Which driving route from Houston to Boston for better landscape and nature photos

zzffnn

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I will be driving from Houston, Texas to Boston, Massachusetts. Likely in late August or early September.

To get more and better nature and landscape photo ops, which driving route from the following two would you suggest me to take? Or it is hard to pick a clear winner?

Route #0:
Houston, Texas -> Atlanta, Georgia -> Waynesboro, Virginia. Passing by most of the following: Talladega National Forest, Chattahoochee National Forest, Nantahala National Forest, Pisgah National Forest, Cherokee National Forest
Shenandoah National Park and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

The problem is Google Map tells me to drive through Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Gullport, Alabama, to get to Atlanta, Georgia. I don't want to drive this route in hurricane season. Houston -> Nacogdoches -> Meridian -> Chattanooga (Hwy 59 - 259 -79 -20) seems to be a better way to get to Chattahoochee National Forest and nearby national forests/parks, without going through the hurricane prone areas?

Route #1:
Houston (Texas), Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts (Boston).

Detour, in Ohio, to go to Hocking Hills State Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

I saw 5-6 big green areas (national forests/ parks) along this route, from Google Map. I would pick this route, if I am forced to choose right now, as I have driven part of route #2 two years ago and got stuck in Louisiana by a hurricane!

Route #2:
Houston, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (Boston).

I saw 4-5 big green areas (national forests/ parks) along this route from Google Map. I would guess this route has higher chance of getting stuck in traffic.

And what are must-see sites along your recommended routes?

My limitations are: I won't have too much time for shooting or detouring too much from the fastest route provided by Google Map. I will be driving and shooting all by myself.

Detouring for a few hours here and there is fine, but not 2 days or more, unless there is some landscape or nature photo ops, as great as Yellow Stone or Grand Canyon.

Likewise, I can stop and shoot for an hour or two, but I prefer not to stop for more than 4 hrs. Unless there is something really great that I must see.

Since it will be a driving trip, I will take along tripod, computer, enough lenses (from fisheye to 300mm), batteries, SD cards, ND filter and polarizers.

I don't have much interest in street, people, or city scape shooting. Although I do like old castles, churches or highly interesting man-made structures. And I enjoy going to nature or art museums (though not so much with the history museums).

I have been to parts of Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Alaska, Washington and NYC. But unfortunately, I did not have good photography skills or/and enough "me" time, when I visited those places; so I have barely any good landscape photos.

Here are my Flickr albums, if they matter: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zzffnn/albums

As you can see, so far, I have had less chance shooting landscape than shooting wildlife.

Relevant travel photography advices, resource, web sites and ideas will be highly appreciated as well. Thank you very much and have a great weekend!
 
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Michael Meissner

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Just from an overview, I would think #2 would be problematical since you are in hurricane season (July - November, peaking in late August and September), but you would go through the skyline drive in Virginia which is said to be beautiful (I was born in that area, but we moved when I was 2, so I don't recall it).

In terms of fall and leaf turning season, you are too early. In general, you get the best color up in northern New England (Maine, NH, Vermont) in late September. Columbus day weekend is when the Boston area tends to be peak, and it goes south in waves, so for #2, you would get better colors in the south perhaps in Halloween or early November. But it does mean those areas would likely be more green when you go through them.

But for your trip, if you go even more northerly than I90, you could go through Vermont and New Hampshire, and it might be starting to turn (it really is kind of variable, and some years are great, some not). Northern VT tends to be more 'rural' New England, so outside the big towns, you have the classic small towns with the church in the town square. NH has the White Mountains in the north and the lakes region in the middle as you go south to the Boston area. If you are in the White Mountain area, particularly if you are there when the leaves are turning, you want to drive the 34 mile Kancamagus Highway. About 1/2 of the White Mountains is scenery and about 1/2 is kitsch.

I have done the northern OH/NY/MA route (i.e. I90) quite a few times as I have family west of Chicago. Most of it is fairly boring straight line driving (but a little more varied than going through some of the midwest states). In terms of landscapes, you have the finger lakes region of NY as well as the upper Hudson river. In the MA side, you have the Berkshires.

An alternative to I90 is to go a little north on the Mohawk Trail (route 2 in MA) which is more scenic (and of course with kitsch added when people came to view the scenery).

I haven't been to many of these, but western MA has some waterfalls that are listed here: MA Waterfall roadtrip. Another thing you might find interesting is the Quabbin Reservoir which is where 4 MA towns were drowned to form the reservoir for most of Massachusetts drinking water. Around the reservoir, it has been allowed to revert to nature, and I believe there are two viewing areas.

If you are doing the northern route, Niagara Falls is an option, though I tend to think the Canadian side is much better than the NY side (but you need passports to go to the Canadian side). We tend to like doing the falls, but it may/may not be your cup of tea, as except for the falls itself, it isn't 'landscape' photography.

I have occasionally done the southern OH/NY/PA route (i.e. I80). As I recall you are driving through hills more and from the map there are more state/national forests.

Assuming you are moving to the Boston area, you probably want to get an E-Z Pass ahead of time, as most of the toll roads in either of your routes use the same transponder. In MA, they no longer have humans taking tolls, but instead take a picture of the license plate and send the bill to the owner of the car.
 
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BosseBe

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I would recommend going to Atlanta and pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Shenandoah Valley, from there take the Skyline Drive up to Front Royal.
I haven't been to the southern parts of the US so much so no recommendation for south of Atlanta.
North of Front Royal you will be in more urban areas and the best way is probably to keep to smaller roads and green areas on the map.

Have nice drive!
 

Hendrik

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I would favor #1 particularly for avoiding the BosWash corridor. It's usually not slow outside of peak times but it is fairly congested all the time, not particularly fun to drive and not wonderfully scenic from the road. However, if you want semi-easy access to shore towns and their particular photo-ops there may be no other option. To suggest a hybridization of the two, I recall (from the '80s) the Blue Ridge drive being quite beautiful for car touring. The Delaware Water Gap is also picturesque and necessitates a route around NYC – something I view as a plus. Given your parameters, I would tend to regard the trip more as a scouting expedition than anything else. If I were planning such a trip, my intention would be to maximize time spent away from the plains (Great, coastal, or otherwise).
 

zzffnn

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Wow, great advice! Thank you very much, gents. You are too kind! Now I can see how this trip starts to take shape. Please help me work on some details.

I forgot to mention that I am relocating for work in Boston and should be staying in Boston for quite a few years, if not for a few decades. So areas not too far from Boston, but requires a long detour from my incoming drive, can be visited in the future, with family. Those would include Niagara Falls, many parts of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, I guess.

In about two years, the rest of my family will move over to Boston (then there may be another chance of a long drive but that will involved the kids). If that drive does not fall in hurricane season, shore towns and route #2 can be explored at that time. Before my family can move to Boston, I won't be driving back to Houston very often (I will mostly fly instead due to lack of time and work).

@Michael Meissner, I will buy an E-Z pass ahead of time. That should be very helpful.

@BosseBe and @Hendrik ,
It seems to me that you are both recommending a similar "hybrid" detour route, namely Blue Ridge Parkway -> Shenandoah Valley -> Skyline Drive ->Front Royal -> Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area? Did I understand you correctly that I can drive this incoming trip that way?

I could not find where the Blue Ridge Parkway is. This name is so common that many places that contain "Blue Ridge" showed up in Google Map. Likewise for Shenandoah Valley and Skyline Drive. Sorry for my ignorance.

However, I did find many great national forests and national parks on the Houston to Atlanta driving route. My blood is boiling just by looking at them in Google Map!! @Hendrik : Is that what you meant by "maximize(ing) time spent away from the plains"?

So if I drive form Houston to Atlanta, then to Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, I can pass by

Talladega National Forest
Chattahoochee National Forest
Nantahala National Forest
Pisgah National Forest
Cherokee National Forest
Shenandoah National Park

All of them look fantastic!! They all have over 2000 Google reviews; they have to be great.

Shall I go to George Washington and Jefferson National Forest? It only has 822 Google reviews somehow, though it is not a long detour, from the driving route of Atlanta to Delaware Water Gap.

Shall I skip Monongahela National Forest? It has 2000 Google reviews, but seems quite far (too much detour, if I drive from Atlanta to Delaware Water Gap)?

How much time should I spend in each of those national forest/parks, just to scout and snap a few photos at the most popular attractions?

I do not want to camp (my car is a tiny Honda Civic stuffed with my relocation items) and will likely find motels along the way, if that changes anything.

This hybrid detour sounds very interesting and I really want to make it happen. Is the logistics too complicated though? How should I do it? I don't plan to book motels ahead of time, as I won't know how much time I will spend in each national forest/park.

Edit: I forgot to say that detouring to Delaware Water Gap seems to be in conflict with going through Finger Lakes, NY. If I have to pick only one, I think I will pick Delaware Water Gap.
 
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BosseBe

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protapic

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If you do take route #1, you will driving past a few nice places around my neck of the woods in Ohio and PA. Hocking Hills is really awesome, and is about an hour detour near Columbus Ohio. Mix of long and short hikes, small waterfalls and caves are plentiful. You will also pass over Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which is nice but would take most of a day to visit. Presque Isle State Park is just off I-90 in Erie PA, and has lovely beaches and also photo ops for sunset (or sunrise) pictures over Lake Erie. Little or no hiking necessary. As mentioned above, if you can afford the time, a detour going through Finger Lakes region of Watkins Glen and Ithaca New York to grab pics of waterfalls and gorges at the various parks would be rewarding. This would mean you would drive south of I-90 across NY state, however. Again, as mentioned already, driving I-90 across NY is somewhat boring, albeit, faster.
 

demiro

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I would go Houston to Clingmans Dome in North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountain Nat Park. About fifteen hours. I'd stop in New Orleans on the way, to eat and shoot (mostly eat). If that is not for you you can find places along the gulf coast.

Then on to Boston, starting out on route 81, which takes you through Shenandoah Nat Park. Skyline Drive runs parallel to 81 in VA. You have to decide how much time to spend there, as it is a slow drive with tons of scenic overlooks. A great detour is Luray Caverns, just north of Harrisonburg VA. Another fifteen hour drive, if you're going straight through. Quickest route is through DC and then on to route 95. You may want to avoid the congestion, but shooting the monuments and other sights in DC is fun if you haven't already done it. I'd try to arrive there mid day, shoot, get an early dinner, then shoot some more after dark. Drive into Maryland for a cheaper hotel then on to Boston the next day. Time it so you hit NYC mid day to avoid both rush hours.

I'm sure there are better options, but this itinerary gives you some coastal views, mountains/national forests, monuments in DC, and caves without compromising too much on your route. You can also throw in some Civil War battlefields with slight detours if you're feeling adventurous.

Please let us know the plan, then report on how it turns out and share pics. Seems like a good way to turn a long drive into a fun experience.
 

Michael Meissner

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Edit: I forgot to say that detouring to Delaware Water Gap seems to be in conflict with going through Finger Lakes, NY. If I have to pick only one, I think I will pick Delaware Water Gap.
If you eventually plan to do Niagara Falls, the Finger Lakes region is on the way. So you could do it one way or the other.

While I've driven I90 a bit, it is mostly to get to other places (family west of Chicago, northern NY renaiassance faire in Oswego, or Niagara Falls), so I haven't actually spent much time in the actual Finger Lakes area. I do recall doing a boat ride on the upper Hudson, and enjoying it.
 

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Having just come down 95 from the Canadian border to our current home in N.C. where we have lived since living in TN. prior to growing up in TX. my vote would be I-10 over to 59/75 north where you will pass thru a number of nice towns Chattanooga is a pretty town worth seeing and then you will also enjoy driving through the smokies all the way thru Virginia where once you pass Richmond joining 95 if you take the 85 route it feels like being on 610 in the afternoon not worth it imo. Going thru Harrisburg is also very pretty. We used to drive from Austin to my wife's family in Fla. and would stop at the casino's in Biloxi Ms. because they had nice food and rooms at really attractive prices but that was 4 additional hours from Houston but they say Birmingham is the jewel of Alabama so that could be a first night stop. One thing about the BRP is it is a 50 mph top speed road but a spectacular bit of American road work.
 

zzffnn

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@protapic,

I like what Google says about Hocking Hills State Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park and will visit them one day for sure. The question is when, as in next month or next year.

They are not far detour from my original route #1, bu are kind of parallel to route #0, as proposed by @BosseBe and @Hendrik . I prefer route #0, because I have a higher chance of visiting Ohio and Pennsylvania on business money in the future, than visiting Atlanta, Charlotte, Waynesboro, VI areas.

Does that make good sense?
 
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Hendrik

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I did find many great national forests and national parks on the Houston to Atlanta driving route. My blood is boiling just by looking at them in Google Map!! @Hendrik : Is that what you meant by "maximize(ing) time spent away from the plains"?
Yes. Drive directly to the Appalachians and allow them to channel your bliss until it's an easy drive to Boston (2 hours from the western border of Mass. on I-90). ;)

Last October, my wife and I did a Santa Cruz, CA to Puget Sound road trip up the old coast road. We booked it in California and Washington but dawdled in Oregon. We hit a lot of really interesting spots, none of which we were able to explore for very long. This is the problem with road trips that have schedules. A 50-mile day might get you a lot of cool photos but it doesn't get you a great deal closer to your destination, while a 400-mile day has hardly enough time in it for meals and pit stops. 180-240 miles/day worked very well for us. Even so, you must miss things! I had done a lot of research beforehand (tides, sunups and sunsets, etc.) and felt generally pretty well prepared for most eventualities apart from the weather (and we were stupidly, crazily lucky in that department). One particularly valuable resource was the app, The Photographer's Ephemeris, which allowed me to evaluate whether some scenes I wanted to shoot would actually be worth the gas. In a couple of instances it gave me confidence that scheduling to accommodate a scene would be worth it.

It all comes down to research, research, research.
 

zzffnn

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@demiro ,

Thank you. I guess my problem is driving in hurricane season, through Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Gullport, Alabama, to get to Atlanta, Georgia or Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Google Map provides the same route for them). We were stuck on the road by hurricane near New Orleans in 2017; flood on the road was terrible.

If there is no better driving route to Atlanta, then I may have to take route #1 with slight detour.

I love the food in New Orleans. My wife used to live in Baton Rouge. But I will avoid that route in hurricane season. Hurricanes flooded cities we live in twice, so I would try to avoid them at all cost.

I will save Luray Caverns for next time, as I have been to another cavern called Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio, Texas (and like it). I have also been to DC and will have chance to visit DC on business money net time.
 

zzffnn

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@Acraftman
Thank you! I don't dare to drive through east I-10 in hurricane season anymore, having being stuck by flood and flooded so many times.

Houston -> Nacogdoches -> Meridian -> Chattanooga (Hwy 59 - 259 -79 -20) seems to be a good way to get to Chattahoochee National Forest and nearby national forests/parks, without going through the hurricane prone areas.
 
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There is little of interest on the southern rout unless you go to the sea coasts ,so I would go north to get into more mountainous regions. I would give little regard to hurricanes,as they could nail you anywhere along the coasts but you have several days to avoid them.
Mainly you want to get some altitude to escape the horrible heat and humidity of the southern rout ,which will be with you the entire trip. It is not too scenic unless you hug the Gulf or East coasts,and take a lot of side trips.
 

protapic

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@protapic,

I like what Google says about Hocking Hills State Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park and will visit them one day for sure. The question is when, as in next month or next year.

They are not far detour from my original route #1, bu are kind of parallel to route #0, as proposed by @BosseBe and @Hendrik . I prefer route #0, because I have a higher chance of visiting Ohio and Pennsylvania on business money in the future, than visiting Atlanta, Charlotte, Waynesboro, VI areas.

Does that make good sense?
Makes sense to me! The places I mention are not worth changing a route for, but worth visiting if you are going along this route. Route #0 sounds better to me as well.
;)
 

zzffnn

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So for those national forests and parks along my route #0, do I have to camp in the wild? Is it more convenient to camp than finding a motel nearby?

I will have lots of relocation stuffs inside my tiny Honda Civic. So I am not sure I can sleep inside my car. A motel would be nice, but I don't know if I can easily find one near those parks?
 

Michael Meissner

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So for those national forests and parks along my route #0, do I have to camp in the wild? Is it more convenient to camp than finding a motel nearby?

I will have lots of relocation stuffs inside my tiny Honda Civic. So I am not sure I can sleep inside my car. A motel would be nice, but I don't know if I can easily find one near those parks?
I don't know the parks in question, and frankly it has been a long while since I camped. I would imagine there would be motels nearby any of the parks in the east coast, possibly excepting Maine and the Everglades. Sure, maybe it might be 10-20 miles from the park, but frankly the parks out here just aren't as big as the western parks.

Just for fun, I did a search for hotel or motel near <xxxx>, and usually hotels.com, booking.com, airbnb.com, tripadvisor.com, etc. were among the first links:
  • At least 15 hotels within 8 miles of Talladega National Forest;
  • At least 15 hotels within 2 miles of Chattahoochee National Forest;
  • At least 16 hotels within 23 miles of Nantahala National Forest;
  • Etc.
 

zzffnn

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Thank you very much, Michael. You even did my homework for me. You are too kind! Somehow I never thought about searching that way. Probably because it has usually been my boss lady's job 😅
 

protapic

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As an aside, when I make road trips through new areas, I often check roadsideamerica.com to see what fun, odd, unusual, or interesting places might lie along my route and be worth a stop. Never know when you might want to see the worlds largest ball of string or whatever. Maps for every state are available. Most of these are NOT parks or landscape photo ops however.
 

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