Fall adventure: road trips

Crisp fresh air, the colours and scents of autumn, funky small towns and eateries you wouldn’t discover any other way – it’s hard to beat a fall road trip for an all-encompassing travel adventure.  

Post-pandemic, there’s not much planning required for a road trip – decide the general area, throw some clothes in a bag, plug in the GPS and head out on a gorgeous fall day. However, I like to plan our route and book accommodations ahead of time; it’s a general preference so that I don’t have to worry about anything when we arrive at one of our stops, although we rented a car in New Zealand a few years ago and drove around off-season without prebooking much.

I wouldn’t attempt free-wheeling your lodgings in peak season anywhere. When we arrived in Innsbruck, Austria late into the evening one August years ago (after sloshing our way through a storm in the Alps), I was very grateful we’d booked our hotel in advance, as every single piece of lodging was booked up and we watched several hapless tourists search in vain for a place to stay. (Same in Killarney, Ireland in October; a honeymoon couple was SOL, not sure where they ended up.)  

Getting ready to cross the famous Mackinac Bridge in Michigan – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

When I think of it, the majority of our trips, both here and abroad, have been road trips. The freedom of the road is a powerful enticement, and the flexibility to stop where and when you want. Friends of ours once did a similar trip to England to ours, but using a rail pass, and regretted not being able to get to some of the out-of-the-way castles and other sights that we’d been able to drive to.  

Funky little general store in Northern Ontario – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

If you feel like enhancing your road trip a little, packing a picnic is a fun way to start out. There are two caveats to this: a) make the food easy to prepare and eat, or pick up some food along the way, and b) don’t forget that you have to clean up any dishes/utensils/thermoses/etc. that you use and store them somewhere throughout the drive. But if you’re willing to do both of those, there’s nothing quite like a fall picnic in a park, in a wooded area or along a river to really make the most of the golden weather.  

Pretty French River along Highway 69 in Ontario – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

And if you’re really lucky, you can combine all three elements in one location. On a road trip to northern Ontario, across the top of Lake Superior and down through Michigan quite a few years ago, hubby and I headed out before dawn to avoid morning traffic jams and pulled off for a late breakfast at French River, a small community where my family always stopped on our own road trips when I was a child. At that time, there was a very rudimentary picnic area with just a wooden table (potty breaks were in the woods); now there’s a visitor centre detailing the history of the area and with actual washrooms.  

Easy fall picnic spread – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

We prowled around until we found some lovely flat rocks under the trees and overlooking the river. The sun was out and the air was clear and cool as we spread out a well-used ochre-and-grey plaid picnic basket and some pretty fall-themed paper napkins. There was a thermos of tea, some very easy baguette sandwiches made with Western-style eggs, cheese and bacon (no utensils needed), and pumpkin whoopie pies for dessert. Glorious weather in our aromatic mid-Ontario woods, good food!  

Delicious breakfast baguettes – no fuss, no muss – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

I discovered the joys of whoopie pies a number of years ago, and have been madly in love with them ever since. They don’t sound like much – a creamy filling sandwiched between two layers of a cross between a cake and a cookie – but if done well they’re heaven on a plate. They even feature in my first novel, Through the Monster-glass, at a bakery called Catspaw with a mysterious owner in the fictional town of Llithfaen that my heroine moves to. I’m including the recipe for the fantastic pumpkin whoopie pies I made in this post – do try them out!

My hubby and I have made fall road trips through several part of Ontario (our home province), New York State (one of our favourite places to go – see Sleepy Hollow details on this blog in two weeks), New England, down to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, through large parts of England, and all the way down to New Orleans and back up through Alabama on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Fall is shoulder season, so there are far fewer crowds, the weather is usually great and prices for accommodations and food often drop off considerably (unless you’re going to a leaf-peeping area, in which case fall is more like peak season)

On an autumn ghost walk at Colonial Williamsburg – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Top tips for road trips if you’re a novice:

  • Do map out a general route to keep you on track without wasting too much time. If you have a lot of time you can be more freeform, but if you’re keeping to a schedule of sorts, a preplanned route can still allow you some flexibility when you come across something interesting.
  • For the most part, I like to pre-book accommodations, but not always. Clusters of hotels and restaurants can be found all over the place these days, with signs along highways pointing them out, so it’s much easier to find spur-of-the-moment places to stay. I use Booking.com, which has a very useful phone app for just such cases. And sometimes things happen on the road that require an abrupt change of plan, so having access to a site like Booking.com’s extensive list of available lodgings in the area comes in very handy.
  • You may have your own preference for finding accommodations; as long as it’s reliable and priced well you’ll be in good shape. A lot of people go camping; that’s never been our thing, but we have gotten rather envious lately of our neighbour’s custom-fitted camper-van.
  • Make sure your vehicle is in good working order. I do know people whose cars have broken down en route, which results in a huge waste of time just getting things repaired.
  • I like to throw some comfort items in a bag in the back seat – bottles of water, maybe a thermos of hot tea, snacks, a small pillow for naps, lap blankets (I get chilly when I’m sitting still for any length of time, and if the air turns cooler I can snuggle under one without cranking up the heat on my hubby while he’s driving). I even bring seasonally-themed lap blankets for atmosphere.
  • I do recommend having two drivers so that the secondary driver can give the primary a break as needed. My hubby and I both love to drive, but he likes to be the main driver on road trips while I navigate (which I’m very good at), and I do a lot of scenic photography while we’re rolling along. But on longer stretches he’ll ask for a break and I’ll take over behind the wheel for a while.
  • A good GPS is a godsend to avoid traffic jams and unexpected construction. I love to read maps, but they can’t always give you enough information in real time.
  • Don’t panic if you get turned around a little or find yourself on a road you’d rather not be on. Our GPS seems to like to take us places where we hear banjos starting to play. Stay calm, zoom out on the GPS screen and find your next best option.
  • If some of your drive is lengthy, audio books or vintage radio programs can help pass the time. You can search on your phone for stations that air old radio shows in a variety of genres. It helps if you can sync your phone to your vehicle’s audio system; just make sure you have your charging cable handy, as listening to radio shows for a few hours can drain your phone’s battery.
  • Build in time for potty breaks, leg stretches and a good meal. Your body will need it, and it’s fun to explore area diners and sights. In New Mexico I insisted on stopping to take a photo of the World’s Largest Pistachio – it’s just something you have to do!
  • Do be adventurous and try out local food places. Local people can be a goldmine of information about good places to eat…

  … even if the restaurant looks a little sketchy when you arrive. At a golf course in Alabama, the gal behind the clubhouse desk suggested a little place called Hickory Pit Two (not sure where HP One was) for dinner, and “if you see the Piggly-Wiggly you’ve gone too far”. Well, we found HP Two without overshooting, and it wasn’t a place I would have ventured into without a specific recommendation. A small diner on the side of the road, some of the patrons were ‘interesting’ (bringing their own backwoods knife to cut their meat), but it was clean, friendly and had good southern BBQ; we thoroughly enjoyed it.  

Diner stop on route 396, New York State – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

In Yorkshire, England, we were late stopping for lunch one day, and pulled into the first likely-looking pub we came across. Their grill had already closed until dinnertime, but the owner very kindly offered to make us tea and sandwiches while we played with their big, friendly dog; it was delightful.  

Serendipity on a road trip: roadside food truck in Northern Ireland – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

On the road across Northern Ireland from the east coast to the west, in the middle of nowhere we came across a little food truck on the roadside selling just sweets and coffee or tea. The owners must have had enough traffic to make it worth their while, and we enjoyed the most delicious frosted cinnamon rolls we’ve ever had (pillowy soft, not too sweet) sitting at a picnic table in the blustery weather overlooking a picturesque valley below.  

If you need a break from life and don’t feel like planning or paying for anything too extensive, think about having fun with a road trip. It’s a slower, more intimate way to go exploring, with all the character and quirky charm that hitting the road entails. No jostling in airports, squishing into airplane seats and worrying that your luggage will show up – just you and the open road 😊  

Spectacular driving through the Southern Alps on New Zealand’s South Island – photo by E. Jurus, all rights reserved

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple-Marshmallow Cream

A good whoopie pie has cookie-cakes that are tender inside but firm enough to hold being sandwiched together with a luscious fluffy filling. This recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine, and you’ll find a printable version on their site. The filling is very rich, so I suggest making the cookie-cakes a little smaller than the recipe recommends so that eating the assembled ‘pie’ isn’t overwhelming. The filling keeps well and you can make enough for a couple of days on the road if you choose. If you’re heading out early in the morning, as we did, you can make the pies the evening before and chill them, then let them warm up a little on the drive for the filling to soften to eating consistency.  Makes about 2 dozen; if just for two of you, freeze extra cakes and only make enough filling for the total number of pies you’re taking on the road.  


1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
2 teaspoons maple extract (I used maple syrup)


3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup milk
Nonstick vegetable oil spray  

Make the Filling

Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add marshmallow creme and maple extract; beat until blended and smooth. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

Make the Cakes

Sift first 7 ingredients into large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in another large bowl until blended. Gradually beat in oil. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in pumpkin. Add dry ingredients in 2 additions alternately with milk in 1 addition, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Cover and chill batter 1 hour.

Arrange 1 rack in bottom third of oven and 1 rack in top third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment; spray lightly with nonstick spray. Spoon batter onto baking sheet to form cakes (about 3 level tablespoons each; about 12 per baking sheet), spacing apart. Let stand 10 minutes.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Cool cakes completely on baking sheets on rack. Using metal spatula, remove cakes from parchment.

Line cooled baking sheets with clean parchment; spray with nonstick spray, and repeat baking with remaining batter. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling on flat side of 1 cake. Top with another cake, flat side down. Repeat with remaining cakes and filling. DO AHEAD Can be made 8 hours ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature.

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