18 Driveable Vacation Spots and Places To Visit in The US Within 12 Hours For Most Americans - Planner at Heart (2024)

In the past two years, the American Road Trip came roaring back. If you’ve caught the road trip bug and can stay places longer and work remotely, there are a lot of fantastic vacation spots across America to explore.

We’ve gathered places to visit in the U.S. within one day’s drive for more than a majority of people. I’ve confirmed through correspondence with these cities that 50% or more of the U.S. population can drive to these destinations in 12 hours or less.

Driveable Vacation Spots and Places To Visit in the US

West Coasters may be a little bummed to read this list. Still, as most of the American population is gathered on the East Coast and Midwestern cities, destinations in those regions dominate this list of vacation spots and places to visit in the US.

So whether you’re looking for new vacation spots in your area or to go on a longer road trip, I hope this list of places to visit in the U.S. gives you a new idea!

1. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

Set in the Pennsylvania countryside, Lehigh Valley, is an affordable and family-friendly destination is within a day’s drive of 73% of the US population.

Only 90-minutes away from the nation’s largest city, New York City, 80 miles north of Philadelphia, and less than a 6-hour drive from most of the Northeast, Indianapolis, and Charlotte, it’s worth taking a look at for your next vacation.

The Lehigh Valley area consists of Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and other charming small towns with tons to see and explore.

Opening in mid-May, Dorney Park and its waterpark and Planet Snoopy offer over 100 rides for young ones. In addition, the Crayola Experience in Easton has dozens of hands-on, creative activities, including making and naming your own Crayola crayon to take home.

You can hike, bike, or run on their extensive trail network, including the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and the bucket-list Appalachian Trail.

Or enjoy mother nature’s gifts at one of their 30 wineries. Lehigh Valley is considered an American Viticultural Area, a federally designated wine-grape-growing region like Napa Valley, just a lot closer to home.

If you love Williamsburg’s historical experience and centuries-old buildings, this region even more! These landmarks are original 18th-century buildings from Moravian settlers who moved to Pennsylvania from the Eastern Czech Republic. Book lovers will want to step foot into the Moravian Book shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world, dating back to 1745.

“The Steelstacks, located in Bethlehem, is one of the best places to spend an evening in the Lehigh Valley and one of the bestthings to do in Pennsylvania“, said Melanie from Partners in Fire.

“An old steel mill turned events center, the facility hosts festivals, concerts, outdoor movies, and more all summer. The Steelstacks complex also includes the Artquest Performing Arts Center, food vendors, and a full bar, making it an ideal place to eat, drink, and be merry on those long summer nights.”

With sticker shock gas prices, it’s a bonus that Lehigh Valley is a one-tank trip for those in the Northeast. Further cementing itself as a budget-friendly option, the average daily accommodations rate is $104 a night, which is highly affordable compared to other Northeastern cities.

2. Richmond, Virginia

18 Driveable Vacation Spots and Places To Visit in The US Within 12 Hours For Most Americans - Planner at Heart (1)

While you might have thought about ( or already visited Washington, DC,) have you considered going to Richmond, Virginia? RVA, as locals call it, is Virginia’s State Capitol, 100 miles south of Washington DC and filled with just as much historical significance as one of America’s oldest cities. Within a 500-mile radius from half of the U.S. population, there’s a little bit of everything in this centrally located destination.

Adventures might be interested in the Class II and IV rapids in Richmond, one of the only cities to have rapids of this size in an urban setting. Or for thrills on land, Kings Dominion amusem*nt park has over 60 rides and a brand new roller coaster, Tumbili, debuting in 2022.

Museum-lovers have a lot to choose from in RVA! The free Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has 50,000 works from 6,000 years, is open every day of the year, and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture is reopening on May 14, 2022, after completing a $30 million renovation.

In addition, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia tells the stories of African American history in Virginia. The Poe Museum, with the most extensive collection of Poe artifacts, is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2022 with a year-long schedule of special events.

If you are in town for a short time and want to combine many experiences into one, you can travel around town to see the Mending Walls public mural art project on a self-guided journey or bicycle tour. Or explore the city via The Richmond Beer Trail, sampling ciders, wines, and meaderies from almost 40 local breweries.

3. Fayetteville, West Virginia

Fayetteville has been named “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America” by Budget Travel Magazine and “Best River Town” and is now a neighbor to the country’s newest national park – the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

Despite being an 8-hour drive from 60% of the U.S. population, the West Virginia way of life is crowd-free. No town, not even Fayetteville, has more than 50,000 people. So if you’re looking to scratch that National Park itch but have no interest in exploring nature along with record-level park crowds, consider all that The Mountain State offers up to vacationers.

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve is 70,000 acres of public land full of rich history and prime for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. The park also encompasses the New River, one of the oldest rivers on the continent, and the world’s third-longest single-span arch bridge spanning 3,030 feet above the Gorge.

If you prefer the all-inclusive type of resort, one of the top six adventure resorts in the country, Adventures on the Gorge, is also found here. It offers 60 different activities across its 250 acres, a variety of accommodations, restaurants, bars, and amenities like its swimming pool with a stunning overlook of the New River Gorge.

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

While you might only know Pittsburgh for one of its sports teams or Three Rivers Stadium, ‘The Purg’ is one of those under-the-radar vacation spots despite being a driveable destination for 57% of Americans.

Its Cultural District, located in the heart of Downtown, is home to nine theatres that showcase a world-renowned symphony orchestra, opera, dance, and award-winning plays. Or explore the Andy Warhol Museum, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, or The Clemente Museum.

This Fall, the Moonshot Museum opens at the headquarters of space robotics company Astrobotic Technology providing visitors with an up-close look at real lunar landers and rovers being built and readied to fly to the Moon.

Despite being a medium-sized city, there’s a lot of nature to take in. Pittsburgh is home to 165 parks and places to hike, bike, or walk along the city’s trails. Or roll out a blanket and enjoy a leisurely meal at Three Rivers Parks, where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet.

5. Columbus, Ohio

If you’re looking for an urban destination, Columbus, Ohio, is now America’s 14th largest city, with more residents than San Francisco, and offers months’ worth of activities. 65% of the U.S. Population ( plus Toronto, Quebec, and Montreal residents) can road trip to Ohio’s largest city in less than 12 hours.

Family-friendly attractions include one of the nation’s best zoos, fun-filled children’s museums, and Franklin Park Conservatory, home to the nation’s top children’s garden. In addition, Columbus has an incredible park system with outstanding hiking and green spaces, including 175 acres of green space in the heart of the city, hundreds of miles of bike/hike and running trails, and one of the world’s only Audubon Centers in the middle of downtown.

Do you have a fashionista in your life but can’t make it to New York City? Due to significant fashion brands headquartered in town, Columbus is a surprising fashion mecca. It’s the third-largest employer of fashion designers, fueling incredible shopping with lower price tags than in expensive cities.

The city’s art scene is unparalleled for a city its size. You’ll find dozens of galleries, major art museums, several massive live performance venues, groundbreaking offerings such as Shadowbox Live and the Wexner Center for Contemporary Art, and an exciting poetry scene.

As a city where diversity is celebrated and new Americans are warmly welcomed, foodies will love the city’s culinary offerings. Columbus is home to multiple James Beard Award nominees, a recent Top Chef Contender, and the owner of what the New York Times called the best new restaurant in America.

With the second-largest Somali population in the U.S. and one of the country’s most diverse populations overall, in Columbus, visitors can enjoy Tibetan momos, Bangladeshi cuisine, a Pakistani bakery, and one of the best banh mi sandwiches in North America. In addition, dozens of authentic food trucks serve cuisines from Mexico, Central, and South America, and draw long lines.

6. Cincinnati, Ohio

One hundred miles southwest of Columbus is another one of Ohio’s fantastic vacation spots. Cincinnati is called the Gateway to the Midwest due to its central location, an 11-hour drive for half of all Americans. One of the country’s most affordable places to live, people can have a great vacation in Cincinnati with top attractions and fantastic dining without New York City or San Francisco prices.

The town has a vibrant arts and culture scene as one of only 13 cities in the country with its own ballet, opera, fine art, symphony, theater companies, and museums. In addition, families will love the new Art Climb at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the award-winning Cincinnati Zoo, and the walkable downtown area that’s easy to explore.

Are you looking for the best places to visit for foodies? Well, Cincinnati is another one of the great culinary vacation sports. With James Beard-nominated chefs, the Findlay Market chock full of international cuisine, Oakely Food Hall, and Edward Lee’s new restaurant, you’ll eat amazingly well during your trip to Cincinnati.

Sarah Jessica Parker got her start in The Arts in the city and continues to praise it. The Sex and the City star once said that “Cincinnati, and I really mean this, is a great city.”

7. Butler County, Ohio

If you’re looking for an Ohio destination outside of a city, take a look at Butler County between Cincinnati and Dayton, within one day’s drive for 60% of the U.S. population. Foodies will enjoy the Donut Trail of 13 mom & pop donut shops or Jungle Jim’s International Market, with over 180,000 global items in a 6.5-acre space.

Spend your days exploring Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum with 80 modern sculptures across 300 acres, EnterTrainment Junction, the world’s largest indoor train display, or The Salty Dog Museum’s classic cars and vintage firetrucks.

8. Branson, Missouri

18 Driveable Vacation Spots and Places To Visit in The US Within 12 Hours For Most Americans - Planner at Heart (2)

This destination welcomes approximately 9 million visitors annually, partly due to its plethora of attractions and activities and its location in middle America. Known as ‘The Orlando of the Midwest,’ you’ll see it regularly featured on best places to visit in the US lists.

Branson is a one-of-a-kind family vacation destination nestled in the lakeside beauty of the Ozark Mountains and within a 12-hour drive for about 50% of the U.S. population.

With dozens of live performances, Silver Dollar City, one of the best theme parks globally, and a historic downtown district, Branson’s sheer number of family-fun activities in Branson draws people year after year. Their long list of live entertainment includes rock, country, tribute bands to magicians, illusionists, variety, and comedy shows.

Fishing enthusiasts know that Bass Pro Shops was founded in the region and built Branson’s Big Cedar Resort, a beloved and iconic outdoor upscale resort that is a destination in itself. Table Rock Lake, which draws visitors from near and far, thanks to its world-class fishing and water and boating family fun options like canoeing, kayaking, and water skiing.

Branson also has ten golf courses, including five of Missouri’s top 10 and some rated among the best in the United States. Additionally, five golf courses were built in the past several years, catapulting it to the top echelon of vacation spots for golfers in America. Top of The Rock, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is a unique course that’s a must-do for players.

9. St. Louis, Missouri

Equally located from Dallas, Denver, and Washington DC, St. Louis is within 12 hours of over half the US population. St. Louis seemingly has it all and is one of the best places in the U.S. to experience Midwest Americana, a vibrant downtown, award-winning new restaurants, microbreweries, and a rich array of cultural venues all in one destination.

Cross another national park off your list in St. Louis. Home to the iconic Gateway Arch, St. Louis boasts an abundance of free, fun, and family-friendly opportunities to get to know the history of this part of the country. Explore the Gateway Arch National Park and its surrounding grounds, and visit the recently renovated Museum at the Gateway Arch, a free hands-on experience.

Reserve a day in your itinerary for Forest Park, home to many free attractions. Stop by the St. Louis Zoo, Laumeier Sculpture Park, one of the first and largest sculpture parks, or escape the summer heat in the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, or the Saint Louis Science Center.

Foodies will enjoy City Foundry, an iconic and historically significant foundry building transformed into St. Louis’ first authentic food hall. Or explore Delmar Loop, a buzzing entertainment and dining hub with an eclectic mix of noodle bars, BBQ restaurants, Korean and Mexican eateries, co*cktail lounges, and pubs.

10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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No wonder Myrtle Beach has long been a go-to destination for generations of Americans. More than half of the country can drive to its 60 miles of beaches and other world-renowned attractions.

Another one of those family vacation spots that is also a golfing mecca, Myrtle Beach, has more than 90 golf courses and 50 mini-golf courses so that you can play a round no matter your age and skill level.

“One of my favorite family golf vacations was a road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with my dad. We played some unique courses, and the weather in Myrtle Beach was incredible,” said Jeff Fang, a top player and Founder ofFinancial Pupil.

Broadway At the Beach is South Carolina’s most visited attraction, packed with entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and attractions. Don’t pass up its oversized gondola Ferris wheel 200 feet tall and WonderWorks filled with 100 hands-on exhibits perfect for those beach-break days.

Surfside Beach, located on the southern end of the Myrtle Beach area, was named the first “Autism-friendly travel destination” in 2016. By teaming up with locally-based Champion Autism Network (CAN) and dozens of community partners, it’s also a welcoming, inclusive, and sensory-friendly beach experience for all families.

There are also some unexpected things to do, like visiting Brookgreen Gardens. Founded in 1931, it’s a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places featuring an American sculpture collection and a Lowcountry Zoo.

11. The Carolina Core, North Carolina

This region, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, & High Point, is at the center of 4 state highways. Explore each city’s distinct personalities and a long list of outdoor activities. Families can enjoy Wet-n-Wild Water Park, obstacle course & ziplining at Safari Nation, The North Carolina Zoo, All a Flutter Butterfly Farm, and Piedmont Environmental Center.

It’s not hard to see why it’s ranked one of the best places in the state for outdoor activities. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding options in the region’s expansive state parks, local public parks, and outdoor recreation facilities.

12. Fayetteville, North Carolina

Located halfway between New York City and Miami, Florida, on Interstate 95, Fayetteville, North Carolina, is within one day’s drive for 75% of the United States population. Sports fans flock to the area for annual Spartan races and to enjoy the trails, lakes, tennis, and golf courses.

In addition, you can sample the world’s food without a passport on their International Cuisine Trail, with Hungarian, West African, Turkish, Greek, and Italian Cuisine all within just a few blocks downtown.

13. Hendersonville, North Carolina

About half an hour from Asheville, the second-largest city in the North Carolina mountains has a lot to offer with a lower price tag. Brewery lovers will want to make the trip to visit ‘the Taj Mahal of craft breweries,’ Sierra Nevada Brewery, the largest craft cidery in the U.S., Bold Rock Hard Cider, and other tasting rooms on The Cheers Trail.

Explore the mountains and waterfalls in DuPont State Forest, view four states from Jump Off Rock, and end your day on their award-winning Main Street with extra-wide sidewalks, brick planters, park benches, public art, alfresco dining, galleries, shops, boutiques, and the Appalachian Pinball Museum

14. The Smoky Mountains, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Tennessee

18 Driveable Vacation Spots and Places To Visit in The US Within 12 Hours For Most Americans - Planner at Heart (4)

The Smoky Mountains National Park and its gateway cities are vacation spots so beloved that most visitors return three times a year! Many believe it’s one of the best places to visit in the US. Its central location draws road-trippers; more than 92% of people travel to this destination by driving, foregoing expensive plane tickets.

Home to the most visited National Park in America, The Great Smoky Mountains, these vacation spots welcome 15 million guests a year to their natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and an almost endless list of fun, family-friendly attractions.

There’s also a wide range of accommodations that average $150 a night in peak season. Depending on your budget, you can book one of 14,500 overnight accommodations from rental homes, hotels, timeshare condos, and even RV campgrounds like the brand-new Margaritaville RV Resort and Lodge.

Pigeon Forge is home to the award-winning Dollywood Amusem*nt park, which is visited more than Disneyland, not to mention a lot more affordable. Kids and adults of all ages will love to splash year-round at Wilderness at the Smokies indoor/outdoor waterpark resort and the new 50-acre Soaky Mountain Waterpark.

15. Chattanooga, Tennessee

Chattanooga is not called the Scenic City for nothing. It is home to breathtaking nature with endless outdoor recreation options. From adventurous climbs at Sunset Park to horseback riding at Enterprise South Nature Park or exploring the city on a bicycle, views of the Southeast Tennessee mountains and the Tennessee river are everywhere.

Chattanooga is also the only American city with 1 gigabyte per second of Wi-Fi available to every address, so extending your vacation into a workcation is a breeze.

16. Johnson City, Tennessee

History buffs will enjoy a family-friendly and budget-friendly road trip to Johnson City. Tour significant American Revolutionary War, Civil War, and music history sites. Kids will love exploring the Gray Fossil Site, dating back 5 million years.

Visitors can hike to panoramic mountain views from Buffalo Mountain Park, walk the historic Tweetsie Trail, rent a bike, and head to Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park. Additionally, Johnson City’s historic downtown district includes local restaurants, breweries, retail shops, parks, and public art and, in the summer, features live music and large-scale festivals.

17. Indianapolis, Indiana

Another one of America’s central vacation spots, Indianapolis is a regular on ‘the most affordable U.S. destination lists. All of the town’s monuments and memorials are free, and so is its long list of parks, such as 100 Acres: Art and Nature Park at Newfields or the downtown canal walk within White River State Park. Illustrating its historical significance as the Crossroads of America, Indianapolis is second only to Washington D.C. for a total number of monuments and memorials.

While you may know this destination as the home of the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indy 500, it’s also home to the world’s largest children’s museum and its new oversized Dino Exhibit.

Visitors can choose from a wide range of accommodations, including unique stays at Bottleworks Hotel, located inside the world’s former largest Coca-Cola Bottling Factory. Tiny Urban Escapes, luxury hotel suites made out of shipping containers, is another fun option for those looking to try something besides hotels.

18. Louisville, Kentucky

You might only know this destination as the home of the iconic Kentucky Derby or the birthplace of Bourbon, but it has so much more for vacationers. For example, it’s also one of the best vacation spots in the U.S. for budget travelers.

Home to a diverse array of museums, restaurants, and experiences, Louisville offers bucket-list-worthy experiences like the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville’s urban Bourbon Trail, and the Mega Cavern, the world’s only fully underground zip line tour.

Spend a day exploring the largest municipal urban forest in the country, Jefferson Memorial Forest. This 6,500-acre serene park features 35 miles of hiking trails, nature education programs, horse trails, fishing, and outdoor recreation activities such as camping, canoeing, orienteering, and climbing a 52-foot Alpine Tower.

Leave room in your itinerary to explore and learn about the Ohio River, including the National Landmark Falls of The Ohio. Located on the Indiana state line, you can see an entire fossil bed on the bluff overlooking the Ohio River.

Or, take a ride on the oldest operating Mississippi-style steamboat, the 100-year-old, The Belle of Louisville. Before dinner, take your chance to walk across the Ohio River via a converted railroad pedestrian bridge.

End your day by enjoying Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich in the Brown Hotel restaurant, where it was first invented in the 1920s. Wash it down with an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep, too!

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