If Clark Griswold’s mishaps in National Lampoon’s Vacation made you swear off the family road trip forever, think again with these two ideas to hit the road with your family this summer. It’s a great way to slow down and see the country without high airfares and airport security hassles.
Finding the Good in The Badlands
Looking to get away from urban sprawl and pollution? Lonely Planet recommends you head for the hills; the Black Hills of South Dakota, to be precise. The wild west comes alive through a landscape of historical landmarks, including the most famous of all of South Dakota’s tourist attractions, Mt. Rushmore National Monument. But there’s plenty more to offer in South Dakota, starting in Rapid City which boasts 42 presidential statues throughout downtown. You can also take in breathtaking views of Badlands National Park, taking a scenic drive along the Badlands Loop Road with plenty of places to stop and take tons of family photos.
Make sure to schedule a stop in the city of Keystone, which is a kitschy, wild western town that serves as the gateway for those visiting Mt. Rushmore. Take the Presidential Trail loop to the Sculptor’s Studio to learn how the monument was built. Speaking of monuments, you might be surprised to find out that Mt. Rushmore is not the world’s largest monument, but that honor goes to South Dakota’s Crazy Horse Memorial, which is still a work in progress.
The Crazy Horse Memorial pays tribute to the legendary Sioux warrior as a sort of counterpoint to the Mt. Rushmore, although some Native Americans consider the use of the land for the monument as a desecration of sacred space. The visitor center’s Native American Museum and Cultural Center makes a great opportunity to talk about the history of the tribes and conflict in the area.
And what discussion about the history of Native Americans in the area would be complete without a trip to Custer State Park, the largest and first state park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Yes, that Custer. The park features the largest free-roaming buffalo herds in the world, as well as an abundance of other wildlife, including the somewhat tamed “begging burros” who have learned to beg tourists for food.
You can also cool off exploring caves in Wind Cave National Park and Jewel Cave National Monument, or ride a classic steam train from Hill City to Keystone. While the TV series Deadwood was off limit to the kids for its, uh, realistic language, you can take them to the real Deadwood to see re-enactments of famous shootouts, including the murder of outlaw Wild Bill Hickock.
The Wild And Not-So-Wild (Mid) West
Lonely Planet also recommends The Great Smokies through North Carolina and Tennessee. If your family loves the great outdoors, this is ideal road trip, plus you can find plenty of history and even stop by Dolly Parton’s Dollywood for a day of carnival rides and amusement park fun. They recommend you kick off your trip in western North Carolina at the Nantahala Outdoor Center before continuing on to Bryson City, where you can catch the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
Once you cross the border into Tennessee, you can visit the remains of a 19th century settlement in Cades Cove. You’ll find plenty of places to explore old churches, farm houses, and even grist mills who stand as a testament to day’s long gone and the history of this rural area.
Of course, kids being kids, they’ll probably get anxious to get back to civilization, such as Gatlinburg’s many tourist attractions, including the Gatlinburg Skycap lift, where you can get a panoramic view and photos of the still rugged landscape in this heavily-forested region.
Better yet, take the kids to Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where they can ride the rides while you shop for Appalachian crafts and gifts. Also stop by the Elvis Museum for a blast from the past, then round out your trip with the big-city-yet-country glamour of Nashville, with its amazing live music scene and restaurants. This road trip offers something for everyone in the family, from the back roads and quiet of mother nature, to the neon lights of America’s Music City.
Family road trips may seem like a thing of the past, but it’s the classic American vacation every family should experience at least once. These are just two of the many great options for a fun family road trip.
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