Many of us won’t be jet-setting to any exotic (or even distant) locations this summer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still take a trip. With the pandemic still playing havoc with flight schedules, 2022 might just be another great year for the all-American road trip.
Any sort of traveling should be done safely and with these CDC guidelines in mind, we’ve scouted out a few destinations that you and your traveling crew can enjoy without even leaving the car.
So here are our 11 picks for the most amazing drive-through destinations you can soak up this summer at a safe distance.
Acadia National Park – Bar Harbor, Maine
It might be the foggy mornings or the sound of the ocean whipping through the pines, but something about Acadia makes it one of the dreamiest destinations on the Eastern Seaboard. This could make it your perfect place to get out and escape to.
With the park set to fully reopen from winter hibernation on April 15, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy a drive through 27 scenic miles of Park Loop Road (the park’s main byway). Keep in mind that the Acadia’s famous 45-mile trail network known as the Carriage Roads may close at times for seasonal repairs. Campgrounds and other facilities such as restrooms and gift stores will be opening throughout the month of May.
For the most updated info on openings, check with the National Park Service (NPS) before you visit. Other than that, pack up a picnic, bring plenty of water, and plan on being flexible yet prepared during this (and any) National Park jaunt.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – North Carolina and Tennessee
While parts of the park are open year round, the Smokies officially start to fully open up in April and May. Epic mountain views and historic sites can all be seen from the comfort of your car on all the primary roads. Although some secondary roads may close periodically, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park includes more than 800 square miles of sprawling park territory to explore so you should be still able to see quite a bit while avoiding any remaining closed areas.
For a driving tour that doesn’t disappoint, head into the park and use this NPS map to plot your own adventure down the open roads. Keep in mind that though the visitor centers are open, some of the restrooms remain closed, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Haines Highway – Haines, Alaska
Haines Highway might just be a regular road for some, but for daytrippers like us it offers breathtaking views of mountainscapes and the unique opportunity to spot wildlife roaming about. At around 150 miles long, this National Scenic Byway will provide hours of gorgeous scenery, with ample opportunity for vista breaks and picnics.
The whole road takes about four hours to drive. During normal times, you should plan on bringing a passport if you want to do it all, as you would have to cross into Canada at some point. If the safety guidelines dictate that you should avoid a border crossing when you take your trip this summer, then start your drive from Haines and check out one of the many turn off destinations either at Chilkoot or Mosquito Lakes. You might prefer these routes regardless, as they are quite rewarding and without the red tape of crossing into a different country.
Highway 179 – Sedona, Arizona
Route 66 is a roadtrip classic, and this section of Arizona highway is part of it. Passing by Sedona, Highway 179 has a ton of things to look at, and we don’t just mean the beautiful scenery (though there is a lot of that).
Known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway, this short 7.5-mile drive has a lot to see, and plenty of worthy stops to stretch your legs. You’ll spy famous formations, such as Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock (both believed by some to be vortexes), and you’ll even pass formations containing Native American cliff dwellings and petroglyph sites.
If you’re looking to get out in nature, opt for the 3.6-mile trail up to Bell Rock (also known as the Bell Rock Pathway) for a closer look, and maybe even some of those positive vortex vibes.
Keller's Drive-In – Dallas, Texas
Getting restless in Dallas? Might be time for a trip to Keller’s Drive-In. And yes, they’re open for takeout (aka drive-in orders), we checked. And not only is the menu packed with all the best diner classics (burgers, fries, milkshakes, etc.) but this diner also serves beer.
This effectively makes Keller’s a drive-in bar — and drumroll please, it’s fully legal. Thanks to former Texas laws (that were in place back when Keller’s first opened back in 1950), you can sip a beer while enjoying your burger, all from the comfort of your car. One Yelp reviewer recently called Keller’s “The perfect social distance eating experience.” We couldn’t agree more (though we highly encourage safe driving practices).
Mohawk Trail – Massachusetts
Although the Mohawk Trail might be most famous for its fall foliage, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of a leisurely summer jaunt through this lush, forested road. This region of Massachusetts is packed with local history and significant sites that date back to the times when this area was predominantly populated by the original indigenous tribes who lived there.
The trail also passes numerous quintessential New England towns, including Shelburne Falls, Deerfield, and all the other little spots that back up against the enormous protected Quabbin Reservoir. This includes the five-town region that was flooded back in 1930 to create a water supply for Boston. Bring your Instagram game and get ready for a variety of roadside photo opps.
Ohio River Scenic Byway – Indiana
The Ohio River Scenic Byway spans three states and more than 900 miles, 300 of which are in Indiana. With so much to see, you could easily make the trip last for days, but at the very least you should plan on making a full day trip out of it.
Some of the businesses along the way may have reduced hours due to COVID-19 (usually the area is sprawling with open antique shops, restaurants, and charming bed-and-breakfast locations), there’s still plenty to see without leaving the car.
No matter which part of the byway you choose to explore, it’s likely to include lots of vineyards and unspoiled vistas, and the occasional sleepy town that’s straight out of your favorite children’s book. Here are a few specific route ideas to consider before you hit that wide open Indiana road.
Olympic National Park – Port Angeles, Washington
Way up in the tippity-top corner of Washington state lies one of the nation’s most beautiful parks. Although some services and coastal areas in the Olympic National Park remain closed, the Lake Crescent Area, as well as Sol Duc Road, are both open to visitors.
Opt for a quiet hike down one of the many trails available or enter the park early to sneak a peek at some of the area’s impressive wildlife — such as black bears, Roosevelt elk, and Olympic marmots. And remember, social distancing isn’t just for humans.
Rustic Tri View Drive-In – Smithfield, Rhode Island
If you happen to be anywhere in Rhode Island looking for the perfect road trip destination, we’d highly recommend checking out this old-fashioned drive-in theater (because let’s be honest, you can cross the state in under an hour).
With showings happening every Friday and Saturday night, and a full menu of all your favorite drive-in snacks, this is the perfect spot for a social distancing date.
Check out the Rustic Tri View Drive-In’s Facebook page for all the details and be sure to book in advance to secure one of the limited reservations.
Sunset Drive-In – Colchester, Vermont
Much like the Rustic in Rhode Island, Sunset Drive-In has everything a person could want for a nostalgic movie night under the stars. What’s even better? This spot also has a whopping four movie screens and shows double features every single night of the week.
Screening everything from kids movies to horror, this drive-in should be able to provide you with something that makes it worth taking the drive to this idyllic social distancing destination. Be sure to book your tickets in advance online or bring exact change if you plan on paying in cash.
If you anticipate getting out of your car at all, be sure you bring a mask and brush up on the other social distancing-related rules of the Sunset Drive-In too.
Wildlife Safari – Winston, Oregon
Started in 1972, this wildlife safari is the only one of its kind in the state of Oregon. Wildlife Safari is also one of the few places in the country to get a true safari experience, complete with more than 500 free roaming animals on the park's 400 acres of land. You’ll see African elephants, ostrich, Watusi cattle, zebras, and even lions.
But the park isn’t just a tourist haven; it’s also one of the premier cheetah research centers in the world. And because the safari all happens from the safety of your car, the park has no plans to close anytime soon.
No matter where your drive-through trips take you, now’s a great time to use one of the best credit cards for gas. And by also making sure to use one of the best travel credit cards to finance local day trips, you’ll be able to save up some serious rewards for all those future far away bucket-list destinations.
But in the meantime? Load up the car and head to one of these drive-through destinations for the mini vacation your family needs. And most importantly, have fun out there, bring along the right credit cards, and stay safe!