Sea to Shining Sea: 8 of the Best Destinations to Visit across the US

Interest in small towns and outdoor spaces is booming with crowd-wary folks drawn to wide open spaces and natural beauty

There was a time many decades back when I considered myself a camping expert. Setting up tents, cooking on a propane stove, and tearing down a campsite all came easily in those days. Over the years that interest waned and I become a devotee of the RV lifestyle. These days, nothing beats the comforts of our plush home-on-wheels after a day of exploring or hiking.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regardless of your travel mode, here are eight of our favorite places to visit on a cross-country road trip that are appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people.

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota

When you think of tourism in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore probably rushes to mind. And, yes, there’s that. But also, there’s Badlands National Park with 244,000 acres of what could be described as a mix of Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, and Valley of Fire State Park all in one with magnificent native grasses that soften the rugged landscape. The entire area that includes the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park provides an incredible sense of openness and space—along with a compelling story of the land from prehistory to Standing Rock.

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country in Louisiana

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Cajun Country is the perfect destination for an extended vacation to rôder. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the most well-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina

It’s no wonder Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the U.S. There’s a ton to see and do—and the area is just a reasonable drive away for millions and millions of Americans. Many visitors come here to simply drive around and enjoy the view. For example, Cades Cove Loop Road is a scenic (and very popular) 11-mile loop that will give you a great introduction to what the Smokies have to offer.

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro in New Hampshire

This city has a serious claim to domestic vacation fame as it’s considered the “oldest summer resort city in America”—Wolfeboro has roots dating back to the 1700s and is known not only for its shopping and dining but also for Lake Winnepesaukee. In addition to lazy days on the lake visitors must try the Maine lobster, eat clams with butter and crumbs, and lobster rolls.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island in South Carolina

Edisto Island features several gorgeous beaches but it’s an equally attractive destination for its beautiful plantations and quiet overall atmosphere. It’s secluded, historic, and relaxing—perfect for a quick getaway. Wildlife lovers will want to visit the Edisto Island Serpentarium to watch alligator feedings and learn about unique species of snakes, turtles, and other reptiles native to the region. If that seems a little too…slithery, try taking a drive through the Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, a 4,600-acre stretch of undeveloped beachfront.

Quilt Garden along the Heritage Trail in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country in Indiana

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions even as the world around them changes at break-neck speed. A few days in Amish Country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, delightful theater productions, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The small towns and two-lane roads westward of Austin make up the heart of the Texas Hill Country. There you will find the unexpected gems of Texas—rivers that wind through stands of bald cypress trees, shimmering lakes, limestone canyons, and rustic German towns with such names as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Boerne, and Kerrville. Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top, but for an unforgettable experience.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona in Arizona

Seeing the iconic red rocks of Sedona will simply take your breath away. You will be awestruck by the majestic crimson rock formations and perhaps feel the energy for which this area is known. Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land, four wilderness areas, and two state parks this is a landscape built for adventure. Put simply—there is no other place on earth like Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

There are hundreds—if not thousands—of amazing places to visit across the country. This list is far from exhaustive, but it encompasses eight well-loved popular destinations that could keep us busy for years to come.

Worth Pondering…

From wonder into wonder, existence opens.

—Lao Tzu