The 50 Best Things We Did Last Year

August 4, 2022
best places to travel in the US

In July 2021, the Hoffmann Family accepted a nursing position with the VA Travel Corp and have lived full-time in an RV ever since. Nine of the past twelve months we’ve spent working in different cities and traveled freely about the US the other three months. We are truly adrift in these United States — the house is rented, home is where we park it — and as a result we’ve been able to see some of the best places to travel in the US.

We have three teenagers on the road with us and we Roadschool them using the locations we visit and an assortment of source materials. To learn more about why we chose to Roadschool, check this out. Other than work, school, and church activities, we spend our time exploring amazing places around the country. We’ve been to 22 states in the past year, lived in three of them, and spent a week or longer in a half-dozen more.

Split Rock State Park, MN

The year has been full of surprises and celebrations.

Our son returned home from his full-time mission while we were living in Charleston. It was amazing to welcome him home, and challenging to add one more adult-sized body into the RV.

Our youngest two children started piano and fencing lessons. Both have gone well and we’ll see where they lead. They’ve also been on an assortment field trips to museums and monuments, as well as beaches and roller coaster parks. Geology, history, biology, it’s all part of the Roadschool curriculum.

But it hasn’t all been roses. We gave away one of our dogs, which was hard on the family. And our motorhome broke down in Nebraska about a month ago. We’ve missed family like crazy.

Our first year on the road has been a little of this and a little of that, and then some of that other stuff, too. It is safe to say that full-time RV living has been every bit the adventure we’d hoped it would be. This article is our annual report on the best and worst of what we’ve seen and done. Learn more by clicking links in blue. We hope you enjoy!

1. Downtown Charleston, SC

best places to travel in the US

A stroll down East Bay, Meeting, or King Street in Historic Charleston never failed to leave us gushing about the architecture and fantasizing about life in the 1700’s. The Battery Waterfront is spectacular. The Museums are full of interesting history. The restaurants are delicious. The plantations are gorgeous. And the beaches are the cherry on top. Charleston is easily one of the best places to travel in the US.

2. The Buffalo of Wind Cave National Park, SD

There’s something awesome about a buffalo encounter — it’s thrilling to stand near a rare and dangerous beast that could attack you at any moment. We spent many days tracking and photographing the Wind Cave bison herd. They are the coolest animals in the USA. It was the experience of a lifetime. Read more…

3. Destin, FL

best places to travel in the US

The sand in Destin is white and clean, the water is a pristine turquoise, palm trees are everywhere, and the fishing is superb. It might be a little touristy but what the hell. We spent two weeks at a beachside RV Park in early May — it was five minutes from doorstep to beach. When it comes to beaches, Destin is one of the best places to travel in the US.

4. Custer State Park, SD

This is perhaps the best state park in the USA. Sylvan Lake is as picturesque as they come. The most commanding vista we saw all year was Black Elk Peak. The winding Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Roads were spectacular. Custer State Park is the beating heart of South Dakota’s Black Hills. Read more…

5. Downtown Chicago, IL

best places to travel in the US

Downtown Chicago is a wonderland of parks and restaurants, dramatic buildings and lakeshore activity. The skyline is mesmerizing. The pizza is fantastic. And the people were nice! Chicago is our new favorite metropolis, bumping NYC off the top spot.

6. Door County, WI

We didn’t know much about Door County, Wisconsin, a long prominence north of Milwaukee that pierces Lake Michigan like a thorn. The draw here is the pastoral beauty, capricious town and country stores. Cherries are a big deal in these parts, as are goats on rooftops. The highlights were Sister Bay, Washington Island, Cave Point County Park, Peninsula State Park, and Fish Creek. We started making plans to return about halfway through our week here.

7. North Shore Scenic Drive, MN

best places to travel in the US

The North Shore Scenic Drive is a gorgeous, 140-mile stretch of highway along Lake Superior’s western shoreline. The highway runs from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian Border and along the way are seven state parks. Lutzen Mountain is also here, along with some fantastic towns and a plethora of waterfalls. Grand Marais is the crown jewel (photo above), and one of the best places to travel in the US. Grand Portage is the primary access point to Isle Royale National Park.

8. Driftwood Beach on Edisto Island, SC

Driftwood Beach at Botany Bay, SC, is the relic of an oceanside forest; a maritime woodland fallen to erosion. It is a mind-bending scene — a true wonderland. From the parking lot an oaken greenbelt becomes a golden swampland, which blends into a jungle of palmettos, beyond which lies an upright beach forest resembling the work of Medusa. It is an otherworldly spectacle. Read more…

9. City Museum, MO

best places to travel in the US

This might just be the coolest thing we’ve ever done, and is absolutely one of the best places to travel in the US with kids. The warehouse is five floors of industrial relics organized into the world’s most interesting playground. Hidy-holes, ladders, and slides enter and exit rooms through the walls, ceilings, and floors. Dragons, whales, and dinosaurs mingle with skateboard ramps, pianos, and pinball machines to form a demented nirvana that invites every man, woman, and child to get on their knees and crawl into some dark opening leading to who-knows-where. Read more…

10. Polar Plunge in Lake Superior

This is what happens when you learn that Lake Superior is 37 degrees. Was it ridiculously cold? Yes. Yes it was. So cold it burned. Did the kids do it three times? Heck yes, they did. Afterwards we had hot chocolate and reveled in the nuttiness of our family.

11. Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, OH

best places to travel in the US

If you are a Rock and Roll fan and are in Cleveland, and if you don’t begrudge the Rock and Roll HOF because your favorite crappy band hasn’t been inducted (get over it), then you will have the friggin’ time of your life here. This is the ultimate “kid in the candy store” moment — I never wanted it to end — It was the perfect consummation of a lifetime of love for Rock and Roll music.

12. Mt. Rushmore National Monument, SD

best places to travel in the US

We admit this massive, stone carving might not be the sexiest thing to do in the USA, but try telling that to great-grandma. “Hello, Mr. President.” But seriously, a creation of this magnitude is one of the greatest human achievements. It cannot be understood in words and pictures; one must visit the National Monument to appreciate how awesome it is. Mount Rushmore is so overhyped that it’s underrated. Read more…

13. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Some of the biggest views we’ve seen are in TRNP, which makes it one of the best places to travel in the US. The park sees about 600,000 visitors annually, placing it among the least explored parks in the USA National Parks system. This coincides with the interesting fact that North Dakota is the last state Americans visit on average. They say Americans “save the best for last”, but if that were true then Texas would be the last state people visit. Read more…

14. Devil’s Tower, WY

best places to travel in the US

When you walk around the Devil’s Tower, it is hard to take your eyes off of it. The 870′ behemoth looms magnificent, like a king on a celestial throne. The Native tribes have deep cultural ties to Devil’s Tower — they call it Bear Lodge, and the mythical story attached to it is beautiful. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt designated the geologic marvel our nation’s first National Monument. Read more…

15. St. Andrew’s State Park, FL

The Emerald Coast of Florida is the nicest stretch of beach we’ve found in the continental US. Some of the highlights are Miramar Beach and Henderson Beach in the town of Destin, Grayton Beach along on the 30-A Highway, and St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City. St. Andrews is special due to the quiet bay created by the jetty. The State Park is also a great place to spot gators and other wildlife.

16. Downtown Savannah, GA

best places to travel in the US

It is easy to see why everyone holds Savannah in such high regard, as few cities in the USA can match its beauty and ambiance. The streets of Savannah are one of the South’s great treasures, adorned with 24 city squares (small-to-medium sized parks) that embellish the neighborhoods and business districts. Jones Street is considered the most beautiful street in the US. The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist is incredible inside and out. And the beach is only 30 minutes away! Savannah is truly one of the best place to travel in the US. Read more…

17. Middleton Place, SC

The Charleston plantations were large agricultural properties dedicated to cash crops like indigo, cotton, and rice, or manufacturing a product, like bricks, while utilizing the labor of slaves. Many years later, what is left of these plantations are their historical grounds and their stories. Middleton Place was the most beautiful of the Charleston Plantations. Read more…

18. Badlands National Park, SD

best places to travel in the US

Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans and early settlers steered clear of this parched region because they didn’t want to die. However, in modern times, tourists flock to the Badlands because it is strangely beautiful (and we have air conditioning). The territory is famous for its maze-like arrangement of sediment-striped mountains.  Read more…

19. Gateway Arch National Park, MO

Gateway Arch National Park is one of the most prominent features of any US city, akin to the Statue of Liberty, Space Needle, or Golden Gate Bridge. It is our nation’s smallest National Park at 192 acres, having been given the designation on February 22, 2018. A barrel-like elevator ride takes you to the top in about four minutes. The museum in the basement is beautiful and teaches all about St. Louis history. Read more…

20. Galloping Ghost Arcade, IL

best places to travel in the US

The biggest arcade in the world. Over 850 games — which is roughly all of them. The above photo shows one of four rooms packed with electronic, mechanized joy. If you were alert in the 1980’s or early 1990’s this is your Graceland. Located about 30 minutes outside downtown Chicago. $20 for unlimited gaming. If you love O.G. arcade games, the Galloping Ghost Arcade is the best place to travel in the US.

21. Brookgreen Gardens / Atalaya Castle, SC

One of the most highly regarded sculpture gardens in the United States is Brookgreen Gardens, SC. If you love sprawling botanical arrangements and/or spectacular sculptures this floral gem is an absolute must-do on the Carolina coast. Read more…

22. Cedar Point Amusement Park, OH

best places to travel in the US

Cedar Point is considered the biggest roller coaster park in the USA, which makes it one of the best places to travel in the US. We aren’t sure if it beats Magic Mountain in California or not, but those are the two greatest we’ve found. Maverick and Steel Vengeance are as good as roller coasters get.

23. Henry Ford Museum of Innovation & Greenfield Village, MI

The Henry Ford is perhaps the best museum in the United States. The Museum of American Innovation focuses mostly on autos, powerplants, planes, trains, and machinery, with features including championship race cars, President’s Kennedy’s Dallas limo, and Rosa Park’s bus. Abraham Lincoln’s death chair is also on display. Greenfield Village is 80-acres highlighting the fascinating formation of America. Features include Thomas Edison’s laboratory, historic homes, and working farms and towns of yesteryear.

24. Missouri Botanical Garden, MO

best places to travel in the US

Some consider this to be one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. While we can’t vouch for that level of accolade, we can say with certainty that this is absolutely, without question, one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited. Read more…

25. Patriots Point, SC

A top-notch military museum in Charleston, SC. The SS Yorktown II Aircraft Carrier is parked on the river just outside downtown. We walked all through the ship and learned about the daily life of sailors. The top deck has an assortment of planes and helicopters, and hosts incredible views of downtown. The other half of Patriot Point is a tribute to Vietnam, which is an incredible experience not to be missed.

26. Cypress Gardens, SC

Cypress Gardens was featured in the movie, The Notebook, one of Monica’s all-time favorites. The plantation turned state-run attraction has gorgeous hiking trails, a butterfly garden, an impressive aquarium, a small aviary, and other facilities. The highlight is the self-guided rowboat tour through the swamp, one of our favorite experiences over the past year, and one of the best places to travel in the US. Read more…

27. Folly Beach, SC

best places to travel in the US

A California-style beach town on the busiest beach in Charleston makes any Saturday a great day. We came here often. The homes along the beach are colorful. The surf shops are fun and the water is warm. South Carolina doesn’t get enough credit for their beaches. We also enjoyed Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Kiawah Island.

28. Forest Park, Saint Louis, MO

best places to travel in the US

Just minutes from downtown reside 1,300 acres of sculpted landscape, creeks and trails, lakes and fields, and beautifully designed buildings, all backdropped by the city skyline. St. Louis boasts more free major visitor attractions than anywhere outside our nation’s capital. Read more…

29. The Ledges, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH

This was one of the most interesting hikes we’ve ever done and the kids really enjoyed it. A 1.8 mile RT jaunt into a prehistoric rock garden made from 320-million-year-old swamp sand. It feels like another world at The Ledges, just a few miles from downtown Cleveland.

30. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI

best places to travel in the US

The Apostle Islands are found in the SW corner of Lake Superior, about an hour east of Duluth, Minnesota. The islands are a large archipelago with stunning views in every direction. The red rock sea caves are a primary feature of the region and a handful of outfitters offer guided kayaking tours. The ferry ride to Madeline Island and Big Bay State park is recommended if you can stomach the $100 fee.

31. Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI

Hardly the frozen tundra, but I’ll take it! A pilgrimage to the mecca should be on any football fan’s bucket list and Lambeau Field did not disappoint! I loved every minute I spent here, from the tour to the gift shop to the houses across the street. Dallas fans not welcome.

32. Cleveland Museum of Art, OH

best places to travel in the US

The Cleveland Museum of Art is considered one of the best art museums in the US. We especially enjoyed our day here, as we worked our way from ancient Egypt to modern times. There was an extensive collection of armor and weapons, a phenomenal collection of Japanese works, and beautiful paintings from all eras, including Da Vinci, Degas, Monet, and other important artists.

33. Minuteman Missile Site Visitor Center, SD

In order to prevent (or win) a nuclear war, US military personnel buried 1000 Minuteman missiles in the plains of America during the 1960’s. Landowners and residents in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Colorado, and nearby states have lived amongst these devastating weapons of war the past sixty years. Today we can relive this fading chapter in US history at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Read more…

34. Dells Boat Tour, WI

best places to travel in the US

The Wisconsin Dells were an unknown destination to us, but it turns out this is a very popular place to visit in the Great Lakes region. One of the top tourist attractions in the Dells is the river boat tour along the beautiful, glacier-carved Dells River. Our tour was on the Upper Dells, which included a very cool hike into Witches’ Gulch and a death-defying circus dog performance.

35. Hot Springs Hot Air Balloon Festival, SD

The South Dakota town of Hot Springs hosts a charming balloon festival every August. We love hot air balloons so it was especially pleasing the town we were living in last summer had it’s own celebration. The Glow Around Town was the highlight for us (photo above). The crowds were perfectly proportioned. Even though the balloon launch morning was cancelled due to heavy winds we had a fantastic weekend. Read more…

36. Bubba the Alligator, Destin, Florida

People pay a lot of money to have a close-up experience with an alligator. Well, we didn’t. Camping on the Gulf RV Park in Destin, Florida hosts Dave and Bubba every week. Bubba is a “therapy gator”, the only one of his kind. Dave says he can sense emotions, and he is especially drawn to people with autism. You can pet Bubba, kiss him, sit on him… he’s never bitten anyone ever. Dave is a local authority on gators in Florida, and he uses Bubba (and a keen sense of humor) to educate law enforcement, school kids, and RV Park guests about Bubba and the rest of the gators.

37. Isle Royale National Park, MI

best places to travel in the US

The least visited National Park in the continental US, Isle Royale sees ~25,000 visitors annually. The park is actually an island out in Lake Superior near the Minnesota/Canada border. It takes a plane or boat to visit — Isle Royale is about as isolated as it gets in N. America. A day trip gives you four hours on the island. We would recommend an overnight stay or longer. A beautiful, lonely place makes for one of the best places to travel in the US.

38. Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, SD

150,000 years ago, a slippery watering hole drew mammoths and other creatures to its fertile edges, only to see them slide into the waters and drown. Over the years, this treacherous lake would claim the lives of over sixty known mammoths. In 1974, a construction project revealed a massive mammoth gravesite. It has been a working paleontological dig ever since. Read more…

39. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

best places to travel in the US

Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system on earth with over 420 miles of surveyed passageways. That makes it almost twice as long as the second longest cave. Some of the caverns are impossibly large, hence the name of the cave. The visitor center is almost as interesting as the cave itself so we recommend spending plenty of time reading about all things caves before your tour.

40. Sturgis Motorcycle Ralley, Sturgis, SD

This is the hallowed venue of the greatest motorcycle rally in the USA, and as far as celebratory gatherings go, it is one of the best places to travel in the US. As many as 747,000 people have visited the legendary August affair. The freedom rally is ten days of scenic rides, concerts, poker, golfing, drinking, and rowdy socialization. None of it is child friendly, nor should it be. That’s why we visited at noon on a Wednesday. Read more…

41. Tybee Island, GA

best places to travel in the US

Tybee island is a restful beach town with a gentle ocean and relaxed vibe. Because it is home to over three miles of clean, wide beaches, Tybee has remained a popular vacation spot for Georgians since the late 1800s. After beating your soles against the historic streets of Savannah, this Georgia barrier island makes the perfect, relaxing escape. Read more…

42. Devil’s Lake State Park, WI

Devil’s Lake is the most popular State Park in the state of Wisconsin. While perfect for sportsmen and picnickers, the park is a hikers dream with trails around the lake and into the hills above. Some incredible rock formations are found in the cliffs, like the above photographed Devil’s Doorway.

43. Hilton Head Island, SC

We came to Hilton Head Island expecting khaki pants and khaki buildings; a place where Bartholomew Payne summers with Muffy and the kids. In a way it was those things, but we weren’t looking for it and didn’t find too much of it. The island is clean, the crowd is subtle, and the beaches are pleasant. The pre-1962 history of HHI is very interesting — the natives, the plantations, the civil war. The golf not-so-much. Read more…

44. Congaree National Park, Columbia, SC

best places to travel in the US

Congaree NP is a swamp outside Columbia, SC. A boardwalk leads visitors on a 3-mile-loop through the swamp, showcasing the nature indigenous to these parts of the country. We caught the leaves in their last stage of color-change at the tail-end of autumn. There are several hikes in the park, as well as kayaking and a nice visitor center.

45. Noah’s Ark Waterpark, WI

This is the largest waterpark in the USA, a seventy acre monstrosity in the Dells of Wisconsin. The park has 47 waterslides and two wave pools. Our favorite ride was the Black Anaconda, a water coaster — Parker rode it twenty times. We went on a weekday in June and there were hardly any lines. If you love waterparks, this is one of the best places to travel in the US.

46. Slave Mart Museum, Charleston, SC

The Old Slave Mart Museum is the last slave auction house in Charleston. Here you can read the whole story of slavery in the US. Learn how the slaves were transported, how they were purchased, how they were treated, and how they became slaves in the first place. Did everyone in the south support slavery? Were all slave owners awful? How did the slaves rebel? All the answers are here, which makes it one of the best places to travel in the US.

47. Toadstool Geologic Park, NE

best places to travel in the US

The park is a well-kept secret, down a 12-mile dirt road in the middle of nowhere. It is known for it’s interesting, toadstool-shaped formations and fossil deposits. We found it to be one of the more curious locations we’ve come across in our USA travels and would catalogue it with the other badlands features in the region.  Read more…

48. House on the Rock, WI

Alex Jordan was a listless college grad who built a house with his hands in the early 1950’s. By the 1970’s he was earning six figures monthly giving tours, creatively investing every dollar back into his House on the Rock. Today it displays some of the most incredible things created or collected by man, including the world’s largest carousel, a 300′ sea monster, a collection of self-playing instruments, a room with over 3,000 windows, and more. If you’re into eccentric personalities, Alex Jordan’s House on the Rock is one of the best places to travel in the US.

49. Shem Creek, SC

best places to travel in the US

Shem Creek is one of the most beautiful places to bring a date in South Carolina. A boat-lined inlet with a handful of dockside restaurants rests beside a salt-grass marsh filled with herons, egrets, and pelicans. A perfect place to catch a sunset. The evening we spent here was one of the best we shared during our time in Charleston. Read more…

50. Taliesin (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home), WI

Not our photo

Frank Lloyd Wright is considered our greatest American architect. He is known for his masterpiece, Falling Water in Pennsylvania, as well as the Johnson Wax Headquarters, Larkin Administration Building, the Ennis House, Graycliff, and hundreds of others. Taliesin is his Wisconsin home, as well as his childhood school and architecture school. This is where it all began.

51. Custer’s Last Stand

Not our photo

I feel rotten for placing General Custer so low on the list, but it was a late entry — It really is a great place to visit. Our tour guide told fantastic stories and leant strong perspective on the situation. Long story short, General Custer and the soldiers tried to pull a deplorable tactical move on the Native Americans and they (rightfully) paid the price with their lives. The memorial is haunting — a slaughterhouse — and a place absolutely worth visiting.

52. Cave of the Mounds, WI

This cave is different from the others in that tours do not keep visitors at a great distance from the features of the cave. There are no ropes to keep patrons back, just common sense and personal decency. This makes for a more intimate cave experience. While Cave of the Mounds has some very interesting features, it is less than a mile in length, has no large rooms, and only takes an hour to tour.

53. Belle Isle, MI

Belle Isle is an island in the Detroit River that sits between the US and Canada. You can see both nations behind Halea and Apollo. There are many free things to do on Belle Isle, including an aquarium, a conservatory, a museum of the great lakes (not free), a beautiful park (pictured), a beach, and a racetrack.

And the Worst Things We Did

Adams Museum in Deadwood SD — Actually a very cool place.

1. Urban Decay in Downtown Detroit, MI

best places to travel in the US

We walked through this former great city for two full days. From the waterfront to Greektown to the Dequindre Cut we wandered and explored. It wasn’t all bad, but unnerving at times and never great. It is obvious the town cannot afford to rebuild so their next best option was to cover the city in murals. While interesting, the artwork is not fooling anyone. Paint can’t make crumbling walls invisible.

2. Wall Drug, South Dakota

We will forever beat the drum that Wall Drug is one of the worst tourist attractions in the USA. It’s like watching a car dealership commercial in a wood-paneled porta-john. Every molecule in the place is lame. Unless you really enjoy kitschy schlock, Wall Drug gets the hardest pass.

3. Berkeley Pit, Montana

Butte, Montana is home to a flooded, old mining pit. The water is a bright shade of green because it is incredibly toxic. In fact, if you were to drink from the Berkeley Pit you’d likely turn a similar color before a regrettable death. So don’t do it. When you find yourself bored in Butte you could do worse than this, but we wouldn’t go out of our way.

4. Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska

You might be thinking, why did you bother to go there? Well, sometimes we find things in our research that look cool in a photograph yet in real life prove less than thrilling. Scotts Bluff is one of those places (no offense to the locals). This is a fine midwestern town that was once a landmark on the westward expansion trail. The history is moderately interesting, but it’s also sorta meh.

5. Deadwood, South Dakota

Unfortunately, Deadwood has abased itself over the years and devolved (at least partially) into a slogan-schlepping charade. Not to say there aren’t excellent things to do in Deadwood because there are. Still, much of what’s here is middling entertainment for easy to please tourists. Read Our Honest Review…

An Honest Conclusion

best places to travel in the US

We love the USA! Our country is amazing, and we intend to circle the map for years in search of every interesting and beautiful thing. Someday I want this list to be 500 items long, and it will be, Lord willing.

We have learned it is possible to overtravel. Our most recent road trip covered several thousand miles and lasted nine weeks. By the end of the trip we were exhausted and swore we would never do it again. In the future we will keep our vacations around four or five weeks between contracts.

Lake Superior is incredible. We cannot state that enough.

Kentucky and Tennessee look beautiful from the freeway.

Cleveland is full of surprises.

Charleston has issues with racial disharmony… and it is our favorite town regardless.

South Dakota folks are friendly.

The Hoffmann family is blessed!

Thanks for reading y’all. God bless!

best places to travel in the US

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