Route 66 and Beyond: Road Trip Ideas for Every Adventurer
For every traveler, there’s a journey that fits their passion and personality.
Summer’s here, and the road is calling. Whether that means cruising a ribbon of highway to parts unknown or navigating the curves of a rural byway, Americans’ romance with the open road endures.
These days, the modern road trip encompasses a panorama of possibilities. It can be enjoyed any way you wish—as a way to explore the scenic back roads on your bike or devoted to a niche interest (think waterfalls, sustainable architecture or Southern barbecue, for example).
Bring your faithful furry friend along to make the fun that much greater. Here are some ideas and inspiration to invent—or reinvent—your own unique road trip. (And no matter what kind of road trip you’re taking, here’s a strategic demo on how to pack the trunk.)
Road-tripping with bicycles makes for double the fun. From the comfort of your car, you can cover ground quickly to maximize sightseeing. Then, when you’re ready, simply pull over and hit the bike trail, whether that’s a converted railway or a dedicated pathway through a national park.
The latest: Eighteen new bike routes in five states have recently added about 3,000 miles to the U.S. Bicycle Route System, a network of officially recognized travel paths across the country. Some of the latest routes are in California, Indiana, Ohio, Utah and Washington.
The greatest: Many national parks lend themselves to scenic cycling. Acadia National Park in Maine has a network of “carriage roads”—historical paths off-limits to cars. In Florida’s Everglades National Park, five designated biking trails and the flat topography make cycling a fun way to see birds, turtles and alligators. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located partly in Tennessee and partly in North Carolina, is popular for biking.
Skip the roof rack and transport your bikes behind your vehicle; you can carry more and don’t have to worry about height restrictions. Should your bike break down, contact AAA for bicycle roadside assistance; it’s included in your membership. Get more details about AAA Bicycle Service here.
Have pup, will travel
Cities and towns across the U.S. are chock-full of places happy to host you and your pooch—not just hotels, but bars, museums, ferries, gardens: The list goes on! To ensure your pup will enjoy your road trip as much as you will, early planning is key. “We were kind of shocked at Bryce Canyon National Park when we couldn’t take our dog on a lot of the trails,” says AAA Member and photographer Jon Mattrisch. “If you have a dog, you really need to check or call ahead and make sure they’re welcome.”
The latest: Animal shelters reported a boom in pet adoptions during the pandemic, and with working from home more prevalent, the urge to keep your four-legged friend by your side is stronger than ever. There’s even a name for those with a propensity for traveling with pets: Instead of jet setters, they’re “pet setters.” The travel industry has embraced them: More than 13,000 AAA Diamond properties throughout the U.S. welcome dogs with open arms.
The greatest: Many hotel chains have dog-friendly policies, but some lead the pack. One example: Aloft Hotels’ ARF (Animals R Fun) Program welcomes your pal with a dog bed, a bowl, tasty treats and toys. (Cats are welcome, too.) And while many national parks prohibit taking dogs on certain trails, dog-friendly parks do exist, including Grand Canyon National Park, where you and your pup can enjoy all 13 miles of the South Rim Trail.
Plan your route and be prepared with apps such as BringFido, BarkHappy and Vet Finder, and websites such as AAA.com/PetTravel, where you can find dog parks, pet-friendly hotels and restaurants, and emergency animal clinics along the way. Need to pick up pet essentials like treats and cooling mats? Visit AAA.com/Save for deals.
Kids on the road
Road trips create indelible childhood memories. Here are tips to help you prepare for being on the road with kids:
• Let your kids be part of the trip-planning process. It makes the whole experience more meaningful.
• Do shorter trial runs before attempting a long trip.
• Bring lots of entertainment: toys, handheld games, music, books on tape. Visit AAA.com/Save for discounts.
• Bring plenty of snacks, such as fruit, cookies and sandwiches from home—as well as plenty of water.
This information is being provided for general informational purposes only. The Auto Club Group does not assume any liability in connection with providing this information.
If you care about the planet, you’re probably interested in how others go about conserving, too. With so many cities on the cutting edge of green initiatives, exploring them is not only fascinating—it may also inspire your own efforts back home.
The latest: Are you cruising in an electric vehicle that you either own or have rented for the long drive? Did you know: You can find charging stations along the way by using the AAA Mobile app. Not ready to go fully electric? Rent a hybrid vehicle instead.
The greatest: Seattle is an epicenter for the green movement. Tour the Bullitt Center, the world’s greenest commercial building, which generates its own electricity and water, and the Amazon Spheres, three massive glass domes teeming with 40,000 plants and featuring a four-story living wall.
In New York City, you can explore one of the largest green roofs in the U.S. at the Javits Center, with 6.75 acres of plants, bird life and bees. And in Toronto you can go green-roof hopping: The city has around 500 living roofs, many of which are open to the public, including the one atop City Hall.
Seek out hotels with a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the premier mark of achievement in green building, or those with significant sustainability practices. From your laptop, go to AAA Diamonds to filter by eco-friendly hotels. Ready to rent an electric or hybrid vehicle? AAA Members can save up to 20% off the base rate of all rentals at Hertz and can even choose from electric and hybrid options.
Food-themed travel makes culture the main course
If, like late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, you believe food is culture, then food-themed travel may be the recipe for creating memories you’ll savor for years to come. And road trips right here in the U.S. can be just the ticket to get you to those rewarding culinary and culturally rich experiences.
The Latest: How do you find the best food in a city you’ve never been to? Consider these tips to home in on the best meals during your foodie road trip:
- Research. Before leaving your own kitchen, learn about the dishes and ingredients you want to taste in the kitchens of others. You’ll find that most destinations have foods or dishes they’re known for. New Orleans, for instance, is synonymous with Creole and Cajun specialties, such as jambalaya or a po’boy. Seattle offers a bounty of seafood, including favorites such as oysters, salmon and geoduck clam. Once you’ve identified the foods you want to try, put together a list of restaurants you’d like to visit. Rather than consulting crowdsourced sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, go to food-focused sources such as Bon Appetit, Saveur and Eater. You can even find AAA Diamond rated restaurants online here or by searching the maps on your AAA Mobile app, Travel Guide or Digital Tourbook.
- Ask the right locals. While all locals can be helpful, remember that restaurant staff and bartenders often have insider knowledge about the best places to eat and drink, since they’re usually immersed in the city’s restaurant culture.
- Take a food tour. While portions are small, a food tour is an enticing way to familiarize yourself with the many dishes a destination has to offer. To help find one, ask your hotel concierge for help or do some research online.
The Greatest: While there are plenty of established road tours, the Hot Tamale Trail, which traverses the Mississippi Delta region, has something extra to offer when it comes to food-themed travel. Before you go, bookmark the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Xtras: Hot Tamale Trail Map for quick reference. If you have an iPhone, you can also download an app from this page that shares the histories of nearly 30 locations on the tour. The app’s stories will enrich your food-themed travel and add zest to your meals.
Lights, camera . . . and a passion for movie and TV locations
Want to see locations from your favorite movie and TV shows? You can easily turn your pursuit into a road trip. And where to start? You’ll get more bang for your buck in Los Angeles than just about anywhere else. Once you arrive in the City of Angels, your best bet is to take a bus or walking tour.
The Latest. Los Angeles has many movie- and TV-location bus tours. Starline Tours, for instance, has partnered with Turner Classic Movies to create the exclusive Movie Locations Tour—L.A. The three-hour tour includes 100+ clips of films shot in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, shown on a 65-inch screen. Movies featured include such films as Fast & Furious, The Graduate and Rebel Without a Cause. The purpose-built bus also has extra-large windows and stadium seating for viewing the tour’s more than 50 locations.
The Greatest: Los Angeles also has something unique to offer—studio tours. Think of them as the backlot backstories of the locations, stars and production histories of your favorite films and shows. Universal, Warner Bros., Sony and Paramount all offer studio tours of various lengths and costs. Each of these studios, of course, has shot at and featured memorable locations, and some even offer tours and exhibits catering to specific interests. Superhero movie fans, for instance, can take in the DC Universe: The Exhibit at Warner Bros. Amusement park aficionados, meanwhile, can enjoy rides tied to popular TV shows and films at Universal, which doubles as a theme park.
It’s a wonderful, wonderful (natural) world
Maybe you’d like to make your destination itself the theme of your road trip—in a sort of back-to-basics kind of way. A classic national park can fill the bill there. Like Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park is well-known for its bounty of geysers, hot springs, bubbling mudpots and steam vents, as well as its rich assortment of wildlife. Here are a few tips to make the most of your time in the natural world when you get there.
The Latest: The Grand Prismatic Spring at the Midway Geyser Basin is reputed to be the most-photographed thermal feature at the park—and with good reason. Stunning bands of color encircle the deep blue pool. Besides the boardwalk trail that will lead you to a close-up look at the spring, there’s another lesser-known site: Travel south to the Fairy Falls Trailhead, and then hike the short trail to an overlook for a view of the Grand Prismatic Spring from above. You’ll marvel at how the colors in the spring look like a rainbow.
The Greatest: If you want to experience a little of what the natural world looked like before the arrival of Western civilization, head to the Lamar and Hayden valleys, and pull over at one of the many pullouts along the roads. You’ll have a good chance of seeing bison, pronghorn, grizzly bears, bald eagles, deer and coyotes in the Lamar Valley, and bison, coyotes, grizzly bears, wolves and waterfowl in the Hayden Valley.
5 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Gas Tank
With gas prices spiking, here are a few things you can do while you’re on the road.
- Check your tire pressure. Driving on saggy wheels can decrease fuel economy.
- Drive the speed limit and try to keep your speed consistent. Driving faster burns more fuel.
- Become more aerodynamic. Remove unused roof racks and carry as light a load as is reasonable.
- Try to avoid prolonged idling. When your engine is idling, it uses an inordinate amount of gas.
- Use a feature like Near Me in the AAA Mobile app to find the best gas prices close to you.