Thinking About a COVID-19 Summer Road Trip? Avoid Virus Hotspots

covid-19 summer road trip

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global travel industry. To date, the majority of the world remains closed to international tourists. Among those that have started reopening, many aren’t allowing U.S. tourists because of how the pandemic has been handled here.

Unfortunately, that means your options for a summer trip are relatively limited. But just because you can’t take a trip abroad, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience a nice vacation.

The key is to understand what’s going on in the states and cities you’re interested in visiting, and how much at risk you are if you travel there.

Is a COVID-19 summer road trip a good idea?

Because of the international restrictions for U.S. travelers, taking a road trip may be your best option to get out and discover someplace new — it’s also one of the best ways to travel on a budget.

It’s incredibly understandable that people want to get out. Most of us have been performing some form of self-isolation since March.

For the most part, health experts recommend continuing to self-isolate and social distance, and that includes staying home as much as possible. But if you’re itching to hit the road and explore, there are easy ways to do just as much of that as you’re doing right now. For example:

  • Wear a mask, wash your hands and stay at least six feet away from others as much as possible.
  • Avoid touching common surfaces and interacting with other people, if at all possible.
  • Get your food from restaurants at the drive-through or via curbside pickup, or from grocery stores.
  • Pack as much food and snacks as possible to minimize stops along your route.
  • Visit destinations with wide-open spaces and little crowding — avoid major beaches and big cities, for instance.

It’s also essential to know the pandemic-related restrictions of the places you’re planning to visit and drive through. While some governors have instituted statewide rules, others have left those decisions to local governments. Check with state health departments to get an idea of what to expect.

Avoid hotspots using this COVID-19 risk level map

The 2019 novel coronavirus had never been seen before until the end of last year. As a result, there’s been a lot of information being thrown around in the medical community. Politicians and television pundits have also weighed in, providing a steady stream of conflicting and sometimes outright misleading information.

But the fact is that we are living through the worst pandemic in over a century. Taking precautions as you go about your day, go to the grocery store, attend gatherings and even plan travel could save your and many others’ lives.

To help with your planning, the Harvard Global Health Institute has provided a COVID risk level map.

The interactive tool uses current data to show how severe the pandemic in every state and county in America. You’ll be able to see the daily new cases per 100,000 people in each state (seven-day moving average), as well as for each county within that state. You’ll also be able to view how many total cases and deaths each county has seen since the beginning of the pandemic.

Along with that, each state and county gets a color code for its current risk level based on daily new cases.

As you’re planning your trip, take a look at the map for red and orange hotspots that are experiencing high rates of daily cases. Examples include:

  • Pretty much everywhere in the South
  • Most of the state of Arizona
  • Several counties in southern and central California
  • Las Vegas, Nevada

Also, keep in mind that the map will update based on real-time information, so the risk can change over time.

5 safe COVID-19 summer road trip ideas

Depending on where you go, the severity of the coronavirus pandemic can vary. So it’s important to plan ahead to make sure your destination is in a region with relatively low risk of infection. To help, here’s a list of 10 COVID-19 summer road trip ideas in places that, as of the beginning of July, are in relatively good shape.

1. Washington Island, Wisconsin

covid-19 summer road trip

Washington Island is located in Door County, which has seen just 45 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The island is home to one of the oldest Icelandic communities in the U.S., and the architecture reflects that.

You can hang out at the beach, take a scenic cruise of the beautiful shoreline or hop on a ferry to one of the neighboring islands. You can also enjoy a Wisconsin outdoor fish boil, which is quite the spectacle.

Wisconsin does not currently have any travel restrictions for people traveling from other states.

2. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

covid-19 summer road trip

Located just 31 miles from Yellowstone National Park, the Tetons are a sight to behold. Teton County is technically in the orange risk level, but it’s only seen 140 cases in the last 4+ months. Plus, it’s easy to social distance with so many wide-open spaces.

Grand Teton National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. You can camp, hike, fish, float, climb and so much more. You can also go off on your own to explore the backcountry or take a scenic drive to enjoy the beautiful wildlife, epic vistas and winding rivers.

Wyoming does not currently have any travel restrictions in place for out-of-state travelers.

3. Bar Harbor, Maine

bar harbor

Bar Harbor is situated on Mount Desert Island and is known as the gateway to Acadia National Park. The coastal town is a great place to go whale watching, walk along the beach,  learn about the region’s Native American people and eat all the lobster. And if you’re planning to visit Acadia National Park — which I really hope you do — you’ll be greeted by utterly stunning and rugged wilderness.

Bar Harbor is located in Hancock County, which is classified as green and has experienced only 18 total coronavirus cases. Keep in mind, though, that Maine currently has a 14-day quarantine order for most U.S. residents. As of July 3, the only states that do not need to follow the order include Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.

If you live in another state, you can get around the quarantine requirement if you provide a certificate of compliance, showing that you have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours before arriving in the state.

4. The San Juan Islands, Washington

covid-19 summer road trip

San Juan County, Washington, is made up of 172 islands and reefs, but only four are accessible by ferry. You can stay in a private cabin overlooking the water, a quaint bed & breakfast or a hotel in the middle of town. Activities include wildlife watching, kayaking, boating and sailing, hiking, cycling, fishing and more.

You can also visit the local wineries and cideries, and take some time to learn about the history of the islands, which includes haunted hotels and “The Pig War,” a 19th-century confrontation between the U.S. and Great Britain.

San Juan County has seen zero new coronavirus cases in the last week. Also, Washington state does not currently have any restrictions in place for domestic travelers.

5. Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

harpers ferry

The South has been hit hard lately by the coronavirus, making it challenging to find a good road trip that’s safe. Currently, West Virginia is one of the best options, and Harpers Ferry is a must-see even during normal times.

The town is home to a raid at John Brown’s fort that helped start the Civil War. You can also enjoy incredible views of where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers meet, visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy visitor’s center to learn about the world-famous trail, and more.

Harpers Ferry is located in Jefferson County, which is in the yellow risk level, but has only had 242 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Currently, West Virginia has no travel restrictions.

Are you planning to take a COVID-19 summer road trip? If so, where are you heading?

Ben Luthi

Ben Luthi

Ben is a freelance travel and money writer, who's always planning his next trip. When he's not traveling, Ben enjoys spending time with his kids, scoping out new restaurants, hiking, reading, and working through his never-ending Netflix queue. He's also a co-host on the podcast Just One More Trip.

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