It’s hard not to be drawn to those majestic blue peaks running down the western spine of the Old Dominion. Part of the Appalachian Range—and one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, dating back more than 1 billion years of existence—the Blue Ridge Mountains are home to America’s Favorite Drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and a stretch of one of the most visited footpaths in the world, the Appalachian Trail.
The spring shows off the first blooms of dogwood and redbud but the high season around these parts is fall when visitors swarm to see the glorious, flame-colored foliage. Here, there’s a setting for every speed whether you’re cruising along the scenic Skyline Drive at 35 mph or doing some extreme hiking on the Appalachian Trail.
Following are some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Shenandoah National Park
Located at the northern end of the Blue Ridge, Shenandoah rocks a whopping 500-plus miles of hiking trails. Bears, wild turkeys, and deer are out in large numbers in the spring and summer; in the fall it’s all about chipmunks. Hikers can cross the Appalachian Trail off their bucket list (about 105 miles of the iconic trail runs through Shenandoah), tackle sweeping summits, and go chasing waterfalls.
If you plan to camp out or book lodging in the park reserve your spot a good year in advance—particularly if you’ve got your eye on October, the busiest time of year. For a great place to stay near Shenandoah post up in a camping site at Big Meadows where you can spend your evenings stargazing.
Shenandoah surges in the fall months when tons of people come out to do the Skyline Drive. The 105-mile highway runs through the park along the crest of the mountains and has 70 overlooks along the way that are perfect for selfies or a panoramic portrait of the hazy blue peaks and fiery orange treetops. The drive has a 35 mph speed limit and is absolutely packed with cars so come prepared with snacks and a high-octane leaf-peeping playlist.
Blue Ridge Parkway
One slow-paced, less-crowded alternative to Skyline Drive is the Blue Ridge Parkway boldly nicknamed America’s Favorite Drive. The full 469-mile parkway stretches from Rockfish Gap at the southern end of Shenandoah, trails through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and ends in Cherokee, North Carolina. More than 200 miles of this gorgeous road run through the Blue Ridge Mountains at a meandering 45 mph.
Highlights along the Virginia stretch include the George Washingtonand Jefferson National Forests plus a number of overlooks with incredible mountain scenery. Pick a scenic spot for a picnic like Mabry Mill (the Parkway’s biggest attraction, located at Milepost 176), or catch some authentic Appalachian mountain music in Southwest Virginia. If you need speed you can still access the various attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway at a number of access points off the major north-south Interstate 81.
About six miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Nelson County, Crabtree Falls is the highest vertical drop in Virginia and one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. Crabtree has five major cascades spilling down more than 1,200 feet. The first overlook is near the parking area and easily accessible and experienced hikers can tackle the trail to the upper falls and an additional four overlooks.
The Mill Mountain Star
Should you ever find yourself driving on Interstate 81 near Roanoke, Virginia, one of the finer roadside attractions in the state is the Mill Mountain Star (also known as the Roanoke Star). The world’s largest free-standing illuminated star made its debut as a Christmas decoration in 1949 and quickly became the iconic symbol of this railroad town. Fun fact: It was dedicated by Roanoke native John Payne, who played Fred Gailey in the original Miracle on 34th Street.
Giant stars aside, this area also happens to be a bucket-list destination for cyclists; it’s been designated “a silver-level ride center” by the International Mountain Biking Association. The extensive greenway system is great for casual riders and families while the challenging terrain at Carvins Cove attracts mountain bike aficionados from across the country. Whether you bike, hike, or drive up the view of the Roanoke Valley from the top of Mill Mountain is worth it.
Virginia’s Triple Crown on the Appalachian Trail
Hikers can catch three of the most stunning vertical ascents on the Appalachian Trail in one 32-mile loop known as the Triple Crown (you can also do any of these hikes as a standalone from their trailheads). You’ll need some serious bouldering skills—and some climbing gear—to make it up the rock walls to Dragon’s Tooth, a 35-foot quartzite rock spire. Next, a moderately difficult hike will take you to McAfee Knob, a huge rock ledge offering incredible panoramic views of the mountains (a great spot to watch the sunrise, too). The final gem on the last stretch of the loop is Tinker Cliffs which is made of limestone that’s more than 250 million years old.
The highest peak in Virginia at 5,729 feet, Mount Rogers has one of only six living high-altitude spruce-fir forests—the only one of its kind in the state. The downside is that the thick forest and rhododendron thickets make it tough to get a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings. But ambitious hikers approaching the summit from the Massie Gap Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park may be rewarded with a different spectacular sight—wild ponies.
The Blue Ridge Music Center
If you got really into the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, you’ll want to check out this region where music icons like Ralph Stanley, The Carter Family, and The Statler Brothers were discovered. Southwest Virginia is known for its Appalachian musical heritage, from old-time string bands and bluegrass to gospel and blues. The Blue Ridge Music Center—one of the major venues on Virginia’s Crooked Road Music Trail—is located at the bottom of the state off the Blue Ridge Parkway (MP 213). You can usually watch a concert whenever the center is open or tour the museum to learn about the history of music in the mountains. Come in August and you can catch the annual fiddler’s convention in the nearby town of Galax.
Asheville, North Carolina
Want to keep the Blue Ridge Mountains party going but miss the comforts of city life? Continue just a few hours southwest to Asheville where you’ll find a high concentration of hipsters and a local culture to match. Hit the non-profit Center for Craft to check out boutiques and small-batch vendors, hang out at Fleetwood’s for rock bands and comedy nights, or find your niche and try your hand at one of The Chop Shop Butchery’s classes. You can always head out of town for a day trip deeper into the mountains to natural havens like Pisgah National Forest. Afterward, you’ll still have plenty of time left to get down to some classic bluegrass hits back in town.
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you Away, you rollin’ river O Shenandoah, I long to hear you Away I’m bound to go
No matter where you are, an unforgettable road trip is never far away
Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. For these 20 road trips, that is definitely true.
America is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, it is home to mountains, prairies, canyons, deserts, lakes, beaches, forests, and just about any natural landscape you can imagine. If you like road trips, a lot of these incredible landscapes are accessible by road with tons of sights to see and other adventures waiting around each bend. If you’re not a fan of road trips, well, this list might change your mind.
Every corner of the United States has some incredible sights to see and whether you’re looking for history, nature, interesting small towns, or anything in between, there’s a scenic drive for you. Take advantage of the warm weather and check out these summertime drives; the adventures won’t disappoint.
Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northwest
Washington: Spirit Lake Memorial Highway
The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is the only scenic byway in the U.S. that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone. This scenic and historic route is a 52-mile journey into the scene of epic destruction that Mount St. Helens caused when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Along the route are four distinct interpretive and tour centers: Silver Lake, Hoffstadt Bluffs, the Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, and Johnston Ridge. Each one tells a different part of the story from the natural history before the May 1980 eruption, the aftermath, reforestation efforts, and the natural recovery of plants and animals.
Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northeast
Vermont: Green Mountain Byway
The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Little River, Smugglers Notch, Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests are along the route. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.
Rhode Island: Ocean Drive
This loop around the island’s coast is full of seaside views, charm, and historic homes to excite the imagination. Along Harrison and Ocean Avenues, a plethora of 1865-1914 mansions from the Gilded Age come into view that were once summer homes and getaways for the financially and socially elite but now many of the Newport Mansions are open to public tours. For outdoor fun, stop at Brenton Point State Park to enjoy the water or a nice picnic spread.
Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Amish Country Drive
A visit to Amish country is a worthwhile addition to your summer drive plans. When all else fails and you’re looking for the idyllic peacefulness of a pure country drive, circle around the city of Lancaster and see some of the gloriously beautiful landscapes. Unplug and experience communities of people who aren’t affected by the hustle and bustle of modern life, instead keeping their treasured traditions alive and strong to this day.
Best Scenic Road Trips in the Midwest
Indiana: Heritage Trail Driving Tour
The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.
South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway
Embracing South Dakota’s pastoral landscapes, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway winds its way from Rapid City terminating at Mount Rushmore. This 70-mile route graces travelers with landmarks like the intriguing Needles Eye and the monumental Rushmore Presidents. En route, small towns like Keystone and Custer dot the journey lending aid if a leg stretch is overdue. Amidst this, Sylvan Lake, a man-made marvel provides a serene break. Its creation is attributed to Peter Norbeck and his predecessors. Norbeck was the byway’s namesake as well as South Dakota’s former governor in the early 20th century. Lastly, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first week in August (August 4-13, 2023) showcases the byway’s lively side, drawing motor enthusiasts nationwide.
Ohio: Amish Country Byway
On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of eyeglasses shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadways are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance. Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.
Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southwest
California: Gold Rush Highway
Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or 49ers who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike its rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Arizona: Apache Trail
This historic road covers some of the most rugged terrains in Arizona. The land surrounding the road rises steeply to the north to form the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and to the south to form the Superstition Wilderness Area. Steep-sided canyons, rock outcroppings, and magnificent geologic formations are all along the road. Water played a major role in creating the beauty of the area, and it also provides numerous recreation opportunities. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring section. The road hangs on the side of this high-walled canyon and winds its way along tremendous precipices that sink sheer for hundreds of feet below.
Utah: Scenic Byway 12
An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.
California: Palms to Pines Highway
The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way. Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climbs into Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.
Arizona: Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road
The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was designated by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1984. This route follows US 89A through the scenic canyon made popular in the 1920s when it was discovered by Hollywood. This scenic road offers a rare opportunity to study a variety of elements within a short distance. The road traverses seven major plant communities as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation, and precipitation. It begins near the town of Sedona and runs in a northerly direction through Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim, traveling areas rich with geologic formations similar to the Grand Canyon
New Mexico: Scenic Highway 28
Roughly paralleling the Rio Grande River, New Mexico Highway 28 travels from Mesilla to Canutillo (at the New Mexico-Texas state line). Along the drive, the Stahmann Farms pecan trees have grown over the roadway making for a sight straight out of a fairytale. Highway 28 is also home to Chopes Bar & Café, known for its tasty New Mexican food. Rio Grande Winery Vineyard & Winery and La Viña Winery are also hot spots along the roadway and very much a testament to New Mexico’s thriving, the centuries-old wine industry.
Utah: La Sal Mountain Loop
From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab. It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.
Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southeast
Virginia: Colonial Parkway
The Colonial Parkway, a scenic roadway that spans 23 miles serves as a time machine transporting visitors to the colonial era of Virginia. Connecting three significant historic sites, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, this picturesque drive offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Colonial Parkway winds along the Virginia Peninsula linking three pivotal sites in American history. This well-preserved roadway takes travelers on a journey through time, immersing them in the story of America’s colonial beginnings. With its carefully designed architecture, stunning views of the James River, and access to iconic landmarks, the Colonial Parkway provides a unique opportunity to explore Virginia’s colonial heritage and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s roots.
Kentucky: Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway
Here’s a must-do for every American history buff. Explore the land of Honest Abe’s youth as well as several significant Civil War sites. Learn what Lincoln’s log cabin life was really like at the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, Kentucky; then visit Lincoln’s birthplace and the original Lincoln Memorial at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. If you’re so inclined, you can pair these educational adventures with a stop or two at one of the many breweries and distilleries the area is famous for such as Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse.
Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail
One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).
Tennessee: Newfound Gap Road
When you get on Newfound Gap, you won’t believe the wealth of overlooks, picnic areas, and trails to explore. Take this spectacular road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to experience the pristine wilderness that drives millions of Americans to this wildly popular park year after year. The views get more and more breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple gallons of driving.
North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway
A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.
Virginia: Skyline Drive
This stunning drive runs a length of 105 miles north and south through Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite its lower latitude, in the winter driving conditions can be rather sketchy, with its altitude bringing in more snow, ice, and cold.
In the summer this ice gives way to views of green rising high out of the Shenandoah Valley. While driving through the elevated winding road, you’ll feel tucked away in the green forest at the top of the ridge and then be rewarded with expansive views of the valley far below at the many scenic viewpoints along the road. In the fall and winter, though, you’ll see even less crowds and even better colors.
Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway
For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.
Road trip planning
Road trips take a little planning. Here are a few tips that will help make your scenic road trip a success:
These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel
What is the most beautiful place in America? To compile most beautiful 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 beautiful 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 definitely 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.
1. Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most photographed sites in the world but there’s no way pictures can do it justice as impressive as they may be. Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term breathtaking. The vast geologic wonderland, one mile deep and up to 18 miles across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.
Historic Antebellum Mansions, Civil War sites, year round festivals, pristine beaches, barrier islands, and mouthwatering Lowcountry cuisine are just a few of the reasons why Charleston is one of America’s favorite destinations. Experience this diverse southern city which blends French, English, West African, and traditional Southern American cultures into the music, art, food, and lifestyle.
Renowned for the radiant red sandstone formations surrounding it, Sedona is set in a serene spot. The towering red cliffs are almost other-worldly in a way and they are definitely worthy of a photo or two. Make sure to check out some of the area’s most popular sightseeing spots while you’re there such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Coffee Pot Rock.Located in the center of Arizona, the small city has long been considered a sacred and spiritual place. Many New Age shops, alternative healing and wellness centers can be found around town.
Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.
The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.
Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.
6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 mph, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue. Driving down this highway will allow you to take in the stunning Appalachian Mountains including multiple valleys and peaks such as the Peaks of Otter and Roanoke Mountain.
Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home) and azure glacier-fed lakes such as Moraine Lake set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
8. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S. and as such it has a very colorful history including a historic main plaza that will make you feel as if you’re in an entirely different country. The City Different is renowned for its abundance of unique attractions, a wide array of art galleries, extraordinary museums, and magnificent architecture. Not surprisingly, for decades Santa Fe has also been a haven for artists including Georgia O’Keefe. By staying in the downtown area’s historic La Fonda you can walk to the Plaza to discover handmade jewelry and browse beautiful works of art.
Monument Valley is a minimalist attraction located along the border of Utah and Arizona. In spite of its simplicity, this red-sand desert may just be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. A 17-mile Valley Drive leads into the area, and you can spot multiple sandstone buttes that make for amazing pictures. This valley will make you feel like you are part of an Old Western movie, set in the Wild, Wild West. John Ford’s Point is a great way to look over the scenery allowing you to feast your eyes on the Mittens buttes.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
There are plenty of reasons to visit the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is packed with hiking routes ripe with emerald greenery, waterfalls and bodies of water, and pretty wildflowers ready for photos. Plus, there are many great stops along the way such as Clingmans Dome which contains an observation tower resting on top of the area’s highest peak for breathtaking views. There’s also Cades Cove which is a quiet little valley that feels like a calm, quiet place lost in historical times.
The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos. Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.
12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de shay) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.
Savannah is an old city that is home to multiple fascinating sites. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and flanked by old buildings like museums and churches that are simply stuffed with history. Downtown, you’ll find one of the biggest National Historic Landmark districts in the U.S. which also connect to the riverfront and the coast. Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and fitted with a stupendous fountain, romantic benches, and plenty of iconic oaks covered in moss for an even more calming aesthetic.
One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.
Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!
Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.
Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.
Badlands National Park may sound foreboding but in reality it’s one of the most beautiful places in the US. It is famous for holding an extremely rich and diverse fossil bed that is definitely one of the best that earth has to offer. On top of that, Badlands National Park is packed with incredible rock formations that look stunning at all times of the day with their differently shaded stripes. There are also grasslands if you’re more for wildlife where you can spot all the prairie dogs herding sheep for a calm, serene experience.
Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.
The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.
You can’t come to the Southwest and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town. With attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and provide the opportunity soak in the town’s history.
An incredibly unique location, White Sands National Park consists of a reaching, widespread expanse of white gypsum crystal sand dunes backdropped by a picturesque blue sky. Though the sight of white sand as far as the eye can see isn’t the most exciting trip for some this tranquil environment is so individual and one-of-a-kind that it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Bask in the calm peace, feel the soft, warm sand beneath your toes, and marvel at the vastness of this monument.
Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard to miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.
The Arches National Park looks like a scene out of a movie. Erosion from millions and millions of years has led to the creation of more than 2,000 arches each fashioned naturally from sandstone. It is worth noting that environmental change has caused 43 of these arches to fall to time which means officials warn against getting too close. Still, the sight of these bright, orange structures is well worth the extra caution and you’ll want to plan your trip soon to catch as many of them as possible in full glory.
Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.
Big Bend National Park on Rio Grande is an absolute wonder of untamed wildlife, spanning over much of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the Chisos mountains. You can go on a road trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, relax in the Langford Hot Springs, view the Sam Nail Ranch’s broken-down husk, and enjoy sights of limestone formations across the Rio Grande. There’s so much to do that you may just need to come back again!
In the early 1800s, 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. Rampant overhunting decimated their ranks and by 1889 fewer than 1,000 remained. Today, their numbers have climbed to 500,000; Custer State Park manages a healthy herd. Roading the Black Hills you’ll see the iconic buffalo and other legendary sights including the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, sprawling parks and the town made famous for having no law: Deadwood.
In the Chihuahuan Desert lie more than 100 limestone caves and one of them is none other than the Carlsbad Cavern. Spikes hang from the ceiling in droves and clusters and its winding rocky walls are perfect for spelunkers and adventurers. The way you choose to go is up to you. You can go in through the beautiful, conventional entrance or you can begin 750 feet underground. Either way, you’re in for some enticing exploration,
The number-one national park alone counted almost 13 million visitors last year
The 424 sites administered by the National Park Service (NPS) continued to rebound from the pandemic last year and a perennial favorite once again landed in the top spot for a most visited site for 2022.
Almost 312 million recreation visits were logged by the NPS in 2022 which is closing in on the pre-pandemic 2019 numbers of roughly 327.5 million visits.
The NPS also labored in 2022 to avoid the long lines and temporary closings at many of the marquee parks that marred the 2021 experience for many.
“We’re excited to see our efforts to increase visitation to parks in the off-season and in parks that are less well-known paying off,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in an online statement last week.
“Many parks with record visitation in 2022 are on what we would call the road less traveled.”
With 63 national parks across its states and territories, the US has plenty of options when it comes to outdoor activities and exploration. Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature or discover some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, national parks have got your back.
Some of them, though, are usually much busier than others and if you’re looking to be away from everything and everyone for a spell, you might want to stay away from the most frequented ones. Last week, the National Park Service (NPS) released its latest annual visitation data which will help us (and you) decide where to plan your next hike, whether you’re looking for a communal vibe or a more secluded and isolated experience.
With almost 13 million visits last year, the Great Smoky Mountains remain undefeated when it comes to the most visitors of any national park. The park drew in slightly fewer visitors compared to its 2021 numbers, though, when it had 14.1 million recorded visits.
The Grand Canyon came in second thanks to its iconic red landscape though it came quite a bit short of the Great Smoky Mountains’ popularity. In 2022, it racked up nearly 5 million visitors which is nearly 8 million short of the leading park.
Third on the list was Zion National Park. Located in Utah, it’s a great park to visit both in the winter and summer seasons and it offers a variety of trails to hike with gorgeous views and great terrain. According to the NPS, Zion welcomed 4,692,417 visitors in 2022.
Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2022
Just two sites—one a long, scenic parkway in the East and the other a recreational area in a populous West Coast metro—–accounted for around 10 percent of all visits to all sites. The top 10 for 2022:
As we mentioned earlier, though, you might be looking for less crowded parks to enjoy your own company and that of nature. These are the 10 least-visited national parks according to the numbers:
1. National Park of American Samoa: 1,887 visits
2. Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve: 9,457 visits
3. Kobuk Valley National Park: 16,925 visits
4. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve: 18,187 visits
5. Isle Royale National Park: 25,454 visits
6. North Cascades National Park: 30,154 visits
7. Katmai National Park & Preserve: 33,908 visits
8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve: 65,236 visits
9. Dry Tortugas National Park: 78,488 visits
10. Great Basin National Park: 142,115 visits
A few more tidbits
The NPS report is full of interesting insights into who goes where and why. A few highlights:
331 better chances at some solitude
Despite the NPS’ success at spreading out the throngs to less-visited places, a small number of sites continue to dominate. In fact, the top eight sites in the entire system accounted for a whopping 26 percent of all NPS recreational visits in 2022.
Meanwhile, 331 NPS sites accounted for just 25 percent of all visits.
That’s something to consider when you’re pondering where to go, especially if you’re not fond of crowds, full parking lots and signing up for reservations.
Types of parks people visit
It turns out Americans (and visitors to the US) are a pretty well-rounded bunch.
Some 38 percent of people go to recreational parks. Another 32 percent go to cultural and historical parks. And finally, 30 percent of folks go to nature parks, according to the NPS.
Astounding stats from the NPS
A total of 75 sites hosted 1 million or more recreational visits in 2022. The last place to nab a million or more was Badlands National Park in South Dakota with 1,006,809 visits.
NPS sites have enduring appeal. More than 15.7 billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) have visited since 1904.
Campers unite! More than 13 million overnight visitations were logged in 2022.
The granddaddy of national parks and arguably the most famous, Yellowstone ranks only 25th in most visits of all NPS sites. It’s edged out by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial which was dedicated in 1997 in Washington, DC. Yellowstone is No. 7 among the 63 headliner national parks for 2022.
However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.
This year, many people are choosing to avoid flying and hit the road for the holidays instead
What do Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and over 15 million Americans have in common? They are all planning to spend the holidays in their RV. With the projected number of RVers on the road during winter breaks, it’s clear the trend is on the rise.
According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), 29 percent of Millennials and 20 percent of Gen Z will spend some time from Thanksgiving through New Year in the comfort of an RV. If you’re one of the 15 million Americans planning to avoid travel chaos during this time of year by hitting the open road in a motorhome, travel of fifth wheel trailer, van, camper, or converted bus you’re making a great choice.
The holiday season sees airports notoriously packed with stressed-out travelers. Meanwhile, RV parks and campgrounds remain relatively quiet. So, why not leave behind the airlines and travel in style in an RV? There are many reasons to ditch traditional holiday travel and enjoy a road trip.
Flexible travel plans
Traveling in an RV provides more leeway for planning a trip. Drivers don’t have to be committed to being in specific places at specific times like you do when flying.
Spend time with family and friends
For people working around the holidays taking a few days off for a local road trip is less stressful than planning an elaborate vacation far away from home. It may not be what your family has always done but it might be a fun opportunity to start a new tradition and make special memories.
“Spending time with friends and family is an integral part of the holidays and we know that whether RVing together for a holiday vacation or traveling in your RV for a holiday visit, spending time with friends and family is a primary reason people are going RVing this holiday season,” said RVIA Executive Vice President James Ashurst.
Bring what you want
Are you worried about leaving the dog at home? Bring Fido along. Have food allergies? Make food in the RV. Spending Christmas break in a recreational vehicle gives people space to enjoy their environment and have creature comforts while surrounded by the magic of this special time of year.
Camping at a state park, national park, or RV park is less expensive than a traditional trip where you’d pay for airfare, hotels, and rental cars. On average, an RV vacation costs 50 percent less than a trip requiring airfare and hotel rooms.
According to a study commissioned by Go RVing and RVIA, there are cost savings of 21-64 percent for a four-person travel party while a two-person travel party saves 8-53 percent depending on factors such as the type of RV and type of vacation.
Enjoy the great outdoors
Who says the holidays are just for staying indoors and being all cozy? Whether you’re hitting the slopes or taking a hike in nature, getting some exercise while enjoying the company of friends and family is a great way to spend your free time.
Support the economy
RV travel and the outdoor recreation industry have exploded contributing $862 billion to the U.S. economy along with 4.5 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA).
“These two studies demonstrate that the RV industry and its customers are vital contributors to America’s economy and all indications are that they will continue to be so,” said RVIA Executive Vice President James Ashurst. “Growth in the industry is being increasingly driven by younger and more diverse RV buyers whose purchases are largely motivated by the desire to experience the great outdoors.”
When surrounded by nature, it’s hard not to relax and appreciate the simple things in life. It is easy to see why millions of people are choosing to road trip during this magical time of year.
Make new traditions
All in all, the pros of RV travel and road-tripping far outweigh the cons. In today’s hurried world, more and more people realize that taking the time to slow down and enjoy the ride is priceless. So, this holiday season, ditch the frantic airport lines and opt for a leisurely road trip— skiing, hiking, or visiting friends and family instead.
Best winter road trips for the holidays
If you are in the mood for a road trip to end the year, continue reading for some of the best spots to travel to for your holiday road trip.
While desert landscapes may not provide a winter wonderland experience, Phoenix knows how to do the holidays right with its famous Tumbleweed Tree tradition, a lighting ceremony, and Christmas parade. Before or after enjoying it, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon where there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a dusting of snow with the South Rim sitting at about 6,800 feet in elevation bringing lots of picture-perfect photo-ops without the crowds. And, during the holidays you can ride the Polar Express Train from Williams to the South Rim.
This is one of those drives where the journey is as interesting as your destination. Driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park is 435 miles, a leisurely two-to-three day adventure with time for stops along the way.
You can have two totally different road trips from Austin to Big Bend National Park. If you move west on I-10, you can directly drive from Austin to Big Bend without many stops in between whereas the alternative route which cuts through Highway 90 is a lot more interesting thanks to the number of stops you have in between. If you take the second route, you could choose to stop at Del Rio for food and fuel and make a pit stop at Langtry to visit the Judge Roy Bean Museum.
Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Camp near Asheville and take a road trip north or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to soak up spectacular mountain scenery that can be even more beautiful during the winter. It’s all about the journey so go slow and stop frequently. Before or after heading out you’ll be able to enjoy Asheville’s sparkling holiday light displays and decor and a visit to the Châteauesque-style mansion known as Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest privately-owned home. It’s worth touring any time of year but at Christmas the evening candlelight tour features over 50 Christmas trees.
Winter transforms beautiful St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest city, into a stunning spectacle of lights. Its magnificent Spanish architecture is lit up with over three million individual bulbs and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides to view them all. Afterward, take off for Savannah to enjoy the Boats on Parade with more than 40 lighted vessels parading both sides of the waterfront accompanied by live music, a tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks. Or enjoy an old-fashioned celebration with Christmas on the River with local entertainment, music, and seasonal treats.
Burlington, Vermont to Jackson, New Hampshire
The drive from Burlington, Vermont to Jackson, New Hampshire is gorgeous, traveling through the White Mountains with its red covered bridges surrounded by a dazzling winter wonderland. Stop in Bretton Woods to take advantage of Mount Washington Resort’s downhill runs, sleigh rides, ice skating, or tubing before continuing to one of the country’s most picturesque Christmas towns, Jackson. Here you can enjoy all sorts of snow sports and the Annual Journey to the North Pole train ride, complete with Santa and his elves.
Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.
Discover America’s All-American roads on your next road trip adventure
There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?
In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of the America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of the America’s Byways collection, a road must have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.
Without further ado, here are seven of the most scenic All-American Roads for your next road trip adventure.
Creole Nature Trail All-American Road
Designation: All-American Road (1996/2002)
Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural, Natural
Length: 180 miles
Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture, and more can be experienced as you travel along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Download the free personal tour app (search “creole” in your app store.) Once on the trail, open the app and make sure your location is enabled. It’s like having a personal tour guide in the vehicle with you!
Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, this route is often called a “museum without walls.” The byway winds through the evergreen covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.
Explore the story-filled regions that connect New York’s historic water of Lake Champlain and Lake George with the Champlain Canal and Hudson River to the south and the Chambly Canal to the Richelieu and St. Lawrence Rivers of Quebec to the north.
Scenic Byway 12
Designation: All-American Road (2002)
Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic
Length: 123 miles
Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it far and away the best.
From the northern boundary of St. Johns County, the Byway bisects the seaside luxury and golf mecca known as Ponte Vedra Beach, and weaves through America’s oldest city, St. Augustine; finally ending at the terminus of Flagler County at a seaside park named for a true folk hero, the Gamble Rogers Memorial Park on Flagler Beach, the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway connects State Parks, National Monuments, stunning beaches, nature trails, boating, fishing, preserves, estuaries and all of America’s diverse people.
Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway
Designation: All-American Road (2002)
Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic
Length: 123 miles
Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The route skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing. This topmost rise of the geological “Grand Staircase” showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.
Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)
The first motorway in the country designed purely for recreational purposes, the parkway weaves through six different mountain ranges and four massive national forests first following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and then snaking through the Black Mountains, the Great Craggy Mountains, the Pisgahs, and the Balsam Mountains before arriving at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains.
Stringing together some of the wildest spaces in the East, the 469-mile motorway also showcases some of the most spectacular fall colors in the country as the richly biodiverse forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains blush with autumn color.
How to catch peak fall color
In terms of flora and fauna, the southern Appalachian Mountains are incredibly rich. More than 100 different species of trees can be found in the forested peaks flanking the parkway meaning the fall colors are guaranteed to be spectacular. The seasonal transition typically begins in October but several factors can delay or extend the autumn display. And with elevations topping out above 6,000 feet along the Blue Ridge Parkway seasonal color varies by location with the transition beginning at higher elevations and spreading downslope.
For road-trippers, the parkway has eight developed campgrounds offering both tent sites and RV sites with fire rings and picnic tables. For campers, amenities include potable water and bathroom facilities at the Julian Price Campground and the Mount Pisgah Campground also offers hot showers. All eight of the parkway’s campgrounds are open seasonally from early May through the end of October. For backpackers, there are also three hike-in backcountry campgrounds scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway—Rock Castle Gorge, Basin Cove, and Johns River Road.
There are also two year-round lodges situated along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In Virginia, the Peaks of Otter Lodge is situated along the parkway in southwest Virginia (MP 86). Named for the trio of peaks overlooking the town of Bedford all of the lodge’s rooms have views of Abbott Lake and Sharp Top (and dog-friendly rooms are available, too). The lakeside lodge also offers an attached restaurant and bar along with a gift shop stocked with trail snacks, guidebooks, and locally sourced artisanal products.
In North Carolina, the Pisgah Inn (MP 408) is open from the beginning of April through the end of October. Perched on the flanks of Mount Pisgah at an elevation of 5,000 feet the alpine inn presides over the massive Pisgah National Forest. To help guests savor the sweeping vista each room features attached porches complete with lounge-worthy rocking chairs. The inn also offers a formal dining room (open to the public for lunch) and a café with easy-to-grab meals and snacks.
For late fall and winter travelers, the parkway also provides access to a handful of state parks with year-round accommodation options. In Virginia, just west of Buena Vista, Douthat State Park has cabins for rent and a campground open year-round along with more than 40 miles of hiking trails. Further south in North Carolina, the campground at Stone Mountain State Park is open year-round and offers sites for both tents and RVs. And for hardy backpackers, North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain State Park has 13 hike-in backcountry campsites.
For hikers, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 360 miles of trails offering everything from leisurely nature walks to lengthy rambles through parcels of roadless wilderness. And for leaf-peepers, there are several superb foliage hikes. In Virginia, the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail traces the path of the parkway for just over 100 miles beginning at Rockfish Gap (MP 0). In North Carolina, the state’s 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail also crisscrosses the parkway between the Folk Art Center (MP 382) and Mount Pisgah (MP 408).
At the northern end of the parkway in Virginia, Humpback Rocks (MP 5.8) is among the scenic highlights. Perched at 3,080 feet, the craggy outcrop presides over the northern section of the parkway providing expansive views encompassing the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys to the west and the pastoral Virginia Piedmont to the east—although the mile climb to the craggy pinnacle includes 700 feet of elevation gain.
Further south, the three-mile out-and-back hike to the 3,875-foot summit of Sharp Top (MP 85.9) serves up 360-degree views of the Peaks of Otter portion of the parkway with the Shenandoah Valley to the east and the Allegheny Mountains silhouetted against the horizon to the west.
In North Carolina, Mount Pisgah is supremely positioned for fall foliage views. After the 1.3-mile climb to Mount Pisgah’s 5,721-foot summit, hikers are rewarded with an eyeful of the Black Mountains to the north and the rugged Shining Rock Wilderness to the west.
Closer to the parkway’s southern terminus at the eastern edge of the Great Balsam Range, the grassy summit of Black Balsam Knob also treats trekkers to a jaw-dropping panorama. The 6,214-foot peak is a prototypical southern Appalachian bald meaning Black Balsam Knob’s treeless summit dishes up 360-degree views extending to the Great Smoky Mountains.
Fall is also an ideal time to spot wildlife along the parkway. Along the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina resident, elk are particularly active. Once prevalent throughout the Appalachian Mountains elk disappeared from the southeastern United States in the mid-1800s after populations dwindled due to overhunting and loss of habitat.
Elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between 2001 and 2002 and now the brawny ungulates roam the southernmost section of the parkway in Western North Carolina typically gathering in the Cataloochee Valley. And during the fall, the region’s resident elk begin their mating season also called the rut with males bugling, sparring, and strutting ostentatiously to attract females.
Black bears are also active along the parkway during the fall. While the bruins do hunker down for portions of the winter in the Southeast they don’t entirely hibernate and if seasonal temperatures are mild the black bears will remain active year-round. However, fall is a strategic time to spot the opportunistic eaters gorging on calorie-dense nuts and berries along the parkway in preparation for the leaner days of winter.
Autumn is also a spectacular time for birders along the Blue Ridge Parkway. From early September through the end of November the lofty ridgelines of the southern Appalachian Mountains become a superhighway for birds migrating south to warmer climes for the winter especially birds of prey including a diversity of hawks, eagles, kestrels, and falcons.
There are a number of hawk-watching spots scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway designated by the Hawk Migration Association of America including Rockfish Gap (milepost 0) and Harvey’s Knob (MP 95.3) in Virginia and Grandfather Mountain (MP 305) in North Carolina.
I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.
Plan a weekend escape or an extended getaway to see autumn’s peak foliage
There might be a lot of people out there who are not ready for summer to end but it’s not all bad news. It’s time for sweater weather, hot apple cider, and best of all, seeing the leaves change from the lush greens of summer to the bright golds, oranges, and reds of autumn so we’ve rounded up the best places to see fall foliage around the country.
Over the next few months, each state will experience its unique view of fall. While many people associate watching the leaves change with weekend getaways to the Northeast, there are plenty of places to see the stunning seasonal views throughout the country. Classic leafy views in New Hampshire and Vermont are always a great go-to but you can also find amazing leaf-changing action in states like Virginia and Georgia.
Oak, ash, maple, and hickory trees transform before your very eyes all over the United States. And every landscape looks like a perfect postcard.
Nature lovers can revel in some wonderful scenery and even better activities throughout the fall in national parks and state parks. As the weather gets colder, leaf peepers can enjoy places like the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, and the White Mountains even more.
The crisp fall winds are already starting to blow, so it’s no wonder people are itching to get in their cars for some scenic driving. Luckily, peak leaf-peeping season is coming sooner than you might think.
Perhaps it’s time to start packing the binoculars, strapping on the hiking boots, and firing up the Instagram feeds for some autumn adventures.
White Mountains of New Hampshire
The White Mountains of New Hampshire are probably the Granite State’s most famous spot for viewing fall foliage—for good reason. The scenic drive along the Kancamagus Highway is among the country’s most gorgeous areas for admiring blankets of bright orange, golden yellow, and fiery red leaves in autumn.
Whitehall, New York
With stunning views from land and water, you will definitely need your camera when you visit Whitehall. Located just outside of the Adirondacks, Whitehall sits on the southern end of Lake Champlain. Its strategic location on the New York-Vermont border allowed the town to become the “birthplace of the US Navy”. Take a trip up to The Skene Manor, affectionately known as “Whitehall’s Castle on the Mountain.” This symbol of turn-of-the-century wealth overlooks the harbor and offers additional views of the region that can be missed at lower elevations.
The name, Wetumpka, is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceed across the Bridge to the largely residential west side and discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
This winding road covers almost 470 miles to connect the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. While you drive, you’ll pass split-rail fences, old farmsteads, mountain meadows, and scenic overlooks. Stop along the way at the numerous hiking trails in either a national park or visit a local farm to grab some autumnal produce.
Saratoga, New York
Fall foliage in Saratoga County is a spectacular sight to see as the trees come alive with vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. This season is the ideal time of year to take a relaxing drive down country roads and to impressive overlooks and colorful forests.
Saratoga National Historical Park has public hiking trails and a Driving Tour Road that will take you to unique historic sites and scenic overlooks with wide-sweeping views of the fall foliage.
Located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia, Charlottesville offers spectacular scenery that’s perfect for viewing fall’s vivid hues. Mid-to-late October is when you’ll usually see the most dazzling red, orange, and yellow leaves but the colors can linger into early November depending on the weather. Some of the best viewing spots with scenic overlooks are along the neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway and the connecting Skyline Drive in nearby Shenandoah National Park.
Cades Cove, Tennessee
Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in the Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s not hard to see why. Visitors can explore hiking trails, historic sites, and an auto tour. During the fall season, Cades Cove comes alive with gorgeous colors and becomes an even more magical place to visit. But be aware that the traffic is often bumper-to-bumper, especially on weekends. Late October into November is when the gorgeous fall foliage can best be seen in Cades Cove. Be sure to bring your camera when you visit—there are plenty of picture-perfect opportunities throughout Cades Cove!
Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway, Utah
Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway climbs up Parowan Canyon’s white, gold, red, and yellow rock pillars and cliffs traveling between its two town anchors, Parowan and Panguitch. As you travel this rolling route through varying elevations, note the distinctive combination of colorful scenery and ancient history. For a relaxed afternoon, go fishing in Panguitch Lake from which the byway gets half of its name.
As you continue along your way, a section of the route brushes the top of Cedar Breaks National Monument, an amphitheater canyon eroded out of the western edge of the Markagaunt Plateau. Dixie National Forest is home to Brian Head Peak, which reaches 11,315 feet and gives the byway the other half of its namesake.
Fall colors in the Southern Willamette Valley are a special kind of show when the leaves of maples, magnolias, and oaks turn vivid shades of yellow and red, contrasting against Oregon’s signature evergreens. Use Eugene or Medford as a home base—both are home to quirky shops, restaurants, and stays. Enjoy the foliage with a climb up Spencer Butte, just a quick trip from downtown Eugene, or on a drive to explore the 20 covered bridges in Lane County. Better yet, pay a visit to one of the valley’s wineries—the vines also turn when the weather cools.
Experience Jacksonville, dubbed “One of America’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns” by Frommers.
A short drive from Medford, life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jville. Steeped in history, the entire town is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley, haunted history tours, walking tours, and more! A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be!
Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia
Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.
I love the fall season. I love all the reds, gold, and browns, the slight chill in the air, and watching the geese fly south in a V.
My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.
While it’s entirely possible that one person’s travel treasure can be another’s trash, sharing insider tips with others is one of the best parts of returning from any road trip. For me, the lure of the road is constant and my travel bucket lists are infinite. Picking favorites is almost impossible but I’ve tried curating a list of Extraordinary Places to enhance your next road trip.
What is an Extraordinary Place?
Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.
Here are just some of the places that I love the most—that is, until I hit the road again and discover new favorites. Explore my list and start planning your next road trip today.
The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.
The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.
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 at 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.
While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.
Gettysburg is the kind of place you could make a quick stop or spend a full day exploring. The battlefield has roads so it’s easy to drive from one monument or site to the next. There’s an audio tour and there is even an app you can download to help add dimension to what you’re seeing and to find the highlights at the park.
It’s especially haunting thinking about the brave and dedicated men who walked into certain death across open fields during battle. It helps to have an appreciation for military history but even families will enjoy a visit. Some recommended reading beforehand: The Red Badge of Courage for background and The Killer Angels.
Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas
The term “Painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors—painted by itinerant artists who advertised in church bulletins and newspapers. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork. The paint—mixed on site—is still vibrant and bright—even after all these years.
In the mid-1800s, thousands of German and Czech immigrants left Europe due to poverty in search of a new dream and landed in Central Texas. These communities embraced America and the promise of their new future while still preserving the traditional values, culture, food, and faith of their homelands. Each community of ~600 families came together to build their community church—purchasing the statues and donating them to the churches. They decorated the interiors with colors and symbols to remind them of their homelands.
In Arizona, several villages have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presido is a state historic park.
With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.
Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.
Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possess remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. With elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters, and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even daily temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina
Are you in the mood for a leisurely, legendary drive? If so, head for the Blue Ridge Parkway where the speed limit sits at a comfortable 45 mph, and commercial vehicles are strictly prohibited. Snaking through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, the 469-mile route connects the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks. For prime leaf-peeping, visit in autumn when foliage explodes in a brilliant display of crimson, auburn, and golden leaves.
Can’t-miss pit stop: Spend some time at Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, famous for its extensive network of hiking trails and the storied Pisgah Inn which dates back to 1919.
Mount Dora, Florida
Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries. Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, and tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere.
Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.
Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.
San Antonio Missions National Historic Park
Four of the original six Spanish colonial missions built along the San Antonio River make up the park. The missions continue to be used as places of worship by parishioners and can be toured daily by park visitors, Learning about the craftsmanship of the architecture, the extensive acequia system (irrigation canals), and the grist mill built in the 18th century takes visitors beyond the religious aspects and into the past lifestyles of the people who built and lived in these missions. The visitor center at Mission San Jose has museum exhibits and an introductory film about the establishment of the San Antonio missions.
If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in September
Live for each second without hesitation.
Elton John certainly hasn’t wasted any time in his decades-long career. He’s one of the bestselling artists of all time with more than 300 million records sold worldwide across an impressive 31 albums—including seven consecutive No. 1 albums in the U.S.
Along with his music, John is famous for his flamboyant style; he has done more for crystal-covered costumes and oversized glasses than arguably any other person alive. Today, in his mid-70s, the Rocket Man is still going strong. He plans to stop touring in 2023 but has no intentions of slowing down. As he explained to CBS News, “I want to do something different with the rest of my 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 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 for September 2021 and October 2021.
Mingus Mountain Scenic Road
Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start a mile high, finish a mile high, and climb a mountain in the middle. This central Arizona route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon, the road is visually and physically enclosed by vegetation and canyon walls. Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.
Experience the magic on the Blue Ridge Parkway
The misty blue hills beckon. The road twists and turns along the spine of a billion-year-old mountain range and in the fall months the beauty of the drive is magnified tenfold by the blaze of autumn leaves. They call the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive,” a roadway of mountain vistas, history, and recreation.
Tracing the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains chains, the 469-mile ridgetop route is known for its unspoiled setting and its easy access to wildlife and nature. There are countless scenic overlooks, campgrounds, and not a single stop sign. Busy in the fall, the parkway is famous for its splash of autumn colors. Stop for homemade blackberry cobbler at the historic Mabry Mill (milepost 176).
Eight National Park Service campgrounds are located along the parkway. None have hookups although most can accommodate larger-size RVs. Many neighboring communities have private campgrounds with full RV hookups and amenities. Especially in the fall, it’s a good idea to make campsite reservations. In addition, check driving routes before heading out to ensure a safe match for driving conditions and RV size. The website blueridgeparkway.org lists all 26 tunnels and their maximum height.
Explore Georgia’s Only Bavarian Village
Step back in time in Alpine Helen, known for its Oktoberfest celebrations and shops, restaurants, and hotels with Bavarian-inspired buildings.
Alpine Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and, of course, beer from September to November. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States.
Revelers dress in traditional attire, lederhosen, and dirndls while dancing to the polka. Find out for yourself what makes this tradition so unique by planning your trip to the event!
If you’re not visiting during Oktoberfest (51st annual; September 8-October 30, 2022), you can still enjoy seasonal tubing through operators like Helen Tubing & Waterpark and Cool River Tubing. Ride the thrilling Georgia Mountain Coaster down the mountain or see the forest at nearby state parks like Smithgall Woods and Unicoi.
There are also restaurants serving traditional German fares like Hofer’s known for pastries and sandwiches. The Troll Tavern has the best patio in town with burgers and bratwursts.
For a drink, head to the Alpine Brew Deck which has a menu of craft beer and wine as well as live music and river views. Habersham Winery is the closest winery to town and offers tastings.
Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks
Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty Five,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.
Skyline Drive, Virginia
Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails, best enjoyed during peak foliage from late September to mid-November. If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.
Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.
Fredericksburg—known for its historic German charm and stone buildings—sits in the heart of Texas wine country. The city is a year-round destination: Oktoberfest is a no-brainer in the fall but the holidays make Fredericksburg look like a gingerbread village.
Many Fredericksburg RV parks and campgrounds are within minutes of historic Main Street and major attractions while others are located in nearby municipal and state parks. Choose from Fredericksburg RV Park, The Vineyards of Fredericksburg RV Park, Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, Oakwood RV Resort, and Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.
Then, meander the wine route—with more than 50 local wineries—check out the farm stands, learn about the city’s pioneer history, and shop and dine along Main Street. After dark, nearby Lyndon B. Johnson State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park while the one-of-a-kind Luckenbach General Store, Bar & Dancehall hosts a nightly picker’s circle.
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, 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.
Home to the Miraculous Staircase
When the Loretto Chapel (Santa Fe, New Mexico) was completed in 1878 there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.
Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena (devotional prayer) to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself having come in answer to the sisters’ prayers.
The stairway’s carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway’s construction.
Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including Unsolved Mysteries and the television movie titled The Staircase.
The nearby Cathedral of St. Francis is also worth a stop as are the Spanish Mission attractions.
The Corning Museum of Glass
The glass collections at this offbeat museum in upstate New York are intriguing but it’s the striking 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing that has visitors planning a trip to the Finger Lakes for more than just wine and waterfalls. Live glass-blowing demos are available daily and current exhibitions include Fire and Vine, the history of glass and wine from the grapes of Romans to bacchanal experiences in modern culture. Fire and Vine: The Story of Glass and Wine is scheduled to open in 2022.
In addition to the museum’s ongoing Innovation Center and the Jerome and Lucille Strauss Study Gallery with objects spanning 3,500 years of glass making across the world. Stay for the make-your-own-glass projects available to everyone.
Panoramic Ocean Views & Gilded Age Mansions
The Cliff Walk along the eastern shore of Newport is famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s gilded age. Wildflowers, birds, and geology all add to this delightful walk. What makes Cliff Walk unique is that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District.
In 1975 the walk was designated as a National Recreation Trail—the 65th in the nation and first in New England. The walk runs 3.5 miles and about two-thirds of the walk is in easy walking condition. Parts of the southern half of the walk are a rough trail over the natural and rugged New England rocky shoreline. Walkers need to be especially careful and alert in these challenging areas.
We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.