If you want to experience everything the United States has to offer, forget the tourist traps and mile-long lines to the same tired attractions. There are numerous other ways to slow down and explore. Take to the back roads and uncover small towns, interesting people, unique experiences, and pristine natural sites. Bright lights are replaced with a campfire and moonlight, and life is slow and easy. Are you ready to take a ride off the beaten path? Learn how below.
It’s About the Journey, Not the Destination: Benefits of the Back Roads
Most of the time when you get in the car, you’ve got a set destination in mind, even when you’re on vacation. Oftentimes, there is no real fun in getting to your vacation spot. Instead, it’s a hurry. There’s a strict schedule to keep so you can complete the itinerary you’ve planned, plus you paid in advance. That’s something a back road traveler wouldn’t dream of doing. In fact, most don’t have a specific plan or destination in mind. It’s all about the journey and the discovery of new things along the way and the freedom to stop and enjoy the experience.
City traffic can be nerve-wracking and stressful. There’s nothing like a peaceful drive down a country road with no particular destination in mind. As you drive past farms where cows roam the pastures and corn waves in the fields, it’s a real-world reminder of where our food really comes from. It’s the roads that carve through forests, up mountains, down through valleys, that are truly worth driving. They’re rarely straight so you have to slow down and pay attention, and that’s the point.
Traversing these back roads is an incredible way to travel locally and discover small communities that might otherwise be missed. You might find a new favorite restaurant, a breathtaking scenic overlook, or a new hiking spot.
Incredible Natural Wonders
Nature’s beauty is remarkable and that is profoundly evident when you travel at a slower pace down the side roads. You notice massive groves of ancient trees and wildflower meadows, untouched by time or man. Stunning views of lakes, mountains, and valleys appear around every corner. If you’re lucky, you might spot a waterfall right next to the road in the hills of Tennessee. Driving near one of the Great Lakes, or down the road near the Gulf of Mexico the smell of the water and sound of the waves calm the mind and soothes the spirit. Wind through the Appalachian Mountains and take a breath of fresh mountain air. Course up and down the west coast for a glimpse of nature’s stunning diversity. Wherever you go, one thing is certain: you’ll find beauty right outside your window.
Have you ever seen the ocean waves crashing, a river rushing by, or stood at the base of a tall waterfall? Ever walked down a path to find a beautiful whitetail deer standing a few feet away in beautiful profile? Have you ever climbed a 100 foot observation tower so you could overlook the forest? Or, stood at the base of a 65 foot waterfall like Benton Falls after hiking 1.5 miles through the forest? Those are the kinds of thrills and chills that make a traveler’s heart skip a beat. In the same way a thrill seeker who jumps out of airplanes can’t get enough, these kinds of travelers are constantly seeking those kinds of unique experiences in nature.
Wilderness Right Outside Your Window
Those back roads lead to places where you can encounter nature’s wilderness up close. Even a short drive through the countryside will bring you closer to these animals’ natural habitats. Depending on where you travel, you’ll encounter vastly different species local to the area, from alligators in Lousiana’s bayous to bald eagles in the mountains. There are literally thousands of places to experience unfiltered and uncaged nature. (Just be sure to be respectful of their natural living spaces and always mindful of your safety! The last thing you want is to meet a bear face-to-face because you forgot to properly store your snacks.)
2 Tips for Road Tripping Through the U.S.
1. Camp Instead of Hotel Hunting
When you’re traveling the back roads, campgrounds are the accommodation of choice. Everything from high-end, RV parks with water, electric, WIFI, cable TV to primitive campgrounds with nothing more than a spot to pitch a tent are available. Some cost as much as a hotel room every night. Low cost options range from $5 a night to $25 a night for basic campsite. Others, like West Tower Hunt Camp in the Osceola National Forest in Florida, are absolutely free!
Not sure where to camp?
A great way to find an off-the-beaten-track campground is to use a Free Campsites or Campendium. You’ll find camping areas all over the country that are either free, or very low cost, depending upon its amenities. Developed campgrounds are the most expensive but include amenities like water, showers, and electric hookups. Undeveloped areas are generally free and may only offer drinking water and a pit toilet. Dispersed camping, is also free and it literally entails popping a tent up somewhere in the forest, within guidelines.
Before you run off and set up a tent in the woods, take stock of your outdoor experience. If you’re a newbie who’s never camped before, consider a campground with some amenities close to home. Campers are a friendly lot and are happy to lend a hand if you need it. If you’re experienced and confident in your skills and have all the right equipment, get out there and do your thing.
2. Start Close to Home
You don’t need to embark on a cross-country road trip immediately (unless you want to!) For your first back road backpacking adventure, stick a little closer to home. This will help you learn the ropes while keeping you in familiar territory just in case! Anything you learn from these close-to-home trips can be applied to more ambitious outings down the line.
What Are You Waiting For?
As the spring flowers start to sprout and the snow fades away, the back roads beckon. Pack a tent, fill the cooler, and gas up. As you wind your way towards your campsite, take in the world around you. Turn off the air conditioning, open the windows and breathe in the fresh air. Set up camp, build a fire, cook a meal, and relax. Plenty of fresh air and exercise, followed by a good meal, pleasant company, cozy campfire, and a tent and the silence is only broken by the occasional hoot of an owl in the distance. These are the good things in life.