From Wine to Wildlife, 10 Cheap Themed Road Trips
Nearly 9 in 10 Americans take summer road trips, according to a 2015 survey by the tire maker Bridgestone. With gas prices low this year, taking a car trip is an even more appealing way to get away. While many road trips are about taking to the open road and taking in the scenery, another way to plan a trip is to choose something you love and string together destinations related to that theme. Whether it's wine or whiskey tasting or food-related fun, these 10 themed road trip ideas include stops that are free or cheap.
Related: 11 Tips for Taking a Road Trip on the Cheap
Chocolate lovers in the Midwest can head for the Blackhawk Chocolate Trail in northwest Illinois. A self-guided tour takes chocoholics through stops at cafes, candy stores, bakeries, and more. There are itineraries of different lengths, some requiring stopovers at local hotels. While it's free to stop into any location on the trail and browse, offerings of free samples vary, so expect to pay for a few treats along the way.
Related: 10 Chocolate Meccas Across America
Cheeseheads know Wisconsin is the place for all the best cheesy concoctions. The state is home to at least 60 artisan cheesemakers, who create everything from organic to one-of-a-kind handmade batches of cheese. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism has put together cheese tour itineraries to give hungry travelers a chance to see the process and enjoy samples, both of which are usually free. The routes wind through the state and hit a number of cheesemakers, restaurants, and wineries that feature local cheese samples.
There are 289 wine trails across the country, according to the site America's Wine Trails which means there are hundreds of opportunities to hit the road to drink free or cheap wine samples (just be sure to designate a driver). Visit the site to find wine trails in nearly every state and itineraries of various lengths. The options include maps and contact information for wineries.
Wine isn't the only drink-related theme -- beer lovers can also get their kicks by visiting some of America's many craft breweries. The site Brew Trail lists breweries by state and provides suggested itineraries with ideas for where to stop in for a cold one. A number of breweries offer free tours or tastings; call ahead to confirm.
There are few places better to visit than Texas for authentic barbecue. For meat lovers, a road trip to some of Texas' best barbecue is a tasty way to see some of the state. The Texas BBQ Trail runs near the city of Austin and includes five stops at family-owned barbecue joints. Keep the trip cheap by sharing meals at each stop -- after all, Texas is known for large portions.
There's a food tour for nearly everything, it seems, including fans of Mexican food. The Arizona Salsa Trail is a path that guides hungry visitors along the Old West Highway to more than 10 restaurants that feature tasty Mexican eats. Keep the calories and spending in check by focusing on salsa and chips rather than full meals.
Bourbon isn't just a drink -- to Kentuckians, it's an art form. Kentucky has been crafting bourbon since the 1700s, and the name comes from the state's Bourbon County. For those who love both history and hard liquor, a road trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a must. Visit nine distilleries across Kentucky to sample craft bourbon, usually for free, and learn about the history of the spirit.
Nature lovers who prefer to see wildlife from the safety of a car can take a road trip on U.S. 191 linking Jackson, Wyoming, with Yellowstone National Park. Once inside the park ($30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass), everything from moose to bears to wolves may make an appearance, but animals are also abundant on the way there and free to see if you catch them. Jackson Lake and Grand Teton also offer the potential for amazing animal viewing.
Fun-loving families and groups of roller-coaster-crazed thrill seekers can plan a trip around theme parks. How to do it less expensively? Stick with smaller parks. Pennsylvania, for example, has five amusement parks along a 325-mile expanse of interstates and state highways, running from east of Pittsburgh to just northeast of Philadelphia. The route includes Kennywood, Idlewild, Lakemont Park, Hersheypark, and Dorney Park, and features some of America's oldest roller coasters. Admission starts at about $40 a person per day, but discounts are available.
History buffs will enjoy following the path that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took at the start of the 19th century. While their journey was two years long, road trippers can do the entire route from Philadelphia to the Pacific Northwest in a matter of weeks (or choose part of it for a shorter trip). The journey allows for plenty of time at free and cheap historical sites such as Tillamook Head in Oregon, where Lewis and Clark spent time ($3 to park). Visit the Lewis and Clark Trail website for travel ideas.