Article provided by Thor Industries
We all have places we’ve always dreamed of going. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences that create memories you’ll never forget. Well, we’re here to tell you that you can make those dreams come true, and there’s no better time to make it happen than right now. Nobody’s getting any younger.
What we have here are bucket list trips that we think would make even Lewis and Clark green with envy. But don’t think they’re set in stone. Ultimately, this is just a starting point for you to build a dream trip of your own on.
Go ahead and take an RV with you if you want, for comfortable, impromptu stops along the way, or you can stay in motels. But stop waiting and start exploring. It’s a big wonderful world out there.
So, with all that said, keep an open mind and an adventurous spirit, and go your own way.
If you ask us, the only fitting place to start a trip along the Appalachian Trail is what’s considered to be America’s oldest man-made tourist attraction. It’s the Mount Washington Auto Road, which takes you to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in all New England. At 6,288 ft., on a clear day, you can see upwards of 130 miles – meaning the Atlantic Ocean to your east, or the state of Vermont to your west. But be prepared: the mountain is known for its erratic weather. You could encounter gale-force winds and sudden storms. In fact, the world record wind speed was recorded here on April 12, 1934, at 231 miles per hour! Talk about wind chill.
After a restful night at either the grand and historic Omni Mount Washington Resort or one of the many beautiful bed and breakfasts that cover most of New England, you can begin to make your way south along the trail. Be sure not to pass up any opportunity you get to enjoy the many diners you’ll find along the way. They’re a nice break from the national chains and a terrific way to support the local economy. One in particular that draws rave reviews is Collins Diner in North Canaan, Connecticut.
Heading into the great state of New York, the trail crosses the Hudson River at Bear Mountain Bridge, where visitors are treated to a park that draws more visitors each year than Yellowstone. Bear Mountain Park offers a scenic drive to the top of Bear Mountain where, if you have the nerve, you can climb a lookout tower and get a great view over the entire region. The park also offers paddle boats for rent as well as a large public swimming pool. It’s a nice little break to wear out the kids before hopping in the car again.
Heading southwest, deeper inland away from the coast, the trail makes its way past Bethlehem and Allentown, Pennsylvania, and works its way into Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Here you can visit the most beloved of all the many oddball attractions that have popped up along the Old Lincoln Highway.
On a more reverent note, as you come to the southern end of Pennsylvania, the trail makes its way to the town of Gettysburg – site of the most famous two-minute speech in our nation’s history, as well as one of its bloodiest battles. On a more upbeat note, there’s much for travelers to see and do in Gettysburg, including many fine places to eat. For cheap eats, there’s Hunt’s Battlefield Fries and Café, or for those with a few more dollars to spend, there’s the Dobbin House Tavern or the 1863 Restaurant.
Moving on to Virginia, we come to one of the more truly spectacular sightseeing opportunities along the trail – Skyline Drive, which runs along the length of Shenandoah National Park. And while you can see beautiful views from the car, we suggest that to really take in all the park has to offer, you exit your vehicle and take a trek along any one of the many trails (including the Appalachian Trail) that lead through the dense green forests, numerous waterfalls, and beautiful overlooks. For overnight stays, Big Meadows Lodge provides a homey feel with the entire interior structure of the lodge, including the paneling, made entirely from native oak and chestnut.
West of the trail, closer to Lexington, Kentucky, lies a true natural wonder, and while you’re in the neighborhood it’s a sight not to be missed. Natural Bridge was purchased from King George in 1774 by Thomas Jefferson and spans some 90 feet, with the waters of Cedar Creek running clean below. It’s more than just a bridge, however – an entire state park surrounds the structure, complete with hiking trails, beautiful mountain vistas, and an unbelievably huge souvenir shop located nearby in the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel.
Going from one nature-made, national treasure, to a man-made one, let’s move on to Asheville, North Carolina, home to one of the greatest homes in America. The historic vacation house of the Vanderbilt’s. The Biltmore Estate covers some 8,000 acres on the south side of Asheville. This unbelievable French Renaissance-style mansion, built in 1895, contains some 250 rooms and includes a palm court and bowling alley. The name Biltmore derives from “Bildt,” Vanderbilt’s ancestors’ place of origin in Holland, and “More,” Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land. A visit to this amazing American home is most definitely deserving of a spot on anyone’s bucket list. And it’s not just the home and gardens that will keep you and your family entertained. There’s an entire outdoor adventure area to the west of the mansion that the whole family can enjoy. For those with the means, overlooking the area is the Inn on Biltmore Estate. A beautiful, Forbes Travel Guide, four-star hotel that treats its visitors to the same level of service to which the Vanderbilts treated their guests.
Once you’ve had your fill of palatial opulence and are ready to once again come down to earth, head about 2½ hours east of the Biltmore to Mount Airy, North Carolina. Or, as most of the country refers to it, “Mayberry.” That’s because Mount Airy was the boyhood home of Andy Griffith, who based his shows (The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.) on this region. Be sure to stop by the Snappy Lunch for a pork chop sandwich while you’re in town. While it may have its origins as a small-town diner, it was raved about by Gourmet Magazine.
The Appalachian Trail contains so many bucket list destinations, but we’ll end this journey at the most popular park in the United States – Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The main route through the park’s 522,419 acres is Newfound Gap Road, which runs northwest from Cherokee to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. The road takes a meandering path through old hardwood forests with flowering poplars, dogwoods, and azaleas, with evergreen pines and firs at its highest points.
As beautiful as the park is, don’t expect to find any plush, first-class accommodations. If you do wish to spend a night or two in the park, the historic LeConte Lodge is the only option, and there are no phones, no TVs, little privacy, and no indoor plumbing. To cap it off, the lodge is only accessible by a 6.5-mile hike up Mt. LeConte, making it the highest guest lodge in the eastern United States. Now if that doesn’t make an overnight stay as memorable as possible, we’re not sure what would.
For camping there are several options, such as Smokemont Campground and Elkmont Campground. But for RV camping that provides for the larger rigs and hookups, you may want to stay in the Pigeon Forge area or along Route 321, which runs along the northern side of the park. There you’ll find locations such as Smoky Mountain Premier RV Resort and the Smoky Bear Campground and RV Park.