The summer travel season is upon us, and COVID-weary Americans who didn’t travel in 2020 or 2021 are ready to get moving! But with fuel prices so high, every mode of transportation is more expensive this year, from airlines to buses and even driving. Still, packing up the car for a road trip—is almost always the cheapest way to get to your destination, especially if it isn’t too far from home. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the most beautiful and fun destinations in every state. Here are our picks for the best summer destinations in the United States, from bustling big cities to remote national parks.
Alabama: Dauphin Island
This small barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico can be reached by car or ferry. Its clear warm water and silky sand are one of its main draws, but visitors can also bird, fish, or wonder at the archaeological remains in Shell Mound Park.
Use Anchorage as a jumping-off point for the type of outdoor adventures you’ll only find in Alaska. Spectacular Prince William Sound (pictured) is about an hour’s drive from the city, and can be explored on cruises that take you close to the Sound’s many glaciers.
You’ll find plenty to do in Tucson proper (don’t miss the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum), but leave enough time to explore parts of the vast. gorgeous Sonoran Desert that surrounds the city.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
Located right in the town of Hot Springs in the Ouachita Mountains, this urban national park is celebrating its centennial in 2021. Bathe in one of the thermal spring-fed pools in town, or explore the hot and cold springs in the park.
California: Channel Islands National Park
These five striking islands, located off the coast by Santa Barbara, can be easily reached by park concessionaire boats. Visitors can hike, camp, and kayak, but be warned: You’ll have to bring everything you need with you, because there are no stores on the islands.
Ouray, nestled into the breathtaking San Juan Mountains, boasts a Victorian-era downtown that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Travelers can soak in the town’s hot springs-fed pool or explore the rugged country that surrounds it in 4x4s.
Mystic is a classic New England town with charm to spare, and it’s home to the fascinating Mystic Seaport Village, which pays homage to Mystic’s maritime past. If you don’t want to hang out in town, hit the beach.
This is a place to visit if you want to spend some time exploring the past. Dover is known for its fine historic buildings and districts, including The Old State House, which was built in 1791 and was Delaware’s capitol during the early years of the US.
Florida: Sanibel Island
Beautiful Sanibel’s beaches are known around the world for their abundance of shells, making this one of the most unique destinations in Florida. Make sure to explore ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge, by foot or by kayak, while you’re on the island.
Savannah is already well-known for its charming cemeteries, parks, and architecture, but its thriving food scene makes it a must-visit. If you want to plan a vacation around eating, this would be your town.
Hawaii: Hana, Maui
Tiny, charming Hana—the end point of Maui’s world-famous Road to Hana—is the home of one of the most unique beaches you’ll ever see. The volcanic sand at Waiʻānapanapa State Park is a rich black that contrasts sharply with the technicolor brilliance of the surrounding vegetation.
Idaho: Coeur d’Alene
Coeur d’Alene is a summer draw for outdoorsy types. Golf, ziplining, paddling, biking, climbing—you think of it, you can probably do it here. The sparkling, nearly 25-mile-long lake can also be explored by cruise, private boat, or jetski.
Illinois: Starved Rock State Park
Eighteen canyons slice through this gorgeous part of Illinois, which visitors can explore via 13 miles of trail—some of which lead to spectacular overlooks. While in LaSalle County, you can also river raft, zipline, or kayak (or visit a winery and historic mansions).
Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Park
The newest national park occupies 15 miles of lakefront on shining Lake Michigan. Towering sand dunes (up to 750 feet!) dominate the landscape, and support an astonishing number of wildlife and plant species. Swim, sandboard, sandsled, or merely hike through these spectacular, shifting formations (make sure to stay off the dunes in the afternoon, as it gets very hot in the summer).
Iowa: Maquoketa Caves State Park
This extensive cave system boasts 13 caves in all, some of them that are suitable for people to walk through, and others that are better left to hobbyists. Visitors can also hike and bird in one of Iowa’s most unique attractions. The park has camping on-site.
Wichita, which gave the world White Castle (thank you, Wichita), is a fine place for a family vacation. Explore the zoo or the Pizza Hut Museum with the kids (yes, Pizza Hut also came out of Wichita).
Kentucky: Red River Gorge
Located in the Daniel Boone National Forest, this gorgeous place, featuring sandstone arches cut by the Red River, is a wonderland for outdoorsy types. Visitors can swim, hike to waterfalls and fantastical rock formations, rock climb, or take a kayak tour through a cave.
Louisiana: New Orleans
New Orleans in the summer is steamy hot, but it’s worth the sweat to experience the city’s lineup of summer music events and festivals—not to mention the sidewalk music that visitors can enjoy in the French Quarter, on Frenchmen Street, and in other neighborhoods.
Maine: Acadia National Park
This wondrous national park features views of the rocky Maine coast, miles of hiking trails, boating, birding, tidepooling and historic buildings scattered throughout the park.It’s one of the most-visited national parks in the US, so plan accordingly.
Maryland: Assateague Island
The Assateague National Seashore, famous for its two herds of feral horses, can be explored by kayak or by car in the Over Sand Vehicle zone. If you plan to camp, plan ahead.
Massachussets: Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard, an island just south of Cape Cod, is one of those places that embodies summer fun and relaxation. Expansive beaches, temperatures that aren’t too hot, cultural events, and six charming towns to explore make this a perfect summer retreat.
Michigan: Mackinac Island
Don’t bring your vehicle to Mackinac—the island, located in Lake Huron, is totally car-free. Explore the cute little downtown, buy some fudge, take a self-guided bike tour of the island, and don’t overlook a guided tour of the famous carriage houses.
Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park
This intriguing park, made up of an interconnected series of lake waterways, is best explored by boat or kayak. Rent a houseboat for a unique water experience with all of the comforts of your home.
Located on the Gulf Coast, Biloxi is a perfect summer getaway for people who want to lie on sparkling white-sand beaches and hang out in casinos. The Lighthouse Pier (pictured), which juts 865 feet into the Gulf, is a must-visit.
Charming Branson is another family vacation spot with something for everyone. Explore the surrounding Ozarks on miles of trails, catch music or a show at one of the town’s many theaters, ride the roller coasters at Silver Dollar City, and relax in the wave pool at White Water.
Montana: Yellowstone National Park
Fantastical thermal features (including Mammoth Hot Springs, pictured) provide endless wonder as you explore Yellowstone, one of the most-visited national parks in the US. Even driving the park’s roads can be exciting, as visitors often come upon herds of bison or other animals that call the park home.
This is another family friendly vacation spot, with tons of museums, such as the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, and the Mormon Trail Center, that keep kids immersed in fun and learning. (If you come without the kids, you might want to cool off in Omaha’s casinos.)
Nevada: Las Vegas
Yes, yes, Las Vegas. However, prices are lower during the summer, and you can spend all of your time in the city’s air-conditioned casinos and resorts. World-class cuisine, fantastical shows, and the sheer weirdness of places like the Neon Museum make Las Vegas a worthy summer escape from real life.
New Hampshire: Sunapee
Rent a lake house by Sunapee Harbor for your stay in this very tiny town, and enjoy a serene waterfront environment, that’s close to amenties, where you can take a guided tour of Sunapee Lake. Head over to Sunapee State Park for kayaking and water skiing, and keep an eye out for the many summer events hosted by Sunapee and surrounding towns.
New Jersey: Cape May
Visitors have been flocking to Cape May since 1801, making this small town of broad beaches and charming Victorian architecture the oldest beach resort in the US. Jump on a sunset cruise or a whale watching boat, take a food tour of the town, rent a bike or a parasail, and hang out on that beautiful beach.
New Mexico: Carlsbad
Visitors come to Carlsbad to tour the spectacular Carlsbad Caverns (pictured), but, in the summertime, you can see another breathtaking natural phenomenon. Up to a million bats fly out of the cavern at dusk to hunt, returning in the early morning to swoop back into the cave from hundreds of feet. Visitors are welcome to witness both events, and it’s free.
New York: New York City
New York is wonderful in the summer. Yes, it’s hot. But there are so many things to do you could spend two weeks here and never get to them all. Take a stroll on the High Line, visit Coney Island for some vintage summer carnival fun, and rent a boat at the Loeb Boathouse for a turn around the lake in Central Park
North Carolina: Cherokee
Cherokee is located in the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, and summer activities abound here. Access the world-famous Blue Ridge Parkway from Cherokee, visit the Cherokee Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and spend some time in Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Take the 14-mile North Unit scenic drive to Oxbow Overlook for an eyeful of the park’s austere and stunningly beautiful badlands, watching for wildlife such as bison along the way. The park offers many great hikes, but its two scenic drives allow you to cover a lot of miles and see more of the park’s most beautiful vistas.
Marietta, located at the confluence of two rivers and within a short driving distance of Wayne National Forest, offers close-in outdoor adventures. In the summertime, kayak on the Ohio or Miskungun rivers or take a drive along the Covered Bridge Scenic Byway.
Visit kid-friendly Tulsa for days in one of the city’s many parks, and cooler nights on a stroll or bike ride along the beautiful Arkansas River.
Oregon: Willamette Valley
There’s a lot to do in the rolling hills of Oregon’s sunny wine country. Explore wine country by horseback, hike in the Willamette National Forest to pretty Koosah or Sahalie Falls, and bike the 35 miles through the Covered Bridges Scenic Byway to see one of Oregon’s 50 covered bridges.
Pennsylvania: Allegheny National Forest
Pennsylvania’s only national forest, established in 1923, offers so many options for outdoor summer recreation. Kayak in the Kinzua Reservoir, hike part of its 1600 miles of trails, and, if you’re lucky, catch the breathtaking synchronous firefly display in late June and early July
Rhode Island: Block Island
Take a ferry from Narraganset to Block Island to explore its quaint downtown’s shops and restaurants. On the southern part of the island, a hike in the Fresh Swamp Preserve brings with it a chance to see unusual plants and wildlife. And don’t forget the beaches. One of Block Island’s biggest draws is its miles of pristine sand, all accessible for free.
South Carolina: Charleston
Stately Charleston offers something for every summer traveler, from tours of its world-famous heritage architecture, to beach trips, to sunset river cruises and biking around town.
South Dakota: Rapid City
Family friendly Rapid City boasts museums and attractions, like Storybook Island, that the kids will love—while you can introduce the kids to the pleasures of a hike in the Black Hills or a side trip to Mt. Rushmore.
Outdoor live music, a ton of frozen treat spots to beat the heat, and the lively scene on Beale Street make Memphis an interesting and active city summer vacation spot.
This Gulf Coast summer hotspot has beaches, beaches, and more beaches. Thirty-two miles of sparkling sand and water add up to maximum relaxation. The city itself boasts historic neighborhoods for visitors with a taste for history and architecture.
Utah: Zion National Park
You can see Zion’s soaring pink and red sandstone cliffs in a variety of ways. Take a shuttle bus along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive for views of the park’s most famous features, such as Angel’s Landing and Weeping Rock. You can also drive the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway for dramatic views of mountains and valleys.
Vermont: Grand Isle
Grand Isle, the largest island in Lake Champlain, boasts rolling hills criss-crossed with trails for hikers and bikers. Make sure to visit the Hyde Log Cabin, the oldest log cabin in the US, which has stood since 1783.
Virginia: Virginia Beach
Miles of beautiful beaches and plenty to do with the kids make Virginia Beach a great option for a family vacation. Make sure to spend some time in First Landing State Park, where 100 English settlers landed in 1607. The park fronts Chesapeake Bay and contains the extremely endangered maritime forest community habitat.
Washington: Orcas Island
Bucolic Orcas Island is part of Washington’s San Juan archipelago and can only be reached by ferry (make sure to factor in a wait times during the summer). Summer is high time to spot the island’s namesake orca whales, which often hang out offshore of the gorgeous Lime Kiln State Park.
West Virginia: New River Gorge National Park
If you want to rough it, snag one of New River Gorge National Park’s primitive, river-accessible campsites for a stay of up to 14 days. They’re free! (Don’t worry. There’s non-primitive camping in nearby state parks.) Spend your time at this stunning national park in a whitewater raft or on a guided tour of the canyon’s iconic bridge.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Dells
A five-mile stretch along the Wisconsin River is studded with wind-and-water sculpted sandstone formations, called ‘the Dells’, which you can appreciate from a tour boat. Wisconsin Dells is also popular for its water parks, 20 in all—the largest number of water parks in one place on Earth.
Hot springs are king in Thermopolis, where visitors come to dip in a free state bath house, or enjoy spring-fed waterparks. Nearby Hot Springs State Park is home to a state bison herd, and, in the summer, you can join archaeologists on a dig for dinosaur fossils.