Our 7 Favorite U.S. Road Trip Vacations
We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite routes across the nation.
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(This article appeared previously on Grandparents.com)
Whether you’re driving a convertible, a sedan or an SUV, affordable summer fun is on the open road. We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite routes across the nation. These classics connect terrific destinations, and provide eye-popping scenery and family-friendly stops along the way.
So grab a map (or an app!), pack a cooler and buckle up. Adventure — and great memories — are just up the road.
Pacific Coast Highway – San Francisco to San Diego, Calif.
Distance: 501 miles
Theoretically, you could travel the Pacific Coast Highway and drive from San Francisco to San Diego in 10 hours; you’d see the stunning coastline views that have made the route so justifiably famous. But there’s so much to see and do along this celebrated freeway that some folks take a week or two to explore all it has to offer.
One of our favorite stops is the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is among the best in the country. The jellyfish exhibit will wow young and old alike, while the sea otters are sure to have everyone smiling. Another not-to-be-missed destination is the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. On your way to the castle, be sure to visit the elephant seals who hang out on the beach at Piedras Blancas. Drive the route north to south for ocean side views, or go south to north if you’re more comfortable on the inside lane.
Arkansas Scenic Route 7 – El Dorado to Diamond City, Ark.
Distance: 296 miles
This north-south path through the Ozark and Ouachita mountains is recognized as a National Forest Scenic Byway and is a favorite for motorcycle enthusiasts. It passes through national forests and state parks, with twists and turns offering breathtaking views.
Beyond that: Hang glide at Sunrise Point in Mt. Nebo State Park, or maybe just watch others ride the thermal currents! Experience a relaxing soak in one of the mineral baths that made Hot Springs famous, stop at Mystic Caverns if you enjoy subterranean grandeur and don’t miss the Garvan Woodland Gardens in Harrison. For a side trip or two, visit the state capital of Little Rock, or take a short detour to the Victorian town of Eureka Springs — the entire city is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway – Washington, D.C., to Cherokee, N.C.
Distance: 574 miles
You don’t need to drive the full length of the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway to have a spectacular road adventure. But, if you have the time to stop, it will be a trip you will never forget.
Check out the Natural Bridge in Virginia or Linville Falls, a 90-foot, three-tiered waterfall that lands in North Carolina’s Linville Gorge. For some man-made excitement, plan a stop in Bryson City and do some ziplining with the Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours. And if that’s more excitement than you’re up for, no problem. The 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate in Asheville has beautiful gardens, live music, a winery and more.
Great Lakes Seaway Trail – Ogdensburg, N.Y., to Erie, Pa.
Distance: 518 miles
If your vacation bucket list includes a visit to Niagara Falls, you may want to consider getting there on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail. The falls are undoubtedly a highlight of the route, but you’ll find much more to make this a road trip to remember.
If you can, try to time your visit to catch all or part of Oswego’s Harborfest, or step back in time at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. In Rochester, N.Y., you’ll find The Strong, a National Museum of Play, which may whet your appetite for a stop at the Herschell Carousel Factory Museum in North Tonawanda. Near Buffalo, you’ll find Graycliff, a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The route boasts 28 lighthouses, too. If you’re ready to relax after your long drive, check out the wineries in Lake Erie Wine Country.
Overseas Highway – Miami to Key West, Fla.
Distance: 162 miles
The Sunshine State doesn’t lack for places where you can breathe in the salty tang of ocean air and look out at the sea and sky. But even in Florida, the Overseas Highway is something special.
Head south from Miami on U.S. Route 1 and you’ll soon find yourself in the Florida Keys, enjoying one of the most beautiful drives the country offers. You’ll find lots to explore and do there. For thrill seekers, it’s hard to beat the jet-pack experience, a relatively new water sport that provides levitation-like flight. Nature lovers will thrill to attractions like the Turtle Hospital in Marathon Key, or swimming with stingrays, dolphins or sea lions at the Theater of the Sea on Islamorada. And, of course, no trip to the Keys would be complete without a ride on the Conch Train in Key West.
Great Northern Highway – Seattle, Wash. to Bar Harbor, Maine
Distance: 3,318 miles
If you have time to do a transcontinental drive, you will not be disappointed with the Great Northern Highway, much of which consists of U.S. Route 2. You won’t find many big city lights — mountains, prairies, forests, rivers and wildlife are the star attractions.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find man-made fun as well, though. Route 2 is the closest paved road to the Fort Peck Dam, a marvel of engineering and the largest hydraulically filled dam in the U.S. If you want quirky and quaint, check out the statue of Paul Bunyan and his Big Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minn., or spend an afternoon in Santa’s Village when you pass through Jefferson, N.H.
Route 66 – Chicago, Ill. to Santa Monica, Calif.
Distance: 2,448 miles
For almost 90 years, this iconic route — called the Mother Road — has attracted adventure-seekers from around the world. The road was decommissioned in 1985, and that means it can be hard to follow the original route. Still, as many as 200,000 drivers do so every year. If the full loop is too daunting, choose a section and let the exploration begin.
We focused on the stretch between St. Louis, Mo., and Albuquerque, N.M., and especially enjoyed two spots in Oklahoma: the Blue Whale in Catoosa, where you can picnic and take a swim, and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton. And for hands-on fun there’s nothing like a stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas; bring your spray paint and let your inner rebel indulge in some graffiti art.