Summer is the perfect time to hit the open road: School’s out, the weather’s warm, and the possibilities are endless. While travel was very limited last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination has allowed states to open up a lot more this year. This summer, over two-thirds of Americans plan to take a vacation, and 59% of U.S. families say they are more likely to drive than fly.
Deciding to take a trip is the easy part, though. Picking a destination and affording everything you want to pack into your itinerary is harder. Gas prices might be one thing to worry about, for example. They’ve been growing this year, with the national average at over $3 per gallon now. On top of that, you’ll need to consider accommodations, activities and dining. All of these certainly contribute to the more than $792 billion we spend on leisure travel each year.
With road warriors in mind, WalletHub compared the 50 U.S. states based on 33 key metrics to find the most fun, scenic and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations — plus those that’ll have travelers pulling a quick U-turn. Our data set ranges from the number of attractions to road conditions to costs.
Best Road-Trip Destinations for Summer
|Overall Rank||State||Total Score||Costs||Safety||Activities|
Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that state, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.
You can enjoy a summer road trip without breaking the bank or compromising your safety. For advice, 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:
- Do you have any budget saving tips for those looking to hit the open road?
- Do you think more people will take road trips this summer than in previous years?
- In evaluating the best states for summer road trips, which are the top five factors?
- With 59% of U.S. families saying that they are more likely to drive instead of fly on their next trip and 57% of Americans saying they have gone a year or longer without a vacation, how will the summer road trip season be influenced by the current pandemic context? Will people prefer destinations with a lower number of COVID-19 cases?
- Are road trips a safer vacation option during these troubling times, and if so, why?
- How can local officials enhance safety and promote tourism during the busy summer road trip season?
Ask the Experts
To find the best road-trip destinations for summer, WalletHub compared the 50 states across three key dimensions: 1) Costs, 2) Safety and 3) Activities.
We evaluated those dimensions using 33 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for summer road trips. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), we used the square root of the population to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across states.
We then determined each state’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.
Costs – Total Points: 33.33
- Average Gas Prices: Double Weight (~8.89 Points)
- Maximum Toll Costs: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Average Cost of Car Repairs: Half Weight (~2.22 Points)
- Lowest Price of Three-Star Hotel Room: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Lowest Price of Camping: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Vacation Rentals per Capita: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
- Cost of Living Index: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
Safety – Total Points: 33.33
- Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Population Density: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Share of Urban Interstates Congested during Peak Hours: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Increase in Vehicle Travel on Roads (2019 vs 2000): Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Driving Laws Rating: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Traffic Indiscipline: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
Note: This is a composite metric that measures incidents due to poor behavior: phone use, speeding, aggressive acceleration, harsh braking, and poor turning.
- Quality of Roads: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Quality of Bridges: Quarter Weight (~0.58 Points)
- Traffic-related Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled: Triple Weight (~7.02 Points)
- Share of Uninsured Drivers: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Car Thefts per 1,000 Residents: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Rate of Larceny: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
- Violent Crimes per 1,000 Residents: Full Weight (~2.34 Points)
Activities – Total Points: 33.33
- Share of Total Area Designated as National Parkland: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- National Parks Recreation Visitors per Capita: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Zoos and Botanical Gardens per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Amusement & Theme Parks per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Fairs and Festivals per Capita over Summer Time*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Number of Attractions: Double Weight (~4.17 Points)
Note: Nightlife options excluded.
- Nightlife Options per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Access to Scenic Byways: Triple Weight (~6.25 Points)
Note: This metric takes into account both the number of scenic byways and the length of scenic byways.
- Historical Sites per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Miles of Shoreline: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- Idealness of Summer Weather: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Cities with the Best & Worst Weather” ranking.
- Accommodation & Food Services Establishments per Capita*: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
- State & Local Direct General Expenditures on Parks & Recreation per Capita: Full Weight (~2.08 Points)
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Council for Community and Economic Research, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Park Service, The Insurance Research Council, National Conference of State Legislatures, American Automobile Association, The Road Information Program, America’s Scenic Byways, NOAA Office for Coastal Management, CarMD, Kayak.com, Kampgrounds of America, TripAdvisor, EverQuote, FairsandFestivals.net, Advocate for Highway & Auto Safety and WalletHub research.