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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.

Sitka, an Alaskan Treasure

Sitka, an Alaskan Treasure


The gorgeous city of Sitka, Alaska couldn't be more perfectly placed.  With towering mountains to one side and island-dotted waters to the other, Sitka is a vacationer's paradise.  This seaside town is located on Baranof Island, between the outer waters of the Inside Passage and seemingly-endless mainland pine and spruce forests.  With a lively history, Tlingit culture, Russian-influenced architecture, and a strong spirit of independence, Sitka is 100% Alaska.

Sitka is set in Alaska's southern-most region, the narrow piece of land that runs between Canada's Yukon Territory and the Pacific Ocean.  As a result, Sitka enjoys mild temperatures and tons of wildlife.  Fishing is a popular sport and business here, and many visitors come to watch the humpback whales feeding offshore in the late fall and early spring.  Don't miss the sea otters, sea lions, whales, tufted puffins, and other amazing sea birds!

The Kiksadi Clan, a group of Tlingit Indians, have lived in the Sitka area for centuries--and had even before the first Russian or American set foot in Alaska.  The Kiksadi called their settlement Shee Atika, which means "people on the outside of Shee," (Shee being their name for the island).  Sitka is a contraction of Shee Atika.  In 1799 the first Russian settlers arrived and built a fort a few miles north of Sitka.  Today, you can learn about the area's unique history at a number of local museums and historic sites.

Alaska is all about the great outdoors, and Sitka is no exception.  When you visit, you'll find world-class salmon and halibut fishing, amazing sea kayaking routes, fishing and boating charters, and many miles of scenic hiking trails.  You can plan a day trip to Kruzof Island and climb up Mt Edgecumbe, the only volcano in southeast Alaska, or head out on an ocean tour of whales, otters, and seabird rookeries.  

For more exotic adventures, take an ATV tour of Kruzoff island, plan a flight over the dramatic Baranof Island ice fields, or experience the underwater world with a trip in a glass-bottomed kayak or semi-submersible boat.

Sitka is known for its seaside parks, all of which are great places to enjoy a walk or a picnic lunch.  You can take a scenic ride aboard the Southeast Alaska Marine Highway ferry, tour the 107-acre Sitka National Historic Park, or visit the world-famous Alaska Raptor Center, a state-of-the-art facility that rehabilitates and cares for injured birds of prey.  Visitors are welcome to tour the new flight barn and the newly expanded facility.

Visitors to Sitka will enjoy a number of great nearby attractions.  You can take day trips to Juneau, Alaska's capital, or to the gorgeous Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  To the south of Sitka lies Tongass National Forest, miles of coastline and islands to explore, and Ketchican.  No matter what you're here to do, you're going to love Sitka.  With its stunning scenery and easy access to the great outdoors, this Alaskan town truly has everything!

American Volcanoes

American Volcanoes


Mountains add drama to the horizon, they inspire and comfort us, and they provide living space for thousands of animals and birds.  But how often do you stop and think about where mountains came from?  With the recent eruption of Mt. Redoubt in Alaska, more and more people are heading out to see America's active volcanoes.  From the Hawaii lava floes to the ash-spouting peaks of the western Cascade range, our nation has plenty of hot spots to capture the interest of budding vulcanologists.

Alaska Volcanoes
With its towering peaks and snow-capped ranges, Alaska is a volcano lover's dream.  The Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands have about 80 major volcanic centers. Alaskan volcanoes have produced one or two eruptions per year since 1900, the most famous of which is Mt. Redoubt. Mt. Redoubt, which erupted on March 22, 2009, is located on the gorgeous Kenai Peninsula west of Cook Inlet.  The mountain has actually erupted five times since 1900, including once in 1989.  

The 2009 Mt. Redoubt eruption reached a dramatic state on March 22 when the mountain spewed vast amounts of steam and ash, disturbing air flight patterns for a number of weeks.  Activity continues with ongoing seismic changes and steam coming out of the summit crater.  There have also been ongoing rock falls coming down the side of the lava dome.

Hawaiian Volcanoes

Hawaii is a volcano lover's dream.  Not many places on earth allow a person to get so up-close and personal with active volcanoes.  On your next visit to the island state, be sure to visit the Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes on the island of Hawaii. These two mountains erupt frequently but in non-explosive ways that make them perfect for family and tourist visits.  The volcanoes have also been studied extensively, which means that visitors can get a good picture of each volcano's magma reservoir "plumbing" system.  

Cascade Volcanoes
In the contiguous United States, the active volcanoes are in the Cascade range that runs from California, north through Oregon and Washington states, and on into Canada.  These mountains don't erupt with the frequency of Hawaii's volcanoes, but they're equally interesting and can be easier to reach. At the same time, it's important to remember that Cascade volcanoes can be far more dangerous (when active) than Hawaiian volcanoes because they tend to be more explosive.

The most famous Cascade volcano is Mt. St. Helens in southwestern Washington state.  St. Helens erupted in 1980, spewing enormous clouds of ash and causing massive mud slides that destroyed all life on one side of the mountain. Today Mt. St. Helens is safe to visit and can be a fascinating place to explore.  Visitors can take in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument above Spirit Lake, watch the mountain's activity on web cams, and learn all about what makes this volcano tick.

Unlike the Hawaiian volcanoes, the Cascade volcanoes release a variety of magma types and are more likely to develop steep-sided cones (these are then called "composite volcanoes").  With so many different types of volcanoes to learn about, you may just have to visit them all!

The Best Spring Training Camping Destinations

Batter Up - Planning Your Spring Training Camping Trip

For two months every year, the pros of Major League Baseball warm up in the sunny states of Florida and Arizona. From mid February to just before opening day in early April, teams gather to practice, play warm-up games against each other, and get accustomed to their rosters. This is a fabulous time for the fans to get to know the teams, enjoy the weather, and watch some terrific games.

The teams that play in Florida have been nicknamed the Grapefruit League, while the Arizona teams are known as the Cactus League. These teams can play against college teams from local universities, against each other, and against minor league baseball clubs. Most east-coast teams are part of the Grapefruit League, while most west-coast teams are in the Cactus League.

Best of the Grapefruit League (Florida)

Atlanta Braves:
Champion Stadium, Lake Buena Vista at Walt Disney World:
Settle back in one of the nicest Grapefruit League stadiums, set next door to the greatest place on earth. The large stadium seats 9,500, but remarkably nearly every seat gives a between-the-bases view.

Boston Red Sox:
City of Palms Park, Fort Myers:
See one of the greatest teams in MLB! Palms Park offers one of the best venues in Florida. Nearly all the seats are shaded, and Fort Myers is close enough for easy access.

St. Louis Cardinals and Florida Marlins:
Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter:
You'll catch twice the number of games when you stay near Jupiter's Roger Dean Stadium. This venue is a favorite among Florida baseball fans, both for its comfortable facility and the non-stop action. Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring a hat, since shade is at a premium.

Minnesota Twins:
Hammond Stadium, Ft. Myers:
This stunning stadium resembles Churchill Downs, one of the most luxurious horse racing venues. When you visit, don't miss the baseball history museum at nearby Terry Park Stadium in Fort Myers.

New York Yankees:
George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tampa:
This is known as one of the best fields and facilities in the league. Like the Yankees roster, no expense was spared on this stadium. It's often called the mini Yankee Stadium because it so mirrors Yankee Stadium in New York.

Best of the Cactus League (Arizona)

Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres:
Peoria Sports Complex, Peoria:
See twice the number of games when you camp near the Peoria Sports Complex, home of the Mariners and the Padres. This stadium is famous for its great food. Whether you dine at one of the terrific nearby restaurants or on the fabulous food inside the stadium, you won't go hungry in Peoria.

Chicago Cubs:
HoHoKam Park, Mesa:
This is one of the most popular stadiums in Arizona. Set in Mesa, this is the second largest Cactus League venue and home to some of the most loyal fans in baseball. Bring your sunscreen and a hat - the sun is bright!

Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers:
Camelback Ranch, Glendale:
You'll see twice the number of games when you visit the Camelback Ranch in Glendale. This venue is one of the newest stadiums in Arizona, and it seats the most fans (13,000).

Colorado Rockies:
Hi Corbett Field, Tucson:
The home of the Colorado Rockies is one of the oldest baseball stadiums in the country. You'll see plenty of ballpark memorabilia and sections that dates back to the 1930s.

Oakland Athletics:
Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Phoenix:
This former home of the Minor League Phoenix Giants has had a serious facelift and major renovations. It's just minutes from Tempe's Mill Avenue with its excellent shops and restaurants.

Hidden New Orleans

Hidden New OrleansHidden New Orleans

If you're looking for attractions that give you an insider's view of New Orleans, without a lot of crowds, then read on! In this article, we'll explore the untapped secrets of the Big Easy, from the Voodoo Museum and secret sandwich shops to side trips into the bayou. So climb aboard the Saint Charles Streetcar for an overview tour of the city, then get ready to visit some New Orleans back roads.

Mardi Gras only comes once a year, but you can whip up some of that colorful spirit any time of year with a visit to Mardi Gras World on Newton Street. There, you'll see how Mardi Gras floats are made, see the giant props from past parades, and learn about the history of this celebration. See the carpentry shops, the paint shops, and learn about the krewes that decorate the floats. You can even try on some Mardi Gras carnival costumes!

Youíll take a step back in time when you ride aboard the New Orleans Creole Queen Paddlewheeler or the replica riverboat, the Cajun Queen. You can groove to jazz music, enjoy a sumptuous Creole buffet, and sip a cocktail while you admire the New Orleans skyline, traveling in old-fashioned style.

On Dumaine Street in the French Quarter, you'll find the historic Voodoo Museum. This dark and dusky exhibit hall offers a wide range of occult items from all over the world, including some that may have belonged to the legendary Marie Laveau. There, you can have a reading done by a voodoo priestess, study the exhibits, or ask for a tour from the museum staff. If this only whets your appetite for more voodoo information, then head to Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street, where you'll find a shop filled with voodoo merchandise. Marie Laveau was a famous voodoo practitioner who lived in the French Quarter during the 1800s.

For dining New Orleans-style, try a muffuletta sandwich or a traditional Po-boy. A muffuletta is made of meat, cheese, pickles, and olive salad stuffed in a thick bun. The Po-Boy can be made of fried oysters, roast beef and gravy, or soft-shell crab served on a French bread roll. You can try crawfish etouffe at the Olde N'Awlins Cookery on Conti Street, red beans and rice at Mother's on Poydras Street, or stuffed sandwiches at Cafe Maspero on Decatur Street. And if you'd like to learn to cook like a local, try a class with the New Orleans School of Cooking & Louisiana General Store (St Louis Street) or the Cookin' Cajun Cooking School (Poydras Street).

The nearby town of Jean Lafitte makes a fun day trip. Nestled in bayou waters that were once the hideaway of the famous pirate Jean Lafitte, this marshy wonderland is filled with history, Cajun music, and great food. The Bayou Barataria Basin is also home to some of the best fishing in Louisiana. You can head to the public fishing pier for a day of casting your line, sample shrimp, oysters, and crab from the local restaurants, or watch for wildlife in these incredible bayou ecosystems.

Visitors to New Orleans may think Mardi Gras is the only festival in the city, but in fact you'll find something going on during every month of the year. You can visit in April for the French Quarter Festival, in August for the African Heritage Festival International, or in October for Bridge City's Gumbo Festival. Celebrate a Creole Christmas or enjoy the French Quarter's St. Patrick's Day parade. New Orleans is so rich with activity, you're sure to find something exciting happening whenever you find the time to visit. Just be sure to explore the back roads and get a taste for the true N'awlins experience.

Skagit Valley, Washington

Nestled between the Cascade Mountains and the blue waters of Puget Sound, the Skagit Valley exemplifies the best aspects of northwestern Washington state: stunning views, amazing outdoor adventures, and memorable local festivals. With historic cities like Mount Vernon, Bellingham, and Anacortes (the gateway to the San Juan Islands), youíll find plenty of fun shops and restaurants to explore. Take a ferry ride to the islands or to Vancouver, B.C. to watch for orca whales and bald eagles. Then pay a visit to dramatic Deception Pass and the ever-popular Washington Park along Rosario Strait.
The Skagit Valley offers unparalleled water sports like kayaking, canoeing, sailing, power boating, fishing, and whale watching. You can go hiking and mountain biking on local trails, do some golfing at one of the many golf courses, or pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a day of bird watching or beach combing on the sand.
In April, don't miss the incredible fields of color during the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, held in an area that stretches between Mount Vernon, Burlington, Conway , and LaConner (about four miles from Anacortes). Follow the festival map to tour the iris fields, more than a dozen tulip fields, and fourteen daffodil fields. If you like, bring your bike and take the bike path from field to field. See unusual flowers and new tulip colors, take home gardening tips, and get great deals on bulbs and cut flowers.
The Skagit Valley is also home to a number of natural organic farms and vineyards. Youíll find apple orchards, wineries, shellfish farms, and dairy farms. Stop by an Anacortes dairy farm for farmstead cheeses and fresh milk from the creamery or head to Sakuma Brothers to see a family farm that grows fresh berries, vegetables, fruit, and seven varieties of tea leaves. Youíll find organic coffee at Larkspur Farm, taste amazing produce at Hedlin Family Farms, and visit Slough Farms for incredible artisan cheese, chocolates, and wines.
Special events like arts & craft fairs, wine tastings, bulb classes, and guided bike tours take place throughout March and April. You can take a sculpture tour through historic LaConner, see artists giving watercolor demonstrations, or take the kids to see the alpacas as the Alpaca Ranch. The area is filled with u-pick gardens offering great deals, as well as local artists and craftspeople selling their wares.
The Skagit Valley has a number of fascinating museums, from the Skagit County Historical Museum to the Harey Tale ìMuseumî at Bunnies By the Bay, a quaint gift shop for kids and adults. You can stop by the Tulip Office and Museum, see the Childrenís Museum, or shop for tulips, hyacinths, dahlias, and beautiful flower artwork at stands all along the tulip route.
Whether you come for the spring flower festivals, for the summer sunshine, or for the October Festival of Family Farms, youíll find plenty of fun awaiting you in Washingtonís Skagit Valley. With its welcoming atmosphere and deep connection with nature, this area is a true gem.

Arkansas Hot Springs

The area surrounding Hot Springs National Park in central Arkansas is a must-visit spot for amazing fishing, water sports, incredible restaurants, and relaxation. Head to this region, just south and west of Little Rock, for a stunning tour through a land of shining lakes, sun-dappled forests, and natural hot springs.

You can focus your visit on the park itself, beginning in the historic Fordyce Bathhouse, learning about the history of these curative baths. You might be surprised to find out that spas arenít a modern invention after all! Since Hot Springs National Park was set aside by Congress in 1831 ñ making it the oldest park in the national park system ñ visitors have enjoyed hiking the 26 miles of trails and touring the many historic buildings. You can take your own bath in the restorative waters (at the Fordyce Bathhouse), drive the scenic roads, or stroll along the Grand Promenade. The park celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2007, so if you visit this summer, be sure to check out the many special events and activities going on.

Once youíve let the warmth of the hot springs soothe your aching muscles, youíll be ready for a trip to nearby Little Rock, capital of the ënatural state.í Youíll find fun outdoor adventures in this vibrant city like superb golf courses, walking trails, mountain climbs, tennis courts, and grassy fields for games. Take your dog for a walk in one of the many parks or head to the zoo to see some exotic animals. Wrap it all up with a trip to the Clinton Library, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park, or a visit to see beautiful old neighborhoods and homes like Villa Marre.

If a fishing trip is what youíre after, then head south or west of Hot Springs National Park to stunning Lake Ouachita State Park or De Gray Resort State Park. 40,000-acre Lake Ouachita is nestled in the woods of the Ouachita National Forest, a great place for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing. With tree-topped islands dotting the water, Lake Ouachita is a scenic place to enjoy water sports like fishing, scuba diving, water-skiing, boating, and swimming. Set your fishing rod for bream, crappie, catfish, stripers and largemouth bass, or just settle back and relax on the lake's 975 miles of shoreline. This gorgeous man-made lake is known as one of the cleanest in the country.

De Gray Resort State Park is set on the northern side of De Gray Lake, a 13,800-acre paradise. The park offers excellent fishing for hybrid striped bass, and great angling for bass, crappie, bream, and catfish. Spend some time kayaking or boating around the lake, making use of the marina and boat slips. Rental boats are also available. And on land you can go golfing at the challenging 18-hole golf course, a set of links with stunning scenery. Donít forget to watch for birds and wildlife as you enjoy the views of the Ouachita Mountains.

If you have the time, be sure to plan a side trip to Arkadelphia on the Caddo and Arkadelphia rivers. You can go boating on the rivers, fishing for smallmouth bass, or see historic buildings on the homes tour, like the Captain Henderson House. This is a fantastic place to slow down, settle back, and let the quiet flow of country life put you at ease. And donít forget to sample the wares at the incredible restaurants!
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