Best Family Road Trip Ideas: Fun Places to Take theKids

Say no to planes and trains and yes to the automobile for your summer getaway with the kids. Find out some of the most exciting family road trip ideas here.

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Flying to a destination misses a big part of the fun of a family vacation – the road trip! As the miles tick by, you can’t help but get into conversations with your kids. These conversations, and the experiences on your trip, create memories that can bring you closer to your children.

While these outside-of-Michigan locales are worth the drive, the journey is what makes the vacation.

Here, we offer four family road trip ideas and places to take breaks en route. All of the miles and drive times are estimates and the directions have been simplified – you may find you want to spend the whole day at one pit stop, whereas with others you can snap a picture and get right back on the road.

Now, pack up the kids, gas up the car, crank up the tunes and hit the highway!

Letchworth State Park, New York

  • Miles from Detroit: 407.1 miles
  • Estimated Drive Time: 6 hours, 28 minutes

Driving Route

Take I-75 to Toledo to I-280. Merge onto I-80/I-90 and continue taking I-80 then merge onto I-480. Choose I-271 going north toward Erie, PA and follow the highway merging onto I-90. Take I-90 until Buffalo. Take exit 54 onto NY-400 until you reach U.S. 20 A/NY-78. From U.S. 20 turn right onto NY-246. Take a left onto South Main Street then your first right onto St. Helena Street. Take another right onto Schenck Road and you’ll see the entrance to the state park. Construction on the Rouge River Bridge will have you take an alternate route to Toledo. 

Alternative Route

The most direct path to Letchworth State Park is through Canada by way of Windsor through to Buffalo. Keep in mind that everyone in your family will need passports to go on this route.

Stops Along the Way

Headlands Beach State Park, Mentor, Ohio
For a break from driving, take a dip in Lake Erie just minutes from I-90. Headlands Beach State Park is free and open to the public. The gentle waves roll into the sandy beach, making it feel like the ocean without the salt or the breakers.

Niagara Falls, New York
Take a detour on your way and visit the famed falls just 25 minutes from Buffalo. As America’s oldest state park, it’s also one of the most iconic (even Superman made a stop here!).

JELL-O Gallery Museum, Le Roy, New York
Visit the birthplace of this American culinary creation. Jell-O’s beginnings started in 1845 through various experimentations with flavorings, and became wildly popular during the turn of the century. The jiggly creation has its own museum in Le Roy, which is about 30 minutes from Letchworth’s north end.

What To Do Once You Get There

Flowing north through New York state toward Lake Ontario, the Genesee River cuts through the landscape in Letchworth State Park, creating dramatic views of rock and water, which helped earn the area its title as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” Three major waterfalls make the area a draw for outdoor enthusiasts. You can tent or RV camp here or rent a cabin.

The 14,000-acre park includes over 26 hiking trails. And for the thrill-seekers in your group, try white water river rafting or go on a balloon ride over the falls.

The visitor center at Mount Morris Dam includes various exhibits and group tours of the dam – all free.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Miles from Detroit: 785.6 miles
  • Estimated Drive Time: 12 hours

Driving Route

Take I-75 to Toledo to I-280. Merge onto I-80/I-90 and continue taking I-80; then merge onto I-76, which you’ll take past Pittsburgh; next merge onto I-70, then I-270 to go by Washington D.C. This highway feeds into I-495 into Virginia. You’ll then follow I-95 to I-395 to work back to I-95 South. Take I-95 south until I-295. Merge onto I-64 East toward Norfolk. Exit 264 to I-664 and then work your way to I-64 West. Follow exit 291B to VA-168 to VA-158, which feeds into the Outer Banks area. Construction on the Rouge River Bridge will have you take an alternate route to Toledo. 

Alternative Route

Instead of going east and then down to the Outer Banks, you can go south to Cincinnati and then through more Southern states like West Virginia and Virginia.

Stops Along the Way

Flight 93 National Memorial, Stoystown, Pennslyvania
This will be a somber stop along your trip, but the Flight 93 National Memorial serves as an important reminder of how ordinary people can do extraordinary things. The site includes a wall of the names of the passengers from the flight that went down in a Pennsylvania field, preventing hijackers from making their way to the U.S. Capitol on 9/11.

Foamhenge, Highway 11 South, Natural Bridge, Virginia
You don’t have to go all the way to England to see this ancient structure – check out the foam version just off the highway. A local sculptor constructed Foamhenge in 2004, trying to match the exact dimensions of the real thing.

Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia
When English settlers came to colonize America, Jamestown was their first settlement. This is where John Smith led colonists and befriended Pocahontas. The park is maintained by the National Park Service.

What To Do Once You Get There

Part of the fun of visiting the Outer Banks is driving along NC-12, a two-lane road that skirts the Atlantic Ocean. The thin slivers of land that make up the area include the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the north end and Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the southern side, with beaches everywhere in between.

At Cape Hatteras you can camp, swim in the ocean, tour the lighthouse, view wildlife, fly a kite or just kick back on the beach.

Plan a day to venture through the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where the first control-powered flight took place back in 1903. Your kids can pose in a replica of the original Wright Glider and see the monument to the brothers atop the 90-foot Big Kill Devil Hill dune.

Lake Of The Ozarks, Missouri

  • Miles from Detroit: 713 miles
  • Estimated Drive Time: 11 hours

Driving Route

Travel on I-75 to Toledo then go on I-475 W; merge onto US-24. You’ll follow US-24 through Fort Wayne and then go on I-469 around the city on the eastern side. Merge onto I-69 and follow that right into Indianapolis. Go on I-70 all the way past St. Louis to I-270 W before merging back onto I-70. Take exit 148 for US-54, which leads right into the Lake of the Ozarks region. Construction on the Rouge River Bridge will have you take an alternate route to Toledo. 

Alternative Route

Skip Toledo and travel through Michigan toward Chicago. You can take I-55 down from the Windy City through Bloomington and Springfield, Illinois, before going through St. Louis.

Stops Along the Way

The Falling Bread Billboard, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Your kids will be amazed that the slices never end at the Falling Bread Billboard. The billboard is located on the west side of the downtown area on 350 Pearl St. atop of Perfection Bakeries. If you position yourself just right it looks like you’re eating the bread.

World’s Largest Ball of Paint, Alexandria, Indiana
You can’t drive through Indiana without visiting one of its “most visited roadside attractions.” What began as a baseball now has more than 23,400 layers of paint and weighs over 4,000 pounds after 36 years in the making. See website to make an appointment to see it.

Missouri State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, Missouri
Hailed as one of the most beautiful state capitols in the country, you can take a free guided tour of the building, which starts every hour on the hour, or go on a self-guided tour.

What to Do Once You Get There

Lake of the Ozarks is old-school camping at its best. The expansive, man-made lake – one of the world’s largest – offers camping, fishing, swimming and other outdoor activities. There are also family-friendly recreation centers and a waterpark nearby, too.

To orient yourself, take your crew to the Willmore Lodge, which includes a visitor center and museum. You can decide what activities are must-sees on your vacation list. Some possibilities: Lake of the Ozarks State Park has two free and easily accessible sand beaches (bring your picnic basket!), sign up for a scenic cruise around the lake, or just pick a trail to hike through the area.

Two attractions that might intrigue your kids are the “castle ruins” at Ha Ha Tonka State Park and, at Thunder Mountain, the one-hour guided tour of Bridal Cave.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Ontonagon, Michigan

  • Miles from Detroit: 584.1 miles
  • Estimated Drive Time: 9 hours, 33 minutes

Driving Route

Go north on I-75 until you reach Mackinac Bridge (yes – 292.7 miles on I-75). Cross the bridge and exit on 344B to merge onto US-2. Drive along US-2 past Manistique and go north on US-41 at Rapid River towards Marquette. Continue on US-41 to M-38 then to M-64 west and into the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.

Alternative Route

Continue on I-75 past Mackinac Bridge toward Sault Ste. Marie. Take M-28 all the way across the Upper Peninsula toward Munising then Marquette.

Stops Along the Way

Castle Rock, St. Ignace, Michigan
Let your kids get out their wiggles and do some climbing. Castle Rock stands 195 above water level and has views from the top of Mackinac Island, Lake Huron and the town of St. Ignace. Parking is right off the highway about four miles north of the bridge.

Paul Bunyan Statue, Manistique, Michigan
Time for a photo op! Have your kids smile next to the large, lumberjack-looking figure that stands guard at the entrance to the Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce in downtown Manistique.

Historic Fayette Townsite, Fayette, Michigan
This detour will take you right to a ghost town. There are several buildings to explore in this deserted 1800s town.

What to Do Once You Get There

If you’ve always meant to go to the Upper Peninsula, why not start with Porcupine Mountains Wilderness area? It’s the largest state park in Michigan and arguably one of the prettiest. You may hear some locals refer to the mountains as “the Porkies.”

In this 60,000-acre park, there are plenty of trails and campsites to choose from and tons of waterfalls – some people even plan their hikes around finding them (it’s called waterfall hunting).

Head into nearby Silver City to go on a tour deep into the heart of an old copper mine. The Adventure Mining Company gives you a choice of several tours. Don’t be surprised if you see a bat – or several – during your tour.

This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly. 

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