The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

The FloQ

Travel Insights Blog

The Best United States Road Trips For Summer

Jul 15, 2023

Katya Lopatko

Tips & Tricks

Read:

12 min

When it comes to traveling the US, there’s nothing more iconic than a summer road trip. And for good reason.

Unsplash / Ashley Knedler

Stretching 3,000 miles from coast to coast, the massive continent is criss-crossed by some of the most stunning highways in the world.

While Euro tours are best tackled by train, the US has long been the car capital of the world, as captured by classic American books and films like On the Road and Easy Rider. Though the US has a long way to go in terms of public transportation, driving has its perks, like convenience, flexibility, and of course, style. Truck or convertible, Ford or Chevy, gas or electric — Americans love their cars.

If you’re traveling in the US this summer, consider indulging in this time-honored tradition. Apart from the obvious convenience factor, a road trip isn’t just a way to get from point A to point B. If you plan it well, the experience itself can be worth a little stiff back and highway hypnosis. More so than flights or trains, road trips leave room for the unexpected — you never know when you’ll stumble across the best pie you’ve ever had at a tiny general store, or round the bend to see a gorgeous vista.

Many of us rediscovered the joys of road tripping during the pandemic, when travel restrictions and fears of sickness kept people off flights and other forms of public transportation. Withfar-away destinations suddenly out of reach, Americans began exploring their own backyards, some for the first time. And there’s no reason to stop now that international travel is back in full swing. Keeping it slow and simple (and affordable) can make for a vacation that’s just as rewarding as that Instagram-worthy Euro summer.

So, where to? Everyone’s heard of Highway 1, the famous Pacific Coast Highway running from Orange County to the Bay Area, and Route 66, the historic road connecting Chicago and L.A. But why limit yourself to the obvious? There’s much more US road to trip. Each corner of the continent has its own driving routes full of stunning views, outdoor adventures, and one-of-a-kind cultural attractions. Read on to discover our topcan’t-miss summer road trip regions. While choices are endless, these four feature relatively cooler temperatures, so you can soak up the sun but avoid peak summer heat.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore / Jen Theodore / Unsplash

If you’re in the mood for some stunning scenery and a swim, spend a few days exploring Michigan’s magical Upper Peninsula, land ofcrystal-clear Great Lakes, green forests, picturesque cliffs, and one of the tallest waterfalls in the US, Tahquamenon Falls. Sandwiched between Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the Upper Peninsula boasts 1,700 miles of shoreline for your swimming and kayaking pleasure, not to mention hundreds of inland lakes.

For a particularly scenic drive, don’t miss the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the north side of the peninsula’s central region. If you’re more of a land person, there’s hiking and climbing for days, as well as a unique, eclectic blend of sightseeing spots — museums, historic lighthouses, Victorian mansions, ghost towns from the area’s mining and logging past, Native American cultural sites, and rustic country stores selling the local delicacy, thimbleberry jam.

Lighthouse on the Upper Peninsula, Michigan / Mikaela Charette / Unsplash

For the full Upper Peninsula experience, try to budget a week to ten days, but a weekend is more than enough to get a good taste of the area. With extra-long days and temperatures between70 and 80 degrees, this rugged corner of Michigan is guaranteed to deliver peak summertime bliss.


Pacific Northwest: National Parks, Cities and Coast

Olympic National Park / Jachan DeVol /Unsplash

For outdoorsy gorpcore fans and beach bums, Washington State beckons with its scenic forests, dazzling mountain peaks, romantic coastlines and cool breezes. Two famous national parks lie within just a couple hours of Seattle: North Cascades, an alpine wonderland of glaciers and mountain peaks, and Olympic, a World Heritage site with a range of ecosystems — coastal, alpine and temperate forest. Choose your favorite — or stop by both — and explore, hike, climb, boat and camp to your heart’s content.

After you’ve had your fill of the great outdoors, you can extend your trip with the famous drive from Seattle to Portland — or, skip the parks entirely and make a whole trip out of it (don’t worry, there’s plenty of hiking along the way).

While the freeway between Seattle and Portland takes only three hours, the coastal route can stretch for hours, or even days. Whichever way you go, there are plenty of stops along the way, from local wine and seafood to unique museums and sites, like the Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, just south of Seattle. David Lynch fans might also want to start with a detour to Snoqualmie, a small town 30 minutes inland of Seattle where the surreal mystery drama Twin Peaks was filmed.

If you’re taking the freeway and haven’t had your fill of mountains yet, you can also make a detour to Mount Rainier National Park. If you go the coastal way, don’t miss Quinault Lake and its lodge, featured on the National Registry of Historic Places; the cheekily named Cape Disappointment State Park, complete with a scenic lighthouse, the perfect backdrop to contemplate your quarter-life crisis; and Long Beach Peninsula with its double claim to fame as the world’s longest beach and the site of the World Kite Museum.

If your vibe is a little more glamping and a little less granola, never fear: there’s something for everyone in the Pacific Northwest. Skip the hiking trails and spend a little more time exploring Seattle and Portland, both famous for their laid-back vibes, delicious food, coffee and craft beer scene. From cute coffee shops to book and record stores, you can easily spend several days wandering the cities.

Record store in Portland, Oregon / Sean Benesh / Unsplash

With cool breezes year round, the Pacific Northwest is another great region for escaping the summer heat. Just like in Michigan, summer brings long days and higher temperatures, so don’t wait to plan your road trip. And remember to pack layers and a rain jacket!


Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville / Ashley Knedler / Unsplash

Nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive, ”the Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest linear park in the US, running through the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and North Carolina and connecting Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains. If you’ve ever listened to classic country or folk songs, you’ve probably heard these mountains heavily name dropped, from Joan Baez’s “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” to John Denver’s iconic “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

The route takes you from Charlottesville to Asheville, or the other way around. With speed limits around45, you’ll have to slow down and soak in the scenery–and there’s a lot of it. Since you’ll be in national park territory, you can hike parts of the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. Otherwise, be sure to stop in small towns, like Boone, North Carolina, along the way to taste some classic American fare–think local preserves, fresh cheese, craft breweries and barbecue.

Music fans can vibe to some mountain music at the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax, which hosts the Old Fiddlers’ Convention the second week of August. You’ll also spot some majestic colonial revival manors, and in Asheville, carve out an afternoon to visit the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s grand mansion with its own winery, gardens, a farmyard you can visit, and even guided hikes.

Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina / Stephanie Klepacki / Unsplash

Driving time depends on your pace, but check out this detailed five-day itinerary for some ideas for timing your trip and planning your stops. You’ll be journeying through the South, so temperatures could creep up, but the higher elevations and shady spots mean you’ll be able to stay relatively cool. That said, the Blue Ridge Parkway could make for a great fall trip as the leaves start to change.


Summer Ski Resorts in Colorado

Shrine Pass Road, Red Cliff, Colorado /Joel Holland / Unsplash

While the mountain villages sprinkled across western Colorado might be best known for their ski resorts, they’re justas gorgeous–if not more–in the summer months. Melting snow createscrystal-clear streams and lakes, slopes turn into hiking and biking trails, and wildflowers dot the fields. Plus, summer means longer days and no risk of snowstorms closing off roads.

Another perk of visiting ski resorts in the summer: high concentrations of fancy clientele means that many of them are home to world-class culture, art, music and food on par with big cities like New York and L.A. Luckily, you don’t have to be a billionaire to enjoy it — you can stroll through streets and art galleries for free. And while towns like Vail and Aspen may be well-known for their bougie ambiance, others like Breckenridge and Telluride have a more down-to-earth vibe.

Downtown Vail / Julia Barnes / Unsplash

From Denver, head northwest about 30minutes to Boulder, a hippie college town with a booming tech scene, and take as troll down Pearl Street, where you’ll find amazing restaurants, chic boutique sand charming bookstores. From there, you can continue northwest to Estes Park to explore the Rocky Mountain National Park, or head out west to hit any number of ski towns: Keystone, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and more. Be sure to stop at Glenwood Springs for a dip in the hot springs to wash off all that driving stiffness.

Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs / Nathan Anderson / Unsplash

A total of four hours from Denver, you’ll reach Mesa, and from there, you can continue on south through the Grand Mesa of Colorado, the largest flat-top mountain in the world where you can enjoy lakes, wineries, and fresh summer peaches. If you keep driving south, you’ll eventually end up in Telluride, an old Victorian mining town with a rich historical district.

Depending on how much time and energy you have, your Colorado road trip can be as long or short as you make it. Even visiting Denver and Boulder is more than enough for a magical weekend getaway with equal parts nature and culture; and if you want to see some red rocks, you can head south from Denver instead to visit the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. And for music fans, there’s also the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, which should be on everyone’s concert bucket list. For even more suggestions, and to help you sift through all these options, check out this detailed road trip itinerary, filtered for different trip lengths.

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