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The Northeast United States is a super destination for a family road trip. Head to Maine for lobsters and hiking in Acadia National Park. Walk the historic streets of Boston in Massachusetts or the leafy Yale campus in Connecticut. Vermont and New Hampshire ooze New England charm. And New York, outside of the city, has several routes worth exploring. If it’s beach you want, the Jersey Shore is a classic. Here are the top TravelingMom northeast road trip itineraries to help you plan your vacay.
Northeast Road Trips for Everyone
My road-tripping days began in my childhood. Joining the 1970s trend of customizing your own van, my dad outfitted a cargo van with shag carpet and bean bag chairs. Yes, it sounds tacky, but that old van took us from coast to coast. Along the way we made memories to last a lifetime. I continued the road trip tradition with my children–always taking the scenic route. These days my road trip companions include my grandkids and my husband. In recent years many of our road trip itineraries include the scenic byways of the Northeast.
Variety reigns in this corner of the country. Explore coastal roadways from Maine to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Or venture into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont or New York State’s Adirondack Mountains. Experience the bounty of the Hudson Valley and New York’s Finger Lakes region. Then, drive all the way to Canada’s border to marvel at the majesty of Niagara Falls. Choose your favorite trip ideas, load up your vehicle and hit the road!
Maine: A World of Coastal Treasures
Perched at the far northeastern corner of the USA, a Maine road trip promises an array of coastal treasures. Starting in Cape Elizabeth, the iconic Portland Headlight stands watch over Casco Bay as it has since 1791. Take the kids for a climb to the top to survey the surrounding views of the bay and the Atlantic coast. As you make your way north from Portland, searching for lighthouses becomes the road trip game of the day.
Along the way, stop by one of the many lobster stands to indulge in a delicious New England classic–the lobster roll. Follow that with a slice of blueberry pie to complete the Maine meal.
More to Love in Maine
Continue north for 170 miles to reach Acadia National Park. This National Park encompasses more than 48,000 acres on Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula, Isle Au Haut and many smaller coastal islands. More than 10,000 of those acres lie within the boundary of Bar Harbor making it an excellent base for exploring local outdoor adventures.
Early risers trek up Cadillac Mountain to catch the first sunrise in the USA. Preferring to sleep a bit later, we chose to linger at the mountain’s summit for a stunning sunset. Enjoy a scenic drive around the historic 27-mile Mount Desert Island park loop road for access to the shoreline and interior forests.
As for Bar Harbor, it’s the place to jump aboard Lulu’s Lobster Boat. This Downeast-style lobster boat provides a unique tour with demos of how lobster traps are hauled. Bringing guests up close to private islands along the way, it’s easy to spot marine wildlife including seals.
Have adventurous kids? Schedule a family rock climbing lesson with Atlantic Climbing School. With lessons tailored to your group’s experience, fitness level and interest, it’s an unforgettable way to top off an epic east coast road trip.
Choose New Hampshire for an Autumn Road Trip
With vibrant shades of orange, deep reds and buttercup yellows, fall makes road trips even more enticing. Often regarded as one of the best places in the world to surround yourself with fall foliage, New Hampshire’s Route 112 spans east from Lincoln to Conway. Known as the Kancamagus Highway, this 34.5-mile drive enjoys recognition as a National Scenic Byway. Winding through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, gorgeous vistas unfold.
Known as “The Kanc” to the locals, you’ll discover abundant hiking trails for leg-stretching breaks. Hairpin turns add to the adventure as you climb further into the White Mountains passing natural wonders along the way. Reaching 2,855 feet at its highest point, the Kancamagus Highway parallels the Swift River as you descend.
For more mountainous thrills, consider extending your road trip north from Conway to the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Climbing 6,288 feet to the highest summit on the East Coast, it’s an adventure the kids (and you) won’t ever forget.
Read More: Climbing Mount Washington? Read This First!
Vermont: A World of Cows, Cheese and Ice Cream
It seems every road in Vermont is postcard-worthy. Crossing over Lake Champlain from New York to Vermont, the landscape winds through quaint small towns showcasing white-steepled churches and historic storefronts. In the countryside, expansive rolling hills dotted with black and white Holstein cattle come into view. These special cows are the reason for all of that delicious Vermont cheddar cheese. They’re also responsible for ice cream. And, a detour to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury is a must.
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Fun is open to the public at Ben & Jerry’s with tours and tastings. Beginning with the Cow over the Moon Theater and continuing through a mezzanine with a bird’s eye view of the production line, the tours share Ben & Jerry’s story. Then it’s off to the Flavoroom to taste the Flavor of the Day. Finally, don’t leave without paying your respects to the ice cream flavors resting peacefully in the Flavor Graveyard.
Boston, the Cape and Rhode Island: New England Charm
For the ultimate historic sites, Boston is the place to go. Here, the Freedom Trail chronicles New England history and the ride of Paul Revere. Rather than walk the trail like everyone else, turn the city into your gameboard with an interactive walking tour of the city curated by Urban Adventure Quests. Using a smartphone and clues provided for your team, the secrets of the city are revealed.
Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard
Even if you’ve never visited New England, you’re familiar with Cape Cod’s geography. It’s America’s bent arm, extending out into the Atlantic. Spend a few days here for fun in the sun. The west side of the Cape features shallow bay beaches toddlers will love. Got older kids? You can’t beat the eastern Cape’s Atlantic surf found at Nauset Light and Coast Guard beaches.
Start your Cape sightseeing at the lighthouse on the tip in Provincetown, affectionately referred to as P-town. Do the factory tour (when they resume, post-Covid) at Cape Cod Potato Chips. Like Corning, NY, Sandwich is known for its glassmaking, so include a tour of its museum. Then venture over to the Heritage Museum and Gardens. There are flowers, antique cars and a 1908 Loof carousel.
Got more time? Take a ferry to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. You’ll find more beaches, chowder and charming New England coastal cottages.
Rhode Island’s Mansions
Leaving Boston behind, rocky coastlines, sailboats and lighthouses take over for your New England road trip into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Choose parkways and coastal routes instead of interstates to keep things interesting.
Marvel at the mansions in Newport as you make your way along the idyllic coast. Stops you don’t want to miss include the Adventureland Family Fun Park in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Providing a welcome break from the road, this entertaining amusement park includes bumper boats, batting cages, gas-powered go-karts and an 18-hole nautical-themed miniature golf course.
TravelingMom Tip: Adventureland Family Fun Park opens seasonally from May through September.
Explore the Connecticut Coast
Hug the Connecticut coast on a road trip that takes you from NYC to Mystic, an historic New England whaling port. You’ll drive I-95 on this journey. It’s a commuter artery so you’ll want to avoid weekday drive times.
Pass through Greenwich, a tony CT suburb. Continue to Stamford, a growing city of 140,000. Want some garden inspo? Stop at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens, a lush 93-acres, that’s kid- and dog-friendly.
Continue to New Haven, home of two CT institutions: Yale University and Frank Pepe’s. I’m sure you’ve heard of Yale. The Ivy League campus is postcard pretty; follow this self-guided walk tour to see the highlights. The bookstore, located at the Shops at Yale, carries all the merch for aspiring high schoolers.
Whether you’re hungry or not, your next stop must be legendary Frank Pepe’s on Wooster Street. This main location opened in 1937 and is a mecca for pizza lovers. If you time your visit for late summer, you must order the Fresh Tomato and Mozzarella pie. It’s as close to a farm to table experience you’ll ever have at a pizzeria.
If you’ve worked up a sweat eating your face off, take a dip at one of the Connecticut Sound beaches. My favorite is Hammonasset Beach State Park. It’s particularly lovely in the late afternoon as the sun starts to dip to the west. Don’t expect Jersey-style waves, but toddlers will be happy as clams splashing about in the gentle waters.
Speaking of clams, they may not be happy but they are delicious at Lenny and Joe’s Fish Tale in nearby Madison. The place is busy, but it’s a well-ordered chaos. Queue up best as you can, place your order, grab an indoor or outdoor seat and wait while you drool watching everyone else get their food.
=This road trip ends at the Mystic Seaport, a showcase for the region’s maritime history. Recreating a 19th-century shipbuilding village, this open-air museum includes more than 30 period buildings populated with hands-on exhibits. The country’s last remaining whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, resides here inviting the kids to earn their sea legs by hoisting the sails.
Want another slice? Mystic Pizza may seem familiar to anyone who saw the Julia Roberts movie of the same name in the 1980s. While the 80s big hair trend is (thankfully) gone, the pizza is still here—and it’s really good! Stop in for a “little slice of heaven” and to catch the continuous loop of the movie on the restaurant’s TV screens.
New Jersey: Gotta Go to the Shore!
Start your exploration of the Jersey Shore in the first beach you hit when heading south out of New York City – Sandy Hook. There are multiple beaches, a lovely bike trail and history – it was a military installation in its former life and the base housing and some cannons are still there.
Then scoot down to Asbury Park. It’s in the midst of a renaissance, with new hotels and buzzy restaurants. If you’re a Springsteen fan, don’t skip a selfie in front of the legendary shore bar, the Stone Pony, where his career was born.
Need some boardwalk action? Then The Wildwoods are for you. Multiple communities share some variation of “Wildwood” in their names and are linked by nearly 40 blocks of boardwalk amusements. Prove your skeet ball dominance, ride a coaster, body surf and travel back in time at the Doo Wop Museum.
Read More: 17 Great New Jersey Resorts for Families
New York: Waterfalls, Rivers and More
Exploring New York City is always fun but driving in NYC is another story. And parking? Forget it, unless you’re ready to part with a significant portion of your vacation funds. If your road trip begins in New York, spend a couple of days in the city using public transportation. Then pick up a rental car and head north starting with the Hudson Valley.
Hudson River Valley
Stretching 150 miles from the tip of Manhattan to Albany, the Hudson Valley’s vast and varied landscapes present a multitude of experiences. Walk or bike across the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie via the Walkway Over the Hudson. The 212-foot-tall, 1.28-mile linear walkway spans the river and connects to bike trails on either end.
For another fun hike, check out Fannie Reese State Park. Access the entrance near the walkway via a short walk along the road and down the stairs at the entrance to the Mid-Hudson Bridge. An overlook serves up scenic views overlooking the Hudson River and trails follow a historic carriage road that passes ruins of a 19th-century estate.
Venture to the United States Military Academy at West Point for the history buffs in the family where countless figures in American military history received their training. Afterward, take a guided walking tour or spend some time checking out the museum on campus.
Connect with Nature in the Adirondack Mountains
Boasting more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails, the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York beckons to mountain lovers year-round. Forested paths, plunging waterfalls and summits with 360-degree views provide a vast variety of hiking challenges when you’re ready to let the kids out of the car to work off that excess energy.
First, be sure to check out The Wild Center. From the ever-entertaining river otters to tons of hands-on interactive exhibits, the 54,000 square foot indoor space will hold the kids’ attention for hours. Pair that with swinging bridges, a four-story twig treehouse, a spider’s web and an oversized eagle’s nest outside and you’ll never get them to leave. We even added a guided canoe trip to our adventure.
TravelingMom Tip: Reserve a ticket for timed entry ahead of your visit and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy in the beautiful wilderness.
Occupying 2,000 acres near the Vermont border, Fort Ticonderoga’s history dates back to 1755. An Adirondack highlight, the fort offers family-focused tours as well as immersive hands-on experiences. Take a road trip break for the day and get in touch with your inner soldier as history comes to life.
For lodging, check out Wildwood on the Lake in Lake Placid. It’s an easy-going family-owned lodge offering comfy accommodations, kayaks for exploring and campfires in the evening.
New York’s Longest Road Trip: Exploring U.S. Route 20
Stretching 372 miles from the border with Massachusetts to the border of Pennsylvania, U.S. Route 20 serves as New York State’s longest road trip. Rolling hills peppered with generations-old farms dot the pastoral landscape. Once a primitive Native American path that ultimately helped the westward movement in the state, U.S. Route 20 is rich with historic sites.
In Seneca Falls, discover the bridge that inspired “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Visit the supposed birthplace of Memorial Day, Waterloo. Detour off the route for a day trip to explore the Finger Lakes region, including “gorge-ous” Watkins Glen. Best known for its wine trail along with ample breweries, the bounty of this fertile land attracts visitors from around the world.
Embrace Farm Life
Find your way to Odessa for a visit to Sunset View Creamery. Here you’ll find delicious cheeses and friendly cows available for cuddling. Yes, cow cuddling is a thing and an experience you and the kids or grandkids won’t soon forget.
Next, Four Seasons Alpacas farm, where adorable alpacas await along with cute New Zealand pigs and super furry bunnies. Pop into the shop for some uber-soft alpaca scarves, hats or gloves. If you’re road tripping in the fall, take advantage of apple season by picking your favorite varieties at Apples & Moore.
Chase Niagara’s Waterfalls
Continuing on to Buffalo, be sure to stop by the Anchor Bar restaurant. The birthplace of Buffalo wings, you’ll get a taste of the original sauce at this family-owned eatery.
Next, drive just 20 miles north of Buffalo where Niagara Falls awaits. Get up close to North America’s largest waterfalls with a ride on Maid of the Mist. This 175-year-old attraction recently converted to all-electric boats. Get even closer to the falls at Cave of the Winds where a series of boardwalks lead you to within 10 feet of the thunderous water. Be sure to return to Niagara Falls State Park after dark to view the waterfalls illuminated in shades of red, green and blue. A perfect ending to your epic New York road trip.