Leaf Peeping Map 2023: Plan Your Fall RV Trips

Plan your perfect fall foliage getaway with this interactive leaf color map! It’s the ultimate visual planning guide to the annual progression of changing leaves.

It may not have officially arrived yet, but fall is certainly in the air: Pumpkin spice beverages abound at coffee shops, school is back in session, and cooler temps are right around the corner. That means peak leaf peeping season is nearly here and the foliage map from SmokyMountains.com is the perfect tool to help you plan a colorful fall trip.

Discover the best destinations to experience nature’s spectacular show as the leaves change color this season. Simply explore this interactive map to find where red, orange, and yellow hues will peak near your travel dates.

Fall colors at Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The prediction map—“meant to help travelers better time their trips to have the best opportunity of catching peak color each year”—tracks the entire United States as various regions go from no change in leaf color to minimal, partial, near peak, and finally peak coverage. There isn’t much happening yet, but you can check out the map here to bookmark for later in the season and even submit foliage information about your area to help improve the predictions.

The map provides a visual guide to follow autumn’s colorful transformation across North America. View precise predictions of the fall foliage season from week to week. Get ideas for your RV route and plan to hit the road when the scenery will be at its most breathtaking.

Fall colors in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend your fall trip immersed in nature’s vibrant beauty thanks to this easy planning tool. Start discovering your next leaf-peeping adventure today.

Leaf peeping is travel jargon for viewing, photographing, or simply enjoying fall foliage.

As you know from many of my posts, I can never get enough of fall foliage. Every year, landscapes transform as if God decides to get out his paintbrush and remind us of the surrounding beauty.

Leaf peeping has become so popular that many RVers plan road trips around the changing leaves. Fortunately, there’s an amazing interactive tool to help you do just that!

Fall colors along the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall foliage prediction map

The fall foliage prediction map or leaf peeping map gives you a nationwide view of the changing leaves. You can check travel dates by using the slider bar at the bottom. The different colors denote different stages.

Green denotes no change yet and brown means that the leaves are past their peak. The colors in between show the colorful progression of fall.

It’s so easy to use, and frankly, it’s fun! I couldn’t help sliding the bar back and forth to see the colorful flow overtake parts of the country.

Fall colors in Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How accurate are its predictions?  

Just like you can’t completely predict the weather, leaf predictions can never be 100 percent accurate. However, SmokyMountains.com has published this predictive leaf-peeping map for nearly a decade.

It started as a fun project to meet the needs of their customers. SmokyMountains.com offers 2,000+ cabins and vacation rentals in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. So, it’s easy to see how the leaf peeping map could benefit their customers.

But what started as a fun project for their clientele rapidly grew into a top fall resource that tens of millions of people use annually.

The founder of SmokyMountains.com and creator of the map, David Angotti, is also an Airline Transport Pilot. As such, he was required to fully understand weather patterns and was highly trained in to use of meteorological tools. The combination of his expertise and love for travel led to this highly accurate tool.

Fall colors in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What data does the map use?

I love to know how things work and algorithms, in particular, impress me. The algorithm SmokeyMountain.com created analyzes several million data points including:

  • NOAA historical temperatures
  • NOAA historical precipitation
  • NOAA forecast temperatures
  • NOAA forecast precipitation
  • Historical leaf peak trends
  • Peak observation trends
  • Historical model outputs from previous years

It outputs approximately 50,000 predictive data pieces that forecast county-by-county the precise moment when peak fall will occur.

And last year, they announced how it’s more accurate than ever with mid-season updates.

“Due to the complexity of applying a humongous, multi-faceted dataset, we have historically published our map annually without mid-season updates,” creator David Angotti explains. “However, for the first time we plan to release a mid-season update in late September. By applying the mid-season update, we believe the accuracy and usefulness of the tool will be increased.”

Fall colors near Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How is the fall foliage prediction map useful?

Get there at the right time.

As RVers, you probably instantly see the usefulness for travelers. We’ve all too often mistimed our road trips and begrudgingly enjoyed the leftovers. A tool like this changes that.

Now, you can perfectly time your trip for the:

It’s also a great opportunity to check out my Ultimate Guides for:

Even if you’ve been to the above places before, it’ll be like visiting a whole new place if you go at peak leaf pepping times.

Fall colors in Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unexpected uses

However, clever folks have used the fall foliage prediction map for more than travel.

“The vast majority of individuals use the leaf map to simply check when leaves will peak near their home or use it to plan a leaf peeping trip,” David Angotti says. “However, through the years, we have heard some fascinating stories about how the tool was leveraged.”

He goes on to share some of the favorite stories from leaf peeping map users.

One example is a bride in the northeast changing the date of her outdoor wedding. Another is a director scheduling a movie shoot on location based on our predictions. Even school teachers have used the map to plan field trips and add to their lesson plans.

Fall colors at Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other nifty leaf peeping resources

SmokyMountains.com also offers some helpful information and fun resources on its fall leaf map site.

You can see a scientific overview of why leaves change colors, colorful illustrations, fall coloring sheets for kids, and a list of the Top Places to See Fall Foliage in All 50 States.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

—Albert Camus

Preparing for Sweater Weather

The fall equinox arrives on Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn has caught us in our summer wear.
—Philip Larkin, British poet (1922–86)

It’s officially the last day of summer which means that pumpkin spice and sweater weather are basically upon us. Rather than bemoan the end of one season, I’m looking forward to everything autumn brings with it—including crisp morning air and apple cider. Consider today’s post your fall kickoff complete with a leaf-peeping guide and some great road trips for the season.

Saying farewell to the long, warm days of summer can be bittersweet but the sheer majesty of the changing fall foliage makes the transition a little bit easier. As autumn’s cooler temperatures and shorter days set the trees ablaze with color, now is an ideal time to plan a leaf-peeping road trip, hike, or other excursion to take in the views.

It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
—Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fall season officially begins on Saturday, September 23. This date marks the autumn equinox or the date between the summer and winter solstices when day and night are nearly equal lengths. (We also know it as the first day of the year when you can order a pumpkin spice latte with no shame.)

During an equinox, the Sun crosses what we call the celestial equator—an imaginary extension of Earth’s equator line into space. The equinox occurs precisely when the Sun’s center passes through this line.

After the autumnal equinox, days become shorter than nights as the Sun continues to rise later and nightfall arrives earlier. This ends with the winter solstice after which days start to grow longer once again. 

The word equinox comes from Latin aequus, meaning “equal” and nox, the Latin word for “night.” On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length.

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

But why do leaves change color in the fall?

Autumnal leaves in vibrant hues are a beautiful part of the season but those leaves are also a vital part of keeping trees alive. The trees with leaves that change color in fall are deciduous. (Evergreen trees with needles which stay green to continue the photosynthesis process through the winter are coniferous.) Deciduous trees usually have large, broad leaves.

Most of the year, these leaves are green because of the chlorophyll they use to absorb energy from sunlight during photosynthesis. The leaves convert the energy into sugars to feed the tree.

As the season changes, temperatures drop and days get shorter. Trees receive less direct sunlight and the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down.

The lack of chlorophyll reveals yellow and orange pigments that were already in the leaves but masked during the warmer months. Darker red leaves are the result of a chemical change: Sugars that can get trapped in the leaves produce new pigments (called anthocyanins) that weren’t part of the leaf in the growing season. Some trees like oaks and dogwoods are likely to produce red leaves.

Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When do fall leaves change color

Leaves can change their color from as early as mid-September through early November. Typically, the second and third weeks of October are the peak times but it shifts depending on your location and your local weather conditions.

Foliage starts to change in the northern-tier states out West and in the Midwest by late September. By October 2, the leaves in some areas will be past their prime. 

Much of New England as well as the Pacific Northwest will be at or near peak fall color by October 9. 

A little further south in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mid-October is your best bet.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina/Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See below for times of the year of peak foliage around the country:

  • Oregon: Best viewed while driving along scenic highways from mid-September through mid-October; however, color conditions vary daily based on humidity and fog density. 
  • North Carolina: North Carolina’s leaf patterns move east across the state. The first leaves in the western part of the state begin to peak the week of October 9. By October 23, the entire state should peak and the show will be pretty much over by November 1.
  • Vermont: Optimal viewing from September 18 through October 2 although the leaves will begin to change in early September.
  • New Hampshire: Leaves in New Hampshire will be at their best the last week of September. By October 16 most of the state will have changed.
  • Washington: Washington State leaves normally hit their peak the week of October 9 and past their peak by October 23.
Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top destinations for viewing fall leaves

Here is a list of my picks for the most idyllic spots in the U.S. for viewing fall leaves. Some are off the beaten path, some are on more popular, scenic routes for you to enjoy whether on foot or by vehicle. I’ve also included the dates for peak foliage viewing for each location.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Peak Viewing: October 9-28

Virginia’s Skyline Drive is a National Scenic Byway that runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The speed limit is 35 mph with 75 overlooks to pull over and enjoy the sights of the Shenandoah Valley below. Often called one of America’s favorite mountain drives, Skyline Drive is “good for the soul.” 

La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Peak viewing: Mid September to mid October

Aside from aspens, cottonwoods, and other deciduous trees making the slow turn to brilliance, the abundant sandstone rocks change colors here, too. Shorter days and angled fall light combine to give Moab’s signature sandstone deeper, more varied colors than usual. Several different leaf-peeping routes include the La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway, the Gemini Bridges Trail, the Poison Spider Mesa Trail, and the Moab Rim Trail. Jeeps are required on all routes except the La Sal

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

Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Peak viewing: Mid to late October, depending on elevation.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any terrain more perfectly orchestrated for fall color viewing than the Great Smoky Mountains. Lots of sumac adds to the brilliant reds but the Park boasts an amazing diversity of trees and terrain that add to the color spectrum—some 100 species of native trees live in the Smokies. To enjoy them, drive the Clingmans Dome Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway, or the Foothills Parkway. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kancamagus Scenic Highway, Lincoln, New Hampshire

Peak viewing: September 25-October 7

The Kancamagus Scenic Highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire known by the locals as The Kanc provides some of the most spectacular fall foliage viewing in New England. The Kanc’s 35-mile scenic pass that connects Lincoln to Conway (Route 112) has some tricky hairpin turns and no gas stations so be prepared. It does have plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the grandeur of the vistas. 

Julian apples © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Peak viewing: Early to mid-November.

In Julian, autumn is the grandstand season both for apple-pie eating and leaf-peeping. Sample the town’s homemade apple confections then watch black oaks do their color-changing trick at Lake Cuyamaca in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. A scenic 45-minute drive leads to Palomar Mountain State Park where you can put some miles on your feet while you admire bracken ferns and leafy oaks on the Thunder Ridge and Chimney Flat Loop. Or hike the Five Oaks Trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, home to some of the oldest and largest black oaks in San Diego County. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!

—A. A. Milne

Apple Central: Julian, California

The mountain town of Julian is synonymous with apples and apple pies

Fall is here and that means it’s time for apple picking in Julian, CaliforniaSeptember and October are prime apple picking months so it’s an ideal time to be outdoors and plan a fun family outing.

And nothing is better than gathering up your own apples and taking them home to your RV for eating, cooking, and baking. So, let’s head to the mountains of Julian for these wholesome fall treats and maybe try some of the famous Julian apple pies.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Julian apples

The town of Julian is the place to go for apples. Located just an hour northeast of San Diego in the foothills of the Cuyamaca Mountains at an elevation of 4,225 feet, Julian is a refreshing throwback to simpler times.

Once a bustling gold mining town, Julian’s mines eventually dried up but a new treasure had already been taking hold—apples. All thanks to a widower named James T. Madison who relocated here from New Orleans and quickly discovered the fertile soil of Julian was perfect for fruit orchards.

Madison traveled to San Bernardino with a four-horse wagon and returned with it filled with apple trees. And the rest is history. 

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the 1890s, Julian was proclaimed the “greatest apple belt in the world” and its fruit and pies were winning one national award after another. Julian’s legacy lives on today with its apple farms and famous apple pies.

The center of town is just three blocks of restaurants, specialty shops, and a few excellent options for apple pie.

It’s also a popular destination, for those in the know—people who want to get out for the day, to hike, explore the scenic backroads, or see historic sites.

To explore Julian, set out on foot for a historic self-guided walking tour. There are about 30 places to check out including 20 that have plaques explaining the history of the building or place. The Pioneer Museum is worth stopping in as well; its collections run from American Indian artifacts to antique furniture and tools to one of the best displays of antique lace in the state.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around Julian. One great destination is the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The park encompasses nearly 3,000 acres of forest; it’s primarily mixed conifer forest but also includes manzanita, elderberry, scrub oak, chamise, and California wild lilac.

One great trail reaches the summit where you will have sweeping views of the orchards and vineyards below and even far-reaching views of the coast. It’s about a 5-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. From Julian take Farmer Road 2.2 miles, turn right for 50 yards and left onto Farmer Road. Drive about one quarter mile and park on the right near the preserve sign.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Apple Picking

Julian is at its most charming―and busiest―during the fall when leaves change color and local apples ripen. Stop by an apple orchard to sample local varieties not found elsewhere, pick up some of your favorites, or pick your own.

Apple picking season arrives in early September and lasts until Mid-October.

Here’s a listing of places to pick apples in Julian. However, it’s a good idea to check the website or give these businesses a call for updated information before you go.

Where and when to pick Julian apples

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peacefield Orchard

Address: 3803 Wynola Rd, Julian

Dates: Saturdays and Sundays each weekend in September

Peacefield Orchard U-Pick and Farmstand is open Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm (or until the day’s ripe apples run out). So, it’s a good idea to arrive early as it gets hot! Please wear close-toed shoes.

Orchard tours and u-pick by appointment are also available. Please make reservations for groups larger than two cars. Pick Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Jonathan, and Jonagold on 2½ acres, widely spaced lanes made for plenty of space.

Cost: $20 per bag (½ peck) with no entry fee.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Mining Company

Address: 4444 CA-78, Julian

Dates: Begins October 15, 2023

Julian Mining Company is all about connecting living history with a working farm. Yes, there are apples but this orchard offers a whole lot more.

Apple picking begins October 15 with a variety of fun activities like fall goodies, pumpkins, gold mining and gold panning, fossil digging, a mini train ride, and of course, apple picking. The farm is open Saturdays 10-4 and Sundays 12-4.

Cost: $18 per bag (can be shared) and $3 per person entry fee

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcan Valley Apple Farm

Address: 1284 Julian Orchards Dr, Julian

Dates: Opening the whole orchard September 8, 9, and 10 and every Friday, Saturday, Sunday until the apples are gone

A seasonal u-pick orchard with 8,000 trellis-grown apple trees and seven apple varieties, Volcan Valley Apple Farm is all about family fun.

Hours of operation are Friday-Monday, 9 am to 4:30 pm (last sale). Gates close at 5. 

Cost: $15 per bag which holds about 6-7 pounds and includes one admission. Active military with an ID pay $10. Extra admission is $5 per person. Children 5 and under are free. 

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crosscutt Farm and Orchard

Address: 1209 Farmer Road, Julian

Dates: September 16–24, 2023

Gather your friends and family and be ready when the family-owned and operated Crosscut Farm and Orchard opens for apple picking this September.

Reservations are required. Walk-ins are not permitted. 10 people per group minimum, 50 people per group maximum.

Reservation times are 10 am-noon, 1 pm-3 pm, and 3 pm-5 pm but feel free to bring a picnic lunch and spend the day.

Cost: $20 per bag and $5 per person entry fee (kids 4 and under are free) which includes parking, a narrative on apple farming and local history, a cider demonstration, and a picnic site.

Apple dumplings © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop in for a slice of apple pie in Julian

You can’t be in Julian and not try a big slice of flaky, sweet, delectable apple pie, a true Julian treasure. Several pie companies in town offer either sit-down or window service but you just have to do it.

These are the best apple pies in the universe (and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top). I guarantee you’ll be taking a pie or two home with you.

But which bakery has the best apple pie in Julian? It seems like every family in Southern California has their personal favorite and some are hard set on only eating apple pie from their bakery.

There are four pie shops in Julian and yes, for the sake of science, I tried them all:

  • Julian Pie Company (2225 Main Street)
  • Mom’s Pie House (2119 Main Street)
  • Apple Alley Bakery (2122 Main Street)
  • Julian Café and Bakery (2112 Main Street)
Julian Pie Company © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Pie Company

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. You can also order pecan pies and pumpkin pies or a pie with an all fruit filling that doesn’t include apple.

Along with the most widely distributed apple pie throughout Southern California, they carry apple cider donuts, apple nut bread, and apple memories, bits of extra pie crust cut out into hearts that are perfect to snack on during the ride home.

The Julian Pie Company is housed in a small building that looks like a house off of the main street in Julian. There are outdoor picnic tables to enjoy your slice of pie on or a row of tables indoors. If eating at the store, try a scoop of Julian Pie Company’s cinnamon ice cream to go with your pie. You can also try ordering your apple pie with melted cheddar cheese on top.

Julian Pie Company whose pies you can find in stores all round SoCal is popular for a reason. A short crumbly piecrust, juicy, oozy filling, soft, rich apple and a crisp delicate pastry bottom! Perfect.

Mom’s Pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mom’s Pie House

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.

The shop is known for its excellent crusts, of which it makes two—the Flakey, a pastry-style crust, and the Crumb which is sprinkled on the top of the pie instead of being rolled on.

Mom’s Pie House has many variations of apple pie, including the Apple Caramel Crumb Pie and Apple Sugar Free Pie. You can also get apple boysenberry or apple cherry pies with either the Flakey or Crumb crust. Mom’s also serves up pecan, pumpkin, rhubarb, cherry, and peach pies.

You’ll also find other equally delightful confectionary goodness but not to be missed are their apple dumplings loaded with brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and baked in cream cheese to absolute perfection.

The entrance to the shop is a long corridor that takes you past the open kitchen and into a cozy dining area where you can enjoy your slice of pie.

Apple Alley Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple Alley Bakery

Apple Alley Bakery turns out a delicious 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 slice of pie for dessert.

Owned and operated by a husband and wife team, this little bakery serves up apple pies made fresh each morning. The interior has a cabin feel with ample seating. There are also tables outdoors for those who want to enjoy their pie in the crisp Julian air.

Apple Alley Bakery has some fun twists on their apples pies including a Mango Apple Pie and a Caramel Apple Pecan Pie.

Apple Alley Bakery also serves sandwiches, potpies, soups, and salads for lunch.

Julian Cafe & Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian Cafe and Bakery

Julian Café and Bakery is a small restaurant housed in a cozy log room. You can eat at the restaurant for some good comfort food like meatloaf or country fried chicken followed by a slice of pie or just step up to the pie ordering window for a pie to go.

The claim to fame of the pies of Julian Café and Bakery is the Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie with layers of creamy pumpkin pie atop soft apples and topped with a crumb crust. The Apple Pumpkin Crumb Pie is available seasonally and is a great addition to Thanksgiving. Also noteworthy, Julian Cafe and Bakery’s boysenberry-apple is the perfect mix of sweet and tart.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie Fun Facts

The first mention of a fruit pie in print is from Robert Green’s Arcadia (1590): thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes

Oliver Cromwell banned the eating of pie in 1644, declaring it a pagan form of pleasure; for 16 years, pie eating and making went underground until the Restoration leaders lifted the ban on pie in 1660

Pumpkin pie was first introduced to the holiday table at the pilgrim’s second Thanksgiving in 1623

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie by the Numbers

  • Nearly one out of five (19 percent) of Americans prefer apple pie, followed by pumpkin (13 percent), pecan (12 percent), banana cream (10 percent), and cherry (9 percent)
  • 36 million Americans identify apple pie as their favorite
  • 90 percent of Americans agree that a slice of pie represents one of the simple pleasures of life
  • 47 percent of Americans for whom the word comforting comes to mind when they think of pie
  • Americans buy around 186 million apple pies every year; and that’s just from stores, not restaurants
  • 6 million American men ages 35-54 have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it

Worth Pondering…

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.

―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Highlights of a Fall Adventure to Custer State Park: Needles Highway and Bison Roundup

When the Black Hills turn golden, magic happens

Few truly wild places remain in the U.S. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres which they share with pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and a band of burros. Trail rides, scenic drives, bike rides, and safari tours are perfect ways to explore this impressive South Dakota attraction

Below are two highlights of a fall visit to Custer State Park: Needles Highway and the legendary Bison Roundup.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway

The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.

As names go, Needles Highway does the job well. Along this winding 14-mile stretch of South Dakota Highway 87 in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, eroded granite spindles and pillars tower all around, hundreds of rocky splinters stitching the sky. 

The Needles Highway is more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.

Needles Eye © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On foot and horseback in the early 20th century, South Dakota Gov. Peter Norbeck mapped out the entire striking, spiking passage of what is now known as the Needles Highway. All you need are four wheels. Set aside an hour for a scenic drive through forests of ponderosa pine and spruce, past meadows of aspen and birch, around hairpins, next to rock walls, through tight tunnels.

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. The route includes the not-quite-9-foot-wide (8 feet 9 inches wide by 9 feet 8 inches high) Needles Eye Tunnel; creeping through it feels like threading its namesake.

Cathedral Spires Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take it easy

Winding drives throughout the park are most enjoyable at a slower pace. Allow ample time to travel at a safe speed—generally 25 miles per hour or slower. Expect a travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy Needles Highway.

If a coveted parking spot remains at the cramped Cathedral Spires Trailhead near the tunnel, grab it. Even the view from the lot is pretty but sure-footed visitors can get even bigger, more dramatic vistas from the trail. 

This trail features areas unique to the Black Hills area such as the Cathedral Spires/Limber Pine Area, a Registered National Natural Landmark. This is a one-way trail and does not connect to the Black Elk Peak Trail System.

The 2.3-mile out-and-back starts gently enough. Soon, though, hikers encounter steps, switchbacks, and steep scrambles. The trail ends in a flat mountain valley, spires rising like a Gothic holy place—albeit the kind with mountain goats flaunting their fleet feet. Keep a camera close at hand. Goats give great faces, their spindly little horns right on brand with the well-named scenery.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sunday Gulch Trail offers perhaps the most unique scenery of all the park’s hiking trails. Descending into Sunday Gulch the trail crosses the stream several times while passing over large boulders and near magnificent granite walls. Sunday Gulch presents a variety of unique plants rarely seen in other areas of the park. Spruce, pine, and a mixture of hardwoods line the trail.

The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail offers passing motorists an opportunity to stretch their legs on a leisurely walk the whole family will enjoy. This trail makes a complete loop around Sylvan Lake and is among the easiest trails in Custer State Park. Enormous granite formations line portions of the lake making it one of the most picturesque in the Black Hills. While most of this trail is relatively flat, a portion contains steps and crosses exposed rocky areas. Sections of the trail are not suitable for strollers.

The Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take it slow

Don’t worry about cramming everything at Custer State Park into one day. A $20 park pass allows entry for seven consecutive days. Annual passes are available too.  The park’s lodging offers a choice of four resort areas with plenty of activities and camping sites.

Take it steady

Mountain goats have four appendages helping them stay upright in this craggy landscape. No shame in doing the same with a good pair of hiking poles.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bison Roundup

On a fall trip to South Dakota, feel the thunder of bison on the move at Custer State Park’s annual buffalo roundup and arts festival.

It is the quiet before the thunder. The morning sun has further gilded the golden grasslands of Custer State Park, spread over more than 70,000 acres in western South Dakota. Cowboys and cowgirls mill on their mounts, dotting ridgelines above a sprawling valley. Riders chat; horses whiny. Most eyes fix on the sight below—hundreds of cocoa-hued bison, grunting, wandering, and waiting. 

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, a hoot. A whipcrack. More shouts. Riders begin to move in an annual choreography to gather the herd from the open range, check its health, and chart its future.

The annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival attracts more than 20,000 spectators who edge the vistas the last Friday of each September (September 28-30, 2023) to watch riders corral the beasts. But this isn’t herding cattle. (And, if we’re getting technical, they aren’t buffalo.) The bison is North America’s largest mammal. Bulls can weigh up to a ton and reach 6 feet tall. And they can move, running 35 mph with the ability to turn on a dime.

Around 1,300 head of bison call the park home. But they don’t just live here. They are the lifeblood, the heartbeat of this place. Once 30 million strong and the cornerstone of life for Native Americans who used them for food, fuel, shelter, and spiritual celebration, bison were driven to the brink of extinction by settlers.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer bison descend from the private herd of a South Dakota rancher named James Scotty Philip whose wife was part Cheyenne. Philip and his family worked at the turn of the 20th century to rescue the dwindling species and eventually sold a few dozen animals to the state of South Dakota.

More than a century later, the herd thrives, freely and at home on this range in the Black Hills, a sacred landscape to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and other peoples. However, the park holds only so much grass, disrupting the bison’s instinct to roam. With bulls consuming dozens of pounds a day, it’s critical to manage the population so that all have enough to eat. 

Riders work in teams to guide the animals, collecting wayward groups and stragglers. The crews are alert and watchful, striving for balance. Pushing but not driving. Finding flow, not forcing it. Hundreds of hooves pound the ground in a musical rumble. The bison move as one, like flocks, like fishes. Dust rises, billows, drifts. 

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After several miles and several hours, the herd is contained and visitors can gather at the corrals outside the new-in-2022 Custer State Park Bison Center to watch crews work. Calves get shots, ear tags, and brands. Cows are checked for pregnancy. A few hundred heads depart for auction. After a few days, the remaining animals are released. 

The sun is now bright overhead, the dust continues its unhurried return to the earth. But the history here still thrums, long after the thunder has quieted.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Game plan

Before you go, decide on the North or South viewing area—they’re both great but not close together. Arrive early to stake out a good spot. Parking lots open at 6:15 a.m. and the roundup starts around 9:30.

What to eat

You can buy breakfast and lunch on-site: pancakes and coffee in the viewing areas and a hearty chuckwagon-style lunch at the corrals.

Keep your distance

Don’t be the one who goes viral for trying to befriend a bison. Admire these huge animals from afar.

Enjoy the fest

An arts fest lasts all weekend. Sip a beer and browse bison-themed art, hand-woven bullwhips, and turquoise jewelry.

Pronghorns along the Wildlife Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your fall trip

There is much more to see and do in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Let’s explore further:

Worth Pondering…

My first years were spent living just as my forefathers had lived—roaming the green, rolling hills of what are now the states of South Dakota and Nebraska.

—Standing Bear

Fall is the Perfect Time to Visit Okanagan Wine Country

Fall provides the chance to experience the 2022 harvest or crush in person

It’s that time of year—the kids are back in school, the grapes are coming off the vines.

Fall in Okanagan Wine Country is a gift. The region’s naturally relaxed pace, vibrant foliage, sunny and warm weather, verdant vineyards, and brightly colored roadside stands selling everything from freshly picked fruits and vegetables to ice cream cones and samosas are hallmarks of the fall harvest season,

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unofficial start to fall began last week. Finally, with the kids back in school and many more returning to the workplace in person, Okanagan Wine Country should revert to its much calmer, more rural roots and that’s good news for the many who have been avoiding the crowds and the travails of travel.

Shorter lines, less hustle and bustle, and fewer highway travelers make the fall a prime season to visit wine country. Best of all, the fall provides the chance to experience the 2022 harvest or crush in person.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite a cool, wet spring and harsh cold winter, the warm summer weather across the province has buoyed hopes for a quality harvest although yields or quantities are expected to be below average.

More on Okanagan Wine Country: Why You Should Explore the Wines of the Okanagan Valley

If it is not already underway, harvest at sparkling wine producers is moments from kickoff. A two-step fermentation method is required to make traditional sparkling wine—one inside the winery, the other inside the bottle and it all requires a high-acid base obtained from early-picked grapes to commence. After that, phenolic-ripe grapes will flood wineries and “crush” as it is better known today will be full-on for the next two and half months across British Columbia Wine Country.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First up in a long line of grapes to be picked will be Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris from the warmest sites. The timing of each pick is a fascinating study in terroir and the interaction of winegrowers. It lasts for at least two months, if not lengthier, ending in early to late November with the picking of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Riesling from the coolest sites.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dance begins in the vineyards. Winemakers and viticulturists walk between the rows of vines daily to taste and assess the ripeness of the crop. Then, the grapes are analyzed in a laboratory but only to confirm what has already been physically tasted. In days gone by, the decision to pick meant the entire vineyard. Today it could be a row, one side of a row, or a designated block. In some cases, the pickers could pass through a vineyard block two or three times over a two or three-week period seeking different acidity and sugar levels to add complexity to the final blend.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next 10 weeks, the grapes will slowly disappear from vineyards across the province mainly during early morning picks when the bunches are cold and the acidity is freshest. With vineyards scores of miles apart there is no easy way to know when the Merlot or the Chardonnay will show up at the winery. The best winemakers can hope for is an orderly procession of grapes allowing enough time to flip tanks and vats between varieties and carry on.

More on Okanagan Wine Country: 4 of the Best Wineries in the Okanagan Valley

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a visitor, you’ll know if the harvest is on by the smell of fermenting grapes in the air. However, if you are up early enough, you could witness people and machines picking grapes in vineyards all over the valley. While most wineries are not equipped to accept large numbers of visitors during the harvest, some will invite you to experience the crush up close. Crush pad activities can be a lot of fun to observe but be sure to be on your best behavior and stay out of the crew’s way. Unlike most jobs, they only get one chance a year to make wine so the pressure is on to get it right.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to play along and you find yourself in a vineyard over the next month, carefully select some individual berries to taste. Remember to pick fruit from the sunny and shady sides of the row. Next, taste for the sugar/acid balance, chew the skins to assess the tannins, and inspect the pips for color to see how ripe or brown they are.

Now breathe in and decide to call the pick. Is it yes, or is it no? No pressure but everything depends on you being right.

Okanagan Wine Country in fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fall harvest is a wonderful time to plan a visit to Okanagan Wine Country. Not only is the breath-taking scenery even more stunning but it’s the most lively time of the winemaking year.

Twenty-five years ago, visitors traveled to the Okanagan for the boating, the golfing, and the sunshine along the lake’s many beaches. Today, they also come for wine that can be savored only in these 155 miles of a narrow valley with its ancient soils, shimmering lakes, and youthful exuberance.

More on Okanagan Wine Country: Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

It’s a very precious region…especially in the fall.

Worth Pondering…

Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words,

―Plautus

Fall is Fabulous in Georgia: 7 Perfect Ways to Celebrate the Season

Hike, drive, and bask in the beauty of the changing season

Fall is just around the corner! Explore the BEST of the season in Georgia with this bucket list created just for you.

Georgia apples © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Pick apples                                                                                                                             

John W. Clayton is credited with introducing the first apples to Gilmer County in 1903. Over a hundred years later, this north Georgia area produces more than 250,000 bushels of apples annually in over 30 varieties. The North Georgia Mountains abound with apple orchards, including you-pick, hayrides, petting zoos, and so much more. Fall is the apple picking season in Ellijay, the state’s capital of apple orchards. Visitors can fill up containers with varieties of apples as well as eat apple-accented dishes like apple fritters, apple cider doughnuts, and candy apples. Many orchards also have other things to do like hayrides, petting zoos, corn mazes, and other activities for kids.

Wondering when is the best time to go apple picking? Georgia’s season runs late August through October, however, not all varieties are available at the same time.

Field of sunflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Stroll through a sunflower field

A family-owned farm since 1858, Fausett Farms Sunflowers is located just south of Burt’s Pumpkin Farm and Amicalola Falls in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. For 60 years, the farm’s main business was poultry farming which ended in 2011. Now, the farm offers more than 13 acres of beautiful sunflowers for everyone to experience. The farm also offers horse trail riders the opportunity to bring their own horse and enjoy a day of riding on miles and miles of trails.

Autumn in northern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Watch the leaves change

Rich reds, vibrant oranges, and golden yellows make autumn color in Georgia beautiful.

Georgia State Parks are fantastic family escapes for watching the leaves change color. Wondering which parks have the best showing? Try Tallulah Gorge, Amicalola, Cloudland Canyon, Fort Mountain, or Black Rock Mountain!

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. 

Waterfalls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Chase waterfalls

There is something magical about fallen red and gold leaves on the rocks of a tumbling waterfall. The beauty of Georgia’s waterfalls can lure even the not-so-outdoorsy types off the beaten path and into picture-perfect wilds. Waterfalls dot the landscape throughout North Georgia from Cloudland Canyon in the northwest to Tallulah Gorge in the northeast. Some are easily accessible by following paved paths and others require more advanced navigation skills.

Amicalola which is Cherokee for “tumbling waters” boasts seven cascades at Amicalola Falls State Park. At 729 feet, it is the tallest waterfall in the state. If you’re visiting Vogel State Park, stop at Helton Creek Falls in Blairsville to see these family-friendly falls. The Helton Creek Falls Trail is an easy 0.2-mile hike. Anna Ruby Falls, formed by Curtis and York creeks, are local favorites in Helen. It is one of the most visited waterfalls in North Georgia. Hike the easy-to-moderate half-mile trail from the parking lot to the foot of the falls, and you just might agree!

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Camp or glamp at a state park

Fall is made for camping under the bright stars, and Georgia’s state park system allows you to enjoy comfort and consistency across the state. 

Nestled at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest, popular Vogel State Park offers primitive and backcountry campers a variety of organized activities and events such as fishing rodeos, and festivals. Hiking nature lovers can choose from easy or challenging trails around the park. Rent pedal boats or kayaks to explore and fish the park’s lake. You can also entertain yourself on the seasonal beach, bike rentals, playing a round of mini-golf, or visiting the playground.

A scenic drive through the mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Road trip through the mountains

Slow your pace and travel Georgia’s back roads to fully immerse yourself in the colors and character of the season. North Georgia is literally rolling with peaks and valleys, so finding a good road trip isn’t hard to do. Just get in your car and start driving and likely you’ll stumble into some of the prettiest views in the state.

Follow the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway from Helen through the mountains or travel the Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway from Cohutta to Ellijay. In west Georgia, follow the Meriwether-Pike Scenic Byway and pull off the road in Woodbury for a photo op at the Red Oak Covered Bridge.

Corn maze © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Corn Mazes for Family Fun

Fall is a favorite time of year with cooler weather, the changing leaves, and all the fun fall activities—like corn mazes. Generally, you should plan between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete the maze. Most places have other farm activities too! You’ll find corn mazes, hayrides, bonfires, activities for the kids, and pumpkins.

A haunted house? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What could be better than combining two of the most popular fall activities, the Corn Maze and the Haunted House? If you like to be scared out in the middle of a cornfield, then consider visiting a haunted corn maze. Georgia has several that will chill your blood, as well as a few that rely more on simple darkness for a gentler spook. Whether you’re looking for a haunted house, spook walk, or other Halloween attractions, there are corn mazes that have it all.

Worth Pondering…

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize.

—George Eliot

The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Explore the BEST of the fall season in Georgia

As the air cools and the leaves start to fall, Georgia offers countless experiences to seek out with your family and close friends. From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, take time to get out and enjoy the season’s best.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Take a road trip

Georgia has numerous routes with varied landscapes to enjoy. It twists. It turns. It takes you up, over, and around the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Dragon Eyes winds 77 miles, 715 curves, two loops, six gaps, and endless views that stretch over the mountains. There are several different points you can begin Dragon Eyes. Starting the journey at the center of the two loops in Blairsville, head north for a half-mile on 19/129 and turn right on 180, known as Jack’s Gap. As you start to climb, you will soon be at the base of Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia. Make a left to wind your way through the canopy-covered road up to the top. At the summit, there’s an observation deck that has a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you’re staying in the area, Brasstown Bald is the perfect place to catch a sunrise or sunset. 

Along Russell-Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you’re ready to head out, make your way down to the base and turn left on 180 to continue on the backside of Jack’s Gap. Once you get to the dead-end, make a right onto 75 toward the Bavarian village of Helen. The Dragon Eyes pass through Helen and onto state parks near trails and waterfalls.

The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway also runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald and access points along the Appalachian Trail. Don’t forget about the coastal drives like Coastal Highway 17 which runs along the East Coast including a stretch between Savannah and Brunswick. Along the way, there are small towns and quirky attractions like the Smallest Church in America.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Visit a state park

Rich reds, vibrant oranges, and golden yellows make autumn color in Georgia beautiful. Find a quiet spot to immerse yourself in the beauty of the season at a Georgia State Parks.

The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail at Vogel State Park makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake. For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall. The twisting roads around Vogel in Blairsville, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.

You might already know about some of the most popular Georgia State Parks for fall color but there are many more to explore that don’t disappoint with an array of stunning scenes, smaller crowds, and wide-open spaces.

Leaf peeping near Blairsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Watch the leaves change

Admire the changing colors shifting from green to shades of orange. Blairsville is a good place to start, especially the viewpoint at Brasstown Bald. Similarly, the top of Yonah Mountain offers stunning vistas of the surrounding valley.

Georgia’s state parks are also ideal for “leaf peeping.” Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville has views from the state’s highest waterfall. Black Rock Mountain State Park near Clayton is also great as it’s Georgia’s highest elevation state park.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Visit a small town

Hit the back roads of the state, visiting the charming small towns with something different to offer. Families love the parks and zoo in Athens as well as the restaurants with outdoor dining. Nestled just below the foothills of the Smokies of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Athens is home to the University of Georgia, America’s first state-chartered university.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greensboro is the gateway to Lake Oconee with a café known for its buttermilk pie—The Yesterday Café. Founded in 1786, Greensboro is steeped in Southern history and tradition and rich with elegant antebellum homes and churches.

Perhaps best known as the gateway city to pristine Cum­berland Island, the coastal town of St. Marys draws visitors with a host of natural attractions. Three rivers—St. Marys, the Crooked, and the North—and the Cumberland Sound come together here, making it a popu­lar destination for fishing and boating.

Apple picking season © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pick apples

Fall is the apple picking season in Ellijay, the state’s capital of apple orchards. Visitors can fill up containers with varieties of apples as well as eat apple-accented dishes like apple fritters, apple cider doughnuts, and candy apples. Many orchards also have other things to do like hayrides, petting zoos, corn mazes, and other activities for kids.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Go camping

Experience the great outdoors with a fall camping trip. Georgia State Parks offer sites for both RVs and tents. But if you aren’t outdoorsy, you can take advantage of “glamping” like in a tiny cabin in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest in Suches, a yurt in Tugaloo State Park offering spectacular views of 55,590-acre Lake Hartwell, a geodesic dome in Ellijay with all the comforts of home, and a luxury canvas tent off on a private island (Little Raccoon Key) off Jekyll Island.

Pumpkin patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Visit a pumpkin patch

There’s nothing that signals fall quite like a trip to the pumpkin patch. Sometimes you need just the right type of patch for your family. Is that an intimate u-pick or an adventure-packed occasion with pumpkins, rides, games, and more?

During the fall pumpkin harvest, choose from thousands of pumpkins, Indian corn, gourds, and fall decorations. Scenic hayrides, popcorn processing, gift shop, talking pumpkins, boiled peanuts. Shop for jams, jellies, relishes, fritters, freshly baked pumpkin bread, pumpkin pies, honey, and apple ciders.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Go hiking

Explore Georgia among the miles of trails in every corner of the state.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses 14 states on its journey up the East Coast but it begins (or ends, depending on your direction) in Georgia. Springer Mountain has served as the starting point for countless adventures and as a celebratory finale for those completing the 2,180-mile hike from Mount Katahdin in Maine. In Georgia alone, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail covers 76 miles and crosses seven counties.

Hiking the Georgia mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are shorter scenic trails for day hikers and backpackers to enjoy the best of fall colors along trails of varying lengths throughout Georgia. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area lies within four counties, north and northeast of Atlanta. It consists of the Chattahoochee River and 15 land units along a 48-mile stretch of the river.

Unpack your hiking shoes for a trek around one of Georgia’s most beautiful and notable natural wonders! At Providence Canyon, known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” visitors can enjoy views of the canyons from the rim trail. Located near historic Savannah, Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah offers trails that wind through maritime forest and past salt marsh, leading to a boardwalk and an observation tower.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

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

Fall into something different

Here comes fall and while some RVers are no doubt lamenting the end of summer there are many reasons to be excited about autumn’s arrival. If you’re looking to take advantage of the season but in need of a bit of inspiration, consider kicking off shoulder season in one of these under-the-radar small towns.

Urbana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival (November), more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, chefs, and townspeople. You will see where tons of tobacco were loaded into ships to sail back to Europe and the Famous Mitchell map is displayed at the visitor center located in the James Mills Scottish Factor Store.

Waterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs, or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka, Alabama

The name 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. Proceeding across the Bridge to the largely residential west side 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.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe makes for an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its outdoor offerings and events), a fun fall trip (thanks to its kaleidoscopic foliage), and a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes). This quaint Vermont town is set in a valley and backed by mountains which means exploring Mother Nature by foot, bike, ski, or zip line is the top priority for most travelers. When it’s time to wind down, visit one of the area’s breweries.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers. East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

The year was 1969, and Helen, Georgia, once a thriving lumber town, had fallen into decline. Jobs were scarce and the desolated main street did little to attract the attention of new investors and residents. Just when things were at their bleakest, three local businessmen hatched a scheme to renovate the business district to inject new energy into the town. They called on a local artist who recast the town in a new alpine light and within months many of the old buildings had new German-inspired facades that began to inspire the imagination of tourists. Almost 50 years later, Helen is the third most visited town in the state of Georgia, and yet this little piece of Bavaria in Appalachia is home to little more than 500 residents.

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!

Whitehall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Placerville, California

At its incorporation in 1854, Placerville was the third-largest town in California after San Francisco and Sacramento. Originally named Old Dry Diggins and later in 1849 as Hangtown, Placerville became an important supply center for the surrounding mining camps. Today the town is significantly tamer and its historic Main Street is an antique collector’s dream filled with stores carrying furniture, rusty old mining tools, and other products from bygone eras. Placerville is just minutes from over 50 farms and ranches of the Apple Hill area as well as award-winning wineries.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Get Inspired To Get Back Out There

Sometimes, “great outdoors” is an understatement

Good morning. Every now and again, it’s good to remind ourselves what a bizarre world we are living in. So far, 2020 has been a year like no other! With less than two months left, no one is sure whether it’s flown by or dragged on. One thing is for sure, though—you deserve some recognition for sticking with us through it all! 

RV Exterior cleaning at Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your impulse to scrub every corner of your home (on-wheels) has benefited household goods companies handsomely. P&G, the consumer goods giant and owner of Tide and Charmin, said organic sales jumped 6 percent higher for the past fiscal year. The company’s fabric and home-care unit (which includes Swiffer, Mr. Clean, and Dawn) grew 14 percent, the biggest-ever bump. 

A clean coach at Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why? One word: COVID. People who are suddenly cleaning their doorknobs twice a day tend to buy more cleaning products. An added layer of P&G’s success? We kept buying its products even at premium prices during an economic slowdown—P&G’s wares are generally a bit more costly than competitors. 

A clean coach at Sonoran Desert RV Resort (formerly Gila Bend KOA) in Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zoom out: Disinfecting like mad has also polished the reputations of other cleaning-focused brands. Clorox reported overall sales increase of 27 percent from a year ago and double-digit increases in eight of its 10 business units. People are using Clorox’s namesake disinfectant products to clean household surfaces, cell phones, and laptops—but the company is also benefiting from people cooking more at home instead of going out. That’s because Clorox also owns the plastic bag brand Glad and the charcoal line Kingsford. Sales for Clorox’s household division, the unit that includes these products, soared 39 percent compared to last year.

In an Axios/Harris poll of U.S. attitudes toward companies, Clorox got the best grades in “Ethics” and “Products & Services” and came in second in “Trust.”

Autumn colors at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Fall, Y’all

Fall isn’t just a time for pumpkin-spiced everything, cool-weather hikes, and Thanksgiving overindulgence. It’s also when nature shows off the autumnal art display of trees clad in brilliant colors.

Autumn along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the world grapples with the current reality, the great outdoors have become a welcome respite. Biking is on the rise. RVs became mobile motels for a new generation of traveler. And camping is a now go-to weekend activity for backcountry aficionados and newbies alike. With fall in full swing, there is an unlimited supply of ideal camping destinations coast to coast. 

With wildly diverse wilderness, a massive playground for campers of all walks, whether you’re seeking a trip to one of the country’s most celebrated national parks or one of its most underrated.

Autumn in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks might get all the fame and glory, but the United States is dotted with some stunning state parks as well. America is home to more than 10,000 state parks attracting some 739 million annual visitors. As more and more travelers seek the open road and open spaces, those numbers will continue to grow. More and more of these parks are catering to RV travelers with campgrounds, hookups, and other amenities.

Autumn in Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t let the cool temperatures of the fall season keep you from getting out and camping. There are great advantages to “cold season” camping including fewer people, fall colors, and seeing areas in different seasons to name just a few. With some preparation you can stay comfortable in cooler temperatures and keep on adventuring.

Driving Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jaw-dropping vistas can be discovered after a long hike or by simply pulling off the road. Whether you’re looking to flee the big city or stop off for a while in the middle of a cross-country journey there are campsites for all interests. 

Autumn in Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s post is all about road trips going on RIGHT NOW. I am feeling pent up and could use the expanse of the horizon line to keep me going in these COVID-trying times. Filling my mug with coffee, hiking a local trail, and channeling some of my favorite road dawgs from Jack Kerouac and Paul Theroux to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie! Put the phone on RV mode and ride off into the sunset. But also, check it every once in a while so you can keep up with the latest RVing with Rex post.

Walking the trails at Bernheim Forest near Louisville, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All that said, I hope you are safe, and making the best of our challenging times. Be wise. Be careful. Don’t take needless chances. Be kind to others because right now that goes a long way to comforting people who are nervous, scared, or otherwise emotionally hurting over the dramatic upheaval in their lives.

And thank you for reading.

Worth Pondering…

I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.

—Winston Churchill

8 Creative Ways to See Some Fall Color

The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

You already know that the countryside is filled with trails and vistas that provide great opportunities to catch a glimpse of fiery fall color while you’re hiking. This year, get your thrills while you’re enjoying the season with these eight activities.

Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin picking

Whether Halloween eve brings trick-or-treaters door to door or not, pumpkin-picking, carving and baking are guaranteed fall fun. It wouldn’t be autumn without a trip to the pumpkin patch. Keeping social distancing in mind, plan an excursion when the crowds are less to take in all that many of the area’s fall attractions have to offer. Vast selections of pumpkins are also available from farm stands and markets.

Apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple picking

Choose from a variety of apple orchards in your area to find the best apple picking near you. Some of the apple orchards only offer apple picking while others have fall festivals with other activities in addition to picking your own apples. Apple picking will look a little bit different this year—timed entries and reduced capacities will be the norm—but luckily, one element that’s not affected are the apples themselves. Most farms will still be open to visitors this fall with many of them offering markets with pie and apple cider (both the doughnuts and beverage kind) along with attractions like petting zoos, hay rides, and corn mazes. So grab your mask, and check out an apple orchard in your area.

Corn maze, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navigate a corn maze

The corn maze is a real challenge that is sure to put your skills to the test as you wind down trails of corn. Some annual corn mazes are canceled due to the pandemic but others are moving forward with the beloved autumn tradition. Assume masks are required and that you should stay home if you feel symptoms or have been exposed to an infected person. Keep social distancing protocols in mind. Check websites for ticketing procedures.

Hay ride coming up! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hayrides

Hayrides are a popular fall tradition that is enjoyed by all ages and are a wonderful way to enjoy the season and the natural beauty that it brings. Some hayrides feature scenic views of endless land while others take you through acres of cornfields. A wonderful way to capture the breath-taking views that autumn offers, hay rides will forever be a part of this favorite season. Some farms have opted to do away with the traditional hay ride, while others are limiting riders and socially distancing.

Hiking Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go hiking

Lace up your boots and be prepared to be wowed with a scenic fall hike. This fall, as the air turns crisp and the rolling hills change from mottled green to a fiery mosaic of yellow, orange, and red, get into the woods, as autumn is prime time for hiking. The worst of the pesky bugs have disappeared with the heat and the forests are ablaze with color.

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

Go canoeing

One of the best ways to see fall foliage is to take a boat trip along a wilderness stream. You can see the autumn colors from the river as you kayak or canoe for a day. Plan your perfect scenic kayaking and canoeing adventure!

Rio Bend RV and Golf Course, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a golf outing

If you’re inclined to spend some time on the links then you’ve probably been taking advantage of the wide open courses this summer. If not, or if you want to try giving it a swing, head to a local golf course to try while you take in the crisp fall air and beautiful foliage.

Driving Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn drives

If you’re feeling an expedition to nature but want to observe from the comfort of your car there’s plenty of great fall drives you can take throughout the countryside. The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning