The Best Weekend Road Trips to Take This Summer
Summer is almost here, and with the season comes planning for trips to the beach, mountains, countryside, or perhaps a cruise or flight to a new destination. Americans will spend about $255 billion on summer vacations this year, according to the Travel Channel's Summer Travel Forecast.
“Americans will be trading long vacations for multiple short trips, making 2019 the season of weekend getaways,” the survey found, with 55 percent expressing preference for several weekend vacations rather than one extended trip. In addition, 81 percent of the 2,078 individuals surveyed said they would love to take a road trip. For families with kids, that number increased to 87 percent.
With that in mind, we present some examples of weekend road trips from various U.S. cities. Several are based on my own travel experiences, and others on good-old map work or on specific destinations within a reasonable driving distance of the starting point. It’s fun to study a paper map for an overview of the distance and routes, but these days, many travelers will rely on Google maps or Roadtrippers which work well for both planning and enroute guidance.
We hope you’ll take some inspiration from these suggestions and start planning your own summer weekend road trips. One a month — as expected by 53 percent of Travel Channel’s respondents — will give you something to look forward to all summer.
San Diego to Pasadena, California
For a change of scenery from beaches and coastline to an elegant, walkable city, I would suggest a visit to Pasadena for a weekend of museums, theater, gardens, historic architecture, dining, and shopping, one of my favorite “staycation” spots. Your road trip can include a drive on California’s first freeway, the Arroyo Seco Parkway, opened in 1940 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of only three federal scenic byways in California.
If outdoor activities are more to your liking, the nearby San Gabriel Mountains offer hiking trails, ski lifts, and a zip line course. Eaton Canyon, near downtown, is a nature preserve with hiking trails and picnic areas. Brookside Golf Course, adjacent to the famous Rose Bowl Stadium, has two 18-hole courses. Walking tours of Old Pasadena highlight the city’s past and its vintage homes. Cycling tours and food tours are available as well.
Pasadena boasts a range of places to stay that include inns, motels, hotels, and the luxe Langham Huntington Pasadena, with its lavish cocktail lounge and afternoon tea. The Norton Simon Museum and Pacific Asia Museum offer extensive collections, and there’s the Gamble House Museum and Kidspace Children’s Museum. Performing arts, classical music, and comedy clubs provide evening entertainment.
Driving north from San Diego, you can choose the I-5, closer to the coast and slightly shorter than the inland I-15. From the I-15, though, you can experience a change of scenery with hills, wildflowers, and perhaps a halfway stop in Temecula to visit the local wineries and enjoy a leisurely lunch.
Philadelphia to Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
If you want to leave the city and go “out in the country” for a weekend, head west to the Laurel Highlands, a drive of about 250 miles on the most direct route, I-76. This western Pennsylvania area offers historic sites, farms, fishing, whitewater rafting, golf, horseback riding, biking, and hiking. There are breweries, distilleries, wineries, a casino, spas, and more than enough to do to keep everyone in the family busy and happy.
Places to stay range from campgrounds and cabins to hotels, motels, and luxurious resorts. Nemacolin Woodlands Resort is a Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond winner with outdoor activities, spa, golf, field sports, zip line, fly fishing, and more. The resort features guestrooms, suites, townhomes, vacation homes, and a boutique hotel. Their Wildlife Academy is home to an equestrian center, animal nursery, educational programs, and more than 100 animals including black bears, zebra, buffalo, tigers, and hyenas.
The Laurel Highlands boasts three Frank Lloyd Wright homes, including Fallingwater which is open to the public for tours. The moving Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville is also nearby, and visitors are invited to plant a tree as part of the effort to create a forested area. Museums, historic battlefield sites, and quaint covered bridges highlight the history of Laurel Highlands. An array of wineries are also open for touring and tasting.
Salt Lake City, Utah to Zion National Park
Utah’s first national park and one of the country’s most spectacular, Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah, about 300 miles from Salt Lake City. In addition to marveling at the red sandstone rock formations, wildlife, and vegetation, visitors can choose from activities that include hiking, backpacking, bicycling, climbing, horseback riding, boating, exploring, and stargazing in the park’s dark skies.
In the Kolob Canyons section of the park, take the five-mile scenic drive through colorful canyons and stop at scenic viewpoints or hike one of the trails. Enjoy the sunset, when fading light enhances the scenery, and stay to gaze at the night sky. Visit the Zion Human History Museum with exhibits on Native American culture and pioneer settlements.
Stay in Zion National Park Lodge within the park, with a year-round restaurant and spacious accommodations. Camping is available at three campgrounds within the park. For a unique experience, consider “glamping” in an Under Canvas luxury tent near Zion National Park. Fully equipped tents with plush beds, ensuite baths, and wood stoves give new meaning to camping out.
From Salt Lake City, take I-15 south for the most direct route to Zion National Park. About halfway through the approximately four and a half hour drive, you’ll pass through Fishlake National Forest with the largest natural mountain lake in Utah and meadows surrounded by stands of aspen trees. Stop to enjoy the scenery and a picnic lunch.
Denver to Aspen, Colorado
A year-round destination, Denver is lovely in summer when weather is clear and sunny, perfect for outdoor activities with warm days and cool nights. Just 15 miles outside the city, Red Rock Park & Amphitheatre is a National Historic Landmark with concerts and a showcase of memorabilia. The setting makes it a great place to visit, even if you don’t catch a concert. In town, Union Station is a destination, not just a transportation hub. There are restaurants, bars, stores, and even a hotel. Or think about staying in the classic Brown Palace Hotel & Spa. Opened in 1892, the historic hotel offers tours of its architecture, art, and traditions.
From Denver, Aspen is only about 200 miles away, about a four-hour trip. That leaves you plenty of time to stop and enjoy the scenery on the way. Heading west on I-70, Glenwood Springs is about 150 miles away. Natural hot springs make it a popular area, and picturesque Hanging Lake and waterfalls in Glenwood Canyon are your reward for making it through a rigorous one-mile hike. On from there to Aspen, you’ll find lots to do during the summer, from hiking to riding a gondola up Aspen Mountain for views, picnicking, and weekend entertainment. Stay at The Little Nell for its luxury and history. You’ll be among the first to enjoy the recent renovations of its lobby and dining venues.
On the way back to Denver, take a different route, heading east on CO-82 to visit the historic ghost town of Independence, just 16 miles from Aspen. From there, you’ll drive over spectacular Independence Pass, 12,095 feet high at its summit, over the Continental Divide. Take in the panoramic 360-degree views from scenic overlooks. Open only during summer, it’s a truly special experience.
Continue east to Twin Lakes, a historic village at the base of Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak. Take US-24 north towards Leadville and then CO-91 north to I-70 east back to Denver for a scenic round trip.
Los Angeles to Palm Springs, California
With so much to do in Los Angeles in summer, choose from a day at the beach anywhere from Malibu to Redondo Beach in the South Bay. Visit a theme park, museum, or studio tour. Explore L.A.’s dynamic downtown with a walking tour, and visit the historic Bradbury Building, film locations, and iconic landmarks. Lodging at all levels throughout the city includes Hollywood’s hip Dream Hotel, downtown L.A.’s historic Hotel Figueroa, the elegant Montage in Beverly Hills, and a host of others as well as restaurants offering any cuisine you can think of.
This is a trip I make often, so I can speak from experience on this. Although summer in Palm Springs can be quite hot, the evenings are balmy, and hotel prices are low. Poolside with a cold drink, in air conditioned restaurants and theaters, or under the stars at night, summer is a good time to be in the desert. Escape the heat for a day and enjoy spectacular views of the Coachella Valley via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ascending two and a half miles to Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
On my recent trip to Palm Springs, I was fortunate to borrow a bright red 2019 Chevy Blazer — my own car being a bit small to accommodate friends and luggage. It was a pleasure to drive, roomy, and looked pretty cool driving down Palm Canyon Drive. An unexpected bonus — it has a Wi-Fi hotspot. I chose the CA-60 route which passes through several towns on the way, including Riverside, a convenient halfway point and home of The Mission Inn, a historic property that first welcomed guests in 1876.
Further along comes the best part of the drive, the 26 miles referred to as “The Badlands.” This curving, hilly section of the drive is surrounded by canyons, sheer rock sidings, distant meadows, and lakes. The scenery and the steady handling of the Blazer made it even more fun than usual. One suggestion for the road trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs — leave the hours between 2 and 7 p.m. to the commuters. You’ll enjoy the drive and the views a lot more early in the day.
New York City to Naples, New York
Never heard of Naples, New York? Understandable, but it’s one Naples you should be acquainted with if you enjoy wine. When it’s time to leave the big city, head to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where Naples and the 11 Finger Lakes are located. Before you leave New York, be sure to enjoy all that The Big Apple has to offer — museums, restaurants, historic sites, shops, and summertime rooftop bars with panoramic views. This year, try the new 31st floor rooftop lounge A.R.T. atop ArloNoMad, and be sure to check out Hudson Yards.
Wine lovers will be interested to learn about the four Finger Lakes wine trails, named for the lakes, Keuka Lake, Seneca Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Canandaigua. On the subject of grapes, if you’ve never heard of grape pie, you should know that Naples is the Grape Pie Capital of the World, celebrating the harvest each September with the Naples Grape Festival. Bristol Valley Theater, a Naples playhouse, entertains with top-notch talent through its summer and fall season.
At Mountain Horse Farm, guests enjoy luxurious rooms with fireplaces and private jacuzzis or glamping in traditional Sioux Tipis. They offer the opportunity to interact with their horses and cows on the farmlike setting of their 33 acres. There’s even a Doggie Hotel with spacious rooms for pooches. In the Village of Naples, Grimes Glen, a county park offers waterfalls, crystal pools, and hiking trails along its creek beds. Watkins Glen State Park’s 19 waterfalls and streams are also must-see sights in the Finger Lakes region, and there are campsites, picnic facilities, and an Olympic-sized pool.
The drive from New York City to Naples is about 300 miles, approximately five hours of driving time. With a few routes to choose from, I-80 west is most direct, leading to I-380 and I-81 north, NY-17 west, and I-390 north. You’ll drive through New Jersey and Pennsylvania before arriving in upstate New York.
St. Louis to Ridgedale, Missouri
Starting in “The Gateway City” of St. Louis, home of the Gateway Arch, you won’t want to miss the tram ride to the top of the 63-story iconic monument created to celebrate the westward expansion of the U.S. Visit the museum for a lesson on the nation’s history and the role played by the city of St. Louis. Relax and enjoy the scenery with a cruise on a replica of a 19th-century paddle-wheel riverboat.
Choose your favorite pastime, with art, sports, an amusement park, nightlife, shopping, casinos, music, and more. The outdoor art of Citygarden and the Missouri Botanical Garden beckon you to the outdoors. Forest Park, site of the 1904 World’s Fair, offers walking and biking trails, golf courses, and flowers in one of the country’s largest urban parks.
This weekend road trip takes you through part of the original Route 66 and past some kitschy photo ops, so enjoy the ride and take advantage of the opportunities to get out of the car for a stretch and rest break. The 265-mile trip on I-44 is directly southwest until you head south on US-65. Along the way, you pass Mark Twain National Forest and drive through Fort Leonard Wood. The town of Cuba tells the island’s story through murals along Route 66. Stop for a photo near the huge red rocking chair in Fanning, once the world’s largest, but in second place to one in Illinois. The Fantastic Canyons in Springfield, which you drive through in a Jeep, might be an interesting experience if time allows. There’s lots to do in Branson, also along the way.
Your destination is Big Cedar Lodge, a combination of rustic and luxurious in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. There you can choose a romantic log cabin or guest room at the lodge. enjoy golf, fishing, horseback riding, or explore the trails perfect for walking, biking, or hiking. Or you just might want to relax and enjoy the scenery, mountain air, and country atmosphere on your weekend getaway.
Atlanta, Georgia to Bluffton, South Carolina
Even if you live in Atlanta, you probably haven’t seen all the attractions your city offers. If you’re a visitor for your weekend road trip, we’re offering a few suggestions. Georgia Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta, and Centennial Olympic Park offer fun for families, and museums include the Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame, World of Coca Cola, Delta Flight Museum, as well as museums focusing on art, history, and natural history.
The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, The King Center, and the Atlanta History Center will provide history buffs with background on the area. Baseball fans will want to catch an Atlanta Braves home game at the new SunTrust Park set in a lively entertainment district.
Head out of Atlanta on I-75 south, then I-16 east. Nearly all the way through the 270-mile trip, you’ll reach the lovely city of Savannah, Georgia. Take some time to stop in one of its many beautifully landscaped squares or stroll through Forsyth Park. You’re just a short way from Bluffton on US-17 North.
In Bluffton, on the banks of the May River, you’ll find antebellum homes, historic towns, and lots to do. Stay at the Montage Palmetto Bluff where you can choose from fishing, boating, golf, hiking, bicycling, stand up paddling, summer concerts, equestrian, or racquet sports. Enjoy the foods and beverages of the area, and revitalize in the spa and fitness facilities. Your weekend might fly by with all there is to do, so you’ll want to plan some time to just relax and enjoy the idyllic Lowcountry setting.