By Andrea McHugh, Broadry
The good news: Gas prices have been falling for weeks. The not-so-good news: Pump prices are still quite high. While economists are optimistic the downtrend will continue, American wallets continue to be squeezed from coast to coast. Combine that with disrupted air travel and it’s easy to get discouraged when it comes to planning a vacation at the end of summer! Enter the epic one tank summer road trip. Say goodbye to canceled flights and baggage hassles and say hello to an open-road adventure that won’t break the bank.
We’ve put together some amazing road trip itineraries featuring state parks, national forests, hot springs, canyons, mountains, lakes and lagoons so you can plan your ultimate one tank escape. And if you need an RV, we’ve got the top picks in the area RVshare.com.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Antelope Island State Park – 2 hours
Spend the night under a starry sky and during the day roam the idyllic hinterland of Antelope Island, where stunning lake and countryside views stretch out in every direction. Bring binoculars, as free-roaming bison, mule deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn (antelope) and other desert animals roam parklands and traverse trails—plus the millions of birds that congregate on shores around the island. Hike, mountain bike or explore the area on horseback, then cool off with a swim in the lake’s salty waters.
Fifth water hot springs – 1 hour 30 minutes
Located in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest of northern Utah (with part of the country extending into southeast Idaho and southwest Wyoming), Fifth Water Hot Springs consists of three scenic waterfalls and hot springs that are both Rays Valley trailhead is accessible via the Three Forks Trailhead in Diamond Fork Canyon as well as the Three Forks Trailhead.
Because the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is one of the busiest in the entire National Forest System, during the busy summer months, especially on weekends, you’ll find plenty of company at several plunge pools at Fifth Water Hot Springs (including some known for it are to break the law and dive into the buff!). The middle waterfall is the most scenic and worth the hike for the gram, but the lower waterfall gives you the most room to dip. Insider tip: Beat the crowds with an early morning visit when the sun is shining beautifully on the sparkling falls.
Bear Lake State Park – 2 hours
While the Caribbean is best known for its brilliant azure waters, this natural wonder, straddling the Utah-Idaho border and nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, rivals the tropics. This is no coincidence, this is science. Minerals suspended in the lake’s water contribute to its spectacular aqua blue color, and a range of recreational activities on the lake are available year-round.
Bear Lake Funtime has a large fleet of watercraft rentals including Sea-Doos, ski and wakeboard boats, jet skis and fishing boats. For a little more zen, rent a paddleboard or kayak and head straight to the water trampolines for the kids.
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Galveston Island State Park – 1 hour
Located on the western portion of Galveston Island, this stunning park protects 2,000 hectares of the upper Gulf Coast’s barrier island ecosystem, making it ideal for shorebird watching. But there is also plenty of room to play here. With both beach and bay sides, this island paradise is ideal for swimming, fishing, picnicking, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking, and paddle boarding.
Looking for a bargain? Families can enjoy kayaking tours, beach and surf exploration, bird hikes, nature tours, and fishing lessons, all at no extra cost for the $5 per person entrance fee (and kids 12 and under are free). The beach side of the park has reopened after a major redevelopment project that began in 2019, so the facilities are new or in top condition alongside 95 new campgrounds and 20 new shaded shelters in the daytime area.
Lake Conroe – 1 hour
With 157 miles of shoreline, Lake Conroe offers plenty of room to roam, whether quiet solitude or heart-pounding relaxation is your jam. Visitors flock to this 22,000-acre scenic lake just north of Houston for fishing, boating, swimming, water-skiing and other water sports, or seeking out the miles of walking and hiking trails.
Dubbed the “Jewel of Texas” for hikers, the famous Lone Star Hiking Trail runs through the Sam Houston National Forest. Although the trail is 129 miles wide, planning your hike can be as adventurous or as casual as you like, as most sections are rated easy to moderate.
Lago Mar Lagoon – 40 minutes
What’s in Texas with crystal-clear waters, family-friendly activities, refreshing cocktails, breezy cabanas, and countless watercraft options? Lago Mar Lagoon is a 12-acre man-made lagoon containing 24 million gallons of water, making it the largest in the entire Lone Star State.
This beach resort-style retreat is packed with dining options and rental options, including sailboats, catamarans, single and tandem kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and state-of-the-art electric stand-up paddle boards. Would you like to sit back and enjoy the sunset as a group? Rent a 12-seat Duffy electric ferry that glides over water that’s never deeper than 10 feet. Get your heart rate up by taking water Zumba or a boot camp class, or center yourself with waterside yoga.
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camelback mountain – 20 minutes
At 2,704 feet, Camelback Mountain offers a quick, manageable hike that rewards climbers with incredible views of the mountains Phoenix Valley. As the name suggests, the shape resembles that of Camelback Mountain the hump and head of a kneeling camel, and whether you’re hiking uphill or downhill, it’s hard to believe you’re only 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix.
Beginner climbers typically seek out the Cholla Trail on the east side of the mountain, but the trail is currently closed to allow for improvements and to reroute the trailhead. The Echo Canyon Trail is significantly more challenging to the summit, so only venture here if you’re an experienced hiker with a penchant for intense and difficult terrain.
Sonoran Reserve – 30 minutes
If you read the bestseller Wild and you’re ready to face nature, trails through Phoenix’s famed Sonoran Desert Conservation Area pass mostly through pristine, undeveloped desert. With 36 miles of trails on more than 9,600 acres, there are options for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels, from minimal elevation and even paved trails to “double diamond” trails full of loose rock, ruts and extremely difficult terrain.
The Desert Vista Trail is considered the easiest of the three trailheads – the other two being Desert Hills and Apache Wash – and while it’s beautiful any time of year (but swelteringly hot in summer), the prime time, typically from late February to late May, is is arguably the most majestic, with wildflowers as far as the eye can see.
Papago Park – 15 minutes
Before becoming a hugely popular area that included the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, the SF Giants Papago Park Complex, several golf courses, a handful of fascinating museums, and a ton of other cool attractions, Papago Park was home to the Hohokam- People. It later became a reservation for indigenous tribes, a fish farm during the Great Depression, and home to German prisoners of war during World War II.
While the picturesque red sandstone peaks here soar 1,700 feet above Phoenix, the area’s most well-known attraction came from Mother Nature. The popular Hole in the Rock is a trail that is ideal for families as it is easy, mostly flat, wide and short at just 0.03 miles. Formed some 6-15 million years ago, the Hole in the Rock is a popular spot for a family photo and can get crowded, especially at sunset, but it’s worth the trip!
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White water rafting on Clear Creek in Idaho Springs – 30 minutes
call everyone experienced whitewater enthusiasts! With more rapids per mile than most commercial rafting rivers in Colorado, Clear Creek should be high on your “must do” list, whether you’re looking for a fun introduction to this outdoor expedition or are looking for a heart-pounding thrill ride of churning. foaming currents.
Just 20 miles west of Denver, Clear Creek County is home to numerous rafting companies including Rocky Mountain Adventures, which offers beginner tours that welcome children ages 7 and up to enjoy Class III rapids on the Cache La Poudre River; Colorado’s only river designated as “Wild and Scenic”. The water is usually pretty cold, so wetsuits are standard (and available to rent). We predict you’ll snap your perfect Christmas card picture here!
Eldorado Canyon State Park – 40 minutes
What does a picnic by the stream with a panoramic view sound like? Eldorado Canyon State Park is a 885 hectares Day-use park, that is Internationally renowned for its over 500 technical rock climbing routes (technical climbing is when special climbing equipment, including ropes or belays, is used to climb a mountain), but it also offers many hiking trails, as well as hiking and fishing, all in a magnificent Colorado Canyon.
Near the bustling, lively town of Boulder, named National Geographic’s “Happiest City in America” Eldorado Canyon State Park is a natural wonder all round, but a visit here isn’t complete until you’ve crossed the scenic footbridge across South Boulder Creek. Children will be drawn to the nearby Streamside Trail, which offers a short and easy half-mile hike along the creek.
Boulder Flatirons – 30 minutes
Speaking of boulders, The Flatirons are a must-see when visiting the Centennial State. Known for their deep dip that makes them appear as if they are jutting through the earth’s surface, these distinctive reddish-brown sandstone formations are a well-known landmark. The resemblance of The Flatirons has become synonymous with Boulder itself, and interpretations can be seen on everything from logos and Drawings for paintings and sculptures.
Hikers and climbers from near and far lure here, the rock quality ranges from easy to world class. The two-mile Flatiron Loop Trail is an exhilarating excursion ideal for those who are comfortable with an easy to moderate hike. Just bring your camera as the local wildlife includes moose, coyotes, red fox and porcupine!
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