I cannot tell you how many times I have googled for weekend vacation ideas with the kids and was bombarded with Disney World, Disney Land, and every major city in between. Don’t get me wrong–we love Disney, we love big cities, but we love laid-back towns off the beaten path just SO much more, especially for little getaways. Kids and big crowds just don’t mix, so why not shake it up this year and go somewhere new that won’t have you leaving with a migraine and an empty wallet.
If you’re looking for a few fun road trips to end your summer with a bang, Tom and I compiled our favorite weekend trips to take with the kids! No offense to the cities who didn’t make the list–you know we love everywhere we go, but we tried to narrow it down to our personal favorites.
1. Little Switzerland, NC
I have been all over the world, and I promise there is no place I love more than Little Switzerland. The view is breathtaking, the air is fresh, and even with four kids in tow, it still feels relaxing and peaceful. Hike through the Blue Ridge, explore the local waterfalls, take in the gorgeous view, and relax on a balcony at the Switzerland Inn with a glass of wine to end your day. There’s a lot of fun activities for kids like gem mining, horseshoes, corn hole, and so much more. Tom and I actually loved this little place so much that we got married here and return every year for our anniversary! Simple, perfect, calm.
2. Lancaster, PA
We took the kids to Lancaster for the first time this summer, and it’s definitely a spot we plan on revisiting again soon. Stay on an authentic Amish farm, cuddle some baby goats, take in the fresh air, enjoy shopping in town, and don’t forget to check out Dutch Wonderland (a small, quaint theme park designed for young kids!!). Our kids loved the slow moments of just laying in the hammock on the Amish farm and playing with the baby animals. In fact, we loved the baby animals so much that we came home with a new kitten straight from the Amish barn. Such a big-family friendly town, too–we were considered a “small family” here, which I loved! 🙂
3. Pawleys Island, SC
Spoiler alert: this is actually the town that I grew up in, so I’m incredibly biased. Snuggled right between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, this hidden gem is the perfect beach town for summer fun. It has the same beautiful beaches as it’s northern counterparts, but it doesn’t have the crowds or traffic that they have. Spend a week relaxing on the beach and staying at a nearby inn. Explore Brookgreen Gardens and Atalaya Castle with the kids. Make sure to check out the Pawleys Island Tavern while you’re there, too–perfect little island pub that welcomes all ages for lunch and dinner.
4. Solomons Island, MD
We love DC and Annapolis, but we do not love the crowds and traffic. Solomons is the PERFECT destination for families, as it’s only a very short drive from so many big city attractions while still having a small town vibe. Rent a boat and spend the day on the Patuxent River with your crew! Hunt for fossils in Calvert Cliffs State Park! Hike at Flag Ponds Nature Park (I found FIVE shark teeth here within one hour)! Check out the sculpture garden and ice cream stands and enjoy fresh, local cuisines. I could go on forever. This place is great, and the kids never want to leave.
4. Cosby, TN
We love the Great Smoky Mountains, but we don’t love the chaos of staying in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. Cosby is the perfect alternative for families who want a little more peace. Pitch a tent and rent a campsite in Cosby for a full nature experience. Play in rivers and hike around with your babies. Explore the nearby park sites like Cades Cove and Clingman’s Dome, just a short drive away. And if you run into a rainy day, spend it riding on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which is fun for all ages!
5. Blowing Rock, NC
I almost hesitated to put this one on here since it’s pretty close to Little Switzerland, but this little mountain gem deserves its own spot on here. Blowing Rock has the most adorable little downtown which is perfect for a day of shopping local treasures and enjoying a pizza from Mellow Mushroom. Check out Mystery Hill (kind of like a quirky Ripleys Believe it Or Not) and Tweetsie Railroad (a small theme park for kids with an awesome train). We love the vibe of Blowing Rock so much that it’s where we hopefully plan on retiring one day! Only a short drive from Boone and Asheville, which are also awesome little mountain towns for families to explore.
6. Natural Bridge, VA
This is one of my favorite spots in Virginia, and we take the kids every year. Natural Bridge State Park is such a breathtaking spot that your jaw will drop when you stand right in front of the bridge. We love hiking around with the kids, letting them run wild, and enjoying the cool breeze at the change of the season. Food options are limited in the area, so I will warn my fellow vegans that you will leave hungry unless you pack your own food and plan accordingly. There is a very cute diner in town called Pink Cadillac Diner that the kids love, though! And if zoos are your thing, there is also a drive-thru safari there called Virginia Safari Park where you can have extremely up-close animal encounters. There is a really cool local artist there who makes the quirkiest little statues that are featured all over town (there’s giant gorillas, dinosaurs, and there used to be a scaled replica of Stonehenge made out of foam); they make perfect photo ops!
7. Chincoteague, VA
I would’ve put this one at the top of the list, BUT we’ve only ever visited during the off-season and locals were pretty rude to us about that. Lol. It is an incredible little beach town, though, that everyone should check out DURING THE SUMMER SEASON. Chincoteague is known for the wild ponies at their wildlife refuge, and it truly is an amazing experience to be hiking on a trail and see wild ponies run by. The kids and I went on a hike one day while Tom was working, and in two hours, we were able to see over six wild horses!! The views are breathtaking, too, with or without the ponies. The Whallops Island NASA facility is nearby, which makes for a fun rainy day activity to tour with your littles. I also saw where the KOA in Chincoteague has very Instagram-worthy safari tents that look INCREDIBLE, so we plan on staying there when we visit again!
8. Grafton, VT
We spent Christmas in Vermont last year, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Grafton is the CUTEST little town, no matter the season. Stay at the Grafton Inn for incredible hospitality and rooms straight out of a Hallmark movie. Head to Plummer’s Sugar House to show your kids how maple syrup is made. Let your kids play around at the Nature Museum in the middle of town. Drive to nearby towns and check out all of the covered bridges (our hotel gave us a hilarious little handmade map of all of them nearby, and the kids loved the hunt!). Don’t forget to go shopping at the Vermont Country Store for unique candies and nostalgic toys. Lennox hasn’t stopped talking about Vermont since we left! In the winter, the outdoor center also has snow tubing, skiing, snow shoeing, and sledding, which made for the best snow-covered memories.