How to research the perfect road trip side quest

I love family road trips.

They feel like such a fun childhood rite of passage.

When Z was younger, we used to drive up to Niagara Falls or down to Florida fairly often. Day trips in Ohio, either up to Amish country or down to Hocking Hills, are also family favorites.

We even took an amazing family road trip through Arizona, Utah and Nevada two years ago.

I have a lot of fun planning our road trips. My personal specialty is finding the perfect side quests to break up long drives and add some adventures along the journey.

For example, once when we drove to Florida, I planned for us to stop in Savannah for a visit to a kitty cafe and the beautiful Bonaventure Cemetary. On one of our trips to Niagara Falls, we took a side quest to Presque Ile beach. Often, our side quests end up being some of the best parts of our trips.

This spring, we’re heading to Virginia to visit our German exchange student at college. It’s an 8-hour drive so, naturally, I’m researching side quests like my life depends on it. I’m finding some really fun possibilities!

I like to give my fam 3 or 4 solid options to choose from. With Z especially, having PDA means she has a need for autonomy. That’s why we’ll probably let her make the ultimate decision about where to stop. Here are the possibilities I’ve found so far:

  • Palace of Gold. When my best friend first told me about Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold in Moundsville, WV, it seemed almost too unbelievable to be real. Called the Taj Mahal of the West, this ornate temple is the U.S. home of the Hare Krishna movement and includes a glittering palace, an award-winning rose garden inhabited by peacocks, a lotus pond, a cow sanctuary, a yoga studio, a vegetarian restaurant, lodge, cabins, and so much more. I literally cannot wait to visit – if not on our VA trip, then sometime this summer.
  • New River Gorge Bridge. One of the most photographed spots in West Virginia, this bridge in Fayetteville is both an engineering marvel and part of the national register of historic places. It’s free to visit, and has lots of stairs so we can stretch our legs and take advantage of some gorgeous photo opps. The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere and the third highest in the United States.
  • New River Gorge National Park. If the fam is up for a longer side quest and a bit of hiking in gorgeous surroundings, we may stop for a closer look at one of the oldest rivers on the continent. The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.
  • Crabtree Falls. I’m a sucker for waterfalls and this one looks like a beauty. Crabtree Falls features five separate waterfalls and is one of the tallest in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River. It is located in the George Washington National Forest in Nelson County, Virginia. If my family chooses this one, I’ll be shocked and delighted. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and see a waterfall or two during this road trip!

I don’t think we can go wrong stopping at any of these places and I’ll be thrilled with whatever they decide. And now, if you’ve made it this far, here’s where I’m going to tell you how to find great spots like these to visit during your own road trips.

  • Roadtrippers is my favorite app and the website I’ve used for several car trips. It’s a great place to find out all the cool and amazing stops between you and your destination. There’s a paid version with more bells and whistles, but I’ve been using the free version for our upcoming VA trip. Roadtrippers seems to specialize in wacky and off-the-wall roadside attractions. For example, how else would I know that we’re going to be driving right past the epic (and ripped) Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV?
  • Wanderlog is another app and website that is useful for planning road trips. It also allows you to plan a vacation itinerary. So far, I prefer Roadtrippers, but it’s good to know there’s another option and some people may prefer one interface over the other. Both sites have nice guides about different areas of the US and abroad, so you can gather ideas about what to do when you get where you’re going.
  • Roadside America is another great website to visit before you head to a new state. It will tell you all the offbeat and unusual tourist attractions that may be worth a stop during your trip. The places here all seem quirky and pretty old school, but you just may find that vintage photo opp of your dreams. Or at least have a few laughs!

Who’s ready to hit the road? I’m excited to have some fun exploring and finding new adventures. Be sure to share your road tales with me in the comments below or over on Instagram or Facebook.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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