The Best Stops for a Winter Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

The Fort Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1876 to 1909 was hellish in many respects but it also had more modern amenities than many homes in Yuma at the time including electricity, plumbing, a large library, and even a band. Several of the inmates were Mormons who were convicted of polygamy. Today, the site of the hilltop prison is an Arizona state park with some surviving original features such as the cellblock and other features reconstructed. It’s now a historical museum that not only is open for tours but stages special events such as gunfights and ghost hunts.

>> Get more tips for visiting Fort Yuma Territorial Prison

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

This privately owned center provides educational exhibits and activities about NASA’s mission at the center as well as tours to other facilities nearby. You’ll see a “rocket garden,” an outdoor exhibit of an extensive assortment of rockets, capsules, and engines that have been used for actual space missions.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs, California

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

The Valley of the Sun is home to many great attractions, and it can be difficult for visitors and locals alike to pick their favorites. It’s easy to get caught up in the legend surrounding attractions like the world-famous Lost Dutchman State Park, but sometimes you want to take a break from history and explore Phoenix’s more modern side. 

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is also one of the world’s largest collections of desert plants and flowers. It features more than 50 miles of pathways crisscrossing over a dozen outdoor gardens, including the special Children’s Garden, which has a walled maze, garden swings, and plenty of other activities designed especially for the little ones. 

Visitors can also see art installations, take a guided tour or enjoy live music during their visit to the outdoor attractions.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to this 110-acre park. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a short hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, there is an observatory that is open to the public to do some star gazing on Friday and Saturday nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. People come just for the birds. Bentsen’s wetland, scrub brush, riparian, and woodland habitats make it a world-class destination to observe birds and wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico.
One of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth, more than 530 species have been documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself. Bentsen’s bird-feeding stations are stocked in the winter months making it one of the best and easiest times to view a wide variety of birds from Green jays to Altamira orioles and Plain chachalacas to Great kiskadees.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Hi Jolly Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Jolly Monument, Quartzsite, Arizona

Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of Hadji Ali, a Greek/Syrian immigrant who was one of several Middle Eastern men hired by the U.S. Army in 1857 (by Secretary Of War Jefferson Davis) to drive camels laden with cargo across the desert. The experiment was discontinued after a short time but it was still much more successful than people often believe. In any case, Hi Jolly stuck around until he died in 1902. A colorful and beloved character, he became a bit of a legend and was honored with this pyramid-shaped monument constructed in 1903 and embellished later. The monument stands in a cemetery with many monuments to military men. You’ll spot the camel motif cropping up in other places in Quartzsite, an interesting little town that is known as a haven for RV boondockers as well as rock and mineral lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quartzsite

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island Louisiana

While the marshes and bayous of this region make Avery Island worth a visit in its own right, it is the fact that this is the home of the Tabasco pepper sauce that attracts most people. Visitor attractions include a short but informative factory tour where you’ll learn the history of this family owned company and see how this world famous product is created; an excellent country store packed with sauces, souvenirs and gifts; and the Jungle Gardens, 170 acres full of exotic plants and native wildlife including alligators and deer. When you visit the country store, do make sure you try the Tabasco ice cream; it’s more enjoyable than it sounds.

>> Get more tips for visiting Avery Island

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Located just off State Route 88 east of Phoenix, Saguaro Lake has a marina with rentals for everything from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks and canoes. The lake even has a few desert islands where boaters can stop for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Visitors also come to Saguaro Lake to camp at nearby facilities or fish along its banks for bass, catfish, and carp. Hikers and campers also enjoy visiting the lake which has over 25 miles of trails that wind around it.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The 16-mile round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, you may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

This 21-mile drive, accessible by any vehicles up to 25 feet, is the most popular way to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Pick up the guidebook from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and allow at least two hours to drive the loop which includes 18 stops of interest. As well as the distinctive cactus from which the park takes its name, you will also see examples of the many other plants that flourish in the Sonoran Desert including saguaro, prickly pear, jojoba, mesquite, cholla, and ocotillo.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner, Texas

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!”

>> Get more tips for visiting Shiner

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of road trip stops. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

Focus on Unique Small Towns from Coast to Coast

We’ve explored America by RV and found these 10 cool small-town gems you’re sure to enjoy

America was built upon small towns and fortunately many of them are still thriving today. From coast to coast and north to south, RVers can get a taste of what it’s like to live somewhere completely different or perhaps even startlingly similar to what they’re used to.

During 25 years of living the snowbird lifestyle, we’ve visited 25 states and camped at hundreds of RV parks and campgrounds. To kick-start your search, here are 10 of our favorite small towns in America. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions. The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants—there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Related Article: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Rock of Ages Granite Quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barre, Vermont

About 7 miles southeast of the state capital (Montpelier) is Barre, known as the Granite Center of the World. Its downtown, with several prominent sculptures and granite faced buildings, reflects that heritage. Its famed quarries at the edge of town are sprawling and spectacular with an estimated 4,500-year supply of Barre Gray granite still to be quarried out of the surrounding hills.

Rock of Ages © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite.

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Martinsville, Louisiana

As one of the oldest surviving towns in Louisiana, St. Martinville retains many buildings and homes reflecting the beautiful architecture of days gone by. St. Martinville has become symbolic of the Acadian legacy, holding sacred the history and legends of the Acadian people who settled in Louisiana. Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo, New Mexico

Located in the high desert at the base of the Sacramento Mountains, Alamogordo is the perfect location to “set up camp” to enjoy all the incredible attractions the area has to offer. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound. Only 15 minutes from Alamogordo, one of the world’s great natural wonders rises from the desert, White Sands National Park.  The glistening white sands and wave-like dunes of white gypsum cover 275 square miles of the desert. 

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

World’s largest pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not far from town is the world’s largest pistachio! The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes. There are numerous nut farms where you can enjoy samples and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains. 

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka, Alabama

In 1776 William Bartram, the legendary naturalist, when visiting Wetumpka proclaimed, “This is perhaps one of the most eligible situations for a city in the world, a level plain between the conflux of two majestic rivers.” The strategic location (just minutes from the State Capitol), natural resources, and hospitable atmosphere continue to attract residents and tourists today.

Bibb Graves Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wetumpka has played a significant role in the history of Alabama. As the Bibb Graves Bridge quickly identifies Wetumpka, the Coosa River flowing beneath offers limitless opportunities for recreation and tourism.

Related Article: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional attractions at Fort Toulouse/Jackson State Park, the eroded remains of a pre-historic meteorite crater, and the Poarch Band of Creek Indian reservation gaming facility increase the daily traffic flow. Would Bartram be disappointed? Never!

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants.

Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is named after Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, who opened a trading post here in 1848—a short time before placer gold was discovered. In 1864, Samuel Clemens wrote his first successful short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” based on a tall tale he was told at the Angels Hotel by local, colorful character, Jim Smiley (or so the legend goes).

Related Article: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The story launched his career as Mark Twain and put Calaveras on the map. The town has kept the allure of the Gold Rush era alive with many of the 19th century buildings housing eateries and unique shops in the charming historic downtown.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

The rich cultural history, the tasty culinary scene, and the distinctive Cajun and Zydeco music are all part of the cultural legacy created by the diverse people who settled here

As you leave New Orleans and head west, the changes start out subtle: The Crystal Hot Sauce is replaced by Tabasco, the bright colors of Mardi Gras beads and Spanish-influenced houses are replaced by Spanish moss. With the 24-hour-a-day touristy chaos of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter behind you, you’ll find only friendly locals.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10 toward Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles means shedding the tourist trappings and easing into one of America’s most exciting food and music scenes.

For many visitors, a trip to Louisiana means Bourbon Street and sweet drinks in novelty plastic cups, Mardi Gras parades, and near-daily Brass Band Parades second lines (those who follow the band to enjoy the music) marching through the streets. But west of New Orleans is another side of the state—one where the tomatoes disappear from dishes as the food transitions from Creole to Cajun, and the music becomes more accessible.

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The swamps of Bayou country are but a stone’s throw away, and suddenly, instead of a city where you could go a week without having a real conversation with a local, you end up in a place where you’ll get their life story before you’ve even ordered your plate of boudin.

Baton Rouge is about an hour and a half from New Orleans, and Lafayette another hour, and Lake Charles another hour beyond that, making them a good change of pace from NOLA. On the surface, the things you’ll do in Louisiana’s less-famous cities don’t differ from what you’d do in New Orleans—listen to music, eat incredible food, and soak up the local culture—but how you enjoy them is entirely different.

Bayou Teche at Breauz Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gus Rezende, founder of Social Entertainment, a hospitality company “that fuses lifestyle and culture through social experience” frames the difference: “New Orleans created a musician-driven culture which means that cover charges are high and you’ll pay for what you watch. Lafayette is more community-driven with a lot of free concerts.”

Cajun food from Don’s in Scott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Baton Rouge’s Live After 5 held on Friday nights) singers belt out Southern rock, “Swamp pop,” and Zydeco in the center of town as the Mississippi River lazes its way by. Other nights of the week, the music is still everywhere.

In Lafayette, you can drive around to visit the historic houses and old mansions during the day, but at night, you’ll look for the music: You’ll find it in every corner of a club, even old school music halls, of which there are still a few.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are planning to hit one of the outdoor concerts, be warned. If there’s one thing that’s bad about Lafayette, it’s how hot it gets in summer. Plan to visit in spring or fall.

Spring is festival season, and in March and April, any given weekend you can wake to a food festival. You won’t want to miss the Acadiana Po’ Boy Festival in historic downtown Lafayette the first Saturday of April and Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, celebrate culture through music, food, and art at the Festival International de Louisiane—Lafayette’s biggest festival and one of the largest in the country—kicks off in April, celebrating the connection of this part of the US to the Francophone world. The nearby town of Rayne is known as the Frog Capital of Louisiana, home to one of the state’s best fests (the Rayne Frog Festival in early May).

But for Baton Rouge, the best time to visit is the fall, aka tailgate season.

Ambrosie Bakery in Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many ways to enjoy local sounds and delicacies in Lake Charles. Dubbed the Festival Capital of Louisiana, it has more than 75 festivals and special events each year, including Mardi Gras, the Louisiana Pirate Festival (early May), the Black Heritage Festival (early March), the Cajun French Music & Food Festival (mid-July), and the Calcasieu-Cameron Fair in October. Savor delicious food at one of their culinary festivals or catch a live concert just about every weekend.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After indulging your Cajun food kick, relish in the chance to see one of the best benefits of getting the heck out of New Orleans: the wildlife. Explore the Creole Nature Trail, filled with prairie grasslands and miles of freshwater, brackish, and saltwater wetlands rich in marsh grasses, crustaceans, and small fish. Visitors will view roseate spoonbills, great white egrets, great blue herons, tricolored herons, white ibis, red-winged blackbirds, and, of course, alligators—not to mention, Gulf beaches with excellent shelling and relaxation.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you’re looking for gators, crawdads, or characters, getting out of New Orleans and heading to Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Lake Charles brings you face-to-face with the local culture.

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou.

—Hank Williams, Sr.