Most Amazing Places to Visit in the South (2024)

Whatever your travel preference, you will get to experience true Southern charm and beauty in these breathtaking locations

The South is home to many fascinating, attractive and unusual destinations. Because the Southern states occupy a significant portion of the United States, anybody planning extensive travel in the country will inevitably find themselves in the region sometime. Once you arrive, you will be in for a real treat.

The South is definitely worth the journey, no matter what takes you there: a road trip, state exploration, or a vacation to a national park. There is so much to see and do in this region, from bustling cities with deep histories to picturesque, natural settings.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina is a lovely coastal city with plenty of Southern charm, pretty architecture, and historic points of interest. There is truly something here for everyone making this city a top place to visit in the South. Also, did I mention the food?! This is a city full of great eats and I suggest taking a food tour to get a bite of all the best Southern food the city has to offer.

When you are full from eating your way through Charleston, relax on a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city or a boat cruise of the harbor. If you are into history or architecture, then check out the Fort Sumter National Monument, the McLeod Plantation Historic Site, or the Citadel.

If you are traveling with kids you might have fun at the Joe Riley Waterfront Park, the South Carolina Aquarium, or the Magnolia Plantation & Gardens.

There are many great things to do in Charleston. That’s why I wrote this article: The Ultimate Deep South Road Trip: Savannah to Charleston

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

With five miles of unspoiled beaches and sweeping paths, Hunting Island State Park provides a prehistoric camping experience amid a maritime forest of palmetto, palms and pines. It’s almost as if dinosaurs could be lurking around the tropical vegetation.

Climb to the top of the lighthouse for a great view of the island and saltwater lagoon. A hundred campsites include all the usual amenities with access to the beach.

There are many great things to do at Hunting Island State Park.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Located three miles south of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island has clear blue water and powdery white sand galore. It’s connected to mainland Alabama by a bridge, or you can take a ferry ride over. The island is a boon for history and nature. Visit the 164-acre Audubon Bid Sanctuary to see migrating birds in the spring. Head to Shell Mound Park to see beautifully preserved shell mounds dating to 1100-1500 AD and swing by Historic Fort Gaines, a 19th century bread seacoast fortification.

There are many great things to do at Dauphin Island. That’s why I wrote Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college.

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms’s alienated, hip, rule-breaking elder brother. You do not travel to Folly to flaunt your new designer beachwear or attend a social event. You go there to drink beer, eat fish tacos, and lounge in the Bert’s Market parking lot. Most importantly, you surf.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is a must for any Georgia road trip. This is a city full of Southern charm from its cobblestone streets to the Spanish moss covering the oak trees. This is the perfect city to escape to for people with any hobby or interest. History buffs will love exploring Old Fort Jackson or learning about the city’s past on an Old Savannah Trolly Tour.

If you are into architecture, you will really love checking out the Victorian district, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, or the Mercer Williams House. If you are traveling with kids and want some family-friendly fun, head over to pretty Forsyth Park or consider booking a river cruise on an iconic steamboat. No matter what you do in Savannah, you are sure to have a great time.

There are many great things to do in Savannah.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) on the northern edge of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color, all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language and it remains very strong in the region today.

Here’s a helpful resource: Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

With an incredible food scene, charming Downtown, and striking nature to discover, Greenville, South Carolina is one of the most enjoyable places to visit in the south. Start your southern getaway savoring delicious southern food in one of the countless restaurants in town.

Then, stroll around Downtown while enjoying the local charm. Once on Liberty Bridge, take in the beautiful view of Falls Park on Reedy River which has beautiful gardens and trails.

Nestled up against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of South Carolina’s Upcountry, Greenville is a heaven for nature lovers. 

Here, you’ll find a number of places to disconnect from technology and get lost in nature. 

There are many great things to do in Greenville.

Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is another Southern city worth visiting. This is a popular travel destination for a number of reasons. For one, the cute city is surrounded by the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy America’s favorite drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway as you twist through the mountains to find hiking trails and gorgeous scenic vistas. The nearby French Broad River gives tourists a place to go tubing, boating, or fishing.

When you are not exploring the encompassing nature, you will want to wander the cool city. Known for its art scene, Asheville is a hip city full of unique shops, outdoor markets, craft breweries, and local art galleries. Take a trolley tour to learn the history of the city or enjoy a delicious food tour. Another way to step into the past is to visit the Biltmore mansion which was built by George W. Vanderbilt in the 1890s.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

An hour north of Orlando, you’ll find this small quaint town full of antique shops and historic charm on the edge of Lake Dora. Stay at Lakeside Inn, Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel, and get your fill of delicious Florida cuisine, offered by chef Norman Van Aken at his restaurant 1921. Be sure to make a stop at the iconic Mount Dora Lighthouse, one of only three registered freshwater lighthouses in the country.

If you need ideas, check out: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Fairhope, Alabama

If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic. Stroll to see historic homes on streets lined with live oaks. Get lost in the European-inspired alleys of Fairhope’s charming, walkable downtown. Make a stop at the legendary Grand Hotel to see its well-landscaped grounds and vibrant bougainvillea. One last thing to note: Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, Louisiana

One of the state’s most legendary and off-the-beaten-path destinations is the Jungle Gardens of Avery Island which has been open to the public since 1935. Its connection to the McIlhenny Company (which created and still produces bottles of the famed Tabasco hot sauce) runs deep.

The gardens were established by Edward Avery “Ned” McIlhenny, former company president and the son of the inventor of the sauce. McIlhenny cultivated the land for conservation and research, eventually expanding it to more than 170 acres.

Located around a 45-minute drive south of Lafayette along Bayou Petite Anse, Jungle Gardens is an ideal spot for glimpsing wildlife. In fact, there are so many avian creatures here that one exhibit has been named Bird City and serves as a refuge and sanctuary. To see the beauty of Avery Island for yourself, you can traverse the grounds via automobile on a self-guided jaunt—just be sure to get the most out of your ticket and save time for a tour of the nearby Tabasco factory.

There are many great things to do on Avery Island.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown is a small city in Kentucky with a population of around 13,000 but that’s what makes it such a great place to visit. Many people call it one of the most beautiful small towns/cities to visit in America, so it’s worth adding to your travel list.

This city is most well known for its great bourbon, so be sure to head to one of the distilleries, like the Barton 1792 Distillery which offers tours. 

Visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to learn more about Whiskey and stop by the Old Kentucky Home for a tour of a nineteenth-century estate.

There are many great things to do in Bardstown.

Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez is a city in Mississippi, located on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. Its beautiful antebellum architecture is a huge draw for tourists, and homes and estates like the Melrose Estate or the unique, octagonal Longwood estate are very popular for visitors yearning for a glimpse at life in the pre-Civil War era.

The Natchez Trace, once a trade route, is now a beautifully scenic driving road where travelers can roll the windows down and enjoy the breeze as they look out over some of the loveliest nature in Mississippi.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers. The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands.

There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee.  From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

There are many great things to do at Okefenooke National Wildlife Refuge and Stephen F. Foster State Park.

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

The 25 Best Small Towns in the South 2024

The anatomy of a perfect Southern small town doesn’t come in just one idyllic shape or size, nor does it ever look or act in quite the same way. Some show their personality by way of tiny historic downtowns while others spread out their charm across sprawling parks and rivers.

Forget about size. These 25 Southern towns may be small (some are technically villages) but each one has its own distinct story to tell.

This wide-ranging list captures the wonderful diversity of the region. You’ll find towns by the seaside, in the mountains, outside of big cities, near universities, and more. Some are known for German food (Helen, Georgia; Fredericksburg, Texas), others have thriving art and culture scenes (Ocean Springs, Mississippi; Berea, Kentucky; Boone, North Carolina), many are rich in history (Williamsburg, Virginia; St. Augustine, Florida; Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia) or natural beauty (Beaufort, South Carolina; Blowing Rock, North Carolina). There is a small town for every interest and all of these places are destination-worthy in their own right.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across various media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

2. Sanibel, Florida

This 12-mile-long barrier island on Florida’s west coast is a laid-back slice of paradise and a treasure trove for shell seekers. Sanibel took a major hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022 but the beloved getaway is open to visitors and on the mend.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay, he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

4. Beaufort, South Carolina

Wild beauty and Lowcountry allure abound in this South Carolina gem. Get lost among the pines and palmettos of an ancient maritime forest, catch a striking sunset over the Beaufort River, and marvel at the columns and sweeping porches of stately mansions. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Groups love the family-friendly attractions and mountain adventures in this bustling resort town. It’s also an entryway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a hiker’s paradise. Book a campsite to take in the scenery and plenty of fresh air. 

Read more: Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg

6. Blowing Rock, North Carolina

This mountain town is named for its most famous feature, a 4,000-foot cliff that overlooks a spectacular gorge, distant peaks, and dense forests. But Blowing Rock is no one-hit wonder. Expect plenty of High Country characters from a community of talented craftspeople and chefs inspired by their surroundings. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Read more: Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

8. St. Augustine, Florida

In this town founded in 1565, you’ll encounter the past and present around every corner. Step back into the 1600s at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and then enjoy the area’s up-and-coming dining scene and its many craft breweries and distilleries. 

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Learn more about Mount Dora: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

10. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Folks have been flocking to this resort town since the 19th century thanks to its namesake natural springs. The stunningly preserved Victorian architecture makes downtown a destination unto itself and quirky shops selling everything from kaleidoscopes to quilts can entertain you for hours.

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama

Although many think of Florida when it comes to great beach towns, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach beg to differ. The coastal twins boast the same sparkling turquoise water, white-sand shores, and family-friendly fun. With miles of coastline and easy access, it’s clear why sunseekers love the area. 

Read more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

12. Danville, Kentucky

Often referred to as Kentucky’s city of firsts, Danville’s appeal is due in large part to its long history. Explore spirited Main Street where you can find Renaissance Revival- and Federal-style buildings housing modern eateries; boutiques; and the Art Center of the Bluegrass, a creative hub in the community.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-most popular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

14. Shepherdstown, West Virginia

One of West Virginia’s oldest towns is a prime location to see the splendor John Denver waxed poetic about in Take Me Home, Country Roads. Stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and the meandering Potomac River play a backdrop to centuries-old Victorian houses and an art-filled downtown.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Fredericksburg, Texas

Located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg has deep German roots. Its Main Street has always drawn visitors but now people are also making a beeline for the fantastic food scene here (biergartens included) and more than 100 area wineries.

Read more: Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg

16. Folly Beach, South Carolina

If going to a dive bar in flip-flops is your idea of a good time, head to this easygoing seaside town. Book an ocean paddleboard tour, check out the state’s oldest surf shop, or find a spot to sink your toes into the sand on its 6 miles of beaches.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Learn more about Bay St. Louis: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

18. Round Top, Texas

A contender for the award for tiniest town (at less than 1 square mile), Round Top has enough Lone Star spirit and style to more than makeup for its population of just 87. It is situated around three squares: Henkel, Rolland, and Town, and you should complete the trifecta for the full experience in this renowned antiquing destination. 

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Williamsburg, Virginia

The cobbled streets and 18th-century environs have long drawn people to Williamsburg, but these days, there’s much more to discover by way of shops and restaurants. Muststops include The Virginia Beer Co., Merchants Square, and The Cheese Shop. 

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

20. Mountain Home, Arkansas

Waterways like Bull Shoals Lake, Norfork Lake, and the White River surround this small town, which got its start as a resort. It lured folks in with opportunities for fishing and boating, activities that still power tourism here in the southern stretches of the Ozark Mountains.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017 but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Read more: Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

22. Paducah, Kentucky

A jewel situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Paducah has an undeniably creative soul and is home to The National Quilt Museum as well as one-of-a-kind businesses like the antiques shop Frenchtown Station and the bourbon palace Barrel & Bond. 

23. Natchitoches, Louisiana

Louisiana’s oldest town has much more to offer than its famous fried meat pies. Visit sites like the National Historic Landmark District (with an array of architectural styles ranging from French Creole to Art Deco) and Melrose Plantation, a stop on the state’s African American Heritage Trail that is home to rare works by folk artist Clementine Hunter.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Wetumpka, Alabama

After a powerful series of tornadoes struck Central Alabama in 2019, Wetumpka worked to recover. Located just northeast of Montgomery, this town sits on the banks of the Coosa River, which has been its claim to fame along with Gold Star Park—until now. In July 2020, Erin and Ben Napier, stars of HGTV’s wildly popular Home Town reported that they were taking over the entire town known as The City of Natural Beauty for their home-renovation show’s next season.

Learn more about Wetumpka: The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

25. Oxford, Mississippi

In 1837, this town incorporated and named itself after Oxford, England with the hope that it would also be home to a great university one day. About 10 years later, The University of Mississippi opened and in time Oxford became the South’s quintessential college town. Equally celebrated for SEC football and its literary-and-arts scene this place attracts all kinds creating a vibrant community with a refined sense of Southern style. 

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

22 Southern Destinations for an End-of-Year RV Road Trip

Celebrate the spirit of the season

As another year draws to a close, you’ll likely notice a few familiar patterns beginning to take shape. Your social calendar fills with holiday fetes, giftgivings, and cookie swaps galore. The days until Christmas seem to slip away faster than you can click add to cart. And the pressure of seeing every last great aunt and twice-removed cousin over the holidays begins to mount.

With all the added pandemonium that the most wonderful time of the year can bring, getting away for an end-of-year road trip may be just the thing you need to reset before the New Year.

Whether you want to head for the mountains or the seashore these 22 Southern destinations are ideal for a year-ending RV road trip.

Whether it’s the Gulf Coast, a German village in Georgia, or Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg all of these southern destinations are worth a spot on your Christmas travel list.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Head to Gatlinburg for holiday fun in the Great Smoky Mountains! Few mountain vacation destinations are as popular as this one where you can find everything from a high-flying RV resort experience to a tranquil cabin in the woods. If you’re looking for a winter wander you’ll find it near this fun town which is known as the Gateway to the Smokies. Also, if you’re lucky and the weather’s just right you might just get to experience the beautiful landscape surrounding Gatlinburg blanketed in snow.

2. Asheville, North Carolina

See and hike the snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains on a trip to this well-known western North Carolina city. Winter trips should always include a tour of the Biltmore Estate to see it all dressed up for the holidays. Other must-dos are a stop at the Omni Grove Park Inn to check out the gingerbread house competition finalists and an evening of hot chocolate sipping at French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. San Antonio, Texas

If you’re not in the mood to be bothered by the winter chill, hightail it to the Lone Star State for a road trip to San Antonio. This historic city is ideal for an end-of-year getaway where shopping and snacking are high-priority. You’ll surely find a sense of wonder in the thousands of multicolored string lights adorning the scenic River Walk.

4. Dahlonega, Georgia

If you’ve been sleeping on Dahlonega’s Old-Fashioned Christmas, it’s time to wake up and smell the gingerbread cookies. Americans everywhere travel from far and wide to catch this place during Christmastime. The North Georgia town is draped in twinkling lights and overrun with rambling horse-drawn carriages. The town’s month-long celebration features everything from a hometown parade to charming tree lighting.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gulf Shores, Alabama

You may not get snow but you can find a different kind of white Christmas on the white sand shores of this Southern beach town. We can’t imagine anything more perfect than a sunset picnic on the quiet beaches here in the off-season.

6. Natchitoches, Louisiana

This small Louisiana town celebrates Christmas in a big way. The annual Festival of Lights runs for 40 days and attracts visitors from all over who arrive with family in tow to take in the more than 300,000 glittering lights and riverbank holiday decorations on display. The Christmas Festival is also a huge draw replete with a boat parade, fireworks, and a holiday market. This small-town Christmas celebration is well worth a road trip. Don’t leave town without trying one of Natchitoches’s famed meat pies.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Charleston, South Carolina

While most people associate South Carolina with seafood-scarfing and sandy-toed summer vacations, it’s also a great place to visit in cooler months. Average temperatures hover around 60 degrees so you’ll be perfectly comfortable as you tour through town stopping into specialty stores and swooning over the rows and rows of adorable pastel-colored homes.

Bonus: You can attend the annual Illumination Charleston event (December 1-2, 2023) that includes a holiday market, cooking demos from some of their favorite Southern chefs, and a fabulous opening night party.

8. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Enjoy the coastal charm of Myrtle Beach at Christmastime. Don’t miss Brookgreen Gardens which is filled with Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and flickering candles during the winter season. And be sure to catch a Christmas show with your family at one of Myrtle Beach’s beautiful theaters.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah, Georgia

Enjoy the cinematic charm of Savannah minus the high-season crowds by visiting the Hostess City of the South during winter. On top of great weather and plenty of strollable streets, you can also visit for the Mountainfilm Festival (January 18-21, 2014) and Savannah Book Festival from February 15-18, 2024.

10. Lewisburg, West Virginia

The Greenbrier resort (in nearby White Sulphur Springs) is reason enough to plan a trip to the Lewisburg area. Families have been spending Christmas at The Greenbrier for centuries and once you see the incredible decorations at the hotel you’ll understand why. There are plenty of other places here where you can feel the holiday magic including the lovely shops of downtown Lewisburg. To really get in the spirit, catch an area performance of the West Virginia Symphony.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown‘s beloved Main Street is a perfect destination for your seasonal adventures. Kick off the holidays with the Light Up Bardstown event, a light-filled festival that signifies the beginning of the season in this small Kentucky town. Don’t miss the much-anticipated visit from Santa Claus or the plentiful browsing opportunities in Bardstown’s downtown shops.

To rest your head for the night head the RV to My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground.

12. Oxford, Mississippi

This college town has Christmas spirit aplenty lighting up with glimmering decorations, lush greenery, and seasonal decor each December. Check out the Gingerbread House Village, Santa’s Workshop, and Holiday Ornament Auction, as well as the Oxford Christmas Parade on the downtown square for family fun. Before you leave, make sure to hit Square Books to find a unique gift.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

If you’re looking for a Bavarian-style winter wonderland you’ll find it and more in Helen. From downtown parades to Victorian Christmas celebrations to a Christkindlmarkt (German Christmas market), there is no shortage of festivities to enjoy in this small Georgia town with a big Christmas charm.

Among the gingerbread-style homes with their steeply pitched roofs and lovely cross-gables, you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving up bratwursts, schnitzel, and plenty of sudsy brews. For lovers of vino, there are several nearby wineries.

14. Branson, Missouri

Visit Branson, Missouri for the Ozark Mountain Christmas festival, a month-long holiday extravaganza complete with great music, festive lights, and fun parades. Grab the kids and jump on the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride for a rollicking time on the tracks and plenty of excitement for the whole family.

Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Williamsburg, Virginia

Experience Colonial flavor in Williamsburg at Christmastime! The yearly Colonial Christmas celebration lets visitors explore the Jamestown Settlement and meander the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown—so you can celebrate Christmas and learn about American history at the same time.

16. Pine Mountain, Georgia

Nothing will make the kids happier than Christmas at Callaway. Located in the small town of Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens hosts what can only be described as “the ultimate Christmas extravaganza.” The main attraction: Riding through a dazzling illuminated forest complete with synchronized Christmas carols. But you can also make merry (and shop for gifts) in the Christmas Village, meet holiday characters up close, and have an overall festive stay at Callaway’s resort.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Seaside, Florida

Head to Florida for a coastal Christmas full of festivities and seafood galore! Seaside is a fantastic beach town because there is so much to do on 30A in December. Marvel at the beautiful holiday decorations, shop for your gift list, and check out the amazing restaurants for celebratory drinks and meals.

Added bonus: You won’t even need to bring a jacket!

18. Grapevine, Texas

Do you know about the Christmas Capital of Texas? Let us introduce you. Grapevine touts more than 1,400 holiday events throughout the season but don’t overlook the Christmas Wine Train. Family-friendly activities range from The Parade of Lights to watching classic movies or Christmas concerts at the Palace Theatre. The Gaylord Texan Resort—already an impressive sight—is transformed with millions of lights, a rotating Christmas tree that’s more than 50 feet tall, miniature train sets, and even a life-sized gingerbread house.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Mount Dora, Florida

Visit merry Mount Dora to experience the best of the holidays. Central Florida doesn’t get much more festive than this fun small town where you can see two million twinkling lights throughout the town. Stop by St. Nick’s Holiday Shoppe to get your celebration on and don’t miss the annual Christmas walk, a fun block party for the community complete with carolers and musical performances. There’s also a Christmas tour of homes and the local-favorite Christmas boat parade which brings the festivities to the water.

20. Blue Ridge, Georgia

This is the closest thing you’ll get to the Polar Express down in these parts. This mountain getaway feels as magical as the man in red himself. Start your holiday journey by hopping on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Santa Express. Your family will hear a Christmas story, sing carols, meet holiday characters, and visit Santa and Mrs. Claus as the famous couple makes their way through the train.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Fredericksburg, Texas

Small-town Texas gets an infusion of Christmastime charm with the annual festivities held in Fredericksburg, a community located in Central Texas west of Austin. The town’s old-fashioned celebrations are characterized by carolers, a three-day Christmas festival extravaganza, and plenty of nostalgic downtown shopping every December—all the while paying tribute to its German heritage. Enjoy kolaches (yeast buns filled with fruit) and Christmas bratwurst.

22. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Spend Christmas in Eureka Springs for an unforgettable holiday season. Don’t miss the Eureka Springs Christmas Festival, the annual Silver Tea at the Crescent Hotel, a downtown Christmas parade, and the annual Christmas tree lighting. The kids will love an afternoon with Santa (and reindeer games) in one of the town’s charming parks. This small town promises music and merriment aplenty.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

The Most Charming Southern States (According to Southerners Themselves)

A new survey of 5,000 southerners rated some states higher on southern hospitality than others

Much of the South is known for having a certain charm from quirky roadside attractions and quaint small towns to friendly locals who are sweeter than sweet tea. But which state truly takes the cake when it comes to being the most charming around?

A recent survey of 5,000 Americans commissioned by Oddspedia, a sports and entertainment data and betting site aimed to uncover which states most embody southern hospitality. The top spot on the resulting Southern Hospitality Index went to Tennessee, known for its music capital and other cities full of unique charm like Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. Coming in second place just a tenth of a point behind is the big peach state, Georgia, home to the city of southern hospitality, Atlanta, and taking the third spot is coastal South Carolina.

Tied at the bottom of the index as the least charming states are Delaware (which, I’d argue, is Delaware really even the South?) and Florida, the sprawling vacation destination for many. Oddspedia’s ranking was based on charm, politeness, helpfulness, and friendliness of each state. The 5,000 people polled were from the South and were asked to rank their own state and other southern states based on these factors.

Mississippi Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Below is the full ranking of southern states according to the Southern Hospitality Index.

1. Tennessee
2. Georgia
3. South Carolina
4. Louisiana
5. North Carolina
6. Kentucky
7. Alabama
8. Virginia
9. Texas
10. Mississippi
11. Arkansas
12. West Virginia
13. Oklahoma
14. Maryland
15. Delaware
16. Florida

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The website also asked respondents to name the most charming celebrities hailing from the South and it’s no surprise that the darling patron saint sweetheart Dolly Parton took the top spot (she also hails from the top charming state as well).

With her signature wit and lovable friendly laugh, Dolly Parton has also embodied helpfulness throughout her long career. Parton has brought awareness and financial aid to a variety of causes such as childhood literacy and in 2022 she received a Courage and Civility award from billionaire Jeff Bezos which gave Parton $100 million to support charitable causes of her choosing.

If there ever was a Southern hospitality icon, it’s Dolly Parton. We’ll always love you and your Southern charm, Dolly!

Looking for more travel inspo?

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most charming southern small towns

The South is peppered with charming small towns. From once-thriving spa meccas to sleepy Smoky Mountain villages, there’s something for every taste. While they vary greatly in history and landscape, there’s one thing all small Southern towns have in common and that’s community. Whether you are planning to visit or are just looking for a dose of that warm Southern charm, there are plenty of hidden gems to go around. Here are the 12 most charming Southern small towns.

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Who doesn’t love a classic country mountain small town? Gatlinburg, Tennessee is set in the heart of the Smoky Mountain range and famous for its spot on the Appalachian Trail and seasonal celebrations. This small community of 4,144 residents also hosts a chili cookoff and Winterfest which are legendary shindigs.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora is the definition of a laid back coastal town. Idyllic beaches, Old Florida living, and tons of gourmet restaurants are just a few things that make it so loveable. The quiet small town is known for its vast variety of antique shops for any of you vintage pickers out there. Here you’ll find just about everything from estate jewellery to rare collectables which only add to the unique atmosphere.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg is the best place in the country to brush up on colonial history. This historic small town is overflowing with colonial finds and rich stories. Not a history buff? No problem. The town is full of other things to do like craft breweries and haunted houses. There are also several opportunities for outdoor activities to keep you busy from cycling to kayaking.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Fairhope, Alabama

This tiny Alabama town founded in 1894 is known for its annual shellfish phenomenon. Each year crabs, flounder, and shrimp flood the shallow bay in what’s referred to as the jubilee. There’s more to Fairbanks than that though; the cosy Alabama gem boasts its own brewery, tons of farmers markets, Museum of History, and nearby Village Point Park Reserve.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fredericksburg, Texas

Tucked within the Texas Hill Country, you’ll find one of the most adorable small towns in the Lone Star State. Fredericksburg is famous for its incredible craft beer and wine scene and great shopping. No chain stores are allowed in the city centre and the town boasts a whopping 150 boutiques alone. Whether you’re going for wine, shopping, or just to soak up the atmosphere, you’ll leave with a smile.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just over 50 miles from New Orleans, Bay St. Louis blends The Big Easy’s funky, artsy feel with the mellow, barefoot vibe you can find only in a tried-and-true coastal town. The beaches are dog-friendly, the blueways (water trails) are ready for exploring, and Old Town’s French Quarter appeal can’t be beat.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for fishing and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bardstown, Kentucky

In the center of Bourbon Country, Bardstown is a hub for whiskey lovers. New distilleries stand alongside long-lived institutions, many of which offer tours and sips in tasting rooms across the countryside. Head to Bardstown Bourbon Company for creative takes on classic Bluegrass State foods and drinks.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Helen, Georgia

Take a trip to old-world Bavaria by visiting Georgia’s third-mostpopular destination. With its cross-gabled cottages, steeply pitched roofs, and German flags flying in the breeze, this hamlet packs oodles of character into just 2.1 square miles. The annual Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market), glühwein (mulled wine), and the occasional snow flurry make Helen a bucket list getaway.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Seaside, Florida

Seaside is that perfect Florida getaway, especially when you are looking for one of those small towns in the south that feels like a resort community! Known for its urban design, the pastel-colored houses and large porches and fences look like they are truly from a postcard. At Seaside you can enjoy long stretches of sandy beaches, pavilions, and even Grayton Beach State Park which features a variety of trails and a costal dune lake.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Wetumpka, Alabama

The name, Wetumpka, is a Creek Indian word meaning rumbling waters describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceed across the Bridge to the largely residential west side and discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

Horses Are the Heart of Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit

A ride through the Bluegrass State reveals a legacy of thoroughbred horses and horse racing, bourbon, intriguing history, natural attractions and beauty, and much more

Kentucky bills itself as a place of Unbridled Spirit. After numerous RV trips around this diverse state, I have to agree.

Kentucky scenic byway past horse farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington and Georgetown

Horses, the royalty of Lexington, live in barns of beauty surrounded by velvety green fields of Kentucky bluegrass. Miles of fences and traditional hand-laid limestone dividers partition the farms where they reside. A few horse farms even open their doors to visitors—truly a worthwhile stop.

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington showcases thoroughbred equines with live horses in numerous venues and informative exhibits in the American Saddlebred Museum. Retired racehorses reside in the park and they and their histories are introduced to visitors. Costumed equestrians ride various breeds around an outdoor ring during the Parade of Breeds show, accompanied by commentary.

Horse Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors have an opportunity to take photos, pet the horses, and chat with the riders at the end. Guests can board a horse-drawn wagon for a tour and catch a glimpse of the sculptures that dot this 1,200-acre working farm.

The Kentucky Horse Park Campground offers 260 campsites with electric (50, 30, 20 amps) and water hookups. All sites are 55-foot paved back-in spots. In addition, some electric-only and primitive sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Two dump stations are provided.

The campground makes a great base for exploring the Lexington area which boasts one of the largest concentrations of horse farms in the world. Driving along the Bluegrass Country tour route takes you past many of them. Intricate iron entrance gates and impressive homes stand on many farms in the rolling green countryside.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a morning visit to the Keeneland racecourse, you can rub elbows with equestrians during breakfast in the Track Kitchen and observe the athletes’ workouts on the track. This famous and historic horseracing arena attracts visitors year-round. Even when races are not in session, Keeneland’s significance and extensive history make it a popular Lexington destination. Horses began racing at Keeneland, one of the top Lexington attractions in 1936 and since then, annual races have become a traditional event.

Keeneland is also host to practice meets for jockeys and horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby as well as a series of horse auctions throughout the year. Visitors to Keeneland can view the racecourse, visit the indoor facility, and tour the sales complex. Keeneland’s website offers a calendar of upcoming events and ticket-purchasing options.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kentucky Horse Park Campground’s proximity to nearby cities and towns also proved to be very convenient. Interested in seeing how cars are manufactured? Explore the visitor’s center at the Toyota assembly plant in Georgetown, the largest Toyota manufacturing facility in the world which offers free 45-minute tram tours on weekdays (reservations required).

Historic Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown boasts more than 200 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places making it an interesting and visually appealing place to stroll. Download the walking tour map or pick one up at the visitor’s center.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the northern edge of Georgetown the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is a symbol of friendship between the nation of Japan and Kentucky State. As a four-season garden, travelers and locals alike are welcome to visit the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn all year round. Access to the park is via the Tokugawa Gate along Cincinnati Pike which will lead visitors into the lush 5.5-acre garden.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is a farm for retired Thoroughbred horses that encompasses nearly 140 acres. The unique home for horses offers an opportunity for guests to get up close to several Thoroughbreds including winners of the Kentucky Derby like War Emblem and Silver Charm and Breeders’ Cup Champions Amazombie and Alphabet Soup as well as stakes winners Ide and Game On Dude. The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm offers daily public tours for a fee, private tours by appointment, and a visitor center.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frankfort and Harrodsburg

A flower-lined boulevard in Frankfort leads to the Kentucky State Capitol building. Its murals, sculptures, and columns artfully combine to make it one of the most beautiful capitals in the United States. Broad steps ascend to the entrance which leads into a grand rotunda under a seven-story dome where a large Abraham Lincoln statue greets you.

Marble staircases lead to the judicial floor and the Supreme Court chambers which are adorned in rich mahogany and burnished with gold leaf. The Senate and House of Representatives chambers occupy opposite ends of the third floor.

Near the capitol rotunda is a doll display depicting each of Kentucky’s first ladies in her inaugural ball gown. It is incredible how fashion has changed through the centuries.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the grounds of the state capitol stands the beautiful Floral Clock. Its face stretches 34 feet across and is covered by flowers exclusively grown in the state of Kentucky. Beneath the clock is a pool of water that is often used as a wishing well and the coins thrown into the well are used to fund scholarships. The Floral Clock is one of the most-visited attractions in Frankfort and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.

Old State Capitol Building © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors also can tour the Old Capitol Building in Frankfort which served the state legislature from 1830 until 1910 when the larger capitol was built in south Frankfort. The old and new capitol buildings have striking differences. The old capitol was constructed in 1830 in the Greek revival style. Of architectural interest is the curved, self-supporting stone staircase. The first-floor library houses old books, implements, and furnishings from the 1800s.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth’s is home to the famous bourbon balls, a treat that mixes chocolate with Kentucky’s best-known liquor. The candy factory and museum is open for tours Monday-Saturday for a $5.00 admission fee. Children 5 and under get in free. After the tour, guests can purchase these sweet treats to take home with them at the company store.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill founded in Harrodsburg in 1805 by members of a celibate religious sect allows visitors to immerse themselves in Shaker culture.

About 45 minutes south of Frankfort in Harrodsburg, visitors can enjoy a glimpse into the lives of the Shaker people. In 1805, members of this celibate religious sect established Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill which grew to 500-plus members.

Today, there are 34 surviving buildings of the 260 that were constructed during 105 years. In the Shaker faith, men and women had equal status—but everyone still had gendered roles, even eating on different sides of the dining rooms. Self-guided and staff-led tours of the village are available.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State and national parks

Feeling energetic? Hike up the trail at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade. To get to the top of the bridge, you squeeze through a narrow fracture and climb some steps. For an easy ascent, you can take the skylift. Once at the top, you will be within walking distance of the 30-foot-wide sandstone structure known as Natural Bridge. If you want to extend your adventure, follow the 1,200-foot flat trail to Lookout Point for an incredible view of the bridge and the valley. Choose from among a dozen hiking trails that range from one-half mile to 7.5 miles.

Plenty of other fun activities beckon in and near the park. Lively music fills the air at outdoor hoedowns that take place at Hoedown Island within the park as dancers perform line dancing, Appalachian square dancing, two-stepping, and other lively dances. Throw in a fishing line or go canoeing on nearby Mill Creek Lake—maybe you will catch a largemouth bass.

Two campgrounds in the state park offer a total of 52 sites with electric hookups plus several primitive sites for tents. While here, drive to the adjacent Red River Gorge geological area for an immersion into nature. The Red River is Kentucky’s only National Wild and Scenic River. The erosive forces of wind and water have sculpted 100 arches in this area. Some of these natural phenomena will show themselves to you on the 70 miles of hiking trails.

One of the most popular attractions in Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park. Kentucky lays claim to the longest known cave system in the world—Mammoth Cave National Park. Before tourists started coming to the cave, mining saltpeter to make black gunpowder was conducted in the 18th century. Park rangers give cave tours that range from 30 minutes to six hours long. Some are strenuous, requiring many steps and steep grades.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can negotiate tight tunnels and view huge domed spaces, slot canyons, and historic structures in the park. Enjoy the waters of the Green and Nolin rivers by going fishing, canoeing, or kayaking. Or ride a bike along the 9-mile Railroad Bike and Hike Trail to visit scenic overlooks and historic sites. Other hiking trails ranging from 0.1 to 1.3 miles lead to a variety of sights.

Backcountry trails beckon adventurers to miles of forested hikes and horse trails. Everyone can find an outdoor trek that suits them. Two campgrounds here offer sites that accommodate RVs up to 40 feet with limited electric and no water hookups.

Cumberland Gap offers stunning scenery. Nestled on the border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia is Cumberland Gap National Historical Park which offers an attractive campground. Pioneers heading west traveled through this natural pass in the mountains.

Volunteers leave the visitors center at 9:00 a.m. to lead a four-hour tour of Hensley Settlement, a remote mountain enclave founded in 1903 and occupied until 1951. After riding a shuttle up a steep gravel road through the woods, visitors embark on a stroll around the historic Appalachian farm community. Split-rail fences outline plots Hensley family members called home. The reconstructed one-room schoolhouse and log homes will transport you to simpler times.

The Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon in Bardstown

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Bourbon distilleries are synonymous with Kentucky. Some offer tours and others offer only tastings.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 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.

While staying at My Old Kentucky Home Campground in Bardstown we stopped at Heaven Hill Distillery and toured its small museum which tells the story of the only original U.S. spirit.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loredo. After deciding on Maker’s Mark Distillery for a tour, we sipped coffee mixed with bourbon while gazing over the lush landscape. We then bought a gift bottle and hand-dipped it in the company’s traditional red wax.

Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark are among the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Kentuckians add this spirit to many dishes. On Route 49, to and from Bardstown, large buildings house hundreds of thousands of barrels of aging bourbon—barrels that are used only once by the distilleries.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kentucky Derby in Louisville

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, in Louisville. Choose from several behind-the-scenes tours for an up-close look at this legendary track and the equine athletes who thrill spectators here. On the 30-minute Historic Walking Tour included with admission you visit the paddock and grandstand to learn about the history of the track and horses.

A second tour visits such non-public areas as the workers village, Millionaires Row, and the Turf Club. Stable operations begin as early as 5:00 a.m. and these beautiful animals are treated like royalty.

Watching The Greatest Race on a 360-degree screen gives you the feeling that the horses in the Kentucky Derby are galloping straight at you. Colorful exhibits regarding jockeys, Derby attendees, and horses fill the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Quilt Barn Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Something for Everyone

Kentucky is fortunate to have so many attractions worth visiting. It seems as though there is an attraction for everyone. Quilters can visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, sports-car enthusiasts can tour the Corvette factory and museum in Bowling Green, bluegrass music fans can visit Owensboro, history buffs will appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, and there are plenty of national parks such as Mammoth Cave and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

Visitors to this beautiful southern state will be rewarded with happy memories of the unbridled spirit of Kentucky.

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Road Trip Love: Take a Look at 25 of the Prettiest Little Towns in America

From coastal towns to southern gems, these idylls are worth a visit

I am always dreaming of taking a road trip, somewhere, anywhere. Do you ever find yourself staring out the window and wishing you could hop in the RV and drive away?

When you find yourself having moments like this, where do you imagine yourself driving? Do you envision a desert town or a beachfront campground? Or maybe it’s the drive itself you’re most jazzed about.

One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty small towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.

If that is something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in America. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if you can’t head out on the open road immediately, you can at least make some travel plans so you’re ready to launch when you are.

And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.

OK, here are 25 of the prettiest little towns you ever did see.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Berea, Kentucky

Known as the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is a dynamic spot for creators and craftspeople working across a variety of media. Many sell their wares at galleries along Chestnut Street and in both the Artisan Village and the Kentucky Artisan Center. 

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 2. Wetumpka, Alabama

Put your finger on the middle of a map of Alabama and you’re likely to land on Wetumpka. Just north of Montgomery, this town is known as the The City of Natural Beauty and it’s easy to see why: Visitors love canoeing and kayaking on the nearby Coosa River and enjoying the green spaces on walks and picnics. Don’t miss Swayback Bridge Trail (for hiking), Corn Creek Park (for birding, fishing, and waterfall watching), and William Bartram Arboretum (to see local flora and fauna).

To learn more about Wetumpka, read The Inspirational Transformation of Wetumpka, Alabama

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Aztec, New Mexico

Known by the Navajo as Kinteel (wide horse), this town’s names come from Escalante’s misguided notion during his visit to the San Juan Basin. He stumbled across the ruins of the Aztec National Monument and thought it was built by the Aztec Indians (though they were built by the Anasazi). 

History lives here at Aztec, especially along its downtown core which is complete with a host of historical buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Otherwise, this San Juan County community is packed with natural wonders and historical monuments, perfect for activities such as fishing, mountain biking, or hiking.

To learn more about Aztec National Monument, you can read The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Schulenburg, Texas

Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.

Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches (I recommend Kountry Bakery) or German schnitzel.

Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!

One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.

To learn more about Schulenburg, read Halfway to Everywhere: Schulenburg

Murphys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 5. Murphys, California

In California’s historic Gold Country, Murphys is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and boasts a historic Main Street lined with wine bars and tasting rooms, restaurants, and boutiques. The picturesque town park is a popular place to have a creekside picnic after visiting several of the town’s historic sites where you can delve into the history of the Gold Rush. Don’t miss the Murphys Hotel whose famous guests have included writer Mark Twain. 

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a funky artist haven with copper mining town roots. It sits nearly a mile high in the Mule Mountains which means it’s 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the summer here than it is in Arizona’s major cities. Victorian homes and buildings are perched precariously on the town’s steep mountainside which has over 350 staircases carved right into it for access.  

Discover Bisbee’s past by visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and taking the Queen Mine Tour. The tour will bring visitors underground to explore the mine on an ore ride while they learn more about the stories of the miners who worked here. Those who have an interest in the paranormal can book one of several ghost tours in Bisbee to hear the eerily fascinating reports of unexplained happenings and even sightings of spirits donning Victorian attire. Public art features prominently throughout town, from colorful murals and mosaic walls to cars that have been transformed into unique works of art.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Roswell, New Mexico

Chaves County’s community of Roswell is known among tourists for the reported site of an extraterrestrial sighting and spacecraft crash in 1947. Believers of the extraterrestrial flock to Roswell every July for the UFO Encounter Festival.

Visitors can admire the extensive UFO memorabilia and related activities at Roswell including exhibits at the International UFO Museum and Research Center and the souvenirs at the Invasion Station Gift Shop. 

Besides being famous as an alien town, Roswell is also a hub of cultural activities and local history given it was once the original homeland of the Mescalero Apaches and the Comanche’s hunting grounds.

To learn more about Roswell and the UFO Festival you can read What Really Happened at Roswell? and A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mesilla, New Mexico

While Mesilla exists as a small New Mexico town today, it was once a major stop for traveling between San Antonio and San Diego. Once visitors step into Mesilla they will feel like they stepped in time as the town remains mostly unchanged since its heyday in the 1800s! 

Explore the San Albino Church in the town plaza, which stands as Mesilla Valley’s oldest (and still active) church. This town is also lively thanks to its offerings of unique boutiques, galleries, wineries, and specialty eateries!

To learn more about Mesilla, read La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience and Old Mesilla: Where Time Stood Still.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Mount Dora, Florida

Once a haven for hunting and fishing enthusiasts arriving by steamboat to escape chilly northern winters, today’s visitors flock to Mount Dora just 40 minutes northeast of bustling Orlando to play on 4,500-acre Lake Dora and see wildlife but also to shop for antiques, soak up the vibrant art scene, and stroll the historic downtown. 

With its live oaks, lovely inns, and quaint shops, Mount Dora offers a nostalgic taste of Old Florida. Head to Palm Island Park to stroll a boardwalk surrounded by old-growth trees and lush foliage or spend an afternoon hitting the many nearby antique shops. 

Just a bit north of Palm Island Boardwalk is Grantham Point Park, home to one of Florida’s few freshwater lighthouses. The 35-foot-tall lighthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks and a great place to watch boaters and enjoy the sunset.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fairhope, Alabama

When Otis Redding sat down to pen The Dock of the Bay he may have been dreaming about Fairhope. The bayside spot is populated by ethereal live oaks, brilliant azalea bushes, pastel-colored bungalows, and brick sidewalks traversing a lively downtown. 

There are many reasons to visit Fairhope, especially in the off-season. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with historic homes on streets lined with live oaks and a charming, walkable downtown. Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water. 

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Given the millions of people who visit this area every year, the actual size of Gatlinburg which comes in at fewer than 4,000 residents escapes many travelers. Despite the high-season influxes, it’s the area’s homey Appalachian charm that helps draw all of the visitors here in the first place. The village has continued to evolve with a variety of new attractions joining the perennially popular pancake houses, candy shops, and craft galleries. 

To learn more on Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains, read Smoky Mountain Day Trips from Gatlinburg and Springtime in the Smokies.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Helen, Georgia

The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of fairytale dreams but sits in the mountains of Georgia.

Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and beer from September through October. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States. Helen’s Oktoberfest runs from Thursday to Sunday through September and daily from September 28 to October 29, 2023.

Alamogordo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Alamogordo, New Mexico

Nestled in the high desert on the base of the Sacramento Mountains in Otero County, this southern New Mexico community gets an average of 287 days of sun giving visitors plenty of sunlight to enjoy a collection of thrilling activities.

Play a round of golf at the Desert Lake Golf Course, admire the mechanics of the F-117 Nighthawk at the Holloman Air Force Base, or feel the soft sands at the nearby White Sands National Park. This New Mexico destination is also home to several family-friendly attractions, including the Alameda Park Zoo and the New Mexico Museum of Space History. 

Before you leave Alamogordo, don’t forget to stop by the world’s largest pistachio which is located near the world’s largest gypsum dune.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Bardstown, Kentucky

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.

 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.

Learn more about Bardstown by reading Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories and Step Back Into Time at My Old Kentucky Home.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Tours and samples are available for a small fee. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

To learn more about Shiner and Spoetzel Brewery, read A Toast to Texas History.

Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. This strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

To learn more about this charming town, read Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Marietta, Ohio

The oldest town in Ohio, Marrieta gets its name from the infamous Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Marietta was the first settlement of the Northwest Territory which was all of the land west of Pennsylvania, northwest of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. The end of the Revolutionary War saw the establishment of this territory in 1787.

A group of pioneers settled and founded Marietta in 1788. The town was easy to access by boat due to its placement on the banks of two major rivers. One of the early industries of the area was boat-building. Boats built in Marietta made their way down to New Orleans and often into the Gulf of Mexico. The town also made steamboats and furniture but much of their industry began to focus on brickmaking, sawmills, iron mills, and, eventually foundries.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Port Aransas, Texas

Hurricane Harvey caused major damage here in 2017, but nothing can keep this resilient coastal town down. Port A remains one of the state’s main spots for deep-sea fishing and dolphin watching and its 18 miles of beautiful beaches continue to attract returning visitors and new residents.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Stowe, Vermont

This impossibly quaint Green Mountain town has all the makings of a Norman Rockwell painting—right down to the general store. But there’s more to Stowe than simple pleasures. Not only does Stowe have Vermont’s tallest peak making it one of the East Coast’s most popular (and powder-friendly) ski destinations, but it’s also home to the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-style chalet owned by the family immortalized in The Sound of Music.

Have a sweet tooth? The Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory is nearby in Waterbury. Be sure to book a maple syrup tasting at one of the local sugar farms to get a real sense of Vermont’s long and storied maple sugaring industry.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Enjoy the quaint yet lively Breaux Bridge. Known as the Crawfish Capital of the World, the small town of Breaux Bridge offers rich history, world-class restaurants, and a very lively Cajun and Zydeco music and art industry.

Breaux Bridge is also home to the world-famous Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival which is celebrated every May (May 5-7, 2023). This is to pay homage to the sea creature that brought fame and wealth to the town.

Aside from being a popular stopover, you might also want to stay in the quaint town for a couple of days.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Woods Hole, Massachusetts

The quaint New England village of Woods Hole lies at the far southwestern tip of Cape Cod with Buzzards Bay to its west and Vineyard Sound to its east. Because of its excellent harbor, Woods Hole became a center for whaling, shipping, and fishing before its dominance today through tourism and marine research.

Woods Hole is a small village and is easily strolled. The village is a world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It houses two large, private organizations: the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A total of 49 Nobel Laureates have taught, taken courses, or done research at the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Woodstock, New York

To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival would be a major blunder—the festivities weren’t even held within city limits. In reality, Woodstock is a quaint little Catskills oasis where residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention. The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild continues to attract artists hoping to retreat from city life and hone their craft and visitors can tour the grounds and see where magic was made.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Medora, North Dakota

One would think getting Broadway-quality performers to spend their summers in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota would be tough. But it’s barely a chore when you’re drawing them to quaint Medora, home of the Medora Musical and gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The once-depressed cattle town was brought back to life when businessman Harold Shafer sunk millions into it turning it into an Old West Revival that avoids being too campy. Saloons and steakhouses offer stellar food; day hikes along the Pancratz Trail, just outside the Badlands Motel offer sweeping views; and a trip to the Burning Hills Amphitheater—a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands—is a must for musicals and steak-on-a-pitchfork dinner. The entire town obliterates expectations of what one would expect to find in North Dakota.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Jacksonville, Oregon

Life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jacksonville. Steeped in history, the entire town of Jacksonville is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley and haunted history tours. A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places in Washington State that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village.

This riverfront town has a lovely setting located on the Swinomish Channel overlooking Fidalgo Island with plenty of waterfront restaurants.

Downtown La Conner has a wonderfully preserved Historic District with 27 vintage buildings from the 1860s to the early 1900s. Many of these were constructed during La Conner’s heyday in the 1890s when it was a major steamboat hub between Seattle and Bellingham.  

Get more tips for visiting La Conner: La Conner: Charming, Picturesque & Quaint.

Worth Pondering…

I say half your life is spent trying to get out of a small town and the other half trying to get back to one.

—Anon

The Best Stops for a Fall Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas BBQ, Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier, Vermont

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Related article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. Harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Mexican Hat, Utah

Drive the 17-mile dirt road through Valley of the Gods and you’re left wondering why its more famous neighbor, Monument Valley, attracts visitors in almost infinitely greater numbers. Valley of the Gods features spectacular mesas, buttes, and spires, but none of the crowds; it’s possible you won’t see another vehicle as you make your way past rock formations such as Lady In A Tub, Setting Hen Butte, and Seven Sailors.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west entrance is situated on Utah Hwy 261, 10 miles north of Mexican Hat; the east entrance begins on US Hwy 163 about 7 miles east of Mexican Hat. The road through the park is level-graded dirt; a high clearance vehicle is generally recommended.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde as their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late 1200s, they left their homes and moved away in the span of a generation or two. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

It’s no surprise that Bardstown has been named one of the most beautiful small towns in America more than once. With several well-known bourbon distilleries, wineries, and historic sites, Kentucky’s second-oldest town has a lot to offer the traveler.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’re here for the bourbon, right? Start your tours with a trip to the oldest fully functioning distillery in Bardstown, Barton 1792 Distillery, famous for its signature 1792 Bourbon. Visitors can tour the property’s 196 acres, which showcase more than 25 barrel-aging warehouses, a picturesque stillhouse, and an award-winning distillery. Tours are complimentary and so are the tastings at this local distillery.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo, Georgia

Located within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, this remote park offers access to the breathtaking wealth of flora and fauna of America’s largest black water swamp. Reserve a place on one of the guided pontoon boat tours and enter a primeval world of moss-draped trees, ibis, storks, turtles, and of course the American Alligator, an estimated 12,000 of which live within the refuge. A boardwalk trail next to the boat dock makes it easy to explore a small area of the swamp on foot.

Related article: Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Stephen C. Foster State Park is a certified dark sky park allowing guests to experience some of the darkest skies in the southeast. Nine cottages are available to rent, and there’s a campsite for tents, trailers, and motorhomes.

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post, Ganado, Arizona

Famously known as the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Nation (it’s been here since 1876), Hubbell Trading Post is a part historic site, part museum/gallery, and part thriving retail operation specializing in authentic Navajo rugs, jewelry, and pottery. A visit to the adjacent Hubbell family home with an impressive collection of Southwestern art and Native American arts and crafts is recommended.

Mission Concepcion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, Texas

A functioning Catholic church intermittently since 1731, Mission Concepcion is a picturesque historic structure that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, only a short distance from San Antonio’s most famous mission, The Alamo. It’s worth dropping by for a look and some photos. In particular, keep an eye out for the remnants of the frescoes that were painted on the building when it was constructed, but have badly faded over time.

Jamestown Settlement © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown Settlement, Virginia

Near the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, established in 1607, Jamestown Settlement preserves and recreates life at the time. There are four components to the complex. As you enter, there are museum exhibits featuring artifacts and interpretations of the lives of the colonists, the natives, and the Africans who were forcibly brought along.

Jamestown Settlement © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing outside, you come to a recreated Powhatan village; farther down the path, you come to a recreated colonial fort; then on down to the water, you’ll see, and be able to board, replicas of the three ships that brought the settlers. In each of these outdoor locations, there are interpreters attired in appropriate garb to answer your questions and demonstrate period skills, from cooking to preparing an animal hide to firing a rifle.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Martin Swamp Tours, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Swamp tours are a must-do for anyone visiting Louisiana and Lake Martin is home to one of the state’s most impressive collections of wildlife. No one can make guarantees where nature’s concerned but a trip out onto this beautiful, man-made lake is likely to bring close-up views of birds including egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and eagles as well as the ‘gators for which the region is famous. Champagne’s Cajun Swamp Tours offer trips out into the cypress swamps every day. Their guides are friendly, knowledgeable, and full of character.

Related article: Stunning Fall Drives across America

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Bridge, Page, Arizona

The two beautiful Navajo Bridges that span the Colorado River’s Marble Canyon may look identical but they were built more than 65 years apart. The first bridge opened to traffic in 1929 and was, at the time, the highest steel arch bridge in the world. However, it was not designed to carry modern day traffic and its replacement more than twice as wide opened in 1995. Rather than dismantling the original bridge, they left it in place to allow pedestrians to enjoy the spectacular view of the river 467 feet below. Take time to visit the interpretive center on the west side of the bridge.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilson Arch, Monticello, Utah

One of the pleasures of driving this part of Utah (in particular the section of US Route 191 running north from Bluff through Blanding, Monticello, and Moab) is happening upon the incredible rock formations that seem to appear around every corner. This one, Wilson Arch, was named after Joe Wilson, a local pioneer who had a cabin nearby in Dry Valley. It’s an easy hike up to the arch and makes for great photos.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

Step back in time to learn about Fredericksburg’s German heritage at Pioneer Museum. The 3.5-acre site gives a glimpse into the lives of the early German settlers in the frontier town of Fredericksburg from the 1840s to the 1920s. Visit the National Museum of Pacific War, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater during World War II. With interactive exhibits and endless galleries and stunning grounds, the museum will inspire all generations.

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

Enjoy Fredericksburg’s diverse culinary scene. From German food to burgers to fine dining, Fredericksburg has something for everyone’s taste. Sip wine at any of the more than 50 wineries in the Fredericksburg area, enjoy a self-guided trip down Wine Road 290 on your own or opt for a wine tour with any of our local wine tour companies. 

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge Bridge, New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

At 3,030-feet this is the world’s third longest single arch bridge. At 876 feet above the river, it is also one of the tallest. The visitor center has picnic areas and hiking trails with spectacular views of bridge and gorge. White water rafting and hiking are popular in summer.

Bridge Day, on the third Saturday in October (October 15, 2022), features B.A.S.E. jumpers and rappellers in a festival atmosphere. New River Gorge Bridge is located on U.S. Highway 19 between Summersville and Beckley.

Historic Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Oatman, Arizona

Once a thriving mining town, then a virtual ghost town when Route 66 was bypassed, Oatman has been reborn as a popular tourist destination for its Old West flavor. Many of its historic buildings still stand including the Oatman Hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent a night of their honeymoon and where the lobby is covered by thousands of dollar bills that tourists have attached to the walls and ceilings.

Related article: 10 of the Best Small Towns to Visit this Fall

Historic Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are cowboy shootouts and gift shops galore. But above all, there are the burros, descendants of animals released in the hills by miners. They function today as the semi-official stop lights wandering the narrow streets and poking their heads into car windows looking for handouts.

Hurricane © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hurricane, Utah

Despite its name, you’re likely to find beautiful weather in Hurricane. And that’s a good thing when you consider the outdoor adventures available just a stone’s throw from the small town. Take advantage of the proximity to Sand Hollow Reservoir and Sand Hollow State Park. Of course, Hurricane is also a home base for many travelers to Zion National Park, so you’ll want to bring your hiking boots for the park’s most notable trails, like Angel’s Landing, Emerald Pools, and The Narrows.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

10 of the Best Small Towns to Visit this Fall

Like a red, orange and gold wonderland!

Peak foliage season varies by region and by year, depending on the weather so it’s best to check with local sources before you go. Many top destinations to view fall’s splendor have leaf and foliage reports, maps, and trackers so you can follow the local predictions and current conditions—and arrive just in time for the best of the season.

Some of these destinations will be familiar while others are lesser-known locales where you can capture and embrace fall’s beauty. So, pack your jacket and grab your camera for one of nature’s most spectacular spectacles.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

As you might expect from the destination that acts as the gateway to the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg isn’t short on views or things to do—an aerial cable car, a ski resort, and a 407-foot observation tower with park views, to name a few.

The autumn season is well celebrated during the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival which runs from mid-September to late November encompassing the full spectrum of colors including the peak in mid-to late October.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is a tiny town with a big reputation—not only for its ski slopes which tempt powder hounds year after year but also for its abundance of sugar maples that come alive in the autumn. With the colors peaking between early September and late October, Stowe makes it easy to hike, bike, or drive through the expanse of fall foliage. If you time it right, you may be able to make the annual Trapp Family Lodge Oktoberfest (September 17, 2022).

Related article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Fall

Shipshewana, Indiana

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the heart of Indiana’s Amish Country, Shipshewana is a great place to learn about Amish communities and enjoy fun fall activities. Take a buggy ride with Buggy Lane Tours for a look at the Amish experience while enjoying the beautiful autumn colors or walk the Pumpkinvine Trail, known for its brilliant foliage. The Shipshewana Swap Meets offer locally grown pumpkins, gourds, and more.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Makers Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the 18th century, bourbon has been central to Bardstown, home of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival (September 16-18, 2022). In fact, along with Covington and Frankfort, Bardstown is part of a collaboration called Come Find Bourbon. These quaint towns offer some of the most respected bourbon distilleries in the world as well as restaurants, pubs, diners, boutique hotels, and of course, distillery tours and tastings. Fall weather is mild in this part of Kentucky, but if evenings get a bit brisk, there’s always a glass of bourbon to take away the chill.

Related article: America’s Fall Foliage: Leafing through America

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

On the Rappahannock River on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, Urbanna (population 442 as of the 2020 census) is about an hour outside of Richmond making it an easy destination for a last-minute fall getaway. When it comes to charm, it doesn’t get much better than historic Urbanna which is home to seven buildings that have been in continuous use since the Colonial period. This tiny tidewater town is notably home to a fall oyster festival (65th annual, November 4-5, 2022) which attracts about 75,000 visitors a year.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is notably at the forefront of any leaf-peeping conversation and if you want to experience it with a touch of luxury why not head to the Omni Mount Washington, an elegant hideaway in dreamy Bretton Woods? Dating back to 1902, guests came here by train from New York and Boston and then explored the gorgeous surroundings by horse and carriage. Several presidents have stayed here as did Thomas Edison

In addition to the foliage, there are zip lines and a golf course to keep you occupied. And if you should happen to get here after the leaves fall, don’t sweat it, as the Omni is a top ski resort as well!

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blairsville, Georgia

Nestled in the north Georgia Mountains, Blairsville (population 652) is just a short drive from one of Georgia’s most notable landmarks, Brasstown Bald. Within the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, the Brasstown Bald Recreation Area & Visitor Center is the highest point in Georgia rising 4,784 feet above sea level. It’s an ideal place to take in the stunning fall colors of the mountains around Blairsville. And on a clear day, Brasstown Bald visitors can even get a glimpse of the downtown Atlanta skyline more than 100 miles away. 

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

The small Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg located between San Antonio and Austin dates back to 1846 when it was founded by German immigrants. Its German roots are still present today and mix well with the Texas culture. That’s why fall is a great time to visit and experience this heritage at Oktoberfest (42nd annual, September 30-October, 2022). For history buffs, there is the National Museum of the Pacific War, the only museum of its kind in the continental U.S., and Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic National Site. Another park, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is known for its giant pink granite dome.

Related article: 8 of the Best Leaf-Peeping Destinations! But is it the Season of Fall or Autumn?

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

One of the most popular small towns in Florida, Mount Dora is beloved for its 19th-century clapboard houses, antique shops, and outdoor cafes that line its historic district. Offering the best of both worlds, you can go shopping for valuable collectibles at Renninger’s Antique Center & Farmer’s Flea Market before soaking up the scenic natural setting around Lake Dora. Go on a fishing excursion, sample local cuisine in the gourmet restaurants, or relax with a glass of vino at The Cellar Door winery.

Fort Langley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley, British Columbia

This little town in British Columbia seriously looks like it was plucked right out of a Hallmark movie. There are so many small shops to explore and in the fall, you can expect to see pumpkins and other autumn decorations scattered everywhere.

Fort Langley National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is home to the Hudson Bay Company’s fur trading post, still standing over 150 years later as a reminder of Langley’s proud heritage. Come watch as costumed interpreters demonstrate the pioneer way of life, where Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders mingled with California gold prospectors, and hear Indigenous interpreters tell century-old tales, feel the blast of the musket fire, and pan for gold dust dreams.

Related article: Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

Located along the Fraser River, Fort Langley features a variety of museums, shops, restaurants, art galleries, parks, trails, and iconic yellow Community Hall which is featured in many TV & Films.

Worth Pondering…

As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas, and colors enough to paint the beautiful things I see.

—Vincent Van Gogh, letter to Theo van Gogh

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

The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The craftsmanship and history behind America’s bourbon distilleries that reside along the bourbon trail

Good morning and Happy National Bourbon Day. Might as well use the occasion to clear up a few things about America’s classic spirit.

  • All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. For example, whiskey that’s made in Scotland is called scotch
  • Among other requirements, bourbon must be distilled from a mash that’s at least 51 percent corn along with malt and rye
  • Kentucky produces 95% of all bourbon

Got it?

The fact that bourbon distilleries give away free samples of their product on their distillery tours isn’t the only reason I visit these landmarks—it’s the history!

Kentucky is an often overlooked and beautiful tourist destination that offers way more than just bourbon. There are also thoroughbred horses, a ton of civil war historical landmarks, and renowned hiking and rock climbing destinations. But you’ve come here for one thing, to learn about the bourbon trail, so the bourbon trail we will cover.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now consists of 18 whiskey distilleries. Some of them are new kids on the block and others have been around since bourbon’s inception. In fact, if you visit every distillery on the trail, you’ll probably hear more than one say it’s the oldest. This is because there are no definite records of how generic “whiskey” became bourbon. So distilleries are known to take liberties to be seen as the oldest and sell more bottles of bourbon at the end of their tours.

The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of bourbon, it doesn’t matter which distillery is the oldest. Each distillery on the bourbon trail (new or old) makes a fantastic product. Each one brings its own unique aspect to the buttery-brown spirit.

Whispering Hills RV Park at Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few people visit every distillery on the trail since it encompasses nine different cities/towns—some 70 miles apart. I’ve mapped out a bourbon trail itinerary that includes the distilleries we’ve visited during our several visits to the Bluegrass State. This guide will help you choose the ones you want to visit the most. There are some important logistics to note before we get into our guide.

Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base

It’s up to you where you stay during your trip but I suggest you set up camp near Louisville and Lexington. Being the two largest cities in Kentucky they provide the most options when it comes to campgrounds, food, outdoor recreation, and other non-bourbon-related offerings. Two excellent options for RV camping are Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Whistling Hills RV Park at Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington). We’ve also stayed at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground in Bardstown.

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

Transportation

If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why would you not?), you’ll want to make sure you have a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk and the last thing you want is a DUI. Alternately, check out local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours

When planning your trip, keep in mind that you don’t have to go on every tour that each distillery offers. In fact, to be able to get in as many distilleries as possible, I’d suggest you don’t. Each distillery tour takes about an hour. In peak season (spring/summer), they can take even longer due to the high volume of visitors and COVID protocol.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get a good idea of any distillery’s history by strolling the grounds open to visitors and visiting the gift shop. If you decide to use a tour company for transportation, they can tell you everything you need to know about each distillery. We suggest saving the tours (and saving money) for your favorite distilleries. Now, break out your favorite whiskey glass, pour your favorite bourbon, and you’re ready to learn about Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Note: Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail have limited tour schedules or have canceled tours altogether, due to the pandemic. Check each distillery’s website for tour availability and safety guidelines.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Louisville (Shepherdsville)

Jim Beam

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up on one of its most influential brands.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven Hill

Continue your journey to historic Bardstown—the Bourbon Capital of the World and an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill is the world’s largest family-owned spirits producer making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna, Fighting Cock, and Evan Williams. The Heaven Hill distillery has been family-owned and operated since 1935 making it fairly young for a distillery of its size. With some help from a notable Kentucky distilling family member, Earl Beam (Master-Distiller from 1946-1975), Heaven Hill got its operations off the ground. Heaven Hill produces more than 400,000 barrels annually and has won multiple world spirit awards. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center you can choose from their tour options and enjoy your samples in their barrel-shaped tasting room.

Old Talbot Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind down in Bardstown as you peruse the shops and start planning your nightcap destination. Take a stroll through the past at the newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Don’t miss an opportunity to dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern (fried green tomatoes is recommended), have a nightcap in the “world’s oldest Bourbon bar”, and even spend the night if you feel so inclined.

Barton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton 1792

The sprawling Barton 1792 is an old-school distillery with an old-school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned. The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 Proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and oh so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves. Can you tell it’s one of my favorite bourbons?

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willett

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

From Bardstown we headed 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me, it is great fun!

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Lexington (Georgetown)

Four Roses

The beautiful Four Roses Lawrenceburg distillery reflects the story of the brand. The bourbon was named after founder Paul Jones Jr.’s romantic gesture of giving a four-rose corsage to his sweetheart before a ball in 1884. Now the distillery boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture and a mellow vibe.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkey

After visiting the Four Roses facility, we headed to their neighbor, the ever-intriguing Wild Turkey, another distillery on the trail with a ton of heritage and family influence. Their main claim to fame is Jimmy Russell, the world’s most tenured master distiller. He’s been crafting bourbon for over 60 years. He now makes bourbon next to his son Eddie who has more than three decades of experience.

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey joined Jimmy and Eddie Russell as Creative Director in 2016. The relationship very quickly turned into an opportunity to collaborate on both marketing campaigns and product development. This is most evident in Longbranch bourbon which carries McConaughey’s name and is refined with mesquite from the actor’s home state of Texas to form a unique flavor profile.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace

It’s not clear why Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 were pulled from the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and thereby out of the bourbon trail in 2010. It’s likely because at the time they were Kentucky’s largest bourbon producer and didn’t want to pay the dues (more about that at the end). A part of the bourbon trail or no, the Buffalo Trace distillery is considered a Mecca for bourbon lovers around the globe. The facilities are enormous and house a total of 19 brands of bourbon. If you can’t make their highly informative and still free tour simply strolling around the grounds and picking up a rare bottle of whiskey in the gift shop is worth it.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark.

Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Woodlord Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Does a Distillery Get Featured on the “Official” Bourbon Trail?

It’s not entirely clear how distilleries are selected to be featured on the bourbon trail. You probably already know that there are more than 18 distilleries in Kentucky. Currently, there are close to 100. For a distillery to be considered a part of the bourbon trail, they have to be recognized as a Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) member. The KDA is a non-profit association established in 1953 to ensure that its members followed the best distilling practices.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, 37 members of the Kentucky Distillers Association operate one or more distilleries in Kentucky. However, when it comes to who gets picked for the trail, it is probably left to closed-door KDA dealings.

Worth Pondering…

I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.

―Tom T. Hall