The interstate system is, without a doubt, the shortest and quickest line between two points. So if you find yourself schlepping a handful of ornery children to Disney World, it is a godsend. Yet back before the interstates so efficiently crisscrossed the nation, there was the old US highway system, a series of roads that connect Main Street with Main Street of every small town, roads that dipped, undulated, curved and meandered with the landscape in between instead of plowing right through it. And luckily for us, these routes are still an option. So, if you find yourself with the leisure and time to allow traveling to be part of your trip, instead of just a task in between destinations, here are five reasons to skip the interstate in favor of an older, US route.
1. The landscape is worth stopping for.
It is hard to soak in the beauty of the ocean, a mountain range or a waterfall when whizzing by it at a federally mandated 70 mph. But on the old US routes, the opportunity to pull over is everywhere. So when you find yourself skimming the Gulf of Mexico on US-90 near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, you can just stop, hop out of the car and get a little sand between your toes.
2. The history of the area surrounds you.
All along the wayside will be historical markers, preserved buildings, and state and national parks where you can learn about the noteworthy people, important places and pivotal events that shaped regional and national history. For travelers of US-79 through northern Tennessee, the Fort Donelson National Battlefield is just such a place. These sites rarely sit right off the interstate.
3. The food is regional and delicious.
Winner of Garden & Gun’s “Ultimate Barbecue Bracket 2015,” you won’t find Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge .2 miles off of an interstate exit. Out on US-74 in Shelby, North Carolina, this is the kind of place where the hog is smoked all night in the hickory pit and the sides are fixed up fresh every day, so they occasionally run out early. It is the flavor of North Carolina served up on a paper plate.
4. The town square is the heart of every county.
Quite often, a US route will run right through the downtown square of every county seat – or, at the very least, real darn close, as is the case with US-278 and Oxford, Mississippi. And it is in these town squares where you’ll most easily be able to immerse yourself in all that that county and region has to offer, from the stores and restaurants to the local folks that run them.
5. The road is the trip.
To truly enjoy this mode of traveling, you have to be willing to allow the road to shape the trip, and not the other way around. Talk to everyone you meet and listen to their stories. Eat where the locals eat. Spend money where the locals spend money. Stop on a whim at every park, monument, waterfall, farmer’s stand, antique shop and vista (like this one on US-441 through the Smoky Mountains). Just be sure and bring your camera and a sturdy pair of shoes.