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The Most Romantic Road Trips in the US

United States Road Trips
by Matador Creators Feb 7, 2024

There are two ways to view road trips. Planning and packing for a car trip can feel like a chore or an adventure. Spending hours, even days, sequestered in a vehicle stuffed with road-trip essentials can feel claustrophobic, or it can create a private space where you have the rare opportunity to share dedicated quality time and mood-boosting playlists with a travel companion. Even the occasional hiccup can be viewed as an exercise in problem-solving rather than a logistical nightmare when you’re road-tripping with a loved one.

If nothing stokes intimacy like one-on-one time, then few modes of travel have as much romantic potential as road trips. Sure, anyone can admire a beautiful vista, but who better to appreciate a scenic byway pullout than a couple armed with a picnic basket. That’s doubly true if you and your partner stop at a rideside farm stand to fill your basket with fresh berries, dark chocolate, and other aphrodisiacs. The same thinking applies to overnights: Road-tripping alone might mean finding the cheapest motels along your route, but with a significant other, it’s an excuse to share campsites, glampsites, cabins, inns, and intimate Airbnbs.

Romantic road trips can last a day, a weekend, a week, or longer. It can start and end at home or be an excuse to visit new states. That’s the beauty of a car trip — you and your partner are quite literally in the driver’s seat, and for most of the trip, you’re there alone, together. Make your next date a whole vacation on these romantic road trips across the US.

We hope you love the accommodations we recommend on these romantic road trips! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Route 100 Byway: Vermont

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Photo: Reimar/Shutterstock

Notable stops:

  • Reardon’s Crossing Bridge
  • Scott Covered Bridge and Hamilton Falls
  • SoLo Farm and Table
  • Green Mountain Sugar House
  • Prohibition Pig
  • Killington Mountain Resort
  • Pumpkin Patch B&B

Fall foliage drives in Vermont have long been upheld as a romantic ideal, but Vermont’s bucolic beauty exists year-round. What’s more intimate, for example, than a winter road trip through snow-flanked roads, stopping at local breweries for a cozy pint? Luckily, you don’t have to go hunting for hidden roads — just stick to Vermont’s Route 100 Byway, a north-south highway that cuts through some of the state’s most stunning scenery and iconic landmarks.

Traveling the entire length of the state from Stamford on the Massachusetts line to Newport on the Canadian border, Route 100 has plenty of classical Vermont small towns to get your New England cultural and historical fix. Wilmington, in the south, is the perfect place to start. Check out the 18th- and 19th-century buildings, walk across Reardon’s Crossing bridge for peaceful river views, and check out the boutique cafes and book shops downtown. For a bite to eat, don’t miss out on Dot’s, an old-school diner that’s become a local staple.

Moving up the highway, head to Dover, known for its postcard-worthy Scott Covered Bridge, and the nearby short hike to Hamilton Falls. If you’ve hiked up an appetite, you’ll thankfully find some of the best burgers, sausages, and milkshakes anywhere in Vermont up the road at SoLo Farm and Table, a James Beard-nominated restaurant that’ll give you a little dose of fine dining. For something more local, head a little farther to the Green Mountain Sugar House in Ludlow. Stock up on local maple syrup, Vermont honey, and Vermont cheese as souvenirs or snacks.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Vermont road trip without a toast with some craft brews. Up north in Waterbury, you’ll find Prohibition Pig, a brewery specializing in house-brewed IPAs and ales, as well as comfort food like poutine and chicken and biscuits.

Pacific Coast Highway: San Francisco to Santa Barbara

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Photo: Omengramirez/Shutterstock
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Notable stops:

  • San Francisco
  • Half Moon Bay
  • Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Big Sur
  • San Simeon and Hearst Castle
  • Piedras Blanca Elephant Seal Rookery
  • Central Coast Wine Country
  • Santa Barbara

Hugging the coast between San Francisco and Santa Barbara, the Pacific Coast Highway is a rare chance to see untamed California nature — there’s dramatic cliffs, winding roads dotted with wildflowers and cyprus trees, and charming towns and wineries to visit in between.

After enjoying San Francisco’s romantic side — crossing the Golden Gate Bridge to admire the city from the Marin Headlands, cycling through Golden Gate Park, or picnicking in Alamo Square Park in view of the Victorian houses known as the Painted Ladies — drive about 30 miles south to Half Moon Bay. Rent bikes and cycle through the cute downtown or head inland a few miles to hike beneath coastal redwoods. At Pigeon Point Lighthouse, climb all 308 steps for a heart-pounding kiss, then retire for the night at the Cypress Inn.

Next, head to Monterey, walking the same Cannery Row made famous by the Steinbeck novel of the same name, visiting the impressive Monterey Bay Aquarium, or taking a whale-watching tour. After, spend time in neighboring Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s one of the cutest towns in California, probably because it was formerly an artist commune, and many of the buildings are designed in a distinctive dollhouse style. You’ll want to stay in Carmel to give yourself a full day to drive south through Big Sur. Stop and hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park or Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, drive over the famous Bixby Bridge, and stop for lunch at the cliffside Nepenthe Restaurant, once a social hangout for beatnik poets and authors like Jack Kerouac.

As you exit Big Sur, you’ll enter into an area known as the Central Coast. Fans of architecture will want to take a tour of famous Hearst Castle, once the largest home in California. It’s just south of the elephant seal rookery in San Simeon where you can see hundreds of the so-goofy-they’re-cute animals on the cliffside beach. For a bit of friendly competition, head to Moonstone Beach to look for the namesake stones. If you decide to spend the night in this area, try the bright and airy seaside Inn at the Pier in Pismo Beach, or book one of the over-the-top theme rooms at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo; the Caveman is especially quirky.

From this point until you reach Santa Barbara, you’ll be in the heart of California wine country. While most people associate California wine with Napa, the Central Coast region actually has some of the largest American Viticultural Areas in the country (and much cheaper tasting fees). Of course, you don’t want to drink and drive, so consider booking a cycling tour through Edna Valley vineyards, or jump on the Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley, running May through October.

A day spent wine tasting is made better by a romantic evening under the stars, so wrap up your perfect road trip with a night or two at the Carpinteria Beach Cottages in Santa Barbara or the rustic Hotel Ynez, surrounded by acres of oak trees in the center of Santa Barbara wine country.

Read more about the Pacific Coast Highway:

Great Lakes: Chicago to Niagara Falls

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Notable stops:

  • Chicago
  • Lake Michigan
  • Indiana Dunes National Park
  • Mackinac Island
  • Lake Huron
  • Ann Arbor
  • Cleveland
  • Lake Erie
  • Niagara Falls

This romantic road trip clings to the shores of three Great Lakes: Michigan, Huron, and Erie. Start the drive in Chicago, carving out enough time on the front end to enjoy the city’s fine-dining restaurants, hotels, and activities. Go ice skating at Maggie Daley Park in the winter, charter a hot tub boat anytime, or share a rejuvenating dip at the Aire Ancient Baths bath house, which runs a Valentine’s Day promotion February 14-19.

Leaving Chicago, drive east to Indiana Dunes National Park, located an hour away on the southern end of Lake Michigan. The park is famous for its biodiversity, specifically plants and birds, as well as a landscape that switches between oak savannas and prairies, wetlands and woodlands, and more. But the real highlight is the dune-laden shoreline, with beaches that are even beautiful to visit in the winter. Depending on the season, hike or horseback ride, snowshoe or cross-country ski. If the weather’s nice, pack a picnic — there are four first-come, first-served picnic shelters in the park and two, West Beach and Bailly Chelberg, that you can reserve.

There are two choices for your next stop on this Great Lakes-oriented romantic road trip. If you don’t want to drive five-and-a-half hours straight to Mackinaw City, the gateway to Mackinac Island, stop in Traverse City to visit the wineries along the Old Mission Peninsula, indulge in Michigan cherry treats, and have a romantic meal overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. The drive from Traverse City to Mackinaw City is just two hours.

In Mackinaw City, ditch the car and hop on a year-round Star Line ferry to Mackinac Island. (A second ferry service, Shepler’s, operates during the busy season between April and October.) Spend the day there, exploring historic sites such as Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac. Rent bicycles to traverse the island — horse-drawn carriages also travel the car-free island — and catch sunset over Lake Huron from a quiet spot.

Sleep in Mackinaw City at one of its inns or bed and breakfasts. Take some time in the morning to soak in the city’s maritime history and stroll the shores of Lake Huron before heading south to Ann Arbor, a college town known for its artistic flair. Wander through the charming streets, visit local art galleries, and enjoy a romantic dinner at one of the city’s cozy restaurants.

Cleveland is the last big city on the itinerary before you reach Niagara Falls. There aren’t many love songs about Cleveland, but trips to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, A Christmas Story House, Cleveland Museum, or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame make for nice date ideas. Enjoy a romantic dinner in the Warehouse District before tucking in for the night at the historic Glidden House, which doubles as a popular wedding venue. The next morning, swing by the indoor-outdoor West Side Market for breakfast and elevated road trip snacks.

Niagara Falls is located roughly three hours east of Cleveland, hugging the shores of Lake Erie the whole time. Many people already know the romantic things to do there, notably the two cascades on the New York side of the attraction: American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, which conceals a bonus attraction at the Cave of the Winds. But don’t forget about the Niagara wine region. Spend at least one night in the area to get the full experience — heck, you can even get married a la Pam and Jim from The Office if you’re really feeling romantic.

Read more about the Great Lakes and Niagara Falls:

Southwest: Joshua Tree to Santa Fe

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Photo: Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock
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Photo: Greg Meland/Shutterstock
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Notable stops:

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Cathedral Rock
  • Slide Rock State Park
  • Sandia Peak Tramway
  • Santa Fe

There are countless ways to route a Southwest road trip. One of the most romantic options is to start in Joshua Tree National Park where you’ll want to spend your first night stargazing at a designated campground — the skies above Cottonwood offer the inkiest backdrop — or admiring the International Dark Sky Park from slightly further afield at a dreamy Joshua Tree Airbnb.

The drive from Joshua Tree to your next stop, Sedona, takes approximately five hours and passes through Phoenix. Feel free to stop for a bite and to stretch your legs, but no dawdling — Arizona’s real romance awaits in Sedona. While Sedona is known for being a scenic and spiritual place, that creates a lot of overlap for lovestruck road-trippers. Spend a day exploring Sedona’s outdoors at Cathedral Rock or Slide Rock State Park, then treat yourselves to an evening of couple’s treatments at one of Sedona’s premier spa hotels.

From Sedona, you’ll cross into the final state on this romantic road trip: New Mexico. First up is the state capital, home to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October and year-round hot-air balloon rides. On the outskirts of Albuquerque, stop at the Sandia Peak Tramway en route to Santa Fe for a different aerial view of the landscape below.

Arty, historic Santa Fe is the perfect terminus for partners road-tripping around the Southwest. Take a couple of days to visit the galleries, shops, and restaurants lining Canyon Road. Visit the Santa Fe Botanical Garden and the Ojo Caliente or Ten Thousand Waves hot springs resorts. Lodging is available at multiple hot springs resorts in the Santa Fe area, but there are even more romantic accommodations in the heart of town. The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is as central and charming as it gets while Auberge’s Bishop’s Lodge offers a bit more seclusion outside of the downtown core. Then again, nothing is as private or homey as a Santa Fe Airbnb.

Read more about the Southwest:

Skyline Drive: Virginia

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Photo: Zack Frank/Shutterstock
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Photo: Walt Bilous/Shutterstock

Notable stops

  • Strasburg
  • Spelunker’s Frozen Custard and Cavern Burgers
  • Skyline Caverns
  • Compton Peak
  • Marriott Ranch Trail Rides
  • Massanutten Storybook Trail and Yellow Cliffs Mountain Overlook
  • Mimslyn Inn
  • Wisteria Farm and Vineyard
  • Cabins in the Page Valley
  • Blackfriars Playhouse
  • Browns Gap
  • Billy Jack’s Shack
  • Chiles Peach Orchard

A National Scenic Byway spanning the entire length of Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive is a 105-mile highway that allows you to skirt the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with panoramic views of the park throughout the entire trip. Often considered one of the best mountain drives in the US, Skyline Drive has 75 stunning overlooks with views of the Shenandoah Valley, small towns, and great local food stops.

There are three ways to do this road trip: the Northern, Central, or Southern Loop. The Northern Loop starts in Strasburg, a town historically known for its pottery and art culture, then continues on to Front Royal. Grab a bite at Spelunker’s Frozen Custard and Cavern Burgers before heading to Skyline Caverns, a surreal subterranean environment that’ll show you that the area’s beauties aren’t all above ground. After the caverns, head on to Thornton Gap, where you can hike part of the Appalachian Trail at Compton Peak and enjoy stunning mountain views. End the trip with a romantic horseback riding adventure in Huntley through Marriott Ranch Trail Rides.

The Central Loop begins in New Market, the gateway to fantastic hikes like the Massanutten Storybook Trail and Yellow Cliffs Mountain Overlook. Before setting up camp at the historic Mimslyn Inn in Luray, stop at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard for a quick tasting of local wines. If you prefer more rustic lodgings, the surrounding Page Valley is known as the Cabin Capitol of Virginia, with plenty of yurts and cabins (both basic and luxurious) to book.

Skyline Drive’s Southern Loop begins in the small town of Staunton, known for its brick-lined main street and Shakespeare-style Blackfriars Playhouse. From Staunton, continue through Waynesboro for one of the most scenic parts of Skyline Drive. The loop hike from Browns Gap (milepost 83.0) will bring you past three of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls, and surrounding nature trails offer a more relaxed way to immerse yourself in nature. Explore the art galleries and farmer’s market in nearby Harrisonburg, then grab a burger at Billy Jack’s Shack before ending the trip by picking peaches in Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet.

Read more about Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains:

Covered Bridge Loop: Parke County, Indiana

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Photo: Raymond Maiden/Shutterstock

Notable stops:

  • Rockville
  • Beeson Covered Bridge
  • Leatherwood Station Covered Bridge
  • Mansfield Bridge
  • Roseville Bridge
  • Harry Evans Bridge
  • Turkey Run State Park
  • Wilkins Mill Bridge
  • Cox Ford Bridge

Parke County, Indiana, captures the essence of rural Americana. But it’s really known for its historic covered bridges. Parke County is home to 31 covered bridges dating from the 1830s to the early 1990s, each reflecting the craftsmanship and ingenuity of early Hoosier settlers. Parke County’s Covered Bridge Loop takes you through pretty forests and past meandering streams. Many of the bridges along the way are drive-throughs; others require you to walk across. There’s a handy map marking bridges, places to eat, and points of interest to help you plan.

Base yourself at a romantic Airbnb in or around Rockville, such as this lakefront A-frame or this Amish-built cabin. From there, you can take various routes. The first is a 55-mile loop, excluding detours, that travels from Rockville to Ferndale, Mansfield, Bridgerton, Rosedale, Mecca, Montezuma, Coloma, and back to your base. A second option is a 37-mile loop from Rockville to Bloomingdale, Sylvania, Turkey Run State Park, Marshall, Nyesville, and back to Rockville.

Whichever route you choose, start your romantic road trip at downtown Rockville’s Urban Farmchic. There, you can grab a coffee to visit the walk-through Beeson Covered Bridge and Leatherwood Station Covered Bridge, then drive over to Billie Creek Ridge on the outskirts of town if you’re opting for the longer route. All are within a few minutes of each other.

Continue to Ferndale and Mansfield to take in the scenery over Mansfield Bridge, built in 1897. Stop at Bridgerton and stroll across Big Raccoon Creek before continuing to Comar’s Cafe in Rosedale for a homestyle lunch. After, take a short detour to visit the Roseville Bridge or Harry Evans Bridge, or drive on to the walk-through bridge at Mecca. Mecca is a lovely place for an afternoon stroll, or you can return to Rockville, get rid of your vehicle, and have a glass of wine at Cross at a Walk Britton Winery or the Drunk Tank Winery. On day two, head to Turkey Run State Park. There’s a tiny home Airbnb nearby in Crawfordsville if you’d like to change location.

For the shorter route, grab picnic supplies at Urban Farmchic in Rockville and beeline for Turkey Run State Park, stopping en route for ice cream at Gobbler’s Knob Sweet Shop & Mercantile baked goods at Pals Homestead. When you get to Turkey Run, drive over Wilkins Mill Bridge and Cox Ford Bridge before returning to Rockville via Nyesville for pizza at Rebecca’s and a drink at Shoe’s Ridge Bar. Note that many of these establishments are cash-only.

There are also a couple of festivals to plan your visit around. The 10-day Covered Bridge Festival is in October, and in February, there’s the Parke County Maple Fair, during which you can join the locals in tapping the maple trees.

Rocky Mountains: Denver to Jackson Hole

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Photo: Kurt Nichols/Shutterstock
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Notable stops:

  • Denver
  • Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Strawberry Park Hot Springs
  • Flaming Gorge
  • Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop
  • Granite Hot Springs
  • Jackson Hole

Rocky Mountain road trips allow for as many or few mountain sports as you’d like, depending on the season and your idea of quality time. But this one, spanning Colorado and Wyoming, centers on universally romantic hot springs.

The first hot spring on the itinerary is Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, which is about three hours northwest of your starting point in Denver. Midway through the drive, detour around Granby to access the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake. This is the most direct route that includes a park visit, but you can also add two hours to the total drive time if you detour to Estes Park from Denver.

Both gateways to the park have romantic potential beyond access to scenic trails. In Grand Lake, take a summertime boat ride or visit the Grand Lake Nordic Center for a cross-country ski session in winter. At the Beaver Meadows Visitors in Estes Park, reserve a full-moon snowshoe, look into the park’s after-dark astronomy programs around Moraine Lake, or catch a sunrise at Sprague Lake. For non-campers, Estes Park Resort and Della Terra Mountain Chateau are charming places to spend a night. If you’re just passing through, see it all on the Trail Ridge Road between Estes Park and Grand Lake. It’s a nationally designated All-American Road and the highest continuous paved road in the country.

When you make it to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, lodging is available in addition to soothing waters and massages that you can book in advance. The next hot spring on the agenda, Granite Hot Springs across the state border to Wyoming, has no accommodation, but the forested pool nearby Granite Creek is a worthwhile stop an hour south of Jackson Hole.

The drive between the two hot springs takes about six hours, so you’re going to want to stop along the way. Around the halfway point visit Rock Springs, Wyoming, home to breathtaking Flaming Gorge and a starting point for the 1.5-hour Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Loop drive, which ends in Green River. Grab a bison burger at The Hitching Post in Green River, then follow it up with a beer at Bitter Creek Brewing in downtown Rock Springs and a sweet treat at the Food Network-featured Cowboy Donuts before getting back on the road.

The last stop on this romantic road trip is Jackson Hole, best known for its world-class ski resort. But its appeal is year-round for couples. Think hot-air ballooning, horseback riding, or enjoying a dimly lit cocktail hour at The Rose for après or otherwise. Hands down the most extravagant (and romantic) place to stay in Jackson Hole is the Amangani, an Aman resort with a spa menu that’s almost 20 pages long. (Although the quaint Rustic Inn or a cozy Jackson Hole Airbnb would definitely be more cost effective.)

Read more about Rocky Mountain National Park:

Scenic Byway 12: Utah

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Notable stops

  • Torrey
  • Anasazi State Park and Museum
  • Dixie National Forest
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
  • Powell Point Vista
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park
  • Red Canyon
  • Panguitch

Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 doesn’t even come close to crossing the entire state, but that’s okay — because this 123-mile byway cuts through some of Utah’s prettiest forests, panoramic overlooks, otherworldly rock formations, and national parks. Sure, you could drive the whole thing end-to-end in just a few hours, but when there’s so much to stop and see, why would you?

The road runs east-west from Panguitch to Torrey through Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Escalante, and Boulder. You can start at either end, but if you set out from Torrey, you’ll almost immediately get to enjoy a scenic climb into Dixie National Forest through desert canyon gorges, alpine lakes, and tree-covered mountains. Make sure to stop at the scenic overlook near the summit. You’ll be able to see Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument whose colorful sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons are one of the most iconic sights in Utah.

From there, head east to Powell Point, a viewpoint between Escalante and Herieville where you can see Wasatch Limestone formations and ancient bristlecone pines. It’s the perfect gateway to nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park, known for its ancient monolithic stone spires — some of which reach up to 170 feet. Depending on the season, you can go hiking, horseback riding, or mountain biking in the park. It’s particularly romantic with a touch of snow on the ground.

The storybook ending to this romantic road trip passes through Red Canyon. Filled with rust-colored hoodoos, Red Canyon is stunning no matter how you see it, though it’s probably best explored by horseback. Take a trail ride through the canyon to learn all about the area’s geographic diversity and Wild West history. As you leave the area and make your way to Panguitch, you’ll pass under the iconic two arches, the perfect sight to cap off your road trip.

Read more about Southern Utah:

Olympic Peninsula Loop: Washington

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Notable stops:

  • Seattle
  • Hood Canal
  • Whidbey Island
  • Port Angeles
  • Olympic National Park
  • Hurricane Ridge
  • Sol Duc Falls
  • Lake Crescent
  • Neah Bay
  • Forks
  • Hoh Rainforest
  • Ruby Beach
  • Lake Quinault

The beauty of shorter round-trip driving routes like Washington’s 330-mile Olympic Peninsula Loop is that it’s a real choose-your-own-adventure. You can drive Highway 101 for a day, admiring the scenery from your car. You could build out a weekend trip, taking your time in Olympic National Park. Or you can spend a week stopping in as many small towns as you can. Your first choice on this romantic road trip is where to start. This itinerary starts and ends in Seattle, but you could easily set off from Portland, as well.

From Seattle, drive two hours west to Hood Canal, an artificial fjord surrounded by state parks. (Fun fact: Hood Canal oysters are some of Washington’s most quintessential, so try to sample some while you’re there.) Nearby trails direct you along the coast, or you can continue to more forested areas for waterfalls hikes. You might even consider summiting Mount Ellinor.

Spend your first night in town on Whidbey Island just across the Puget Sound from Port Townsend. The island is accessible year-round, and the Inn at Langley is always charming. On the way out, take a beat to admire Port Townsend’s Victorian architecture, grab a bite at a waterfront seafood restaurant, and visit the farmers market if you’re there on a Saturday between April and mid-December. There’s another farmers market 10 miles south in Chicacum Valley on Sundays between early June and late October while the Chicacum Corner Farmstand is always open to showcase the valley’s grass-fed meats, artisan cheeses, and fresh produce.

Under an hour west of Port Townsend is Sequim, a lavender-farm town that’s particularly worth visiting during the Sequim Lavender Fest in July. If you’re not there during lavender season, you can still see Dungeness Spit, a romantic stretch of land jutting into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The next highlight of this romantic trip is nearby Port Angeles, a gateway to Olympic National Park. Plan on staying for a couple of days. The town itself has plenty of cute shops and restaurants to visit between day trips to Lake Crescent, Hurricane Ridge, and Sol Duc Falls and Hot Springs. You can also arrange whale-watching tours here between May and October — the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is more than twice as big as Olympic National Park.

From Port Angeles, head to Forks, with an option detour in Neah Bay to make each other blush at Cape Flattery and learn about the Indigenous Makah Tribe at the Makah Museum. You could cozy up in a cabin or campsite on Hobuck Beach for the night, or you could continue on to Forks. Some may know the historically quiet town as the setting for the Twilight franchise, but you’re going to use it as a base camp for the Hoh Rainforest (although you might as well see if Bella Swan’s house-turned-Airbnb is available for the night).

After admiring the moss-covered trees in one of America’s most impressive temperate rainforests, you have another choice to make: Spend a night at Kalaloch Lodge, stopping at Ruby Beach along the way, or start looping back toward Seattle via Lake Quinault. The eponymous lodge there is arguably the more romantic of the two. The drive back to Seattle from Lake Quinault is about three hours, with the best of the peninsula behind you.

Read more about the Olympic Peninsula:

Beartooth Highway: Wyoming and Montana

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Photo: melissamn/Shutterstock
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Photo: Nikki Yancey/Shutterstock

Notable stops

  • Rock Creek Vista
  • Top of the World Store
  • Sylvan Lake, Beauty Lake, Long Lake
  • Cooke City
  • Numerous hikes in Custer-Gallatin National Forest
  • Yellowstone National Park

The Beartooth Highway officially starts in Red Lodge, Montana, and ends near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park, just outside of Cooke City, Montana. The southern part falls in Wyoming, but the majority of the highway runs through Montana. It’s the highest-elevation highway in the northern part of the Rocky Mountains, so make sure at least one of you is comfortable driving on windy mountain passes. This is also why it’s not driveable in the winter, so plan on driving it sometime roughly mid-May to the end of October.

The Beartooth Highway is one of the shorter romantic road trips in the US at just over 68 miles, but it can easily fill a few days with detours. Start at the westernmost end of the highway, which is very close to the northeastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. That entrance happens to be the park’s least-used, meaning it’s a great place for wildlife viewing. Bring binoculars and keep an eye out for wolves and other animals you’re unlikely to see elsewhere in the park.

After leaving Yellowstone, head to Cooke City, founded in the late 1800s during the Gold Rush. Explore the quirky shops and local galleries on Main Street. The Cooke City Museum is fascinating for couples who like to nerd out together on history, and there are tons of great hiking trails through the nearby mountains. You’ll find lots of hiking options around the southern Beartooth Wilderness Area, and the little-known Sylvan Lake Campground offers endless photo opportunities, especially if you wake up early to wait for wildlife to appear along the shoreline of the still lake during sunrise. Montana Hikes has a useful list of the many campgrounds along the route, but if you don’t want to camp here, you can do day hikes to lakes near the route’s Top of the World Store, such as Long Lake to Snyder Lake (four miles) or the aptly named Beauty Lake (with variable distances). Be sure to stop at the Top of World Store, because yes, you do need to take a couple’s photo at the top of the world.

As you start getting close to Red Lodge, you’ll notice plenty of beautiful lookout points. One of the best is the Rock Creek Vista, known for being an excellent place to spot Bighorn sheep and mountain goats. Once in Red Lodge, stay at the historic Pollard Hotel. Other standout hotel and lodge options along the route include the Elk Horn Lodge near Cooke City, with romantic wooden cabins that’ll make you feel like homesteaders, and the Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins roughly 30 miles west of Cooke City. In Yellowstone itself, there are plenty of backcountry and frontcountry camping options around the northeastern corner.

Read more about Yellowstone:

Golden Isles: Georgia

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Photo: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Notable stops:

  • Savannah
  • Historic Brunswick
  • St. Simons Island
  • Jekyll Island

When it comes to coastal road trips in the US, California’s stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway gets the lionshare of attention. Traversing I-95 on the other side of the country often feels a lot more industrial thanks to its many lanes and importance as a trucking route. Yet centering a short I-95 road trip around the Golden Isles in Georgia leads to historic towns with trees covered in Spanish moss and islands dotted with small beach towns.

Start north of the Golden Isles in Savannah, which was the country’s first planned city by European colonists. It’s predictably loaded with important historic sites. Even those less inclined to historic tours can’t deny that there’s a certain gothic-romantic charm that can only be found here. Savannah’s 22 public squares are perfect for a people-watching picnic among the abundance of flora and fountains (or ghost watching, considering Savannah is commonly listed among the most haunted American cities). Stroll River Street and pop in for oysters and seafood at one of the many restaurants.

From Savannah, drive about an hour and a half south toward Brunswick. The small fishing town of Darien toward the end of the drive is a worthy break if the urge for more fresh seafood strikes. It’s here that the road starts to feel truly coastal with arching, picture-perfect bridges that pass over stretches of wildlife-filled marshes and waterways. Pause to soak in the natural environment at the 4,000-acre Altama Wildlife Management Area before continuing on to Brunswick.

Brunswick is where the Golden Isles truly start (the town is, after all, called the “Gateway to the Golden Isles”). Historic Downtown Brunswick was founded in 1771, and Victorian, Gothic revival, and Queen Anne architecture abounds. Stay the night near Newcastle Street to be close to art galleries, live music, and plenty of bars and restaurants. The town is also the jumping off point to St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.

Start with the former. St. Simons is a popular vacation spot in the South that’s reached from Brunswick via a short drive on the FJ Torras Causeway. Hotel Simone is an adults-only, luxury boutique hotel that provides easy access to all the island has to offer. Little St. Simons Island in the northern section of St. Simons has 11,000 acres of undeveloped land and seven miles of private beaches for a secluded day excursion.

To conclude a romantic Golden Isles road trip, watch the sunrise at Gould’s Inlet and then head back to Brunswick to take state road 520 to Jekyll Island. This state-owned island was once the playground of the Rockefeller, Morgan, and Pulitzer families — and the luxurious touches remain among the mansions of the National Historic Landmark District. Get a taste of that lifestyle at Jekyll Island Club Resort. After a full day of beaches and biking or walking along the 25 tree-line miles of the Jekyll Island Trail System, eat an early dinner at one of the seafood restaurants. Finish the day with stargazing on Driftwood Beach.

Looking to extend the beach road trip vibes? Continue the drive down through Florida for stops in in resort towns like Palm Coast, Cocoa Beach, and down to West Palm Beach and Miami.

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