Excursions that have everything from treehouse
hotels to endangered pythons
By Joy Lanzendorfer
It’s no wonder that more people are choosing eco road trips these days for their family vacations. If you travel in a fuel-efficient car like the Malibu Eco or crossover like the Equinox† to see natural beauty and eat local fare, you’ll not only come home with an enhanced appreciation for our planet’s resources; you’ll also likely have more money left in your bank account. Here are three routes to consider when making your plans:
Eastern Washington—Spokane to Seattle (470 miles)
Interstate 90 out of Seattle may be a commuter highway, but it’s also full of natural sites. From Spokane, drive 2.5 hours west until you reach Ginkgo Petrified Forest where you can hike through 10,000-year-old petrified ginkgo trees. The nearby town of Ellensburg, with its quaint historic downtown, is a great place to stop for lunch before continuing on to Snoqualmie Falls a 268-foot waterfall that was featured on the TV show Twin Peaks. Finally, check into Treehouse Point and spend the night suspended above ground in your own tree house. The next day, backtrack to Mt. Rainier. With an elevation of 14,400 feet, this sleeping volcano offers visitors hiking, camping and everything in between. After a day at the mountain, take Route 167 to Seattle.
Mark Twain Country—St. Louis to Hannibal, Missouri (156 miles)
This drive along the Mississippi River to Mark Twain’s hometown offers majestic scenery and plenty of eco activities. From St. Louis, take Great River Road to Elsah, Illinois, the “New England of the Midwest” (full of historic buildings), then on to Pere Marquette State Park with 8,000 miles of spectacular views, perfect for summer camping (and bald-eagle spotting, if you go in the winter). Next, swing by Kampsville’s Center of American Archeology before crossing the Mississippi to Louisiana, Missouri, home of the Red Delicious apple. There, you can check out 50 Miles of Art, a gallery tour of local artists from Louisiana to Hannibal. At the town of Clarksville, take the Sky Ride up 500-foot bluffs to the highest point on the Mississippi for amazing views. Finally, it’s on to Hannibal, nicknamed “America’s Hometown,” where you can visit Mark Twain’s boyhood home , the Mark Twain cave and the charming downtown. If you have more time, spend the night at a bed and breakfast and take a dinner cruise down the Mississippi.
Gulf Coast of Florida—Tampa to the Everglades (207 miles)
There’s more to Florida than amusement parks—the Gulf Coast alone has some of the best animal and plant life in the U.S. From Tampa, drive to St. Petersburg to tour the small-but-impressive Salvador Dali Museum and stroll through the Sunken Gardens, a 100-year-old botanical marvel that’s home to cascading waterfalls and more than 50,000 varieties of tropical plants. Next, stop in Sarasota to visit the Mote Marine Aquarium, where you can see sharks, turtles, dolphins and seahorses, and the GWIZ Science Museum, which is full of kid-friendly exhibits. Then head south to Lee County Manatee Park for kayaking and canoeing. (In colder weather, wild manatees congregate in this free park, allowing for close-up viewing.) Nearby Ft. Meyers boasts the biggest Banyan tree in the continental U.S. The next day, drive to Everglades National Park. This 1.5-million-acre preserve is the largest sub-tropical wilderness in the U.S. and contains alligators, dolphins, panthers, bobcats and the endangered Florida python.
San Francisco Bay Area resident Joy Lanzendorfer’s work has been featured on Salon, Bay Nature and PopMatters, among many other sites. She also runs the blog Savvy Housekeeping (http://savvyhousekeeping.com).