School is out, and your kids have the whole summer ahead of them. Rather than fly to a single vacation destination, take pleasure in the journey and choose a road trip your family will remember for years to come.
Each of these destinations is full of activities that will please even the fussiest traveler. Take in the gorgeous scenery and plan fun stops along the way. You’ll experience historical landmarks, dig into local cuisine, marvel at the wonders of nature, enjoy good music and so much more.
Route 66 is the ultimate family road trip and something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. If your family keeps track of states you’ve visited, this one will let you mark off eight states: Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Over 2200 miles long, this trip is a whopper!
Doing only the bare bones and stopping as little as possible, you should plan for at least two weeks. A month would allow you to see much more along the way. If you have young kids or minimal vacation time but still want the slower experience, choose a smaller section of the traditional route. Whether you do the whole trip or a piece, your family will enjoy beautiful and diverse landscapes, countless one-of-a-kind tourist attractions and quaint roadside stops.
Waterfalls of New York
Skip the traditional water park summer vacation and head to the Finger Lakes. This region of New York state is full of deep gorges and stunning waterfalls. Begin in Ithica, a bustling college town with lots to see and do. Within a short driving distance are several different state parks with their own waterfalls. Taughannock Falls, Lucifer Falls at Robert H Treman State Park and Buttermilk Falls are a few must-sees.
After a few days of hiking and splashing in Ithica, head to Watkins Glenn State Park and plan to stay a day or two to take in all 19 waterfalls along with hiking trails and local attractions. Then move on to the “Grand Canyon of the East” Letchworth State Park.
Your final stop will be the US side of Niagara Falls, hands-down the largest and most awe-inspiring waterfall on the trip. Ride Maid of the Mist to get up close and personal to the falls. Plan to stay the night and observe Niagara Falls at dark with the whole family. The falls are always illuminated with multi-colored lights, and from mid-June to September, your kids will love to watch the nightly firework show.
National Parks of Montana and Wyoming
Knock out three famous national parks at once with this family road trip. Start in Wyoming at Grand Teton National Park. If you want to stay close to the action, several lodges and rental cabins are available, or you can camp in a tent or RV. While at Grand Teton, plan to spend a few days hiking, fishing and horseback riding. Go for a boat ride across Jenny Lake or take one of many types of wildlife tours. Young kids will also enjoy the Junior Park Ranger program, where they can earn a badge for their efforts.
Move on to our nation’s oldest national park. Yellowstone’s hot springs and geysers make this destination unique. Old Faithful is a must-see along with the Grand Prismatic Spring. If you want to avoid the more tourist-heavy areas, try out the Boiling River or Lamar Valley. Learn more about the local wildlife at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center near the west entrance.
Wrap up your trip at Glacier National Park. You’ll want to hit this destination at the height of summer since the warm season doesn’t last long here. Lake McDonald has a beautiful family-friendly beach where you could easily spend a whole day. If the snow has been completely cleared, a drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road is also something you should experience. The road is narrow, but the views are out of this world. A hike to the Apikuni Falls is only two miles, so it should be manageable for most kids. No matter what you decide to do here, plan to stay in the park to get the most out of your visit.
Pacific Coast Highway
You could spend a year along the Pacific Coast Highway and still not see everything you want. Based on your family’s interests and time commitment, attempt all 1,675 miles or choose just a section between Olympia, Washington and San Diego, California.
While many young families stick to the California portion of the highway, Washington and Oregon have unique offerings. Due to its extremely wet climate, Washington has its own rainforest. Astoria in Oregon is home to movie sets from Free Willy and the Goonies, along with plenty of history and coastal charm.
The California coast will keep your family busy! Enjoy hiking trails, beaches, water sports and local cuisine as you travel, explore popular theme parks and other destinations or a bit of both along this stretch. Take a cable car ride in San Francisco and then camp for the night at Big Sur. Take your kids on a tour of a real castle, Hearst Castle, in San Simeon.
After that, spend a few hours trying to spot celebrities in LA. LEGOLAND in Carlsbad will take you a day or two. Disneyland is along the route in Anaheim if you want to make it part of your road trip experience. Finally, end your journey in San Diego at the zoo or aquarium.
Leave Some Wiggle Room
Wherever you decide to go, leave some room in your planning for added adventure. The best part of a road trip is it can change at a moment’s notice. For the best experience, select your start and endpoints and a few things you must see along the way, then leave the rest open.
Pull over at rest stops and peruse the travel brochures with your kids. Letting them pick a few places to see will help them feel ownership of the trip and build their excitement.