Camping Gems

Camping Gems

Find those fun and funky “special” places across the country. Hit the road and discover all the odd roadside attractions that make getting there more than half the fun. Road tripping gives you an excuse to search out hidden gems along your route. Look inside for suggested trips and inspiration to plan your own camping gem journey.

Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area

Located relatively close to Boise, Idaho, right along the stunning Snake River, this National Conservation Area is a great destination in itself, or a fun stop on an amazing vacation. This Conservation Area and the Snake River are prime examples of why Idaho is one of the northwest United States' great destinations, perhaps lesser known than Montana, but equally filled with destinations of interest. In a region full of vast natural beauty, this Conservation Area stands out.

The conservation area is part of the Bureau of Land Management's National Landscape Conservation System, so it is different than National Parks and Forests. The area was established relatively recently, in 1993, and, as its name suggests, was created in order to protect a unique concentration of birds of prey. Within the vast acreage of this Conservation Area there are both nesting and migrating birds of prey. The species prevalent here include eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls, with a grand total of 24 species of raptors in the area.

For visitors hoping to enjoy some bird-of-prey watching, spring is the best time to visit. If you do go to the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area with the intention of bird watching, you will have to be patient and get up early in the morning to catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds.

The area was created as a sanctuary and preservation area for the native birds of prey to live in their natural environment.  They are not on display like they are in the zoo. Bird-watchers will find that camping is the best way to see the most birds possible.

Recreational opportunities abound in the area. Visitors can enjoy hiking, boating, fishing, and hunting. The Conservation Area has plenty of trails, a boat ramp, and even historical sites, exhibits, and displays for visitors. The rural nature of the area also allows for a much wider variety of wildlife viewing far beyond the bird watching.

Berkshire Hills, Massachusetts

Berkshire Hills, Massachusetts

For generations, people have been escaping to the picturesque Berkshire Hills for an idyllic family getaway. This unique spot has everything, from stunning views to great skiing, hiking, and fishing. Berkshire Hills has a delightful blend of the urban and the natural – it combines awe-inspiring natural beauty with amazing visual and performing arts.

If you are seeking a recreation-filled adventure, Berkshire Hills is the place to go. The area is filled with numerous trails and parks, and you can even hike part of the great Appalachian Trail. Should you visit during the winter, you can enjoy downhill and cross-country skiing instead of hiking. During the spring, summer and fall months, hiking is only the beginning of the recreation you can enjoy. You can also spend your time fishing, golfing, biking and even white-water rafting.

This part of Massachusetts has some truly stunning parks. Some places you won't want to miss include the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, the Herbert Arboretum and Kent Falls. Bash Bish Falls State Park is also a great destination. Bash Bish Falls State Park is home to the tallest waterfall in Massachusetts, the humorously named Bash Bish Falls. These falls have a stunning drop of over eighty feet.

Berkshire Hills is also known for its great summer camps. If you can go on a family vacation to the area, you and your kids might enjoy spending some time at summer camps, many of which cater to specialized interests like music or backpacking.

After you have had your fill of the amazing recreation -- or if you just need to take a little breather -- you can spend time enjoying the great antiquing and shopping. Berkshire Hills also happens to be a center for visual and performing Arts. Music lovers will be pleased to know that this is the summer location for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Visitors to Berkshire Hills can also enjoy the Tanglewood Music Center. Theatre buffs will also find plenty to entertain in Berkshire Hills. Some theatre options include Shakespeare & Company, the Williamstown Theatre Festival and the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

Berkshire Hills is also a great destination for visual arts. The area is home to many fabulous art museums with a wide variety of art forms and styles. Here you will find the Williams College Museum of Arts with a great collection of American and Modern art. You can also visit the Clark Institute or the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which is the country's largest center for contemporary arts. And be sure not to miss the amazing collections at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile, Alabama

The diverse cultural influences of Mobile make it one of Alabama's most unique cities. Its mix of Catholic, Creole, French, and Spanish make for an amazing atmosphere. During Mardi Gras, the streets fill with parades, live marching bands, and immense crowds of celebrators. If you can't visit during the Carnival season, you can still visit the Mobile Carnival Museum to revel in the long and rich history of Mardi Gras and Carnival in Mobile. Carnival and Mardi Gras are not the only exciting things to do in Mobile. This city is rich with culture and excitement

Mobile is full of fun history and attractions. If you find yourself more interested in exploring the environment and nature of Mobile, you will not be disappointed. Visitors can enjoy canoeing and kayaking, sailing, fishing, as well as a variety of parks and sports. If you are looking for something a little different in your recreation, you can try one of Mobile's Segway Tours or maybe take a hot air balloon ride.

One of the newest ways to enjoy your travels is to partake in EcoTourism -- a vacation in whichh you tour the ecosystem. Instead of visiting a place to enjoy its man-made attractions, you visit to enjoy its natural attractions. The south has some great opportunities for EcoTourists, especially if you're brave enough to venture into the alligator's natural habitat. Consider taking an airboat tour or a bird watching trip into one of the area's wildlife sanctuaries.

Mobile has many, many amazing attractions throughout the city that you won't want to miss. The city is home to a variety of historic homes, gardens, a battleship, and a World War II submarine, all of which are open for tours and visitors. At the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park you can tour the Battleship USS Alabama and the Submarine USS Drum.

History buffs will also enjoy the Richards-DAR House Museum, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion, or even the Conde-Charlotte Museum House. All of these museum houses are beautiful examples of antebellum mansions. These mansions also have delightful grounds and some are even open to hosting events. Mobile also has a variety of museums highlighting the unique culture of Mobile, from the Mobile Carnival Museum to the Mobile Police Museum.

The city also offers its visitors Mardi Gras-like fun throughout the year in its dining and nightlife. Mobile has delicious food as well as a variety of entertainment options. The city boasts fun dancing venues, live music, nightclubs, and bars. For those more interested in the fine arts, Mobile has a symphony, the Mobile Opera, and a few options for theatre. Art buffs will also enjoy the art galleries and art museum in Mobile.

Lake Tahoe Eastshore Byway

Lake Tahoe Eastshore Byway

Lake Tahoe is one of those places that has something fantastic to offer its visitors year round. The Nevada shore of Lake Tahoe has the added benefits of having a scenic byway along the coast, vast amounts of recreation, and all the fun of the Nevada casinos. However, when you visit the Lake Tahoe area, you will not be able to resist an adventure around the entire lake -- the California shore of Lake Tahoe has just as many delights as the Nevada shore.

If you decide to drive the scenic byway along the Eastshore, you can start in the south or the north ends of the lake. From the north, you will begin your journey on Highway 28, after which you will turn onto US-50 and drive down to the south shore of the lake. This trip along the byway is only a distance of 25 miles or so, but there are many things to divert your attention along the way.

Incline Village lies at the north end of Lake Tahoe. In the winter, Incline Village is a nice snowy play destination for families. Incline Village also hosts the Lake Tahoe Jazz Festival every year.  Nearby Crystal Bay offers splendid views of the lake. Planted right along the California-Nevada border is the CalNeva Resort, located in Crystal Bay. This resort has a wonderful history -- it was owned by Frank Sinatra and during that time was a favorite destination for his friends.

Should you have more time to spend on the north end of Lake Tahoe, you can take a detour into California for a few days of exploration. The northern side of Lake Tahoe has a great number of interesting destinations for winter recreation. Only eight miles from Incline Village, in California, you will find the Tahoe Cross-Country Ski Area, which has over 40 miles of cross-country trails. Lake Tahoe boasts over 300 days of sunshine every year and fantastic powder. The great winter weather makes it the ideal destination for a winter sporting vacation.

Squaw Valley USA, also on the north end of Lake Tahoe (and in California), is a fantastic ski destination. Squaw Valley has amazing powder and many wonderful backcountry opportunities for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing. It also has the added interest of having been the host of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. Not only will you be able to ski and sport where some of the greatest athletes in the world skied, but you can enjoy all of the Olympic history that the location has preserved.

Along Lake Tahoe, hikers will also find many trails. One of the best destinations for hikers is the Tahoe Rim Trail. This trail system has 165 miles of trail with varied level of terrain. It's a high altitude trail system with many trailheads from which to start a hike. Some hikers choose to take the trail system in pieces; the most adventurous, though, can try to complete the entire trail in one go. Along the scenic byway in Nevada, one great trailhead from which to join the trail system is at Spooner Summit on US-50.

As you travel south along the scenic byway, you will find yourself in Zephyr Cove. Zephyr Cove is a fantastic summer destination with amazing beaches and lake access. In the summer, visitors to Lake Tahoe can enjoy a variety of water sports, including sport fishing, boating, wake-boarding, water-skiing, and even parasailing. If you don't have a boat of your own, you will find plenty of boat rental options so you too can enjoy the wide variety of summer fun.

Located near Zephyr Cove, Cave Rock holds a great significance for the Native American peoples from the area. There are many small caves on the west side of the rock. One of the great things to note is the tunnel that is cut through 25 yards of solid rock.

At the southern end of Lake Tahoe, visitors will find plenty of fun in the town of Stateline, Nevada. Stateline is the location of a few hotel/casinos, including Harrah's, Harveys and MontBleu. The area around Stateline also has a number of winter sporting opportunities. One great ski destinations on the California side of the south shore is the Heavenly Ski Resort. The Heavenly Village boasts great dining and shopping to enjoy after a day of winter sport. Visitors can also enjoy a scenic gondola ride just off of the state border on the Heavenly Gondola.

Finger Lakes Region, New York

Finger Lakes Region, New York

The Finger Lakes Region in located in north-central New York gets its name from the long and slender lakes that run from north to south. These lakes -- Canandaigua, Cayuga, Keuka, Ontario, Seneca, Consensus and Hemlock -- resemble the fingers on a hand, thus they're called the "finger lakes." Although they aren't very wide, they are extremely deep.  Seneca and Cayuga are the two largest of the finger lakes.

Beyond being known for its lakes, the region is also famous as wine country. Geographically, the lakes (and Great Lake Lake Ontario) protect the area from some of the harsher weather, making ideal growing conditions for vineyards. This makes the Finger Lakes the east coast's very own Napa Valley. In fact, the area has over 100 vineyards and wineries. Many of these wineries are open to visitors, so you can sample all the best wines in the region.

Cities and Towns

Visitors to the region will also find plenty of entertainment in the cities and towns in the area. Rochester, New York is located on the western side of the region along the coast of Lake Ontario. Geneva is located on the northern tip of Seneca Lake. Ithaca is along the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. Aside from Rochester, Syracuse is one of the larger cities in the region. There are many more cities and towns with unique entertainment to offer visitors, but these four are some of the largest and most prominent.

Rochester has a great deal of arts and entertainment options. For visitors looking for incredible music, the Rochester Philharmonic is a great entertainment option. Visitors may also wish to attend the Rochester International Jazz Festival. The George Eastman House of Photography and Film in Rochester is also a fascinating stop. All of the cities and towns in the region have local art galleries featuring local artists and performing artists.  Art lovers can stop at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, or perhaps the Rockwell Museum of Western Art in Corning. Corning is also home to the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass.

Fresh Fruit and Berries
The Finger Lakes region of New York has a thriving agriculture sector on top of the wine industry. In the spring, maple syrup is harvested from the trees. Visitors in the summer will be in time for the flavorful berry season. The region also has many apple, peach, apricot and cherry orchards. For visitors, the best part of the agricultural sector is the ready availability of u-pick farms and Farmers Markets.

Waterfalls, Parks, and Vistas

Another feature of the region is its beautiful waterfalls and parks. Some of the vistas in the region are among the most stunning in the United States. Watkins Glen State Park near Seneca Lake is one of the most spectacular parks in the region, and of course is also one of the most popular. Watkins Glen is filled with stunning waterfalls pouring into beautiful gorges and is a must-see stop for any visitors. Also on the list of must-see places in the Finger Lakes region is Letchworth State Park, known as the "grand canyon of the east" for its amazing chasms and waterfalls. The 215 foot waterfall at Taughannock Falls State Park is also an amazing stop in the region. For hiking and biking, there is also a network of 552 miles of trails throughout the region.

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky, known as either the southern-most city of the north or the northern-most city of the south, is the perfect compromise. This diverse city will expose visitors to the best of both the southern and northern parts of the country. In addition to its diversity, Louisville also has a delightful array of annual festivals.  Every season of the year has some wonderful event -- you will find yourself wanting to visit again and again throughout the year.

Louisville Festivals
If you are in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, you can try to watch the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby Museum, adjacent to Churchill Downs, is open year round for visitors to learn about the history of horse racing and the Kentucky Derby. In the two weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby, Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby Festival with plenty of events and the annual fireworks display. Thunder Over Louisville, the fireworks display during the festival, is the largest annual fireworks display in the country.

Over Memorial Day weekend there is a Beatles festival -- in fact, it is the largest annual Beatles festival in the world. The festival, called Abbey Road on the River, is a five day long celebration that will delight all Beatles fans. Every September, the residents and visitors to Louisville enjoy the Bluegrass Balloon Festival. Throughout the festival there are morning balloon races and balloon shows. This is one of the largest hot air balloon festivals in the country.

Louisville Attractions

In addition to many wonderful yearly festivals, Louisville has a wide range of historic and modern architecture. Visitors who enjoy Victorian architecture will surely love a visit to the Old Louisville neighborhood, a historic preservation district dedicated to Victorian era buildings.

Science and history fans won't want to miss the Thomas Edison home in Louisville's Butchertown. It is now a museum that's open to the public with a nice collection of pieces that reflect Edison's life. Another notable historic home is Whitehall which was built in 1855 and was renovated in 1909.  This home was left to the Historic Homes Foundation in 1992. Whitehall is now open for tours and events.

Louisville Sports

There are plenty of attractions for sports fans in Louisville as well. On top of the Kentucky Derby, the city has a huge fan base for college sports, especially basketball. Sports fans can also visit the Louisville Slugger Museum, the factory and museum where Louisville Slugger bats are manufactured. Visitors to this museum will learn all about the bats and even have a chance to watch the bats being produced. Louisville is also home to the Muhammad Ali Center, which is both a museum and education center.

Outdoor Recreation
Lovers of the outdoors will also find much to delight in the city of Louisville. The Louisville Parks System has over 120 city parks. Louisville Waterfront Park is located on the Ohio River.  Each year, the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show delights viewers at the park. The city also has many parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect of Central Park in New York City.

One of the most popular parks designed by Olmstead, Cherokee Park, is one of the country's most visited parks. Cherokee Park features a scenic mixed-use loop that travels a distance over 2 miles. Louisville also has an urban forest, which is classified as a National Audubon Society Wildlife Refuge. The Jefferson Memorial Forest is one of the largest municipal urban forests in the United States. The forest has plenty of hiking trails, all within the city limits.

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