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A National Parks Pro Shares Her Favorite End-Of-Summer Road Trips

There’s just nothing quite like a summer road trip. The freedom of setting out with only a loose itinerary and nothing but the winding road and endless possibilities is, frankly, close to unbeatable. It offers a chance to live in the now while reminding us that this moment is at once fleeting and eternal.

With just two weeks left before Labor Day and the unofficial end of summer 2021, there’s just enough time to hit the road for one last hurrah. Here are three road trips I recommend this time of year:

ITINERARY 1: Glacier National Park –> Waterton Lakes National Park –> Banff National Park –> Jasper National Park

Via Emily Hart

I always go north in the summer. While many of these destinations are partially open year-round, often the weather will close some of the most beautiful areas in the winter months. You also can’t do this for much longer:

Glacier National Park has been an incredibly popular destination for summer 2021, but those who didn’t visit earlier now have an advantage: you can now legally continue on into Canada as a US citizen. Canada just opened its borders to fully vaccinated US travelers earlier this month, which means these destinations will still be slightly less crowded than normal — a perfect time to see them for yourself.

Glacier National Park to Waterton Lakes: Drive Time: 2.5 hours (including a border crossing)

Via Emily Hart

I’d spend a few days exploring Glacier National Park (and driving the reservation only Going-to-the-Sun road) before heading on to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. Waterton Lakes is right on the US-Canadian border, the northern part of Glacier National Park.

Must-Sees:

Get a meal or drink at the Prince of Wales Hotel after hiking the short but strenuous Bear’s Hump trail.

Waterton Lakes to Banff National Park: Drive Time: 4.5 hours

Via Emily Hart

After exploring Waterton Lakes, head on to Banff. If you have more time, make some stops in Kootenay and/or Yoho National Parks along the way. You can’t go wrong in Banff, it’s one of the rare places that is actually more incredible in person than any photo you have ever seen. The dramatic mountains that surround you, to the blue lakes that don’t seem real — this is a bucket list destination.

Must-Sees:

Wake up early to watch the sunrise at Moraine Lake and then take a hike to Lake Agnes teahouse from Lake Louise.

Banff to Jasper National Park: Drive Time: 3.5+ hours (you’ll want to stop a lot!)

Via Emily Hart

The drive from Banff to Jasper National Park might be the most incredible drive in North America. You’ll be traveling on the 143 mile (232 km, ’cause we’re in Canada now) Icefields Parkway through landscapes that truly don’t seem real. You’ll want at least three and a half hours, but I’d give yourself an entire day. There are many stops to make and things to gawk at on the way.

Must-Sees:

Stop and hike the short distance to Peyto Lake and then Athabasca Falls of the Icefields Parkway, and don’t miss Maligne Canyon and Pyramid Lake.

ITINERARY 2: Cumberland Island National Seashore –> St. Simons Island –> Savannah –> Atlanta

Via Emily Hart

I was hesitant to travel to the Southeast this August, but pleasantly surprised that the hospitality outweighed the humidity. The west is a road-trip dream, but it’s also vast and far away for most of the United States population. Fortunately, there’s plenty to see and explore in the Southeast — specifically the coast of Georgia.

I spent a week traveling from Jacksonville to Atlanta and was charmed every step of the way.

Jacksonville to Cumberland Island National Seashore: Drive Time: 45 minutes + 45 minute ferry ride

I flew into Jacksonville to begin my Georgia adventure. From there, I drove the short distance to St. Mary’s, Georgia — where the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore departs. Cumberland Island has been on my bucket list for years now. The history and people are intensely interesting on their own, not to mention the ample wildlife and true wilderness. You can camp, stay at the Greyfiled Inn, or visit for just a day.

Whatever you choose you will feel like you have somehow completely escaped the world.

Must-Sees:

Rent a bike, take a tour or hike the island. Be sure to spend time on the longest undisturbed coastline on the eastern seaboard.

Cumberland Island to St. Simons Island: Drive Time: 1 hour

Via Emily Hart

From Cumberland Island, it’s a short drive to St. Simons Island, a small beach community with beautiful beaches and a laid-back vibe. I stayed in an adults-only hotel (strongly recommended) and walked to the beach to relax and watch the waves.

Must-Sees:

Stop at Fort Frederica National Monument for history and a gorgeous landscape.

St. Simons Island to Savannah: Drive Time: 1.5 hours

Via Emily Hart

St. Simons Island is just an hour and a half from historic Savannah, Georgia. Savannah, of course, has something for everyone. Walk (and legally drink) around the historic downtown squares, eat your weight in Southern cuisine, or drive out to Tybee Island for a beach day.

Must-Sees:

Stop at Fort Pulaski National Monument on the way to Tybee Island (stay for sunset). Stay at Perry Lane Hotel in Savannah, a luxurious spot that greets you with champagne upon arrival, has a beautiful rooftop pool and bar with views that can’t be beaten.

Savannah to Atlanta: Drive Time: 3.5 hours

Via Emily Hart

From Savannah drive inland into Atlanta for the final leg of your trip.

Must-Sees:

I enjoyed the West Midtown neighborhood on my last visit, staying at the Bellyard Hotel and eating and drinking my way through the surrounding blocks. Stop at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

ITINERARY 3: Portland Maine –> Acadia National Park/Bar Harbor –> Lubec Maine –> Roosevelt Campobello International Park

Via Emily Hart

Summer in the Northeast is magic. I spent the entire summer traveling and whenever anyone asks me what my favorite trip was I have to say — “Maine.” The vibe was exactly as I wanted it to be. Quiet, but full of energy. Unassuming, but jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

It all felt like a movie set come to life.

Portland Maine to Acadia National Park: Drive Time: 3 hours

I didn’t have time to visit Portland Maine this trip, but I would add it for next time. The drive from Portland to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor is just three hours along the coast, with many stops to make.

Must-Sees:

Popham Beach State Park and Boothbay Harbor have been recommended to me countless times.

Acadia National Park to Lubec: Drive Time: 2 hours

Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor are amazing and deserve at least 3-4 days of your time. You can read a lot more here. From there, continue north to Lubec Maine — the northeastern-most city in the United States and the access point to your next destination in Canada.

Must-Sees:

Watch sunrise or sunset at the summit of Cadillac Mountain (with a timed entry ticket), and eat popovers at Jordan Pond House after a hike around the lake at Acadia. Stop at Jasper Beach on your way to Lubec, and be sure to visit the lighthouse and gorgeous hiking in Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec.

Lubec to Campobello: Drive Time: 10 minutes + border crossing

Lubec is the only road access point to Campobello Island in Canada — home of Roosevelt Campobello International Park. Unfortunately, the border wasn’t open to US travelers when I visited, so I am itching to get back. The park is co-managed by the US National Park Service and Canada, preserving the summer home of Franklin Roosevelt through a museum, hiking trails, and gorgeous shorelines.

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