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How to road trip New England on a budget

By Tobey Grumet
May 27, 2021
An Iconic Lighthouse In Portland Maine
Loaded with history, nature and family-friendly entertainment, New England is prime road-tripping country. Here's an itinerary of our favorite stops

The United States start in these six rugged states. And when British explorer Captain John Smith explored New England’s shores in the early 1600s, he grasped the charm and resilience of his surroundings – and officially made it the birthplace of a nation.

Of course, in addition to all its fascinating history, this northeast corner of the country is a hotbed of beautiful nature, culture and family-friendly entertainment – encompassing a spectacular culinary scene and a wide variety of affordable accommodations to discover and enjoy.

Want to spend more time exploring this diverse and distinct region? Here’s a blueprint to a reasonably priced road trip in New England – from Portland, Maine, to Mystic, Connecticut. From winding trails of the Appalachian Mountains, including eight mountains over 14,000ft in elevation, to the splendor of New Hampshire’s wild coastlines, you won’t have to miss a thing.

Portland, Maine

Come for the lobster, stay for… well, everything else. Portland might be Maine’s largest city, but you’ll be able to appreciate the craggy shorelines and secluded beaches as well as the preservation of the historic, yet quaint, Old Port district. The stunningly well-kept Portland Head Light is the oldest lighthouse in the state and is surrounded by the 90-acre Fort Williams Park, where you can hike, bike, picnic or sit by the beach.

See the full list: 51 affordable discoveries across America 2020

Ready for some culture? The Tate House Museum whisks you to Maine’s pre-revolutionary times, and the Portland Museum of Art, founded in 1882, is sprawled over three buildings – one designed by the late “starchitect” I.M. Pei. The dining scene is vibrant, and you can indulge in inventive small plates at Central Provisions, where most entrees are under $15, and $6 craft cocktails at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club’s Happy Hour. Of course, if its seafood you’re after, don’t miss the brown butter lobster roll at Eventide Oyster Co. The Press Hotel offers fun, boutique accommodations in the same building which housed the Portland Press Herald until the newspaper moved offices in 2010.

fall-colors-in-maine.jpg?mtime=20200124121744#asset:107779Maine's High Peaks Region is stunning at any time of year, but during the fall it really shines © Holcy / iStock / Getty Images Plus

High Peaks Region, Maine

Just over two hours’ drive from Portland along I-295 is this stunning, family-friendly destination with 10 mountain peaks over 4000ft. Perfect in any season, you’ll also be dazzled by its glacial lakes and clear rivers. If you want a scenic drive, take some time to tour its scenic byways, like High Peaks and Grafton Notch, which will give you a quicker way to view the spectacular surrounding mountains. Water sports include pontoon boat rides, fly fishing, kayaking and swimming – though it’s also well known for its ski resorts, Sugarloaf and Saddleback Mountain.

The town of Stratton is the perfect place to refuel and relax, and you can grab some comforting yet inexpensive options at the Looney Moose Café or head for burgers at the White Wolf Inn and Restaurant. The Mountain View Motel offers cozy rooms with full kitchen, and even allows furry friends to join you on your adventures. Though there is a lack of amenities, like a pool or restaurant, this motel makes up for it by offering gorgeous views and super-low room rates.

colorful-houses-on-a-lakeshore.jpg?mtime=20200124121739#asset:107778Bucolic lakes and cottages await you in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom © DenisTangneyJr / E+ / Getty

Northeast Kingdom, Vermont

Head westward on State Route 16 to enter this out-of-the-way, northernmost region of Vermont. Shimmied up against the Canadian border and the upper Connecticut River, it’s known for its peaceful splendor. Taking up approximately one-fifth of the land and over a quarter of The Green Mountain State, you can explore its over 200 lakes and ponds while also appreciating the accompanying dense forests and eight state parks.

Bikers, hikers and backpackers flock to this region to hit the Kingdom Heritage Trail system, which includes the Bluff Mountain Community and Gore Mountain Trail, while other adventure seekers might head to gape at Troy’s Big Falls, a monstrous undammed waterfall which includes a sheer cliff face of over 80ft. Burke Mountain offers downhill and cross-country skiing with over 200 inches of annual snowfall as well as views of the geologically profound Willoughby Gap (kids ski free in March).

Country cooking is on the menu at the Peacham Café, housed in a former firehouse while the more seasonal Mike’s Tiki Bar offers cocktails and 30 beers on tap under its thatched roof, with hearty grub from partner Vermont Food Truck as an accompaniment. For budget travelers, the Willoughvale Inn and Cottages offers calm, stunning landscapes and a little history, with its accommodations named after historical figures and places, like The Robert Frost suite or The Songadeewin Lakeview Cottage.

night-shot-of-New-Hampshire-coast.jpg?mtime=20200124121738#asset:107777New Hampshire's diminutive coastline packs many surprises © mountinez / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Seacoast and Portsmouth, New Hampshire

From the Northeast Kingdom, head southbound on I-93, swinging left in Manchester, New Hampshire, to arrive at this state’s miniscule coastline.

Enjoying an intoxicating mix of culture and maritime activities, this region straddles Maine and includes ownership of the Isles of Shoals and Star Islands. The entire Seacoast region covers 18 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, but head to Hampton Beach for family fun as well as a dazzling white-sand beach. Don’t want to go too far to lay your head? Room at Ashworth by the Sea, run under $150 a night, and the property features a heated pool with retractable roof to keep the kids happy as well as three different restaurants for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails.

Portsmouth, near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, is the country’s third oldest city and is an excellent jumping-off point for the living history of the Strawbery Banke Museum, the American Independence Museum and the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire. The dining scene is varied and abundant, and you can enjoy a more upscale, locally sourced meal at the Black Trumpet Bistro or head to Ceres Bakery for an affordable, casual selection of soup, salad, sandwiches and an array of homemade pastries. Stay at the lovingly renovated Hotel Portsmouth, a former 1881 mansion with vintage charm and free continental breakfast.

three-colorful-rowboats.jpg?mtime=20200124121733#asset:107776Falmouth is sometimes overlooked on a trip to Cape Cod, but it's worth a stop © Kenneth Wiedemann / E+ / Getty

Falmouth, Massachusetts

Take I-495 southbound to loop around Boston (or stop in for a bit if you have the time) and arrive in Cape Cod and the pretty little town of Falmouth, Massachusetts.

This official Preserve America community was also the residence of Katharine Lee Bates, the author of treasured tune, “America the Beautiful.” History aside, this serene corner of southwest Cape Cod is also home to over 70 miles of ocean shores, eight distinct villages and the Shining Sea Bike Path, with nearly 11 miles spanning farms, ponds, cranberry bogs and even salt marshes, spitting you into the village of Woods Hole.

Here, you can not only catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, but also tour the marine science facilities and aquarium at the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Head to Old Silver Beach for swimming in the calm, blue waters and views of Buzzards Bay and stay for the summer seafood dinners and vibrant sunsets at the beachfront Sea Crest Beach Hotel. Falmouth also offers further budget accommodations at Admiralty Inn & Suites and The Red Horse Inn, both of which have rooms for under $100 per night.

Sunrise-at-Point-Judith-Lighthouse-Narragansett-Rhode-Island.jpg?mtime=20200124121728#asset:107775Even if you've had your fill of lighthouses by now, you can never get enough fiery sunsets © Shobeir Ansari © Moment / Getty

Narragansett, Rhode Island

Trace the coastline westbound to arrive at this quaint and quirky seaside surf destination in Rhode Island, which offers access to smaller state park beaches like Roger Wheeler and Salty Brine. There you can watch the boats and local fishers, as well as the reliably vigorous waves of Narragansett Town Beach. Take a surf lesson from Warm Winds Surf Shop or just relax on the sand – or hop on the Block Island Ferry to do a little maritime exploring, including the Point Judith Light, a working lighthouse built in 1857.

Because this is New England, historical landmarks abound and you can visit the 23ft Narragansett Indian Monument, carved from a single Douglas fir tree on Kingstown Road.

To fully appreciate your surroundings here, tuck into the local seafood , and Aunt Carrie’s is known for its golden fried clam cakes ($5 for a half dozen) and chowders. The Anchor Motel is a budget-friendly choice, with 15 rooms directly across from Scarborough State Beach.

child-enjoying-an-exhibit-at-an-aquarium.jpg?mtime=20200124121724#asset:107774Mystic Seaport is a great stop for families © Photo by Brian T. Evans / Moment / Getty

Mystic Seaport, Connecticut

No, cult favorite coming-of-age flick Mystic Pizza wasn’t actually filmed at its namesake restaurant in this sweet, seaside hamlet less than an hour west of Narragansett on US Route 1. But if you pop in for a slice and a selfie, you won’t want to miss the rest of this village situated along the Mystic River.

Bluff Point State Park is home to over 800 acres of lush land for hiking, biking and fishing, and the historic district straddling the river has something for everyone, including the still-working Bascule Bridge built in 1920. The popular Mystic Aquarium was recently certified by the American Humane Conservation and makes a welcome home to sea lions, penguins and even sharks, while the Mystic Seaport Museum concentrates more on history, with a working preservation shipyard and recreated 19th-century village to explore.

Ford’s Lobster is an affordable, BYOB treasure on the water, featuring fresh lobsters as well as lobster roll and lobster bisque. Stay at The Whaler’s Inn in downtown Mystic, comprised of five different buildings, each housing rooms and suites with a nautical theme.

Produced by Lonely Planet for GEICO. All editorial views are those of Lonely Planet alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

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Road Trips

6 road trips stops along the underrated Gulf Coast

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Road Trips

3 rad road trips to visit Utah’s best state parks

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Road Trips

How to make your car road-trip ready

This content is sponsored byAre you ready? Not so fast. More than 60 percent of American families hit the road on vacation, and an estimated four out of 10 drivers are unprepared for emergency breakdowns The top reasons for roadside emergencies are fairly predictable: Are you one of the two-thirds of American drivers who don’t test their car batteries? Are you the one in five who has no idea how to change a tire? Are you one of the four in 10 who don’t carry an emergency kit onboard? Here’s how to ensure your next road trip goes off without a hitch. 1. Give your car a checkup You know the drill: Schedule a maintenance checkup in advance of your trip. Check the oil, fluid levels, battery, and tires. Make sure you have air in your spare tire. Sure, this seems obvious, but chances are you haven't done it yet, right? Keep a basic car care kit in your automobile © Getty Images 2. Carry an emergency kit Auto science is not rocket science: Pack a mobile phone and charger that can plug into your car, a flashlight (with fresh batteries and backups), a first-aid kit, a basic tool kit (including tire-pressure gauge and adjustable wrench), windshield wiper fluid, jumper cables, emergency flares or reflectors, drinking water, and snacks for both humans and pets. Assembling an emergency kit may seem like a hassle. You know what’s an even bigger hassle? Being stuck on the side of the road without any of the things on this list. Set good habits to keep your keys where you need them © Getty Images 3. Don’t get locked out Carry extra car keys, take a moment to grab your keys before exiting the car, and check the batteries on keyless-entry remotes and smart keys and keep them protected from water and other hazards. Some drivers find establishing consistent car-key habits (you might even call them rituals) helps them keep track of their keys. For instance: Always store keys in the same place, say the word ‘keys’ out loud before leaving your vehicle, and change batteries on remotes at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. Make sure your car insurance is up to date © Getty Images 4. Audit your insurance Double check your car insurance to make sure you have a printed copy of your policy and you are up to date on payments. Nobody wants to get in an accident far from home without the proper insurance. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet, and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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10 of the most scenic drives in the USA

This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.

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