The northern landscapes will soon be getting their coats of frost, but once spring arrives, a driving vacation may be just the ticket for peace of mind.
An all-time favorite route, which I first traveled as a girl, is part of what is now called Minnesota's Great River Road. To follow the entire route would be about 575 miles, starting at the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca, traveling south through the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, then following the boundary between Minnesota and Wisconsin on into Iowa.
But my favorite weekend-sized stretch is about 60 miles southeast from the Twin Cities following either Route 35 on the Wisconsin side of the river or U.S. 61 on the Minnesota side.
This route wanders the area where the movie Grumpy Old Men (starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) showed us mirror images of our older selves. The roads lead past orchards and roadside stands filled with jewel-colored produce and let us linger at Lake Pepin for first-class eagle-watching perches on the Mississippi flyway used by migrating birds, ducks and geese.
Stops can include:
Red Wing, Minn., a name carried on both pottery and footwear, now providing historic walking tours and areas with boutiques and specialty shops. The historic St. James Hotel offers a 10 percent discount off its room rates for AARP members.
Pepin, Wis., is the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote Little House on the Prairie and other books, and where you can see a replica of the Ingalls' home.
Wabasha, Minn., is where Grumpy Old Men was filmed, and where you can order a cat to be included with your room reservation at the Anderson House bed and breakfast. The place also offers a 10 percent AARP discount.
For a map of the Great River Road, contact the Mississippi River Parkway Commission of Minnesota by calling (763) 212-2560 or by visiting the Web site at www.mississippiriverinfo.com. The map costs $3.
Another memorable drive is a series of back roads in Denmark from Odense to the coastal village of Faborg. A short drive by freeway standards, these back roads turned Denmark into a movie set for me, with white-painted barns and thatched-roof houses.
The roads paralleled sparkling blue fjords and then plunged into deep green forests such as those near Skorping and emerged at tiny villages with half-timbered inns. Stops to explore churches and castles, museums and manor houses revealed another side of Denmark.
For a map, call the Danish Tourist Board at (212) 885-9700 or see www.goscandinavia.com.
Share your favorite driving trips: Tell us where your trip starts and where it goes, including the official name or number of the specific road or highway and a brief description of what you like about it. If there is a best time of the year to travel the route you recommend, tell us that, too.
In a few weeks, we'll report on your suggestions. There are no prizes, just another way for each of us to share some good things with other travelers. Send to maturetravaol.com or write to P.O. Box 50400, Reno, NV 89513.
Exploring the highway
Hampton hotels is asking travelers to nominate historical, cultural or fun highway landmarks that need refurbishing. Your nominations will help Hampton choose which projects to undertake as part of its "Explore the Highway with Hampton" effort. Hampton is a company that has long been involved with senior discount programs.
To date, Hampton has spent an average of $10,000 on each of about a dozen projects ranging from refurbishing two of the original mission bell markers along El Camino Real _ the road connecting California's missions _ to renovating the 70-year-old Standard Oil Gas Station in Odell, Ill., on historic Route 66.
While it is Hampton money and staff that do much of the work, guests are invited to help with projects where they will not endanger themselves.
To nominate highway landmarks that need some help, write Explore the Highway with Hampton, P.O. Box 15422, Beverly Hills, CA 90209-1422, or go to the Web site at www.hamptoninn.com.
The Federal Highway Administration has a free "America's Byways" map that highlights All-American Roads and National Scenic Byways _ ideas for some great driving trips.
Byways are recognized for their outstanding scenic, cultural, historic or archaeological qualities by the U.S Transportation Department. Call toll-free 1-800-429-9297 or see www.byways.org. to get your copy.
"California Driving Tours" is a 48-page guide featuring 24 itineraries. The free booklet includes a traveler's almanac and tour maps. Also available is a 200-page state Visitors Guide and state map. Call toll-free 1-800-462-2543 or see www.visitcalifornia.com.
Senior World Tours of Ohio again has special trips for seniors 49 and older and one just for women among this year's itineraries. A seven-day trip with four days in Yellowstone National Park and four six-day tours with two days in Yellowstone are earmarked for seniors in good physical health. The Ladies Only Tour has four days in Yellowstone. Dates for the tours start in January and run through March with land-only prices ranging from $1,780 for 17 day tours and $1,415 for six days. New this year is a Feb. 2-8 snowmobile tour of South Dakota's Black Hills. Prices include use of snowmobile clothing and machines. Call toll-free 1-888-355-1686 or see www.seniorworldtours.com.
Mansfield, Ohio, has created a booklet describing five "Affordable Adventures" for family fun, nostalgia days, tee time (golf), Christmas and skiing.
Seniors 55 and over can deduct a 10 percent discount from the price of all the plans.
Nostalgia Days, for example, provides a visit to Malabar Farm State Park, where author Louis Bromfield lived and where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married. Other stops include a visit to craftsmen creating a carousel and the Ohio State Reformatory, where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed. In addition to accommodations and admissions, the package includes a $20 meal voucher. Each adventure has three different pricing tiers, depending on the hotel chosen. The nostalgia packages range in price from $89 to $144 per night.
Call toll-free 1-800-642-828 or see www.mansfieldtourism.org for your brochure.
Dollars and cents
On July 20, Portland, Ore., opened a streetcar system that links downtown, the gallery-filled Pearl District and Nob Hill, known for its shopping and eating venues, in a 4.8-mile loop. Each streetcar has low-floor sections allowing easy wheelchair access. The fare is free within the Fareless Square District downtown, while outside the district seniors 65 and older will pay a discounted fare of 60 cents. . . . The John F. Kennedy Museum and Boston Harbor Islands, (617) 223-8666, offer a combined package of a museum tour, a cruise and a guided tour of Little Brewster Island, site of Boston Light lighthouse, a National Historic Landmark. There are 76 steps and two ladders leading to the top of Boston Light, which also has a museum. Senior price for the package tour is $22 compared to $29 for other adults.
Contact Adele Malott by mail at P.O. Box 50400, Reno, NV 89513-0400.