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The USA: 3.8 million square miles of landscape just waiting to be explored. From mountains and forests, to beaches and roller-coasters, America has it all. It’s a particularly fantastic holiday destination for families, given the variety of scenery, sights and attractions.
With so much to see and do, why stay in the same place when you and your loved ones can experience the Great American Road Trip?
Perhaps you’ve never thought about this kind of self-drive holiday with your family, but it’s a fantastic option, enabling you to define your own itinerary and visit places you never would otherwise. We’ve come up with three incredible family-friendly road trips, so let’s take a look at your options.
Experience one of the country’s grandest lakes, mixed with the highlights of the Windy City with this long road trip which crosses four US states. It’s basically a great loop around Lake Michigan which passes by many natural sites of interest and pretty towns.
From Chicago, take the I-90/43 up into Wisconsin, enjoying the view of vast Lake Michigan on your right. The first stop is brewing city, Milwaukee, where you could visit the Harley Davidson Museum or the Pabst and Miller breweries. If you’re a family of sports fans, you could try and see a Packer’s Game in Green Bay and then relax at the Door County Peninsula, taking a walk around the State Park or enjoying the Northern Sky Theatre in Ephraim before settling down for the night at the highly-rated Bay Breeze Resort.
Continue up and round the peninsula, across the Michigan state border, taking in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Great Sand Bay, then cruise through the Hiawatha National Forest. You’ve reached the top of the loop now and will start to head down, crossing the bridge to Mackinaw City, where kids will love the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. If you’ve time, get the ferry to Mackinac Island, which is another beautiful state park with a wonderful view in every direction.
Back on dry land, drive onto the H-31 – keeping the lake in sight on your right – with a stop at Traverse City to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes and experience the vibrant Front Street for shopping and refreshments. Continuing down to Muskegon will no doubt necessitate a stop at the waterparks or Pere Marquette Beach (weather permitting). Before you know it, you’ll be in Indiana on H-12, passing through Michigan City and the unassumingly-named Gary, home of the Jackson family (though you can’t go inside), before climbing back round, into Illinois, to Chicago.
Once there, you can indulge in the famous deep dish pizza, visit Lincoln Park Zoo, shop until you all drop or – if you’re daring enough – ascend the 108-storey Willis Tower and brave The Ledge, a glass balcony which extends 4.3 feet out from the observation deck.
If we say: ‘Route 66’, no doubt many of you will sigh, for this adventure features on many bucket lists and often assumes one of the top spots on those ubiquitous ‘must see before you die’ blogs. For the thrill-seeking family, the tail end of Route 66 satisfies more than that bucket list requirement. Strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Starting in the deserts of Arizona, a detour off the famous highway leads to the Grand Canyon, where you can stay overnight, explore or maybe spoil yourselves with a helicopter ride over the giant gorge. From Flagstaff, a popular town of the route, this detour is about a 160-mile round trip, but must be done.
Back on the ‘Mother Road’, the track winds towards the Petrified Forest National Park with its eerie, fossilised trees and to Flagstaff itself. However, if you want somewhere fun to stay, start your trip at Holbrook and try out the Wigwam Village Motel, where you can sleep in a tepee. Taking the Grand Canyon detour from Holbrook is a longer journey of 360 miles right round. One of the last stops on the Arizona side is Oatman, a former gold mining hotspot turned ghost town – which is everything you’ve ever dreamed a wild west town should be. Though the real attraction is the mountain donkeys that wander along the streets aimlessly, hoping you’ll feed them.
Suddenly, you’re over the border into California. If you have the inclination and stomach for it, you could take another detour, crossing the Nevada state line and heading to Las Vegas. It’s less than two hours’ drive away from Needles, the hottest desert town in the US. Otherwise, crank up the air con and head straight on. There are lots of quirky towns en route to Santa Monica (the end of Route 66), each with cafes, diners, museums and strange sites to behold. Take Oro Grande, for example, with its bizarre Bottle Tree Ranch; San Bernardino, the birthplace of McDonald’s and home of Bono’s Giant Orange (not to be confused with the U2 star) and then on towards Los Angeles.
Here you have Hollywood and all of its delights: the fun-filled Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Universal Studios Hollywood, the nerve-wrecking rollercoasters of Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm’s crazy rides and Raging Waters water park. You’ll need that calm flight home to regroup and relax!
Route 100 runs through the beautiful North Eastern state of Vermont, spanning some 230 miles, though our route doesn’t cover its entirety. It’s best to go in the Autumn, of course, when the leaves are turning and everywhere around you is a visual cacophony of colour. The Scenic Byway runs along the Green Mountain Ridge and is the perfect trip for the family who loves the outdoors – and cheese.
Starting almost at the Canadian border in Burlington, you can take Route 89 until it joins Route 100 and drive south, past the Green Mountain National Forest. Ice cream aficionados might want to stop at Waterbury and visit Ben & Jerry’s Factory, which runs tours and offers delicious samples. Stowe is another major stop on this route, from which you could take the Pinnacle hiking trail or even be in time for the annual British Invasion car show.
Further along is Plymouth, the place famed for its cheeses and for being the birthplace of former US president, Calvin Coolidge. Plymouth Notch, described as a ‘time capsule hamlet’ is a historic site worth visiting and Plymouth proper houses Frog City Cheese in the Coolidge family cheese factory.
The Route continues past the towns of Ludlow and Weston, ending in Wilmington – a pretty town boasting speciality shops, galleries and incredible mountain vistas. Don’t miss the Historic District – the kids will love taking a horse and carriage ride.
If you’ve more time on your hands and don’t mind a long drive, it’s possible to tack New York onto the end of your trip – it’s about four hours’ drive away. New York…now, that’s a whole other post…
– Roadtrip America – advice, maps and inspiration
– The American Roadtrip Company – bespoke self-drive holidays
– Holidaysafe – family travel insurance
– USA.gov – tips on driving in the USA
– Time Out – the 50 best road trip songs of all time.
The USA offers such a variety of holidays for your family and the road trip is no exception. You can make it as budget or luxurious as you like, depending on where you want to stay (camping vs top hotels), what you want to eat (picnics or ala carte meals) and the kinds of activities you want to undertake.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with an American road trip. Your only problem will be choosing which one to take!
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