2015’s Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips

by Richie Bernardo

WH-2014-Best-and-Worst-States-for-Summer-Road-TripsFor many Americans, summer is the time to hit the open road. After all, school’s out, the weather’s warm and the possibilities are endless. The only dilemma? Deciding on a destination. And for financially conscious travelers, the budget will make the call though it doesn’t have to mean less enjoyment.

During warmer months, traveling and gas prices tend to climb and peak in August. But that hasn’t deterred Americans from taking their road trips. In 2014, domestic and international travelers collectively spent $644.9 billion on leisure travel. And they’re at it again this year: About 85 percent of Americans — up 13 percent since 2014 — are planning a summer vacation, and nearly 90 percent of them will be on the road.

As frugal travelers plan their summer trips, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states across 20 key metrics to find the most fun, scenic and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations — and the ones that’ll have them busting a U-turn. In each state, we examined the attractions, road conditions, costs and even weather. The results, additional expert insight and a detailed methodology can be found below.

Main Findings

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Overall Rank

State Name

“Driving & Lodging Costs” Rank

“Road Conditions & Safety” Rank

“Fun & Scenic Attractions” Rank

1 Oregon 32 4 3
2 Nevada 12 24 4
3 Minnesota 22 1 19
4 Washington 40 9 1
5 Ohio 30 6 7
6 Utah 28 2 17
7 Wyoming 4 8 26
8 Colorado 11 23 14
9 North Carolina 14 31 12
10 Idaho 27 21 15
11 Arizona 2 45 13
12 South Carolina 13 48 5
13 Georgia 7 35 20
14 Missouri 10 39 16
15 Nebraska 9 27 28
16 Louisiana 17 47 9
17 Maryland 37 25 11
18 New York 47 15 8
19 Massachusetts 45 3 21
20 California 48 26 2
21 New Hampshire 29 14 25
22 New Mexico 8 45 18
23 Florida 24 43 9
24 Virginia 35 5 31
25 Illinois 25 17 33
26 Pennsylvania 46 28 6
27 Kentucky 31 29 22
28 Maine 43 10 24
29 Alabama 1 41 38
30 Hawaii 44 20 23
31 Indiana 18 22 43
32 Iowa 33 18 35
33 Vermont 39 11 37
34 Texas 21 34 32
35 Tennessee 6 37 36
36 Alaska 38 19 30
37 West Virginia 16 40 29
38 Kansas 15 33 43
39 Wisconsin 42 7 41
40 Montana 23 38 27
41 New Jersey 34 13 47
42 Michigan 19 32 48
43 Rhode Island 49 12 34
44 Arkansas 20 44 40
45 Oklahoma 4 50 45
46 South Dakota 26 36 46
47 Mississippi 3 49 50
48 Delaware 41 30 42
49 North Dakota 36 42 38
50 Connecticut 50 16 49

Best-and-Worst-States-for-Summer-Roadtrips-Artwork

Ask the Experts

You can enjoy a summer road trip without breaking the bank or compromising your safety. For advice on both topics, we asked a panel of experts to share their travel wisdom. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What is the number one threat faced by summer road-trip travelers?
  2. Do you have any budget-saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?
  3. Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?
  4. How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road-trip season?
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  • Paul Green Research Professor in UMTRI's Driver Interface Group and Adjunct Professor at University of Michigan
  • Per Garder Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Maine
  • Joseph T. O’Leary Professor in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department at Colorado State University
  • Martin T. Pietrucha Director, The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Director, The Penn State Engineering Systems Program, Professor of Civil Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Robertico Croes Professor of Tourism, Events and Attractions, and Associate Director of the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies at University of Central Florida, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
  • Dominique Lord Associate Professor and Zachry Development Professor, Division Head, Transportation & Materials, Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University
  • Emilyn Sheffield Professor of Recreation and Parks Management at California State University

Paul Green

Research Professor in UMTRI's Driver Interface Group and Adjunct Professor at University of Michigan
Paul Green
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

Given the added task is driving, that motor vehicle crashes would be an elevated risk. The most important thing drivers and passengers can do is to buckle up, and for children, to make sure they are in approved safety seats. The data suggests that drivers of pickups are less likely to buckle up, so they need special attention. Keep in mind that crash risk increases with exposure, and even a short trip to a campground office can prove deadly.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

Lots of folks find gasbuddy.com very useful. At the moment, depending on which gas station one selects, prices for regular gasoline varies by more than 10 cents per gallon.

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

From what I have read, if people make road trips depends on the price of gasoline (down from the past) and how they are doing financially (unemployment is down), so more trips are likely.

Per Garder

Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Maine
Per Garder
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

That you will be involved in an accident.Even if minor, it can be time consuming and expensive. Also, don't leave smart phones and other valuables exposed.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

Get the Gas Buddy app to find cheap gas. Use Internet or coupon books to find low-cost but high-quality hotels. Eat local food at small restaurants sometimes but buy food from grocery stores for lunch and, sometimes, evening meals.

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

Yes, gas is still relatively cheap and the economy is turning around slowly and people are ready to travel. A lot of people will stay in the U.S. since the world is perceived as dangerous, so why travel to Turkey or Egypt or China...

How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

Arrange music festivals, informal is fine; allow restaurants and cafes to have outdoor seating.

Joseph T. O’Leary

Professor in the Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Department at Colorado State University
Joseph T. O’Leary
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

Make sure your vehicle is in good condition before taking off-tires, fluids, belts, wipers, etc. Could something still break? Always a chance, but far less likely if you have done some checking ahead of time.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

Do some planning ahead of time-the route, less expensive gas stations, lodging options (including alternative choices like Airbnb possibilities), etc. It also will not only address the budget but also likely to help identify some fun experiences that might be available. And don’t forget to ask local folks or friends who might have been to a place before about things that are going on. This is frequently an excellent way to identify great value/great experience combinations.

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

Since we began to move out of the 2007-09 recession, travel has been on the increase. With lower gas prices it is likely that road tripping will be a key and growing part of the public’s travel portfolio.

How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

Many road trippers use social media to check on the trip dynamics. Local organizations can focus on giving the traveler a great experience by being sure the information about a destination is current and accurate. The local organization has a responsibility to monitor not only their own information but also other material being shared by organizations, both public and private. The information is shared with local safety and enforcement officials to be sure they know what the traveler is seeing and any safety concerns can be shared or presented to the traveler either ahead of time or at the appropriate time of their arrival. Easy examples here: run-ins with wildlife possible so, if you are not experienced with this, what to pay attention to; afternoon lightning storms are to be avoided-good time to be down off the mountain having a local beer!

Martin T. Pietrucha

Director, The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, Director, The Penn State Engineering Systems Program, Professor of Civil Engineering, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University
Martin T. Pietrucha
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

In my opinion, the number one danger to motorists traveling this summer is “the other guy.” Most collisions have some element of operator error involved so even if you do everything you should to prepare yourself and your vehicle for summer travel, you still need to drive vigilantly and watch out for dangerous situations on the road caused by other drivers and their vehicles. Most importantly, you don’t want to be “the other guy.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

While gas prices have fallen since last summer, fuel for your vehicle is still one of the greatest variable expenses travelers incur during summer trips. To maximize your vehicle’s fuel efficiency make sure your engine is tuned up, your tires are properly inflated, and you drive in a manner that will conserve fuel (e.g., no sudden starting and stopping, speeding). Taking these steps will help to keep you safe, too

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

I think that there will be many more folks making trips this year as compared to the past few years. The economy, while not completely recovered from where it was prior to 2008, is in pretty good shape, and gasoline prices are approximately $0.90 less per gallon than they were a year ago. Those two factors should translate into more people taking more and longer trips this year.

How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

This one is a little tougher to comment on. Safety is usually enhanced through engineering improvements to the driving environment and vehicles, educating drivers to operate their vehicles more safely and efficiently, and providing selective enforcement to target problem behaviors and locations. The first two of these have a longer lead time in terms of their effectiveness. They need to be planned and implemented over the long term. Enforcement is something that can be varied by season, month, date, day of the week, or time of day. This is one thing that local officials can have some shorter term control over.

Robertico Croes

Professor of Tourism, Events and Attractions, and Associate Director of the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies at University of Central Florida, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
Robertico Croes
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

Traffic accidents! During summer you usually have more traffic, congestion and inexperienced drivers on the road. Be careful with ongoing road construction, adverse weather conditions, and unfamiliar drivers with roadways. Traffic safety should be any vacationer’s number one precaution.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

The best source to get great deals is through social couponing, such as flash sales and groupons.

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

Yes, because of economic improving conditions and lower gasoline prices. AAA has predicted an increase of summer travel.

How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

Assist car drivers with traffic information, weather information (especially thunderstorms and other adverse weather conditions), and provide information about attractions in order to lower the search time for a vacationer. Apps and social media are wonderful devices to effectively direct the vacationers’ flow in your tourist area.

Dominique Lord

Associate Professor and Zachry Development Professor, Division Head, Transportation & Materials, Zachry Department of Civil Engineering at Texas A&M University
Dominique Lord
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

The summer months are the time of year when more severe crashes occur. People tend to drive more (which increases their exposure to risks) and the observed travel speeds are also higher compared to the winter months. Basic physics dictate that faster speeds lead to more severe injuries for the vehicle’s occupants in the event of crash.

Drivers need to be particularly careful traveling on rural two-lane highways, which is the highway category associated with a higher crash risk. The risk is particularly great on curves. Pay attention to the road even if the countryside is beautiful, as driver inattention is a major contributing factor in motor crashes.

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

Slow down. Not only will you reduce your risk of being involved in a crash, but you will also save money on gas. The cost of traveling above 55 or 60 mph goes up exponentially as the speed increases.see

Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?

The number of car trips is closely related to the economy. Therefore, since the general economy seems to be better than last summer, we should see more road trips on our highway network this year.

How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?

Maintain the roads as much as possible with available resources, especially on highways where there will likely be more tourists. Drivers who are unfamiliar with their road environment are more likely to be distracted or inattentive, which increases the crash risk. This effect is exacerbated with poorly-maintained roads. Necessary maintenance includes good pavement marking, legible traffic signs, and a good sight distance clear of trees and other obstructions. Police enforcement can be effective, but should be targeted at locations that are truly considered higher risk. Tourists who feel they've been given a citation only to bring in revenue for the area may be less likely to return in future.

Emilyn Sheffield

Professor of Recreation and Parks Management at California State University
Emilyn Sheffield
What is the number one threat faced by summer road trip travelers?

Inertia. Just put down the "to do" and do something

Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?

Check out campgrounds with "park units", wee cabins with kitchen and bathrooms.

For national parks and forests with peak summer visitation and transit systems....stay in the gateway communities and take transit into the park or forest.

Methodology

To find the most road trip-friendly destinations in the U.S., WalletHub compared the 50 states across three equally weighted dimensions, including: 1) Driving & Lodging Costs, 2) Road Conditions & Safety and 3) Fun & Scenic Attractions. We then identified 20 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights.

Driving & Lodging Costs – Total Weight: 5

  • Average Gas Prices: Full Weight
  • Maximum Toll Costs: Full Weight
  • Average Cost of Car Repairs: Half Weight
  • Lowest Price of Three-Star Hotel: Full Weight
  • Lowest Price of Camping: Full Weight
  • Number of Lodging Units (campgrounds, hostels, condominiums, villas, lodges) per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight

Road Conditions & Safety – Total Weight: 5

  • Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita: Full Weight
  • Population Density: Full Weight
  • Driving Laws Rating: Full Weight
  • Quality of Roads: Full Weight
  • Quality of Bridges: Quarter Weight
  • Number of Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled: Triple Weight
  • Number of Car Thefts per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Violent Crime Rate per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight

Fun & Scenic Attractions – Total Weight: 5

  • National Park Units per 100,000 Square Mile: Full Weight
  • Number of Attractions: Double Weight
  • Number of Nightlife Options per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight
  • Number of Scenic Byways: Triple Weight
  • WalletHub “Summer Weather” Ranking: Full Weight
  • Accommodation and Food Services Establishments per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight

 

Source: Data used to create these rankings were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the National Park Service, the Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, the National Conference of State Legislatures, AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report, the American Scenic Byways, CarMD, Kayak.com, Koa.com, Tripadvisor, BetterBridges, TRIP, and WalletHub research.

Author

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Richie Bernardo is a personal finance writer at WalletHub. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism and a minor in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Previously, he was a…
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Discussion

 
By: Emmiej
Sep 1, 2014
This just makes me mad. Do everyone a favor and remove this article
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By: Emmiej
Sep 1, 2014
These findings seem extremely inaccurate. Not a good assesment to use when travelling! Much more research should be done before these rankings will be anywhere close to correct. This is basically someone else's ignorant opinion of other states.
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Jun 30, 2014
I disagree with the assessment of Mississippi - I enjoy traveling in Mississippi much more than Louisiana or the majority of Arkansas. I wonder if the methodology ranked Mississippi unfairly as the state is very behind when it comes to internet presence. There are so many places in Mississippi that don't have webpages or anything.
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Jun 27, 2014
Don't forget to visit Tarrytown,NY ranked by Forbes as one of the Prettiest Towns in America
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