Road Trips

15 Essential Apps for Your Big Summer Road Trip

Find your next clean bathroom, slice of pizza, photo-op with a giant dinosaur, and more.

Unsplash/Togo RV
Unsplash/Togo RV
Unsplash/Togo RV

In the summer of 2020, something funny happened: We turned into our parents. What innocently began as “just going for a drive” and rediscovering Steely Dan turned into parking at drive-in movies and carhop restaurants until suddenly, we went full Clark Griswold: traversing America in RVs, seeking out cheesy roadside attractions, and crossing National Parks off our bucket lists.

But we have one distinct advantage over our parents when they roamed the roads: our highly-equipped, very small smartphones. 2021 is shaping up to be yet another summer of Great American Road Trips, and while you may think you’re prepared with the usual roster of travel apps, are you equipped to find the nearest toilet off the interstate? How about the closest free WiFi? A last minute campsite? A decent slice of pizza?

We’ve pulled together 15 essential road trip apps to help you expertly navigate your next summer adventure. Happy trails.

Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist

Roadside America App 

$2.99
Imagine driving through Kansas and NOT stopping to look upon The World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. An absolute must for fans of animatronic roadside dinosaurs and kitschy rest stops, the mobile version of everyone’s favorite website is fun to peruse even if you’re not actually going anywhere.

Roadtrippers

Free
This trip planning app lets you plug in your start and ending locations and discover cool stops along the way. Get inspiration from pre-planned guides, or curate your own itinerary by searching for parks, museums, old-school diners, historic sites, scenic overlooks, and more. You can also check live traffic conditions and take maps offline when you’re sans WiFi.

WiFi Map

Free
Often, the goal of the road trip is to disconnect. But just as often, the goal is to dash off a slew of work emails and download some AllTrails maps before you disappear into the wilderness for three days. WiFi Map connects you to a crowdsourced list of free hotspots around the world, including passwords if they’re needed, so you’re able to keep your affairs in order and track down wherever it is you parked your car.

Seek 

Free
Need to know what that plant or animal is? As long as it stands still long enough to scan or take a pic, Seek can help you identify it. Before you head out, practice tiptoeing softly. Birds are not known to pose for paparazzi. 

Star Walk 2 

$2.99
The ultimate campfire app, Star Walk 2 displays a real-time map of the sky above you. Just point your phone up and play with 3-D models of constellations, learn about celestial bodies and sky events, and even get the latest astronomical news. You’re basically an astronomer now.

Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist

iExit

Free
You’ll need to stop for food and sleep eventually, but getting off at any random exit is how people end up in Westview, New Jersey. iExit shows you which interstate exits have the gas, the Starbucks, and the lodging-and which do not. Because if there’s a Whataburger somewhere out there, you owe it to yourself to find it.

Pizza Compass 

Free
Sometimes you want pizza. And like the opposite of a Dominos tracker this app finds you pizza, with a patented “pizza-to-mouth” indicator that lets you know just how far your mouth is from a hot slice. Simple. Beautiful.

HappyCow

$3.99
Ditch that bag of emergency granola: HappyCow makes sure those with vegetarian, plant-based, and gluten-free dietary needs can always find something decent-perhaps even extraordinary!-to eat during their travels. Create a personal profile, message other users you find intriguing, and you’ll never have to eat alone again.

Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist

GasBuddy 

Free
GasBuddy not only finds you the closest gas, but the cheapest gas using crowdsourced data from over 150,000 gas stations across America. This way, you have more money for snacks, which we all know is the best part of any journey.

USA Rest Stops

Free
This handy app will guide you to the nearest rest area, welcome center, or service plaza from whichever Interstate, US highway, or state highway you happen to be tiring of.

Flush 

Free
When you’ve had one too many Big Gulps, Flush finds the closest public restroom from a database of over 200,000. It also details the level of accessibility-like whether a key is required (the worst) or if you have to pay a fee. This is objectively the most essential app on this list.

Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist
Grace Han for Thrillist

The NPS App 

Free
The official app of the National Park Service offers over 400 parks to explore. Find tours, interactive maps, amenities, trails, and things to do and download it all in the (likely) event there’s no internet access.

AllTrails 

Free
Live that #hikelife with AllTrails, with over 200,000 trail maps for hikers, bikers, and runners. Filter for options like dog and kid-friendly, stroller and wheelchair-accessible, and spectacular views. Read reviews, see photos from other users, and download offline maps so you can keep track of the trail-and whether or not you’re still on it-even when cell service gets dicey.

Reserve America

Free
Think of Reserve America as a hotel booking site but for federal and state lands, and private campgrounds across the US. Put in your desired dates and filter over 100,000 locations. When you find one you like, book straight from the app. And if you need a hunting or fishing license on-the-fly, you can do that too. Look how outdoorsy you are.

Hipcamp

Free
Hipcamp works with landowners so you can book overnight stays on private land. Search for RV parks, tent camping, glamping, treehouses, or cabins and get truly unique results, like this homesteader setup near Joshua Tree, where you share your backyard with horses (!).

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Road Trips

Come Across Steam Trains, Ghost Towns and Lions on This Road Trip to the Desert

Drive from a lush rainforest to an arid red desert.

blue mountains silverton road trip
Photo: Destination NSW

From crisp mountain air, lush rainforests, and a string of townships to ghost towns and baron, arid desert, this epic road trip shows off New South Wales’ complex mountain ranges, plateaus, and escarpments of The Great Dividing Range. The road trip starts in the world-famous Blue Mountains and ends in Silverton, a small mining town most notably known as the dusty red background in the Mad Max movies. Over 12 hours, embark on a journey through World-Heritage Listed national parks, wine and food regions, mining towns, and farming regions.

This road trip guide will show you all the best places to stop along the way.

blue mountains silverton road trip
Photo: Destination NSW

Blue Mountains to Mudgee

Start your journey in the Blue Mountains by exploring several townships steeped in history and heritage. There are endless hikes to tackle and waterfalls to chase, including Wentworth Falls, Fairfax Heritage Trail, and The Grand Canyon. Visit the famous Three Sisters rock formation in Katoomba, or stop into Lithgow, board the Zig Zag Railway, and experience the magic of steam trains. It’s up to you to choose your Blue Mountains adventure, but we suggest stopping for a pie at Bill’s Old Fashioned Cakes and Pies.

If you have a 4WD, add The Lost City to your itinerary. As its name suggests, it isn’t the easiest of finds but worth the search. Geological formations made up of layers of ironstone and sandstone has weathered in a way to resemble pagodas and a forgotten civilization that once was. If you don’t have a 4WD, you can head to Hassan’s Wall Lookout—the highest lookout in the Blue Mountains.

You can also stop at Capertee Valley for panoramic views of the valley. Most people don’t realise Capertee Valley is the world’s second-largest canyon and definitely worth a quick stop into Pearson’s Lookout.

The next stop is Mudgee, home to organic and biodynamic tipples and unforgettable dining experiences focused on farm-to-plate. We suggest staying the night to immerse yourself in the gastronome experience and friendly hospitality. There are tiny cabins, glamping options, luxury homestays and the usual regional hotels to choose from. Regarding dining, head to Alby and Esthers for coffee in a circa-1873 stone terrace building, Pipeclay Pumphouse for breakfast, and Roth’s Wine Bar for a late-night tipple.

Logan Wines is a great place to devour a cheeseboard and sip wines with views of the vines. Lowe Wines produces small-batch organic tipples, and Robert Stein Winery and Vineyard is known for its award-winning wines and is hiding a motorcycle museum in the basement.

blue mountains silverton road trip
Photo: Destination NSW

Mudgee to Nyngan

Continue the journey to Dubbo and spend the day on an African safari. The Taronga Western Plains Zoo is home to hundreds of rare and endangered animals, including rhinos and big cats, where you can come face to face with a lion. You can walk, drive or ride around the Zoo’s five-kilometre circuit and watch daily keeper activities. In the city centre, you can visit the Old Dubbo Gaol and admire the ornate architecture and explore the stories of pioneers and bushrangers on the Dubbo Heritage Walk.

Hankering for a pub feed? Stop by one of the classic country pubs for refreshments, such as the 1882-built Milestone Hotel. There are quality restaurants like Veltd and charming cafes – try the gourmet pies at the Village Bakery CafĂ©, family operated since 1918. You can also enjoy wine tasting at the Red Earth Estate Vineyard.

After exploring Dubbo, make the journey to Nyngan, a small town sitting on the edge of the tranquil Bogan River. One of the more popular things to do in town is to get a selfie with the tongue-in-cheek Big Bogan—a five-metre tall statue sporting a mullet, Southern Cross tattoo, fishing rod, esky, and stubbies. At the Nyngan Museum, explore the town’s history through a captivating collection of artefacts and displays. Learn about the 1835 journey of explorer Major Thomas Mitchell to reach the Bogan River, and the important role railway has played in Nyngan’s history.

The Mid-State Shearing Shed honours the local shearing industry, showcasing shearing memorabilia. Housed in a former railway shed, you’ll find shearing equipment and stalls, bag stencils and murals by local artists.

Stay the night at Alomo Motor Inn in one of their 15 air-conditioned rooms.

blue mountains silverton road trip
Photo: Destination NSW

Nyngan to White Cliffs

Nyngan is situated at the start of the Barrier Highway, which takes you straight to Silverton and onto the heritage-listed city Broken Hill. Follow the highway, stopping at Cobar, a town rich in mining heritage and natural attractions. See restored mining equipment at the Cobar Miner’s Heritage Park, and check out the defunct Great Cobar Copper Mine from the 1830s. Head to the viewing platform at Fort Bourke Hill Lookout for incredible views.

If you do one thing in Cobar, it would be to order a chicken parmi at the Great Western Hotel.

Jump back on the road until you come across Wilcannia, a once-thriving Darling River port. Today, you can still see some of the town’s treasures, including the old-centre lift bridge, the 1880 Post Office, the Athenaeum Library and the Courthouse. Stop at Emmdale Roadhouse for a coffee and a bite to eat.

The next and final stop of the day is at White Cliffs, an active opal mining town, where you can sleep in an underground motel. The all-white dugouts are unique and make for a memorable experience. While in town, visit opal showrooms and purchase locally mined opals to get cut and set by jewellers. 

blue mountains silverton road trip
Photo: Destination NSW

White Cliffs to Silverton

The next leg of the journey is to Broken Hill, where you can discover the charm of outback Australia. Take the Broken Hill Heritage Walk Tour to discover the town’s charm, character and history. There are plenty of museums and galleries to wander around, including the oldest regional gallery in NSW and the Albert Kersten Mining and Mineral Museum where you can see artifacts and thousands of specimens from the city’s mining history, including a 42kg silver nugget.

You can’t leave Broken Hill without ordering a soda spider from Bells, a 1950s Australian Milk Bar that doubles as a museum.

Drive north of Broken Hill to Silverton, where you can stand at the edge of the world. The wide and flat space of the Mundi Mundi Plains looks endless and gives the feeling that you might be at the edge of the world. It’s best taken in from Mundi Mundi Lookout.

Silverton has starred in many iconic Australian films, including Mad Max 2, which you can explore at the Mad Max Museum in town. Get an insight into the harsh realities of mining a century ago by taking an underground tour through a former silver mine at Historic Daydream Mine.

Book the Priscilla Suite at the Palace Hotel if you’re planning to stay in Silverton. You’ll likely recognize the venue as one of the stopovers from the iconic movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. 

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