Whether your family members are road trip experts or had to cancel an international flight this year and are planning your first road trip across states, our list of the best road trips in the USA below should give you some inspiration to start your planning!
You may be fans of driving along the coast with constant water views, exploring mountain peaks and alpines, or taking in desert scenery. But no matter which is the best USA road trip for your crew, we’ve got you covered with plenty choices.
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USA ROAD TRIP IDEAS:
- California: Pacific Coast Highway
- Florida: Miami to Key West Road Trip
- Western States: National Park Road Trip
- Colorado: Road Trip Loop through Denver
- Georgia: East Coast Road Trip
- North Carolina: Outer Banks Scenic Byway
What to Pack for a Road Trip
Before you hit the road, packing properly is essential! Check the weather forecast carefully and don’t forget the necessities below.
Like any good toad trip, making many amazing stops often means changing accommodations several times. The lighter you pack, the easier that will be! We love these carry-on sized suitcases and literally never leave home without them. They are available in a larger size too.
Another thing that always makes it into our suitcases are these packing cubes. They come with adorable and handy labels to keep things well organized. Consider packing each 2-3 days worth of clothes in each cube and then you only have to open one at each hotel! Does it get any easier than that?
What goes better with a road trip than snacks and picnics at each stunning vista? These cooler bags collapse so that you can fit them in your luggage during air travel, and then easily keep your food cold with just a little added ice from your hotel. We love these wine glasses for sunset date nights on the beach and these are our tried and true way for having cold water to stay hydrated on the road.
Depending on your time of year and destination, you may or may not need much beach gear. However, sunscreen is always a must, and these towels fold up sooo small that there is no excuse for not having one to sit on the sand!
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, is your tech gear. With all of these incredible views, this is not the time to run out of battery! This power bank will keep you charged on the road. Whether or not you are bringing your fancy camera to capture the epic views, or will rely on your trusty cell phone, don’t forget a charging cord and another one for backup. We love this case too for holding all of our cords and accessories.
Best Road Trips in the USA
CALIFORNIA: PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY
Of all the road trips in the drive from San Francisco to San Diego along California’s coastal highway is arguable the most scenic. Powerful waves with sandy beaches and beautiful rock formations, tiny beach towns with tasty eats, historical treasures, wine tasting, and rolling hills are all sure to fill your itinerary.
If driven in a straight shot you could make the drive down Highway 1 in only 11-12 hours. But that would be such a mistake! Take at least a few days but a week is best to see more of all that makes up this road trip.
After leaving San Francisco, the colorful beach towns of Santa Cruz and Capitola should be your first stops. Spend time on the beaches on the boardwalk and wharf and then head into the redwoods for some hiking or a train ride.
Monterey comes up next with an incredible aquarium and super tasty seafood along the water. The drive through Big Sur is a destination in itself and the 100 mile drive is worth every minute and every stop to soak up the views. Pismo and Avila Beaches are just south and are lovely spots for a beach picnic.
As you head into Southern California, Solvang is worth a stop for wine tasters and treats from the Danish bakeries. Huntington Beach offers casual beach restaurants along the sand, surf competitions and the perfect sand for beach goers. Carlsbad is the perfect entry into beautiful San Diego with a relaxing vibe, sunsets that can’t be beat, beach side paths for biking, and bluffs for hiking.
Recommended Activities on the California Coast:
- Alcatraz Island and San Francisco Grand City Tour
- Steam Train through the Santa Cruz Redwoods
- Scenic 17-mile Drive Audio Guide
- Pismo Beach Dune Buggy Experience
- Downtown Carlsbad Food Tour
FLORIDA: MIAMI TO KEY WEST ROAD TRIP
If you’re looking for one of the best, most beautiful road trips in the country, look no further than the Miami to Key West road trip. We’ve done this route a few times and are blown away each time by the scenery and fun stops along the way. Even better – it’s totally family-friendly!
With only 165 miles from Miami to Key West, you could technically make this road trip in about 3 hours and 20 minutes, but you’d miss out on the actual road trip aspect. We recommend spending at least 2-3 days driving through to Key West so you have enough time to hit the highlights. Once you reach Key West, we also recommend spending a few nights here, as it’s an awesome beach town to explore.
As far as places to stop to stay the night, we suggest staying at least a night in both the Northern and Middle Keys. Key Largo and Isla Morada are great places to stop for the night. While you make your way north to south, there are some must-stops along the way. It is important to note that most attractions on the route are referenced by what mile marker they are located near.
Make a stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (mile marker 102.5) to check out the country’s first underwater park that covers 70 square nautical miles. At mile marker 77 is another one of our favorites – feeding the tarpon at Robbie’s Restaurant, where you can enjoy brunch but and feeding 5 foot long fish from the pier! Another cool stop is at mile marker 48.5, where you can visit and take a tour at the Turtle Hospital. // Contributed by Hannah + Adam from GettingStamped
Recommended Activities in Florida:
WESTERN STATES: NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP
One of the best family road trips is a National Parks trip out West. We flew in and out of Minneapolis and road tripped for two weeks; however, if I had to do it over again, I would suggest at least three weeks. We spent a short amount of time and each of the national parks and monuments along the way and not enough downtime exploring the area.
I recommend stopping in Custer, South Dakota and making this a home base for visiting places like Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, the Needles Highway, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park.
Our next major stop was in Jackson, Wyoming where we hiked around Grand Teton National Park, went white water rafting, and rented bikes. The town of Jackson is a cowboy chic town with a walkable downtown district filled with delicious restaurants and shopping.
We then headed to West Yellowstone as a base for exploring Yellowstone National Park. We spent four days exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone, but here is where I would recommend adding more time. Yellowstone itself is huge and has so much to do for families. Some of the can’t miss activities are watching Old Faithful and other geysers erupt, hiking to Grand Prismatic Spring, viewing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and driving up to the northern town of Gardinier to notice how the landscape and geology of the park changes.
Our last major stop was in the town of Whitefish, which we used as a base for exploring Glacier National Park. Some of our favorite activities included driving through the Going to the Sun Road, hiking Avalanche Lake and Hidden Lake Trail, and enjoying the natural beauty of the various sections of the park.
We did this trip in late July/early August due to the kids’ school schedules. The parks were quite full and the trails had plenty of people on them at all times, which we did not enjoy that much. One of the reasons we did this trip so late in the summer was because the entire Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park opens for 2-3 months out of the year and that was something we really wanted to do. If this is not high on your list, then I would try to plan this trip for early Fall, as the crowds will not be as high and the temperatures should be mild.
We also planned this trip because our son was in 4th grade and that is the year all fourth graders are eligible for the Every Kid in a Park program where the entire family gets free entrance to national parks for the year. The 4th Grade National Park Pass saved our family hundreds of dollars and since most days were filled with hikes, we only paid for meals, hotels, gas, the rental car, and some activities. It was a family road trip to remember. // Contributed by Margie from DQ Family Travel
Recommended Activities near these National Parks:
COLORADO: ROAD TRIP LOOP FROM DENVER
A Colorado road trip should not be missed! It is one of the most picturesque road trips in America, which the whole family will enjoy. However, be sure to plan your visit for after Memorial Day weekend. Some of the roads and a lot of campsites and activities remain closed from October until the end of May.
Begin and end your Colorado road trip loop in Denver. There are lots of great stops along the way but a few stand-outs include Boulder, Mesa Verde National Park, and Colorado Springs.
Boulder is perfect for hiking and bike riding since it has over 45,000 acres of designated trails. When you are ready to eat, head to Pearl Street. This historic street has lots of great restaurants and shops.
Mesa Verde National Park is a really unique stop along a Colorado road trip. It is a World Heritage Site with a fascinating history and dwelling remains of the Ancestral Pueblo people. While, Colorado Springs is home to outstanding nature. Garden of the Gods has crazy red sandstone rock formations that are as much as 300 million years old and Pike’s Peak and the Cog Train offer beautiful, but very different, vistas from above.
Ideally, we would recommend you spend no less than 2 weeks on a Colorado road trip however, it can also be completed in 1 week. You will encounter park fees along the way but you can cut down on overall road trip costs by camping and shopping for your own food which also supports local farmers. // Contributed by Oksana + Max from Drink Tea & Travel
Recommended Activities in Colorado:
GEORGIA: EAST COAST ROAD TRIP
Road tripping down the east coast of Georgia is one of the most family friendly road trips there is. The roughly 100 miles of coastline between Tybee Island, 15 minutes east of Savannah, and Cumberland Island packs a punch without too much driving. There’s an abundance of charming
towns, beaches and historic sites to be explored in a week or even a long weekend. This road trip could be done year round but the best time for cooler temperatures would be spring or fall.
For beach lovers, start your journey on Tybee Island with a visit to the famous Tybee Pier. Hang out, have a picnic or even fish if you have time. History and war buffs will love Fort Pulaski National Monument. See the fortification that once defended this coastal area. You can take a ranger guided tour or explore the many trails on your own. Tip: the Lighthouse Overlook trail is a short trail with some of the best views on the island.
From Tybee, meander down the coast about 50 miles to Darien, Ga, the second oldest planned town in Georgia. Hop out of the car and take a break in the cute downtown area or have a look at many shrimp boats in the marina. Seeing the golden marshes, you’ll understand why Darien inspired the “Golden Isles” description given to coastal Georgia.
Next up, just 26 miles south, is St Simons Island. This would be a great place to stop for the night. If you arrive in time for dinner, don’t miss my favorite barbeque in Georgia, Southern Soul Barbeque. Family friendly and conveniently located on your way downtown. After dinner, take a stroll through the Pier Village District and stop for ice cream.
Jekyll Island is the next stop on your family friendly road trip. Jekyll is less buildings and more nature. There are hotels and cabins to stay in but you could also plan a budget road trip and plan on camping. Kids and adults are sure to love Driftwood Beach where you could spend an entire day exploring the driftwood and trees that gives this beach an otherworldly feel.
If you have sufficient time, visit St Marys, Georgia and book a ferry to see the wild horses on Cumberland Island National Seashore. Visit here for the schedule and how to book your ferry. // Contributed by Lori from Southerner Says
Recommended Activities on the Georgia Coast:
NORTH CAROLINA: OUTER BANKS SCENIC BYWAY
A road trip along North Carolina’s Outer Banks’ Scenic Byway makes for a perfect family getaway. Starting in Currituck in the north, this 142.5 mile drive ends in the Crystal Coast region. In theory, this drive could be completed in 6.5 hours, but factoring in the ferries and stops you’ll want to make, plan on scheduling this trip over a long weekend or ideally a week.
Plan your first overnight stay in the Corrolla, Nags Head, or Kitty Hawk area. Book a tour to see the wild horses on Corolla (you’ll have a better chance of seeing them early in the morning). Climb up the Currituck lighthouse ($10 admission fee). There are plenty of things to see and do in the area. See where the Wright brothers took the first flight.
Spend your next overnight in Buxton. You’ll drive through some beautiful small beach towns like Rodanthe. Climb up two lighthouses — Bodie Island ($10 admission fee) and Cape Hatteras ($8 admission fee). Tickets are available day of only and are more likely to sell out at Bodie.
A ferry connects Hatteras to Ocracoke. Reservations are recommended. Spend a few hours exploring the island. Another ferry connects Ocracoke to Cedar Island, back on the mainland.
Following a drive to Harker’s Island, you should take another ferry and spend the day visiting Shackleford and Cape Lookout ($28). See wild horses on Shackleford island and go shelling. Enjoy the beach at Cape Lookout or climb the lighthouse ($8 admission fee). Return to Harker’s Island where you’ve reached the end of the road and North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.
The best times of year to visit the Outer Banks are when the weather is warm enough to enjoy North Carolina’s beautiful beaches. An ideal trip would be in the summer or fall, when the weather is still warm enough but the summer crowds have returned home. Parts of the road are one or two lanes in each direction such that crowds make traffic difficult. North Carolina’s Outer Banks’ Scenic Bypass is an ideal family road trip in the USA. // Contributed by Annick from The Common Traveler
Recommended Activities along the Outer Banks:
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