Family-Friendly Road Trips for Sun or Snow

Looking for fun that everyone can enjoy any time of year? Find intriguing stops and outdoor entertainment in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, around Michigan’s lakes or in San Diego.

Couple Packing Their Car - Family-Friendly Road Trips

by NEA Member Benefits

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Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel. And, while now isn’t the time for unnecessary trips, we’re here to help you plan future vacations with helpful travel guides and tips. That way, when the novel coronavirus is under control, you’ll have everything you need to get back on track and plan memorable trips for your family. If you plan to visit any of the below attractions soon, double-check hours of operation as some venues may be closed or have reduced hours at this time.

When you want a change of pace and have a little adventure that doesn’t require taking a flight, go on a road trip. It’s a good way to de-stress, breathe in some fresh air and see refreshing sights. You could have a set itinerary or be spontaneous—either way, you’re bound to have a good time cruising through the highways and streets of Michigan, Colorado, Florida and California. Make sure to stop at popular attractions or other spots that interest you. It’s a sure cure for cabin fever.

Summer sightseeing along Michigan’s lakes

Features the largest body of fresh water on earth

Kayaking in Michigan
The Great Lakes State is ripe with sightseeing options. Home to one of the longest freshwater coastlines in the country, you’re never more than six miles from one of its more than 11,000 inland lakes. That may sound like a lot of shoreline to cover—and it is!—but with a good strategy, you can cover a lot of ground. Here’s what we suggest.

From Grand Rapids, take M-37 N to Huron-Manistee National Forests. Stop at the Hungerford Recreation Area, where you can go hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking. Whatever you choose, all trails feature beautiful forest sceneries, with oaks, aspens, maples and red and white pines. You can also fish or rent a boat to explore the 30-acre lake. Plus, there are plenty of campgrounds for those who’d like to stay longer.

After your national forest stop, continue north on M-37 to Traverse City. Check out one or more of its five historic lighthouses—Mission Point, North Manitou, South Manitou, Grand Traverse and Point Betsie. Wind down the day by admiring the sunset before heading to dinner. Boathouse Restaurant (entrees starting at $26), Apache Trout Grill (entrees starting at $19) and Grand Traverse Pie Co. (sandwiches starting at $7) are all popular spots for a meal.

The next day, follow M-72 to M-22 to M-109 to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Head to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and the Lake Michigan Overlook, where you’ll feel like you're on top of the world at more than 400 feet above Lake Michigan. If you have more time, explore the trails or hit the Dune Climb for a great workout. Camp here or continue south on US-31 N to Grand Haven. 

You’re never far from Lake Michigan’s shoreline in Grand Haven, which features a gorgeous, sandy beach, and bustling boardwalk with shops and restaurants. Explore the Grand Haven Lighthouse and Pier or charter a fishing boat where the boat captain, fishing license and lunch are provided while you enjoy a relaxing day on the glistening water. Pamper yourself at one of the town’s wellness spas and yoga centers—try yoga on a stand-up paddleboard on Spring Lake! Go bird watching, hiking or bike riding in the Rosy Mound Natural Area. Finish off your day at the Musical Fountain—an awe-inspiring display of synchronized lights and water (check the hours of operation for 2021). 

Lesson-plan bonus: Michigan.gov lists lots of resources and curricula to aid your classroom teaching.

Celebrate winter in the Colorado Rockies

Fabled ski resort towns of Summit County  

Summit County knows how to do fall and winter right, with reliable snows, good roads, great skiing and other outdoor fun for families. This 65-mile route an hour west of Denver leads to the county’s top resort towns. 

Exit I-70 at US-6 to Keystone Resort. This long-standing family favorite features plenty of intermediate slopes, terrain parks and Adventure Point, an on-mountain entertainment center with snow biking and tubing. Lights help keep the fun going after dark. An auto-free village with a large skating rink skirts the base of the ski mountain.

Wind south on Swan Mountain Road for the half-hour drive to Breckenridge, a 19th-century mining town now lively with shops and restaurants. Breckenridge Ski Resort offers world-class skiing across five peaks along with the added thrills of a zip line and an alpine coaster at the base. End the day with Nordic Sleigh Rides and time-travel by horse-drawn sleigh into an 1860s mining camp.

Breckenridge Chairlift

From Breckenridge, follow Highway 9 north to Frisco. Miles of snowshoe and cross-country trails spin out from the Frisco Nordic Center, and lift-served tubing lanes highlight the Frisco Adventure Park. Nine miles west on I-70, Copper Mountain gets a thumbs-up for its terrain parks and halfpipes. After the lifts close, kids descend on Woodward Copper, where they can tweak their tricks, landing in foam-block-filled indoor pits.
 
The once-bawdy boomtown of Leadville lies 20 miles south and up at 10,152 feet and bills itself as America’s highest incorporated city. With a scenic setting for dogsledding trips and snowmobile tours, the altitude won’t be the only thing that takes your breath away.

Lesson-plan bonus: The Colorado Historical Society has lesson plans about the West’s mining history and more.

Find natural fun in Florida

Beaches, islands and wetlands of the Central Gulf Coast

There’s a wilder world of fun beyond Florida’s famous theme parks. This 118-mile route dives into some of the natural attractions from Tampa to Sarasota.

Florida fun begins with the beach. You’ll find some of the state’s finest sugar-sand beaches along the barrier islands (linked by bridges) that line the Gulf Coast. From Tampa, take Highway 60 west to Clearwater Beach. From here head south to Pass-A-Grille; the island road curves along a 20-mile-long idyllic strand of inviting beaches and restaurants where you can order grouper fresh from the Gulf. As you wander east back toward the mainland, follow the signs to Fort De Soto Park, skipping across bridges and islands to reach 1,136 acres of beaches, mangroves, bike trails and remnants of a Spanish-American War fort.

Bridge Over Water at Sunet

Head south on I-275, soaring 200 feet above Tampa Bay on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, as exhilarating as a theme-park ride. Twenty miles south in Sarasota, kids can explore a tangle of tropical plants and romp through a rainforest at the Children’s Rainforest Garden, part of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens on Sarasota’s bayfront.

Across Sarasota Bay, get an eye-to-eye look at Gulf of Mexico critters at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Sign up for Mote’s Eco-Boat Tours of Sarasota Bay led by a Mote marine biologist.  

Florida’s freshwater residents thrive at Myakka River State Park, 24 miles inland on Highway 72. Alligators are the star attraction, often sunning along the river’s banks. Boardwalks and canopy trails skim over wetlands and up among the treetops. The park rents kayaks to explore its waterways. But once you eye those gators, you might prefer to view them on the park’s boat tours.

Lesson-plan bonus: Mote Marine Laboratory offers a number of digital learning materials.

Fill your weekend with San Diego delights 

Wandering along San Diego Bay and Mission Bay

No need to wander far in San Diego, where the city’s parks and Pacific Ocean frontage offer entertainment for every age. You’ll more than fill a weekend with the activities along this 30-mile drive.

Aircraft Carrier USS Midway

Begin downtown at the Embarcadero along San Diego Bay. It’s often crowded with ferries, cruise ships and military ships from the nearby naval base. You’re welcome aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Midway and the historic vessels docked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego

Follow the curve of the bay north, west and finally south to Point Loma. Cabrillo National Monument marks the spot where Portuguese explorers first sailed into the bay in 1542. Today, this hook of land is a great spot to explore tide pools, climb the 1855 lighthouse and, in winter months, watch for migrating gray whales.
 
Drive north on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard to Mission Bay Park. A blend of islands and waterways, the 4,200-acre park offers sandy swimming beaches, protected waters for boating (rentals available) and waterfront paths for pedestrians and cyclists.

Cheetah at the San Diego Zoo

Four miles inland, take Highway 163 south to Balboa Park. This large and lovely urban park is home to more than 15 museums, botanical gardens and lots of green space. But the most famous attraction is undoubtedly the San Diego Zoo. Visitors learn about conservation and experience animals, including the zoo’s famed giant pandas, in naturalistic settings.

Lesson-plan bonus: Download science activity guides and additional teacher resources from SeaWorld. For San Diego-area educators, the San Diego Zoo offers a variety of on-site and classroom programs and the Maritime Museum of San Diego hosts dockside and sailing programs for teachers and students.

Start planning your next road trip