It’s time to hit the great American highway for the kinds of outdoor adventures, great food, and cultural landmarks that only a road trip can deliver. Plus: Some timely tips for getting the most out of your driving experience.
Fire up your GPS and start your engines! Every corner of the U.S. delivers amazing road trip opportunities, from parkland to scenic byways to vibrant towns and cities along the way. Here, we’ve rounded up five of our favorite epic drives from sea to shining sea. Your only remaining challenge is to pick your favorite trip and hit the road.
BEST OF THE WEST: CALIFORNIA’S HIGHWAY 1
Pick any stretch of Highway 1 along the California coast and you’ll be treated to epic views and great stops along the way. But perhaps the most iconic portion of the route is the drive between the San Francisco Bay Area and San Simeon. While the drive can be accomplished in just a few hours, we recommend you plan affordable stops along the way: A motel stay in Santa Cruz, at the top of Monterey puts you walking distance to the beautiful beach and fun-for-the-entire-family boardwalk. A day or two in the city of Monterey gives you time to explore the coastal walking trail with its jaw-dropping views of the gorgeous blue waters of the bay and playful sea otters, a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and several world-class meals of fresh crab, sourdough bread, and other California favorites. Continue down Highway 1 for the star attraction, the winding drive along the cliffs of Big Sur, towering over the Pacific, and stop at Pfeiffer State Beach or a walk in the mountains just to the east of the highway. Your Highway 1 road trip can end at San Simeon, home to the incredible estate built by William Randolph Hearst with its truly amazing art collection and grounds. Or keep driving south for the delights of coastal communities such as San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay, and the renowned beaches and cities of Southern California!
ROAD TRIP TIP: Before leaving home, make sure you have the appropriate auto insurance policy for your vehicle and needs. A visit to Geico.com can help you understand your options and potential savings.
SOUTHERN CHARM: BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
You don’t have to choose between a big-city culture and the natural beauty of a national park. The Blue Ridge Parkway allows road trippers to enjoy Washington, D.C., with its free museums, historical sites, and cultural offerings, then head to Virginia’s Skyline Drive along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of FDR’s New Deal projects, linking Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in North Carolina and Tennessee. The parkway’s hairpin turns and epic tunnels will delight every family member, and a manageable, affordable national park experience is unforgettable, with ranger-led walks and talks, serene hiking trails, and the opportunity to spot an array of wildlife, including black bears, from a safe distance. More adventurous travelers may want to try rock climbing and whitewater rafting (with guidance from a local outfitter). Cool towns such as Asheville, NC, deliver tasty Southern cuisine, and you can balance the great outdoors experience of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with fun family-friendly activities in Gatlinburg, TN. While camping is always the most affordable way to visit a national park, reasonable lodging is available a short drive from both Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains.
ROAD TRIP TIP: Get your car inspected before embarking on your drive. Proper tire pressure and engine tune-up can save you money on gas mileage, and having up-to-date safety and security devices may even reduce your auto insurance rates.
MIDWEST SPLENDOR: DOOR COUNTY, WISCONSIN
Can you keep a secret? Door County’s Coastal Byway, a Wisconsin Scenic Byway, delivers an amazing, lesser-known Midwestern vacation experience that keeps families coming back year after year. Stretching over 66 miles around the Door Peninsula (nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”), this scenic byway and the stops along the way add up to a relaxing and delicious getaway. Situated between Lake Michigan and Green Bay, the Door Peninsula can be explored in a weekend, or you can stretch out your experience (which we heartily recommend) over several days with stays in the region’s beautiful towns. Ephraim, on the shores of Eagle Harbor, boasts beaches and harbor views you may associate only with New England, and a stop at Wilson’s for ice cream is a must. Peninsula State Park is one of those “hidden gems” just waiting to be discovered, with acres of forest, shoreline, and camping facilities. You’ll find great food in the town of Sister Bay, and some pleasant opportunities for quiet family time on the eastern side of the peninsula in Bailey’s Harbor and Jacksonsport.
ROAD TRIP TIP: Pack a cooler with fruits and veggies, whole grains, grab-and-go protein like cheese sticks, and plenty of water (when visiting a wilder space such as a national park, a gallon of water per passenger per day is recommended).
SOUTHWESTERN PARKS: UTAH’S ‘MIGHTY FIVE’
Did you know that Utah packs five incredible national parks into one state? Whether you hit two, three, four, or all of the “Mighty Five” (Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands), a scenic drive into Utah’s wild spaces is perhaps the ultimate road trip experience. While your GPS may recommend major highways along the way, give yourself permission to explore Scenic Byways such as State Route 12, the 120-mile drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon, and return home with brag-worthy photographs you can’t snap on the Interstate. Once you enter one of Utah’s national parks, hiking will likely be the “main event,” and each park deserves at least a day or two, whether you take ranger-led walks or strike out on your own. Consider trying something new, like a guided horseback tour in Bryce Canyon, and remember that Bryce and Zion both offer exceptional public transportation to get you from site to site. Camping is an affordable way to bunk down in Utah’s parks, but be sure to reserve your spot several months in advance, especially if you’ll be visiting during the summer high season.
ROAD TRIP TIP: Don’t count on GPS as your only source of driving directions, especially if you’re visiting a national park or other wild space. Pick up printed maps that cover your road trip and plan out each day’s driving in advance using both GPS and your map - you’ll thank us when your smartphone suddenly says, “No Service.”
ULTIMATE NEW ENGLAND: VERMONT & WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS
The Green Mountains of Vermont and the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts deliver one of the Northeast’s finest driving experiences, easily reachable from New York, Boston, and other cities. Start in Bennington, VT, where you’ll soon discover that a New England road trip can combine world-class art and culture with natural beauty right outside your car window. The Bennington Museum offers a permanent art collection plus exhibits devoted to contemporary work, and the Grandma Moses gallery lets visitors not only enjoy the work of the iconic American folk artist but also to recognize the nearby Green Mountains as the backdrop of many of her most iconic paintings. Outside Bennington there are ample opportunities for canoeing, hiking, and chowing down on comfort food (and, yes, they serve classic New England clam chowder even as far inland as Vermont). Head to Williamstown, MA, for another incredible art collection, the Clark, and a truly charming small town experience with a vibrant downtown, great shopping, and more. Then it’s off to North Adams, MA, for the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the endless opportunities for exploring the nearby Berkshire Mountains. You can keep busy in western Massachusetts for days, and it’s also a relatively short drive to the beaches of Gloucester, the New Hampshire seacoast, and even the stretch of Maine near the New Hampshire border, but that’s a road trip for another day!
ROAD TRIP TIP: No matter what time of year you’re taking your road trip, there are a few packing essentials: Sunscreen (yes, even in winter), sun-protective clothing, plenty of drinking water, layers of clothing (T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets), and comfortable walking or hiking shoes.