Cheap Road Trips for Summer Fun
Summer is approaching and road trips are the perfect way to take some time off with your family and explore a new destination. Road trips don’t have to be long, expensive, cross-country experiences. Why not find a short route within your state or neighboring state, pack a picnic lunch and be on your way?
Here are a number of cheap road trips across the U.S. that offer beautiful views and allow you to drive them in one day if you prefer. Be sure to also stock up on some gas and save with GasSpouts discounts .
Keep in mind that some of the national parks that are featured in these road trips ideas have areas that are still yet to enter the reopening phase — be sure to check local sites to confirm!
Also, check out the tips on how to road trip cheaply and download free printables to keep the whole family entertained when you’ve been in the car for hours.
Tips for Saving Money on the Road
When it comes to planning a road trip, there are many factors to consider. Perhaps the cheapest way to go on a road trip is to plan ahead of time. To do this, plan out what roads you’ll take, what you’ll see, when you’ll eat and where you’ll stay. Here are 10 ways you can shave a few dollars off your road trip budget.
- Stick to the speed limit: Rapid accelerating and braking can decrease your gas mileage by up to 30% on highways and up to 40% in stop-and-go traffic, according to fueleconomy.gov.
- Pack your own meals: Rather than stopping at restaurants for meals, packing your own meals and snacks before your trip can save you extra costs. If you still want to make a stop at a restaurant, be sure to use a discount at one of these popular road trip food stops, such as Papa John’s .
- Avoid holiday weekends: Consider traveling during off-peak times (weekdays and non-holidays) so that you don’t pay an increased demand surcharge. Plus, you’ll be able to avoid high traffic on the roads that usually occurs during holidays.
- Consider a rental car: If you drive a fuel-inefficient car or face maximum mileage constraints on your leased car, you might consider renting for your road trip. Compare and save on rental cars and get money back with these Rentalcars.com deals .
- Stop and park: Don’t idle your car as you pause to take in the scenery at a national park or other attraction, since that also reduces your gas mileage, according to fueleconomy.gov. Instead, find somewhere free to park and observe the scenery from there.
- Fill up off the beaten path : Convenience matters. That’s why gas stations right off the highway can be more expensive than gas stations that are out of the way. Use online tools like GasBuddy to find the cheapest gas prices along your route.
- Avoid toll roads: Toll roads sneak up on you fast. Be sure to plan ahead and make sure your route doesn’t include toll roads so you can avoid extra charges.
- Download road trip apps: Installing apps such as Roadtrippers before heading out will help you thoughtfully plan out your routes and destinations. That way, you can avoid getting off track and spending additional money on gas.
- Stay smart with lodging: If your road trip will take you more than a day, book your accommodation in advance to save extra. Find cheap room deals with Best Western for lodging on a budget.
- Utilize the nearby visitor center: Visitor centers not only welcome you to new areas; they typically also provide coupons and other free materials.
Best West Coast Road Trips
The West Coast is one of the most beautiful regions to plan a road trip. From the mountains to the beaches to cities big and small, there’s so much to see. Plus, your West Coast road trip doesn’t have to break the bank. Check out these popular and cheap road trip destinations on the West Coast.
- Highway 101, Oregon : Take a road trip along the Oregon coast and take in the beautiful scenery. Along this 363-mile journey, you’ll drive through plenty of noteworthy destinations, including Tillamook Creamery, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Cannon Beach and multiple state parks.
- Seven Magic Mountains, Nevada : A four-hour drive from Los Angeles and only 24 miles from the Las Vegas Strip lies Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation located off the road in Nevada. The best part? Checking out the installation is free of charge.
- Blanca Lake, Washington : If nature is calling, take the scenic road trip up to Blanca Lake located in Washington. This destination is only about 70 miles from the popular city of Seattle. Blanca Lake is a free destination where you can enjoy a 12-mile hike and the views the lake has to offer.
- San Francisco to Los Angeles, California : Take a cheap road trip that takes you from Northern California to Southern California with great stops along the way. This drive is only six hours — be sure to take Highway 1 to enjoy the forests and coastline as you make your way south. Consider stopping at a beach along the way or exploring the cities of Santa Cruz or Malibu.
- Sierra Vista Scenic Byway, California : If you’ve ever wanted to explore the Sierra Nevada Mountains, then this cheap road trip is for you. For about 100 miles, you can view all the rock formations, plants and animals the area has to offer. Be sure to visit between July and October for the best nature views.
As you’re exploring the West Coast, be sure to print out this bumpy car doodle contest, in which each person tries to draw the specified object in a given time period. Reward the winner with a special prize (maybe an ice cream treat or control over the road trip music playlist).
Cheap East Coast Road Trips
The eastern region of the United States has so much to offer and explore — a diverse variety of national parks and historic landmarks make for great road trip experiences. Check out these fun and cheap road trip ideas for your next vacation this summer.
- Park Loop Road, Maine : Take a journey on Park Loop Road, the main route of Maine’s majestic Acadia National Park. The manageable 27-mile road begins at the visitor center and leads you to many of the park’s must-sees, including Cadillac Mountain, Sand Beach and Jordan Pond. Entrance into the park is only $25 per vehicle.
- Niagara Falls, New York : Niagara Falls is a classic destination that is well worth a road trip. Although this trip is on the longer side (6–7 hours from New York City), it allows for more room to stop at state parks along the way, such as Kinzua Bridge or Letchworth State Park.
- Bushkill Falls, Pennsylvania : This is the perfect and cheap road trip destination if you want to take the day and hike to breathtaking waterfalls. Bushkill Falls is an easy 116 miles from Philadelphia and only costs $14 to enter the park.
- Mystic, Connecticut : Mystic is an old New England whaling and seaport town, making it a great road trip destination. This trip is only about 72 miles from Bridgeport. Once you’ve arrived, be sure to check out the Mystic Aquarium to learn about the area’s sea life — it’s only $33 for adults and $24 for children.
- Hudson Valley, New York : Take a break from the city life and head out to New York’s Hudson Valley. This cheap road trip takes you 150 miles north of New York City and includes many historical sites, including the Bronck Museum and St. Paul’s Church where admission is free!
For a fun car activity along the way, print out these placemats. Your kid can use these during the times you stop to grab a quick bite to eat on your road trip. These placemats feature multiple food-themed activities, like a word search and maze.
Road Trips in the South
The best way to get to know the South is by hitting the road. From historic museums to thermal springs, experience Southern charm and try one of these cheap road trips with your family.
- Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia; North Carolina : A longer road trip featured in our list is the Blue Ridge Parkway route. This scenic trail is 469 miles long (about 15 hours) and takes you from Afton, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. Check out geographical landmarks along the way, like Linville Gorge and Mount Mitchell, as well as other museums and attractions.
- Davis Mountain Scenic Loop, Texas : Drive the 75-mile Davis Mountain Scenic Loop and explore the lush greenery that Fort Davis, Texas has to offer. Save on food and pack a picnic to eat at one of the several stops along the way, including the McDonald Observatory.
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky : Mammoth Cave National Park is one of Kentucky’s hidden gems. Whether you start in Louisville, Kentucky, or Nashville, Tennessee, the trip is an easy hour and a half to underground caves. Plus, it’s free — no entrance fee or annual pass required!
- Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas : This free park is located a quick 55 miles from Little Rock and features thermal springs, mountain views, creeks, hikes and more. Fun fact: it’s the oldest national preserve in the country!
- Overseas Highway, Florida : Plan a road trip on the Overseas Highway, a scenic 166-mile road trip that takes you over the water of the Florida Keys. From Miami to Key West, this road trip also features attractions such as the Hemingway Home and Museum, Coral Castle and the Robert Is Here Fruit Stand.
Taking a road trip means you’re about to come across many highway signs. Keep the little ones entertained with this printable highway bingo sheet. This game is great to keep their eyes looking out the window at the world around them.
Midwest Road Trips
The Midwest region of the United States is home to plenty of natural beauty such as lush river valleys, lakes and rolling hills — however, these areas are often overlooked. Check out more of the Midwest with these cheap road trip ideas.
- Cave Point County Park, Wisconsin : Take a road trip to Cave Point County Park, located about 159 miles from the city of Milwaukee. In just a short two-and-a-half-hour ride, you’ll get to explore underwater caves, limestone cliffs and unique hiking trails. This park is also free to visit.
- Starved Rock State Park, Illinois : About 95 miles west of Chicago lies Starved Rock State Park, a wilderness area along the Illinois River. This park features waterfalls, hikes and peaceful nature walks — the perfect road trip destination for any nature-lover. Plus, park entry is free.
- Oval Beach, Michigan : Nice beaches aren’t only for the West Coast! Take a road trip out to Oval Beach, Michigan — it’s only about a three-hour drive from Detroit and is free to enter during the off season. Visitors can also enjoy hiking and biking in the area.
- Nashville, Indiana : It may not be the Nashville you’re used to hearing about, but this four-hour road trip from the main city of Indianapolis to Nashville, Indiana is a great way to see the state. Nashville is a cozy little town known for its art scene. Be sure to visit in the fall to experience the colorful foliage in the area.
- Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin : About 325 miles north of Madison, Wisconsin lies the Apostle Islands — a group of 22 islands in Lake Superior, off the Bayfield Peninsula. Once you’ve arrived in Bayfield, hop on a quick cruise or kayak to explore the islands.
Instead of letting your kids play games on a phone or other electronic device, have them do it the old-fashioned way with this printable I Spy sheet. The goal is to spot something along the ride that begins with each letter. The first person to find the entire alphabet wins!
Printable Road Trip Games
Although there will probably be a lot of sightseeing, finding new ways to keep the kids entertained during a long road trip can be tricky. However, with these printable game ideas and tips, you can even join your kids in the fun!
- Bumper sticker scrapbook: For this road trip game, be on the lookout for interesting bumper stickers on other cars. Fill out the bumper sticker scrapbook page and have a record of what you saw along the way.
- Printable tic-tac-toe : This classic game is a fun way to stay entertained in the car — the rules are simple and people of all ages can participate. Download the printable from 3 Boys and a Dog .
- Road trip word search: This road trip-themed word search from Artsy Fartsy Mama is perfect for those who need to pass the time in the car. You can even put the printable in a plastic page cover or have it laminated so you can use a dry erase marker!
- License plate game : If your road trip is taking you across the state, you may come across a wide variety of license plates. Print out this license plate game from Stuffed Suitcase and check the ones you see off the list.
- Road trip scavenger hunt : Believe it or not, there’s a lot to see out of your car window, especially when you have hours to kill. Use this road trip scavenger hunt printable from Fun-Loving Families and cross off all the things you see on your journey.
- DIY travel binder: To store all of your road trip printables in one convenient place, check out these tips on how to make a DIY travel binder from Living Well Mom .
Road trips don’t have to be expensive if you plan correctly. Take advantage of these convenient and scenic routes in your region and follow the tips to stay on budget! Don’t forget to bring the road trip printables along for the ride to keep the kids entertained. To make sure your car is prepared for the journey, check out these Discount Tire and AutoZone deals and coupons for additional savings.
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