Having gone on countless road trips as a family we love finding new places to explore together. It’s so easy to do the same trip you’ve done in the past or to go the route you know best, so mixing it up can be a challenge. We do and write about road trips a lot, so here are some of our best planning tools and routes to help YOU hit the road.
When we plan USA road trip routes, we usually think about the final destination and then add must-see sights along the way. We sat down with our kids to figure out our next big road trip vacation and we came up with some of the most scenic drives in the USA that we’d never even considered. From a springtime New England road trip to exploring more of the East Coast of the USA on a longer road trip route, we’ve got some great ideas.
How to Choose a Road Trip Plan
We love to talk about the “great American road trip” in sweeping discussions about what are really the best drives in the USA or what routes include the most iconic sights. For most people, the best road trips in the USA require some travel to get to the starting point of the planned route.
Get my book, The Road Trip Survival Guide, for planning tips and advice for having a successful trip!
Flying to Drive: traveling to the beginning of your route
We used to think road trips could only start at home, using our own vehicle, and then one day we decided that we could fly and THEN travel by car… and that too is a road trip! This change of viewpoint really opened doors for how we travel and the diversity of experiences we get to have.
The most scenic drives in the USA don’t usually start just outside the airport, but you’d be surprised what you’ll see after landing in DEN (Denver) or the views from SFO (San Francisco) to Monterey.
Tip: When you’re considering road trip ideas, if the budget allows, be open to a short flight to get to a different region.
A great example of our family flying to be able to complete one of the best road trips in the USA was hopping on a plane from Seattle, Washington to Bozeman, Montana. This short flight was inexpensive and gave us more than three extra days to enjoy exploring Montana and Wyoming since we didn’t have to drive the extra leg between Seattle and our starting destination.
Another time we opted to fly somewhere and then road trip, was our first trip to the Florida Gulf Coast. We flew into Fort Lauderdale and picked up a campervan so we could enjoy a camping style road trip without having our own equipment. So many options when you allow yourself to fly to a road trip route starting point!
The point of all this: don’t limit your road trip vacation to just what’s beyond your driveway. Pick someplace exotic to you and make IT into a road trip! Heck, fly to a Texas Gulf Coast destination and loop all the way to Florida and fly out of there!
Road Trip Routes Leaving from Home
There’s a lot to be said for being able to pack up for a great American road trip from your own home. For most families this is by far the most economical option since you don’t have the need for flights or renting a car. This is also an opportunity to go beyond your comfort zone.
Growing up in the Seattle area, both Chris and I are very familiar with Washington State, so hopping in the car and just traveling within our own borders was easy, comfortable. A no-brainer really.
Venturing beyond our standards of Washington Wine Country or the Columbia River Gorge, we got to visit places we had never considered in the past, including Idaho and rural Oregon. Wow! Inspired by a coffee table book, our first trip through the Sawtooth Mountains was remarkable and never on our radar until we flipped through that book. Come to think of it, we STILL haven’t written about that remarkable adventure [adds to list of articles to write].
Getting Kids Involved in Vacation Planning
We actually get a lot of questions about having the kids help us plan our vacations and work trips. Yes, the boys (6 + 9 years old) have opinions and interests and it’s extremely important that we consider those when vacation planning. The best road trips in the USA will no doubt have lots of points of interest, but some will be more exciting than others depending on your family.
If you’ve got kids, you have an opportunity to show them that you value their opinions and interests by getting them involved with planning a trip. Travel books are a great way to get their input.
Our Top Kid Picks for Road Trips
So yes, we did let our boys pick a trip each and hopefully we’ll get to complete both in the next year.
Oliver picked South Florida and the Keys since we live in Florida and he’s been super interested in driving, what may arguably be, the most scenic drive in the USA. And he knows how much I love kayaking and SUP, so I’m sure he was thinking about what I love too. We’ve done the Gulf Coast portion of this route, but not the southern pieces. I’m sold.
Elliott picked the Alaska Parks Highway. I used to live in Alaska, both on the Kenai Peninsula and right outside of Denali National Park. I get why he picked this trip. He saw photos of bears, colorful Alaska sights and he knows that we all love National Parks.
Favorite USA Road Trips to Consider
Clearly road tripping is our passion. The best road trips in the USA are both lengthy and super short, such as weekend getaways. After spending lots of time pouring through blog posts and travel books, we have made our official USA bucket list of road trips. They are as follows:
- 20 Day Northern California Loop – can you tell it’s my top pick?
- The Pacific Crest Trail: Washington & Oregon – because I love the PNW
- Idaho’s Rivers and Mountains – done it and it’s incredible!
- Minneapolis to Voyagers National Park – we need to explore Minnesota more
- The Appalachian Trail – we’ve done part of it and would love to do the rest!
- The Adirondacks and Catskills – so beautiful, want to do as a couples road trip
- The Blue Ridge Parkway – perfect for fall colors in National Parks!
- Road to Hana – we’ve never been to Maui and have read amazing things
Our Top USA Road Trip Ideas for 2023
I’m no scientist, but I feel like with the coronavirus impacting travel so much in 2020, the future, even post-COVID is very likely to be a road trip focused for years for many people. I know it will be for us. Since it’s unlikely that we’ll be doing more international travel than USA road tripping, these are the plans we’ve already started adding to our bucket list:
- South Florida and the Keys (we could do this trip over and over)
- Alaska Parks Highway
- Wisconsin’s Door County (need to do it in every season)
- Santa Fe, Taos and the Enchanted Circle and
- North Carolina’s Outer Banks
We’ve got a lot of planning to do, and we’re so excited to share our adventures as they unfold. Follow along, as we try out these incredible USA road trip plans and share our experiences!
Get a Copy of The Road Trip Survival Guide
Of course I’m going to plug my book here. I’m really proud of it and do think it’s a great tool for road trip planning and execution. Also, my itineraries are so much fun and easy to do following the plans.
Get The Road Trip Survival Guide here!
If you have any questions about the book, about road trip planning as a family, or travel in general, always feel free to leave a comment or send us a note. That’s what we’re here for. Happy traveling!
Wednesday 30th of September 2020
If you could get on that Sawtooth article before next summer.... Ha! We're planning road trips for next year, too, although I perhaps naively hope that we'll be able to take our trip to Jamaica that's now been re-scheduled twice. Fingers crossed!