The Best Family Road Trips for Every Age

Whether you have a toddler or a teen, we've got you covered

A father sitting in a retro van with his daughter, while stopped on the side of the road.

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We’re dedicating our March features to family travel. Read on for insightful guides to the best road trips for different ages, the best hotels with amenities for children, and the changing face of family trip planning, as well as inspiring stories of traveling with a newborn, family travel post-divorce, the lowdown on family campground culture, and more.

When my twins, Michaela and Talia, were 10 years old, we set off on a six-week mother-daughter road trip, driving from Boston to Vancouver, Canada. We ran through the spray at Niagara Falls, hiked around the lakes in Grand Teton National Park, and accomplished the girls’ goal of eating mashed potatoes and gravy in 14 states. Sure, there were a few meltdowns, a tornado warning, and a grumpy day or two, but years later, it’s a trip we still talk about with fondness.

Whether your children are babies, teens, or any age in between, a road trip can be a memorable family holiday—as long as you tailor your travels to your kids’ ages and interests. We’ve outlined ideas for traveling with kids at different stages to help spark your road trip wanderlust.

Young asian couple and a baby walking in shallow water at a beach

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Best for Traveling With a Child Ages 0-18 Months

Hit the Beach

If you’re planning your first road trip with your baby, stay close to home. Think family-friendly beach getaways, like Cape Cod, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or Southern California’s coastal towns. Any place where you can spend time outdoors while adapting to your child’s eating and sleeping schedules can be a baby-friendly road trip destination. A cottage by a Wisconsin lake or even a Florida condo with a wading pool could be perfect.

Travel Tip: Many babies will sleep in the car, particularly if you plan your drives for their regular nap times. As they become more mobile, take frequent breaks. A quick stop to run around a playground can sometimes head off an “all done in the car” tantrum.

Mature father lifting small daughter outdoors in autumn forest.

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Best For Traveling With a Child Ages 2-4 Years

Touch and Do

Toddlers and preschoolers are active and hands-on, with little tolerance for long drives, so organize your road trip around things that kids can do or touch. Visit farms to feed the animals or an aquarium with a touch tank. Walk through outdoor markets to find new-to-you foods to add to your picnic lunch. Collect shells at the ocean or gather colorful autumn leaves as you walk in the woods. Forget about seeing “the sights” and simply explore.

Travel Tip: Consider road tripping with grandparents or with friends who have kids of similar ages. The youngsters will have companions, and the adults can swap childcare duties for some quiet grown-up time. And always make sure you know where the closest bathroom is (or pack a portable potty). 

View of Fishing Bay and Eastsound Village on the picturesque coast of Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State

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Best For Traveling With a Child Ages 5-7

Hands-On Experiences and Museums

Engaging, hands-on museums like the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, or The Exploratorium in San Francisco, are good for this age group. Consider an island-to-island road trip among Washington State’s San Juans, or go from beach to beach along the Maine coast. Kids in this age group continue to enjoy farms, markets, and outdoor adventures. They’re not too young to pack snacks in their own small daypack and join you on a hike.

Travel Tip: This is also the perfect age to involve your kids in trip planning, as they’re keen to do things themselves. Read books about places you’re planning to visit and have them draw pictures of things they want to see. Give them a journal or trip box to collect road trip mementos. 

Old guard tower at Manzanar National Historic Site with show covered mountains in the background

Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Best for Traveling With a Child Ages 8-11

Historical Trips

By elementary school, many kids are curious about other people and time periods. On an East Coast road trip, walk Boston’s Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail, then talk with the Wampanoag people and “settlers” at Plimoth Patuxet Museums. In New York City, visit The Tenement Museum, which recreates immigrant life on the Lower East Side.

On the other side of the country, learn more about Asian cultures and heritage in San Francisco’s Chinatown, at the Manzanar National Historic Site where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II, and in Orange County’s Little Saigon, home to one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese communities. 

Travel through Indigenous cultures in the Southwest at sites like Mesa Verde National Park and remote Chaco Culture National Historical Park, or spend the night in a Navajo hogan. Your youngsters might appreciate quirkier museum stops, too, from the JELL-O Gallery Museum in upstate New York to the SPAM Museum in Minnesota.  

Travel Tip: This is a good age for national park road trips, car camping, and longer day hikes, whether you tromp past the geysers in Yellowstone National Park, hike through the volcanic sands at Idaho’s Craters of the Moon, or try to spot alligators in the Everglades.

Cannon Beach overlook from Ecola State Park, Crescent Beach, Oregon coast

Carmen Martínez Torrón / Getty Images

Best for Traveling With a Teen

Cultural Experiences

Whether experiencing diverse cultures or embarking on outdoor adventures, teens can take on greater challenges than younger children. Consider a road trip through the South along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. Explore human rights issues at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and help your teens understand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at the National Historical Park in Atlanta that bears his name. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute shares that city’s role in the civil rights movement, while the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas, walks you through the history of segregation in the U.S. and the landmark Supreme Court decision.

Or plan a Midwest city-to-city road trip and let the teens find their favorite neighborhoods in Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis. Do the same with Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, as you drive the Pacific Coast. For the outdoorsy, you can organize a hiking-focused road trip and tackle sections of the Appalachian Trail.

Many teens enjoy sleeping in unusual places, from funky motels to yurts in the forest. Bunk in Astoria’s colorful Atomic Motel as you start an Oregon Coast road trip or roast marshmallows outside your travel trailer at Waypoint Ventura in southern California.

Travel Tip: Include fun food quests on your trip. Plan a taco crawl along Tucson’s South 12th Avenue, go for dim sum in Oakland or Monterey Park, or hunt for sugar cream pie in Indiana, key lime pie in Florida, and blueberry pie wherever it’s in season. 

And if your kids want to plan your road trip around stops for mashed potatoes and gravy, go for it. You’ll create some delicious family memories.

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