It’s February and our feet are itching to get outside and do some adventuring. It’s not quite warm enough to take the little ones hiking or camping, but with gas prices at a record low across the States, our friend Rachel Bowes at 4Wheel Drive Hardware decided a good road trip was in order. She didn’t want to be the only one having fun, so she is giving us eight road trip ideas by region, all off the beaten path, with some great kid-friendly activities along the way. The first in the series? Two fantastic road trips through the west/northwestern United States...

The Pacific Coast Highway offers some stunning views of the west coast, but it can become far too congested in places for a pleasurable ride with the kiddos. Instead, here are two road trips that will get you far from rush hour traffic and offer breathtaking scenery for the family...

Historic Columbia River Highway (Oregon)

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Length: 70 miles

Time: 3-5 hours minimum

The Historic Columbia River Highway in Oregon follows the Columbia River for 70 miles of lush greenery, roaring waterfalls and scenic views of the Columbia River Gorge, the Cascade Mountain Range and the Columbia River Plateau. As the name implies, there are many opportunities for history lessons along the way, including museums, the renowned Vista House at Crown Point and 16 species of plants found only in the Gorge.

Michael Finch, who drove the Columbia River Highway with his nine year old daughter, says, “The scenery is as if it’s torn from the pages of a Lord of the Rings book – it’s absolutely breathtaking. The falls are fed by natural springs, so they’re running strong all year round. It’s a great cool treat on a hot day.”

The drive is known for its series of graceful figure-eight loops leading motorists down the 600-foot vertical drop from Crown Point, followed by a series of remarkable waterfalls. If the weather is fair, there are also countless parks, hiking trails and campgrounds where passengers get out and enjoy the area hands-on.

Places to Stop:

The Portland Women's Forum State Scenic Viewpoint to see magnificent views of the Columbia River Gorge.

The Vista House at Crown Point, one of the most recognizable sites in the Gorge.

The Bonneville Lock & Dam, the first structure ever to restrain the Columbia, complete with fish viewing station for salmon, sturgeon and others.

The viewpoint at Rowena Crest for sweeping views and access to the Tom McCall Wildflower Preserve.

The Columbia Gorge Discover Center to hear all about the Gorge’s history, from its ancient Native American inhabitants to Lewis and Clark’s expedition through the Gorge.

Adventure Addition: If you’re looking to add some adventure to your drive, hike the Oneonta Gorge, which is short but adventurous. The full hike will require you to go through water which can be chest-high, so go prepared and make sure it’s a warm day. Even if you don’t take on the creek, it’s a great place to get out for a stretch with little ones of any age.

The San Juan Skyway (Colorado)

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Length: 236 miles
Driving Time: 6-8 hours minimum

Not only is the San Juan Skyway in Colorado one of the most scenic drives in the country, it also takes you through notorious American towns like Durango, Telluride, Silverton and Ouray. The towns are both beautiful and historic, plus they offer plenty of places to stop for food and potty breaks on this day-long drive.


The road itself snakes through the woods of the San Juan Mountains for amazing views and an exciting ride. Enjoy waterfalls and blooming wildflowers in the spring and, if you make the trip in the fall, the brilliant foliage of the aspen trees.

Places to Stop:

If you choose only one town to stop in along the way, Ouray is a great option – though we advise you hit each of the historic towns. Ouray offers plenty of places to eat and stay the night as well as small shops, winter skiing and sulfur-free hot springs for a relaxing soak to loosen up after a day on the road.

The Ridgeway Reservoir for a picnic lunch stop among grand scenery, biking, hiking or camping.

Durango/Silverton to ride the Narrow Gauge Railroad steam locomotive into the San Juan Mountains between the two towns.


Adventure Addition: The drive on the road is enough to get your blood pumping, but if you want to take it to the next level, consider adding an off-roading excursion to Clear Lake or Twin Falls to your adventure. If you have a Jeep 4x4 or 4-wheel drive truck or SUV, there are many trails you can take through the mountains around Silverton and Ouray.

(A portion of the San Juan is also referred to as the "Million Dollar Highway," and Roadtrippers had the chance to drive this stretch last summer, visiting many of the towns mentioned above. See more pictures and read the full article.)

About the author:

Rachel Bowes is an outdoors and 4x4 lifestyle writer for 4Wheel Drive Hardware, prominent retailer of aftermarket Jeep parts like Jeep soft tops and wheels. If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to follow Rachel on Google Plus and follow Roadtrippers Rides on Facebook!

Cover Photo: Flickr

More of the "Off the Beaten Path" series:

Go off the beaten path: Great River Road and the Sandhills Journey