The Best Stops for a Spring Road Trip

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

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

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

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

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, Montpelier, Vermont

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Morse Farms Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. Harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Tucson, Arizona

Several hikes and activities await the visitor to Catalina State Park. One of the prettiest hikes is the Romero Canyon Trail, which climbs up to the Romero Pools with trees, rocks, and water. Visitors can also picnic, spot birds and wildlife, ride trail bikes, or take a trail ride on horseback.

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park is located off Highway 77/Oracle Road. Best times to visit are fall through spring; summer can be very hot. A per-vehicle day-use fee is collected at the entrance station. RV camping with 50/30-amp electric service and water are available at the site. Showers and a dump station are available.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Middleton Place, Charleston, South Carolina

America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a great deal of history can be found at Middleton Place, a former plantation near Charleston. The estate was the primary base of the Middleton family, who owned 19 plantations in the area (staffed by as many as 1,000 slaves). One member of the family was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The main house is in ruins but a guest house still stands furnished to give a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the plantation’s heyday.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The plantation is open year-round but during warmer weather you’ll have more opportunities to observe demonstrations of blacksmithing, pottery, and other period trades. The camellias begin blooming in February.

St. Martin de Tours Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

St Martin de Tours Church, St. Martinville, Louisiana

Cajuns refer to this as the ‘Mother Church of the Acadians’ as it was here in St. Martinville that the largest immigration of Acadians took place in 1785. The church is the focus of St Martin Square where you’ll find a number of monuments and statues. St Martinville’s wider historic district is home to 32 buildings dating from 1820-1931 and the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.

Evangeline Oak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Behind the church sits the statue of Evangeline, the fictional Acadian heroine immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem set in the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Bernheim Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim Arboretum boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

La Conner, Washington

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

Acorn woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ramsey Canyon Preserve, Hereford, Arizona

15 species of hummingbirds, the elegant trogon and the lesser long-nosed bat are just a few of the species found in this ecological crossroads operated by the Nature Conservancy. Enjoy spotting dozens of bird species or sit in shaded seating areas along Ramsey Creek and watch hummingbirds feed. Hike up the Hamburg Trail along the creek past old cabins to an overlook where it joins a network of trails in the Coronado National Forest and the Miller Peak Wilderness Area.

Open Thursday through Monday. Hours change by season. Admission charged. Parking is limited. Bookstore and gift shop, restrooms in the visitor center.

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona

Get off the Interstate and drive a portion of historic Route 66 in Holbrook. Spend the night in a wigwam right on Route 66 with vintage cars parked all around! With only 15 wigwams, making a reservation is a good idea. This is a good base for a day trip to Petrified Forest National Park and Historic Route 66.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, Kentucky

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark. Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Related Article: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hoover Dam, Boulder City, Nevada

A modern wonder, Hoover Dam was constructed in the 1930s. The facts and figures are staggering: the dam is 726.4 feet high, 1244 feet wide, 660 feet thick at the base, and was constructed with 3.25 million cubic yards of concrete. The water held behind the dam in Lake Mead, North America’s largest man-made reservoir, meets the needs of more than 20 million people and generates huge amounts hydroelectric power. And yet nothing quite prepares you for the immensity of this awe-inspiring feat of engineering. Tours are available.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Town Too Tough To Die, Tombstone, Arizona

Live out all of your Wild West dreams in Tombstone, Arizona, the location of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Cowboys, cowgirls, and wannabes fill up the town’s saloons and the O.K. Corral museum puts on reenactments of Wyatt Earp’s 1881 shootout. The buildings are so well maintained and the townsfolk so authentic that at times it’s easy to think you’ve landed on a John Wayne movie set.

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Erected outside McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch in 2008, the world’s largest pistachio nut is a truly impressive piece of engineering. Standing 30 feet tall and so substantial that it required a concrete base 9 feet deep, this giant steel-and-concrete nut is now firmly established as one of New Mexico’s most distinctive roadside attractions.

Free samples at McGinn’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t just stop for the photos, as well as an amazing selection of pistachio products, McGinn’s also sells great ice cream and a wide range of New Mexico wines and foods. Tours are available.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Papago Park, Phoenix, Arizona

Filled with sandstone buttes that provide gentle but stimulating hiking trails and photogenic spots like the Hole in the Rock, Papago Park is a scenic wonder only 10 minutes from downtown Phoenix. Home of the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden, the park also offers many activities including archery range, golf course, fishing lagoons, and an orienteering course. That little pyramid you’ll see is the tomb of Gov. George Wiley Paul Hunt.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory, which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop 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.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Moki Dugway, Mexican Hat, Utah

A winding, scenic drive along the edge of Cedar Mesa offers panoramic views. Valley of the Gods is below. Monument Valley is off in the distance. A drive to nearby Muley Point near the top overlooks the Goosenecks of the San Juan River. Built originally for trucks hauling uranium ore, this is a popular route, though not for the faint-hearted! The road is unpaved but graded. The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate this steep (10% grade), narrow, and winding road. It’s also spelled as Mokee Dugway.

Worth Pondering…

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

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The craftsmanship and history behind America’s bourbon distilleries that reside along the bourbon trail

Good morning and Happy National Bourbon Day. Might as well use the occasion to clear up a few things about America’s classic spirit.

  • All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. For example, whiskey that’s made in Scotland is called scotch
  • Among other requirements, bourbon must be distilled from a mash that’s at least 51 percent corn along with malt and rye
  • Kentucky produces 95% of all bourbon

Got it?

The fact that bourbon distilleries give away free samples of their product on their distillery tours isn’t the only reason I visit these landmarks—it’s the history!

Kentucky is an often overlooked and beautiful tourist destination that offers way more than just bourbon. There are also thoroughbred horses, a ton of civil war historical landmarks, and renowned hiking and rock climbing destinations. But you’ve come here for one thing, to learn about the bourbon trail, so the bourbon trail we will cover.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now consists of 18 whiskey distilleries. Some of them are new kids on the block and others have been around since bourbon’s inception. In fact, if you visit every distillery on the trail, you’ll probably hear more than one say it’s the oldest. This is because there are no definite records of how generic “whiskey” became bourbon. So distilleries are known to take liberties to be seen as the oldest and sell more bottles of bourbon at the end of their tours.

The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of bourbon, it doesn’t matter which distillery is the oldest. Each distillery on the bourbon trail (new or old) makes a fantastic product. Each one brings its own unique aspect to the buttery-brown spirit.

Whispering Hills RV Park at Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few people visit every distillery on the trail since it encompasses nine different cities/towns—some 70 miles apart. I’ve mapped out a bourbon trail itinerary that includes the distilleries we’ve visited during our several visits to the Bluegrass State. This guide will help you choose the ones you want to visit the most. There are some important logistics to note before we get into our guide.

Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base

It’s up to you where you stay during your trip but I suggest you set up camp near Louisville and Lexington. Being the two largest cities in Kentucky they provide the most options when it comes to campgrounds, food, outdoor recreation, and other non-bourbon-related offerings. Two excellent options for RV camping are Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Whistling Hills RV Park at Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington). We’ve also stayed at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Transportation

If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why would you not?), you’ll want to make sure you have a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk and the last thing you want is a DUI. Alternately, check out local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours

When planning your trip, keep in mind that you don’t have to go on every tour that each distillery offers. In fact, to be able to get in as many distilleries as possible, I’d suggest you don’t. Each distillery tour takes about an hour. In peak season (spring/summer), they can take even longer due to the high volume of visitors and COVID protocol.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get a good idea of any distillery’s history by strolling the grounds open to visitors and visiting the gift shop. If you decide to use a tour company for transportation, they can tell you everything you need to know about each distillery. We suggest saving the tours (and saving money) for your favorite distilleries. Now, break out your favorite whiskey glass, pour your favorite bourbon, and you’re ready to learn about Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Note: Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail have limited tour schedules or have canceled tours altogether, due to the pandemic. Check each distillery’s website for tour availability and safety guidelines.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Louisville (Shepherdsville)

Jim Beam

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up on one of its most influential brands.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven Hill

Continue your journey to historic Bardstown—the Bourbon Capital of the World and an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill is the world’s largest family-owned spirits producer making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna, Fighting Cock, and Evan Williams. The Heaven Hill distillery has been family-owned and operated since 1935 making it fairly young for a distillery of its size. With some help from a notable Kentucky distilling family member, Earl Beam (Master-Distiller from 1946-1975), Heaven Hill got its operations off the ground. Heaven Hill produces more than 400,000 barrels annually and has won multiple world spirit awards. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center you can choose from their tour options and enjoy your samples in their barrel-shaped tasting room.

Old Talbot Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind down in Bardstown as you peruse the shops and start planning your nightcap destination. Take a stroll through the past at the newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Don’t miss an opportunity to dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern (fried green tomatoes is recommended), have a nightcap in the “world’s oldest Bourbon bar”, and even spend the night if you feel so inclined.

Barton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton 1792

The sprawling Barton 1792 is an old-school distillery with an old-school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned. The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 Proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and oh so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves. Can you tell it’s one of my favorite bourbons?

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willett

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

From Bardstown we headed 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me, it is great fun!

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Lexington (Georgetown)

Four Roses

The beautiful Four Roses Lawrenceburg distillery reflects the story of the brand. The bourbon was named after founder Paul Jones Jr.’s romantic gesture of giving a four-rose corsage to his sweetheart before a ball in 1884. Now the distillery boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture and a mellow vibe.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkey

After visiting the Four Roses facility, we headed to their neighbor, the ever-intriguing Wild Turkey, another distillery on the trail with a ton of heritage and family influence. Their main claim to fame is Jimmy Russell, the world’s most tenured master distiller. He’s been crafting bourbon for over 60 years. He now makes bourbon next to his son Eddie who has more than three decades of experience.

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey joined Jimmy and Eddie Russell as Creative Director in 2016. The relationship very quickly turned into an opportunity to collaborate on both marketing campaigns and product development. This is most evident in Longbranch bourbon which carries McConaughey’s name and is refined with mesquite from the actor’s home state of Texas to form a unique flavor profile.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace

It’s not clear why Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 were pulled from the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and thereby out of the bourbon trail in 2010. It’s likely because at the time they were Kentucky’s largest bourbon producer and didn’t want to pay the dues (more about that at the end). A part of the bourbon trail or no, the Buffalo Trace distillery is considered a Mecca for bourbon lovers around the globe. The facilities are enormous and house a total of 19 brands of bourbon. If you can’t make their highly informative and still free tour simply strolling around the grounds and picking up a rare bottle of whiskey in the gift shop is worth it.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark.

Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Woodlord Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Does a Distillery Get Featured on the “Official” Bourbon Trail?

It’s not entirely clear how distilleries are selected to be featured on the bourbon trail. You probably already know that there are more than 18 distilleries in Kentucky. Currently, there are close to 100. For a distillery to be considered a part of the bourbon trail, they have to be recognized as a Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) member. The KDA is a non-profit association established in 1953 to ensure that its members followed the best distilling practices.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, 37 members of the Kentucky Distillers Association operate one or more distilleries in Kentucky. However, when it comes to who gets picked for the trail, it is probably left to closed-door KDA dealings.

Worth Pondering…

I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.

―Tom T. Hall