ADVERTISEMENT

Visiting Mexico: 8 Things Every Traveler Should Know

By Kelsy Chauvin
January 27, 2022
A view of a hotel fountain and colorful hotel in Cancun, Mexico.
Lunamarina/Dreamstime
Mexico is a rich destination for all manner of travelers—from beach bums to posh globetrotters to free-form adventurers. Here’s a look at the essentials for making your visit fun, safe, and inspiring.

Mexico has topped many news feeds lately. But this is not a political story. Rather, it’s a story about the abundant reasons why Mexico should top many travelers’ to-do lists.

For starters, Mexico is vast—its land measures about the same as the western third of the continental U.S. It’s comprised of 32 states (one of which is Mexico City, technically a “federal entity” not a state); and just like each American state, each one has its own character and landmarks. As many visitors already know, Mexico is home to incredible beaches and resorts. But its cities rival those gorgeous recreational hotspots, thanks to rich urban culture, unforgettable gastronomy, iconic architecture, public markets, verdant parks, and more.

Mexico’s diverse landscapes stretch from high plains of the Sierra Madre mountain system, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Sea. Within those terrains is heritage so deep it’s considered one of the world’s five “cradles of civilization,” dating back to 8000 B.C. Over those pre-European millennia, the advanced cultures of Mesoamerica, including the Maya, Aztec, and Teotihuacan, built cities whose pyramids and other marvelous structures still stand today.

The choices for how best to enjoy Mexico’s diverse destinations are plentiful, and entirely up to your travel predilections. But as you plan your visit, here are a few tips to keep in mind for a vacation that’s truly magnifico.

1. Arriving in Mexico

Major airports are usually seamless for international arrivals, and even easier for domestic travel. Generally, customs lines in cities like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta move quickly; while in Mexico City, they’re fast and almost exclusively employ electronic kiosks for foreign arrivals to scan passports (and fingerprints, just like foreign travelers arriving in the U.S.).

The most important thing to know is that, as a visitor, a Mexican customs agent will stamp your passport and return it to you with a thin slip of paper called a “tourist permit.” You won’t need it every day of your stay, but it’s required to exit Mexico. The smart move is to keep it tucked into your passport, which should then be tucked away in your hotel safe or other secure spot, so that it’s ready for your airline to collect prior to boarding your departure flight. If you lose it, expect to pay a fine.

2. Currency

The exchange rate for pesos remains favorable for most currencies, around five U.S. cents for one peso. It’s probably one of the best reasons to visit Mexico. Yet many businesses accept the U.S. dollar. Resist the temptation to pay with dollars either in cash or credit card, since it’s almost certainly a less-favorable exchange rate. Upon arrival in Mexico, just hit a bank’s ATM to withdraw pesos; then traverse the city with only the amount you might need, leaving the rest in your hotel safe. (And FYI, the symbol for pesos is “MXN$”—not a unique peso symbol. Yes it’s confusing, but now you know!)

3. Affordable Mexico

Overall, traveling in Mexico is pleasantly inexpensive for international visitors. There are so many ways to eat well and pay little, from cafés to markets to polished restaurants. Affordability also applies to independent shops selling handmade goods, museums, taxis and transit, and hotels (whether boutique or global chains). On the other hand, there are plenty of worthwhile places to splurge, including world-class restaurants and luxury lodging. The smart move is simply to figure out your total trip budget, then plan how best to divvy up and maximize your peso spending.

4. Travelers’ Safety

dreamstime_m_28694394.jpg?mtime=20190320093624#asset:105216View of Santa Prisca church in Taxco, Mexico (Ulita/Dreamstime)

Sensational news might have you imagining that the whole of Mexico is a dangerous jungle. Such rich storytelling abounds, and it is unfortunate. Because if we’re generalizing, it should be about how wonderfully warm, friendly, and decidedly civilized Mexico and its people are.

In terms of real safety, however, we should wisely apply the same level of caution towards a trip here that we would for any other locale. Stick to the usual safety rules: Be alert; don’t walk around with flashy valuables; carry only the cash and cards you’ll need; politely decline street hawkers; and stick to well-lit, well-traveled areas.

5. Food & Drink

There is one stereotype about Mexico that tends to ring true: Don’t drink the water. Public tap water isn’t filtered to a degree that’s safe for most people to consume. So only drink, cook, wash food, and brush your teeth with bottled water. Avoid salads and street food that’s raw and possibly washed with tap water, and if you’re ordering a delicious juice from a store or vendor, watch closely that if any water is added, it’s from a bottle (preferably one you’ve seen and heard opened), not a pitcher.

The exception is if you’re at a reliable resort or hotel with its own water-filtration system—those are consistently effective and safe. Plus guaranteed-filtered water is a far more eco-friendly way to stay hydrated than overusing little plastic bottles.

As for street food or those other delicious antojitos (aka snacks, which include tacos, tortas, and tostados), don’t be shy—enjoy them, because they’re usually delicioso. Just look for stands that appear popular with diners, avoid consuming anything raw/washed (no lettuce; but squeezable limes and salsas are usually fine), and be sure the meat or veggie filling has been fully grilled.

6. Spanish vs. English

You’ll find that in most hotels and fine restaurants, English is commonly spoken. But it’s worth the smiles you’ll get to practice even basic Spanish with Mexican folks, from taxi drivers and museum clerks; to hotel workers and bartenders. In fact, English isn’t so common that you’ll have a choice—so keep your translation app or Spanish dictionary handy.

7. Traffic

Along with being a huge country geographically, Mexico also has a massive population of about 130 million, making it the world’s 10th-largest nation. And sometimes, when you’re stuck in traffic, you’ll feel like every last one of them is in a vehicle heading the same direction as you. In this situation, remember two things: Traffic here always seems to steadily creep along, and you will get there eventually. So budget extra travel time to ensure punctuality for reservations.

Hot tip: If you’re in a city with Uber (which is increasingly common in Mexico), use it instead of a regular cab. That way you’ll ride at a pre-set rate, rather than on a taxi meter that keeps clicking up even in slow traffic.

8. What to Wear

mexico-playa-del-carmen.jpg?mtime=20190320094138#asset:105217Relax on the beaches in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. (Lunamarina/Dreamstime)

While coastal areas are sure to be warm even in winter, on the high plains, you’ll need to pack for the actual season. After all, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Oaxaca, and many other major (non-coastal) cities are thousands of feet high in elevation, making it plenty chilly, especially at night. So wear layers, and don’t forget to pack your jacket.

Keep reading
Budget Travel Lists

7 Spectacular Things to Do in Baja California, Mexico

Contrary to its name, Baja California is not actually located in California—it's Mexico’s twelfth-largest state. Filled with a heady mix of mountain ranges, beaches, countryside, deserts, and cities, this laid-back peninsula extends from the southernmost point of California into the Pacific Ocean and is just 17 miles from downtown San Diego. Though it's known primarily for Cabo, the A-list and spring-break destination brimming with lavish hotels and hard-partying tequila bars, Baja offers something for everyone. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Sea of Cortez on the east, water lovers will find a full range of activities, from sport fishing to scuba diving to whale watching. The Mediterranean climate and rich soil also support a thriving wine and culinary scene, and there are plenty of hiking trails and camping spots for those looking to spend time in the outdoors. We rounded up a few things to do in this magical and diverse locale. 1. Swim With the Fishes The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Gulf of California, separates Baja from the Mexican mainland. One of the most diverse seas in the world, it's home to over 800 marine species. Though swimming is chillier in the winter months, it’s the perfect time to book a whale-watching trip to see the gray, blue, and even humpback whales making their way to the Arctic—and don’t forget the sea lions and dolphins. Anglers should look into a sailing charter for a chance to nab billfish, snapper, yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and grouper—and think about making a stop at one of the many small beaches to fly-fish for roosterfish. For those who want to look at fish instead of catch them, there are many types of boat tours to choose from, allowing snorkelers and divers to commune with the stunning underwater display of colorful marine life and fauna. And you can add kayaking and beach-hopping to round out the adventure. 2. Make It a Family Affair Want to enjoy all the fun and adventure Baja has to offer and still relax with your family? The Hyatt Ziva (hyatt.com), an affordable, all-inclusive hotel perched on the Pacific side of the peninsula, is the perfect home base. A heated pool with a kid-friendly swim-up bar as well as daily activities, like soccer, basketball, and ping pong, keep the kids engaged. Meanwhile, water-based adult exercise classes offset last night's flowing margaritas. There's also an adults-only pool in case you want to sneak in some quiet time, and because everything is contained within the resort—including five restaurants, snack bars, a Teens Club with games and hangout space and the Kidz Club with a small waterpark and counselors—you can stay worry-free as the kids explore, eat, and drink. The beach is clean and expansive, with plenty of sofas and lounge chairs to relax on, but the undercurrent is strong, so swimming isn’t allowed. However, if you’re visiting during whale season, you might catch a glimpse of these stunning creatures from the sand. The staff is helpful and friendly and the food is excellent, especially the overly abundant breakfast buffet, which includes Mexica entrees and pastries, and made-to-order quesadillas. Ready to venture out? The excursion desk will help you choose your journeys. 3. Hit the Wine Trail (Adeliepenguin/Dreamstime)When it comes to West Coast wine, Napa and Sonoma usually get the accolades. But the Valle de Guadalupe, just a 90-minute drive south of the California border, offers a premium, yet low-key and affordable, wine-tasting experience. More than 150 wineries now dot the region, which is green and lush and probably best visited on a weekday—away from the day-tripping crowds. Though wine-tasting is the focus, with a climate similar to a drier Rioja and a blend made from a mixture of French, Spanish, and Italian grapes grown in granite-rich soils, you won’t be disappointed with the seasonal dining and boutique hotels and inns. Stop by Adobe Guadalupe (adobeguadalupe.com) for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot house blends, not to mention pomegranates and olives straight from the property’s trees, then stay in one of six guest rooms named for archangels. You can also take a dip in the pool, go horseback riding, and taste the house olive oil. Though you won’t find many white varietals in this region, the winery Finca la Carrodilla (fincalacarrodilla.mx) offers a crisp, organic chenin blanc, which you can sip in its rooftop garden. The region's dining options are diverse: You can splurge on a five-course meal at Corazón de Tierra (corazondetierra.com), grab a taco from the Troika food truck (facebook.com/TroikaValle), or enjoy a picnic-style meal overlooking the El Mogor winery at Deckman’s (deckmans.com), the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Baja. 4. Chill, Surf, Shop, Eat, Repeat in Todos Santos This tiny town north of Cabo San Lucas is Baja’s answer to Tulum. A sleepy, eco-chic hideaway in the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, the town has been dubbed a Pueblo Mágico by the Mexican government—honored for its natural beauty, cultural richness, and hospitality. Most people, however, know it as the home of Hotel California. Surfers come from far and wide to ride the point breaks in San Pedrito Point and La Pastora, though newbies might consider a local surf camp like Mario Surf School (mariosurfschool.com) and stay close to Los Cerritos beach. Families can enjoy the calmer Playa Las Palmas for swimming and collecting shells. Plus there’s plenty on offer in the lively town, where art galleries, local crafts, and shops abound. Hungry? Baja-style fish tacos should not be missed at the La Copa Cocina at the Todos Santos Inn (todossantosinn.com), and can be enjoyed on the garden patio or inside the more stylish Iguana Lounge. 5. Don’t Miss “The Snorter” Head 20 miles south of Ensenada on a twisty, panoramic road to witness the spectacular marine geyser, La Bufadora. (Bufar is Spanish for “snort.”) The second-largest blowhole in America, created by sucking ocean waves and air into an underwater cave, the geyser is located on the tip of the Punta Banda peninsula and gushes every minute or so—sometimes even multiple times a minute. Watch and listen to the thunderous waterspout from an 80-foot observation ledge, though do keep in mind that it sometimes shoots more than 100 feet above sea level. Guided tours are available and usually include a dramatic telling of the local legend of a baby whale who, stuck in the cave, is doomed to spew water out its blowhole for all eternity. Not the most uplifting story, but this natural treasure is not to be missed. 6. Take a Hike Need a break from the sun, sand, and surf? Head to the Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir mountain region for clean, clear air and Pichaco del Diablo, the highest peak in Baja at 10,154 feet. With more than 140 species of plants, a fir-tree forest, and plenty of fauna to ogle, like muledeer and bighorn sheep, you can hike several marked trails, including the six-mile round-trip to El Altar. In 2002, five endangered California condors were reintroduced to the park, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the 28—out of 410 worldwide—that live there now. Come for the hiking, stay for the stars, which can be seen clearly at the park’s Observatorio Astronómico Nacional. Here you can look through three high-powered deep-space telescopes and get a tour inside this working observatory. Campsites are available to rent at the park entrance, but if glamping is more your speed, check out the four cabins near the ranger station. Another option: Reserve a small adobe cottage in the park with Baja Dark Skies (bajadarkaskies.wordpress.com) or book a room at the Rancho Meling (ranchomeling.com), a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch at the base of the mountain. 7. Rub Shoulders with the Stars (Sorin Colac/Dreamstime)Yes, it’s overrun with spring-breakers and other vacationers much of the time, but no trip to Baja is complete without a visit to the southernmost point of Cabo. For celebrity sightings, hit the Corridor, the remote, 20-mile stretch between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Take a drive to view the stunning, cavernous coastline—brimming with small khaki mountains, oceans, golf courses, and private villas, then stop at the Cape, a Thompson Hotel (thompsonhotels.com), for peaceful vistas and a sunset cocktail at the rooftop bar. Dinner should be reserved (weeks ahead, if possible) at Flora’s Field Kitchen at Flora Farms (flora-farms.com), a farm-to-table oasis of organic vegetation and a 150-acre ranch, hidden up a dirt lane past San Jose del Cabo marina. In addition to potential star-spotting and beer crafted at Flora’s Brewery, you’ll feast on seasonal dishes and 15 different types of pizza. Then, if you can muster the energy, hit the town in Cabo San Lucas, which is known for its rows of bars and clubs, including the Van Halen-helmed tequila-centric Cabo Wabo Cantina (cabowabocantina.com), where you can catch live acoustic music every night.

Budget Travel Lists

10 Most Relaxing Spas in America

Need a little R&R? Say no more! We’ve scoured the country to find the 10 most relaxing spas in the U.S. If you’re ready to unwind, pack a bag and head to one of these sanctuaries. 1. Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach, FL (Courtesy @acqualinaresort/Instagram)Take in breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean from one of the 98 impeccable guest rooms at this five-star resort and spa located on 4.5 beachfront acres in Sunny Isles Beach, Miami (one of our favorite cities for foodie adventures and more). Enjoy a soak in one of the resort’s three oceanfront swimming pools before retreating indoors to the property’s world-class, 20,000-square-foot spa. Its signature spa treatments include a full-body massage using hot volcanic stones, a hot salt stone massage, and a detoxifying body wrap and advanced body massage that targets cellulite, fluid retention, and skin tonicity. The spa also has a Finnish sauna, a crystal steam room, and a shower room with cool Arctic and warm Caribbean mists. 2. Lake Austin Spa Resort in Austin, TX Built on a secluded lakefront, this sprawling Texas getaway is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for a luxury resort with waterfront views. The resort offers more than 100 spa treatments and services, from seaweed body wraps and collagen-boosting facials to Thai massages and acupuncture. Guests can also enjoy any of the resort’s wide range of activities that are included in their stay such as a Mediterranean cooking class, outdoor yoga session, or canyon preserve hike. 3. Auberge du Soleil in Napa, CA Budget Travelers have always loved California wine country. Secluded inside a terraced, sun-kissed hillside amid 33-acres of heritage olive and oak trees, this Napa Valley resort has a spa surrounded by sweeping views of the wine country. Its “best of Auberge facial” uses advanced ingredients rich in marine collagen, powerful antioxidants, and exfoliating enzymes to provide immediate firming and facial contour results. Traveling with your significant other? Get a joint full-body exfoliation using crushed grape seeds, followed by a fragrant bath for two in a private garden where you’ll enjoy fresh fruit and wine before receiving side-by-side scalp and foot treatments, followed by full-body massages. 4. Encore spa at Wynn resort and casino in Las Vegas Sin City tops many traveler’s must-see list. This hotel spa may just be the definition of opulence. Featuring designer treatment rooms, the Wynn’s Encore spa sets a tranquil mood with glowing gold lanterns, life-size Buddhas, and blossoming orchids. For a relaxing full-body treatment order the Good Luck Ritual, which combines a custom massage, invigorating peppermint foot treatment, ultra-moisturizing hand therapy, and botanical scalp treatment. Have tired, achy feet? The Encore Foot Surrender will revitalize them by incorporating the use of steamed herbal poultices, reflex point therapy and a cooling peppermint foot treatment. 5. Shibui Spa at the Greenwich Hotel in New York City This Japanese-inspired wellness center is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Lanterns that softly illuminate the heated swimming pool set a soft ambience that will put your mind at ease. Consider getting the Bamboo Glow, a bamboo and lemongrass body scrub followed by a private shower with yuzu sea algae wash, a mint mineral bath, and a 60-minute, moisture-binding massage infused with bergamot, vetiver, and wild, Japanese lime. Spa guests also enjoy complimentary tea and dried fruits. 6. The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, PA A two-hour drive from New York City, this resort’s luxurious spa draws guests with its selection of creative body treatments, massages, facials, and salon services. Enjoy a soak in the facility’s activity pool with floor to ceiling windows, surrounded by nature, before retiring to one of the 27 treatment rooms for a European deep cleansing facial, Swedish magnesium massage, or Thai bodywork—a technique that uses stretching, point therapy, and breath work to create a sense of balance throughout the body. In addition, the spa specializes in pre-natal treatments that focus on rehydrating skin and promoting circulation. 7. Mii Amo in Sedona, AZ You’ll fall under Sedona’s spell at this ultra-private spa retreat nestled in a red-rock canyon that’s sacred to Native Americans. Guests can choose from a 3-, 4- or 7-night all-inclusive program that includes scheduled fitness classes, lectures, and two spa services per day. Opt for one of its indigenous-inspired therapies, such as the Soul Seeker treatment, where a master therapist uses guided imagery, energy soul journeying, emotional release, and breath work to help you achieve heightened awareness. 8. Sundara Inn & Spa in Wisconsin Dells, WI Tucked in a pine forest on the scenic outskirts of Wisconsin Dells, this resort’s spa is the perfect spot to disconnect and enjoy spa treatments that blend ancient wisdom with modern wellness techniques. Guests can choose from a wide range of spa treatments, including a coffee bean firming body wrap, exfoliating wrinkle reduction facial, or warm oil scalp massage. Also, the indoor bathhouse features an essential oil-infused hot pool with hydro jets, a cool plunge pool that improves circulation, a rainfall shower, and a steam room with aromas of rose and sandalwood. 9. Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe, NM (Courtesy @sunrisespringsnm/Instagram)With 70 tranquil acres of gardens, walking paths, and a scenic high desert landscape, this Santa Fe resort attracts guests from around the world to its wellness spa, which offers the best of Eastern and Western therapies. One of the spa’s cutting-edge treatments is a CBD full-body massage therapy that uses CBD oils and products grown and processed in Colorado to release tension in sore muscles and reduce inflammation in joints. The spa also offers—among many treatments—a facial that uses hot herbal towels and wild-crafted local herbs to gently soothe and tone skin. 10. The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY Founded in 1869, this Hudson Valley destination serves up skin and body treatments in a 30,000-square-foot eco-friendly spa, which includes 16 treatment rooms, relaxation verandas, solarium, 60-foot long indoor heated pool, and outdoor heated mineral pool. The spa offers more than 80 unique treatments, including a deep-heat massage with arnica oil helps calm the nerves and provides relief to over-used muscles. A nice bonus: both men’s and women’s changing rooms have a eucalyptus steam room and dry rock sauna.

Budget Travel Lists

8 U.S. Aviation Destinations That Belong on Your Bucket List

Whether you’re a hard-core aviation enthusiast (yes, #avgeeks is a thing) or just intrigued by the miracle of flight, there's a lot in store for in 2019. Step back in time to get inside the heads of the pioneers of aviation, like the Wright Brothers, then let your own dreams of flight take wing in a high-flying biplane ride. You can even spend the night at a new hotel that harkens back to the glamorous golden age of air travel. Here are eight bucket list experiences for today’s #avgeeks. 1. TWA Hotel: Jamaica, New York (Max Touhey) The stylish 512-room TWA Hotel (twahotel.com) at JFK’s Terminal 5, in New York City's most populous and diverse borough, Queens, is on track to preserve the romance and excitement of the Jet Age when it opens this spring. You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into 1962, or at the very least, like an extra in the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can. Guest rooms boast floor-to-ceiling windows, mid-century modern furnishings, and vintage rotary phones. Order an old-fashioned inside Connie, a 1958 Lockheed Constellation that’s been made over into a swanky cocktail lounge, or settle in at Paris Café, the latest restaurant by celebrated chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, featuring a menu inspired by TWA in-flight menus from the 1960s. 2. EAA AirVenture: Oshkosh, Wisconsin (EAA/Connor Madison) Known as the "World's Greatest Aviation Celebration," EAA AirVenture (eaa.org/en/airventure) soars over Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for seven days in July, attracting around 600,000 aviation enthusiasts. The annual fly-in convention features upwards of 3,000 showplanes, making Wittman Regional Airport the world’s busiest airport, if only for a few days. There are so many planes, in fact, that dozens of air traffic controllers are brought in to ensure smooth take-offs and landings. Daily air shows, a veterans' parade, and a 5K race on the runway, as well as dazzling aerobatics displays and parachute team demos, make EAA AirVenture a must for enthusiasts of the Golden Age of Aviation. 3. Wright Brothers National Memorial: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (Outer Banks Visitors Bureau) Closed for renovations since winter 2016, the Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center (nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm) on North Carolina’s Outer Banks reopened this past September to share the story of flight with new hands-on exhibits and artifacts, some on display for the first time—among them, a large piece of cloth from the 1903 Wright Flyer that was donated in 1960 by the Wright Family. Also new: a two-minute video that tells the story and science behind the Wright Brothers’ advances in flight. Meanwhile, a kid-friendly interactive Aspiration Wall invites visitors to share how they’ve overcome personal obstacles and the dreams they hope to make possible one day. 4. Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum: Mesa, Arizona (Visit Mesa) A hangar filled with historic military combat planes is just one of the attractions at the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum at Falcon Field (azcaf.org) in Mesa, a town with a strong draw for foodies, just outside Phoenix. After you tour the hangar, an education in military history, you can climb into the cockpit of a warbird, like a N2S-3 Stearman biplane, and take to the skies with a professional pilot. Can’t make it to Mesa? During the summer, look for the Flying Legends of Victory Tour between June and October, when three of the seven combat planes travel to 50 cities across the country to educate on the history of air combat and the role of these warbirds. 5. The Boneyard at Pima Air and Space Museum: Tucson, Arizona (Visit Tucson) The Pima Air & Space Museum’s Boneyard (pimaair.org) is home to more than 4,000 military aircraft. However, because the Boneyard is actually located on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, advance reservations and a security clearance are required at least 10 days in advance for a narrated bus tour around the property. On the museum’s central grounds, explore the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame, see planes in several hangars, and criss-cross the grounds to check out another 150 planes parked on the museum’s 80 acres. Sign up for a tram tour or one of two docent-guided walking tours. 6. Kansas Aviation Museum: Wichita, Kansas As the Air Capital of the World, Wichita, Kansas, should be a top priority on anyone’s list—whether you're an aviation geek or just someone interested in American history. It's the city where iconic aviation brands like Cessna and Stearman were born, and where Bombardier and Airbus Americas still design aircraft. Start at the Kansas Aviation Museum (kansasaviationmuseum.org), housed in the original Wichita Airport and showcasing Wichita’s aviation history, including the debut of B-47 and B-52 bombers. Next, brush up on the city’s aviation leaders at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum before stopping for a pint at Aero Plains Brewing, where the bar is made from the wing of a Beechcraft Model 18. 7. Wings & Waves Waterpark: McMinnville, Oregon (Visit McMinnville) Cool off and make a big splash at Wings & Waves Waterpark in McMinnville, Oregon (wingsandwaveswaterpark.com). At possibly the only educational waterpark in the U.S., you’ll find 10 waterslides, including four that exit from the fuselage of a real Boeing 747, as well as a hands-on science center on the role of water in everyday life. The waterpark is just one part of a larger museum campus, which also includes the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum where you’ll find World War II artifacts, booster rockets, and high-speed reconnaissance aircraft. Air Force Two, the aircraft used by first ladies and vice presidents, touches down at the museum for guided tours this spring. 8. Aviation Trail: Dayton, Ohio (TourismOhio) Take a walk or ride your bike along the Aviation Trail (aviationtrailinc.org) in Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of aviation. Along the trail, you’ll find 17 flight-related museums and historical sites, including the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, home to a space shuttle and four of nine presidential aircrafts, including the Air Force One that returned President John F. Kennedy’s body from Dallas. The trail begins at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, where visitors learn about the early years of the Wright Brothers, and meanders its way across Dayton, making stops at the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum, the Wright Brothers Memorial, and the Tri-State Warbird Museum, which focuses on the history of aircraft used during war throughout history.

List pin
List pin
National ParksBudget Travel Lists

10 State Parks That Give National Parks a Run for Their Money

There’s no denying the allure of this country’s majestic national parks. But there's plenty of natural beauty to go around, and many state parks offer outdoor experiences that shouldn't be overlooked. State parks tend to have lower entrance fees and more manageable crowds than the marquee-name national parks, plus there’s the added bonus of not being affected by pesky government shutdowns. Here are 10 fabulous state parks to get you started. 1. Custer State Park: Custer, South Dakota (Courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks) A free-roaming herd of 1,500 bison is the main attraction at this park in the scenic Black Hills, but there’s plenty more wildlife to be spotted along its 18-mile loop road, including pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and even feral burros. Needles Highway, a popular 14-mile scenic drive through the park, is dotted with needle-shaped rock formations, two tunnels, and sweeping views of evergreen forests and lush meadows. Weekly park license, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park 2. Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, Arizona Home to a 21-foot stalactite that ranks as the third-longest in the world, this multi-room cave located 45 miles southwest of Tucson has only been open to the public since 1999. Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, meaning that its formations are still growing, and the park offers two guided tours that explore several different areas. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so it’s great for stargazing. Tours, from $23 for adults and $13 for youth ages 7-13 (reservations recommended); azstateparks.com/kartchner 3. Petit Jean State Park: Morrilton, Arkansas (Courtesy Petit Jean State Park) Central Arkansas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a mountaintop adventure, but that’s just what Petit Jean State Park offers. Perched atop the 1200ft Petit John Mountain, this park has 20 miles of hiking trails that feature captivating geological formations such as giant sandstone boulders, stone arches, rock shelters, and box canyons. The park’s historic Mather Lodge, a rustic, cozy accommodation built of logs and stone, is a great option if you’re staying a few days. Free entry; arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park 4. Anza-Borrego State Park: San Diego County, California A remote and rugged landscape located in southeast California’s Colorado desert, Anza-Borrego State Park has 600,000 acres of varied terrain including badlands and slot canyons. The popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail takes hikers on a rocky stroll to an almost surreal oasis filled with California palms. When you’re visiting, save time to check out the collection of more than 130 giant metal creatures built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda in the nearby town of Borrego Springs. Day fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov/ansaborrego 5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Moab, Utah It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it was a suitable stand-in for filming the final scene of the classic film Thelma & Louise. In other words, the views from Dead Horse State Park are fantastic. Just 25 miles from Moab, this park sits 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River and looks out over Canyonlands National Park. Visitors can pick their favorite view from one of eight different lookout points along the seven-mile rim trail. Entry fee, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse 6. Watkins Glen State Park: Watkins Glen, New York With steep, plant-covered cliffs, small caves, and misty waterfalls, this state park in New York’s Finger Lakes region feels a little like stepping into a fairy tale. Visit in spring, summer, or fall, when you can hike the Gorge Trail, a two-mile journey that descends 400 feet, past 19 waterfalls into an idyllic narrow valley. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty from above on one of the dog-friendly rim trails. Season runs mid-may to early November. Day fee, $8 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov/parks/142 7. Tettegouche State Park: Silver Bay, Minnesota Eight great state parks dot the 150-mile stretch of Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, but Tettegouche stands out for its scenic hiking opportunities through forests, past waterfalls, and along the shoreline. The easy Shovel Point trail takes hikers along jagged, lakeside cliffs to a dramatic lookout over Lake Superior. There are also three loop trails featuring waterfalls. One-day park permit fee, $7; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html 8. Valley of Fire State Park: Overton, Nevada Drive just 50 miles northeast of the bustling Las Vegas strip, and you’ll find a peaceful valley filled with dramatic red-sandstone formations that take on the appearance of flames on sunny days. The popular Atlatl Rock trail features a giant boulder balanced on a sandstone outcrop 50 feet above the ground. Climb its metal staircase to see the prominent ancient petroglyphs.Entrance fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire 9. Montana de Oro State Park: San Luis Obispo County, California (Courtesy California State Parks) Spanish for “mountain of gold,” Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wildflowers that cover the area each spring, but you can find colorful views year-round on the seven miles of rocky, undeveloped coastline that comprise the western edge of this state park in California’s central coast region. The 4.6-mile Bluff Trail is a great way to see a large swath of the beaches, tide pools, and natural bridges in the park, or you can hike the Hazard and Valencia Peak trails for summit views. Pebbly Spooner’s Cove Beach serves as the park’s central hub.Entry fee, $20 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov 10. Baxter State Park: Piscataquis County, Maine With no electricity, running water, or paved roads within its boundaries, this 200,000-acre park in North Central Maine offers mountain, lake, and forest adventures for those who like their wilderness truly wild. The park’s 5,200-foot Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges to explore, and five pond-side campgrounds that offer canoe rentals. Entry fee, $15 per vehicle; baxterstatepark.org

ADVERTISEMENT