Thursday, October 20, 2016

Off the Interstate Road Trip Ideas: Alabama to Utah



I mentioned in my last post that my family was supposed to move away from Alabama at the end of September.   My husband didn't have a job lined up for when he finished with the Army so our plan was to move in with his parents in Utah while he continued the job hunt.  It wasn't an ideal situation, but it's what we had to do given the limited amount of time we had to prepare for this change.

We started prepping for the move, and of course I started planning a road trip to Utah. I wanted our route to stay off the interstate as much as possible. One of the upshots to not having a job was that we really didn't have to worry about travelling fast.  Usually when we drive back to Utah we are pressed for time.  We want to get there as fast as possible so we can spent as much time with family and friends before it's time to get back home.  This road trip, however, could take as much time as we wanted.  I decided to plan on taking about 10 days to travel from Fort Rucker, Alabama, to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The route would take us north from Alabama to Tennessee and Kentucky. Then we would turn west and travel across the southern most parts of Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.  When we reached Utah we'd travel in roughly a diagonal line through the state before arriving in the Salt Lake are.


Well the good/bad news is that my husband's paperwork to get out of the Army needed to go through another department before he could leave.  That was good news in that we could stay here a few more months and save money while looking for a job.  The bad news was that we didn't get to go on this cool road trip that I'd been planning.

We ended up going on the Tennessee and Kentucky parts of the road trip during the kids' Fall Break from school.  I'll write about that trip soon.  The rest of the route will have to wait for some time in the future.  In the meantime, I wanted to type up my notes.  These are for my future reference, but I figured you might benefit from them too. Who knows, you might see some of these sights before I do.

[Update January 2017: We were able to move back to Utah in November 2016.  And we were able to see many places on this list - as well as discover more.  I'll start adding links to the place we visited as I write about each place.]

This is not an extensive list of every side-road attraction in each state.  Instead this is a compilation of places that caught my eye along our route.  Additionally these are places that were inexpensive enough for my family to visit.  There are plenty of other interesting places that were either too far out of our way, or were too expensive.

So let's get started.

Alabama

I didn't plan any long stops in Alabama during our drive out of the state.  We've already explored most of this state during the 15+ months that we've lived here. If you want ideas of places to visit in North Alabama check out my post with Road Trip Ideas for the Lookout Mountain Area of Alabama. If you want ideas for southeastern Alabama check out my post with 100 things to do within 100 miles for Fort Rucker.

Tennessee

Originally we planned to just drive north to Nashville, and see some sights there.  However, nothing in the Nashville area seemed like things my family would love to do.  Instead I turned my attention to the eastern part of Tennessee.  We had no idea when we'd ever travel this far east again, and I figured that we might as well veer a little to the east and see the Appalachian Mountains before heading into Kentucky.




South Cumberland State Park
Location: Monteagle, Tennessee
Website: tnstateparks.com/parks/about/south-cumberland

What caught my eye about this state park was that it is home to Sewanee Natural Bridge, a natural sandstone bridge.  But that's not all this park has to offer.  There are miles of trails that lead to impressive natural wonders all over the park. The park has a campground so we might have planned to stay overnight here if we traveled this way.

Fall Creek Falls State Park
Location: Spencer, Tennessee
Website: tnstateparks.com/parks/about/fall-creek-falls

This is the most visited state park in Tennessee.  The park is home to at least four waterfalls including the 256 foot White Creek Falls which is one of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern United States. Campgrounds and cabins are available for overnight guests so this was another place we could choose to stay overnight.

The Cheroha Skyway (Highway 165)
Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border.
Website: www.cherohala.org


This scenic byway is free to drive on.  It connects the town of Tellico Plains in Tennessee, with Robbinsville in North Carolina.  The Skyway is about 40 miles long and rises to a height of 5390 feet above sea level.  Its a great way to see the Appalachian Mountains.




Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border.
Website: www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm

This national park is free to visit. There are several nature centers and living history areas.  The mountains themselves are beautiful and offer many hiking adventures.  There are also many campgrounds.  Originally I hoped to stay in the Cade's Cove Campground near the southern side of the park, but we ended up at the Cosby Camp ground on the northern side.

Clingmans Dome
Located in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
Website: www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm

This mountain is 6,643 feet above sea level. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the highest point on the Appalachian Trial. A paved road takes you up most the mountain, but you'll have to hike the last 1/2 mile on a paved trail to reach the observation tower at the summit.  The area is free to visit, but keep in mind that traffic up the mountain can be terrible on weekends and holidays.  The road is closed to vehicles from December 1 to March 31st.

North Carolina
Bryson City
Located in western North Carolina
Website: www.greatsmokies.com

This is the home of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, but that's not all the town has to offer. White water rafting and kayaking are available in various locations near the town. The town also has charming businesses and restaurants in the down town area.


Kentucky

For some reason I never went through a guidebook for Kentucky when I was planning this trip. My plan for Kentucky mostly centered around going on a cave tour in Mammoth Cave National Park, and driving through the rest of the state.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
Located on the border between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia
Website: www.nps.gov/cuga/index.htm

This national historic park is free to visit. I wanted to visit the Cumberland Gap because it was another chance to see the Appalachian Mountains before we headed west.  I was also attracted to the historical significance of the area. When I was researching the area I was surprised to discover that the park also includes a cave.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Located near Corbin, Kentucky
Website: http://parks.ky.gov/parks/resortparks/cumberland-falls

Cumberland Falls have been described as the Niagara of the South.  This waterfall is also the only place in the Western Hemisphere where you can consistently see a moonbow during a full moon.






Bailey's Point Campground
Bailey's Point Campground is situated on a peninsula that juts into the Barron River Lake. The peninsula is made up of six hills - each of which is it's own little peninsula. Campsites on these six hills have 180 degree views of the water. Sunsets and sunrises are absolutely amazing to watch from any location on Bailey's Point.





Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave was one of the main reasons I wanted to travel north on our way to Utah.  It would have made much more sense to just head northwest from the start, but I wanted to visit this famous cave.  The park itself is free to visit, but you have to pay for cave tour tickets.

Thousands of years ago an underground network of caverns and tunnels was carved by water flowing through limestone in what is now southern Kentucky. Mammoth Cave National Park contains a large portion of the cave network, and offers a variety of cave tours through various parts of the underground maze.


Missouri
There was one thing in Missouri that I wanted to see more than anything else.  And that was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home.  Actually visiting that home was the thing that got me considering an off the interstate road trip in the first place.  The home is located near Highway 60 which runs along the southern part of Missouri.  I found tons of interesting things to do in Missouri, but I had to limit my list to just the things that were near Highway 60.

Dorena-Hickman Ferry
Located on the Mississippi River near East Prairie
Website: www.dorena-hickmanferryboat.com

Crossing the Mississippi on a bridge is an impressive experience, but I'm curious what it would be like to cross the river on a ferry boat.  This ferry is one of the few remaining on the Mississippi River.  It's also the only one that connects Kentucty and Missouri.  The cost to ride the ferry is $16 per car.

Mississippi River Observation Deck
If you look at a map of where Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet at the Mississippi River you will see the river make a big sweeping gooseneck curve.  A little piece of Kentucky is located inside that curve. This geography anomaly has always intrigued me.  So when I found out about an observation deck overlooking the curve I wanted to see it in person.  The observation deck is free to visit.


New Madrid Museum
Loated in New Madrid
Website: www.newmadridmuseum.com

Since we were going to be in New Madrid to see the Mississippi River I figured we needed to plan a stop at this museum.  New Madrid was the site of three large earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and 1812.  Seismographs didn't exist in North America back then, but based on eye witness accounts these were some of the worst earthquakes to ever happen in the United States.  Some experts estimate that if these types of earthquakes were to happen again there would be widespread damage as far away as Boston.  (Just a friendly reminder to stock up on food storage.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Home
Mansfield, Missouri
I've been a fan of the Little House on the Prairie Books since I was five years old.  I've already read the whole series with my own 5 year olds, and we are actually reading it again for the second time.  So when I found out that the home Laura lived in as an adult is a museum I knew I had to visit it.  The cost to visit the home is $14 for adults, $7 for children 6-17, and free for children under six.  That price is worth it to me to see things such as Pa's fiddle.


Precious Moments Chapel 
Carthage, Missouri
The Precious Moments Chapel was completed in 1989. This small building was the culminating achievement for artist Samuel J. Butcher, the artist who created the iconic Precious Moments figurines. The inside of the building is full of large murals depicting biblical scenes that feature Precious Moments characters. Tours of the chapel are offered daily and are free.



Grand Falls/Shoal Creek Falls
Located near Joplin
Website: www.visitmo.com/grand-falls.aspx

This is the only continuous flowing waterfall in Missouri.  That's a fancy way of saying that there are other waterfalls in Missouri that are taller than this one, but they don't always have water flowing over them. These falls are 12 feet high and 163 feet wide. This area is free to visit, but make sure you have good directions to the falls before you set out.

Kansas
Kansas was a pleasant surprise for me as I planned this trip.  I honestly thought that there would be nothing of interest worth stopping for in this state.  I assumed that we'd probably just hop on the I-70 and drive through the state in one day.  Instead I found many interesting places.  We easily could have taken 3 days to cross Kansas.

Little House on the Prairie Museum
Located near Independence
This was the first of many surprises inside of Kansas.  I had no idea that someone had recreated the actual little house from the second book in the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Not only that, but this house is located on almost the exact same spot where Laura lived as a little girl.  Visiting this house would make so many of my childhood dreams come true.  And for $3 per adult and only $1 per child it was definitely worth it.


Cowley Lake Waterfall
Located near Dexter
Website: www.kansastravel.org/cowleylakewaterfall.htm

I've always assumed that Kansas was nothing but flat land.  So I was surprised when I saw a picture of this 25 foot high waterfall.  This waterfall is free to visit, but there are hardly any signs leading to it so make sure you have good directions before you go.

Strataca 
Located in Hutchinson
Website: http://underkansas.org/

Strataca used to be a salt mine, but now it's a tourist destination offering a cave/amusement/historical experience. Activities inside the mine include a train ride and a dark ride.  Tickets are a little pricey at $19 per adult and $12.50 for children, but I might say they are worth it considering this used to be a salt mine and that's pretty unique.  Unfortunately no children under the age of four are allowed to go underground at this location.  My youngest just barely turned three so we'll have to save this for later.

Cosmosphere
Located in Hutchinson
Have you ever heard of the Cosmosphere, or even Hutchinson, Kansas?  Yeah neither had I.  But I'm willing to bet that you've heard of the Apollo 13 Command Module.  And guess what - you can see it inside the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.  They also have a bunch of other space-race related things, but honestly this place had me at Apollo 13 Command Module. Tickets are $13.50 for adults, $10 for children, and free for children 3 and under.  That's pretty steep for me, but I'd probably pay that to see the Command Module.

Sand Hills State Park
Located north of Hutchinson
Website: ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/Locations/Sand-Hills

This state park is home to sand dunes which is another thing I never associated with Kansas.  This was one of the places where we could have camped during our road trip.

The Big Well
Located in Greensburg
When I first read that the "worlds largest hand dug well" was located in Kansas, I sarcastically thought, "big deal."  It seemed like one of those desperate tourism measures such as world's largest frying pan.  But then I saw a picture of this well. I was amazed. The well goes down 109 feet and is 32 feet wide. And it has a beautiful spiral staircase that allows visitors to travel down inside the well.  This isn't a tourist trap, this is a marvel of engineering.  The cost to visit the well is $8 for an adult and $6 for children from 5-12.  Children 4 and under are free.  There is also a family pass that is only $25.  That would be the most economical option for my family.

Monument Rocks
Located south of Oakley
Website: www.kansastravel.org/monumentrocks.htm

These rocks are 70 foot tall outcroppings made of chalk. They have been eroded into fins and small mesas.  They look like something you'd expect to see in Southern Utah or Arizona, not Kansas.  And yet there they are.  They are located on private land, but the land owners allow access.  The area is free to visit.

Scott State Park
Located north of Scott City
Website: http://ksoutdoors.com/State-Parks/Locations/Scott

This state park is something of an oasis amid the prairie.  It is located in a canyon and is full of history.  Most notable is the foundation from an old Pueblo known as El Cuartelejo.  Camping is available here, and so I planned on having my family stay the night.

Colorado
I never got around to doing in depth research of our route through Colorado before our move to Utah was postponed.  But there were still some places that I wanted to visit.  Several years ago we went on a road trip to Colorado and visited locations in the Denver area.  This time I wanted to stay in the Southern Part of the state.  Most of our route would involve Highway 160.


Great Sand Dune National Park
Located near Alamosa Colorado
Website: https://www.nps.gov/grsa/index.htm

These are the tallest sand dunes in North America.  I think my kids would love sliding down the sand dunes.  Cost to visit the park is $15 per car.  There are also campsites here so we probably would have stopped here for the night.

Wolf Creek Pass
Located between South Fork and Pagosa Springs

Travelling on this route depends on the time of year we actually make this trip.  That's because Highway 160 climbs to the dizzying height of 10,856 feet above sea level. This is the top of the Continental Divide. I don't even want to think about trying to make that drive in the winter.

Chimney Rock National Monument
Located west of Pagosa Springs
Website: http://www.chimneyrockco.org

I admit that when I first read the name of this national monument I assumed it was going to be a rock shaped like a chimney.  I thought it would be similar to the natural feature found in Nebraska.  Instead this Chimney Rock is really a Native American ruin.  And an facinating one at that.  The place looked like the Machu Picchu of North America. I can't wait to see this place in person.  However, I will have to wait because its only open from May 15th to September 30th each year.  The area is free to visit, however tours cost $12 for an adult or $5 for a child.

Mesa Verde National Park
Located east of Cortez
Website: https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm

Mesa Verde has become my unicorn.  No matter how close we travel to the park I've never been able to visit the Cliff Dwellings.  I'm hoping that next time we travel to Utah I can finally realized my dream of visiting Mesa Verde.  Entrance to the park costs either $10 or $15 per car depending on what time of year you visit.  You also need to purchase tickets for tours of the cliff dwellings.  Tours start at $4 per person.

Utah
The more I see of Utah, the more I realize that there is even more to explore in that wonderfully diverse state.  Back in 2010 my husband and I went on an epic 9 day road trip around Southern Utah.  And we barely scratched the surface of things we could see and do.  As I wrote about that road trip for this blog I discovered more places that I wanted to visit. Some of those places are on this list - others will have to wait until my kids are older and can hike farther.


Moki Dugway (UT-261)
Located near Mexican Hat
Website: http://bluffutah.org/mokey-dugway-muley-point

This is a steep dirt road that rises 1200 feet over three miles.  From the top the view is amazing.

Butler Wash Ruin
Located south of Blanding
Website: www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/more/cultural/archaeology/places_to_visit/butler_wash.html

This cliff dwelling is located inside a stone alcove in the Comb Ridge.  Highway 95 runs near the ruin, and there are signs on the road letting you know it is there. Somehow we missed stopping here on our 2010 road trip and so I want to make sure we see it again. The ruins have several structures including 4 kivas. The trail to the ruins is only 1 mile round trip.

Needles Overlook
Located near Monticello
Website: https://utahscanyoncountry.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/needles-overlook

This is another thing that we completely passed by on our 2010 road trip.  This overlook is managed by the BLM, but it looks onto land that is part of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  The overlook is free to visit, but it's located about 22 miles off of highway 191 so that will take up some driving time. (Which is why we've never visited the overlook even though we drive past it every time we drive back to Utah.)

Arches National Park
Located Near Moab
Website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

I feel like Arches needs no introduction, but if you aren't familiar with this national park then you should take a minute and read my post about Arches National Park. This is the one place from the 2010 road trip that we've been fortunate enough to revisit.  The park is convientely located right off of Highway 191 so it doesn't eat up a lot of time to visit.  I'm hoping that next time we visit the park we'll be able to take the kids on the Delicate Arch trail.

San Rafael Swell 
Located between Green River and Castle Valley
Website: http://www.sanrafaelcountry.com

Last year I wrote an entire post about all the things I want to visit within the San Rafael Swell. I don't know if we'd have time for everything, but I'd for sure want to drive out to the The Wedge Overlook of the Little Grand Canyon. This overlook is on the edge of a cliff above a deep canyon that the San Rafael River has cut between the ridges and cliffs of the swell. From what I've read, this is apparently known as the Little Grand Canyon of Utah, though I have to say that I've never heard anyone in Utah talk about it. The pictures I've seen of this overlook are spectacular.

Snow College
Located in Ephraim
Website: https://www.snow.edu/

I'm not quite sure where we would go after the San Rafeal Swell. Part of me wants to explore Castle Valley.  But another part of me wants to go to the Sanpeat Valley and take my kids to the Snow College campus.  I attended Snow from 2003 to 2005 and graduated with an Associates Degree.  I love that school and that area.  I haven't been back there for about 7 years so it would be really fun to go back and see what it's like these days.

* * *

Well that's the list. Like I said, I'm happy that we get to stay in Alabama a little bit longer.  But a little part of me is sad that my family can't go on this road trip yet.  I guess I'll just have to keep dreaming about it until we do.




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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?

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