Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your next adventure

Across the country, you’ll find plenty of adventure as well as relaxing beaches, lesser-known islands, and tucked away villages where you can avoid the tourist crowds and enjoy the small town life. Whether you’re looking for an exhilarating adventure or simply some quiet time, these 10 small towns are definitely must-see under the radar small towns in America to seek out.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys, Georgia

Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, and dining venues. The bulk of recreational activities are centered around the city’s namesake: the St. Marys River. 126 miles in length, this waterway stretches from the depths of Okefenokee Swamp into the Atlantic Ocean. Take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and only 9 miles from the Parkway, Bedford is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Central Virginia. The town is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months. Incorporated in 1770, it stakes its claim based on an early mansion built by Governor John Wentworth on what eventually became Lake Wentworth, just east of Winnipesaukee.

Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helena, Montana

One and a half centuries ago, Helena became the “Queen City of the Rockies” with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. Helena grew along Last Chance Gulch and in 1875 became the Montana territorial capital. Today the state capital’s grand architecture, numerous museums, and historic sites offer a real glimpse into the rich and deep history of the city. There are 75 miles of nearby trails waiting to be explored or biked – and those are just the ones that start downtown.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

In Berea you can celebrate Kentucky crafts by visiting dozens of artist’s studios, galleries, and stores. The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea is a growing, unique, and creative community—a place where it can indeed be said that the—Arts are Alive!

Billy’s Boudin, Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scott, Louisiana

The city of Scott’s motto is “Where the West Begins and Hospitality Never Ends” and that’s pretty fair. Its close proximity to Interstate 10 makes its quaint downtown district accessible to visitors for local shopping, art galleries, and boudin―lots and lots of boudins. The title “Boudin Capital of the World” was awarded to Scott by the state of Louisiana about five years ago. You can find the rice and meat-filled sausage staple at iconic joints like Billy’s Boudin and Cracklin, Don’s Specialty Meats, Best Stop Grocery, and NuNu’s Cajun Market.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Home to a mere 2,196 people, the town of Mesilla in Southern New Mexico is a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Moke Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mokelumne Hill, California

Mokelumne Hill which sits on the edge of the beautiful Mokelumne River Canyon is commonly referred to as “Moke Hill” by locals. Well-preserved historical architecture, narrow streets, and its small size, all contribute to the town’s charm. Mokelumne Hill was one of the richest gold mining towns in California. Today, the charming Hotel Léger is the center of the community. Ancestors of current locals are reputed to have played cards in the saloon with the infamous outlaws, Black Bart and Joaquin Murieta. The present hotel is actually three separate buildings, one of which served as the Calaveras County Courthouse from 1855 to 1866 and housed the county jail in the basement.

Swimming with the manatees © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Crystal River is centered round its pristine waterway, Kings Bay and is the self-proclaimed “Home of the Manatee”. The small town of approximately 3,200 residents welcomes hundreds of manatees each winter to its many warm springs including the famous Three Sisters Springs. Together with neighboring Homosassa, Crystal River is the site of the largest gathering of manatees in North America. Located along Florida’s “Nature Coast,” the waters of Crystal River have the only legal “swim-with” Manatee program in the Country meaning visitors can passively observe the mammals in their natural habitat. The springs flow at a constant 72 degrees, making the water attractive to all sorts of swimmers.  

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

The Real Florida Comes Alive at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This state park offers many opportunities to observe the Real Florida and its wildlife

Meet a manatee face-to-face without ever getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish as they swim by—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.

Manatee as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fish Bowl underwater observatory floats in the main spring and allows visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface and watch the manatees and an astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish swim about. A television screen with a viewing control is located on the sundeck allowing visitors in wheelchairs to appreciate a view out the underwater windows.

Manatee as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also features a variety of captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingoes, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity. The native wildlife that reside in the park serve as ambassadors for their species providing visitors face-to-face connections between the diverse Florida habitats and the animals that call those habitats home. Each with a unique life story, all of the animal inhabitants are here for the same reason: they are unable to survive in the wild on their own. Daily programs educate visitors about the various species and what can be done to protect Florida’s valuable natural resources.

Fish as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Included in your admission, weather permitting, is a boat tour that transports visitors along Pepper Creek from the visitor center to the main entrance of the wildlife park. Rangers give an introduction to the park. Native wildlife is identified along the way. The pontoon boats are accessible with a ramp for wheelchairs. There is an elevator from the visitor center level to the boat dock for wheelchairs and strollers.

Manatee Program at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 1.10-mile trail winds throughout the wildlife park including paved trails and elevated boardwalk systems. Benches and rain shelters are conveniently located along the trail. Bleachers are available at the Manatee Program area and at the Wildlife Encounters pavilion. The park offers many opportunities to observe and photograph the Real Florida and its wildlife.

Flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatee programs are offered daily at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. From April 1 through November 15, the programs are presented alongside the main spring in the bleachers overlooking the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. From November 15 through March 31, the programs are presented alongside the in-ground manatee pool at the Manatee Care Center.

Alligator at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pets are not allowed at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park because of the captive wildlife. The park provides kennels at the main entrance of the park on U.S. 19 for those visitors traveling with pets. The kennels are self-service and free. Service animals are welcome where the public is normally allowed.

Roseate spoonbills at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park includes the Wildlife Walk and paved trails for wildlife viewing. The Wildlife Walk consists of elevated boardwalks that are accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. The boardwalk allows an elevated view into the natural habitats and provides rain shelters along the way.

Flamingo at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an excellent site for birding. The Pepper Creek Birding Trail runs from the Visitor Center parking area along the tram road and loops through the parking areas at Fish Bowl Drive and returns via a boat ride along Pepper Creek. An information kiosk is located at the trailhead behind the parking area of the Visitor Center on U.S. 19.

Fish as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring. The tracks ran alongside what is now Fishbowl Drive. While passengers enjoyed a view of Homosassa Spring and its myriad of fresh and saltwater fish, the train’s crew was busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar, and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.

Roseate spoonbills at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres was purchased in the 1940s and was turned into a commercial attraction. At one point, a company called Ivan Tors Animal Actors housed some of its trained animals here in between their appearances in movies and TV shows (remember “Flipper” and “Sea Hunt”?). Lu the hippo was brought here through that company many years ago.

Wood duck at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located in Homosassa on the west side of U.S. 19/98. Admission is $13 for age 13 and older and $5 for children 6 to 12. Children 5 and under admitted free. The park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Worth Pondering…

A string of counties studded with emerald-like gulf waters, deep springs and rivers….If you’re looking for a place of stunning natural beauty, undisturbed…habitats and silence, you’ve come to the right place.

—John Muir on his visit to the Nature Coast in 1867

10 Amazing Places to RV in January

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

January is a great time to travel and if you’re looking for someplace warm with ample sun there are some great destinations to consider especially for the RVing snowbird escaping the ravages of a Northern winter.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and as we head into winter, it’s now impacting snowbird travel. Canadian snowbirds won’t be flocking south this winter to escape the cold and snowy weather. With their wings clipped by border closures, Canadian snowbirds are trading in the golf clubs for snow shovels, preparing for the long Canadian winter ahead.

Naturally, RVers—and, in particular, Canadian snowbirds­—are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Also check out our recommendations from January 2019 and January 2020.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife World Zoo Aquarium and Safari Park, Litchfield Park, Arizona

Wildlife World Zoo has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows. Wildlife World Zoo is a 215-acre facility which specializes in African and South American animals. The Log Flume Ride surrounds three primate islands and takes riders past aquatic animals and through the Aquarium’s south pacific reef tunnel tank—the longest acrylic tunnel in Arizona—before splashing down three stories. With more than 75 indoor exhibits, the aquarium hosts sea life from sharks to stingrays to piranha and sea lions. Slow down and enjoy the view from high atop the Idearc Media Skyride. This round trip through the tree tops is approximately 15 minutes and will give you an unparalleled view of the park.

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

Stargazing at Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Pack your binoculars and head down south for blackwater and dark skies. This remote park is not only the primary entrance to one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders, the Okefenokee Swamp, but is also a certified “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association. With minimal light pollution, guests to Stephen C. Foster can experience some incredible stargazing. During the day, cruise through the black waters and cypress trees while watching alligators and wildlife cruise by. At night, when the day winds down, enjoy the serene sounds of nature and take in the light show above.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few landscapes warp the mind quite like Joshua Tree National Park, a lumpy, Seussian dreamscape that beguiles the imagination. There are a couple of ways to best explore the park, and both take place on foot: hiking to points of interest and rock climbing. A climbing mecca, there are 8,000 climbing routes in Joshua Tree.  While the best hikes in Joshua Tree show off the best of the rock outcroppings especially at Arch Rock Nature Trail and Hidden Valley Nature Trail, the most interesting flora can be found while on the road. The Cholla Cactus Garden showcases one of the parks most peculiar and comical plant inhabitants and the Ocotillo Patch in the Pinto Basin ignites after rain when the 30-foot-tall ocotillo cactus blooms.

Manatee at Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

After months spent roaming the coast, the cooling temperatures of early autumn begin to drive manatees back to the rivers of Florida, packing the state with huge populations of these iconic mammals. Manatee viewing season peaks in the dead of winter, but those who get an early start can spot some of the year’s early movers without the hassle of huge crowds, providing an intimate viewing experience that’s tough to recreate once the season really kicks in. Your best bet for spotting manatees is Crystal River, an area rife with natural springs that create a safe haven for the gentle beasts with year-round populations calling the waterways home.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, Arizona

Yuma is officially the sunniest place on earth so it must have been particularly torturous for those locked in the tiny, airless cells of Yuma Territorial Prison. The first prisoners, incarcerated in July 1876, were even made to build their own cells—during a searing Sonoran Desert summer. Though it was held up as a model example of a prison for its time, punishments were harsh by modern standards. Those who broke prison rules were kept in a dark, solitary cell while those who attempted to escape were attached to a ball and chain. The last prisoners were moved to new facilities in Florence in 1909 and now the buildings including adobe structures are part of Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park comprising a museum that gives a fascinating insight into 19th-century prison life. Visitors can peer into the iron-barred cells, some of which held six prisoners at a time and the stifling solitary chamber and view photographs of former inmates.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Gulf Coast 

Stretching some 350 miles from Beaumont and the Louisiana border all the way to South Padre Island and the Rio Grande Valley, this region is renowned for its wildlife and natural beauty as well as the home of America’s space program. You’re never far from the sand on this trip—from the Galveston Seawall through the bird-watching trails of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and South Padre Island beach life. There’s good food and good fun all the way down the curve of the Texas coast. Other highlights include Goose Island State Park, the beach towns of Rockport-Fulton and Port Aransas, and the waterfront city of Corpus Christi

Corkscrew Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naples, Florida

Naples is a city located along the southwestern Florida coast on the Gulf of Mexico. The city is known best for its high-end shops and world-class golfing. Naples Pier has become an icon of the city and is a popular spot for fishing and dolphin watching. On both sides of the pier you’ll find beautiful beaches with white sand and calm waves. At nearby Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary outdoor enthusiasts will find a gentle, pristine wilderness that dates back more than 500 years.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles, Georgia

Although Georgia’s beaches are some of the biggest attractions for visitors to the Golden Isles, there are numerous other activities and events to enjoy during your stay in St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, or Brunswick. The temperate climate and beautiful scenic backdrop provide ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Quaint shopping boutiques, first-class dining experiences, unique attractions, and historical tours of the islands and mainland provide one-of-a-kind experiences that will make your trip unforgettable.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce