Summer road trip destination ideas

25 summer U.S. destination ideas to help plan your next road trip

I have been a professional road trip travel blogger for six years now and have had the opportunity to road trip in countries around the world. As an American, the U.S. of course is where I have spent the bulk of my time exploring. I have traversed the entire nation. Well, all but the Last Frontier of Alaska. Needless to say, I have become an authority on U.S. road trips.

summer road trip ideas by MikesRoadTrip.com

People ask me all the time what my favorite road trip destination is, and honestly, it is an impossible question to answer. My canned response is often, “the one I’m on right now.” I have painstakingly gone through six years of blog posts to select some of my favorite road trips for you to consider this summer. The slide show below is just to provide some ideas, if you click on any of the images you’ll be taken to more information. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Acadia road trip

Acadia National Park

As the sun rises, its defused beam is forced through a light layer of fog, enveloping the trees like a spiritual womb. As the dense air dissipates, the nearby fishing vessels moored in the harbor begin to reveal themselves. Sailboats lie still in the placid bay as the sun glistens off their masts, while lobster boats ready themselves for the daily sail out to sea. This is the portrait one sees when waking up at Acadia National Park. A road trip through Acadia is a bounty of nature at her finest.

Olympic Penisula road trip

You don’t have to drive the full 300+ mile loop around the Olympic Peninsula, but if you do, you’ll see picturesque shoreline, waterfalls, pristine lakes, mountain views and even a rain forest. There are several forks in the road –if you want to go on a hike through a spectacular rain forest, head to Sol Duc in the Olympic National Forest. For a scenic and historic drive, peruse by Lake Crescent for awe-inspiring views of the massive body of clear blue water. While in the area, stop by Lake Crescent Lodge for a history lesson, or, a leisurely walk to Marymere Falls. This road trip begins about 2 hours west of Seattle.

Olympic Peninsula in Washington State

Moab Road Trip

Moab can rival any place in the country for its copious natural beauty. There are so many outdoor activities that you’ll want to go back again and again to try something new. Regarding beauty, there are two distinctly different, both equally awe-inspiring National Parks. Canyonlands and Arches. Both will leave you speechless. As far as activities, you’ll find everything from mountain bike riding, whitewater rafting, ATVing, 4×4 off-roading, hiking, fishing, sightseeing and so much more. Moab is an outdoor mecca of fun activities. A road trip to Moab is about 3.5 hours from Salt Lake, or 5 hours from Denver.

Moab, Utah

The scenery along the Gulf Coast of Alabama is stunningly beautiful, even idyllic. The streets are lined with massive Oak, Cypress and Maple trees, each woven with a confetti of ivy and Spanish moss. The sun has a difficult time piercing through the denseness that blanket the trees, but when it does, the sun-flares sparkle in a way that makes you feel like you’re driving through the scene straight out of a fairy tale storybook. The coast is dotted with docks and boathouses, one right after the other. The homes are finely crafted in a style that can best be described as southern cottage. A road trip to the Gulf Coast of Alabama is about 3 hours from Tallahassee or New Orleans, or less than an hour from Mobile.

Gulf Coast Alabama

Whidbey Island is just a short ferry ride and 25-minute drive from Seattle – yet once you land on her shores, it’s as if you’ve arrived in a place much farther removed. What I discovered, was that beyond the geographical separation from mainland Seattle, Whidbey Island seems to have an entirely different vibe. The feelings of serenity, community and connection to nature saturate not only the island, but also its inhabitants. I know that may sound a bit exaggerated or superfluous, but during my visit these senses seemed to coalesce. Either way, if you’re in the Seattle area and have the time, you should plan a road trip to Whidby to do some exploring. You’ll discover some wonderful sights, plenty of activities and cozy places to stay.

Whidbey Island

This stretch of road showcases Mother Nature in stunning fashion. Designed and constructed back in the early days of the horseless carriage, the route winds past a series of spectacular waterfalls framed by sheer walls of basalt, cloaked in ferns and other rare plants and foliage. This road trip takes in the best sights of the Columbia Gorge with nearly a dozen stops to get a gander at the overlooks and waterfalls. A quick road trip from Portland gets you on this scenic route in just 20 miles.

Columbia River Highway

Valley of Fire is one of those rare geological wonders that will fill up your memory card with photos. This Nevada state park is located about 80 minutes northeast of Las Vegas and makes for an outstanding road trip when visiting Sin City. Valley of Fire displays a series of unique sandstone formations, from arches to “beehives.” There is also an area where you can see petrified logs that washed into the area from an ancient forest that dates back some 225 million years.

Valley of Fire

Vicksburg Road Trip

The legendary Blues Highway 61 runs right through the heart and soul of Vicksburg, Mississippi. One could argue that Highway 61 rivals that of Route 66, if not for its historical importance, certainly for the musical significance. On a Vicksburg road trip you’dll want to explore the antebellum architecture, Civil War history at the National Military Park, eating a lot of Southern food, and of course, listening to lots of Blues music. A road trip to Vicksburg is just 4 hours from New Orleans or Memphis, and just an our from Jackson, MS.

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Crater Lake Road Trip

Crater Lake has to be one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen, it’s absolutely awe-inspiring. Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United Sates at nearly 2000 feet. Interestingly, there are no rivers flowing into or out of the lake, which is probably a contributing factor for it’s brilliant blue color and clarity. Taking highway 138 through the Umpqua National Forest will yield one stunning sight after another. A road trip to Crater lake is about 4 hours southeast of Portland.

Crater Lake National Park

Bodie State Park is a well-preserved ghost town that dates back to the mid-1800s. After years of decline, the last known residents left Bodie in the 1940s and forever encapsulated the town. As Bodie turned into a literal ghost town for some 20+ years, it was rediscovered in the early 60s and eventually preserved by the California State Park system in 1962. In its heyday, Bodie had some 2000 buildings…today just 170 remain, although many are still in good condition. A road trip to Bodie is 3 hours from Reno, or 5-6 hours from Sacramento or Vegas.

Bodie State Park

Red Lodge exudes charm, western hospitality and is blessed with stunning natural beauty. Not only is Red Lodge one of the gateways to Yellowstone, but also to one of the most scenic road trips in the country, the Beartooth Hwy. Designated an All-American Road in 2002, the Beartooth Highway has been described by Charles Kuralt (former CBS newsman) as “the most beautiful drive in America.” Reaching heights of nearly 11,000 feet, the 50-mile road trip offers awe-inspiring views of snowcapped peaks, glaciers, alpine lakes and plateaus.

Red Lodge, Montana

Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a Victorian mountain village nestled in the Ozarks with copious things to see and do. You can zip-line through the forest, watch big cats feed at a wildlife refuge, view breathtaking vistas and scenic overlooks, fish in clear trout streams, photograph waterfalls or stroll through the colorful gardens surrounding an ancient burial ground—if that doesn’t make your spirits soar, check out one of the haunted houses. Downtown has live music at any number of venues—one of the best spots is Basin Park which has frequent free community concerts. Dining options are abundant. If you’re into bed and breakfast lodging, you’re in luck because Eureka Springs has more than just about any place in the country,

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

PCH (Pacific Coast Highways) Road Trip by MikesRoadTrip.com

California’s Route 1, known as PCH, leads to some great beach towns, but it’s Big Sur that this famed route reaches its pinnacle of beauty. This road trip links California’s historic capital, Monterey, with its most opulent piece of hubristic architecture, the Hearst Castle. This unforgettable hundred-mile stretch of the PCH carves through rugged cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean providing an extraordinary display of natural beauty, much of which has been left untouched from development.

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)

Letchworth State Park is located in Wyoming County, a rural part of western New York which is made up of a series of charming small towns, farmlands with rolling hills, and, the awe-inspiring Letchworth Park. The high concentration and variety of trees, streams and waterfalls in Letchworth State Park makes the trip worthwhile. Photographers will really appreciate some of the beautiful barns and agricultural sights, along with the canyons and falling water within the park. A road trip to Letchworth is just over an hour from Buffalo or Rochester.

Letchworth State Park

Nestled in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, Durango is a picturesque mountain town brimming with adventure! From fly-fishing, zip lining and mountain biking, to skiing, rock climbing and golfing; outdoor enthusiasts will be amazed by the playground Mother Nature has provided. Breathe in the crisp mountain air and set off in exploration of world-class parks and monuments like Mesa Verde National Park and Chimney Rock National Monument. A Durango road trip is 4-7 hours from Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake or Phoenix.

Durango, Colorado

Charlotsville, Virginia

Charlottesville has had a long and illustrious existence, while continuing to maintain its charm and small town feel. Our third President, Thomas Jefferson, called Charlottesville home—his presence still felt, remembered and revered. The focal point of the community is the Downtown Mall, where on Saturdays you’ll find a farmer’s market in which many of the local restaurateurs get their ingredients. The soil in Virginia is very fertile and the “farm-to-fork” movement is fully embraced. Speaking of the culinary scene, it’s second to none! When it comes to lodging, be sure to check out the “Boar’s Head Inn. Charlottesville is nirvana for the road trip foodie and is about 3.5 hours from Raleigh or D.C. and just an hour from Richmond.

Galena, Illinois epitomizes what I look for on a road trip, a place off the beaten path, full of history, charm and intrigue. A place that was once lost to the past, but then rediscovered by those with a vision for what could be. Galena continues to attract visitors for its historical charm, as well as its nature-inspired beauty. For a small community of only 3500, Galena has the attractions and amenities of a town much larger. Its downtown is one of the longest and most historically well-preserved areas I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, 85% of Galena is on the Historic Register. Most of the buildings have been wonderfully preserved, while some are in disrepair. A road trip to Galena is about a 3 hour drive from Chicago or Milwaukee.

Galena, Illinois

Nestled in the high desert of the Santa Cruz Valley, in the shadow of the Santa Rita Mountains, lies one of the earliest settlements in the state of Arizona. Tubac was established way back in 1752 as a Spanish presidio. However today, artists are more prevalent than a military men. Over 100 unique shops, art galleries and restaurants inhabit the refined barrio. Just a few minutes away is the beautifully preserved Mission de Tumacácori, a national historical monument. A road trip to Tubac is just forty minutes south of Tucson, and twenty minutes north of the Mexican border town of Nogales.

Tubac, Arizona

Wallace, Idaho is located in the northern part of the state, where silver is king and the autumn leaves provide a colorful gift from Mother Nature. Historic Wallace has been on the local, regional, state and national map since 1884 and has survived the largest fire in North America, labor strife, train hijackings, illegal bordellos and gambling. Surrounded by towering mountains, thick with pines and huckleberry bushes and crisscrossed with trails waiting to be explored. Wallace’s warm and friendly residents proudly welcome folks to its historic silver mining town, where visitors will relish in the mountain setting, its historic past, and wonderful stone architecture. A road trip to Wallace is about an hour from Spokane or 2 hours from Missoula.

Wallace, Idaho

Chaco Canyon is a special place for many reasons. For one, it’s not that popular, and it’s a joy to explore without being inundated by crowds or traffic. One of the reasons for the lack of tourists is the long dirt road as you approach the park, however once inside Chaco, all roads are paved. Chaco is remarkable for its multi-storied “Great Houses,” ceremonial structures and distinctive architecture. The buildings of Chaco required considerable planning, designing, organizing of labor, and industrious engineering to construct. It’s a marvel like nothing I’ve seen before. It’s also feels like a very spiritual and peaceful place. A road trip to Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico is 2-3 hours from Durango or Albuquerque.

Chaco Canyon

Walla Walla Road Trip

Walla Walla is the capital of Washington wine country and is home to more than 120 wineries. Located in the southeastern part of Washington state, Walla Walla is fast becoming nationally recognized for its culinary scene, thanks in part to the robust wine industry. The area also has an abundance of outdoor recreation, and, an arts & entertainment scene that rivals cities many times its size. This community is known for many things, including its friendly hospitality, the quality of its wine, and of course the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion. A Walla Walla road trip is a scenic four-hour drive from Seattle, Portland, or Boise.

Walla Walla is the capital of Washington wine country and is home to more than 120 wineries. Located in the southeastern part of Washington state, Walla Walla is fast becoming nationally recognized for its culinary scene, thanks in part to the robust wine industry. The area also has an abundance of outdoor recreation, and, an arts & entertainment scene that rivals cities many times its size. This community is known for many things, including its friendly hospitality, the quality of its wine, and of course the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion. A Walla Walla road trip is a scenic four-hour drive from Seattle, Portland, or Boise.

Walla Walla is the capital of Washington wine country and is home to more than 120 wineries. Located in the southeastern part of Washington state, Walla Walla is fast becoming nationally recognized for its culinary scene, thanks in part to the robust wine industry. The area also has an abundance of outdoor recreation, and, an arts & entertainment scene that rivals cities many times its size. This community is known for many things, including its friendly hospitality, the quality of its wine, and of course the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion. A Walla Walla road trip is a scenic four-hour drive from Seattle, Portland, or Boise.

Walla Walla, Washington

Just south of the Florida mainland lies the Florida Keys, a necklace of islands surrounded by emerald-green harbors, turquoise seas, nodding palms and olive-green mangroves. Since first settled in the early 1800s, the islands have been seasoned by the rich American and Cuban culture, sweetened by the unabashed romantic appeal of their natural beauty, and energized by their community. The islands’ year-round balmy, subtropical climate and unique “anything goes” flavor have made the Florida Keys an ideal visitor destination. This road trip to the Keys is 120 miles long in a series of bridge-connected islands.

Florida Keys

Sprawled along highways 36 and 360, photographic coastlines and verdant jungles await at every bend in the Road to Hana, along with black sand beaches, waterfalls, and roadside fruit stands. This road trip can take more than 2.5 hours to travel the 51 miles from Kahului to Hana, as you snake past steep sea-cliffs lush with blooming mango trees. Plan on a full day in order to enjoy the various stops. Once you reach Hana, the gorgeous black sand Waianapanapa Beach is the perfect place to relax after the white-knuckle day's drive. Take a final dip in the Seven Sacred Pools at the Waianapanapa State Wayside Park.

Road to Hana

Santa Fe to Taos road trip. Photo by MikesRoadtrip.com

This road trip will take visitors through remnants of Old Spain set within the rolling hills of Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The 56-mile journey begins in Santa Fe and heads north where 360-degree views of mountainous terrain are on display. The quaint town of Taos is brimming with culture, boasting remarkable galleries of contemporary and classic artwork and a summer scene filled with an array of activities such as hot air ballooning, horseback riding and many crystal clear streams to fish.

Santa Fe to Taos, New Mexico

Mt. Washington road trip by MikesRoadtrip.com

The White Mountains in the northeastern part of New Hampshire provide some extraordinary road trip opportunities. The area is known to be one of the most exquisite places to see fall foliage, but it’s just as stunning in the summer. If you go, be sure to drive the 35 mile Kancamagus byway. For those daring road trippers, drive to the top of Mt. Washington via the Auto Road, the views on a clear day can stretch 100+ miles. Beware though, this spot is where the highest surface wind speed has ever been recorded, 253mph. Throughout the White mountains you’ll discover copious hikes to creeks and waterfalls.

White Mountains, New Hampshire

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If you have some road trip ideas that you feel should be listed, please leave a comment below and I may just add them.

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Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.

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