Sometimes when life gets a bit much, the best way to clear your head is to go somewhere far away and drive like hell. And now that it’s summer, there aren’t any acceptable excuses for staying home.
Well… except for my excuse. Regretfully, home improvement has lately usurped all of my car time. I bought a place recently that needs a bit of work, so I’ve been spending my spare time wielding a paint roller and inflicting stigmata upon myself while hauling nail-speckled chunks of a 30 year old kitchen to and from my car.
The trusty WRX seems not to mind foregoing its usual role of hooligan accomplice for that of a dump truck, and I’ve managed to wedge about 50 sq feet of debris inside of it in one shot which I think is pretty impressive for a small car. I bought the Subie for its fun and practicality and I haven’t been disappointed.
As someone who enjoys the thrill of WOT on an open road on a weekend afternoon, whiling my days indoors doing house work has been like kryptonite to Superman. I’ve been yearning to get onto beautiful roads that don’t take me to the hellish Saturday crowds at Lowe’s. I miss fresh mountain air and blue skies over catamaran-flecked bays. I need to go somewhere where I’m the only one on the road so I can get my hair sailing, taking in the views and the sounds, going as I please.
So, in hopes of living vicariously through you, RideLust readers, here are a few of the roads I’ve been dreaming about. Nothing that will blow your mind, but my usual standbys – reliable local roads that will always satisfy that itch to drive for the hell of it. If you have suggestions of your own, please share, as my suggestions are limited to personal experience.
- Pennsylvania Route 32 (aka “River Road”) – Between New Hope and Upper Black Eddy
This two-lane road runs along the Delaware River. Usually, people travel at a decent clip so your chances of being stuck behind a slowpoke are minimal. There are a number of small towns – the largest is New Hope, a place to skip due to traffic if you’re looking to hit the ground running. However, if you want to show off that freshly cleaned Mustang or chopper, this is the spot on the weekends. Expect to travel about 10 mph tops through New Hope. It’s not what I’d consider “bad” traffic, but due to the stop lights and the crowds, it’ll take a few minutes to get through. New Hope is a fun town with many good bars and restaurants and a large biker contingent, so expect to hear the roar of exhaust pipes while you’re passing through.
Once north of New Hope, Route 32 quickly becomes rural. The Delaware River will accompany you the entire way and you’ll encounter bridges crossing it to New Jersey – more on that later. Much of the trip on Route 32 winds through a shady forest area with the river always visible to your side. The road is windy at times, with noticeable changes in elevation. If you enjoy exploring, check out the roads branching off Route 32 which vary in their condition. I don’t particularly recommend Uhlerstown Hill Road as it’s two ways but one lane and 1st gear steep going up – absolutely treacherous when a huge SUV is coming the other way.
Delaware River Facing NJ
However, Cafferty Road, between Lumberville and Tinicum Park, is a lovely jaunt in nice weather, full of beautiful views, and you can take it up to High Rocks Park check out the scenery there if you choose. Enjoy hiking, biking, fishing or canoeing? There are plenty of stops along the way to satisfy those needs too (Tinicum Park is highly recommended), and a walking/bike path along the Delaware that runs parallel to Route 32 is also worth a visit if that’s your thing.
- New Jersey Route 29/County Road 519 and River Road – Between Lambertville and Milford.
Parallel to Route 32 across the Delaware River is New Jersey’s Route 29, which ends in Frenchtown. County Road 519 continues the journey along the river.
Lambertville is a good place to start on this trip. Lambertville is directly across the Delaware from New Hope. Like New Hope, it’s a tourist town, but traffic is thankfully brief. There are also lots of good bars (check out the River Horse Brewery) and restaurants, as well as a bike/walking path that runs parallel to Route 29 and the river. The Jersey side of the Delaware is not as woodsy as in Pennsylvania, but the roads are wider and the speed limit higher in most places. However, more often than on the Pennsylvania side, you may encounter dawdling drivers, but passing is allowed in certain areas.
Stockton and Frenchtown are small towns you will encounter along your way – worth a stop if you’re interested in exploring. To continue onto Milford, you need to get onto County Road 519.
Holland, NJ (near Milford)
It’s a brief trip – nothing memorable – but once you get into Milford, look for yet another River Road, which takes you into a somewhat hair-raising adventure along a beautiful, yet narrow, single lane road for two way traffic. Rock cliffs will be to your right and the river to your left. I suggest taking it very slowly around the sharp bends, just in case an F-250 is blasting toward you, as happened to me once, erasing 10 years from my life. Once you’re through that bit, the road continues on through scenic farmland.
- Maryland Route 33 – Eastern Shore
One of my favorite drives is to take US 50 East across the breathtaking Chesapeake Bay Bridge down to Tilghman Island, at the very tip of MD-33. But before I continue, if you’re ever in the Bay Bridge area, Harris Crab House is a terrific spot for steamed crabs and beer. I suggest stopping there on your way back to finish off your trip the proper Maryland way. But I digress.
Take US-50 to MD-322 South and then to Route 33 West. The speed limit fluctuates but Route 33 is mainly capped at 50 mph. Once you hit Route 33, the Eastern Shore forms what looks like a hand reaching left, with three fingers pointed downwards. Down each “finger,” going south, is a road heading toward the Chesapeake Bay. Any road off Route 33 is fair game. All will take you down to the Bay, but the views vary in between, and nothing will disappoint. One such road is Bellevue Road, which takes you to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. Oxford is a small town a short ferry ride away (the ferry transports cars too) that’s worth a visit, especially for folks like me who are suckers for ferry trips.
View of the Miles River
Continuing on Route 33 is St. Michaels, an upscale town and summer home for many DC politicos. Lots of great seafood restaurants abound as well as the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum which is worth the price of admission just for the splendid views of the Miles River. Once past St. Michaels, the speed limit increases and the scenery becomes more rural. Venturing down any side road will net you gorgeous views of the Bay that become even more colorful when sunset approaches. It’s impossible to get lost out here so drive wherever you like. Traffic is nil and most others on the road are traveling at a good clip.
Sunset at Tilghman Island
I like to take 33 all the way to the very end – to Tilghman Island. The road ends at a hotel but before it is a stretch along the Bay where many pull over to fish and to watch the sun gradually set. Just the view of the sparkling waters under the deeply hued sky is worth the trip there.
- Skyline Drive – Shenandoah National Park – Virginia
I recommend Skyline Drive only because everyone I know adores it. It’s a road in a national park, crossing the tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You have to pay an entrance fee of $15 to access it and the speed limit is capped at 35 mph. You think that’s slow? Well, when you’re there, you will be praying the people in front of you go that quickly. Lest I sound too negative, Skyline Drive is a great place to stop and take in the mountain views – just don’t expect to enjoy the driving unless you have the remarkable fortune to be there the one day it’s empty. If so, 35 mph isn’t terribly restrictive because the road is properly windy, full of climbs and descents, sharp turns, and jaw-dropping sights.
I suggest not going during the fall unless you don’t mind crawling – but there is good reason for the traffic – the autumn foliage is spectacular. In my humble opinion though, it’s not worth the frustration if you’re a go-go-go person like myself. But if you have time to kill, Skyline Drive runs 105 miles to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have not traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway – but I hear it is worth a visit and will be doing so this summer once my house is complete.
One thing to note – it’s best to avoid the Skyline Drive Front Royal entrance in popular times, like the fall, because you will inevitably find yourself battling the DC tourists through the gates. When I’ve been to Skyline Drive, I’ve gone through the entrance closest to Sperryville, VA. Once you get off I-66, the road out there runs through gorgeous farmland, and traffic is non-existent.
- George Washington Memorial Parkway – Virginia
I’m stuck in rush hour traffic on “the G.W.” so often that I forget how beautiful it is. It’s just a short trip – about 25 miles – running from ol’ G.W.’s home at Mount Vernon to the Beltway (495). It’s generally two lanes and offers beautiful views of the Potomac River, Old Town Alexandria, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, among other landmarks. Avoid going at rush hour during the week and you’ll have a brisk drive on a well-maintained road with plenty of eye candy. If you like airplanes, pull over by Reagan National Airport at Gravelly Point where you can park and thrill at the planes taking off and landing right over your head.
This is just a short list as my broken index finger (thanks to a line drive) is telling me to keep it brief. If you have any tips for your own favorite local drives, please share them. We’re always looking for new places to gun the engine and let the hair run wild so your input is, as always, greatly appreciated. Happy and safe driving this summer, folks.