Educational Road Trips the Whole Family Will Enjoy

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Going on vacation as a family can certainly be a memory-making experience, but it also tends to be a stressful one. Between budgeting, planning, and just trying to keep everyone happy, frustration and cost can both begin to climb pretty quickly.

There’s a simple solution, though: skip the planes and trains and just stick with the automobile. Family road trips not only ensure optimal amounts of togetherness, but can also be much cheaper than the average vacation—and even educational. Here are three educational road trip options that will help you and your brood explore and learn.

  1. The Great Smoky Mountains: NC to TN. This family-friendly adventure begins in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the western edge of North Carolina. More specifically, at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where you and your youngsters can beef up on knowledge about the great outdoors and the majestic Smoky Mountains. From here, head to Bryson City, NC, for a lesson in the early railways of the South and a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, which winds through some spectacular natural habitats. Next, you’re off to Cherokee, NC, home of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. If your kids don’t already know about the Trail of Tears, they’ll have a wealth of knowledge by the time they leave this museum. Drive over to Tennessee next and explore what’s left of the 19-century settlement at Cades Cove, see the Elvis Museum in Pigeon Forge, or give the kids a break from learning and play some mini golf in Gatlinburg.
  2. The Great Lakes: IL to MI. Just walking around downtown Chicago is a lesson in architecture, but if you want to be more intentional about your educational road trip, begin at “The Bean”—more formally known as Cloud Gate. The iconic Chicago sculpture is a piece of culture all on its own, but it also happens to be located a bus or el ride away from many of Chicago’s engaging museums. The Museum of Science and Industry is a bit of a hike from Cloud Gate, but given that it has a coal mine inside, it’s worth the trip on public transportation. The Field Museum is a shorter trip, and it plays host to dinosaur bones and other natural science wonders that will have your kids oohing and aahing. After exploring Chicago, make your way to Holland, MI, to see the Big Red Lighthouse in Holland State Park, then learn all about the cherry business by picking your own at an orchard in Traverse City, MI, the final stop on your short road trip.
  3. Southern California: L.A. to La Brea. You may not think of Southern California as a hotspot for education and culture, but depending on where you make your pit stops, you can actually find both. Begin your journey at the famous La Brea Tar Pits, which includes a museum that teaches all about the animals who met their demise here (and resulted in super-cool fossils). Then drive to Los Osos and educate yourselves on the natural habitats in the Elfin Forest, which contains a mix of pint-sized trees and shrubs that will make your little ones feel enormous in comparison. Finish your trip in another natural enclave, the Mazzariello Labyrinth in Orinda. It’s essentially a fresh-air maze that’s not only free to the public, but also a fun lesson in the landscape of Southern California.