The Ultimate Guide to Planning the Best Summer Road Trip

Map your route, discover amazing places, and hit the road…

Think of 10 people you know. This year, eight of them will take a road trip, that staple of the American vacation.

That’s what research from the American Automobile Association tells us. And that’s what those columns of RVs and cars on the interstates from coast to coast tell us. The call of the RV is more powerful than ever, promising relaxation, family fun, scenic drives, and unusual sights, the stuff of a rich stew of memories.

But where to go and what to do?

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you prepare for your trip, remember that at the end of the day, a campground or RV park is waiting to welcome your family. Could there be a sweeter end to the day providing you made your reservation well in advance?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people visit South Dakota to see the wondrous Mount Rushmore or Badlands National Park, but hidden within the southwestern Black Hills is Custer State Park. Touted as one of the nation’s most recognized wildlife refuges, you’ll see free-roaming herds of bison, elk, and bighorn sheep wandering its 71,000 acres.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers are encouraged to drive the park’s scenic byways and loops, as well as seek out its amazing granite peaks via hiking, biking, and horseback. Complete the day by taking a dip in the clear waters of Sylvan Lake, a favorite amongst photographers and artists.

Newport, Rhode Island

Ocean Drive, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, a coastal town set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century. The must-do activity here is, obviously, touring the Newport Mansions, but that’s far from the only draw.

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport also hosts the annual Newport Regatta, one of the biggest sailing races in America bringing with it the best sailing parties. Held in July, the Regatta is the ideal time of year to visit, but even if you miss it there are still plenty of wide, sandy beaches to lounge on for the day, and a surprisingly good wine region just on the outskirts of town. 

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bay St. Louis motto is as unique as the city itself: “A Place Apart.” In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living Magazine. Budget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive along the Bay and wander the pastel colored buildings and quaint, funky shops of historic Old Town Bay St. Louis including the “Depot,” a two-story building with mission style design. The train depot (c. 1928), is surrounded by park-like grounds.

Route 12, Utah

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This, one of the most stunning roads in the world, runs from Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. The route goes for 124 miles at significant altitudes (9,000 feet) and goes through forested mountains to the amazing bald mountains in Boulder.

Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s where you should have lunch or dinner at the Hells Backbone Grill. From there the road begins following a narrow ridge along the red canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Mesilla, New Mexico

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
—Diane Arbus