Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, N.C. (The Associated Press)
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One of the most scenic and historic East Coast riding or driving trips begins about an hour from downtown Washington, D.C., at the Front Royal entrance to Skyline Drive.
From there, you can leisurely cruise along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains to Rockfish Gap about 105 miles away near the Interstate 64 interchange. If you keep going, your journey continues on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which parallels I-81 all the way to Lexington and Roanoke in Virginia, then continues to its terminus at Cherokee, N.C.
The pace is gentle (speed limits of 35 to 45 mph) and you'll want to take your time to view magnificent rock outcroppings, valleys and vistas (some with 50-mile views), with elevation gains up to 3,300 feet, abundant wildlife, trails — everything you need to take your mind off the rigors of military life.
The parkway is extremely popular with bikers, RVers and nature lovers, but the good news is it's rarely crowded, in part because the surrounding areas are generally rural.
One of the most enjoyable sections of the parkway is the roughly 150-mile stretch that begins near Lexington (home of Virginia Military Institute) and the locally famous Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Zoo. Here you can view ostriches, emus, elephants, bison and other big-game animals up close on the free-ranging, 100-plus-acre campus. Exit the Parkway onto U.S. 11 North and travel three miles. Continuing southbound will take you into Roanoke, where you can stop at the overlook on Mill Mountain and see a locally famous 50-foot neon star from which Roanoke got its nickname, "The Star City of the South," along with magnificent views of the valley.
Exit the parkway near Milepost 120 onto the Mill Mountain spur; parking is near the top. Roanoke proper has numerous other attractions and makes a great pit stop. Exit the parkway onto U.S. 220 North to get downtown.
From there, you can saddle up again and ride up into the mountains of Floyd County, the cute one-stoplight town of Floyd and the nearby Tuggles Gap restaurant, near Milepost 165.
Tuggles Gap is a famous biker watering hole and local attraction on U.S. 8, visible from the parkway. On most warm days you'll find at least a dozen bikes lined up out front — and lots of good conversation waiting for you inside. It may look like a dive, but the people are some of the nicest you'll meet.
U.S. 8 will take you into downtown Floyd, where you can visit the Floyd Country Store and enjoy live bluegrass music on Friday and Saturday nights.
A bit farther southbound past the Rocky Knob Recreation Area lies Chateau Morrisette, home of The Black Dog wine and one of Virginia's premier wineries. Exit the parkway at Milepost 171.5 and follow the signs.
When you're done there, stop by Mabry Mill for some of the best buckwheat and sweet potato pancakes in the U.S. During the summer months, the restored circa-1900 mill features period interactive exhibits such as blacksmithing in a working forge.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is just one of many great scenic drives within easy traveling distance of major military bases. Our favorite must-do road trips:
Virginia and North Carolina
Blue Ridge Parkway/Skyline Drive
Both Skyline Drive, a part of Shenandoah National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway can be accessed at multiple points, making them ideal for half-day, full-day or multiday trips.
Close to: Washington, D.C., and Hampton Roads, Va.,military installations
Kahinahina Scenic Drive
You need four-wheel-drive to travel this 37-mile "upper road" around the Mauna Kea volcano with elevation changes from approximately 6,500 feet above sea level to nearly 10,000 feet. Plan on a full day, and pack provisions.
Close to: Fort Shafter, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
Bush Highway/Saguaro Lake
Starting not far from downtown Phoenix, Bush Highway features tremendous high-country desert views, including portions of the Tonto National Forest. View Great Blue Heron and other wildlife at Saguaro Lake.
Close to: Marine Corps Air Station Yuma; Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Pacific Coast Highway
Every day's a beach day when you're driving this coastal California byway. Take two days to drive it — or two weeks! Stop off at the commissary and exchange in Monterey for supplies.
Close to: Most California military installations
State Highway 3 passes Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, offering 40 miles of incredible scenery, including rugged, California-like coasts. Ferry rides are a popular attraction.
Close to: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine
Incredible seaside views from Miami to the tip of Georgia, including barrier islands and historic sites such as St. Augustine, founded by the Spanish in 1565.
Close to: Eglin and Patrick Air Force Bases, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Naval Air Station Key West and Camp Blanding Joint Training Center
Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap
This 11-mile stretch of U.S. 129 in Tennessee near the North Carolina border is well worth going out of your way to experience. A mecca for motorcyclists, just watch out for the cops — and all 318 curves!
Close to: Fort Campbell, Ky.
Great Falls to Browning
U.S. 89 runs north-south all the way from the Mexican border at Nogales, Ariz., to the Canadian border at Glacier National Park. This stretch in Montana — about 124 miles — takes you from Great Falls through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation near Browning. Rocky Mountains to your left, Great Plains to your right.
Close to: Malmstrom Air Force Base
Big Cottonwood Canyon
One of Utah's best roads, this portion of State Highway 90 affords dramatic views through the Wasatch National Forest. Hiking and overnight camping opportunities are available.
Close to: Hill Air Force Base
Texas and Louisiana
El Camino Real de los Tejas
The name means "King's Highway." The Texas portion of this National Historic Trail follows State Route 21 from the Toledo Bend Reservoir near Milam to San Antonio. It's the oldest highway in East Texas, dating to 1690, and follows historical trails used by Native Americans.
Close to: Fort Polk, La., and San Antonio-area military installations