Paul Blaney suggests fly-drive itineraries that get to the heart of America
As several decades of popular music and movies have made clear, the way to discover America is by firing up the engine and putting the car in drive.
There are iconic routes, like Pacific Coast Highway 1, which hugs the California coastline, and Route 66, which once linked Chicago to LA. However, both of these require at least a fortnight if not more to complete in total, unless clients wish to spend their entire holiday behind the wheel.
But there are other, shorter routes, equally scenic and rich in adventure, only less well-known. The itineraries outlined below could be driven in a week or at a more leisurely pace, depending on your clients’ time and budget.
Chosen to reflect the breadth and diversity of this great land mass, these are three out of literally thousands of US options. America is one big invitation to hop in the car, fill up with (still relatively cheap) gas, and engage the cruise control.
VEGAS AND THE CANYONS
In a nutshell: This itinerary suits outdoor, open-spaces types who are also up for some bright-lights Sin City action on either end.
On the road: The beauty of this itinerary is the contrast between the glittering towers of Las Vegas, Nevada, and the breathtaking canyon lands of Arizona and southern Utah.
Having landed, spent a night, picked up a vehicle and filled up with gas in Vegas, clients follow a grand loop through the extraordinary national parks of Utah: Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands and Arches. (Advise those travelling in March to check ahead and be prepared for snow on higher roads.) This is big-sky, empty-road, red rock country, with jaw-dropping vistas at every turn.From the hub town of Moab, close to the Colorado border, the route sweeps south past Monument Valley (famous from half a dozen John Ford westerns) before returning to Vegas via the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead.
Be sure to warn clients, however, that access to the north rim of the Grand Canyon is closed to vehicles until the middle of May, while the south rim is accessible year round.
Advise them, too, to build in some time so they can get out and stretch their legs while admiring the canyon from a variety of viewing points.
Distances are manageable (Vegas to Zion is only a couple of hours) but a four-wheel-drive vehicle is essential. Accommodation outside Las Vegas doesn’t tend to be fancy, but that just makes for another nice contrast – motel one night, the Luxor or Bellagio the next.
And what better way to cap a memorable vacation than with one of Cirque du Soleil’s mesmerising shows? Zarkana, an acrobatic rock opera, has just opened at Aria, and Cirque is working with the Michael Jackson estate to open a residency production based on the King of Pop’s songs at Mandalay Bay in May.
If live music is more your thing, Cee Lo Green starts a residency at Planet Hollywood this month, and Shania Twain recently began a two-year stint at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
Book it: Virgin Holidays offers a seven-night fly-drive package centred on Las Vegas this March from £959. The price includes Gatwick-Las Vegas flights, seven nights’ room-only accommodation (including four nights at the Luxor), car hire and taxes.
0844 557 3973
THE STATE OF INDEPENDENCE
In a nutshell: This trip is probably best for an older, more history and culture-oriented traveller – driving distances are less demanding too. Pennsylvania is big by eastern standards but clients should never have to drive more than four or five hours at a stretch.
On the road: Arriving in Philadelphia, clients will want a day to relax and recover from the flight. The ‘city of brotherly love’ is rich in historical sights, such as the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall, as well as galleries, bars, restaurants and boutiques. The central Reading Terminal Market is a magnet for foodies.
Once on the road, it’s an easy two-hour drive to pastoral Lancaster County where they can share a back-in-time meal with the Amish. Harrisburg, on the mighty Susquehanna River, is the capital of Pennsylvania but nearby Hershey is chocolate central, with factory tours, chocolate fountains and a theme park. Cadbury’s or Hershey? Here’s the place to test UK versus US chocolate!Less than an hour south of Harrisburg is the major battlefield of the American civil war: Gettysburg. Advise clients to book a personal tour guide to drive them around; it’s well worth $50 to bring the historic scene to life.
Moving on west along the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll road brings you to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater – his 1930s house on the waterfall is well worth a stop on the way to Pittsburgh.
And Pittsburgh itself boasts a dramatic location, and attractions that include the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie museums of natural history and art.
Depending on time, your clients could easily spend longer in Pittsburgh before the five-hour drive back to Philadelphia. Alternatively, they could explore a little farther by heading out along scenic Route 6 where one natural highlight is the ‘Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania’. Arizona it ain’t, but it’s still quite a canyon.
Book it: North America Travel Service offers an 11-night Pennsylvania Discovery fly drive this March (excluding the Easter period) from £1,575. The price, based on twin occupancy, includes flights from Heathrow to Philadelphia, car hire, and accommodation in Philadelphia, Gettysburg, Pittsburgh and Hershey.
0845 766 0209
In a nutshell: The Pacific Northwest scores high for scenery and hipster cool.
On the road: This is a great itinerary for first-time visitors to the Northwest. It starts in Seattle and clients need never be more than a four-hour drive from the city.
Within that radius, they can check out two great cities and some awe-inspiring scenery. Seattle with its Space Needle, markets and spectacular location, is a great place to start. After a couple of days’ sightseeing in the city, clients can drive aboard a ferry across Puget Sound to the snowy mountains and rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula.
Fans of the Twilight series, set on the peninsula, should keep their eyes peeled as they drive for handsome werewolves and good looking vampires…
Turning back along the Pacific shore, they’ll pass through Tacoma on the spectacular drive south to Portland (pictured above). The Oregon city rivals Seattle for hipster chic, with dozens of microbreweries, gourmet eating, galleries, boutiques and live-music venues. After a couple of days exploring Portland, your clients will be ready to head out along the stunning Columbia River Gorge, an 80-mile-long canyon carved through the Cascade Mountain Range.
In places the canyon is three-quarters of a mile deep. Make sure you advise clients to take time off from sightseeing to sample the local food and some of the superb red wines produced in this region.
A final must-not-miss attraction on the way back to Seattle is Mount St Helens. This active volcano, with its distinctive cone shape, last erupted as recently as 1980. The drive back to Seattle from the volcano is a good three hours. Clients will want time to spend a final night in this waterside, coffee-loving city before catching their flight home.
Book it: Kuoni has a seven-night Seattle fly-drive this March from £1,255 based on two sharing. The price is for flights from Heathrow, car hire and accommodation, including two nights in Seattle, two in Portland, one in Port Angeles (Olympic National Park) and two in Kelso (for Mount St Helens).
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