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21 Spring Break Road Trips That Are Scenic from Start to Finish

For a vacation that's close to home, hop in your car and embark on one of these spectacular spring break road trips.

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View of mountains reflected in side-view mirror of car at sunset,Teton County,Wyoming,United States,USATatiana Avdjiev/Getty Images

Spring break road trips you still have time to plan

Now that travel restrictions have been lifted and urban destinations are safer to visit than in recent years, spring break road trips are on everyone’s minds. Sure, you could hop on a plane and get there lickety-split, but where’s the adventure in taking a shortcut? Remember: Some of the best trips are about the journey, not just the destination. That’s why we’ve rounded up our favorite spring break destinations that not only end in a fun city but will also have you and your passengers “ooohing” and “aaahing” over all the cool sights along the way. Plus, we’ve highlighted how long each road trip will take from a nearby major city, so you’ll have plenty of options for long and short drives.

Before you make any travel decisions, weigh all your options, including mini vacations that won’t break the bank and cheap spring break trips. Then, consult our ultimate American road trip guide, which is chock-full of planning, budgeting, and packing tips. And if you’re looking to get a jump-start on summer (honestly, who isn’t?!), peruse these Memorial Day getaways you won’t want to miss.

Summer Solstice on Flatside PinnacleLinda Henderson/Getty Images

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Distance from Little Rock: 54.6 miles (about an hour)

Roughly an hour’s drive southwest from Little Rock, you’ll find the Ouachita Mountains and Hot Springs, Arkansas. As far as spring break road trips go, this one is short, but you’ll be treated to views of rolling hills flush with lush oak, hickory, and pine trees. The thermal waters are the big draw, of course, and we highly recommend the Quapaw Baths and Spa or the Buckstaff Bathouse for traditional experiences. But you can also mine your own quartz crystal at Avant Mining, tour Hot Springs National Park (known for its 47 thermal springs and 30 miles of hiking trails), mountain-bike the 26 miles of world-class trails in the Northwoods Trails system, and meander through the 210 acres of gardens at Garvan Woodland Gardens.

When it’s time to eat, head to Deluca’s Pizzeria for authentic New York–style pies, McClard’s B-B-Q for a rack of ribs, or Superior Bathhouse Brewery (the only brewery located in a national park) for pub food and a beer. Stay at the Oaklawn Casino Racing Resort for a lively atmosphere, which includes a 24-hour casino, or choose a more subdued stay at The Reserve at Hot Springs, a new luxury boutique hotel that was once a private estate.

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Vineyards along Hilltop Lane near McMinnvillenik wheeler/Getty Images

McMinnville, Oregon

Distance from Portland: 47 miles (about an hour)

If spring break road trips that lead you straight into the heart of Oregon wine country are on the top of your bucket list, then look no further than McMinnville. One of the most underrated American cities, this adorably quaint town will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, to a simpler era. Maple trees line the historic downtown shopping district, and the locals all seem to know one another. There are festivals galore in the spring, including the McMinnville Short Film Festival, the McMinnville Wine & Food Festival, and even a UFO Fest.

Since you’re probably here for the wine, you’ll definitely want to visit Soter Wines, a biodynamic farm, vineyard, and tasting room in Willamette Valley, one of the best places to grow Pinot Noir on the planet. Durant Vineyards at Red Ridge should also be on your must-visit list; it houses 17 acres of olive trees and produces the most delicious olive oil. Enjoy breakfast at Community Plate, lunch at Pizza Capo, and dinner at Mac Market, where the talented chef Kari whips up mouthwatering seasonal creations.

A stay at the boutique Atticus Hotel will place you conveniently adjacent to Main Street. Bonus: You can borrow Dutch-style bicycles to roam around town!

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Jackson Square New Orleans LAJonathan D. Goforth/Getty Images

New Orleans, Louisiana

Distance from Dallas: 492 miles (almost 8 hours)

There’s so much more to do in New Orleans beyond Mardi Gras, so get ready for an action-packed trip. To immerse yourself in more refined activities, visit the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. And, of course, everyone knows that one of the most fun things to do in NOLA is eat, so be sure grab beignets at Café Du Monde in the French Quarter, cornmeal-dusted fried catfish at Barrow’s Catfish, or a po’boy at Domilise’s Po-Boy & Bar.

Take a cemetery tour or a food-history tour if you’d like to learn more about the area, and then enjoy drinks and live music at the Peacock Room at the Kimpton Hotel Fontenot or the Spotted Cat Music Club. Finally, consider planning your trip around one of the many spring festivals, such as the New Orleans Bourbon Festival, the Tennessee Williams & New Orleans Literary Festival, or the French Quarter Festival.

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Scenic View Of Sea Against SkyJean-Paul Van Der Heijden/Getty Images

Key Largo, Florida

Distance from Miami: 68 miles (1 hour and 15 minutes)

Some might call Key Largo the ultimate Florida day trip, but we think it makes for one of the best spring break road trips worth spending far more than a day in. It’s the most northern and longest island in the Florida Keys, and while there, you can spend time in the Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, take a steamboat ride on the African Queen, and explore the nation’s first undersea park, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Experienced divers will be impressed by the Spiegel Grove Wreck, while birding enthusiasts often flock to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.

Your family or group of friends will love staying at the luxurious Ocean Residences at Playa Largo Resort & Spa, an exclusive enclave of private three- and four-bedroom vacation-home rentals. Your stay includes a breakfast picnic basket delivered each morning. While you’re in the Sunshine State, you should also check out the best Florida beaches that locals want to keep secret.

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Cana Island Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, Door County WisconsinJamesBrey/Getty Images

Door County, Wisconsin

Distance from Chicago: 245 miles (less than 4 hours)

Head north from Chicago and in less than half a day, you’ll find yourself in Door County, a serene 70-mile-long peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan with 300 miles of stunning shoreline. Pop by the Door County Coffee & Tea Company in Sturgeon Bay for your gourmet caffeine fix, then over to Peninsula State Park for more than 16 miles of hiking trails. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, order a cup of tomato bisque and house-made bread at Macready Artisan Bread Co. in Egg Harbor. And no trip to the area would be complete without a traditional Scandinavian-style fish boil dinner. At the White Gull Inn, you’ll be treated to Lake Michigan whitefish caught by local fisherman and watch while it cooks outside over an open fire.

Rest your weary head at the Chanticleer Guest House, a charming and secluded farmhouse-style bed and breakfast set on 80 private acres of wilderness. Choose from eight roomy, picture-perfect suites and four luxury cabins. Looking for a longer road trip? The Great Northern Road Trip is a 3,600-mile trek across—you guessed it!—the northern part of the country, including the Badger State.

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landscape with a lake and mountains; Ruidoso, New MexicoEsdelval/Getty Images

Ruidoso, New Mexico

Distance from Phoenix: 512 miles (less than 8 hours)

While Phoenix may seem like the ideal spot for many spring breakers, desert dwellers need a change of scenery, too. Set your spring break road trip sights on Ruidoso, a quaint mountain town set in the Sacramento mountains just a few hours southeast of Albuquerque and two hours north of El Paso. If you’re craving a winter-like setting, hit the slopes at Ski Apache or brave its Ziptour (it’s the world’s highest release elevation) for spectacular views as you zip 60 mph down the mountain. Warmer-weather activities including kayaking or paddleboarding on Grindstone Lake, fishing for rainbow trout, and off-roading with Backcountry Attitudes. For some Instagram-worthy shots, try to capture all 10 midtown public art murals.

Finally, consider a day trip to one of the most peaceful places on Earth: White Sands National Park. Another fun option for Phoenicians with a little more time on their hands is a Route 93 border-to-border road trip that runs from Nogales, Mexico, to Jasper National Park in Canada.

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Beach at Carlsbad at sunset, San Diego, California, USADennis Lint/Getty Images

Carlsbad, California

Distance from Los Angeles: 94 miles (less than 2 hours)

Residents of San Diego have already caught onto this coastal gem about 35 miles north of their downtown, but Angelenos may not yet have Carlsbad on their radar. On this California road trip, you’ll leave the smog and traffic behind and enjoy a breath of fresh air at the Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch, which gives the Keukenhof Flower Gardens in the Netherlands a run for its money. From early March through late May, the annual burst of color boldly announces that spring has sprung in SoCal. This working farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean is open to the public, though tickets must be purchased in advance.

If this is a family trip, spend a day at LEGOLAND California with the kids, and then take yourself to the Ocean Pearl Spa at the Westin Carlsbad Resort & Spa for a personalized holistic treatment. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around Leo Carrillo Ranch to bask in the beautiful landscaping and see the free-roaming peacocks. Then stop by Tamarack State Beach for a little sunbathing, or check out Carlsbad’s 67 miles of hiking and single-track mountain biking trails.

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Trillium Lake and Mount Hood Oregon USA at sunsetbenedek/Getty Images

Mt. Hood, Oregon

Distance from Seattle: 263 miles (less than 5 hours)

Ready to trade the sea for some fresh mountain air? Head south to the City of Roses (aka Portland) and then east to snow-capped Mt. Hood, Oregon. (FYI, this is also one of the final stops along an Oregon Trail road trip.) Kayak the Willamette Falls, the second-largest waterfall by volume in North America, or amp up the adventure with Blue Sky Rafting on the Clackamas River. Spend a Saturday afternoon at the Villa Catalana Cellars for delicious Pinot pours, wood-fired pizzas, and the most enchanting scenery with a dozen nature-drenched sipping spots. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival runs through May 1, where you can wander through 40 acres of colorful fields, watch wooden shoe-making demonstrations, visit the vineyard tasting room, or take a ride on a hot air balloon.

Staying at the Mt. Hood Oregon Resort will ensconce you in nature and delight golfers with its on-site, 27-hole golf course. Not a golfer? Decompress in the brand-new, 5,000 square-foot spa, and then treat yourself to seasonal cuisine at one of the resort’s two restaurants.

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Seagulls at sunrise on South Padre Island TexasHundley_Photography/Getty Images

South Padre Island, Texas

Distance from Houston: 374 miles (5.5 hours)

Are you an angler looking for a tropical feel, miles of sandy beaches, and gorgeous views of the Gulf of Mexico? Head south past Corpus Christi to South Padre Island. From March through May, you can go deep-sea fishing in the clear blue waters of the Gulf to score Spanish mackerel, kingfish, barracuda, red snapper, amberjack, crevalle jack, and wahoo. If you’d like to stay closer to shore, try fishing in the Laguna Madre Bay for redfish, black drum, flounder, and sheepshead. You can even catch tarpon, cobia, Spanish mackerel, snapper, and grouper off the jetties. The best part? If you take your catch to one of eight local restaurants, they’ll clean and cook it for you! If you don’t catch anything, head to F&B South Padre Island for dinner and order the whole salt-crusted fish—then prepare to be wowed by the table-side presentation.

The Courtyard by Marriott South Padre Island is the newest hotel in the area, and it’s located right on the beach. South Padre Island also happens to be one of the best places to see dolphins in the wild, so keep an eye out for them. For a completely different type of Texas road trip, head to Fredricksburg, a town with a romantic, small-town vibe that’s about 234 miles west of Houston.

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view of the city of Fargo, North DakotaDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Fargo, North Dakota

Distance from Minneapolis: 235 miles (less than 4 hours)

You’ll spend much of this drive in Minnesota, but once you reach North Dakota, Fargo is just over the border. Start with a public art tour of the murals of Fargo-Moorhead, where you’ll find a colorful display every few blocks. Right across the street from the Jasper Hotel, you’ll find the Fargo Theater, which was built as a cinema house in 1912 but has been thoughtfully restored. Explore the great outdoors at Rendezvous Park’s hiking paths and biking trails.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite, indulge in seasonal fare prepared by James Beard Best Chef Midwest nominee Ryan Nitschke at Luna, one of North Dakota’s award-winning restaurants, and then grab a cone at the Silver Lining Creamery or a drink at Wild Terra Cider. If you’re a fan of craft brews, you’ll definitely want to check out Fargo Brewing Company (and its Wood Chipper IPA) and Drekker Brewing Brewhalla. Here are some of the best midwest vacation spots you have to visit at least once.

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Tucson, Arizona, USA SkylineSean Pavone/Getty Images

Tucson, Arizona

Distance from Las Vegas: 413 miles (about 6 hours)

Since it’s hard to find weather as lovely as Las Vegas in the springtime, your best bet for a spring break road trip is to head south to Tucson to explore one of the most stunning desert escapes in the United States. On the way, look for cactus flowers in bloom, desert hares, and, depending on when you hit the road, a vibrant desert sunset over the mountains.

If you want to shed your inner-city slicker, stay at White Stallion Ranch, where you can try your hand at horseback riding, archery, and team cattle sorting. Thrill seekers can head straight to Mt. Lemmon, a 9,000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains with more than 2,700 climbing routes. And those who prefer to stay grounded can hike through Tucson’s mountain trails or bike on The Loop, a 136-mile, car-free network of multi-use trails and paved paths. If you’d rather stay in the north of the state, here’s another Arizona road trip that will take you from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon via some historic Wild West towns.

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Blue Ridge Mountain SunriseTeresa Kopec/Getty Images

Asheville, North Carolina

Distance from Atlanta: 198 miles (3.5 hours)

Fun fact: Fifty percent of the U.S. population lives within 600 miles of Asheville. That means Atlanta isn’t the only city with easy access to this mountain town. (We’re talking to you, Charlotte, Nashville, Raleigh, Louisville, and Greensboro.) No matter which direction you drive from, you’ll be treated to scenic mountain vistas that allow you to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. You’ll find thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails, George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre playground at Biltmore Estate, the highest peaks east of the Mississippi, and the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans the southern and central Appalachian Mountains.

In the city itself, the River Arts District boasts more than 200 artists, and foodies will love the plethora of James Beard-nominated restaurants and the food tours showcasing some of them. If you spend the night at the Foundry Hotel downtown, you can enjoy chauffeured brewery visits via the hotel’s Tesla car service, among other perks.

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Worcester, MassachusettsDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Worcester, Massachusetts

Distance from Boston: 47 miles (less than 1 hour)

Do you love diners? Take the Mass Pike (I-90E) to Worcester and you’ll arrive in the very spot in which lunch carts, aka diners, were invented. Visit the Worcester Historical Museum to learn more about their history, and let the little ones pretend to take orders and serve up meals in their mini diner. Southwick’s Zoo allows visitors to get up close and personal with deer, pygmy goats, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, and parakeets.

Another 90-minute drive west to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, will take you to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. It boasts an R&R retreat if you need to de-stress, a full calendar of presenters and programs in categories such as creative expression and meditation, and Ayurvedic spa treatments. To see more of the Eastern seaboard, check out this guide to an Atlantic Coast road trip.

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Art Deco buildings and palm trees on Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami, Floridaespiegle/Getty Images

South Beach, Florida

Distance from Tampa: 282 miles (4 hours)

Located within Miami, South Beach is a neighborhood that very much stands on its own. Its iconic, pastel-hued Art Deco buildings line Ocean Drive, and the area’s legendary shoreline almost glitters with aquamarine water and fine sand. Make the Shelborne South Beach your home away from home during your vacation and you’ll be bathed in 1960s-era opulence: From the Art Deco architecture and speakeasy-inspired bar to the iconic pool and penthouse suites, this chic boutique paradise is full of luxurious beach vacation vibes.

If you can pry yourself away from the property, check out the colorful collections at the Perez Art Museum Miami. Be sure to have a bite of Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine at the on-site waterfront restaurant and bar, Verde, led by James Beard Award-winning executive chef Hedy Goldsmith, and try the inventive plant-based cuisine at nearby restaurant Planta. Finally, relax on Miami’s most famous sand, rollerblade along its beachside pathways, and take a stroll through the Art Deco District. A word to the wise: Go in April, after the college spring break crowds have dissipated.

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Scenic View Of Sea Against Clear Sky During SunsetJackie Nunez/Getty Images

Amagansett, New York

Distance from New York City: 80 miles (2.5 hours or more)

Sometimes you just need to escape the bustling city but don’t have time to travel too far. That’s why the Hamptons are high up on the list of best spring break road trips for New Yorkers. The further you drive down the Long Island Expressway, the thicker its woods and more out of the way its beaches become. Check into the Roundtree, Amagansett, a luxury boutique hotel that sits on two acres of farmland just one mile from the beach. Its cozy cottages and in-room spa treatments are ideal for a romantic weekend.

Spend some of your time museum-hopping—art lovers should check out the Parrish Art Museum for a collection of works from the 19th century to the present, while fashionistas will appreciate the Leiber Collection Museum and Sculpture Garden. Other diversions include bird watching and wildlife viewing at Accabonac Harbor (be on the lookout for red foxes, resting ospreys, black ducks, and more), and sipping wine at the area’s numerous vineyards. Cheers to that!

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Buffalo on the Prairie in WyomingL. Toshio Kishiyama/Getty Images

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Distance from Denver: 102 miles (1.5 hours)

Who knew two cities only 100 miles apart could feel worlds apart? On your way north to Wyoming’s capital city, you’ll enjoy the view of wide-open fields. Just past the state border, stop by Terry Bison Ranch—this is the only place where you are allowed to feed bison (in a controlled and safe environment). There’s also a bison train tour and horseback rides, along with cabins, an RV park, and tent sites. Next, enjoy biking in Curt Gowdy State Park, where you’ll find four mountain bike play areas and mountain bike skills areas. (There are plenty of hiking trails, too, if you prefer to be on foot.) There are also several museums, including a new state historic site, Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility, and plenty of distilleries and breweries where you can quench your thirst. If you have an RV, make sure to bookmark this list of the best RV parks in every state.

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High Falls at dusk in Rochester, New YorkDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Rochester, New York

Distance from Cleveland: 259 miles (4 hours)

The directions couldn’t be easier: Just hug Lake Erie as you drive northeast along I-90E all the way to Rochester. And make sure to bring the kids, as Rochester really rolls out the red carpet for families. Located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Upstate New York, Rochester is the state’s third-largest city and boasts 75 experiences for families within an hour’s drive. The Strong National Museum of Play is the only museum in the world dedicated to the exploration of play (and one of the most-visited family attractions in the country). The Seabreeze Amusement Park offers roller coasters (including the oldest continuously operating wooden roller coaster in the U.S.) and a water park. The Seneca Park Zoo and the Rochester Museum and Science Center, which boasts the largest planetarium in the country, are also must-sees.

Set up camp at the Hilton’s College Town complex, which is centrally located for easy exploring. Or make it a romantic weekend by heading an hour southeast and staying the night at The Inns of Aurora in the heart of the Finger Lakes.

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Lynchburg, Virginia, USA downtown city skylineSean Pavone/Getty Images

Lynchburg, Virginia

Distance from Philadelphia: 320 miles (5.5 hours)

You’ll pass through Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., on your drive to Lynchburg, Virginia, but once you arrive, your pace will slow down. Enjoy the local shops and artwork that fill the downtown streets, beginning at the Instagram-worthy Love Sculpture located along the Percival’s Island Trail downtown. Unplug at Ivy Creek Park, a green oasis offering trails, picnic and play areas, and canoeing and kayaking rentals on the lake. And the third-oldest farmer’s market in the country (founded in 1783), Lynchburg Community Market, offers a variety of fresh produce and crafts on the corner of 12th and Main Streets.

When you’re ready to rest, the Craddock Terry Hotel has the ambiance you’re looking for: This turn-of-the-century shoe factory has been transformed into a luxury hotel, blending original brick warehouse architecture and historical artifacts with chic modern style.

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Drone Aerial Beach View of Panama City Beach, Florida, USAKruck20/Getty Images

Panama City Beach, Florida

Distance from Jacksonville: 272 miles (4 hours)

You may still be under the impression that Panama City Beach is just for drunk college kids on spring break, but the vibe has changed in recent years. In 2016, the city passed (and enforces!) a drinking ban outlawing the possession and consumption of alcohol on beaches during the month of March. So long, twentysomethings, and hello, families! While you could spend your entire vacation hanging out on the beach and enjoying the Gulf of Mexico, there’s plenty more to do on this spring break road trip. Visit the Shipwreck Island Water Park, hike Camp Helen State Park’s trails, play golf (Golf Digest magazine named this city one of the nation’s top three golf towns), and go fishing, boating, or diving. Seafood markets offer the freshest catches when you’re ready for a bite to eat, and many of the beach bars offer live music and cocktails with sunset views.

You’ll also get excellent views at the Sheraton Panama City Beach Golf & Spa Resort, the only AAA Four Diamond Rated Resort in the city. The waterfront hotel offers a private bay beach, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, and plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities, from tennis to snorkeling. It’s a fantastic spring break destination if you want to avoid college crowds.

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Azaleas at the peak of blossoming surrounded by huge oaks draped in spanish moss on a bright, sunshiny day. Gardens at Avery Island, New Iberia, Louisiana.Warren_Price/Getty Images

New Iberia, Louisiana

Distance from New Orleans: 132 miles (2.5 hours)

From NOLA, take US-90W to New Iberia and you’ll quickly reach a Cajun Country destination with an abundance of attractions and activities. Iberia Parish is located on the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, which recently received its National Byway designation. With 24 lakes and 15 public boat launches, it’s the perfect place to spend time on the water. Additional outdoor activities include the Iberia Azalea Trail (you’ll stroll Main Street and gaze at the azaleas and stately homes) and the Bayou Teche National Water and Paddle Trail, where you can boat and fish. And make sure to devote a day to Jefferson Island, where you’ll find the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Cajun and Creole specialties at Café Jefferson, and plentiful bird watching at Rips Rookery.

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Big Sable Lighthouse in Ludington Michigancsterken/Getty Images

Ludington, Michigan

Distance from Detroit: 252 miles (3.5 hours)

Halfway up Michigan’s west coast on the shores of Lake Michigan lies Ludington, one of the closest access points to what Michiganders call “Up North”—a region that feels like a vacation from everyday life. You’ll find northern Michigan’s natural beauty combined with the quaint charm of a small town, with specialty shops and family-owned restaurants lining the pedestrian-friendly main street. Stroll along the 28 miles of sugar-sand beaches, explore the Pere Marquette River via kayak or canoe, or head to Ludington State Park for 25 miles of hiking trails. You can also learn about the area’s history at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum in the former U.S. Coast Guard Station or through a self-guided tour of the Mason County Cultural Trails (just use your smartphone to hear stories at each stop along the way). Keep your stay simple at Nader’s Motel & Suites, which is super affordable and centrally located.

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Jill Schildhouse
As an editor at large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel, and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.