An ode to back roads: exploring America from off the beaten path

We just finished a nine week trip across Canada, down the East Coast to Delaware, and back across the US to California. Other than the Trans Canada Highway, we toured on back highways and lonely roads – eschewing interstates for the benefit of history and local flavor. Taking the road less traveled added miles – 13,000 miles overall – but took us to sites we would never find otherwise. Here is a sampling of “off the beaten-path” highlights:

Kakabeka Falls roars toward Thunder Bay and Lake Superior.

In Canada: The “Niagara of the North” in Ontario, and Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia.

After a long drive across Manitoba, we pulled into Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park, west of Thunder Bay, Ontario, and found, quite by accident, “the Niagara Falls of the North”. We gazed in awe at the mighty falls; 200+’ across and more than 130′ tall, an impressive sight as the river thundered into the deeply-cut gorge below.

Peggy's Cove, bucolic fishing village on Nova Scotia coast.

Near Debert, Nova Scotia, friendly locals told us we must see Peggy’s Cove, about 50 miles away. Peggy’s Cove turned out to be a popular destination on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Despite the crowds on a beautiful day, we found the old lighthouse, a very rocky shore and delightful little harbor with several lobster boats – made for picture-postcard photos. We split a lobster roll for a late lunch, all-in-all, a Canada highlight.

West Quoddy Head light, on eastern-most portion of continental USA.

Back into the USA, we relished:

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Maine: Quoddy Head State Park is home to the iconic West Quoddy Head Lighthouse – on the easternmost point of land in the continental US. The first light was lit in 1808; the present red and white striped light was constructed in 1858 and still shines brightly through its original third-order Fresnell lens, serviced by the US Coast Guard.

Adirondack Park and northern New York: I had heard of the Adirondacks for most of my life, but never visited. In the northernmost part of New York State, we found Adirondack Park, and camped in two state park campgrounds in this big slice of high altitude/small town eastern US. Over two days, we toured through Lake Placid (site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics) and the Finger Lakes region of New York.  Just south, we made a stop at Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame, then west to Watkins Glen Gorgeand one of the more interesting geologic features in that part of the country, a gorge carved through rock for ages, several miles in length, yielding cliffs, deep pools, waterfalls and wonderful photos around each twisting turn.

Giant Serpent Mound, over 1400 foot effigy built by Native Americans over 1000 years ago.

Watkins Glen Gorge has been chiseled into local slate for eons.

Giant Serpent Mound, Ohio: The Giant Serpent Mound, in Adams County, Ohio is a 1350 foot-long effigy mound built by prehistoric Native American cultures. The effigy follows the curve of the land it was built upon, with its head approaching a cliff, followed by seven serpent coils ending in a triple-coiled tail.

Some archaeologists posit that the “Fort Ancient Culture” constructed the mounds around 1070 A.D., others suggest much older construction, between 381 and 44 BC.

Medora, Indiana, covered bridge: On Hwy. 50 I spotted the sign “historic covered bridge” and toured about 4 miles south. We arrived early morning, and after a 15 minute exploration, who should appear but Morris Tippin, bridge-guru and former minister (and part of the preservation organization for the bridge).

Medora, Indiana, covered bridge dates to 1875, and is longest historic covered bridge in US.

Tippin explained, “it’s the longest historic covered-bridge, 460 feet, in the USA. Built in 1875 to cross the East Fork of the White River by Joseph Daniels, utilizing the ‘Burr arch-truss with king post’ construction method, using mostly oak and poplar lumber”.

Corn harvesting in Illinois: We passed thousands upon thousands of acres of corn fields in both Canada and the US. I kept hoping to get a good video of a harvester working one of those fields.

L to R: Nick and Walter Lunz gave author Tim a lesson in Illinois corn-harvesting!

In Lebanon, Illinois, I got lucky. I pulled off on the edge of town and videoed a huge John Deere harvester coming right at me. As the harvester reached the edge of the field, it turned in my direction and I waved at the operator. The huge machine came to a stop, owner Walter Kunz opened the cab…”want to go for a ride?”.

I eagerly hopped on board, and Walter gave me a 15 minute harvester excursion through another portion of this huge field, explaining how the computer on board measured bushels per acre, moisture content and much more. At the end of the ride, his son Nick joined us for a photo of this almost half-million dollar machine. A day to remember!

World's tallest rocking chair towers over our teardrop trailer near Cuba, Missouri on old Rte. 66 (OK, it was recently knocked down to 2nd tallest).

Route 66, sites taking one back to the 40s, 50s and 60s – and the world’s biggest rocking chair: If you’re traveling old Route 66 from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri and on to Santa Monica, CA, you’ll find lots of reminders of the highway dating back 50 to 70 years. You’ll also stumble upon the world’s largest rocking chair, just south of Cuba, Missouri, a town famous for its historic Route 66 murals. The huge Red Rocking chair, certified by Guinness as world’s largest between 2008-16, did not save the next-door eatery, the Route 66 Outpost, from going out of business! The rocking chair recently lost “world’s biggest” designation, but it’s still huge at 42 feet tall! Missouri does a great job featuring old Route 66 sites, complete with a full color brochure explaining what to find and where.

Aspens brighten Monitor Pass, Colorado, after a recent snowfall.

Colorado: We crested Monitor Pass on Hwy. 50 with stunning colors of aspens changing hue after a 2 inch snowstorm, and later made Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during a snowstorm. Both are beautiful sites, with the change of seasons and naturally stunning scenery.

We picked a snowy day to venture into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. Snow's accumulation both cut visibility and hastened our retreat to lower altitude towing our little trailer.

Our trip in a nutshell; 13,000 miles, 62 days on the road, 42 nights camping in our little teardrop trailer, six nights with friends, five nights with family and eight motel nights. Gas, food (primarily dining out, visiting friends and family and a few luxury meals in towns like Bar Harbor) and motels were our biggest expenses. We managed 26 miles per gallon, averaging about $2.15 per gallon (much higher in Canada).

By the end of our eighth week, we were rather weary and eager to get home, so we pressed hard on our final four days crossing Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. A fine journey, but, home sweet home.

For more information: See varied state visitor web sites; for old Route 66 in Missouri,

Contact Tim Viall at; follow him at Happy travels in your world!

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