10 best summer road trip ideas for families!

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There’s no adventure quite like a family road trip excursion!  Traveling by car is an awesome — and affordable — way to explore new sights and make family memories. Summer is an amazing time of year to pack up the car and hit the road.

If you’re planning a family road trip, be sure to check out our post with about the best credit cards for gas purchases. Certain cards on the list offer welcome bonuses of up to $500, which can offset the cost of a rental car for your road trip.

Below are 10 amazing U.S. road trip ideas for families, in no particular order.

Summer is the best time for a road trip. (Photo by Kyle S Lo/Shutterstock)

Best family road trips for 2020

Pacific Coast Highway, California

The Pacific Coast Highway spans 653 miles from Dana Point (Orange County, California) to Leggett (Mendocino County, California). This oceanside route gives you the opportunity to drive along the picturesque Pacific coastline.

For amazing scenery on a family road trip, be sure to drive along California’s Big Sur coast! (Photo by Jingjits Photography/Shutterstock)

Along the way, you can stop in quaint beach towns, like Pismo Beach. Check out sprawling redwood forests or stop in big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco — and definitely take the time to visit Big Sur. Not only does the area have some amazing beaches and surfing spots, but it also has some of the most picturesque hikes in the country.

One of the most famous sites and hiking trails along the drive is McWay Falls, an eighty-foot free-falling waterfall that flows right onto a small beach, which is only accessible by foot.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway winds through 469 miles of U.S. forests and connects the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

On this route, there are countless hikes, scenic overlooks, waterfalls, and historical sites. At over 1 billion years of age, the Blue Ridge Mountains are among the oldest in the world. Also, there is no shortage of cool towns and cities to explore along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stopping in Asheville, North Carolina is an absolute must on this journey. The small city is nestled in the vast surrounding mountains and has some of the richest culture and history in the east. If you like beer, stop at the local Asheville Brewing Company for their seasonal brews.

Another can’t miss is Sliding Rock, a waterfall in Western North Carolina. The rock formations have created natural water slides for visitors to ride down through the trees.  And, be sure to stop by the tallest waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains – Whitewater Falls!

Outer Banks, North Carolina

North Carolina’s Route 12, known as the Outer Banks Scenic Highway stretches 200 miles of North Carolina’s barrier islands. A portion of the highway was damaged during the recent hurricane. H0wever, it appears it has since reopened.

The beautiful Outer Banks is perfect for a family road trip! (Photo by Nicholas Farruggio/Shutterstock)

Along this drive, you can cruise along the Atlantic coastline and pass through beautiful coastal villages. There’s great kite surfing, awesome quaint beach towns and tons of seafood! Be sure to check out Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, Hatteras Lighthouse, John’s Drive-In (locals secret: best chocolate milkshakes in the Outer Banks).

Route 66

The infamous Route 66, known as “America’s Highway” stretches over 2,500 miles and is the classic family cross-country road trip. The highway starts in Chicago and ends at the boardwalk in Santa Monica, California.

Although the official Route 66 no longer exists, you can still follow most of the original road by car.  

It’s traditionally traveled east to west. Route 66 first opened in 1962 and is still considered one the most quintessential American road trips. The highway was originally a migration path for American families and workers during the 1930s looking to head west. In 1985, Route 66 was officially removed from the highway system due to the many large interstates being built around it.

I recommend setting aside a couple of weeks to drive the entire route. Along the way, you’ll pass iconic American sites, like the Grand Canyon, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Cadillac Ranch, Texas.

Alaska Highway

If you have the time, take to the open highway and travel 1,459 miles on the Alaska Highway to see some of the most beautiful vistas America has to offer.  The highway is paved over its entire length and the drive features scenery that is sure to take your breath away.

The route actually starts in British Columbia and runs all the way to Delta Junction, Alaska. You can stretch the route an extra 487 miles by traveling all the way to Anchorage.

If you do the full route, be sure to stop in Denali National Park to see the tallest mountain the U.S.

Alaska’s mountainous landscape ambushes you with every turn. (Photo by Greg and Jan Ritchie/Shutterstock)

I would also recommend visiting Kenai Peninsula.  Besides the beautiful scenery there’s sure to be no shortage of wildlife and excellent seafood.

Along the way, be sure to check out Fort Nelson Heritage Museum, and Liard River Hot Springs!

Colorado to Lake Tahoe

From Pueblo, Colorado, to Lake Tahoe, California, you can get your fix of beautiful landscapes, vast scenery, alpine meadows, and gorgeous blue lakes.  

The 1,066-mile drive takes you through Colorado and Utah where you can visit Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. If you have the time, it’s worth spending a day or two hiking around both of those national parks or car camping for a change of pace.

Highway 50 was named the loneliest highway because there is little sign of civilization, tons of vast, desolate scenery, and there’s a good chance you will only pass a couple cars.  It feels very remote, but it’s beautiful the whole way and great for a family road trip.

South Carolina to Louisiana

A neat road trip for families is from Charleston, South Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana. This scenic route is full of history, monuments, cultural traditions, sunny beaches, and humid air — and some of the best southern food anywhere.  

Families with adult children might consider a road trip to check out the pubs and bars in the French Quarter in New Orleans! (Photo by f11photo/Shutterstock)

The drive takes you through Savannah, Georgia, Montgomery, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana.  These iconic cities are some of the most gorgeous, and historically rich destinations in the south.  The city blocks are lined with old historic homes, monuments, historical landmarks, century-old parks, and family-owned restaurants!

Along the way, I recommend stopping to see Wormsloe Plantation, Edmund Pettus Bridge, and Old Cahawba.

Canada to Mexico

Driving from Mexico to Canada is an ultimate road trip adventure. I recommend starting in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vancouver, and driving south.

Take your next stop in Seattle, yet another scenic, friendly city located on the Puget Sound. I would recommend exploring some of the northern neighborhoods if you have the time, like Fremont and Ballard. Don’t miss the Sunday markets! And of course, it wouldn’t be a northwestern road trip without visiting Portland.

Once you hit San Francisco, take a day to walk around and explore the sights. San Francisco is on my favorite cities in the world.

(Photo by canadastock/Shutterstock)

After, head south and cruise to San Luis Obispo. Be sure to check out Morro Bay, one of the best beach scenes in California. Next, you guessed it, Los Angeles.  The mecca of great beaches, good food, and awesome people watching. Then on to Mexico through El Vizcaino, a less touristy desert area. Further south, you can visit Todos Santos, one of my personally favorite beach towns. With the coastline on one side and the desert mountain range on the other, Todos in guaranteed to make you glad you took this trip!

From Todos Santos, hopping on a plane home from the Cabo San Lucas airport is a breeze!

The Oregon Trail

The historic Oregon Trail spans 2,000 miles across six states. It starts in Independence, Missouri, and ends in Oregon City.

There is much to see while driving along the Oregon Trail, including detours to Yellowstone National Park, old museums, idyllic towns, fine dining, the Great Plains, and Mount Rushmore.

This route is full of rich history.  An estimated 400,000 settlers used the Oregon Trail to migrate west between the 1830s and late-1860s. 

Along the way, be sure to check out John Day Fossil Beds National Monument!

Atlantic Coast

Families on the East Coast can take an awesome road trip by starting at the Statue of Liberty and ending in Key West, Florida.

Aerial view of Liberty Island looking out to Lower Manhattan. (Photo by Resul Muslu/Shutterstock)

With over 2,000 miles of roadway, beaches, woodlands, and colorful vistas, it’s relatively easy to cruise down Interstate 95.

I recommend taking this road trip in the summer or fall, so you miss the bad weather and aren’t driving on the snow and ice. I’d actually recommend saving this one for the fall. The neon foliage is incredible, and you can expect stunning colors from start to end. Finishing in Florida on the beach is a perfect way to complete a long road trip.

How to maximize road trips with credit cards

Road trips are sure to ramp up in the wake of the novel coronavirus. Before you take any of the above trips, be sure you’re getting the biggest return at the pump by using one of the best gas credit cards, such as:

  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits.
  • Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi: 4% cash back on eligible gas worldwide, including gas at Costco (applies to the first $7,000 per year, then 1% thereafter)
  • Ink Business Cash Credit Card: 2% cash back (2 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar) on the first $25,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year

Also read our post on the best credit cards for restaurants, which includes:

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – 3 Chase Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining
  • Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card – 4% cash back on dining
  • American Express® Gold Card – 4 Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on dining at restaurants

Another huge money-saver tip is to use a credit card that provides you primary rental car insurance, like the Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card (technically must be renting the car for business purposes) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Using one of these cards could easily save you $15+ per day on the rental agency’s in-house insurance.

If you’re renting from Turo, those with a Barclays Arrival Plus (currently not available to new applicants) will provide insurance for you!

Using the right card combo can jump start your next vacation while you’re still on your current vacation. Comment below with your favorite U.S. road trip! And subscribe to our newsletter for more travel ideas delivered to your inbox.

The information for the Costco Anywhere Visa, Capital One Savor, and Barclays Arrival Plus has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Erin Lizzo is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in the Matador Network.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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