6 Affordable Winter Vacations You Need to Book Now

Escape the cold of winter (or embrace it) with these affordable seasonal getaways.

For many travelers winter is prime vacation time. Those extra days off for the holidays mean that you can sneak in a week-long escape. Whether you’re looking for a warm-weather escapade (we’ve got our eye on you, Florida) or a chill Chicago getaway (bundle up!), we’ve got you covered with a few trips that won’t break the bank.

But remember, booking your flight and hotel arrangements early will have its benefits on your wallet. Plus, you’ll have more time to look forward to that dreamy winter getaway. And if post-holiday travel sounds like the right fit for your schedule, remember that flights and hotel prices start to drop the second week of January.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago may not be your quintessential warm winter getaway, but the food, art and culture scene may sway you to escape there this winter. Plus flights and hotels are extremely inexpensive, for example room rates at the Godfrey Hotel Chicago can be booked for $89 per night from December to February. The best part? They have a rooftop winter wonderland with clear-domed, heated igloos for guests to cozy up and enjoy the fire pit and of course some gooey delicious s’mores.

You can’t go to Chicago without checking out the museum scene, catching an architecture tour by boat (don’t worry, you’ll be indoors) or heading to Millennium Park for a legendary snow-dusted selfie at Cloud Gate aka, “The Bean”.

There are endless food options, but we’d recommend Publican Quality Meats (a butcher shop, cafe and bakery), Frontera Grill for the best Mexican and Roister, a casual restaurant that’s made its way onto almost every “Best of” list. Lastly, since Chicago is a convention destination, make sure you check out this schedule to avoid higher price tags.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil is an ideal winter escape because their summer is our winter in the states. Bonus: Brazil has waived visa requirements for visiting citizens from the US, making travel to the country easier and more affordable.

And while you may think an international destination like this is going to cost big bucks, rooms at the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort are well under $200 per night. Situated between the chic Barra da Tijuca neighborhood and famed Ipanema Beach, the resort is set above a white-sand beach looking out at the tropical South Atlantic.

You may want to lounge out after a busy year, but if you’d like to explore the city there are plenty of exciting options from local souvenir shopping to exploring the street food vendors (try the pão de queijo, aka cheese bread). Sugarloaf Mountain is a popular peak where you can take a cable car ride to catch some epic views. Or take a car for about ten minutes away to explore Copacabana Beach, a famous shoreline dotted with restaurants and bars and some of the best people watching out there.

Lake Chelan, Washington

Located three hours east of Seattle, Lake Chelan transforms into a snow-covered wonderland with seasonal recreation, award-winning wine country (sign us up), with festival fun and small town charm. Nestled among the snow-capped hilltops of the Northern Cascade Mountains, Lake Chelan celebrates 300 days of sunshine a year, making it a great retreat in the winter.

Also, because winter is during the off-season, the area is less expensive. For accommodations, the family owned and operated Campbell’s Resort offers story like lakeside guest rooms for $84 a night. The location is the perfect launch pad for area winter activities, including snow tubing and snowboarding at nearby Echo Valley, wine tasting at over 30 wineries and two fantastic winter festivals – Winterfest in January and Red, Wine and Chocolate in February.

Oranjestad, Aruba

Aruba’s calling our name! Take a quick and affordable flight to this sunny destination where everyone is welcoming. How can you go wrong with a place that’s dubbed “One Happy Island”?

This Caribbean escape is exactly what the doctor ordered. Let’s talk hotels. There are a variety of hotels at all price ranges throughout the isle, so finding reasonable lodging won’t be a problem. Oranjestad is the capital of the city and has a range of hotels close to the airport, but there are different neighborhoods to explore throughout the island.

Explore the Natural Pool (formed by rock and volcanic stone) and the Arikok National Park on a UTV or make a day of it and captain your own motor-powered boat on the open sea. Aruba is a big travel destination, so consider booking your trip as early as possible to secure the lowest rates.

Waterville Valley, New Hampshire

Waterville Valley is a resort community nestled in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest, just two hours north of Boston. The town is the epitome of what you think of when imagining the setting of an epic ski trip with friends. The good news is that skiing is actually made affordable here.

The Waterville Resort has a handful of lodging deals that run throughout the winter, like the “Ski & Stay” package that starts at $98 per night. This deal allows you to mix and match to get the lodging and tickets you need for a perfect ski adventure. The package also includes the Freedom Pass at no extra cost, which includes access to other activities like ice-skating, the White Mountain Athletic Club pools, saunas and hot tubs, indoor tennis and dare I say more?

Crystal River, Florida

While droves of people flock to Florida in the winter (hello, snowbirds), why not visit a city just off the beaten path this year? Considered to be the “Original Florida,” Crystal River is a coastal city located about 90 minutes from Tampa without the massive crowds.

Locals and tourists alike enjoy beach hopping, kayaking and just about any other warm weather activity. Stay at the Plantation hotel for as low as $119 a night. Onsite activities include boating, fishing and golfing. All of these physical activities will probably give you a big appetite, so check out the seafood options at local restaurants, some of it is so fresh that it’s coming right off of the boat!

A 6-Day Trip Itinerary through Southwestern Colorado

The Budget Traveler’s guide to the mountains and valleys of the Centennial State.

As a native-born Virginian, I’ve traveled up and down the East Coast, putting in time in the Midwest and the Southwest, and on the West Coast as well. But even though it’s been high on my list for quite awhile, I’d never been to Colorado, so when the opportunity for a trip presented itself this summer, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance. The plan was to cover as much ground as humanly possible in a week, starting in Denver and working my way southwest to Durango—and it was a good plan too, according to pretty much everyone but my mother. “How can they just give a New Yorker a car and turn them loose on those mountain roads?! You don’t remember how to drive!” she wailed.

Even though that was decidedly untrue, not to mention a base slander of my skills behind the wheel, I invited her to come along for the ride and put her mind at ease. Here’s how we spent that week on the road.

Day 1: Buena Vista

We were due in Buena Vista for a lunch-and-whitewater-rafting date shortly after noon, but before we began the two-and-a-half-hour drive south, we made one last stop at Denver Central Market. After avocado and salmon toasts at Izzio Bakery, plus an almond croissant and a chocolate Kouign-Amann for good measure, we got going. And we were making decent time, too—at least until the two-lane US Highway 285 closed one lane for construction, and we sat in place for nearly an hour.

River-Runners-family-float.jpg?mtime=20191001161548#asset:106981The Arkansas River, as seen from the River Runners family float. (Maya Stanton)

As it happened, though, the delay didn’t make much difference. I was scheduled for a half-day excursion through Browns Canyon with River Runners, a local operator with a pull-up bar and restaurant, but the Arkansas River was running so high that my guide shifted me to a more mellow family float. I had been looking forward to hitting the rapids, but between the mountain-studded scenery and the quickly moving currents, I was plenty happy with the trip I got.

Back on dry land, we headed into town and checked in at the Surf Hotel, a 62-room property with a shared balcony—complete with rocking chairs—directly overlooking a stretch of the Arkansas. A quick change of clothes later and we were in Wesley & Rose, the lobby bar and restaurant, enjoying happy-hour cocktails, a mean cheese-and-charcuterie board, and bluegrass-tinged music from the four-piece band set up in the corner.

Buena-Viking-burger-and-tots.jpg?mtime=20191001161717#asset:106982Dinner from the Buena Viking food truck, parked at Deerhammer Distillery. (Maya Stanton)

A full meal there wouldn’t have gone amiss, but we wanted to see more of Buena Vista itself, so we reluctantly closed our tab. Main Street was a 15-minute walk away and spanned just a few blocks; we paused at the Heritage Museum and its woolly mammoth sculpture and meandered past a busy ice cream shop before we reached our destination: Deerhammer Distilling Company, an artisan grain-to-glass operation bottling straight bourbon, corn and single-malt whiskies, and Dutch-style gin. We ordered a couple of drinks—the citrusy, cucumber-heavy Green Grind and a Moscow Mule made with whiskey instead of vodka—and split a cheeseburger and a boatload of tater tots from the onsite food truck. Full but not done yet, we stopped by the Jailhouse for one last pint before calling it a night; there was a chill in the air and the outdoor fire tables were going full blast, and the scene was so cozy it was tough to turn down another round.

MS-Surf-Hotel-exterior-night.jpg?mtime=20191001161828#asset:106983Home sweet home, just for one night. (Maya Stanton)

But we were rewarded for our self-discipline, such as it was, and arrived back at the hotel just in time to catch the band’s closing number. As the small crowd applauded enthusiastically, we headed upstairs to bed, where the soothing sounds of rushing water soon carried us off to sleep.

Day 2: Salida

For breakfast the next morning, we made a quick stop at the Buena Vista Roastery Cafe for cortados and thick slices of chorizo, cheddar, and green-chile quiche, and then we were back in the car, bound for a cheesemaking class at Mountain Goat Lodge, about 20 miles south.

Mountain-Goat-Lodge.jpg?mtime=20191001161910#asset:106984Cheesemaking at Mountain Goat Lodge, a huge draw. (Maya Stanton)

I won’t lie: Hanging out with some goats and learning to make cheese was a major motivating factor in planning this trip as a whole, and my class didn’t disappoint—even though I didn’t manage to get there early enough to milk a goat beforehand. The B&B’s chief cheesemaker and co-proprietor, Gina Marcell, led our group of five through the process for chèvre and feta (our consensus, selected from a handful of options), offering copious samples along the way and allotting time with the animals towards the end of the morning. By the time we were finished, I was sourcing fresh goat’s milk in Brooklyn and bookmarking the equipment I’d need online, happily envisioning the concoctions I could create from the comfort of my home kitchen.

Then it was on to Salida proper, and a 10-minute drive found us in the heart of downtown, a walkable district with small shops, restaurants, yoga studios, art galleries, and the Arkansas River running right through it all. We sat down at Currents for a satisfying yet somewhat incongruous lunch of green chili and tuna poke, then browsed through a few stores, coveting the great leather and home goods at Howl Mercantile & Coffee and scanning the shelves at the Book Haven before stumbling upon what was undoubtedly the find of the day.

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The varmints of Bungled Jungle. (Maya Stanton)

It didn’t look like much at first glance—a stroller with a mannequin-like figure at the handle—but as we approached, we saw a human-sized purple creature with goofy ears and pink-tipped antennae, and within the stroller itself, a green three-headed baby monster that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Men In Black movie. We had come to the Bungled Jungle, the wildly creative world of local artisans Pat Landreth and Suzanne Montano. Regulars on the renaissance fair circuit, the two make Dr. Seuss-meets-Tim Burton–style varmints and kinetic steampunk sculptures from bits and bobs of mechanical detritus, and the showroom is a great repository of their work. (There’s no fee to enter, but the monsters and their people do accept tips for pics.)

We barely had time to check in at our evening’s accommodations before dinner. Located a few minutes from downtown, Amigo Motor Lodge was built in 1958 and reopened in 2016 after a complete overhaul. It’s now a modern minimalist’s dream, with white walls, birch bed frames, subway-tiled bathrooms, and ridiculously comfortable Tuft & Needle mattresses. (There are also four Airstream trailers on the premises, if the concept of close quarters floats your boat.)

We cleaned up and drove back to Salida’s historic center, managing to score a patio table at the Fritz with just a few minutes’ wait. It wasn’t exactly local fare, but the small plates were an all-around hit, from pickled quail eggs and grilled heads of romaine with dates and manchego to seared ahi wontons with spicy aioli and a heaping bowl of mussels and fries. We were finishing our meal just as the sun went down, and the cotton-candy sky was pretty much the icing on the cake.

Day 3: The San Luis Valley and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

One seriously good night’s sleep later (really, those mattresses are no joke), we were up and out the door, on the road by 7:00 am for the 90-minute drive to Zapata Ranch. A 103,000-acre working ranch with a 2,000-bison herd—1,800 free-roaming wild animals, give or take, and 300 cattle—the property is owned by the Nature Conservancy and open to visitors from March through October. Normally, only guests are allowed to take the two-hour bison tour, but we got a special dispensation to tag along, and when the herd crossed right in front of our SUV, it felt like the luckiest morning in recent memory.

Zapata-Ranch-mdelorme.jpgCowboys on the move at Zapata Ranch. (Matt DeLorme/@ranchlands)

After a simple sack lunch of cold sandwiches, chips, and Arnold Palmers on the ranch deck, we made our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, some 15 minutes away. Designated an International Dark Sky Park in May of this year, this particular protected land is a striking anomaly: a towering stretch of sand, eroded from the mountains over thousands of years, with nary a wave in sight—unless you visit during the summer, that is, and the creeks are flowing in your favor. When there’s been ample snowmelt, the Medano spreads around the base of the dunes into a shallow stream, and the crowds come out to play, swimming, floating, and wading while the water levels hold. But that’s not the park’s only attraction. With hiking, camping, and ranger-led programs like “Great Women of Great Sand Dunes” and after-dark telescope viewing, there’s plenty to see and do year-round.

Great-Sand-Dunes.jpg?mtime=20191001162319#asset:106987Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a must-see. (Maya Stanton)

Water in hand, we trekked out to the creek in the afternoon sun and got our feet wet before moving on to our next stop. The San Luis Valley is home to a number of kitschy roadside attractions, but the UFO Watchtower in Hooper was top of my list. Even before owner Judy Messoline built a viewing platform and opened her property to UFO-chasers back in 2000, the site was reportedly a hotbed of alien activity. According to sign on the premises quoting more than two dozen psychics, that’s thanks to two vortexes—energy-filled openings to a parallel universe—on the east side of the tower. There’s a small garden filled with knickknacks left by visitors hoping to harness some of that extraterrestrial energy, and a gift shop selling alien-themed gear; we paid our $5 entry fee, snapped a few photos, picked up a shot glass, and got back on the road.

MS-Joyful-Journey-yurts.jpg?mtime=20191001162358#asset:106988The yurts at Joyful Journey let you rough it without giving up all creature comforts. (Maya Stanton)

Our final destination for the day was Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, a local hotspot—literally—in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A tranquil setup boasting three mineral-rich, non-sulfuric pools untouched by chlorine or other chemicals, it’s the polar opposite of the state’s more polished commercial springs, with $10 all-day soaks on Tuesdays and clothing-optional Wednesday evenings. It has a lodge, RV sites, tipis, and camping sites, but we opted for a yurt, decked out with a proper bed, a small seating area, and both a fan and a heater for hot days and cold nights. We spent some time hopping from pool to pool, making small talk with our fellow soakers, before grabbing a light supper of homemade soup and salad (complimentary with our stay). With blessedly little else to do, we unplugged and called it a night—until a few hours later, when we had to put on our shoes and venture out to the communal bathhouse. A chilly proposition to be sure, but well worth it for the unbelievable, light-pollution-free galactic display we witnessed on the way.

Day 4: Pagosa Springs and Durango

The following morning, I woke to the sun shining through our yurt’s domed skylight and a constellation of itchy bug bites covering my legs. As it turns out, standing in a field to take pictures of the sunset in just a robe and a bathing suit is….not a great idea, particularly in peak sand-fly season. But no matter—we had a fairly leisurely day, for a change, and I was determined to make the most of it.

Road-to-Pagosa-Springs.jpg?mtime=20191001162521#asset:106989The road from Moffat to Pagosa Springs. (Maya Stanton)

We set off west for the tiny town of Pagosa Springs, my mother nervously checking her GPS as she directed me through the precarious switchbacks of Highway 160, slowing us to a near-crawl as we approached Wolf Creek Pass, named the state’s most dangerous by the Durango Herald a few years back. Located some 18 miles east of Pagosa, with terrifying 200-foot drop-offs and frequent avalanches during the winter months, the pass isn’t to be attempted by inexperienced drivers when there’s snow on the ground.

But we came out the other side of the San Juan Mountains into downtown Pagosa Springs without a scratch, following the curves of the San Juan River to the Springs Resort & Spa. A slick facility overlooking the river, with 23 geothermal pools—the most in the state, fed by the deepest geothermal hot spring in the world—as well as locker rooms, restaurants, bars, and a well-stocked gift shop, the Springs offered a decidedly different experience from what we’d encountered at Joyful Journey the night before. We compared and contrasted the two for a few hours, dipping in and out of pools of varying temperatures, before caving to our lunchtime cravings.

Ultimately, we were bound for Durango, and on our way out of town, we stopped at Mee Hmong Cuisine for the midday special—giant chili-garlic shrimp and sweet-savory pork ribs, served with rice, salad or edamame, and vegetable summer rolls for just $12 a pop. It was a welcome change from the fare we’d had thus far, and we cleaned our plates accordingly.

Back on 160 for another white-knuckling drive, we pulled into Durango an hour later, adrenaline still pumping as we navigated the city streets. The old Western movie–inspired Rochester Hotel was a sight for sore eyes, with film posters and memorabilia throughout the rooms and halls and a plate of fresh-baked cookies available for the taking. We collapsed in relief for a bit, then rallied for an evening out on the town.

Right downstairs, a design store called Artesanos beckoned, all rustic-beamed ceilings and eclectic home furnishings, but luckily for both my bank account and my near-bursting suitcase, they were closing up shop for the day. Instead, we rolled down to Main Avenue, picking up tiny truffles from Animas Chocolate Co. and admiring the elegant paintings and delicate contemporary glass, pottery, jewelry, and sculpture from Karyn Gabaldon’s fine-art gallery. At Buckley Park, a crowd had gathered for the free Thursday-night concert, and the sidewalks were full of folks making the most of the sunny evening.

We finally commandeered a table on the picturesque patio at Cyprus Café, right across the street from our hotel, tucking into meze like baba ghanoush, tzatziki, and grape leaves alongside super-cheesy stuffed poblanos in a smoky tomato brodo. Stretching our legs after our meal, we found ourselves outside of a small barbershop a few blocks away. A nattily dressed doorman asked us for the password, and as we uttered the magic words (found on the website a few hours earlier), he led us through a hidden door in a wall of books and into the Bookcase & Barber, a speakeasy with meticulously composed literary-themed craft cocktails. One Faulkner (a mint julep) and one Temple of the Sun (aji amarillo-infused pisco with tequila, guava, lemon, and ginger) later, and we were finally ready to call it a night.

Day 5: Silverton and the San Juan Mountains

On Friday, we were booked for an 8:00 am ride on the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, so we were downstairs for French toast with powdered sugar, honey butter, and raspberry sauce by 7:00 sharp. Onboard, the circa-1880 train moved through town as people waved from balconies and backyards as we slowly but surely barreled past. As we chugged up the mountain, around alpine lakes and federally protected national forest, the best views were out the windows on the right—something to consider when you’re reserving your seats.

IMG_3371.jpg?mtime=20191002162203#asset:107004The engine of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. (Maya Stanton)

Forty-five miles and three-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in Silverton, an old mining town with a few blocks of hotels, restaurants, and shops. Our first stop was for spicy pork tacos at Avalanche Brewing Company, followed closely by a visit to K & C Traders, a jewelry store recommended by our train car’s attendant for its impressive array of Astorite, the pink-ore gemstones named for mine owner Jacob Astor IV. With a purchase under our belts, we picked up a snack of pulled pork and cornbread at Thee Pitts Again, a barbecue restaurant that once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, before venturing down Greene Street to the new Wyman Hotel for a peek at the hipster-cool accommodations.

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The tiny town of Silverton is a mountain-lover’s dream. (Maya Stanton)

There, we met a representative from Durango who shuttled us back down the mountain via the the San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway, a 236-mile route that passes through the mountain towns of Telluride and Ouray before looping south to Mesa Verde National Park and Durango. We stopped off for a quick hike at Cascade Creek, a short trail with a sparkling waterfall dropping 150 into a swimming hole below, before hitting Purgatory Resort, a winter destination that transforms ski slopes into hiking and mountain-biking trails in the offseason. Before the park closed, we just managed to fit in a ride on the Inferno mountain coaster, a 4,000-foot-long trip that’s you personally control through a sequence of loops, drops, and switchbacks, all set against a backdrop of incredible mountain scenery.

The thrill ride whetted our whistles, and our next stop was Nugget Bar for an après pint. A renovated cabin with fire pits and mountain views, it was just the thing to cap off a busy day—but we weren’t quite done yet. Back in Durango, we had reservations at Primus, a new restaurant on Main with a mouthwatering menu of wild game, fresh seafood, and local produce. Between the smoke-cured egg yolks and the tangy lemon and caper, our bison tartare was impeccable, and a salad with grilled turnips and seasonal berries provided a much-needed dose of green. A beautifully plated duck breast on white-corn and pancetta grits rounded out our meal, and we went to bed full and happy.

Day 6: Mancos and Mesa Verde National Park

Our final day in Colorado was a race against time. We left Durango at 6:30 am and were parking in front of Absolute Bakery, in the one-stoplight town of Mancos, by the time it opened at 7. We dashed in and grabbed coffee and potato-and-egg strudels (one Greek with tomato, feta, spinach, and kalamata olives, one southwest with cheddar, ham, and green chile) to go, jumping back in the car as quickly as possible.

We were rushing to make it to Mesa Verde National Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site that served as home to the Ancestral Pueblo people for some 700 years, boasting thousands of archaeological marvels at altitudes of 7,000 to 8,500 feet—for an 8:00 tour, and it was always going to be tight timing, especially given the terrifying, cliff-hugging 45-minute drive from the park entrance to the tour’s departure point at Far View Lodge. But we pulled into the lot with mere minutes to spare, joining our group in a small van for an extensive four-hour deep-dive into the park’s most important historical sites. Led by a National Association for Interpretation guide, the tour proceeded in chronological order from the footprint of a circa-AD 600 Pithouse village—the earliest recorded in human history—to the Pueblo-era cliff dwellings from the 13th century. The crowning moment was the descent to the magnificent Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park and a truly stunning site to behold.

Mesa-Verde-cliff-palace.jpg?mtime=20191001163116#asset:106993Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace is simply stunning. (Maya Stanton)

After a trip down from the plateau that was just as nail-biting—and thankfully, just as uneventful—as the trip up, we set our sights on the Canyon of the Ancients Museum in Dolores, a little less than 60 miles to the north. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, with fascinating exhibits on local history and Native American culture as well as two 12th-century sites and a nature trail offering expansive skyline views from its peak, the small archaeological museum made the short detour worthwhile.

Fenceline-food-truck.jpg?mtime=20191001163311#asset:106994Our final meal in Colorado. (Maya Stanton)

From there, we backtracked to Mancos for a leisurely stroll through the tiny historic downtown district. The sidewalks were deserted and the boutiques and galleries were mostly closed, but we window-shopped our way down the street nonetheless. The highly rated Olio, a gallery-restaurant-wine bar hybrid, was our first-choice dinner option, but the cozy space didn’t have any seats available, so we found our way to the Fenceline Cider taproom and wrapped our trip on a casual note. We would depart from Durango the next morning, so over flights of hard cider and basic, tasty Greek fare—gyros and salads from the food truck stationed at the entrance—we toasted to a most successful journey. It had truly been a heck of a week.

Read This Before You Renew Your Passport

Check your expiration date – right now! – and follow these steps to make sure your next flight gets off the ground.

When’s the last time you checked the expiration date on your passport? If it’s expired, you’ll have to get it renewed before you can take your next international trip.

You might even have to renew your passport before your next flight within the US, as some states are no longer accepting driver’s licenses as ID for flying domestically. The change took effect in 2018 when the Department of Homeland Security began implementing REAL ID Act, which will eventually require all states and US territories to adhere to stricter security measures for issuing state licenses. (Congress passed the law in 2005 in an effort to strengthen national security.)

That may explain why US passport demand is at an all-time high, with 21,103,475 passports issued last year, up from 5,547,693 in 1996, according to the US Department of State.

Despite all the commotion, many US travelers forget to renew their passports, says Arnie Weissmann, editor in chief at Travel Weekly, a newspaper that covers the travel industry. “Like a tetanus shot, a passport lasts 10 years, but there’s no doctor to remind you it’s time to renew,” Weissmann says. (Note: passports for children under 16 are only valid for 5 years.)

Here’s everything you need to know about obtaining and renewing a passport.

How to get a US passport

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If you’ve never traveled abroad, there’s a good chance you don’t even have a US passport. The good news is obtaining one is fairly easy.

Your first step is to obtain the right passport application forms. You can pick up an application from any US post office, or download the passport application forms online (travel.state.gov) and print them out at home.

If you’re printing the forms yourself, the federal government’s US Passport Service Guide says the materials “must be printed in black ink on white paper. The paper must be 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches, with no holes or perforations, at least medium (20 lb.) weight, and with a matte surface. Thermal paper, dye-sublimation paper, special inkjet paper, and other shiny papers are not acceptable.” Forms completed by hand should be filled in using black ink and submitted using only one-sided pages.

You’ll also have to provide proof of your American citizenship, in the form of one of these documents:

  • A certified US birth certificate issued by the city, county or state. (Call the government of the state in which you were born to get an official version with a notary’s seal.)
  • Records of birth abroad if you were born outside the US
  • Naturalization certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship

In addition, you must prove your identity by providing any one of the following:

  • Naturalization certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship
  • A current, valid driver’s license, government ID, or Military ID

Next, you have to submit a photo with your application. You can get a US passport photo taken at the post office, or snap and print your own photo. Just make sure you’re wearing your normal, everyday clothes (no uniforms) and nothing on your head. You cannot wear glasses, and you must look straight ahead without smiling. The photo must be 2×2 inches.

Passport application and execution fees change periodically. At present (October 2019), passports for US adults age 16 and older cost $145. For an extra $60, plus delivery fees, you can get a “rush” passport delivered within 2 to 3 weeks. (Routine processing takes 4 to 6 weeks.) If you’re applying by mail, you must provide a check or money order – credit and debit cards are not accepted.

How to renew a US passport

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You can renew your passport by mail, using form DS-82 and submitting a new 2×2 inch photograph, if your most recent passport meets these five requirements:

  • Is submitted with your application
  • Is undamaged (other than normal “wear and tear”)
  • Was issued when you were age 16 or older
  • Was issued within the last 15 years
  • Was issued in your current name (or you can document your name change with an original or certified copy of your marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order)

If your passport doesn’t meet those criteria, you’ll have to renew by applying in person using form DS-11, and follow the same steps that are required for obtaining a brand new passport (see above).

Traveling internationally within the next two weeks? You’ll have to renew your passport at a Passport Acceptance Facility. (You can find the nearest office near you at travel.state.gov.) To avoid waiting in line all day, make an appointment online in advance.

Don’t dawdle!

Your passport doesn’t have to be expired for you to renew it. In fact, some countries require that your passport be valid at least six months beyond the dates of your trip, says Tammy Levent, CEO at Elite Travel Management Group. As a result, Levent says the biggest mistake US international travelers can make is waiting until the last minute to renew their passport.

Get a passport book – not a card

Another common mistake people make, Levent says, is obtaining a passport card instead of a passport book. Passport cards are a lot cheaper – the application and execution fees combined is only $65 for adults 16 and older – but they’re not valid for international air travel; they’re only acceptable for land and sea border crossings between the US, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean.

Where to Find The Best Cocktails for Fall

Featuring autumnal flavors and warming spirits, these top-shelf cocktail bars should be next on your list.

When those summertime margaritas and rum punches turn to cherry-tinted Manhattans or bourbon-forward Old Fashioneds, you know autumn has fallen. From tailgating to Thanksgiving to Halloween, these complex, robust, cold-weather cocktail flavors combine the crispness of the season with a warmer, more generous, flavor profile.

Want to get started on your seasonal cocktailing? Here are six fall cocktails to look out for and where you can hunker down to drink them.

The Palm, multiple locations

This classic steakhouse, known for its prime beef and lively caricatures of patrons and celebrities lining the walls, has gone from a single New York City restaurant in the 1920s to 21 locations around the globe. And though you can always enjoy a generous martini, this season you can also choose from five new fall cocktails.

For a more well-heeled concoction, the Figaro consists of Basil Hayden’s dark rye, Amaro Montenegro, caramelized fig syrup and black walnut while the South Side of Italy is a playful mixture of Plymouth gin, Lillet Blanc, Caravella Limoncello, simple syrup, lemon juice and mint.

The Sazerac Bar, New Orleans, LA

This French Quarter gem occupies a slice of New Orleans cocktail history. And with its signature dark wood, leather chairs, and dark, narrow bar, you’ll want to make sure you have time to enjoy its namesake Sazerac in the place it was born.

The timeless drink is mixed with Sazerac Rye, Peychaud’s bitters, sugar and Herbsaint but you can also sip the Brown Derby, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, grapefruit, lemon, honey and Rhubarb bitters.

The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen Spirits, Charleston, SC

This rooftop restaurant shells out handcrafted cocktails relying on locally sourced, unorthodox ingredients like carrots and corn. Take a seat indoors or outdoors and soak up the panoramic views of Charleston’s stunning architecture, then order one of these eccentric drinks to keep you company.

The Trader’s Village is a play on Mexican street corn and combines corn infused tequila, ancho reyes, egg yolk, lime juice, and avocado orgeat, while the clarified milk punch dubbed the Clearwater merges bourbon, Plantation 5 year rum, port wine and citrus, garnished with warm bread pudding. Now, if that won’t warm your soul, nothing will.

My Friend Duke, New York, NY

A downtown cocktail den seamlessly plunked in Manhattan’s Murray Hill, My Friend Duke is a neighborhood joint with an upscale vibe. In addition to the 11th St. Manhattan, which adds a cheeky taste of Drambuie to its rye, antica and bitters, the Night Owl is an exciting potion fusing cold brew coffee soaked in oats, Irish whiskey and Demerara sugar – then charged with nitrogen.

By the time you’ve imbibed these fall mixtures, this cocktail den will morph to a place where everybody knows your name.

Nari, San Francisco, CA

The biggest problem at Nari will be choosing which cocktail to try next. A sister restaurant of New York’s beloved Kin Khao, this two-level Thai palace pairs bold seasonal flavors with an ambitious cocktail menu broken up into punch, standard cocktails, low-alcohol and zero-proof. The punches are sized for sharing so you’ll have to bring friends to sample concoctions like the Tua Kua, with whiskey, amber vermouth, lime, peanut orgeat, cacao and bitters.

Standard cocktails include the coconut-washed bourbon, salt and bruleed palm sugar lime peel that make up the Benja. Or the Sita, a blend of whiskey, toasted brown rice, Benedictine, amaro and angostura.

Feel like taking it easy? Try the refreshing session cocktail called the Ambhan, with sweet vermouth, amaro, plum liqueur and spiced angostura.

King of Cups, Chicago, IL

Sow your royal cocktails at this imperially themed bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. And in addition to the over-the-top Rococo-style décor, including an interactive throne, the cocktails are many and come on tap, with a swizzle, stirred or shaken.

The perfect cool companion, the Absolute Rule is a carbonated tap cocktail blending bourbon, brandy, and Guinness while The Lady India is likened to a whiskey sour and shakes together a strange brew of bourbon, sweet vermouth, lemon, IPA, beer syrup and angostura. And if you’re mood for a boozier creation, try the well-stirred Ginger Grant, with Scotch, fry vermouth, pomegranate balsamic and orange bitters.

Celebrate Fall In 6 Ultra-Autumnal National Parks

From stunning foliage in the mountains to cool temperatures in the desert, we’ve rounded up the finest park getaways for fall.

If you associate fall travel with perfect weather, elbow room, and a dose of vibrant foliage, you’re thinking like a Budget Traveler. So, what makes a national park ideal for autumn? Our criteria includes moderate temperatures, a low risk of tropical storms, and either small crowds or a hack or two to manage the hordes. And by choosing a national park for your getaway, you’re guaranteeing value – each park is adjoined by affordable lodging, and ample camping opportunities abound. Here, six national parks that provide something special in October and November–and one that’s even balmy and inviting well into December.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina

Best Time for a Fall Visit: October through mid-November

Hands-down the best national park for fall foliage, the Great Smoky Mountains are also a balmy place to enjoy hiking and camping into mid-November. At press time, vibrant colors are already starting to pop in the higher elevations, but the foliage forecast for 2019 suggests that the park’s maples, oaks, and autumn wildflowers will peak in November this year, leaving plenty of time to plan your trip.

Bear in mind that autumn is a peak season for visitors to GSMNP – it can be as busy as summer. But we’ve got a hack for that: It’s a good idea to see the sights early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds and traffic. Midday, explore one of the park’s gateway communities, such as Gatlinburg, TN, which Budget Travel named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America. We’re also quite psyched that the state of Tennessee has installed “colorblind viewfinders” in the park, which will help visually challenged visitors experience the vibrant colors as Mother Nature intended.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Best Time for a Fall Visit: October through mid-November

Fall can be a time to discover a national park you’ve never heard of before, and the Guadalupe Mountains, east of El Paso, fit the bill. Here, you’ll experience gorgeous mountains, canyons, and even desert sand dunes, all accessible via miles of hiking trails. Don’t miss the chance to hike to the “Top of Texas,” elevation 8700ft, on the Guadalupe Peak Trail (and be ready for some Instagrammable moments at the top). Visit the ruins of a stagecoach station at the Pine Spring visitor center, and see a restored ranch and its accompanying museum near the Smith Spring trailhead.

Though Texas may not be especially known for its fall colors, the hardwood trees along the McKittrick Canyon Trail in Guadalupe’s northern section put on quite a show starting in mid-October. And consider stretching your stay with a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, about a half-hour’s drive north, in New Mexico.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Best Time for a Fall Visit: October through mid-November

An easy escape from Mid-Atlantic and Southeast cities like Baltimore, DC, and Richmond, Shenandoah National Park is a good idea any time of year, but in autumn you’ll find fewer crowds, moderate temperatures, and the vibrant colors of the park’s maples, sumacs, and sassafras. Ideal for hiking, or just auto-touring the majestic Skyline Drive, Shenandoah is also one of the finest environments in the US for birdwatching and viewing the night sky.

Drop by the Dickey Ridge visitor center for a schedule of upcoming ranger-led programs, which include talks about the park’s history and wildlife, hands-on programs, and ranger-led hikes that can feel like the ultimate outdoor classroom.

Yosemite National Park, California

Best Time for a Fall Visit: October and November

Yes, Yosemite is spectacular year-round, but autumn is a sweet spot during which temperatures in the Yosemite and Wawona Valleys can remain in the 60s and 70s but summer crowds have vanished. (That being said, it’s important to remember that at higher elevations, lows in the 30s and the chance of snow arrive with fall, so short-term closures of some roads and areas are possible after September.)

Enjoy independent or guided hikes and iconic sights such as Half-Dome, El Capitan, and Vernal Falls (rivers and waterfalls, including the famous Yosemite Falls, tend to run low or even dry in fall). In mid-October, you may spot some fall foliage among the park’s sugar maples, black oaks, cottonwoods, and dogwoods, but overall the forests of Yosemite are filled with evergreens, whose deep greens can evoke a feeling of endless summer on a sunny autumn day.

Zion National Park

Best Time for a Fall Visit: October and November

We’ll be honest: The number-one reason to visit Zion in October or November is the cool temperatures, a relief from summer’s mind-blowingly intense heat. Minus summer’s heat and crowds, Zion is a perfect place for taking in the splendor of red sandstone cliffs by day and stargazing by night (the state of Utah has taken exceptional measures to reduce light pollution). The park is closed to private vehicles, and a spectacular shuttle system takes you to trailheads and other points of interest. Epic hikes such as the Narrows are the main draw here.

Stop by a visitor center for a weather update, as flash floods can occur any time of year and pose a danger to hikers. And though Zion is not exactly a leaf-peeper’s mecca, October visitors will see their share of reds, yellows, and oranges. And the park is one of the finest for camping, with ample BLM sites available free of charge. Looking for something a little more luxe? Glamping sites just outside the park’s borders are increasingly popular.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Best Time for a Fall Visit: November and December

If you’re looking for a national park to visit in late fall, the Everglades, Florida’s peerless natural environment featuring beautiful waterways and wildlife that includes black bear and gators, is ideal. Though temperatures in this region of Florida tend to be balmy year-round, starting in November, the dry season begins, lasting into April.

Dry season means it’s not as hot and humid as the summer months (dry season temperatures range from highs in the upper 70s to lows in the mid-50s), the risk of tropical storms is, at least in theory, over, and pests such as mosquitoes and biting flies vanish. Wildlife viewing is enhanced in fall, as animals gather around ever-shrinking watering holes, and birdwatching is exceptional as many feathered species head to South Florida to escape the approaching chill up north.

10 Foolproof Tricks to Beat Flight Anxiety

If you or someone you know struggles with fear of flying, these 10 expert strategies will help ensure a comfortable, panic-free flight.

Does the idea of flying cause you to break out in a cold sweat? You aren’t alone. More than 25 million Americans suffer from some form of flight anxiety, making aerophobia (fear of flying) the second biggest fear in the US after public speaking. If you do fall in this category, you’ve probably had friends and family remind you numerous times that flying is the safest mode of transportation. While that’s very true – your chances of dying in a plane crash are about one in 10 million compared with a one-in-272 chance of dying in a car crash – that’s not always enough to quell the jitters. And advice like showing up early at the airport to eliminate unnecessary stress is practical as well, but for the most nervous nellies among us, it takes a little bit more to get us up in the air.

We turned to the experts – Todd Farchione, Ph.D., of Boston University’s Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders, Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., ABPP, of the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center, and Captain Steve Allright of British Airways’ Flying With Confidence program – to find out exactly what to do to help alleviate flight anxiety. Thanks to their advice, we put together a 10-step guide to help you conquer your fear – because nothing should stand between you and the vacation you deserve.

1. Name your phobia

Figuring out what triggers your fear in the first place is an important first step toward conquering flight anxiety. Different aspects of flying can trigger different fears depending on the person – for instance, one person may be afraid of turbulence and feel nervous during a perfectly normal takeoff, while an individual with germaphobic tendencies may be more concerned about the spread of germs in a confined space. “The common denominator for more than 90 percent of flight phobics is the fear that they will become overwhelmed with anxiety during the flight,” says Seif, a clinical psychologist who runs the Freedom to Fly program at the Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, New York. It helps to recognize that your phobia is irrational, but you need to be able to pinpoint the cause of your fear before you can take that next step.

2. Familiarize yourself with airplane noises

You’re about to land and the plane is rattling like both of its wheels are about to fall off – is it time to panic? No, the carry-on luggage and the seat-back tables are shifting slightly – just like they do every time the plane takes off and lands. Sometimes all it takes to combat anxiety is a little information. Read up on the typical bumps and noises that may occur during a flight. It also helps to understand just how rigorous safety measures are for aircraft. For example, aircraft must be able to support one-and-a-half times the maximum load it would ever carry and weathering environmental extremes such as 120-degree temperatures. “Our anxiety is fed by ‘what if?’ catastrophic thoughts. Once you become knowledgeable, your ‘what if’ thoughts will be limited by the facts,” said Seif.

3. Check the turbulence forecast

While turbulence is a perfectly normal part of flying – it happens when the plane encounters normal weather patterns like air currents or clouds – the idea of shaking while in the air can be very unsettling. Turbcast (iTunes, $1.99) was designed by a pilot and analyzes weather patterns as a pilot would, giving fliers an inside look at factors like air pockets and thunderstorms that can cause turbulence in the first place. Translation: The more you know about what causes that shaky feeling and how much of it you can expect while you’re airborne, the less you’ll be afraid of it.

4. Bring a photo of your destination

Visualizing your destination and imagining yourself there can be a powerful antidote to stress – and can help keep you focused on the prize at the end of the journey. You can do this with or without a photo, but having a physical image to refer to – whether it’s a picture you’ve downloaded on your phone or a postcard – can help to keep your mind from wandering. Allright says another method is to “imagine yourself in a safe place, somewhere you feel comfortable and safe. Your bedroom, perhaps, or on a beach. Take yourself there with your eyes closed and relax.” The idea is to take your mind off the little things that make you nervous about flying and focus on the positive aspects of your journey.

5. Skip coffee and wine

Captain Allright says to avoid both caffeine and alcohol, as they can leave you feeling more dehydrated during the flight, as well as aggravate anxiety issues. Nervous fliers should avoid a seemingly comforting pre-flight alcoholic beverage, since alcohol can also make it harder for your body to adjust to being airborne and bring on a nasty bout of jet lag. Instead, opt for water and a light meal pre-flight, or carry along a light snack like carrot sticks, nuts, or an apple to keep you feeling nourished.

6. Distract yourself

In a nutshell – distraction works. Airlines now provide the little comforts of home – like televisions, music channels, and magazines – to help distract you from noises and bumps during the flight and make you feel more at home in a strange place. One of the best ways to distract yourself during a flight is to bring a book that you’ve already started and are deeply engrossed in or a season of your favorite television show. Farchione says if people associate televisions with being safe at home, and there’s a television on the plane, they will feel similar familiar feelings of comfort.

7. Tell the flight attendants

Dr. Seif says it’s a good idea to let others know you’re not too keen on flying – you may be able to speak to the pilot briefly while you board the plane or receive extra attention from flight attendants during the flight. If you’re traveling with friends or family members, talk to them about what makes you nervous so they can help alleviate the tension, but don’t let the conversation spiral into a contest over who has had the scariest flight experience. Sometimes just knowing that others are available to help you in case your anxiety surfaces is enough to help keep that anxiety in check.

8. Embrace safety information

No, your plane is not going to crash (and whatever you do, do NOT start envisioning disaster scenarios). But knowing that you’re prepared for anything can be empowering. Watch an airline safety video while you’re still in the comfort of your home so that you can “master” the procedure in your head (Air New Zealand did an especially entertaining take on the safety video, featuring characters from The Hobbit, as well as a hilarious safety video starring fitness guru Richard Simmons). Once you’re on board the aircraft, take time to read the airline safety card in the seat pocket in front of you. If it makes you feel better, you could even go so far as to book your seat in the back of the plane, which has been repeatedly shown to be the safest part of the aircraft in the event of a crash.

9. Use this breathing technique

Allright says deep breathing is very important during takeoff and other points during the flight where you experience anxiety. “If someone is very anxious, it is actually very difficult to change their breathing pattern,” he says. “Try holding your breath and then breathing deeply, or better still, force yourself to breathe out for as long as you can and then take a long, deep breath.” Seif and Farchione both recommended taking deep breaths, since this triggers the calming response and can help to prevent hyperventilation. Try to maintain a relaxed posture as well, and not cling to the chair’s armrests, since this can heighten any anxiety you may be feeling.

10. Have relaxation remedies handy

Some doctors prescribe anxious fliers with fast-acting anxiety medications like Xanax or Valium, but Farchione warns that you should be aware that each has its own side effects and that you may feel tired for hours after the plane has landed. If you don’t have a prescription, herbal remedies like St. John’s Wort or Scullcap may help calm nerves too, according to an article by USA Today. Bring the medication or the herbal remedy, but hold onto it as a “last resort” option. When you feel jitters coming on, start by employing a minor relaxant, such as sipping chamomile or peppermint tea. Farchione says that doing the things you associate with being calm and content will help remind you to remain calm as you fly. You may find that simply knowing the medication is there in case of emergency is comforting enough – and you can reap the benefits without the side effects.

A Perfect 4 Day Barcelona Itinerary

Barcelona is one of those cities that keeps drawing people back with it’s buzzing nightlife, a wealth of culture, history and art as well as proximity to beautiful beaches with a warm climate. Spending 4 days in Barcelona will allow you to sample all of the best bits this beautiful city has to offer.

This 4 day Barcelona itinerary has been crafted by today’s guest author Andrea. She will show you how to make the most of Barcelona in 4 days.

I’ll hand you over to her now for her to share her Barcelona itinerary and tips with you…

What you can expect from this article…

Things to know about visiting Barcelona in 4 days

Welcome to my 4-day Barcelona itinerary!

The second-largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is an exciting, vibrant destination with a wealth of attractions and rich history and culture.  It is one of my favourite European cities and one that I return to again and again.  There is always something new to discover, some hidden gem I haven’t come across before.

In this article, I will describe my perfect four days in Barcelona.  Whether you are a first-time visitor or a seasoned returnee, this itinerary will give you a wonderful insight into the city and will leave you with many reasons to visit again.

seeing the archietecture is one of the highlights on a 4 days barcelona itinerary

An Overview of this Four Day Barcelona Itinerary

Day 1 Get to know Antoni Gaudí, the greatest Spanish architect.

Day 2 Complete your Gaudí education, discover Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter, and finish the day at the beach.

Day 3 See the city from different viewpoints – from an open-top bus, from the water, and from a cable-car – and take a tour of Camp Nou, home to Barcelona FC.

Day 4 Learn how to shop for ingredients and then cook a typical Catalan meal on a ‘Market to Table’ cookery course.

Keep reading for a more detailed Barcelona itinerary…

Reasons You Should Visit Barcelona

  • You can discover 2000 years of history on a short walking tour of the city centre.
  • Barcelona has amazing blue flag beaches.
  • You will never be hungry – there are countless fabulous restaurants and delicious tapas everywhere!
  • The city has a plethora of interesting museums.
  • Gaudí’s influence can be seen all over the city.
  • Barcelona has some of the best street art you will ever see.
  • It is a very affordable city.
  • It is perfect for strolling around, window-shopping or soaking up the atmosphere on Las Ramblas.

When is the best time of year to visit Barcelona?

Whilst Barcelona is a great year-round destination, my favourite time to visit is in spring.  The city is still busy, but the crowds aren’t as dense as in the summer months.  You can expect sunny days and perfect temperatures for sightseeing – not the stifling heat you get in the summer in Barcelona, but warm enough to sit outside to enjoy your tapas and vino!

barcelona at sunset

How to get to Barcelona

Barcelona is very accessible – by land, by air, and by sea.

Getting to Barcelona by air

The city’s international airport, Barcelona El-Prat, is located just 12 kilometres from the centre.  There are cheap and efficient transport links to town by train, bus, or taxi.

Top Tip! Be aware when booking flights that the low-cost airlines use airports like Girona or Reus which are located quite a distance out of Barcelona itself.  Getting into the city from these airports can cost more than the flight!

Getting to Barcelona by sea

The port of Barcelona is one of the biggest and most important on the Mediterranean.  It is a popular port of call for large cruise ships and private yachts, but it is also a ferry port which links the city to the Balearic Islands and to many ports in southern Europe.  If you are travelling elsewhere in Europe, the ferry can be a fun way to arrive in Barcelona.

Getting to Barcelona by train

From Barcelona, there are direct train connections with the rest of Spain and several international cities.  There is a high-speed train service which connects the city with Madrid, the southern coast of Spain, and destinations in France.  Local services link up with other towns in Catalonia.

Getting to Barcelona by bus

It’s possible to reach Barcelona by bus from other Spanish cities, from all over Europe, and even from north Africa.  The bus obviously takes longer than the train, but it’s a great option if you’re on a tight budget and time is not too much of an issue.

Getting to Barcelona by car

Road links to Barcelona from other parts of Spain and from France are very good.  We have driven from our home in the Languedoc on many occasions.  All I would say, if you’re going to Barcelona by car, make sure you book accommodation with parking.  It is very expensive to park in the city centre and spaces are often hard to find.

How to get around Barcelona in 4 days

Barcelona is a very walkable city with short distances between many major attractions and clear signage to make sure you don’t get lost.

For travelling longer distances, the city has a very efficient, fully integrated public transport system which is super-easy to navigate.  Tickets are valid on buses, the metro, trams, and local trains. 

You can buy tickets as you need them, both for individual journeys or for ten trips, from every metro station or from certain bus stops around the city.  Alternatively, you can get your tickets online in advance or by using the TMB app when you’re in the city.

If you intend to use public transport a lot, you will save money by buying a travel card which gives you unlimited journeys for a 24-, 48-, or 72-hour period.

Another option is to use open-top tourist buses to get around the city.  These hop-on, hop-off services operate on three routes which cover every corner of Barcelona.  They offer the best view and give an interesting commentary on the districts you are passing through.  They also provide the perfect opportunity to rest your weary legs during this busy 4 day Barcelona itinerary!

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also explore Barcelona by bicycle, either as part of an organised bike tour or by hiring your own.  The city has almost 200 kilometres of clearly signposted and protected cycle lanes.

barcelona viewpoint

Where to base yourself for this 4 day Barcelona itinerary

The Gothic Quarter

For first time visitors to Barcelona, the central Gothic Quarter is an ideal place to base yourself.  There is a plethora of hotels, guesthouses and hostels to suit all budgets.  You will be in the centre of everything, within easy walking distance of the main attractions and with endless evening entertainment options on your doorstep.

Scrimp: Kabul Party Hostel

Save: Hotel Rec Barcelona (Adults only)

Splurge: Ohla Barcelona (just check out that rooftop pool..!)

El Ravel

If you’re looking for a more local, less touristy experience, base yourself in El Ravel.  This historic, formerly run-down district is now a vibrant, fashionable area with an international feel.  There are Bohemian bars, hip design shops and laid-back cafes.  You will find cutting-edge exhibitions at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and it’s the best place in Barcelona to see street art.  It is also home to a fascinating maritime museum.

El Ravel is located just behind Barcelona’s main thoroughfare, Las Ramblas, so it’s easy to access the more popular attractions.  Some writers suggest that El Ravel is the most dangerous area of the city.  We have never found it so.  We love the relaxed vibe and the colour and creativity of the place.  Obviously, as in any major city, you should take the usual precautions with your valuables and with the way you behave in order to lessen the risk of anything going wrong.

Scrimp: Hostal Benidorm

Save: Eco Boutique Hostal Grau

Splurge: Hotel 1898

Fira

Whenever we drive to Barcelona, we base ourselves in Fira, the business district on the outskirts of the city.  There are several cheap, soulless hotels here which have secure, off-street parking.  Whilst, it might not be at the top of everyone’s list, it is simply a place to sleep.  It is at the end of a metro line with trains running into and out of the city until late at night.  You can be in the centre within thirty minutes.

Scrimp: Bird House

Save: Magatzem 128

Splurge: Hotel Villa Emilia

Four Days in Barcelona Itinerary

Day 1 in Barcelona

In the morning…

Arm yourself with a 48-hour travel card to give you unlimited use of Barcelona’s public transport for the next couple of days.

Head to La Sagrada Família and start your day with a delicious breakfast of churros and coffee in one of the many nearby cafes.

It’s vital that you buy your queue jump tickets to see Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece well in advance of your visit in order to avoid the lengthy queues or risk not being able to get in at all!  

I recommend that you get a ‘Sagrada Família with Towers’ ticket, which includes an excellent audio guide and a trip up one of the towers to see the city from a different perspective.  You need to allow a couple of hours or more to appreciate this incredible building.

sagrada familia barcelona

Eat lunch at…

Eat lunch at La Paradeta. This self-service seafood restaurant close to La Sagrada Família has been a firm favourite with Barcelona residents for the past twenty-five years.  They buy the fish directly from the port every morning so you can be sure that your lunch will be fresh and delicious.  We love La Paradeta for its casual, relaxed atmosphere and amazing food!

In the afternoon…

Make your way to Park Güell and admire the famous mosaic-covered structures.  This failed upmarket housing project is now one of the largest green areas in Barcelona and is home to a famous Monumental Area designed by Gaudí and, also, to the house where he lived for the last twenty years of his life.  The latter is now open to the public as the Gaudí House Museum.

From La Sagrada Família, you can reach Park Güell by metro or by bus.  If you take the metro, you will have a long walk up a steep hill (there is an escalator for the last section!) to the park, whereas the bus drops you off right outside the entrance.

Whilst you can wander around the forested area of Park Güell for free, like La Sagrada Família, if you want to visit the Monumental Area you must book your timed visit in advance online.  There are rarely if ever, tickets available to buy on the day.

Eat dinner at…

Eat dinner at Restaurant Tíbet. no, it’s not what you’re thinking!  This restaurant serves (I think!) the best Catalan food in Barcelona.  Located close to Park Güell, this family-run establishment specialises in simple local dishes.  The starters include delicious snails and a fabulous cod dish.  For the main course, we invariably have the rabbit which is always incredibly tasty.

In the evening…

End your first day in Barcelona with a flamenco show.  There are many venues in the city which offer dinner and flamenco packages.  From what I hear, the food is generally not very good in these places, so I recommend you take in a late-night show accompanied by a nightcap.

La Palacio del Flamenco hosts an hour-long performance starting at 10.30pm every evening.  It’s the perfect way to round off your day.

Day 2 in Barcelona

In the morning…

I highly recommend that you get a two-day Barcelona Pass to use over the next 48 hours of this Barcelona itinerary.  It will save you a lot of money on entrance fees and will give you priority access to certain attractions, saving you a whole lot of time standing in queues.

After breakfast, head to Casa Batlló (included in the Barcelona Pass) to learn more about Gaudí and his work.  This apartment building with its crazy façade, known locally as the Casa del Ossos (House of Bones), is my favourite of Antoni Gaudí’s creations.  It was here that I first began to understand him and his genius.  The curved lines, tactile finishes and stunning use of natural light make me want to move in immediately!

From Casa Batlló, it’s a short walk across the street to another Gaudí masterpiece, Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera (included in the Barcelona Pass).  These two apartment blocks connected around an unbelievable oval courtyard, form a striking white landmark on a street corner.  The roof of the building is incredible!  Functional objects like chimneys, stairwells and ventilation shafts have been made to look unusual and beautiful.  Some are decorated with broken tile mosaics which catch the light and throw colourful shadows on the cream stonework. There are amazing views in all directions across the city.

In both of these places, the entrance fee includes a headset with an informative and entertaining commentary.  Having listened to them, you will be much more knowledgeable about Gaudí than you were before and, perhaps, you’ll have a greater appreciation for his work.  I know I did!  Now, though, I think that’s enough of the great man!

Eat lunch at…

Eat lunch at one of the many tapas bars that line Passeig de Gràcia, the fashionable street which runs from La Pedrera back towards Las Ramblas.  Sit at a pavement table and watch the world go by as you enjoy small plates of fresh sardines or pork with tamarind.

In the afternoon…

Head to the Gothic Quarter for your next Barcelona Pass activity – a guided walk through 2000 years of history.  You must book your tour 24 hours in advance via e-mail.

You’ll see the remains of the old walled city of Barcelona and the columns of a Roman temple, as well as the ancient palaces of kings and queens.  You’ll also get to explore the majestic Gothic Cathedral and find out why thirteen geese live in the cloister.  The walk takes around two hours and finishes on Las Ramblas.

Continue your walk along this famous thoroughfare, pausing to watch the street entertainers and artists.  Perhaps, you’ll want to have your portrait painted or to buy some souvenirs?  

Half-way down Las Ramblas, you’ll come to the Liceu, Barcelona’s opera house.  You can take a tour of this beautiful building with its 2300 seat auditorium which was constructed in such a way that, whilst you may not have the best view from every seat, the acoustics are perfect, so you won’t miss a note.  You may get lucky, as we did on our last visit, and get to hear a rehearsal session.

After the Liceu, carry on to the end of Las Ramblas, turn left, and head to the beach!

Eat dinner at…

Eat dinner at one of the seafood restaurants in La Barceloneta, the city’s main beach.  This area is the best place to eat paella in Barcelona.  Take your pick from any of the versions of this classic dish.  You won’t be disappointed.

In the evening…

Hang out at the beach, enjoying the last of the day’s sun, or listening to the buskers who line the promenade.

Day 3 in Barcelona

In the morning…

This is day two of using your Barcelona Pass and, by now, your travel card will have expired.  The first thing to do, then, is to visit the tourist office near Plaça Catalunya to get a day voucher for the hop-on, hop-off bus service (included in the Barcelona Pass).

Take the blue route around the north of the city to Camp Nou, home to Barcelona FC.  This activity is included in the Barcelona Pass, but you will still need to book in advance.  Whether or not you are a football fan, the stadium tour is an amazing experience.  You get to go behind the scenes and pitchside to get a real sense of what it must be like on match days.

After the tour, continue on the blue route back to Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona’s main square.  

Eat lunch at…

Eat lunch at Las Buenas Migas. This bakery and coffee shop, one of a chain, is a perfect pit-stop for lunch.  They serve delicious pastries and focaccia, as well as fresh salads and desserts.  Their coffee is good, and they also offer a wide range of juices and smoothies.

In the afternoon…

After lunch, get back on the bus – the red route this time.  Head to Poble Espanyol, an open-air architectural museum with 117 full-size buildings which represent the evolution of Spanish architecture over the years.  This is included in the Barcelona Pass, as is a ride on the Montjuïc Cable Car, a short walk away.

From the cable car, you get fantastic views of Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium, as well as the rest of the city.

Following your cable car ride, hop back on the red route bus and continue past the World Trade Centre to Barcelona’s port areas – Port Vell and Port Olympic.  If time allows, switch to the green route which goes further along the coast and returns through the new business district.  If not, get off at Port Olympic and stroll back along the seafront to have dinner.

Eat dinner at…

Eat dinner at La Bombeta. This ‘spit and sawdust’ place is one of my favourite places to eat in Barcelona.  It is hugely popular with locals but is largely avoided by tourists.  Perhaps they are put off by the signs indicating that the staff only speak Catalan, there is no wi-fi, and they only take cash.  Don’t let this stop you!  Pointing goes a long way and you will be rewarded with the best food!!

This no-frills restaurant is always packed.  In between customers, the tables are wiped, new paper placemats are put down along with a basket of bread, a jug of water, and small chunky tumblers for your wine.  The menu is a single A4 sheet covered on both sides with lists of mouth-watering tapas dishes.  Order a selection and a carafe of house red.  Eat, drink, and, if you’re still hungry, order some more!

Our favourite dishes are spicy sausages in honey, patatas bravas with a sauce hot enough to blow your head off, Gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns), and Pulpo gallego (grilled octopus coated in sweet paprika sauce).

In the evening…

After dinner, take a boat trip around Barcelona’s port (included in the Barcelona Pass).  Enjoy the illuminated city skyline viewed from the water as you sip a cocktail and imagine yourself living the high life on one of the superyachts moored in the harbour.

Day 4 in Barcelona

In the morning…

Begin your last day of this 4 day Barcelona itinerary by having breakfast like the locals do, perching on a barstool at one of the stalls in La Boqueria, Barcelona’s glorious food market.

Next, take a cooking class.  I highly recommend the ‘Market to Table’ class by Bear on Bike.  Shop for ingredients with chef Alberto in La Boqueira and then go with him to his school in El Ravel to cook what you have bought.

You’ll get a masterclass in choosing the right produce. Whether you’re a beginner or a keen home cook, you’ll pick up loads of tips on how to prepare your dishes and serve them with a flourish.

Mid-morning, you’ll stop to enjoy a tasting board of fresh figs, oak-matured ham, tangy goats’ cheese, plump olives, and rustic bread.

By early afternoon, the preparation will be over and you’ll sit down at a pretty table laid in a sunny conservatory and enjoy a delicious three-course lunch washed down with delicious local wine.  If there’s a better way to appreciate the joys of Catalonian people and their cuisine, I don’t know what it is!

In the afternoon…

The cooking class doesn’t end until sometime between three and four o’clock in the afternoon.  I would suggest that you don’t try to rush around and do much more.  Instead, spend your final few hours in this stunning city strolling the streets, people watching, soaking up the atmosphere, and planning your next visit!

For a memorable end to your visit, take the metro to Plaça Espanya and join the crowds at the Magic Fountain.  As the sun goes down, watch a fantastic show as the water bubbles and cascades in an illuminated display set to popular music.  It’s not highbrow, but it’s great fun!

In the evening…

I don’t imagine that you’ll need dinner after such a sumptuous lunch, but there’s always room for some tasty morsels of street food as the evening wears on.  Enjoy a final ice cream or a cone of sweet churros dipped in a chocolate sauce as you mingle with the crowds on Las Ramblas for one last time.


Many thanks to Andrea for this detailed insight into how to spend 4 days in Barcelona. Barcelona is still on my Europe bucket list but I will be sure to use this awesome 4 day Barcelona itinerary when I get to visit!

Andrea is a former English teacher from the UK who has been travelling full-time with her husband, Mark, for the past fifteen years. 
Her blog, a mix of destination guides, travel stories, and tips on how to travel further for longer, is aimed at mature couples who love to live life to the full, learn new things, and fill each day with laughter.  
She doesn’t spend much time in the UK, but when she is there, you will find her on the Lincolnshire coast, walking or cycling on the prom, and stopping at her favourite café for a bacon roll.


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10 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World

From Disney World’s sheer size to its sustainability efforts and some of its best-kept secrets, here are 10 fun facts about the Happiest Place on Earth.

Walt Disney sure had some grand plans when it came to building the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida. He not only wanted it to be a fun theme park, but also to include an experimental prototype community of tomorrow (EPCOT) that would be a real working futuristic city, utilizing the latest push-button technology a la The Jetsons. The visionary sadly died in 1966, several years before Disney World opened in 1971, and EPCOT eventually just became another theme park incorporated into the larger resort in 1982. But did you know it was once meant to actually be lived in? Below are a few other fun facts that you might never have guessed about the Happiest Place on Earth.

1. It’s huge

crowds-Disney.jpg?mtime=20181003122641#asset:103392(Puppie2008/Dreamstime)

The size of the entire Walt Disney World resort is 40 square miles, or the size of San Francisco. You heard me. The same size as the city of San Francisco. Needless to say, that dwarfs other U.S. theme parks.

2. They have a lot of employees

Disney-Storm-Troopers-parade.jpg?mtime=20181003122359#asset:103391(Paul Brewster/Dreamstime)

It’s not easy keeping the magic alive. Disney World employs nearly 70,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country.

3. Loads of sunglasses are lost every day

Every single day, an average of 210 pairs of sunglasses are turned in to the incredible Lost and Found department at Disney World. Good luck sifting through that pile if your aviators go missing over in Toon Town.

4. People love turkey legs

Giant turkey legs were first introduced at Disney World the 90s, and became such a popular item that they were quickly introduced to the other parks. More than 2 million turkey drumsticks are consumed at Disneyland and Disney World every year, and you can even buy all sorts of gear (t-shirts, hats, etc.) with pictures of turkey legs on them.

5. They practice sustainability

Who would have thought? More than 30 tons of fruits and vegetables are grown each year at EPCOT’s Land Pavilion and used in the resort’s restaurants and cafes.

6. Liberty Oak gets around

Liberty-Square-magic-kingdon.jpg?mtime=20181003121713#asset:103388(Michael Gordon/Dreamstime)

The Liberty Oak, which stands in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom, has spawned over 500 young oak trees via its harvested acorns.

7. There’s a hotel suite inside Cinderella’s Castle

Cinderella-Castle-Disney-night.jpg?mtime=20181003121918#asset:103389(Michael Gordon/Dreamstime)

There’s a hotel suite tucked away in Cinderella’s Castle that can sleep up to six and has flat-screen TV disguised as magic mirrors. Unfortunately, you can’t just make a reservation – overnight guests are winners that are chosen at random by the park each day.

8. The price of tickets has increased over 400% (adjusted for inflation) since opening

When Disney’s Magic Kingdom first opened in 1971, adult admission cost $3.50. Today, it’s over $120.

9. The resort is basically its own functioning city

Walt Disney’s dreams of the “city of tomorrow” never came to fruition, but the entire resort is sort of it its own self-governing city, complete with its own fire departments and emergency services.

10. It’s (sort of) eco friendly

Fifteen miles south of Disney World is the Disney Wilderness Preserve, which is a 12,000-acre wetlands mitigation project that Disney company bought it in the 90s. Disney provides funds for restoration and wildlife monitoring in order to offset the lands impacted by the development of Walt Disney World. Fair enough.

(“10 Crazy Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World” was originally published on January 22, 2013 and was updated to reflect current prices and other data and statistics on September 24, 2019.)

6 Secret American Drives to Add to Your Bucket List

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View from the Beartooth Highway in Montana © Zimu Liu | Dreamstime.com

Skip the traffic-jammed roads of America’s best-known scenic drives and go straight to these secret road trips.

The United States is renowned for its plethora of jaw-droppingly beautiful stretches of highway. In fact, for many travelers, the very word “America” conjures images not of bustling cities or world-class museums (though the US offers no shortage of them) but of iconic roads such as California’s Highway 1, the Southeast’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road.

But what about the lesser-known American drives? The ones that aren’t necessarily jam-packed with road trip enthusiasts but nevertheless offer gorgeous scenery, family-friendly fun, education, and even cultural enlightenment? Here, six outstanding “secret” drives that travelers will love to boast about “discovering.”

Big Bend, Texas

Big Bend National Park, along the Texas border with Mexico, is often overshadowed by its more famous fellow parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. But a road trip through this gorgeous environment, with its limestone cliffs, scenic overlooks, and Rio Grande River, is a unique way to experience the American landscape. As with many US national parks, Big Bend includes small “villages” that can serve as handy milestones in planning a drive. One option is the Panther Junction-to-Rio Grande Village drive, about 21 miles (34km) passing ancient limestone, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for stopping for a short hike at Boquillas Canyon or the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail.

Cherokee Hills, Oklahoma

This is a lesser-known road trip that provides a healthy dose of cultural education as well. The Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in eastern Oklahoma, runs about 84 miles (135km), so set aside at least two hours for the drive. But the best approach is to make many stops along the way. You’ll see some of the oldest buildings west of the Mississippi River, many predating the state of Oklahoma itself; five small towns; the Cherokee Heritage Center, where visitors learn about the painful history of the Trail of Tears but also about the modern-day initiatives of the Cherokee Nation; and natural wonders including Lake Tenkiller and Natural Falls State Park.

Door County, Wisconsin

The Door County peninsula, sometimes called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” is a narrow, beautiful stretch of land between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Its Coastal Byway (Highway 42/57) is a Wisconsin Scenic Byway, covering more than 60 miles (97km) passing through the towns of Sturgeon Bay and Northport. Here, visitors discover the natural beauty and relaxing pace of this prized corner of Wisconsin – including farms known for their fresh cherries, a summer theater festival, and charming communities that hug the lakeshore, offering great food (including house-made ice cream), unique shopping, and forests perfect for easy hikes.

Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway

Sure, Delaware is one of the smallest states in the US, but it packs plenty of history and natural beauty. The Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway, in northern Delaware, takes visitors past sights as diverse as the city of Wilmington and the beautiful countryside. Officially only 12 miles (19km) along the Kennett Pike and Montchanin Road, the byway focuses on the 300-year history of the Brandywine Valley and its role in the industrial revolution and the growth of transportation across the early United States. Consider the byway as your introduction to the larger Brandywine Valley region, which stretches into Pennsylvania and includes an array of important historical homes with great art collections, such as the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library; the Nemours Mansion and Garden; the Brandywine River Museum; and the Delaware Museum of Art.

Beartooth Highway, Wyoming & Montana

Warning: once you’ve driven the Beartooth Highway, which adjoins Yellowstone National Park and is surrounded by national forests and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you may be spoiled forever. The highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, is a winding route up into the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains – achieving an elevation over 10,000ft (3,000 meters) at its zenith, it’s the highest highway in the northern Rocky Mountains – with peerless scenic overlooks, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and, before you ascend back down, a high alpine plateau above the treeline. Set aside a few hours to truly enjoy the 67 miles (108km) of highway, and get to know one of the gateway communities such as Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, or Cody, Wyoming.

Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi

For an immersion in one of America’s original art forms, the blues, head to Clarksdale, Mississippi, gateway to the Mississippi Blues Trail. Although you’ll see the beautiful sights of the legendary Mississippi Delta along the way, the Blues Trail is not primarily a scenic drive but rather a set of interpretive markers and cultural institutions that visitors can navigate to create their own personalized road trip devoted to Mississippi’s incredible musical legacy. The trip’s mileage and time frame are entirely up to you. Highlights include Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum (where you’ll learn about local luminaries Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson) and Ground Zero Blues Cafe; Indianola’s B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and Club Ebony (for blues music and soul food); and Greenwood’s Blues Heritage Gallery and excellent restaurants in the historic downtown district.

10 State Parks That Give National Parks a Run for…

With jaw-dropping natural beauty, reasonable entry fees, and convenient locations, these state parks belong on your must-see US parks list.

There’s no denying the allure of this country’s majestic national parks. But there’s plenty of natural beauty to go around, and many state parks offer outdoor experiences that shouldn’t be overlooked. State parks tend to have lower entrance fees and more manageable crowds than the marquee-name national parks, plus there’s the added bonus of not being affected by pesky government shutdowns. Here are 10 fabulous state parks to get you started.

1. Custer State Park: Custer, South Dakota

Custer-loop-road.jpg?mtime=20190207101639#asset:104773(Courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks)

A free-roaming herd of 1,500 bison is the main attraction at this park in the scenic Black Hills, but there’s plenty more wildlife to be spotted along its 18-mile loop road, including pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and even feral burros. Needles Highway, a popular 14-mile scenic drive through the park, is dotted with needle-shaped rock formations, two tunnels, and sweeping views of evergreen forests and lush meadows.
Weekly park license, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park

2. Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, Arizona

Home to a 21-foot stalactite that ranks as the third-longest in the world, this multi-room cave located 45 miles southwest of Tucson has only been open to the public since 1999. Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, meaning that its formations are still growing, and the park offers two guided tours that explore several different areas. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so it’s great for stargazing.
Tours, from $23 for adults and $13 for youth ages 7-13 (reservations recommended); azstateparks.com/kartchner

3. Petit Jean State Park: Morrilton, Arkansas

Cedar-Falls-Petite-Jean-State-Park.jpg?mtime=20190207102356#asset:104775(Courtesy Petit Jean State Park)

Central Arkansas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a mountaintop adventure, but that’s just what Petit Jean State Park offers. Perched atop the 1200ft Petit John Mountain, this park has 20 miles of hiking trails that feature captivating geological formations such as giant sandstone boulders, stone arches, rock shelters, and box canyons. The park’s historic Mather Lodge, a rustic, cozy accommodation built of logs and stone, is a great option if you’re staying a few days. Free entry; arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park

4. Anza-Borrego State Park: San Diego County, California

A remote and rugged landscape located in southeast California’s Colorado desert, Anza-Borrego State Park has 600,000 acres of varied terrain including badlands and slot canyons. The popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail takes hikers on a rocky stroll to an almost surreal oasis filled with California palms. When you’re visiting, save time to check out the collection of more than 130 giant metal creatures built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda in the nearby town of Borrego Springs. Day fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov/ansaborrego

5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Moab, Utah

It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it was a suitable stand-in for filming the final scene of the classic film Thelma & Louise. In other words, the views from Dead Horse State Park are fantastic. Just 25 miles from Moab, this park sits 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River and looks out over Canyonlands National Park. Visitors can pick their favorite view from one of eight different lookout points along the seven-mile rim trail.
Entry fee, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse

6. Watkins Glen State Park: Watkins Glen, New York

With steep, plant-covered cliffs, small caves, and misty waterfalls, this state park in New York’s Finger Lakes region feels a little like stepping into a fairy tale. Visit in spring, summer, or fall, when you can hike the Gorge Trail, a two-mile journey that descends 400 feet, past 19 waterfalls into an idyllic narrow valley. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty from above on one of the dog-friendly rim trails. Season runs mid-may to early November.
Day fee, $8 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov/parks/142

7. Tettegouche State Park: Silver Bay, Minnesota

Eight great state parks dot the 150-mile stretch of Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, but Tettegouche stands out for its scenic hiking opportunities through forests, past waterfalls, and along the shoreline. The easy Shovel Point trail takes hikers along jagged, lakeside cliffs to a dramatic lookout over Lake Superior. There are also three loop trails featuring waterfalls.
One-day park permit fee, $7; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html

8. Valley of Fire State Park: Overton, Nevada

Drive just 50 miles northeast of the bustling Las Vegas strip, and you’ll find a peaceful valley filled with dramatic red-sandstone formations that take on the appearance of flames on sunny days. The popular Atlatl Rock trail features a giant boulder balanced on a sandstone outcrop 50 feet above the ground. Climb its metal staircase to see the prominent ancient petroglyphs.
Entrance fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire

9. Montana de Oro State Park: San Luis Obispo County, California

Montana-de-Oro.JPG?mtime=20190207101832#asset:104774(Courtesy California State Parks)

Spanish for “mountain of gold,” Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wildflowers that cover the area each spring, but you can find colorful views year-round on the seven miles of rocky, undeveloped coastline that comprise the western edge of this state park in California’s central coast region. The 4.6-mile Bluff Trail is a great way to see a large swath of the beaches, tide pools, and natural bridges in the park, or you can hike the Hazard and Valencia Peak trails for summit views. Pebbly Spooner’s Cove Beach serves as the park’s central hub.
Entry fee, $20 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov

10. Baxter State Park: Piscataquis County, Maine

With no electricity, running water, or paved roads within its boundaries, this 200,000-acre park in North Central Maine offers mountain, lake, and forest adventures for those who like their wilderness truly wild. The park’s 5,200-foot Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges to explore, and five pond-side campgrounds that offer canoe rentals.
Entry fee, $15 per vehicle; baxterstatepark.org