Posted by: bkivey | 14 August 2010

Holiday Roads Pt. 3

A few more places you can spend a vacation in the U.S., and you can be sure that almost everybody speaks English.

North Carolina

North Carolina is a diverse state with two main areas of interest for the vacationer; the Outer Banks and the Great Smokey Mountains.

The Outer Banks offer endless vistas of sea, sand, and sea oats, along with some unique lighthouses and a little American history.

If you’re flying you’ll probably end up at Raleigh-Durham International (RDU) in the middle of the state.

Fun anecdote: RDU has parallel runways. On a flight in to RDU some passengers behind me expressed concern about an airplane that was pacing us not too far away. I told them that this was NASCAR country and whoever got to the runway first got to use it. That got a pretty good laugh.

After arrival, point your rented chariot east on I-40. Before long you’ll get to the Raleigh Beltline. Bear left and follow the Beltline until you get to the US 64 exit. Four hours later you’ll be in Manteo, the gateway to the Outer Banks. If you don’t want to pay beach hotel rates you might consider staying in Williamston, located on US 64 and about an hour west of the Banks.

As with most beach vacations, coming here is all about flopping on the sand and stone cold chillin’. Bring a picnic. Driving south from Nags Head on Hwy. 12 yields many opportunities to find a stretch of beach to call your own, and in several places you can take your vehicle on to the sand. Don’t tell Hertz.

You can drive as far south as Ocracoke after taking the free ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island. Ocracoke is a little town with a museum featuring the history of the Outer Banks. The town also has it’s own lighthouse. On the drive south you’ll see several lighthouses, including the iconic Cape Hatteras lighthouse.

It’s worthwhile exploring some of the historical sites on the Banks, including Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, where European settlers arrived in the 16th century and which features a museum and a historical play. The Elizabethan Gardens are also here. Just north of Nags Head is the birthplace of aviation at Kill Devil Hills. It is well worth spending a few hours here and attending the presentation given by the rangers.

You may want to take a day trip north to Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia and Maryland to see the herds of wild horses. Along the way on the three hour trip you’ll cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which itself is worth the trip. You may see a US Navy ship transiting to or from the naval base at Norfolk.

The usual caveats about visiting the South in summer apply: heat, humidity, thunderstorms, sun, and mosquitoes.

If the beach is not your scene, consider spending some time in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. You’ll want to make Asheville your base and there are a number of interesting things to see and do here. You can tour Biltmore House, the largest house in the country with 250 rooms. About an hour west of Asheville you can try your hand at finding rubies and sapphires in Bryson City. In fact, there are a number of natural points of interest within an hour of Asheville.

You should take a day to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the vistas afforded by the Appalachian Mountains. These are very old mountains, so you won’t find the soaring peaks of the Rockies but these mountains have a sublime beauty all their own. It’s worthwhile to pull off the road at the many scenic overlooks and just admire the view. If you can visit in the Fall you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous palette of color.


There’s a lot more to do and see in Oregon than most folks would care to fit in a week, so I’ll throw some ideas out and you can choose the ones that sound attractive.

Portland is a good base and August and September are the best times to visit. The MAX (light rail) system serves the airport so you can save on car rental by using Portland’s transit system to explore the city for a couple of days. There is a thriving food culture and Portland is known as ‘Beervana’ so if you’re so inclined take the opportunity to sample some very nice brews.

If you want to see some of Oregon’s natural beauty head east on I-84 through the Columbia Gorge toward Hood River. Just outside of Troutdale take the exit for US 30, also known as the Columbia River Highway. This was the original road through the Gorge before the Interstate. There are a number of places to see including several waterfalls and an overlook with a spectacular view of the Gorge. In Hood River you can relax at a restaurant while watching the river traffic. If you drive south on Hwy. 35 out of Hood River you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Mt. Hood. If you’re so inclined you can cross the river at Hood River and head east on Hwy. 14 in Washington for about an hour to Maryhill, where you’ll find a full size reproduction of Stonehenge.

Or you can head west on US 26 for about an hour and a half to Seaside on the coast. Seaside is the Oregon version of Coney Island and is the choice of Portlanders for a summer day trip and a fun place to spend a few hours. Check out the seals in the Seaside Aquarium.

Fun fact: You will not be able to find a hotel room in Seaside when the first big storm of the season comes ashore. That’s right, people actually travel to the coast to watch storms come ashore. This is entertainment in Oregon.

After Seaside you can head north to Astoria and the mouth of the Columbia River and take US 30 back to Portland or head south down the scenic US 101 along the Oregon coast to Tillamook and then take Hwy. 6 to Portland.

If you want to see some of the best the Cascade Range has to offer drive for about an hour and a half south on I-5 to Albany and then take US 20 east. Another hour will bring you to the foothills of the Cascades and the climb up to Santiam Pass at 4800 feet. Along the way you’ll be treated to spectacular views of several extinct (we hope) volcanoes including the Three Sisters. On the other side you’ll be deposited into the high desert of eastern Oregon. To get back to Portland take US 97 north until you get to US 26. Head north and enjoy the views of Mt. Hood.

You can combine that day trip with a tour of some of Oregon’s covered bridges. There are about 50 covered bridges in the state and you can see a half-dozen of them in the Albany-Jefferson area on the way to the Cascades.

So there you have it. A couple of days in Portland and some day-trips and you’ll be able to see a fair amount of the best of Oregon in a week.

Tomorrow: The last of the series.


  1. […] Holiday Roads Pt. 3 « Fixed Points […]

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