See America Together: Plan a Family Driving Vacation This Year

See America Together: Plan a Family Driving Vacation This Year

Consider camping, houseboating, dude ranches, national parks and other outdoors-oriented options.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged vacation plans this year, the time is coming when families and multi-generational groups will start traveling together again. Excitement about travel is building around the country. According to a recent study by Destination Analysts, more than 70% of those surveyed said they can’t wait to get back to traveling.

Bonding with loved ones and spending time together is a high priority after these kinds of unprecedented events, just as it was after 9/11. Road trips are expected to be popular as families ease back into making memories on vacations. May’s Longwoods International survey of American travelers found that when respondents feel it’s time to travel again, about half plan to reunite with family and friends domestically and approximately three-quarters plan to take their first trip by car.

As we return to traveling together, there will be an added emphasis on finding secluded vacation spots where families can avoid crowds, enjoy outdoor activities and feel safe. Highly sanitized accommodations and flexibility will be important factors for booking. Researching a first post-quarantine trip can help rekindle your family’s sense of anticipation, hope and adventure. Get the family together, in person or virtually, to talk about their preferences and interests. When you’re ready to start planning your next getaway, consider some of these great drive-to vacation ideas for your family’s All- American road trip.

Go Camping

Enjoy the beauty of the outdoors on a family camping trip. There are plenty of minimal-contact sites in secluded destinations, allowing families to have more control over their environment and social distancing. Make reservations and follow up with your park or camping spot before leaving home. Having a back-up plan for another campsite is wise, just in case the operating status changes.

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) operates over 500 campgrounds, many in secluded destinations. Photo courtesy of Kampgrounds of America

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) operates over 500 campgrounds, many in secluded destinations

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) operates more than 500 campsites across North America, and sites like Hipcamp and The Dyrt contain hundreds of thousands of listings for campsites, cabins, public parks, glamping tents and RV sites. For additional glamping and accommodations options, check out Under Canvas and Glamping Hub. Some properties, like Bar W Guest Ranch near Glacier National Park, offer glamping tents for guests.

Rent an RV or Houseboat

If you’d feel safer traveling in your own home, hit the open road in a recreational vehicle or van. Today’s recreational vehicles come in all sizes and can be loaded with sleeping accommodations, kitchens and bathrooms – so there’s no need to stop at hotels, restaurants and rest stops along the way. Sites such as Cruise America, RVshare, Outdoorsy and GoCamp are good resources for finding the right RV or van rental for your crew. Your family will have fun researching and planning your road trip itinerary. If being out on the water is your family’s idea of a dream vacation, consider driving to one of America’s lakes and renting a houseboat. Check sites like Houseboating.org for more information on houseboating destinations around the country.

Stay at a Quiet Beach

Plan a vacation with your family or multigenerational group at one of the country’s less crowded beach destinations. Relaxing on a sunny strand is a great way to bond and de-stress. Many of these laid-back spots are dog-friendly too, such as North Carolina’s Outer Banks and South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Resort. Secluded beach settings along Florida’s coasts, such as North Captiva Island and beach communities along Scenic Highway 30A in the Florida Panhandle, are good choices for these trips, too.

Scenic Highway 30A in Florida’s South Walton County contains miles of beautiful white sand beaches and charming seaside communities.

Scenic Highway 30A in Florida’s South Walton County contains miles of beautiful white sand beaches and charming seaside communities. Photo courtesy of Nancy Schretter

Families can seek out highly sanitized vacation rental properties with enhanced COVID-19 cleaning protocols through Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO or locally-based vacation rental companies. Some vacation homes are also providing contactless stay options and a minimum of 24-72 hours between rentals to provide added protection against viruses.

Escape to the Mountains

Get away to the mountains to enjoy tons of family adventures, scenic vistas and cool breezes during the summer months. Families can rent spacious, well-sanitized private vacation homes and cabins with kitchen facilities, eliminating the need to find restaurants that meet your safety and health requirements. Choose less crowded, more secluded mountain locations with lots of outdoor activities like hiking, biking, fishing and other adventures. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are great winter activities as well. Some spots that might fit the bill include New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Gatlinburg and Sevierville near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, Colorado’s Estes Park and Crested Butte, and charming Western North Carolina mountain towns including Asheville, Banner Elk and Blowing Rock.

Visit State and National Parks

2020 is expected to be a popular year for visiting America’s national landmarks and iconic parks. National parks are being opened gradually, so it’s important to check to see which parks are open and which facilities and activities are available. With Americans staying closer to home, bucket-list national parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and others could be more crowded when they open this year. Families may prefer to visit less crowded state and national parks including Custer State Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in South Dakota, Snow Canyon State Park in Utah, Deep Creek Lake State Park in Maryland and West Virginia’s Canaan Valley State Park Resort. If your vacation includes a stay in or around a park, check all available lodging options and make reservations in advance.

Enjoy Dude Ranches and Small Lodges

Reconnect with your family, enjoy epic outdoor adventures and disconnect from life’s stresses at an all-inclusive dude ranch. Many dude ranches are tucked away in scenic spots and wilderness locations, such as Colorado’s Lost Valley Ranch and Wyoming’s Paradise Guest Ranch. Others are located near some of America’s magnificent national parks, providing the best of all worlds. The Dude Ranchers’ Association can help you find the perfect Western ranch for your family or multigenerational group. If you’re seeking a drive-to family ranch vacation in other parts of the country, some good options include Rocking Horse Ranch Resort and Ridin-Hy Ranch Resort in New York, and Arkansas’ Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. Families may also wish to consider secluded small lodges and inns such as all-inclusive Greyfield Inn on Georgia’s Cumberland Island; Pioneer Guest Cabins in Crested Butte, Colorado; The Ocean Lodge in Cannon Beach, Oregon; and the Gasparilla Inn & Club and Ponte Vedra Inn & Club on Florida’s coasts.

Take A Customized Family Adventure

If you’re looking for a special bespoke journey designed just for your family, consider a “small group private” or exclusive family adventure provided by a family-friendly tour operator. Award-winning Austin Adventures offers customized family trips, exclusive departures and fully hosted small group private adventures, some to drive-to destinations with fully sanitized private accommodations and a wide range of activities and amenities. Austin Adventures has been seeing double-digit growth in these types of trips. Destinations include stunning retreats such as The Lodges at Eagles Nest in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and in-demand national parks like Yellowstone. Austin Adventures plans every detail of these trips and can include arrangements for a full-time adventure guide, exclusive activities, specialized services and more.

Travel agents and group travel planners are also excellent resources for extensive customized family vacation planning. They can provide information on extraordinary drive-to destinations across the United States, book accommodations and excursions, and develop detailed itineraries that will bring your family’s vacation dreams to life.


Nancy Schretter

Nancy Schretter

Nancy Schretter has been a leader in family and multigenerational travel for more than 20 years, covering these topics for her own publications as well as for leading magazines, newspapers, television and radio programs, and online travel sites. She is also a consultant and frequent speaker at travel industry conferences and events.