If the idea of visiting another amusement park or sitting on a beach doesn’t motivate you to make family vacation plans, consider a good, old-fashioned road trip. Here are four family road trips that will not cost you a lot of money, and will inspire learning and love of the outdoors – something we all want for our kids!
Four Fun, Educational Family Road Trips
Family road trips are a fantastic way to experience new places and learn along the way. With the open road in front of you and time built into your itinerary to explore some small-town attractions along the way, your family can truly experience America and its history before they realize they’ve learned something.
Central New York’s Off-Beat Attractions
Start your central New York road trip in Herkimer, an hour and a half west of Albany and home of the Herkimer Diamond Mines and Erie Canal Cruises. Spend the morning digging for diamonds. Then experience the engineering feat that is the Erie Canal as you take an entertaining boat tour through a working lock. If there’s baseball enthusiast in the family, take a 45 minute drive south from Herkimer to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Your next stop is Binghamton, the Carousel Capital of America. There are fewer than 170 antique carousels remaining in the United States and Canada, and six are in the Greater Binghamton area. The carousels are all in well-kept parks, fully operational and free to the public. So reach for the brass ring. In between frolicking in the parks, stop at Sharkey’s for spiedies (skewered, marinated meat), the local specialty.
Drive on to Corning and take some time at the Corning Museum of Glass. There your kids can learn all about the art of glass and even try glass-blowing for themselves! Corning and the surrounding area has a lot to do for an active family – from water sports to museums to wine tasting. In fact, the Finger Lakes offers tons of options for even more family road trips!
Asheville to Nashville Family Road Trip
When visiting Asheville, NC, you can’t miss the Biltmore. Walk through America’s Largest Home with their excellent self-guided audio tour. You’ll feel as though you have truly experienced what it was like to live there. You can also enjoy the expansive gardens, the winery, and the farm, or spend time hiking, biking, kayaking, horseback riding and more on the 8,000 acre estate.
Get up the next day and drive into Smokey Mountain National Park. Don’t miss Cades Cove, an 11-mile loop with several opportunities to pull off. Do so, and enjoy a variety of historic buildings, hiking, wildlife and the smokey-blue scenery for which the mountains are famous.
After the recent, tragic wildfires in the Smokey Mountains, some trails are closed, so be sure to check ahead. But Dollywood is open! You can hit Dolly Parton’s amusement park in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area. There you’ll also find an Elvis museum, Titanic museum, adventure golf, comedy shows, go-karts/action parks, wax museum, magic shows, sporting/adventure outfitters, helicopter rides, dude ranches, dinner theater (Dixie Stampede, Murder-Mystery, Lumberjack Feud) and so much more!
Continuing west to Knoxville, TN, you can stop at the Discovery Center or the Knoxville Zoo. Want to go easy on the wallet? Here’s a list of free things to do in Knoxville! Your next stop is Burgess Falls State Park in Sparta, TN. Be sure to check out their Butterfly Garden and download the Butterfly Checklist for the kids. From there you’re less than two hours to Nashville.
Ponies and Cowboys in Kansas
Jody Halsted of Family Rambling took her family on a true “where the Buffalo roam” road trip. Near the town of Athol, KS, you’ll find Higley Cabin, where Home on the Range was written. “To eyes used to large houses and spacious buildings, the Higley Cabin is very tiny. The building was, amazingly, never torn down and stands today, much similar to how it looked when Dr. Higley built it,” says Jody.
Heading east to Hanover, KS, your next stop is the only remaining Pony Express stop still standing in its original location: Hollenberg Pony Express Station. Some say it’s haunted. There are hands-on displays and Jody’s family loved learning about the daily lives led by the people who passed through and who worked at Hollenberg Station.
Due south is Wichita, KS and a visit to Exploration Place. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday morning, check out the Historic Wichita Trolly Tour. The 1 1/2 hour narrated tour on the 1925-style trolley winds along the Arkansas River and into downtown, Midtown and Old Town to some of Wichita’s most historic neighborhoods. There are lots of free things to do in Wichita, too!
Stonehenge and Giant Trees in the Pacific Northwest
Portland, OR, has tons of attractions for active families (including lots of free things to do in Portland). The Portland Aerial Tram is a great place to start, offering spectacular views of the city, Mount Hood, and Mount St. Helens.
From Portland, head east on your family road trip to Maryhill, WA, and find the Maryhill Museum of Art. Check out the Stonehenge replica and Maryhill Loops Road, the first paved road in the Pacific Northwest, both built by Samuel Hill. You’ll also enjoy exploring the surrounding gardens, hiking trails, wineries and history.
Next, drive to gorgeous Mount Rainier National Park. Drive the Scenic Byways Loop where you’ll experience unparalleled scenery. Stop at Grove of the Patriarchs to walk among trees that are more than 25 feet in circumference, with some over 1,000 years old. Your kids will also enjoy Boulder Cave as well as the lava flows and volcanic rock formations. If you have some time to stay in this amazing park, take advantage of the camping, hiking, fishing, and boating.
Exploring America by car is educational, inspirational, and nostalgic. No matter how much time you can allocate for your family road trips, it will never quite seem like enough.