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10 Macabre Cities to Visit for Halloween

By Katelyn Milligan
October 17, 2022
Lpi 15783 87

Some U.S. cities are perfect to visit during Halloween because of their spooky or mysterious culture, like the above ground cemeteries and voodoo traditions in New Orleans, the famous 17th century witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts, or the Headless Horseman legend in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

New Orleans, Louisiana

From above ground mausoleums and tombs to haunted hotels to voodoo culture, New Orleans has a distinct culture that involves elements of the macabre. Founded in 1718 before the United States was officially founded, it has a history full of urban legends, including werewolves prowling the bayou or vampires in the French Quarter. Popular landmarks include the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in the St. Louis Cemetery, walking past the gruesome past of LaLaurie Mansion, or Blacksmith’s Shop Bar where the ghost of pirate Jean Lafitte resides. Walk the cobblestone streets past brightly colored houses with iron balconies on a ghost tour on a foggy night to experience the unusual.

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah may ooze more than southern charm. With more than 300 years of gruesome history, the entire historic district is reportedly haunted. There’s been rumors and sightings of paranormal activity at Hamilton-Turner Inn as well as Marshall House, a haunted hotel that was a hospital three times in the past. Madison Square was the site of a bloody Civil War battle and has many haunted mansions that line the streets. Wander through Bonaventure Cemetery or Colonial Park Cemetery if you dare.

Sleepy Hollow, New York

This village thrives in its folklore history due to the Headless Horsemen in the famous story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. You may experience a ghostly encounter when walking through Sleepy Hollow Cemetery or exploring the town by lantern and shining jack-o-lanterns. Wander through popular colonial era manors include Philipsburg Manor, Van Cortlandt Manor, or Lyndhurst Mansion to learn more about local Sleepy Hollow history and haunts.

Salem, Massachusetts

Founded in 1626 as a Puritan fishing community, Salem is the location of the famous 1692 Salem witch trials in which Colonial America’s mass hysteria led to 19 people being hanged with more dying from other causes. Much of the town’s cultural identity revolves around this event, and many of the sites from the witch trials over 300 years ago still stand. Many historic sites are reportedly haunted, including one of the oldest cemeteries in the country, Old Burying Point Cemetery, and home of a Witch Trial Judge, The Witch House. Explore the muted colors of the town and brick-paved streets yourself to learn more about the sinister history rooted here.

Tombstone, Arizona

Riddled with a violent past, this historic mining ghost town is said to be home to lingering spirits of cowboys, grieving mothers, and citizens killed in large fires. OK Corral, the site of the famous Old West gunfight, is reportedly haunted by the cowboys. Boot Hill Graveyard and Bird Cage Theatre are popular destinations where unexplainable phenomena occur in Tombstone.

St. Augustine, Florida

Presumably the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and is home to centuries of history, beautiful houses, and supposedly, spirits. The masonry fortress Castillo de San Marcos is the location of many battles and invasions. Dangerous criminals in grotesque conditions were held at The Old Jail and apparitions with tragic deaths have been described at St. Augustine Lighthouse. Stroll the cobblestone streets among the Spanish colonial architecture to immerse yourself in this ancient city.

San Francisco, California

Among the vibrant scenery and sloping hills, some locations around San Francisco may send you chills even amidst the warm weather. Alcatraz, or “The Rock,” is a famous maximum-security military prison and haunted landmark that housed inmates including Al Capone. See if you hear voices or footsteps behind you if you visit. Take your pick of the macabre from friendly ghosts at The Queen Anne Hotel, dead army men performing their daily routine at the National Park The Presidio, or ethereal beings at the Sutro Baths.

Charleston, South Carolina

Known as a port city with cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages, Charleston also has some dark history from the first shots of the Civil War fired at Fort Sumter to slave labor on plantations. Learn about the macabre with locations like the White Point Garden where 50 pirates were hanged in the 1700s, the Old City Jail which housed the state’s first female serial killer, or The Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon which held Revolutionary War soldiers.

San Antonio, Texas

Bursting with rich culture and modern attractions, San Antonio also has a creepy past. The Menger Hotel is reputed to have strange occurrences but is decidedly the location of The Battle of the Alamo, Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders recruitment, and a devastating fire. The Southern Texas region also gives way to the Spanish urban legend of La Llorona, the weeping woman. Walk along the river or visit the Alamo

Williamsburg, Virginia

Existing as early as the 18th-century, Williamsburg has diverse Colonial America history, including part in the U.S. Civil War. Not all of its history is for the faint of heart though. Said to be cursed by the slave of the wife, the Peyton Randolph House was built in 1715 and the location of at least 30 deaths. The Public Hospital was the country’s first insane asylum. other haunted locations are the Wythe House, colonial prison Public Gaol, and Fort Magruder Hotel which was the site of the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862.

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Adventure

Adventure Travel is Back: 4 US Trips for 2022

According to a report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel is expected to recover about three to four years faster than mass travel – and grow more rapidly. In fact, tourism ministers and secretaries around the world have identified adventure and nature travel as leading segments in the travel industry’s restart. Another major trend to keep an eye on post-pandemic is greener and lower-impact itineraries. Here are 4 awesome US adventure travel ideas.MTB Hut System in Southern Utah: Courtesy Sublime Public Relations The new Aquarius Trail Hut System offers a backcountry mountain biking experience like no other in the region. A system of five huts furnished with beds, a bathroom, a fully stocked kitchen, and solar power has been strategically placed along a 190-mile route through some of Utah’s most scenic backcountry and best mountain biking trails. https://aquariustrail.com/Tiny House Basecamp: Courtesy Sublime Public Relations With sustainably built, LEED-certified “tiny house” cabins, Fireside Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, embraces modern, yet rustic design and presents a fresh approach to luxury lodging. Nestled in a wooded setting at the foot of the Teton Range, the cabins allow guests to get back to nature while enjoying the intimacy of a boutique hotel and the ambiance of their own cozy residence.Cycle Across the USA: Courtesy Sublime Public Relations Plan an epic bike tour or bikepacking trip of your own with the assistance of the Adventure Cycling Association. To help riders find their way, the organization offers maps for 50,000 miles of bike routes through the U.S. and into Canada, the Bicycle Route Navigator app and other resources. Cross the country on the TransAmerica Trail, ride the Rockies on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route or try a shorter adventure in between. Yellowstone Adventure: Courtesy Sublime Public Relations A stay at The Wilson Hotel in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity for outdoor adventures in the surrounding mountains, rivers and Yellowstone National Park. Go hiking through shaded forests and wildflower-filled alpine meadows, float or fly fish a clear, cool river, experience the adrenaline rush of lift-served mountain biking, or tour the natural wonders and wildlife of the world’s first national park.

National ParksAdventure

13 Quintessentially American National Parks to Visit this Summer

With summer just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your next great vacation, whether you’re into epic cross-country road trips or crave a peaceful escape in a beautiful natural setting. From coast to coast, the U.S. is home to 63 national parks and more than 6,600 state parks, leaving plenty of options for anyone planning to spend more time outdoors this summer. Here’s a look at some of our favorite national parks in the country, all within driving distance of major cities, full of great hiking and camping opportunities, and worthy of a spot on your U.S. travel bucket list. Note that most parks require timed entry tickets during the busy summer months, so check their websites before you go to avoid disappointment. Each park also charges its own entrance fee, so consider purchasing an annual pass if you plan to visit multiple times or multiple parks in a year. WYOMING Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park Measuring 3,472 square miles (or more than 2.2 million acres), Yellowstone National Park stretches across northwestern Wyoming, extending into parts of Montana and Idaho. Opened in 1872 as the world’s first-ever national park, Yellowstone attracts visitors with its hydrothermal features and geothermal activity — roughly four million people visit each year to see the Old Faithful geyser do its thing — rock formations like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and the chance to see elk, bison, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and other wildlife in their natural environment. Reach the park by flying into Jackson (which is closed due to construction until June 28, 2022) or Cody in Wyoming, Billings or Bozeman in Montana, or Idaho Falls in Idaho, and renting a car to explore the area. Grand Teton National Park Located just outside Jackson, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park offers 330,000 acres of pure natural beauty, whether you choose to explore it on snowshoes or cross-country skis in winter or during a scenic summer hike. Enter via Moose, Moran Junction, or Granite Canyon, and spend a few hours admiring the impressive Teton Range, Emma Matilda Lake, Jenny Lake, the Snake River, Jackson Hole valley, and all the different birds, mammals and other fascinating creatures who call the area home. Note that Jackson’s airport is closed for construction until June 28, 2022, but you can still fly into Idaho Falls and either drive two hours or take a bus to downtown Jackson. UTAH Arches National Park Use Moab as your base to hike or cycle the Arches National Park, known for its vast collection of natural arches, giant balancing rocks, and impressive pinnacles among other geologic formations dating back to 65 million years ago. Make the 1.9-mile hike from the Devils Garden trailhead for impressive views of Landscape Arch, the longest in the world at 306 feet. Don’t forget about Delicate Arch, which can be seen from two viewpoints located a mile away near the parking lot. Otherwise, enjoy the challenging three-mile return hike to its base, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and a closer look. Bryce Canyon National Park Bryce Canyon National Park Hoodoos are the name of the game at Bryce Canyon National Park, where you can see this fascinating rock formation in all its glory whether you drive, take the free shuttle, hike, or cycle your way around the park. Located four hours from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, the popular park sports pink cliffs, red rocks, and amazing views from its perch at the top of the Grand Staircase plateau. Visit Bryce Amphitheater, home to the Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point overlooks, which lead to some of the park’s best hiking trails. Make time to visit the Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point side of the park for even more memorable views. Zion National Park Zion National Park impresses with vast and colorful sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and plenty of opportunities to go hiking and cycling. While cars aren’t allowed in the park, a free shuttle takes visitors around to the most popular scenic overlooks and trailheads, including easier hikes like the Grotto Trail and Riverside Walk, moderate hikes like the Kayenta Trail and walks to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, and more strenuous hiking adventures to The Narrows or Angels Landing via the iconic West Rim Trail. Be aware that in response to concerns about crowding and congestion on the trail, on and after April 1, 2022, everyone who hikes Angels Landing needs to have a permit. COLORADO Rocky Mountain National Park About 90 minutes from Denver or 10 minutes from Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to more than 300 miles of scenic hiking trails, taking visitors through impressive alpine terrain past beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and giving you a chance to spot bobcats, moose, coyotes, deer, black bears, bighorn sheep, and more than 280 species of birds, among other wildlife. Start with a relaxing walk near Bear Lake, Cub Lake, or along the Lily Lake Loop before moving on to moderate hikes to Ouzel Falls and Cascade Falls, or a challenging hikes to the Deer Mountain summit. CALIFORNIA Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park One of the most popular national parks in the country and just a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite is home to 1,200-square-miles of natural wilderness featuring waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, vast valleys and meadows, and lots of opportunities to go hiking, biking, fishing, stargazing, birdwatching, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping — you’ll need to apply for a permit to do overnight hikes or climb to the top of Half Dome, though. Try an easy day hike in Mariposa Grove or the Wawona meadow before taking on more difficult treks to Chilnualna Falls or around the Guardians Loop Trail. Note that Glacier Point Road is closed until May 2023. Kings Canyon National Park Located about 4.5 hours from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, Kings Canyon National Park is a beautiful place to take a hike, especially on Congress Trail, which passes by the largest sequoia in the world at 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter at its base, the 2,200-year-old General Sherman Tree. For incredible views of the Great Western Divide and Kings Canyon, try the 4.4-mile return hike along Big Baldy Trail. Don’t miss Giant Forest, home to enormous redwood trees, and scenic hikes to Tokopah Falls or through Cedar Grove, Grant Grove, and Mineral King. Death Valley National Park At a whopping three million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the country outside Alaska as well as the lowest, with an elevation of –282.2 feet. A great day trip from Las Vegas just two hours away, the park is known for its many scenic hikes of varying difficulty, as well hundreds of miles of paved and dirt roads perfect for cycling. “Star Wars” fans can also visit several film locations, including Artists Palette, Dante’s View, Desolation Canyon, Golden Canyon, Twenty-Mule Team Canyon, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which doubled as Tatooine in “Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Episode V: Return of the Jedi.” OREGON Crater Lake National Park For a memorable West Coast road trip through the wilderness of southern Oregon, head to Crater Lake National Park, located about five hours south of Portland or 7.5 hours north of San Francisco. Formed by a violent volcanic eruption roughly 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is the deepest in the U.S., with depths of up to 1,949 feet and the bluest water you’ve ever seen. Take a few hours to enjoy a scenic drive around the lake, stop by Sinnott Overlook for a closer look at the caldera, or hike to the summit of Mount Scott, Watchman Peak, or Garfield Peak for a different point of view. SOUTH DAKOTA Badlands National Park Badlands National Park About an hour outside Rapid City, enter Badlands National Park and drive or cycle along the Badlands Loop Road, where you’ll find 12 scenic overlooks, each offering incredible views of the area’s otherworldly landscapes, unique wildlife, and ancient geology. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the national park, the history and culture of the Oglala Lakota people who live in the area, and to see the working fossil lab. For a real treat, stick around after dark for stargazing and a ranger-led astronomy talk with telescopes at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater, offered nightly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. FLORIDA Everglades National Park Everglades National Park makes a great day trip from anywhere in South Florida, especially if you’re driving from Miami to the Florida Keys. The 1.5-million acre UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest subtropical wilderness area in the country and you’ll be able to spot alligators, American crocodiles, manatees, over 360 species of birds, and the elusive Florida panther, among its mangroves and sawgrass prairies. Stop by the Shark Valley Visitor Center to learn more about the park’s natural inhabitants, hit the Ottercave Trail or Bobcat Boardwalk (each under 0.5 miles), then rent a bike or take a two-hour guided tram tour along the 15-mile loop to the observation tower for beautiful views of the park and its wildlife. ALASKA Denali National Park Denali Mountain, Denali National Park Accessible by plane, Alaska Railway, or car, Denali National Park is about 2.5 hours from Fairbanks or four hours from Anchorage. Once inside the park, take one of the free buses — the Riley Creek Loop shuttle, Savage River shuttle, or the Sled Dog Demonstration shuttle — or choose from several narrated tour buses or non-narrated transit buses to get around. Either way, you’ll want to try the scenic 6.5-mile Curry Ridge Trail, which offers excellent views of alpine lakes and the highest point in North America, 20,310-foot-tall Denali (formerly Mount McKinley). Remember to keep an eye out for the big five: grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and Dall sheep. Content sponsored by IntrepidYour North America adventure is right here, right now. Learn more at https://www.intrepidtravel.com Check out more people and planet-friendly adventures at Intrepid Travel:Explore epic national parks of the US

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Discover USA: Grand Junction, Colorado

Join Budget Travel as we continue our new series Discover USA. Discover USA explores states, counties, cities, and everything in between. Each week we will explore a new US destination to help you find things to do, itinerary ideas, and plan where to go next. This week, we invite you to Discover what Grand Junction, Colorado has to offer. Grand Junction is known as the hub of Colorado's wine country. Grand Junction is a place where vibrant music, farm-fresh cuisine and a lively art scene converge with countless outdoor adventures. Culinary There is a reason why Food + Wine Magazine recently called the Grand Junction area of Colorado, “the new Sonoma with its charming vineyards and stellar dining.” Shaded by the majestic beauty of the red rock cliffs and mesas that surround Grand Junction, the area is home to nearly 30 wineries and vineyards that serve up some of Colorado’s best wines. Courtesy of Carlson Vineyards Visitors can sample local wines at Carlson Vineyard’s new downtown Grand Junction tasting room or at the Zesty Moose, and Two Rivers Winery and Chateau, located near the Colorado National Monument which offers wine tastings, lodging and incredible views as guests stroll through vineyards. Highlands Distillery produces great handcrafted spirits utilizing local ingredients and mixes up fun regionally inspired cocktails. While there, stop by neighboring Belli Fiori Lavender Farm and check out their specialty, small-batch aromatherapy, culinary, and body care products.The recently opened Ramblebine Brewery downtown offers tasty local ales and the new Foam & Folly Brewery & Taproom serves up great beer in a whimsical space with a great backyard beer garden.New to the Grand Junction scene is Moody’s Lounge. Tucked away on the mezzanine level of the historic Kress building, their 1920’s inspired cocktail lounge offers an intimate space with an ample selection of handcrafted libations and delicious bites Courtesy of Kulina Lani Bakery Kulina Lani Organic Sourdough Bakery. Born in Colorado, raised in Hawaii and returned to its roots with a lifetime of sourdough experience, Grand Junction’s new Kulina Lani Bakery produces beautiful bread, pastries, sandwiches and pizzas for any occasion made with natural fermentation that feeds body and soul. Their whole grain sourdough breads are made from wheat purchased locally from organic farms in the Grand JUnction area and milled in-house. Grand Junction is home to James Beard award semi finalist Josh Nierenberg and his restaurants Bin707 and Taco Party, which is undergoing a major expansion in spring of 2022. Nierenberg has recently partnered with Ramblebine Brewery on a custom menu of perfectly paired bites under the new BlockParty GJ brand and collaborated with local winemaker, Carlson Vineyards, to create the custom High Desert Wine Lab label, which is the house red and white wine for Bin707 and Taco Party.Hog & The Hen - This is an adorable deli and specialty bodega on Main Street with the best selection of cheeses in GJ. Whether you want to make a DIY cheese & charcuterie plate for a night in, or get a top-notch sammie to take on the road while you explore the National Monument, this is the spot. Chef Theo Otte’s cuisine, fun wine flights and cozy ambiance at 626 on Rood never disappoints. Courtesy of The Glorious Fig The Glorious Fig hosts monthly curated dinners that are centered around the chefs’ curated menus celebrating the flavors, produce and flowers of each season and take place in The Fig’s intimate dining space. Devil's Kitchen - Recently opened on top of the Hotel Maverick, this rooftop restaurant has regionally inspired craft cocktails and menu options. Upscale, yet super approachable. Arts and CultureCourtesy of Visit Grand JunctionOutdoor Art: Grand Junction is home to a wealth of art, especially in its outdoor spaces. From its massive sculptures when you enter the city to the public art in its parks, to a year-round outdoor sculpture exhibit known as Art on the Corner, and the murals along the Riverfront Trail, Grand Junction has a vibrant art scene that you don’t even have to go indoors to experience.Colorado National Monument Ranger Walks: When John Otto first witnessed the rugged red rock canyons south of Grand Junction in 1906, it was love at first sight. His passion sparked him to create Colorado National Monument and serve as the park’s first custodian. Today, students K-12 can study geology, ecology and cultural history along ranger-guided field trips and earn a Junior Ranger badge in the process. Dino Dig: The largest multidisciplinary museum between Salt Lake City and Denver, Grand Junction’s Museum of Western Colorado engages with its dinosaur expeditions, extensive educational programming, and historic and cultural trips and tours. For a dino fix, kids can dig for bones and search for tracks in the 150-million-year-old badlands of the Morrison Formation. One-day “101” sessions include transportation between Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita and the quarry, field instruction and Paleo lab tour.Learning made fun: Kids can jump feet first into an interactive, hands-on day of fun at the Dinosaur Journey Museum. Visitors can feel what it's like to be in an earthquake, and uncover dinosaur bones from the Jurassic era. Another spot for fun learning opportunities is at the EUREKA! McConnell Science Museum, where along with more than 100 exhibits designed to make the wonders of science accessible to children of all ages, kids can check out exotic saltwater tanks, and meet Charlie the chinchilla. Avalon Theatre: Built for the residents of Grand Junction by local publishing giant Walter Walker in 1923, the Avalon Theatre was and still is one of Western Colorado's largest performing arts halls. The Avalon Theatre features a foreign and independent film series; dance, theatrical, lecture and variety shows; and private functions.Explore the Outdoors Courtesy of Powderhorn Mountain Resort Outside of Grand Junction, Powderhorn Mountain Resort, open through late March, sits on the edge of the Grand Mesa, the world's largest flat-top mountain. The area enjoys a reputation for outstanding tree skiing and diverse terrain. Spend the morning on the slopes, then head into town where visitors can ride the area’s famed singletrack pretty much any day of the year. One of the most famous riding areas is the TabeguacheTrailhead, better known as the “Lunch Loops.” Just six miles from Downtown Grand Junction, the trails were named by locals who can bust out of work and get an awesome ride in during lunch. Winter brings plenty of snow to the Grand Mesa, which stands taller than 11,000 feet at its peak elevation. Three networks of cross-country ski trails crown this enormous, flat-top mountain. The Skyway trail system offers pristine classic and skate-skiing routes for every level and a warming hut just 100 yards from the trailhead. The Country Line trail system is ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers, while the Ward trail system on the south side of the Mesa is best suited for intermediate to advanced skiers. The Grand Mesa Trails also offer great snowshoeing and fat biking. Go Canyoneering, Rock Climbing or Hiking in The Colorado National Monument, Colorado’s Unofficial National Park: The Colorado National Monument is a semi-desert land that sits high on the Colorado Plateau. More than just a monument, CNM’s spectacular canyons cut deep into sandstone and granite, aptly referred to as a mini Grand Canyon. Popular trails include Devil’s Kitchen, and Coke Ovens that are great options for a shorter hike; while No Thoroughfare and Liberty Cap trails will keep you out and about for a longer excursion. Courtesy of Visit Grand Junction Grand Junction boasts four year-round golf courses to enjoy beer, birdies and sunshine. Both Tiara Rado andThe Redlands Mesa Golf Course have breathtaking views of the Colorado National Monument accompanied by rolling terrain and fresh mountain air. Biking and Bird Watching on the Audubon Section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail: Easily accessible from Downtown GJ, there are over 200 species of birds that visit the Audubon Section during various times of the year. A few of the easier birds to spot are bald eagles, blue heron, osprey, several varieties of hawks and ducks. Storied Waterways: The confluence of two of the largest rivers - the Colorado and the Gunnison - makes Grand Junction a paradise for those seeking out water-based activities. With multiple parks along the rivers and adjacent lakes like the James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park and Highline Lake State Park, jet boating, wakeboarding, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and more are all available to visitors. Getting out on the Colorado River is easy with many put-in areas, as well as guides to take guests on rafting, canoeing or kayaking trips. Courtesy of Visit Grand Junction Hike to The U.S. Second Largest Concentration of Arches at Rattlesnake Canyon: Outside of Grand Junction you can find a collection of 35 natural arches tucked away in Rattlesnake Canyon. These soaring spans, protected in the 123,400-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, form the world’s second largest concentration of arches in the world. The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches are one of Colorado’s most spectacular wonders, but also one of its best-kept secrets. Visit the Wild Horses of The Little Bookcliffs: Spring is a beautiful time to explore the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Preserve that encompasses more than 30,000 acres of rugged canyons and plateaus, and is home to roughly 100 wild mustangs. It is one of only three ranges in the U.S. set aside specifically to protect wild and free roaming horses. CARD WIDGET HERE

National ParksRoad TripsAdventure

5 Road-Tested Tips From an RV Rookie

A few things might wake you up in the middle of the night the first time you climb under the covers inside an RV. Fearing that you forgot to engage the parking brake and are in danger of rolling down the hill to your death, for one. (You did, and you are.) Thinking someone left the light on in the bathroom and wondering whether that will drain the RV's battery by morning. (They did, but it didn't.) Hearing campers breaking the sacred "quiet after 9 p.m." rule and imagining they'll get busted. (They did.) Wondering if the bacon and eggs you bought for tomorrow morning's breakfast are now, effectively, toast, because you'd been told that the fridge will mysteriously stop working if the RV is parked on even the slightest incline. (They are.) Funny, I'd spent half my life dreaming about setting off in an RV for parts unknown and maintaining perfectly level appliances never once figured into the fantasy. To me, RVing was simply the ultimate escape route. Maybe that's because my early family vacations revolved around campgrounds and car trips. Or maybe because buying an RV is the landlocked states' version of saving up for a sailboat. It's a vacation home wherever you want it, whenever you want it. It's freedom and security in equal measure. It's Lewis and Clark with a V-8 engine. "I studied online forums for RV enthusiasts, campground-review sites, and the orientation video on the RV-rental website." Still, in the weeks leading to my maiden RV voyage, my anxiety was rising almost as fast as gasoline prices. The sheer size of the vehicle—and the fact that it would be filled with cutlery and combustible fuels—grew scarier by the minute. To quell the panic, I studied online forums for RV enthusiasts, campground-review sites, and the orientation video on the RV-rental website (twice). And I brought backup: Lindsay and Lola, a couple of friends I've known since college who have a generous way of seeing disasters as adventures. They tried to distract me by focusing on our packing priorities: hiking gear vs. lawn games, SPF 15 or 30. Not that it helped. ROAD-TESTED TIP #1: "Use an RV-specific route planner on a GPS. It'll factor in overhead clearance and other restrictions, such as which roads, bridges, and tunnels won't allow propane tanks through." —Richard Coon, former President, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association And yet, when we arrived at the rental lot in Durham, N.C., I started to calm down, in part because a petite 20-something gal handed me the keys, and I figured that if she could pilot a big rig, then maybe I could, too. We got a few simple pointers from the RV folks: Pull far into intersections before making a turn. Leave lots of room for braking. Always use a spotter when you back up. Drive-through restaurants are just not worth the risk. We learned when to use battery power, propane, shoreline electricity, and our generator; how to restart a dead battery; the necessity of turning off the propane tank before refueling; how to heat water for showers and how to tell when the water supply is nearly depleted; and how to level out the rig with a pair of two-by-four boards if our campsite is on a slant. And we learned the finer points of emptying the holding tanks—a polite way of saying draining the toilet—a task that quickly supplanted merging onto the highway as my most dreaded challenge. "Once you get the hose screwed on—and make sure you screw it on really tight—then open the valves and walk away," said Tommy, our orientation instructor. "Or run. I've gotten wet feet more times than I like to recall." The girls and I made a pact to use the campgrounds' rest areas whenever possible and added latex gloves to the top of our shopping list. Then we took a few trial spins around the parking lot, and with Lindsay in the navigator's seat and Lola on loose-objects duty in the back, we headed into the great wide open. "We quickly learned that RV trips are all-hands-on-deck endeavors." First came the rattle. With every bump in the road, each cup, dish, and saucepan in our kitchen cabinets shuddered like a beat-up shopping cart being pushed down a gravel road. (I learned later that putting paper towels between the plates helps immensely.) Then came the thuds. Turn left, and one set of drawers would slide open with a thwak. Turn right, and another drawer would do the same. We were already learning that RV trips are all-hands-on-deck endeavors. In addition to navigating, Lindsay was my second set of eyes for lane changes and would become my second-in-command for ticking off setup and breakdown duties. Lola wrangled drawers and cabinets, stood lookout at the rear window for minor back-up missions, and became galley chef for the length of the trip. "This is like a ropes course," Lindsay said after our first refueling stop, with its propane-off, propane-on, secure-all-items drill. "Maybe we should do some trust falls at the beach." Six hours, three pit stops, and one possible bird collision (none of us wanted to check the grille for confirmation) later, we arrived at Frisco Campground, one of four in the area run by the National Park Service. We had just enough time to practice back-in parking before nightfall. That's when I realized my first RV mistake: Anywhere we wanted to go, we'd have to take the RV, repositioning it each time we returned. (The pros either bring bikes or tow a regular car—often referred to as a dinghy—behind the RV.) So we strapped ourselves back in to fetch dinner in Hatteras Village, five miles away, and performed the parking routine again an hour later—this time in the dark, with the girls wielding flashlights like traffic batons. ROAD-TESTED TIP #2: "We try to bring or rent bicycles to visit nearby areas while camping. It beats packing up the RV to move it to a trailhead for hiking, only to find out there is no room to park a larger vehicle! Many times, you can access a 'bikes only' trail or (at the Grand Canyon, for example) trails for shuttle buses and bikes only." —Debby Schlesinger, BT reader, Grenada Hills, Calif. To celebrate—not just the parking but surviving the first day—we split a bottle of convenience-store wine around the RV's dinette, the only spot where all three of us could sit facing each other. "I've had worse apartments than this," I said, looking around. "Definitely worse kitchens." The furnishings were surprisingly modern—navy fabric upholstery and matching window coverings, new-looking appliances and cabinets. And even though I assumed we'd overpacked, there was plenty of unused storage space in the RV's dozen cabinets. More impressive to me was the fact that I could walk around the whole cabin standing at full height, without crouching or hitting my head on anything. That was, until bedtime. I called the bunk over the cab—possibly an unconscious compulsion to stay near the driver's seat. Maneuvering my limbs into the crawl-space-size cubby guaranteed a bumped elbow, knee, or forehead with every entrance and exit. The girls shared the double bed in back, since converting the dinette to a third bed would have required clearing the piles of maps, snack-food containers, and bug repellent cans that had already accumulated on the tabletop. Calling out our good nights and cracking jokes in the dark, it was the closest thing to an adult sleepover I could imagine—more intimate than sharing a hotel room, and sillier, too. "Orchestrating our morning routines was easier than I'd thought." Seeing the Frisco campground in daylight—just after sunrise, in fact, thanks to the chatter of the campground's early risers—provided a fresh perspective after that fitful first night's sleep. Orchestrating our morning routines was easier than I'd thought. The toilet and the shower—one of those flimsy jobs with a handheld sprayer that tumbles readily from its mount—were bundled in one closet-size room, about four feet by four feet, tops. (Its door was inches away from where Lindsay and Lola slept, another reason to make sparing use of its facilities.) Still, the teensy bathroom sink was just outside the shower/toilet stall; at the slightly larger kitchen sink a few feet away, two people could brush their teeth simultaneously. Lindsay was the first one out, conferring with the park ranger and plotting the day's activities (hit the beach, visit a lighthouse, find lunch). The ocean's proximity redeemed the transportation issue. After all, who needs a car when you can walk to the beach? The geography of the Outer Banks—a 130-mile stretch of narrow barrier islands, less than a mile wide for much if its length—was the primary reason I'd chosen this spot for my trial run. There are 20-plus campgrounds along the strip, none much more than a mile away from the Atlantic Ocean or Pamlico Sound. At Frisco, $28 a night buys you peace, quiet, and your own little slice of unlandscaped beachfront real estate. What that $28 doesn't buy you: heated campground showers or any way to charge a cell phone. Hence, one night would be our limit. ROAD-TESTED TIP #3: "If you're exhausted and not near a campground, Walmart stores sometimes allow campers to use their parking lots. Just check to make sure there's not a no overnight parking sign, and choose a spot near one of the lot's outer edges." —Kevin Broom, former Director of Media Relations, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association Courtesy RVshare The 30 miles of road between Frisco and Rodanthe, where we'd camp next, passes through a series of near-identical hamlets with dreamy names: Avon, Salvo, Waves. The longer we drove, the less I worried about all the folks in my rearview mirror who clearly wanted to pass me on the two-lane highway. Rolling down the windows and turning on the radio helped distract me. So did focusing on our next stop, an oasis where water and electricity flow freely and quiet hours don't start until a wild-and-crazy 10 p.m. As much as I'd been obsessing about life inside an RV, pulling into the Cape Hatteras KOA was a revelation. Here, everyone was living outside their vehicles. All around us, colorful awnings, canvas camp chairs, outdoor carpets, wind chimes, string lights shaped like Airstream trailers, plastic gingham tablecloths, tiki torches, and dream catchers marked off each site's would-be front lawn. We envied our neighbors, a retired duo from Farmville, N.C., for their old-school, beige-striped Winnebago (our RV was plastered with rental ads) and simple setup: an AstroTurf swatch just big enough for their two folding chairs and a small table. ROAD-TESTED TIP #4: "If you're staying parked in one spot for a while, run the RV engine for a few minutes each day to recharge the battery." —Tommy Summey, Cruise America rental agent, Hillsborough, N.C. We'd brought nothing—and I mean nothing—to make the outside of our RV feel like home. Alas, the homiest thing we could muster was to try out the RV kitchen. "Grilled cheese sandwiches, everybody?" Lola asked. With no real counter space, she spread plates across the stovetop to prep the ingredients, then shifted the plates to a little sliver of awkward space behind the sink. As the stove (and, soon after, the RV) heated up, she had a change of heart. "Cold cheese sandwiches, everybody?" she asked. The plan abandoned, we carried our sandwiches out to the nearest picnic table. And never turned on the stove again. "Having a place to spread out is crucial." Having a place to spread out is crucial—especially when you've crammed a family of four or five into a usable living space the size of a large toolshed. But it would also be a shame to stay inside; an RV park is a voyeur's paradise—people watching at its most reciprocal. Several times, I passed a man with a white ponytail sitting shirtless outside his RV, shelling peas. He asked how I was doing, and when I replied in kind, he said, "I'm just making do, trying to enjoy myself...it's not too difficult." He didn't need to wink—but I think he did anyway. Our favorite acquaintance at the camp was Kilo, a nervous but friendly tan-and-white Chihuahua that accompanied John, a KOA staffer, on all his rounds—showing new arrivals to their sites and helping campers set up. (The explanation for his name? "He's from Mexico." Roger that.) Judging from all the group activities at the campground, it's safe to say that RVers are very social. Even those campers who'd rather spend their afternoons at the beach—as we did, most days—have ample opportunity for mingling after sundown. One evening, we caught the opening number at karaoke night—Cee Lo Green's expletive-free radio hit "Forget You," performed by a teenage staffer; the next, we watched an outdoor screening of Kung Fu Panda. We even organized some social events of our own, enlisting a couple of 30-something Texan guys to help us start a fire to make s'mores. Another snafu: not knowing the proper way to extinguish a fire when you're done with dessert. We poured panfuls of water from our kitchen onto the flames, sending out smoke signals to the whole campground that we were clueless. "Just as we were leaving, I was getting the hang of it." The author with her Class C RV. Credit: Brent Humphreys By the last day, we'd had more than our share of screwups, most easy enough to laugh off. But there was one RV task I really couldn't afford to botch. It was time for the Holding Tank. Lindsay followed me outside to offer moral support—and to remind me to run. Fortunately, I didn't get my feet wet, though I did leave a small trail of blue chemicals between our site's dump station and the RV (and hoped no one would notice). ROAD-TESTED TIP #5: "Be sure to get a tutorial on how to empty the holding tanks. One time, we forgot to add chemicals to the black-water tank after emptying it—the smell was terrible, and we quickly learned our lesson." —Laurie Huhndorf, BT reader, San Antonio The payoff for that 5 a.m. waste disposal came when we finally hit the empty road pointing north toward Nags Head, the sky slowly brightening with each mile. The only other travelers out were sea birds and jackrabbits, and I'd long since stopped fretting over every lane change, left turn, or loose kitchen drawer rattling with dishes. Even shutting off the propane at our last gas-station stop was second nature. Finally, just as we were leaving, I was getting the hang of it. Next time, I may even get up the nerve to grill a cheese sandwich or two. Content Presented by RVshare, the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace with more than 100,000 RVs to rent nationwide. RVshare brings RV renters and RV owners together by providing the safest and most secure platform for booking an RV rental. 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