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America's best regional road trips

Ed Menard, Park Ranger

The famous 60-foot-high faces of Mount Rushmore are just one of the many sites along the 40-mile Highway 240 in Badlands National Park, S.D.

Despite the many annoyances of driving — traffic, road rage, rest-stop bathrooms — the allure of the road trip is still strong. That’s because the window of an automobile is still the best way to explore the American landscape, from the craggy coastlines of the Pacific Northwest to the buffalo-dotted grasslands of South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Itineraries across the country cater to barbecue fiends, culture hounds and oenophiles.

Slideshow: America’s best regional road trips

For jaw-dropping water views, the Overseas Highway connects mainland Florida to Key West via a chain of islands linked by 42 bridges — with the Atlantic on one side, the Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. Southern Florida features stellar seafood, and the best place to stop along the stretch is Keys Fisheries: The stone crab claws here are so good they are trucked up to renowned Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. For a stay in Key West’s Old Town, the Artist House offers seven rooms in a restored Victorian mansion.

Die-hard barbecue fans can find out-of-this-world barbecue within Austin’s city limits, where there’s always a line by 11 a.m. for Franklin Barbecue’s sublimely smoky brisket. But it’s worth the pilgrimage to Hill Country for the terrific ribs at Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas, and the legendary sausages at historic Kreuz Market in Lockhart. Travelers can stay in nearby San Marcos at the intimate Crystal River Inn, which boasts soaring white columns and a pretty veranda.

The most iconic road trip follows historic Route 66. Stretches of the circa-1926 byway pass by a petrified-wood forest and a giant meteor crater; the trip from St. Louis to Oklahoma City offers grand theater. Springfield, Mo.’s Gillioz Theatre, restored in 2006 on its 80th anniversary, still screens Charlie Chaplin films. Along the route, the legendary Rock Café has served chicken-fried steak for generations. Originally built for 1920s oil barons, the landmark Hotel Ambassador is a great reason to plan an overnight stay in Tulsa, Okla.

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