Best Botanical Road Trips in the U.S.
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- Japanese gardens
- Desert delights
- Spring flowers
- Southern charm
- Roadside assistance
Drive through the epic Redwoods of California, or get out and stroll through an orchid hothouse in Florida. America contains so many different biomes that it’s easy to experience a huge variety of plants, in short flora-inspired road trips (or long ones, if you prefer).
The car insurance comparison app Jerry has assembled this epic list of the best botanical road trips in the U.S. Make sure your car insurance is up to date, and get ready to explore some incredible natural wonders!
Ceremonial and meditative Japanese gardens in the Northwest
There are hundreds of stunning Japanese gardens in the USA, but the Northwest is home to some of the best.
This botanical road trip includes Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Spokane, and Portland. Make sure you go during the fall, spring, or summer as some of these gardens close in the wintertime.
Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, WA
Start in Seattle at the Seattle Japanese Garden on Capitol Hill where you can explore three acres of meticulously arranged plants and garden fixtures.
Traverse the stone bridge, wave at koi fish, and experience a tea ceremony in the Shoseian Teahouse.
It’s close to downtown so there is plenty to see in the city if you want to make a day of it. Admission is $6 for adults, and the garden is closed in winter.
Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WA
Now, drive west for an hour across Elliott Bay until you reach Bainbridge Island.
Head to the Bloedel Reserve ($20) and explore the peaceful Sand and Stone Garden and traditional Japanese guesthouse. The reserve has woodland and botanical areas, too, so leave time to wander. Bloedel is open year-round.
Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Garden, Spokane, WA
Next, go east over the mountains to Nishinomiya Tsutakawa Gardenin Spokane, built in 1974.
Enjoy peaceful respite, gentle waterfalls, and architecture that you won’t find outside of Japan. It’s currently closed for construction but is set to reopen sometime in summer 2021.
Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR
If you prefer to head south, drive three hours to Portland and head into the hills to the Portland Japanese Garden.
Not only does this location offer great views but it also offers art exhibitions and education. Admission is $18.95, which is affordable considering the five acres of shaded pathways and museum-quality art onsite.
MORE: 14 safe driving tips
Commune with the Redwoods
If trees are your jam, then this pilgrimage is for you.
This botanical road trip takes you down the coast of California to commune with the most ancient groves of redwoods. If you enjoy car camping, this is the perfect route for sleeping in your vehicle amongst the trees.
Redwood National Park, CA
Start at the aptly named Redwood National Park in the northern part of the state. The trailhead is only a few miles off Highway 101, so you can commune with nature sooner. The trails are manicured, well-traversed, and mostly flat. However, if you’re prone to neck soreness, this might not be the journey for you—you’ll be looking up a lot. Even if your neck is in good shape, maybe consider a little pre-trail stretch.
Make sure you designate enough time to enjoy these anomalous plants—they’re national treasures for a reason.
Redwoods are resilient and these coastal giants can survive wildfires. Plus, California’s redwoods grow incredibly tall (they live up to 1,000 years) which produces a majestic canopy for enjoying peaceful hikes.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, CA
Next, go south an hour and a half and you’ll find Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
This is where Instagram photos are made. Here you can be transformed by Avenue of the Giants, a scenic route that includes three enormous redwoods that you can actually drive through.
Sequoia National Park, CA
Four and a half hours east of Big Basin is Sequoia National Park on the edge of Death Valley. This park hosts the world’s largest redwood tree, a towering specimen known as “General Sherman” that measures 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet wide.
Key Takeaway You can find many restful and inspiring botanical destinations on the West Coast.
Desert delights - cacti, oh my!
Joshua Tree National Park
The desert is a place of reflection and sacredness for many cultures, and Joshua trees are a symbol of resilience. The trees count Mormons (and U2) among their biggest fans because of their ability to thrive in difficult conditions.
You can visit these botanical beauties in Joshua Tree National Park, a mere two hours from Los Angeles. Choose one of these NPS-approved botanical hikes to get up close and personal with the Joshua tree, along with tons of other beautiful desert flora.
The backroads are perfect for touring these trees while avoiding the crowds. It takes about two hours to cross the entire park by car, but you’ll want to allocate plenty of time to explore on foot.
Spring’s best blooms
As early as late March at the lower elevations, you can greet the springtime on the Oregonian cliffs of the Columbia River. Not sure if the wildflowers are blooming? Check the official wildflower watch website before you make the trip.
Eagle Creek Trail, OR
Begin your trip 45 minutes east of Portland at Eagle Creek Trail.
This area suffered from devastating wildfires but is quickly rejuvenating. You may know this area for its famous waterfalls, but there are plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the flowers, too.
Memaloose Hills, OR
Back in the car, continue on I-84 east for another 40 minutes alongside the river until you reach Memaloose Hills.
Here, you can enjoy a five-mile out-and-back moderately challenging walk with fields upon fields of wildflowers. Seriously, you might wonder if you woke up in Oz.
Rowena Crest, OR
Just another 10 minutes on the road and you can conclude your springtime botanical road trip at Rowena Crest.
This is a one-mile jaunt beside a gravel parking lot that delivers stunning views and a burst of fresh air. Just remember, these are delicate ecosystems! Don’t pick the wildflowers.
If you prefer a more urban adventure, drive to the International Rose Test Garden in Portland and spend an afternoon sniffing prize-winning blooms. The roses typically bloom in late spring or early summer.
Key Takeaway If you want some fresh air and stunning plant life, Oregon and California’s Joshua Tree Park are ideal.
Greenhouses and indoor conservatories
There are stunning and historic greenhouses just waiting to be discovered. Buckle up and throw on your best Regency garb for this epic botanical road trip to visit some of the country’s best greenhouses!
Lyman Estate, Waltham, MA
The Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts is one of the country’s oldest greenhouses—and it’s still functioning today.
It was built in the early 1800s and it contains unique botanical and architectural specimens that are pre-Victorian. There’s even a nursery where you can purchase your own plants.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
Six hours away from Waltham is Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, just outside Philadelphia. The main conservatory is stately, but the vibrant colors inside will remind you of Willy Wonka’s Candyland.
Ivy-covered columns give way to lilies, and you may even catch the sound of an Aeolian pipe organ in addition to the babbling waterfalls.
Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburg, PA
If you have another five hours, continue west to the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. Enjoy a 14-room glasshouse, bonsai collections, and exhibits on sustainable gardening and architecture. The remarkable exterior alone is entirely worth the trip.
Key Takeaway No matter the weather, conservatories are a great way to discover unique plants.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, FL
As the international headquarters of the American Orchid Society, you will get to experience some of the most exotic blooms in the world. Did you even know there were 1,000 different varieties of palm trees?
Don’t miss the orchid display and the waterfalls.
Avery Island, LA
If you want to continue your botanical road trip through the South, go to Avery Island, Louisiana, and visit Jungle Gardens for an unusual exotic collection.
There are 170 acres to explore, and you can get up close with palms, irises, azaleas, camellias, and tons of other tropical foliage. It’s also an egret sanctuary so there’s a strong chance you will see these magical birds, too.
Key Takeaway Due to its hot climate, the South is home to vibrant and exotic foliage.
Find unique flora in cemeteries
Before America had public parks, there were “garden cemeteries.” Yes, they’re for dead people—but why not create a space for the living to enjoy, too?
If you aren’t creeped out by a pleasant stroll through the headstones, consider visiting one of these flora-filled cemeteries.
Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA
Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah is regarded as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. You might’ve seen it pictured on the front cover of the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
It gets less foot traffic than other public parks, so you can find remarkable natural beauty here. The live oaks with draping moss are worth the trip alone.
Salt Lake City Cemetery, SLC, UT
Take a botanical road trip to the Salt Lake City Cemetery, nestled in the scenic foothills of the Avenues neighborhood.
Parking is abundant here and the cemetery offers a scenic view over the entire valley below. Among the tombstones are some of the state’s earliest pioneers.
The peaceful tree-lined paths offer plenty of shade from the bright desert mountain sunshine, and the shrubbery and flowerbeds offer insight into burial traditions from the 1900s.
Saint Philomena Catholic Churchyard, Molokai, HI
Saint Philomena Catholic Churchyard in Molokai, Hawaii, gets an honorable mention. This cemetery used to be a leprosy settlement, but it’s now a restful oceanside historic site with tropical vegetation and unbeatable views.
Roadside assistance membership
Don’t leave for your flora-infused trip without a backup plan!
Jerry’s roadside assistance membership is easy, affordable (a whopping $7 for a single vehicle), and the perfect way to ensure that nothing ruins your road trip. Hello, towing and Uber credits!
Before you drive around hugging trees or meandering meadows, make sure you prepare properly with road trip essentials—and get your proof of ID handy.
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What is an arboretum?
An arboretum is a collection of trees. A garden, on the other hand, is a more general term for a collection of plants.
Is it free to visit public gardens?
Many public gardens are free, yes! It’s always best to check online or call ahead to confirm, however.
How do I find the best botanical destinations near me?
You can usually find some interesting gardens or botanical collections on college campuses near you. Another tactic is to search Google Maps for green areas and tap to learn more. Or simply visit one of the destinations highlighted above!
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