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A family road trip can make for a fantastic summer vacation – if you’re thinking about rolling through some of America’s most spectacular scenery, these adventures offer some of the best, including activities that are sure to keep everyone happy.
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While Highway One follows the Pacific coastline from Baja, Mexico to the northern edge Washington state, the most scenic stretch is the 139 miles that begins in Monterey and culminates at Morro Bay. Monterey is home to the world-renowned Monterey Aquarium which sits right in the bay, pumping 2,000 gallons of sea water every minute into the aquarium, making it possible to sustain sea life you wouldn’t be able to see elsewhere without scuba gear. Traveling south you’ll discover some of the most spectacular coastal scenery on the planet – visit a unique purple sand beach at Pfeiffer State Beach and explore tide pools filled with a myriad of colorful sea creatures. In San Simeon, the 165-room Moorish Hearst Castle, one of the most popular tourist attractions in California, can be toured. It includes 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, and provides the rare chance to visit a true American castle.
The kids, and the kids-at-heart, surely won’t be disappointed with this one. Begin on the Space Coast with a visit to Kennedy Space Center – while the real space shuttles have flown their final missions, here you can experience what it’s like to take a rocket into the stratosphere on the Shuttle Launch Experience flight simulator. There are also mission control tours, the opportunity to have lunch with an astronaut, and more. From there, head to Orlando to explore the many theme parks, including Walt Disney World and its four separate theme parks: the famous Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. When you’ve worn yourselves out, head to the beautiful white sand beaches in Sarasota, and end the trip at Sanibel Island, where you can comb the beach for beautiful seashells, watch for wildlife and enjoy leisurely bike rides.
This loop trip begins and ends in Dinosaur, Colorado, and, offers the chance to indulge your fascination in all things dinosaur. Dinosaur National Monument, situated on the border between Colorado and Utah, is home to the largest quarry of Jurassic Period dinosaur bones ever discovered. Carnegie Quarry is an internationally-renowned site with nearly 1,500 visible dinosaur fossils along with multiple interactive exhibits, and the surrounding land features multiple petroglyphs that offer a glimpse into early cultures. In Vernal, Utah, you’ll find the Dinosaur Garden outside of the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. Inside are 18 life-size models, while the museum hosts an extensive collection of dinosaur skeletons and exhibits.
Price, Utah is another must-stop for dinosaur enthusiasts. The Utah State University Eastern Prehistoric Museum showcases fossil dinosaurs and a cast of a mammoth skeleton. Just before Moab is Arches National Park renowned for its impressive rock formations, including over 2,000 natural arches are here, along with buttes, spires, and a vast variety of other shapes. Heading northeast back into Colorado toward Dinosaur, you’ll reach Fruita, a gateway to Colorado National Monument, known for stunning gorges and monoliths.
Begin your journey at Badlands National Park, taking the scenic Badlands Loop Road, stopping at the numerous overlooks and stretching your legs on the trails that range from flat stretches across prairie to steep ascents through spellbinding formations. Making your way west to Mount Rushmore National Monument in the heart of the Black Hills, you can see the 60-foot faces of four American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, who were all carved into the granite face of the mountain. Nearby Custer State Park is home to one of the largest free-roaming buffalo herds in the world, as well as the famous “begging burros” and lots of other wildlife like elk and mountain goats. Take the 1880 steam train in Hill City, and be sure to visit the Old West town of Deadwood with its lavishly restored gold-rush-era buildings, Main Street shootouts and reenactments like Wild Bill Hickok’s murder, which is acted out in the legendary Saloon No 10.
The Hana Highway extends 52 miles along Maui’s northern coast from Kahului to Hana, winding around nearly 600 curves along the way. Along just about every bend you’ll discover black sand beaches and sweeping oceans vistas as well as a number of waterfalls and plenty of lush Hawaiian jungle. Around mile marker 11, look for a pullout along the road and take the path to Lower Puohokamoa waterfall, and take a dip in one of the beautiful waterfall pools. About 27 miles east of Kahului, pull over at the Garden of Eden and Botanical Arboretum to see where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed, and then head to Waianapanapa State Park, known for its scenic black sand beach, sea caves and a rock arch. Hike to the sea cave and you might just get the chance to watch the water turn blood red due to the presence of millions of tiny shrimp.
Wyoming’s Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks are home to some of the nation’s most impressive scenery and wildlife. Begin at the Grand Teton Visitor Center where you can watch a video that provides an excellent overview of the park and then head to Jenny Lake. Take a boat across the water that leads to a number of short, easy trails that will take you to picturesque Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. If you’d like a bigger challenge and the chance to escape the crowds, continue past Inspiration Point to Lake Solitude. Over in Yellowstone National Park, drive the Grand Loop Road to discover museums, visitor centers, boardwalks, scenic side roads and some of the park’s most popular attractions, including Old Faithful. Along the way you’re likely to encounter bison, elk and even bears as the animals frequently get on or near the roads, slowing or stopping traffic to the halt.