Itching to travel this summer but needing to pivot to safely social distance? Don’t worry, we have you covered. There are so many attainable family road trips from Austin that you can take, including some you may have not thought of, so you can skip the airport and still have a fun vacation. Below are 10 family road trip ideas within 10 hours of Austin, some in Texas, some beyond.
*Note, there may be some recommendations that are currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, so please do your research before you show up. It really just depends on timing and guidelines. In general though, most of the recommendations are in areas with things to do that are social distancing-friendly.
- Glen Rose, Texas (2.5 hours)
Not too far from home, Glen Rose has a lot to offer. Some popular attractions include Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (the drive-thru wildlife tour is a must), Dinosaur Valley State Park (to find dinosaur tracks), Dinosaur World and Big Rocks Park. You may even want to splurge on a relaxing, but family-friendly, stay at Rough Creek Lodge. Another option, you can detour on your way there in Waco for some additional sightseeing, like visiting the Waco National Mammoth Monument or Magnolia Market at the Silos.
- Frio River, Texas (3 hours)
Frio River is not a city in Texas – I know, misleading. But this is to say that visiting the Frio River in Texas is worth it, no matter where exactly you land yourself. It’s a beautiful area of Texas! I highly recommend visiting the popular Garner State Park for the day or to stay, if you can get reservations. The water is cool – tubing popular! – and so pretty. There’s even a candy shop and putt putt course for the kids. You can also plan into your trip a Frio bat flight tour (or a further visit to the Devil’s Sinkhole to watch the bats fly out), the Bandera Natural History Museum (has dinosaur replicas) and/or a visit to Lost Maples State Park.
- South Padre Island, Texas (5.5 hours)
If you want to hit the beach in Texas and are looking for some options beyond the Galveston and Port Aransas areas, try out South Padre Island down south. To me, though it’s a little further than the rest, South Padre is where you go for the prettiest beaches in Texas. White sand (though it’s hot!) and blue water. And you know the beach town has plenty of family-friendly activities and attractions as you see fit to do, like visiting the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge. Also, if you want a day trip from there, the Daytripper did a feature on Brownsville less than one hour away.
- Broken Bow, Oklahoma (6 hours)
So many of my Dallas-area friends venture to Broken Bow to relax for the weekend, particularly to Beavers Bend State Park. You can find many of the same outdoor adventures there as at many state parks – just a nice change of scenery. Hike, kayak, rent a boat, canoe, zipline, horseback ride, etc. Venture out to visit a local brewery, winery or distillery. Or switch it up at the local petting zoo or mini golf course. Or, if it’s open, consider Choctaw Casino for a resort-style pool experience with the kids. I know, kids and casinos may sound weird, but I know several people who visit with family for fun. There are even movies, bowling and an arcade there.
- Marfa + Alpine + Fort Davis, Texas (6.5 hours)
What’s not to love about this area. It’s so random and unique, and there is so much to do and see. Marfa, Apline and Fort Davis form a triangle and are all about 20-30 minutes apart, so you can technically plant your family in one location and visit all of them. Some popular things to do include: take a selfie with the Altuda Target or the Prada Marfa site, star watch at McDonald Observatory, camp at El Cosmico, explore the Fort Davis National Historic Site, eat at the original Reata, get artsy at the Chinati Foundation. Nearby hotels are also a hot spot, or venture further out to swim with the fish at Balmorhea State Park.
- Big Bend National Park, Texas (7 hours)
I’m cheating and making Big Bend its own separate trip recommendation. Technically you could lump this in with Marfa/Alpine/Fort Davis/Marathon (1.5 hours from Marfa), especially if you’re going for a whole week. But these trips can also be very unique. At Big Bend you can do good ole fashion camping, explore the park, hike, bike, take a river trip, horseback ride, bike, go bird watching, etc. You can also take a quick drive to the interesting Terlingua “Ghost Town” nearby, which has some pretty cool camping sites of its own. Or, on a less “roughing it” note, there’s the nearby Lajitas Golf Resort.
- Hot Springs, Arkansas + Memphis, Tennessee (7 – 9.5 hours)
This road trip is more on the touristy side, so you might as well hit Hot Springs on the way to Memphis – sightsee downtown, visit the local water or adventure park, mini golf course or science museum, check out the alligator farm and/or adventure at a nearby state park. In Memphis, watch the Peadbody ducks at the Peabody hotel, visit Graceland (home of Elvis), take a Mississippi River cruise, check out one the many historical museums, embrace blues on Beale street, sample Memphis hot chicken and barbecue, and head to the Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid for America’s tallest free-standing elevator, Big Cypress Lodge, an aquarium experience and bowling.
- Roswell + White Sands + Carlsbad, New Mexico (7.5 – 10 hours)
We’ve done a couple different New Mexico road trips and have loved them each time. Roswell offers a peek into the famous alien life. Carlsbad Caverns is a bucket list must. And White Sands National Park offers a cool (ok, maybe temperature-wise hot) ride down white sand dunes. If you really want to stretch out the road trip, you could extend a little further up to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, or spend some additional time in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
- Branson, Missouri (10 hours)
Confession, I have not been to Branson, but Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains is on my bucket list. Horseback riding, swimming, biking, hiking, kids club (Fun Mountain), beautiful mother nature – take me now. But there’s more to that in the area: Silver Dollar City Amusement Park, Titanic Museum, Table Rock, Butterfly Palace, White Water Water Park, Branson Dinosaur Museum, World’s Largest Toy Museum, Branson Ferris Wheel, Fritz’s Adventures, Still Water Resort for lodging, etc.
- Orange Beach, Alabama (10 hours)
Ok, I’m stretching the 10 hour recommendation here just a hair. (Google maps currently says 10 hours and 15 minutes to drive at this very moment in time.) If you haven’t been to the Gulf Coast outside of Texas, it’s worth it. And since popular spots like Destin and Panama City Beach, Florida are a bit further, the closer, growing Orange Beach area is a great option. White sand. Clear water. Your own condo. Can’t beat the beach. And New Orleans is a great pit stop along the way, pending what social distancing has to offer at the time of your trip.
Don’t let the COVID-19 quarantine life ruin your family fun. You can still be safe, get out and have a great vacation in 2020. Here are some travel tips to keep everything smooth sailing this summer!