The best road trips string together a lot of different Stops and Stays. Stops are any attraction, activity or destination that you decide to spend some time at while you’re on the road. It could be a kitschy roadside attraction or a world renowned museum, a themed hotel or a historic site. . Stays are simply where you’ll spend the night. It could be a standard fare hotel or you might find themed hotels, Bed and Breakfasts or even a working ranch to spend the night at.
And it's no surprise that there are PLENTY of stops and stays to choose from. Not having enough to do is rarely the problem. If you want to know how to figure out what Stops or Stays you might want to consider but aren’t sure where to look without getting totally overwhelmed. . . you’re in the right place!
We’ve put together a list of sites that we’ve found most useful for identifying Stops and Stays. For each, we’ve provided a summary of the key features, pros/cons and how we’d suggest you use it as part of your planning process. Of course, this is all really up to you but we want to offer what we can to help you stay focused and confident. No more falling into endless clickholes and emerging hours later overwhelmed and frustrated.
So, here are our top picks for where to look online to identify your Stops and Stays, in no particular order:
- Key features: Robust route feature that highlights a wide variety of things along the way. You can set the distance that you’re willing to travel off of your route and use a series of filters to see the things that most interest you. They also have some pre-built road trip routes and guides to National Parks.
- Pros: Pretty user friendly, lots of options with the distance from route and layers.
- Cons: Many of the listings are incomplete and/or outdated. You’ll definitely need to do some additional research outside of Roadtrippers.com in order to get the information you need for most stops. It also seems that in recent years as the site has grown in popularity, a lot of things have been added that aren’t really attractions or destinations. Like a Pool and Spa store in Ohio. Or a graffitied water tower that was painted over years ago. So again, be prepared to do a little bit of additional research. There is also a high risk of overwhelm here if you don’t know how to focus your attention.
- Our suggestion: Roadtrippers.com is a great resource for finding stops that fit for your family and your trip. This works especially well if you have your Roadtrip Personalities, Shared Vision, and Roadtrip Mission completed. Then, you can really stay focused only on the filters that fit for you. Ideally, you’d select only the 2-3 filters that are most important to you. Otherwise, the map can become so crowded that it is difficult to navigate and, well, again with the overwhelm. Don’t go to Roadtrippers to find out what you want to see/do. Go there with a clear route established and a good idea of what you’re looking for. We love Roadtrippers as part of any road trip planning, it may not be the first place you look but its definitely part of the equation. Remember to stay focused and know that you’ll likely need to do some additional research outside of the site to get accurate, current information.
- Key features: Atlas Obscura claims to feature “hidden and unusual things to do '' in each state and we haven’t ever been disappointed. We use Atlas Obscura on almost every trip and have found some fabulous Stops using this site. Their offerings have expanded to include courses, experiences, trips, itineraries and a ton of blog content. It's pretty extensive!
- Pros: Information is current and detailed. When you search for a city, you’ll get a manageable list (usually between 20-30) posts. One thing we love is that from that page you can see the actual names of things, without having to go into lists of lists. It keeps it quick and focused. If you do click through and read the post, you’ll find some helpful history and context for the significance of the attraction. Each post links directly to Google Maps and to the attraction’s external site, making it easy to do some additional research before adding the Stop to your list. You’ll also find listings at the bottom of the post with other similar or nearby stops.
- Cons: This site doesn’t have a “route” feature but does display stops in a city on a map. You’ll need to focus on specific Cities in order to find the Stops that you’re looking for. If you’re working through the Roadtrip Possible Course, you’ve already identified your Flagship Destinations, so focusing on specific cities shouldn’t be an issue. The other potential con here is simply the wide variety of information and services available. There is a ton of really interesting information (yay!) but it's really easy to fall into a hole here.
- Our Suggestion: If “hidden and unusual things to do'' are typically a good fit for your family, don’t skip Atlas Obscura. Search for your flagship destinations or specific cities you’ll be visiting. You’ll likely see a few stops that you’ve seen elsewhere but chances are, there will also be a few that are pretty unique. Try not to spend too much time here. You can get the information you need pretty quickly without needing to read all of the other lists and trips and “top” things that might also come up. You might even want to set a timer and see how quickly you can find what you’re looking for. You can always come back and do some other reading for fun when you aren’t actively planning your road trip.
- Key Features: “Your online guide to offbeat tourist attractions”. You can explore by town, city or state which provides a lot of options depending how broad/wide you want to go. There is a lot of other content here about those roadside attractions but that is more valuable for entertainment than planning. There is a new app available and
- Pros: The search features are useful and return relevant results. The “State Favorites” includes links to landmarks and oddities, with tips for many visits. Those types of tips come in handy when you’re planning and can really help you get the most out of each stop. The listings do a good job of describing where to find and access roadside attractions (like the fire breathing dragon in Kaskaskia, IL - you have to go to the hardware store nearby and get a token to make it breathe fire). Much of the content is contributed by actual, novice travelers and road trippers. We also love the “worth a detour” feature that can help you determine whether it really fits with your trip and your priorities.
- Cons: Potential overwhelm is probably the biggest con here too. This site does have ads, though they aren’t particularly cumbersome or overbearing. The listings do not link to external sites which can be frustrating; some simply do not have a website, understandably, but many others do and it would be nice to link directly. The extra steps to research can be a bit time consuming.
- Our suggestion: Use this site when you’re looking specifically to add a few roadside oddities or landmarks in a specific area/s. So if you know you’d like to mix things up and add some whimsy while in Kansas, for example, look just at Kansas. Set a clear goal and time limit on this site or might find yourself feeling a bit drained. Know what you’re looking for - how many, in what areas, and then quit!
- Key Features: Trip Advisor is a great resource for the more traditional, mainstream stops - museums, gardens, zoos and parks. It also features a lot of details about available tours and packages that are available. They’ve expanded to include a lot of other information on everything from rental cars to cruises and more. So again, there is a lot of information.
- Pros: Links to external sites, traveler reviews, a lot of information in one place. There are pretty extensive filters that are useful for finding the types of things that you’re looking for, sorting by reviews, and even by neighborhood. It can also be helpful to have tour options included along with attractions.
- Cons: Even though we’ve listed the tours as a “pro” they can also be a “con”. Depending on the city you’re visiting, there may be an unreasonable number of tours offered that can become really distracting and expensive. If you’re not looking for a tour, don’t spend time looking for a tour! Don’t let these listings throw you off track.
- Our Suggestion: Only look at the top 20 results! Again, stay focused on what you’re there for, use the filters. If you’re looking for obscure things that might be buried way down in their listings, you’d be better served by going to Atlas Obscura or Roadside America.
National Park Service
- Key Features: Features national parks and national historic sites; links to Basic information and calendar for each site
- Pros: Provides accurate and current information on conditions, access and important policies for planning your trip.
- Cons: Not always the easiest to navigate. Each park has a different set of features and types of information. Not a lot of standardization so it does require you to pay closer attention to the details.
- Our Suggestion: This one is obviously best if you do intend to visit National parks or Historic Sites! You might discover them listed on one of the other sites but be sure to visit here to get the details. Make time to take good notes which will save you a dozen trips back to the site. Know what you’d like to do while at the park (at least roughly) and then focus on finding information relevant to that. If you’re not camping, don’t spend time or energy reading about campsites and reservations etc. If you do plan to hike, look for descriptions of the trails, any Ranger notices or warnings, access points, parking information, whether there are any restrooms or water fountains on the trail etc. Be sure to look for seasonal information. Many national parks change dramatically with the seasons. And most, starting in 2020, do require advance reservations and/or tickets so that they can better manage crowds and safety.
Last but not least, Google it.
- Key Features: Google search results will give you the top 20 places to visit in a city. This is a great place to go for mainstream, iconic stops. With Google, you’ll also be able to see when it is busiest, their hours and some other helpful information at a quick glance. If you simply search for the “things to do” in the city you’re visiting and look at the Google recommendations - NOT the dozens or hundreds of search results that promise lists of must-sees and top destinations - then you can see right at the top what the most popular attractions are.
- Pros: It’s Google so you have pretty current, accurate information, easy to navigate links to the sites and data about busy/crowded times, maps and more that other sites may not be able to offer. Plus, if you’re able to keep this high level, it's a quick way to add some great stops.
- Cons: This will really only show you the most popular attractions so if you’re looking for more obscure or unique attractions, this isn’t the best place to look.
- Our Suggestion: If you like to include mainstream attractions, start here. You can quickly get a list of the most popular places in that city. You can then do some additional research on each to see if you want to add it to your list. Avoid the temptation to click on the other results that come up when you do this search. You’ll likely find dozens of “top destinations” and “must see” lists. These may have great stops listed but chances are, you’ll lose a lot of time and energy scrolling through ad heavy blogs when you can find the same listings in more accessible, straightforward places.
The other thing to consider is visiting the website of the cities that you’ll be visiting. Many times, seasonal and special events are listed on the city government or tourist calendar pages.
There are plenty of other places to look online and many of them have interesting content but if they’re not included on this list, then it’s because we’ve found them to be overwhelming, distracting or not very user friendly. In many places, the headlines are catchy but non specific and you end up having to click through a dozen posts with sometimes misleading titles before you actually find a real attraction or “stop”. Since the focus of our recommendations here is on staying focused and eliminating overwhelm . . . those types of sites didn’t make the cut. Many of them make great entertainment reading but not the best planning tools.
In the Roadtrip Possible Course, we have a voting system that you can use with all of your travelers in order to rank your stops and really prioritize how you’ll spend your time and money. It is a great way to bring this research to the group and ensure that you really are planning a trip that everyone is on board with.
If you’re not familiar with the Roadtrip Possible Course but want to know more about how a detailed 9 step process can help you plan the road trip of your dreams, click here!