The United States is a big country, and you and your family should see as much of it as possible. Since crisscrossing the continent in a private jet—or even a commercial airliner—isn’t an option for most, a lot of us opt for family road trips. But with so many scenic drives, stunning national parks and breathtaking vistas, how can you possibly decide where to go (and even worse, what to skip)? Honestly, to come up with five amazing road trips, I had to cut out a lot of great ones, because really, you could make a list of five breathtaking routes for every state. So I settled for a few classic American vacations that are not too long, but just long enough to feel like thrilling adventures.
I don’t believe you should spend your entire vacation in a car. So these routes are designed to be taken a few hours at a time, and to be enjoyed as a long weekend or week-long vacation, with more time spent visiting towns and parks than driving.
1) NEW MEXICO´S HIGH DESERT
The Land of Enchantment didn’t get that name by chance. The whole state is beautiful, but there are some long hauls along insufferably flat desert highway. So let’s skip those. From Albuquerque head east on I-40, exit Highway 3 and drive north. Stop in at Villanueva State Park for a picnic. Then keep going until you come to I-25. Head north to Las Vegas (New Mexico, not Nevada!) to spend the night. From there head north on Highway 518 crossing through Santa Fe National Forest to your destination for a couple of days: Taos. From there, head west/southwest on 68 to Española and swing by Chimayo and then to Santa Fe for a couple of days. From Santa Fe head south on 14 (the Turquoise Trail) and stop in and have lunch in the artist town of Madrid before continuing on to Albuquerque.
Read Related: 3 Simple Tips to Keep Kids Entertained on Road Trips
2) YELLOWSTONE AND GRAND TETON RANGE
This road-trip takes you across our first National Park and some classic and spectacular landscape. From Bozeman, Montana, drive south on Hwy 191 and connect with Hwy 287 (John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway). This will take you through the heart of Yellowstone National Park. Keep going south and you will cross Grand Teton National Park. There are tickets available for both parks, but plan your trip ahead of time and make reservations to stay in some of the log cabins and great lodges along your trip. From the Grand Tetons you can head to Logan Utah, a beautiful small town in the banks of the Logan River at the end of the Bear River Mountains. And from there it’s a short stretch south to Salt Lake City.
3) NORTHERN CALIFORNIA
No road trip list could be complete without the legendary Northern California drive along CA-1, which National Geographic Traveler has called the “Drive of a Lifetime.” From San Francisco south to Los Angeles, or the other way around, the drive hugs the coastline where the natural landscape is decorated with cypress and redwood forests. There are a number of state parks to stop in and camp, like Andrew Molera State Park and John Little State Natural Reserve. You can take a detour into Salinas and check out the National Steinbeck Center, which celebrates one of the U.S.’s great authors, or keep going south and check out the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur. And while Napa and Sonoma, both north of San Francisco, get most of the attention as California’s wine country, a few minor detours, such as West Carmel Valley Road, will lead you to beautiful wine country and tantalizing wineries.
4) THE GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS
This is a famous southern road-trip. Take the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway that stretches along the Appalachian Mountains, connecting Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many people brag about hiking the Appalachian Trail, but for most of us, driving it is just as awesome, especially in the fall when the mountainsides are ablaze with autumn colors. The drive takes you from the eclectic mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina to beautiful Waynesboro, Virginia. The Blue Ridge Parkway has it’s own website and app to help you plan your trip.
5) TEXAS HILL COUNTRY
Texas is a big state and a lot of it can be really dull driving. But the Texas Hill country is compact and offers a variety of towns to stop in and visit, eat BBQ, go antique shopping and enjoy state and national parks. There are a lot of different options for exploring the Hill Country, so check out your map and trace a route out of Austin or San Antonio. Make sure to visit Kerrville and Fredericksburg. Along Hwy 281 you’ll find Spring Branch, Blanco State Park, and Pedernales Falls State Park. Also just off 281 is Black Rock Park and further north is Colorado Bend State Park.
What are some of your favorite road trips?
Editor’s Note: This article is one in a series of pieces inspired by the end of summer and onset of fall brought to you by Colgate