Most Amazing Places to Visit in the South (2024)

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

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

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

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

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

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

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

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island, Alabama

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

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

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

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

Folly Beach, South Carolina

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

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

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

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

There are many great things to do in Savannah.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana

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

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

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

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

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

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

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

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

There are many great things to do in Greenville.

Asheville, North Carolina

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

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

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

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

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

Fairhope, Alabama

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

Jungle Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island, Louisiana

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

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

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

There are many great things to do on Avery Island.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

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

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

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

There are many great things to do in Bardstown.

Natchez, Mississippi

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

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

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Ainsley Earhardt

The Ultimate Guide to the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail

Birds of a feather flock together

Whether you’re a serious or beginner birder, you’ll get caught up in the excitement of birding on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Gulf Shores and Foley are a popular home base for those who like to get out, explore, and see a wide variety of bird species year round.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is a paradise not only for birders but for visitors with many different outdoor interests. The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different assemblages of bird species within each region.

The beauty of the Alabama Gulf Coast is no secret. Residents and visitors alike enjoy the natural elements Alabama’s beaches offer. However, humans aren’t the only ones who love to explore the Gulf Coast as you can find plenty of stunning coastal birds here. When you’re on the hunt for the perfect piece of paradise to watch these beautiful birds, consider these 15 places perfect for birders.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing and Education Pier

For those looking to watch seabirds, Gulf State Park’s Fishing and Education Pier is the place for you. Located on the Gulf of Mexico in Gulf Shores, this pier offers a prime viewing spot for gulls and terns as well as ruddy turnstone, sanderlings, and herons. For $2, guests can walk along the pier and enjoy the incredible view. You may also spot a variety of sea life as the pier is a popular fishing spot.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

There is something for everyone at Gulf State Park. The beach pavilion provides picnic tables as an escape from the beach, the nature center is a great place for the kids to learn, the swimming pool provides refreshment for guests, and the Lake Shelby day use area offers kayaking and canoeing. For a change of pace while visiting check out the fishing and education pier, miles of biking on the Backcountry trail, beautiful flowers in the butterfly garden, and additional education at the interpretive center.

>> Related article: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Gulf State Park offers a diversity of habitat for residential and migrating birds. Osprey, herons, rails, owls, woodpeckers and much more frequent the Park. Look up in the sky for a nesting bald eagles souring above. When storms occur in the Gulf of Mexico, the wind pushes a water column of the open ocean to the shoreline, look for rarities such as Magnificent Frigatebirds and Northern Gannets.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park

The Mobile Delta wetlands in Spanish Fort are where you’ll discover Meaher State Park. This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of the Mobile Delta and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors.

There are two nature trails with a lovely view of the Mobile Delta. Birders can expect to see herons, red-tailed hawks, egrets, and even bald eagles. It’s a great place to bring the kids and get them hooked on birding.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T” for your fishing pleasure. Access to the pier is included in the park admission fee. Enjoy a self-guided walk on two nature trails including a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center’s name recognizes the five rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta which include the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers (from west to east) that flow into Mobile Bay. The Center itself sits on the banks of one of the canals of this vast delta. These drainages encompass over 250,000 acres of meandering waterways, floodplain forests, and extensive wetlands. The center features an exhibit hall, theater, gift shop, Delta boat tours, canoe and kayak rentals, hiking trails, and picnic areas.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The decks of the Delta Hall and the perimeter trail around the facility provide excellent vantage points to observe birds of the surrounding marsh and waterways. In spring and summer, look for Brown Pelican, Osprey, King Rail, Marsh Wren, and several species of herons and egrets. Occasionally, Least Bittern and Purple Gallinule may be encountered along the margins of the emergent marsh. Painted Bunting may also be possible in the thickets near the buildings. Check here for migrants in spring and fall.

Battleship Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Battleship Park

Battleship Park is a military history park and museum on the western shore of Mobile Bay. Battleship Park presents the birder with a diversity of habitat to explore and a great variety of birds to observe. Pinto Pass and the mudflats of Mobile Bay filled with waterfowl in winter and shorebirds during migration, short grass lawns for dowitchers and Black-bellied Plover, salt water marsh with herons and egrets. During low tide this area is filled with herons, egrets, and occasionally ibis, especially in late summer. Black-necked Stilt may be around any time of the year and in summer, Gull-billed Tern is present.

Grebe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay Mudflats

The Mobile Bay Mudflats are a good place to look for herons, egrets, and Boat-tailed Grackles any time of year. An assortment of sandpipers and plovers are regular during spring and fall migration. During high tide in winter, American Coot and waterfowl are regular. Mudflats or mud flats, also known as tidal flats, are coastal wetlands that form when mud is deposited by tides or rivers. They are found in sheltered areas such as bays, bayous, lagoons, and estuaries. The best viewing at the Mobile Bay Mudflats is during low tide when the mudflats are exposed. 

>> Related article: The Underrated Coast

Great blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wade Ward Nature Park

Wade Ward Nature Park is a 12 acre natural area, a rarity in the midst of such a vibrant resort city (Gulf Shores). It offers the birder scenic boardwalks overlooking canals and coastal salt marsh. It features a pavilion, benches, and scenic boardwalks. The Nature Park provides ideal habitat for bitterns and rails. Even in close proximity to the downtown commercial bustle, wildlife such otters, pelicans, and the occasional alligator can be seen hunting and fishing in its shallow water and wetlands.

Wade Ward Nature Park is located just two blocks north of Gulf Place, the main public beach. It is a public pedestrian access to a pocket of natural wetlands and waterways found in between the beach condominiums and commercial buildings in Gulf Shores.

From a comfortably dry, elevated boardwalk, you may enjoy beautiful views of the wetlands that connect Little Lagoon and Lake Shelby. Wildlife such otters, pelicans, and the occasional alligator can be seen hunting and fishing in its shallow water and wetlands.

Little blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

In nearby Fairhope, the Weeks Bay Estuarine Research Reserve public research and education facility includes some 9,000 acres of protected habitats bordering Weeks Bay and Fish and Magnolia Rivers. Complete with an interpretive center, indoor displays, live animals, and forested boardwalk nature trails, the Reserve is part of a national network of coastal reserves established as living laboratories for long-term research projects. Well-known for birdwatching, Weeks Bay also participates in the Alabama Coastal BirdFest held each year during early fall (September 27-30, 2023). This event is a great way to see and learn about the area’s birds and their habitats and no previous birding experience is required.

Historic Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama Coastal BirdFest takes attendees into the Mobile Delta, to the Dauphin Island Bird Sanctuary, historic Fort Morgan, and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, among other locations. The four-day event also includes workshops on subjects such as hummingbirds, the basics of birding, monarch butterflies, and, new this year, workshops on how to use common birding apps, such as eBird and Merlin Bird ID, and understanding bird box design for specific species. 

Fairhope Municipal Pier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope Municipal Pier and Beach

Fairhope Municipal Pier is a good location for winter ducks, loons, gulls, and terns. Check the pilings in all seasons for loafing gulls, terns, and pelicans. A scan or walk along the beach can yield wading birds, peeps, and other shorebirds. Designed for both strolling and fishing, the pier features benches, covered areas, restrooms, a marina, and a restaurant. There is no cost to walk but a saltwater license is required for fishing.

>> Related article: Mobile Bay: Gateway to the Gulf

The park is home to a lovely rose garden and fountain, plus picnic tables, pavilion, duck pond, tree trail, and a large sandy beach. Non-residents are charged park admission during the summer season. In addition to the waterfront park, numerous bluff top parks extend along the bay front.

Foley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Graham Creek Nature Preserve

Home to boundless plant and wildlife species, the 500-acre Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley offers many recreational opportunities and educational programs. Pine savanna habitat features wild flowers and pitcher plants. See endangered plants up close while exploring 10 miles of trail, two handicap-accessible boardwalks, a kayak launch, and four disc golf courses. 

Graham Creek also offers other leisure activities such as an archery park made for all sizes and a playground with an outdoor classroom perfect for kids. There are many pet-friendly areas. Enjoy the interpretive center and don’t miss the chance for birdwatching. Bring your gear and hit the water from the kayak launch. The preserve also hosts events throughout the year including Feathered Friends Day and eco-educational activities.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge encompasses some of Alabama’s last remaining undisturbed coastal barrier habitat. The name Bon Secour comes from the French meaning safe harbor, very appropriate considering the sanctuary for native flora and fauna the refuge provides.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge consists of approximately 7,000 acres of coastal lands ranging from constantly changing beach dunes to rolling pine-oak woodlands. There is something for everyone at the refuge from a quiet stroll among the dunes to world-class birding opportunities and trail.

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour represents an important stopover and staging habitat for neotropical migratory songbirds during the fall and spring migration along the Alabama coastline. Migratory birds utilize this area for resting and building fat reserves critical to successful migration.

The Jeff Friend Trail is a one-mile loop to Little Lagoon. Habitats along the trail include maritime forest, freshwater marsh, and open water along the north shore of Little Lagoon. A small observation deck, accessible to those with disabilities, midway down the trail at Little Lagoon provides a great place to set up a spotting scope and scan the water.

In winter, look for Bufflehead, Common Loon, and Horned Grebe. And, in spring, Osprey, Sandwich Tern, and Northern Rough-winged Swallow are regularly seen. Expect to see Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Summer Tanager, and Northern Parula during the summer. Chuck-will’s-widow and Great Horned Owl are commonly heard at dusk and dawn.

Great horned owl © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Morgan

Fort Morgan is a Third System masonry fort built between 1819 and 1833. The fort was named after Revolutionary War Hero Daniel Morgan. Standing guard where the bay meets the Gulf of Mexico, the fort played a significant role in the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. Used intermittently through the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II, the site showcases the evolution of seacoast fortifications and adaptations. 

During spring and fall migration, dozens of migrant species flock to Fort Morgan on their journeys to escape the cold. One of Fort Morgan’s best spots to view birds is the Stables located near the eastern sea wall. Here you’ll find a variety of passerine migrants enjoying the comfortable coastal weather. During spring and fall, The Audubon Birding Society hosts a banding station event that visitors are welcome to attend. 

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lillian Swamp Forever Wild Tract

Lillian Swamp encompasses nearly 3,000 acres managed for conservation by the ADCNR State Lands Division and hosts a variety of habitats representative of the lower Coastal Plain. At any time of year, Northern Flicker, Blue Jay, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, and other resident species are common in the piney uplands and adjacent thickets.

In spring and fall, varying assemblages of migrants can be seen depending on weather conditions. Continuing north on the road, the piney uplands transition to forested swamplands and open pitcher plant bogs. These areas are good for wintering sparrows, migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, and an assortment of waders. Recent notable winter sightings include Rusty Blackbird, a species of high conservation concern. Osprey and Bald Eagle are seen regularly year around particularly along the Perdido River to the east.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayfront Park

Bayfront Park on Dauphin Island has many species of local and migratory birds that visit in the spring and fall to take advantage of its fresh water and to shelter themselves among the trees and reeds. Brown Pelicans are ever-present soaring on the wind-wave formed as bay breezes blow up against and over dense stands of pines. Gulls, terns, and Double-crested Cormorants roost on the pilings.

>> Related article: Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

From the parking area, walk the boardwalk to an inland marsh. Look closely for Least Bittern and Clapper Rail. During fall and winter, Virginia Rail and Sora are regular but secretive. Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and Boat-tailed Grackle are also common.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Audubon Bird Sanctuary

This lush sanctuary on Dauphin Island consists of approximately 164 acres of maritime forest, marshes, dunes, a lake, swamp, and beach. Multiple walking trails, some handicapped accessible, allow the avid birder miles of habitat for spotting neo-tropical migrants in the spring and fall as well as native species all year long.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island has been named one of the top four locations in North America for viewing spring migrations and the sanctuary has gained it recognition from the National Audubon Society as “globally important.”

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

10 Amazing Places to RV in January 2022

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

2022 wishes for you:

  • Good health
  • Good roads
  • Good campsites
  • Spectacular sites
  • Short lines
  • Memorable times with friends

Be grateful for every day we get to spend in an RV

Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

One of the most beloved lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is this bit of wisdom, imparted from the wizard Gandalf to the young hobbit Frodo. In the first book, 1954’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo inherits a cursed ring and realizes he must take a frightening journey to destroy it. After confiding to Gandalf that he wishes the task had fallen to someone else, the wizard reminds Frodo that no one gets to dictate what challenges they face. Rather than lamenting unavoidable hardships, time is better spent focusing on the choices within our control and making our time on Earth (or Middle-Earth) meaningful.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love this quote because it reminds us that our life is really only a collection of decisions and life is also limited only by time. Our decisions make us who we are and dictate what we experience.  We are free to choose and indeed many have successfully argued that this FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is truly the only thing we really own. 

Where will you choose to RV in January? This list features familiar names as well as a few lesser-known but equally fascinating locations to visit in January.

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

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock, Red Sand, and Warm, Blue Water

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Utah, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is a popular park because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular event seeing increased growth and interest has been the annual Winter 4×4 Jamboree hosted by the DesertRATS (Desert Roads and Trails Society). A premier off-road event that attracts close to 400 vehicles, the jamboree encourages all who enjoy the OHV lifestyle to join in taking advantage of the unique and stellar Utah landscape. The Winter 4×4 Jamboree is a non-competitive trail run event for high clearance 4×4 vehicles. Drivers can choose between over 20 trails, featuring rock climbing obstacles, petroglyph sites, and sand dunes.

Related Article: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Groups of participants are led on rated trails by experienced trail leaders and helpers. Trails are rated on a 10-point scale where a rating of 1 would be for graded roads that may be easily traveled by most cars and a rating of 10 is for purpose-built vehicles (buggies) with sophisticated suspensions and drive trains operated by expert drivers. The number of vehicles on each trail is limited to ensure participants have an enjoyable experience.

The upcoming Winter 4×4 Jamboree is scheduled for Wednesday, January 12 to Saturday, January 15, 2022.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Pie is King

Julian, California, is a historic mountain town about two hours out of Palm Springs. It came into being during the gold rush in the 1870s. And with it came the apple trees that would cement this town as a destination for pie lovers across the globe. The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many visitors come to Julian just for their love of apples and apple pie, the products for which Julian is famous.

A locally owned family business specializing in apple pies and cider donuts, Julian Pie Company has been producing its stellar pies since 1989 and bakes traditional apple pies, plus variations of apple with cherry, boysenberry, raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, or rhubarb.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Main Street, Mom’s Pie House is indeed owned by a “mom” who has lived in Julian for over 30 years and has been baking using Julian apples since 1984. A tasty, mouth-watering homemade pie, Mom’s flakey crusts, and not-too-sweet fillings are delicious.

Julian Cafe and Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unassuming spot right off the main drag, Apple Alley Bakery turns out a spectacular apple pecan pie with a crunchy crumb topping plus a killer lunch special that includes your choice of a half sandwich and a side of soup or salad and a slice of pie for dessert.

Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart and Juliantla Chocolate Boutique covers cinnamon-scented caramelized apples in a flaky crust that’s also completely vegan.

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Billy’s Boudin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling). But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Nature experiences are abundant on the Bayou Tech Scenic Byway and the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Palm Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains for a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Related Article: A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Native palms and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every Thursday with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Winter hours are 6–10 pm. Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues located along Palm Canyon Drive.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City by the Sea

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond.

USS Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to spend time outdoors, take a horseback ride along the beach, or go deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Or explore Padre Island, a 70-mile stretch of land protected by the National Park Service for its pristine beaches, calm atmosphere, and space to spread out.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. The scenic byway was designated in 1998 and is approximately 39 miles long, winding in and out of some of the most awe-inspiring country in Arizona—or for that matter, in the West. This partially unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

A visit to Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is a journey into the heart of the Everglades ecosystem. Discover the rugged beauty of this famed natural area on Corkscrew’s famous boardwalk—a 2.25-mile adventure through pine Flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and finally into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. These impressive trees, relatives of the redwood, tower 130 feet into the sky and have a girth of 25 feet. Their massive branches are draped with mosses, lichens, bromeliads, and ferns. 

A little blue heron at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located about 30 minutes east of Naples, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to hundreds of alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, and red-bellied turtles. A wide variety of wading birds, songbirds, and raptors can be seen throughout the year while the fabulous Painted Bunting is one of many winter visitors. Photo opportunities are available at every turn of the boardwalk trail.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sky Art Sculptures of Borrego Springs

Something more than desert wildflowers and the spectacular Anza-Borrego Desert State Park attracts visitors to the Borrego Valley in Southern California. People also come to see the amazing 130 full-sized metal sculptures here—many inspired by creatures that roamed these same desert millions of years ago. The artworks range from prehistoric mammals to historical characters, fanciful dinosaurs, and a 350-foot-long fanciful serpent.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through the roads that weave through the area—you’ll see sculptures of wild horses in a nearby field, sabertooth tigers in pursuit, and desert tortoises that seem as if they’re crawling through the brush. The artist, Ricardo Breceda, brought life to his sculptures by capturing each creature in motion. They are so still, yet all you see is movement.

Sky art sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The late Dennis Avery, landowner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs envisioned the idea of adding free-standing art to his property with original steel welded sculptures created by artist Ricardo Breceda.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

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.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Dose of Southern Hospitality

Have you ever heard a Savannah native speak? If you haven’t, you’re missing out. The sweet Southern drawl of the locals should tell you all you need to know about this Spanish-moss draped city. It’s easy-going. It’s classic. And it’s charming.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In many respects, Savannah feels like Charleston, South Carolina. Mouthwatering seafood awaits all across town as do all kinds of butter-loaded, piping hot Southern comforts. Along River Street, you’ll find candy shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Savannah’s best-kept secrets is all the interesting festivals that happen each year. During January, appreciate all things film and learn a little something too with the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival (January 28-29, 2022).

Related Article: A Dozen Spectacular RV Parks for Winter Camping

You’ll be lulled by the sound of waves hitting the shore on Tybee Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Stroll down the popular pier and check out the ocean view from the pavilion, explore the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, and savor freshly-caught seafood prepared with a Southern flair.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See live alligators while you eat under shade trees at the Crab Shack and learn more about underwater creatures at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Join an eco-kayak tour, nature walk, or sunset cruise to explore this classic coastal town, its marshes, and surrounding waters. River’s End Campground is a fantastic home base for exploring it all and just a few short blocks from the beach.

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

Spotlight on Alabama: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Known for its beautiful southern Appalachian Mountains, meandering blackwater rivers, and pristine white Gulf beaches, Alabama has become a popular vacation destination

This Southeastern state bordered by Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida is often overlooked as a travel destination in favor of its more crowd-pleasing neighbors but that’s what makes it so special. It has a raw and authentic edge which lacking in some states and is also home to some gorgeous scenery too. Known as “Heart of Dixie” and being synonymous with the American Civil Rights movement, Alabama packs a punch with its collection of proud historic buildings, Franco-Caribbean architecture, stunning forests, and lakes, and jaw-dropping beautiful coastlines and beaches.

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Alabama. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Mobile Bay at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile Bay

Along the northern perimeter of Mobile Bay, a network of rivers forms a wildlife-rich delta that beckons canoeists and nature-lovers. The Mobile Delta consists of approximately 20,323 acres of water and Meaher State Park is a perfect access point to this massive natural wonder. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. For more outdoor adventures, the nearby Mobile-Tensaw, W.L. Holland, and Upper Delta Wildlife Management Areas offer hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities for those visiting the Delta.

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Everyone loves a good long drive and there is nothing like a spellbinding and coastal route. For these reasons the Alabama Coastal Connection is one of the treasured places to tour not just in Alabama but in the whole of the US. A National Scenic Byway the Coastal Connection connects the places and people of the Baldwin and coastal Mobile counties. It is also a true testimony to the diverse and rich culture of the state’s Gulf Coast region.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

A stunning place to visit, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of 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 Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Orange Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Orange Beach

Orange Beach is a small and stunning coastal city located on the Gulf. Nicknamed as the water sports hub, it has a huge fishing pier and several picnic areas. The scenic coastal city has a museum named Orange Beach Indian and Sea Museum and you can explore the history of Native Americans and fishing. A mesmerizing vacation is on your cards, if you choose this stellar place. Some other places if you wish to look around Orange Beach are Backcountry Trails, Canoe Trail, Waterfront Park, Public Boat Launches, and Disc Golf Course Park.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile

Mobile is more than 300 years old and from that fact alone there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Mobile is the home to the oldest carnival or Mardi Gras in the United States.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space to spread out and enjoy.

Fairhope © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope

Shangri-La may be a fantasy but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The village was created by a group of hardy souls seeking adventure and being practical, also wanted a “fair hope of success”. This experimental community has come a long way from those “old days”. It’s still entirely unique and keeps a small town ambience with a large and active arts community. If you love the Gulf Coast, there are few places more scenic with antebellum homes, streets lined with live oaks, and a charming, walkable downtown. With a population of about 17,000, Fairhope sits on bluffs that overlook Mobile Bay, so you’re never far from a view of the water.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores

As it goes by the obvious name, the city is located on Alabama’s Gulf Coast and all you beach lovers, this is your chance. Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.
Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism. Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area.

Worth Pondering…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

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

Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

There are numerous attractions along Alabama’s Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Whether you are a lover of history, nature, or adrenaline rushes, we’ve got you covered.

The Coastal Connection Scenic Byway runs along the Alabama Gulf Coast and is a unique way to explore the Gulf Shores area. As you drive, you’ll find yourself immersed in history and nature. 

Here are six favorite experiences along this scenic byway.

Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores Museum

Gulf Shores Museum features several permanent exhibits including “Portrait of a Fishing Village”, “Drawing a Line in the Sand”, and “Hurricanes: What You Need to Know”. Rotating special exhibits are also on display. Butterfly enthusiasts will love the museum’s butterfly garden. Benches and tables are nearby so visitors can rest their feet while they observe the colorful butterflies.

Geocaching

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure-hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called caches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. There are caches all along the byway. This is a great activity for travel parties of all sizes and a great way to connect with fellow treasure hunters across the globe.

Bon Secor National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge

The Jeff Friend Loop Trail at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the area for bird-watching and observing other critters. Park in the refuge’s parking lot and be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring bottled water, binoculars, and camera. The trail, a mix of crushed limestone and a boardwalk, is a relatively flat 0.9 miles. Allow 2 hours to explore this sliver of paradise. You’ll love the colorful birds that frequent the area!

Mobile Bay Ferry

The Mobile Bay Ferry boards near Fort Morgan. This is one of the easiest ways to travel to Dauphin Island which is a continuation of the scenic byway. If you have never driven your car onto a ferry, this is an experience you will want to make time for. If you want to ride the ferry and leave your car in the parking lot, you can do that as well. The hours vary by season, so it’s important to check the website before your trip.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dauphin Island

Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family.Dauphin Island Park and Campground offers an abundance of 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 Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico.

Making the Most of your Byway Experience

Alabama’s Coastal Connection offers something for everyone from the birders to hikers to photographers. There are a few measures you can take to make the most of your experience. Be flexible, since volatile weather can force you to change your plans. When traveling along Alabama’s Coastal Connection, have your rain gear and jackets handy in case you need them. Memories can just as easily be made in rain boots and under an umbrella!

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is home to miles of beauty that you can only find along Alabama’s Coastal Connection. Don’t be afraid to slow down when you see something that piques your curiosity. After all, this is why you’re taking a scenic byway instead of flying down the interstate at 75 miles per hour.

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground juts from the mouth of Mobile Bay into the Gulf of Mexico

Near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island, provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. Graced with all the necessities, Dauphin Island allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of more developed areas.

Causeway and bridge to Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in 1699 the French explorer Le Moyne d’Iberville landed on the island and started a settlement called Massacre Island, which was later more tastefully renamed Port Dauphine. It served briefly as the capital of the French Louisiana Territory in the early 1700s. During the War of 1812, American forces captured it. The historic Fort Gaines, on the eastern end of the island, was built to protect Mobile Bay.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

From here, head over to nearby Fort Gaines, with its 22-foot-tall exterior brick walls and storied military heritage that spans 1821 to 1946. The fort is most highly recognized for its role in the Battle of Mobile Bay, a famed Civil War naval conflict.

It was during this three-week battle that Union rear admiral David Farragut roared the command, “Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!” (It’s interesting to note that the word “torpedoes” in this case referred to hidden enemy mines and not submarine weapons.)

Start your self-guided tour by picking up a map at the gift shop. The comprehensive guide includes 26 points of interest along with facts about the fort’s tunnels, bastions, blacksmith shop, and disappearing gun mounts, among dozens of other features.

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can examine the huge anchor of Farragut’s flagship, gaze toward Sand Island lighthouse from atop the southeast bastion, or browse the museum. Fort Gaines numbers among the best-preserved 19th-century brick seacoast fortifications in the East.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located nearby, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary consists of 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, and dunes, and includes a lake, swamp, and beach. The trail system within the sanctuary has been designated as a National Recreational Trail. The sanctuary is the largest segment of protected forest on the island and the first landfall for neo-tropical migrant birds after their long flight across the Gulf from Central and South America each spring.

For a quick sampling of the sanctuary’s flora and fauna, you can hike the 0.6-mile interpretive loop trail that winds through the maritime forest where the dominant plants are loblolly and slash pines, live oak, southern magnolia, and Tupelo gum. It leads by slightly elevated boardwalk from the parking lot to Gaillard Lake. The wharf overlooking the lake is a favorite site for observing egrets, herons, blue-winged teals, pond turtles, and pig frogs.

Audubon Bird Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other trails include the 0.3-mile Dune Edge Trail, 0.8-mile Swamp Overlook Trail, 1.7-mile Upper Woodlands Trail; a 0.4-mile trail leads to Dauphin Island Campground and 0.5-mile trail leads to Fort Gaines.

The Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab is a public aquarium and exhibit facility that allows visitors the opportunity to explore the four ecosystems of coastal Alabama—the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, Mobile Bay, the barrier islands, and Gulf of Mexico. Its features include a large exhibit hall, featuring aquariums swimming with local water life, and a living marsh boardwalk along the bay.

Estuarium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most visitors begin their self-guided tour by watching a video titled “A World of Water”. It explains water’s journey from the delta through the 35-mile-long estuary to the Gulf. The estuary is so abundant that fishery scientists labeled the north-central Gulf of Mexico the “fertile crescent.”

Highlights in the 10,000-square-foot exhibit hall include live snakes, baby alligators, and aquariums containing sharks and other exotic sea creatures. At a touching table, you can stroke the spiny shell of a horseshoe crab, a prehistoric species more closely related to scorpions than to crabs. 

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us