The Top 10 Things to See and Do on Amelia Island

What are you waiting for! Read on and find out about the best things to do in and around Amelia Island.

The southernmost of the Sea Island chain, Amelia Island attracts visitors because of its wide beaches lined with 40-foot, sea-oat-flecked dunes. But there’s more to do than just lay out on the sand.

Envision a nature lover’s retreat, a sportsman’s playground, and foodie’s paradise all coming together on one special barrier island. Here are 10 of the best things to see and do on a visit to Amelia Island.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise the Amelia River

Head down to the dock at Fernandina Harbor Marina and catch a tour offered by Amelia River Cruises. Choose from a variety of cruises along salt marshes, wilderness beaches, and historic riverbanks. Discover wildlife—dolphins, sea turtles, and manatees—narrated by local history and nature experts or with live local musicians on board.

The 2.5-hour trip down the Amelia River and around Amelia and Cumberland Islands is entertaining and educational. Your guide will tell you about the history of the area including how Amelia Island came under the governance of six different nations and about the Carnegie family’s connection to Cumberland Island. Look for wild horses and an array of seabirds as you cruise past beautiful shorelines and unique photo ops.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Amelia Island Nature Center

Nestled on 1,350 acres at the tip of Amelia Island, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort offers luxurious oceanfront accommodations with amazing views of the Atlantic, resort pools, championship golf, and a full-service spa.

Part of the resort, the Amelia Island Nature Center is open to the public. Once you enter the property, turn left just before the gate to find the nature center. Be sure to say hello to Buddy, the rescued tropical parrot and resident mascot.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The marsh around the resort is a haven for wildlife found in the dunes, grasses, and sandy shores. Keep your eyes open for herons, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, osprey, eagles, and cormorants. During the summer you may also see dolphins and manatees in the marsh.

The nature center offers eco-biking, hiking, bass fishing, and birding adventures on which you can learn about the thriving ecology and delicate balance of the barrier islands. The center offers kayak tours, stand-up paddleboard tours, and eclipse pedalboard (think elliptical with pontoons) tours. You can join a tour or rent equipment and explore on your own.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the Beach

Ever combed a beach for seashells? How about shark teeth? Searching for shark teeth will give your walk purpose as you stroll down some of the 13 miles of beautiful sandy beachfront on Amelia Island. Head out as the tide begins to recede or just after a storm for the best finds. With five distinct beaches on the island, you’ll be sure to find your perfect toes-in-the-sand, sun-worshipping spot. Choose from Amelia Island State Park, American Beach, Main Beach Park, Peters Point, and Fort Clinch State Park Beach. Lifeguards staff the beaches from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amelia Island State Park

A sanctuary for fishing and bird-watching, Amelia Island State Park protects over 200 acres of unspoiled wilderness along the southern tip of Amelia Island. Beautiful beaches, salt marshes, and coastal maritime forests provide visitors a glimpse of Real Florida. Visitors can stroll along the beach, look for shells and sharks’ teeth, or watch the wildlife. Anglers can surf fish along the shoreline or wet their lines from the mile-long George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier. Amelia Island is the only Florida state park that offers horseback riding on its beaches!

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park

A pedestrian-only fishing bridge, George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier spans Nassau Sound and provides access to one of the best fishing areas in Northeast Florida. Anglers catch a variety of fish, including whiting, jack, drum, and tarpon. The mile-long bridge is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year. Access to the bridge is through Amelia Island State Park.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Fort Clinch State Park

History meets nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or a bit of both, enjoy exploring the natural and historic resources of this park. A row of cannons staring across the St. Mary’s River into Georgia are silent testimony to the strategic importance of Fort Clinch during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the fort’s many rooms, galleries, and grounds, and learn about the life of a Union soldier through living history programs.

The historic fort is only one aspect of this diverse 1,400-acre park. Maritime hammocks with massive arching live oaks provide a striking backdrop for hiking and biking on the park’s many trails. The park is known for its gopher tortoises, painted buntings, and other species of wildlife. Camping, fishing, shelling, and shark-tooth hunting are popular activities.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the Willow Pond Nature Trail

After seeing historic Fort Clinch and the beautiful sand beaches, take the time to walk the serene Willow Pond Nature Trail. The mile-long trail provides a refreshing break from the warm Florida sunshine. As you start your stroll down the path, you will pass through a forest of historic live oaks with their aerial gardens of resurrection fern, orchids, and Spanish moss. Arriving at a series of breaks in the trees, you suddenly come upon Willow Pond which is actually a collection of coastal depression ponds. Crossing the bridge, you leave the lush green of the palm trees and saw palmettos, trekking the steep incline of the ancient sand dunes until you are surrounded by more live oaks, magnolias, and holly trees. Soon you will finish back where you started.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is a 46,000-acre area with individual park sites to explore. Each park site is unique for an aspect of natural or cultural history. Trails in the Timucuan Preserve take you through shady hammocks and along pristine beaches. The Timucuan Preserve’s Boneyard Beach offers a stunning, stark backdrop for photographers with 30-foot bluffs and huge driftwood trees scattered along the shore. A historic Sea Island cotton plantation, Kingsley Plantation includes the oldest standing plantation house in Florida. Self-guiding, interpretive exhibits can be viewed throughout the grounds.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the Links

Every golfer’s dream is to enjoy glorious sunshine and gorgeous views while conquering challenging greens and fairways. The courses on Amelia Island offer all this and more. The island offers five golf courses including an 18-hole championship option at The Ritz-Carlton designed by PGA Tour veteran Mark McCumber and World Golf Hall of Famer Gene Littler. Fernandina Beach Golf Club is a reasonably priced public golf course offering 27 holes. The Golf Club of Amelia Island designed by Mark McCumber and Gene Littler offers 18 holes with beautiful vistas and challenging water hazards. Amelia Island Omni Plantation Resort offers two 18-hole golf courses. The Oak Marsh Golf Course designed by Pete Dye is open to the public. The Long Point Golf Course was designed by Tom Fazio and is a members-only course that is also available to resort guests. Amelia River Golf Club is a semi-private club that offers challenging holes for a reasonable fee.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fernandina Beach

Be sure to venture over to Fernandina Beach, a city on the northern part of the island with a 50-block National Historic District. Stroll the charming downtown to see a mix of Queen Anne, Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Victorian architecture and peruse mom-and-pop shops like Fantastic Fudge, popular for its ice cream and fudge with the latter making a sweet Amelia souvenir.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location

Amelia Island is located in northeastern Florida, 33 miles northeast of Jacksonville and 26 miles southeast of St. Marys, Georgia.

Amelia Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Life at the beach can be busy on Amelia Island if one so chooses. I’d rather swing on the porch with a book, take a nap, and go for a long barefoot walk at the water’s edge. Serious loafing.

—John Grisham, Ode to Amelia Island

The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Almost Heaven awaits you at New River Gorge National Park, Babcock State Park, and Glade Creek Grist Mill

Scenic mountains and breathtaking gorge views await at the nation’s newest national park

Close your eyes and imagine a place with thousands of acres of lush green forests, rushing waters, and cascading waterfalls. Sound too good to be true? Such a place exists and it’s inside the New River Gorge National Park & Preserve. Teeming with rarified beauty and endless opportunities for adventure, the New River Gorge is the perfect destination for your next road trip. Mark America’s newest national park on your map, pack up the RV, and hit the road for Almost Heaven awaits you.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The New River Gorge has always been a celebrated landmark in the Mountain State, but now it gets recognition as America’s 63rd national park. From action-packed adventures like whitewater rafting, rock climbing, fishing, rock climbing, and miles of hiking trails to the southern hospitality of nearby mountain towns, the New River Gorge is a hidden gem to discover.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to the New River which drops 750 feet over 66 miles, adventuresome rafters and kayakers have long been drawn to this whitewater area for its class five rapids. The New River which flows northward through low-cut canyons in the Appalachian Mountains is one of the oldest rivers on the planet. The park encompasses more than 70,000 acres of land along the New River. The rugged mountains were once home to several coal mining camps and some historical artifacts and buildings remain.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easily accessible by Route 19 and I-64, the New River Gorge is one of West Virginia’s most photographed areas. The New River cuts through extensive geological formations. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, osprey, kingfishers, great blue herons, beavers, river otters, wild turkeys, and black bears call this park home and you’ll often spot a few along your travels. Hiking trails here take you to spectacular overlooks and through remnants of old coal mining towns.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin your experience with a stop at Canyon Rim Visitor Center which is situated on the edge of the gorge for maps, current information, and chats with a park ranger. You can learn about current safety protocols and visit the bookstore. The visitor center features an exhibit room filled with photographs and exhibits on the people, towns, and industry of the gorge. Other displays focus on the recreation and natural history of the area. Visitors can view an 11-minute video to orient themselves to all that makes New River Gorge National Park and Preserve such a special and significant place.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to see the New River Gorge Bridge, a highly photographed work of structural art. If you plan your road trip just right, you can visit during Bridge Day a one-day festival (October 16, 2021) where you’ll watch BASE jumpers launch off the 876-foot bridge and parachute down to the New River. New River Gorge is the only national park in the U.S. that permits this extreme activity.

The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve provide incredible outdoor recreation opportunities and stunning landscapes but there are also several nearby West Virginia State Parks waiting to be discovered and explored. In fact, these state parks offer cozy accommodations, mountain adventures, and unparalleled scenic views.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One such state park is Babcock. Located 20 miles southeast of the New River Gorge Bridge, Babcock State Park is home to 4,127 acres of iconic scenery and stunning views. Babcock State Park is best known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a fully functional replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that once ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park. Of special interest, the mill was created by combining parts and pieces from three mills that once dotted the state. The basic structure of the mill came from the Stoney Creek Grist Mill which dates back to 1890. After an accidental fire destroyed the Spring Run Grist Mill near Petersburg (Grant County) only the overshot water wheel could be salvaged. Other parts for the mill came from the Onego Grist Mill near Seneca Rocks (Pendleton County).

Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A living monument to the over 500 mills which thrived in West Virginia at the turn of the century, the Glade Creek Grist Mill provides freshly ground cornmeal which park guests may purchase depending on availability and stream conditions. Visitors to the mill may journey back to a time when grinding grain by a rushing stream was a way of life and the groaning mill wheel was music to the miller’s ear.

Other attractions include recreational activities like hiking, fishing, and mountain biking.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock is home to 28 cozy cabins tucked away in the woods. Each cabin provides a peaceful retreat to guests accompanied by the tranquil sights and sounds of nature. Several of the cabins are located near the Glade Creek Grist Mill. So close, you can almost hear the mill’s wooden frame churn. Babcock also includes a 52-unit campground if you wish to completely surround yourself in nature.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, a

Nature and landscape photographers who wish to fly a drone near the Glade Creek Grist Mill are required to check-in at the park office in advance. The use of drones is permitted but only from 1-3 p.m., daily. Drones may not be flown over buildings or the parking area and must stay a minimum of 20 feet away from the mill.

Start planning your next trip to the area and get ready for one-of-a-kind experiences and lasting memories.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, a

Worth Pondering…

Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.

—John Denver

Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

The diverse regions and terrain of Texas are nature made for sampling a wide variety of outdoor experiences

Outdoor recreation options in Texas are as big and wide as the state, thanks to a mind-boggling mix of landscapes. There are desert, rugged mountains, and wind-sculpted sand dunes in the far west; beaches, marshes, piney woods, and swamps in the east; and prairies, plains, plateaus, and rolling hills in between. Texas also has at least 3,000 caves and sinkholes, some of which, such as the Caverns of Sonora west of San Antonio, are open for tours.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add abundant sunshine and temperate weather conditions into the equation and Texas is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure. So, whether you want to embrace your inner cowboy at Bandara, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, or try something new like camping in the sand dunes, Texas has you covered. Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite Texas destinations where you can explore and relax outdoors.

Scenic State Parks

The 95 Texas State Parks protect invaluable natural resources and offer an array of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, and no-license fishing. Most parks charge a nominal entrance fee, well worth the price for access to the state’s natural wonders.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life seldom seen almost anywhere else in Texas. This little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Visitors engage in a variety of activities including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Goose Island State Park is also known for the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes.

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad State Park is a chance for a history lesson if you choose. The main attraction here is the Spanish colonial-era mission which dates back to the 1700s. But Goliad is also a hot spot for camping, kayaking, canoes, and river activities.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to a 40-story building.

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall.

McKinney Falls State Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urban Green Spaces

Nature is woven into the fabric of Texas’ biggest cities. Land conservation, public-private partnerships, and eco-friendly urban planning have created easy-access green spaces inside the city limits of places like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

Lady Johnson Bird Park neat Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has a lake, water gardens, tree-shaded walks, grassy areas, and 100-year-old oak trees. Try out the new jogging trail that surrounds the park or splash around The Model Boat Pond.

In San Antonio, Emilie and Albert Friedrich Wilderness Park feature 600 acres of undeveloped Hill Country terrain with over 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Try the park’s rugged Vista Loop for clear-day vistas of the downtown skyline.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin regularly ranks among the greenest urban areas in the U.S. The city, which manages more than 300 parks, is also home to McKinney Falls State Park, a limestone-and-waterfall wonderland. 284-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the state botanic garden and arboretum of Texas. The center is home to the most diverse collection of native plants in the state with more than 800 species represented from many of the major eco-regions of Texas.

Connecting many of Austin’s green spaces is a network of natural greenways including South Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt. The roughly eight-mile-long greenbelt is a popular jumping-off point for outdoor adventures like bouldering, biking, hiking, rock climbing, and soaking in an old-fashioned Texas swimming hole.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas-style Bike Trails

Biking in Texas is whatever you want it to be. The state’s wildly diverse topography means there are plenty of options for leisurely pedaling, adrenaline-pumping mountain biking, and everything in between. For a uniquely Texan experience, tackle the mountain biking trails at Flat Rock Ranch, a Hill Country cattle ranch-mountain biking venue 5 miles northeast of Comfort (50 miles northwest of San Antonio). Ease into the action on the meandering Green Loop before tackling challenging uphill climbs, steep descents, and big-thrill enduro runs (a type of mountain bike racing where only the downhill is timed).

Franklin Mountains State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks offer an unparalleled world of fun for bicyclists of all stripes. From the massive Franklin Mountains in El Paso to the wildlife-rich Copper Breaks, the scenery and terrain in Texas’ State Parks offer something for everyone —whether you’re a self-proclaimed “mountain bike maniac” or simply looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors. The parks offer many opportunities to choose from—including road rides near some parks, rails-to-trails conversions where you can travel for miles along former railroad beds, and off-road experiences.

Driving Park Road 1C between Bastrop and Buescher state parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling in the Hill Country is a Lone Star treat. This challenging-yet-scenic ride through the shady Lost Pines of Central Texas is featured as part of the MS 150 benefit (first Saturday in May), a fundraising ride sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that runs from Houston to Austin. The 12.5-mile stretch of Park Road 1C between these Bastrop and Buescher state parks offers a taste of what road riding has to offer and serious roadies can be combined with other area rides for longer routes. The road is open to vehicle traffic.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Historic Sites

Hike, pedal, or paddle through Texas history at a state historic site. Rising above the Aransas Bay and surrounded by stately live oaks, Fulton Mansion State Historic Site is located in Rockport-Fulton. The house must have appeared incredible in 1877 as it does today with its mansard roof and ornate trim. Interior gaslighting, flush-toilets and other refinements were progressive and luxurious elements for this period of Texas history.

Ruins of the Kreische brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische purchased 172 acres of land including the Dawson/Mier tomb, now known as Monument Hill. In the 1860s, he utilized the spring water from the ravine below his house and started one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. Walk the ruins of this once bustling brewery and envision how Fayette County citizens would enjoy a pint of Kreische’s Bluff Beer.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The six-acre campus in the heart of Fredericksburg includes exhibits and memorial areas. Artifacts from the war, both large and small, shape the exhibits which feature ships and planes, weapons, helmets, and uniforms of those who served.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

it has inner light, even from a distance.

—signage at Lady Bird Wildflower Center

Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.

Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.

Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.

On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion

For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Beyond Capitol Reef

The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Beyond Arches and Canyonlands

One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, head to the lesser-visited west side of Canyonlands National Park for a guided 4×4 tour. Spend ample time in the Bears Ears National Monument area with a scenic drive through Valley of the Gods and visits to Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument—both of which are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’ while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

16 of the Best State Parks in America

The U.S. has more than 10,000 state park areas covering a total area of more than 18 million acres

The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, harsh deserts, and amazing RV and tent camping opportunities. Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks. What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure. Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Big Bend Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in West Texas along the US/Mexico border. The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons. Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain. Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving, and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 when a dam was constructed on the Rio Grande River. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. The park offers 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups).

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Located half an hour outside of Sarasota this verdant sanctuary is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. A popular destination for outdoor adventure, visitors can rent a kayak and paddle along the park’s waterways in search of alligators or choose from close to forty miles of hiking trails that snake through wetlands, pine forests, and dry prairie. Myakka River State Park is a renowned location for birding and for good reason—some truly fascinating avian species can be spotted searching for food along the river banks with the vibrant pink-colored roseate spoonbill standing out as one of the area’s most coveted sights.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species. Nearby attractions include St George, Red Cliffs BLM Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. This sprawling 20,000-acre park offers three campground areas that range from full hookups to standard camping. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Grab Some Fresh Air and Commune with Nature at McKinney Falls State Park

Escape the Austin heat at McKinney Falls State Park

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; it’s just 13 miles from the state capitol.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall. Beware of the creek’s flow; contact the park for current creek conditions. Youngsters can complete the Junior Ranger Activity Journal, which is available at park headquarters and may be downloaded from the website.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls is actually a series of two waterfalls—an upper and lower falls. The Upper McKinney Falls is where Onion Creek is channeled into a chute that is about 15-20 feet tall. The Lower McKinney Falls is where the combined flow of Williamson Creek and Onion Creek drops over a wide 15-foot limestone bench. It would typically have a segmented appearance exposing its underlying limestone bedrock except following periods of persistent rains when it would swell to a wide singular block.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Go fishing in Onion or Williamson creeks. Bring your fishing poles to catch catfish, Guadalupe bass, white bass, and sunfish. You do not need a license to fish from shore in a Texas state park. Wear a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley), sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your head, eyes, and skin. Bring plenty of drinking water to prevent dehydration; soft drinks encourage dehydration.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White-tailed deer, raccoons, armadillos, squirrels, and many bird species including the colorful painted bunting live in the park. The flowing waters of Onion and William­son creeks support majestic bald cypress trees and bright wild­flowers like red Turk’s cap.

Many people visit the park to see “Old Baldy,” a 500-year-old bald cypress tree that stands 103 feet tall and whose trunk measures 195 inches around. Bald cypress trees rule the park and are so named because they turn bright orange early in the fall and lose their needle-like leaves.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area was inhabited more than 8,500 years ago as evidenced by artifacts left by American Indian tribes; which groups occupied this area remains a mystery. When Spain ruled this part of the United States in the 1600s major roads were constructed throughout Texas to encourage settlements.

By 1850, Thomas McKinney was living on this property along Onion Creek. The family ranch was located near one of these historic roads, El Camino Real de los Tejas. McKinney, a native Kentuckian, was one of the first colonists to relocate to Texas and he later became a state senator. Park visitors can see remains of the McKinney homestead which include the two-story limestone house, a horse trainer’s cabin, a gristmill, and an assortment of stone walls. After McKinney’s death, his wife, Anna, sold the property to James Woods Smith. Several generations of the Smith family farmed the land eventually donating it to the state of Texas in 1973.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The busiest months in the park are from March to November. Early April may be the best time to visit as the park’s namesake waterfall splashes amongst bluebonnets and cacti—a distinctive native Texan landscape. Graceful great egrets outline the creek beds. But the best reason to visit in spring may be the great blue heron rookery. During the first week in April, newborn chicks pop their fluffy heads from the nest awaiting the arrival of nourishment.

Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). McKinney Falls has 81 campsites with 30-amp or 50-amp electrical hookups, water, picnic tables, and fire rings. Restrooms with showers are nearby. Most weekends, park rangers offer a workshop or presentation at the rock-hewn amphitheater. Or rent one of the six newly remodeled cabins. The park also has a primitive youth camping area for use by nonprofit-sponsored youth groups. A group hall is available for rental.

And, with the park’s location within Texas’ capital city, McKinney Falls makes a great base camp from which to explore the nearby Hill Country.

Fact Box

Location: Travis County within Austin city limits

Busy Season: March through November

Date Established: 1976

Park Entrance Fees: $6/adult or Texas State Park pass; children 12 years and under, free

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campsite Rates: $20 (30 amp)-$24 (50 amp) + daily entrance fee

Directions: 13 miles southeast of the state capitol in Austin off of U.S. Highway 183; take McKinney Falls Parkway from U.S. 183 South straight to the park entrance.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

The self-ascribed “Bourbon Capital of the World” offers fine spirits and a welcome change of pace

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America.” But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face.

This “Bourbon Capital of the World” is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

The Old Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey connoisseurs and history buffs probably already know Bardstown, a small town about 45 minutes south of Louisville. Europeans crossed the Appalachians and settled in the area in the 1770s. The town’s charming and walkable downtown area incorporates significant historic features of the time. Bardstown is also home to or within a short drive of a ton of distilleries including some of the biggest names in bourbon. The self-ascribed moniker, “The Bourbon Capital of the World” is pretty accurate. Like a lot of small towns, Bardstown is a rewarding destination. If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

The Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your options for lodgings in Bardstown run the gamut from chain hotels to centuries-old establishments and nearby RV parks and campgrounds. Some portions of the original 1779 structure housing The Talbott Inn on Court Square in the heart of downtown are still in use; a larger section dates to 1913. Among other historic figures, the inn and its tavern (now a restaurant and bar called Old Talbott Tavern) hosted Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any road trip. The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? America is full of so many amazing bakeries that it’s impossible to try all of them in a lifetime. Always on the lookout for fresh doughnuts, delicious regional specialties, and amazing cookies and cakes, brings us to Hadorn’s Bakery, a Bardstown institution that comes highly recommended.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hadorn’s is a third-generation family bakery founded in Louisville in 1935 and has been Bardstown’s family bakery since 1977. From yum yums, one of the local favorites, to fresh doughnuts, seasonal cookies and cakes, and a whole host of others, everything at Hadorn’s is mouthwateringly delicious. If you’re going to have just one, make it a Yum Yum—a sort of cinnamon bun that’s braided instead of rolled, then glazed and topped with streaks of gooey icing.

As you might expect, most bars around town have walls lined with shelf upon shelf of bourbon and most barkeeps are adept at showcasing the local spirit.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon, as you might know, has developed a cult following that can be kind of intimidating for the uninitiated. Distillery tours are a good way to get up close and personal with the beloved oak-aged liquor. By staying in Bardstown you’re roughly a half-hour drive from Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Four Roses. You’re practically spoiled for choice right in Bardstown, as well: The Barton 1792 distillery is a stone’s throw from downtown, while Lux Row (which produces Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and more), Willett, and the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center aren’t much farther.

Four Roses Bourbon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these firms have been distilling for decades or longer. The massive operation at Bardstown Bourbon Company, 10 minutes from downtown, was launched in 2016. They offer a one-hour From Distillate to Barrel Tour in which a knowledgeable guide leads you through a tasting that included fresh distillate (aka moonshine) as well as aged whiskeys.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour also takes you through the distilling plant and then out to one of the company’s rickhouses where your guide may thieve (that’s a technical term for dipping with a giant copper straw-like device) some samples from a barrel of BBC’s own bourbon. It’s been aging since 2016 and won’t go to market until next year. (Bardstown Bourbon Company has sold very little whiskey under its own label so far but through its custom distilling program you may have tasted some of their handiwork in what Belle Meade Bourbon and other newer distillers offer while their own whiskey ages.)

Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to being fun and delivering the mildest hint of a buzz, a distillery tour will leave you with some more tools in your kit for deciding what you truly enjoy in a bourbon rather than going on name reputation.

You can easily fill a week with distillery tours in and around Bardstown. But you could also pay a visit to the Old Bardstown Colonial Village featuring a collection of frontier cabins spread over a verdant park. It’s very close to Museum Row which includes the Women’s Museum of the Civil War.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located less than a mile from the Old Historic Courthouse, My Old Kentucky Home State Park embodies the antebellum South and was the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s world-famous composition, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Kentucky’s official state song. Guides in period costume tell the story of the esteemed Rowan family who called the plantation home from the late 18th to 19th centuries. During the summer visitors can enjoy America’s favorite outdoor drama, “The Stephen Foster Story,” which features Stephen Foster’s best-known works brought to life by performers in period costumes among beautiful sets.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no trip to Bardstown that’s complete without a visit to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and there’s no better time to visit than the morning! Comprised of more than 15,600 acres of protected wildlife, forest, and natural landscapes, the Bernheim property is a virtual must-see. Since its founding in 1929, this sustainable woodland ecosystem has existed as a proven habitat for diversified flora and fauna providing refuge for so many local species. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve got the time on the way back to the downtown district, stop by the Jim Beam Distillery, unique in its own right as a location that can effectively rival any distillery in the area.

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more today!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

Palmetto State Park: Nature-filled Getaway in Central Texas

This small park offers a large amount of fun, both on water and land

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Along the entrance road to Palmetto © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life, some seen almost nowhere else in Texas.

Back in the early 1930s, a small piece of that swamp, midway between Gonzales and Luling, became Palmetto State Park. Through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) efforts to blend nature into their construction, the park today looks almost as natural as it did eight decades ago.

San Marcos River in Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just an hour from Austin or San Antonio and two hours from Houston, this picturesque park is a short drive for many Texans and easily accessible off of Interstate 10. If you’re looking for more than just a day trip, extend your retreat with a night or two of camping or a stay in the park’s quaint cabin.

You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps.

CCC-built picnic pavilion at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On land, hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Host a gathering at the park’s CCC-built picnic pavilion which has an air-conditioned kitchen. 

Choose one of the 19 tent sites or 18 RV sites. Camp with up to 99 of your friends at the secluded group site. Or rent our air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people).

Hiking trail at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first thing I look for at a park is a trail to hike and the winding, well-manicured trails at Palmetto State Park offer plenty to see. The Ottine Swamp Trail and Palmetto Interpretive Trail have boardwalks and bridges so you can wind through swamps filled with the park’s namesake dwarf palmettos. You’ll feel as if you’re in a tropical paradise.

A swamp at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life some, seen almost nowhere else in Texas. Riotous birdsong is Palmetto’s soundtrack. The 270-acre park has attracted 240 species of birds, including an invasion of hummingbirds each spring. In the fall, look for butterflies everywhere. Fox squirrels and a variety of wildlife inhabit the park due to the presence of the river nearby.

Palmetto at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, of course, everywhere you look is the park’s namesake plants adding a tropical feeling, unlike the surrounding Texas countryside. Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) plants from which the park gets its name surround the park’s swamp. These palmettos grow in East and Southeast Texas as well as the Palmetto State (South Carolina) and much of the southeastern US. The state park boasts the westernmost stand of dwarf palmettos in the country.
The San Marcos River Trail leads you along the high banks of the San Marcos River where towering cottonwoods and sycamore trees stand guard. The Mesquite Flats Trail offers a look at the drier, savannah-like parts of the park where prickly pear cactus finds a home.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get finished exploring the park on land, enjoy the water. The always-fun Oxbow Lake offers calm water to cast a fishing line in search of catfish or sunfish. Try out a paddleboat, kayak, or canoe, or take a swim in the cool water. The San Marcos River low-water crossing is a great place to either splash around in the water or take a tube for a 20- to 30-minute float around the park. Make sure you check river conditions with park staff.

CCC-built pavilion at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Marcos River is one of the most popular recreational rivers in Texas. The river arises from Aquarena Springs within the city limits of San Marcos and flows approximately 75 miles through heavily wooded banks to join the Guadalupe River. A wide variety of water types including a few rapids, many small riffles and an abundance of clear, quiet pools are present. The average width of the stream is 30 feet; however, it narrows between steep banks in its lower reaches. In periods of low water, numerous log jams are found, especially downriver.

San Marcos River at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good point of entry is Luling City Park, located adjacent to State Highway 80, just east of the city limits. The park provides about one-half mile of shoreline and camping is permitted.

Paddlers will enjoy a gentle family-friendly ride on this quiet river lined with beautiful trees and wildlife. Since private land borders the river, put-in and take-out points are limited.

CCC-built pavilion at Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Didn’t bring gear? The park staff has you covered with rentals of life jackets, kayaks, canoes, tubes, and hydro-cycles (basically bikes with pontoons). The park also participates in the tackle loaner program allowing you to borrow fishing poles free of charge.

The staff and volunteers at Palmetto State Park are eager to show you a safe and relaxing experience. Make sure you check in with them at park headquarters on your way in. While you’re there, pick up a souvenir at the well-stocked park store.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Entrance Fee: $3 daily

Camping Fee: $12-$20 + daily entrance fee

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

History Comes Alive At Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site

History comes alive at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site where Creek Indians, French Marines, and American Soldiers all left their marks

Good morning on the last day of May. Or is it June? Are we in 2022 yet? What is time? Honestly, the only thing we know is that it’s Saturday. Have a great weekend everyone—thanks as always for reading. 

Located just south of Wetumpka on a forested bluff where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers meet to form the headwaters of the Alabama River, we enjoyed 165 acres of living history and natural beauty. The park showcases recreated Creek Indian houses, a 1751 French fort, the partially restored 1814 American Fort Jackson, a nature trail, and a campground. This historic site is operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Graves House Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After paying our $2/person admission fee, our first stop was the early 19th-century Graves House Visitor Center. Restored to its original appearance, the building now houses a small gift shop and museum.

Creek Indian houses represent two primary types of domestic structures used in the historic period. The fully enclosed buildings are winter houses and the open structure is for summer use. Until 1763, the lands within the park boundaries were home to the Alabama. This tribe was a member of the Creek Confederacy and eventually left with the French at the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). The state of Alabama was named after this tribe.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1717, when this region was part of French Louisiana, the French built a fort near the strategically vital junction where the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers form the Alabama River. The fort was primarily a trading post where Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items. There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered Fort Toulouse, a re-creation of the last or 3rd French fort built between 1749 and 1751. A National Historic Landmark, the outside walls are constructed of split timbers that were not strong enough to stop a cannon shot but were ample protection against musket fire. Fences enclose the sides and rear of the building. On the inside, posts sunk into the ground were joined with mortise and tenon joints. There were two barracks in the fort each had four rooms for use by the troops. Along the southern wall is an igloo-shaped bread oven.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French lost the French and Indian War and the fort in 1763. The site was abandoned by the French and the lands reverted to native occupation. Few vestiges of the French post were visible when a new large earthen fort was erected in 1814 and named by General Thomas Pinckney for his subordinate General Andrew Jackson.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following the French abandonment of Fort Toulouse in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, the river valley was peaceful as first the British and then the American nations claimed the region but few white men came to the area. Relations between the white settlers and Native peoples deteriorated in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century. The U. S. and Great Britain were at odds and by late 1813 the Creek War and the War of 1812 were underway. 

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Jackson had a moat that was seven feet deep and dirt walls ranging in height from 7 ½ feet to 9 feet high. When finished the fort contained barracks space to house 200 soldiers. A garrison was kept here as the focus of these armies changed to the war with the British and activities occurring on the Gulf Coast. During this time thousands of troops passed through the site on their way south.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In August of 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed officially ending the Creek War. The Creeks agreed to give the U. S. more than twenty million acres as reparations for the war. This land was the majority of what became the State of Alabama.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The one-mile-long William Bartram Nature Trail winds along the ridgeline and river bottoms at the southern end of the park. Of particular note along its path is a marker dedicated to Sergeant Jean Louis Fontenot who served at Fort Toulouse from 1735 to 1754. Next, we saw a cemetery just off the trail. Only one marker remains. There is also a marker dedicated to William Bartram, the famous naturalist who passed through this area in 1775, further down the trail. The nature trail offers wonderful bird-watching opportunities. During the spring and fall, migrants are present thought out the site. 

Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 39 site RV campground overlooks the Coosa River. Each site includes an electric and water hook-up, a grill, and a concrete picnic table. There is a centrally located shower and bathhouse, plus a refuse facility at the campground entrance. Current RV Rates are $20.00/night; $18.00/night for seniors age 65+ and active or retired military with ID.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Why Edisto Beach is the Most Effortless Vacation

Two words: Effortless! Vacation!

Effortless vacation! Two words that define what travel dreams are made of.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the magnificently natural Edisto Beach in South Carolina, no planning is needed. Simply show up and let this hidden gem of a coastal destination draw you in with its slower pace and tourist-free feel.

There has never been a better time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors than now. Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy. You can hike, bike, or run on Edisto whether you’re a seasoned fitness expert or just a fan of the leisurely stroll. There are walking paths, hiking, biking, kayaking, and paddleboarding options. Edisto is sure to offer something that matches exactly what you have in mind. 

Edisto Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island National Scenic Byway

A self-guided tour along the National Scenic Byway is a must when visiting Edisto and you don’t have to go out of your way to find it. It’s simply a part of the drive on SR-174 onto the island. From man-made attractions like the Edisto Mystery Tree and the Edisto Swinging Mattress to structures with historical significance like beautiful churches and plantations, the National Scenic Byway takes you through more sights than a typical tour guide could cover in a day.

Allow yourself to be taken back by history as you pass under majestic live oaks paving your journey and don’t forget to scope out the vast intercoastal waterway as you cross the bridge onto Edisto.

Not a bad way to start an effortless vacation ripe with relaxation.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Event Calendar of Festivals and Fun

What do dancing, fishing, and BBQ all have in common? Edisto hosts several festivals to celebrate all the Lowlands. Dance under the stars at the Edisto Beach Shag Fest. Join in the competition or watch the weigh-in as larger-than-life billfish are brought to shore for the annual Edisto Governors Cup Billfish Tournament. Or, if eating is one of your favorite past-times, you won’t want to miss out on the mouthwatering BBQ competition that hosts world-renowned Pitmasters at the Cookin on the Creek BBQ Festival.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Endless Natural Wonders to Enjoy

From eco-tours to fishing charters, Edisto has something for everyone looking to be one with nature no matter what that entails for each individual.

Some ideas:

  • Explore Edisto Beach State Park’s 1,200-plus acres by bike or foot
  • Join a kayak creek tour
  • See natural relics of the past at the undisturbed Boneyard Beach
  • Ride horses through Botany Bay’s 4,500-plus acres of preserved plantation land or self-tour via car
  • Take a sunset cruise around the island
Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun on the Beach

Edisto Beach has 37 public beach accesses located at each intersection on Palmetto Boulevard providing access to the Atlantic Ocean. Some provide off-street parking and dune walkovers. Most beach accesses cross over a dune feature. 

At Edisto Beach you can bring your dog and the leash law is only in effect May through October. Without hotels or crowded shorelines, Edisto offers miles of beach to explore and plenty of room to spread out.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Land of Turtles and Egrets

Wildlife is protected and plentiful on Edisto. Loggerhead Turtles return each year between May and August to nest. Through October, the baby sea turtles hatch and find their way back to the ocean. Dolphins, pelicans, egrets, herons, and other shorebirds are also plentiful on Edisto. Keep an eye on the ocean while you are here and you’ll likely earn a glimpse of dolphins gracefully breaking the water with their dorsal fins. Drive carefully at night on the Island’s side roads as deer may be crossing.

Edisto Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Edisto Beach via Bike Paths

Edisto Beach is laden with opportunities to get out and stretch your legs or peddle along the many bike paths and hiking trails. More than four miles of paved bike paths meander throughout the area with views of the beach, marsh, and naturally wooded areas. The bike path also takes you past boutique shops, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Camping at Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy Nature at Edisto Beach State Park

Edisto Beach State Park offers access to the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It also provides access to the saltwater marsh and creeks. The park is a nesting area for loggerhead sea turtles. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide an interesting tour of the park. The park’s environmental education offers exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.

Birding at Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For overnight accommodations, furnished cabins sit nestled in the woods and campsites can be found along the Edisto Island oceanfront or in the shaded maritime forest. Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy Nature at Botany Bay Plantation

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront. Botany Bay is very accessible; you can tour most of the property in half a day or less. The 6.5-mile route begins along a magnificent avenue of oaks interspersed with loblolly pine and cabbage palmetto.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a Day Trip

There’s, even more, to do just a few miles from Edisto. Check out the surrounding beaches, state parks, wildlife areas, historic plantations in locations like Charleston, Beaufort, Port Royal, and Hilton Head Island.

Worth Pondering…

I am southern—from the great state of South Carolina. They say, ‘You can take the girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the girl.’ And it’s true.

—Ainsley Earhardt