10 Affordable Family-Friendly Road Trips for 2019
Your kids–and your bank account–will love these family road trips filled with fun stops and adventure whether you take a few hours or a few days to explore.
Photo By: Steve Larese
Photo By: Sam Hobbs
Photo By: steve larese
Albuquerque to Santa Fe via the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway, New Mexico
After exploring family-friendly Albuquerque, head north via Interstate 25, then take US 550 at Bernalillo to San Ysidro and NM 4. You’re now on the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway, where kids will love hiking the red rocks at Jemez Pueblo, eating in Jemez Springs and exploring Soda Dam and the hiking trails at Battleship Rock. Continue on to the Valle Caldera National Monument and on to Bandelier National Monument (pictured) where families can explore the homes of families who lived here some 900 years ago. Stop at the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos with its hands-on history and science exhibits, then continue on to Santa Fe, where a stop at Meow Wolf is a family must-do.
Sacramento, CA to Bend, OR
Take the long way to Bend from Sacramento via US 5 to US 97, where you’ll pass through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the shadow of Mount Shasta. After passing into Oregon you’ll pass Klamath Falls and just to the east of Crater Lake National Park through the Deschutes National Forest and into Bend. Stay at the Sunriver Resort and take advantage of its money-saving offers. Play on the slopes of Mount Bachelor and enjoy all of the family-friendly activities in Bend.
New York City to WIlliamsburg, Va.
This American history road trip takes families through Philadelphia, where kids can engage in a Revolutionary era Military Muster and other history-related activities. Definitely stop at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, then spend at least a day exploring the 17 free Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Learn about the American Civil War in Fredericksburg and enjoy its shopping and restaurants before continuing through Richmond to Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum where re-enactors engage kids to teach them about daily life in the 1700s.
Anchorage to Denali National Park, Alaska
Fly or drive into Anchorage and see the Anchorage Museum before setting out on the Glenn Highway to AK 3. At Nancy Lake and Willow Creek state recreation area families can camp or rent a cabin before following the Susitna River north. Visit fun Talkeetna and perhaps take a flight over Denali before driving to the park. All along this breathtaking drive there are plenty of areas to pull over, play and take in the landscape.
Milwaukee to Rowleys Bay, Wisconsin
The drive from Milwaukee to Rowleys Bay via US 41 is less than four hours, but families will want to take their time exploring Wisconsin’s beautiful Door County. Check out the Children’s Museum in Fond du Lac before heading on to Green Bay with its many family attractions. From there, head north on WI 57 on the Door County peninsula, making sure to stop at Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, hike the Ridges Sanctuary, explore Baileys Harbor Range Lights, and cap the trip with a fish boil dinner at Rowley’s Bay Resort (pictured). Make sure to bring your bathing suits, sunscreen and a sense of adventure for the many beaches, paddle boarding and other outdoor recreation opportunities found all along this route.
Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park
While it’s only about a 3.5-hour drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim Village, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to explore this drive rich in culture and natural beauty. If you’re flying into Phoenix there are plenty of kid–and wallet–friendly attractions here to burn off some energy before the road trip, such as at the Arizona Science Center, Arizona Museum of Natural History and the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Heading north on Interstate 17, explore the Native American ruins at Montezuma Castle National Monument and Tuzigoot National Monument before pulling into Sedona with its surreal scenery that will enchant even the most tech-focused kids. Hiking trails let everyone in the family stretch their legs. Fuel up in the restaurants and ice cream shops of Sedona’s charming downtown before heading on to Flagstaff. Check out the Lowell Observatory which is open 10 a.m to 10 p.m. (5 p.m. Sundays) to learn about astronomy and the important discoveries that have been made here. From Flagstaff head north on US 89 to Cameron before taking AZ 64 west into Grand Canyon National Park near the Desert View Watchtower. Continue on to reach the popular Grand Canyon Village, stopping at the many overlooks along the way. To save even more money, consider purchasing a National Park Annual Pass that allows the entire family access to all federal parks for $80.
Las Vegas to Vernal, Utah
From Las Vegas take US 15 to St. George and Zion National Park, one of five national parks in Utah. Spend as much time as you can exploring here, then continue northeast and give yourself time to stop at the numerous points of interest along this route, including Cedar Breaks National Monument near Cedar City and Fremont Indian State Park and Museum at Cove Fort. If you have the time, heading east from Cove City leads to Capitol Reef National Park with spectacular scenery the whole way. Using Vernal–known as Dinosaurland–as a home base, Flaming Gorge National Recreational Area is just to the north, and Dinosaur National Monument is just a few mile east. There are accommodations in Vernal, or consider camping at Steinaker Lake State Park or Red Fleet State Park (pictured). Make sure to check out the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum with its impressive dinosaur displays in Vernal. Throughout this Utah road trip the priceless views are free.
Nashville to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Nashville is known as honky-tonk heaven but there’s still plenty for families here, such as the Adventure Science Center, Nashville Zoo and exploring the Gaylord Opryland Resort next to the Grand Ole Opry. On the road, stop at Rock City near Chattanooga and explore its waterfalls, gardens and play areas made famous since the 1930s with advertisements painted on barns throughout the region. Continue on to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, where Dollywood and other major family attractions make this area a national family road trip destination. Give yourself a few days to explore the 384 miles of roads and 800 miles of wooded, stream-side trails in the national treasure that is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Salt Lake City, Nevada, to Lake Powell, Arizona
From Las Vegas take US 15 to Valley of Fire State Park and explore the petroglyphs, hiking through red rock scenery, rock climbing and other adventures here (all for just $10) before heading on to St. George, Utah, where even more outdoor adventure awaits. Make a side trip to visit Zion National Park if you have time, then pick up UT 9 to UT 59 before dropping into Arizona where the road turns into AZ 389. For the adventurous, set out to see the Grand Canyon at the 3,000-foot-high Tuweep Overlook before returning to AZ 389 and picking up US 89A in Fredonia, Arizona, and continuing on to Marble Canyon, where you’ll cross the Grand Canyon and Colorado River via Navajo Bridge, a must-stop. Explore this area, including Lee's Ferry, before intersecting with AZ 89 and heading north. You’ll pass the scenic overlook of Horseshoe Bend with its new visitors facilities before arriving in Page, Arizona, the starting point for Antelope Canyon tours. Continue past Page and pass over the Glen Canyon Dam before entering the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and taking Shoreline Drive to Lake Powell Resort and Marina. Here, tony-yet-affordable rooms afford views of Lake Powell, and its restaurants range from quick bites to semi-formal, family-friendly meals. Take a tour of Lake Powell, or trade in the family car for a houseboat and explore on your own.
Route 66 from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Los Angeles, California
This epic road trip takes families through the heart of Route 66, with plenty of stops kids will love along the 1,433-mile way. Starting in Tulsa, visit the new Gathering Place outdoor play area before heading to Oklahoma City and its many family attractions including the Science Museum Oklahoma and Brickopolis. From here, drive to Amarillo, Texas, and make sure to add some spray paint to the half-buried cars at the iconic Cadillac Ranch before driving into New Mexico. Check out Mesalands Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari before heading into Albuquerque, home of iExplora!, the International Rattlesnake Museum and other family destinations. Crossing into Arizona, Route 66 truly comes to life with fun, kitschy roadside stops and cool attractions such as Meteor Crater, Bearizona and the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams. Motor on to California and play on the Kelso sand dunes at Mojave National Preserve before reaching Los Angeles and the new 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction at Disneyland in Anaheim.