What will your summertime road trip look like: an exhilarating excursion with twists and turns or a vast open road with historic stops along the way? Whichever you choose, get help planning a road trip with these five ideas to suit a range of personalities:
For Thrill-Seekers: Tail of the Dragon
Grab your motorcycle helmet or the keys to a zippy sports car and embark on a driving adventure along this topsy-turvy 11-mile stretch of U.S. 129 that features more than 300 curves. The road snakes through a forest of birch and maple trees, marking the western edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the North Carolina-Tennessee border and fringing a picturesque stretch of Chilhowee Lake.
One reason driving enthusiasts love the Tail of the Dragon: It’s not interrupted by intersections and driveways. While the ride is undeniably exhilarating, safety is a must. Stick to the 30 mph (or less on some curves) speed limit and keep on your side of the center line.
Home base: More thrills await about 90 minutes away in the Tennessee mountain recreation hubs of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (home to Dollywood). You’ll ﬁnd roller coasters, whitewater rafting, zip lines and even the chance to tour a half-scale model of the RMS Titanic.
Essential for planning a road trip: Research shows it’s best to switch drivers every couple of hours on a long trip. So, if you’re renting a car, add other drivers to your contract—it’s free for AAA Members with Hertz. Plus, you’ll save up to 20 percent on rentals.
Highly rated pit stop: Planning a road trip with a stop at Dollywood? Take a much-needed rest at the AAA Three Diamond Inn at Christmas Place. The Bavarian-style lodge celebrates the holidays year-round with festive rooms, sparkling outdoor lights and a glockenspiel (German for “play of bells”) that plays carols daily. Plus, there’s an indoor pool with a large hot tub, and an outdoor pool with a 95-foot figure-eight slide.
For Lovers of Americana: Route 66
The 1926 commissioning of America’s fabled Mother Road—running all the way from Lake Michigan in Chicago to the Paciﬁc Ocean in Santa Monica, California—revolutionized cross-country road-tripping. Although decommissioned and largely replaced by interstate highways by 1985, signiﬁcant sections still exist. So do hundreds of vintage diners, motor courts, service stations and mom-and-pop businesses lining the way.
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Among the highlights: Illinois’ Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum in Pontiac and a colorful stretch of original red-brick road between Chatham and Auburn. Farther along, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is home to one of the most vibrant urban spans, and amid the high-desert terrain of northwestern Arizona, you can drive an 83-mile stretch of original road from Seligman to Kingman. Keep an eye out for the giant ﬁberglass Mufﬂer Men (only a few remain). Tip: If you’re planning to drive the entire Route 66, give yourself at least four days.
Home base: Start your journey from the Windy City. First up, snap a selﬁe in front of the “Begin Route 66” sign across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago. Then grab breakfast at AAA Approved Lou Mitchell’s, which has been serving up hearty fare since 1923.
Essential for planning a road trip: Get the most out of your trip by planning ahead. The AAA Member representatives at your local branch can help you map the best route (for example, the most scenic vs. the most direct), and you can even take home a custom-printed TripTik.
Highly rated pit stop: Once you’ve reached Oklahoma City, winding down will be long overdue. The AAA Four Diamond Skirvin Hilton is a perfect downtown spot for relaxing after a long day on the road. With a dinner menu full of Oklahoma City-inspired cuisine and a piano bar with signature cocktails, this historic hotel will make your stay comfortable, relaxing and memorable.
For Sci-Fi Junkies: Extraterrestrial Highway
We can’t promise a UFO sighting along Nevada’s ET Highway, part of a delightfully odd, nearly 500-mile loop route mapped out by the state’s tourism bureau—but you’re certain to encounter lunarlike landscapes, such as the red-rock formations of Valley of Fire State Park (which stood in for another planet in the movie Total Recall) and Pahrump, site of the memorable Martian landing in Mars Attacks!
A remote stretch also passes near legendarily secretive Area 51. Other sites include the eerie remnants of Rhyolite Ghost Town and a Stonehenge-esque arrangement of half-buried vintage autos in Goldfield.
Home base: With its retrofuturistic hotels, including the towering STRAT and the curvaceous ARIA Resort, Las Vegas is just the place to get yourself in the mood for planning a road trip that’s space-inspired. Make a point of visiting the intriguing National Atomic Testing Museum and the mesmerizing geology of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
Essential for planning a road trip: Turn up an audiobook—like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—along the way.
Highly rated pit stop: If you’re setting out on the 500-mile loop, fuel up at AAA Approved El Marques in Tonopah with an authentic plate of chile relleno, rice and beans.
For Nature-Curious Families: Tamiami Trail
Just beyond the glamour of Miami, this 113-mile stretch of the 275-mile long Tamiami Trail cuts across South Florida through a wild landscape of ﬂora and fauna, from mangrove and pine trees to alligators, egrets, blue heron and the rare Florida panther.
The straight, narrow road pierces the northern edge of Everglades National Park, where you can embark on boardwalk strolls and airboat tours, and the southern side of Big Cypress National Preserve, which you can explore via a 27-mile loop road. The road leads eventually to Naples, where you can soak up the sunshine along the Gulf Coast.
Home base: The Tamiami Trail starts in downtown Miami, steps from the see-and-be-seen shopping and dining of Brickell Avenue, and continues through the city’s lively Cuban community, Little Havana. While in this international metropolis, check out the murals and contemporary artwork of the Wynwood Arts District and watch for a glimpse of a dolphin or manatee in the waters of Biscayne National Park.
Essential for planning a road trip: Before leaving nice-to-have items behind, learn how to pack your vehicle like a pro. Make space for everything you need (and want) with these six tips.
Highly rated pit stop: Pair your drive with an extended stay at AAA Four Diamond Naples Bay Resort & Marina. With the nearby 5th Avenue shopping and dining district, spa with bath soaks and body wraps, infinity-edge lap pool, lazy river, and full-service marina, this resort offers the perfect spot for rejuvenation and indulgence.
For Stargazers: North Shore Scenic Drive
On this 150-mile drive along northern Minnesota’s Lake Superior shoreline, you’ll discover quiet agate-stone beaches, towering lighthouses and the highest waterfall in the state, a dramatic 120-foot-tall cascade in Grand Portage State Park.
But if you’re lucky, it’ll be well after sunset—especially on crisp autumn and winter nights—that this ribbon of U.S. 61 reveals its most dazzling feature: one of the best chances in the lower 48 United States to view the northern lights. Along the way, drop by AAA Approved Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors for a slice of ﬁve-layer butterscotch pie.
Home base: Duluth has blossomed into a lively getaway town, especially around its historic warehouse district, Canal Park, which hugs the shore of Lake Superior. Visit the excellent Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center and the Great Lakes Aquarium, and as you leave town via U.S. 61, stop for a tour of Glensheen, a 39-room mansion set on a 12-acre lakefront estate.
Essential for planning a road trip: Before the unexpected has the chance to spoil your trip, prepare for anything the road’s twists and turns may bring by building a road trip essentials kit.
Highly rated pit stop: If you’re planning to make a U-turn at Grand Portage, pull over at AAA Approved Thomsonite Beach Inn & Suites in Grand Marais for some shuteye before making the trek back. Our recommendation: a unit with views of the Lake Superior shoreline—and, if weather permits, you can even sit around a cozy bonfire near the water.