10 Most Beautiful Drives
Great American Family Road Trips for a romantic getaway or family fun!
Looking for affordable options for your next vacation? It's time to get back to our roots with the great American tradition of the family road trip -- and to remember that the journey is more important than the destination! But with 3.9 million miles of road to choose from, where is the best place to spend a long weekend, or longer?
1. California's Pacific Coast Highway/Route 1
With more than 500 miles of spectacular coastal scenery and some of California's favorite family destinations, the Pacific Coast Highway is a must-do for families and is especially good for those with teenagers.
From Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in the south to the Bay area in the north, the Pacific Coast Highway weaves its way through stunning redwood forests, dramatic cliff edges and breathtaking coastline, like Big Sur, Monterey and Carmel-by-the Sea.
There is a wide variety of accommodation options all along the Pacific Coast Highway, from budget camp grounds to a luxurious stay at a spa resort. For families with teens, an excellent budget option is the Big Sur Campgrounds , with plenty of fun activities for the kids and some breathtaking scenery for moms and dads looking to relax. If it's a romantic weekend you're after, why not try a suite at the historic and luxurious Carmel By The Sea, Pine Inn.
2. America's most unique road - Florida's Overseas Highway
105 Miles, over water to some of the prettiest islands on earth, this has got to be a one of a kind experience for any traveler. The Florida Keys are a wonderful family destination, from Key Largo just off Miami, out to Key West there are so many activities that will have younger children enthralled.
For the budding marine biologist, there's the chance to be a dolphin trainer for a day at Dolphin Cove on Key Largo or meet the dolphins and sea lions at Dolphin Plus.
Dry Tortugas National Park makes for a truly unique day trip from Key West. Dry Tortugas started it life as a Civil War fort but is now a national monument and bird reserve, nestled among spectacular reefs. Swim, snorkel or take a joyride in a sea plane, this national park is, like the Overseas Highway itself, a one off unique travel experience. You'll need to be up early though, as it is a 70 mile trip from Key West, taking up to four hours! But, totally worth it!
And for the outdoors loving family, Long Key State Park is the absolutely ultimate travel destination. Affordable cabins and camp grounds with plenty of activities for the kids, including kayaking, sea turtle spotting, bird watching and plenty of beach time!
Every island in the Keys has something for families, whether the kids are younger or older -- and there's always a little room for mom and dad time too!
3. History comes alive on the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway
From little boys to teens with an interest in history, this is an unusual and exciting road trip for the whole family. Spanning over 500 miles through Colorado and Utah, is a mix of pre-historic sites, national monuments and beautiful national parks.
The Dinosaur National Monument, due to reopen in the near future, is a must see with its Dinosaur Wall slanted rock layer containing hundreds of genuine dinosaur fossils. Kids will love viewing these where they have lain for millions of years and with the renovations and rebuild in progress, the new interactive visitors centre promises to be an excellent family attraction. The Dinosaur National Monument is currently undergoing a 13 million dollar renovation, so check with the National Parks Service before making your plans. In the mean time, there is a virtual tour available as well as family activities such as river rafting and hiking as well as a free Junior Paleontologist and Junior Ranger program.
Across the border in Utah there are plenty of attractions for the whole family. The College of Eastern Utah's Pre-historic Museum has wonderful interactive exhibits and plenty of information on local historical sites.
Along the way, don't miss 78 mile route through Nine Mile Canyon, near the town of Wellington. With its numerous historical sites, including a rich collection of Ute artifacts and its famous Cottonwood Panel of Petroglyphs (cave paintings), Nine Mile Canyon is a fascinating place to spend a night or two along the way.
All along the Dinosaur Diamond, there are fascinating sites like national parks, geysers and other natural wonders, all ideally suited to your next family road trip.
4. Relax and soak up the culture on the Connecticut Coast Scenic Drive
The prettiest waterways of the North East, some of our country's most historical towns, stunning sandy beaches, art galleries, yachting, water sports, casinos, museums, luxurious day spas and woodlands -- the Connecticut Coast is a wonderful place to spend a weekend.
At just 71 miles, this one is ideal for a weekend away, and with it diverse range of attractions, it will please families as much as couples looking for a romantic weekend escape.
History and maritime buffs will love the range of museums, forts and historical sites and Fort Griswold Battlefields State Park is a wonderful place to stop in for a picnic lunch. The famous Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is renowned for its wonderful exhibits and is just one of the many galleries worth visiting along the way.
An overnight stay in the charming, historical town of Westbrook is well and truly worth its while, from the budget Super 8 Motel Saybrook, to the romantic retreat, Waters Edge Resort and Spa.
5. Medina to Garner State Park, through the Texas Hills, the outdoors at their best
Spend a weekend weaving through the 46 miles of rugged scenery, climbing in and out of The Frio, The Sabinal and The Medina River Valleys through breathtaking Canyons and over some beautiful terrain. SUV drivers can experience some extra off road sites but there is plenty to see for everyone along the way.
Garner State park, on the Frio River, Concan is the perfect escape for any family. Long summer evenings can be spent enjoying family entertainment, dances and seasonal attractions and there are plenty of outdoor activities by day too. Brave the rapids on an inner tube, swim, fish, canoe, kayak, paddle boat, take an educational tour, a hayride or just relax with a hike and picnic lunch. Camp sites are available from just $10 per night, and private cabins with fireplaces from just $80 per night but book early for the busy summer period.
Further along is the Hill Country State Natural Area, why not take the family for a unique journey through the canyons on horseback, or try a little fishing. But, be warned the facilities are primitive, so if you're not a getting-back-to-nature sort of family, it might be best to get back to town before dark! There are also plenty of hiking and historical sites in the area.
6. The Appalachian Trail, New England, the colors of America
As fall sets in, the best drive in the country has to be the Appalachian Trail. Take in the fabulous fall oranges and yellows, reds and pinks along the leisurely trail through picturesque mountains and charming towns.
A must see along the way are the stunning 6000 foot peaks of Mount Washington in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire, but we warned, this rugged but breathtaking attraction is known for it's harsh winter weather and windy conditions. For couples looking to splash out, a night at the legendary, historical Mount Washington Hotel is a delightful touch of luxury in this beautiful part of America.
Another must-do feature of the drive is the beautiful, Green Mountains of Vermont. The Green Mountain National Forest extends for more than 400 000 acres across two-thirds of the length of the state and is teaming with wildlife and picturesque sleepy forests. There are plenty of hikes and kids activities as well as information on conservation and endangered species. Fall is the perfect time to visit as the forest dresses itself in the prettiest colors New England has to offer, but there's plenty of snow in winter, outdoor activities in summer and wildflowers in Spring too!
7. Memphis to New Orleans -- The Blues Trail
Made famous by the Bob Dylan album, music lovers must take a trip through the history of the blues, jazz and gospel along Highway 61.
Starting out in Memphis, you'll want to visit Sun Studios and Graceland and all the other music favorites but then head out to Clarksdale Mississippi, home of the delta blues. There are a plethora of attractions for music fans including Muddy Water's birthplace, the childhood home of Sam Cooke, the Delta Blues Museum, the Crossroads Monument (where Robert Johnson reportedly sold his soul to the devil) and a life sized statue of Muddy Waters. With plenty of clubs to visit blues memorabilia for sale, and music festivals each year, Clarksdale is an absolute must see for music lovers. Be sure to look up what's on at the time you will visit.
From Clarksdale, Highway 61 passes through Vicksburg, home of the Vicksburg Blues Museum or you could choose to go via Indianola, birthplace of B.B. King or down to Jackson for a visit to legendary blues cafes and clubs like The Crystal Lounge and Red Hot and Blue.
Finally, it's on to New Orleans, with a compulsory visit to the legendary French Quarter and Bourbon Street. The annual Jazz Fest is back up and running in full swing following a tamed down version in the years following Hurricane Katrina. Food, music, history and culture are all served up New Orleans style and it really is a festival not to be missed. Book well in advance for the last weekend in April and first weekend in May as accommodation will sell out quickly. Travelers in January should also book early for the annual Mardi Gras.
8. Beaches and Volcanoes -- A weekend of Driving in Hawaii
A trip around Hawaii is like no other in the US. From the magnificent island beaches and reefs to the strange black sands and volcanoes, this is a unique trip for any family. With airfares and island accommodation to consider, renting a car on arrival is the best way to see attractions on a budget.
Starting out at Keauhou Bay, the whole family can take in the bizarre sight of lava beaches and try a few of the many water sports on offer. Snorkeling here is especially good and gear can be hired for less than ten dollars per person. Turtles and huge schools of brightly colored fish are easy to spot and the calm waters are easy to navigate even for the littlest swimmers. Accommodation prices vary greatly (from $22 per night for a backpacker bed to $700 for luxury and views) but the Outrigger Resort is good value for families.
From Keauhou Bay, head inland to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You may want to check before you go to find where the best (and worst) volcanic action is happening on the islands. Along the way, don't forget to stop and check out the amazing ocean views. The Crater Rim Drive is like no other drive in the world. Spanning an amazing 11 miles, you'll edge you way around craters several miles in diameter.
And, just when you start to wonder if there is a stray rotten egg salad sandwich somewhere in the car -- no, that is the sulfur smell from the active volcanoes. Those with a weak stomach might want to wind up the windows! While there, you may wish to take in a few of the walks and even some of the delicious local cuisine.
Next, head north to Hapuna Beach. In this protected state park, you'll find crystal blue waters, stunning views of Maui's volcano, soft white sand, lush greenery and a plenty of places for a quiet walk. This area really is the Hawaii we dream of on the mainland!
9. North Dakota via Covered Wagon
Travel through rural North Dakota, and through time. Jamestown North Dakota hosts the annual Fort Seward Wagon Train, a week long, 85 mile trip with family activities nightly around the campfire. This is the perfect vacation for school aged children and there is a real emphasis on family fun with activities like doll making, theatre sports and campfire stories and songs! And, the best thing for modern day moms and dads is... there are no cell phones, no iPods and no beeping games -- the only modern conveniences are health and sanitation considerations. The tour ends on a high, arriving amid a parade and local celebration that the kids will love.
Bring your sleeping bag, tent and prairie outfits, everything else is included in the affordable price for families.
There are no shuttles from the airport to Fort Seward so you will need to arrange transportation, which gives you a terrific excuse to get in the car and check out some of North Dakota's many natural wonders, wineries and cultural activities North Dakota is officially the best value state for travelers making it an ideal family destination!
10. Extreme fun in Montana
This one is for the difficult to please teenaged boy! Montana's untamed wilderness is just perfect for trying extreme sports and amazing adventures.
Start with the breathtaking Glacier National Park, try hiking on any of the 700 miles of trails through rugged mountains and silent glaciers. It's a breathtaking wilderness for the experienced outdoorsman! There's plenty to see along the Going-To-The-Sun Road, with lakes and forests to explore. Entry to some areas is seasonal and you may need permits, visit for more information.
Then head toward Flathead River where the whole family can enjoy a white water rafting experience. There's nothing like heading down the rapids to get the heart racing, and a guided tour ensures maximum safety for kids (and their nervous moms and dads!)
Head on to Whitefish Mountain for a walk along an 800 foot suspended rope boardwalk through the tree tops or a gondola ride to the top of the mountain for some beautiful pictures to take home!
Montana is truly the best kept secret when it comes to family fun and in a time when it is so difficult to find family time (let alone more than a grunt from a teenaged boy), this is just the kind of vacation that you'll all remember forever.
So, where are the places you had your best road trips? Share your experiences in the comment section below.