8 Frugal Family Road Trips to Take This Summer

Cruise through striking deserts, rolling hills and rugged coastlines on an unforgettable journey.

U.S. News & World Report

8 Frugal Family Road Trips to Take This Summer

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Get behind the wheel and escape it all on the open road with the gang.

Whether you want to weave past otherworldly landscapes in iconic national parks, zigzag along craggy coastlines or discover quirky roadside attractions in charming small towns this summer, there are plenty of curious, captivating and offbeat routes to take. And if you don't want to navigate airport security or pay sky-high prices for plane tickets, road-tripping offers an enticing vacation option. To maximize savings on your journey, use tools such as the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator and GasBuddy to estimate gas pricing and pinpoint the cheapest nearby stations, says George W. Stone, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Travel. Ready to plot an incredible summer drive? Here are eight ideas from avid family road-trippers to get you started.
Swimmers at Bohia Honda State Park,Key West,Florida,USA
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Drive along U.S. Route 1 in the Florida Keys.

If you're looking for a fuss-free car trip, consider cruising along the Overseas Highway, Stone says. Winding from Miami to Key West, the 113-mile drive packs plenty of scenery, kitsch and kid-friendly attractions. "Families can stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to go snorkeling or take a glass-bottom boat, or they can visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon," he says. Another must: Mrs. Mac's Kitchen for Key lime pie, he adds. For more activity, head to Bahia Honda State Park for some swimming, picnicking and quality time on an actual beach – a rarity in the Florida Keys, he says. Trim expenses by packing a cooler with drinks and nonperishable snacks, he adds.
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Get behind the wheel and escape it all on the open road with the gang.

Whether you want to weave past otherworldly landscapes in iconic national parks, zigzag along craggy coastlines or discover quirky roadside attractions in charming small towns this summer, there are plenty of curious, captivating and offbeat routes to take. And if you don't want to navigate airport security or pay sky-high prices for plane tickets, road-tripping offers an enticing vacation option. To maximize savings on your journey, use tools such as the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator and GasBuddy to estimate gas pricing and pinpoint the cheapest nearby stations, says George W. Stone, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Travel. Ready to plot an incredible summer drive? Here are eight ideas from avid family road-trippers to get you started.

Drive along U.S. Route 1 in the Florida Keys.

If you're looking for a fuss-free car trip, consider cruising along the Overseas Highway, Stone says. Winding from Miami to Key West, the 113-mile drive packs plenty of scenery, kitsch and kid-friendly attractions. "Families can stop at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to go snorkeling or take a glass-bottom boat, or they can visit the Turtle Hospital in Marathon," he says. Another must: Mrs. Mac's Kitchen for Key lime pie, he adds. For more activity, head to Bahia Honda State Park for some swimming, picnicking and quality time on an actual beach – a rarity in the Florida Keys, he says. Trim expenses by packing a cooler with drinks and nonperishable snacks, he adds.

Explore southern Utah and Arizona on a Grand Circle tour.

With a mix of sweeping landscapes and dramatic rock formations, the 1,500-mile Grand Circle tour across two national monuments, six national parks and unexpected treasures from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon's North Rim is spellbinding. "Southern Utah plays host to beautiful national parks, with opportunities to hike and drive through Zion and Bryce Canyon, and northern Arizona is home to Monument Valley, which will make you feel as if you've stepped right into an old Hollywood Western," says Robert Firpo-Cappiello, editor-in-chief of Budget Travel. Stone also suggests driving along this classic route – through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands – to forge lifelong memories together as a family.

Hop on Virginia and North Carolina's Blue Ridge Parkway.

This 469-mile route traverses quirky mountain towns, scenic overlooks and picturesque trails and cultural sites. The Blue Ridge Parkway is easily accessible from the nation's capital and the Baltimore metro area, Firpo-Cappiello adds, making it an easy drive for families craving a quick weekend getaway outdoors. Plus, the route hits two prized (and popular) national parks – Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To dodge heavy crowds and costs, Firpo-Cappiello suggests planning a weekday trip and researching camping options. You'll also find budget-friendly inns, hotels and lodges across the area, making planning a wallet-friendly family getaway a breeze.

Take a scenic journey across Montana from Glacier to Yellowstone.

For the ultimate park-to-park adventure, drive across Big Sky Country, Firpo-Cappiello says. "This trip [along U.S. Highway 2] takes you from the heights of the Continental Divide and canoeing on Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, Montana, through the Flathead Valley and beautiful Flathead Lake and the scenic town of Bigfork, to Philipsburg," he says. In Philipsburg, a quirky small town, you'll find versatile food and lodging options. And if you're driving with wildlife enthusiasts, head to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. Afterward, continue on for "jaw-dropping waterfalls, bison sightings and the iconic Old Faithful," Firpo-Cappiello says. Best of all, with plenty of affordable campsites and lodges at Yellowstone, it's easy to stick to a budget.

Cruise along the Cajun Coast.

Beyond the moss-covered trees and storied antebellum buildings lining the Big Easy, Louisiana's Cajun Coast offers a fun family getaway. "Its music, wildlife and food make it a vibrant and memorable trip from start to finish. Lake Charles, the gateway to this trip, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, so now is the time to go," Stone says. Stone also suggests visiting the Mardi Gras Museum and the Jungle Gardens for some wildlife spotting. From Lake Charles, head to New Orleans for a 205-mile drive along Interstate 10, or if you're planning a Labor Day trip, Stone suggests lingering in Lake Charles to attend the annual Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival.

Plan an all-American road trip though the Midwest.

For an off-the-beaten-track road trip, head to Michigan, says Sarah Stocking, Lonely Planet's California and Mexico destination editor. An easy drive from Chicago with abundant opportunities for breaks, a Michigan road trip is ideal for Midwest-based families with young kids, she says, highlighting that the state's white-sand beaches and brilliant sunsets merit their own visit. From Chicago, head north to Holland, Michigan, along Interstate 196 to give the kids a history lesson, "complete with a 260-year-old windmill at the center of a sprawling public park," she says. Then, continue north on U.S. Route 31 to Frankfort, a laid-back surf town, before stopping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and finishing in Traverse City. Plus, the kids will get a kick out of the National Cherry Festival from July 1-8, which includes time-honored traditions such as parades, an art competition and face painting.

Explore hot springs and other natural wonders in Colorado and Wyoming.

For an unconventional road trip, "put the pedal to the metal and head for Colorado's hot springs," Stone says. In Steamboat Springs, "you can soak near wildflower meadows and aspen groves at Strawberry Park Hot Springs." From there, Stone suggests driving to Glenwood Springs and onward toward Buena Vista, where you'll find affordable family-friendly accommodations, including nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. "Along the way, go hiking, stop and sip some craft beer and feast like the ultimate locavore at the Boulder Farmers Market," he says. For another outside-the-box route, Stock suggests driving from Denver to Grand Teton National Park (roughly a 550-mile journey) filled with hiking, soaks in hot springs and outdoor exploration.

Cruise along the Cape.

"Cape Cod is home to miles of white-sand beaches, sea cliffs and plenty of lobster rolls and ice cream stops in between," Stone says. For a quintessential New England road trip, plan a 160-mile ride from Cape Cod Canal, skirting Cape Cod Bay along the northern coast head south to explore many unique towns – from funky Provincetown to Chatham to Hyannis to Falmouth. Along the way, make sure to carve out some time to explore the Cape Cod National Seashore before continuing on U.S. Route 6 to wind past charming lighthouses, sublime sea views, quaint bed-and-breakfasts and, of course, requisite clam shacks and low-key beach towns.
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Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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