Summer is here and it’s time for getting out of town. However, you don’t want to set off on the open road without a plan. While there are an endless number of places to visit across the United States, here are a few road trips that are filled with natural parks, mountains and beaches, all of which are notably affordable, if not free.
From New York City to Charleston, South Carolina
First stop, Cape May, NJ, where you can hit Cape May Beach for some sun, then walk/bird watch for free at The Meadows. Next stop, Ocean City, MD, where there’s a 3-mile-long boardwalk with lots of arcades and fast-food joints (read: kid-friendly and affordable).
After that, head toward the fabled Outer Banks of North Carolina. Lots of adorable towns and free public beaches pepper this area, but you can’t miss Cape Hatteras. Should you want a break from the sand, you can take in all the critters at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, then climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – both free. Last stop, iconic Charleston, where the eye-popping architecture is complimentary, as is visiting The Battery, biking the Palmetto Trail and swooning over the miraculous Angel Oak Tree.
From Chicago, IL, to Santa Monica, CA, via Route 66
Starting in Grant Park, the official beginning of Route 66, you can walk and hike across lots of gorgeous tree-filled greens, bike along Lake Michigan, snap pics by Buckingham Fountain and check out sculptures and installations, all gratis.
Head next to Carthage, MO, to the 66 Drive-In, where you can watch one movie and get the second one for free. After this, make your way to bucket list-worthy national parks, including Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Parks. While they do charge entrance fees, they’re minimal and the jaw-dropping nature is priceless. Last stop, beachy Santa Monica, where the waves, the pier, the mountains – everything is waiting to greet you.
From Houston, TX, to Portland, OR
First stop is Dallas, where you can see the JFK Memorial and the Calatrava Bridge, both without charge. Next stop, Amarillo, where a must-see is the Cadillac Ranch, rows of old Caddies nose-down in the ground. Free and a great photo op.
Head to Denver, where Rocky Mountain National Park is just a heartbeat away. Stop by Red Rocks Park in the city for awesome natural formations (no charge), followed by the Denver Museum, which is free every first Saturday of the month.
After this, head to Boise, ID, where you can hike/walk in the Boise River Green Belt, hoof it around the Idaho State Capital Building, then get yourself back into nature at the Camel’s Back Park. Last stop, Portland, where a few free things of note include visiting Mill Ends Park, the world’s smallest park. The Vacuum Museum, (yes, you read that right), where you’ll see vintage vacuums. And then, of course, what you came here for, the nature stuff: Forest Park, where you can check out the Witch’s Castle. The Urban Waterfall at Ira Keller Forecourt Fountain Park and of course, Columbia River Gorge, for crazy gorgeous waterfalls and all kinds of outdoor fun.
These three road trips are just a sliver of the many routes that offer freebies along the way. But remember: head for the great outdoors. More often than not, you’ll see some memorable sites that won’t cost an arm and a leg.