The Best One-Tank Road Trips For Summer

Nothing says "summer in America" like a road trip. But you don't want to blow your whole vacation budget on gas, so we've rounded up the best destinations that you can get to (and back!) on just one tank of gas from major cities around the country.
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Nothing says "summer in America" like a road trip. But you don't want to blow your whole vacation budget on gas, so we've rounded up the best destinations that you can get to (and back!) on just one tank of gas from major cities around the country.

Whether you're looking for an adventurous, romantic weekend escape, or a quick kid-friendly day trip, we've got you covered. Read on to find out where to go, and what to do once you get there.

Ft. Myers One-Tank Trips
Everglades, FloridaExplore Florida's wild side on an Everglades Pole Boat tour in Ochopee (about 80 miles away). The low-profile pole boats will get you up close and personal with the cypress swamps, grasslands, and sub-tropical mangrove jungles. If you're not afraid of creepy crawlies in the dark, you can even stick around and do a night tour here if the weather cooperates. (In warmer weather, the tour can't run because there are too many bugs.)

Sanibel Island, FloridaConchologists rejoice: Sanibel Island is the spot for shell-collecting. In truth, anyone with a heartbeat will instantly fall in love with Sanibel Island, and not just for the pastel-colored shells blanketing the beaches—which, by the way, are celebrated during the island's annual three-day festival and exhibited at its shell museum. Sanibel Island is also known for its wildlife refuge—more than half of the island has been set aside for nature conservation. The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is navigable by foot, car, and water, and offers plenty of up-close encounters with the endemic wildlife.

(Photo: Everglades, Florida via Shutterstock)
Las Vegas One-Tank Trips
Zion National Park, UtahLeave the bright lights and clanging slot machines of the Strip behind and head to Zion National Park, about 160 miles away from downtown Las Vegas. Here, the only slots you'll find are the narrow slot canyons, surrounded by giant, colorful sandstone cliffs. See the park from the bottom up by starting at the Narrows, one of the most popular areas of the park—located at the bottom of a thousand-foot gorge. Prepare to get wet, as the hike involves walking (or wading depending on the time of year) through the Virgin River. Not into camping but want to spend the night? Treat yourself to one of the comfortable cabins or lodges at nearby Zion Mountain Ranch.

Lake Havasu City, ArizonaThe UK's original London Bridge just celebrated its 40th anniversary—in Lake Havasu City, that is. The iconic bridge was purchased from the city of London, England, for nearly $2.5 million; and unlike in the nursery rhyme, the London Bridge still stands tall.With a striking Southwestern backdrop amidst the red-orange Sonoran Desert and crystal-blue Lake Havasu, Lake Havasu City—known as the jet ski capital of the world—is dotted with lakeside resorts offering jet skiing, sky diving, off-road tours, and other activities for the thrill-seeker. After all that play, get pampered at one of the many area spas, or take it easy as you watch the desert sun set while aboard a hot air balloon. During the winter months, Lake Havasu City hosts Music, Brews, and BBQ Competition, Arizona's largest BBQ competition; the annual '50s-themed Rockabilly Reunion; and the popular Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair—designated one of the top 100 events in North America by the American Bus Association.

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Houston One-Tank Trips
Bluebonnet Wine Trail, TexasDoubt that Texas is a wine lover's paradise? You'll be convinced when you hit the Bluebonnet Wine Trail, which starts in Montgomery, about 55 miles northwest of Houston. There are seven stops on the tour, and you'll visit local vineyards like CorkThis!, Bernhardt Winery, and Peach Creek vineyards. Although your designated driver may miss out on some of the tastings, he or she will still get to enjoy the amazing atmosphere and scenery at each spot. You won't have to drive far to find a great place to sleep on the wine trail, either—the Messina Hof Winery has a resort on site.

Austin, TexasAustin, best known to outsiders as the home of mega-music festival SXSW, is also great for families who like their Texas with a dose of flair—the city's motto is "Keep Austin Weird," after all. Family-friendly cultural activities include the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum; Austin's version of the children's museum, the Thinkery; and in keeping with the sentiment of the city's motto, the Museum of the Weird, packed with exhibits on UFOs, Bigfoot, and other oddities for the young and the young at heart. Austin is also known for its hip food trucks—estimated at more than 2,000 citywide. Satisfying even the pickiest tot is easy at one of Austin's version of the mall food court—a food-court trailer park, where several food trucks park to create a dining experience. The city's food truck scene is so prolific that your best bet for choosing a dining experience is to download an app. Try the free iPhone-geared AustinFoodCarts app or Austin Food Trailers for Droids, or choose from plenty of others.

Related:7 Safety Tips for Road Trips

(Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Omaha One-Tank Trips
Madison County, IowaAn all-American road trip isn't complete until you've passed through a covered bridge—or six of them, as can be experienced in Madison County, the setting for the famous novel, movie, and musical, "Bridges of Madison County." Each erected 145 years ago, both the Cutler-Donahoe and Imes bridges are the oldest in Madison County; but the most famous is the 132-year old Roseman Covered Bridge, as that's the one featured in the film starring Meryl Streep. Roadways aside, this historically rich piece of Iowa countryside is also the birthplace of John Wayne; and home to the first Red Delicious apple. It just doesn't get more Americana than this.

North Lawrence, KansasIt's time to utilize that bike rack on your car—load up the cycles and drive to North Lawrence Kansas (approximately 210 miles away), where you'll find the Lawrence River Trails. The main nine-mile loop is very popular with bikers and runners (bikers should go clockwise, while runners go counterclockwise). You'll be rewarded with fresh air, exercise, and beautiful Lawrence river views. When you're done, craft beers and local farmhouse fare will be waiting for you at the nearby Merchants Pub and Plate.

Madison County (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Detroit One-Tank Trips
Holland, MichiganThere's a slice of Dutch heaven—complete with an authentic windmill, wooden clogs, Delft craftsmanship, and a tulip festival—on the shores of Lake Macatawa. The small town of Holland, Michigan, is not only steeped in Dutch heritage, but is also natural beauty alongside the smooth-sand beaches at Holland State Park. Find America's only working windmill in Holland, Michigan. The 125-foot De Zwaan windmill was originally built in 1761 in Krommenie, Netherlands, and made its trans-Atlantic voyage to its new home back in 1964. The 254-year old De Zwaan (Dutch for "graceful bird") lives in Windmill Island Gardens, surrounded by lush floral gardens and a Dutch-themed mini-village and theme park.

Saugatuck, MichiganIt's been voted "The Best Coastal Small Town in America" by USA Today readers, and it's called "The Art Coast of Michigan"—Saugatuck is the perfect day-trip getaway from the big city (about 190 miles from Detroit). Saugatuck definitely lives up to its nickname, as there are over a dozen art galleries in this tiny town. Outside of the charming and lively downtown area, you'll find beautiful public beaches on the banks of Lake Michigan (don't miss Oval Beach), a hand-cranked chain-ferry that is still in operation, and plenty of sailing tours. Saugatuck is known for its plethora of quaint bed and breakfasts—the Hidden Garden Cottages and Suites are a romantic choice based right in downtown.

Related:10 Amazing North American Road Trips

(Photo: Dutch Windmill in a Holland, Michigan via Shutterstock)
Charlotte One-Tank Trips
North Carolina TriangleWhy settle for a single getaway when three is just as manageable? The three destinations within the North Carolina Triangle (Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham) are all within a hop, skip, and jump from each other, and when combined, make for a perfectly balanced weekend trip. Raleigh, North Carolina's capital city, offers visitors trendy restaurants, luxurious spas, vineyards, and one of the nation's most innovative museums, the North Carolina Museum of Art. Peppered with the museum’s sculpture collection, the 164-acres of woodlands and fields surrounding the museum makes for a romantic stroll or creek-side picnic.Then head to historic Chapel Hill for a whiskey tasting at Topodistillery, the only certified-organic distillery in the South. Take in the area around the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—the nation's oldest public university—for its nightclubs and microbreweries, and the 88-year old Chapel Hill movie house, the Varsity Theatre. At one time filled to the rim with tobacco, the rows and rows of warehouses at retro-modern Brightleaf Square in Durham now make up a trendy center filled with eclectic restaurants, bars, and shops; while the tree-lined courtyards are filled with street performers and alfresco dining.

Grandfather Mountain, North CarolinaLooking for something a little more outdoorsy than strolling around downtown Charlotte? Grandfather Mountain, just around 105 miles away has all of the adventure that you require. Like: The Mile High Swinging Bridge (America's highest suspension footbridge), 11 hiking trails (all free if you enter the trails without going to the Swinging Bridge), and plenty of wildlife (seven environmental habitats house everything from cougars to bald eagles). Don't miss a stop at the Grandfather Mountain Fudge shop inside the park, which serves up seasonal flavors like pumpkin pie and peppermint candy.

Raleigh, North Carolina (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Jacksonville One-Tank Trips
Flagler Beach, FloridaGet a little relief from the Jacksonville heat at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, just under 75 miles away. There are kayaks and canoes to rent if you want to get out on the water, or you can go for a cool swim for free. If you're in the mood for something a little more active, there is a nature trail that makes for a great walk or hike. Don't forget to pack a lunch to enjoy at the picnic table! If you're not ready to head back to Jacksonville yet, there are some great camping sites here, some with views of the ocean.

Jekyll Island, GeorgiaA barrier island off the coast of Georgia—with mainland access via a paved causeway—Jekyll Island offers visitors a serene setting of marshland, dunes, and beaches, as well as historic landmarks and world-class golfing.The island's historic district has more than 30 grand structures, most built a century ago by the nation's wealthiest businessmen, including J.P. Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller. At the center of the district is the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, now a national historic landmark operating as a luxe resort hotel. Golf is a popular activity on the island, inspired by the beautiful scenery and courses from acclaimed designers at the century-old Jekyll Island Golf Club.Related:10 Inspiring Summer Drives to Add to Your Bucket List

Flagler Beach, Florida (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Milwaukee One-Tank Trips
Lake Geneva, WisconsinLake Geneva has been a getaway destination since just after the Civil War, when it became a resort community for wealthy Chicago families. It's not far from Milwaukee either (about 60 miles). One of the best things to do here is to check out all of the amazing mansions (one just fetched over $5.8 million in a 20-minute auction). Visitors also enjoy golfing, shopping, zip lining, fine dining, and spa treatments. In fact, the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa offers triple the benefit, with a great spa, a hotel, and a well-regarded restaurant.

Mt. Horeb, WisconsinDon't believe in trolls? You just might after a visit to Mt. Horeb, the Troll Capital of the World. This Norwegian-influenced spot in the Wisconsin countryside is filled with small-town charm. Stroll the Trollway (Mt. Horeb's downtown area), dipping in and out of the mom-and-pop shops and bakeries; tour the plentiful craft scene at the museums and galleries; or get the family on the bike trails to visit the various nearby caves—all the while keeping an eye out for the 15 life-size, tree trunk-carvedtroll sculptures.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Syracuse One-Tank Trips
Thousand Islands, U.S.-Canada BorderYou'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere more beautiful and peaceful than the Thousand Islands this close to Syracuse. In just under 130 miles, you can be on a boat tour of this incredible area, where you'll see castles, lighthouses, mansions, and wildlife. If you don't want to leave the car behind, there are plenty of open roads that tour the shoreline as well. Foodies shouldn't miss the 1000 Islands Agricultural Tour, which showcases local farms, wineries, and crop stands.

Niagara Falls, New YorkBecause no visit to Niagara Falls is complete without feeling the full wrath of the thunderous falls cascading around you, a voyage aboard the Maid of the Mist is absolutely necessary. Get dry, then head over for another soak at the Journey Behind the Falls attraction, where you get a close-up encounter of the Falls from an observation deck.

Related:10 Hidden Islands You've Never Heard Of

Thousand Islands Bridge (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Nashville One-Tank Trips
Birmingham, AlabamaAs the largest city in the state of Alabama, Birmingham also has many of the state's top attractions. If you have a need for speed, then you’ll have to head over to Leeds (just outside Birmingham) for racing fun at Barber Motorsports Park. The racing events might be the top draw, but stop inside the museum to marvel at the nation's largest motorcycle collection as well, where more than 750 bikes are exhibited at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Even for those not of the Christian faith, the historically significant 16th Street Baptist Church—where in 1963 a bomb killed four school-age girls—should be a stop for its mark on the Civil Rights Movement. Just across the street from the church find the ever-enlightening Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Exhibits currently showcased at the BCRI include photography showcasing the Freedom Rides of the civil-rights movement and stills of the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led march from Selma to Montgomery.

Foster Falls Recreation Area, TennesseeRock climbing, waterfalls, and hiking—Foster Falls Recreation Area has it all, and it's only about 100 miles away from Nashville. The namesake Foster Falls is of course the main attraction—the amazing 60-foot waterfall can't be missed, so be sure to take the easy hike up to the top. From there, you'll follow a trail down over a suspension bridge to the base of the falls for a totally different view There are plenty of camping and picnic facilities here if you choose to spend the night.

Related:7 Epic Walking Trails Around the World

Birmingham, Alabama (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Tucson One-Tank Trips
Kachina Hot Springs, ArizonaSoak away your cares at the Kachina Hot Springs, located about 120 miles from Tucson. The mineral waters purportedly have healing and detoxifying effects, so think of this as a getaway for your health! The private hot-springs-fed tubs built for two boost the romance factor at this spa. Or book an individual private tub for some peace and quiet. While you're treating yourself, you might as well toss in one of the many massages or other spa services offered here.

Apache Trail, Mesa, ArizonaThere are plenty of opportunities to fill a Mesa, Arizona, family excursion with rich history, Native American culture, and outdoor fun. A popular trip from Mesa is to follow the Apache Trail past the volcanic 2,000 feet-high Superstition Mountain, get spooked at Goldfield Ghost Town, emerge wet from Canyon Lake's steamboat cruise, and chow down at authentic saloons and restaurants serving up Old West delicacies like prickly pear ice cream. The Apache Trails is 65 miles round-trip from Mesa.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)
San Diego One-Tank Trips
Big Bear, CaliforniaBig Bear (150 miles from San Diego) is most famous for its ski resort, but it's a destination for all seasons. In warmer weather, you can kayak or canoe on the lake, or walk or bike around it. The village is great year round, with plenty of cute local shops, ice cream stores, and restaurants. Planning on coming back often? Invest in the Cali4nia Pass which gets you unlimited access to the four big ski mountains in California, plus other discounts (like 15 percent off at Big Bear Cabins).

Ojai, CaliforniaL.A.—been there, done that. Bypass the City of Angels with all its smog and congestion and head north 90 minutes to reach the town of Ojai.Ojai maintains its small-village feel with a ban on corporate chains, its vibrant local art scene, and because it's one of the jumping-off points for treks into Los Padres National Forest—the vast 2 million-acre forest extending from Southern to Central California. If s'mores is what the family's after, the Wheeler Gorge Campground offers creeks-side campsites. And don't forget Fido because, as Virtual Tourist user rudysmom626 says, "I don't think I've ever been to a place as dog friendly as Ojai!"

Related:8 Destinations Making Sure Your Future Grandkids Can Visit

Big Bear, California (Photo: Thinkstock/iStock)
Flint One-Tank Trips
Traverse City, MichiganTraverse City borders not one but two bays, the Grand Traverse Bay’s West and East arms, both extensions of Lake Michigan. This coastal city also has beautiful inland lakes, and is balanced out by diverse dry landscapes, the Traverse City State Forest Area and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Plan your visit to Traverse City by taking advantage of the great outdoor options with ranger-led hikes in Sleeping Bear, or play in the water along the 35 miles of scenic shoreline.

Kalamazoo, MichiganKalamazoo may sound like a made-up place, but this destination is real (and really worth a visit)! About 130 miles away from Flint, this vibrant city has world-class dining, unique local shops and galleries, and a thriving food scene. The Craft Beer Trail is fun if you're into suds—you'll get a special passport that you can have stamped when you visit each of the 12 breweries, which you can then trade in to the Discover Kalamazoo visitors' center for free swag. If you're coming for the brews, you may be tempted to return in January 2016 for the annual Kalamazoo Beer Week.

(Photo: Traverse City, Michigan via Shutterstock)
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