The Internet provides a truckload of car-trip information. Roadtripusa.com, for example, covers 35,000 miles, divided into 11 regions. The Federal Highway Administration sponsors a program (and Web site) called "America's National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads" (www.byways.org) and the Travel Industry of America offers a site called seeamerica.org. You also might plan trips around the wacky attractions catalogued in RoadsideAmerica.com or the great indigenous food at RoadFood.com. The following are some suggested areas for exploration, but follow your own tastes (and your children's).
Mid/Southwest: Route 66
The granddaddy of all driving trips, the former "Main Street of America" where bumper stickers were invented (Meramec Caverns, 55 miles west of St. Louis) has experienced a resurgence in hipness of late. Hampton Inn hotels have gotten involved, restoring attractions like an 80-foot whale near Tulsa, OK. Just choose a chunk of Route 66, which runs through eight states, from Chicago to Santa Monica, CA: Stay in the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ, on the way to the Grand Canyon, or drive from Albuquerque, NM (eat at the Dog House), to the Auto Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, and sneak into Santa Fe, NM, which was cut off the route in 1937 by a personal grudge.
Northeast: Maine's Route 1
From Portland, head north on (the other) Route 1. Stops could include Freeport for L.L. Bean and outlets, Round Pond for the lobster co-ops, Pemaquid Point for the lighthouse, and Waldoboro for the pie at Moody's Diner. You could end in Acadia National Park, which in warm months deserves at least three or four days of its own. Dine outside at the Jordan Pond House. Kids will love the bustle of Bar Harbor -- you can get lobster ice cream at Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium -- but parents might enjoy the quieter towns of Northeast and Southwest Harbor.
Southeast: Florida Springs
In an area known for slow-moving rivers and swamps, there is a series of crystal springs teeming with wildlife. Take I-10 near Tallahassee and head for Edward Ball Wakulla Springs Park, where the underwater scenes from Creature From the Black Lagoon were filmed. Stay in the '20s mansion, and view the underwater caves in glass-bottom boats. Proceed to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Center, where you take a boat to a small zoo of indigenous animals and watch manatees and fish from a submerged viewing platform.
Northwest: Oregon's Route 101
US 101 parallels much of the Oregon coast, boasting more state parks per mile than any other place in the U.S. Start at Astoria, one of America's oldest towns, then sample three clusters to the south. From the amusement park in Seaside, ride south through the artist's colony Cannon Beach (with the 235-foot Haystack Rock) and the upscale resort Manzanita. Midstate, visit Newport (which has an aquarium; eat at Mo's) and the old town of Florence, followed by 50 miles of unspoiled dunes. South of hippie-ish Bandon and Port Orford, kids will love the Prehistoric Gardens' life-size dinosaur statues; end at Natural Bridges Cove in Samuel Boardman State Park.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the June/July 2004 issue of Child magazine. Revised July 2006.