Discover USA: Athens, Georgia
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 Athens, Georgia has to offer. Athens is known for its eclectic mix of Southern traditions, modern attractions, and a vibrant arts scene, which includes incredible live music. The vibe and energy that gave birth to R.E.M., the B-52s and Widespread Panic is alive and well today through a variety of events and attractions.
Athens Beer Trail
The Athens Beer Trail is the newest beer getaway and adventure in the south. Visit all six local breweries to discover their individual approach to craft beer. Along the way, we guarantee you'll find new flavors, new friends, and enjoy the Athens creative vibe. It's not every day you get prizes for drinking beer. But luckily for you, that’s how the Athens Beer Trail rolls. Athens Beer Trail launched in October 2021 as a collaboration between Visit Athens GA and all local breweries.
Condor Chocolate, birthed by Athens natives and brothers Nick and Peter Dale, is a bean-to-bar chocolate shop that starts every creation with cacao from Ecuador, their mother's native country. After thriving in Athens’ Five Points neighborhood, a second location opened in Downtown Athens on November 24, 2021. The new shop and café features large windows allowing guests to watch small batch chocolate production in action. It also introduces Condor's own coffee, called Peña. The coffee is named after the Choco Toucan, which lives in Ecuador’s coffee-growing regions and is named after the Chocó forest, not after chocolate. Coffee connoisseurs will appreciate the state-of-the-art Decent Espresso machines which will be the first of this kind in Athens.
Cafe Racer Coffee + Donuts
Cafe Racer Coffee + Donuts is located on Highway 78— located 10 minutes east of Athens, Georgia. This drive thru only, is known for not only their coffee but their amazing potato donuts and big ole biscuits. Try the Sugar Daddie a classic potato donut stuffed with classic creme patissiere + topped & torched classic crème brûlée style offered only on Saturday and Sunday. Or if big ole biscuits are your thing see if you can handle the BB King a double stacked mustard fried sausage patties with sharp cheddar cheese + spicy pickle chips + drenched in Racer Sauce ™️ or the TaterBoi , Jalapeño cream cheese, fried hash brown patty, racer sauce, scrambled egg, cheddar cheese. Add some hot sauce if you've got the courage. If 10 minutes is too far for you dont despair Cafe Racer will be opening a Cafe Racer 2 right in Athens on West Broad Street in Spring/Summer 2022.
Arts and Culture
Athens Music Walk of Fame
Athens may be best known on the world stage as the birthplace of some of America’s best-loved bands, including R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic and Drive-by Truckers. The Athens Music Walk of Fame debuted in 2020 and passes by several renowned music venues like the Georgia Theatre, 40 Watt Club, and Morton Theatre. Inductees will be added each year. A free app uses proximity beacons to share sights and sounds. The Walk of Fame is a must-see attraction for all music fans and is a perfect daytime activity before heading to listen to live music in the evening.
Porcelain & Decorative Arts Museum
The newest part of the state’s official 313-acre garden, the Porcelain & Decorative Arts Museum features eight different gallery spaces that blend conservation, botanicals, art, beauty and curiosity. The Museum is a must-see for all art, history, garden and nature enthusiasts. Free, timed tours of the museum can be scheduled. Adjacent to the building is the Garden of Discovery and Inspiration where visitors can connect to the living botanical collection that is represented on so much of the porcelain pieces in the museum. After a soft opening during Covid, the dedication of the museum and surrounding Center for Art and Nature will be in April 2022.
Bulldog Statues Around Athens
Dozens of larger-than-life bulldog statues stand guard throughout Athens, a public art display that is fun for all ages. Whether you are a fan of public art, a die-hard UGA Bulldog, a kid or a kid at heart, you'll enjoy seeking out these statues while you are there. These bulldog statues are the original Selfie Spots in Athens!
Athens' Mural Alley
Sandy Creek Park surrounds Lake Chapman and features a variety of activities and facilities.
Athens Mural Alley is a public art project to beautify the alleyway that connects Clayton Street (by Classic City Cycling) and Washington St. The project is a collaboration among the Athens Area Arts Council, Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, Athens Downtown Development Authority and Lyndon House Arts Center. To find additional murals throughout Athens checkout this list of 29 murals.
Explore the Outdoors
Sandy Creek Park
Sandy Creek Park surrounds Lake Chapman and features a variety of activities and facilities. Swim at the only beach in Athens-Clarke County. More than 28.000 square feet of sand and more than a half-acre of water. Hikers, walk or even horeseback ride on over 16 miles of trails that are over easy to moderate terrain. There are also playgrounds, fishing, dog parks, a disc golf course, sports areas, and rental pavillion facilities.
Sandy Creek Nature Center
Five minutes down the road from Sandy Creek Park is 225 acres of woodlands and wetlands at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. Here is your gateway to outdoor exploration. Twelve trails, an Education and Visitor Center that includes live reptiles, amphibians, marine and freshwater aquariums and interactive natural history exhibits, a 1815 Log House and several wildlife observation areas. You can also explore their small planetarium and newly-expanded exhibit hall with interactive learning centers that feature the wetlands, coastal, woodlands, agricultural and urban environments of Northeast Georgia.
Alice H. Richards Children's Garden
The Alice H. Richards Children's Garden is an exploration and a journey, not something you just walk through. Everything is designed with attention to detail and an interactive, educational component. The 2.5-acre garden contains a variety of fun, immersive locations, including a chestnut tree house, fossil wall, giant water-misting mushrooms, vegetable garden, a replica of a North Georgia cave, and more — all designed to be learned from, crawled through and touched. Children can water plants, dig for dinosaur bones, see underneath the soil for how plants grow, and frolic in a forest treehouse. There are gigantic ladybugs to crawl over, water features, fun sculptures, and much, much more.
5 Reasons you should add Martha's Vineyard to your bucket list
There’s truly something for everyone on Martha’s Vineyard, whether you’re in town for a family vacation, planning a romantic getaway with your loved one, or seeing the world solo. Once you arrive on the Island, either by taking The Steamship Authority (SSA) ferry from Woods Hole in Falmouth or by air into Martha’s Vineyard Airport, you’ll find plenty of beaches, lighthouses, museums, restaurants, bars, and historical attractions to keep any traveler busy. Best of all, you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money to have a great trip, thanks to an abundance of alternative accommodations like campgrounds, hostels, inns, bed and breakfasts, and lots of free and affordable things to do. Here are five reasons why Martha’s Vineyard definitely deserves a spot on your travel bucket list. There’s plenty to see and do outdoors From beautiful beaches and scenic hiking trails to fishing, golf, yoga, and wildlife-viewing, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities in Martha’s Vineyard. Start by visiting two of the Island’s most popular outdoor hangouts: Menemsha Public Beach in Chilmark, a great spot for families to spend a day on the water, and Aquinnah Cliffs, home to hiking trails and views of the unique red and orange clay cliffside and Aquinnah Lighthouse. For a memorable outdoor yoga experience, head to Island Alpaca Company of Martha’s Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, where you can get your stretch on alongside these fascinating creatures in the middle of their pasture. Animal lovers should also visit Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown for the chance to learn more about the Island’s unique habitats and try your hand at birding. Golf enthusiasts can hit the links at public or semi-private courses on the Island, including Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven, Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, or Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links in Edgartown. Those who enjoy fishing can get local tips from tackle shops or hire fishing charters and try catching bluefish, tuna, sea bass, fluke, and squid. The island has a fascinating history To fully understand the history of the Island, start with a trip to the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District, home to the stunning Aquinnah Cliffs, Aquinnah lighthouse, and Aquinnah Cultural Center, where you can learn all about Martha’s Vineyard’s original inhabitants, the Wampanoag, and visit shops owned by local Indigenous people. For a look at the Island’s diverse heritage and maritime background, visit the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven to see stories of the many cultures and people who have come to call the area home, learn how lighthouses helped through the ages, and explore the Thomas Cooke House, formerly the home of Martha’s Vineyard’s earliest attorneys during the 18th century. The Museum also happens to be the steward of the Edgartown and East Chop Lighthouses, which are also worth checking out, as is the Aquinnah Lighthouse, formerly known as Gay Head Light. History buffs should also make time for a historical walking tour through Edgartown, run by the Vineyard Preservation Trust, which takes guests past the Vincent House (built in 1672), the Village Green, the John Coffin House, the Old Whaling Church, and the Dr. Daniel Fisher House & Gardens, among other historic sites throughout the area. Keep an eye out for famous people and places Not only is Martha’s Vineyard home to the world’s oldest operating platform carousel—The Flying Horses Carousel, built in 1876 and entertaining guests at its current location in Oak Bluffs since 1884—it’s also been known to appear in movies and TV shows from time to time. Fans of the Jaws film franchise will recognize “Amity Island” as none other than Martha’s Vineyard, with famous scenes filmed along Vineyard Haven Harbor, Cow Bay Beach in Edgartown, East Chop, Menemsha, Harbor, Gay Head Light in Aquinnah. Perhaps the most popular filming location is the American Legion Memorial Bridge, now known simply as “Jaws Bridge,” which is now a popular spot for another reason among visitors and locals: jumping off the bridge into the water 12–15 feet below. In the film, it’s where the shark famously swims into Sengekontacket Pond and goes after another innocent beachgoer. Martha’s Vineyard has also appeared in a number of movies (Sabrina, Stuck on You, Jumping the Broom, and Chappaquiddick, among others) as well as TV shows like Our Kind of People and The Vineyard. It’s also known as being a bit of a celebrity stomping ground, with big names like James Taylor, Carly Simon, David Letterman, Spike Lee, and former President Barack Obama all owning homes here, and a flurry of celebs including Larry David, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Murray, who vacation on the Island in summer. You never know who you’ll spot here, so keep your eyes peeled—but remain respectful. Enjoy locally sourced dining and vintage shopping If you’ve worked up an appetite after a long day of sightseeing, there’s a Martha’s Vineyard restaurant with your name on it. Whether you’re craving ocean-to-table seafood, farm-to-table favorites, a good old fashioned clambake, or a chill night at a neighborhood pub. Open seasonally during the summer, Chilmark Tavern, Beach Plum, and The Sweet Life café (open year round) are popular among visitors, residents, and celebrities alike. Looking for something lighter? In West Tisbury, pick up picnic-perfect fruit, veggies, meat, cheese, and snacks from the Farmer’s Market, held on Wednesday and Saturday from mid-June to late-October. When it comes to retail therapy, antiques and vintage pieces are the way to go. Start by scouring the Oak Bluffs Open Market, a vintage flea market meets crafts fair meets farmer’s market held on Sunday from late-May to mid-October, and the Chilmark Flea Market, the oldest outdoor flea market in Martha’s Vineyard, open Wednesday and Saturday from the mid-June to mid-September. Otherwise, stick to locally-owned boutiques for all your shopping needs, including popular brands like Vineyard Vines, Menemsha Blues, and The Black Dog, which all got their start here on the Island. Accommodations options are abundant The beauty of Martha’s Vineyard is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a memorable vacation. Families can save money by making it a camping adventure at Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground, which has plenty of room for tents and RVs, rustic cabins you can rent, and amenities like picnic tables, laundry areas, a recreation hall, showers, bathrooms, a playground, and a general store. Rates range from $59 to $195 a night depending on which kind of space you want to rent (tent and RV sites or one- and two-bedroom cabins) and when (it’s only open seasonally from late May to late-October). Travelers of all types should consider staying at HI Martha’s Vineyard Hostel in West Tisbury, which offers seasonal accommodation from May to October. Rates start at $38 a night for dorm-style rooms with bunk beds or $99 a night for private rooms, and all stays include perks like complimentary Wi-Fi, continental breakfast, easy access to public transportation via VTA bus, fully-stocked shared kitchen space, and a sand volleyball court to play in.Otherwise, you can find a variety of accommodations options ranging from fancy splurge-worthy hotels to homey inns and bed and breakfasts all throughout the Island. Vacation home rentals are also quite popular so check online marketplaces and local real estate companies, too. Rates are typically lower during the winter, spring, and fall seasons, so you might also luck out with an off-season deal if you’re not visiting during the summer months. CARD WIDGET HERESponsored by Martha's Vineyard
Discover USA: Mississippi
Join Budget Travel as we begin 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 the State of Mississippi has to offer. The "Magnolia state" is widely known for its BBQ, magnolias, catfish, bluegrass music, and southern charm. Explore the Outdoors Image courtesy visitmississippi.org In Mississippi, visitors will find no shortage of outdoor recreational opportunities. From breathtaking views at Gulf Coast beaches, towering forests, rivers and lakes and more, all offer exhilarating and adventurous experiences. Parks: An abundance of festivals, historic sites and outdoor recreation events make Mississippi’s system of national, state and local parks a welcoming, family-oriented vacation destination. Throughout the state, travelers will find many opportunities for camping, hiking, equestrian activities, wildlife viewing and much more. Many of Mississippi’s state parks provide modern amenities for visitors to enjoy, including boating areas, fishing spots, hiking trails, disc goal courses, beaches, playgrounds and picnic areas. Cycling: Mississippi has a wondrous wealth of paved and unpaved bike trails. But one of the greatest joys of biking in Mississippi is the opportunity to experience history, in addition to the scenic vistas, off-road detours and colorful scenery that are found along the journey. The Natchez Trace, which stretches from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee is unlike any other scenic route in the country, thanks to its historic sites and numerous markers that tell the story of the Trace's 10,000-year history. Waterways: The rivers and streams in Mississippi offer some of the most fun and most scenic outdoor adventures in the state. Adventure out on the Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company, or paddle Black Creek, Mississippi’s only designated National Wild and Scenic waterway. Further South, the Gulf Coast region offers multiple opportunities for waterway adventures. There are currently seven Blueways, or water trails, that have been mapped out for recreational canoers and kayakers including the Pascagoula River Blueway, the largest free flowing waterway in the lower 48 states. The mild climate in Mississippi means the state’s waterways are ripe for fishing year-round. With 119 public lakes open and ready for action, a great day of fishing is never far away. Some of the most popular places to fish in Mississippi include: Grenada LakeArkabutla LakeEnid LakeHernando DeSoto River Park There are also plenty of opportunities to go fishing on the Gulf Coast, with options ranging from night fishing on the shore to a deep-sea, multi-day charter. Arts and Culture One of the most notable aspects of Mississippi is the rich culture that’s saturated the land for generations. Mississippi has played an integral part in shaping the history of America, as well as several artistic and cultural movements that people across the country enjoy today. The Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson is Mississippi’s largest art museum that has over 4,000 works, including the world’s largest collection by and relating to Mississippians and their diverse heritage. Many works can be seen in the permanent collection, New Symphony of Time. The Art Garden offers Wi-Fi and al fresco dining and hosts outdoor events. Since 1979, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale has been working to conserve Mississippi’s blues legacy. As the state’s oldest music museum, this Clarksdale arts center has interpreted and cultivated an understanding of this native Mississippi art form for decades. Exhibits include collections of artifacts, memorabilia, instruments and more from some of the state’s most prolific blues musicians, like B.B. King and Muddy Waters. History and Civil Rights Image courtesy visitmississippi.org The new, interactive Mississippi Civil Rights Museum also in Jackson explores the true stories of the Civil Rights movement, and shows how those events shaped a state and changed the world. After taking in the fascinating exhibits at the museum, visitors can venture to some of the 25 sites on the Mississippi Freedom Trail to experience history at the source. Deeply intertwined in the fabric of Mississippi’s past are the legends of the blues and country music that defined the genres forever. The Mississippi Blues Trail showcases the powerful influence of Mississippi’s Black musicians on an unforgettable journey through blues history. The trail showcases the people and places that shaped the genre through notable markers, influential locations, and museums. Culinary For foodies looking for an inexpensive way to enjoy the very best BBQ on a budget-friendly getaway, the state of Mississippi is the perfect destination. A few of the many notable BBQ restaurants to visit around the state include Corky’s Ribs & BBQ in Olive Branch, The Shed BBQ in Ocean Springs and One & Only BBQ in Southhaven. Image courtesy visitmississippi.org Stop along a few locations on the Hot Tamale Trail, located throughout the Mississippi Delta region. Today, the Hot Tamale Trail in the Mississippi Delta not only celebrates the history hot tamales share with our state, but it also enables visitors and locals alike to find eateries providing them on their menus. Throughout the region, no two hot tamale recipes are alike, and along the Hot Tamale Trail, you can find variations that feature pork, beef, or turkey, corn flour instead of corn meal, and toppings like chili and cheese. See below for a few culinary focused events in Mississippi: March 19, 2022 Shaggy’s Rez Fest – Crawfish & Country Music Festival (Brandon) March 25-26, 2002 The South MS Boucherie BBQ Festival & Competition (Tylertown) April 20-24, 2022 29th Annual Crawfish Music Festival (Biloxi) April 23, 2022 18th Annual Mudbug Bash (Hernando) Other Notable Attractions: Hattiesburg Zoo (Hattiesburg)Mississippi Aquarium (Gulfport)GolfCasinos CARD WIDGET HERE
Romantic Montana vacations for couples
Imagine being snuggled up in a cozy cabin somewhere far away from reality. The fire is glowing as snow-capped mountains sit in the background. Hiking trails and ski slopes abound. This mental picture is why we’re convinced there might be no better place for a romantic getaway this Valentine’s Day than Montana, dubbed “The Last Best Place” for a reason. The western part of the state particularly makes it obvious why it earned the right to that nickname. The global health crisis has meant weddings across the country (and the world) have been downsized, postponed, or canceled altogether. But celebrating love seems more important than ever as we collectively hit the year anniversary of socially distancing from friends, family, and lovers. Montana offers couples the perfect place to turn up the romance and disconnect from the noise this February in a safe and snowy setting. The first step in setting up the sexiest Valentine’s escape in Montana is finding the right place to stay. Calowahcan Cabin Ronan, Montana Set against the Mission Mountain range is an idyllic couples retreat in the form of a 500 square foot cabin. The cabin and its signature slanted roof sits on 10 acres of prairie only minutes from untamed Montana wilderness. The scenery is the selling point, but Calowahcan’s giant ceramic bathtub is a surefire way to set the mood. Unwind with your lover by lighting a bonfire on the patio, wildflowers and mountain peaks standing in the distance. Calowahcan is the right accommodation for couples seeking rest and respite; those who want to hit the hiking trails but, ultimately, are happy to settle in for an evening surrounded by snowy peaks on the horizon. Classic Whitefish A-Frame Whitefish, Montana This A-frame cabin in picturesque Whitefish is what Montana getaway dreams are made of. A cosy bed sits in the loft space overlooking Whitefish Lake, with twinkly lights illuminating the patio. The bonfire pit out back is well suited for warming up over s’mores making. Exploring the town is made simple thanks to the cabin being ideally located only a 10-minute drive from breweries and restaurants. Having a Valentine’s weekend spent in Whitefish is especially well-suited for skiers and snowboarders, as the town is home to one of the state’s most esteemed ski resorts. Meadowlark Treehouse Columbia Falls, Montana What is more romantic than cuddling up to your loved one under twinkly lights hanging from a three-story treehouse? Not much, honestly. A simple scroll of Meadowlark’s Instagram account will have you drooling over the interior of the cabin in equal measure to the beauty right out the front door. The treehouse comes full of blankets, board games, and books to keep you occupied, as well as a fire pit if you fancy lighting a fire. Kalispell Grand Kalispell, Montana If cabins and treehouses aren’t really your thing, the historic Kalispell Grand Hotel’s lodging might be perfectly suited for you. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the Kalispell Grand used to host luxury travelers for a whopping $2 per night. Nowadays, the price point has changed and the amenities have no doubt been upgraded, but the Kalispell Grand still holds onto its old-time, Montana charm thanks to details like the lobby’s solid oak staircase and moose head taxidermy. It’s in a premier location, within walking distance of local establishments like Norm’s Soda Fountain, Colter Coffee, and Kalispell Brewery. Kalispell as a town is an ideal base for a romantic Montana getaway because it’s near marvelous Flathead Lake, a short drive from Whitefish ski slopes, and not far from Glacier National Park. Reclusive Moose Cabins West Glacier National Park, Montana On the edge of West Glacier, near crystal clear lakes and purple mountains, are a set of small log cabins with the necessary amenities for a lovers’ retreat. Fireplace? Check. Kitchen fully equipped for you to cook up a Valentine’s Day dinner? Check. Comfortable bed for post-hike cuddles? Check. As a cutesy touch, each cabin is named after Montana wildlife, which you very well might encounter if you venture back in the warmer months of the year. Being based in West Glacier for Valentine’s Day means you’re surrounded by staggering scenery, including nearby Lake McDonald, and astonishing quiet-- the makings of a truly intimate vacation. Kimpton Armory Hotel Bozeman, Montana Another less rustic choice is the Kimpton Armory Hotel located in one of Montana’s most aesthetic towns. It is a hotel made for modern lovers. Everything about the Kimpton is sleek: its on-site dining, its interior design, its common areas. The Kimpton’s rooftop is a great place for a nightcap before you slip back into the warmth of your contemporary bedroom. Once you’ve booked your stay, you’ll need to find activities to enjoy with your Valentine. A February visit comes with the bonus of fewer crowds, and it also means you have a bevy of winter time activities to choose from. Catch fresh air and stunning views by taking part in any (or all) of these outdoor activities. Dogsled Dog sledding isn’t just an Alaskan bucket list item-- Montana has incredible dog sledding rails and operators, particularly in the Western part of the state. An energetic team of dogs will lead you through the stillness of the beauty that surrounds you as they run down snowy trails. Most operators offer half-day adventures, but some have a multi-night option that allows you to extend your sledding experience. Fun fact: the reality-TV famed Kardashian family were keen to book a dog sledding excursion, but refused to pay and, ultimately, missed out on this incredible winter activity. Skiing and snowboarding Montana has some of the best slopes for skiing and snowboarding and, thanks to its geographical location, it also receives a dependable amount of fresh snow. Although equipment rental and lift tickets make for an expensive day out, the rush of gliding downhill is worth every penny. Whitefish Mountain, Big Sky, Bridger Bowl, and Showdown are some of the state’s finest ski and snowboarding resorts. For a more affordable option, Maverick Mountain has virtually no lift ticket fees and extends over 450 family-owned acres. Horseback trail rides It might seem counterintuitive to go horseback riding in the cold, but it’s magic. Big, fat flakes falling around you as you sit back and take in the views. In order to book a horseback trail ride, you’ll need to find an outfitter or guide near you to lend you a horse and lead you along the trail. Your accommodation might be able to recommend a local ranch with guides for you to hire, like the renowned Artemis Acres. You can also find operating trail rides online via the Visit Montana directory. Hiking A super traditional (and budget-friendly) way to spend any day in Montana (rain, shine, or snow) is hitting the hiking trails that undoubtedly surround you. Hiking doesn’t require prior booking, loads of gear, or heaps of money. Due to the nature of Montana’s winter weather conditions, you’re also likely to have paths all to yourselves-- a total bonus. Snowshoeing If you’re up to burn more calories and try something a little different, snowshoeing is a great alternative to hiking. You’ll need to rent some snowshoes, but that’s easily done in most Montana towns with outdoor recreation retailers. Your body will work harder, but there are fewer things as luxurious as a post-snowshoe bubble bath back at your cabin or hotel. Make sure you know what trails are conducive to snowshoeing before you head out! You can do this by asking your equipment rental company what paths they recommend. Soaking in a natural hot spring West Montana has a wealth of natural hot springs for you and your Valentine to warm up in. Some of the most famed are Quinn’s Hot Springs in Plains and Chico Hot Springs in Pray. Many of the hot springs locations offer premium lodging and fine dining options including private cabins to stay in and locally-sourced, wild game. Currently, many hot springs require advanced booking; make sure you plan accordingly. Snowmobiling Snowmobiling is a surefire way to ramp up the excitement in your Valentine celebrations. It’s a great adrenaline rush for those looking to tear up fresh powder. Lucky for you and your date, Western Montana in the winter time was made for adventure junkies to slide over frozen lakes and zoom along groomed trails.
"Mom, you can't trick us-we know you can't drive a house!" my children told me. The more I explained about our RV vacation, the less my kids believed me. They thought the part where the dinner table changed into a bed was either the biggest whopper of all or proof that Mommy had magical powers. In the parking lot at the start of our trip I felt no supernatural talents as I stared in fear at our home on wheels away from home: a rented Winnebago measuring 32 feet-much longer than my living room. But after an hour-long training session, we were on our own. The next day we negotiated the spectacular curves of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The grown-ups sat in the Barcalounger-type reclinable front seats watching through the four-foot-tall windshield as turkey vultures circled above the tree-covered mountainsides. Sky, clouds, birds, blooming dogwood trees, green valleys, more mountains, large iced drinks in cup holders, two kids buckled in at their own table with toys and a view: "Mom," they announced, "this is the life." Our plan was to travel across Virginia comparing private, public, franchise, and nonfranchise types of campgrounds. Of course, our vehicle itself provided amenities and entertainment. We had a week's worth of groceries and our own electricity and water. We were protected from the bad weather that ruins many a camping vacation and shielded from the wild behavior of vehicle-bound children that ruins many a road trip. (When we reached orange alert levels we-gasp!-popped a movie in the DVD player.) These comforts gave us more time to experience the places we visited. And at all the campgrounds, whether rustic or developed, my kids did not want to leave. Not your average bear Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. These popular campsites, the first type we visited, are filled with families seeking man-made, outdoor fun. RV site prices are usually on the higher end, at some 70 Jellystone Parks across the U.S. and Canada. All of them promise easy-to-RV level sites, where you can pull through to park and quickly hook up water/electric/sewage lines; clean rest rooms and laundry facilities; a pool; a video theater and game rooms; a well-stocked convenience store; and, most important, entertainment. Although the particulars vary, every Jellystone Park offers activities of some kind-theme weeks or weekends, hayrides, arts and crafts, ice cream socials-and equipment like fully loaded playgrounds, sports courts, and bounce houses. Schedules of events are listed on their site; some activities may cost extra. Jellystone park waterslide - Courtesy of Jellystone Park We stayed at a Jellystone Park in Luray, Virginia. The campground was as RV-friendly as expected. It took us about 10 minutes-in the dark, no less-to park, make the RV level, and connect to the hookups for our very first time. In the morning my kids took one look at the 400-foot water slide and the playground with eight slides and dressed themselves at warp speed. The camp-type activities, such as Yogi's birthday week, are in full swing in summer. In the spring and fall, theme weekends ("Junior Ranger: Bugs!") are scheduled. Parental advisory: If you go to the giftie-filled camp store with your kids, expect to endure a heavy round of begging. Uncle Sam, you, and a view National Park campgrounds (reserve by searching nps.gov). Outdoors enthusiasts can stay in the scenery at many National Park campgrounds. Recreation.gov handles some parks; private concessions manage reservations for others. Some parks only permit camping on a first come, first served basis-get there early! The National Park Web site gives reservations details and tells which parks offer full hookups and which offer no facilities and less-than-RV-friendly warnings, like "RV sites may not be level." On average camping usually costs less than $50, (not including park admission) but really varies by park and season. We left Yogi's Jellystone for Shenandoah, a real national park, where the amenities are mostly those provided by Mother Nature. The campsites at the edge of the quiet Big Meadows campground provide a high-altitude sleeping spot overlooking a beautiful series of valleys and mountains. RV sites (some pull-throughs) with picnic tables and fire grates cost $30. There are no hookups, but there are stations to fill up your water tank and dump that other tank. Generators can only be used until 8 p.m. After that, for hot running water you can use the bathhouse with its coin-operated showers. We headed out to the Appalachian Trail and ate ice cream, fresh pineapple, and strawberries-a picnic made possible with the help of an RV kitchen. Shenandoah National Park Follow the yellow-signed road KOA or Kampgrounds of America. Bright-yellow signs with a tent logo lead the way to more than 500 franchises of KOA in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Vacationing families come, snowbird retirees come, overnight visitors en route to other destinations come-millions of campers a year stay at a KOA. Most sites cost $40 to $80. Visitors know that certain facilities are standard: clean rest rooms and laundry rooms, full hookup pull-through sites, an inviting pool, playground, game room, and a fully stocked store. Entertainment, however, varies with the individual KOA's location. Some franchise owners offer pancake breakfasts, river tubing, 25-person hot tubs, rental cars, and wireless Internet connections; some offer quiet country settings. We stayed at the Charlottesville KOA, which has a peaceful, woodsy setting with hiking trails, a fishing pond, and all the KOA offerings. The friendly owners have preserved the traditional sleeping-in-the-woods experience. Many of the sites, including the one we stayed at, are shaded by trees. In the summer, family movies are shown nightly at a central pavilion, and Saturday night is ice cream social time. The Governors' own State park campgrounds. State parks offer all kinds of inexpensive, unspoiled opportunities that only the locals may know about. You have to research state by state because there are no complete clearinghouses for state parks. Search state park or campground and the name of the state you want to visit. You may even find reservation systems for some states. The site www.reserveamerica.com lists campgrounds in 44 states. There is a may be a charge for reserving through this site. State tourism offices and web sites also provide camping information. I was amazed to find that Virginia State Parks has 23 reservable RV campgrounds. Most offer electric and water hookups, usually $40 to $50 a site, including park admission. We stayed at Chippokes Plantation State Park in the peanut-farm country of Surry. This park was full of surprises-we could tour the plantation's mansion, formal gardens, and agricultural area complete with chickens, cows, and crops. Or we could swim (the pool was huge), hike, fish, or look for marine fossils on the beach. In the campground, the host helped us back into our site. We had hookups for water and 30-amp (one appliance at a time) electricity. We felt like we had the woods to ourselves. We roasted marshmallows way past bedtime and were able to wash off all the stickiness. For our next day's adventure, we drove onto the Pocahontas, a free ferry, to cross the river into Jamestown and Williamsburg. My husband and I argued over who could drive onto the ferry. (I won.) Chippokes Plantation State Park - Credit: IStock - Douglas Rissing Stop at Mom-and-Pop's Local, independent campgrounds. An independently owned campground might be located just where you want to stay. It might be cheaper than a franchised campground. It might have all the amenities you want-or, it might not. Sites like Hipcamp and RVshare have RV campground searched that you can use. Our final campground, Aquia Pines Camp Resort in Stafford, a privately owned, nonfranchise operation, was actually the most high tech of all. Free WiFi, there was a well-stocked store, pool, game room, and an elaborate playground. After we ate our Indian dinner, we sat outside, faintly hearing one neighbor's birthday party and another's reggae, and enjoyed the campfire we made in a big, old washtub. When we switched vehicles for the trip home, our car crammed with all the goods so neatly stowed in our RV, my kids started asking, "Are we there yet?" My husband and I laughed-we hadn't heard that once on our RV vacation. 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. Find the Perfect RV Rental at RVshare
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