Free Things to Do in America

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

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

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

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

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Vermont: Taste Maple Syrup

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

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Massachusetts: Follow the Freedom Trail

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

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

Buffalo Trace Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Drink Bourbon

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

Shiner beer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Virginia: Wander Colonial Williamsburg 

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

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

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Finding joy in the outdoors

The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the US and Canada affecting each aspect of human life and social interaction. As humans we have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation—the great outdoors.

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

Many cities across the country issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. The resulting loneliness often led to higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity, or other negative health impacts.

As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. These ill effects can counter by spending time in the outdoors.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality, and general happiness.

Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.

Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they have participated in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides!

As the weather cools get outside and soak up the beautiful sights and sounds of the autumn season. The yearly spectacle of fall puts changing leaves at the forefront of our imagination but you don’t have to imagine the beauty.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are several great suggestions for fall trips to help you get the most out of this amazing time of year in America’s most beautiful places. So, come along and find out what to do and where to go this fall. Step out of summer and into an autumn adventure. And snap some photos while you do!

Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

This 522,427-acre park straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee comes alive with red, yellow, and orange from mid-September to early November thanks to a collection of 100 tree species, most of them deciduous. The best way to view the likes of flaming cove and northern hardwood, maple, and beech trees is via a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Cades Cove or a hike along area trails such as the Appalachian Trail or Oconaluftee River Trail.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Vermont

Vermont

The state’s loveliest drive might just be its largest highway, Route 100—a 200-mile-plus thoroughfare that vertically dissects the state from Massachusetts to Canada. In fact, nature photographers from all over the country hit the highway for guaranteed peak foliage photography. But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory (for pickup orders only).

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal, Virginia awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountains to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, and river access make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Often described as a ‘miniature’ version of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods is arguably, equally spectacular. What Valley of the Gods may lack when it comes to the size and volume of its free-standing monoliths, spires, and fins, it makes up for with solitude. It would be a rare occurrence to pass through Monument Valley without seeing another visitor but at Valley of the Gods you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself to explore and enjoy. Take in a scenic hike or stop for a picnic in the crisp fall air.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Visit Central Vermont and enjoy the great outdoors

Quaint to quirky, this state has it all. Vermont is predominately rural with mountains, villages, and a few small cities. From the Green Mountains to the Connecticut River on the east to Lake Champlain to the northwest, Vermont has much to attract the RVer.

Vermont State House in Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The intense green forests are studded with colorful bursts of summer flowers. Central Vermont, from Burlington to the Montpelier area, offers many interesting and delicious attractions to RVers.

Montpelier, the smallest capital in America with a population under 8,000 people, is a charming historic town with the largest urban historic district in Vermont. It is readily accessible from I-89 which runs from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. Guided tours are available free of charge. Next door to the capitol, the Vermont Historical Society Museum is a must for history buffs.

Vermont State House in Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montpelier is a walking city. The heart of the downtown is three blocks from the State House. Downtown Montpelier is a vibrant center of interesting, independently owned shops and restaurants. It is also home to the New England Culinary Institute, which operates three restaurants—NECI on Main, Dewey Cafe, and La Brioche Bakery & Café—with irresistible delights in this eclectic New England town.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s plenty of beautiful countryside to see around Montpelier and a number of interesting tours nearby.

Rock of Ages granite quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Rock of Ages granite quarry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite. From behind a wire fence, gaze down at the 600-foot-deep quarry. In the quarry, workers and machines drill, split, explode, and lift massive blocks of granite. Watching steel derricks hoist the blocks from the deep quarry is quite a sight.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the impressive quarry tour, head inside for a self-guided tour of the manufacturing plant where you can watch granite artisans working on everything from large mausoleums to tombstones and small memorial markers. The precision cutting, laser etching, and other sculpting techniques are fascinating to watch.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, is situated on the east side of Lake Champlain and, like Montpelier, is accessible from I-89. Burlington’s waterfront is home to parks, a walking/bike path, fine restaurants, ferry crossings, and cruise boats. The core of this vibrant city’s downtown is the Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall filled with over 100 retail shops, boutiques, cafes, and craft vendors.

Rock of Ages manufacturing plant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sweetest tour in town, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been making fresh, small batch chocolates on Pine Street since 1983. They offer free factory tours Monday to Friday from June to October, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.; tours start on the hour and self-guided tours start at 3:00 p.m. On the weekends, free chocolate tastings are available between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Learn the flavor profiles of four different chocolates with a chance to win a free chocolate gift basket. Lake Champlain Chocolates features caramels, clusters, truffles, almond butter crunch and much more—including lots of factory seconds and free samples.

Lake Champlain Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Shelburne Museum is a unique American treasure, a sprawling complex of three dozen relocated buildings including a covered bridge, round barn, a lighthouse, and huge 220-foot dry docked paddlewheel steam-powered lake boat. Inside, the 39 galleries house an eclectic collection of art, Americana, architecture, and artifacts.

Morris Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ships, lighthouses, whole barns—you name it, it’s here. There’s so much to see that the entry ticket is valid for two days.

Morris Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This amazing collection just south of Burlington was started just over 50 years ago by Electra Havenmeyer Webb, and it just keeps on growing. Today, it covers 45 acres and 37 buildings and contains some of the best collections of Americana in the country. Kids love the big stuff, like the 220-foot steamship. Serious collectors gravitate to the weathervanes, toys, and tools.

Worth Pondering…

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont
—lyrics by John M. Blackburn; music by Karl Suessdorf; recorded by Ella Fitzerald, Jo Stafford, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and others