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America's Top 7 Scenic Spring Road Trips Under $500
Discover beautiful, bucket list-worthy drives across the country.
Plan a spring trip to remember. (Getty Images)
When springtime rolls around, it's hard to resist the temptation to jump in the car and soak up the country's captivating landscapes – from the bluebonnets draping the Texas Hill Country to the wind-swept wildflowers covering Big Sky Country. Beyond postcard-worthy floral displays, the season is an ideal time to hit awe-inspiring trails, check out classic roadside attractions and visit charming small towns along iconic routes. And for explorers on a budget, convenient roadways across America pack plenty of scenery with low-cost accommodation and fuel options.
Whether you're looking to take the road less traveled or meander past storybook seaside settings, keep reading to start mapping out a spring drive to remember.
The Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
Winding through Virginia and North Carolina, past the Blue Ridge Mountains, this sprawling route covers 469 miles. Start in Asheville, North Carolina, and carve out time for must-see stops like the Biltmore Estate, advises Jonathan Jones, executive producer at Travelzoo.com. "Downtown Asheville is really hip, with cool boutiques, and as a Southerner, the crowning jewel for me is Tupelo Honey Cafe [a restaurant that offers classic Southern dishes]," he says. The top of the parkway offers elevations reaching 5,000 feet, making it ideal for photo ops and hikes along picturesque trails, he adds. Other standouts include Linville Falls to capture dramatic waterfalls and Little Switzerland, which boasts "panoramas of the valleys and ranges that look like the Swiss Alps," he says. Plus, cost-effective hotels, inns, campgrounds and lodges abound. The Pisgah Inn, for instance, offers nightly rates starting at $170 from April 7-9, making it an ideal choice for price-sensitive visitors.
Route 66, Illinois to California
Legendary Route 66 stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, covering roughly 2,400 miles. While much of the highway has changed over time, historic stretches are filled with mom-and-pop shops, quirky attractions and budget-friendly motels. While interstates long ago replaced many other charming roads, along the original sections of Route 66 you'll find "a fascinating slice of frozen-in-time Americana," explains Jason Cochran, editor-in-chief of Frommers.com. Points of interest along the historic route include Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, El Morro National Monument in New Mexico and Wigwam Motel in San Bernardino, California.
A Low Country Drive Across South Carolina and Georgia
Filled with striking natural scenery and storied attractions, the low country offers a myriad of memorable routes, says Hannah Sheinberg, an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler. She points to spring as a prime time to explore Charleston, South Carolina. After checking out the area's antebellum landmarks, Civil War sites and Spanish moss-laden streets, cruise south along U.S. Route 17. Once you hit U.S. Route 21, take a detour south to beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina, which features a wealth of historic sites and charming inns. After backtracking from Beaufort, turn onto state highway 170 west and continue south back to Route 17 to continue onward to Savannah, Georgia, where you can explore historic homes and must-see attractions such as Forsyth Park and City Market. Inexpensive accommodation options are easy to come by, with hotel deal site goSeek.com showing nightly rates for three-and-a-half-star hotels in Charleston for under $150 in April.
Park Loop Road, Acadia National Park
In early spring, when Acadia National Park is ablaze with fresh blooms, the 27-mile Park Loop Road is an ideal place to embrace the great outdoors. From Hulls Cove Visitors Center, the route winds through Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, Jordan Pond and the Cadillac Mountain. Take some time to hike, snap photos at Otter Cliff and enjoy views from the park's crowning jewel, Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain along the North Atlantic coast. As for lodging, it's easy to plan a budget-friendly trip, with goSeek.com currently showing nightly rates around $100 in April at hotels in Bar Harbor, Maine, a quaint town on Mount Desert Island and gateway to Acadia National Park. Just keep in mind that some sections of the road are closed through mid-April, so consult the national park service's website before your trip.
Texas Hill Country
Colorful nature trails and quaint towns are just a couple reasons to drive across the Texas Hill Country. But perhaps the greatest enticement is the enchanting Wildflower Loop. Starting in Austin, embark on a 90-mile journey heading west on U.S. Route 290 to U.S. Route 281 north to Burnet, Texas, where brilliant bluebonnets speckle the landscape. Tour the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center before meandering back to Austin to visit standout attractions including Zilker Park and Sixth Street. If you have an extra day, tack on a trip to nearby Fredericksburg along U.S. Route 290 to enjoy top-notch wine. You'll find plenty of cost-effective accommodations in Austin with goSeek.com currently showing rooms available for under $200 a night in April.
The Pacific Coast Highway, California
For a quintessential American road trip, drive along Highway 1 in California, the classic coastal stretch between Los Angeles and San Francisco, says Gabe Saglie, senior editor of Travelzoo.com. Though the journey can be pricey, you can trim costs by planning a trip during the week, he explains. Best of all, you can customize your trip to your needs, either driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about six hours or taking a leisurely two- or three-night trip to soak in a wealth of sights, charming towns and eateries. In lovely California towns such as Solvang, Cambria and Carmel, you can book a stay at hotels and bed-and-breakfasts for well under $150 per night, Saglie adds. What's more, you can maximize savings by booking tickets in advance to top attractions such as Hearst Castle in San Simeon and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Plus, the standout natural attractions along the route – beaches, parks and promenades – are free to explore.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, Montana
This 50-mile road through Montana's Glacier National Park is filled with ample opportunities for wildlife-spotting (think: bighorn sheep and mountain goats). Around Logan Pass, you can enjoy a scenic picnic before heading to Wild Goose Scenic Viewpoint, a dramatic overlook with sweeping vistas of jagged peaks and St. Mary's Lake. The only snag: The park doesn't fully open until the end of the season and the weather can be fickle, so make sure to check for advisories. Also, only some sections of the road are open during the off season. Alternatively, enjoy solitude, serenity and a unique perspective by hiking and camping at the Apgar and St. Mary campgrounds in early spring, when there are few crowds and the park landscapes are still covered in snow.
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