Special Report

The Best Road Trips to Take Before Summer Ends

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Big Island Loop Road
> Start: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
> End: Mauna Kea, Hawaii
> Total miles: 300

This loop takes you along the west coast of the Big Island, down to the southern tip, then back up the east side to the Mauna Kea volcano. Along the way, stop at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, see the waterfalls and rainforest zoo at Wailuku River State Park, and relax on the black sands of Punalu’u Beach. The diverse landscapes, stunning flora, and lava fields will keep you occupied for days.

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Olympic Peninsula
> Start: Seattle, Washington
> End: Seattle, Washington
> Total miles: 300

A perfect round trip opportunity from Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula contains lush temperate rainforest, quiet beaches, and charming coastal towns. Spend a day exploring historic Port Townsend, then head into Olympic National Park where you’ll be greeted by roadside lakes and waterfalls, or take a coastal drive to the stunning rock formations of Neah Bay and Cape Flattery on the Makah Reservation. Don’t miss some of the world’s largest trees in the Quinault Rainforest.

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Blue Ridge Parkway
> Start: Afton, Virginia
> End: Cherokee, North Carolina
> Total miles: 312

Starting at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way through the Appalachian Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina with more scenic overlooks than you’ll be able to count. Caverns, waterfalls, preserved historic sites, and diverse forests await. Stop at the Natural Bridge, Linville Falls, and Mount Mitchell — the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard. For Appalachian cultural immersion, try the Blue Ridge Music Center or the Southern Highland Folk Center.

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Oregon Coast Highway 101
> Start: Seaside, Oregon
> End: Brookings, Oregon
> Total miles: 321

This single-state stretch of coastal highway could be driven in a day, but why cheat yourself? Dozens of state parks, recreation areas, and beaches offer rugged coastal views, historic lighthouses, forested hikes, sand dunes, and waterfalls that flow into the ocean. Don’t miss the Yaquina Head Marine Garden, the dramatic overlook at Cape Perpetua, and Cape Arago State Park. For an otherworldly experience, check out Thor’s Well, a rock formation that seems to drain the ocean water that washes into it.

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Natchez Trace Parkway
> Start: Nashville, Tennessee
> End: Natchez, Mississippi
> Total miles: 444

History buffs will love this culturally rich trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway, a historic trail first used by American Indians and then by the Kaintucks — boatmen who floated trade goods down the Mississippi in the early 19th century. Several ancient ceremonial and burial mounds line the parkway and multiple museums, including the Smith Robertson Museum, highlight black history in the area. Be sure to stop in Vicksburg — where tradition says the Mississippi Delta (not the same as the delta of the Mississippi River) ends — to check out the Civil War battlefield and the Coca-Cola museum.