The 25 Most Breathtaking Places in the U.S. and Canada to Visit in your Lifetime

These are 25 of the most breathtaking for RV travel

What is the most breathtaking place in America? To compile the most breathtaking places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most breathtaking places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s name is rather deceiving. Instead of containing a canyon what it does have are stone pinnacles that were formed naturally over time due to erosion from the stream and weathering during winter’s frost. Multiple points throughout this park offer a stupendous view, but your best bet is Bryce Point in the southern region. From here, you’ll have a prime viewing of all the amazing stone formations known as hoodoos scattered about the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of wild and scenic. It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff. Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travelers to explore.

Organ Pipe National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the forests of Saguaro.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tulip fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

These farmlands are must-sees in the spring—namely in April which is the absolute best time to take a trip to this Pacific Northwest locale. That’s when all the bright, vibrant tulips are in full bloom and when you can enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. If you visit at the right time you’ll get to see not just tulips in all sorts of pretty, warm colors but also countless other flowers that add to the gorgeousness of the fields. During the festival, you can taste wine, enjoy strolling through gardens, sample barbecues, and feast your eyes on art exhibits.

Caverns of Senora  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. Five levels of the cave vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

>> Get more tips for visiting The Caverns of Sonora

Joshua Tree National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park and you won’t just feel like you’re in another country, you’ll feel as if you’re walking onto another planet. Filled with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region like the Joshua tree as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, the landscape has the appearance of a scene from a sci-fi flick. Joshua Tree National Park is a photographer’s, hiker’s, and climber’s dream while the village of Joshua Tree has a unique charm as an artists’ enclave home to an eclectic mix of nature lovers, artists, and hipsters.

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Bernheim Forest  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Forest

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Canadian Rockies

One of the most spectacular and beautiful places you will find anywhere, the Canadian Rockies are huge, pristine wilderness with local gems such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. All five parks combined with three British Columbia provincial parks have been name as a single UNESCO World Heritage site for the unique mountainscapes found here. Not to mention the world-famous lakes in the region. You’ll have plenty to explore with Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Maligne Lake, all stunning and fed by the glaciers in the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies

Cumberland Island National Seashore  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Botany Bay  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botany Bay

Mesa Verde National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close to the cliff dwellings on a tour.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

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

13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Shenandoah National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse the park.

 >> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Enchanted Rock in Texas Hill Country  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Texas Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

 >> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Hill Country

Okanagan Valley  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua-blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Painted Churches  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that had one thing in common: their painted churches. The term painted comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork.

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Painted Churches

Columbia Icefield  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145-mile stretch of highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests. Glacier Sky Walk is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Galveston, Texas

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time. Galveston Island is home to Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mount Robson Provincial Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system is truly one of Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Museum of Appalachia  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine you’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Museum of Appalachia

Natural Bridges National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

La Connor  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

>> Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Elk Island National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Elk Island National Park, Alberta

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This island of conservation is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Capitol Reef National Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit. If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold. There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

>> Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

10 Amazing Places to RV in September 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in September

There’s no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.

—Alexander Woollcott

American drama critic Alexander Woollcott is known for instituting the Algonquin Round Table, a literary luncheon (held at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan in the 1920s) that hosted such luminaries as comedian Harpo Marx and writer Dorothy Parker. However, Woollcott’s life leading up to that point was remarkable: He went from a childhood in poverty to serving in the First World War to becoming a columnist for The New Yorker magazine. His surviving letters recount anecdotes from his life and the lives of his creative friends. His words here encourage us to see the value in the mundane and to treat each day as part of the rich experience of life.

September always feels like a reset. Summer isn’t technically over until later in the month but unofficially… we feel the shift. The temperatures are cooling and the days are growing shorter.

That doesn’t mean that the excitement of summer travel has to abruptly end. In fact, September is actually the best time to visit many popular destinations especially national parks. The shoulder season brings fewer crowds and lower temps with the more accessibility and, in some cases, a display of early fall colors.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in July and August. Also, check out my recommendations from September 2022 and October 2022.

Leaf pepping at the Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Leaf-peeping Vermont

Stowe is a classic New England town at the base of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. It is located on the 138-mile Vermont Route 100, one of the country’s coasting routes for what is referred to locally as leaf-peeping. The season runs from September through late October.

In addition to watching the leaves change, fall means hiking numerous trails, fishing off Lake Champlain, and paddling down the Lamoille River.

Horrid Observation Site offers gorgeous views (despite its name) of the Champlain Valley. Reaching the outlook requires a half-mile uphill hike but the payoff is a vast panorama of the Green Mountain National Forest and Champlain Valley. You can also go hiking with dogs on the trail.

Percy Farm Corn Maze is the perfect fall activity to do in Vermont. It is surrounded by gorgeous countryside creating beautiful views and picture opportunities. The maze is well-designed and the farm area also offers candies and syrups for sale.

Applegate Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Applegate Valley wine country

The Applegate Valley wine country is found in the far southern reaches of Oregon running for 50 miles between the towns of Grants Pass and Jacksonville. It is home to some 18 wineries most of which offer wine tastings beside scenic vineyards growing in the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains. Wine drinkers will find a lot to enjoy from rich malbacs to smooth chardonnays while everyone should be able to appreciate the stunning views that surround quiet back roads that run through the region.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Experience sea turtle season

With its unspoiled beaches, lush maritime forests, and peaceful marshes, Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, is a dream getaway for nature lovers and wildlife watchers—especially during sea turtle season.

The best time to see adult sea turtles is during nesting season which begins in May with nests often laid through mid-summer. Jekyll Island is one of the few places where you can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles. These gentle giants can weigh hundreds of pounds and adult females leave their saltwater and estuarine habitats to bring themselves onto the sandy beaches to lay eggs.

Sea turtle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sea turtle hatching season typically happens from August through October and is the best time to potentially witness turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest and scamper their way across the beach and into the ocean.

At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, take a behind-the-scenes tour into the turtle hospital to learn about sea turtle care and treatment. To spot some sea turtle nests for yourself, head out on the center’s Night and Dawn Patrol programs with a field biologist. You can also take a guided Turtle Walk to learn more.

>> Get more tips for visiting Jekyll Island

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Towering Monument Valley buttes display sunset spectacle

A sunset spectacle featuring two mitten-shaped rock formations plays out at Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation along the Arizona and Utah border. Twice a year, in late March and mid-September, spectators, photographers, and videographers get a visual treat. As the sun sinks, the West Mitten Butte’s shadow crawls across the desert valley floor before climbing up the side of the East Mitten Butte.

The spectacle draws people from around the world to Monument Valley Tribal Park which already is popular with tourists.

TV and movie critic Keith Phipps once described Monument Valley as having “defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.” It is a frequent filming location including a number of Westerns by the late American film director John Ford as well as the 1994 Oscar-winning film Forest Gump. In the movie, the character played by Tom Hanks is seen running on the road to Monument Valley, the park’s impressive landscape in the background.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Cades Cove Loop

The Cades Cove Loop, a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a must-see for history enthusiasts and nature lovers. Visitors pass through an idyllic valley encircled by bears, deer, and wild turkeys, driving around the loop. People can spend time discovering the churches, log houses, and a functional gristmill, among the old structures that have been beautifully conserved.

Visitors can also use the loop’s picnic areas, hiking trails, and bicycle paths while taking in the breathtaking mountain views from the numerous overlooks. The Cades Cove Loop is a fascinating drive presenting an exceptional combination of scenic natural beauty and rich cultural legacy.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cades Cove

Bernheim Arboretum and Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Kentucky Arboretums

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont (just outside Louisville) is a sprawling natural space with expansive hiking and biking trails. Fishing, bird-watching, and geocaching are also popular within the park. 

The Arboretum in Lexington spans 100 gorgeous acres and is operated by the University of Kentucky, with guided tours offered May-September and self-guided tours available year-round.

The Boone County Arboretum was the nation’s first arboretum within an active recreation park setting—the specialized arrangements of plant collections exist along 2.5 miles of paved multi-use trails that wind through nearly 30 collection areas over their 121 acres. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Arborteum

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg’s 407-foot Space Needle is its most iconic landmark. You ride a glass elevator to the top for sweeping 360-degree views of the surrounding area. However, that is not all there is to enjoy here. Every fall, Gatlinburg hosts the Smoky Mountain Harvest Festival beginning mid-September through November.

The notion that peak color season in the Great Smoky Mountains is in mid-October is a misconception. The colors of fall light up the Smokies for seven weeks or more moving from the peak elevations down to the foothills. The seven-week period generally runs from mid-September through the end of October.

Ober Gatlinburg’s 13th Annual OktOBERfest will be held from September 29–October 30, 2023. During this month-long celebration along with daily shows, the Seasons of Ober Restaurant switches to their OktOBERfest menu. Most of the food is German-inspired and is derived from recipes and cuisine from traditional Bavarian festivals. Offerings include schnitzel, bratwurst, strudel, turkey legs, salted pretzels, and sauerkraut.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Woodstock, New York

It is often assumed the Woodstock Music Festival took place in the Catskills town of Woodstock but it took place in Bethel about 1.5 hours away. The 1969 summer festival got its name from the former, though, and Woodstock has since maintained a bohemian art scene.

In general, leaves in the Catskills and northern New York State peak between the last week of September and the first week of October making this an ideal part of the country to enjoy in the fall, especially from behind the wheel of your RV.

Do not miss Tinker Street, Woodstock’s main street, to explore all the independent boutiques, shops, and restaurants.

>> Get more tips for visiting Woodstock

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 170-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, and rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival

Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo at Custer State Park in western South Dakota. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool for maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

The Buffalo Roundup will begin at 9:30 a.m. MT on September 29, 2023, with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Be sure to arrive early if you want to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. 

Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

5 Best Things to do this Spring in America

A whole new world of color opens up during springtime which makes it the perfect time to pack up the RV and explore somewhere new on a road trip or weekend getaway

Springtime can be a magical and refreshing time to travel. Maybe you’re coming out from winter hibernation for a quick road trip or you’re finally able to break in those new hiking boots you were gifted for Christmas. Personally, I look forward to blooms and greenery after nature wakes up from her winter slumber. Everything feels fresh, new, and exciting.

1. Attend a spring festival

When spring has sprung, the festivals are in full bloom! Festivals in spring are wonderful, inspiring experiences that help us celebrate the start of a new season. Which one of these takes your fancy?

International Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon, Georgia

Macon, Georgia, is the cherry blossom capital of the world? No, it’s not Japan or Washington, D.C. With 350,000 cherry trees blossoming each year at the end of March, Macon truly is the perfect place to see these beauties in bloom.

The second or third week of March is peak time to visit as the International Cherry Blossom Festival (March 17-26, 2023) happens. It’s known as the pinkest party of the year! Macon is full of history and is also surrounded by beautiful state parks for visitors who are looking to get outdoors.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon

Tulips are the main attraction in Woodburn, Oregon. The town is home to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Far which hosts a tulip festival from March to May. With 40 acres of tulips, over 200 acres of outdoor space, and activities, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is identified as one of the top spring attractions in the state of Oregon. The 38th Annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival runs March 17–April 30, 2023.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Springtime is also the best time to catch a ride on a hot air balloon to see the colorful blooms from above. Or stay on the ground and enjoy a sip of wine at any of the areas wineries while your pals fly high in the sky.

Rayne loves frogs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne Frog Festival, Rayne, Louisiaa

Rayne is best known as the Frog Capital of the World. The Rayne Frog Festival was founded in 1973 and has grown by, um, leaps and bounds. At this annual fest, you can see the coronation of the Frog Festival Queens and the Mr. and Miss Tadpole contests.

The 51st Annual Rayne Frog Festival will be held on May 10-14, 2023 at the Frog Festival Pavilion. It’s slated with a full schedule including music, delicious food, a signature festival drink, and souvenir cup commemorating 51 years of tradition, arts and crafts show, carnival rides, frog cook-off, frog-eating contest, folklore tent, frog racing and jumping, and a few surprises along the way.

Charleston home tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Festival of Houses and Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

It’s no secret that Charleston is a hub for southern charm especially in the spring as dogwood trees and azaleas bloom all over the city. The weather is great during this time of year–hanging out around 60-70 degrees with low humidity―ideal weather for both carriage tours and walking tours of the main attractions of the city.

The premier event of its kind in the country, the 75th Annual Spring Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 15-April 16, 2023 offers guests rare access into some of Charleston’s finest private houses and gardens in the city’s renowned historic district during peak blooming season. The cornerstone of the spring Festival are the daily house and garden tours. The tours provide an opportunity for guests to go inside the private houses and gardens of some of America’s most beautiful residences, some dating to the 18th century.

Ostrich Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ostrich Festival, Chandler, Arizona

Grab your friends and family and get ready to shake your tail feather with our favorite feathered friends, the ostriches! The Ostrich Festival features live ostriches, national and local entertainment, stage shows, over 50 midway rides and games, classic festival food, interactive activities for all ages, meet and greets with your favorite mascots, ostrich-themed educational activities, exciting attractions, upscale arts and crafts and much more. The 33rd Annual Ostrich Festival will be held March 16-19, 2023 at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler, Arizona.

A spring road trip in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Plan a spring road trip

The weather is warming up and late winter rains have turned trees and grass green and encouraged wildflowers to bloom. It’s the right time to take a drive either to a favorite place or a new destination with unfamiliar landscapes and roads. Whether your preferred scenery is mountains, deserts, forests, plains, or coastal views, there’s a road trip for you. You can plan a journey around your interests if you enjoy historic sites, regional food, wineries, or nature, you can plan a journey around your interests.

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

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

You’ll love springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains as the gorgeous wildflowers are in bloom with over 1,500 types dazzling in mid to late March to June. You’ll find perfect picnic weather at this time of year and it’s an ideal time to explore the most visited national parks in the U.S. Enjoy the 800 square miles of untouched wilderness while you enjoy a scenic hike to a waterfall or beautiful overlook. Horseback riding, fishing, ranger-led programs, wildlife viewing, and biking are other popular activities in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

One of my favorite things about visiting national parks is the transformation that occurs in the landscape around me as I enter a park. The distinctive flora and unique geological features create an atmosphere that makes me feel as if I’m entering another world. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those magical places. The sharp angles of the Joshua tree forests are the foreground of a wonderland of gigantic granite boulders and rock outcroppings. It’s an otherworldly landscape that takes you back thousands of years. You feel as if you might see a dinosaur step out from behind one of the jumbo rock piles at any moment.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument. You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive takes you 105 miles through the park along the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. This route stretches through Shenandoah National Park where warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.

Skyline Drive features 75 overlooks including Spitler Knoll, Range View, and Hogback, all of which offer unobstructed views across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Winter showers make February and March wildflowers in the desert parks and create yet another reason to explore this beautiful region. During years of average and above average precipitation, it seems every direction you look there is beautiful yellow, red, white, orange, blue, or purple flowers blanketing the landscape. Arizona had a good, rainy winter so far, so our hopes are up for a bright blanket of flowers soon!

The contrast of vibrant flowers against the backdrop of green is a sight to behold so get your camera, comfortable outdoor shoes, and plenty of water and enjoy the rich colors across the state.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers and cactus in Arizona with bushels of incredible golden blooms throughout the park. The desert wildflowers here offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert park.

3. Back to Nature

Time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.

Grasslands Nature Trail, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

The most significant undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore offers more than 130,000 acres of dunes, grasslands, and beaches―a national park and a haven for all sorts of family-friendly activities. Immerse yourself in the fauna and flora that populate this marshland environment with a short stroll along the Grasslands Nature Trail. Away from the beach, this trail offers a glimpse of animals that live inland including coyotes, deer, kangaroo rats, ghost crabs, and many others.

Malaquite Beach, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apart from the actual sands of Malaquite Beach, Padre Island’s Visitors Center holds a breathtaking observation deck for wildlife viewing. Along Malaquite Beach, visitors scavenge for small shells deposited by north currents at Little Shell Beach and comb through the sands of Big Shell Beach for larger shell discoveries. Whichever activity you partake in, it’s safe to say that Padre Island National Seashore is a beachside paradise for a gorgeous getaway.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With 16,140 acres of land in Bullitt and Nelson Counties in Kentucky, there is an adventure waiting for everyone. Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland.

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking part in a scheduled program, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim meaning no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of America

Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across America.

Food Festivals

For foodies, warmer weather means one thing: a host of new food festivals to attend where you can eat and drink across the country. Here are seven food festivals to put on your travel list this spring.

  • SoCal Taco Fest, San Diego, California, April 29, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, Georgia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, May 5-7, 2023
  • Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, Des Moines, Iowa, February May 12-13, 2023
  • Nantucket Wine & Food Festival, Nantucket, Massachusetts, May 17-21, 2023
  • Cheese Curd Festival, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, June 23-24, 2023
Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Go hiking

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries.

Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park, California

Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, the Big Trees Trail is one of the best short and easy hikes you can do in Sequoia. This loop trail takes you completely around the meadow and provides impressive views of numerous massive sequoias as well as the beautiful meadow itself.

Courthouse Towers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail, Arches National Park, Utah

The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers. Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.

Getting out and traveling can sometimes be the best way to kick the winter blues especially if you live somewhere that gets very little sunshine. Enjoying the beauty of spring in any one of these destinations is sure to help you recharge and reset. Whether you want to get out and hit the trails or simply sit back and enjoy an afternoon of peace somewhere with warmer temperatures, you’re sure to find a great trip on this list.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

10 Amazing Places to RV in December 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.

—Proverbs 17:22, KJV Bible

This analogy from the Bible’s Book of Proverbs points out the link between emotional and physical well-being: Joy is a powerful emotion as beneficial for an ailing soul as medical treatments are for a sick or injured body. This passage from Proverbs 17:22 suggests that if we possess good cheer, our confidence, laughter, and trust are likely to radiate to those we encounter. Sharing kindness—be it through gifts, singing, rituals, or visiting loved ones—is a worthy and healthy practice this holiday season, and beyond.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in October and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2021 and January 2022.

The Barrio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barrio Viejo

Barrio Viejo, meaning old neighborhood in Spanish, is an area near downtown Tucson that is an important, historical part of the community. This picturesque destination just south of the Tucson Convention Center lies between I-10 and Stone Avenue with Meyer and Main Avenues passing through the center.

The original Barrio neighborhood built between 1880 and 1920 was home to a diverse working class including Spanish, Mexican, Asian, and Hispanic. Using traditional Mexican Village architecture, houses were built of thick-walled adobe with a flat roof, wood beams, and ocotillo, or saguaro cactus ribs, coverings.

The Barrio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin your tour of Barrio Veijo at Five Points, the corner of Stone and 18th Streets. Over many decades the houses have been painted bold bright colors with doors/windows becoming works of art. Public buildings also have been treated with the same effect. The Barrio has become a major tourist attraction constantly drawing photographers, artists, and tour groups. In 1978, the Barrio was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fort Langley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley, British Columbia

Go for a festive stroll through this charming village in the Township of Langley to experience the best the holiday season has to offer. The picturesque village is often used as a backdrop for many Hallmark Christmas movies, so you’ll definitely feel like you’re a part of one. With twinkling lights brightening up the historic village, it’s like it was made specifically for the small screen.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An Art Deco World Wonder

Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada. It was constructed between 1931 and 1936 during the Great Depression and was dedicated on September 30, 1935, by President Franklin Roosevelt. Its construction was the result of a massive effort involving thousands of workers and cost over one hundred lives. The dam was controversially named in honor of President Herbert Hoover.

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since about 1900, the Black Canyon and nearby Boulder Canyon had been investigated for their potential to support a dam that would control floods, provide irrigation water, and produce hydroelectric power. In 1928, Congress authorized the project. The winning bid to build the dam was submitted by a consortium called Six Companies, Inc. which began construction on the dam in early 1931. Such a large concrete structure had never been built before and some of the techniques were unproven. The torrid summer weather and the lack of facilities near the site also presented difficulties. Nevertheless, Six Companies turned over the dam to the federal government on March 1, 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead and is located near Boulder City, Nevada, a municipality originally constructed for workers on the construction project about 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas. The dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Hoover Dam is a major tourist attraction with nearly a million people touring the dam each year. Heavily travelled U.S. 93 ran along the dam’s crest until October 2010 when the Hoover Dam Bypass opened. 

Goose Island State Park

Christmas in the Park

Experience Christmas on the Texas Gulf Coast at Goose Island State Park! See the park in lights, enjoy holiday activities, and CAMP FOR FREE when you decorate your campsite.

Visitors are invited to enjoy a FREE drive through the Live Oak forest to see campsites decorated in lights and join the park rangers at Santa’s Village at the CCC Recreation Hall for holiday crafts, games, hot chocolate around the campfire, and to drop off letters to Santa in the North Pole Mailbox.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campers who agree to decorate their campsite will CAMP FOR FREE! Reservations for participating sites are available only by contacting the park via email at GooseIslandSP@tpwd.texas.gov. Participating campers may begin arriving on December 16 and are eligible for waived fees on December 16 and 17. Community groups are encouraged to decorate a dark spot.

The Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Peach of a Water Tower

The Peachoid is a 135 feet tall water tower in Gaffney that resembles a peach. The water tower holds one million gallons of water and is located off Peachoid Road by Interstate 85 between exits 90 and 92 (near the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway). Usually referred to by locals as The Peach and by passing motorists as Mr. Peach or The Moon over Gaffney, the water tank is visible for several miles around these exits. An example of novelty architecture, the Peachoid is one of the most recognizable landmarks for travelers along I-85 between Charlotte, North Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia.

The Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to official literature, the Peachoid boldly “sets the record straight about which state is the biggest peach producer in the South. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT Georgia.” Without a doubt, the best-known, most photographed water tank in America. It is painted to match the kind of peaches grown in the area using 20 colors and 50 gallons of paint.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Heart and Soul of San Antonio

The San Antonio River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is a public park, open 365 days a year. It is a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River one story beneath approximately 15 miles of downtown San Antonio. Explore by foot along the river’s walking path or jump aboard a river barge for a ride and guided tour. Lined by bars, shops, and restaurants the River Walk is an important part of the city’s urban fabric and a tourist attraction in its own right.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The River Walk winds and loops under bridges as two parallel sidewalks, lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, and more. It connects the major tourist draws from the Alamo to Rivercenter Mall, Arneson River Theatre and La Villita, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Pearl Brewery.

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, shop local favorites along the river’s Museum Reach at the historic Pearl. While at Pearl, dine and drink al fresco at The Food Hall at Bottling Department. Further south, immerse yourself in history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park along the Mission Reach.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holiday Fun and Festivities at Bernheim

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

With the holidays just around the corner, the Bernheim calendar is full of events to celebrate with nature this December. Except for Christmas Day, Bernheim is open the entire month with activities for every age.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim’s Holiday Open House takes place on Saturday, December 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Visitor Center. Enjoy a festive day shopping in the forest. Browse the selection of gifts, locally-made crafts, Kentucky Proud and Giants merchandise, and other unique gifts for the nature lover in your life. Get in the holiday spirit with hot mulled cider and refreshments, hourly door prize drawings, holiday specials, and a 30 percent discount for Bernheim members.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gnomes are known the world over. Legend has it they travel and live in the forest freely, seldom seen by humans. Add some seasonal magic to your home this season by joining the Bernheim staff at one of two Forest Gnome Workshops to create this mythical forest character on Saturday, December 4 from 9:30 to 11 a.m., or from 1 to 2:30 p.m. while enjoying some hot cider, treats, and hot chocolate. Make this a family activity and enjoy building your gnome together. Children 13 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven on Earth

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. Of them all, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. At just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards, and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. 

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

Besh Ba Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besh Ba Gowah Festival of Lights

The City of Globe, Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum presents the 34th Annual Festival of Lights celebration on Saturday, December 3, from 5 to 9 p.m. The festival delights visitors with a beautiful scene, a festive combination of the Southwest holiday tradition of the luminaria lighting combined with the artistry of American Indian cultural presentations.

Besh Ba Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year’s festival will feature 4,000 real candle luminarias illuminating the archaeological park’s partly reconstructed 800-year-old Salado culture ruins. Guests are encouraged to walk among the luminarias and experience the magic of the season. The warm glow of the luminarias creates a dramatic backdrop for cultural presentations by the internationally renowned Yellow Bird Productions.

Yellow Bird is a family dance group under the direction of Ken Duncan, a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. The group specializes in cultural presentations that celebrate the unique spirit of American Indians. Presentations will run periodically throughout the night until the festival concludes at 9 p.m.

Besh Ba Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Besh Ba Gowah Museum will be open to visitors for the duration of the event and guests are welcome to view the exhibits and browse the unique items available in the gift store.

The event will also have food trucks offering a variety of delicious treats and local specialty merchandise vendors.

Admission to the event has always been free although non-perishable food donations are encouraged in support of the Gila Community Food Bank.

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since parking for the event fills up fast a free shuttle service is available. The shuttle will run every 15 minutes from 4 p.m. until the last call at 9 p.m. Shuttle parking is located at Globe High School, 437 S. High Street.

Make it a fun-filled weekend by also attending Historic Downtown Globe’s First Friday, December 2. Globe’s First Fridays, from 3 to 7 p.m., have become a hugely popular monthly event that showcases local businesses, restaurants, artists, musicians, makers, bakers and more!

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schmeckenfest 2022

Schmeckenfest is a wassail tasting and Christmas extravaganza in La Grande, Texas. Celebrate 16 years of Schmeckenfest on Thursday, December 1 from 5-8 p.m. A true community event, it also attracts visitors to the Square to sample many different types of wassail (hot cider) made by various business owners and community leaders in which participants hope to win the coveted honor of being named Schmeckenmeister.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This small-town Christmas festival also includes music, delicious treats sold by local nonprofit organizations, a Christmas parade, the lighting of the County Christmas tree on the Courthouse lawn, children’s activities, and a visit from Santa. There are numerous Christmas card-worthy photo opportunities around the Square as well as pictures with Santa.

Worth Pondering…

Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter.

—Henry David Thoreau

Plan an RV Trip to a Museum: How to Save with Reciprocal Memberships

Reciprocal museum memberships allow you to visit other participating museums which grant free or heavily discounted entry to members

Did you know that museum memberships at one museum could get you into hundreds of others for free? Museums, zoos, aquariums, science and technology centers, and more participate in reciprocity programs that let you do just that.

So what is reciprocity? Basically, it’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations but span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in Canada.

Following is more information about these programs, where you can buy them, what benefits they provide, and how to use them.

Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benefits of buying museum memberships

Paying for visits to museums, zoos, and science centers individually gets expensive fast so this is a great way to save money. Reciprocity programs give you access to many more places to visit as you travel in your RV. And also a great way to supplement the learning programs of homeschoolers and road schoolers.

Museum reciprocity organizations

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is an organization of zoos and aquariums and dedicated to conservation, education, science, and recreation.

In reciprocity programs including the AZA, you can get free or discounted admission to participating parks. The list of participating zoos and aquariums indicates which locations are participating and what their reciprocity is (50 percent discount in most cases). The list of zoos and aquariums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the AZA Reciprocal Network.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participating zoos and aquariums include:

  • Birmingham Zoo
  • Phoenix Zoo
  • The Living Desert (Palm Desert, California)
  • Mote Aquarium (Sarasota, Florida)
  • San Antonio Zoo
  • Gladys Porter Zoo (Brownsville, Texas)
  • Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, Texas)
  • Memphis Zoo
The Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)

The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science and technology centers and museums that fosters understanding and engagement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In reciprocity programs including the ASTC, you can get free entry into ASTC locations that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program. The list of science and technology centers participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ASTC Reciprocal Network.

Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay Exploration Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
  • Turtle Bay Exploration Park (Redding, California)
  • Saint Louis Science Center, Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, Montana)
  • Fleishmann Planterium and Science Center (Reno, Nevada)
  • The Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, New York)
  • Space Center Houston
  • Witte Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
The Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)

The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is an organization of museums specifically geared towards children and their learning through play and exploration.

The ACM Reciprocal Network is a voluntary group of ACM member museums open across the U.S. and Canada that reciprocate discounted admission to each other’s members. Two hundred museums participate in the network and reciprocate 50 percent off general admission for up to six people. The list of museums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ACM Reciprocal Network.

Armstrong Air & Space Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participanting children’s museums include:

  • Miami Children’s Museum
  • Boston Children’s Museum
  • I.D.E.A. Museum (Tempe, Arizona)
  • Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
  • The Children’s Museum of Cleveland
  • Children’s Science Center Lab (Fairfax, Virginia)
  • Sacramento Science Center
  • Children’s Museum of Pittsburg
Sharlot Hall Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)

The North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) is a mosaic of 1,244 art museums and galleries, historical museums and societies, botanical gardens, children’s museums, and zoos.

In reciprocity programs including the NARM, you can get free entry into participating locations. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.

Sharlot Hall Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, Arizona)
  • The Dali Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida)
  • Auburn Cord Dusenberg Automobile Museum (Auburn, Indiana)
  • National Corvette Museum (Bowling Green, Kentucky)
  • Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
  • Will Rogers Memorial Museum (Claremore, Oklahoma)
  • Bullock Texas State History Museum (Austin, Texas)
  • Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta)
Armstrong Air & Space Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Travelers

Time Travelers is a free reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the United States.

Currently, the Time Travelers program includes 472 organizations in more than 45 states. Members of these organizations can receive a variety of exclusive benefits and privileges such as free admission and gift shop discounts. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.

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

Current participating locations include:

  • Edison & Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers, Florida)
  • World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum (St. Augustine, Florida)
  • Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, Illinois)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Oak Park, Illinois)
  • Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art (Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • Studebaker National Museum (South Bend, Indiana)
  • Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home (Abeline, Kansas)
  • Armstrong Air & Space Museum (Wapakoneta, Ohio)
  • National Museum of the Pacific War (Fredericksburg, Texas)
Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American Horticultural Society (AHS)

The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is a national gardening organization providing gardening and horticultural information. A current membership card from the American Horticultural Society or a garden participating in their Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP) entitles you to special admission privileges and discounts at 345+ gardens throughout North America.

Some gardens have exclusions for special events or exhibits. Each garden has its own distinct admissions policies and hours of operation which is also why it’s best to check ahead of time to get the most up-to-date information.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • Tohono Chul (Tucson, Arizona)
  • United States Botanical Garden (Washington, D.C.)
  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Sarasota, Florida)
  • Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Clermont, Kentucky)
  • Frekerik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
  • Hoyt Arboretum (Portland, Oregon)
  • Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, Texas)
Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC)

The Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) is an association of museums focused on the Southeastern United States including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program (SERM) is a way for museums to offer their members an opportunity to visit participating museums in the Southeastern region. Reciprocity is for general admission only. A participating museum membership card with “Southeastern Reciprocal” or acronym, “SERM” must be shown to receive admission.

Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current participants include:

  • The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida)
  • Andrew Lowe House (Savannah, Georgia)
  • Tubman Museum (Macon, Georgia)
  • Kentucky Artisan Center (Berea, Kentucky)
  • Cheekwood Estate & Gardens (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Burritt on the Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama)
  • Beauregard-Keys House (New Orleans, Louisiana
Kentucky Artisan Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP)

The Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP) is similar to NARM, mentioned above but with fewer participants.

Participating institutions include:

  • Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas)
  • Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
  • The Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut)
  • The Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach, Florida)
  • National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)
  • Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM)

The Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM) program includes art and history museums, gardens, and various other types of museums. Reciprocal membership with ROAM provides free admission to participating ROAM locations as well as other benefits determined by each location individually. ROAM was created in February 2013 and currently has 447 participating museums.

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

Participating institutions include:

  • Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (Scottsdale, Arizona)
  • Charles Schultz Museum (Santa Rosa, California)
  • Rosemount Museum (Pueblo, Colorado)
  • Oldest House Museum and Garden (Key West, Florida)
  • Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
  • Henry Ford Estate (Dearborn, Michigan)
  • Georgia O’Keefe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
  • McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
  • Museum of Glass (Tacoma, Washington)
  • Buffalo Bill Center of the West (Cody, Wyoming)
  • Tom Thompson Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario)
  • Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta)

Museum memberships

Various museum memberships will get you reciprocity at locations in one or more of the above organizations. Once you know the type of reciprocal membership you’d like, look for museum memberships that offer those specific programs and provide the best price. There are lots of options.

Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to know about museum memberships

Reciprocity percentage

In addition to the benefits offered and the price, there are a few things of note as you’re picking out your museum memberships for reciprocity benefits. For AZA benefits, you want your membership to be from a place that offers 100 percent/50 percent reciprocity. You will then receive 100 percent discounted admission to other zoos and aquariums listed at 100 percent/50 percent in the reciprocity program list and 50 percent off of those listed as 50 percent. If your home museum is listed only as 50 percent you will only receive a 50 percent discount regardless.

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location

Also, consider the location of the place you are buying a membership from. This is not only for the ability to visit that location but because it affects which other locations you can get into for free or a discount. They may check your ID and your membership and may refuse admission if you are trying to use it somewhere that is either within 90 miles (as the crow flies) from your home address or your membership institution.

Number of people covered

Check the type of membership you desire based on the number of adults and children you want covered. The options can include single, dual, or family memberships up to a certain number of children/grandchildren for example, or family plus for additional guests among other potential options.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep up to date

Before you go, double-check the most current participant lists for the membership and museum you are hoping to get reciprocal admission to. These are updated and published periodically and there can be changes. Consider calling to double-check as well as not all locations participate in these reciprocal admission programs.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to bring

Bring your driver’s license or another form of ID to confirm you are the membership holder and if they ask to confirm your address. Bring your membership card as well. You can use an app in which to load your virtual membership card. Use the eMembership Card app to download your membership cards and reduce one more plastic/paper card you have to carry. Features of the app are that you can quickly look up your membership card to show, see your benefits, how many people are covered, and when the membership expires. Additionally, you can find nearby institutions you may want to visit and read some information about them.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just a few visits will make up for the cost of the museum memberships outlined above. You’ll have access to all sorts of fun for yourself and your family. So if you’re looking for fun things to do, ways to save some money, and great learning opportunities for your kids, consider these memberships. And whether you choose one of the memberships listed above or are looking into another, make sure to see what reciprocal benefits are included and make sure you use them.

Worth Pondering…

A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.

—Maira Kalman

23 of the Best Places to Visit in Kentucky

Cool, hidden, and unusual things to do in the Bluegrass State

I know what you’re thinking: Kentucky is all about bourbon and horses, right? There’s no denying that many memorable days do start with these storied activities but there are so many more reasons to visit Kentucky.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Kentucky. It isn’t all horse racing, bourbon distilleries, and bluegrass music—although it’s got all three in abundance. Kentucky’s incredibly diverse array of geological features and ecosystems means it offers opportunities for all your favorite outdoor activities, too.

Here are the best places to visit in Kentucky.

Horse farm near Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington

Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” Situated deep in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country, Lexington has several main attractions including the Kentucky Horse Park, The Red Mile, and Keeneland race courses. Outside of the equestrian scene, the city is known for Rupp Arena, Transylvania University, and the University of Kentucky.

Lexington has imposed a unique urban growth boundary to protect the miles of pastures where horses are kept. This means that large swaths of green fields can be found throughout Lexington. In the heart of the city, visitors will find plenty of intriguing places to explore, including the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Kentucky Theatre, the Mary-Todd Lincoln House, and Martin Castle.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 are able to 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.

Keeneland is located at 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington.

More on Kentucky: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Frankfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frankfort

If Kentucky can be described as the state of horses and bourbon its capital Frankfort is at the heart of it all. Located on the banks of the Kentucky River, it is a quintessential river community with small-town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality. Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings as well as the new and old governor mansions which are open to the public. Get a sense of 200 years of city history at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History and learn about the way of life in old Kentucky at the Liberty Hall Historic Site.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is a 167,000-square-foot modern research facility and a museum. It also serves as the headquarters of the Kentucky Historical Society. The center has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions and an extensive research library. The main permanent exhibit is called “A Kentucky Journey” and it provides insight into Kentucky and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to today. The Martin F. Schmidt Research Library is a history and genealogy research library.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Center offers resources such as manuscripts, books, oral histories, and graphic collections about the places and people that made Kentucky what it is today. The library is popular among family historians who are trying to trace their genealogy. The center also has the Keeneland Changing Exhibits Gallery which hosts various temporary exhibitions and a collection of Lincoln memorabilia.

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is located at 100 W Broadway Street, Frankfort.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Capitol Building

Completed in 1910 in the Beaux-Arts style the beautiful, stately building of today’s Kentucky Capitol is the fourth building to be the home of the Kentucky government since 1792. Its predecessor still stands in downtown Frankfort. The building, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews has an elegant façade covered with Vermont granite and Indiana limestone.

The interior is decorated with brilliant white Georgia marble, dark green Italian marble, and gray Tennessee marble. The Capitol’s State Reception Room is used as a place for ceremonies and has hand-painted walls with murals and scagliola created to look like Gobelin tapestries. There is a huge amount of art displayed throughout the building. One of the most popular pieces is the Lincoln statue in the rotunda. There is also an interesting collection of dolls that belonged to various First Ladies.

The Kentucky Capitol Building is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Floral Clock

On the grounds of the state capitol in Frankfort 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.

The Floral Clock is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace Distillery

A national historic landmark and home of the world’s most award-winning bourbon, Buffalo Trace Distillery is a true Kentucky Landmark. The state’s native spirit has been distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace for over 150 years. The distillery offers five different tours from behind the scenes of the whiskey making process to a tour of the barrels used to store and age the product.

More on Kentucky: Discovering the Joys of Kentucky Bourbon

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All tours are free and include a sample of Buffalo Trace’s award-winning bourbon at the end. The distillery is open every day except for major holidays. Groups of over 25 people are required to reserve the tour in advance.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is located at 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum

Two former schoolteachers, Ruth Booe and Rebecca Gooch, started Rebecca Ruth Candies in 1919. Their business has survived fires, family tragedies, two world wars, and the Great Depression and it is now a Kentucky institution.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth’s is home of 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.

Rebecca Ruth is located at 116 East Second Street, Frankfort.

Grandmas RV Camping, Elizabethtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elizabethtown

Home to 30,000 people, Elizabethtown is the 10th largest city in the state of Kentucky. The town was once home to the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s daughter Sarah was born in 1807.

Elizabethtown was also the site of a dramatic Civil War battle in 1862. Modern Elizabethtown boasts a variety of cultural and natural attractions. There is a cluster of museums and event centers in the downtown area and for outdoor adventures, visitors can check out the Bourbon Trail and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Another popular attraction in town is Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible. Hang out on the tree tops in the Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum is located 20 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jim Beam American Stillhouse

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 one of its most influential brands.

Jim Beam is located 22 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

More on Kentucky: Historic Frankfort: Kentucky Distilled

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown was described by Rand McNally and USA Today as the Most Beautiful Small Town in America and it is hard to argue with that description. The county seat of Nelson County, Bardstown is famous around the world for its bourbon while its eclectic shops are well worth exploring too.

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.

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

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.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

For whiskey lovers, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a bucket-list trip, full of opportunities to visit distilleries and learn about bourbon—plus, of course, plenty of sampling along the way. Kentucky is the spiritual home of bourbon, an American whiskey made with at least 51 percent corn and aged in charred new American oak barrels. Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries are sprawled across the state with most of them between Louisville and Lexington.

Barton 1799 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail exists under the auspices of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and it includes 18 distilleries as well as 23 smaller distilleries designated as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. This official trial doesn’t include every bourbon producer in the state. But it’s still a pretty comprehensive overview and provides a useful way to organize a visit—including a website with plenty of maps and links. 

With 11 unique distilleries within 16 miles of Bardstown’s court square, the Bourbon Capital of the World is a logical starting point for the journey.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

My Old Kentucky Home State Park consists of many elements including a 39-site campground, an amphitheater, an 18-hole golf course (the Kenny Rapier Golf Course), and wedding and conference space. But what it is most famed for is Federal Hill more lovingly known as My Old Kentucky Home. Visitors can explore the historic mansion that was once owned by US Senator John Rowan.

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

It was an important site in US politics but was most famously known for its association with Stephen Foster’s ballad which the home inspired. Visitors can explore the mostly-brick structure and its amazing architecture which includes hand-carved windowsills and mantels, a stable, and a garden house. Guides dressed in period costumes who are full of fun facts lead the tours to take visitors back to another time.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park is located at 501 East Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

Visit the campus-like setting of the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto on the banks of Hardin’s Creek. Established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, Maker’s Mark is the oldest working distillery on its original site—and a National Historic Landmark. The historic charm is not the only reason to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery; the beautifully manicured grounds are a functioning arboretum; hosting more than 275 species of trees and shrubs and making for an ideal picnic spot.

More on Kentucky: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours allow guests to experience the entire bourbon-making process first-hand from the processing of the grains to the rotating of the barrels to the purposely inefficient process of hand-dipping every bottle in signature red wax (visitors even get the chance to dip their very own!). Maker’s Mark promises a truly unique, intimate experience that sheds light on the specialness and tradition of making Kentucky bourbon.

Maker’ss Mark is located 20 miles south of Bardstown in Loretto.

Historic Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown

The picturesque town of Georgetown is often noted for providing “pure small town charm” within Scott County’s country setting of rolling hills. This charming area offers a diverse assortment of things to do for both visitors and locals alike, both indoors and outdoors. From taking in history and art to getting up close and personal with Thoroughbred horses to sampling some of the best bourbon around, Georgetown and the surrounding Scott County is home to a variety of interesting things to do in the Kentucky horse country.

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

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm

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.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is located at 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown.

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

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn

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.

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

Yuko-En features gorgeous Bluegrass landscaping that is presented in the style of a Japanese stroll garden. Stroll along the garden’s many pathways to explore Japanese-style bridges, a serene pond, and several other elements that make the Yuko-En a unique and enjoyable recreational destination.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is located at 700 Cincinnati Pike, Georgetown.

Versailles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Versailles

Located just off the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway, the charming town of Versailles in Kentucky is the beating heart of Woodford County. Surrounded by magnificent rolling farmlands and world-renowned bluegrass horse farms, Versailles offers a range of attractions and activities from the impressive Stonewall Farm to the Woodford Reserve which produces one of Kentucky’s finest bourbon whiskeys. Versailles’ beautiful landscapes also offer excellent hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum

The Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is a traveling museum dedicated to the history of the Bluegrass Railroad and the rail transport industry in the region. Based in Woodford County Park, the mobile museum was founded in 1976 by members of the Bluegrass Railroad Club and offers visitors a unique experience that delves into the history of the railroad on an 11-mile round trip excursion. The train journey travels through the beautiful horse farms of Kentucky to Young’s High Bridge in the town of Tyrone where passengers can disembark and soak up spectacular views of the Kentucky River valley area.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is located at 175 Beasley Road, Versailles.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and tastings at the facility which is eight miles from Versailles.

Woodford Reserve Distillery is located at 7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway

Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea

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 glassblowing studios.

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea offers a public art experience on multiple levels. You can enjoy the sculptures, architecture, galleries, and shops, or you can enter the studios of working artists and watch art being created.

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Here’s Where to See Fall Foliage for the Ultimate Leaf Peeping Road Trip

This view and a pumpkin spice latte are all I need

One of the most magical things about the fall season is watching the leaves turn into gorgeous golden hues of red, orange, and yellow. It’s as if the whole landscape is welcoming you into the coziest time of year calling you to sip on a warm pumpkin spice latte as you breathe in the crisp autumn air.

Taking a road trip down the scenic route to a charming town is the best way to experience the lush foliage from mid-September through November and there are so many leaf-peeping places to see before the leaves fall to the ground for good. Keep scrolling to uncover gem destinations and the best places to see fall foliage in 2022.

Toad tripping in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you love scaling a mountain hike to catch an epic view of the landscape, driving down a scenic highway, or simply chilling on a quiet bench under the bright leaves, it’s important to plan your fall foliage tour with perfect timing for catching all the colors. These special leaf peeping spots in the U.S. start turning orange at different times in the season depending on their location like elevation and latitude. It’s ideal to anticipate an October road trip through the leaves where you can stop at an apple orchard or pumpkin patch along the way as Halloween creeps up.

Fall is here, so throw on your flannel, dust off your hiking boots, and start planning your outdoor excursions before the frigid cold blows in for winter.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Nestled at the base of Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, Stowe is one of the most picturesque villages in New England. It’s also one of the best places to view the annual fall spectacle with colors changing from mid-September through the end of October.

Related article: Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

Vermont is 76 percent forested with the largest concentration of sugar maples in the U.S. so there are typically vibrant displays of red, orange, and yellow leaves across the state. One of the prettiest drives to see the foliage is along Smugglers’ Notch pass through the Green Mountains in Smugglers’ Notch State Park.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re planning for several days of leaf-peeping activities, reserve a room at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. Then, go horseback riding, rent a canoe or hop on the Gondola SkyRide to the summit of Mount Mansfield for unparalleled views of the surrounding scenery. Back in town, check out local breweries including The Alchemist and von Trapp Brewing Bierhall.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

With towering forest giants, exciting hiking trails, and scenic water bodies, Bernheim Forest is a great place for nature lovers. During fall, the forest transforms into a magical wonderland making the natural attractions even more interesting and appealing. With leaves turning yellow and orange and running on the forest floor, hiking is a pleasant and scenic experience. The Canopy tree walk is one of the best places to witness the scenery of this forest as it places one at the height of up to 75 feet above the forest floor.

Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Fall is one of the most picturesque times to visit what’s known as “The Scenic City.” Chattanooga is situated along the Tennessee River between the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau providing plenty of options to view the splendor of colorful forests. Peak season usually in early November features trees showcasing brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows.

Nearby hiking trails offer some of the best close-up views such as Rainbow Lake Trail on nearby Signal Mountain. For panoramic vistas overlooking the Tennessee Valley ride the incline railway to the top of Lookout Mountain. You can even book a sightseeing riverboat cruise along the Tennessee River on The Southern Belle.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holmes County, Ohio

Set in Ohio’s Amish Country, Homes County erupts with golden and amber hues cast off of oaks, maples, and buckeyes come autumn. Take in the changing landscape at Mohican Valley where you can hike, bike, camp, and boat, or check out the Holmes County Park District. Another way to take in the brilliant colors: Cruise along the area’s scenic backroads. Breaks from leaf-peeping can include filling up seasonal pastries, pies, and other goods.

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

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

Set in New Hampshire’s the White Mountains, Bretton Woods is one of the top destinations in the state to view fall foliage. Leaf season typically peaks in late September to early October. This is when the most vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds will paint the landscape across the mountains.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To enjoy the spectacle for several days, make reservations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. This historic property sits at the base of the highest peaks in the Northeast where you’ll have a front-row seat to see the show. During your stay dash through the treetops on a zipline canopy tour, enjoy a scenic horse-drawn carriage ride, or take a thrilling trip on the Mount Washington Cog Mountain Railway. You can also take in the sights from high in the sky on a gondola ride and have lunch at the top of the mountain. Back on the ground, book a signature spa treatment and relax with expansive views of the Presidential Range, Crawford Notch, and Mount Washington from the therapy rooms.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

A trip to Southern California doesn’t necessarily have to be all about palm trees and the beach. Inland areas of the state also have an autumnal charm of their very own especially in the mountain town of Julian.

Julian is famous for its delicious fresh-baked apple pies as well as orchards where you can pick your apples. Anywhere you step in this town, you are surrounded by the beautiful hues of fall even if you decide to just enjoy them from the window of a cute log cabin cafe.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Most commonly known for the famed Civil War battle, Gettysburg has a rich history best experienced in the fall. Wait until October for cooler temperatures and spectacular views of leaves bursting with a carnival of color.

Related article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Fall Camping

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania Apple country, The National Apple Harvest Festival celebrates the fall season with beautiful handmade crafts, delicious food, and jam-packed entertainment. The Festival has something for everyone with special attractions ranging from steam engine displays, live music, antique cars, orchard tours, pony rides, tastings, and craftsman demonstrations. The Apple Harvest Festival is during the first two weekends in October (October 1-2; 8-9, 2002)

Pennsylvania Apple Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooler temps, cozy blankets, sweet s’mores, campfires, and more! Fall is one of the best times to enjoy camping with family and friends. Plan your fall adventure now!

Worth Pondering…

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.

―Lauren DeStefano, Wither

The Best Stops for a Spring 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.

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Morse Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

Several hikes and activities await the visitor to Catalina State Park. One of the prettiest hikes is the Romero Canyon Trail, which climbs up to the Romero Pools with trees, rocks, and water. Visitors can also picnic, spot birds and wildlife, ride trail bikes, or take a trail ride on horseback.

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park is located off Highway 77/Oracle Road. Best times to visit are fall through spring; summer can be very hot. A per-vehicle day-use fee is collected at the entrance station. RV camping with 50/30-amp electric service and water are available at the site. Showers and a dump station are available.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina

America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a great deal of history can be found at Middleton Place, a former plantation near Charleston. The estate was the primary base of the Middleton family, who owned 19 plantations in the area (staffed by as many as 1,000 slaves). One member of the family was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is in ruins but a guest house still stands furnished to give a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the plantation’s heyday.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The plantation is open year-round but during warmer weather you’ll have more opportunities to observe demonstrations of blacksmithing, pottery, and other period trades. The camellias begin blooming in February.

St. Martin de Tours Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

St Martin de Tours Church, St. Martinville, Louisiana

Cajuns refer to this as the ‘Mother Church of the Acadians’ as it was here in St. Martinville that the largest immigration of Acadians took place in 1785. The church is the focus of St Martin Square where you’ll find a number of monuments and statues. St Martinville’s wider historic district is home to 32 buildings dating from 1820-1931 and the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.

Evangeline Oak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Behind the church sits the statue of Evangeline, the fictional Acadian heroine immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem set in the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Bernheim Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim Arboretum boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. 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. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Hereford, Arizona

15 species of hummingbirds, the elegant trogon and the lesser long-nosed bat are just a few of the species found in this ecological crossroads operated by the Nature Conservancy. Enjoy spotting dozens of bird species or sit in shaded seating areas along Ramsey Creek and watch hummingbirds feed. Hike up the Hamburg Trail along the creek past old cabins to an overlook where it joins a network of trails in the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness Area.

Open Thursday through Monday. Hours change by season. Admission charged. Parking is limited. Bookstore and gift shop, restrooms in the visitor center.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona

Get off the Interstate and drive a portion of historic Route 66 in Holbrook. Spend the night in a wigwam right on Route 66 with vintage cars parked all around! With only 15 wigwams, making a reservation is a good idea. This is a good base for a day trip to Petrified Forest National Park and Historic Route 66.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, Kentucky

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.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada

A modern wonder, Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s. The facts and figures are staggering: the dam is 726.4 feet high, 1244 feet wide, 660 feet thick at the base, and was constructed with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. The water held behind the dam in Lake Mead, North America’s largest man-made reservoir, meets the needs of more than 20 million people and generates huge amounts hydroelectric power. And yet nothing quite prepares you for the immensity of this awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Tours are available.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Town Too Tough To Die, Tombstone, Arizona

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Erected outside McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch in 2008, the world’s largest pistachio nut is a truly impressive piece of engineering. Standing 30 feet tall and so substantial that it required a concrete base 9 feet deep, this giant steel-and-concrete nut is now firmly established as one of New Mexico’s most distinctive roadside attractions.

Free samples at McGinn’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t just stop for the photos, as well as an amazing selection of pistachio products, McGinn’s also sells great ice cream and a wide range of New Mexico wines and foods. Tours are available.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory, which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Moki Dugway, Mexican Hat, Utah

A winding, scenic drive along the edge of Cedar Mesa offers panoramic views. Valley of the Gods is below. Monument Valley is off in the distance. A drive to nearby Muley Point near the top overlooks the Goosenecks of the San Juan River. Built originally for trucks hauling uranium ore, this is a popular route, though not for the faint-hearted! The road is unpaved but graded. The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep (10% grade), narrow, and winding road. It’s also spelled as Mokee Dugway.

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

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

2021 Vision: On Travel Restrictions, Freedom to Travel, and Staying Healthy

We’ve been through a lot this past year. 2020 has tested our resolve and proven to be a difficult time for many in the face of the COVID pandemic.

It goes without saying that 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us expected. And as we bid farewell to this year, it’s a good time to look back on what we’ve learned, while we also look forward with anticipation to the New Year and all it may bring.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing we’ve been reminded of this year is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. This rang even more true in 2020 as we focused on health and well-being. Medical professionals advised us to socially distance from one another and told us that when we did spend time with others, it was preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle, so much so that some news outlets dubbed it The Year of the RV.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the first coronavirus vaccinations making their way across the United States and Canada as this is written, we look to 2021 with hope. Our 2020 Vision has left us with a new appreciation for the freedom to travel, to explore our continent, and to spend time in the company of friends and family. Cheers to more of that in 2021! And cheers to always expanding our RV knowledge and learning new things.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What can you do to help navigate through what might be another crazy year? My answer is simple…Get outside and start 2021 off on the right foot, right from the trail! Try something new or get back into a familiar, possibly forgotten pastime. Take a breath of fresh air while hiking in our beautiful outdoor places and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Focus on what you can control in 2021. Get outside, stay healthy, and stay connected. Pack your hiking boots and get off the beaten path. Take a look at the following options to help you start 2021 off strong, outdoors, and on a positively healthy note!

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. Choose from 120 RV and tent campsites with electric and water utilities. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking sites are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park is a South Dakota State Park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills. The Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or rock climbing, find your adventure along the roads and trails! Custer State Park’s early pioneers, ranchers, and loggers have left behind miles of hiking trails and backcountry roads to explore.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Side-by-side, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have 800,000 acres and 800 miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are famous for the massive trees that grow in their forests. The Sequoiadendron giganteum that grows in this portion of the Sierra Nevadas is famed for its girth with the world’s largest tree by volume found here. General Sherman is the tree in question, and grows in Sequoia National Park. Nearby Giant Forest hosts several more of the world’s largest trees. Moro Rock provides a stunning vantage of the surrounding foothills and granite formations; pair it with Crescent Meadow, which John Muir called the “Gem of the Sierra,” at the head of the High Sierra Trail.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. RV and tent campers can select from 51 sites at Devils Garden Campground. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Sites range in length from 20 to 40 feet. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly the Great Swamp Sanctuary) is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles of Georgia

The natural splendor of the Golden Isles (St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the port city of Brunswick) extends past its golden-sand shores to tidal marshlands, live oak forests, and delicate estuaries. These impressive landscapes create a springboard for adventure. Hike or walk along the trails to experience the region’s natural beauty. Historical ruins, exquisite wildlife, and unique vegetation give outdoor enthusiasts an exciting variety of routes. From nature preserves to stretches of beach and miles of trail systems, find routes appropriate for all ages and skill levels as well as routes perfect for families and pets. If you’re looking for a diverse network of trails and a day full of fun, head to Blythe Island Regional Park, a 1,100-acre public park. Comprised of more than 30 nature and urban trails, the Jekyll Island Trail System is the best way to explore the island.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court