I recently read an article on places you “must” visit in the United States before you die and I was shaking my head in disbelief. The writer focused more on expensive lodging (and wine) and it read like an advertisement in a hospitality trade magazine.
I always wonder how much travelling the writers of these “must visit” articles have done and the reasons they pick various destinations. The usually do not explain their criteria for choosing these “must visit” sites.
Of course, that prompted me to think of places that I personally recommend folks visit! My criteria for these are based on the following: historic significance, photographic opportunities, expense and remoteness.
I think historic significance is very important. It makes your trip more than just a vacation; it makes it a learning experience. Opinions vary on the subject of what is beautiful, so I think a photographic opportunity is a good way to describe an area. It may not be breathtaking to someone, but they’ll find their camera memory card full when they leave! With the economy these days, most folks have found a tighter budget, especially dealing with travel and vacations. These destinations are either free or have a modest admission charge. They also have other sites or attractions nearby that are affordable to the average family. Remoteness is another criterion, as some of those “must visit” destinations are so far off the map that they are not practical for most families to visit. These destinations are accessible to anyone – no need to parachute in or trek 30 miles through the jungle to get to it! And most are great spots for RVers and families to spend some quality time.
Many state or national parks are either free or involve a small fee. If you plan to experience a few of America’s incredible parks, take advantage of purchasing an annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ( http://www.nps.gov/ ) . If you are 62 or older, it only costs you $10!
Here are 49 destinations – one in each state that that I have visited (sorry Hawaii… haven’t got to you yet!) that I recommend seeing if you get the chance. A few states have numerous sites of interests (like lighthouses).
1) U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville – AL (Great museum and exhibits; also home to the U.S. Space Camp. This is very educational for all ages.)
2) Gulf of Alaska, Seward – AK (Take a glacier cruise and experience glaciers, whales and the most beautiful scenery you can imagine! If you take the train from Anchorage, make sure you allow enough time to explore Seward before or after your cruise.)
3) Grand Canyon National Park – AZ (After touring the park, I took a helicopter tour – amazing!)
4) Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro – AR (Hunt for precious stones and diamonds at the only diamond site available to the public. Keep what you find!)
5) Bodie State Historic Park, Bridgeport – CA (A modern day “ghost town” kept exactly as it was when the state acquired it. Be prepared to spend the day to enjoy this amazing look at our past!)
6) Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez – CO (Anasazi ruins that you won’t forget! Dress for walking though.)
7) Lighthouses – CT (There are a handful of breathtaking lighthouses that shouldn’t be missed!)
8 ) Lighthouses – DE (The thing I like about this region of the U.S. is the lighthouses and there are some interesting ones in DE.)
9) Orlando / Kissimmee / St. Cloud – FL (There is so much to see and do in Florida, that I couldn’t narrow it down to that “one thing”. This region is great because it’s only 2 hours from the coast and pretty much anything you like to do is nearby! From theme parks to flea markets to nature walks and great food – it’s all here!)
10) High Falls State Park, Jackson – GA (Interesting history how this area became a “ghost town”. Now it’s a beautiful park with great places to hike and camp along the river.)
11) Ghost Towns – ID (Many people don’t realize that Idaho has a number of ghost and mining towns left to explore. A few of the state park sites offer gold panning as well.)
12) Super Museum, Metropolis – IL (Yep, Superman! Kids will love it and adults will remember the good old days. IL is actually a “super” state, with the Dick Tracy museum.)
13) Shipshewana – IN (From flea markets and shopping to experiencing the Amish culture, there is something for everyone here.)
14) Covered Bridges / John Wayne’s Birthplace, Winterset – IA (If you enjoyed the movie and book about Madison County, it is definitely a must see. Although a few driving tours are not good for RVs or big rigs. If you like trains, you may want to head over to Boone and hope on the B&SV!)
15) Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway – KS (From sandhill cranes to bald eagles, an amazing route!)
16) Mammoth Cave National Park – KY (A must see if you enjoy exploring caverns. They offer a variety of tours and have senior rates. If you aren’t a cave person, then the next spot to see in KY would be Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.)
17) North & South Toledo Bend – LA (This region has so much to see and do it would keep an active family very busy for several weeks. From historic sites to aquariums to outdoor activities!)
18) Lighthouses / Bridges / Waterfalls – ME (Too numerous to list, but if you haven’t visited a lighthouse, you haven’t experienced ME!)
19) Assateague Island National Seashore – MD (See the wild horses at Assateague Island, but remember they are wild and are not tame animals. Respectfully observe from a distance.)
20) Salem – MA (Rich in history and plenty to see and do!)
21) Mesick – MI (Go mushroom hunting! Although it is not recommend for big rigs to go into the parks. Find a campground to unhook your tow. There is nothing like getting up before the deer and tromping in the woods for morels!)
22) Voyageurs National Park, International Falls – MN (A water-based park that is great to canoe or kayak.)
23) Gulf Islands National Seashore – MS (Before another hurricane hits the Gulf coast – go see it!)
24) Meramec Caverns, Stanton – MO (Missouri is a great state for touring caves and families will love this one. It’s open year-round and we actually toured the caverns in the winter.)
25) Wild Horse Island State Park, Kalispell – MT (Don’t miss this park on your way to Glacier National Park!)
26) Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park – NE (Lots of birding opportunities in NE, but don’t forget about the past!)
27) Hoover Dam / Lake Mead / Las Vegas – NV (RVers will be stopped by Homeland Security to search your rig before crossing Hoover Dam and once at the dam, be prepared for congestion as you navigate the winding way down. Hoover Dam tours are rather expensive for families, but watch the movie VEGAS VACATION before you go so you know what you missed on the “dam tour”. 😉 )
28) Shaker Village, Canterbury – NH (Lots to do in NH, but this is a great stop that is often overlooked.)
29) Lighthouses – NJ (Plenty of really neat lighthouses in NJ, especially Cape May.)
30) International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell – NM (Roswell is really a neat tourist stop that has a little bit everything. Their museum and art center is also well worth a visit!)
31) Sleepy Hollow – NY (Where else can you visit Headless Horsemen Bridge, Sleepy Hollow cemetery and Sing Sing Prison Museum on the same day?)
32) Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City – NC (Catch the train along the Tuckasegee River and through Nantahala Gorge, then visit the outdoor center and go white water rafting. It’s a beautiful area and incredible drive.)
33) International Peace Gardens, Densieth – ND (Why not visit Canada while you’re there? Park also has building remains from the World Trade Center.)
34) National Museum of the USAF, Dayton – OH (Great museum and lots to do around the Dayton – Cincinnati region – from great food to flea markets and King’s Island.)
35) Museums, Tulsa – OK (A variety of great museums in Tulsa that appeal to all ages.)
36) Sea Lion Caves, Florence – OR (See Stellar sea lions year-round and get an amazing view of the OR coast and Heceta Head lighthouse – which is just “down the road”.)
37) Lancaster County – PA (Really worth visiting and especially experiencing a buggy ride!)
38) Heritage Walks – RI (They call their historic walking trails “heritage walks”. A lot of great historic buildings and sites to see – especially like Southeast lighthouse at Block Island.)
39) Myrtle Beach – SC (Great destination for families and RVers – plenty to do for all budgets! We usually state at Ocean Lakes Family CG – it’s like a city itself and right on the ocean.)
40) Badlands National Park – SD (If you can’t make it to the Grand Canyon and are already heading for Mount Rushmore, then you must stop at the Badlands. And while you are in SD, don’t forget to visit Wall Drug or Corn Palace!)
41) Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge / Sevierville – TN (This area is not only beautiful but great for all families. From scenery to outlet malls, to trolleys and fun centers, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – this region in the Smokey’s offers a little bit of everything.
42) The Alamo, San Antonio – TX (Many sites to see in Texas, but a visit isn’t complete until you visit the historic Alamo and experience San Antonio’s River Walk.)
43) Arches National Park, Moab – UT (We actually visited this park in the winter and it was incredible with the snow! If you don’t like crowds, winter is perfect for visiting this park. Just be prepared for the winter weather and pay attention to the local forecast.)
44) Connecticut River Byway – VT (Scenic byway that goes for hundreds of miles and has plenty of covered bridges to keep your camera busy!)
45) Blue Ridge Parkway / Shenandoah Valley, Waynesboro – VA (Start at Waynesboro, VA and head south along “America’s Favorite Drive” to enjoy the Parkway, Shen Valley and continue south to the Great Smoky National Park ending in North Carolina. And don’t forget to explore the historic towns along the way!)
46) Olympic National Park / Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles – WA (If you only visit one place in WA, this is the place. ONP has so much to offer – from the Hoh Rainforest to Mt. Olympus. You need at least a week in this area – more if you want to hike and explore everything the Olympic Peninsula has to offer. And don’t forget to catch a ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC for a day trip to Canada.)
47) Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park – WV (Great place to hike and explore the past!)
48) Botanical Gardens – WI (Surprisingly, WI has some great gardens. And most U.S. botanical gardens have reciprocal agreements for members. So if you belong to one botanical garden, see if you get in others free or for reduced cost.)
49) Yellowstone National Park – WY (Spend at least a few days to enjoy the area and take advantage of activities, such as fishing and hiking. We especially enjoyed a small bus tour which focused on the geological formations.)
Feel free to add your own “must sees” by commenting. And if you’ve been to Hawaii – don’t hold back! I want to know where to go when I finally get there! 😉