Posted by: bkivey | 15 August 2010

Holiday Roads Pt. 4

The final installment in a list of nine places in the U.S. where you can go on vacation and have a good time, see interesting things, and learn something about the nation’s history.

Utah

Utah is one of my favorite places to spend time; there are a lot of interesting things to see here and the people are friendly. There are a number of dry counties in the state and some of the liquor laws are quirky so if you like a beer at the end of the day check before you go.

If you’re flying, Salt Lake City is a good port of entry and the city enjoys a gorgeous natural setting between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. Salt Lake does have some air quality challenges due to geography and the traffic. I would suggest basing yourself about an hour to the south in Provo, which also enjoys great natural beauty but is easier to navigate.

It’s worthwhile spending a day exploring Salt Lake City and the adjacent Great Salt Lake, but you’ll want to avoid the rush hours, or you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate the Seven Sisters. A couple hours north of Provo is Ogden and the beautiful horse country of the Wasatch Mountains. Take Hwy. 39 east out of Ogden for a scenic drive through the heart of Utah ski country. An hour and a half east of Ogden is Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming which is an interesting place to spend some time, especially if you have children. And it’s free.

If you’re so inclined you can visit Dinosaur National Monument three hours east of Provo on the Colorado border. This is almost a must-do if you have children, and it’s interesting for adults, too. The most common comment I overheard there was some variation of “This is just like the pictures I saw as a child.” At this writing the Visitors Center is being renovated so check before you go.

I would suggest allowing about three days (four would be better) to explore southern Utah and there is some driving involved but it’s well worth the effort.

Five hours travel south of Provo brings you to Moab and Arches National Park. On the way take Hwy. 28 at Nephi for a more scenic drive than you’ll experience on I-15. There are many natural wonders to see around Moab although the town itself is perhaps oversubscribed in the summer. You may want to spend the night in Blanding a little more than an hour to the south or even Cortez, CO, about ninety minutes south of Moab.

It is worth a day exploring the Four Corners area of Utah. Remember all those ’60’s Westerns with the sweeping vistas and impressive buttes rising from the desert floor? Take US 163 west to Monument Valley and see it for yourself.

You can spend the next day heading back north and I would suggest Hwy. 95 and Hwy. 24 if you do. If you have another day you can take Hwy. 12 off of 24 and head southwest to Bryce and Zion Canyon National Parks. Bryce is about five hours west of the Four Corners area and Zion is another hour and a half past Bryce. Expect to spend a full day between the two.

If travel time is your main concern I-15 is only a half-hour from Zion but if you have the time take US 89 back north for a more scenic drive.

Fun anecdote: While at the Zion Canyon visitor center I overheard a teenage girl complain that “there was nothing to do”. Outside the window was some of the most spectacular scenery in the country and she couldn’t find anything to entertain her.

Washington

Most items of interest in Washington are around Puget Sound, so there isn’t a tremendous amount of driving involved. You can use Seattle as a base and you can see it at its best in August and September. If you visit during the first weekend in August you can experience Seafair, which features hydroplane racing on Lake Washington and usually the Blue Angels.

Spend a day in Seattle and take in a baseball game if the Mariners are in town. Don’t be afraid to do touristy things, you’re on vacation! Ride the monorail, visit the Pike Place fish market, ride to the top of the Space Needle, check out the Experience Music Project. Fair warning: The traffic in Seattle is horrible, especially on the weekends. I’ve actually had an easier time driving in New York City than in Seattle. Depending on where you stay it might be easier to take public transit during your exploration of the city.

If you want to get out of town there are several interesting excursions. You can experience the natural beauty of western Washington with a circumnavigation of the Olympic Peninsula. Take I-5 south to Olympia then head west to Aberdeen. From there follow US 101 around the peninsula. Be sure to check out the rain forests in the Olympic National Forest. If you like you can take Hwy. 104 to Bainbridge Island and catch the ferry to Seattle to complete the journey. This trip will take a full day but it’s worth the drive.

A couple hours south of Seattle is Mt. Rainier. Take Hwy. 410 out of Enumclaw and drive around the mountain while enjoying gorgeous views of the Cascades. It’s possible to see Mt. St. Helens in the same trip but I would recommend spending a day at each.

You can take a couple of days to visit Portland four hours south of Seattle or, for a different experience, take the train to Portland. The train runs daily and takes about five hours and you don’t have to worry about driving. If you have a couple of days and a passport you can visit Vancouver, BC, about four hours to the north.

If you’re so inclined, you can drive to Bellingham just south of the Canadian border and take a ferry to the San Juan Islands. Here you can browse shops, enjoy the scenery, or rent a kayak. If you visit Bremerton take Hwy. 20 an hour and a half east to North Cascades National Park.

Travel tip: When flying out of Seattle sit on the right side of the airplane (but not over the wing). On a clear day you’ll get a great view of Mt. Rainier and see volcanoes all the way to Mt. Shasta in California.

So that’s the list. If you’ve read the whole thing (here, here, and here) you’ll notice that I’ve left out huge swaths of the country like the Great Lakes region, the Northeast, and the Midwest, as well as major vacation cities like New York City, Washington DC, Boston, and Chicago. With the exception of the Great Lakes and the upper Midwest I’ve been to those places. As I pointed out in the first installment, I live in an urban area, so my preference is to spend my vacation time elsewhere.

The entries on this list are places I’ve enjoyed spending time. You don’t need to go overseas to see and experience amazing things. Upwards of 60 million people come from all over the world annually to visit the U.S. If you’re lucky enough to live here, make the most of it.

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