The 10 best road trips to take with your family this summer
The great American road trip is a tried-and-true family tradition.
Driving the country’s scenic highways and stopping to explore anything that catches your eye — perhaps a stunning viewpoint, a side-of-the-road lobster shack or a historical marker — is a wonderful way to explore the U.S. with your family this summer.
It’s also a great way to save money while exploring, whether you redeem points, rent an RV or find affordable hotels, motels or camping sites along the way.
Of course, road-tripping with kids brings a few challenges, including keeping them entertained and dealing with possible car sickness.
Try using one of the fun kid-friendly voices for the Waze app to give directions to keep everyone laughing. Think about bringing iPads that can attach to the back of headrests and make a list of car games to play. Old-school favorites such as I Spy, 20 Questions and license plate-spotting are as good as ever.
To reduce or avoid nausea, be careful what you feed children before getting in the car (no spicy or greasy food), make sure there’s enough airflow in the car and consider Dramamine if your child is over 2 years old (but talk to your doctor first).
If an accident does happen, make sure you are prepared with extra clothing, plastic bags and paper towels or wipes.
Packing a good credit card for gas fill-ups is also a very smart move. Check out TPG's guide to the best cards for gas purchases here.
Now that we have the logistics out of the way, here are 10 classic summer road trips in the U.S.
Appalachia to Nashville
Explore Appalachia with a big finish in Nashville on this route through West Virginia and Kentucky. Start in West Virginia’s capital, Charleston, which is at the convergence of three major state highways — fly into West Virginia International Yeager Airport (CRW) if necessary.
Visit the state’s picturesque Capitol building, which has a gold leaf-covered dome that’s 5 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol’s; the West Virginia State Museum, where you can learn about Appalachian history and culture; and the Avampato Discovery Museum, an interactive science museum for all ages.
Stroll down the tree-lined Capitol Street and stop into one of several restaurants there, or get tender barbecue with stellar sides from the acclaimed Dem 2 Brothers and a Grill.
All the major hotel chains are here. Use your Marriott Bonvoy points at the Charleston Marriott Town Center (from 15,500 points or $124 per night) or Four Points by Sheraton Charleston (15,500 points or $114 per night), or your Hilton Honors points at Embassy Suites Charleston Historic District (from 37,000 points or $140 per night).
From Charleston, head straight into Kentucky and the horse capital of Lexington. Visit the famous Keeneland Racecourse and tour the Kentucky Horse Park, then go to the revitalized Distillery District for pizza, ice cream, beer, live music and, of course, bourbon.
From there, it’s a short drive to Louisville — stop at the Claudia Sanders Dinner House (yes, that Sanders ... Claudia was the Colonel’s wife) for a classic Southern family-style meal.
Louisville is full of family-friendly attractions, including the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Kentucky Science Center, and kids will love cruising the Ohio River on the oldest river steamboat, the Belle of Louisville.
Stay at the original 21c Museum Hotel (rooms from $309), which has an attached contemporary art museum and is also home to the acclaimed Proof on Main restaurant. The architecturally stunning Seelbach Hilton (from 41,000 Hilton Honors points or $162 per night) dates to 1869 and has classically appointed rooms and lavish public spaces.
Finally, head south to Nashville for a big finish in Music City, where you can stay at Hotel Fraye, part of Hilton's independent Curio Collection (from $224 or 70,000 Hilton Honors points per night).
Guests can get a real taste of the city's eclectic style while checking out attractions like the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Radnor Lake State Park, Nashville Zoo and the Grand Ole Opry.
Don’t forget to get some made-in-Nashville chocolatey treats at the Goo Goo Clusters Shop before flying out of Nashville International Airport (BNA).
Related: Music City on the mind? These are the best new points hotels in Nashville
Lake Michigan highlights
Hug the lake on this drive that starts in Milwaukee, heads south to Chicago and then back up through Michigan, ending in Traverse City.
Fly into Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport (MKE) and explore the city’s Lynden Sculpture Garden, Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Museum and the hands-on Discovery World Science and Technology Center. Grab a frozen custard at the famous Kopp’s. Kids are sure to love the spy-themed burger joint SafeHouse.
Hyatt loyalists can use points or their free night certificates to stay at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee (from $109 or 6,500 points). Or, redeem Marriott points at the Milwaukee Marriott Downtown (from $143 or 30,000 Bonvoy points per night).
Head south out of town, and in about two hours you’ll hit Chicago, with its world-class family-friendly attractions like Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Park Zoo and Millennium Park, to name a few.
Related: Forget the ocean: 8 amazing lake vacations to take in the US this summer
From Chicago, curve around the lake shore, stopping at the stunning Indiana Dunes National Park for some outdoor lake time before driving up to charming Holland, Michigan. This Dutch-founded town on the shores of Lake Macatawa is home to a centuries-old windmill, a tulip festival and Dutch-inspired food, like the classic pastries from deBoer Bakkerij & Dutch Brothers Restaurant.
The beautiful lakeshore includes Holland State Park, Laketown Beach, Tunnel Park and an adorable red lighthouse.
Traverse City is 168 miles north, with numerous small towns and the Huron-Manistee National Forests to explore along the way.
Once in Traverse City, take advantage of some well-earned beach time. If you are visiting from July 1-8, don't miss the National Cherry Festival.
For some real family fun, stay at Great Wolf Lodge and enjoy its indoor water park, or redeem IHG One Rewards points at Hotel Indigo Traverse City (from $125 or 20,000 points per night).
Fly out of Cherry Capital Airport (TVC).
Related: TPG’s 10 top family vacation destinations for 2023
Big Bend National Park in Texas
This 150-mile-long national park along the Texas and Mexico border makes for a gorgeous and adventure-filled road trip.
Fly in and out of El Paso International Airport (ELP) and then drive about 300 miles east to enter the remote park, with a stop in the artsy enclave of Marfa along the way.
Another option is to take an Amtrak train to Alpine, or start from the San Antonio/Austin area. Either way, you’ll likely enter the park at the town of Marathon, where you can stay at the historic Gage Hotel and eat at Brick Vault Brewery and Barbecue.
Once inside the 800,000-acre park, the epic drive is dotted with picturesque attractions at every turn.
Hugging the Rio Grande and comprising the stunning Chisos mountain range, much of the park is the Chihuahuan Desert.
Other highlights include traveling the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, discovering the Terlingua Ghost Town, walking the Santa Elena nature trail, zip lining at Lajitas and exploring Boquillas Canyon.
Best of all, there are plenty of kid-friendly hiking trails and boat rides up the Rio Grande.
Related: A beginners guide to visiting Big Bend National Park: Everything you need to know, see and do
If you don’t want to camp, the family-owned Big Bend Holiday Hotel has vintage rooms and charming, beautifully appointed casitas in the area (from $160 per night). For more family-oriented amenities (including a golf course and swimming pool), stay at the sprawling Lajitas Golf Resort (from $399).
Central California coast
California’s epic coastline is ripe for adventure.
Kids will enjoy exploring the central part of California the best: tons of animals, history and, of course, crashing waves. You can fly in and out of Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield (BFL).
First, drive to Pismo Beach. Check out the Monarch Butterfly Grove, walk the Pismo Pier and rent a multiperson surrey that you can pedal down the boardwalk. Eat at Splash Cafe and sample the goods at Old West Cinnamon Rolls.
Spend the night with your Hilton Honors points at the Hilton Garden Inn San Luis Obispo/Pismo Beach (from $115 or 23,000 points per night), or try the lovely and affordable SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel (from $206).
From there, get on the Pacific Coast Highway and head north along the coast to Morro Bay, where you can see the striking Morro Rock, the last of the Seven Sisters — a chain of ancient volcanoes that lie between Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. Try to catch it at sunset.
Related: Planning your California road trip using Hyatt points
Then, drive up to Cambria for a bit of farm love. Cuddle some goats, see cows getting milked and, of course, eat some cheese at Stepladder Ranch and Creamery. Ride on a Clydesdale horse at Covell’s Ranch, explore the beautiful Moonstone Beach and grab a bite to eat at Robin’s.
Keep heading north to San Simeon, where you can’t miss the adorable seals at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, just off the highway.
Then head inland a bit to visit the famous Hearst Castle and its 127 acres of gardens, pools and paths. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some zebras (yes, really!) on the tram ride up to the castle.
Use 10,000 Choice Privileges points (or $83) to stay at the budget-friendly Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle or, for a more luxurious option, try the Cavalier Oceanfront Resort (from $369 per night).
Related: 43 real-world family travel tips that actually work
Drive coastal Maine
The eastern coast of Maine is full of rocky cliffs, swirling waves and quaint lobster shacks, making it ideal for a drive up the winding roads that overlook the Atlantic.
Start in Portland, a fun and walkable city with a great food scene. If you need to, fly in and out of Portland International Jetport (PWM) or Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), which is two hours south of Portland. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport (MHT) in Manchester, New Hampshire, is a good Southwest Airlines destination as well.
Explore the city’s Old Port district, where you can stop and buy the kids some fudge while you peruse pottery and jewelry. Then head to the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine and climb up the Portland Observatory for sweeping harbor views.
Portland also has a great food scene. Some family-friendly spots include Two Fat Cats Bakery, Duckfat, Silly’s and Salvage BBQ.
Use your Marriott Bonvoy points to spend the night at the Residence Inn Portland Downtown/Waterfront (from $146 or 40,000 points per night), which has an indoor pool. Or you can choose the funky Press Hotel (from $165 or 50,000 points per night), which is part of the Autograph Collection.
Continue north through Freeport and stop at the L.L. Bean Outlet before heading on to Rockland. Visit the Farnsworth Art Museum and check out the Maine Lighthouse Museum and the Coastal Children’s Museum.
Stop for hot dogs at Wasses or buy picnic supplies at local co-op the Good Tern and take them to Birch Point State Park. Rockland also hosts the Maine Lobster Festival every summer (Aug. 2-6 in 2023).
From Rockland, drive north to Bar Harbor and the adjacent Acadia National Park for a few days of incredible hiking and biking, sailing and kayaking, swimming in Echo Lake and the best popovers in the state at the famous Jordan Pond House. For your local lobster fix, try Beal’s Lobster Pier.
Use your Hilton Honors points at the seasonal Hampton Inn Bar Harbor (open from May to October; from $175 or 33,000 points per night), which has panoramic ocean and mountain views as well as two pools.
Find natural fun in Florida
Florida is so much more than theme parks, even if you’re looking for family-friendly activities. And if you want to revel in nature, Florida has it covered. This 118-mile route dives into some of the state’s best natural attractions, from Tampa to Fort Myers.
You can’t go to Florida without enjoying its beaches, and you’ll find some of the state’s finest sugar-sand beaches along the Gulf coast.
From Tampa, take Highway 60 west to Clearwater Beach and then head south to Pass-a-Grille. The island road curves along a 20-mile-long strand of alluring beaches and restaurants where you can order grouper fresh from the Gulf.
As you head east back toward the mainland, follow signs for Fort De Soto Park, where there are 1,136 acres of beaches, mangroves, bike trails and remnants of a Spanish-American War fort. Then drive an hour south to Sarasota to spend the night.
Use your Marriott Bonvoy points at the Westin Sarasota downtown (from $254 or 31,000 points per night) or splurge on The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota (from $871 or 65,500 points per night) if you want to be on the beach.
Related: 13 of the best beaches in Florida
Sarasota is filled with natural attractions. Kids can frolic through a rainforest at the Children’s Rainforest Garden, part of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens on Sarasota’s bayfront, which parents will also enjoy.
Across Sarasota Bay, discover Gulf of Mexico critters at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and set sail on one of Mote’s marine biologist-led eco-boat tours of Sarasota Bay.
When hunger strikes, check out O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill adjacent to Bayfront Park, which has a playground and walking trails, or Old Salty Dog right on Sarasota Bay, where kids get their meals served on a frisbee.
The next day, head inland on Highway 72 to Myakka River State Park, where alligators are the star attraction, often sunning themselves along the river’s banks. Walk along the boardwalks and canopy trails that drape over the wetlands and among the treetops. You can also rent kayaks to explore the waterways, or join a boat tour.
Continue south on Highway 41 to Fort Myers, where you can check out the gentle underwater giants at Manatee Park, explore more wetlands at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, and be among colorful winged creatures at the Butterfly Estates.
For a quick and tasty seafood lunch, hit up Shrimp Shack, and for dinner, try the award-winning pies at Fine Folk Pizza.
Use your Hilton Honors points at Hilton Garden Inn Fort Myers (from $174 or 50,000 points per night) or Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Myers-Colonial Blvd. (from $160 or 38,000 points per night).
Fun in the Finger Lakes
Western New York’s Finger Lakes region consists of 11 lakes between Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira-Corning, and while some lakes are larger than others, they’re all surrounded by charming towns and wineries.
Start in the more eastern town of Skaneateles (pronounced SKINNY-atlas), stopping at Skaneateles Bakery for some of its freshly made doughnuts and blueberry muffins to munch on as you stroll down the pier and walk along the lake.
Go for a boat ride on the lake with Mid-Lakes Navigation — you can even help the Barbara S. Wiles mail boat deliver mail to lakeside homes.
In the evening, catch a movie at New York State’s oldest drive-in, Finger Lakes Drive-In, and then spend the night at the cute bed-and-breakfast The Bond 1835 or Skaneateles Suites; points hotels are hard to come by here.
Drive 22 miles west to Seneca Falls to see Women’s Rights National Historical Park, where the first women’s rights convention was held in 1848.
Keep on Route 20 to Seneca Lake, which is great for kitesurfing and windsurfing, and enjoy a sail with Sail Seneca.
The town of Geneva, at the top of the lake, is home to lovely restaurants and shops like F.L.X. Fry Bird and Kindred Fare. Explore the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and sip some wines at vineyards like Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Red Tail Ridge Winery, Barnstormer Winery and Fox Run Vineyards. At the bottom of the lake is Watkins Glen State Park, known for its incredible waterfalls, canyons and hiking.
Continue west to Canandaigua Lake, which is home to the chic Lake House Canandaigua (from $239 per night), which boasts a lakefront pool and hot tub, the Rose Tavern with farm-to-table dishes, and kayaks and a yacht for tooling around the lake, among other luxurious amenities.
But if you’re looking to earn or redeem Hilton Honors points, the Hotel Canandaigua, Tapestry Collection by Hilton will do you right (from $390 or 60,000 points per night), with its lakefront location, pool and direct access to the Canandaigua Lady at Steamboat Landing. Drive to the bottom of the lake to Naples to sample its famous grape pie.
End your trip in Rochester, just 28 miles northwest from Canandaigua. Once there, check out the George Eastman Museum, a photography museum devoted to the founder of Kodak; the Strong National Museum of Play, an interactive museum dedicated to toys and games; the Susan B. Anthony House, the home of the suffragette that’s now a museum; and Highland Park, a beautiful landscaped park that hosts annual flower festivals.
To try some regional foods, visit the Rochester City Public Market, a massive farmers market with vendors from across the region, and for the city’s famous "garbage plate," head to the original: Nick Tahou Hots, who invented the one-plate meals with potatoes, meat and several other sides.
Use Hyatt points at the recently renovated Hyatt Regency Rochester (from $139 or 6,500 points per night) or book a night at the Courtyard by Marriott Rochester Downtown (from $193 or 17,000 points per night) for a centralized location.
The South Carolina coast
Start in Hilton Head Island and catch some rays at the popular Coligny Beach Park, or if you like a quiet scene, try Alder Lane or Burkes Beach.
Learn about South Carolina’s Lowcountry and Gullah history and culture at the Coastal Discovery Museum and enjoy the area’s natural beauty at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and Sea Pines Forest Preserve.
Later, chow down on authentic Gullah cuisine at Ruby Lee’s, or enjoy seafood at Skull Creek Boathouse. Book a night at an amenity-filled beach resort like Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort (from $280 per night), or if you have Marriott Bonvoy points to burn, check out the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa (from $339 or 40,000 points per night).
Head north on Route 17 along the coast up to charming Charleston. Once there, you can explore Museum Mile, a walkable route that includes museums like the Charleston Museum and the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, along with some historic homes and buildings and green parks.
The Battery and White Point Gardens, at the southern end of the Charleston peninsula, features displays of Civil War artillery, views of Fort Sumter and picturesque live oak trees. Kids will love the South Carolina Aquarium, which houses a wonderful touch tank.
For more beach time, check out the 6-mile-long Folly Beach, and try Lowcountry favorite frogmore stew at Bowens Island Restaurant.
Related: 7 reasons why your next vacation should be on Hilton Head Island
The food scene in Charleston is legendary, and as long as you seek out authentic Southern food, you’ll be happy; a few favorites include Rodney Scott’s BBQ, The Ordinary and Bertha’s Kitchen.
All the big hotel brands are here, so depending on your loyalty, you can book a night at a place like the Charleston Marriott (from $238 or 32,000 points per night) or Hyatt Place Charleston/Historic District.
But if you’re looking for character, some of Charleston’s best hotels are independent boutiques like The Loutrel, Planters Inn and The Dewberry. For the best of both worlds, try Mills House Charleston, Curio Collection by Hilton (from $312 or 65,000 points per night).
Just before you cross into North Carolina, you’ll arrive in Myrtle Beach, one of South Carolina’s most popular beaches. While it has some tackier attractions like water and amusement parks, chain restaurants and shopping malls, it’s also home to 60 miles of gorgeous beach, known as the Grand Strand.
Check out the Golden Mile for a hotel-free zone, or hit the sand near 82nd Avenue for the gay beach. Beyond the beach, walk down the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk, stopping to hear live music and sip drinks along the way, or stroll down the lively Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. And save room for some authentic barbecue at True BBQ, owned by locals Joseph and Sheila Evans.
Redeem your Hilton Honors points at the all-suite Hilton Grand Vacations Club Ocean Enclave Myrtle Beach (from $169 or 84,000 points per night), just two blocks from the boardwalk with two pools, a kids activity center and an oceanfront restaurant.
Pacific Northwest parks trip
Start in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, which is home to the deepest lake in the country. Known for being extremely pristine, its purity is created by rain and snow filling in the deep caldera that was formed during a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Drive the park’s 33-mile loop road around the crater, stopping off for spectacular views and hikes along the way. Camp at Farewell Bend Campground or use 20,000 Choice Privileges points at Sleep Inn & Suites in nearby Chiloquin.
The next day, drive 100 miles north to the adorable town of Bend, Oregon. Explore the Bend Ale Trail, home to 30 breweries, and if it’s fall, visit Smith Rock Ranch for a corn maze and pumpkin patches. Explore the Old Mill District’s shops and restaurants along the Deschutes River and visit the High Desert Museum to learn about the wildlife, history and art of the region.
Sleep over at Hampton Inn & Suites Bend (from $145 or 28,000 Hilton Honors points per night) or Residence Inn by Marriott Bend (from $156 or 32,000 points per night) if you have Bonvoy points to use.
Finally, head to the McKenzie River Valley and its centerpiece, the McKenzie River National Recreation Trail. Don't miss the Sahalie and Koosah falls.
Exploring Missouri via Route 66
This classic strip of highway has been mostly replaced by interstates, but this route will have you going over parts of it.
Start in St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. You’ll want to check out Gateway Arch National Park, which includes the famous arch as well as the courthouse where the Black enslaved man Dred Scott sued for his right to freedom in the late 1840s.
Also worth visiting are the Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis Art Museum and the super-interactive City Museum, made of repurposed industrial objects inside an old shoe factory.
If you have little ones, the Magic House children’s museum is a great addition. For eats, consider the City Foundry Food Hall, Balkan Treat Box, Louie and the James Beard Award-winning Gioia’s Deli. For authentic St. Louis barbecue, head to Pappy’s Smokehouse.
Use your Hilton Honors points at Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Louis Downtown (from $148 or 40,000 points per night) or World of Hyatt points at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch (from $119 or 8,000 points per night), which overlooks the iconic arch. Marriott Bonvoy points can be spent at the Magnolia Hotel St. Louis, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel (from $213 or 30,000 points per night), a historic property inside a 1924 building that once hosted Cary Grant.
Related: Home is where the arch is: The best things to eat, see and do in St. Louis
Go west on Interstate 44, which replaced Route 66 in Missouri. You can stop at Route 66 State Park and some campy roadside attractions like Meramec Caverns and the Jesse James Wax Museum.
You’ll also drive through the small town of Cuba, aka Route 66 Mural City, where you can see 14 murals painted on buildings along the route.
If you’re craving barbecue, stop at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que while you’re there. Once back on the road, drive a portion of the original Route 66 through the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest and the Devil’s Elbow bend of the Big Piney River. For an authentically vintage experience, stay in a Route 66-themed room at the vintage Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon.
The next day, drive to one of Missouri’s largest caves, Fantastic Caverns, just outside Springfield. Then head to Springfield, where kids and grown-ups alike will have a blast at the Discovery Center, Wonders of Wildlife and the Dickerson Park Zoo. Grab burgers at Black Sheep, and for a sweet treat, head over to Askinosie Chocolate.
Sleep over at the Best Western Coach House (from $72 or 16,000 Best Western Rewards points per night) or Hilton Garden Inn Springfield, MO (from $116 or 40,000 Hilton Honors points per night).
Road trips do not have to mean burning rubber all day to cover as much ground as possible. In fact, some of the best trips look nothing like that at all. They focus on amazing sights and experiences along the route.