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    Fargo,

    North Dakota

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    Fargo is a city in and the county seat of Cass County, North Dakota, United States. Being the most populous city in the state, it accounts for 16% of the state population. According to the 2020 United States Census estimates, its population was 125,209, making it the 222nd-most populous city in the United States. Fargo, along with its twin city of Moorhead, Minnesota, and the adjacent cities of West Fargo, North Dakota; and Dilworth, Minnesota; form the core of the Fargo-Moorhead, ND-MN Metropolitan Statistical Area. The MSA had a population of 248,591 in 2020. Fargo was founded in 1871 on the Red River of the North floodplain. It is a cultural, retail, health care, educational, and industrial center for southeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. North Dakota State University is located in the city.
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    Budget Travel Lists

    15 unbelievably cheap private islands you can rent in the US

    Hotels? Too full of other guests. Vacation rentals? Too close to other people. A private island? Just right. Monmouth, Maine A classic A-frame house, hammock, rope swing, and canoe all await you on this private island on Maine’s Annabessacook Lake – for as low as $150 per night. The price includes a private ferry ride to and from the island for all guests and their luggage. Guests can spend the day walking the island’s 14 acres of trails, swimming, and kayaking, and then cook dinner in the fully-equipped kitchen or on a campfire under the stars. Juggler Lake, Minnesota This cheap private island on Juggler Lake is a budget hiker’s paradise, with 18 acres of lush forest to explore, as well as wild strawberries, ginger, and morels to forage for. Only about an hour and a half from Fargo, the island offers a relaxing nature-focused getaway for anyone looking for some peace and quiet. The A-frame cabin sleeps up to 10 people in three bedrooms and has all the amenities – including three patios, floating diving dock, and a fully-equipped kitchen. A boat is available for rent for just $200, and the private island itself costs only $375 per night. Hilton Head, South Carolina When you rent the Private Islands of Old House Cay, you get not just one private island but three – all for the low price of $536 a night. This lowcountry group of islands is just 10 minutes from Hilton Head, but feels like a whole world away. The main island included with the rental comes with an off-the-grid, modern home that’s equipped with all the creature comforts you’ll need for a relaxing getaway. A tour boat passing between islands at Thousand Islands National Park © Getty Images / iStockphoto Thousand Islands, New York For a cheap private island getaway in the Thousand Islands, rent Quadkin Island. The island’s spacious five-bedroom house can be yours (along with up to 11 of your friends) for as low as $471 per night – spectacular sunsets, swimming, and boating included. Hinesburg, Vermont Named Dogatraz Island, this one-acre getaway is perfect for pets and their owners. Set on Lake Iroquois, this Vermont escape offers swimming, fishing, bird-watching, and incredible sunsets. The two-bedroom house has all the amenities (including potable water, which isn’t always a guarantee on an island). A cozy outdoor seating area, fire pit, and long dock complete this outdoorsy rental. This cheap private island can host four people (and any number of dogs) for a mere $379 per night – dog treats not included, but kayaks and canoes are. Republic Island, Michigan For as little as $106 per night, Republic Island on Michigan’s Michigamme River can be rented to groups of four or less. The private island hosts a three-bedroom cedar log cabin that was built in the 1800s, and is surrounded by two-acres of densely wooded land. A boat is included with the rental to close the 300ft gap to the shoreline. Bremen, Maine This log cabin nestled on a private island in Maine can be rented for just $150 a night by groups of six or less. The gorgeously designed house features a fieldstone fireplace, cathedral ceiling, and a screened-in porch. The island is a short row away from mainland Damariscotta, and there are three kayaks and life jackets available for guests to use to explore the surrounding waters. Explore miles of pristine shoreline in Minnesota © GeorgeBurba / Getty Images Lake of the Woods, Minnesota Blackbird Island, on Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods, is just one mile from Canadian waters and provides the perfect base for exploring the 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline nearby. The private island’s charming cabin sleeps up to eight, and rental prices start at just $143 per night. Poulsbo, Washington From the shores of Poulsbo, Washington, guests are ferried over to their private paradise on Island Lake via an electric raft (a service that’s included in the $304/night rate). The island’s main house sleeps up to eight people, and for stays of four nights or longer, a second cabin will be made available for the group’s use so they can spread out even more. Gloucester, Rhode Island The large cabin on this private island comfortably sleeps 11 people, so a big group might pay just $31 per person per night – a true bargain considering the beautiful sandy beaches, rowboat, beach chairs, and picnic table that come along with the rental. The island is kept natural and wild, so there’s no running water or electricity, but there are solar lights, a wood-burning stove, firepit, and gas grill. Douglas, Massachusetts Forget camping – a private island in Douglas State Forest can be rented for almost the same price as a campground spot. Dodd Island sleeps eight people, bringing the cost down to $34 per person per night. The 7-acre cheap private island is perched on Whitins Reservoir, a warm and shallow lake with visibility down to 40ft, making it a paradise for snorkelers and divers. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire © DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire Foley Island is a private island surrounded by the beautiful waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. A secluded swimming area and over-water sundeck make this a true island paradise, and it can all be rented by up to 12 people for just $386 per night. Sands Island, North Carolina Sands Island rents for $325 per night and gives groups of up to four 32-acres of undeveloped land to explore. The private island’s two-bedroom cottage is the only building on the entire island and was built from locally milled pine. It uses solar power to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment. Eagle Island, Georgia A 1500-sq-ft house with wrap-around screened porch, hot tub, and wood-burning fireplace can be yours for as little as $475 per night on Eagle Island, which includes access to the entire private island. Boat rentals, fishing tours, and eco-adventures are also available to book at an extra cost. Swansboro, North Carolina This famous private island in Swansboro, North Carolina, has appeared on the Island Hunters television show. If you missed the episode, the island has a small cabin that sleeps up to four people. Surrounded by white sandy beaches, the island is great for relaxing, but not too far from civilization (you can kayak right up to nearby bars and restaurants with dock entry). Rates for this ultra-cheap private island start at $101 per night. This article originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.

    News

    Allegiant Airlines adds new budget routes for summer 2020

    Allegiant Airlines has announced an expanded list of low-cost flights beginning in summer 2020. We've rounded up all the information you need about these routes! Planning a trip to any of these destinations? Let us know in the comments! Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found only at Allegiant.com. The new seasonal routes to Las Vegas via McCarran International Airport (LAS) include: San Diego, California via San Diego International Airport (SAN) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $43.* Fort Wayne, Indiana via Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $69.* Tucson, Arizona via Tucson International Airport (TUS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $49.* The new seasonal routes to San Diego via San Diego International Airport (SAN) include: Las Vegas, Nevada via McCarran International Airport (LAS) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $43.* Tulsa, Oklahoma via Tulsa International Airport (TUL) – beginning June 3, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $69.* Billings, Montana via Billings Logan International Airport (BIL) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $59.* Medford, Oregon via Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (MFR) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $59.* Sioux Falls, South Dakota via Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $69.* Idaho Falls, Idaho via Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $59.* The new seasonal route to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) from Central Illinois Regional Airport at Bloomington-Normal (BMI) begins June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $49.* The new seasonal routes to Nashville International Airport (BNA) include: Bozeman, Montana via Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $66.* Sioux Falls, South Dakota via Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Norfolk, Virginia via Norfolk International Airport (ORF) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Peoria, Illinois via General Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport (PIA) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Tulsa, Oklahoma via Tulsa International Airport (TUL) – beginning June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Fargo, North Dakota via Fargo International Airport (FAR) – beginning June 4, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Flint, Michigan via Bishop International Airport (FNT) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Greensboro, North Carolina via Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes to Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) include: Grand Rapids, Michigan via Gerald R. Ford Airport (GRR) – beginning May 7, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Ft. Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning May 14, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes from Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) include: Allentown, Pennsylvania via Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) – beginning May 14, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Savannah, Georgia via Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Ft. Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) include: Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville International Airport (AVL) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Grand Rapids, Michigan via Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Des Moines International Airport (DSM) include: Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Memphis, Tennessee via Memphis International Airport (MEM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Gerald R. Ford Airport (GRR) include: Los Angeles, California via Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $66.* Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 7, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 8, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Austin, Texas via Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Myrtle Beach, South Carolina via Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes from William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) include: Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Asheville, North Carolina via Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Savannah, Georgia via Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) – beginning May 28, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* Destin / Fort Walton Beach, Florida via Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $33.* The new seasonal routes to Savannah International Airport (SAV) include: Belleville, Illinois via MidAmerica St. Louis Airport (BLV) – beginning June 6, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning May 28, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Punta Gorda, Florida via Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Newburgh, New York via New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) – beginning May 20, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes to Norfolk International Airport (ORF) include: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Columbus, Ohio via Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Nashville, Tennessee Via Nashville International Airport (BNA) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* The new seasonal routes to Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) include: Nashville, Tennessee via Nashville International Airport (BNA) – beginning May 22, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Norfolk, Virginia via Norfolk International Airport (ORF) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $44.* Memphis, Tennessee via Memphis International Airport (MEM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) include: Boston, Massachusetts via Logan International Airport (BOS) – beginning May 14, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Dayton, Ohio via Dayton International Airport (DAY) – beginning May 14, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $55.* Houston, Texas via William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Chicago, Illinois via Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW) – beginning June 5, 2020 with one-way fares as low as $33.* Newburgh, New York via New York Stewart International Airport (SWF) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Memphis International Airport (MEM) include: Des Moines, Iowa via Des Moines International Airport (DSM) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Palm Beach, Florida via Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) – beginning May 21, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Cincinnati, Ohio via Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) – beginning May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal routes from Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) include: Providence, Rhode Island via T.F. Green Airport (PVD) – beginning June 5, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* Knoxville, Tennessee via McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $44.* Elmira, New York via Elmira Corning Regional Airport (ELM) – beginning June 6, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal route from Louisville International Airport (SDF) to Charleston International Airport (CHS) begins May 22, 2020 with fares as low as $55.* The new seasonal route from Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) to Albuquerque International Airport (ABQ) begins June 4, 2020 with fares as low as $66.* Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found only at Allegiant.com. *About the introductory one-way fares: Seats and dates are limited and fares are not available on all flights. Flights must be purchased by Feb. 12, 2020 for travel by Aug. 15-17, 2020, depending on route. Price displayed includes taxes, carrier charges & -government fees. Fare rules, routes and schedules are subject to change without notice. Optional baggage charges and additional restrictions may apply. For more details, optional services and baggage fees, please visit Allegiant.com.

    Inspiration

    Locals Know Best: Fargo, North Dakota

    If you’re a student of American trivia, you might know that Fargo, North Dakota’s most populous town, which sits on the Red River Valley of the Great Plains, is named for William Fargo, the founder of the Wells Fargo Express Company. Or you might know that it was referred to as the “Gateway to the West” once the Northern Pacific Railroad was up and running through the area. Or that it was essentially rebuilt after a massive fire decimated 31 downtown blocks in 1893. But chances are everything you know about Fargo you owe to filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, whose 1996 kooky crime drama (and present FX series of the same name) gave the town pop culture street cred. Today, Fargo is an energetic hub of creativity with a youthful vibe. In 2014, Forbes magazine ranked it number four among the fastest-growing small towns in the US. To get the lowdown the town, we checked in with Alicia Underlee Nelson, who curates Prairiestylefile.com, a site that focuses on what's unique and local in the upper Midwest and Canada's prairie provinces. She's also the author of “North Dakota Beer: A Heady History.” She grew up about 45 minutes away and just moved back after 12 years in Minneapolis. She’s seen the difference the relatively few years can make.   ARTS & CRAFTS Fargo’s amazingly well-preserved downtown has undergone changes in the past few years, but none of them have impinged on its historic integrity. Where people once went there for basic shopping needs, it’s evolved into an arts and culture district. The Plains Museum is a major local art institution, what with its collection of 20th and 21st century works. But Alicia always tells people to hit the various galleries when they come to town. Gallery 4, which was established in the 1970s and is one of the oldest coops in town, and the sweeping Ecce Gallery have great openings each month, Alicia notes. Translation? Free party. Both feature regional artists and bill themselves as springboards for new talent. But art here is not constrained to the confines of four walls. Or passive viewing, for that matter. Anyone who has chalk or pastels or spray paint can make his mark on the public art wall, a blast of color tucked away in an alley. “Basically, there are very few rules,” Alicia says about it. There’s a longstanding local pride in time-honored crafts here, too. “North Dakota is not pretentious at all. We’re super-open and welcoming and friendly. There’s a strong tradition of craftsmanship here. A lot of people quilt and paint and make their own furniture. There’s a real appreciation for people who make art,” she says. But if classics crafts aren’t your thing, she’ll point you to Unglued, a shop where you can pick up any and all kinds of modern indie crafts from region. Case in point: upcycled bowties by local artist Ashley N. Dedan, who makes accessories with clothing scraps under the label Aendee. Alicia also recommends downtown institution Zandbroz, a mashup of a bookstore, a variety shop, and jewelry purveyor. Browsing around here might seem akin to poking around a museum of curios. Or you could pick up some local goodies at Sweet Dreams Confections. Go for the homemade fudge, gelato, and sodas, stay for the from-scratch soup and salad at the shop's cozy, chill coffee bar.  READ: Locals Know Best: Savannah Maybe the Coen brothers, who are known for their wacky, if often dark, sense of humor, were drawn to Fargo for its quirk factor, and there are indeed a few unusual places to visit. Alicia calls out Scheels, an outpost of a national sporting goods chain, but this locale features an indoor ferris wheel, shooting games, and--wait for it….. statues of US presidents. “You can go for a ferris wheel ride in the middle of winter. You wouldn’t think it if you were going in to buy basketball shorts, but you can. It’s a strange place,” she said, noting that you might spot a bride and groom getting their wedding photos taken there. It’s also the place to go for North Dakota State University gear. The team plays across the street in the Fargodome, but regardless of whether you’re a football fan, if you’re in town during a weekend game, make sure to hit the tailgate party. “It’s seriously one of the best parties in town. There’s a marching band and free games. Plenty of people don’t go to games, they just go to hang out.” NOW THEY’RE COOKING The creative vibe shines through in the restaurants here, too. Rhombus Guys Pizza might throw you for a loop if you go in expecting you basic average pie. Among their extensive veggie pie options is the tater tots hot dish pizza, which Alicia swears is better than a plate of perfectly fried tater tots. Its upstairs patio is another reason it’s worth visiting. Locals here are obsessed with their patios in the warmer months, which Alicia attributes to the winters being treacherous. Blackbird sits on the slightly less eccentric side, offering wood-fired pizzas that are locally minded down to the flour. (“The guy’s obsessed with dough,” Alicia says.) READ: Locals Know Best: Sacramento For something a bit more high-end, Mezzaluna comes highly recommended. But despite its fine dining appeal, the restaurant also offers excellent late-night happy hour regularly and a midnight brunch on occasion in the colder months. “They announce it online, and it’s worth stalking their website for when they announce it.” Speaking of late-night, no matter how fun it is to get caught up in the hype of trendy restaurants, diners remain a beloved here. Krolls Diner, an outpost of a small chain, is a retro dining car where you can kick back in a sparkly booth and order classic diner grub or German staples, like the beloved knoefla soup. The fact that its website is www.sitdownandeat.com should cue you in to the light humored attitude of this joint and its heavy food. German food is also the star at Wurst Bier Hall, which has tons of beers on tap and communal tables. When your sweet tooth gets the best of you, the best dessert in town are found at Sandy's Donuts, which has two locations in town. “Everyone says their own donut place is the best, but this really is,” Alicia declares. “Just get there early,” she advises. The flavors rotate all the time and include special creations for game days and holidays. There’s also an impressive lunch menu of salads and hot and cold sandwiches at the downtown location. And best of all, each meal comes with a free donut. WHAT’S BREWING In summer 2017, Alicia published her book "North Dakota Beer," so she is intimately acquainted with craft brewers in her hometown and beyond. For an understanding of what’s become a strong craft beer scene in North Dakota, you’ll want to pay a visit to Fargo Brewing Company, the first in town. Located about a 10 minute walk north of downtown, it remains a local favorite, drawing people not only for the excellent beer, but also for the food trucks, the chill industrial vibe, and frequent tasting events. Then later, in 2016, they opened Fargo Brewing Company Ale House in South Fargo where they serve food designed to pair with their brews as well as some quirky bites that only true suds lovers could dream up. Case in point: an ice cream sandwich with the cookie part made with spent grains from the brewery. Drekker Brewing, located right downtown, has a more polished appearance. Alicia recommends taking their grain-to-glass tour, not least because all the proceeds go to charity. The brewers’ interest in artistry extends far beyond beer. Local art adorns the walls in the taproom as well as their packaging. (One of Alicia’s favorite local artists, Punchgut, created the dynamic graffiti-style cans for the brewers.) They also host live music each weekend, game nights, and late-night craft fairs. Needless to say, it’s a lively hangout. And although they only have a small snacks menu, you can plan to stay for a while since they encourage ordering from outside restaurants. Kilstone Brewing is less flashy and more tucked away in a low-profile space in an industrial near the interstate highway. Once you’re inside, though, Alicia says it’s really accessible and, what’s more, "they rock bingo," she declares. Speaking of tucked away, if cocktails are more your speed, The Boiler Room is a chill hotspot that draws revelers for its craft cocktails and creative American fare. The basement locale, which you enter through a back alley, also offers cocktail classes.

    Inspiration

    Sierra Gold Country

    With a flick of the reins, the driver urged his sturdy horses into a gallop as the lumbering old stagecoach approached an incline in the dusty road ahead. Bouncing behind him, my wife, Sandy, and I grabbed the edge of our hardwood seats and held on tightly. "Keep your eyes open," the driver shouted over the rackety din. "We might run into bandits around the next bend." And, sure enough, we did. Stagecoach? Bandits? What's going on here? As excited as kids, we were reliving the romance of the 1849 California Gold Rush. Stagecoaches like the one to which we clung once linked the mining camps that sprang up in the rugged foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The rare chance to ride in an authentic coach was just one historical episode among many in our four-day, 540-mile drive into Gold Country. Though some forty-niners struck it rich, you won't need a bag of nuggets to explore the region, which has become a popular weekend retreat for folks from the nearby San Francisco Bay Area. This is good budget travel territory, where appealing lodgings and Old West-style caf,s come at affordable prices. Much of what you will want to see and do is free-or almost so. Speaking of nuggets, many visitors still pan for gold in the rushing streams that cascade out of the Sierras. And with a quick lesson in the art of handling the pan-offered throughout Gold Country-you might go home with a bit of gold dust, a nugget, or even your own bonanza. California still mines millions of dollars of gold annually. But panning is hard work; I know firsthand. For less-demanding fun: Go white-water rafting; tour a former gold mine; view one of the world's largest gold nuggets (13 pounds); hike among giant sequoia trees; quaff a beer in an authentic miner's saloon; or sip (for free) the very fine wines of Amador County, where more than 20 wineries are clustered in the sunny hills just outside the town of Plymouth. Relics of the legendary quest for gold are everywhere on this very scenic drive-in the crumbling stone walls of a former Wells Fargo office or the rusting machinery of abandoned mines. But the principal vestiges of the colorful era are the onetime camps and boomtowns scattered about the hills wherever gold was discovered, some all but hidden now down shady country roads. Many became decaying ghost towns, but others have prospered from tourism, like Angels Camp, where Mark Twain was inspired to write The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The two once-rollicking towns of Columbia and Coloma (site of the first gold discovery) have been carefully preserved as state historic parks, where the Gold Rush story is excitingly told. The discovery had a profound impact on California and America, uniting the eastern seaboard with the vast western lands that had recently been won from Mexico. As you tour, count the easygoing history lesson as a value-added bonus of the drive. Getting started For us, Gold Country made an ideal add-on to a trip to San Francisco, getting us out of the city and into the quieter countryside. The San Francisco Bay Area's three major airports-San Francisco International, Oakland International, and San Jose International-are reasonably convenient to the drive. Airfares into Oakland and San Jose, served by Southwest Airlines, the nation's largest no-frills airline, tend to be cheaper. No discount airline currently flies into San Francisco. When we made our arrangements, the Internet showed seven car-rental agencies at Oakland's airport-including Budget (800/527-0700, budget.com), Thrifty (800/847-4389, thrifty.com), and Dollar (800/800-4000, dollar.com)-all offering a compact car for a week with unlimited miles for about $150. The main road threading Gold Country, California Route 49, is aptly dubbed the "Mother Lode Highway." Mostly two lanes and endlessly winding, it stretches 310 miles north from the foothill town of Oakhurst, just outside Yosemite National Park, to Vinton, north of Lake Tahoe. You may want to tackle the entire route, but I've shortened the itinerary to focus on the most historically interesting and scenic segment. (Lodging rates listed are for two people during summer high season.) Day one: On the road San Francisco to Mariposa, 215 miles One good reason to make Mariposa your first stop in Gold Country is that it still has the look of a frontier town that briefly lured fortune hunters from around the world. But the number one reason, I think, is to gaze in awe at the huge, 13-pound Fricot Nugget. One of the largest and finest specimens in the world, it was found in 1865 in the Middle Fork on the American River about 100 miles north. Value: about $1 million to $3 million-if you discount all historical worth. Imagine stumbling across it. Sort of makes you want to spend a little time panning on your own, no matter how strenuous. The crystalline nugget, bright and shiny, is displayed at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum (adults, $2), where exhibits provide a good introduction to gold-mining techniques. The first forty-niners sifted the rivers flowing down the western slopes of the Sierras for placer gold, flakes, and nuggets swept from the mountains as gravel by raging currents. By the mid-1850s, however, the easy gold was gone, and big investment money was needed to tunnel for the hard-rock gold that remained. To learn more about this aspect of the frantic gold quest, step into the museum's 175-foot-long simulated mine tunnel. It's so realistic, I sort of hurried through, fearful that the ceiling might cave in. Save time, too, for the Mariposa Museum and History Center ($3), which displays even more gold-mining artifacts, including a typical one-room miner's cabin, a giant freight wagon, and a stamp mill-a monster machine that crushed ore to particles of sand, releasing the gold from the quartz. Excerpts from miners' letters sent back home to family and friends detail the hardscrabble life in a mining camp. Details From San Francisco, take I-80 and I-580 east to I-5 south. At Gustine, head east on Route 140 via Merced to Mariposa. The stretch from Gustine to Merced cuts through the San Joaquin Valley, one of the world's most productive agricultural areas. In summer, sniff the rich scent of ripening fruit and vegetables. In Mariposa, stay at the eight-room Sierra View Motel (800/627-8439), $59; the 28-room E.C. Lodge Yosemite (209/742-6800), $69; or the 77-room Miner's Inn Motel (888/646-2244), $75. Dine at the Miner's Inn Motel; the barbecued-chicken plate is just $9.95. Information 888/554-9013, homeofyosemite.com. Day two: A Hollywood favorite Mariposa to Jackson, via Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 145 miles Just north of Mariposa, Route 49 plunges for about 50 miles into a mostly untouched land of deep canyons and rumpled hills blanketed by sunburned grass. Here and there cattle graze. Traffic is light, and providently so. At times, the road edges steep precipices, ultimately dropping down the side in ten-miles-per-hour hairpin turns. At Coulterville, detour briefly off the highway to stroll Main Street. The sleepy little village, where adobe structures dating back to 1851 still stand, calls itself "the most unspoiled Gold Rush town in California." Indeed. We turned into a parking space just off Main and flushed a covey of wild quail. Still a gold-mining town, Coulterville doesn't discourage the legend that "When it rains, sometimes you find gold in the streets." Jamestown, another Old West charmer, is a Hollywood star. It served as a backdrop for High Noon and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as well as countless other movies and TV shows. Here, Railtown 1897 State Historic Park ($2 for a tour) re-creates turn-of-the-century mountain railroading. Its historic steam locomotives and cars claim title as "the movie railroad," having appeared in Little House on the Prairie and other TV shows and films. In Columbia State Historic Park catch a 12-minute ride ($5) into the piney woods on a stagecoach. But watch out for Trigger Mortis, who might pop out from behind a monster boulder. He's a not-so-threatening masked bandit easily talked out of robbing passengers of wallets, watches, chewing gum, and other valuables. At ride's end, parched from the sun and dust, we slaked our thirst at the Douglass Saloon, downing a mug of homemade sarsaparilla, on tap for $1. Gold was first discovered in the area in 1850, and in one month 6,000 fortune hunters arrived. Before the placer deposits ran out, Columbia produced about $87 million in gold, most of it weighed on the set of scales displayed in the Wells Fargo office. Unlike many early settlements, the town, which grew to 15,000 in its heyday, never succumbed to fire, vandalism, or the elements, nor was it ever completely deserted. The best preserved of the boomtowns, its oak-shaded Main Street, stretching four blocks, is lined with two- and three-story wood and brick buildings housing a mixture of museums and shops. Over-hanging balconies and wood sidewalks reflect the frontier heritage. At Matelot Gulch Mine Supply Store, sign up for a gold-panning lesson ($5) and learn for yourself that panning is harder than it looks. For the price, you get a pan and a packet of sand "salted" with a fleck of gold so you recognize what you are looking for. Dip the pan in water and swirl gently again and again, trusting that the gold, which is heavier than the silt, sinks to the bottom of the pan. From Columbia, continue on to Angels Camp, and then detour east here for 23 miles on Route 4 into the lofty Sierras. The goal is Calaveras Big Trees State Park ($2 per car) and its impressive stand of giant sequoia redwoods. To see them up close, take the easy one-and-a-half-mile hike on North Grove Trail, where some sequoias-the largest living things on earth-grow nearly 30 feet in diameter at the base. In 1852, a grizzly hunter stumbled into the grove; his was the Western world's first recorded glimpse of these magnificent trees. Like gold, they astonish those who lay eyes on them as yet another remarkable feature of California. En route back to Angels Camp, take a walk through Murphys, another former mining camp turned vibrant weekender's retreat, and then end your day in Jackson. On Main Street at California Street, we recently discovered Hein & Co., a huge warehouse of bargain-priced used books. We stuffed every pocket of our suitcases with the armful we carried away. Details From Mariposa, take Route 49 north to Jackson. The detour on Route 4 from Angels Camp to Calaveras Big Trees, 23 miles (each way), adds about two hours to your day if you hike the trail. Stay in Jackson at the 36-room Jackson Gold Lodge (209/223-0486), $55 weekdays/$65 weekends; or the 119-room Best Western Amador Inn (800/543-5221), $79 weekdays/$84 weekends. Dine on Mexican dishes with the locals at Jos,'s; the chile relleno plate, $9.95. Information 209/223-0350, amadorcountychamber.com. Day three: Where it all began Jackson to Auburn, 60 miles Don't let the short distance fool you; the day ahead is full. If you are in Jackson on a Saturday or Sunday, you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast before catching the 10 a.m. opening of the Kennedy Gold Mine ($9). It's reputed to have been the richest and deepest gold mine in California. Preserved as a museum of Gold Rush history, the above-ground structures-the mine office, the changing house, the dynamite storage shed, the stamp mill-can be seen on 90-minute escorted or self-guided tours. If the mine is closed, take Jackson Gate Road (Main Street extended) behind the mine to see the Kennedy Tailings Wheels, four massive, Ferris wheel-like structures (two standing, two collapsed) that once lifted tons of gravel over two hills. They are an especially photogenic relic. You can frame the hillside mine structures through the giant spokes of the standing wheel. In the town of Plymouth just ahead, look for Shenandoah Road, a turn to the right. It's the gateway to Amador County Wine Country, a cluster of more than 20 fine wineries with tasting rooms that don't charge a penny to sip. Their red zinfandels are said to be among the finest in the world. In summer, the rolling hills are traced by rows of vines hanging heavy with ripening grapes. We thought we were in Tuscany. And then, just ahead is Villa Toscano (209/245-3800, general information), a vineyard-encircled winery with a tasting room designed to look like an ancient Tuscan villa. Classical statues line the walkway and fountains splash in the garden. Even wine, we recently learned, has a link to forty-niner gold. Newly rich, the lucky miners spurred a new economy providing them with comfortable lodgings and fine dining. Soon enough, Gold Country boasted more wineries than the rest of the state. Justification enough, we figure, to stop at two more wineries before heading on. In a topsy-turvy way, you'll arrive at the site where the Gold Rush began-now the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park ($4 per car) in Coloma-only near the end of the drive. No matter; you will have acquired the background to fully appreciate the significance of what happened here. In the 1840s, John Sutter was assembling an empire for himself in the nearby Sacramento Valley. He needed wood, so he went into partnership with James W. Marshall to build a sawmill in the Coloma Valley along the American River. The mill was almost complete when Marshall found his gold. Hordes scurried to Coloma, creating an overnight town of thousands. From Coloma, miners spread out to other streams and canyons north and south pursuing reports of other strikes. The rush was on. By 1857, however, the placer gold had given out, and Coloma became a quiet grape-growing town. Still quiet, much of Coloma is now incorporated into the park. In mid-summer, the American River, which slices through the preserve, draws big crowds to raft, wade, or swim in its rock-strewn channel. On the far shore, an area is set aside for recreational gold panning, and a park concessionaire provides lessons. "Does anyone ever find gold?" I recently asked John Hutchinson, a senior park aide. "Some do," he said, "if they work hard enough and long enough." On occasion, he has scored a bit of gold himself. Though a swim is tempting, Sandy and I set out dutifully to walk the park's interpretive trail, which follows the shoreline. A replica of Marshall's sawmill sits back from the water next to a weathered cabin used by his workmen. Further on, the trail turns abruptly toward the river's edge. On a gravelly bank behind a sheltered backwater, we reached the discovery site. Except for a small sign, it's simply a riverbank. North of Coloma, Route 49 snakes through a rugged mountain realm, offering some of the most dramatic scenery on the drive. Initially, the road traces the American River, where white-water rafters go splashing past. Climbing high above a deep gorge, it suddenly tops a summit and then quickly descends into Auburn, one of California's prettiest little cities. Details Except for the wine-sampling detour in Plymouth, stick to Route 49. In Auburn, stay at the 52-room Super 8 (530/888-8808), $59 weekdays/$63 weekends; or the 57-room Motel 6 (530/888-7829), $62 weekdays/$68 weekends. Dine at Tio Pepe's Restaurant; the hefty taco plate includes taco, enchilada, burrito, tostadas, and rice and beans for $7.95. Information 530/887-2111, visitplacer.com. Day four: Auburn to San Francisco, 120 miles Return quickly to San Francisco on I-80 to catch your flight home. Or for more Gold Rush lore, continue north 130 miles on the Mother Lode Highway to its terminus at Vinton. Either way, you might reflect on this thought: A state-park ranger once told me that practically every inch of the streams and rivers of the Sierras has been worked for gold at one time or another. But more washes down from the mountains every spring, when melting snow turns placid streams into racing torrents. The lure of California gold may have diminished, but it is far from gone.

    Product Reviews

    Best Credit Cards for Travel Insurance

    Each year, the "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, Spain, gets me seriously focused on... wait for it... travel insurance. Yep, with the running happening next week (July 6 through 14), we'll see thousands of locals and visitors participate in the madre of all mosh pits, with the least lucky getting gored or stepped on. Coincidentally, our friends at CardHub just published its 2015 Travel Insurance Report, taking a look at what kind of insurance the most popular credit cards offer for travel mishaps ("mishaps" include interruptions, misplaced baggage, illness, natural disasters, and accidents and have nothing whatsoever to do with running with bulls, by the way). CardHub's main findings include: Accident coverage is offered by 88 percent of the rewards credit cards examined; luggage is covered by 63 percent. More than 20 percent of credit cards that offer travel accident insurance provide amounts over $300,000. Among cards that cover luggage, 73 percent cover lost luggage, 45 percent cover delayed luggage, and 18 percent cover both. When it comes to travel insurance, CardHub found the following cards to be especially helpful: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Discover It, Wells Fargo Propel 365, Citi Prestige, Wells Fargo Propel World, Chase Freedom, and U.S. Bank FlexPerks.  

    Travel Tips

    How to buy euros at today's low rates for a vacation in the future

    It's frustrating. When everyone was planning their vacations earlier this year, the euro and the pound were bashing the dollar. The cost of a McDonald's Big Mac was $5.34 in Europe this summer on average, or roughly twice what it cost here at home. But in recent weeks, the dollar puffed up in value and reached a two-year record high against the euro. A $1.27 gets you a €1. The dollar has also strengthened against the British pound. Last spring, you needed $2 to get a British pound. Now you only need $1.61—which is a good thing. Paradoxically, right at the moment when the dollar is strengthening, you are probably cutting back on your expenses and not traveling as much. Worse, after this economic storm passes, the dollar will probably weaken again. But by how much? Consider that it has fallen about 20 percent against the dollar since last spring. I'm no currency trader, and future trends are anybody's guess. But let's say that you thought that there would be a 10 percent rebound by next August. If you did, what would than mean for you? Suppose you set aside $2,000 today for a trip to western Europe next summer. That money will fetch you 1,576 euros today. If the greenback gains in value by 10 percent next summer, the same $2,000 will buy you fewer euros—the equivalent of losing roughly $200. We've come up with a couple of ways for you to lock in today's low exchange rates for a trip within the next year—whether it's euros or pounds you'll need. Option one: Hoard euros and pounds now. Get them at a foreign-exchange firm like American Express—or at a bank like Wells Fargo. Sadly, if you do this here in the U.S., you'll pay high fees. Wells Fargo, for instance, charges a shipping fee is $8 if you order foreign currency online. (If you have an account with Wells Fargo's bank, you can pick up the currency at no charge at one of its locations.) How does that $8 fee compare to the cost of using your ordinary ATM bank card to withdraw cash overseas? Well, the answer is pretty complicated. For example, say you use your bank’s debit card to withdraw $400 equivalent of Hong Kong Dollars from an ATM. You would typically (with a major bank like Citibank or HSBC) be charged 3 percent for the foreign exchange conversion and a foreign transaction fee of about $15. You might also get a $2 foreign ATM fee (the same as if you withdrew from an ATM belonging to a different bank than your own in the US.) Total cost: $29 for a $400 withdrawal. That equates to roughly 7 percent fee. But on the other hand, your bank would offer you a pretty good foreign currency exchange rate through Visa, Mastercard, or a similar interbank system. In contrast, Wells Fargo (like other banks) marks up the currency exchange rate by about 3 to 4 cents on the dollar. So there is a "hidden" fee. The short answer: The fees are pretty much the same whether you get cash, use an ATM, or a credit card. But if you get your cash now and hoard it for later, you may save money by "hedging" against a weakening of the dollar's value internationally. Option two: Buy a pre-paid currency card. Consider the Travelex Cash Passport, which debuted in euro- and pound-denominated versions in the U.S. last May. You give Travelex your money and it converts it into euros (or pounds) at today's rate. You can then spend those euros (or pounds) whenever you want in the coming months and years. The Cash Passports are pre-loaded travel cards. There is no bank account involved. You put a set amount of money in the account and spend it anywhere that accepts Mastercard. (The cards look just like credit cards and have the Mastercard logo on them.) If you lose the card, call Travelex and it will stop withdrawals on that card and issue you a new one. Traveling with someone else? You can have a second card for them with access to the same shared pool of money, so that both of you stick to your joint travel budget. You can use the card to pay for hotel stays, restaurant meals, or purchases at stores—without any fee. You can also withdraw euros from ATMs that operate on the Mastercard, Maestro, and Cirrus systems. (Travelex says its Cash Passports are on so many ATM networks that it has never heard of anyone being unable to withdraw cash from an ATM in western Europe.) As usual, the ATM you use may charge a fee of about a couple of dollars. Plus Travelex will charge a fee €1.75 or £1.25 per ATM withdrawal, but no percentage-based fees. On the plus side, you don't pay conversion fees (remember the 3 percent fee we talked about above?) or a transaction fee (that's either flat like $15 or a percentage, like about 1 percent). You skip those. On the downside, there is a different, pesky fee to worry about—but we'll tell you now how to avoid it. You see, if you don't have "activity" on your card within 12 months, Travelex will charge you an inactivity fee (roughly between $3 and $4 a month). But you can avoid this fee by topping off the card—for free—with a little more cash every 12 months. A card costs $10 to buy from a Travelex retail location. (Some banks also sell the card and they may charge a small purchase fee, too.) We mentioned above that banks mark up the cost of euros over the wholesale rate quoted on websites like xe.com—which are the rates used when money is transferred electronically between banks. Consumers pay a markup of about 7 percent on these rates when they withdraw money through an ATM. Travelex charges a similar markup over wholesale: It's approximately 5.5 to 6.5 percent. When you factor in the $10 fee for the card, buying a Travelex Cash Passport is a competitive option compared with buying euros from a bank or currency dealer. Cash Passports are sold at more than 100 retail Travelex locations in the U.S. Please be sure to bring a photo ID to buy a card. You may also buy it online, thought the process appears to be more complicated, plus you have to pay a shipping fee of $15. You'll soon also be able to purchase the card at community banks, credit unions, and U.S. Bank branches. We recommend you look up the nearest seller of the card at Mastercard's locator site. For more info on how the Cash Passport works, call Travelex at 800/287-7362. [Of course, like everything in finance and life, nothing's perfect. By putting all this money into cash, you are missing out on gains you could make by instead putting your wad of cash into an interest-bearing account. And who knows, maybe inflation is going to go through the roof.] The fine print: Please be aware that in Britain, you may have difficulty using the card (as well as standard debit and credit cards issued by major U.S. banks) at some pubs, gas stations, and convenience stores that require a card to have a "smart" microchip built into it (instead of a magnetic strip, which is what the Travelex Cash Passport card has) and a personal identification number (or P.I.N.). Executive vice president of Travelex Christopher Russell says, "We have projects under way to include Chip and P.I.N. within the coming 12 to 18 months." Note, major banks also have plans underway to update their credit cards. Bonus material! While we're on the topic, could you open an account in a foreign currency in an online bank? The answer is, sadly, "not easily." You can't open an overseas bank account from the U.S., and you have to have an overseas bank account if you want to make ATM or bank withdrawals while you're traveling abroad. Of course, on your next trip overseas, you could open a bank account locally. (Call ahead to make sure you bring all the necessary personal financial documents.) That way, you could keep your money in euros (or other currencies) and withdraw it easily when you travel someday.

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