According to a recent OAAA/Harris Poll, road trips are again Americans’ top choice for summer vacation travel. This year people plan to take two or more weeks of summer vacation, making long road trips possible. So, if you caught the road trip bug during the pandemic and are looking for more destination ideas, here are 18 cities in the U.S. that are within one day’s drive for most of the U.S. population.
1. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
In the countryside, Lehigh Valley is an affordable and family-friendly destination within a day’s drive of 73% of the U.S. population. Only 90-minutes away from New York City, 80 miles north of Philadelphia, and less than a 6-hour drive from most of the Northeast, Indianapolis, and Charlotte, it’s worth taking a look at the region consisting of Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and others.
Families love Dorney Amusement Park and the hands-on Crayola Experience, while history buffs can enjoy 18th-century Moravian buildings and the world’s oldest book shop. Enjoy hiking, biking, running the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and the Appalachian Trail. Or spend the day at one of 30 wineries in its American Viticultural Area, a federally designated wine grape-growing region like Napa Valley.
2. Richmond, Virginia
RVA, as locals call it, is Virginia’s State Capitol, one of America’s oldest cities and filled with just as much historical significance as nearby Washington, D.C. Within a 500-mile radius from half of the U.S. population, there’s a little bit of everything in this East Coast urban gem including The Richmond Beer Trail with 40 local breweries.
Adventures can enjoy the thrills of their Class III and IV rapids in an urban setting or the 60 rides and roller coasters at Kings Dominion amusement park. Museum-lovers can take in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ 33,00 works, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, or the 100-year-old Poe Museum, with the most extensive collection of Poe artifacts.
3. Fayetteville, West Virginia
Fayetteville has been named “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel Magazine and the “Best River Town.” It’s also a neighbor to America’s newest national park – the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Despite being an 8-hour drive from 60% of the U.S. population, the West Virginia way of life is crowd-free. No town, not even Fayetteville, has more than 50,000 people. So if you’re looking to scratch that National Park itch but have no interest in exploring nature along with record-level park crowds, consider all The Mountain State offers.
4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
57% of Americans can drive to Pittsburgh in one day and enjoy its Cultural District, located in the heart of Downtown. It is home to nine theatres showcasing a world-renowned symphony orchestra, opera, dance, and award-winning plays. Or explore the Andy Warhol Museum, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, or The Clemente Museum.
Despite being a medium-sized city, it has a lot of nature too. Pittsburgh is home to 165 parks and places to hike, bike, or walk along the city’s trails. Or roll out a blanket and enjoy a picnic at Three Rivers Park, where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet.
5. Columbus, Ohio
Columbus, now the U.S.’s 14th largest city, is a one-day road trip destination for 65% of Americans plus Toronto, Quebec, and Montreal residents. You’ll find dozens of galleries, major art museums, and several massive live performance venues. Foodies will love the city’s culinary offerings, from high-end James Beard restaurants to the best new restaurant in America, as well as stellar casual options.
Family-friendly attractions include one of the nation’s best zoos and fun-filled children’s museums. In addition, Columbus has an extensive park system,175 acres of green space in the heart of the city, hundreds of miles of bike/hike and running trails, and one of the world’s only Audubon Centers in an urban setting.
6. Cincinnati, Ohio
One of the most affordable places to live in the country, visitors can have a great vacation with top attractions and upscale dining without New York City or San Francisco prices.
The Gateway to The Midwest has a vibrant arts and culture scene as one of only 13 cities in the country to have its own ballet, opera, fine art, symphony, theater companies, and museums. In addition, families will love the new Art Climb at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the award-winning Cincinnati Zoo, and the walkable downtown area that’s easy to explore.
7. Butler County, Ohio
If you’re looking for an Ohio destination outside of a city, take a look at Butler County between Cincinnati and Dayton, within one day’s drive for 60% of the U.S. population. Foodies will enjoy the Donut Trail of 13 mom & pop donut shops or Jungle Jim’s International Market, with over 180,000 global items in a 6.5-acre space. Spend your days exploring Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum with 80 modern sculptures across 300 acres, EnterTrainment Junction, the world’s largest indoor train display, or The Salty Dog Museum’s classic cars and vintage firetrucks.
8. Branson, Missouri
Known as ‘The Orlando of the Midwest,’ Branson is a one-of-a-kind destination nestled in the Ozark Mountains and within a 12-hour drive for about 50% of the U.S. population. With dozens of live performances a day, the world-renowned Silver Dollar City theme park, Branson’s long list of activities draws 9 million visitors a year.
Fishing enthusiasts know that Bass Pro Shops was founded in the region and built Branson’s Big Cedar Resort, a beloved and iconic outdoor upscale resort. In addition, golfers enjoy Branson’s ten golf courses, including some of the best in the United States. Top of The Rock course at Big Cedar, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is perched high above Table Rock Lake and is a bucket-list-worthy course.
9. St. Louis, Missouri
Equally located from Dallas, Denver, and Washington DC, St. Louis is within a 12-hour drive for over half the U.S. population. It’s one of the best places in the U.S. to experience Midwest Americana, a vibrant downtown, a National Park, award-winning new restaurants, microbreweries, and a rich array of cultural venues all in one destination.
Reserve a whole day in your itinerary for Forest Park, home to numerous free attractions. Stop by the St. Louis Zoo, Laumeier Sculpture Park, one of the first and largest sculpture parks, or escape the summer heat in the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, or the Saint Louis Science Center.
Foodies will enjoy City Foundry, an iconic and historically significant foundry building transformed into St. Louis’ first authentic food hall. Or explore Delmar Loop, a buzzing entertainment and dining hub with an eclectic mix of noodle bars, BBQ restaurants, Korean and Mexican eateries, cocktail lounges, and pubs.
10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
More than half of the country can drive to Myrtle Beach’s 60 miles of beaches, world-renowned attractions, and top resorts. Broadway At the Beach, South Carolina’s most visited attraction, is packed with entertainment, shopping, restaurants, attractions. Don’t pass up its oversized gondola Ferris wheel 200 feet tall, and WonderWorks filled with 100 hands-on exhibits perfect for those beach-break days.
Also, a golfer’s mecca, Myrtle Beach, has more than 90 golf courses and 50 mini-golf courses for players of all skill levels. Leave time to visit Brookgreen Gardens & Low Country Zoo, a National Historic Landmark and National Register of Historic Places spot.
11. The Carolina Core, North Carolina
This region, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, & High Point, is at the center of 4 state highways. Explore each city’s distinct personalities and a long list of outdoor activities. Families can enjoy Wet-n-Wild Water Park, obstacle course & ziplining at Safari Nation, The North Carolina Zoo, All a Flutter Butterfly Farm, and Piedmont Environmental Center.
It’s not hard to see why it’s ranked one of the best places in the state for outdoor activities. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding options in the region’s expansive state parks, local public parks, and outdoor recreation facilities.
12. Fayetteville, North Carolina
Located halfway between New York City and Miami, Florida, on Interstate 95, Fayetteville, North Carolina, is within one day’s drive for 75% of the United States population. Sports fans flock to the area for annual Spartan races and to enjoy the trails, lakes, tennis, and golf courses. In addition, you can sample the world’s food without a passport on their International Cuisine Trail, with Hungarian, West African, Turkish, Greek, and Italian Cuisine all within just a few blocks downtown.
13. Henderson, North Carolina
About half an hour from Asheville, the second-largest city in the North Carolina mountains has a lot to offer with a lower price tag. Brewery lovers will want to make the trip to visit ‘the Taj Mahal of craft breweries,’ Sierra Nevada Brewery, the largest craft cidery in the U.S., Bold Rock Hard Cider, and other tasting rooms on The Cheers Trail.
Explore the mountains and waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, view four states from Jump Off Rock, and end your day on their award-winning Main Street with extra-wide sidewalks, brick planters, park benches, public art, alfresco dining, galleries, shops, boutiques, and the Appalachian Pinball Museum
14. The Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee
The Smoky Mountains National Park, and its gateway cities, are so beloved that most visitors return three times a year! Home to the most visited National Park in America, this region welcomes 15 million guests a year to its natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and a lengthy list of fun, family-friendly attractions.
Also home to the award-winning Dollywood Amusement park, which is significantly more affordable than Disneyland and draws more visitors annually. Families can splash year-round at Wildnerness at the Smokies indoor/outdoor waterpark resort or the new 50-acre Soaky Mountain Waterpark.
15. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Chattanooga is not called the Scenic City for nothing. It is home to breathtaking nature with endless outdoor recreation options. From adventurous climbs at Sunset Park to horseback riding at Enterprise South Nature Park or exploring the city on a bicycle, views of the Southeast Tennessee mountains and the Tennessee river are everywhere. Chattanooga is also the only American city to have 1 gigabyte per second of Wi-Fi available to every address, so extending your vacation into a workcation is a breeze.
16. Johnson City, Tennessee
History buffs will enjoy a family-friendly and budget-friendly road trip to Johnson City. Tour significant American Revolutionary War, Civil War, and music history sites. Kids will love exploring the Gray Fossil Site, dating back 5 million years.
Visitors can hike to panoramic mountain views from Buffalo Mountain Park, walk the historic Tweetsie Trail, or rent a bike and head to Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park. Additionally, Johnson City’s historic downtown district includes local restaurants, breweries, retail shops, parks, and public art and, in the summer, features live music and large-scale festivals.
17. Indianapolis, Indiana
While you may know this destination as the home of the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indy 500, it’s also home to the world’s largest children’s museum and its new oversized Dino Exhibit.
Indianapolis is a regular on ‘most affordable U.S. destination’ lists as all of the town’s monuments and memorials are free, and so is its long list of parks. Illustrating its historical significance as the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis is second only to Washington D.C. for a total number of monuments and memorials. Don’t miss its 100 Acres: Art and Nature Park at Newfields or the downtown canal walk within White River State Park.
18. Louisville, Kentucky
You might only know this destination as the home of the Kentucky Derby or the birthplace of Bourbon, but it’s home to a diverse array of museums, restaurants, and experiences too. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, and the Mega Cavern, the world’s only fully underground zip line tour.
Spend the day exploring the largest municipal urban forest in the country, Jefferson Memorial Forest. This 6,500-acre serene park features 35 miles of hiking trails, nature education programs, horse trails, fishing, and outdoor recreation activities such as camping, canoeing, orienteering, and climbing a 52-foot Alpine Tower. End your day by enjoying Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich in the Brown Hotel restaurant, where it was fir invented in the 1920s, and the iconic Old Fashioned or Mint Julep.
Βy Monica Fish