Riding the Cog to the Top of the World

At 6,288.2 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869.

“The Second Greatest Show on Earth!” That’s what showman P.T. Barnum proclaimed in 1869 as he stepped down off the train and marveled at the view from Mount Washington’s rocky summit. High praise indeed from the man whose grand circus occupied the primary spot!

Today, more than 150 years later, the Mount Washington Cog Railway continues to attract passengers from all over the world for its dramatic ascent to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cog is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world. With an average grade of 25 percent (some sections approach nearly 38 percent), it’s also the second steepest. Motor power is primarily provided by a fleet of seven powerful biodiesel locomotives. And with a nod to its steam heritage, the railway also continues to operate a pair of coal-fired steam engines.  

Located in the heart of the majestic White Mountains region of New Hampshire, Marshfield Base Station is 6 miles east of Route 302 on the western face of Mount Washington.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure begins at Marshfield Base Station, elevation 2,700 feet

Marshfield draws its name from two significant historical figures: Sylvester Marsh, the visionary who created the Cog Railway, and Darby Field, believed to be the first European mountaineer to reach the summit of Mount Washington in 1642. In his time, the mountain was known to the native Abenaki people as Agiocochook (“the place of the Great Spirit”) and Waumbik or “white rocks” to the Algonquins.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, Marshfield Station features an interactive and informative Cog Railway Museum (admission is free), a gift shop stocked with Cog gear and local specialties, and a convenience store/food court for last-minute necessities and hot and cold snacks. A wraparound observation deck provides beautiful panoramic views of the railway and the mountain.

Related article: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

The ticket office is on the lower level and boarding gates are just outside the door. Same-day tickets are usually available but advanced reservations are always highly recommended.

There’s always plenty of free parking at Marshfield with dedicated lots for buses and RVs.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All Aboard

15 minutes before our scheduled departure we were lined up at our gate ready to board.

The brakeman was stationed out on the front deck for the up-mountain trip to the summit. On the return trip down the mountain, the brakeman was at the brake wheels at the other end of the coach.

After a quick introduction and safety orientation, the dispatcher cleared our train for departure. The brakeman gave the engineer the “ALL CLEAR!” signal and with the blast of smoke and steam, our excursion to the top of New England was underway.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s all uphill from here

Once our train has cleared the steel bridge spanning the Ammonoosuc River, we felt a burst of acceleration as the engineer brought the locomotive up to its maximum speed—5mph! Dense forest brackets the right-of-way on either side as your train makes its way up Cold Springs Hill, the second steepest part of the railway at a grade of nearly 35 percent.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Waumbek passing loop is next, with 2,100 feet of double track governed by two solar-powered hydraulically operated switches. The second track, installed in 2000, allows as many as seven trains moving in opposing directions to operate on the mountain at the same time. Here we also saw the Waumbek Tank where our steam engine stopped briefly to top off the water level in its tenders.

Crossing the Upper Waumbek switch put the train back on single track now following a narrow ridge line. Halfway House, the elevation of 4,300 feet is on the right, and looking at the reflection of the coach in the building’s window as we passed we got a sense of just how steep the climb is here.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Man of the Mountain was a rock formation on the side of Cannon Mountain that had long served as the symbol of the State of New Hampshire. That formation suddenly collapsed back in 2003 taking with it part of the state’s identity and its most popular attraction. Someone noticed a remarkable facsimile of the Old Man on Mount Washington which is next to the tracks just ahead of us at this point. They installed a white background behind it to make the old man’s profile a little clear.

Related article: Smile of the Great Spirit: Lake Winnipesaukee

And just past Profile Rock, we came out onto the most impressive part of the entire railway—a high trestle known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacob’s Ladder and the Summit Cone

As the train passed Profile Rock, the mountain’s true character begins to reveal itself. The dense and rocky forest on either side drops away, the air freshens and the wind picks up, and when the weather is clear you realize that the train has been following a narrow ridge between two deep chasms—Burt’s Ravine on the left and the Ammonoosuc Ravine on the right. And then just as suddenly you’re nearly 25 feet above the surface of the mountain. Welcome to Jacob’s Ladder!

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

300 feet long and curving to the left, the train is now climbing at a 37.41-degree grade—that’s a 37-foot elevation change for every 100 feet of forwarding movement. Jacob’s is the steepest section of the Cog Railway and the steepest railroad trestle anywhere in the world.

Once across the trestle, we passed Frog Rock, a brightly painted boulder used by train crews as a location marker in bad weather. We were now at a tree line roughly 5,000 feet above sea level and climbing along the side of the summit cone toward an area known as Skyline. As the tracks turned to the southeast and began to level out on the left we saw the Northern Presidentials: Mounts Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison and beyond the mountains of western Maine.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking is a popular pastime in the White Mountains and on either side of the train we saw piles of rocks or cairns marking various trails. Running parallel to the tracks on the left is the Gulfside Trail, the local stretch of the much longer Appalachian Trail (AT). The AT runs nearly 2,200 miles up the east coast from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in northern Maine.

Ahead on the right but still several hundred feet higher is our destination: the Sherman Adams Visitor Center on the summit of Mount Washington.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is Mount Washington State Park, a 60.3-acre parcel perched on the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak and surrounded by the extensive 750,000-acre White Mountain National Forest.

After a routine safety stop at the summit switch followed by the “all clear” signal from the Brakeman, our train slowly came up over the final slope and then leveled out at the platform.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With conditions at the top quite different than those at the base station we were glad we’d brought warm jackets. Leaving the coach we noticed that it was much windier than it was at the Base Station. After all, the subarctic tundra up here is similar to that of far northern Canada and hurricane-force wind gusts occur on the summit an average of 110 days per year.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trains layover at the summit for approximately one hour, plenty of time to explore the Sherman Adams Visitor Center and its rooftop observation deck, Extreme Mount Washington (an interactive weather exhibit), a cafeteria, and two gift shops. You can send a card to friends and family with a unique Mount Washington postmark from the summit Post Office.

Related article: Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the World’s Worst Weather!

Much has changed since Henry David Thoreau wrote about Mount Washington’s dramatic and unpredictable weather in 1839 but the weather certainly hasn’t. On a clear day, visitors enjoy spectacular panoramic views from Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean or they may experience a taste of the “World’s Worst Weather”—it can snow on the summit even in summer. Weather is the story on this mountain.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first weather station on the summit was operated by the U.S. Signal Service from 1870–1892. The modern observatory was founded in 1932 and on April 12, 1934, the highest surface wind speed ever directly observed by man was recorded at the summit: 231 mph! The highest temperature ever recorded at the summit is 72 degrees F and the lowest not including wind chill was -47 degrees.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downbound Train: Return to Marshfield

Upon reboarding the train we noticed that the seats had been flipped back to face down the mountain. The locomotive was now at the lead end of the train and the Brakeman was inside at the brake wheels.

While the route down the mountain is the same, the vista seemed wider. We could appreciate the ruggedness and vast expanse of this sub-arctic terrain as it all unfolded in front of and around us. 

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the tracks curved to the left and pitched over onto Long Trestle and Jacob’s Ladder the entire length of the railway could be seen ahead and below—Halfway House, the Waumbek passing loop, and Marshfield Station. We could follow the line of Base Station Road out to Route 302, the red roofs of the Omni Mount Washington Resort, and the ski slopes and gondolas at Bretton Woods.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter comes early

Winter comes early to the higher elevations of the White Mountains and by the first week of October, the summit usually sees a frosting of feathery rime ice (frozen fog) and snow. Columbus Day weekend marks the end of the season for Mount Washington State Park as well as the Mount Washington Auto Road.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shortly after the State Park summit facilities shut down for the winter, the Cog Railway summit operations cease as well. Weather permitting through the end of October and then again in the early spring, they may run trains up as high as Skyline but the primary destination throughout the winter is Waumbek Station (elevation 4,000 feet).

Related article: Boston Freedom Trail

Note: Plan to arrive 45 MINUTES before departure time to allow plenty of time for ticketing and restroom visits. All trains board 15 minutes before departure time.

Worth Pondering…

What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing.

—Willem Lange

Independence Day: 12 Must-see Landmarks to Celebrate on 4th of July

Celebrate the natural, industrial, and historic wonders of the US by visiting these iconic sites

So many great places—so little time. 

Skyrocketing gas prices have consumers looking twice at their fuel budget, yet Americans are determined to hit the road. Experts say that fuel costs may actually boost domestic tourism and the 4th of July holiday travel plans. 

Car and RV travel “will set a new record despite historically high gas prices with 42 million people hitting the road” this week for Independence Day vacations, according to AAA. 

The Deloitte summer travel survey reports that 84 percent of American travelers will take an overnight trip, 57 percent will enjoy a road trip and just 15 percent will travel internationally partially due to uncertainty over ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Given all of this, here’s a look at 12 fabulous spots across the country with each location in a different state. Taken together, these selections reveal America’s heroic history, industrial achievement, and natural beauty that, woven together, tell the story of America.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World alongside the likes of the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest, the spectacular gorge stands alone as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the stunning beauty of the American continent. The Grand Canyon encompasses a 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River, about the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. It is up to 18 miles wide and more than 1 mile deep, standing as the world’s greatest example of the erosive power of water. 

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Historic District, Georgia

The colonial south lives today amid the verdant squares of Savannah, a nearly 300-year-old city that enjoyed a rebirth following its haunting, captivating portrayal in the 1994 bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors love Savannah for its charming thoroughfares including the iconic cobblestones of River Street, delicious restaurants highlighting the best of southern fare such as Paula Deen’s flagship eatery The Lady and Sons, its historic squares such as Chippewa Square featured in Forrest Gump, and one of the nation’s biggest and best St. Patrick’s Day bashes.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The centerpiece of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is nothing less than the tallest peak in the northeast (6,288 feet). More famously, Mount Washington habitually witnesses the globe’s most severe weather—due to its elevation and its location at the convergence of several major storm patterns. 

Mount Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington’s brutal wind and cold are proclaimed locally as a testament to the hearty nature of Live Free or Die state residents. The summit held the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) for several decades and reached a record low temperate of -50 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1885. The Mount Washington Observatory recorded a wind chill of -103 degrees as recently as 2004. The mountain today is a popular attraction for visitors who ascend the top via hiking trail, precarious auto road, or popular cog railway.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

This geological oddity is an American wonder for its natural beauty and sobering role in the history of modern warfare. White Sands National Park includes 275 square miles of glistening gypsum sand—the largest dune field of its kind on Earth surrounded by the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was on this site in July 1945 that American scientists, led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, first unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, a victory of American ingenuity and industrial power amid World War II. The achievement also had lingering ramifications for mankind. The Trinity test at White Sands was a prelude to the atomic attacks the following month on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that ended World War II. The park today offers spectacular vistas and touring by automobile, hiking, biking, or pack animals.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The rugged and wild parkland is celebrated for its aptly named badlands, free-roaming bison, and its namesake’s Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River. 

The park recently had one of its busiest years ever attracting 800,000 visitors in 2021. Stargazing is a popular activity in the isolated park hundreds of miles from the nearest major city with weekly events and viewing parties highlighted by the annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival. Typically held on Labor Day weekend, date of the 2022 event is still pending. 

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The stunning human cost of preserving the nation is best seen in this sprawling battlefield in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg pitted about 160,000 men in a pitched three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. Some 50,000 soldiers from both sides were killed or wounded. It remains the largest battle in North American history. 

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors today can stand where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top to save the southern end of the Union line, walk in the footsteps of brave Confederates slaughtered during Pickett’s charge on the decisive day of battle, or tour the vast battlefield by car exploring the hundreds of haunting monuments that dot the landscape today. 

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Rhode Island

The wealth of the Gilded Age springs to life in Newport where the nation’s titans of 19th-century industry built ostentatious summer homes on the cliffs where scenic Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. 

International Tennis Hall of Fame © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers, owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is probably the most spectacular built of limestone in the ornate style of an Italian palazzo. Newport’s legacy as a playground of the wealthy lives on today around its charming and busy New England downtown waterfront. The city is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and hosted America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing race, for decades. 

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston plantations and gardens, South Carolina 

The antebellum South, both its beauty and the disturbing legacy of human bondage, live on today, and its vast collection of some 2,000 plantations many of which are centered around historic Charleston and open to visitors. 

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features what it calls “America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden” while offering 45-minute tours of its slave cabins. Middleton Place, named for Declaration of Independence signatory Arthur Middleton, claims “America’s oldest landscaped garden” across 65 acres. Boone Hall dates back to 1681 and is famed for its Avenue of the Oaks with its moss-covered limbs forming a photogenic canopy along with an array of brick homes that housed slave families. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial , South Dakota

This monumental sculpture of four U.S. presidents, each of their faces 60 feet tall, turned a remote area of a remote state into a beloved symbol of the national narrative. Law school student William Andrew Burkett summed up the purpose of the monument in 1934 in a winning essay he submitted to a contest hosted by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. 

Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone the American people render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent,” Burkett wrote, his essay immortalized in bronze at the park. Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year and is a prominent place in the nation’s cultural lexicon with its images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln staring stoically across the American continent.  

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah

The spectacular images of eroded sandstone buttes rising from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau, hard by the Arizona border, are firmly ingrained in America’s natural and cultural landscapes. Monument Valley was forged by tectonic forces some 250 million years ago. It was inhabited by Navajo for centuries who set aside the land as a park within the Navajo Nation in 1958. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its stunning landscape has reached audiences around the world as the backdrop of classic western movies such as Stagecoach, the 1939 John Ford flick that made John Wayne a star. More recently, its jagged cathedrals of stone framed war hero and shrimp tycoon Forrest Gump as he abruptly ended his famous silver-screen jog across America on U.S. Route 163 near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain, Vermont

The “Sixth Great Lake” sits on the border of New York and is best explored from the quintessential New England college town of Burlington. It has loomed large in both Native and European American history. Lake Champlain divided the Mohawks to the west and Abenaki to the east while British and continental forces fought for control of the 107-mile-long lake throughout the American Revolution. 

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain today is a perfect location to enjoy the pristine wilderness and especially the autumn foliage of northern New England, or search for Champy. The mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature was first known to the Abenaki, allegedly witnessed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain himself, and reported by dozens of other witnesses in the centuries since. 

New River Gorge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

America’s newest national park has long been a symbol of an Appalachian Mountain state so beautiful it’s known around the world as “almost heaven.” New River Gorge achieved its federal designation in December 2020. The park is celebrated most notably for its spectacular New River Gorge Bridge. It was both the world’s highest auto bridge and longest single-span arch bridge when it opened in 1977 though it has been surpassed in both global superlatives since. 

The park offers many recreational opportunities, along with insight and exhibits exploring West Virginia’s coal mining history and culture.

Worth Pondering…

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.

—Albert Einstein

Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

Ready. Set. On the road!

There’s a lot of America out there. It’s a big, beautiful country with so much to see. And when you fly to your destination, you’re missing most of it—the landscapes, the views, the small-town diners, the quirky roadside attractions. You lose the chance to experience all the special little stops that exist in between the big cities. To get to know America, you have to drive through it in an RV.

World’s Largest Runner, Los Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cross-country trip is the supreme example of the journey as the destination.

“I discovered I did not know my own country,” John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley explaining why he hit the road at age 58.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Travel usually implies seeing a place once and moving on; but this became a trip in which I made lists of places I’d return to—Prescott and Sedona and now Gallup, New Mexico where I’d happily go mountain-biking or hiking in the high desert or visiting the people who possessed the country before we claimed it as ours.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky, well-tended and fenced, and the soft green of its fields and hills, the sight of horses and farms, made it seem an orderly Eden, parklike—another place to return to. This part of the state was rich in classic names—Lebanon and Paris, but Athens and Versailles had been tamed into Ay-thens and Ver-sails.

Versailles, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Ten days into my road trip I began wondering if I were perhaps pushing it a little too hard. But wasn’t the whole point to keep going down the proud highway? The thrill is in the moving, gaining ground, watching the landscape change, stopping on impulse.

“At one point, bowling along the open road, the Supertramp song Take the Long Way Home came on the radio. Listening to music while driving through a lovely landscape is one of life’s great mood enhancers. And hearing the line, ‘But there are times that you feel you’re part of the scenery,’ I was in Heaven.”

Related Article: The Great American Road Trip: Born in 1856

Kentucky Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing. Taking your RV on the open road and experiencing breathtaking views along the way can make for the one-of-a-kind vacation your family is looking for. Highways can guide you along the coast to take in ocean views at sunset. Others wind you through the mountains exploring history.

A lot goes into planning a great road trip from finding the best diners along your route and the quirkiest roadside attractions to queueing up road trip songs that make the trip. It’s all about the journey.

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamagordo, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I can tell you scenic roads to take, where to camp, where to eat, and where to stop (I can even tell you where to find the world’s largest roadrunner or pistachio nut), and help you make the best road trip playlist.

With that in mind, I put together this Great American Road Trips Guide to help you find some inspiration. Discover favorite routes to drive plus some of the best stops along the way.

And remember: These are just jumping-off points. Once you’re on the road, you’ll think of other parts of the country you want to see. Along the way, you might even stumble upon a road that takes you even farther off the beaten path. If you do, follow your wanderlust. Trust me—it’s worth it!

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

Known as one of the nation’s best and most beautiful drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. It follows the Appalachian Mountains—the Blue Ridge chain, specifically—from Shenandoah National Park in the north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Because the Blue Ridge Parkway connects two national parks, it’s easy to visit both during your drive.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shifting Sands

West Texas winds transform an ever-changing landscape of sand dunes at the 3.840-acre Monahans Sandhills State Park. The field of dunes begins south of Monahans and stretches north into New Mexico. Opened in 1957, the state park harbors a peaceful Chihuahuan Desert playground where people can explore the rolling landscape, slide down the hills, picnic, camp, and take in extraordinary sunrises and sunsets.

Related Article: Ultimate American Road Trips

Klosel’s Steakhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steakhouse & Bar, Moulton, Texas

It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s. After some hesitation, we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and give it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value. Great atmosphere and friendly service. We have eaten here over the years numerous times and have always been impressed with their food and staff. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodstock

In a state that’s home to the Hamptons, Finger Lakes, Appalachian Trail, and Big Apple it’s no surprise that small communities like Woodstock fall to the back of the mind. To assume that Woodstock is only notable for its namesake 1969 music festival (that didn’t occur there) would be a major blunder—the three-day festival was held on a dairy farm in nearby Bethel. In reality, Woodstock is a charming little Catskills oasis where fewer than 6,000 residents prop up an art, religion, music, and theater scene worthy of national attention.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The stretch of Interstate running from Minneapolis, Minnesota, through the heart of the North Dakota Heartland is fantastic if you’re big into grain silos and livestock. Otherwise, nobody’s confusing a drive down I-94 with one of America’s most scenic routes. Then, out of the blue, it happens: About an hour east of the Montana border—and a seemingly endless four hours from Fargo—the Earth drops out from under the highway and mountains somehow appear out of nowhere. This is how you’ll know you’ve reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a plains-state paradise often forgotten in the world of Arches and Bryce Canyon. The three-unit park is surprising not just in its grandeur but also in its very existence in a state few know much about.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington Cog Railway

At 6,288.2 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869. Grades average 25 percent! Keep your eye out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail which crosses the line about three-quarters of the way up. Enjoy far-reaching panoramic views at the summit on the Observatory deck on a nice day. The visitor center has snacks, restrooms, and a post office. And, don’t miss the Mount Washington Weather Museum.

Related Article: Road Trippin’

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. Your itinerary includes the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (established 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You’ll be consuming a lot of meat so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana

Many of the towns in northwestern Indiana’s Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is tiny Shipshewana known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through October. Due to the Amish lifestyle you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations and historical displays, you’ll travel back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists, from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its own unforgettable vista.

Related Article: Road Trip Planning for the First Time RVer

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and serves as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a Highway

Life is like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
Come on. Give me give me give me give me yeah

—recorded by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991)

The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

General stores, snowy peaks, and tons of maple syrup to pour on award-winning pancakes

State nicknames say a lot about a place and when it comes to New England, nature reigns supreme. Maine is the Pine Tree State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Vermont is the Green Mountain State. Although New Hampshire’s is known as the Granite State, a lesser-known but equally as important moniker is the White Mountain State. The latter speaks to its arguably most visit-worthy area.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains—home to Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast—offers up the staples that travelers come to New England for: general stores, maple syrup, rolling landscapes.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to Mount Washington for a scenic ride aboard a legendary cog railway followed by general store hopping to stock up on local cheese, fudge, and booze. Whatever you choose to do during your time in the White Mountains, you’ll always be surrounded by glorious peaks that give the region its name.

Hot tip: New Hampshire has no sales tax, so stop at the various NH Liquor and Wine Outlets hugging the highway. When in New Hampshire!

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride up Mount Washington

Sure, seeing the mountain with the tallest peak in the Northeast is cool, but stepping foot on it? Bragging rights granted.

Mount Washington is one of 13 mountains that makes up the Presidential Range with more than half its peaks named after US presidents. Being the tallest of them all, Mount Washington is equipped with a cog railway built in 1868 that brings passengers up the mountain. While the summit isn’t reachable in the winter due to weather conditions, a train can get you to Waumbek Station, located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (about two-thirds up the way).

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in August

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to drive, Marshfield Station is a fully accessible stop that stays open to visitors all year round, situated at an elevation of 2,700 feet. You’ll still get some pretty snappable views, plus you can pop into the Cog Railway Museum for a quick history lesson and refreshing bevvy.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the opposite (Pinkham Notch) side of the mountain, you can drive up the six-and-a-quarter-mile-long Mount Washington Auto Road or ride a van operated from Great Glen Trails. Climbers have the choice of several trails but should be aware of the mountain’s unpredictable and sudden weather changes.

Nothing feels better than getting to the entrance of a general store knowing that on the other side, shelves of jarred jams, homemade fudge, maple sweets, and every trinket you could imagine await you. That’s exactly what you’ll get at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway where maple syrup greets you at the door.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of maple syrup, Fadden’s General Store and Maple Warehouse in North Woodstock makes the good stuff in their very own backyard. Harman’s Cheese & Country Store in Sugar Hill produces their own cheese including their famous “really-aged cheddar” that, as the name suggests, has been aged for a really long time: more than two years. Locals eat this stuff up.

And remember, no *clap* sales *clap* tax.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat award-winning pancakes, syrup, and other goodies. The syrup talk is not over, my friends (it never is when you’re in New Hampshire), especially when there’s still pancakes to discuss—and in the White Mountains, that means Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill. This spot isn’t just good: Polly’s won a James Beard Foundation Award in 2006. Go big with a fluffy stack of pancakes drizzled in maple syrup and don’t forget a dollop of their homemade maple spread.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another place to get your breakfast fix: Benton’s Sugar Shack in Thornton which serves the perfect plate of face-sized pancakes and crispy bacon alongside their homemade maple syrup (so you can buy your syrup and eat it, too).

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in July

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Switching forms of sugar, the next stop is Chutters in Littleton, home to the world’s longest candy counter of 112 feet with over 500 varieties to choose from.

And, if you’re making your way to Lincoln, pop by Moon Café & Bakery for some of their warm, gooey brownies that pair perfectly with a cup of hot cocoa.

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For unwinding, there are two heated pools (one indoor, one outdoor), hot tubs, a spa, and outdoor fire pits for s’more-making. Grab dinner at the Main Dining Room which underwent renovations last year. And when you’re starting to itch for adventure again, you can book an onsite activity like a canopy zip line.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seventy miles south of Bretton Woods, Castle in the Clouds is home to Lucknow, an Arts and Crafts-style 16-room mansion built in the Ossipee Mountains in 1914. The 135-acre estate provides one of the most stunning views of Lake Winnipesauke, surrounding mountains, and over 5,500 acres of conserved land.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy self-guided tours of the mansion and guided tours of its basement. The on-site Carriage House offers dining in its highly-acclaimed restaurant in vintage horse stalls and amidst panoramic lakeside views on the terrace. You can also spend time walking or hiking along 28 miles of trail managed by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust taking in the beauty while weaving along brooks and streams and exploring seven different waterfalls. For those that prefer horseback, Riding in the Clouds offers trail rides, carriage rides, and pony rides.

Lake Winnipesaukee Cruise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest lake in New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee is the focal point of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region which also includes nearby—and far less developed—Squam Lake and Newfound Lake. Winnipesaukee is a beehive of summer activity surrounded by water parks, beaches, fast food, and family-oriented attractions.

Weirs Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west side of the lake is the most developed especially around kid-friendly Weirs Beach and more trendy Meredith while the eastern resort town of Wolfeboro is quieter. Water sports are abundant with sailboats, kayaks, and motorboats vying for water space with the historic cruise boat, M/S Mount Washington.

Related: Ultimate Checklist: 20 Summer Experiences

Loon Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough protects breeding waters of these treasured birds and offers visitors a chance to learn about them. Nature and wildlife is also the focus of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center which operates nature cruises on this well-protected lake that was the setting for On Golden Pond.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

10 Amazing Places to RV in August

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

It can be existentially overwhelming to contemplate where to travel. Just look at Jeff Bezos. He relieved himself from having to choose by going to space. Well, if you’re not leaving the planet anytime soon, you might be looking for some help deciding where to RV in August. August has 31 days to enjoy the summer sun. We found some extra-special ways to have fun this month.

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

Sidney Lanier Bridge at Brunswick © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brunswick, Georgia

Imagine an idyllic seaside town overflowing with history and maritime charm. That pretty much sums up Brunswick. A great home base for exploring the neighboring Golden Isles, this mainland port on the southeast coast of Georgia has a lot going for it. Definitely check out Mary Ross Waterfront Park and the towering Lover’s Oak. Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah‘s with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Explore the historic area which is enjoying a renaissance and features shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes reflecting a variety of styles dating from 1819.

Docked at the wharf, an array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters―evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Try your hand at shrimping aboard the Lady Jane, the only shrimp vessel on the East Coast that has been certified to carry passengers offshore. Sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants. Don’t leave without sampling a bowl of Brunswick stew. Maggie Mae’s and Twin Oaks BBQ top the list of the most famous spots to gobble up this hearty local specialty.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A new RV Resort in Brunswick, Coastal Georgia is situated on a beautiful lake surrounded by lush landscaping just minutes away from golf, beaches, historical sites, and shopping. Cookout at the pavilion, spend some time on the lake in their paddle boats, fish off the bank, or get some sun lying by the pool.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington Cog Railway

The Mount Washington Cog Railway is one of the world’s great rail adventures and an exhilarating journey through history, technology, and nature. This first-in-the-world mountain-climbing cog railway has been making its dramatic 3-hour round trip to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast (6,288 feet) for over 150 years. Powered by custom-built biodiesel or vintage steam locomotives, clear weather provides spectacular panoramic views from Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Small Town Charm

Located in the foothills of the Okanagan Highlands in North Central Washington, Omak (population: 4,774) has a famous tourist stop for photographing the balanced Omak Rock. Adjacent to Omak Lake, the rock will set you in the right direction for outdoor adventure fun.

Pack a picnic from produce found at the Okanogan Valley Farmers Market (Tuesdays, 3:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m., June through October) combined with coffees and baked goods from The Breadline Cafe and then enjoy a leisurely day on the lake or along the Okanagan River. If you prefer land adventures take a scenic hike along the trails of the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest.

12 Tribes Casino RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a fun family outing, bookmark your August calendars for the annual Omak Stampede (87th annual; August 12-15, 2021). This local celebration combines stampede events with rodeo dances, art shows, and more. Or treat the family to your own horseback adventure with a visit to Pine Stump Farms.

For a relaxing time, book a stay at 12 Tribes Resort Casino RV Park, a full-service resort with 72-foot long x 42-foot wide pull-through sites.

Shrimping boats © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get on Deck for 70 Years of Shrimp!

The Town of Delcambre, Louisiana, located about 20 miles southwest of Lafayette, is home to one of the area’s most productive shrimp fleets. The town devotes an entire weekend to honor this economic lifeblood. The Delcambre Shrimp Festival invites you to Iberia Parish for the 70th year August 18-22, 2021. The festival has gained its popularity by providing a variety of delicious dishes and top-notch entertainment including national recording artists. Enjoy signature shrimp dishes like boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, shrimp sauce piquante, shrimp salad, and many more. Each and every shrimp dish consumed at the festival is prepared by volunteer members of the festival association.

Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Splash into Summertime, Kentucky Style!

Looking for some summer fun? Then Kentucky is the place to be! When temperatures skyrocket in the summer, many people head for the water to cool off. The Bluegrass State offers water adventures for the whole family. Raft down Elkhorn Creek and catch some rays. Paddle or kayak in countless lakes and waterways. Fish, visit a beach, rent a houseboat for the week or even learn to sail. Canoe Kentucky offers a variety of paddlesports to get you on Kentucky’s waterways. The Lake Cumberland area boasts the largest fleet of rental houseboats in the country. Spend your days exploring thousands of wooded coves and rocky cliffs along more than 1,200 miles of shoreline. Nestled between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area boasts nearly 300 miles of shoreline perfect for camping, swimming, and fishing.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Located in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a classic gateway for outdoor adventures the whole family will love. From stunning mountain views and riverfront walkways to engaging amusement parks and museums, there’s plenty to do in Gatlinburg and its surrounding areas. Some of these activities include hiking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and wildlife spotting (black bears, elk, and deer, just to name a few). The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is home to over 100 craftspeople and artists along an eight-mile loop, making it the largest gathering of its kind in North America. And for a town that’s only two miles long by five miles wide, there are tons of local restaurants serving Southern-style pancakes, locally caught trout, and a variety of steaks.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

See the spectacle of Mexican free-tailed bats flocking out of their cavern at sunset and explore the nation’s deepest limestone cave at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Located just 30 minutes from the gates of Guadalupe Mountains National Park, this famed subterranean fantasy land hosts long, twisting caverns loaded with stalactites and stalagmites—including many that are well-lit along an accessible walking tour.

Carlsbad Caverns offers visitors an inside look at the 250 million-year-old reef system that created both it and the nearby mountains. The National Park Services offers guided and self-guided tours, as well as astronomy and bat education programs.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The West’s Most Beautiful, Least Visited Wonderland

Lassen Volcanic National Park is an intriguing stop for any northern California road trip. Rich in hydrothermal sites including roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), bubbling mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground, it’s a one-of-a-kind destination. Visit Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works to get a glimpse of volcanism in action and take a walk along one of the short loops to explore steam vents and boiling pools. Always stay on the main hiking trails to avoid getting severely burned or injured. Some cauldrons can reach temperatures of over 125 degrees!

Once you’ve visited the hydrothermal sites, Lassen Volcanic National Park is also home to many coldwater lakes for swimming or paddleboarding, numerous trails for day hiking, and opportunities for backcountry wilderness backpacking.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road Tripping to Valley of the Gods

Not a national park or monument, Valley of the Gods is publicly-managed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) territory in a setting surrounded by two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands), two national monuments (Natural Bridges and Bears Ears), two state parks (Goosenecks and Edge of the Cedars), Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s a land of great beauty that epitomizes both the American West and science fiction movie landscapes. The beautiful Cedar Mesa sandstone monoliths, pinnacles, and other geological features of this enchanting area are known as a Miniature Monument Valley. These sandstone sentinels were eroded by wind and water over eons of time.

The 17-mile Valley of the Gods Road, also known as BLM Road 226, stretches between U.S. 163 north of Mexican Hat, Utah, near the Arizona-Utah border and hits Utah Route 261 just below the Moki Dugway. In the morning, enter from U.S. 163 in the east. This way, the sunlight highlights the buttes. And, in the afternoon start from the west entrance off S.R. 261.

The massive red rock formations are a geology fan’s dream. Hoodoos, spires, buttes, buttresses, forming and collapsing arches, and towers are all visible along the drive. It’s a potpourri of Southwestern geology.

mitty’s Market, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BBQ Capital of Texas

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. While you could make it a day trip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Don’t forget to pack a cooler, though, because you’ll want to bring some meat home to your RV.

Your Day One itinerary includes the bulk of your eating, as you tackle at least two of the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You need to consume a lot of meat today, so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in store for you before the drive home: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please, but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad… because you should probably get some greens in.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell