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Summer Vacation Drives in the USA - South

See the South's best driving routes on your summer vacation.

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Kentucky, Country Music Highway

Kentucky, Country Music Highway

Photo courtesy of Byways.org
By Susan Breslow Sardone

SCENIC DRIVE #6: Kentucky/Country Music Highway

If a road can have a soundtrack, this one has the twang of country. Starting in Eastern Kentucky, The Country Music Highway extends 144 miles.

Loretta Lynn, The Judds, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Skaggs, Dwight Yoakam, Patty Loveless, and other country-music stars grew up close to this scenic byway, and on a summer vacation fans can discover more about their lives and music along the way in Kentucky.

Allow two summer vacation days to take in the distinctive sites and sounds along this Kentucky byway. In addition to illuminating Appalachian folk ways, the region also features Native American landmarks, pioneer settlements, coal mines, crafts centers, Civil War sites, and lovely mountain vistas.

In Ashland you'll find the Highlands Museum and Discovery Center, dedicated to the history of the region's Native Americans. The town also holds the historic Paramount Theatre, where live music is still performed. The Big Sandy River, largest lake in this part of Kentucky, is a haven for anglers spending summer vacation days in Yatesville Lake State Park.

At Mountain Home Place in Paintsville, actor Richard Thomas (who played John Boy on "The Waltons" TV series) narrates a film about the life of Eastern Kentucky's pioneering settlers. Visitors can tour a recreated 19th-century farm. Dig into coal mining at the Van Lear Coal Museum and also pay a visit to Mayo Mansion and Mayo Church, both built with coal-tycoon cash.

Perhaps the best known destination along this scenic drive is Butcher Hollow, where country music superstar Loretta Lynn, the "Coal Miner's Daughter," was born and raised.

Deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, Jenny Wiley State Resort Park surrounds thousand-acre Dewey Lake. The park features a lodge and private cottages for rent, ideal places for a summer vacation. In addition to the park's natural treasures, there's also an outdoor theater that mounts live performances in summer. The nearby town of Prestonburg is home to the Mountain Arts Center and the Kentucky Opry. Country-music performances take place here throughout the year.

Known as the Grand Canyon of the South, Breaks Interstate Park in Whitesburg straddles the Kentucky-Virginia border. Carved by Russell Fork River 250 million years ago, its gorges plunge down to 1,600 feet. Elsewhere in the park there's an Olympic-size swimming pool that's open to the public in summer time from Memorial Day through Labor Day -- so remember to pack your swim suits on this vacation.

SCENIC DRIVE #7: North Carolina/Blue Ridge Parkway

Prepare for a long and leisurely drive if you intend to travel the full 469-mile length of the Blue Ridge Parkway on your summer vacation. It stretches from Virginia into North Carolina.

Carved into the highest ridges separating the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the route -- which has been called America's most scenic roadway -- reaches elevations of more than 6,000 feet in spots. Grandfather Mountain is the highest in the range.

A haven for hikers and lovers of the outdoors, 65-year-old Blue Ridge Parkway is a place of great beauty, featuring exhilarating mountain and valley views, tumbling waterfalls, and colorful plants and flowers along the roadside. The best time to visit is May through October; summer vacation is prime time here but you may prefer to schedule a vacation in time to view the dazzling foliage after summer.

Milepost markers make it easy to stay on course.

The North Carolina section of the parkway starts at Milepost 216.9, outside of Cumberland Knob. In addition to wanting to stop to take in the scenery, you'll find a number of worthwhile places to pause in summer.

These include the Northwest Trading Post; Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, a favorite of horseback riders; the Parkway Craft Center in Flat Top Manor; Shining Rock Wilderness; Linn Cove Viaduct; Craggy Gardens -- great for picnicking; the Museum of North Carolina Minerals; and Mount Pisgah in the Pisgah National Forest.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has six exits in the Asheville area. So there's no excuse not to stop off in that charming city on your summer vacation and tour Biltmore Estate, the country's largest private home.

Or unwind at the expansive underground spa at the Grove Park Inn, a member of the Historic Hotels of America. With the world's largest collection of authentic Arts & Crafts furniture and antiques under its red-tiled roof, the Grove Park Inn has earned a well-deserved spot on the National Register of Historic Places -- and it's is an ideal place to start or end a relaxing summer vacation.

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