Free Things to Do in America

From Kentucky to Vermont and Utah, fun times don’t have to cost a lot

Just because the temperature has dropped a few degrees doesn’t mean you have to stay at home watching Netflix.

If the winter blues are making you stir crazy, fear not: There’s plenty of excitement to be had across America. From sampling maple syrup in Vermont to following the Freedom Trail in Massachusetts, you don’t have to leave the U.S.—or break your budget—to have an amazing adventure.

Check out these seven fun activities you can enjoy in these states for free. Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive.

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Vermont: Taste Maple Syrup

Don’t leave Vermont without sampling some authentic maple syrup. You’ll find plenty of maple farms in the Green Mountain State, and some of them offer free tastings. At Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, for example, you can get free admission and try four grades of pure Vermont maple syrup.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Massachusetts: Follow the Freedom Trail

You can’t follow the yellow brick road in Boston, but you can follow a red line that guides you along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail. Visit 16 official sites that are significant in the history of the American Revolution, from the Old Corner Bookstore to the site of the Boston Massacre.

And don’t forget about Faneuil Hall, which hosted America’s first town meeting. These days, you can shop, eat, and enjoy live musical performances in the market.

Buffalo Trace Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Drink Bourbon

Kentucky is known for its bourbon, so why not take a tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort? All tours are complimentary, and the Trace Tour doesn’t require a reservation. You’ll see bourbon barrels and get to sample some of the best local liquor. Extend your travels on the Bourbon Trail.

Shiner beer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Texas: Tour a Brewery and Sample Beer in Shiner

Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week, where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Virginia: Wander Colonial Williamsburg 

Explore Colonial Williamsburg in the city of Williamsburg. Visitors typically drop a bit of cash to tour the 18th century buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, but if you keep your wanderings to commercial shops and the city streets, you don’t have to spend a dime.

You’ll be highly entertained as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg and viewing free outdoor entertainment like re-enactment actors firing cannons. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Utah: Explore the Valley of the Gods

This little valley near Bluff, Utah is filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies. Located in the southeastern corner of Utah it is out of the way of the main national park loop.

To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Ohio: Experience the Past in the Present in Holmes County

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the byway you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

Worth Pondering…

America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

Experience the Past in the Present along the Amish Country Byway

Traveling the Amish Country Byway is quiet, clean, and refreshes the soul

Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of “eyeglasses” shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting, because exploring these four roads are a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadway are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns. In the fall, the vistas become even more awe-inspiring, as nature puts on its finest show—the reds, oranges, yellows, and browns of the trees amid a backdrop of that bluest sky that only fall can produce.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes. Entrepreneurial businesses owned by the Amish add to the friendly atmosphere along the byway while creating a welcome distance from the superstores of commercial America.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Agriculture is the economic heart of Amish Country and visitors to the area are likely to see rows of haystacks or fields being plowed. Holmes County boasts the second largest dairy production in the state, the largest local produce auction during the growing season, and weekly livestock auctions in the communities along the byway. The Swiss and German heritage of the early settlers in the county is evident in the many specialty cheese and meat products and delicious Swiss/Amish restaurants.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apart from the beautiful scenery, these routes have numerous special attractions that shouldn’t be missed along the way. U.S. Rt. 62, for example, winds down into the heart of Holmes County from Wilmot, passing such Amish Country mainstays as the Amish Door Restaurant and Wendell August Forge before leading you into Berlin, the area’s ultimate shopping destination.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you get to Berlin, however, you’ll pass through the cute village of Winesburg. There’s enough here to keep you busy at least an afternoon, with several unique shops, antiques, art, and sculptures for sale, and an old-fashioned corner restaurant.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside Winesburg, you can turn off 62 onto State Rt. 515, a hilly, winding road that takes you through Trail, home of the famous Troyer’s Trail Bologna, and past Yoder’s Amish Farm, where you can tour two Amish houses, a barn full of animals, a schoolhouse, and even take a buggy ride. Rt. 515 ends up in Walnut Creek, intersecting with another part of the byway, State Rt. 39.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rt. 39 offers a wealth of things to see and do, especially in the eastern portion of Holmes County. The road passes through Millersburg, Berlin, and Walnut Creek before heading to the village of Sugarcreek.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelling east toward Berlin, Rt. 39 merges with Rt. 62 for a time, and you’ll pass numerous shops and restaurants. In Berlin, go through the light (stay on 39) and immediately turn left, for you’ve found yourself at the Berlin Village Gift Barn, one of the best places around to find just the right accessory for your RV. You’ll also discover Country Gatherings, a new off-shoot of the gift barn, featuring primitives and floral designs.

“Must-stops” in Walnut Creek include the shops at Walnut Creek Cheese and Coblentz Chocolates, both easily accessible from Rt. 39.

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll leave the Amish Country Byway feeling much the same as the traveler who said, “Traveling to Amish Country is a great getaway from our day-to-day routines. It’s quiet, clean, and refreshes the soul. When you get away from the telephone ringing, from the traffic on the roads, it’s a gift, a refuge from the everyday noise of your life.”

Along the Amish Country Byway in Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Growing up around Amish farmland, I enjoyed the opportunity to witness firsthand their love of family, of the domestic arts—sewing, quilting, cooking, baking—as well as seeing them live out their tradition of faith in such a unique way.

―Beverly Lewis

The Absolute Best Places to RV This June

There is nothing that compares to the freedom of the open road, especially when following it takes you to some of the most magnificent scenery and interesting places in the US

The longest day of the year! The first day of summer! And, for many, the last day of school!

June may not have any long weekends but it absolutely has the best lineup of unofficial days for celebration. This is when warm weather, blue skies, and blooming flowers all coincide, and when people rush outside—or around America­—to enjoy it. Festivals happen. Baseball happens. Let’s just say it: Magic happens.

In other words, June is the time for an RV trip before the busy tourist months of July and August. School’s out and summer is in full swing which means one thing—it’s time for a road trip in the RV.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Read on to find the five absolutely best places to visit in June. And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in March, April, and May.

Wall Drug, South Dakota

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You begin to see signs for it about 1,000 miles before you arrive in South Dakota. They promise free ice water. Five-cent coffee! There are many, many finer restaurants in South Dakota, but none are as famous as the one in Wall Drug. It’s impossible to avoid the Badlands-bordering, 76,000 sq. ft. wonder of tourist-trapping randomness, so just go in. There’s ample RV parking.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit the cafe and score a hot beef sandwich and a maple donut. It won’t hold a candle to the many, better food options in the state. But you will emerge with a “Where the Heck is Wall Drug” sticker. You will have chased that sandwich with a T. Rex viewing. And you’ll be happy you stopped every time you see a roadside Wall Drug sign every five minutes for the next 300 miles.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the world’s most well-known tourist stops, it’s hard to believe Wall Drug Store got its start with something we wouldn’t even turn our heads at today…the promise of free ice water. But in fact, the Husteads turned free ice water into a million dollar idea with a little determination and quick thinking.

You will find $.05 coffee here. SERIOUSLY!

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

This site, perhaps the most famous of Civil War landmarks, provides not only the opportunity to visit hallowed ground that witnessed three brutal days of battle in 1863, but also to conduct in-depth research at the resource library about those who fought here, and elsewhere.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Join one of many ranger-led or living history programs; drive the battlefield; and visit the David Wills House, where Lincoln put the finishing touches on his famous address. Round off the day by stopping for a quiet moment at Soldier’s National Cemetery, where the address was given and where the power of Lincoln’s words can still be felt today.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts

There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston, but it’s the boatloads (!) of quaint seaside towns that make Massachusetts such a gem. Amble around Cape Ann’s little fishing villages, where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh-as-heck seafood.

Hyannis Harbor, Cape Cod © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, the state capital, is rich in history, culture, entertainment, and cuisine. The Freedom Trail winds through the city’s sites that played a key role in the American Revolution. South of Boston, Plimoth Plantation is one of Massachusetts’ four living history museums. It brings to life the arrival of the pilgrims and the Native American experience.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holmes County, Ohio

The Amish established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the byway you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

GREEN CHILE. Also red rock cliffs. And, sprawling mesas. The desert scenery here is absolutely breathtaking.

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

D. H. Lawrence, writing in 1928, pretty much summed it up: “The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.”

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Land of Enchantment, the state motto of New Mexico, is certainly an apt description of a state with diverse landscape and population. This is a state in which the air is crisp, the water fresh, and the people warm and friendly. 

New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northern New Mexico boasts the mountains of Taos. And White Sands National Monument is one of the most distinct—and arresting—pieces of earth in the lower 48. And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a collection of over 100 caves and one of the state’s top attractions.

Worth Pondering…

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.
—L.M. Montgomery

Experience a Different Way of Life along the Amish Country Byway

The Amish community is a living reminder of the principles of religious freedom that helped shape America

Take a break from the fast-paced world of smart phones, computers, and demanding schedules, and enjoy the “simple life” found on the Amish Country Byway in Ohio.

At first, you may feel as if time is standing still, but you’ll soon discover that the Amish folk are highly enterprising and productive. They have simply chosen to maintain their traditional beliefs and customs, continuing a lifestyle uncomplicated by the ways of the modern-day world.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

As you travel the Amish Country Byway, sharing the road with horses and buggies, you will experience first-hand the Amish way of life. You will also take in plenty of beautiful scenery and have a wide variety of recreational opportunities to pursue.

The Amish people in Holmes County, Ohio, make up the largest concentration of Amish communities in the world, and they provide a unique look at living and adapting traditional culture.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Amish community is a living reminder of the principles of religious freedom that helped shape America. With a devout sense of community and adherence to beliefs, the Amish Country Byway gives a rare opportunity to witness a different way of life.

Begin your tour of the Byway by visiting the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. Learn about the community and see Behalt, a dramatic 10-foot by 265-foot mural-in-the-round that depicts Amish/Mennonite history, painted by the late international artist, Heinz Gaugel.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Then, visit Yoder’s Amish Home and witness for yourself early traditional farming ways. Also, go for a buggy ride, and tour two homes completely furnished in traditional Amish decor.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you travel the Byway during growing and harvest season, typically from April to November, you’ll definitely want to stop by the Farmer’s Produce Auction. Here you will find everything from bedding plants and dried flowers to asparagus, zucchini, pumpkins, and Indian corn. Both the Amish and English people in the area maintain a strong tradition of agriculture and produce wonderful crops, cheese, and specialty meat products.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nature along the Byway only adds to the peaceful setting of the countryside. Enjoy an early morning picnic or fishing trip at the Killbuck Marsh.

In the 21st century, the Amish Country Byway is an important example of a multicultural community, as both the Amish and non-Amish traditions are strong in the region. These two cultures have built on similarities while still respecting differences. By working together, they have created a thriving, productive community.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Amish, as a branch of the Anabaptist people, are traditionally devout and religious. Like so many other immigrants, they came to America in search of religious freedom. In Europe, the Anabaptists had been persecuted for their beliefs. Horses and buggies, plain dress, independence from telephones and electricity, homemade quilts, and lots of reading materials are some of the things you might find in an Amish home.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

When the Amish settled in the area, most depended on agriculture as their profession, but others who were not farmers worked instead in blacksmith shops, harness shops, or buggy shops. In addition, many specialties sprang up, such as furniture-making. Today, shops are scattered along the byway, specializing in everything from furniture to gazebos.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Amish and their neighbors work together, making Holmes County an important agricultural, furniture manufacturing, and cheese-producing region of Ohio and the nation.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Amish Country Byway is not one for speed. By slowing down, you get to experience the many recreational opportunities that are unique to this byway. There are carriage rides, hay rides, and sleigh rides that reflect the agricultural traditions of the area. One of the most popular activities is visiting Amish homesteads and farms, antique shops, and museums. In addition, you can find many places to stop and enjoy some good cooking or shopping.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Considerations: Early autumn means harvest season— which brings produce stands—and stunning fall foliage. Respect the privacy and religious beliefs of the Amish and don’t take pictures of them. Because of the unique agriculture and culture of Amish Country, you must share the road with Amish buggies, agriculture equipment, cyclists, etc.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The two-lane state routes and State Road 62 should be traveled at a somewhat slower pace than most paved roads. Keep in mind that many services are not available on Sundays.

As you travel the Amish Country Byway, sharing the road with horses and buggies, you will experience first-hand the Amish way of life. You will also take in plenty of beautiful scenery and have a wide variety of recreational opportunities to pursue.

Along the Holmes County Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

The Amish are islands of sanity in a whirlpool of change.
―Nancy Sleeth

Overtourism and Undertourism in 2019

Celebrating the “Undertouristed” places for RV travel in 2019

If there was a competition for the Word of the Year in tourism, a serious contender would be “overtourism”.

From Barcelona to Bali, the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic, 2018 was the year that people in the world’s most coveted, visited, and Instagrammed places said enough was enough.

There were protests in Barcelona and Mallorca. And the New Year began with Venice vowing to charge tourists for entry.

Let’s celebrate the alternatives in 2019—the undertouristed places that deserve more visitors and where the locals won’t take to the streets and forums to protest.

Let’s hear it for undertourism in America. From the rugged mountains to the giant forests to the vast desert, the RV traveler has it all.

Overtouristed: Charleston, South Carolina and Ashville, North Carolina and Zion National Park, Utah

Undertouristed: A sampling follows

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef received its name from the great white rock formations resembling the U.S. Capitol building and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers.

However, it is the park’s multi-colored sandstone that earned it the nickname, “land of the sleeping rainbow”. The park runs along a huge buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. This noteworthy geologic feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Layer upon layer of rock folded over each other.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

The Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont (about 30 miles south of Louisville) includes 15,625 acres of fields and forests, as well as over 40 miles of hiking trails that weave their way through the forest and a bike route that winds along Long Lick Creek.

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking advantage of one of the many informative programs, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature.

New River Gorge, West Virginia

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on the continent. The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles of the New River, is rich in cultural and natural history, and offers an abundance of scenic and recreational opportunities.

Hiking along the many park trails or biking along an old railroad grade, the visitor will be confronted with spectacular scenery. There are opportunities for extreme sports as well as a more relaxing experience.

Holmes County, Ohio

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Entrepreneurial businesses owned by the Amish add to the friendly atmosphere along the byway while creating a welcome distance from the superstores of commercial America. The Swiss and German heritage of the early settlers in the county is evident in the many specialty cheese and meat products and delicious Swiss/Amish restaurants.

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. Wetlands provide a critical habitat for abundant wildlife and migratory birds. Take a walk on the 4,000-foot boardwalk and view the prairie from the observation tower. Visitor center offers displays and film. TAKE THE GUIDED BOAT TOUR. From the open, wet “prairies” of the east side to the forested cypress swamps on the west, Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden