Idaho offers extraordinary road trips

Idaho is a pretty state, and driving on U.S. Highway 95 in that state has to be one of the prettiest road trips.

I’ll add it to my list of favorite road trips, which I wrote about in July.

US 95 goes from the United States’ border with Canada south to Mexico. Within Idaho, it stretches vertically for more than 538 miles along the state’s western edge. The most stunning sections — traversing rivers, lakes, farm land and meadows — lie within the 304 miles between Sandpoint in the Panhandle south to New Meadows near Boise.

Map Sandpoint to New Meadows, Idaho

You’ll pass through two time zones without ever leaving Idaho. This description of US 95 is driving north to south:

  • As you leave the laid-back city of Sandpoint, you must drive over the Long Bridge, which stretches for nearly 2 miles across large Lake Pend Oreille. The bridge offers stunning views of the sapphire-blue lake and surrounding peaks, which can be dusted with snow from October through May.
Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
U.S. Highway 95 cuts straight across Lake Pend Oreille for nearly 2 miles in Idaho. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • South of Sandpoint, you’ll pass through farmland and meadows and the city of Coeur D’Alene. You’ll note a large lake here, one of several waterways along US 95.
  • Around Moscow and south to Lewiston, you’ll drive through the beautiful Palouse region of rolling hills (blond in fall/winter and green in spring). The area is a major producer of wheat and lentils as well as other crops. One theory is that the name Palouse comes from French-Canadian fur traders changed the name of the local Palus American Indian tribe to the French word pelouse, meaning “land with short and thick grass.” (See my featured photo at top.)
  • The city of Moscow, home to the University of Idaho is worth a stop for good cafes, art, vintage stores and a campus walk.
Lewiston Hill, Idaho
This is one of the 64 curves on Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, as it drops 2,000 feet in 10 miles. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • Heading into the city of Lewiston, stop at the overlook for panoramic views of the intersection of the Clearwater and Snake rivers and surrounding hills. Opt to drive Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, if you can stomach a drop of 2,000 feet in 10 miles and 64 curves.
Road sign on Lewiston Hill, Idaho
It’s recommended to take some ess curves on Lewiston Hill, or the Old Spiral Highway, at 15 miles per hour. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
  • After Lewiston, US 95 follows the stunning Salmon River from south of White Bird to Riggins, with many places to stop to camp, fish or just take in the view along the way. Just before Riggins, you’ll leave the Pacific Time Zone and enter Mountain Time Zone as the road crosses the Salmon River.

Two alternative roads off  US 95 in Idaho also are worth a drive for their spectacular scenery.

State Highway 97 near Coeur D’Alene: Starting near Wolf Lodge on U.S. Highway 90, the road meanders along Harrison Slough and some small lakes. Continue to Plummer or loop back on State Highway 3.

State Highway 55 at New Meadows: This road shadows the Payette River, with especially pretty sections at Cascade, Smiths Ferry and Banks.

Payette River, Idaho
Idaho State Highway 55 offers views like this of the Payette River and surrounding mountains. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)
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Road tripping this summer? Free apps can help before and during your journey

If you’re like many Americans, you’ll be hitting the road this summer or fall for a family vacation.

Last week, I wrote about some of my favorite road trips. Now, here are dozens of free mobile apps to make planning your road trip — and driving it — easier and more fun.

Planning your road trip

Download the AAA Mobile app to map routes and find food and lodgings along the way. Google Maps and Waze also will do this (other uses below).

roadtrippinphone-matheus-bertelli-via-pexels-license.jpg
Image by Matheus Bertelli via Pexels License.

Roadtrippers will help make sure you don’t miss any must-see landmarks or off-the-beaten path stops along the way. Browse categories from historical markers to hiking to amusement parks, read about each site and add it to a to-see list on the app.

Type any location into the map-based Findery free app to access notes that other users have left about the place (a walk they did there, tips, photos) or browse the latest notes. You also can leave a public note or make it private.

TollGuru will help you calculate gas prices and tolls for your journey by vehicle type, including RVs and towing a trailer.

If you plan to drive on major U.S. interstates, GPS-based iExit will help you plot where to take pit stops. The default mode shows a summary of amenities, such as gas, toilets, coffee, playgrounds and camping, at upcoming exits in real time, but you also can search upcoming exits for a specific service. The app can be helpful while driving.

While on the road

Google Maps is still the best way to steer clear of traffic snarls and accidents that could cause delays. If a faster route opens once you’re on the road, the app automatically changes your directions. Similarly, Waze will help you find a faster route based on crowdsourced, real-time reports, and it can send you speed-trap alerts from other users.

GasBuddy will find the lowest gas and diesel prices anywhere based on crowdsourced data. Just type in a city/state and voilà.

Magic Mountain Parkway highway sign
Apps can tell you that Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park is just off Interstate 5 near Los Angeles. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

There’s nothing worse than not being able to find a bathroom when you need one. In addition to iExit, two apps will help you find just toilets. You can search Flush Toilet Finder‘s database of 100,000 public bathrooms worldwide (no Internet connection needed). On SitorSquat (powered by Charmin), clean locations get a green “Sit” rating; less desirable ones get a red “Squat.”

GPS-based Glympse lets you temporarily share your real-time location and estimated arrival time with friends, family and others.

You’ll find many apps to help you find overnight lodgings. Airbnb is one of the most versatile. It’s everywhere and you can filter searches by price, type of accommodation, wi-fi service and more. Try Hotel Tonight for discounts on same-day bookings or seven days ahead. I also like the TripAdvisor app (on iTunes and Google Play for its user reviews, photos and deals.

If you want to eat something other than fast-food and truck-stop fare while on the road, Yelp will help you find the best places to eat and drink in many U.S. towns and cities. User reviews are helpful for quality, service and meal recommendations.

Happy travels!

The classic American road trip still rules

Despite higher prices at the gas pumps this summer, the classic American road trip remains one of the most popular travel options.

At $2.86, average U.S. gasoline prices are at their highest level in about four years. Though the price for regular unleaded gasoline on July 8 was up 60 cents from a year ago, it was down 7 cents from a month ago, according to AAA. Gas prices were highest in the West ($3.66 in California) and lowest in the South ($2.53 in Alabama).

However, AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said “elevated crude oil prices and other geopolitical concerns could tilt gas prices more expensive in the early fall despite an expected increase in global crude production from OPEC.” If U.S. demand remains strong, inventories rise and oil continue to sell at over $70 a barrel, drivers could see average gas prices hit nearly $3 a gallon in the coming months, she said.

In the meantime, families are hitting the road.

Nearly two-thirds of the 88 million Americans planning to take a family vacation this year expect to hit the road, according to AAA. About three-quarters seek a destination they’ve never been to before. Families also seek attractions, such as beaches and mountains (61 percent), sightseeing (59 percent) and relaxation (56 percent).

If you’re thinking about a road trip this summer or fall, here are some favorite road trips I’ve taken over the years:

Pacific Coast Highway: Fort Bragg to Los Angeles
This cliff-top, panoramic 123-mile drive on Highway 1 along much of California’s coast will leave you breathless. Start near Fort Bragg and drive south along rugged coastline. Build in time to explore the cities of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Los Angeles. Don’t miss Bodega Head, Old Mission San Juan Bautista, Carmel-by-the-Sea’s 17-mile Drive (see featured photo at top), Big Sur’s Pfeiffer Beach, elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, Hearst Castle and Venice Beach.

Bodega Head, Calif.
You’ll see views like this from Bodega Head in Bodega Bay, Calif., which is on scenic U.S. Highway 1. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Oregon Highway 101: Near Portland to Cape Perpetua
This drive is similar to California’s Highway 1, but I think the Oregon coast is wilder and more lonesome. There are plenty of beaches, trails, state parks and small towns. Don’t miss Cannon Beach and its 235-foot Haystack Rock, Devils Punchbowl near Newport and Cape Perpetua Headland, which is the highest viewpoint accessible by car on the Oregon Coast. If you have time, drive farther south to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, with sand dunes up to 500 feet high. Combine this with the Pacific Coast Highway for a longer adventure.

The Road to Hana: Maui, Hawaii
This famous 64-mile road on the island’s western coast features too-many-to-count ess curves and single-lane bridges. Start in the small beachy town of Paia. Watch the surfers at Ho’okipa Beach Park, stop at as many plunging waterfalls and walking trails as you like, sample banana bread and fresh coconut milk at roadside fruit stands, enjoy the view from check out Pua’a Kaa State Wayside Park’s waterfall and natural swimming hole, Hana Lava Tube and Black Sand Beach at Waianapanapa State Park.

San Juan Skyway: Southwestern Colorado
This 200-mile loop goes through some of the prettiest country in Colorado, a must-see national park, hot springs, an old railroad and lots of great hiking. Start in Durango: Take Highway 160 West, take 145 North, cut across on 62 and then head south on 550. Your first stop should be Mesa Verde National Park. After that, you’ll pass through beautiful meadows, see jaw-dropping mountain views in the ski town of Telluride, relax in the Ouray hot-spring pools, ride the train on narrow-gauge rails originally laid in 1882 in the mining town of Silverton and end with a nice meal in Durango.

Southwestern Colorado
This is what the terrain around Durango, Colo., looks like. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

The Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina for 469 miles. Whether you like to hike, bike, swim or go antiquing in quaint little towns, there’s something for you. The velvety green valleys and the Blue Ridge Mountains often are shrouded in heavy mist. In North Carolina, stop at Grandfather Mountain State Park, 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), Linville Gorge and Asheville, N.C. before heading into the Great Smoky Mountains.

Highway 1A: Coastal Maine
Coastal Maine offers many quaint old fishing villages, historic downtowns, beaches and lighthouses. Head north on U.S. Highway 1A (later take smaller routes 9 and 77), stopping in York (the cliff walk near Stage Neck and Nubble Lighthouse), Ogunquit (walk on the beach or Marginal Way), Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Kennebunkport Lower Village (shopping and scenic waterways) and the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse. Don’t miss the city of Portland, which offers good food, craft beer and history. Just a bit beyond Portland is Freeport, home to L.L. Bean’s headquarters and the giant boot. I blogged here about my visit to L.L. Bean in November 2017.

Kennebunport Lower Village
Small coastal roads in Maine will take you through quaint places like Kennebunkport’s Lower Village. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 66: Tulsa, Okla., to Arizona
You can’t talk about road trips without mentioning Historic Route 66, one of the nation’s original highways built in 1926. The iconic route originally stretched for nearly 2,500 miles from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to end in Santa Monica, Calif. Today, you’ll find lots of Americana in the form of landmarks, kitschy statues and vintage diners and motels. Drive this coast-to-coast route in sections. In Oklahoma, don’t miss the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Tulsa’s Art Deco architecture, Sandhills Curiosity Shop in Erick, Lucille’s Gas station in Hydro, Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Coleman Theatre in Miami, Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. In Texas, stop at Cadillac Ranch, Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the MidPiont Café and sign. New Mexico offers Acoma Pueblo and old town Albuquerque. The grand finale is Arizona’s Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon.

Cadillac Ranch
A stop at these 10 colorful, half-buried Cadillacs is a must on Historic Route 66 through Amarillo, Texas. It’s free and open 24/7. (Photo by Sheryl Jean)

Route 50: Colorado and Utah
This 3,000-mile route stretches from Ocean City, Maryland, to Sacramento, Calif., passing through a dozen states and following the same route as the Overland Stagecoach and the Pony Express. One of the prettiest sections goes through the mountains and canyons of Colorado and Utah. After picking up Route 50 outside of Colorado Springs, you’ll go through lots of mountainous national park land (check out Gunnison Gorge National Recreation area). Route 50 follows Interstate 70 for a while through Utah, passing near several outstanding national parks (Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef ) before living up to its name as “Loneliest Road in America” as it heads into Nevada.

Of course, there are too many road trips to mention in this blog post. One that tops my list to do is the Alaska Highway.

Next Wednesday, look here for my post on what mobile apps to download for your road trip.

Road trip? California Highway 1 section in Big Sur set to reopen in September

California Journal

Visitors to California can look forward to the reopening of one of the most scenic parts of California Highway 1 that winds along the Big Sur coastline in September after being closed for more than a year.

Highway 1, or the Pacific Coast Highway, is the state’s best-known scenic byway, starting near San Juan Capistrano and ending in Mendocino County.

California Highway 1 shield
(SPUI via Creative Commons)

Highway 1 winds for hundreds of miles along much of the state’s coastline, hugging cliff tops and passing through some of the state’s best tourist spots. Visitors will see California’s largest cities, many beaches, Redwood trees, Elephant seals, boardwalks, lighthouses, missions, wineries, Hearst Castle and spectacular coastal views.

Currently, however, you cannot drive along Highway 1 past Ragged Point just north of Hearst Castle to Big Sur. The detour route winds inland and adds about 30 minutes to the drive. The featured photo at top of California Highway 1 in Big Sur is about a mile north of Ragged Point looking south. (Fred Moore via Creative Commons)

Caltrans closed that section of road in April 2017 due to dangerous conditions. One month later, a massive landslide — one of the biggest in state history — occurred there at Mud Creek. (An earlier mudslide in March 2017 destroyed the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge, which is used to access Big Sur from the north, but it reopened in October 2017.)

 

Big Sur northward view
This view of California Highway 1 near Big Sur includes Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge to the North. (Astronautilus via Creative Commons)

The treacherous stretch of Highway 1 around Big Sur has seen upwards of 60 road closures since 1935. A Caltrans report detailed 56 road closures from 1935 through mid-2000, but there have been many more  since then.

San Quentin Prison inmates and locals, like writer John Steinbeck, built Highway 1. It opened in 1934.