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The 10 Coolest Summer Road Trips for Families in the US

Travel Family Travel #MatadorKids
by Matador Creators Apr 9, 2015

1. Pacific Northwest to Montana

Photo: RS Smith Photography/Shutterstock

This big loop is all about national parks, national forests, and some of the most unique terrain and wildlife anywhere in the world. Taking anywhere from 2 to 4 + weeks, you can go from the coastal rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the alpine montane, geysers, and hot springs of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

  • Starting Point: Seattle or Portland
  • Follow 101 to Olympic Peninsula
  • Camping along Wild Coast
  • Special stops: La Push (good Camping, hotels, classic Washington surf spot), Hoh Rainforest
  • Take the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds back to Seattle
  • From Seattle, take I-90 East to Missoula area (7 hours) with good camping along Clark Fork River near Alberton
  • Missoula to Yellowstone National Park via Livingston (89)
  • On return trip, head back from Yellowstone via 287 along Madison River

2. Southern Appalachia to the Sea

Photo: Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

This loop has a good mix of local towns / culture, as well as varied terrain and wilderness.

  • Starting / ending point: Atlanta
  • Special restaurant mention: Greenwoods in Roswell
  • 85 N to 316 to Athens
  • 441N from Athens through Clayton GA and Franklin, NC
  • Excellent camping options in Nantahala National Forest
  • Asheville via 74 / US 40
  • Special family-friendly restaurant mention in Asheville: Sunny Point Café
  • Blue Ridge Parkway north from Asheville
  • Linville Falls (outstanding backpacking in Linville Gorge)
  • Continue North via Skyline Drive into Shenandoah National Park or take I-64 East to Charlottesville
  • Richmond
  • Wilmington via Raleigh (I-85 to I-40)
  • Coastal drive to Charleston

3. Front Range to Montana

Photo: Joe Hy Photography/Shutterstock

The high passes of the Rockies fill up during the summer with RVs, motorcycles, and everyone else enjoying the mountains, rivers, and open stretches of highway.

This loop features two major National Parks and true cowboy towns.

  • Starting / ending point: Denver Metro Area (including Boulder, Ft. Collins)
  • 287 N. through Wyoming (Chief Joseph Highway)
  • Truly off the beaten path exploration options (backpacking) in Wind River range
  • Lander – Sinks Canyon is an excellent campground / first night’s place to stop if making a big push to Yellowstone or Tetons
  • Continue 287 N to Teton
  • Special Mention: Dubois. True cowboy town.
  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Bear Tooth Scenic Highway — Hwy 212 winds its way over the spine of the Rocky Mountains at 10,970 feet, linking Red Lodge to Cooke City at Yellowstone National Park’s Northeast Entrance
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield for reenactment of Custer’s last stand

Notes: Additionally, Jackson, Wyoming (known by non-locals as “Jackson Hole”) — is less than an hour south of Teton National Park, and totally worth the detour. Jackson is one of the most unique towns in America, and has some of the strongest communities of adventure athletes in the world. Check the local terrain and you’ll know why.

4. Best of the Southwest (long loop)

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This road trip is one of the hottest on the map, but visitors will be surprised how much the temperatures cool off in the desert southwest, especially at high elevation. Bring layers.

More than any other loop, the Best of the Southwest has a high concentration of National Parks. Give yourself several extra days for camping / local options around Grand Canyon. This loop could easily be extended for an entire month or more.

  • Starting / ending point: Phoenix, AZ
  • North I-17 through Flagstaff on to Grand Canyon
  • 89 N to North Rim, Marble Canyon
  • Mesa Verde — US-160 East into southern Colorado via Durango
  • Pagosa Springs — excellent family hot springs
  • South into New Mexico. via Chama, to Santa Fe
  • South on 285 through Roswell to Carlsbad Caverns
  • South into Texas through Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  • South to Big Bend National Park
  • Northwest through El Paso to White Sands
  • West on 10 to Tucson, then back up to Pheonix

5. Northern New England Loop

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The Northern New England Loop is all about cooler temps, short driving days on winding country roads, and local hiking in the Appalachians.

This is a great choice for families with young kids or those looking for an easier road trip.

  • Starting / ending point: Burlington, VT (or surrounding area)
  • 89 south through Waterbury
  • Route 100 south (great winding country road), past Warren Falls swimming hole
  • East on 4 through Woodstock
  • Cross into NH at Hanover (Dartmouth)
  • East to Lake Winnipesaukee and continue to Portland, ME
  • Coast Route 1 past beaches, art towns, through Camden, to Acadia National Park
  • North through Bangor and up to Baxter State Park
  • Turn west through nowhere-land to Moosehead Lake Region
  • Cross back into NH after Grafton Notch State Park
  • Continue into Northeast Kingdom, VT
  • Back to Burlington via Stowe and the Notch

6. Best of the Southwest (short loop)

Photo: MaRap/Shutterstock

This short loop is filled with great outdoor explorations and the discoveries of some of the US’s most impressive natural wonders.

7. Across the Prairies to the Ocean

Photo: ZakZeinert/Shutterstock

This long road trip is about your family discovering the many landscapes of the US; from the big city, through the Prairies and the Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific Ocean.

8. The Pacific Coast Highway

Photo: Daniel X D/Shutterstock

California State Route 1 is one of the most iconic road trips in the United States — an epic trip up the coast of California along the Pacific Ocean.

  • Starting point: The official start point is in Capistrano Beach, Orange County, but you could extend it a bit south and start in San Diego via Interstate 5.
  • Follow California State Route 1 north through the Los Angeles beach communities of Newport Beach, Redondo Beach, and Hermosa Beach up to Santa Monica.
  • Visit the amusement park at Santa Monica Pier.
  • Check out the insanely luxurious Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
  • Look out for the incredibly beautiful Bixby Creek Bridge as you pass through Big Sur.
  • Drive through San Francisco before crossing the famous Golden Gate Bridge into Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
  • Camp on the coast in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
  • Visit the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg.
  • The road terminates a little inland at Leggett.

9. Oregon to Colorado via Yosemite

Photo: Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock

It’s basically a greatest hits road trip of the western wildernesses — with a couple of major urban stops.

  • Starting point: Portland, Oregon
  • Take Interstate 5 down to Route 96 for a pit stop in Redwood National Forest.
  • Take the 101 to the Pacific Coast Highway, which you’ll follow down to San Francisco.
  • Turn east to Yosemite National Park for some hiking and camping.
  • Take Route 6 through empty Nevada to Great Basin National Park.
  • Follow Route 50 to Moab, where you’ll visit Canyonlands and Arches National Park.
  • From here, you’re a short drive to Colorado, where you can stop in Glenwood Canyon before reaching your terminus at Denver.

10. The Great Lake Loop

Lovers Leap in Pictured Rocks National Lakshore

Photo: Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock

A fantastic mix of amusement parks and outdoor awesomeness.

  • Starting/ending point: Chicago, Illinois
  • Drive up through Wisconsin Dells for water parks, roller coasters, and boating.
  • Move north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where there’s so much to do and see it’s impossible for us to tell you where to start: the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Lake of the Clouds, and the Great Sand Bay are awesome, though.
  • From there, cross the Mackinac Bridge to the Lower Peninsula (possibly stopping for a day or two on Mackinac Island) and drive down to the Traverse City area for a visit to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
  • Head south through the state to Ohio, where you can spend a day at the Roller Coaster Capital of the World: Cedar Point. Then loop back to Chicago!

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