Travel

10 exotic road trip destinations in the U.S.

Death Valley sand dunes at night beneath the stars of the Milky Way The sand dunes at Mesquite Flat in Death Valley National Park.

If you're looking to escape somewhere that feels far from home, you don't have to get on a plane. Fantastical landscapes exist across America, from the towering sand dunes of Death Valley to the tropical Everglades to the lush rainforests of Washington state. Leave the ordinary behind with a road trip to these 10 exotic places within the contiguous 48 United States, plus hand-picked options for where to stay and where to hook up your RV.

Mount Oberlin and Cannon Mountain at Glacier National Park

Mount Oberlin and Cannon Mountain at Glacier National Park.

1. Glacier National Park, Montana

It's not hard to imagine you're in the Alps while visiting this Rocky Mountain preserve, nicknamed the "Crown of the Continent." There are the snow-capped peaks and pristine glacial lakes, of course, home to an array of native plants and animals, including the park's iconic mountain goats. But it's the many old-fashioned wooden chalet resorts that really make it possible to live your Swiss fantasy in Montana. 

The area sees heavy snow in the winter, so the park usually opens in the summer after roads have been plowed. This year, some parts of the park are closed, including the eastern entrance at St. Mary. Check Glacier National Park's website for up-to-date info on conditions and what's open.

Where to stay

  • Lake McDonald Lodge (288 Lake McDonald Lodge Loop, West Glacier, MT)
    This historic lodge, built in 1913, may be the most authentically Swiss-feeling of all the park's chalets. Located about 10 miles into the park, it's got great views from the shore of Lake McDonald.
  • Cedar Creek Lodge & Conference Center (930 2nd Ave. W, Columbia Falls, MT)
    This AAA Three Diamond hotel is a more modern option, located about 20 minutes outside the park's western entrance and with urban amenities nearby.
  • KOA Campground, West Glacier (355 Halfmoon Flats Rd., West Glacier, MT)
    This resort features accommodations for 114 RVs, including 58 full hookups and an additional 56 water and electric hookups, and accepts big rigs up to 55 feet long.
The badlands at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

The badlands at Zabriskie Point.

2. Death Valley, California

A place unlike any other in North America, Death Valley National Park is home to the continent's lowest point (282 feet below sea level near Badwater) and hottest temperatures (110-120 degrees in the summer, with a record of 134). Highlights include the mysterious salt honeycombs of Badwater Basin, the shifting sand dunes of Mesquite Flat, and the colorful undulating badlands at Zabriskie Point.

Most visitors come between mid-October and late April, when temperatures are milder—extreme summer heat makes daytime activities uncomfortable. Check Death Valley National Park's website for up-to-date info on conditions and what's open.

Where to stay

  • The Inn at Death Valley (Highway 190, Death Valley, CA)
    A spring-fed pool and 22 private luxury casitas are among the draws at this serene, newly renovated AAA Four Diamond hideaway, where beautiful architecture and hundreds of date palms complement the desert backdrop.
  • Death Valley Inn and RV Park (651 Highway 95 S., Beatty, NV)
    This AAA Diamond Approved motel offers large rooms with high ceilings, as well as 39 pull-through RV spaces with electric hookups. An abundant variety of landscaping attracts many birds.
The Hall of Mosses trail in the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park

The Hall of Mosses in the Hoh Rainforest.

3. The Hoh Rainforest, Washington

Think of "rainforest" and you'll probably imagine tropical Costa Rica or the Amazon, but the U.S. has rainforests too. The Hoh River valley in Olympic National Park gets some 140 inches (almost 12 feet) of annual precipitation, supporting a tangle of towering Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar. Beneath the canopy, an eerily beautiful quilt of ferns, mosses, and lichens spreads across the ground and up the trees.

According to the National Park Service, the Hoh River valley from the park boundary to Mount Olympus "looks much like it has for 5,000 years." Visitors can take it all in by walking the Hoh River Trail, the Spruce Nature trail, and the aptly named Hall of Mosses. Check Olympic National Park's website for up-to-date info on conditions and what's open.

Where to stay

  • Miller Tree Inn Bed & Breakfast (654 E. Division St., Forks, WA)
    Less than an hour's drive from the rainforest and the ocean, this more than 100-year-old farmhouse and AAA Diamond Approved hotel offers comfortable rooms with tranquil views of pastures and trees.
  • Hard Rain Cafe & RV Park (5763 Upper Hoh Rd., Forks, WA)
    There are only 13 sites at this affordable small campground, but it's just 6 miles from the park, and the Hoh River is within walking distance.
An aerial view of the town of Avon in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

The town of Avon in the Outer Banks.

4. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

This collection of barrier islands off the state's Atlantic coast has drawn visitors for centuries with adventurous things to do. The first adventure is getting there: Bridges and ferry boats between the narrow islands allow visitors to basically drive out to sea on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway.

There's lots of sun and sand, but plenty of unique attractions, too. Visit the site of the Wright brothers' first flight, look up at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (America's tallest brick lighthouse), explore the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast at Jockey's Ridge State Park, and see the famous wild Banker horses that roam many of the islands' beaches.

Where to stay

  • The Villas of Hatteras Landing (58822 Marina Way, Hatteras, NC)
    Next to the ferry plaza at the southern end of Hatteras Island, the AAA Three Diamond hotel features attractive 1-bedroom suites with well-equipped kitchens; some offer water views from the balconies.
  • Frisco Woods Campground (53124 NC Highway 12, Frisco, NC)
    There are 186 RV hookup sites here, including 80 full hookups. About 40 of the sites have waterfront views of Pamlico Sound.
     
The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah

Dry salt lakebed at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

5. The Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

On the western edge of the Utah's Great Salt Lake basin lie the Bonneville Salt Flats. Covering about 46 square miles, this expanse of hard, white salt crust once lay beneath Lake Bonneville, a freshwater lake 10 times the size of Great Salt Lake that covered Salt Lake City centuries ago.

Today, the perfectly flat salt stretches off to the horizon, making it a popular place to get away from it all and explore an alien landscape. It's so flat, in fact, that you can see the curvature of the Earth from the hillsides in the nearby town of Wendover. Looking east across the vast, level expanse of the Great Salt Lake Desert, the straight line of the interstate appears to curve away to the horizon.

Where to stay

  • Best Western Plus Wendover Inn (685 E. Wendover Blvd., Wendover, UT)
    Rooms at this AAA Three Diamond hotel are well-coordinated and feature a soothing earth tone palette, upscale bedding, and large desk.
  • KOA Campground, Wendover (651 N. Camper Dr., West Wendover, NV)
    RV travelers can enjoy great views of the nearby mountains from 1 of more than 80 pull-through sites at this campground. A grocery, souvenir shop, and laundry are also available.
Airboats at a dock in the Florida Everglades

Airboats at a dock in the Florida Everglades.

6. Everglades National Park, Florida

The largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the nation is an ecosystem unlike any other in the world—essentially an enormous flat river running to Florida's southern tip. Take an airboat tour through mangrove forests and sawgrass marshes while keeping an eye out for alligators and birds including the roseate spoonbill, purple gallinule, and many others.

According to the National Park Service, it's best to visit the Everglades during the dry season from November to March, when there are fewer biting insects and more migratory birds. Check Everglades National Park's website for up-to-date info on conditions and what's open.

Where to stay

  • Travelodge-Florida City (409 SE 1st Ave., Florida City, FL)
    This AAA Diamond Approved roadside motel offers at-door parking and well-appointed furniture with padded headboards, large desks, and oversize televisions. It's about 10 miles from the entrance to Everglades National Park.
  • Flamingo Everglades (1 Flamingo Lodge Hwy., Flamingo, FL)
    Located deep inside the park at its southern tip, this campground features various lodging options, including campsites for tents and RVs, houseboats, and pre-built "eco-tents."
The Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

The sandstone Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park.

7. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Leave the present behind with a trip to one of the nation's major archaeological preserves. The ancestral Pueblo people lived here centuries before European explorers arrived in North America, with the earliest structures believed to be up to 1,500 years old. The original inhabitants departed sometime in the 13th century, leaving behind hundreds of cliff dwellings, including the famous Cliff Palace.

Access to the dwellings is temporarily closed, but visitors can see them from a number of overlooks that are open as of July 10. Check Mesa Verde National Park's website for up-to-date info on conditions and what's open.

Where to stay

  • Far View Lodge (1 Navajo Hill, Mesa Verde National Park, CO)
    On the summit of a hill, this older motel consists of multiple guest buildings and a main lodge. Each room has a balcony for visitors to enjoy the stunning mountain views surrounding the property. Open from mid-April to mid-October.
  • Ancient Cedars Mesa Verde RV Park (34979 Highway 160 Frontage Rd., Mancos, CO)
    Sites here feature cedar tree shade, fire rings, grills, and picnic tables. The campground accepts RVs up to 70 feet long.
An aerial view of Mackinac Island in Michigan

8. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Native Americans called it Michilimackinac, or “Great Turtle,” but time and usage have shortened the island's name to Mackinac (MACK-i-naw). In one important respect, though, the island remains timeless: Once you reach it by ferry, transportation is by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle, or saddle horse. No private motorized vehicles are permitted. Between that and the beautifully preserved architecture on display all around town (particularly in the Victorian and Colonial styles), it can feel like you've stepped into a time machine as much as an island.

Where to stay

  • Harbour View Inn (6860 Main Street, Mackinac Island, MI)
    This manor, now a AAA Diamond Approved hotel, was built in 1820 as a home for the granddaughter of a chief of the Ottawa Indian Nation. Many of the rooms feature harbor or garden views.
  • Tiki RV Park and Campground (200 S. Airport Rd., St. Ignace, MI)
    Conveniently located within walking distance of the ferry to Mackinac Island, this campground is a good option for road trippers traveling via RV.
Bald cypresses and Spanish moss growing in Caddo Lake State Park

Bald cypresses and Spanish moss growing in Caddo Lake State Park.

9. Caddo Lake State Park, Texas

There are lots of lakes in Texas, but Caddo Lake, on the border with Louisiana, is unique for its beautiful bayous and large number of cypresses. The trees grow directly from the water and support huge mats of Spanish moss, plus frogs, alligators, wading birds, and much more wildlife.

Visitors can hike and canoe around the park, soaking in the secluded ponds, winding through narrow bayous, and paddling between lilies. Reservations for campsites are encouraged—check availability and current conditions on Caddo Lake State Park's website.

Where to stay

  • Old Mulberry Inn and Cottages (209 E. Jefferson St., Jefferson, TX)
    This large Greek Revival-style home is a AAA Three Diamond establishment mingling modern amenities such as streaming TVs and Bluetooth speakers with vintage touches such as antique claw-foot tubs. Themed rooms, including The Voyage and English Garden, provide a distinctive experience for guests.
  • Buffalo Bayou RV Park (1350 Moxley Camp Rd., Karnack, TX)
    This waterfront RV park with 20 full hookup sites sits right in the heart of the Big Cypress Bayou that flows into Caddo Lake. Features include hiking trails and a boat ramp into the bayou. 
Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Stone arches and greenery at Hammond Castle.

10. Hammond Castle, Massachusetts

Want to see a medieval castle? No need to cross the Atlantic—just head to Hammond Castle on Cape Ann. Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built it in the 1920s to be as authentically medieval in style as possible, and to house the many antiquities he collected over a lifetime. Today the castle is a museum where visitors can see the collection on a guided tour, as well as stroll the grounds (and maybe pretend they're time-traveling). 

As of July 16, the castle museum is open for guided tours with timed reservations. Check the museum's status and make reservations online.

Where to stay

  • Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks (107 Atlantic Rd., Gloucester, MA)
    Panoramic ocean views, an inviting heated outdoor pool with gas firepit and patio area, and lawn games are attractive features at this AAA Three Diamond seaside getaway. 
  • Cape Ann Camp Site (80 Atlantic St., Gloucester, MA)
    This campground accepts big rig RVs and has 40 full hookup sites, with an additional 90 electric/water hookups.
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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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