I grew up at the tail end of the golden age of the American journey. Like many kids raised between the end of World War II and also the 1970s recession, I saw a lot of the country from the back-facing rear seat of my family’s wood-paneled station wagon.

Every summer we put down from Minnesota, traveling freeways, highways, and back roads to destinations as varied because the Florida Keys, Disneyland, and Maryland’s Assateague Island. We camped in state and national parks along the way and returned home within a week or two.

We loved being able to see so much of this beautiful country. However the more miles we covered every day, the more bored, antsy, and irritable all of us became.

The trick to making car journeys magical, I learned, is getting out of the car as much as possible.

Whether spent a few months or a few days traveling along these four routes, meaningful adventure is right outside your car door.

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail

Honor American History

Highlighting a lot more than 100 historic sites, primarily in southern states, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail was formally established in 2021. It includes museums, churches, courthouses, schools, and other places where activists challenged segregation and fought for equal rights during the 1950s and '60s.

Teachers Mark and Leslie Swiggum did not have the benefit of such a comprehensive map 17 years back, when they took their four kids on a road trip to learn more about the civil-rights movement.

Instead, the family visited significant sites they'd find out about: Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Ala.; Greenwood and Clarksdale, Miss.; and Memphis, Tenn. Wherever they stopped, at museums and restaurants and on city streets, they started conversations.

They were lucky enough to meet several “foot soldiers” – primarily African-American activists – who shared their own stories. Joanne Bland, director of Selma's Voting Rights Museum, said excitedly about marching on Bloody Sunday being an 11-year-old.

“After four days we realized how little we knew,” says Mark Swiggum, now 68 and retired. Swiggum, who is white, felt it was important to learn more, so when he and his family returned the place to find Eden Prairie, Minn., he immersed himself in the history of civil rights in this country. Then – from passion, not as a business – he soon started leading tours of civil-rights landmarks throughout the South for church groups, book clubs, and retired businesspeople.

So when Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, a human-rights education and training consultant and former colleague of Swiggum's daughter, planned a solo four-day civil rights trek – packed with stops at historic sites – she sought Swiggum's advice.

In Jackson, Miss., she used the Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour brochure as a map for setting out on foot. She visited the home of Medgar Evers, his statue, and also the library named after him. She talked with librarians who were old enough to remember the martyred activist.

In Selma, Ala., she visited museums and walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

In Montgomery she talked with people at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church who remembered hearing the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. preach his message of hope, and she or he toured the Civil Rights Memorial and Rosa Parks Museum.

It was an emotionally moving journey. “To understand the United States,” says Rudelius-Palmer, “we have to understand both the things we celebrate and also the struggles and movements by which people have worked hard to create change.”

United States Civil Rights Trail
Plan a visit by state or by site, in the Supreme Court of the United States and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum to roadside memorials. (Free resource.)

Jackson Civil Rights Movement Driving Tour
A city-specific driving tour with 81 sites. (Free.)

National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel
At the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., this is the country's most visited civil rights museum. ($16 adults/$13 children ages 5 to 17.)

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail
Stick to the same path civil rights activists marched in 1965 for the best to vote in central Alabama. In Selma, walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of Bloody Sunday. Find out about the history of the marches and early voting by visiting the Lowndes and Selma Interpretive Centers. (Free.)

Blue Ridge Parkway

Camp, Hike, and Explore Small Towns

Stretching 469 miles through Virginia and New york, the Blue Ridge Parkway is known as America's Favorite Drive. Operated by the National Park Service, the street winds its way along the ridges and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“It's stunningly beautiful. Sometimes you drive and everything is a tunnel of trees, and you come to these long views that go on forever,” says George Zahn, 60, a high school band and music teacher who was raised 30 miles from the parkway in Charlottesville, Va. “What's most special about the road isn't the road. It is the location.”

There's much to see and do: Go to the Cherokee Voices Festival in Cherokee, N.C.; explore Bristol Caverns; browse the Birthplace of Country Music Museum or even the Biltmore Estate; or simply enjoy the natural surroundings.

As a young child, Zahn loved family picnics across the parkway and hiking the short but strenuous trail to Humpback Rocks, which offers amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley. As a teenager, he hiked many miles of the Appalachian Trail, which runs near the parkway. After college he biked the parkway and slept in a hammock near a trail. The final time he visited, he stopped at wineries with friends.

Zahn recommends that visitors get out of the car and off the main road. Go camping or biking. Hike a trail. “Explore a county road heading east or west off the parkway and have lunch in a small-town café.” Visit Rockfish Gap, a gateway to the parkway, for fruit. Peaches have been in season from July to mid-August and apples from August to October.

Blue Ridge Parkway
With maps, a strong list of events, and suggested itineraries for foodies, motorcycle riders, and day trippers, this website will help you plan your perfect trip.

Appalachian Trail
This hiking trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, is obtainable from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Have a day hike, or hike and camp so long as you like.

Biltmore Estate
With a 250-room chateau and gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, this estate in Asheville, N.C., is definitely an American icon. (Daytime admission varies by season: $60 adult; free for children 16 and under in summer.)

Birthplace of New bands Museum
An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, this museum shares the storyline of Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va.'s role in the birth of country music. ($13 adult; $11 child.)

Great Divide Mtb Route

Bike-Pack the Rockies

Bikes work great for road tripping, too, particularly when you're “bike-packing” – carrying just the bare minimum of gear and resupplying food on the way.

Spanning nearly 3,100 miles from Canada's Jasper National Park to the Mexican border, the epic Great Divide Mtb Route (GDMBR) traces the spine from the greater Rocky Mountains range, primarily using roads that run through public lands.

“There are dramatic mountain landscapes the entire way,” says Nathan Taylor, a cartographer for that Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), a 45-year-old nonprofit that has mapped 48,000 miles of cycling routes in The united states, including the GDMBR. “The grandeur is amazing.”

Being immersed in wilderness was part of the reason Denver-based filmmaker Mike Dion entered the annual Tour Divide race. He made it as far as Wyoming before saying they've had enough, but he documented his efforts in the film Ride the Divide.

Not everyone attempts to cover the whole trail in three weeks like the racers do. Some take on one section at a time during the period of years. Others sign up for an excursion with or without gear support.

Kyle Trebotich, the ACA's director of tours, says the GDMBR has a tendency to attract the “more intrepid folks,” those who are interested in solitude and independence.

The training required to manage this challenging trail is worth it, says Dion. “It's breathtakingly beautiful. And when you're experiencing it at Eight to ten miles per hour, you have time and chance to soak in the beauty and the sounds.”

If bike-packing seems intimidating, just start experi-menting close to home. Each spring, cyclists all over the world register for Bike Travel Weekend and try one- or two-night biking adventures.

“There's no right or wrong way to do it,” says Dion. “Just make sure you go off and do an adventure. Don't let fear hang you up.”

Adventure Cycling Association
This 45-year-old nonprofit can help you learn about adventure cycling and find out routes across North America. They sell maps and offer tours, including “family fun” tours in Idaho and also the Erie Canal, with different levels of support. (Tours are $669 and up.)

Bike Travel Weekend
Want to learn more about bike travel? Take a trip in your own neighborhood. Each spring, cyclists around the world register for Bike Travel Weekend and try one- or two-night biking adventures.

This website offers planning insight, routes, gear reviews, events, and adventure stories from and for biking's minimalist-adventure crowd.

Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway

Learn About Fossils in Colorado and Utah

The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway is a 512-mile loop that passes near Moab, Helper, and Vernal in eastern Utah, and Grand Junction in western Colorado. It's a land of wind, water, and time that shaped mesas, rock outcroppings, and arches, and of forests and fertile agricultural pockets – and dinosaurs.

Craig Campbell and his wife, Mariah, of Kaysville, Utah, took their three kids several times to Dinosaur National Monument, where visitors step way, way back in time. Inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you will see more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils embedded in one stone wall.

They've also enjoyed visiting the Utah Field House of Natural History in Vernal; watching the stars, planets, and a comet through a telescope at Goblin Valley State Park, where there's no light pollution; and going through the rock dwellings and petroglyphs of Nine Mile Canyon, that has been called the “world's longest art gallery.”

Craig and Mariah believe it's important to share Native history with their children. “We're visitors to this country. We weren't here first,” says Craig, 39. “With the children, we're trying to instill that we are part of something bigger, and now we have so much impact on the near future based on how we live here now.”

The natural beauty of the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic and Historic Byway region has called me to go to more times than I'm able to count. I've hiked at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks near Moab; rafted the Colorado River's Westwater Canyon; visited the orchards and wineries of Grand Junction and Palisade; and spent a weekend in the AppleFest in Cedaredge near Delta, Colo.

Next time, I intend to visit Bears Ears National Monument, that has more cultural sites than every other national park or monument. I'll start at the Bears Ears Education Center in Bluff, Utah, to learn how to visit this area – sacred to many Native American tribes – with respect. (For more on Bears Ears National Monument, visit “Why Bears Ears National Monument Matters”.)

Dinosaur National Monument
Visit probably the most impressive Jurassic Period dinosaur quarries in the world, where hiking trails lead to fossils and petroglyphs. ($25/vehicle.)

Bike Colorado Wine Country
Explore Grand Junction's wineries and orchards by bike (or by kayak, canoe, raft, or car). It's beautiful to go to in spring when fruit trees have been in bloom, or August and September during harvest.

Canyonlands National Park
Enjoy backpacking, biking, boating, climbing, hiking, or horseback riding in this national park near Moab, Utah. ($30/vehicle.)