We’ve got your cross-country PCS itinerary all mapped out for you

By Meg Flanagan

“Are we there yet?”

With PCS road trip season upon us, military parents everywhere are preparing to hear this on repeat and in surround sound. What if there was a better way?

Oh, there sure is!

Instead of dreading longs days on the road, follow our handy guide to fun rest stops and adventures along the way. We’ve even broken it down into long (LS) and short (SS) stops, although you can totally stay longer in any spot. For families looking to add a little more to their trips, curriculum connections (CC) have been included, too.

Southern Route

McLean House at Appamatox from Flickr via Wylio
© 2005 Jason A G, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

SS: Appomattox Court House, VA

This is slightly out of the way, but it is also a really neat spot to check out. Appomattox Court House is the spot where General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate forces to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. It’s about three or so hours from the DC area and is ideal for a picnic. Plus there is a free National Park that you can explore.

CC = US Civil War; National Parks; conservation; US history

LS: Asheville, NC

Travel about four to five hours southwest and stop overnight in Asheville. This is a spot to spend part or all of the next day, too. Not only is the downtown area cute and funky, you can also go just outside of town to visit the Biltmore Estate or explore one of the many hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains.

CC = geography; Gilded Age wealth and architecture; US history; environmental conservation

LS: Nashville, TN

Swing into Music City and catch some not-yet-famous musicians live! Go to the Country Music Hall of Fame or Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.

CC = US history; musical heritage

SS: Memphis, TN

Dash into Graceland, Elvis’ home, near Memphis. Grab some local food before you get back on the road.

CC = US history; musical history; biography

LS: Oklahoma City, OK

This doesn’t need to be a long, long stop. Maybe just an overnight before you head west. Or stay a little longer and go to The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

CC = US history; cultural exploration

LS: Albuquerque, NM

You’re entering the southwest here! Go to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center or explore the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

CC = Native American culture; wildlife

SS: Flagstaff, AZ

Drive five hours to Flagstaff and grab lunch at one of the growing collection of microbreweries. Or stay over in preparation for your next big stop! There are also many beautiful places to hike.

CC = food science; physical fitness

LS: Williams, AZ

This one is just the ending of a day of adventure. It’s a long stop because you’ll have spent the whole day exploring the Grand Canyon. Drive north for about 90 minutes to explore Grand Canyon National Park during the day. Then head south to Williams, on old Route 66, for the night. There are fun retro diners to refuel.

CC = US National Park; conservation; US history; pop culture

LS: Anaheim, CA

Celebrate your arrival in SoCal with a stop at the happiest place on earth: Disneyland! Spend a whole weekend here before you head south to check into your new command.

CC = Americana; US history

Deep Southern Detour

Virginia Live Oak with Spanish Moss from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 denisbin, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

LS: Charleston, SC

This is a seriously beautiful city with old Southern mansions and a thriving food scene. Charleston is about four to five hours from Asheville. This is a good spot to roll into for an overnight. Grab dinner. I hear the crab legs are amazing! If you can hang out for a little longer, check out the aquarium or head out to Fort Sumter to see where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

CC = Civil War; Southern culture and cuisine

LS: Savannah, GA

Also around five hours from Asheville, Savannah is another grand old Southern city. This is where Girl Scouting began in 1912 and where Sherman’s March to the Sea ended during the Civil War. There are beautiful mansions and  stunning waterfront, plus amazing seafood.

CC = US history; Southern culture and cuisine

SS: Pensacola, FL

Swing into this Gulf Coast spot for lunch and a stroll near the water. This is also a major hub for military aviators, so if you are looking for cheaper lodging, this might be a good spot.

LS: New Orleans, LA

Any road trip through the deep South needs a pit stop in the Big Easy, if just for the beignets alone. This is definitely a more adult-friendly spot, with Bourbon Street and the French Quarter as the biggest draws. But there are also plenty of family friendly activities like the Audubon Zoo and the Carousel Amusement Park.

CC = US history; Colonial America; Creole culture; Southern culture and cuisine

SS: Houston, TX

Texas is a big state, so there will be a few stops here. Grab some BBQ and get on the road. Although, like most pit stops, you could extend it here.

CC = US history; American food culture

SS: Dallas, TX

Still in the mood for BBQ? Three hours from Houston, you can definitely grab some more brisket. This is a great spot to stay over as you hop back north. Visit the Book Depository to learn about President Kennedy’s assassination.

CC = US history; American food culture

SS: Oklahoma City, OK

Rejoin the main southern route here.

Northern Route

Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch from Flickr via Wylio
© 2016 vhines200, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

SS: Charleston, WV

Grab a pepperoni roll at the West Virginia capital. Then swing into the Culture Center and State Museum. Learn about this state that split from Virginia during the Civil War.

CC = US history; WV state history; Civil War

LS: St. Louis, MO

Go to the top of the Gateway Arch or let the kids loose in the Magic House. Then grab a cup of frozen custard. Check out the beer scene. Maybe the famous clydesdales will be at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery!

CC = creative thinking; US history

SS: Kansas City, MO

Grab some famous Kansas City BBQ at any one of the fabulous restaurants. Make this a quick overnight stay or a pit stop for lunch.

CC = American cuisine

LS: Denver, CO

Make this a big pit stop in the Mile High City. Check out the Wild Animal Sanctuary or stroll along the Platte River. You could spend a few days here hiking, museum hopping, and exploring downtown.

CC = animal science; biology; conservation; physical fitness

SS: Grand Junction, CO

Swing into town for a short spell, grab lunch, and get out of the car. Grand Junction has hiking trails and a Children’s Nature Center. Or stay overnight before your long haul to Sin City.

CC = biology; plant science; conservation; physical fitness

LS: Las Vegas, NV

While “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” is not super child-friendly, there are fun options to keep kids entertained for a day or so here. There are PG-rated animal and comedy shows, a few theme parks, and a really cute little outdoor park, too.

SS: Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs is a blast from the past. Known as a popular getaway from Hollywood for the Rat Pack crowd, Palm Springs has kept all of that nostalgic charm and added to it with modern attractions. Get lunch in the main commercial center, then ride the tram to the top of a nearby mountain. Bring a jacket since the temperature drops at least 30 degrees from desert to peak.

CC = engineering; physical fitness; climate

LS: San Diego, CA

Before you check into your unit, stop in the last major SoCal city before the Mexican border. Explore the USS Midway and watch Naval aviators take off from Coronado. Drive slightly north to La Jolla to get close to sea lions and explore Balboa Park in the heart of downtown San Diego. Don’t forget to stop in at the world famous San Diego Zoo!

CC = zoology; life science; biology; military history; aviation; international relations