22 Southern Destinations for an End-of-Year RV Road Trip

Celebrate the spirit of the season

As another year draws to a close, you’ll likely notice a few familiar patterns beginning to take shape. Your social calendar fills with holiday fetes, giftgivings, and cookie swaps galore. The days until Christmas seem to slip away faster than you can click add to cart. And the pressure of seeing every last great aunt and twice-removed cousin over the holidays begins to mount.

With all the added pandemonium that the most wonderful time of the year can bring, getting away for an end-of-year road trip may be just the thing you need to reset before the New Year.

Whether you want to head for the mountains or the seashore these 22 Southern destinations are ideal for a year-ending RV road trip.

Whether it’s the Gulf Coast, a German village in Georgia, or Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg all of these southern destinations are worth a spot on your Christmas travel list.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Head to Gatlinburg for holiday fun in the Great Smoky Mountains! Few mountain vacation destinations are as popular as this one where you can find everything from a high-flying RV resort experience to a tranquil cabin in the woods. If you’re looking for a winter wander you’ll find it near this fun town which is known as the Gateway to the Smokies. Also, if you’re lucky and the weather’s just right you might just get to experience the beautiful landscape surrounding Gatlinburg blanketed in snow.

2. Asheville, North Carolina

See and hike the snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains on a trip to this well-known western North Carolina city. Winter trips should always include a tour of the Biltmore Estate to see it all dressed up for the holidays. Other must-dos are a stop at the Omni Grove Park Inn to check out the gingerbread house competition finalists and an evening of hot chocolate sipping at French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. San Antonio, Texas

If you’re not in the mood to be bothered by the winter chill, hightail it to the Lone Star State for a road trip to San Antonio. This historic city is ideal for an end-of-year getaway where shopping and snacking are high-priority. You’ll surely find a sense of wonder in the thousands of multicolored string lights adorning the scenic River Walk.

4. Dahlonega, Georgia

If you’ve been sleeping on Dahlonega’s Old-Fashioned Christmas, it’s time to wake up and smell the gingerbread cookies. Americans everywhere travel from far and wide to catch this place during Christmastime. The North Georgia town is draped in twinkling lights and overrun with rambling horse-drawn carriages. The town’s month-long celebration features everything from a hometown parade to charming tree lighting.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gulf Shores, Alabama

You may not get snow but you can find a different kind of white Christmas on the white sand shores of this Southern beach town. We can’t imagine anything more perfect than a sunset picnic on the quiet beaches here in the off-season.

6. Natchitoches, Louisiana

This small Louisiana town celebrates Christmas in a big way. The annual Festival of Lights runs for 40 days and attracts visitors from all over who arrive with family in tow to take in the more than 300,000 glittering lights and riverbank holiday decorations on display. The Christmas Festival is also a huge draw replete with a boat parade, fireworks, and a holiday market. This small-town Christmas celebration is well worth a road trip. Don’t leave town without trying one of Natchitoches’s famed meat pies.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Charleston, South Carolina

While most people associate South Carolina with seafood-scarfing and sandy-toed summer vacations, it’s also a great place to visit in cooler months. Average temperatures hover around 60 degrees so you’ll be perfectly comfortable as you tour through town stopping into specialty stores and swooning over the rows and rows of adorable pastel-colored homes.

Bonus: You can attend the annual Illumination Charleston event (December 1-2, 2023) that includes a holiday market, cooking demos from some of their favorite Southern chefs, and a fabulous opening night party.

8. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Enjoy the coastal charm of Myrtle Beach at Christmastime. Don’t miss Brookgreen Gardens which is filled with Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and flickering candles during the winter season. And be sure to catch a Christmas show with your family at one of Myrtle Beach’s beautiful theaters.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah, Georgia

Enjoy the cinematic charm of Savannah minus the high-season crowds by visiting the Hostess City of the South during winter. On top of great weather and plenty of strollable streets, you can also visit for the Mountainfilm Festival (January 18-21, 2014) and Savannah Book Festival from February 15-18, 2024.

10. Lewisburg, West Virginia

The Greenbrier resort (in nearby White Sulphur Springs) is reason enough to plan a trip to the Lewisburg area. Families have been spending Christmas at The Greenbrier for centuries and once you see the incredible decorations at the hotel you’ll understand why. There are plenty of other places here where you can feel the holiday magic including the lovely shops of downtown Lewisburg. To really get in the spirit, catch an area performance of the West Virginia Symphony.

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bardstown, Kentucky

Bardstown‘s beloved Main Street is a perfect destination for your seasonal adventures. Kick off the holidays with the Light Up Bardstown event, a light-filled festival that signifies the beginning of the season in this small Kentucky town. Don’t miss the much-anticipated visit from Santa Claus or the plentiful browsing opportunities in Bardstown’s downtown shops.

To rest your head for the night head the RV to My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground.

12. Oxford, Mississippi

This college town has Christmas spirit aplenty lighting up with glimmering decorations, lush greenery, and seasonal decor each December. Check out the Gingerbread House Village, Santa’s Workshop, and Holiday Ornament Auction, as well as the Oxford Christmas Parade on the downtown square for family fun. Before you leave, make sure to hit Square Books to find a unique gift.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Helen, Georgia

If you’re looking for a Bavarian-style winter wonderland you’ll find it and more in Helen. From downtown parades to Victorian Christmas celebrations to a Christkindlmarkt (German Christmas market), there is no shortage of festivities to enjoy in this small Georgia town with a big Christmas charm.

Among the gingerbread-style homes with their steeply pitched roofs and lovely cross-gables, you’ll find plenty of restaurants serving up bratwursts, schnitzel, and plenty of sudsy brews. For lovers of vino, there are several nearby wineries.

14. Branson, Missouri

Visit Branson, Missouri for the Ozark Mountain Christmas festival, a month-long holiday extravaganza complete with great music, festive lights, and fun parades. Grab the kids and jump on the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride for a rollicking time on the tracks and plenty of excitement for the whole family.

Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Williamsburg, Virginia

Experience Colonial flavor in Williamsburg at Christmastime! The yearly Colonial Christmas celebration lets visitors explore the Jamestown Settlement and meander the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown—so you can celebrate Christmas and learn about American history at the same time.

16. Pine Mountain, Georgia

Nothing will make the kids happier than Christmas at Callaway. Located in the small town of Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens hosts what can only be described as “the ultimate Christmas extravaganza.” The main attraction: Riding through a dazzling illuminated forest complete with synchronized Christmas carols. But you can also make merry (and shop for gifts) in the Christmas Village, meet holiday characters up close, and have an overall festive stay at Callaway’s resort.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Seaside, Florida

Head to Florida for a coastal Christmas full of festivities and seafood galore! Seaside is a fantastic beach town because there is so much to do on 30A in December. Marvel at the beautiful holiday decorations, shop for your gift list, and check out the amazing restaurants for celebratory drinks and meals.

Added bonus: You won’t even need to bring a jacket!

18. Grapevine, Texas

Do you know about the Christmas Capital of Texas? Let us introduce you. Grapevine touts more than 1,400 holiday events throughout the season but don’t overlook the Christmas Wine Train. Family-friendly activities range from The Parade of Lights to watching classic movies or Christmas concerts at the Palace Theatre. The Gaylord Texan Resort—already an impressive sight—is transformed with millions of lights, a rotating Christmas tree that’s more than 50 feet tall, miniature train sets, and even a life-sized gingerbread house.

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Mount Dora, Florida

Visit merry Mount Dora to experience the best of the holidays. Central Florida doesn’t get much more festive than this fun small town where you can see two million twinkling lights throughout the town. Stop by St. Nick’s Holiday Shoppe to get your celebration on and don’t miss the annual Christmas walk, a fun block party for the community complete with carolers and musical performances. There’s also a Christmas tour of homes and the local-favorite Christmas boat parade which brings the festivities to the water.

20. Blue Ridge, Georgia

This is the closest thing you’ll get to the Polar Express down in these parts. This mountain getaway feels as magical as the man in red himself. Start your holiday journey by hopping on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Santa Express. Your family will hear a Christmas story, sing carols, meet holiday characters, and visit Santa and Mrs. Claus as the famous couple makes their way through the train.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Fredericksburg, Texas

Small-town Texas gets an infusion of Christmastime charm with the annual festivities held in Fredericksburg, a community located in Central Texas west of Austin. The town’s old-fashioned celebrations are characterized by carolers, a three-day Christmas festival extravaganza, and plenty of nostalgic downtown shopping every December—all the while paying tribute to its German heritage. Enjoy kolaches (yeast buns filled with fruit) and Christmas bratwurst.

22. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Spend Christmas in Eureka Springs for an unforgettable holiday season. Don’t miss the Eureka Springs Christmas Festival, the annual Silver Tea at the Crescent Hotel, a downtown Christmas parade, and the annual Christmas tree lighting. The kids will love an afternoon with Santa (and reindeer games) in one of the town’s charming parks. This small town promises music and merriment aplenty.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

8 of the Oldest Cities in America

For history lovers, nothing beats the old-time charm and architectural wonder of America’s oldest towns

The United States officially gained independence in 1776; but, of course, Indigenous populations and colonial settlers were here long before then. That means some cities in the country were founded well before 1776 giving them a long, rich history that predates the country by more than a century. Here are eight of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the United States that you can still visit today.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

Aside from being one of the country’s oldest cities, Newport is special because its settlement was led by a woman. Boston resident Anne Hutchinson was driven out of the city because of her Antinomianism religious views and a group of followers accompanied her to resettle on Aquidneck Island—after permission was received by the local Indigenous people—in 1636. The Indigenous population had a thriving community there with sophisticated fishing practices and land management strategies.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hutchinson and her followers settled on the north of the island in an area called Pocasett. By 1639, half of Hutchinson’s group left with William Coddington and Nicholas Easton who took their followers to the southern end of the island to found present-day Newport, now known for its Gilded Age mansions, shopping, and seaside views.

Get more tips for visiting Newport

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg, Virginia

In 1633, the Virginia Assembly ordered the founding of a town called Middle Plantation in the center of the Virginia Peninsula. Unlike other towns at the time, the settlement was not located along the James River. Nonetheless, the town had a hand in a number of historic events like Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when Nathaniel Bacon challenged Virginia’s governor. Bacon and his followers had burned down many of the buildings in Jamestown and those displaced settlers relocated to Middle Plantation.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The College of William and Mary (the country’s second-oldest college) opened in 1693 and shortly thereafter, Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg, after King William. The country’s first mental health hospital was established in Williamsburg in 1773 and in 1781 George Washington assembled his troops there to siege Yorktown and win the Revolutionary War.

Today, visitors can stop in and explore Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest outdoor living history museum, educating guests on what it was like living in colonial America.

Get more tips for visiting Williamsburg

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was officially founded in 1630 but by the time Puritan colonists arrived on the Shawmut Peninsula where the city started it was already occupied by a recluse named Reverend William Blackstone. Blackstone had left England seven years earlier hunting down his own sense of peace and quiet and found it on the peninsula.

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blackstone welcomed the Puritan colonists and showed them where the natural spring was—and then they took over his land. They then granted him back 50 acres of his own property. Four years later, he sold it back to them and left.

Meanwhile, the colonists had built a church, cemetery, tavern, and inn. In 1635, they opened Boston Latin School, the first American public school. Boston took center stage in the fight against British rule with the infamous Boston Tea Party protest of 1773.

Get more tips for visiting Boston

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe—the oldest state capital still in existence—was officially founded in 1607 but it has actually been in existence since around 1050 when it was home to the Pueblo Native Americans. The Spanish arrived in 1607 and the Pueblo peoples gathered together and attempted to overthrow them toward the end of the 1600s. Their attempts were unsuccessful and the Spanish took control of the city.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe remained a Spanish city until 1821 when Mexico declared its independence. Santa Fe was briefly a part of the Texas Republic in 1836 and was eventually conquered from Mexico during the Mexican-American War in 1848 after which it officially became a part of the United States.

Santa Fe residents seemingly embrace all aspects of their long and contentious history and tourists can learn more about it by visiting their fascinating history museums, and art galleries.

Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown, Virginia

The second-oldest European-established city in the U.S. is Jamestown, Virginia, founded on April 26, 1607. The first permanent English colony in North America had many ups, downs, and false starts before it became the city it is today. It was originally called James Fort, named after James I of England but the settlement was abandoned just three years later after the colonists faced starving conditions and conflict with the Indigenous population.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fourteen years later; however, in 1624, Virginia became an official British colony and more order was brought to the city which had slowly been reinhabited. Its name was changed to Jamestown and the city became the capital of the British colonies. By the mid-19th century, the city was declining and concerned citizens began campaigns to preserve this original U.S. city in the early 1900s. These efforts were successful and the city celebrated its 400th year of existence in 2007.

Today, you can visit the Jamestown Settlement and see what life was like back in the city’s first years.

Get more tips for visiting Jamestown

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas

The first inhabitants in Galveston history were the Karankawa Indians in the 16th century. Galveston Island’s first noted visitor was Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who landed in 1528. Its first European settler was French privateer Jean Lafitte. The city was chartered in 1839.

Moody Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston encompasses more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. At 32 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide, the island is surrounded with incredible history and unique beauty. Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, visitors can tour its popular historic mansions.

Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

The French established a permanent presence in the Mobile Bay Area in 1702 and by 1706 there were at least four permanently established sites in the area including the current site of the City of Mobile. Mobile is the oldest permanent settlement in the original Colony of French Louisiana and was its first capitol. The first five governors of Louisiana resided in Mobile and governed an area twice the size of the thirteen English colonies extending from Canada to the Gulf and from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile has a rich past spanning centuries. French, Spanish, British, Creole, Catholic, Greek, and African legacies have influenced everything from architecture to cuisine. No matter where you turn, history is right around the corner. Visit the History Museum of Mobile, explore the battlegrounds of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Condé or simply walk the streets of historic downtown.

Get more tips for visiting Mobile

The Alamo, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

On June 13, 1691, Spanish missionaries named an area of south-central Texas for St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest, and friar. San Antonio was officially settled 25 years later. Then, in 1836, Mexican troops initiated a 13-day siege at the Alamo Mission and the settlers were brutally slaughtered. While San Antonio was further decimated by the Mexican-American War, it rebounded as the center of the cattle industry after the Civil War.

Riverwalk, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of around 1.3 million people, San Antonio is now the second-largest city in Texas. Visitors flock to the Alamo historic site and the popular River Walk which is lined with shops, restaurants, and public art.

Get more tips for visiting San Antonio

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

Explore Small-Town Texas from San Antonio

Certain times of year, wanderlust rises up and takes hold but it’s not always possible to plan a cross-country road trip

Are you looking for a fun getaway without leaving the Lone Star State? These 12 charming small towns are a perfect way to scratch that travel itch. Some are close to home in the Hill Country but more far-flung destinations also abound assuming you don’t mind a few hours behind the wheel.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner

About a 1.5 hour drive east of San Antonio

Head on out to Shiner and hit up K. Spoetzl Brewery, the home of Shiner Bock beer. The brewery itself is more than 100 years old making it the oldest independent brewery in the Lone Star State. Tours of the historic brewery are offered daily. And, of course, every tour concludes with free samples of Shiner.

Get more tips for visiting Shiner

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

About a 1.5 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

Discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in the Central Texas community of La Grange, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Though many of the original buildings in La Grange are more than a century old, a number of them have been renovated and serve as creative outlets, blending history and modern-day function. To taste Czech culture and a delectable kolache—gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries—and other bakery goods head to Weikel’s Bakery. La Grange Czechs out as a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Get more tips for visiting La Grande

Near Alpine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alpine

About a 5.5 hour drive west of San Antonio

Way yonder, not too far from Big Bend National Park, lies the desert oasis of Alpine. Though secluded, those looking for an outdoorsy weekend getaway have limitless options from mountain biking to hiking and world-class campsites. Alpine is also home to a burgeoning art community. Art installations like the Tribute to Texas Musicians mural and the Sul Ross Desk can be found throughout the desert outpost.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

About a 1.5 hour drive northwest of San Antonio

Fredericksburg is loved by tourists and locals alike and truly has something for everyone. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Vereins Kirche Museum which honors the German pioneers who initially settled this Hill Country town nearly two centuries ago. Shopaholics have plenty of locally-owned boutiques to choose from and there is a swath of wineries and breweries. With an endless supply of rustic bed and breakfasts and RV parks, Fredericksburg is the perfect weekend getaway for a couple or the whole family.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart

About a 1 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

When a town’s claim to fame is being the Barbecue Capital of Texas that is most definitely a place worth spending your time—and money. Four major meat joints have received national attention—Black’s Barbeque, Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Barbeque, and Chisholm Trail Barbeque. If you decide to stay for a night or two, there’s the Brock House which offers stunning views of Lockhart’s historic Caldwell County Courthouse. Conveniently located near town, Lockhart State park offers 20 serviced sites.

Get more tips for visiting Lockhart

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Aransas

About a 2.5 hour drive southeast of San Antonio

Long a favorite with Winter Texans, Port Aransas offers many activities from walking the beach in search of seashells to taking a tour boat, a deep sea fishing charter, or a sunset dinner cruise. This seaside town makes for a perfect family vacation with endless miles of sandy beaches, a “jersey shore” style boardwalk, and countless affordable resorts.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene

About a 45-minute drive northeast of San Antonio

Although it’s considered part of New Braunfels (which can’t be considered a small town these days), the Gruene Historic District should be a bucket list item for Texans. In addition to the legendary Gruene Hall, the district offers other live music venue options, the local general store, a prized antique shop, and the Gristmill Restaurant. This is the place to be for a good time packed with history.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

About a 1 hour drive north of San Antonio

Blanco is known as the Lavender Capital of Texas and if you visit during the blooming season from May through July, you’ll know why. Home to the HIll Country Lavender Farm, the town even hosts an annual Lavender Festival each summer. In addition to being known for soothingly scented purple blooms, Blanco is home to other attractions including the Science Mill and Blanco State Park.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville

About a 1 hour drive northwest of San Antonio

Enjoying the sights and getting a dose of small-town charm awaits you in Kerrville—dubbed the “Capital of the Hill Country.” From the Kerrville-Schreiner Park, home to attractions like a butterfly garden and amphitheater, to the Museum of Western Art, not to mention countless wineries, you’re sure to never run out of things to do in Kerrville.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

About a 1.5 hour drive east of San Antonio

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. 

Get more tips for visiting Schulenburg

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

About a 1 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

Located on the banks of the San Marcos River about 45 miles from San Antonio, Luling has all the elements of the perfect Texan small town—historic buildings, great barbecue, quirky history, viable downtown, lively harvest festival, a noon whistle, vintage stop signs, and eclectic shopping. A friendly, quiet central Texas community, rich in history and Texas pride, Luling is renowned for its barbecue, rich oil history, decorated pump jacks, fresh produce and plants, abundant watermelons, and Texas’ first inland canoe paddling trail on the San Marcos River.

Get more tips for visiting Luling

Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

About a 2.5 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

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 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. While the ice cream alone is worth the 150-mile road trip from San Antonio, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius.

Get more tips for visiting Brenham

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Saintly Cities

There’s more to Halloween than goofy costumes and trick-or-treating. In fact, Halloween is actually a precursor to two other holidays: All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead.

We celebrate Halloween on October 31 each year. Halloween (short for All Hallows’ Evening) is traced back to the Irish and Scottish ancient Celtic holiday Samhain (pronounced “sah-win”), a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture.

Halloween is a holiday that promotes fear of the dead but All Saints’ Day and Day of the Dead both celebrate the deceased. The dead (including Catholic Saints) are honored on All Saints’ Day on November 1. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a two-day celebration honoring both deceased children and adults. Some Mexicans make it a week-long celebration, beginning on October 28 and ending on November 2.

Since November kicks off with both All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Dead, both celebrated on November 1, I thought that I’d highlight some of America’s cities named for saints.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

The third largest city in Texas, San Antonio (Spanish for Saint Anthony) was founded in 1718 when a mission was established here. For many years, it was the largest city in Texas. Today, this lively city has stayed true to its roots and is rich in culture and history.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can stroll along the River Walk, a city park along the river offering shops, galleries, and restaurants. Of course, the most historic site to see here is the Alamo Mission to learn the history of the Battle of the Alamo. Other attractions include the San Antonio Zoo, Natural Bridge Caverns, and the Japanese Tea Gardens.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

“A Place Apart” Bay St. Louis is a historic beach community with a quaint and funky Old Town. Bay St. Louis has been home to colorful characters, fanciful buildings, and unquenchable community spirit for over three centuries. Bay St. Louis was established in 1699 by French explorers d’Iberville and Bienville. Known for years simply as “the Bay of St. Louis,” the city was incorporated under the name of Bay St. Louis as the first act of the new Mississippi legislature in 1818.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2010 Bay St. Louis was listed as one of the Top 10 Beach Communities in the U.S. by Coastal Living Magazine. Budget Travel magazine named it one of the “Coolest Small Towns in America” in 2013 and Southern Living magazine named Bay St. Louis one of their 50 Best Places in the South in 2016.

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

St. Martinville, Louisiana

Bayou Teche, a waterway in south central Louisiana, meanders through St. Martinville where birds wade among cattails, streets are shaded by century-old mossy oaks, and people enjoy fishing, picnics in the parks, and visits to historic museums. The St. Martinville people are descendants of Beausoleil Broussard, an Acadian hero from the 1700s, and Bienvenu and the Duchamp families of French royalty, who fled the revolution.

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As one of the oldest surviving towns in Louisiana, St. Martinville retains many buildings and homes reflecting the beautiful architecture of days gone by. The city’s Creole heritage is strongly represented by its inhabitants and is reflected in the cuisine, culture, and customs. Many of the buildings in its historic district are on the National Historic Register.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys, Georgia

Located on the easternmost fringes of the Florida-Georgia line, the city of St. Marys is perhaps best-known as the launching point for those visiting Cumberland Island, the largest of Georgia’s idyllic seaside isles. Though Cumberland’s sprawling sandy beaches and centuries-old ruins are truly a sight to behold, St. Marys is fully capable of holding its own as a fascinating destination packed full of historic landmarks, museums, wild horses, and dining venues.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upon arrival, visitors should take a leisurely stroll along the St. Marys Waterfront, a charming promenade complete with a gazebo offering a spectacular view of the river.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island, Texas

Padre Island is the largest of the Texas barrier islands and the world’s longest barrier island. The island is located along Texas’s southern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and is noted for its white sandy beaches. Meaning father in Spanish, it was named after Father José Nicolás Ballí who owned the island and served as a missionary priest and collector of finances for all the churches in the Rio Grande Valley.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing 130,434 acres, Padre Island National Seashore is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier islands in the world. Visitors will find a variety of outdoor things to do including surf fishing, RV and tent camping, world-class flat water windsurfing, wade fishing, surfing, birding, kayaking, and of course relaxing the beautiful white sand beaches of Malaquite Beach. The undeveloped, preserved beaches, coastal grasslands, and wetlands of the Padre Island National Seashore are one of the most scenic coastal areas of the sub-tropical Texas coast.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. George, Utah

The city was named for 19th-century LDS Church apostle George A. Smith (not the Roman martyr). From 1000 BCE to 1300 CE, Ancestral Puebloans traded their nomadic ways for rows of corn and squash. The Southern Paiutes were settled there when the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition passed through in 1776 and when 300 Mormon families founded a cotton mission in 1861.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Quail CreekSand Hollow, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi means the body of Christ in Ecclesiastical Latin, about the Christian sacrament of Holy Communion. The name was given to the settlement and surrounding bay by Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda in 1519 as he discovered the lush semitropical bay on the Western Christian feast day of Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no denying that Corpus Christi is one of the most beloved destinations in Texas, and for good reason. However, among the well-known ways to enjoy a day on the bay, Corpus Christi is packed with plenty of hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path surprises. Stroll along a scenic soft sandy beach. Watch sailboats glide on the bay. Step inside a legendary World War II aircraft carrier or tour an aquarium that provides insight into the creatures inhabiting the Gulf. These are among the many experiences you can have when you visit Corpus Christi, the largest coastal city in Texas.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is one of the top destinations in the American Southwest. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, and natural beauty, and those who wish to relax.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Colorado River at Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Luis, Arizona

Founded in 1930 and named for the town across the border in Mexico in the state of Sonora, San Luis Rio Colorado. It is named after St. Louis IX. The town’s history is closely associated with the Colorado River which was once the main transportation artery before the advent of the railroads.

Historic Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Luis is now considered a suburb of Yuma. Home to a massive military base, Native American Reservations, and some interesting and unique historical sites, the surrounding desert is also one of the country’s produce centers—especially for watermelons and other fruits that are shipped from Arizona farms to markets when most of the country is firmly in winter’s icy grip.

Lockhart State Park near San Marcos © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Marcos, Texas

In 1689, Spaniard Alonso de Leon led an expedition from Mexico to explore Texas and establish missions and presidios in the region. De Leon’s party helped blaze the Camino Real (later known as the Old San Antonio Road. De Leon’s party reached the river on April 25, the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist; the river was thus named the San Marcos.

Conveniently located in Central Texas between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos truly is the center of everything. So no matter where you are, you won’t have far to go. The San Marcos River bubbles to life from hundreds of springs right in the City’s center. Always a refreshing 72 degrees, the river is enjoyed year round. Grab a tube and go for a float. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle and navigate its length.

Worth Pondering…

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

—Francis of Assisi

6 Most Haunted Cities in America and the Ghosts That Call Them Home

Are you brave enough to visit the most haunted cities in America?

Strange sounds, ghost apparitions, and whispers—these are just some of the accounts told by visitors of haunted cities around the U.S.

Tales of the supernatural world are fascinating at any time of year but the Halloween season kicks the ghostly atmosphere into high gear in many places across the U.S. One of the best ways to celebrate the spooky season is on a bone-chilling ghost tour. Here are six cities with some of the coolest, spookiest, and most illuminating ghost tours you can take in America.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Blood of the Battlefield

Areas, where historic tragedies took place, are often considered paranormal hot spots, and the site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle is regarded as one of the world’s most haunted places. Some report seeing the ghosts of soldiers on the battlefield and inns and a farm in the area are haunted, too.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the day, visitors can take a self-guided audio tour around the battlefield—an excellent way to get one’s bearings and visit such ominously named locations as Devil’s Den which feels spooky even in broad daylight. After dark, choose from the many walking tours that visit paranormal spots around town and share tales of the epic Civil War battle. The Farnsworth House Inn hosts several guided ghost walks which include a presentation in its haunted cellar a tour of the Confederate Hospital and a visit to the old Union Cemetery. For a more family-friendly tour, try the Gettysburg History and Haunts Tour which is also wheelchair-accessible and pet-friendly.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia: Southern Goth

Southern gentility has a ghostly past in Savannah. The Mercer House was the home of Jim Williams, a voodoo-practicing antique dealer and the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The home is said to be haunted by the man he allegedly killed in a heated argument though he was acquitted in three separate trials.

Related article: Ghostly Experiences

Old Sorrel Weed House, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Orb Tours feature frequently on lists of best ghost tours in both the U.S. and around the world. Suitable for all ages, their 90-minute Savannah Shadows walk combines local history, Gullah folktales, and haunted sightings in the city’s otherwise charming downtown. The company also offers a two-hour Zombie Tour for adults only. Visitors to Savannah shouldn’t miss the Old Sorrel-Weed House (see photo above), a local landmark known for its paranormal past. Now a museum, it offers a popular Ghosts of Sorrel Weed Tour.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans, Louisiana: The Most Haunted and Haunting

They say that on Halloween, the line between the dead and the living gets thinner than ever. In New Orleans, you’re not that far from the dead as the city’s cemeteries hang above ground year-round. After colonial times, slavery, voodoo, many wars, and most recently, Hurricane Katrina, the city counts its ghosts as regular residents.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With dozens of reportedly haunted places, New Orleans is one of the country’s most haunted cities. By paranormal standards, New Orleans has it all: churches haunted by the spirits of former priests, former hospitals visited by soldiers who died but never truly passed on, and homes filled with ghosts of residents who died on the premises—not to mention all the vampire stories.

Related article: A Haunting Good Time: Your Guide to 5 Ghostly Cities Across America

The city also has its share of notable ghosts including author William Faulkner whose spirit is sometimes spotted at his former home-turned-bookstore Faulkner House Books. Old Absinthe House, open since the early 1800s, is supposedly haunted by Voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, Andrew Jackson, and pirate Jean Lafitte, among others. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is another paranormal hot spot, said to be haunted by hundreds of ghosts.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the evenings, the streets of the historic French Quarter are filled with guided ghost tours. French Quarter Phantoms have several options available—after visiting the grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau during their daytime tour of the cemetery join one of their evening rambles themed around “Saints and Sinners,” “Ghosts and Vampires,” or “French Quarter Voodoo.” Witches Brew also features several themed walks from vampires to ghosts or you can always join a haunted pub crawl—this is New Orleans, after all.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas: Angry Wraiths of the Past

San Antonio is considered one of the most haunted places in Texas because of the city’s history. Remember the Alamo? The ghosts of the Alamo will make sure you do. The Battle of the Alamo led to thousands of casualties and Alamo visitors and employees have reported seeing the ghosts of soldiers and hearing mysterious rally cries. The nearby Emily Morgan Hotel is one of the country’s most haunted hotels, too. The property was once a hospital and some guests now report seeing the apparition of a woman in white in the halls.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many buildings along the riverwalk are said to be haunted including the Alamo Street Restaurant and theater. Former actress Margaret Gething is said to watch performances from the balcony in a long flowing dress. A young boy named Eddie is said to bang around the kitchen and enjoys playing pranks.
A section of railroad tracks near the San Juan Mission is said to be haunted by the ghosts of children who were killed more than 50 years ago when their bus stalled on the tracks. It is said that any car that stops near the tracks will be pushed by unseen hands across the tracks—to avoid a similar fate.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina: Hauntings in the Holy City

Charleston is one of those good ’ole Southern cities where there’s so much history—from the Civil War to pirates and voodoo—the ghosts never want to leave. Plus, two rivers run through it providing liquid fuel for a ghostly fire.

Related article: A Creepy, Spooky, Ghostly, Haunted Road Trip

The downtown area known as The Battery was an artillery installation during the Civil War. Guests at the Battery Carriage House Inn may find their room already taken—some male guests have reported waking to see a man standing by their bed while some female guests have reported a male ghost, ahem, in their bed.

The Dock Street Theatre is also said to have two eerie visitors from the past—the ghost of actor Junius Brutus Booth, the father of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and the ghost of a prostitute the locals call “Nettie.”

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In all, there are more than 20 places thought to be haunted and sure to send a tingle up your spine. With a tumultuous three centuries under its belt, Charleston has seen its fair share of paranormal activity. Combining ghost stories that are firmly rooted in local lore with more recent sightings, the Ghosts of the South tour is a wildly popular guided stroll through old Charleston. The tour delves into the city’s history, stopping at haunted hotels, houses, and graveyards throughout a mile circuit. It’s not recommended for children under 10. 

Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas: A Port of Unfortunate Souls

Galveston has had pirates, hurricanes, murders, and more in its long history. The paranormal activity is off the charts in several spots around the city. The Bishop’s Palace survived the deadly 1900 hurricane, a source of many of the city’s ghosts, and now the building is haunted by its worried owner. The Ashton Villa Mansion has several ghosts-in-residence thanks to its Civil Era hospital roots.

Bishop’s Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This small island off the coast of Houston has not just one, but three ghost tour operators. The oldest and largest is The Ghost Tours of Galveston run by Dash Beardsley, “The Ghost Man of Galveston.” Beardsley runs four tours, the most popular of which explores the historic ghost stories of the Strand where Confederate soldiers are rumored to appear on rooftops.

Related article: Explore Arizona’s Spooky, Haunted Ghost Towns

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But ghosts are plentiful throughout Galveston—given the port city’s checkered history. Six thousand residents were killed here in the Great Storm of 1900 and during the Civil War wounded soldiers were treated in the buildings lining downtown. Add to that the odd unlucky gambler haunting the Tremont Hotel or the tragic (and dead) bride-to-be walking the halls of Hotel Galvez and you’ve got a bona fide haunted town. And head to the Haunted Mayfield Manor for a lighter Halloween-themed attraction.

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

10 of the Hottest Cities in America

It’s summer. It’s hot. That’s what summers do.

Some of the most populated cities across the United States are also some of the hottest places to be during the summer with temperatures regularly climbing above 100 degrees F.

Many cities don’t come close to the extreme heat experienced in Death Valley, California; however, the population in Death Valley is just a small fraction of that of many towns across the country.

Cities are warming at twice the global average because buildings and pavement absorb and trap so much heat. Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Miami have named chief heat officers to find ways to prevent the often deadly impacts of extreme heat. 

From the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the deserts of the Southwest, here are 10 of the hottest cities across the United States with a population of over 250,000.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix is home to over 1.6 million people and regularly experiences some of the highest temperatures of any city across the country. The temperature climbs above the 100-degree mark daily from the end of May through the middle of September. These blistering hot days are followed up by warm nights with the low temperature sometimes failing to drop below 90.

Phoenix recorded its hottest summer ever in 2020 with 50 days at or above 110 degrees and a record 28 nights when the temperature never dropped below 90 degrees. 

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heat is killing about 300 people per year in Phoenix. 

Phoenix is trying to beat the heat by turning its black asphalt streets gray. A special sealant reflects rather than absorbs the hot desert sun.  

Related: Excessive Heat Warnings: Safety Tips for RVers

America’s hottest city is working to avoid getting even hotter—starting with its streets. As heat waves across the country continue, Phoenix is covering black asphalt roads with a gray sealant that reflects the sun rather than absorbing heat. Mayor Kate Gallego says the sealant which has so far been used on 73 miles of city streets reduces the temperature of asphalt by 10 to 12 degrees.

Phoenix as seen from Hole in the Rock at Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to cool pavement the city is creating 100 cool corridors and planting hundreds of trees whose shade can drop the ambient air temperature by about 30 to 40 degrees compared to full sun. Phoenix is also experimenting with reflective roofs and cooling sidewalks. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas is a popular tourist destination in the southwestern United States but visitors may want to plan to visit areas with air conditioning during the summer months. The city averages over 70 days a year with temperatures in the triple digits and has reached its all-time record high of 117 on several occasions.

People traveling to popular tourist destinations nearby such as Lake Mead National Recreation, Red Rock Canyon, or the Hoover Dam should also expect to encounter extreme heat and should take the proper precautions to stay safe.

Sabino Canyon, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Tucson, Arizona

Tucson sits on the edge of the Sonoran Desert and is nearly as hot as Phoenix located 100 miles to the northwest. One of Tucson’s hottest summers in recent years occurred in 2013 when the city climbed into the 100s for 39 consecutive days including all of June.

Monsoonal thunderstorms can provide temporary breaks in the extreme summer heat but they can also kick up dust storms called haboobs that can greatly reduce visibility and cause dangerous travel conditions.

Olive grove in the Central Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Riverside, California

While the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean help to limit temperatures along coastal areas of Southern California areas father inland can experience much hotter conditions. Riverside, approximately 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles has recorded triple-digit heat every month from April through October with an all-time high of 118. This is higher than the record in Las Vegas and just a few degrees shy of the record high in Phoenix.

Related: Dust Storms and Haboobs: Safety Tips for RVers

The Alamo, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is home to more than 1.5 million people and experiences long stretch with temperatures in the 90s during the height of summer. On average, the city reaches the 90-degree mark more than 110 days out of the year as well as several days in the low 100s. August is the hottest month of the year in San Antonio with an average high temperature near 97, one of the highest averages across the entire country among major cities.

Lake Okeechobee west of Miami © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Miami, Florida

Although the mercury in southern Florida doesn’t climb as high as it does in the southwestern United States during the summer, Miami’s proximity to the tropics can make it feel oppressively hot, especially for those not accustomed to the high humidity levels. Miami has never recorded a temperature of 100 but the strong summer sun paired with the humidity can send the AccuWeather RealFeel temperature over 110 on the hottest afternoons of the year.

Miami is also one of the warmest cities in the country during the winter with afternoon temperatures often climbing near 80.

Gulf Coast south of Houston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Houston, Texas

Tropical moisture from the Gulf of Mexico has a strong influence on the weather pattern along the coast of Texas including in Houston, the state’s most populated city with over 2 million people. The humidity helps to boost the AccuWeather RealFeel temperature above 100 daily. Moisture from the Gulf also helps to fuel rain and thunderstorms making Houston the wettest among the county’s hottest cities averaging over 100 days a year with rain.

Lake Kaweah east of Fresno © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Fresno, California

Outside of the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, the Central Valley is California’s hottest region with temperatures often reaching the triple digits. This includes Fresno, home to over half a million people. In 2018, the city experienced 30 consecutive days with a temperature at or above the 100-degree mark, the longest stretch in the city’s history.

Related: Heat Alert: The Hidden Symptoms of Extreme Heat

Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, southwest of Dallas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Dallas, Texas

Located farther inland from the Gulf of Mexico than Houston or San Antonio, Dallas can experience some of the hottest weather of all of Texas’ major cities. Being farther away from the source of tropical moisture allows temperatures to be slightly higher than near the coast with daily highs in the mid- to upper 90s from the end of June into early September.

Although the summer heat can be more intense in Dallas than Houston or San Antonio, the city experiences cooler winters with temperatures frequently dipping below freezing.

Disney World © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Orlando, Florida

One of Florida’s hottest cities is also one of its most popular tourist spots with a record-setting 72 million people visiting in 2017. Unlike Miami, temperatures in Orlando can occasionally reach the 100-degree mark with an all-time record high of 103. Overnight temperatures also remain warm as they rarely dip below 60 from June through September.

Orlando also remains warm throughout the winter with afternoon highs in the 70s and overnight lows that rarely drop below 30.

Worth Pondering…

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.”

—Yogi Berra

Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Related Article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

Related Article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

Related Article: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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

The 10 Top Things to Do in Texas

Plan on Texas-sized fun on your next trip to the Lone Star State

As the second-largest state in the U.S., Texas covers an extraordinary amount of the geographical area in the U.S. Measuring approximately 268,597 square miles Texas can fit 15 of the smallest states in its boundaries.

Because of the size of the state, it’s often said that “everything is bigger in Texas”―and it certainly rings true. Texas is home to three of the 10 largest cities in the country: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. Not only that, but Austin claims the title of being the Live Music Capital of the World.

Mission Conception along the San Antonio Mission Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dining scene across Texas is also pretty robust thanks to the state’s signature barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Plus, with plenty of sun-drenched beaches, wilderness landscapes, and Texan-sized festivals at visitors’ fingertips, there’s truly something for everyone in Texas. Read on to learn more about all of the fun things to do in Texas.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

The Mission City’s rich history dates back to 1718 with the establishment of the first of five Spanish Missions along the San Antonio River. In 2015, The World Heritage Committee recognized the five mission complexes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio is also home to the city’s vibrant River Walk, another not-to-be-missed top attraction. This 15-mile urban waterway in the heart of downtown is an excellent way to explore the city on foot, by bicycle, or on a GO RIO river barge which offers a narrated history of the city and River Walk. Along the way, wander through the historic King William Cultural Arts District and Southtown Arts District to see the museums, boutiques, parks, micro-distilleries, and coffee shops. The waterfront Hotel Emma used to be a brewhouse during the 19th century.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore The Alamo

Built as Mission San Antonio de Valero’s chapel in 1718 and renamed The Alamo in the early 1800s this “Shrine of Texas Liberty” has a long and colorful history. Occupied by five independent nations and serving as the stronghold for five different armies, the former mission is best known for the 1836 Battle of The Alamo. As part of the Texas Revolution, this battle earned Texas independence from Mexico becoming a self-governing republic.

Related Article: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. annexed Texas as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. Today, guests can book a history talk, take a self-guided audio tour, or schedule a guided tour to see the highlights of the renowned mission. Top attractions include the church which is free to visit independently with a timed ticket. Other top-recommended stops are the living history encampment which features hands-on demonstrations showcasing what life was like in the 1830s under Mexican rule and the exhibit hall with its extensive collection of artifacts and historical documents.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

Enchanted Rock in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a longer getaway, take a road trip through the region beginning 32 miles northeast of San Antonio in New Braunfels, looping around clockwise and ending in Austin. Along the way, stop in Utopia where you can book an overnight stay high atop the trees in a magical treehouse at Treehouse Utopia.

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, head about 80 miles northeast to historic Fredericksburg. Founded by German immigrants in 1846, this small town retains its unique heritage with German architecture and exhibits and demonstrations at the Pioneer Museum. You’ll even find German cuisine at several local restaurants and biergartens and there’s an annual Oktoberfest in the fall.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Braunfels

Situated between San Antonio and Austin, New Braunfels is another Texas Hill Country town that celebrates its German heritage. Stroll through the historic downtown brimming with cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, and museums. There’s also a beautiful green space, Landa Park, just a short distance away.

Related Article: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Gruene Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, the town hosts many festivals, parades, and street fairs throughout the year including the annual Wurstfest. The German-inspired festivities are held in early November along the Comal River and feature Bavarian-style foods, German and Texas beer, and live music. To learn more about the German history of New Braunfels, be sure to visit the Gruene Historic District.

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

Austin

As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is known for its eclectic neighborhoods and entertainment districts featuring more than 250 live music venues. The city is also the capital of Texas, so there’s plenty more to explore, including art museums and galleries as well as the State Capitol. The landmark granite Capitol building opened in 1888 and boasts a beautiful 218-foot rotunda. Free guided and self-guided tours are available daily on the Capitol and grounds.

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

Be sure to check out another Texas Historic Landmark, Mount Bonnell at Covert Park. This popular tourist destination since the 1850s features a vantage point overlooking the Colorado River, affording some of the best views of the city. Explore the wildflowers and native plants of Texas in the beautiful gardens at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church (High Hill) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that has one thing in common: their painted churches. The term “painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) actually finely-fitted woodwork.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Praha) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Padre Island

Situated off the southern tip of Texas on Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, this barrier island is the only tropical island in the state. Perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, South Padre Island boasts more than 300 days of sunshine, 34 miles of white sand beaches, and emerald-tinted waters.

Related Article: Explore the Funky Art Towns and Desert Beauty of West Texas

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top attractions include a visit to Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation facility for sea turtles that focuses on education and conservation. You can also book a lesson with a master sand sculptor to create your own masterpiece while visiting the Sandcastle Capital of the World.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On its 50 acres near the convention center, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center presents a microcosm of the rich habitats that contribute to this very special place. Dune meadows, salt marsh, and intertidal flats are all here along with thickets of native shrubs and trees that are irresistible to migrating birds.

The Strand Historic District, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time.

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

Ocean Star Off-shore Drilling Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, Galveston allows visitors to explore the island’s interesting history by touring one of its popular historic mansions.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood, and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

If you prefer to spend time outdoors, kick back and relax, take a horseback ride along the beach, or go snorkeling or deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat Texas Barbecue

With 13 million head of cattle, Texas has nearly double the number of any other state so it should be no surprise that the Lone Star State cooks up the delicious barbecue. Whether you prefer thick slices of brisket or a rack of ribs, barbecue is one of those foods you can’t leave Texas without trying. As you travel through Texas, you’ll likely notice different styles of barbecue from sauce-covered meat in the southern and eastern portions of the state to well-seasoned meat with sauce on the side in the central and western portions. Needless to say, it’s all fantastic.

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

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

10 Amazing Places to RV in November

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

Winter has officially arrived in the northern states and Canada which means getting up and going home in the dark usually in the cold and blowing snow. It is snowbird season, time to head south until the sunlight finally peeps through again around March or April. Happily, San Antonio and other southern cities are basking in a mellow, pre-Christmas glow.

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

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

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Discover history, culture, and autumn beauty along Georgia’s scenic byways. The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including SR-17/75, SR-180, and SR-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet. Visitors can still walk the roughly half-mile, uphill paved path to the observation tower at the summit.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor activities abound along the route, especially hiking. The Appalachian Trail crosses the byway in two spots, at Unicoi Gap and Hogpen Gap. Parking areas at each trailhead allow day visitors to take out-and-back hikes on the famed 2,190-mile trail connecting Georgia to Maine. Download an interactive map from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at appalachiantrail.org. Other short trails lead to cascading waterfalls such as Raven Cliff Falls, High Shoals Falls, and the impressive double cascade of Anna Ruby Falls.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three state parks are on or near the byway. Anglers come to Smithgall Woods State Park to cast a line in the celebrated trout stream of Duke’s Creek. Take a trip through the treetops on the Unicoi Zipline and Aerial Adventure Tour at Unicoi State Park and Lodge. Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s two original state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain near the byway and offers a great view of the mountain from its 20-acre lake with a beach. Accommodations at Vogel and Unicoi include cottages and RV campsites. Smithgall Woods has cottages but no individual campsites.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closest town to the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is Helen, the small Bavarian-themed town with an array of shopping, dining, and lodging options.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk boasts sightseeing, shopping, dining, and incredibly rich history. This world-renowned 15-mile waterway has been setting the standard for river walks internationally for decades. Visit La Villita Historic Arts Village, a community and home to nearly 30 shops and galleries selling locally made jewelry, pottery, folk art, textiles, and other handcrafted items by local artists. Plus, in the midst of these tree-lined walkways and plazas, enjoy a savory culinary experience at the area restaurants with options ranging from traditional Mexican flavors to steakhouse favorites. Or step into Casa Rio which is the oldest restaurant on the banks of the River Walk.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, visit the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage. (SAMA) takes you around the world and through five thousand years of art in a complex of buildings that once housed the Lone Star Brewery. SAMA is renowned for the most comprehensive ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, trek to visit the four historic missions at the San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park. Along with the Alamo, the park was named the first World Heritage Site in Texas by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) and includes the city’s four southernmost Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. In the 18th century, Spanish priests established these five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River. The missions are walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived.

Related: The 20 Best Road Trips from San Antonio

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

As an RVer who loves visiting new areas and returning to favorite haunts, I’ve often asked my favorite areas to explore. It’s always interesting to see the confusion on the faces of the questioners when my response is New Mexico.

“But isn’t that just aliens and, like, the desert?”

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into alien stuff and the desert, you’ll certainly find them here. But you’ll also find so much more. New Mexico is incredibly diverse. While visiting the Land of Enchantment, I’ve camped in the desert, hiked up huge white sand dunes, and down into deep caverns. I’ve explored diverse craft and farmer’s markets and wandered through some of the most amazing art installations and galleries. New Mexico is where I’ve eaten the best meals, explored pecan and pistachio farms, and watched the most epic sunsets of my life. I’ve met incredibly talented artists along the way and visited historic churches and pueblos.

The aliens of Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What I’m saying is: New Mexico is special. It’s quirky and mystical and down to earth all at once. It’s full of adventure and relaxation and history. It’s also the home to one of the newest designated National Park—White Sands—a truly otherworldly experience. Need more reasons to visit?

Related: Wake Up In New Mexico

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come for the adventure followed by hatch chili cheeseburgers and craft beer!

Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” I couldn’t agree more.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Largest Trees in the World

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate parks but due to their proximity to one another, they’re often visited together.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park is home to two notable natural wonders: Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet above sea level, and the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume. Both are impressive sights!

Kings Canyon National Park to the north of Sequoia is also home to giant trees including the largest remaining grove on the planet at Redwood Canyon. The landscape in Kings Canyon rivals that of Yosemite with towering granite canyon walls, lush meadows, and the picturesque King River that flows throughout the park.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While both parks together make up a whopping 865,964 acres, over 90 percent of that land is designated wilderness with no roads or vehicle access. There are numerous opportunities for incredible overnight backpacking trips in the backcountry, though, if you want to plan for that on your California road trip.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey played a guy who unknowingly stars in a reality show, set in an impossibly idyllic beach town. That’s Seaside, and it required very little effort to make Truman’s hometown seem like a paradise of pastel-colored houses and dreamlike beaches. It’s worth a stop if you want to squeal with delight while strolling through town and stopping at landmarks like the famous white post office. When the post office was built just over 30 years ago, it was only the second civic building in Seaside and was established o create the perception that the community was “real” at a time when Seaside and surrounding communities were just beginning to emerge.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the coolest features of Seaside is Airstream Row. A group of restaurants—like Crepes du Soleil and Frost Bites—set up shop in Airstreams along 30A, lending a little funk to the picturesque scenery. If you prefer to sit down with a grand view of the water, grab a table at Bud & Alley’s which serves classic Gulf fare like grilled head-on shrimp and seafood gumbo.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are more than cute eateries and buildings in Seaside. Sundog Books is an absolute must: an independent bookstore that’s been open for 30 years. If you need a beach read, or just want to support a cool local business, this is a worthy stop.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lots of Nuts Inside

Two of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

Eagle Ranch pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Free samples at McGinn’s Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

St. Mary’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary’s, Georgia

Many folks pass through St. Mary’s on their way to Cumberland Island. But this seaside gem is more than just a place to kill a few hours between ferries. Shops and eateries cluster around the picturesque waterfront. (Swing by Lang’s Marina Restaurant for mouthwatering crab cakes.) The St. Mary’s Submarine Museum entices visitors with an extensive collection of memorabilia and photographs. And you’d probably be surprised to learn this postcard-worthy port can lay claim to the oldest continuously operating church in Georgia.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

Kemah is a city on Galveston Bay and a place I think doesn’t get enough hype. Many people pass right by, heading for the island. But, only 20 miles from downtown Houston right on the bay sits Kemah Boardwalk with entertainment galore for the whole family. It offers an amusement park with fun and exciting rides, waterfront dining, festivals, and seaside shows. Shopping and dining are a huge part of the boardwalk.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We went on a cool day in November to walk around the bay and noticed that some rides and attractions were not operating plus it was a bit chilly but we were still entertained by the sights, sounds, and dining options. There are also other dining alternatives in the nearby Kemah Lighthouse District. Kemah Boardwalk is open year-round.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Although Montezuma Castle National Monument is a small site, its history runs deep. Located in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. The compact site almost feels like a diorama of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the valley as far back as 650. A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff where a 20-room building peeks out from above.

Beaver Creek at Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built by the Sinagua people around 1050, the castle is a well-preserved example of architectural ingenuity. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. Its elevated location provides protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding, plus it functions as a lookout. 

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Olive tree along the Tehama Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tehama Trail, California

The Tehama Trail is a surprisingly fertile area—a prime place for farms and ranches. Many invite visitors to stop in and buy fresh produce, artisanal olive oils, and other local food products.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail links together nearly two dozen vineyards, orchards, grass-fed beef ranchers, and other specialty meat producers. Hop onto the route at any point but the driving tour technically begins in Corning, a town known for olives. Stop by the iconic Olive Pit for samples of traditional olives, or try more exotic options, like herb-and-garlic-cheese-stuffed Sicilian olives. Head over to Lucero Olive Oil to sample artisanal olive oils and vinegar and shop for gifts.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue along the trail to sample and buy heirloom tomatoes, juice-down-your-chin peaches and plums, and berries as well as fresh pies and honey. Swing by New Clairvaux Vineyard in tiny Vina, just south of Redding where Trappist monks invite you to sample their Barbera, Pinot Grigio, and other varietals in a large tasting room on the monastery grounds.

Sandhill cranes prepare for takeoff at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.

Related: The Mind-Blowing Enchantment of New Mexico: San Antonio & Bosque del Apache

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning