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Now that we are empty nesters, our annual Big Trip is a thing of the past. But I still love to road trip and see new things so I’m planning to continue my road trips but in a different way. Think Mini Trips instead!

Last month my husband and I spent a weekend at the beach followed by a quick two-day drive down the mid-Atlantic coast from Long Beach Island in New Jersey to Charleston, South Carolina. Time to squeeze as many stops into this short drive as possible!

The Proposed Route

On this Roadtrippers Trip Map you can see all the stops I had planned. We didn’t make it to all the stops as you can see – those have been toggled off.

(note -having technical difficulties getting the map to embed but you can click the link above to see the route)

Charleston Trip on Roadtrippers

Our mission for this trip was to avoid I-95. If you’ve ever driven on this interstate, then you’ll understand why we wanted to avoid it. Other than a couple of hours in the morning of day 2, we were successful!

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Day 1

Cape May Lewes Ferry

We took the ferry from Cape May, New Jersey, across to Lewes, Delaware. We had taken the ferry once before when the kids were little and we were looking for a way to change up the obnoxious drive up and down I-95 to get to our family’s beach house in New Jersey. It’s not faster than driving, but it does make the trip seem a little more fun. It takes about an hour and a half to get across the 17-mile expanse of Delaware Bay.

Vacation Mouse stuffed toy sits on car dashboard holding a ferry ticket
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We’ve got our ticket! Time to get aboard the ferry!
view of Cape May channel from the deck of the ferry
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Why drive when you can take the ferry?

Steampunk Tree House

Once we arrived in Delaware, our first stop was the Steampunk Tree House. The sculpture was originally created by Five Ton Crane (an artist collective based in Oakland) at Burning Man in 2007. After the festival, the owners of Dogfish Head Brewery paid $1 (plus unmentionable shipping and installation costs!) to move the tree house to Delaware where it now functions as a fabulous company conference room. You are not allowed to go inside but it’s quite interesting to look at from the outside. And as long as you’re there, you should probably try a beer or two or maybe even take a tour. It was too early in the day for us to drink and we didn’t have time for a tour but we would stop again in the future for sure.

metal steampunk style tree house in front of large brewery tanks
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Wouldn’t you just love to go inside this funky tree house?

Cape Charles Lighthouse Water Tower

Onward to Virginia! Just before we crossed the Chesapeake Bay, we stopped to see the Cape Charles water tower, which is shaped like a lighthouse. We were also hoping to visit the Cape Charles Museum but unfortunately, it was closed that day. The museum did have some railroad cars and historical information outside the building, so at least we got to see that.

water tower in the shape of a lighthouse in Cape Charles, Virginia
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Don’t you just love an unusual water tower design?

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Leaving the Eastern shore of Virginia, we drove over and under the Chesapeake Bay on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. This engineering marvel is a seemingly endless string of connected bridges and tunnels 17.6 miles long.

Chesapeake Bay bridge first span in the distance along a wide channel of water
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Incoming fun trivia tidbit… Are you ready?

How crazy is this… We crossed 17 miles on the ferry and then crossed 17 miles again but via bridge and tunnel. I had no idea that they both covered such a similar distance! What a fun bit of trivia that is!!

Now for a change of plans…

I did not do as much advance research and planning before setting out on this trip and one of stops was just too far away to arrive before closing time which we didn’t realize until we exited the tunnel, stopped for coffee, and entered our next waypoint into the map.

Unfortunately, the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina was cut from the itinerary.

Our other remaining stop on the itinerary for Day 1 was also going to be closed before we arrived. The Port O’ Plymouth Museum houses a replica of CSS Albemarle, a Civil War ironclad ship. The ship is moored in the river next to the museum so we would be able to see it even if we couldn’t go inside the museum itself so we decided to go ahead and keep that destination on our route.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. A big thunderstorm rolled in as we were heading towards the museum. We decided that looking at a ship covered in metal on a river was NOT the place to be in a thunderstorm so we ditched that stop too and headed for dinner and our hotel.

Day 2

Rocky Mount Mills

First stop of the day is the Rocky Mount Mills. Rocky Mount Mills is the site of the second-oldest cotton mill in North Carolina. It is now a mixed-use site with businesses, residences, restaurants, and breweries. Only the coffee shop was open when we arrived but it was a nice place to walk around and see the old buildings.

water tower and brick building with words Rocky Mount Mills Power House on the side
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Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

In a rare occurrence, I am repeating a stop from a previous trip. The kids and I stopped at the Whirligig Park on Big Trip 15 and loved it! My husband missed it last time so we decided to stop since it was close to our hotel.

sign for Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in front of several tall whirligigs on poles
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It’s just as great the second time! I just wish it had been a bit breezier for this visit.

US Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum

This was a fun stop. These big military museums have great funding and support and are always enjoyable to visit. (You can see the Marine Corps Museum here and I’m hoping to visit the new Army museum in the DC area soon!)

parachute and parachutist mannequin suspended from ceiling at airborne museum
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It was interesting to see the history of parachuting and the military applications and operations through the years. The exhibits I found most interesting were the Waco Glider – a jeep drives right out of the nose after landing! – and the Triple Nickels.

Waco Glider on display at Airborne Museum
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Outside the museum there is a Special Operations Forces K9 Memorial called Constant Vigilance. The SOF K9 Memorial Foundation was created by artist Lena Toritch to memorialize fallen Special Operations Forces Canine Heroes killed in action.

Constant Vigilance statue of german shepard dog
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More back roads…

The rest of day 2 was spent on the backroads between Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina. At one point we even lost our cell signal. Great scenery though and no interstate traffic to deal with so totally worth the time.

Day 3

Fort Moultrie

While we were in Charleston, we were looking for indoor activities. Heat index of about 100° is not my idea of fun, that’s for sure. Ultimately we decided to go to Fort Moultrie which is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument. We figured the visitor center would have air conditioning at the very least.

We were wrong.

Unfortunately, the air conditioning at Fort Moultrie wasn’t working that day. So much for that great idea to avoid the heat! haha! Nevertheless, it was interesting to learn about the history of the area. The fort was in use all the way through World War II, so it was interesting to see some more modern upgrades inside the fort which most historic fort sites don’t have.

Vacation Mouse stuffed toy sits on cannon overlooking Fort Moultrie and the waterfront
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A great view from the top of Fort Moultrie!

And that’s a wrap!

A quick little mini trip down the coast… Making it a point to take back roads and find interesting things along the way turned what could have been a routine drive down the interstate into a fun coastal adventure!

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