The Best National Parks to Visit in August

Wondering where to travel in August? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in August!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashoresnational recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to the US national parks in August and don’t know which ones to visit? August is a busy time to visit the national parks but crowd levels aren’t quite at their peak (that typically happens in July for many parks).

In this guide, I cover five great parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in August

Like July, August is a very busy time to visit the US national parks. The combination of great weather and summer vacations makes August one of the most popular times of the year for travel in the US. Fortunately, in many places, crowd levels aren’t quite as large as they were in July. And the later in August you go, the quieter the parks will be.

If you only have the summer to plan a trip to the national parks either because of your children’s school schedule or your own work schedule, June and August tend to be quieter than July. There are some exceptions to this rule but in general you’re better off waiting until August and even the end of August for lower crowds in the parks.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures, since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time, so I recommend getting updates on the National Park Service website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in August

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

An underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

From late May through October you can watch the Bat Flight program. At the Bat Flight Amphitheater, grab a seat and watch as the bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave. The best time to see the bats is in August and September when the baby bats join the show. The Bat Flight Program takes place every evening and it is weather dependent.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in August: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: In August, the average high is 90°F and the average low is 66°F. August is one of the wettest months of the year with 2 inches of rainfall. The average temperature throughout the cave is 68°F and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100 percent.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour. You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2 & 3. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: California

Kings Canyon preserves Grant Grove which is home to General Grant, the second largest tree in the world and Kings Canyon which is a glacially carved valley.

Sitting right beside Kings Canyon is Sequoia National Park. It is here that you will walk among towering sequoia trees and see the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman.

These two national parks can be visited together in two busy but memorable days. It’s a great add-on to a California road trip.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Kings Canyon & Sequoia in August: The weather is fantastic and this park makes a great addition to a California road trip. Summer is a busy time to visit these two parks but August typically gets fewer visitors than July. 

Weather: The average high is 80°F and the average low is 53°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6:15 am and sunset is 7:45 pm.

Top experiences: Visit Grant Grove and drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, visit Zumwalt Meadows, see the General Sherman Tree, hike Moro Rock, and visit Crescent Meadows.

Ultimate experience: Explore the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. 77 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail runs through Kings Canyon National Park making this a top backpacking destination in the US.

How many days do you need? To see the highlights of both parks, two day is all you need but to explore further add a couple more.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: California

This national park protects Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. In Lassen Volcanic, you’ll see steaming fumaroles, pretty lakes, colorful landscapes, and Lassen Peak.

Why visit Lassen Volcanic in August: The weather is great for hiking and crowds are a bit lower than those in July.

Weather: In July, the average high is 85°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is low.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Walk Bumpass Hell Trail (isn’t that the best name for a hiking trail?), capture the reflection of Lassen Peak in Manzanita Lake, go for a scenic drive on Lassen Park Highway, visit Kings Creek Falls and Mill Creek Falls, visit Devils Kitchen, and hike to the top of Lassen Peak.

Ultimate adventure: Hike to the summit of Brokeoff Mountain for panoramic views of the park. Note, this hike is best attempted in late summer to early fall when the trail is free of snow.

How many days do you need? One day is just enough time to see the highlights but plan on spending two to three days here to hike several more trails and thoroughly explore the park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in August: For those seeking out a little solitude in nature, the somewhat out of the way location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be a blessing in disguise. While many national parks are battling traffic congestion and parking problems during the peak summer season, you may see more bison than people during your time at this amazing national park. While summer is the busiest time at the park, though by national park standards, it’s still not very busy. 

Weather: Summer also brings the warmest weather with high temperatures averaging in the 80s, and sometimes into the 90s. Rainfall is relatively low with about 2 inches of rain falling in August.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in August

Volcanic
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah. Outdoor activities are what Glen Canyon is all about. There is something for everyone’s taste. 

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Four of the five surviving Spanish colonial missions in and around San Antonio comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park and its missions offer visitors a look at the oldest unrestored stone church in the country—Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.

More Information about the National Parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

UNESCO Celebrates 50 Years of Protecting the World’s Natural and Cultural Sites

You may have been to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States or Canada without knowing it. Remember that Griswoldian summer vacation to the Grand Canyon?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known by the acronym UNESCO, was founded in 1945. Twenty-seven years later, on November 16, 1972, the organization’s World Heritage Convention rolled out a plan to protect the globe’s most valuable natural and cultural sites. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the milestone, UNESCO recently held a gathering in Delphi, Greece to discuss the next half-century of conservation and promotion of the essential properties.

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

Since 1978, when UNESCO anointed its first dozen, 1,154 attractions in 167 countries have earned the distinction. Of those, 897 are cultural, 218 are natural, and 39 are a hybrid of both categories. Italy boasts the most with 58 and several countries claim one such as Fiji, Mozambique, and the United Arab Emirates. The United States and Canada are in the middle of the pack.

Related article: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Twenty-four sites are in the United States including Yellowstone National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the Statue of Liberty, and various buildings showcasing the iconic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. Canada has 20 designated sites including Wood Buffalo National Park, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, Historic District of Old Quebec, and Head-Smashed-in-Buffalo Jump.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

World Heritage in numbers

There are currently 1,154 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List:

  • 897 cultural sites
  • 218 natural sites
  • 39 mixed sites (both cultural and natural)
  • 43 transboundary sites (straddling the territories of two or more countries
  • 52 sites are currently listed as being in danger
  • In 50 years, three sites have been removed from the World Heritage List
  • World Heritage sites are to be found in 167 countries
  • The World Heritage Convention has been ratified by 194 countries

UNESCO at 50: World Heritage sites to see across North America

On this golden anniversary, the best gift you can give is to go. Here are five UNESCO sites in the United States and two in Canada.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Est. 1995 | New Mexico

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: More than 119 limestone caves beneath the Chihuahuan Desert including Carlsbad Cavern and Lechuguilla Cave dazzle and delight with speleothems (for example, stalagmites and stalactites), sculptural reef and rock formations, gypsum chandeliers, and geologic features partly shaped by bacteria. The park also contains a section of the Capitan Reef from the Permian Age (299 to 251 million years ago), one of the world’s best-preserved and most accessible fossilized reefs. From April through mid-October, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats hang out in Carlsbad Cavern.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The park entrance is 20 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico and 150 miles eat of El Paso, Texas.

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Best time to visit: September, when the bats are still hanging around but the crowds aren’t.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Insider tip: Between mid-April and late May stake out a spot at the Bat Flight Amphitheater and watch the winged creatures stream out of the cave in search of dinner. On the third Saturday in July, join other crack-of-dawn risers to witness their flight in reverse as they return home for a nap. From Memorial Day weekend through October, park rangers lead nightly bat programs at the outdoor venue.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Est. 1979 | Arizona

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: At 18 miles wide and a mile deep the Grand Canyon is a history book writ in rock. Its geologic layers tell a tale that goes back more than 1.8 billion years including the period 6 million years ago when the Colorado River first raised its carving knives. The landscape is a study in maximalism with a frozen lava flow, waterfalls, and a white-water river rushing through its veins.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The South Rim which is open year-round is about 80 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona and 212 miles from the North Rim. The Grand Canyon Railway offers daily train service between Williams, Arizona and the park.

Best time to visit: Spring or fall when the wildlife is abundant, the crowds are thin, and the facilities on both rims are open. (Specifically, May 15-October 15 for the North Rim and year-round for the South Rim.)

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Insider tip: Native American artists such as Zuni stone carvers and a Hopi silversmith demonstrate their crafts and share their traditions at the Desert View Watchtower or South Rim Visitor Center depending on the season.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Est. 1983 | Tennessee and North Carolina

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The lush temperate zone is home to a wildly diverse assortment of plants, bugs and animals including 130 tree species, 65 mammal species (1,500 American black bears alone), more than 200 bird types, synchronous fireflies, and 30 salamander species. Hence, the park’s nickname, “Salamander Capital of the World.” The park extols the virtues of age: Many of the rocks were formed hundreds of millions of years ago.

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

How to reach it: The park straddles two states. Drive times from Knoxville, Tennessee and Asheville, North Carolina are about 45 minutes (35 miles) and 50 minutes (37 miles), respectively.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best time to visit: Fall for its firework display of autumnal color or spring for its heavy dusting of wildflowers.

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

Insider tip: The park contains one of the finest collections of log buildings in the East with more than 90 barns, churches, schools, gristmills, and other historic structures. Pick up an auto tour guidebook because these old walls aren’t talking.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Est. 1978 | Colorado

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The ancestral Pueblo people left their mark on the Mesa Verde plateau with more than 5,000 archaeological site, including 600 cliff dwellings dating from A.D. 450 to 1300. The park is also a canvas for petroglyphs which are visible along the Petroglyph Point Trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The park entrance is 10 miles east of Cortez, Colorado and 35 miles west of Durango, Colorado

Best time to visit: May through mid-October when five cliff dwellings welcome guests inside their rock penthouses. Tour months vary by site, so plan strategically.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Mesa Verde National Park

Insider tip: If you are more of a hermit than a pack animal, hike up to Step House, the rare dwelling that does not require a guide.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions

Est. 2015 | Texas

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: In the early 1700s, Franciscan priests built Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), their first, to help Spain and the Catholic Church colonize, convert, and defend New Spain. Over the next 13 years, four more missions (Concepcion, San Juan, San Jose and Espada) sprouted up along a 10-mile stretch of the San Antonio River. The missions stir up the melting pot of influences from the colonial settlers, nomadic Coahuiltecans, and other indigenous hunter-and-gatherer groups who were integral to the early Texas settlement. The site also encompasses two acequia systems (irrigation ditches), laborers (farm fields), and Rancho de las Cabras, the estate in Floresville that supplied goats to Mission Espada.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The Alamo squats in the center of San Antonio; the other four missions are spaced about 2½ miles apart along Mission Road. Visitors can also access the sites by bike or foot on the Mission Hike and Bike Trail or partially by kayak on the San Antonio River.

Best time to visit: In the Texas spring (January to March) noted for its pleasant temperatures and shag carpets of bluebonnets.

Related article: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Insider tip: Praise the music at mariachi Mass, celebrated Sundays at San Jose.

Canadian Rocky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks

Est. 1984 | Alberta and British Columbia

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: The contiguous national parks of Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, and Yoho as well as the Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks studded with mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, and limestone caves form a striking mountain landscape. The Burgess Shale fossil site well known for its fossil remains of soft-bodied marine animals is also found there.

Canadian Rocky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: The Canadian Rockies more or less form the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The roads here are amongst the most beautiful in the world. Much of the Rocky Mountains of Canada lie within various national and provincial parks.

Related article: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi

Est. 2019 | Alberta

Why it’s UNESCO-worthy: A provincial park, Writing-on-Stone is located on the northern edge of the semi-arid Great Plains on the border between Canada and the U. S. Dominated by the Milk River Valley the landscape is characterized by a concentration of pillars or hoodoos—columns of rock sculpted by erosion into spectacular shapes. The Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksikáíítsitapi) left engravings and paintings on the sandstone walls of the Milk River Valley. This landscape is considered sacred to the Blackfoot people.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to reach it: Writing-on-Stone is 25 miles east of Milk River which is 12 miles north of the U.S. border and 50 miles southeast of Lethbridge, Alberta.

Related article: Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Worth Pondering…

The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.

—Loren Eiseley

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

While it’s entirely possible that one person’s travel treasure can be another’s trash, sharing insider tips with others is one of the best parts of returning from any road trip. For me, the lure of the road is constant and my travel bucket lists are infinite. Picking favorites is almost impossible but I’ve tried curating a list of Extraordinary Places to enhance your next road trip.

Painted Churches of Fayette County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Here are just some of the places that I love the most—that is, until I hit the road again and discover new favorites. Explore my list and start planning your next road trip today.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue in Newport along the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer “cottages” and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America.  Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

The Breakers is the most famous of the Gilded Age Newport Mansions for good reason. It’s breathtaking in scope and scale. The design of this grand home was inspired by European palaces and every room is more lavish than the last.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Related article: Extraordinary Places

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War, the Union victory that ended General Robert E. Lee’s second and most ambitious invasion of the North. Often referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Rebellion”, Gettysburg was the Civil War’s bloodiest battle and was also the inspiration for President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal “Gettysburg Address”.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg is the kind of place you could make a quick stop or spend a full day exploring. The battlefield has roads so it’s easy to drive from one monument or site to the next. There’s an audio tour and there is even an app you can download to help add dimension to what you’re seeing and to find the highlights at the park.

Related article: 10 Amazing Places to RV in October

It’s especially haunting thinking about the brave and dedicated men who walked into certain death across open fields during battle. It helps to have an appreciation for military history but even families will enjoy a visit. Some recommended reading beforehand: The Red Badge of Courage for background and The Killer Angels.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

The term “Painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors—painted by itinerant artists who advertised in church bulletins and newspapers. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork. The paint—mixed on site—is still vibrant and bright—even after all these years.

Painted churches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1800s, thousands of German and Czech immigrants left Europe due to poverty in search of a new dream and landed in Central Texas.  These communities embraced America and the promise of their new future while still preserving the traditional values, culture, food, and faith of their homelands. Each community of ~600 families came together to build their community church—purchasing the statues and donating them to the churches. They decorated the interiors with colors and symbols to remind them of their homelands.

The Painted Churches are in a tight cluster (relatively speaking) in southern Fayette County near Schulenburg. The tour can easily be a day trip from Houston, Austin, or San Antonio.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

In Arizona, several villages have been preserved in their original state; however, none are quite as untouched as the beautiful artist colony of Tubac. Located on the Santa Cruz River in Southern Arizona, it was founded in 1752 when the Spanish army built the Presidio of San Ignacio de Tubac, in other words, the Fort of Tubac. It was established to protect the Spanish missions and settlements which were located around the Santa Cruz River Valley. Today, Tubac Presido is a state historic park.

Tubac Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of nearly 1,200, the town has become famous for the Festival of the Arts in February. As an artist colony, Tubac is home to 100 art galleries, home decor shops, jewelers, potters, and artists of all kinds. You can purchase clothing, paintings, sculptures, and many other hand-crafted items which have been made by the locals.

Related article: Discover Arizona’s Extraordinary Verde Valley

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing and adventure.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park preserves one of the last, relatively undisturbed areas of the Colorado Plateau, a geological province that encompasses much of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Carved out of vast sedimentary rock deposits this landscape of canyons, mesas, and deep river gorges possess remarkable natural features that are part of a unique desert ecosystem. With elevations ranging from 3,700 to 7,200 feet Canyonlands experiences very hot summers, cold winters, and less than ten inches of rain each year. Even daily temperatures may fluctuate as much as 50 degrees.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Are you in the mood for a leisurely, legendary drive? If so, head for the Blue Ridge Parkway where the speed limit sits at a comfortable 45 mph, and commercial vehicles are strictly prohibited. Snaking through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, the 469-mile route connects the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains national parks. For prime leaf-peeping, visit in autumn when foliage explodes in a brilliant display of crimson, auburn, and golden leaves. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can’t-miss pit stop: Spend some time at Mount Pisgah in North Carolina, famous for its extensive network of hiking trails and the storied Pisgah Inn which dates back to 1919.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

Time slows down in this quaint Florida town filled with unique shops and delicious eateries.  Located approximately 45 minutes north of Disney World, Mount Dora is like a real-life Main Street U.S.A. This small town is known for its boutique stores and the downtown area is filled with eateries, and tasty coffee, and ice cream shops. Cruise on Lake Dora, sip on a signature cocktail while enjoying the spectacular sunset, and slow down and take in the relaxing atmosphere. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Four of the original six Spanish colonial missions built along the San Antonio River make up the park. The missions continue to be used as places of worship by parishioners and can be toured daily by park visitors, Learning about the craftsmanship of the architecture, the extensive acequia system (irrigation canals), and the grist mill built in the 18th century takes visitors beyond the religious aspects and into the past lifestyles of the people who built and lived in these missions. The visitor center at Mission San Jose has museum exhibits and an introductory film about the establishment of the San Antonio missions.

Related article: Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

National Parks Are Free September 24. Visit these 10 Lesser Known Sites.

In honor of National Public Lands Day on September 24, entrance to all National Park Service sites will be free

September 24 is one of five days in 2022 when the National Park Service (NPS) offers free admission to visitors—and comes just after the start of fall, a colorful season for a road trip. Schools are back in session, the summer tourism rush has waned, and fall colors are happening.

It’s just a wonderful time of year.

While many visitors will use the free day for recreation, National Public Lands Day is the country’s largest single day of volunteering for parks and public lands. There’s something to be said for planting a tree or doing invasive species removal or a cleanup around a river versus just going to enjoy the sites. It makes you a steward of that space.

And don’t forget: Places you can help out go beyond the 63 national parks. There are also federal public lands, national monuments, wildlife refuges, historic sites, seashores, and recreation areas you can visit without admission.

Instead of competing with the crowds at America’s most famous parks, visit lesser-known options. Here are 10 sites to visit across the country.

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

The New River is the United State’s newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

Not only is it great for fall foliage but they also have a cool event every year called Bridge Day. Every third Saturday in October (October 15, 2022), Bridge Day brings thousands of spectators to watch BASE jumpers fling themselves off the New River Gorge Bridge. Don’t want to run into those crowds? Skip Bridge Day.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

People have lived in the canyon for more than 5,000 years making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Cavern National Park, New Mexico

The main attraction of this national park is the show cave—the Carlsbad Cavern (and the Big Room in particular). Unlike most caves around the nation, one does not need a guided tour to explore the cave—visitors can walk on their own through the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. 

Visitors can choose between the steep paved trail making its way down into the cave or the elevator directly down to the Big Room Trail. The 1.25-mile long Natural Entrance Trail is steep (it gains or loses) around 750 feet in elevation. This is equivalent to walking up a 75-story building. It takes about an hour to complete. Once down in the caves, the Big Room Trail is leading to the popular Big Room.

Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees.

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu, the second largest natural bridge in the state, means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive overlooks the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monuments

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

Get more tips for visiting Pinnacles National Park

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas

Four of the five surviving Spanish colonial missions in and around San Antonio comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park and its missions offer visitors a look at the oldest unrestored stone church in the country—Mission Concepción; the “Queen of the Missions” known as Mission San José and the largest of the missions fully restored to its original design in the 1930s; the restored acequias (irrigation canals) of Mission San Juan; and Mission Espada, the first mission built in Texas. The city’s group of five Spanish colonial missions — of which San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is included—is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Get more tips for visiting San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s southernmost island and a place where you can truly get away from the modern world. With no bridge to come to Cumberland Island travelers have to use a ferry or private boat to get to this beautiful place which is managed by the national park service. Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of the pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket list destination.

Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota is a park for isolation. This is where the Badlands start cutting into the landscape carving sharp rock faces and hoodoos into the countryside. Both the north and south units offer great hiking, expansive vistas, easily accessible wilderness, abundant wildlife, and not many visitors. This is a wonderful park for hiking due to the elevation (or lack thereof) and abundance of trails.

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Discover these UNESCO heritage sites on your next RV road trip

Even if you’ve explored Everglades National Park in Florida and caught glimpses of alligators, manatees, and other wildlife, or visited Independence Hall in Philadelphia where important chapters in the birth of the United States were written, did you know that they’re among 24 places throughout America honored as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization?

And, there are 20 World Heritage Sites in Canada and each one is special in its own way.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

UNESCO designates natural destinations and cultural attractions that are “of outstanding universal value” and meet one or more of 10 criteria. Among these are to exhibit “exceptional natural beauty,” provide habitats for threatened species, and be associated with events of “universal significance.”

Among diverse places on the list are East Africa’s Serengeti region, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the pyramids of Egypt, and great castles and cathedrals throughout Europe.

Mission San Juan (San Antonio Missions) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

UNESCO sites in the United States and Canada are equally varied. They range from alluring mountain parks to an ancient pueblo, from architectural treasures to cultural icons. You might like to use them as a wish list of places to visit in the future.

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

It’s no surprise that Everglades National Park is included on the UNESCO list. It’s the largest tropical wetlands and forest wilderness in the country, the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, and the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America. It’s also home to 36 threatened or protected species.

Related: 7 UNESCO Heritage Sites for RV Travel

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The setting is very different in the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park which straddles the Rocky Mountains along the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s an area of soaring snow-capped mountains, high-altitude lakes, and rushing glacier-fed rivers where cedar hemlock forests and alpine tundra provide habitats for more than 300 species of animals. The park serves as a symbol of goodwill between Canada and the United States.

Mission Conception (San Antonio Missions) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 54 World Heritage Sites in North America and each one is special in its own way. But, which ones are worth the visit? To help you figure out which sites to see, we’ve ranked each World Heritage Site based on quality of experience, RV accessibility, “wow” factor, popularity, and significance in history and culture.

However, it’s impossible to say one is better than the other. So, in the end, we leave the decision up to you.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sprawling below the Chihuahuan Desert is an extensive cave system waiting to be discovered. Bats are the primary residents of this site which UNESCO recognizes for both its beauty and ongoing geologic activity that scientists can study. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico include some 100 limestone caves that form an otherworldly underground labyrinth.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One massive chamber, almost 4,000 feet long, is called the Big Room. Among names given to other caves are Kings Palace, Papoose Room, and Hall of the White Giant. The hundreds of thousands of bats that live in the caverns emerge around sunset to seek their evening meal. It’s also home to a section of the Capitan Reef, one of the world’s best-preserved and most accessible fossilized reefs.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pueblo people definitely left their mark on the American West, and their way of life remains intact at sites like Mesa Verde. The region is chalk full of thousands of archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings dating back to the 5th century. Carved into cliffs sitting 8,500 feet above sea level and surrounded by inhospitable desert landscapes, the tenacity and ingenuity of these ancient people is undeniable.

Related: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park entrance is about 45 minutes from Durango and the best time to see Mesa Verde is May through October when some of the dwellings allow the public to visit. Check out the tons of petroglyphs all along the Petroglyph Point Trail.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your visit to Texas, expect to see a lot of missions—they’re everywhere, especially in San Antonio. First up was Mission San Antonio de Valero, also known as the Alamo which Franciscan priests built to help Spain and the Catholic Church colonize, convert, and defend New Spain. Over the next 13 years, four more missions were built along a 10-mile stretch of the San Antonio River, and together they make up an impressive UNESCO site.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo is impressive, but if you want to see the best mission, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio Missions—Mission San José. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San José attracted people from all over the area. The church was built in 1768 and is still standing today.

Related: Wander the (San Antonio) River’s winding Path and Experience the Spirit of San Antonio

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

Tennessee and North Carolina share the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is home to the oldest mountains in the U.S. as well as over 3,500 plant and animal species. The park draws more visitors than any other national park in the country, and it’s not difficult to see why. Between rolling, mist-covered hills, crisscrossing trails, and expansive vistas, this gorgeous national park truly takes your breath away.

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

The best seasons to visit the park are autumn and spring when you’ll get a firework display of fall colors and a dense covering of wildflowers. Must-see spots include Mogo Falls, the park’s tallest waterfall and the peak of Mount Cammerer where you’ll be rewarded with incredible 360-degree views.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park has been around for millions of years and is still going strong. The mile-deep canyon draws visitors from all over the planet to gaze into its depths, marveling at red and burnt orange rock formations and the carved work of the Colorado River. A visit to the park will awaken your spirit of the American Southwest as you learn about Native American culture and stand in awe of the canyon’s sheer magnificence.

The South Rim is open year-round, but to beat the crowds visit during the spring or fall when balmy temperatures offer a pleasant climate for activities like hiking and camping.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess exceptional natural beauty attracting millions of visitors annually.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From an extensive cave system and mile-deep canyon to an ancient pueblo and scenic splendor, UNESCO sites throughout the U.S. and Canada have varied and very intriguing stories to tell.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

One iconic road trip in Texas

It won’t surprise many RV travelers that the Lone Star State is chock-full of iconic places to visit. Many Texans haven’t even seen everything Texas has to offer. And since Texas is enormous, it would take quite a while to see all there is to see. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try if we want, right?

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This particular road trip offered is by no means comprehensive. Now, many hours will be spent driving. But, as they say, getting there is half the fun, right? RIGHT? (Well, as long as you can find a few Buc-ee’s along the way.) So clearly you’ll want to schedule in way more time to, ya know, actually stop and SEE the places. But, I digress.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This particular road trip starts in the state capital. Starting in Austin, you’ll take in a few sights before venturing into the Texas Hill Country area and then down toward San Antonio. And frankly, each of these areas can easily be an entire trip unto itself. So think of this as a great “Texas sampler” for natives and visitors alike who just want to take a quick jaunt to see some of the most iconic spots in the Great State of Texas.

San Antonio Missions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, ready?

As we’ve discussed, one of the great things about Texas is that there’s just so much to see. Here’s a look at six iconic Texas landmarks you can check out in one epic road trip!

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin

Granted, I haven’t been to many of the capital cities in the U.S., but compared to the ones I’ve seen, I think the Texas Capitol Building is one of the prettiest anywhere. If you have time, take a tour of the building and grounds. Something about being there gives you more of a sense of the process of governing that takes place.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful bridge that carries you across Lady Bird Lake first opened in 1910. The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is rather famous for hosting an extraordinarily large colony of bats for which Austin has become famous.

Lady Bird Wildlife Center, Austin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The Hill Country lies in southwestern central Texas. Although it has no technical geographic boundaries, it generally is defined as the area west of Austin and north of San Antonio—ordered by Interstate 35 on the east, U.S. 83 on the west, U.S. 90 on the south, and Texas State Highway 29 on the north. It is a land of steep, rolling hills; woods; streams and rivers; and small towns. Towns include San Marcos, Boerne, New Braunfels, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Johnson City.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a strong German heritage dating to the 1800s, several Hill Country towns are known for their German restaurants and bakeries. Other attractions include wineries, state parks, barbecue restaurants, festivals and fairs, and wildflowers. Canyon, Buchanan, and Marble Falls are three major lakes in the area, and among the primary rivers are Medina, Guadalupe, Colorado, Pedernales, and Llano. RV parks and resorts are abundant throughout the Hill Country and along I-35 and I-10.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

LBJ Ranch

A short and scenic drive leads to Johnson City which is where you will find the boyhood home of Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, as well as the Johnson Settlement farm and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park headquarters and visitors center. All are within easy walking distance and have free admission.

LBJ Ranch

Just 14 miles west of Johnson City on U.S. 290 is the LBJ State Park and National Historic Park. Admission is also free here. After registering at the state park visitors’ center, you begin your driving tour across the Pedernales River and enter the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is there that you will see the one-room school President Johnson attended as well as his reconstructed birthplace, family cemetery, his grandparents’ farmhouse, a show barn, the VC-140 presidential aircraft, and the Texas White House. His ranch home became known as the Texas White House because he spent a great deal of time there during his presidency, hosting national and foreign leaders, holding meetings and conferences, and entertaining guests at his famous Texas barbecues.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

Continuing west on U.S. 290, you arrive at the German-settled town of Fredericksburg which today has a population of 11,245. A picturesque Texas town, Fredericksburg is utterly charming and offers natural beauty, shopping, a variety of cultures, and restaurant options, and just feels like a peaceful little getaway.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re interested in history, the National Museum of the Pacific War is one of the coolest, more education museums you’ll ever see. As the hometown of World War II Admiral Chester Nimitz, Fredericksburg was a natural site for this major museum which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Its thousands of exhibits range from personal items and small artifacts to a torpedo bomber, a Japanese midget submarine from the Pearl Harbor attack, a WWII PT boat, and an actual Fat Man atomic bomb casing.

Speaking of museums, the city’s German heritage is highlighted at the Pioneer Museum. And the Marktplatz offers a replica of a 19th-century German church that was once a pillar in this pretty little city.

Fredericksburg bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of that German culture, while you’re there be sure and stop into one of the German restaurants. Der Lindenbaum is a favorite but there are also many other food options, as well.

Windseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Depending on rainfall and temperatures, mid-April finds the area around Fredericksburg alive with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, and other wildflowers. The Willow City Loop is a popular 13-mile drive along a private ranch road to view fields of wildflowers. Another well-known spot for tourists to view acres of flowers is Wildseed Farms, just a few miles out of town.

And not too far from town is the hike up the gorgeous Enchanted Rock.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville

Continuing southwest on Texas Highway 16 leads to Kerrville, located along I-10. Kerrville is home to the historic Schreiner Mansion, Museum of Western Art, Riverside Nature Center, a several-mile nature trail along the Guadalupe River, and the 24.5-acre Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

Continue 65 miles southeast on Interstate 10 to San Antonio. The Alamo is arguably the MOST iconic landmark in Texas. So much history happened around this place. One of the most brutal battles ever to take place on American soil happened here. It was a pivotal point in the Texas Revolution. Although this battle was lost to Santa Anna, it laid the inspiration groundwork that lead to the victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For any lover of Texas history, the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park is a must-stop while in the San Antonio area. Over 300 years of colonial history is represented here. Plus, this is actually the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

The River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The River Walk is always a fan favorite. After exploring the history of San Antonio, this is such a fun place to stop, shop, dine, and rest. And then you can explore even more. This is a personal favorite for me, too. The food, the music, the vibe—all feel so very iconically Texan.

Looking for other great Texas road trip ideas? Here ya go:

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.

Going far ahead of the road I have begun.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;

It has inner light, even from a distance.

—signage at Lady Bird Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas

10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Consider this list your reason for an epic cross-country road trip

As we travel around the United States, we observe fantastic buildings that adorn the country’s cities and towns. These incredible structures all have a story to tell and have been built to honor culture, challenge mankind’s abilities, and represent a time and place that is meaningful to its residents.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You learn a lot about a society from its buildings. Are they beautiful? Do they serve the people who live in them? Do they last? You could ask the same questions of civilization.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By those measures, the British Empire fares well. The English, like them or not, planted pretty buildings around the world. It may be the most unusual thing they did. Certainly, no one has done it since. Not only are these buildings interesting to look at, but they’re also full of fascinating history. Most cities (including Washington) haven’t constructed a graceful building in over 50 years. It makes me wonder about our civilization.

We’ve rounded up the most interesting structures in a variety of states. Let’s take a cross-country road trip as we explore nine of the coolest buildings in America.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona – Chapel of the Holy Cross

This cool chapel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students—Marguerite Brunswig Staude. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is 4 miles south of Sedona. It juts out from the colorful red cliffs and the large stained-glass windows overlook the Verde Valley.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia – Jekyll Island Club

The Club officially opened in 1888, quickly becoming a retreat for families that represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Pulitzers, and Rockefellers. Over time the Clubhouse with its elegant spire expanded to include the Annex and accommodations for the Member’s Guests, or “Strangers” as they were affectionately called, and a few Members even built their own Cottage.

Related: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky – Boone Tavern Hotel

A historic Berea hotel, Boone Tavern was built in 1909 at the suggestion of Nellie Frost, the wife of the College president, William G. Frost. Boone Tavern Hotel—named for Appalachian hero Daniel Boone—has been hosting visitors of Berea ever since including the Dalai Lama, Henry Ford, President Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost.

Cathedral of St. Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana – Cathedral of St. Helena

The Cathedral of Saint Helena was modeled by architect A.O. Von Herbulis after Vienna’s neo-Gothic church, Votivkirche. Construction began in 1908 and the church held its first mass in 1914. The impressive spires rise 230 feet above the street and can be seen from all parts of Helena. The stained-glass windows were made in Bavaria and shipped to Helena.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico – Loretto Chapel

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small-sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder. When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion

By any standard, past or present, this property—with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains—would be considered prime real estate. A series of fine homes have stood on the tract since about 1764, and in 1847 the estate was called “one of the finest specimens of the modern style of Landscape Gardening in America.”

Related: 7 of the Most Visited National Historic Sites (NHS) in America

Vanderbilt Mansion gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Such superlatives attracted the attention of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who had built a fortune from shipping, ferries, and the New York Central Railroad. One of Frederick’s brothers, George Washington Vanderbilt, is perhaps best-known for his Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina. The Vanderbilts were known as the richest—and the most powerful—family in America in the late 1800s.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota – The World’s Only Corn Palace

The World’s Only Corn Palace or the Mitchell Corn Palace is a quirky, but cool multi-purpose arena in Mitchell. It was built in the Moorish Revival style and is adorned with crop art made from corn and other grain that features a constantly-evolving design.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corn Palace hosts concerts, sports events, exhibits, and other community events like the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas – Mission San Jose

If you visit Texas, expect to see a lot of missions. But if you want to see the coolest one, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio missions—Mission San Jose. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San Jose attracted people from all over the area. The church, which still stands, was built in 1768.

Related: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire – Castle in the Clouds

Built on a mountainside overlooking New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, the Moultonborough mansion originally named Lucknow has aptly been called Castle in the Clouds since it opened to the public in 1957. The beautiful Arts and Crafts–style home was built in 1913 as the luxury Ossipee Mountain retreat of Thomas Plant, a millionaire shoe-manufacturing mogul.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island – The Breakers

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of mega-mansions in Newport. The coolest of the over-the-top palatial “summer cottages” is the Breakers. This home symbolizes the social and financial preeminence of the Vanderbilt family who built the mansion.

Related: Jacksonville: The Historic Small Town That Never Gets Old

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Architects were tasked with designing an Italian Renaissance-style palace inspired by the 16th-century palazzos of Genoa and Turin. The manor was completed in 1895 and after the death of the last remaining Vanderbilt associated with the Breakers, it’s now in the hands of the Preservation Society and is the most visited attraction in Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

One Park. Four Missions.

As one of the largest cities in Texas, San Antonio carries with it a lot of history and beauty. The city is known for the Alamo and the beautiful San Antonio River running through downtown. No matter the time of year, San Antonio is a stunning destination for an RV road trip—and it brings with it a naturally warm climate year-round.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the early 1800s, the city grew around the missions along the San Antonio River. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is located just 10 minutes south of downtown San Antonio. San Antonio is a diverse and culturally rich city best known for the time honored battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” Most visitors are surprised to discover that the Alamo is one of five missions established by Spanish priests in the eighteenth century and the other four missions are well worth experiencing. The missions are designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be explored via bicycle on a winding trail by the river. You might find you won’t just be remembering the Alamo after a day on mission trail.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the missions—walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived—represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. All four of the mission sites at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park still contain active Catholic parishes. The churches hold regular services in these historic buildings. They are open to park visitors during park hours except for during special services such as weddings and funerals.

Plan Your Visit

Explore the Missions along the River Walk’s Mission Reach, an eight-mile stretch with recreational trails, pedestrian bridges, pavilions, and portals to four Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San José

Established in 1720, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest mission in San Antonio. Spanish designers built the mission using Texas limestone and brightly colored stucco. At its height, it provided sanctuary and a social and cultural community for about 350 Indians sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Spanish missions were not churches but communities with the church the focus. Mission San José captures a transitional moment in history, frozen in time.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed by 1782.

In 2011, it underwent a $2.2 million renovation to refinish interior domes, walls, and the altar backdrop. When visiting the church, be sure to look for flying buttresses, carvings, quatrefoil patterns, polychromatic plaster, and the famed “Rose Window,” a superb example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Concepción

Dedicated in 1755, the church at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. It stands proudly as the oldest unrestored stone church in America. In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface, but the patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, there are several rooms in which to see remaining frescos with all their detail and creativity.

Mission Concepción © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of six authorized by the Spanish government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. Developed by Franciscans and after a tenuous existence and several moves, the mission was transferred to its present site in 1731.

This handsome stone church took about 15 years to build and was dedicated in 1755. Due to the fact that it was built directly on bedrock, it never lost its roof or its integrity. It remains the least restored of the colonial structures within the Park.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Juan

Originally founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, Mission San Juan was transferred in 1731 to its present location. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed. A larger church was begun but was abandoned when half complete, the result of population decline.

San Juan was a self-sustaining community. Within the compound, Indian artisans produced iron tools, cloth, and prepared hides. Orchards and gardens outside the walls provided melons, pumpkins, grapes, and peppers. Beyond the mission complex Indian farmers cultivated maize (corn), beans, squash, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane in irrigated fields.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 20 miles southeast of Mission San Juan was Rancho de Pataguilla, which, in 1762, reported 3,500 sheep and nearly as many cattle. These products helped support not only the San Antonio missions but also the local settlements and presidial garrisons in the area. By the mid 1700s, San Juan, with its rich farm and pasture lands was a regional supplier of agricultural produce. With its surplus, San Juan established a trade network stretching east to Louisiana and south to Coahuila, Mexico. This thriving economy helped the mission to survive epidemics and Indian attacks in its final years.

Today, the chapel and bell tower are still in use. When visiting, don’t miss the typical Romanesque archway at the entrance gate. For outdoor fun, take a self-guided tour on the nature trail that begins at this Mission and leads to the river.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission Espada

This was the first mission in Texas, founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas. In 1731, the mission was transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A friary was built in 1745 and the church was completed in 1756.

Following government policy, Franciscan missionaries sought to make life within mission communities closely resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture. In order to become Spanish citizens and productive inhabitants, Native Americans learned vocational skills. As plows, farm implements, and gear for horses, oxen, and mules fell into disrepair, blacksmithing skills soon became indispensable. Weaving skills were needed to help clothe the inhabitants. As buildings became more elaborate, mission occupants learned masonry and carpentry skills under the direction of craftsmen contracted by the missionaries. After secularization, these vocational skills proved beneficial to post-colonial growth of San Antonio. The legacy of these Native American artisans is still evident throughout the city of San Antonio today.

Mission Espada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southernmost mission in the park, Mission Espada boasts the best-preserved segment of the area’s original irrigation system that was used to bring water to the fields. In 1826, a fire destroyed most of the mission buildings at Espada with only the chapel, granary, and two of the compound walls remaining. Today, part of the original irrigation system still operates the Espada aqueduct and dam. Self-guided walking tours are available during park hours. Don’t miss the newest installation near Espada, the massive Arbol de Vida or Tree of Life that displays the personal stories and tales of San Antonio locals.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo)

The Alamo, founded in 1718, was the first mission in San Antonio serving as a way station between east Texas and Mexico. In 1836, decades after the mission had closed the Alamo became an inspiration and a motivation for liberty during the Texas Revolution. The Alamo houses exhibits on the Texas Revolution and Texas History. Visitors are invited to experience interactive history lessons, guided tours, and stroll through the beautiful Alamo Gardens. Just a short distance from the River Walk, the Alamo is a “must-see” for all who visit the Alamo City. And, once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett

Remember the Alamo?

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening. I don’t care when you read this, but just know: RVing with Rex is perfect for any time of day. Whether you’re all hopped up on cold brew, making travel plans to some far-flung destinations (in your RV, of course!), sending multi-paragraph emails to a customer service representative at XYZ RV Repair Shop, staring at your phone while nodding off during a mid-afternoon slump, or staying up late into the bewitching hour to put some final touches on your watercolor portrait of The Alamo, it’s never a bad time to pick up what RVing with Rex is putting down. And what a day to do so!

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s post is all about the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto, led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried, without success, to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell, and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 180 years, and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

We were able to recall the power of the phase on a visit to the Alamo. The Alamo is not located in a vast field like Gettysburg or the Little Big Horn. Rather, it is located just off what now is the Alamo Plaza. Here’s a place where you can lose yourself in a world of brave deeds.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To understand the Alamo and its impact on the Texas Revolution, one needs to understand its times. From the historical perspective, you would be well served to first visit one of San Antonio’s other missions, for they provide insight into the way the Alamo once functioned. With the exception of the Alamo, the missions are all run by the National Parks Service and the grounds have been preserved, unlike those of the Alamo which are now engulfed by the city.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero, later to be known as the Alamo. Other missions along the San Antonio River include Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Missions were constructed in an effort to help Spain with its desire to create a Spanish America. Essentially, that meant Christianizing the Indians.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1833, Santa Anna had just become President of Mexico, assuming a dual role. Colonists, he decreed, could buy property in these barren Texas lands, but shortly thereafter, he revised his thinking and told the colonists to go back home, which most refused to do.

This uneasy truce between Mexico and the colonists lasted until October 2, 1835, when citizens at Gonzales, under the leadership of William Travis, held fast to their convictions—and to their cannon. When Mexican soldiers approached within cannon range, the defenders of Gonzales fired. Travis and his men then retreated 60 miles to the Alamo—where several months later, they achieved immortality.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, remembering the Alamo is nothing new. More recently, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas began sponsoring a Living History reenactment, and as fate would have it, we were there for the annual March event. While it was not our first visit to the Alamo, historically it was the most significant!

On this Sunday morning we joined an exceptionally large crown of thousands to “Remember the Alamo,” and the battle there on a similar morning many years earlier.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texans recalled the 189 known defenders who died and the 400 to 600 Mexican troops killed or wounded.

The place was packed, full of tourists. They came from all over, to participate in the battle reenactment and other activities. Grabbing their muskets, straightening their hats, and pulling on jackets ranging from ratty leather to officer uniforms, they readied themselves for the various activities.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dressed in period clothing they demonstrated how both the Mexicans and the Texans lived—how they prepared food, played music, made cloth and clothing, and played out the story of the battle.

The amazing scenes began as the actors assembled, established the setting at the Alamo, and ended with the fateful swarming of the mission. Smoke bellowed into the plaza from the cannons and from the cap-and-ball pistols used at the time, and spectators brushed shoulders with Mexican soldiers—and with the heroic figures of William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, the story continued. Just six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston’s army caught up with the soldiers of Santa Anna, literally asleep along the banks of the San Jacinto River. There, just nine Texans lost their life as Houston defeated Santa Anna. Houston spared the general’s life, and with the Mexican capitulation, Texas won its independence, becoming a republic.

The Alamo Living History Reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember the Alamo? Once you’ve been there, it’s impossible to forget.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—David Crockett