Note: The data in this study was accurate as of June 25, 2020. Please follow all guidance from the CDC, state and local authorities, and your medical professionals about how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus before making any travel plans.
With coronavirus changing or disrupting the summer travel plans of many Americans, and many traditional summer travel destinations such as theme parks and resorts closed or operating with limited service, Americans are seeking other ways to spend their summer vacations. One popular type of summer vacation is the road trip. However, with coronavirus impacting many travel plans, different considerations come into play when selecting a travel destination. We analyzed thirteen factors in three major categories to determine the best states for road trips in the summer of coronavirus.
Our analysis focuses on states offering activities and accommodations that are naturally socially distanced. Since many public health professionals believe that outdoor activities are less risky in comparison to indoor activities for contracting coronavirus, we looked at the acres of parks and shoreline in each state, which are conducive to outdoor, socially-distanced activities such as hiking and swimming. We also considered the summer weather in each state, since socially-distanced road trippers are likely to spend considerable time outside. Another consideration was the number of campsites and vacation rental listings available per capita since these forms of accommodation are also more likely to be socially distanced compared with accommodations such as hotels.
Additionally, we also considered four coronavirus-related criteria in selecting the best states, which include the number of new coronavirus cases per capita, the speed at which coronavirus is spreading in each state, the restrictions on activity in each state, and the population density of each state. To round out our analysis, we considered traditional road trip factors such as the safety of drivers and roads in each state, the number of car thefts in each state, and the cost of gas and tolls. Read on to find out the top states for socially-distanced road trip vacations this summer.
Top States for Socially-Distanced Road Trips
1. North Dakota
The Great Plains state of North Dakota was first on our list for socially-distanced road trips. North Dakota is home to five national parks, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which has numerous hiking trails and abundant wildlife that can be seen by visitors. The state also has 13 state parks, and the Missouri River also flows through the state. Devils Lake, a naturally salty lake without an outlet, is the largest natural lake in North Dakota.
North Dakota is one of the least dense states in the nation, and the state also has some of the lowest tolls in the nation for roads. The state also offers substantial numbers of campsites per capita and low gas prices, making it our number one summer road trip destination.
Although Alaska will be difficult to reach for most mainland U.S. road trippers, for those who live in the state, it is an attractive place for summer road trips. Alaska has the most acreage of national parks in the nation by far, as well as copious amounts of shoreline and water features. Alaska’s national parks feature breathtaking natural beauty and untouched wilderness difficult to find anywhere else. Some of the most famous include Denali National Park and Preserve, with North America’s tallest mountain, and Wrangell – St Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska’s largest national park.
Alaska has the lowest population density in the nation and some of the lowest tolls in the country as well. Currently, for out of state visitors, Alaska mandates either a negative COVID test or 14 days of self-quarantine on arrival.
Virginia is host to 19 national park sites, including Shenandoah National Park, which includes parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the most scenic and beautiful drives in the country. The state also offers miles of coastline along the Chesapeake Bay and numerous rivers such as the Potomac, York, and James Rivers.
Virginia also scores highly on other factors related to road trips such as low motor vehicle thefts, low gas prices, moderate tolls, and below-average motor vehicle deaths.
Michigan has five national parks, but what sets the state apart for socially-distanced road trips are its thousands of miles of shoreline along the Great Lakes. The state has more miles of shoreline than any state besides Alaska. The state is surrounded by Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior to the north of the state’s Upper Peninsula, offering numerous recreational activities.
Michigan also benefits from below average traffic deaths, low tolls, low gas prices, and moderate vehicle theft.
Two of the most well known national parks in Nebraska are Scotts Bluff National Monument, a large rounded cliff, which was an important landmark on the Oregon Trail, and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, which is an internationally recognized fossil site with wonderful hiking opportunities. Nebraska also has some of the lowest tolls in the nation, along with low gas prices, and it is the eighth least densely populated state in the nation.
|Rank||State||Overall Score||National Park Acres||Vacation Rentals Per Capita (per 1000)||Weather Quality||Tolls per Lane Mile ($)||Traffic Deaths per 100M Miles||Population Density||Coronavirus Cases Per Capita (per 1000) - Last 7 Days (June 25, 2020)|
In order to determine the best states for socially-distanced road trips during coronavirus, we examined 13 criteria in three major categories. These categories included (1) accommodations and outdoor destinations, (2) auto-related criteria, and (3) coronavirus-related criteria.
We assigned a weight of 40% to the accommodations and outdoor destinations factor. Since many medical experts believe outdoor activities are less risky for the spread of coronavirus compared with indoor activities, we focused on states offering outdoor recreation destinations as measured by the area of national parks and miles of shoreline (including lake shorelines) in each state. Additionally, we focused on two forms of socially-distanced accommodation, which were the number of campsites per capita and the number of vacation rental listings per capita in each state. These accommodation options allow road trip participants to avoid close indoor contact with other people.
We also considered the summer weather in each state, measuring the weather between May and September for each of the past ten years. We considered the variability of weather outside “comfortable” temperatures, which we define as between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit. We also considered the amount of precipitation in each state over the same time period, with states having lower precipitation ranking more highly.
The auto-related criteria accounted for 20% of the score when selecting the most desirable states for summer road trips. These criteria included practical road trip considerations such as the number of traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven, the number of car thefts per 1000 population, the average cost of gas, and the total costs of tolls per lane mile in each state. For all of these factors, a lower score was more desirable.
The third category we considered was coronavirus-related criteria, which accounted for 40% of our analysis. We examined the population density in each state, with states with lower density scoring more highly. For the following coronavirus-related data, we based our analysis on data as of June 25th, 2020. We looked at the number of new coronavirus cases per capita reported by each state in the last 7 days. We also considered the effective reproduction number (Rt) in each state. We also examined the current state of restrictions on activity in each state and assigned each state a score based upon the types of businesses that are allowed to be open, as well as any quarantine restrictions in each state.
In aggregate, we combined the scores from each of these areas for each of the states to create an overall score for each state. We then ranked the 50 states in order to determine the best states for road trips in the summer of coronavirus.
1. National Park Service Acreage Reports
2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office for Coastal Management, Shoreline Mileage Of the United States
3. U.S. Census Bureau, Population and Housing Unit Counts
4. U.S. Census Bureau, State Population Totals and Components of Change: 2010-2019
6. National Safety Council, Injury Facts, Motor-Vehicle Deaths by State
7. National Motorists Association, State Collected Road-User Fees (2011 data) $ per lane mile
9. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID Data Tracker (accessed June 25, 2020)
10. AARP, List of Coronavirus-Related Restrictions in Every State
11. Tripping, Vacation Rentals
12. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Environmental Information, Climate at a Glance