Good old-fashioned road trips continue to thrive in the fabric of America’s family vacations. Nothing beats the memories made from time together traveling the backroads and byways of the USA’s vast landscapes. The Northeast United States offers ample opportunities to explore. Combining the travel time with family-friendly stops keeps everyone happy and keeps road trip whining to a minimum. These northeast road trips are ideal for making memories to last a lifetime. From charming coastal communities to soaring mountains to fertile farmland, here are our picks for the best northeast road trips.
Top Northeast Road Trip Ideas
My road-tripping days began in childhood when my parents would load up the “family truckster” in true Clark Griswald fashion to set off in search of adventure. The road trips continued with my children and now, my grandchildren. On a recent northeast road trip, we thoroughly explored the character of this corner of the USA. The discoveries were innumerable, and the memories were priceless.
From New York to Maine with countless gems in between, each of these northeast road trips provides plenty of memory-making adventures. Or combine a few to set off on one of the best extended northeast road trips imaginable.
1. New York: Discover the Hudson Valley
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.
Stretching 150 miles from the tip of Manhattan to Albany, New York’s Hudson Valley is a vast and varied region offering a multitude of experiences. Walk 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 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.
2. New York: Connect with Nature in the Adirondack Mountains
Boasting more than 2,000 miles of hiking trails, the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York is a must-see. Forested paths, plunging waterfalls and summits with 360-degree views provide a vast variety of 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: During the COVID-19 phased reopening, the indoor exhibits will remain closed. However, outdoor exhibits, trails and picnic areas are open. 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.
3. 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 — a detour to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury is a must.
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 the 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.
Neighbor New Hampshire has its own road trip offerings, so be sure to make time for at least a day trip to experience 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.
4. Boston to Connecticut: New England Charm
If you want to see history in the United States, Boston needs to be in your plans—and the Freedom Trail is a definite highlight. 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.
Leaving the city behind, rocky coastlines, sailboats, and lighthouses take over for your New England road trip through the Massachusetts Berkshires into Rhode Island and Connecticut. Choose parkways and coastal routes instead of interstates to keep things interesting.
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.
Road Trip Stop: Connecticut
Further along the road, Mystic, Connecticut, showcases the region’s maritime history at Mystic Seaport. 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.
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.
Continue the Connecticut experience with a stop in New Haven for a look at the architecturally stunning campus of Yale University.
5. Maine: A World of Coastal Treasures
Perched at the far northeastern corner of the country, a Maine road trip is full 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.
Lobster stands serve up that 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
Acadia National Park encompasses more than 48,000 acres on Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, Isle Au Haut, and many smaller coastal islands. More than 10,000 of those acres are within the boundary of Bar Harbor making it an excellent base for exploring local outdoor adventures. Continue the road trip with a 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. Lessons are tailored to your group’s experience, fitness level, and interest. It’s an unforgettable way to top off an epic east coast road trip.