The Go List

5 Post-Grad Summer Road Trips

If you're a recent or soon-to-be college graduate, you're entering a transition period. Take some time to spread your wings this summer before transitioning to the real world. Photo: Jessica Polar/Unsplash

5 Post-Grad Summer Road Trips

Throw away those beer cans and put down your textbooks. It’s time to learn a lesson from the open road.

This is the last carefree summer of your life. Don’t waste it. Hit the pavement with these five road trips. Most can be done in about 11 or 12 days—if you're in a rush—but are best enjoyed over two or three weeks. 

New Orleans, LA, to Eau Claire, WI

  Photo: igrigorik/Flickr

Best For: Celebrating
Miles Covered: 1,215, one way
Don’t Leave Home Without: Advil, eye mask, and earplugs

For graduates who prioritized study groups over keggers, start your party pilgrimage in New Orleans with legendary po’boys from Domilise’s, live jazz at Vaughan’s Lounge, and a few hurricanes on Bourbon Street (when in Rome). After a solid night’s sleep, cruise I-55 for three hours until you hit Jackson, Mississippi. Stretch your legs in the city’s retro-chic Fondren neighborhood and grab a milkshake at Brent’s Drugs, a soda fountain that opened in 1946. Reenergized, continue 210 miles north to Memphis for barbecue at A&R Bar-B-Que, bar hopping and live blues on Beale Street, and an endless supply of beer from the city’s growing list of craft breweries, like Wiseacre Brewing Co. With you and your car refueled, continue northward through Illinois and spend the night in Rockford, where a long day’s drive has earned you a beer (or three) at Rockford Brewing Company, a riverside brewhouse perfect for summertime sipping. Once back on the road, travel four hours farther north to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to let loose at the inaugural Eaux Claires music festival (July 17–18), with a buzzy lineup that reads like an indie-music fan’s fantasy come true. 

Austin, TX, to Aspen, CO

  Photo: Jims_photos/Flickr

Best For: Getting active
Miles Covered: 1,173, one way
Don’t Leave Home Without: A reliable backpack 

Ease into an ultra-active road trip by SUPing Austin’s Lady Bird Lake. Core engaged, drive 738 miles through iconic American desertscapes (snag an alien souvenir and some sleep in Roswell) to mountain bike New Mexico’s famed White Ridge Trails, an hour north of Albuquerque. For easier riding, check out Santa Fe's La Tierra Trails. Next, cross into Colorado and head for Castle and Conundrum Peaks, a pair of 14ers located 40 minutes south of Aspen (drive via Independence Pass, one of America's most scenic byways). And stay for Conundrum’s hike-to hot springs at 11,200 feet, which can be conquered in one overnight trek. Back in Aspen, watch the third and fourth stages of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (August 19-20), and treat yourself like an adult by splurging on a restorative full-body massage at Hotel Jerome and perusing the goods at Silverpeak Apothecary, a cannabis dispensary that looks more like an upscale Brooklyn sneaker shop than a sketchy strip-mall storefront. 

Joshua Tree National Park, CA, to Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, CA

  Photo: Kai Grader/Flickr

Best For: Detoxifying
Miles Covered: 910, one way
Don’t Leave Home Without: Your sleeping bag

ABV, GPA—same thing, right? Not quite. Start a detoxifying California road trip by sweating it out in Joshua Tree National Park, home to 794,000 acres of desert serenity. Make camp at White Tank, a 15-site campground known for its dark-sky stargazing. At sunrise, meditate on the summit of Ryan Mountain. To cool off, head 227 miles northwest to Santa Barbara for an organic, vegan, gluten-free superfood smoothie and quinoa veggie burger at Boochies before continuing three hours up the coast to family-run Treebones Resort, where ocean-view campsites, yurts, and an organic garden offer seriously laid-back vibes. If you ever decide to leave, travel 200 miles north, forgo electricity, and spend the night in a rustic cliffside cabin at Steep Ravine. Finally, continue six hours deeper into Northern California to hike though the morning fog and listen for the call of the resident Roosevelt elk at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a coastal redwood forest and real life Fern Gully.

Mount Rainier, WA, to Glacier National Park, MT

  Photo: Mark Stevens/Flickr

Best For: Peace and very quiet
Miles Covered: 613, one way
Don’t Leave Home Without: A good book or two

Start your solo search for silence at Cedar Creek Treehouse, a secluded cabin 50 feet up a 200-year old Western red cedar with views of nearby Mount Rainer. Pick up any last-minute provisions in Spokane, 297 miles east, then continue three hours into Idaho’s northern panhandle to partake in what is perhaps America’s most leave-me-alone experience—a stay in a remote U.S. Forest Service fire lookout, such as Coeur D’Alene National Forest’s Little Guard Lookout. Back in your car and just five more hours to the northeast, Montana’s Glacier National Park, with its 700 miles of trails, guarantees peace and quiet. Stay at Granite Peak Lodge, a 12-room backcountry chalet built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway that can be reached only by foot. Before heading back, be sure to swing by Glacier Distilling to pick up a bottle of whiskey to share with your friends back home.

New York, NY, to Mont-Tremblant, Quebec

  Photo: Jack Siah/Flickr

Best For: Finally. Leaving. Home.
Miles Covered: 481, one way
Don’t Leave Home Without: Your passport

Go to university in your hometown? Spend a week in New York City—it’s like going to every country all at once. From there, rent a car and take I-87 through the Hudson Valley and 288 miles north to Lake Placid. In the heart of the Adirondacks, summit the trail-less 4,427 foot Tabletop Mountain, a nine-mile round-trip hike that’ll take you about four to six hours to complete (you'll be going up about 2,200 feet in less than 4.5 miles after a week after exploring the Big Apple). In the morning, grab a breakfast sandwich at Saranac Sourdough and continue your journey 111 miles north to Montreal, Canada, acquiring your first passport stamp along the way. Stroll through Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) to feel like you’re on the other side of the Atlantic, not north of the border, before river surfing on the St. Lawrence River. Finally, head into the Mont-Tremblant wilderness, stopping for poutine along the way, to learn survival skills like starting a fire, gathering safe drinking water, and building a shelter. 

 

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