Best Mid-Atlantic Road Trip Ideas (and Where to Go)
Updated: October 11, 2023
AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
A road trip is one of the best things to do on vacation, so AAA travel editors have put together your road trip essentials, including where to go and what to do. Consider these linked scenic drives and road trip planner-worthy attractions as you hit the highway.
Scenic drives in the Mid-Atlantic states—considered in these AAA road trip planners to be encompassing parts of Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. — often include Civil War sites and scenic regions ranging from the Blue Ridge Parkway - Virginia on up to New York’s Hudson Valley.
The Mid-Atlantic States and Places to Go
The states are geographically, ethnically and politically diverse but all contain scenic drives or historical points of interest. You’ll also explore all four seasons. Expect wildflowers in spring and summer. In autumn, when fall leaves change colors, many travelers plan leaf peeping or fall road trips in addition to color cruises on the East Coast.
The Mid-Atlantic region traditionally is said to include:
• West Virginia
• Washington, D.C.
Note: North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia sometimes may be included in the South or Southeast regions instead, depending on your travel resources.
Scenic Byways: Road Trip Essentials
Whether you are looking for mountainous areas with charming small towns like on the or riverfront views from the National Capital of Washington, D.C., there are many things to see in the Mid-Atlantic region. For a day trip, allow several hours or extend your stay to explore these popular regions. The links below will take you to a variety of road trips featuring scenic byways with descriptions and points of interest recommended by professional AAA travel editors.
• Almost a loop, this short drive through Jefferson National Forest allows visitors to enjoy 360-degree views of the Appalachian Mountains from Big Walker Mountain.
• From the North Carolina-Virginia border to Waynesboro, Va., this northernmost segment of the scenic parkway navigates mountains, rivers and even a tunnel at Bluff Mountain.
• The trip takes place on Delaware’s Scenic Coastal Highway (SR 1), surrounded by salt marshes on one side and Atlantic beaches. The route connects Rehoboth Beach and Ocean City, Md.
•Travel through the mountains of Pennsylvania and see the Allegheny River and the Allegheny Reservoir; this stop is perfect if you have some spare time and are looking for recreational things to do.
• This scenic drive crosses the New River Gorge Bridge, reputedly the third-largest steel span and one of the most photographed places in West Virginia.
Best Time to Drive Blue Ridge Parkway and Other Scenic Roads
The Mid-Atlantic generally has a moderate climate, especially in the coastal lowlands. Much of the region’s estimated 60 million acres is 40 to 50 percent forested and connected to bodies of water, encompassing the Atlantic Ocean as well as bays, rivers and even significant watersheds, such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Determining when to go depends on tolerance for weather, budget and favorite things to do since some areas are better to visit certain times of the year, e.g., viewing wildflowers along Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.
In this region, snow can occur from late fall to spring. Some routes, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway – Virginia Road Trip or Outer Banks to Virginia Beach Road Trip may not be accessible during inclement weather.
flickr/Eden, Janine and Jim
Where to See Fall Foliage
Whether you’re looking for family-friendly travel or fun things for couples to do, “fall colors” road trips are what to do from mid-September to early November. Autumn also ushers in agritourism opportunities, such as picking apples and exploring corn mazes, leading many travelers to investigate places to go in the Mid-Atlantic. Consult with each state’s department of forestry and your local AAA travel agent to learn the best time to see fall leaves and make reservations. These are popular routes you’ll want to savor.
Here are a few scenic road trips with links for enjoying fall foliage and other wonders along the way:
• Stately mansions and portrait-worthy scenery add to this trip, which will take drivers from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan to Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in New York’s Hudson River Valley.
• Plan to go in fall, both for the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, W.V., and the brilliant display of colors as you travel toward the Monongahela National Forest.
• Two lanes are the norm once you leave Erie, Pa., so sit back and enjoy a relaxed drive filled with colorful leaves.
Tips for Driving in Winter
While driving in winter, you’ll want to take the usual precautions. Ensure your car is in good condition, carry food and winterize your vehicle when necessary; this means snow tires and travel essentials like a AAA map or other printable resources in case cellular service is not available. Most importantly, let someone know where you are going and how you are getting there when taking a road trip in winter.
Luckily, in this region of the United States, winters can be relatively mild while activities are numerous. One option for cold weather fun includes Lake Wallenpaupack Scenic Highway Road Trip, where winter sports are among the recreational things to do. Alternatively, plan to visit popular sites during the off-season, such as a Civil War battlefield or other historical places to go.
Jennifer Lopresti/Jennifer Lopresti
American History and Popular Civil War Battlefield Drives: Road Trip Planner Attractions
The Mid-Atlantic region contains layers of history. At Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, settled in 1607, you can travel the Historic Virginia Road Trip and learn about American history in colonial-style buildings. What’s also important to note is that despite freedom being the rallying cry for many, captive Africans were brought to these same shores in 1619. This led to the scourge of slavery and eventual open conflict between North and South.
Therefore, no discussion of road trips in the Mid-Atlantic is complete unless we mention Civil War sites. Located primarily in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, these Mid-Atlantic battlegrounds contain unforgettable options for sightseeing.
For an in-depth journey through American history, take the 180-mile, multistate Hallowed Ground Historic Byway. The first two routes, Pennsylvania’s Journey Through Hallowed Ground and Maryland’s Journey Through Hallowed Ground Historic Byway Road Trip, are more northern and contain some of the most well-known Civil War battlefields. Heading south, you’ll reach Virginia’s Northern Journey Through Hallowed Ground Historic Byway Road Trip, which navigates through Culpeper, Va., a wine-producing region, on toward the presidential homes located in Virginia’s Southern Journey Through Hallowed Ground Historic Byway.
Planning a Mid-Atlantic family road trip? Here are two options, which touch on the Civil War but also offer fun things to see:
• This road trip is rich with unique American themes that range from the quest for religious freedom by the Amish and Mennonite culture to Gettysburg and Milton S. Hershey’s American dream.
• Circle back to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., after you appreciate Northern Virginia’s colorful history and foliage (which, it must be said, is equally good in spring if you’re interested in D.C.’s cherry blossom season).
For a route that’s historic in itself, consider traveling the Historic National Road, the first federally funded highway. Options include: Maryland’s Historic National Road, Pennsylvania’s Historic National Road Trip and West Virginia’s Historic National Road Trip.
Start Your Next Vacation with AAA
AAA Travel provides peace of mind for travelers—from the first mile of the journey to the last. Get inspiration for your next road trip with AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner, or browse pre-planned itineraries on AAA.com/RoadTrips. Estimating fuel costs for your trip is easy with the AAA Gas Cost Calculator, and if your car needs a quick tune-up before the trip, find a AAA Approved auto repair facility near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair. For maps and trip planning advice, visit your local AAA office or check out the digital TourBook® guides.
AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims is an AAA Travel Expert.