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12 of America’s Most Unique and Scenic Rest Stops

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Discover more than snacks and restrooms.

An American road trip is not complete without at least one unexpected stop. Whether it is beautiful scenery, unique sights,  or fascinating regional culture that beckons you on your journey, it can be found on America’s roads. Rest stops or welcome centers offer comfort for travelers but in some cases also provide a glimpse into local Americana. Here are a few favorites.

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Rio Grande Gorge Rest Stop

WHERE: New Mexico

Located 10 miles northwest of Taos, this rest stop is a short walk to the Rio Grande Gorge. Standing 565 feet above the Rio Grande River, you can take in views of the water, canyon, and wildlife. Bighorn sheep frequently graze along canyon walls so grab your binoculars. Back at the rest stop, converse with roadside local vendors while they sell their wares. You can shop for your favorite rocks, gems, or jewelry. Then trek into downtown Taos and take in more local flair. For “Vandwellers” and “RVers,” stay the night and watch the sunset or sunrise over the gorge.

INSIDER TIPInterested in learning about off-the-grid living? Stop by Earthship Visitor Center, just three miles west of the rest stop and take a self-guided tour.

 

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Original “Alligator Alley”

WHERE: Florida

If you want to take a drive on the wild side, then check out U.S. route 41 between Naples and Miami. This stretch of road cuts east/west across Florida’s Everglades—a large tropical wetland that spans 1.5 million acres. There isn’t one specific rest stop here, but wildlife pullouts abound. The Everglades boast an abundance of wildlife including the endangered leatherback turtle, the Florida panther, and the West Indian Manatee. If it is an alligator you seek then you are guaranteed to see one at the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center.

INSIDER TIPHave more time? Take the famous 24-mile long loop road from U.S. route and explore a more remote section of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

 

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Tamarack Rest Stop

WHERE: West Virginia

This rest stop at exit 45 off I-64/I-77 connects road travelers with expert crafters and chefs from West Virginia. Browse thousands of handmade crafts that are made by local artists. Stop by on a weekend and see an artist working as part of ongoing demonstrations, or catch a local musician. Culinary arts abound here as well. Local chefs show off their best Appalachian cuisine–who doesn’t want to try the famous West Virginia fried green tomato breakfast biscuit? Temporarily immerse yourself in West Virginia culture and walk away with a trinket that supports local art. Is there anything better?

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Naubinway Rest Stop

WHERE: Michigan

Voted one of the most scenic rest areas by Michiganders, this stop is located on the upper peninsula along Lake Michigan. The building is a log cabin retreat where you can take a much-needed rest and have access to a lakeshore beach. Dip your feet in the cool waters of the lake after a long drive and take in the beautiful scenery.

INSIDER TIPStop in the town of Naubinway and try a pastie, a traditional UK-based savory pastry, from Hiawatha Pasties.

 

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Turnagain Pass Turnout/Rest Area

WHERE: Alaska

This turnout is located at the highest point on the Seward Highway at 900 feet and provides the best view of Turnagain Pass within the Chugach National Forest. The area is a gateway for skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobiles. Not far down the road is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center—a sanctuary for Alaska’s displaced wildlife. Make this a day trip from Anchorage and add on a hike or winter sport.

INSIDER TIPLarge avalanches are common in winter. Check with the Chugach National Forest avalanche control before snowmobiling.

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Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook

WHERE: Utah

Above Bear Lake and Garden City in the northeast corner of Utah is a rest area and overlook spot that features stunning views and a memorial to poet May Swenson. Bear Lake State Park is a popular water sports and recreation destination. Travelers taking scenic route 89 from Utah on their way to Wyoming’s national parks may also pass by this rest stop. At the overlook, stand as May Swenson once did and read a poem she wrote about her love of this majestic place.

Book a Hotel

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Randolph E. Collier Rest Area

WHERE: California

Located on the bank of the Klamath River, this rest area is peaceful and scenic along an isolated stretch of I-5 in Northern California. Named after the “father of the California freeways,” Collier served as a Senator who passed the 1947 act that led to the major construction and world recognition of California’s freeways. Under a grove of trees lies a large grassy area and shaded picnic tables making it look more like an inviting park than a rest stop. RV’ers can stay up to eight hours—enough time to get some sleep and listen to the rush of the Klamath River.

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Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza

WHERE: Nevada

Thirty minutes east of Las Vegas and sitting at the gateway to the Valley of Fire State Park is this fun rest stop. Sit down and have a nice meal then shoot off some fireworks in the desert. The on-site store features 10,000 square feet of the largest and cheapest selection of fireworks in the region. They have a 40-acre fireworks launching pad out back for customers. Locals also say this plaza has the cheapest gas within 100 miles.

INSIDER TIPIf you are driving through close to July 4th, you can catch a free concert and fireworks show at this travel plaza hosted by the Moapa Band of Paiutes tribe.

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Tioga Welcome Center

WHERE: Pennsylvania

Grab a rocking chair from inside this welcome center and enjoy mountain and river views of the Tioga-Hammond Lakes Recreation Area. Located close to the New York/Pennsylvania border on route 15 this is a true sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of highway travel. Explore historical exhibits about Pennsylvania and the Tioga dam. Take a stroll along beautifully landscaped grounds outside. Stay a while and truly de-stress.

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Guilford Welcome Center

WHERE: Vermont

A welcome center as cozy as home—this post and beam barn built in 1999 is representative of Vermont’s agricultural heritage. Beautiful and lush meadows host a large playground, park benches, and brightly-painted Adirondack chairs. Rustic decor abounds inside where you can get hot coffee and locally-made snacks for a small donation. The staff are friendly and very knowledgeable of the local area. Sip, sit, play and experience the real Vermont.

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Clear Creek Falls Overlook/Rest Area

WHERE: Washington

This scenic overlook has restrooms and a small trail that leads to breathtaking Clear Creek Falls within Mount Rainier National Park. Whether you are making a day trip from Seattle or just passing through the area this is a must-stop overlook. The views are top-notch including jagged granite rocks, tall pines, and a view of Dog Lake below. Take your time driving through Washington and you will find many of these waterfall pit stops.

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Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch

WHERE: California

Not a traditional rest stop, but a temporary escape from California’s chaotic I-15 freeway in San Bernardino County onto Route 66, this free roadside attraction features a humble artist’s creative, outdoor “tree ranch” made of glass bottles and objects. If you are lucky, you might meet the artist, Elmer Long. Ask him anything since he loves to chat with visitors about his life’s work.