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

8 of the Best Leaf-Peeping Destinations! But is it the Season of Fall or Autumn?

Autumn leaves, autumn sneeze, fall breeze, and fall trees. Is it most accurate to say September 22 is the start of fall or autumn?

Both autumn and fall originated from Britain, according to Merriam-Webster. Autumn, however, was the first of the pumpkin spice season names to be invented back in the 1300s originating from the Latin word autumnus. It would take 300 years for fall to come into the picture. 

Applegate River Valley in southern Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After many poets began using the phrase “the fall of the leaves,” the word itself became associated with the season during the 1600s. As the English empire grew during this time period, so did its language. Eventually, the word fall made its way to the New World. 

“To put it more pretentiously, there was always something transient, unstable, mysterious, emotionally undefined about autumn and fall, unlike the other seasons which are so well defined,” said Tony Thorne, a lexicographer at King’s College London. “Maybe that’s why people could not easily decide on one permanent name throughout our history.”

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The word autumn emigrated to America and simply changed to fall, like many other words that got mixed during the travel and independence of the U.S. Jumper in Britain, for example, is what sweater means in America.

Which term is used largely depends on whether the person is speaking British English or American English. While both used throughout the United States and Canada, fall has become the more popular term. From 1800 to the present, autumn has been more popular in Britain and the opposite can be said for America, according to Writing Explained. 

Northern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Some think that it sounds more simple and honest and rustic, unlike the more formal autumn, some think that independent Americans wanted to consciously distance themselves from Colonial British ways of speaking,” Thorne said.

There is no real answer to why fall became so popular with Americans, but the main difference is that it is the less proper way of saying the autumn season has arrived. You may get a weird look or two if you say autumn over fall in the U.S. but both accurately describe the popular season.

Farewell flip-flops, hello pumpkin spice.

Regardless of what you call the season, watching lush greenery morph into a sea of warm hues that rival the sunset itself simply never gets old. And when it comes to fall foliage, New England is hard to beat—but there are plenty of lovely leaf-peeping locales in other regions of the U.S., too. Here are eight of my favorite spots from coast to coast.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Willamette Valley of Oregon

Fall colors in the Southern Willamette Valley are a special kind of show when the leaves of maples, magnolias, and oaks turn vivid shades of yellow and red, contrasting against Oregon’s signature evergreens. Use Eugene or Medford as a home base—both are home to quirky shops, restaurants, and stays. Enjoy the foliage with a climb up Spencer Butte, just a quick trip from downtown Eugene, or on a drive to explore the 20 covered bridges in Lane County. Better yet, pay a visit to one of the valley’s wineries—the vines also turn when the weather cools.

Southern Willamette Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience Jacksonville, dubbed “One of America’s Top 10 Coolest Small Towns” by Frommers. A short drive from Medford, life slows a pace or two in quaint, historic Jville. Steeped in history, the entire town is designated a National Historic Landmark. Explore the roots of the area from the days of the 1850’s gold rush to now through a variety of historical tour options including a self-guided walking tour as well as trolley, haunted history tours, walking tours, and more! A quintessential western town, you’ll find yourself enthralled in how things used to be!

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greater Zion

Autumn in Utah’s Greater Zion region is an unforgettable sight when the leaves on quaking aspens and Frémont cottonwoods at higher elevations change to striking golds and yellows. In Zion National Park, the leaves typically turn from September through October. Visitors can take the park shuttle service from Springdale during that time making it easy to pop into the park and hike routes like Canyon Overlook Trail, a fairly leisurely journey with rewarding views. To get farther from the crowds, visit nearby state parks instead including Quail Creek, Snow Canyon, Gunlock, and Sand Hollow

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches from the northern part of Virginia near Shenandoah National Park, south to Cherokee, North Carolina, near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is truly one of the most stunning fall drives in the country.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a spectacular drive any time of year, but it’s exceptional during the fall. This U.S. National Parkway often called “America’s favorite drive” meanders 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. The drive connects Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s famous for being a slow-paced drive with views of long-range vistas, pastoral landscapes, and up-close glimpses of the local mountains.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is home to a transforming mountain landscape with crisp yet comfortable fall temperatures that range from the high-50s to mid-70s. The hillside between Hyde Memorial State Park and Ski Santa Fe is also covered in aspens whose leaves burst into fiery gold and crimson in late September. Ski Santa Fe opens its main ski lift exclusively on weekends and holidays from September through mid-October for aerial leaf-peeping and the Santa Fe National Forest is open for outdoor exploration like hiking and biking. 

Northern Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern Georgia

North Georgia and its state parks and scenic byways are best visited in the fall when cool temps and beautiful colors take over. Can’t-miss foliage destinations include Tallulah Gorge State Park which is home to the Tallulah Gorge—two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet in depth—and a suspension bridge that sways 80 feet above the Tallulah River. Next, explore Black Rock Mountain State Park which is Georgia’s highest state park at an altitude of 3,640 feet for scenic panoramas. Those who would rather just sit back and enjoy the ride can take a train trip on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway which departs from Blue Ridge, Georgia, and takes riders on a four-hour journey through the nearby forests and Appalachian foothills as they burst with brilliant colors.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga, New York

Fall foliage in Saratoga County is a spectacular sight to see as the trees come alive with vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. This season is the ideal time of year to take a relaxing drive down country roads and to impressive overlooks and colorful forests.

Saratoga National Historical Park has public hiking trails and a Driving Tour Road that will take you to unique historic sites and scenic overlooks with wide-sweeping views of the fall foliage.

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can finish the Driving Tour Road in about 30 minutes with no stops. If you visit each of the 10 wayside interpretive stops, the trip will last about 1.5-2 hours.

After you’ve passed the 10th and final stop, drive east to US-4 and then heading north to Schuylerville. When you arrive in the village, celebrate this leaf-peeping adventure with a craft beer at Bound by Fate Brewing or grab a bite to eat at a restaurant. The Basin Grill offers both outdoor and indoor dining and it’s right on the Hudson River shoreline. While you’re in Schuylerville this season, swing by Saratoga Apple for apples, cider, baked goods, and more farm products.

Fishlake National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishlake National Forest

Fall doesn’t get as much love in Utah as other times of year but the changing colors make it spectacular. The deep oranges of canyon maples light up the Wasatch Front and quaking aspens in southern Utah turn bright yellow to contrast the deep red landscape. It’s the perfect opportunity to get out on weekends without the summer crowds and discover the hidden treasures that make Utah great. Not sure where to go? Here is one of my favorite fall getaways in the Beehive State.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A perfect fall detour while visiting Capitol Reef National Park, this 13-mile road takes you along the northern edge of Fish Lake where you can stop at a picnic area for lunch with a view. The aspens in the Fishlake National Forest turn early thanks to the 9,000-foot elevation so you can get your foliage fix before heading to Capitol Reef. Enjoy uncrowded autumn hikes, incredible vistas, and arches carved into the landscape.

The Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef offers 71 sites with easy access to the many trails and scenic drives in and around the park. It’s open year-round and features flush-toilet restrooms.

Mabry Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mabry Mill 

One of the most photographed places in Virginia, this water-powered mill in the Blue Ridge Mountains was built by Edwin Boston Mabry. It catches the attention of thousands of visitors each year and has now become a community gathering place. Mabry Mill is somewhat close to Roanoke (and near small Galax) and is just great for taking some epic pictures full of the fall colors in Virginia. The area also features displays where you can explore and grasp an idea of what life was like here some 100 years ago. 

Mabry Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mabry Mill is particularly known for its restaurant. It serves a country-style menu, tasty pancakes, pot toasts, and many other meals in a very iconic and traditional environment. For amazing Mabry Mill and Blue Ridge Parkway-inspired souvenirs, clothing, as well as for some Virginia crafts and foods get to the gift shop nearby. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—William Cullen Bryant

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in October

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

October, a month that brings to mind fall festivals, leaves changing, and cooler weather is also a fantastic time for RV travel. Head to places like the Bavarian village of Helen or the New River Gorge for Bridge Day where fall foliage is at its best during this time of year. If you’d rather escape the sometimes chilly weather and head someplace warmer such as Savannah or Tucson.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in August and September. Also, check out my recommendations from October 2020.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

A Bavarian-inspired village with alpine charm in spades, Helen has heaps of character and enchanting architecture. Given its Germanic roots, you’ll be hardly shocked to learn that Oktoberfest is hugely popular. Vineyards, breweries, and an array of shops attract year-round travelers. For a sweet treat, stock up on confections at Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen. Speaking of food, the köstlich (German for delicious) and authentic dining scene also deserves a shout-out. Nearby Unicoi State Park offers 53 acres of forested trails plus numerous campsites and a lake.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson harbor countless scenic ravines but two of the prettiest are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many cacti, and other Sonoran Desert plants with rocky peaks rising high above. Of the two, Sabino is more developed and more visited having a paved road running 3.8 miles up the lower section along which are various picnic sites, trailheads, and viewpoints.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trams leave the visitor center every 30 minutes for the journey into Sabino Canyon, stopping at nine places along the way. The full trip takes about 45 minutes, crosses the creek nine times on sturdy stone bridges, and is made to the accompaniment of narration from a tour guide who gives details of the local wildlife, plant life, geology, and history. The trams are certainly the most popular way to visit though some prefer to walk or cycle.  Bear Canyon and the Seven Falls trailhead can be explored by a relatively easy 5-mile round trip hike beginning at the end of the side road, reachable by tram—or 8.5 miles if starting from the visitor center.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The most-visited national park, this protected area spans more than 520,000 acres straddling North Carolina and Tennessee. Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 850 hiking trails and is considered the most biodiverse park in the national park system. What’s more, it’s home to some of the tallest peaks in the eastern United States. One of those peaks is the 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome which wows visitors with 360-degree views of the Smokies (on a clear day, visitors can see for 100 miles).

Clingmans Dome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more spectacular mountain vistas travelers can hike the 3.6-mile round-trip Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald which starts from the parking lot at Clingmans Dome. Boasting an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, Andrews Bald is the highest grassy bald in the park. For travelers who don’t want to rough it in one of the park’s campsites, there are full-service RV parks available in Bryson City and Cherokee, North Carolina, and Sevierville and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Entry to the national park is free.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fayetteville & Bridge Day

With the official designation earlier this year of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, neighboring Fayetteville has been buzzing. However, this laid-back, tight-knit community (named for American Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette) has long been a place where adventure reigns. The nearby New and Gauley Rivers offer world-class whitewater rafting and the Fayetteville area is home to some of the best rock climbing in the East. It’s also a prime spot for mountain biking.

Adventure pursuit aside, Fayetteville’s natural scenery is stunning with cascading waterfalls, scenic parks, and breathtaking views that overlook the New River Gorge. The region is also home to a wealth of Appalachian history including a Civil War Trail and nearby mining towns like Nuttallburg and Thurmond.

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown is chock full of quirky shops like Wild Art Wonderful Things where you can pick up Appalachian-made products like state-shaped embroideries and bottles of River Rat Hot Sauce. Fayetteville is home to the original Pies and Pints, a stone hearth pizza place with a decidedly cult following. (The gorgonzola and grape pie is a fan favorite.) The Wood Iron Eatery whips up made-from-scratch dishes in Fayetteville’s historic Ankrom-Dickerson House.

While the town’s landmark New River Gorge Bridge—an 876-foot-high single-span arch bridge that’s also one of the world’s longest—is impressive on any day, it’s especially so each third Saturday in October (October 13, 2021). This is Bridge Day, the only time that it’s legal to BASE jump in a national park (and professional BASE jumpers take full advantage of it). Bridge Walk offers a heart-thumping adventure of a different kind: guided tours beneath the bridge, along its 24-inch-wide catwalk.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several spectacular scenic vistas on the Tennessee side. Brushy Ridge and Turkey Creek overlooks are good picnic spots. You’ll pass the turn-off for Indian Boundary Waters which offers great camping and back road dual sport/jeep explorations.

On the North Carolina side, Huckleberry Knob (near MM 8) is one of the favorite stops for visitors. At 5,560 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Unicoi Mountains and Graham County. It’s an easy 2.4-mile roundtrip hike in the Nantahala National Forest with only a 400-foot elevation gain along a former forest service road.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston in the Fall

It’s leaf-peeping time in New England and you don’t have to go any further than Boston Common to see fall colors. Boston is at its most beautiful in the fall. As the leaves turn, Boston’s parks put on an unforgettable show complementing the historic architecture. While you’re there, walk the Freedom Trail to explore some of the city’s historic sites—walk the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites. 

Two centuries separate the creation of the Boston Common and the Public Garden and what a difference that period made. In 1634 the Common was created as America’s first public park; it was practical and pastoral with walkways built for crosstown travel. In contrast, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. It was decorative and flowery from its inception featuring meandering pathways for strolling.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Fall Pumpkin Float in the Boston Common Frog Pond is planned for Friday, October 15, setting the stage for Halloween with jack-o-lanterns and spooky activities. The Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest two-day rowing event, will be held October 22-24. Since its inception in 1965, The Head Of The Charles Regatta has attracted hundreds of thousands of rowers to the banks of the Charles River. The Boston Marathon returns on October 11 with a reduced field of 20,000 runners.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

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. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Chippewa Square © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah’s Squares

The best way to see Savannah is to set out on foot to walk its squares. Each one of these lush green spaces comes complete with businesses, homes, and churches. Some of these neighborhoods are tiny; others are huge. Some rest amid urban bustling while others sit quietly, disturbed only by the occasional thrasher or mockingbird.

Savannah’s squares are an invitation to stroll or simply relax and listen to the breeze stirring the oak trees and the clippity-clop of horse-drawn carriages wending around the roads. They’re the ideal jumping-off places to explore the walkable historic district.

First Baptist Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love Chippewa Square. It sits adjacent to the First Baptist Church and among beautiful townhomes. I never tire of seeking out its architectural secrets such as the charming fish-shaped caps on the downspouts that grace the homes facing the square.

Be sure to seek out the different squares and find a favorite of your own. There you may simply want to sit and let the lovely green park envelop you with its whisperings of centuries of life in this delightful city.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Surfing Monahans

As a winter sport, snowboarding is particularly ill-suited to the Texas climate. But if you’re willing to use a little imagination, you may find the next best thing waiting for you in the deserts of West Texas. True, there’s no white powder but powder-soft sand abounds at Monahans Sandhills State Park, the perfect place for sliding downhills. With entrance fees an affordable $4 per adult, it’s a lot cheaper than a ski lift ticket.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t have your own gear? No problem! You can rent a sand disc at the park’s head­quarters. There are endless sandhills to climb, jump or surf down. Pick a few and have fun! Boarding or sledding the dunes is more fun on the cool sand, so mornings and evenings are best. Midday, picnic at one of the park’s covered shelters or build a sandcastle, the Monahans equivalent of a snowman!

After playing in the sand all day, rinse off at one of the park’s watering stations before heading to your RV in the 26-site campground. Each site offers water and electric hookups, a picnic table, shade shelter, and a waist-high grill. Each site rents for $15 nightly plus a daily entrance fee.

Museum of Appalachia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where the Past Touches Your Soul

The Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee, is a living history museum where you can “let the past touch your soul.” Visit a pioneer farm village that channels the voice of the South Appalachian folk through the artifacts and stories they left behind. Roam the 65-acres of picturesque land and experience a rural Appalachian community complete with 35 log cabins, barns, farm animals, churches, schools, and gardens. Discover a vast collection of folk art, musical instruments, baskets, quilts, and Native American artifacts.

John Rice Irwin collected artifacts and buildings over the course of 50 years assembling a typical early Appalachian village with barns, homes, and businesses. Musicians play traditional music, and a restaurant serves Southern home-style meals with ingredients from the museum’s gardens.

Worth Pondering…

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

―L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Fall foliage won’t wait and neither should you

Every year, Mother Nature sets the hills ablaze with vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple. Autumn is a special time of year. The air begins to cool and the leaves start to change color. It’s the season to admire the magic of nature at a slower pace.

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is a great time to head out in the RV. Crisp days, cool evenings, and an amazing show as the leaves turn vibrant colors! Fall signals the change from summer to winter. It’s the time when we change from the relaxed, carefree attitudes of summer to the more serious and introspective energies of fall.

Did you know: we’ve been calling this season “fall” since the 17th century. Before then it was simply “Harvest” but as more people moved away from agricultural locations, fall became the more common word for this fantastic season (because leaves fell!). Fall and autumn are interchangeable but you’re likely to hear “autumn” more frequently in Britain while “fall” is more common in America.

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

The best time to view the fall foliage is typically late September to late October but timing varies according to region, elevation, and weather.

This autumn, take advantage of cooler temperatures and beautiful foliage by planning a fall drive through some of the country’s most scenic regions. With a dozen routes through the most picturesque states around the country, you’re bound to find a perfect autumn getaway. From coast to coast, these fall road trips offer amazing views and unique things to do.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest-running fall leaf seasons. One of the many reasons for this is the varied elevations which show prime fall colors for more than a month. Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.

The Blue Ridge Parkway connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. This National Parkway often called “America’s favorite drive” meanders 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina. It is truly one of the most stunning fall drives in the country. Everyone should complete this trek at least once in their lifetime! While you drive, you’ll pass split-rail fences, old farmsteads, mountain meadows, and scenic overlooks. Stop along the way at the numerous hiking trails or visit a local farm to grab some autumnal produce.

Heritage Driving Tour near Goshen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heritage Driving Tour, Indiana

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove, Tennessee

Cades Cove is one of the most popular spots in the Smoky Mountains National Park and it’s not hard to see why. Visitors can explore hiking trails, historic sites, and an auto tour. During the fall season, Cades Cove comes alive with gorgeous colors and becomes an even more magical place to visit. But be aware that the traffic is often bumper-to-bumper especially on weekends. Late October into November is when the gorgeous fall foliage can best be seen in Cades Cove. Be sure to bring your camera when you visit—there are plenty of picture-perfect opportunities throughout Cades Cove!

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway climbs up Parowan Canyon’s white, gold, red, and yellow rock pillars and cliffs, traveling between its two town anchors, Parowan and Panguitch. As you travel this rolling route through varying elevations, note the distinctive combination of colorful scenery and ancient history. For a relaxed afternoon, go fishing in Panguitch Lake from which the byway gets half of its name. As you continue along your way, a section of the route brushes the top of Cedar Breaks National Monument, an amphitheater canyon eroded out of the western edge of the Markagaunt Plateau. Dixie National Forest is home to Brian Head Peak, which reaches 11,315 feet and gives the byway the other half of its namesake.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Skyline Drive is a 105-mile journey along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. The landscape is spectacular in the fall with trees transforming into every shade of yellow and red imaginable and piles of crunchy leaves lining the drive like confetti. Skyline Drive’s nearly 70 overlooks give you practically endless opportunities to soak up the scenery.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newfound Gap Scenic Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Autumn is both a beautiful and a busy time in the Great Smoky Mountains. The annual show of fall colors attracts huge numbers of sightseers especially during the last three weeks of October.

With more than 130 tree species, many of them deciduous, the Great Smoky Mountains put on quite a show as summer starts to fade. If you’re looking to take a scenic drive through the Smokies, Newfound Gap is the perfect route! As the lowest pass through the mountains, there are plenty of spots along this road to see the gorgeous fall foliage. As you drive along Newfound Gap, you’ll reach an overlook that’s a great place to get some pictures of the views.

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

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Gold Rush Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California Highway 49

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs and ponderosa pine stud higher slopes. The old mining towns along the Trail retain their early architecture and charm—living reminders of the rich history of the Mother Lode. Placerville, Amador City, Sutter Creek, Jackson, San Andreas, Angels Camp, and Murphys all retain their 1850’s flavor.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Fall is a beautiful time of year on the Cherohala Skyway. Cool weather arrives and the changing leaves are spectacular. The leaves begin changing color as early as September in the higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations. The dogwoods, poplars, and sourwoods are some of the first to transform. The red oaks, hickories, and white oaks change later and often hold their leaves until late fall.

Roaring Fork Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee

The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a favorite among visitors to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is a 5.5-mile, one-way loop that includes views of rushing mountain streams and old-growth forests. There are a number of historic log cabins, homes, and buildings that have been preserved along with grist mills. The trail is narrow and winding, so make sure to go slow and take your time exploring the sights. Right before you get to the motor nature trail, take some time for a quick stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guiding nature trail which offers a walking tour of an authentic mountain farmstead and surrounding hardwood forest.

Worth Pondering…

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

—George Eliot

Finding Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Beyond

Check out these leaf-peeping tips for a spectacular fall visit to the Blue Ridge Parkway

Tens of thousands of people visit the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Georgia each year to see the beautiful fall foliage and autumn colors. The Blue Ridge Mountains offer one of the most colorful and longest-running fall leaf seasons in the world.

One of the many reasons for this is the varied elevations which show prime fall colors for more than a month. Fall colors begin at the highest elevations in early October and work their way down to the lower elevations in early November.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When will the Parkway leaves stop producing chlorophyll and change to their wardrobe of fall colors? If you’re wondering when the peak Blue Ridge Parkway Fall leaf season will be this year, you’re not alone. It’s usually in October which is often the busiest month along the Parkway. But there are many factors that influence the timing and intensity of the color including when and how much rain falls, how late in the season the sun shines with intense heat, and how cool the nights are. So your best bet to see peak autumn color is to incorporate as many of these elements into your trip as possible.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation: Travel a longer section of the Parkway to see a variety of elevations. Leaves change color at higher, cooler elevations first. The elevation along the Parkway ranges from over 6,000 feet at Richland Balsam in North Carolina to just under 650 feet at the James River in Virginia. You can also continue into Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks on either end of the Parkway for additional opportunities to view fall color. Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the state high point of Tennessee and Mount Mitchell, located along the Parkway at Milepost 355 is the state high point for North Carolina and either would be a good choice.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aspect: Which direction a slope face determines its temperature and the type of plants that grow there. Leaves change color first on cooler, wetter north-facing slopes and later on warmer, south-facing slopes. View a variety of aspects to see different plants and different phases of color change.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distance: Since overlooks with distant views reveal a variety of elevations and aspects you are more likely to see leaf color. Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the state high point of Tennessee, and Mount Mitchell, with access at Parkway at Milepost 355, is the state high point for North Carolina; either would provide a long-distance view. But many Parkway overlooks also provide long-range views, so there are lots of options besides the tallest peak in the state.

The bottom line is, don’t expect to pick one spot on one day on the Parkway and see the perfect combination of colors—instead, travel a longer distance and you’re likely to meet all the criteria above and see a variety of stages of color change.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, then, is the general progression:

  • Leaves at the highest elevations (Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, and Waterrock Knob) change from late September to early October
  • Mid-October provides good color along most of the Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park including Boone and Blowing Rock in North Carolina and Wytheville and Fancy Gap in Virginia
  • Next, the lower elevations provide good color (Pisgah National Forest, Linville Gorge, Nantahala Gorge, and Maggie Valley in North Carolina and Roanoke, Lynchburg, Lexington, Waynesboro, and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia)
  • The lowest elevations (Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, Gatlinburg, Chimney Rock, and Lake Lure) provide the final color display if the weather has cooperated and there are still leaves on the trees
Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2021 Fall Color Forecast for the Blue Ridge Parkway, by week

September 27-October 7: At the highest elevations, close to 6,000 feet there is some color but it’s often very spotty and muted. The views from these locations will be mostly green since the areas viewed are lower elevations. Areas that turn early in this date and elevation range include Graveyard Fields (Milepost 418.8) and Rough Ridge Trail (Milepost 302.8).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October 1-10: Peak time for areas above 5,000 feet. This would include Clingmans Dome, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Waterrock Knob (Milepost 451.2), and Graveyard fields (the first location on the Parkway to turn) and higher elevations of The Blue Ridge Parkway (between Asheville and Cherokee) and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October 10 – 20: Peak time for elevations from 4,000-5,000 feet. This would include almost all Blue Ridge Parkway locations and the majority of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well. Included in this elevation are the Boone and Blowing Rock areas.

October 18-26: Peak time for lower elevations, from 3,000-4,000 feet. This would include places like Pisgah National Forest which includes Sliding Rock and Looking Glass Falls, Dill Falls, Wildcat Falls, and many other waterfalls.  Other areas include Linville Gorge (Milepost 316.4), Nantahala Gorge, Maggie Valley (Milepost 455.5), and Cataloochee Valley.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October 24-31: Peak time for elevations from 2,000 feet-3,000 feet. This would include The cities of Asheville, Brevard, Waynesville, Cherokee, and many others. Places of interest include Dupont State Forest and Biltmore Estate, and Cades Cove.

October 26-November 8: Peak time for remaining elevations including Gatlinburg (Tennessee), Chimney Rock (North Carolina), and remaining lower elevation mountains. This includes Chimney Rock (State Park) as well, a great place to see fall color.

Please note: These timeframes are estimates based on prior years and current weather and soil conditions. Actual peak times may vary some from this forecast.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Information and Trip Planning

The Parkway’s unique features such as limited sight distances, blind curves, and elevation changes offer driving challenges, especially for recreational vehicles. Stay alert and watch for other motorists, wildlife, and bicyclists.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: Be sure to make advance camping reservations. The Parkway’s eight campgrounds were built years ago and do not currently offer RV hookups. Most Parkway campgrounds have at least some sites that will accommodate sizeable recreational vehicles. There are many private campgrounds in communities available just off the Parkway with full RV hookups and amenities.

Tunnels: Know the height of your RV in comparison to the heights of the 26 tunnels along the Parkway. The top of each tunnel is curved with the maximum height above the center line and the minimum height at the road shoulder.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parkway Detour: From May 2021 to spring 2022, a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed in Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Expect a closure by Roanoke due to a serious slope failure there. The National Park Service will be completing repairs on the Roanoke River Bridge at Milepost 114 and also repairing a road hazard at Milepost 127.9 that was caused by heavy rains and landslides. As a result, the Blue Ridge Parkway will be closed from Milepost 112.2 (Route 24 near Vinton) to Milepost 136 (Route 221 on Bent Mountain) for through-travelers. You can take US 221 around the closure from Parkway Milepost 135.9 to Milepost 106 (about a 27-mile detour).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a popular destination for vacationers who RV. Nothing beats a beautiful, wooded drive in your home-away-from-home!

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
Take me home, country roads.

—John Denver

Why Fall Is the Best Time to Visit these 10 National Parks

All the awe. None of the crowds.

America’s national parks continued to dominate the travel sphere this summer, offering the pandemic-weary a respite from cabin fever through the magic of actual cabins and reminding RV-newbies and seasoned road-trippers alike that they really are America’s Best Idea.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another great idea! Hit the parks in the fall when the colors change, the temps cool down, and the tourists all but vanish. There’s all that foliage to enjoy, of course—but that’s just the beginning. Elk begin to rut, fog descends upon the valleys, and salmon fling themselves upstream as nature transforms into the most vibrant time of the year.

Although national parks are appealing destinations year-round, a few stand out from the pack in autumn. Fall colors are an obvious draw at some parks but there are also other benefits to traveling in September through November. To help inspire your next fall getaway, check out the autumnal splendor of 10 of my favorite national parks.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The most-visited national park, the Great Smoky Mountains is magnificent in fall. Maples, birches, beeches, hickories, and dogwoods form a tapestry of scarlet, russet, orange, and yellow with sunflowers and asters bloom as well. Savor the spectrum from your car or bike on the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop where, if you’re lucky, you might spot a black bear or two. Drive up to Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet the highest point in Tennessee. Climb the 375-foot ramp to the 45-foot observation tower and be rewarded with 360-degree views.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Yes, the nation’s newest national park has sublimely colorful scenes every fall, and yes, the photo opportunities are only one reason to visit. Whitewater rafting is another. Fifty-three miles of the wild and wonderful New River run through New River Gorge which became America’s 63rd and newest national park in 2020. Outfitters offer whitewater-rafting trips in the shadow of sandstone cliffs but gawking at the canopy of changing leaves is good enough reason to visit—as is photographing the impressive New River Gorge Bridge. On Bridge Day, October 16 this year, the span is closed to vehicles, and visitors can stroll and marvel at hundreds of skydivers floating 876 feet into the gorge.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

If you love fall foliage but aren’t so much in love with getting out of your car (though I do recommend a hike or two) then Shenandoah is the best national park in America for you. Hit its famous 105-mile Skyline Drive along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and become enveloped in the very essence of the season as you cruise through—slowly. There are no fewer than 75 scenic overlooks from which you can gaze out over the canopy of reds, oranges, and gold. Early October is when things hit their peak up here. For those who want to stretch a little, pull over around Mile 49 for a gentle hike to the quadruple waterfalls of Rose River Cascades. And the misty vistas and 500 hiking trails are totally tempting.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

In the summer months, hiking in Arches can feel like slogging through a convection oven with temperatures soaring into the triple digits and nary a tree in sight to provide shade—not to mention that the park teems with so many tourists that they’re often forced to close the park for the day. During fall the heat and the hordes dissipate dramatically. September and October provide maximum high-desert sunshine with comfortable temps in the 60s and 70s so you’ll be well-equipped to explore this whimsical red rock terrain strewn with mighty pinnacles, balanced rocks, and 2,000-plus arches without succumbing to heat exhaustion and/or road rage.

A certified dark sky park, Arches is well suited for stargazing. Stargazing is a year-round activity but fall is a good bet to see meteor showers. The season kicks off with the Draconid meteors (peaking October 8), then the Orionids (October 21), South Taurids (November 4 to 5), North Taurids (November 11 to 12), and finally the Leonids (November 17). The Orionids, in particular, can produce up to 20 meteors per hour. Despite peaking on October 21, they can be seen all month long.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic is a national park where you might not expect fall colors. This quiet northern California Park has pockets of cottonwood, oaks, and sagebrush which together create a vivid palette. Crystal clear Manzanita Lake is one area of the park with bright colors in addition to the ever-present evergreens. Even if you don’t time it right for the fall colors, you’ll still enjoy an iconic view of Lassen Peak. Because the park has several high elevation areas, autumn arrives early as does winter. Your best chance of seeing brilliant foliage is in September and October. As the season progresses, be prepared for temporary road or trail closures due to snow at higher elevations. Don’t be disappointed if you see snow instead of fall colors, though. The geothermal areas of Sulphur Works and the Bumpass Hell Trail are beautiful in different ways.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The downside of being one of the most notable national parks in the country (and world-renown) is that things stay pretty crowded. The Grand Canyon’s 3 million annual visitors swarm the popular South Rim for hikes, mule rides, and unnerving selfies all throughout the summer—yes, even in spite of the heat. But after road trip season screeches to a halt, this natural wonder gets more accessible. September through November sees lower crowd levels and cooler, comfier temps that hit that sweet spot between sweater weather and shorts season. You’ll be able to ride your mule in peace and get a photo of the mile-deep canyon without worrying you might accidentally get bumped off the edge.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

South Dakota’s Badlands is the only national park in the country where you can get psychedelic desert colors at sunrise and the deep, burnished gold of autumn grasses in the afternoon. Hike the quiet trails like the hands-on Notch Trail which weaves through a canyon and up a wooden ladder before culminating in a sweeping prairie vista. Drive through the park and you’ll also see otherworldly rock formations, their pink and yellow hoodoos bathed in warm autumn light with streaks of bright foliage in the backdrop. Or, if you’re up to it, take advantage of the vastly reduced post-summer car traffic and hit the roads by bike.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

One of America’s newer national parks is a place of weather extremes with occasional freezing temperatures in the winter, scorching forecasts in the summer, and wind-swept afternoons in the spring—all of which sounds fine and dandy until you’re rinsing your eyes of gypsum crystals or sweating like a hog. Fall in White Sands National Park is where it’s at: The cottonwood trees are changing color, the crowds have thinned, and the comfortable dry warmth of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin makes it easy to hike through snow-white sand for hours on end or rent a sand sled from the visitor center and embrace your inner child as you careen down the dunes.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park is located in the Midlands region of South Carolina. With a humid subtropical climate, the park experiences mild winters and very warm, wet summers. The park is accessible in all seasons, but is best experienced in the spring and fall when temperatures are at their most comfortable and insects are generally not a problem. September through November is a wonderful time to visit Congaree with average daily temperatures in the 70s with low humidity. Fall colors peak between the end of October and early November. Water levels are ideal at this time of year for taking a paddling trip on Cedar Creek.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

You’ll love Zion in the fall! The temperatures are milder to enjoy the best Zion hikes, there are fewer people than in summer, and the park looks stunning as beautiful red, yellow, and orange leaves add so much color to its rugged desert landscape. Though the climate in Zion is arid, many trees thrive in the park. Evergreen white pines, ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir are mixed with golden aspens, crimson maples, copper oaks, and yellow cottonwoods. Red and gold accents brighten the desert landscapes, creating ample opportunities for nature photographers.

Zion has a very long fall foliage season due to the variety in elevations. At higher elevations in Zion, you can see trees turning bright by mid-September. The peak season in the park usually lasts from late September to early October. However, at lower elevations, you can enjoy picturesque fall colors as late as mid-November.

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

Bottom Line

The national parks above offer the opportunity to enjoy fall’s splendors without jostling the summer crowds. You may even discover a new favorite sight. No matter what, traveling to any of these national parks in the fall is a captivating way to explore some of America’s most special places.

Worth Pondering…

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

—George Eliot

4 Epic Places to Watch the Leaves Change

Leaf-peeping season is coming

All the leaves are changing, the temperature is falling, and the sky is gray… well, not yet. I’m just mentally preparing for fall. I love the crispness in the air perhaps because it triggers a snowbird response in me that tells me it’s time to start packing the RV for travel to warmer climes. Georgia O’Keefe said, “I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again,” and while that’s not really the whole story of what I did this summer (I’m guessing Georgia O’Keefe wasn’t dealing with back-to-back years of a COVID pandemic), it’s pretty close!

Cooler weather is around the corner and with it comes the changing of the seasons and the changing of the leaves. Here are four epic places you can usher in autumn and her sea of color.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The Omni Mount Washington Resort is the quintessential New England four-season luxury resort. Plan a fall foliage visit where you will be wrapped in the White Mountains red, orange, and yellow canvas. The resort offers a number of outdoor activities where you can experience the best White Mountain vistas.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resort is set amidst nearly 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest offering the opportunity to enjoy any number of outdoor activities including mountain biking, horseback riding, disc golf, hiking/walking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, and just plain exploring.

The Omni’s Donald Ross-designed course offers golfers spectacular mountain views that are particularly gorgeous during the fall foliage display. Enjoy a scenic ride on the Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola for breathtaking views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. The 12-minute ride up takes you to the new Rosebrook Lodge. For the adventure seekers, a Bretton Woods Canopy Tour can literally immerse you in the gorgeous autumn foliage.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever road you choose to travel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, you’ll find easy driving, fabulous scenery, and a wealth of recreation. Nearby scenic attractions include Mount Washington Cog Railway, Crawford Notch State Park, Franconia Notch State Parkway, and Mount Washington Auto Road.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is a beautiful time of year on the Cherohala Skyway. Cool weather arrives and the changing leaves are spectacular. The leaves begin changing color as early as September in the higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations. The dogwoods, poplars, and sourwoods are some of the first to transform. The red oaks, hickories, and white oaks change later and often hold their leaves until late fall.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several spectacular scenic vistas on the Tennessee side. Brushy Ridge and Turkey Creek overlooks are good picnic spots. You’ll pass the turn-off for Indian Boundary Waters which offers great camping and back road dual sport/jeep explorations.

On the North Carolina side, Huckleberry Knob (near MP 8) is one of the favorite stops for visitors. At 5,560 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Unicoi Mountains. It’s an easy 2.4-mile roundtrip hike in the Nantahala National Forest with only a 400-foot elevation gain along a former forest service road.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald. Northeast Georgia Mountains

Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest peak, so take note to visit early. The colors will change sooner on this peak than in other places in the Georgia Mountains. The Brasstown Bald Visitors Center sits atop Georgia’s highest mountain at 4,784 feet above sea level. Surrounded by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, its cloud-level observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and valleys. On a clear day, one can see four states.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique circular building is home to an 8,000 sq. ft. museum featuring interactive cultural and natural history exhibits. A short film about the dramatic weather and changing seasons at Brasstown Bald plays regularly in the mountain top theater. The summit can be accessed from the parking lot by shuttle service or hiking the half-mile Summit Trail. Additional hiking trails are also available. A gift shop offers forest-related merchandise including locally made goods. A small fee is required for park entry and the shuttle bus. Enjoy picnicking, hiking, and scenic views.

Additionally, the surrounding areas of Blairsville offer Vogel State Park and several fun waterfalls.

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston in the Fall

It’s leaf-peeping time in New England and you don’t have to go any further than Boston Common to see fall colors. Boston is at its most beautiful in the fall. As the leaves turn, Boston’s parks put on an unforgettable show complementing the historic architecture. While you’re there, walk the Freedom Trail to explore some of the city’s historic sites—walk the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites. 

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two centuries separate the creation of the Boston Common and the Public Garden and what a difference that period made. In 1634 the Common was created as America’s first public park; it was practical and pastoral with walkways built for crosstown travel. In contrast, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. It was decorative and flowery from its inception featuring meandering pathways for strolling.

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in September

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

Now that September is here, many RVers are looking to extend their summer fun as long as they can. Summer may officially end on September 23 but your vacation season is far from over. Whatever your September plans—quick trips, long weekends, a staycation, sitting by the pool, or one last big journey—we have gathered some great destinations and road trips to help you enjoy the season. Summer is calling . . . still!

September is the unsung hero of travel months: The busiest vacation season has come and gone and places are less crowded because kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time to pay a visit to locations that are usually swarming with tourists and enjoy some serious natural beauty, luxury RV resorts, outdoor adventures, and a few glasses of wine. So what are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in September, from Vermont to San Antonio.

It’s almost autumn and if you didn’t join the summer rush back to traveling it’s time to think about September when things calm down a bit. Crisp temperatures, fall colors, and fresh mountain air make Stowe, Vermont and the Blue Ridge Parkway perfect destinations where you can enjoy the scenery, hiking, and apple cider.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in June, July, and August. Also, check out my recommendations from September 2020.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

This classic New England village is known for skiing but it’s also one of the best places in the country to see stunning fall foliage. From early September through late October, the weather and colorful backdrop are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and scenic drives.

Zig and zag your way to the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest mountain—along the historic Toll Road where stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains await you. The road up Mount Mansfield is 4.5 miles of awe-inspiring natural beauty. You can park at 3,850 feet, relax and take it all in. RVs are not permitted on the toll road.

Or get on top of autumn splendor the easy way—in the refurbished Stowe Gondola SkyRide. From the top of Mount Mansfield, you can access hiking trails and a sweet treat at The Waffle. The Gondola SkyRide is open through October 17. And plan ahead for the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival in early October (38th annual; October 8-10, 2021).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a Scenic Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway

America’s Favorite Scenic Drive winds its way through North Carolina and Virginia. The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are numerous entry points to the parkway (which is free to access) in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina but if you want to admire some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River you’ll want to traverse the parkway near Asheville.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular stops along the parkway include Craggy Gardens (known for its 360-degree views and abundance of wildflowers), Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), and Linville Falls (a three-tiered waterfall that cascades into the Linville Gorge). When you’re ready to stretch your legs, there are multiple hiking trails easily accessed off of the parkway including the family-friendly Graveyard Fields. This nearly 3-mile-long loop trail takes hikers to two waterfalls. If you’re up for the challenge there’s also the more strenuous 2.6-mile out and back Mount Pisgah Trail which features views of Cold Mountain from its 5,721-foot summit.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Sugar!

Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival: The sweetest time of year! The annual Hi Sugar festival in September in New Iberia is the place to be to satisfy your inner sweet tooth and child-like sugary desires. Offering a rich history of the sugar found in the area, entertainment, and lots of sugar-filled treats, you’ll soak up a sweet time! 

What could be more fitting a cause for celebration than the tall, green, sweet sugar cane? And so it is that the last full weekend of September (79th annual; September 23-26, 2021) as the growth of the succulent sugar cane reaches its pinnacle, New Iberia hosts the twenty-four sugar producing parishes of Louisiana.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the Jesuit Fathers goes the distinction of introducing sugar cane to Louisiana. Because of its rapid growth due to the semi-tropical climate and the ingenuity of a young Frenchman, Etienne De Bore who discovered the secret of granulated sugar, the economy of South Louisiana changed and the era of large plantations came into existence.

At the conclusion of a successful harvest, the planters rejoiced with a celebration called “apres la roulaison”, meaning to grind or to roll as in crushing the cane to extract the juices. In its infancy, the festival took place “after grinding” and although the celebration now comes at the end of September, the spirit of the occasion is the same…one of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of fun-filled, carefree days.

Ripe chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile Capital of the World

It’s been 100 years since horticulturist Fabián García publicly introduced his hybrid chile, “New Mexico No. 9,” the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers today. To pay homage, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to its unique terroir which includes fertile volcanic soil.

As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day celebration. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.

Chile ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scent of roasting chiles permeates the air in late summer and early fall along Hall Street, Hatch’s main thoroughfare where mom-and-pop shops sell chile peppers in all forms. Ristras—decorative dried chile pods that are both edible and a good luck symbol—hang on the patios and in doorways of places like Chile Fanatic and Hatch Chile Sales beckoning visitors to shop for chile powder, salsas, and ristras of their own.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers keep their star status when it comes to dining, as well. For a quarter of a century, the family-owned Pepper Pot has been serving up Mexican American dishes like green chile stew and red chile enchiladas (a favorite of late food personality, Anthony Bourdain, who said that their red enchiladas were the best ever). Then there’s Sparky’s, a roadside eatery and attraction that’s known as much for the fiberglass statues dotting its rooftop and lining the street (including Ronald McDonald, Yogi Bear, a Roswell-inspired green alien, and a towering Uncle Sam) as it is for its cuisine. Sparky’s green chile cheeseburgers are a talked-about phenomenon though this beloved counter-service spot also whips up the wood-fired barbeque, espresso drinks, and a wide array of shakes.

Hatch is just nine miles north of the entrance to Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport on the planet and testing grounds for Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflights. Final Frontier Tours offers private pre-scheduled tours of the facility, including the chance to experience a rapidly accelerating G-shock simulator, comparable to what astronauts feel in flight.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Aransas, Texas

With 18 miles of beaches, Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island on the Gulf Coast, is a haven for anglers and beachgoers. Fishermen can cast a line from the surf, a public fishing pier, or take an off-shore excursion for various fish species. If you visit in the summer, you’re bound to see a fishing tournament or you can try surfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding with a local guide. Visit Farley Boat Works to partake in building a boat or head out on a bird-watching expedition—Port Aransas has six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail with hundreds of bird species frequenting the area. The arts community here is also thriving with numerous studios, galleries, the Port Aransas Art Center, and the Port Aransas Community Theatre. Nightlife is also popular, with numerous bars and restaurants regularly hosting artists.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the Thunder

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them. The bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Marshes of Glynn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons, Georgia

The largest barrier island in the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island lies across the immortalized Marshes of Glynn made famous by poet Sidney Lanier. Moss-draped oaks line the winding island streets creating a picture-perfect image worthy of a Faulkner tale.

St. Simons Island is dotted with exceptional historic sites and attractions from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site where in July 1742, British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve contains middens dating back to 2500 BC. Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—is also located on the island’s north end. History buff or not, you won’t want to miss Christ Church’s picturesque and somewhat haunting grounds.

Hummingbird at Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch hummingbirds in Patagonia

The Paton Center for Hummingbirds was closed due to the pandemic but has since reopened.

This birding hotspot captures the laidback charm of Patagonia. The Patons put out backyard feeders in the 1970s and hummingbirds swarmed the property. The family soon began welcoming strangers who came to enjoy the colorful show. After Marion Paton died in 2009, neighbors kept the feeders stocked until 2014 when the Tucson Audubon Society took over.

Vermillion flycatcher at the Patton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place hasn’t changed much over the years. There are chairs beneath a shade awning and a big board to list recent sightings. Folks have come from all over the world just to sit quietly in a small Arizona yard and watch clouds of hummingbirds. Hummingbird visitors to the Paton Yard are at their highest numbers during spring (March-May) and fall (August-October) migrations. They also have many breeding hummingbird species throughout the summer. In the winter, hummingbird numbers are lower but you may still find rare species such as the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

It’s a lovely carefree way to spend an hour and I hope to get to do it again soon.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville’s River Walk

Greenville’s recent history is defined by a series of game-changing public access initiatives beginning with the formation of Falls Park on the Reedy, a 32-acre park in the heart of downtown. The signature waterfall is best viewed from the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge, a single-cable suspended path that extends 345 feet as it curves around the waterfall below.

Live music, delicious cuisine, and impressive outdoor art installations are just a few of the standout attractions along Greenville’s river walk. Check out Papi’s Tacos (300 River Street) and ask for the “Travelin’ Taco”—shredded chicken, lettuce, Pico De Gallo, Crema in a bag of Fritos corn chips, and a fork. It won’t disappoint and it’s only $4.25 or three for $12.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, stop at the picturesque Art Crossing. The Shoppes at Art Crossing, nestled in the lower level of Riverplace, house over a dozen local artists and offer the public a great variety of art in every medium. Here you will find local award-winning artists at work in their gallery/studio as they create realist and abstract paintings, photographic art, watercolors, illustrations, pottery, batik, and mixed media treasures. Art Crossing at Riverplace is in the heart of downtown Greenville right off South Main along the Reedy River and is open from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Public space extends north and south along the Swamp Rabbit Trail that parallels the Reedy River as it rambles for 22 miles over the converted railway. The path moves south to the freshwater marsh at Lake Conestee Nature Preserve and north to Travelers Rest, a bedroom community where eateries like Upcountry Provisions offer a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Two miles north of downtown, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery marks an appealing waypoint with its park-like outdoor seating, sandwiches on house-baked stecca bread, and homemade pastries. Other fan-favorite eateries include UP on the Roof (250 Riverplace) and The Lazy Goat (170 Riverplace), both of which are perfect to pop in for a delicious meal.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is one of the city’s best-known attractions. Visitors can stroll along the walking path or cruise in a river barge to explore the 15-mile urban waterway. Shop at La Villita, Market Square, or the Shops at Rivercenter. The Alamo is another favorite with tours and exhibits of the complex that was the site of the Texas Revolution battle in 1836. Further south, immerse yourself in history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions along the Mission Reach. Families enjoy the San Antonio Zoo and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

Windseed Farns near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add a scenic road trip to the Texas Hill Country characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite. You’ll pass through small towns, boutique farms, Texas-sizes ranches, and refreshing swimming holes. Many towns also have monthly markets where you can buy everything from earrings to stained glass: Gruene Market Days (Gruene is at the edge of New Braunfels), Trade Days near Fredericksburg, Boerne Market Days, and Wimberley Market Days. Wildseed Farms is a haven for gardening accessories, seeds, and local specialty foods. Explore Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with a hike, picnic, or climb to enjoy the view.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Henry Rollins