Road trips are a popular way for families to take vacations. Not only do you save yourself loads of money on airfare, but you get to see a lot of the country between Point A and Point B. Many trips, though, aren’t about just getting from here to there. Some road trips are great for what you see and do along the way, together with your favorite people. So where to go? Here are some family road trip ideas — some places we have been, and some that are on our family road trip bucket list!
Family road trip ideas for the South
Houston – Austin – San Antonio
Drive among the cities in southeastern Texas for a variety of family fun.
In Houston, visit Space Center Houston to learn about America’s space program and tour a replica of the space shuttle. Also check out the Houston Museum District, which includes a children’s museum, art and science museums, the Houston Zoo, and even a vintage-style train ride around Hermann Park.
When you’re ready to move on, Austin is 2.5 hours away and full of great Texas barbecue. It’s also the state capital. Stroll down South Congress Avenue (“SoCo”) for restaurants, shopping, and a funky Austin vibe — and for siting bats that come out of the bridge every evening from March-November. Go to Covert Park and hike up Mount Bonnell for great views of the city. Families with young children will have fun at the Thinkery, a hands-on play and learning lab dedicated to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). And if you’re a Whole Foods fan, visit the original market on Lamar Blvd.
As you make your way to San Antonio, visit McKinney Falls State Park just outside of Austin. Swim, hike, fish, camp, or stay in a cabin here if you like. You might also want to spend a day at the Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels. Once you’re in San Antonio, take in the Riverwalk (ride a River Boat!) and the Alamo. Tour Natural Bridge Caverns caves, and while you’re there, try out the maze and mine for gems.
Drive the 3 hours back to Houston, stopping in at Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge along the way.
Music, nature, and history are a big part of any Tennessee road trip. Start at one end of the state and find lots to do as you drive to the other side.
Start in Memphis, where Elvis Presley fans must visit Graceland, one of the main attractions here, along with the National Civil Rights Museum. The city has several museums and halls of fame related to music, and walking along Beale Street is a must-do. Kids will love seeing the ducks parade twice a day at The Peabody Memphis hotel, which is a tradition there. Finally, walk across the Mississippi River on the Big River Crossing pedestrian bridge.
Drive 3 hours to Nashville for more music on your Tennessee road trip. Experience a show at the Grand Ole Opry or Ryman Auditorium. Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Reserve a tour of RCA Studio B, where several hits were made. See the Music City Walk of Fame, Nashville’s answer to the stars on Hollywood Boulevard. Not music-related, but consider a visit to Centennial Park to see a replica of the Athens, Greece, Parthenon that is an art museum.
On your way to the next stop in Knoxville, visit Edgar Evins State Park for the trails, lake, camping, or cabins. Once in Knoxville, find more outdoors fun at Ijams Nature Center and other areas around the city — which has put together an adventure guide to Knoxville. Kids will enjoy riding on a real steam train along the Tennessee River.
Less than an hour’s drive to the east is Pigeon Forge, which — along with nearby town Gatlinburg — is full of family-friendly fun. The area is full of amusement parks, rides, go-karts, mini golf, and live shows. In fact, there are so many family attractions that the Pigeon Forge site breaks it down by kid age range. Gatlinburg is also a gateway into Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the Sugarlands Visitor Center is just up the road.
Next, move on to Chattanooga about 2.5 hours back to the west. The most popular attraction is Lookout Mountain, where you can ride an incline train to the top for views of the area, and see Ruby Falls. Of course, this is also the city of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, made famous by the 1941 song. It’s a hotel now, but you can ride a train with the Tennessee Valley Railroad. Take your family on an old-fashioned riverboat cruise on the Tennessee River. You can also walk along the river at Tennessee Riverpark and play at Coolidge Park.
For other trips in the South, please also check out The Pack’s archive on Florida family travel.
Family road trip idea for the Great Lakes
Get to know one of America’s Great Lakes by driving around it and the four states that share it.
Start in Chicago, Illinois, on Lake Michigan’s southwestern shore. Everyone in the family will enjoy the world-class museums like the Field Museum of natural history, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. Spend some time at Navy Pier, which sticks out over the lake, with amusement rides, restaurants, shops — and fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday during the summer. View the city from the Skydeck if you have no fear of heights! And be sure to visit the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park.
On your way to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stop at Illinois Beach State Park to enjoy the beach, trails, or camping. About an hour up I-94, Milwaukee has several large parks on the lakeshore like Lake Park and nearby Bradford Beach. Take a lake cruise to see more of Lake Michigan. Kids will have fun at the swing park east of the Milwaukee River under the Holton Street Bridge and playing at the Betty Brinn Museum.
Continuing up the coast, visit Harrington Beach State Park to camp and enjoy an astronomy program at the park’s observatory. In the summer, take your family to swim and paddle at Sheboygan Quarry Park. Summer is also the time to visit the nature center at Point Beach State Forest.
In Green Bay, visit Bay Beach amusement park on the coast in the summer. Nearby, the free Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is open year-round and offers programs for the public, like wildlife talks and guided snowshoeing.
The charming cities of Marinette, Wisconsin, and Menominee, Michigan, lie across from each other on the Menominee River and are a good place to stop at lakeshore parks, have something to eat, or stay the night. Take Highway 35 along the coast and look for bald eagles flying overhead as you drive through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP). Pick up US 41 at Escanaba, then head east on Route 2. If you can make the time to visit Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, it’s definitely worth your time because they aren’t far away. At St. Ignace, cross the Mackinac Bridge separating Lake Michigan from Lake Huron. This is a good time to take a ferry to Michigan’s car-free Mackinac Island in Lake Huron if you want to explore this quaint village. Back on the mainland, set aside an evening for stargazing at Headlands International Dark Sky Park.
Now on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, visit the expansive Wilderness State Park with its miles of shoreline. In Harbor Springs, resorts like Boyne Highlands offer skiing and tubing in winter. Rent a kayak, paddle board, or pedal boat and explore Little Traverse Bay.
Farther south, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of Michigan’s natural gems. Check out the shoreline dunes, trails, camping, and ranger programs. As you drive south, you’ll find other parks and preserves protect the dunes on the lake’s eastern shore, including Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area and Muskegon State Park. A mishmash of different roads go along the lake — it’s up to you which you want to take and where you want to stop.
If you take I-94 to US 12 south into Indiana, you’ll run into Indiana Dunes State Park next to Indiana Dunes National Park, where you can hike, camp, and enjoy the towering dunes. Now you’re on Lake Michigan’s southern shore, a good bit of which has been industrialized. When you’re ready to leave, take I-90 back to Chicago to complete your loop around the lake.
Family road trip idea for the Northeast
Philadelphia – Cape May – Chincoteague – Washington, D.C.
When your kids begin to dive into history in school, take this trip to the United States’ top historical sites, with forays to quaint beaches and wild barrier islands. It covers five states and the District of Columbia.
Start in Philadelphia’s Old City so the kids can get a glimpse of American Colonial history. Visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Independence National Historical Park. The Betsy Ross House and Franklin Square are other top area sites, along with the Museum of the American Revolution and Elfreth’s Alley, considered the nation’s oldest street. Beyond historical sites, do some hands-on science at the Franklin Institute. Young children will want to go to Sesame Place and the Please Touch Museum. Finally, spend some time on the Waterfront with its piers and year-round skating.
Hit the beach an hour and a half away in Cape May, New Jersey, full of northeastern seaside charm. Visit Cape May Point State Park to enjoy the beach and tour its famous lighthouse. Get into nature at Cape May National Wildlife Refuge and the Audubon Society’s Nature Center of Cape May. For summer fun, go to nearby Wildwood, where Morey’s Piers offer amusement rides and waterpark attractions. Be sure to spend an evening at Sunset Beach to watch the sun go down on Delaware Bay and look for quartz crystals that wash up here.
For the next leg of your road trip, save yourself a few hours of driving and take the ferry between Cape May and Lewes, Delaware. Stop in at nearby Cape Henlopen State Park to see what this other side of Delaware Bay looks like. You’ll also want to visit Lavender Fields to see the gardens and pick up some honey and handmade soaps. The area is full of farms, wineries, and small inns. Follow US 113 south into Maryland, then turn off on Route 12 and take that into Virginia, where the road name becomes 679 or Fleming Road. Then take Chincoteague Road. On your way to Chincoteague Island, visit NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility visitor center to see space launch exhibits — check ahead of your trip to find out what programs will be offered or if there are any rocket launches scheduled. Pass over marshes of Virginia’s eastern shore on toward the coast and explore Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Chincoteague is well-known for its wild ponies that are free to roam the area. You might also spot fox squirrels and see dozens of species of birds. Together with Assateague Island National Seashore, the refuge preserves the barrier island habitat in a region where you can find outfitters and guides to take your family on a boat, kayak, or horseback tour. If you have the time, spend part of a day on Tangier Island in the middle of Chesapeake Bay.
When you’re ready to move on, travel US 50 through Maryland, cross Chesapeake Bay, and make Washington, D.C., your next stop. The US capital is full of monuments, memorials, and museums that will interest kids from around 4th grade and up. Top sites include the US Capitol, White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Smithsonian Institution museums, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (where currency is made). You can get outdoors at the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool, Rock Creek Park, and Canal Park. If you can time your trip with the blooming of DC’s famed cherry blossom trees, it’s a beautiful spectacle. Another thing most kids will enjoy: riding the Metro subway system.
Drive back to Philadelphia to complete your trip!
Family road trip idea for the Pacific
Tall trees, small towns, big cities, mountains, beaches, rainforest — this road trip from Northern California to Washington State has it all.
Start in Leggett, California, and drive north on Highway 101. From here to Crescent City, this road is full of parks and forests that preserve towering redwood trees. (From north of Redway to south of Stafford, it’s considered the Avenue of the Giants.) Visit the Redwood National and State Parks along 101, along with fun roadside attractions like Trees of Mystery. Hike, play on the beach, and camp in natural areas up and down the road.
Pass Crescent City, and you’re soon in Oregon. Here, too, Highway 101 is full of beaches, parks, and towns where you can hang out with your family and have fun. Check out Prehistoric Gardens, Humbug Mountain State Park, and Umpqua Lighthouse State Park. Ride a giant dune buggy across the sand at Sandland Adventures. Visit Sea Lion Caves. When you get to the Siuslaw National Forest area, you’ll find places to hike, camp, and see interesting things along the coast, like Thor’s Well. Look for whales from the beach at Bob Straub State Park. After Oretown, 101 leaves the coast a bit — it’s your choice to follow the road or find a variety of small roads that hug the shore. Visit the Tillamook Air Museum to see aircraft, trucks, and military exhibits. Move on to the beautiful and rocky Cannon Beach, where parts of The Goonies movie were filmed. (More scenes took place in Astoria to the north.) Keep going north on 101, cross the Columbia River, and move on to Washington.
Back on the coast, visit Cape Disappointment State Park to enjoy the beach and camping and to see the lighthouse. There are also exhibits about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Continuing north, stop at Lake Quinault and hike the short half-mile Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail and other trails along the lake. Soon you’re in Olympic National Park territory. Check for road closures and other park alerts before you arrive to explore the home of Mt. Olympus. Reserve a stay at Kalaloch Lodge or Kalaloch Campground, both on the coast, and check out Ruby Beach, which visitors enjoy. (Find more lodging and campground options here.) The road takes you to Port Angeles, where you’ll find a national park visitor center as well as a ferry to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, just across the waterway if you want to make the trip. Then you can either drive over to Kingston and take the ferry to Edmonds to visit Seattle, or go south on 101 to Olympia. Stop in at the Hands On Children’s Museum if you have young children, and see Tumwater Falls Park. Then take I-5 south through Portland and Mt. Shasta territory to get back to northern California.
Family road trip idea for the Southwest
Las Vegas – Southern Utah – Northern Arizona
From the glitz of Las Vegas to the wonders of the Grand Canyon, America’s Southwest has a unique atmosphere you’ll want to enjoy with your family. This road trip takes you through some of our iconic national parks, wild canyons, and vast deserts.
Start in Las Vegas, Nevada. Despite its reputation, there’s plenty of fun for kids at places like the Adventuredome, SlotZilla Zipline, and Shark Reef Aquarium. Walk the Strip for the spectacle of the buildings, the fountains at the Bellagio, mini Big Apple landmarks at New York New York, and the volcano at the Mirage. Take a gondola ride at the Venetian. Superhero fans will enjoy Marvel’s Avenger S.T.A.T.I.O.N. Mermaid wannabes will enjoy the mermaid shows at Aquarium Las Vegas. There are also family-friendly live shows like Cique du Soleil, Blue Man Group, and magic shows.
Drive about 2.5 hours to Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, as your next stop. This beautiful park is known for its mountains, canyons, hiking trails, clear-running Virgin River, and a tunnel you can drive through a mountain. It’s a great place to camp, but there’s also lodging in town — either way, try to spend some time in this area. To the east is Bryce Canyon National Park, offering more of southern Utah’s stunning natural landscape, trails, camping, and rock formations. Both parks offer a shuttle bus that visitors are encouraged to use to get from place to place within the parks. Southern Utah is studded with parks and other federal lands that are great to explore — Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park. Even if you can’t spend too much time in each of them on your road trip, consider day trips by local guides and outfitters.
From Arches in Moab — a great outdoors adventure town — drive about 2.5 hours to the Four Corners Monument, where the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona come together. This is a fun place for a photo opp and shopping for native Navajo wares sold on site, as the monument is managed by the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation also owns Antelope Canyon about 3 hours back to the east, near Page, Arizona. See the beautiful and other-worldly slot canyons here.
Then it’s time to head to the big canyon — Grand Canyon National Park, about 2.5 hours away. The North Rim of the canyon is open only during warmer months, weather permitting, while the South Rim gets visitors year-round. As one of America’s most-visited parks, it can become crowded on the South Rim. Parking lots and overlooks can get full, and campgrounds and lodging can fill up, so it’s best to plan ahead and arrive early. Explore the park on your own, or sign up for guided tours by raft, helicopter, mule, or horse. Some families prefer the western side of the Grand Canyon, run by the Hualapai tribe, where you can walk out over the canyon on a clear bridge called the Skywalk. (If you want to visit the Havasupai Falls area you may have seen pictures of, you’ll need to plan ahead, as it’s either a long hike to get there or a helicopter ride.) If you can’t get a campsite or lodging in the park, your best bet is to find a hotel in Williams, Arizona, a stop on the original Route 66.
From Williams, drive about 3 hours to the Hoover Dam, which is on the way back to the starting point of Las Vegas.
Family road trip idea for the Plains
Badlands – Mount Rushmore – Devils Tower
Far from being “flyover states,” Middle America has several interesting, fun locations. This road trip in South Dakota and Wyoming takes your family to several historical and natural stops.
Start your road trip in Badlands National Park near the town of Interior, South Dakota. Here, you can hike and drive in the region known for its eroded sedimentary rock formations. Camp or stay at Cedar Pass Lodge. On your way to the next stop, visit Prairie Homestead just outside of the park to see how pioneering settlers lived and see prairie dogs. In Rapid City, you could stop in at Bear Country, a drive-through wildlife park that keeps bears, wolves, bobcats, bison, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife of the region. From here, you’re about 20 minutes away from Rush Mountain Adventure Park, where you can tour a cave, take thrill rides, and mine for gems.
Next up, visit Mount Rushmore National Memorial to see late US Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln carved into a mountain. While you’re in the area, drive a half-hour to the Crazy Horse Memorial, where the Lakota leader is in the process of being carved into a mountain. There is no camping or lodging at the memorials, but you can camp in nearby Custer State Park, which also has trails, lakes, and beautiful Black Hills scenery. You’re a half-hour’s drive from Wind Cave National Park, where you can take a tour of the cave, go hiking, and camp. You’re also close to The Mammoth Site, an active indoor dig area where you can view Ice Age fossils and learn about paleontology in the museum. The Mammoth Site is in the city of Hot Springs, which is named for the area’s thermal mineral springs. You can enjoy the warm water year-round at indoor water theme park Evans Plunge.
Leave Hot Springs and take US 18 into Wyoming. Wind your way to CanAm Highway and Route 585 to US 14 in Sundance. Look for the Route 24 turnoff to take you to Devils Tower National Monument. The Devils Tower monolith has been sacred to natives and is preserved for people to visit. Climbers ascend the tower’s 867 feet, while other visitors enjoy the short hiking trails and view. Camp here or at the nearby KOA, or find hotels in Gillette. About 40 minutes east of Devils Tower, visit the historical Aladdin General Store as you make your way back to your starting point.
America has lots of great places to explore! These are just a few family road trip ideas around the country that will get your family traveling to fun and educational places while you enjoy spending time together.