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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.

Calistoga, California

The beautiful rolling hills, lush vineyards, and luxurious amenities of Calistoga, California form the perfect setting for your next get-away or camping vacation. Set in the northern part of the Napa Valley, between Napa and Sonoma counties, Calistoga is a world-famous destination with a relaxed, small-town feel. You'll find wineries, hiking and biking trails, superb spas, ballooning expeditions, and incredible restaurants.

Calistoga first rose to fame during the late 1800s, when the railway brought thousands of visitors to relax in the town's natural hot springs. People have continued to visit Calistoga to 'take the waters' for more than a hundred years. Not surprisingly, a delightful community has grown up around this natural wonder, providing all the elegance of Napa Valley wine country together with the relaxed attitude of Northern California.

You'll find more than a dozen spas in Calistoga that offer a range of treatments from massage, facials, and mud baths to fitness classes, yoga, Pilates, and specially tailored sessions. The town also offers a number of antique shops, arts and crafts stores, and specialty gift shops. You can spend lazy afternoons wandering through the charming downtown or do some early gift shopping in these unique stores. Local artisans create and sell hand-made pottery, custom jewelry, paintings, and home furnishings.

More than thirty vineyards and wineries lie in the area surrounding Calistoga. You can put together your own vineyard tour or plan a bike trip down country roads that wind through this idyllic landscape. You'll also find a number of other unusual attractions in the Calistoga area. You might enjoy a romantic carriage ride through town or a family trip to Safari West, a 400-acre park that is home to over 400 exotic mammals and birds. This wildlife preserve offers year-round safaris, allowing visitors to see these amazing animals in their natural habitat.

Two of the best attractions of Calistoga are the Napa Valley Wine Train and Old Faithful Geyser of California. This geyser is one of only three in the world that blow with enough regularity to be called 'old faithfuls.' Every 20-30 minutes, this all-natural geyser sends a blast of water as high as 75 feet in the air. This is a great attraction for the whole family. The geyser park also features the famous Tennessee fainting goats, Jacob's four-horn sheep, guard llamas, and a petting zoo.

The Napa Valley Wine Train carries you through the rolling hills and fields in fine style with a glass-topped Pullman dome dining car, cocktail service, and sumptuous meals. Rated as one of the twenty best rail experiences in the country, the train service offers special expeditions like the Moonlight Escapade, the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre, and the Vista Dome & Vintners Luncheons.

Wine connoisseurs will enjoy a trip to the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, a facility that brings together vintners, chefs, gardeners, and artists. You can spend a night out at the Napa Valley Symphony or pay a visit to the Sharpsteen Museum, viewing dioramas that depict the development of this Napa Valley hot springs resort area.

Northern California has everything an outdoor-lover needs for a fabulous trip -- perfect weather, stunning scenery, and winding trails. At the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, you'll find deep forests of redwood trees, tanoak, madrone, and Douglas fir. Take a hike through Ritchey Canyon, past creek beds and ferns, or go horseback riding on the Redwood Trail. You can swim in the pool or go mountain biking on the rugged slopes. At the Petrified Forest, you can hike through the petrified redwood trees, admiring views of Mount St. Helena and learning about local geology.

Campgrounds near Calistoga, California:

Wine Country RV Park Sonoma Grove
Rohnert Park CA
Wine Country RV Park Sonoma Grove

Vineyard RV Park
Vacaville CA
Vineyard RV Park

Tall Trees Mobile and RV Park
Vallejo CA
Tall Trees Mobile and RV Park

Mackinac Bridge Walk

For a fun family outing this summer, head to Mackinaw City, Michigan to take part in the annual September Mackinac Bridge Walk. One half of this magnificent bridge is closed to car traffic, allowing people to stroll along this five-mile structure that spans the dramatic Straits of Mackinac. This is a rare chance to stop and admire the views up and down the Straits as you walk across to St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula.

In 2007, the Mackinac Bridge celebrated fifty years of its existence, spanning the stretch between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. This is the third longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest in the Western Hemisphere. The total length of the bridge across the Straits is 26,372 feet or roughly five miles. At mid-span, the bridge is 200 feet above water level, allowing ship traffic to move through the Straits of Mackinac unimpeded.

The need for the bridge was first voiced in 1884, when the experimental year-round ferry system was deemed a failure. Encouraged by the success of the 1883 Brooklyn Bridge, supporters (including Cornelius Vanderbilt) drew up a range of ideas for a span across the Straits, including a tunnel. Cost and the difficulty of settling on a design proved to be stumbling-blocks, however, and in the 1920s, the state legislature again turned to the idea of a year-round ferry system. Within five years, the ferry traffic was so heavy, that the Governor ordered the Highway Department to seriously study the feasibility of constructing a bridge. But with an estimated price tag of $30 million, the idea was shelved once again.

At last, in 1953, the Mackinac Straits Bridge Authority began selling bonds to cover the cost of constructing a bridge. The final bridge was designed by Dr. David B. Steinman, and the costs were covered by a number of corporations and agencies and through the state's gasoline and license plate tax revenue. The bridge officially opened on November 1, 1957, and the last of the bonds was finally retired in 1986.

Campgrounds near the Mackinac Bridge:

Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping
Mackinaw City MI
Mackinaw Island KOA
Mackinaw City MI
Tee Pee Campground
Mackinaw City MI
Lakeshore Park
St. Ignace MI
Castle Rock-Mackinac Trail Campground
St. Ignace MI
St. Ignace/Mackinaw Island KOA
St. Ignace MI
Tiki RV Park & Campground
St. Ignace MI
Waterways Campground
Cheboygan MI

Kent, Connecticut

Beautiful Kent, Connecticut truly has it all. From trails that wind through colorful fall foliage to art galleries and charming pastry shops, this town is an absolute wonderland. Whether you're looking for outdoor adventures like hiking, fishing, and horseback riding, or for museums and cultural festivals, romantic Kent has just what you're after.

Set on Highway 7 near the border with New York, Kent lies in the far western part of Connecticut. This town is famous for its arts scene, and visitors can easily jump into the fun by touring the Bachelier-Cardonsky Gallery, the Morrison Gallery, or the Ober Gallery. Follow the Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail through nine museums to see some of the best American Impressionist paintings found anywhere. Throughout the year, Kent also hosts a number of musical concerts, jazz festivals, and antiques shows.

For a more active adventure, you can hike along a section of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail or trek past the rivers and streams of the Litchfield Hills and Berkshire Mountains. You'll find excellent bass fishing and boating at North Spectacle Lake. And donít miss the idyllic 1.5-mile hike through an old apple orchard and over the summit of Ore Hill at the scenic Iron Mountain Preserve.

At the 2,300-acre Macedonia Brook State Park, you can follow the Blue Trail as it crosses Cobble Mountain and several other peaks, showing off amazing views of the Catskills and Taconics. You'll also find nearby areas that are perfect for fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, hunting, and water sports. The Kent area has four public golf courses, great fishing at the Kent State Falls trout park, and bike paths that lead to local waterfalls and other scenic sites. Enjoy fabulous bird watching at the Sharon Audubon Center and Litchfield Hills Audubon Society, looking for scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, eastern bluebirds, yellow warblers, and many varieties of colorful butterflies.

With the number of local farms set around Kent, it's no wonder that their farmer's market is one of the finest events you'll find anywhere. Local vendors offer real maple syrup, goat cheese, apple pies, berries, pumpkins, and pressed apple cider. You can pick your own apples in the fall, then head out for a scenic drive through blazing fall color. The fall foliage is at its best in early October when the trees explode with vibrant red, russet, and gold. Youíll find maps and directions to the very best fall-color walks and drives around town.

For a romantic get-away, be sure to check out the Kent wine trails or plan a carriage ride at Loon Meadow Farm or Wood Acres Farm (sleigh rides are also available for winter visitors). You'll find a number of romantic lakes for lakeside picnics, country walks to take, and historic farmhouses everywhere you look. You can dine in the historic Cornwall Inn, the Bulls Bridge Inn, the charming Gourmet Palette, or the elegant Fife 'n Drum Restaurant in the Litchfield Hills.

History lovers won't want to miss Bull's Bridge, a covered bridge with roots that date back to the American Revolution. You can tour the Kent Antique Machinery Museum, the Museum of Mining and Mineral Science, or the Seven Hearths House Museum that was built in 1751. With re-constructed buildings and homes that were built in the 1700s, history truly comes alive in the delightful town of Kent, Connecticut.

Colorado Spas

Just picture itóyouíre lying on a massage table with soft music and the soothing sounds of a fountain relaxing your mind. Outside, beautiful Colorado is bursting into season, filling every window with mountain views, snowy peaks, and sunny skies. This is spa-living in Colorado, a state that offers a huge variety of spa experiences. Whatever your budget, timeline, and location, thereís a spa just waiting for you.

Nearly every spa has its own unique focus, whether itís on yoga, massage, outdoor adventures, skin treatments, or steam rooms. A little advance research will help you pick the very best one. Once you arrive, you can sign up for a package that includes a number of treatments, or just sample things one at a time. For many people, the first trip to the spa can be intimidating, but it doesnít need to be. The spa employees will walk you through every step, tailoring the service to fit your comfort level. Many spas also offer superb classes in Pilates, Yoga, aerobics, spinning, and more, so be sure to ask about their fitness programs. Below, youíll find a few options organized by city.

ASPEN
Youíll find Ayurvedic treatments, body wraps, beauty treatments, and massage at the Aspen Club & Spa, set just three miles outside this gorgeous city. This spa has personal trailers, group fitness classes, pool classes, tennis, cycling, and a river to explore.

At the St. Regis Aspen hotel, the RemËde Spa has steam rooms, a vapor cave, an oxygen lounge, and a room with invigorating warm and cold waterfalls. Balance the high luxury treatments with outdoor romps in the snow, enjoying skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or dog-sledding.

Outdoor thrills rule the day at The Gant Aspen Club and Spa, where you can enjoy river rafting, year-round tennis, swimming, a pro shop, meditation rooms, and their well-equipped fitness center. SpaAspen features their signature Alpine Rejuvenator and a range of refreshing treatments.

DEVNER
For skin care, hand and foot treatments, massage, and body treatments, visit the Denver Day Spa, also known a Changes of Cherry Creek. They offer a stone therapy massage, aromatherapy, deep tissue massage, and Cranio Sacral massage in this elegant facility.

At The Woodhouse Day Spa, a warm, luxurious setting forms the backdrop for treatments like Micro-Dermabrasion, Reflexology, scalp massage, and East Meets West Therapies. Take in the special two-hour Woodhouse Escape package and enjoy a full afternoon of soothing massage, reflexology, and facial acupressure.

VAIL
The stunning ski-resort town of Vail paints a pretty picture behind the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa with its indoor and outdoor pool, whirlpool, and sauna. Special treatments at the Golden Leaf Spa include the Extreme Defrost (Healing Water Bath and massage) and the Golden Leaf Splendor (Healing Water Bath, massage, and facial).

For a unique blend of fitness and relaxation, head to the Spa at Vail Mountain Lodge, set on the banks of Gore Creek. The spa offers 13 therapy rooms and a soul-cleansing solarium, a fully-equipped gym, lap pool, indoor rock climbing wall, and relaxing massages and facials. Rooms are softly illuminated with candles and crystal lamps, creating a soft, rejuvenating glow.

Do You Know the Way to Matlacha?

Quick - can you name the Florida coastal town that's minutes from Fort Meyers, surrounded by aquatic preserves, and just north of Captive and Sanibel, some of the most popular tourist destinations in South Florida? Answer: it's Matlacha. If you didn't know the answer, you're not alone. Matlacha (pronounced Mat-la-shay) is an undiscovered gem, sitting quietly on Little Pine Island, one of the largest of Florida's offshore islands.

Scenic Matlacha is full of surprises. Set just a short drive from the big-city lights of Fort Meyers, this small town - with no stoplights - is home to an array of artists, authors, and musicians. Its stunning natural beauty makes it a perfect camping destination.

With little development and plenty of open spaces, Little Pine Island attracts a variety of wildlife, making this an incredible place to see osprey, herons, egrets, and the more than twenty bald eagle pairs that reside on the island. The mangrove swamps that surround the island provide year-round fishing for these colorful water birds. Matlacha is a great place to watch for roseate spoonbills, owls, brilliant ibises, hawks, and songbirds. On the coast, you can spot playful dolphins or the gentle, endangered manatees that Florida is famous for.

If fishing is your game, you can spend your time fishing for snook, redfish, grouper, and snapper. This area is known to have the best tarpon fishing in Florida - just head north of Bokeelia by boat to Boca Grande Pass. And Matlacha itself is famous for its "World's Fishingest Bridge," a hot-spot for anglers who want to fish day or night.

You can take a kayaking trip around the mangroves or out into the turquoise blue waters, watching the fish below and the birds overhead. Cruises and water taxis are available to Cabbage Key, North Captiva, and Cayo Costa, all popular places to spend a day exploring. Beautiful Matlacha has colorful cottages, unique shops, and unrivaled art galleries, plus plenty of space for walking, bird watching, biking, or just tooling around town. If youíre looking for a longer hike, check out the state owned Pine Island park or check the local paper for a guided hiking tour of the island.

Every year in mid-July, Matlacha lets its hair down during Mango Mania, a festival of live music, food, contests, and - of course - mangoes! Visitors can take part in the mango pie eating contest, wander through the arts and crafts stands, and relax in front of the bandstand. There's a longest-mango-throw contest, fresh fruit juice tastings, carnival rides, plant sales, recipe books, and plenty more.

Whether you visit during festival time or come when Matlacha is empty of crowds, you'll find a town that's quiet, comfortable, and where nature's beauty overshadows everything. This is an ideal spot for a tranquil escape with your journal or sketch pad, whiling away the hours by watching an eagle soaring overhead. The weatherís perfect, the water's blue - so why not grab your kayak paddle and see if you know the way to Matlacha?

The Stark Beauty of White Sands, New Mexico

The stark beauty of shifting white sands and shadowy dunes makes White Sands National Monument an unforgettable southwestern destination. Gleaming white gypsum sands stretch across this scenic corner of New Mexico, drawing photographers, filmmakers, artists, and nature lovers. And with a host of other attractions right nearby, this makes the perfect center for your New Mexican adventure.

Begin your trip in the quiet town of Alamogordo, set on NM highway 54. The Chihuahuan Desert ranges through this area from White Sands at the north, into Mexico to the south. The echoes of Old Mexico are everywhere here from the adobe houses to the colorful festivals and blended language. From Alamogordo, you can travel to the southwest through White Sands National Monument, taking in the stunning white dunes of the Tularosa Basin. Covering more than 275 square miles, these dunes are constantly shifting with the desert winds. If photography is your passion, visit the dunes during early morning and evening, when the setting sun casts dramatic shadows across the landscape.

From White Sands, Highway 70 will take you to the nearby city of Las Cruces, a popular place for outdoor sports like golf, tennis, hiking, and fishing. Las Cruces has spectacular views of the Organ Mountains and Rio Grande River as well as special festivals, shopping, and the zesty flavors of Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking. This New Mexico city is home to the War Eagles Air Museum, fabulous wineries, farmer’s markets, and unique craft fairs. Head there for incredible get-togethers like the September Whole Enchilada Festival, the November Mariachi Festival, or the January Mesilla Valley Balloon Rally when hot-air balloons fill the blue desert sky. Las Cruces also offers the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and historic Fort Selden State Monument, a great place for a picnic lunch. Wine is an important part of this region’s culture and economy, where they celebrate wine festivals every year in April, May, September, and October.

Traveling south from Las Cruces along Interstate 10, you’ll pass Aquirre Springs National Recreation Area, a great place for hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, bird watching, and other sports. Farther south you’ll find the exotic border town of El Paso with its phenomenal restaurants, shopping, and sites. El Paso is a world unto itself, where cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats blend with Mexican bakeries and salsa dancing. From El Paso, it’s easy to take a short trip across the border into Juarez Mexico, or “Ciudad Juarez,” for south-of-the-boarder shopping and tourism.

East of El Paso along Interstate 62 (or Texas Highway 180) lies the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Set in a dramatic desert landscape, these caverns include the largest underground cave in the world. Be sure to plan a visit during dusk or dawn to see the amazing Bat Flight program when hundreds of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats fly through the aky. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the big cavern or follow a guide into Lechuguilla Cave, America’s deepest limestone cave (1,567 feet deep). Kids will enjoy the park’s five labs with their hands-on activities and exhibits.

If your travels take you back into New Mexico, be sure to stop at Elephant Butte Reservoir State Park for a day of swimming, boating, and fishing. For more adventures in West Texas, you can go gem hunting Rockhound State Park, set in the beautiful Florida Mountains.
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