Parker, Arizona: Rugged desert and even a ghost town!

Traveling from Phoenix to the Mojave Desert, I stopped in Parker, Arizona for a few days. This unique gem of a destination is located within the “West Coast” region of Arizona on the Colorado River and isn’t far from larger metropolitan areas like Phoenix (160 miles) and Las Vegas (178 miles). I was delighted by the fascinating attractions around this small town! I  hiked outside in a mountain park, wandered around a ghost town, and spent the afternoon relaxing in the Colorado River. Less than two hours from Joshua Tree National Park, Parker is such a fun place to pass a few days.

This article was created in partnership with the Parker Area Chamber of Commerce, Arizona. All photos by Tobey Schmidt.

photo collage of Parker, Arizona

In the Buckskin Mountains

Parker, Arizona Pinterest

I loved hiking on the trails around Buckskin Mountain State Park. The diverse environment and rugged terrain kept me on my toes! I spotted a coyote during my hike also, reminding me just how wild this place is. Views of the river from above were incredibly rewarding… and pretty darn inviting! After my hike, I scuttled down to the water and jumped in to cool off. Next time, I’d love to wrangle some friends and get out on the water, perhaps a boat rental or even jet skis!

The region is also home to two other state parks, River Island and Cattail Cove, both situated on the Colorado River. There are many different events held in Parker that bring people from all over the country. For example: The ADR Another Dam Race brings participants to race 10 miles of the Colorado River in outriggers, kayaks, and paddleboards.  Parker also hosts one of the biggest events of the summer season—the Annual Parker Tube Float.  This event has been a time honored tradition going strong for 43 years.

Buckskin Loop Trail in Buckskin Mountain State Park

After a full morning at the park, I checked out the wonderfully quirky Nellie E. Saloon Desert Bar. Once a mining camp, the “desert bar” is now a thriving destination for locals and travelers alike. Funky decor such as refrigerator doors for windows completes the vibe of this unique spot, which is constructed entirely out of recycled materials and runs entirely on solar power. Throughout the winter months, the watering hole also hosts live music. Don’t miss a visit to this one-of-a-kind place, which is open weekends from noon to sunset October through April.

Colorado River aerial image

After a nap, I awoke ready for more exploration! About an hour from Parker, I wandered through the historic remnants of Swansea. This ghost town ebbed and flowed during its mining era in the early 1900’s, and was finally abandoned during the Great Depression. The place feels eerie yet fascinating, and was super fun to photograph.

Intriguing Parker history

Ten miles east of Parker, off of Shea Road, is an intaglio known as The Snake. Then, just an hour south, near Blythe, California, are others. Intaglios are massive geoglyphs (think petroglyphs, except produced on the earth), consisting of human and animal figures. The largest figure is over 171 feet long, and they’re dated between 450 and 2,000 years old. With an unknown origin story, you’ll have to see this place for yourself. Could it be aliens? Let your imagination run wild!

Blythe Intaglios geoglyphs outside of Parker, Arizona

By afternoon, I was walking through the Colorado River Indian Tribes Museum. At the museum, I learned so much about the heritage and culture in the area. A variety of exhibits featured regional artifacts and beautiful artwork, as well as photography that provides a glimpse into tribal history.

Colorado River Indian Tribes sign

I love landing in places like Parker, Arizona on a road trip. Destinations like this remind me just how diverse the landscape of our American West really is.

Wyoming Casinos: Winning so much more than dinner at Wind River Hotel & Casino

You could spend an entire weekend without leaving the grounds of the Wind River Hotel and Casino and have a rich, full holiday. Just beyond the doors of the largest of Wyoming casinos, though, you’ll find even more adventure and heritage in the heart of the state.

This story was created in partnership with the Wind River Hotel & Casino.

The Wind River Hotel and Casino, just outside Riverton, Wyoming, has easy access to the Wind River Indian Reservation so you can immerse yourself in Wyoming’s Native American culture. Fellow dog parents will appreciate that it’s not only a truly special stop en route to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks—it’s also pet friendly!

Dog on road trip from pet friendly Wyoming casinos

Day 1: Wind River Culture

Wyoming Casinos pin for Wind River Hotel & Casino

I arrived in Wind River Country midmorning and stopped at St. Stephens Indian Mission on my way to the hotel. I had picked up a Wind River Reservation Driving Tour map, which made it really easy to find my way there.

St. Stephens Indian Mission is the site of a Catholic mission founded in the 1880s. The church is a breathtaking intersection of Native American culture and Catholicism. I soaked up the beautiful interior of the church—complete with bright, geometric stained-glass windows in Northern Arapaho style. Then I walked next door to the Heritage Center. This is the only original building remaining of the mission. It now serves as a post office and educational center for travelers like myself. I highly recommend making this one of your first stops when you’re on the Wind River Reservation.

St Stephens Mission in Wyoming

My appetite was piqued for more cultural exposure and a meal, so I headed to the Wind River Casino & Hotel and checked in. I lucked out when I stepped into The Buffalo Restaurant in the Wind River Casino: I was treated to a plethora of meal choices and a melody of insights into Northern Arapaho culture. The walls of The Buffalo are covered with murals of quotes and imagery representative of the tribe that owns this and two other Wyoming casinos. I chose from the four restaurants in the room, then munched on my barbecue while learning as much as I could from the decor.

Native American imagery and text adorns the walls of The Buffalo Restaurant in the Wind River Hotel and Casino in Wyoming

After lunch, I headed back to the hotel lobby, where I strolled through the cozy and fascinating Northern Arapaho Experience Room. The on-site museum is staffed by a Native American elder, so you can ask questions about the displays, their life, and their heritage. This was an absolutely incredible opportunity.

I had gotten my fill for the day, so it was my dog’s turn. She had eagerly laid claim to her place(s) in the hotel room when we checked in, so I knew she was cozy while I was eating and learning. The hotel even provided her with a food and water dish so that I wasn’t the only one enjoying complementary special touches during our stay.

We headed into Riverton, which is just a couple miles away. We romped around Jaycee Park until her doggo grin was big and tired, then headed back to our home away from home.  My dog had claimed the bed closest to the window, which allowed her to gaze at the dramatic, blue Wind River Mountains in the distance over a completely uninterrupted view. She settled back into her bed with some TV, and I set out to see if I could win my supper. After all, if your vacation includes Wyoming casinos, you had better give it a try!

Dog friendly room and views at Wyoming Casino in Riverton: Wind River Hotel & Casino

I was a little too shy for the table games, but the groups gathered around the craps, roulette, and poker tables were clearly having a good time. Their grins made it clear the house wasn’t winning every hand. Instead, I found a slot game and settled in with my free player’s club card (it came with $10 pre-loaded). It wasn’t long before I had doubled my money! They really delivered on the promise on their website that they have more winners than other Wyoming casinos!

I decided to quit while I was ahead, especially since I was hungry again and had been hearing about the crab special. The Red Willow is the second of three restaurants in the Wind River Hotel and Casino. This is the fine dining option on site, so my standards were high. I was not disappointed. Even better, the Native American art on the walls and the fact that all the employees were local tribal members made me feel like I was doing good while eating really well.

Crab dinner at Red Willow in Wind River Hotel & Casino

Day 2: Parks, Scenery and Hot Springs

After a cozy night in my room, Duke and I hit the road. Riverton and the Wind River Hotel & Casino aren’t far from the Wind River Canyon Scenic Byway, which leads to the hot springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming.

On our way, we passed through Boysen State Park and drove the full length of Boysen Reservoir. The transition from the arid land surrounding the reservoir to the steep and deep canyon makes the Owl Creek Mountains stand out against the Wyoming sky. The drama and solitude of the canyon views, which is almost entirely on the Wind River Reservation, is a must-see. The canyon itself offers a new view with each turn—as well as countless opportunities to safely pull over and watch the river go by and take photos. We stopped at one of the campgrounds in the canyon so my dog could run a bit, and I’m sure she was appreciating the views as much as I was.

Wind River Canyon Scenic byway images in winter

Just an hour from the Wind River Casino, we reached Thermopolis and enjoyed our second state park for the day: Hot Springs State Park. Surrounded by a big park for picnicking and playing fetch,  the free pool in mineral waters has another connection to Native American culture: This site was—and still is—very important to the regional tribes. I read some of the interpretive displays, then slipped into the pungent, soothing waters.

Having found a new state of relaxation and treated my tired muscles, I turned back to Riverton for a special show. All summer long, the Wind River Hotel & Casino hosts Native American dance exhibitions. The dancers were so graceful and athletic, and their regalia swept me up in the sounds of the singers and their drums. The emcee educated us about Native culture and history while entertaining us with plenty of humor. To wrap up the evening, the dancers invited us to join in for a song. Once again, I can’t believe how much you can experience right on the Wind River Hotel & Casino property!

Dinner was a dish you can’t miss while you’re in Indian Country: an Indian taco. I picked one up at the third and final restaurant in what is certainly my stomach’s favorite casino in Wyoming: Cee Nokuu. An Indian taco is a delightful, hot pillow of fried dough topped with ground beef, veggies, salsa, cheese, and more. Duke’s only regret was that she didn’t get to taste any.

Indian taco from the Wind River Hotel & Casino in Wyoming

Day 3: Wildlife

Duke and I slept in after our full day, then sadly said goodbye to the Wind River Hotel & Casino. But our adventure inspired by the best of Wyoming casinos wasn’t over yet. On our way out of town, we took Highway 26 toward the Wild Horse Sanctuary. We took this route so we could see the bison of the Reservation. They were only recently re-introduced into the wild on the Wind River Indian Reservation, so the chance to spot them was significant.

The Reservation is also home to the only wild horse sanctuary on an Indian Reservation. I made a stop there to top off my Wyoming cultural tour. The Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary is a working ranch where un-adoptable mustangs from Wyoming and Nevada get to live out their lives in comfort and with professional care. They also get visitors like myself. The visitor center is a wealth of information about the significance of the horse to Native American history and culture, so start there. Then, take a tour to visit the mustangs in the pasture to put it all into perspective.

Mustangs at the Wind River Wild Horse Sanctuary

Back Home: A Winning Stay to Remember

I certainly won more than my supper during my stay at the Wind River Hotel & Casino. The opportunity to do good and make connections was what I believe travel is all about. The entire itinerary, inspired by the best of Wyoming casinos, was a special exploration of the American West.

Avoid the Crowds: Utah National Parks in the Winter

My first time experiencing the Utah national parks was in February⁠—the middle of winter. I have to say, the next time I go back to Moab, I’m planning for winter again. From the crowd-less parks and low hotel rates, to the snow-capped arches and cozy cafes, it just seems like the best time to visit.

This story was created in partnership with Discover Moab. All photos by Tobey Schmidt.

Sure, Moab can be cold in the winter, but it can also be very sunny. Temperatures were above freezing during our visit, and there was snow in higher elevations, but the sun was out every day. Plan the perfect winter trip by skiing the slopes in Salt Lake City before heading south to experience the parks in Moab.

Collage of Utah National Parks

Enjoy Solitude in Utah National Parks + State Parks

My partner and I sat completely alone underneath Delicate Arch at sunset. “Wow, I bet you never get to see this without people,” I said aloud.

Arches National Park

While it was unusual to have Delicate Arch to ourselves, apparently that’s not an uncommon occurrence during the colder months. ‘Why wouldn’t people want to come here in the winter?’ we asked ourselves. Glistening snow was dusted on the tops of the red, sandstone arches and the breeze kept us cool as we hiked uphill.

arches national park delicate arch in utah in winter

The best part about being alone in Arches was that I could really hone in my photography without having to worry about there being 30 random people in my shot.

Lucas looking up at Double Arch

Deadhorse Point State Park

Known for its incredible overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, Deadhorse Point State Park is a great spot to hit at sunrise. Hard to motivate that early in the morning? We stopped by Love Muffin Cafe for some coffee and homemade muffins to enjoy on the 40-minute drive. Muffins or not, it was so worth it to be out there as the sun rose over the canyon, reflecting off the river below.

Looking out over Deadhorse Point State Park at sunrise on a trip to Utah national parks in winter

Canyonlands National Park

After enjoying the sunrise, we drove just down the road to Canyonlands National Park. The park is split into three districts, and the closest to Moab is called Island in the Sky. We planned to hike, but the weather was nice enough that we could have even ridden bikes on the trails if we wanted.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, in winter

Since it was my first time in the park, I really wanted to photograph the famous Mesa Arch. It’s a quick loop hike that visits a spectacular arch on the edge of cliff. The bottom of the arch was glowing orange from the sun’s illumination. Looking through the arch we had views of the canyon and the snowy La Sal Mountains in the distance. We saw many arches on this trip, but Mesa Arch might have been my favorite.

Rappel into Slot Canyons

Many people don’t realize how many activities there are to do in the wintertime in Moab—it’s not all sightseeing and hiking. Looking for something more adventurous, we booked a full-day excursion with Moab Canyon Tours. Our guide, Zach, took us to Irish Canyons where we went up through one canyon, and down into another.

Irish Canyons with Moab Canyon Tours

Going up the first canyon required lots of scrambling moves using body tension. If Zach ever felt it was risky, he could give us a belay using a rope so that we wouldn’t fall. Going down the second canyon was even more fun. We rappelled three times, each time going deeper into the canyon. One rappel began by crawling into a hole and then descending another 30 feet, where we ended up in the most beautiful slot canyon I’ve ever seen. This tour was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Two pictures of Lucas in the slot canyons

Rock-Crawl in a Jeep & Visit Dinosaur Tracks

I’ve been off-roading in a Jeep only a handful of times, but this experience with Big Iron Tour Co. was something else! Owner of Big Iron Tours, Mike, took us on some dubious routes along steep, rocky ridges. I didn’t know the capabilities of the 4-wheeled rock-crawler until I watched Mike easily maneuver the Jeep over what I thought looked like vertical rock face.

Jeep crawling over rocks in Moab

Mike took us into a hidden cave where he taught us about the pictographs on the rock and what he thought the Native American had used the cave for. We also went to the sites of dinosaur tracks and fossils. I had no idea there was that much history so close to town. We (literally) rode into the sunset and watched the moon rise over the La Sal Mountains, all while Mike kept us entertained with his stories.

Big Iron Tour Co. Jeeps in Moab

Dine + Stay

Sometimes I get worried during travel that I won’t be able to find good food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cheap burgers and fries every once in a while, but it’s not what I want for dinner every night. Luckily the food scene in Moab is so rich, that I didn’t need to worry. From gourmet steakhouses to authentic Thai food, they have got it all. To top it off, there’s even a health-foods store with an impressive produce section, and a hot-food bar for quicker, healthy meals.

A collage of food options in Moab

As I mentioned, hotel rates are typically much cheaper in the winter than during Moab’s peak season. We stayed at the new Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton, where the rates were less than half of their normal price. Plus, g-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s! It was nice coming back after a long day in the dirt to a clean room with an on-site hot tub.

Hoodoo by Hilton Hotel Moab, Utah

We are advocates of sustainable travel, and I know that Discover Moab is too, which is why they’d like everyone to learn how to do Moab Like a Local. Now bundle up and go enjoy those crowd-less Utah national parks! When you’re finished with Moab, head further south and experience Zion National Park classic hikes, “winter style.”

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5 Reasons Paradise Guest Ranch is the Best Dude Ranch Experience in Wyoming

The wild west is alive and thriving in the northeastern corner of Wyoming at the scenic and historic Paradise Guest Ranch. Founded in the late 1890’s, this ranch takes guests back in time to a place where cattle drives, log cabins, and mountain vistas reign supreme. Here, the pace of your day is dictated by sunrise and sundown, the hoofbeats of your trusty steed, and everyone’s favorite timekeeper—the dinner bell. This is old fashioned fun for families and friends alike. Spend a week at Paradise Guest Ranch horseback riding, fly-fishing for rainbow trout, and hiking to remote destinations with unparalleled scenery. The ranch is easy access from the international airport in Billings, Montana, and also offers shuttles from regional airports in Sheridan, Gillette, and Casper, Wyoming. Here are a few of the reasons why you need to get to Paradise this summer! 

This story was created in partnership with Paradise Guest Ranch.

Horseback Riding at Paradise Guest Ranch


Paradise Guest Ranch Wyoming

The star attraction of any dude ranch worth its salt is the horseback riding. Paradise Guest Ranch does not disappoint! Their 180-horse herd is full of personality and offers something for every guest—from first-time riders to those with years of experience. Mount up for a guided trail ride through literally a million acres. You’ll walk, trot, and lope alongside sweeping mountain vistas, in meadows full of wildflowers, and through thick forests of pine. During your ride, keep an eye out for native wildlife like antelope and mule deer! Rides vary in length from two hours to full-day trips. You will also have the chance to practice your cowboy skills in the arena with team penning, where riders hone their horsemanship skills by cutting steers from the herd. 

Fishing at Paradise Guest Ranch


One of the best parts about being in a remote corner of Wyoming is that the fishing is second to none. At Paradise Guest Ranch, there are a variety of places to practice your cast: French Creek and several stocked ponds are right out the front door, and uncrowded rivers and seldom-visited alpine lakes are perfect for full-day fishing excursions. For beginners, casting and knot clinics are available during your stay. Paradise Guest Ranch is proud to have trained quite a few expert fishermen and women during summer vacations. No matter your experience level, the fly-fishing guides at Paradise Guest Ranch will get you hooked on this life-long sport. Chances are, they’ll help you get quite a few fish on the line in the process! 

Moose at Paradise Guest Ranch


For those who prefer to explore the Bighorn National Forest on foot, guided hikes are a great option. Paradise Guest Ranch offers a myriad of hikes from lazy strolls to full-day events. Join an experienced naturalist on a trek through Crazy Woman Canyon, an area named for the lore of the past. Or, journey to the high desert “Outlaw Cave” which was once a hideout for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Seven Brothers high mountain lakes are another popular all-day hiking destination. Regardless of which hikes you take during your stay, the Wyoming wilderness is sure to take your breath away.  

Views of Paradise, Wyoming


When you’re done exploring all the vast wilderness around Paradise Guest Ranch, recharge with delicious home-cooked meals and refreshments. The dining hall is the heart of the ranch, where guests tell stories about their adventures while tucking into family recipes that have withstood the test of time.

The French Creek Saloon offers another favorite dude ranch experience. Check the schedule for square dancing, talent shows, and more fun for all ages! At the end of the day, cozy log cabins await. Cabins range in size from one to four bedrooms to accommodate the size of your party, and all come with modern amenities to complement their rustic charm.

Kids love Dude Ranches


Dude ranch vacations are popular for kids of all ages, and infants to teenagers are welcome at Paradise Guest Ranch. The property’s award-winning kids program features so many events, parents might actually get jealous! Arts and crafts, pony rides, talent shows, fishing derbies, rodeos, and even overnight pack trips are only a few of the options for children during their stay. No matter what activities your kids participate in, smiles and good old-fashioned fun are guaranteed!

Because of its popularity for the whole family, it is not unusual for Paradise Guest Ranch to become a cherished family tradition each summer. We think your stay will turn into one, as well.


The Perfect Cellar Season Road Trip through the Willamette Valley

Nestled between the Pacific Coast and the Cascade Mountain Range, Oregon’s Willamette Valley offers an incredible variety of year-round activities. Our favorite time to visit is during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall; a time the locals have affectionately come to call “cellar season.”

That’s when the trails are quieter, access to local wineries and restaurants is uncrowded, and you can take advantage of the newest Pacific Northwest craze—truffle hunting! There are countless ways to explore the Willamette Valley, but this three-day road trip is a great place to start.

COVID-19 is still a reality throughout the world and the Willamette Valley. Here are a few things to expect when you visit in 2020/21. Non-essential travel is currently strongly discouraged in Oregon, and it’s still important for individuals to stay local to their county and community. Face coverings are required in all indoor spaces. Some locations may deny access without a face covering; this is no different than “no shirt, no shoes, no service” signs. Expect to maintain physical distancing at all times. This means you will see tables spaced at least six feet apart to ensure appropriate physical distancing—and you should keep your distance between all individuals not in your own party. Find more Willamette Valley travel alerts. Learn about how Willamette Valley is reopening—and keeping you safe in the process—here.

This story was created in partnership with The Willamette Valley Visitors Association.

Wine Tasting in Willamette Valley, Oregon



Cellar Season in Willamette Valley road trip pin

Chances are, you’ll begin your road trip in Portland. Head southbound through the Willamette Valley, where there are more than 500 wineries within 150 miles. On the northeastern side of the region in the shadow of Mount Hood, these foothills offer a great introduction. Make a pit stop in the town of Aurora, where the Old Aurora Colony museum pays homage to the pioneering history of the area. If it’s a Saturday, be sure to carry on to TMK Creamery, where the whole family can enjoy a tour of a working dairy farm. What goes better with cheese than wine? The Cascade Foothills Winegrowers Association, a collection of 15 family-owned and operated wineries, is based in this region and any of their members are worth a visit! Be sure to call ahead, as you may need to taste by appointment, rather than dropping in.

Truffle Hunting in Willamette Valley


Stretch your legs with a hike on the 7.6-mile roundtrip Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park, where beautiful waterfalls bring the Pacific Northwest feel of the Willamette Valley to life. If you spent a full day at Silver Falls State Park, you might elect to stay at the Oregon Garden Resort, located on 80 acres of beautifully manicured botanical gardens in the city of Silverton, near the state park.

Alternatively, you can partake in an afternoon of truffle hunting—Oregon’s newest obsession! Follow the trusty noses of special truffle-hunting dogs during a private tour through a forest of Douglas Fir. This small fungus is native to the area and when harvested sustainably makes for a delectable treat!

Your next stop for the day is probably Salem, the capital city of Oregon. Overnight across the river in the country at the brand new Independence Hotel or The Grand Hotel, which is walking distance to many popular areas in Salem.

Cellar Season in Willamette Valley



The following morning, road trip 30 minutes south to the central Willamette Valley. Here you’ll find more opportunities for recreation and great food and wine in the cities of Albany and Corvallis. Enjoy a morning stroll at the Talking Water Gardens in Albany. Be sure to also stop by the Monteith House—a perfectly restored pioneer home from 1849 that has been turned into a museum.

You can also watch for bald eagles and waterfowl along the river walkway, right in downtown Albany. If you’re ready for more, consider a longer hike or mountain bike ride in the McDonald-Dunn Research Forest.

Downtown Corvallis in Willamette Valley


Head over to Corvallis and slow down in the Avery Park Rose Gardens. Make time for more wine tasting at local spots like Harris Bridge Winery located at the historic covered Harris Bridge. You might also visit Marcotte, a moon-shinery in the Philomath area serving up spirits with flavors like coconut, apple pie, and jalapeño.

Before dinner, check out the incredible art murals in downtown Corvallis. Overnight at any number of familiar hotels in Corvallis (such as the convenient Courtyard Marriott), or try the quirky 206 ½ Hotel in downtown Albany; a historic spot with plenty of charm. Leaping Lamb Farm offers a truly unique Willamette experience. Lambing season takes place in the winter—another benefit of visiting during cellar season!

The Whit in Eugene, Oregon



Your final destination in Willamette Valley is the college-town of Eugene; affectionately called “TrackTown USA.” It’s here that some of the fastest athletes in the world will convene at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 in July, 2022. Whether you’re in Eugene to run or to sightsee, you can enjoy world-class wine and scrumptious eats along the way!

It’s time for your road trip finale: a journey from Eugene to South Willamette Valley wine country. First, stop for a cinnamon roll or other tasty treat at Camas Country Mill Bakery & Store to fuel up for your day.

Wine Tasting South of Eugene, Oregon


That afternoon, you’ll have the chance to visit six vineyards within a 10-mile radius. Not into grapes? Check out Eugene’s beer district downtown, called the Whit. For dinner, enjoy a hearty ribeye or oysters at Marché, or the aptly-named Party Bar. After all, Eugene is a college town! We recommend embracing the theme and spending the night at the Graduate, although there are a plethora of lodging options in town.

Want to do more in Oregon? We don’t blame you. Learn more at oregonwinecountry.org and be sure to check out ways to bring the tastes home with you while giving back.

Sturgis, SD: The Perfect Base for a Black Hills Vacation

In the southwest corner of South Dakota lies the sometimes underrated Black Hills region. The area is home to multiple national parks, memorials, and monuments as well as a couple very impressive state parks. Several charming small towns also dot the Black Hills region—one of those towns is Sturgis, SD.

While Sturgis is likely best-known for its annual motorcycle rally that draws hundreds of thousands to the area each year, the town is worth a visit any time of the year, on a motorcycle or not. It’s also a great option as a base for your Black Hills vacation. With this three-day itinerary, discover Sturgis, the Black Hills, and beyond.


Day 1: Explore Sturgis

Black Hills Vacation Sturgis pin

After arriving and getting settled in, you’ll want to get acquainted with the small-town charm that Sturgis has to offer. Take a walk down Main Street through the historic downtown district. Stop in some of the local shops like Sturgis Photo & Gifts, Just For Looks, and Black Hills Rally & Gold.

For car and motorcycle enthusiasts, visiting both the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame and the Saab Heritage Car Museum USA are musts. To learn a little more about the area’s unique history, take a tour at The Old Fort Meade Museum.

Or, if you’d like to imbibe in a beverage, head to The Knuckle Brewing Company for some craft beer. Maybe wine is more your style, in which case you should plan to visit Belle Joli Winery Sparkling House. At Belle Joli, you can tour the vineyard and learn about the production process, or just enjoy a glass of wine on the beautiful outdoor patio.

Looking to get some exercise and enjoy the outdoors? You’re in luck. Sturgis has an expansive trail system near town that’s perfect for hiking and biking. Another option is to make the short drive to nearby Bear Butte State Park and hike to the summit of Bear Butte, where you’ll be greeted with spectacular views.

Day 2: Black Hills Sightseeing

Rise and shine early to ensure you see as much as possible in Black Hills country! Grab coffee at Sturgis Coffee Company, or, if you can’t resist a good donut, try Weimer’s Diner & Donuts. After you get caffeinated and/or fed, hit the road and head for Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave National Park is an incredibly unique park featuring a complex cave system that includes Wind Cave, one of the longest caves in the world. To get the most out of your visit, schedule a cave tour ahead of time. If you just can’t get enough of the caves, you may also want to check out Jewel Cave National Monument. After you get your fill of cave exploration, the next stop is Custer State Park.

No Black Hills vacation is complete without a visit to Custer State Park. You could easily spend three days there, but if you don’t have that much time, here are a few recommendations for making the most of a quick visit to Custer State Park.

  1. Drive the Wildlife Loop
    Along this scenic byway, you’ll get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife including bison, elk, and burros. Even though these animals may act friendly, they are still wild, so be sure to respect them and give them their space.
  2. Take the breathtakingly scenic drive along Needles Highway
    This route features views of magnificent rock formations, forested hills, and maybe even a mountain goat or two. For a closer look, pull over at the scenic overlook or take a short hike on the Cathedral Spires trail.  After driving through the nail-bitingly narrow Needles Eye Tunnel, it won’t be long before you arrive at Sylvan Lake.
  3. Stop at Sylvan Lake and admire the views
    Aptly named the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake is one of the most peaceful and picturesque places in the park. Stroll around the lake, enjoy a lakeside picnic, or take a kayak out for a relaxing paddle. 

While in the Custer area, also plan to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial. Although you’ll be able to see the Crazy Horse sculpture from the highway, it’s definitely worth stopping at the visitors center to learn more about the memorial as well as the area’s American Indian history and culture.

Once you’ve finished exploring in the Custer State Park area, get back on the road and head toward Mount Rushmore.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is undoubtedly one of the most well-known attractions in the Black Hills. Seeing four former United States presidents’ faces carved into stone towering above you inspires patriotism. Those interested in learning more about the creation of Mount Rushmore should also make time to visit the Lincoln Borglum Visitors Center and the Sculptor’s Studio.

From Mount Rushmore, you can head back to Sturgis via Interstate 90, or take the scenic route through Spearfish Canyon.

Day 3: Badlands and Good Vibes

Just a little over an hour from Sturgis lies another national park that must be part of your Black Hills vacation itinerary. Badlands National Park is something of a geologic wonder with colorful formations jutting up from the prairie.  We encourage devoting at least half a day to exploring this rugged and beautiful place. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to see exhibits showcasing the area’s cultural history and paleontology, drive the Badlands Loop Road, and go for a hike or two. One of the most popular hikes in the park is Notch Trail, which features a log ladder. Badlands National Park is home to a variety of animals so be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife along the way, whether on foot or in the car!

Speaking of wildlife, if you didn’t get enough wildlife watching over the past couple days, check out Bear Country USA in Rapid City on the way back to Sturgis.

After returning to Sturgis, it’s time to enjoy an evening out and unwind. Grab a drink and a bite to eat at Iron Horse Saloon, The Knuckle Saloon or Loud American Roadhouse. If you happen to be visiting on a Wednesday in June or July, head to Harley Davidson Rally Point to catch some live music during Music on Main.

Looking to incorporate a Black Hills vacation into a trip to Yellowstone National Park? Check out our Yellowstone Road Trip Itinerary: The Black Hills Route.

Why Bellingham, Washington is a Must on Your Next West Coast Road Trip

Lush forests, green and white ferry boats, and sockeye salmon are only a few of the iconic images that come to mind when you imagine the Pacific Northwest. An area with so much to offer is the perfect destination for a road trip! One small town not to miss is Bellingham, Washington. Just a 90-minute drive north of Seattle, here you can immerse yourself in the authentic Pacific Northwest where mountains still dominate the horizon, solitude is found on uncrowded trails, and farm-to-table dining isn’t a trend—it’s a way of life. Here are just a few reasons why Bellingham should be the cornerstone of your next West Coast road trip. 

This story was created in partnership with Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.

Bellingham Washington has Unbeatable Views

Bellingham Washington West Coast Road Trip Pin


Nestled on the coast of northern Washington between North Cascades National Park and the rugged coastline of the Salish Sea, the city of Bellingham enjoys a privileged location in the Pacific Northwest. Here you’ll find easy access to trails, a charming downtown, and miles of waterfront where idyllic sailboats fill the marinas. Mount Baker, a 10,781-foot peak that holds the world-record for the highest snowfall recorded in a single year (95 feet in 1999), stands guard on the skyline and provides a year-round playground. If it does happen to rain, you’ll find a number of entertainment options like the Whatcom Museum where exhibits from the Smithsonian are often on display. It’s no wonder Bellingham is a favorite destination for professional athletes, university students, and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world!

Endless Activities in Bellingham


No matter what time of year you plan your West Coast road trip, Bellingham offers outdoor adventure for the whole family. In the summer, enjoy unparalleled access to the North Cascades, where hiking trails and over 50 miles of the best mountain bike singletrack in the state awaits. For those who enjoy cycling on the road, miles of quiet blacktop are available to explore. You’ll also want to spend some time on the Salish Sea! Tackle the coastline by kayak, sailboat, or stand-up paddleboard. Whale-watching tours are incredible here and leave daily, rain or shine, May-September.

In the winter, enjoy alpine skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing at Mount Baker. You’ll find a mixture of all of the above activities if your itinerary is in the spring or fall, depending on the weather. Outdoor adventure defines Bellingham and will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable parts of your visit!

Bellingham, Washington Beer and Foodie Scene


Not only does Bellingham offer fresh seafood like salmon, crab, and shellfish, but it is developing a reputation as a foodie scene to reckon with! The downtown area serves as a great incubator for young chefs and restaurant owners to get started at a lower cost than in nearby big cities, with fresh ingredients sourced right out the back door. In fact, the Bellingham farmers market is one of the best in the state! In addition, nearby Lummi Island boasts The Willows Inn, named the best restaurant in America for the third year in a row. Thirsty travelers will also enjoy taking a break from their West Coast road trip in one of Bellingham’s 16 craft breweries. Don’t miss Chuckanut Brewery, a local favorite and the winner of the 2019 Washington State Large Brewery of the Year! 

North Cascades National Park Outside of Bellingham


Whether you are traveling by plane, train, or automobile, it’s easier than ever before to access Bellingham. With an international airport serving both Alaska and Allegiant airlines with daily flights from Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and beyond, you can combine a trip to the Pacific Northwest with your other West Coast destinations with ease. Prefer to travel by rail? Amtrak operates daily journeys from Vancouver all the way to Los Angeles. And of course, our favorite way to explore the region is by car. That way you can connect destinations like Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Seattle, the San Juan Islands, and even Vancouver at your leisure. 

Hotel Bellwether in Bellingham, Washington is ideal lodging for a West Coast road trip


Bellingham is home to a plethora of accommodations that will make you feel right at home during your West Coast road trip. One example is the famous Hotel Bellwether, located right on the water of Bellingham Bay. The luxury hotel features an iconic lighthouse suite for the ultimate romantic getaway! Another option is the Hotel Leo. Originally built in 1889, the Leo combines historic touches with modern design flare in the heart of Bellingham. We also love the Heliotrope; a perfect spot for outdoor enthusiasts to crash after a long day playing in the elements. You will find all of these destinations and more at your fingertips for the perfect West Coast road trip accommodations in Bellingham. 

The Ultimate West Coast USA Road Trip: Cascade Loop

Known as the best road trip in Washington, the Cascade Loop is a 440-mile route that winds through a large part of the state, including North Cascade National Park. From the sea to the mountains, this west coast USA road trip gives visitors the chance to experience the diverse landscape that Washington has to offer. 


Best west coast USA road trip

The quantity of cities, towns, and activities along the Cascade Loop allows road-trippers to personalize their vacation with ease. We recommend travelers fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and rent a car from there. The loop is best traveled in five to seven days and can be driven in either direction. Summer and fall seasons offer the most temperate, sunny weather. 

West Coast USA Road Trip Pin Cascade Loop

Day 1: Everett to Leavenworth (about 2 hours)

Everett is just 40 minutes north of Seattle. If you’re not international, you could even fly into Paine Field Airport in Snohomish County. From there to Leavenworth you’ll drive alongside the Skykomish River and on to Stevens Pass Greenway, with views of jagged mountain peaks in the distance. If you haven’t been to Leavenworth, you’re in for a treat. From the architecture to the food, the entire town is Bavarian-styled. Grab a German beer and pretend you’re in Europe. 

Leavenworth Bavaria on the best west coast USA road trip

Also along the way, hike to an incredible waterfall in Wallace Falls State Park,  go whitewater rafting in Index, or photograph the fall colors in Tumwater Canyon outside of Leavenworth. Be sure to check out Espresso Chalet near Bridal Veil Falls. 

Collage of pictures from best west coast USA road trip

Day 2: Leavenworth to Mazama (about 2.5 hours)

Next you’ll drive down into Wenatchee and Columbia River Valley, up through Lake Chelan Valley, and then to Methow Valley. What does it mean when there are so many valleys in less than 100 miles? Lots of mountains and great views. 

Wenatchee and Columbia River Valley

Wenatchee Valley is historically known as the Apple Capital of the World. Visit the Pybus Public Market, where they boast to have the “world’s best farmers market.” Hike one of the Horse Lake Trails through grasslands of rolling hills. 

Farmers market in Wenatchee Valley

Chelan Valley

Chelan Valley is known for the 55-mile long Lake Chelan that sits in the middle of the valley and is surrounded by beaches, woods and vineyards. Stay at a resort, rent a boat on the water, or taste the local wine at one of the many wineries

Collage of pictures from best west coast USA road trip

Methow Valley

Drive along the Methow River through Methow Valley. Travelers will notice that because of the confluence of two rivers, the valley is a popular spot for fishermen. Go fishing for big ones, hike to Cutthroat Lake in the fall to see the larch changing colors, or be in Winthrop for the hot air balloon festival.

Larch on Cutthroat Lake

Day 3: Mazama to North Cascades National Park (about 1.5 hours)

As if you haven’t had enough stunning views, now you’ll enter North Cascades National Park, where many snow-capped peaks rise above 9,000 feet, waterfalls are ubiquitous, and more than 300 glaciers still remain. Hike up to one of the park’s turquoise-colored lakes, rent a kayak to explore Devil’s Creek on Ross Lake, or go wildlife viewing and searching for wildflowers. Choose to camp in the park or stay in one of the towns of Newhalem, Marblemount or Rockport.

Collage of pictures from best west coast USA road trip

Day 4: North Cascades National Park to Anacortes (about 2 hours)

We recommend spending another morning in the park before heading out towards Skagit Valley and Fidalgo Island. Slowly leave the mountains behind you in exchange for rolling hills of farmland, small communities, and finally, an island in the sea.

In the spring, experience the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival or the La Conner Daffodil Festival. In the fall, visit the annual Festival of Family Farms to experience farm tours, harvest markets, and pumpkin patches. 

Tulip fields in Washington.

Upon arriving in Anacortes, there are many activities to choose, from fishing and crabbing to dining and shopping. We recommend making a whale watching tour your first priority. There’s nothing like seeing a ten-thousand-pound orca breach from the water. 

Orca whale in washington

Day 5: Anacortes to Everett (about 1 hour)

This next section is known as Whidbey Scenic Isle Way, where you’ll want to focus on the food and the history. Oak Harbor is the largest town in this section of the drive, and Coupeville is the second-oldest town in Washington, with more than 100 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit—or even stay overnight in—the historic Captain Whidbey Inn surrounded by old-growth fir trees. 

Captain Whidbey Inn in Coupeville, Washington.

Spend a calm morning sea kayaking off Whidbey Island or try fresh oysters at a restaurant nearby. Finally, spend some time in Everett before finishing up your west coast USA road trip. We particularly recommend a stop at the Boeing Future of Flight Museum.

Sea kayaking off Whidbey Island

The Cascade Loop is best traveled in five to ten days. Whether you’re a rock climber, bird watcher, or photographer, this route is easily one of the best west coast USA road trips out there. Bonus: you get to see one of the least visited national parks in the country. If you like peace and quiet in nature, North Cascades is for you. 

Three Days of Family Vacation Fun in Platte County, Wyoming

Platte County, Wyoming is characterized by wagon wheel ruts carving the route of the Oregon Trail and highways that will take you to both Yellowstone National Park and Devil’s Tower National Monument. But if you look a little closer you’ll see reason to plan your family vacation to this corner of Wyoming, not through it.

Paddle boarding on family vacation in Platte County, Wyoming

This article was created in partnership with Platte County Chamber of Commerce.

If you imagine your family road trip to Wyoming including warm, welcoming locals, cool water to play in, and some superfluous stops you can brag about on Instagram, Platte County is where you need to point the car. Start on the southern end of the region and work your way north.

Day 1: Chugwater & Wheatland

As you drive north from the Wyoming state border on I-25, the first town you’ll reach is Chugwater. You know those little chili packets you buy when you’re trying to impress the kids with your chili skills but you’re short on time? They come from this Wyoming town. Five ranch families founded Chugwater Chili in 1986, and now you can buy the packets around the world and get a free sample in their hometown anytime.

After the savory treat, take the kids for a sweet treat at Wyoming’s oldest operating soda fountain, which still serves old-fashioned shakes and malts. They’ll love it and won’t even make you feel old for the nostalgia you’re feeling right now.

Explore town a bit, maybe even pick up a souvenir or two by local artisans, then pile back into the car.

From Chugwater, you will drive just 25 miles north on I-25 to Wheatland, located in the heart of Platte County. This is where you’ll spend the rest of your day and the night.

Wheatland was founded not on wheat, but on water. This essential resource created ranching and recreation economic foundations for the community. Those currents continue to run strong in Wheatland. Start by wandering through the vibrant, historical downtown and check out their mural project to get a sense of this history. Pick up some Western knowledge and souvenirs, then head out of town for an evening on the lake.

Three scenes from a family vacation in Platte County, Wyoming

Drive the 20 minutes to Grayrocks Reservoir to watch the sunset from the shores. There are plenty of access points where you can settle in with a picnic blanket, some snacks, and a camera. Keep a sharp eye out for birds of all kinds.

When you’ve had your fill of beautiful, peaceful spaces, grab a delicious meal in town at Windy Peaks Brewery and Steakhouse, then fall into bed.

Day 2: Guernsey, Hartville, and Guersey State Park

Rise bright and early and pick up a scone or breakfast burrito at the Wandering Hermit. Schedule a little extra time to browse the bookstore before heading out on today’s adventure. After all, you may need something new to read next to the next lake you’re headed to.

This time, you’ll continue north to Guernsey and Hartville. You’ll reach Guernsey first, but the neighboring communities lie only 8 miles apart and share access to Guernsey State Park, where your day’s adventure awaits.

View over Guernsey State Park in Platte County, Wyoming, the perfect family vacation destination

Guernsey sits directly on the Oregon Trail. In fact, before it was a town, it was known as “the emigrants’ washtub,” because this is where pioneers gathered to bathe and wash clothes. Consider this experience on your way to visit Register Cliff, where emigrants etched their names as they made their way west on the iconic Oregon Trail. If you and the kids want to learn more about this remarkable part of American history on your family vacation, your first stop in the Guernsey State Park must be the Guernsey Museum.

When your kids are itching to run, step outside the museum and set them loose. Whether you’re there to fish, read your book on the shore, mountain bike, boat, or hike, you and your family will find vast and dramatic vistas at every turn. Settle in and enjoy.

Power boat pulling a tube during family vacation at Guersey State Park in Platte County, Wyoming

At day’s end, let your heart guide you—straight to Hartville. Once a booming mining town complete with shootouts in the main street, this “bedroom community” for Guernsey State Park visitors now has two operating businesses. The first is the post office, where you can get a special Valentine’s Day stamp. The second is the Miner’s and Stockmen’s Steakhouse & Spirits, where you’ll have dinner. This is Wyoming’s oldest bar, and to this day it serves some of the best steaks in the state, if not the country.

Town sign for Hartville, Wyoming, the oldest established city in the state, is a sweet stop for families on vacation

Overnight in Guernsey. Try not to think about the fact that tomorrow is your last day of feeling swept away in Platte County, Wyoming.

Day 3: Glendo State Park

The stop on this family vacation in Platte County will take you to Glendo State Park, one of the state’s most remarkable bodies of water.

Tree on the shore of Glendo State Park reservoir in Platte County, Wyoming

In Glendo, you’ll once again encounter the Oregon Trail, as well as a town that was once one of the first telegraph stations on the Overland Stage Express. Today, Glendo’s biggest draw is the state park. The lake is known across the state for its water sports and record-setting fish. The beautiful body of water is surrounded by more than 40 miles of non-motorized trails. Soak up this reservoir from boat, shore, or trail.

Two mountain bikers on family vacation on an easy trail along Glendo State Park in Platte County, Wyoming

When it’s finally time to get off the lake, grab a bite to eat at the Old Western Saloon & Steakhouse. Be sure to linger over your meal and savor your family vacation to and through Platte County.

Platte County Wyoming Pinterest Pin

Go Off the Grid in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

The Capitol Reef Country of Wayne County, Utah, is one of the American Southwest’s least-explored natural regions. Just one look at the map and you’ll see that this is a vast and remarkable area filled with parks, monuments, and countless hidden gems. Here you’ll find few lines and little traffic, leaving more time to enjoy the great outdoors in this alluring area in southern Utah—the perfect destination for year-round adventure!

This story was created in partnership with Wayne County Tourism.

Off Roading in Capitol Reef Country, Utah


Capitol Reef Country Pin

Capitol Reef Country is the hub for a massive amount of outdoor fun and excitement for the whole family. Wayne County itself encompasses Capitol Reef National Park, known for its iconic 100-mile formation called the Waterpocked Fold and verdant orchards, as well as the western rim of Canyonlands National Park, several towering mountain ranges, and numerous world-class canyoneering destinations, including Robbers Roost. Nearby you will find access to Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, and even parts of Lake Powell. As a result, Capitol Reef Country is the perfect base camp for the ultimate freedom to explore! 


Amazing Landscapes in Capitol Reef Country, Utah


Within the immense borders of Capitol Reef Country, the terrain is divided into three distinct regions: the Western Highlands, a Central area, and the Eastern High Desert. In the Western Highlands, the Boulder and Thousand Lakes Mountains elevate the skyline at over 11,000 feet. Their meadows and forests offer a playground for year-round activities. Lower down in the central region, the colorful sandstone cliffs and verdant riverbanks of Capitol Reef National Park mark the landscape. Further to the east, time has stood still. Here in the desert, dinosaurs and famous outlaws used to call the complex terrain home. Today, the area offers access to the western edge of Canyonlands National Park and the Henry Mountains. It is still so wild that a large herd of buffalo continues to roam free!  

Hiking in Capitol Reef Country, Utah


Hiking is a popular all-levels activity in red rock country, and Wayne County offers endless trails to explore. Enjoy alpine meadows and aspen groves on Boulder Mountain or embark on any number of hikes through Capitol Reef National Park. Chances are, you’ll want to immerse yourself in the sandstone features of southern Utah. Guided canyoneering is a great option, and the San Rafael Swell and Robber’s Roost areas are world-class. In addition, mountain biking trails for beginners and experts abound, offering a different way to take in the landscape.

Prefer to experience nature with a fishing rod in hand? Boulder Mountain’s many lakes teem with brook and rainbow trout. Similarly, casting on the Fremont River is a popular choice. There are tremendous possibilities for human-powered adventures in Capitol Reef Country!

OHV Fun in Capitol Reef Country, Utah


One of the best parts of the southwest is zooming around the desert on four wheels, and visitors can rent off-highway vehicles to partake in the fun. In Capitol Reef Country, backcountry roads lead in all directions through diverse terrain and elevations. Throttle your way through high desert terrain, red rock landscapes, and mountains. The freedom to roam is truly mind-boggling!

Hoping to get a little exercise? Take a spin on an electric bike, or e-bike. The town of Torrey, a hub for adventure in Wayne County, offers rentals and an abundance of route suggestions. For beginners, a pedal through town is perfect, while ambitious cyclists might tour Capitol Reef’s panoramic paved roadways. One of our favorites is the aptly-named Scenic Drive because of how it winds through lush valleys beneath red rocks.

Capitol Reef Resort, Utah


Capitol Reef Country serves up small-town charm and hospitality in healthy portions. The communities of Bicknell, Torrey, Hanksville, and others will keep you well-fueled for your outdoor pursuits. As for food: have you ever heard of a rattlesnake cake? It’s a local favorite, but nonetheless an acquired taste. You can find this and other Southwestern specialties like chili-infused dishes at any number of Wayne County’s restaurants.

As for lodging in the area, options range from camping in a plethora of designated campgrounds to staying in locally-owned bed and breakfasts and hotels. In conclusion, no matter where you choose to base your visit to Capitol Reef Country, you will find welcoming options at every turn.