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America's Best Family Road Trips

Traveling by car—rather than by plane—is becoming a more popular way for families to travel. After all, it's cheaper, there's no security, and there aren't any delays (unless you schedule them). But seasoned parents also know that long car trips can yield a chorus of unending "Are we there yet" statements from the back seat. It can be agitating; at times, you might start to wonder why you even decided to go on vacation in the first place. Luckily, we've found the secret to fun family road trips: scenic routes, plenty of attractions, and pit stops available every 100 miles or so.

With this in mind, here are seven spectacular road trips for families who want to enjoy their time cruising together.

[In Pictures: America's Best Family Road Trips]

West Coast

San Francisco to Santa Barbara, Calif.

Route: Coastal Highway 1

You'll rack up more than 300 miles on your odometer driving from San Francisco to Santa Barbara on the picturesque Coastal Highway 1, but if you make frequent stops, you may just keep the whining to a minimum. Grab a hot chocolate from Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco before heading about 78 miles south to Santa Cruz. Here, you can burn off some energy on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's rides. Then, drive 99 miles south to explore the rugged beauty of the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Park. After stretching your legs, head about 100 miles south to San Simeon, home of the storied Hearst Castle. From here, pile back into the car for a short ride to San Luis Obispo to take a gander at Bubblegum Alley, a street flanked by walls covered in ABC (already been chewed) gum. Then you've got just over 100 miles south to go to reach your final destination—Santa Barbara—home to beautiful beaches and a wonderful zoo.

Southwest

Albuquerque to Santa Fe, N.M.

Route: State Highway 14

New Mexico, with its pueblo heritage and desert landscape, is a beautiful place to visit with the family. If you begin your trip in central Albuquerque, we recommend you take NM-14 North to Santa Fe. This highway, surrounded by striking deserts and unique New Mexican communities, is colloquially known as the Turquoise Trail. (It's so named because the Pueblo people once mined for the blue-green gem here.) This 74-mile drive should take about an hour and 40 minutes. Be sure to stop by the Tinkertown Museum in Sandia Park along the way: The kids will get a kick out of the museum's collection of western memorabilia and carved miniatures.  

[See: Best Family Vacations in the USA]

Denver to Estes Park, Colo.

Route: I-25 North to U.S. 36 West/CO-66 West

Kids will love this Colorado road trip—and not only because the destinations are so close together. In Denver, families can get their city kick by saying hello to the critters at the Denver Zoo and grabbing a bite to eat on the cosmopolitan Larimer Square. Young children will also enjoy The Denver Museum of Nature & Sciences, especially digging for dinosaur bones  in the Discovery Zone. The 30-mile drive into Boulder is so quick, you won't need a cup of coffee to keep you going. Instead, wait for the free tea tastings at the Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory. Later, prep your kids for hiking in Estes Park with a wander along the gentle Boulder Creek Path. Estes Park is the next stop, and Rocky Mountain National Park is on the agenda. The National Park Service recommends exploring Bear Lake or climbing the boulders up to Gem Lake. Just keep your eyes peeled and camera ready for local wildlife.

Midwest

Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien, Wis.

Route: Interstate 94 to Scenic Byway 60

Have your children bid adieu to the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and load everyone in the car for a scenic drive through Wisconsin. Now, in all honesty, the drive from Milwaukee to Lodi isn't known for its jaw-dropping beauty, but just wait until you hit Highway 60. First, after driving 95 miles from Milwaukee, you'll need to stretch your legs: Lodi's park (at the cross section of Spring Creek and Main Street) is an idyllic place to take a walk and feed the ducks. Leave Lodi by way of Highway 60 and follow the Lower Wisconsin River 100 miles to Prairie du Chien. Along the way, you'll catch a glimpse of undulating hills and valleys, steep bluffs, and, of course, the picturesque Lower Wisconsin River.

[In Pictures: 7 Best Vacations with Kids Under 7]

Northeast

Waterbury to Smugglers' Notch, Vt.

Route: State Route 100 to 108

This short road trip showcases the northeast's spectacular beauty. And the kids won't mind the ride either, especially if you start the journey with a tour of the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury. Continue north to Stowe, and initiate a family sing-a-long starting with "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music. Once you get to Stowe, you can stop by the Trapp Family Lodge, where the real-life von Trapps settled in 1942. Once on the road again, enjoy the breathtaking mountain landscape as you head to Smugglers' Notch State Park.

Lancaster, Pa. to Ocean City, N.J.

Route: U.S. 30 East; I-76 to NJ-42 South to Atlantic City Expressway East

Variety is the spice of life (or so they say), and this road trip definitely adheres to that adage. From the country to the city to the beach, the kids will love the sheer amount of things to do on this trip. Lancaster County is home to a thriving Amish community; stop here so your children can enjoy a buggy ride and a tour through Amish Village (just southeast of Lancaster city). The area also boasts a working steam locomotive train: Kids are bound to love the 45-minute ride aboard the historic train, especially when Thomas the Tank Engine pulls the passenger cars. Next, head 70 miles east to Philadelphia. Plan to arrive at about lunchtime, so you can dive into a signature cheesesteak at Pat's King of Steaks or Geno's Steaks. Once your bellies are bursting, head about 65 miles south to Ocean City, N.J., where you can relax while your kiddos build sand castles.

Southeast

Johnson City to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Route: U.S. Route 11 East to U.S. Route 321

This short-and-sweet route—only about 90 miles—takes you through Tennessee's beautiful countryside. Rolling emerald hills rise up into fog-shrouded mountain peaks. You can catch a glimpse of all that beauty with two historic stops. Your first destination should be in Limestone, Tenn., home of Davy Crockett (aka The King of the Wild Frontier). Crockett was known for his upstanding character, so you can teach your children about the importance of courage, honesty, and sincerity as you explore the state park. Just 14 miles southwest along Route 321, take another break at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and National Cemetery in Greeneville, where your kids can learn all about the 17th president of the United States. Then, continue 70 miles southwest to admire breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains.

[In Pictures: America's Best Family Road Trips]

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