards because it’s more challenging than it appears. Disclaimer: Make sure to check the park website to ensure the activities and areas of the park you wish to visit are open and accessible. Some roads and park areas have been closed due to Covid and/or to inclement weather. Please also respect measures to prevent the spread of Covid, including passing through towns en route to your destination.