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Road trips in North America are a rite of passage, and one of the best ways to see the USA and beyond. Each state and region offers something new and exciting. Scenic drives and tourist attractions along the way make for epic family adventures!
Taking a road trip through North America is our number one bucket list trip. For now, we are planning ahead and asked travel bloggers to share their favourite must-do road trips in North America to inspire your next driving vacation.
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THE MUST DO ROAD TRIPS IN NORTH AMERICA
With these awesome road trip routes, you will have endless options for seeing North America up close. Load up the car or camper, grab your favourite road trip snacks and away you go…
1. Route 66
TIME NEEDED: 2 to 4 weeks
One of the most iconic road trips in the USA is, of course, Route 66. This famous drive which is otherwise known as Highway 66 was one of the original highways constructed in the United States.
A Route 66 road trip will take you around 2 to 4 weeks to complete.
It takes you through 8 states, passing through Chicago, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica in Los Angeles, in California. The route covers over 3,900KM.
The original route is no longer part of the US highway system. Instead, there is a Historic Route 66 National Scenic Byway now, with other parts having been replaced with the new highway systems.
If you have the time, this is an incredible way to work your way diagonally across the USA. Taking you near historic sites, famous tourist attractions and so much more along the way.
We haven’t done this trip yet ourselves, but it is an absolute bucket list holiday for the future. We did get to stand beside the Route 66 sign on Santa Monica Pier, after our A Day in LA tours day trip.
2. Big Island, Hawaii
TIME NEEDED: Around 3 to 4 days
One of the most popular activities to do on the Big Island of Hawaii with children is a road trip circling the island. Or break it up into different segments while exploring the island.
You can easily start your road trip from the sunny west side of the island in the Kona area. Or start at the more lush area in Hilo and break up your tour to some of the most scenic places around the island. Use either location as a hub to explore more in each area.
The west side of the island is dryer with nice sandy beaches, historic monuments and national parks and lots of cool small towns to explore.
The east side of the island has all the beautiful botanical gardens, lush parks and scenic coastal areas along with zoos, waterfalls and Volcanoes National Park to explore.
The top places of interest to see with children going around the island include:
green sand beach at South Point
Black sand beach at Punalu’u
Volcanoes National Park
Hilo town and farmers market
The scenic Hamakua coast
Breathtaking Waipio valley lookout (and hike if you want to hike down to the black sand beach there).
When travelling with children, a road trip around the island of Oahu, Hawaii is sure to provide adventure and fun memories for every member of the family.
It is 112 miles around the island of Oahu. The best route is to start in Honolulu and head east.
Drive north along the windward coast through Kailua and Kaneohe, along the north shore to Haleiwa, and then south through the middle of the island back to Honolulu.
If you were to drive this route straight through, it would take you only about three hours. However, the number of amazing stopping points that this island has to offer is incredible.
It will require a full day at a minimum. If you decide to split your time and stay overnight along the way, you will have more room to explore.
After a quick stop at Leonard’s for piping hot malasadas, make your way to Hanauma Bay for some early morning snorkelling. Halona Blowhole makes for a unique stop along with the beautiful view of Eternity Beach.
Kailua and Lanikai beaches rival the world’s best with their soft white sand and bright aqua water. Kaneohe provides Ho’omaluhia Gardens which are beautiful and free! Kualoa Ranch is just north with its tours of the real Jurassic Valley movie locations.
Haleiwa is a quaint beach town boasting tasty shrimp trucks, aquarium-like snorkelling at Three Tables in the summer and surfing competitions in the winter.
Waimea Bay is a beautiful beach for swimming or watching the sunset. The gardens across the road offer a waterfall for swimming under. On the way back south, don’t miss the pineapple treats at the Dole Plantation.
While not a particularly large island, Oahu is the perfect road trip opportunity for families that are looking for a shorter trip with plenty of incredible stops along the way to explore!
– Sierra from Free to Travel Mama
4. Las Vegas to Salt Lake City – Utah National Parks
TIME NEEDED: 1 week
If you love a road trip and the outdoors, then a weeklong road trip through Utah is absolutely in order!
You can start from either Las Vegas, Nevada or Salt Lake City, Utah to fit in visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park during a seven-day road trip.
Experiencing nature, being active, and learning along the way make this a perfect trip for kids and families.
The US National Park system is fantastic. Be sure to check out the Junior Ranger programs at each park- they are a great way to get kids more interested and invested in your vacation.
During your visit to Zion National Park, you cannot misshiking the Narrowsand Riverside Walk. Our family also really enjoyed the Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools trails.
If you and your family are more experienced hikers, then Angel’s Landing is a bucket list item for many people!
Head on to Bryce Canyon National Park to spend a day with the world-famous hoodoos. Bryce Canyon is a park perfect for all abilities.
You can drive the entire length of the park in one day and walk to each of the overlooks easily. Visiting Sunrise and Sunset Points in the Bryce Amphitheater was our favourite stop at Bryce!
Finally head on to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. We were surprised at how much we loved this park!
Arches is suitable for many different ability levels and you can see a lot even just from the road. If you are able, make sure to hike to the Double Windows Arch or Delicate Arch.
As you can see, there are incredible family memories to be made on a national park road trip through Utah!
-Julie from More Than A Main Street
5. Western National Parks
TIME NEEDED: At least 2 weeks
Our family recently took a national parks road trip that took us through four states and 6 national parks. We started our two-week journey in Minneapolis and headed to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore and the Badlands.
Kids will love visiting Mount Rushmore and learning about how it was carved. There are many photo opportunities and small trails with various viewpoints.
We then headed into Wyoming, where we spent a few days in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park.
The Grand Tetons provided stunning mountain backdrops, moose, and lakeside hikes that kept us in awe.
Just a few miles away, Yellowstone seems like a place out of this world. From the geysers to the colourful hot springs, waterfalls, mud volcanoes, bison, and limestone terraces, Yellowstone was a family favourite.
Then it was onto Montana and Glacier National Park. Trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake was the best hike of the vacation. It combined forests, waterfalls, mountains, lakes, rivers, and climbing.
The Going to the Sun Road drive was also a scary, yet scenic route with plenty of viewpoints along the way.
Our last major stop on the road trip was to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
Here we hiked a short trail called Painted Canyon Nature Trail and then drove around the scenic route and saw bison and wild horses.
Our kids, ages 9 and 11, loved our national parks road trip and continue to ask when we are going again.
-Margie from DQ Travel
6. Portland to Yellowstone National Park
TIME NEEDED: Around 2 weeks
Taking a road trip from Portland, Oregon to visit Yellowstone with kids is something that can easily be enjoyed. You can choose to stop along the way in both directions or head straight for Yellowstone before taking your time coming back.
Yellowstone National Park is a place that will fill kids with wonder. There aren’t many places on earth where you can see nature in its rawest form with rivers, springs and geysers.
But also where you can enjoy open plains and mountains with wildlife around most corners.
Plus, kids can take part in the National Parks Rangers Program and even dine with cowboys.
Once you are finished in one of the most spectacular places on earth, you start heading west again. This time stopping in the city of Missoula in Montana.
There is a great park in the city and two great attractions not far from Missoula that are a must:
National Bison Range
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.
The scenery on the drive back to Portland is breath-taking, between the plains and mountains of Montana, to the huge lake of Coeur d’Alene and of course, the Columbia River Gorge.
This road trip can be enjoyed over two weeks and you can choose to break it up how you like. With so much to see and do along the way, you’re bound to find something to keep the kids happy.
-Cath from Passports and Adventures
7. Pacific Coast Highway – San Francisco to Vancouver
TIME NEEDED: 5 to 7 days
We’ve road tripped the Pacific Coast Highwayseveral times and always loved it – despite almost no planning.
On our most recent road trip, I did some research to make sure we didn’t miss anything awesome and got some advice from friends about their favourite places on the Oregon Coast.
We spent 5 nights going from San Francisco in California up to Vancouver, BC. The scenery is spectacular, though some of the Highway was a little too exciting for our travel companions from Dallas.
It is a tight and winding road with a sheer drop off at times, so I did a lot of the driving.
A few places you don’t want to miss are along the Pacific Coast Hwy:
Glass Beach at Fort. Bragg, CA – The beach was once a landfill, and now it is covered in sea glass. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Don’t try to take it home with you though. I didn’t see any signs between the parking lot and the beach, but there were police officers on-site warning us that there is a $500 fine if you’re caught taking the glass.
Avenue of the Giants – this route runs parallel to the Pacific Coast Highway for about 30 miles and is mind-blowing. Go slow and stop a lot. I retraced several of my childhood road trips, driving through the Chandelier Tree and getting photos of my daughter with Paul Bunyan and Babe.
Pacific City, Oregon – before visiting Pacific City we were huge fans of Cannon Beach. On our last trip, we spent 2 nights in Pacific City and then a morning at Cannon Beach. They are both gorgeous, but Cannon Beach has an upscale vibe more about shopping. Pacific City feels more adventurous and laid back.
-Lizzie from Lizzie Lau Travels
8. The Black Hills, South Dakota
TIME NEEDED: 3 to 10 days
A good old fashioned family road trip is an absolute ‘must-do’ when raising kids. Not only are you able to spend quality time together, but you can see the beautiful countryside in ways that we often overlook.
An area so jam-packed with breathtaking scenery and exciting attractions, one of the best road trips to take with kids involves exploring the Black Hills area of South Dakota, USA.
An all-encompassing road trip throughout this area can take up to 10 days, however, 3-4 days is plenty if you don’t have as much time.
Finish exploring this area with a cruise through the winding roads and waterfalls of Spearfish Canyon.
The Black Hills has served as an unforgettable road trip destination for generations of families, with attractions for all ages. We think that it is especially great for kids because there is literally so much to see and do!
Likewise, with several of the attractions being free or minimal cost, a Black Hills road trip provides an affordable alternative to family vacations.
-Jennifer from Travel With a Plan
9. Deep South – New Orleans to Birmingham
TIME NEEDED: 3 to 4 days
The drive from New Orleans to Birmingham covers many important historical sites, making it an ideal road trip for families eager tolearn about social justice. With a total drive time of just 8.5 hours, this trip can be completed in just four days if you’re in a hurry.
Start by enjoying the food, music, and sights of New Orleans, but then head out to the Whitney Plantation.
Unlike other Louisiana plantations, this one recounts the area’s history as remembered by the slaves who lived it. It spares no grim detail about the history of slavery and life for the slaves on the plantation.
From there, head north to Natchez, MS, once an offloading point for slaves destined to work in the state’s cotton fields.
Visit the William Johnson House Museum, which explains the town’s history and tells the story of a free black man living in one of America’s most prolific slave market towns.
The next stop on the route is the Smith Robertson Museum in Jackson, located in what was the city’s first public school for black students. Exhibits detail the region’s post-slavery struggles, including Jim Crow laws and the Great Northward Migration.
Capping off this historical road trip is Birmingham, AL, the site of some of the most important events in the struggle for civil rights.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an extensive research centre and museum with exhibits on the herculean efforts required to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
These and most other historical sites along the route are family-friendly, and they’re great places for kids to learn about the country’s history and current social issues.
-Jen from Passions and Places
10. The Canadian Rockies
TIME NEEDED: 2 to 4 days
The Canadian Rockies is a fantastic road trip with kids filled with so many amazing places to see and things to do for the family. The Canadian Rockies is located in the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia in Canada.
The most common road trip route is to go from Calgary to Vancouver (or vice-versa), which takes anywhere from 11 – 14 hours to drive from each of the major cities.
The best way to visit the Canadian Rockies is to stay in a few spots in the heart of the Rockies including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Golden, Revelstoke and the Okanagan area on route to Vancouver.
The road trip is best done during the months from May to September when the weather is a bit warmer to be able to enjoy outdoor hikes around the lakes, see waterfalls, canoe in the lakes, and hike in the mountains.
The mountains are magnificent and the drive through this area is one of the most beautiful spots in Canada to explore.
The lakes are crystal clear and the air is crisp in this part of Canada that is not overdeveloped and still has its natural beauty.
One of the best things about the Rockies wilderness, which kids will love, is trying to see all the animals that can be found in this part of the world; including deer, mountain goats, bears, moose, coyotes, elk, bald eagle and so many more.
At each of the stops during this road trip, you can either enjoy luxury stays in 5-star hotels, camp along the way or search out mountain cabins for a unique experience to stay at.
-Nicole from The Passport Kids
These North American road trip itineraries are sure to inspire a future trip exploring the beautiful national parks, big cities and everything in between. Now the only decision is deciding which road trip to plan first!