We all know we can get some kicks on Route 66 — but with the resurgence of the Great American Road Trip in the past few years, the kicks you’ll find are probably going to be pretty similar to those your friends (and their friends, and their friend’s friends) find. It might not have the same ring, but the time is right to explore U.S. Highway 50.
This blue highway spans the country, from Sacramento, Calif., in the west to Ocean City, Md. in the east. It’s a great trip, but it’s also more than 3,000 miles. If you’re looking for something easier on the gas tank (and your vacation time), the best mini-tour begins where US-50 begins, in Sacramento. Old Sacramento
California’s capitol city
is a gold-rush town, and if you wander into Old Sacramento
(below right), you’ll find all the trappings of a ghost town, minus the ghosts. This tourist-friendly area includes the California State Railroad Museum
, which includes reconstructed locomotives and cars, and the Huntington, Hopkins & Company hardware store
, a re-creation of a 19th-century shop that served the region. Channel a little Johnny Cash with a trip to Folsom Prison
— its museum includes shivs and other weapons confiscated from inmates as well
as a reconstructed cell. It could do the trick to keep kids behaving for the rest of the trip. For something truly offbeat, visit the nearby Barber Jon’s Curiosities and Oddities
, a veritable Ripley’s Believe It or Not, only it’s in the back of a barbershop.
Next up is the drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where you’ll be flanked by state and national parks, all boasting beautiful views and great hiking. The road hits its highest point, 7,382 feet, at Echo Summit, shortly before the Lake Tahoe area. Kit Carson Trail Carson City, Nev.
, is only 100 miles away from Sacramento, but if you’ve taken a leisurely drive
and seen all you want to get in, it could present the perfect overnight stopping point. This capitol city boomed after silver was discovered nearby, and you can get a taste of its history along the Kit Carson Trail
, which includes the state capitol building and several mansions built primarily in the late 1800s, including the Orion Clemens House. He was the older brother to Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Head a little off route after Carson City to see an 18-foot, fiberglass prospector statue
conveniently located behind a candy shop. The Loneliest Road
You’ll want to pick up some sugar (and water and other sustenance) at the candy shop — because the rest of the highway through Nevada is known as the Loneliest Road in America
. There’s little more to look at than desert and sky and a smattering of national forests, but if you make it through the nearly 400 miles, the payoff is great: Utah is on the other side, and US-50 cuts right through the red-rocks country of the Colorado Plateau.
Old Sacramento photo by Tom Myers; image courtesy of Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau.