10 scenic spring drives
Starting in March, the flowers and trees come alive and keep unfurling well into June.
The persnickety weather starts behaving and the cold subsides, giving way to longer, warmer days. No wonder many consider
springtime a perfect time for a scenic drive.
The Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
Part of the San Juan Skyway All American Byway, the so-called Million Dollar Highway earned its name during
the gold rush between Ouray and Silverton, two Victorian towns. Travel writer Stewart M. Green, author of “Driving California,”
“Scenic Driving Arizona” and “Back Country Byways,” says this drive boasts “some of the most
spectacular mountain scenery,” in the West. “It goes through forests, there are some open areas with big meadows
and lots of aspen trees changing along the way. It’s popular for leaf viewing.” Be forewarned: This road is not
for the faint-hearted. The two-lane road has hairpin turns teetering on the edge of the high cliffs of the Red Mountain Pass.
If you’re afraid of heights and on the outer edge, don’t look down; but if you do, the view is astonishing—and
The Skagit Tulip Festival, Washington
In the Pacific Northwest, residents face long, dreary winters, with a mere handful of sunny days. So the Skagit
Valley Tulip Festival — the area’s largest — serves as the first bright spot of the year. Sandwiched about
midway between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, the area became famous for tulips in the mid-’80s when the
Roozen family, who hail from Holland, imported the family business of tulip growing. To get there, you can take a scenic loop
from Seattle on WA-580 near Arlington, and through the North Cascades Highway. The drive will give you views of the forests
and the Skagit River. Once you get into Mount Vernon, tour the more than 1,200 acres of blooming tulips and daffodils, which
are grown in a triangular area contained by Highway 20, the Swinomish River Channel and the Skagit River.
Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive, Virginia
Skyline Drive is renowned for its lush beauty and regularly tops the “best of” lists all year long.
But head there in late March and you’ll get an eyeful of blooming wildflowers, purple and yellow violets and white mountain
laurels. Unlike other drives, which are travel roads first, and eye candy second, this national byway was almost built for
gawking. You can travel only 35 mph, which means you’ll be making your way along the 105-mile road at a leisurely pace,
giving you more time to gaze at the mountainous terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround Shenandoah National Park.
Stop at one of the 75 overlooks to take in the surroundings, and if you can, check out the annual Wildflower Weekend in the
park, usually held in early May.
Texas Hill Bluebonnet Tour, Texas
If you want to see fields and fields of bright blue flowers resting atop a bed of emerald green grass, look
no further than the annual Texas Hill Bluebonnet Tour. Located in the heart of Texas, the drive itself can be done along the
Johnson City Wildflower Loop. Start in the hipster capital of Texas, Austin, home to the National Wildlife Federation, and
take Highway 183 North to FM 1431 West. That rugged terrain passes Granite Mountain and heads to Highway 29; from there, you
will be touring around Lake Buchanan, the largest lake in the manmade Highland Chain. End the trip at the epicenter of bluebonnets,
Burnet, where the festival proper takes place.
Yosemite National Park Drive, California
This drive is stunning for most of the year — but spring is particularly pleasant, says travel expert
Stewart Green, author of “Scenic Driving: California.” The drive he recommends is about 180 miles long and starts
at California Highway 49 and continues on California 120 to the top of the Tioga Pass, a famed, tree-lined mountain pass in
the Sierra Nevadas. Spring is a great time to travel, since the high elevation -- over 9,000 feet at the peak -- means it
can get tons of snow in the winter and the roads can be subject to closures. If you turn around and go south to the 12-mile-long
section of the Yosemite Valley, Green says you will be amply rewarded with granite cliffs and waterfalls. “Yosemite
Falls is the most famous, but there are many other waterfalls. If you come in the spring or early summer, May or June, when
the waterfalls are running full and all the wildflowers are blooming, it’s a place that you think has to be the most
beautiful place on Earth. Absolutely stunning. A very special place.”
The Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
You might feel as if you’ve entered a 3-D James Cameron movie when you drive through the Anza Borrego
Desert State Park. That’s because during spring the landscape is transformed into a Technicolor wonderland. You probably
didn’t expect flowers on this two-hour-plus drive through the desert, but you’re going to get them in spades.
“It’s really renowned for its wildflower display,” said Marla Master of MyScenicDrives.com. “The schedule
varies in terms of what plants are going to be flowering when, and if they’re flowering, obviously conditions have to
be just right, but usually from March on you’ll have these incredible colors of plants that are all spiky and gnarled-looking
but in full bloom. People come for that.”
George Washinton Memorial Parkway, Washington D.C.
A lesson in history as much as it is a scenic drive, the George Washington Memorial Parkway is a designated
All American Road and follows the Potomac River. The initial stretch, Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, opened in 1932, and the
final section was completed in 1968, and the road is designed for leisurely — not speedy — driving. Good thing,
since you’ll be ogling wildlife preserves, farms, gardens and lighthouses, and the Lady Bird Johnson Memorial Park and
Lyndon Baines Memorial Grove, along the way to your destination. Of course, all roads lead to the famed Cherry Blossom Festival
from the end of March to mid-April. The festival, which casts a pale pink hue on the capital, was started more than 100 years
ago by first lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador.
Antelope Valley, California
Located just outside Los Angeles, Antelope Valley is known for its stunning display of poppy fields that would
rival the spectacle found by Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man when they were about to enter the
Emerald City. Take Interstate 5 north and jump on CA138 (Lancaster Road) heading east to where a sea of flowers the color
of a deep, burnt-orange sunset stretch across the fields. Though the California Poppy Reserve has a great collection of poppies,
Road Trip America says the best sections are just east of the reserve. They wrote: “Here we found wonderful fields of
the elusive yellow poppy, cream cups, goldfield and acres and acres of the bright orange California poppies.” The crop
varies from year to year, and the California Poppy Reserve posts updates on the progress and how the weather might affect
the flowers. Check before you go.
Route 9A, New York
Escape the hustle and bustle of New York City by taking a quick trip north on Route 9 up to the Hudson Valley,
where you’ll pass the village of Sleepy Hollow. Yes, that Sleepy Hollow — home to the famed headless horseman.
Just an hour out of the city, the village is a quaint throwback, home to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which is in the Registry
of Historic Landmarks. To get there, you’ll have a prime view of the Hudson River and the bucolic New York state scenery
as you wind your way up north. You can take it as far north as you dare — past Croton-on-Hudson, a serene outpost founded
in 1898, or all the way up Hyde Park, where you can see how the other 1 percent live, and gawk at the two-century-old historic
estate, the Vanderbilt Mansion.
Merritt Parkway, Connecticut
You know a drive is good when it’s got reviews on Yelp. This historic Parkway, dubbed “Queen of
the Parkways,” was built in 1930s and is regarded as one of the most beautiful on the East Coast, landing it on the
National Register of Historic Places. Known for its slinky curves, its 69 art deco bridges and forested surroundings, the
parkway was built with both industry and beauty in mind. The 37-mile trip between Greenwich and Milford accomplishes the goal
that its namesake Rep. Schuyler Merritt wanted — not just rapid transit, but “pleasant transit.”
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