Top 10 Under-the-Radar Travel Gems to Visit via RV This Summer
Experience the magic of outdoor travel with the best RV rental trips, selected by The Drive.
As the world resumes spinning on its axis post-pandemic, getting away from it all sure sounds tempting. Travel is ramping up, and national and state parks are expecting record numbers of visitors. Let’s face it: Most people are sick of looking at their living-room walls, and social distancing is pretty easy at the Grand Canyon.
Anticipating larger numbers of visitors to the more popular and well-known parks, beaches, and other vacation destinations in the United States, we’ve decided to share with you some amazing spots that are off the beaten path. Hopefully, you’ll still get to experience picturesque views and fresh air when traveling in your rental RV from Outdoorsy without the crowds and craziness that some destinations are sure to attract this summer.
1. Garden of the Gods, Colorado
Located near the picturesque city of Colorado Springs, the stunning vista of the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center often gets overshadowed by the famed Pikes Peak nearby. Garden of the Gods is certainly an apt name for this incredibly scenic and recreational terrain. The registered national natural landmark boasts 1,323 acres of untouched wonder.
See the iconic views of Pikes Peak and take in the imposing 300-foot sandstone rock formations that make Garden of the Gods famous. The visitor center offers guided nature walks, Jeep tours, electric bike tours, rock-climbing expeditions, free presentations, and more than 30 interactive high-tech exhibits. Not up for a big hike? Not to worry. Some of the best views within Garden of the Gods are found on the terrace of the visitor center.
The center houses an impressive and award-winning gift shop. You can find geological artifacts, Native American pottery and jewelry, books, apparel, and more. Enjoy a scenic lunch at the Bean Sprouts café.
When you’re all done there, you’ll find plenty of amazing, one-of-a-kind experiences in and around Colorado Springs that make this a prime RV destination.
2. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Valley of Fire State Park is difficult to describe. You have to see its splendor in person. A cornucopia of endless hiking trails, otherworldly scenery, and vast spaces, it's only about an hour's drive from Las Vegas in your rented RV from Outdoorsy.
Why is it a hidden gem? It’s located near some of the nation’s heaviest hitters such as Zion, Grand Canyon, and Bryce national parks, so it’s often overlooked. If it weren’t for its close proximity to these other parks, Valley of Fire would likely be classified as a national park itself.
It features red-hot, multi-layered Aztec sandstone that stretches more than 40,000 acres. The abundance of intricately carved slot canyons, ancient petroglyphs, petrified trees, and year-round camping make this an excellent spot to explore any time of the year. The landscape looks like you're walking on Mars. It's no wonder it was used as a backdrop for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hit film “Total Recall.”
You could easily spend an entire vacation here exploring all that Valley of Fire State Park has to offer. Being so close not only to Las Vegas but all of the jaw-dropping national parks in the region makes it a great stopping point along the RV trip of a lifetime. There’s so much to see and do in this raw and unspoiled part of the country.
3. Leavenworth, Washington
A 180-degree turn from Nevada’s rugged, desert environment, Leavenworth, Washington is a whimsical and quaint Bavarian village. Only about a two-hour drive from Seattle in your rental RV, this scenic Cascade mountain town looks like something straight out of an Alpine folk tale, transporting you to another country without ever having to get on a plane.
Pastel-colored buildings are home to legit Bavarian beer halls and Alpine lodges. And let’s not forget about the rich and decadent German cuisine. This is definitely not the place you want to visit if you’re on a diet. "Low-carb fare" is practically a dirty word here.
With plenty of fun festivals throughout the year, beautiful mountain scenery, and a wide variety of activities, Leavenworth can easily keep you entertained for your entire vacation. You can even get a little fancy at one of the town’s upscale spas and wineries, and the very next day, you can go on a leisurely bike tour or a challenging hike.
Be sure to leave room in your budget to check out the numerous breweries, distilleries, chocolatiers, and world-class restaurants while you’re here. Don’t worry, you can always work it off with plenty of kayaking, rafting, climbing, horseback riding, or golfing. This quaint town really does have something for everyone.
4. Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Tennessee
Touring around in an RV is the perfect way to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenic beauty of the Smoky Mountains. The 5.5-mile loop through the old-growth forests of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is a must-see.
The trail, located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park, got its name from a fast-flowing mountain stream. You’ll quickly see why if you drive the road right after a heavy rainfall. Just before entering the trail, be sure to stop at the Noah “Bud” Ogle self-guided nature trail for a quick side trip. Here, you’ll see an old-school mountain farmstead nestled into the statuesque hardwood forest. Along the trail, you’ll drive past historic buildings, cabins, and grist mills.
If you’re feeling energetic, the Ogle farmstead is the trailhead for the popular Rainbow Falls hike. It’s a 5.4-mile round-trip excursion that’s sure to impress, as well as test your stamina. Other waterfalls that don’t require so much effort to get to include Grotto Falls and a “wet-weather” waterfall called Place of a Thousand Drips.
After this fun day trip, there are lots of things to do in and around nearby Gatlinburg, which is a vacation mecca in its own right. It offers all the typical tourist attractions and then some.
5. Finger Lakes, New York
The Finger Lakes of New York are among the most idyllic and peaceful regions to visit via RV in the summertime. Ideally situated just a few short miles away from the bustling cities of Buffalo and Rochester, the Finger Lakes provide a welcome respite from busy urbanization. They are close enough to it to offer the best of both worlds.
Not only is the Finger Lakes region known for producing world-class wines, but this understated travel destination also boasts 11 lakes for you to explore. Get your fill of hiking, biking, boating, fishing, kayaking, or paddling along the relaxing shores.
Cayuga Lake is the longest of the Finger Lakes and is home to the first-ever wine trail in the U.S. It boasts an impressive 14 wineries for you to taste many wines and find your favorite. If wine isn’t your thing, not to worry. The area has plenty of breweries, distilleries, and hard-cider producers.
You can also park your RV at the well-appointed Watkins Glen International Raceway and take in some exciting auto racing. Or try hiking the renowned gorge trail located in Watkins Glen State Park to drink in the sights of 19 waterfalls. Take a sunset boat cruise, sign up for a progressive food tour, or wander through the endless museums and historical sites.
6. Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
If you’re looking to really get away and have the RV experience of a lifetime, it’s hard to beat the Mendenhall Glacier located near the capital city of Juneau, Alaska. For serious outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, Mendenhall Glacier offers a top-notch experience. The beauty of this untouched 3,000-year-old, 13-mile glacier cannot be overstated.
In the summer, the glacier is a thriving epicenter of amazing forests, pristine lakes, and teeming waterfalls. The area abounds with black bears, mountain goats, spawning salmon, playful otters, and hard-working beavers. With nearly unlimited hours of daylight in the summer, you’ll have no trouble filling your days with adventure.
Hiking tours, kayaking, guided glacier tours, fishing, and whale-watching expeditions are just a few of the must-do activities. You can even explore awe-inspiring crystal ice caves. Nearby Juneau offers much in the way of historic sites and museums, summertime gardens, and eclectic restaurants to round out your visit.
7. Lynchburg, Virginia
Nestled snugly in the foothills of the fairytale Blue Ridge Mountains, Lynchburg, Virginia, is a welcoming and sleepy destination that’s definitely off the main drag. This historic town was once a key storage depot during the Civil War. It’s well-known for its close proximity to Appomattox, where the war finally ended.
If history is your thing, you’ll love Lynchburg. The City of Seven Hills has a whopping five districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Districts. Enjoy leisurely and informative guided walking tours throughout the lavish neighborhoods that are home to some of the prettiest examples of 19th-century architecture in the country. The American Civil War Museum is just a quick 25-minute drive away.
For nature lovers, the Peaks of Otter provide stunning views and vast panoramas. Get your exercise for the day on a hike to the summit, or take the convenient shuttle bus and relax while you enjoy the view. Natural Bridge State Park is less than an hour’s drive from Lynchburg. It’s home to a shocking 215-foot-tall limestone bridge that has been carved out through the ages.
Poplar Forest is the regal and beloved plantation home that was built by Thomas Jefferson. You can also enjoy the Lynchburg Community Market and various wine, food, and street festivals that seem to be constantly taking place in this adorable town.
8. Jekyll Island, Georgia
The low-lying, sandy stretches of Jekyll Island, Georgia, are home to some prime examples of huge, whitewashed driftwood delivered by the tides of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s all about peace and serenity on this pristine barrier island. Ocean temperatures are just warm enough to cool you off from the heat of the Georgia summer.
In the late 19th century, Jekyll Island enjoyed notoriety as an exclusive playground for the wealthiest of American icons, the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers. It was home to the world’s richest and most exclusive club of the age, the Jekyll Island Club. Today, it’s a protected Georgia state park, and only 35 percent of it has been developed.
Stroll along the 10 miles of flat sand beaches, enjoy hours of bird-watching, or explore the island by bicycle along 20 miles of groomed paths. Fill your days with fishing, golfing, horseback riding, paddleboarding, kayaking, or guided tours. If you’re looking for a bit more excitement, there’s plenty of shopping as well as the Summer Waves Water Park and the Emerald Princess Casino to check that box.
9. Devils Tower, Wyoming
Erupting out of the Black Hills of Wyoming is the stark and shocking Devils Tower. This mysterious rock tower is the only one of its kind. It protrudes an incredible 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River.
How it came to be is a subject of some speculation. One theory is that it was formed from molten magma that pushed through the Earth’s crust millions of years ago. However it got here, it was deemed as America’s very first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The tower is sacred and fabled land to many Native Americans in the region.
If rock climbing is your thing, this is the place — although the tower is off-limits to climbers in June in order to honor the cultural traditions and rituals that are performed at that time by the Native American tribes. Any other time, you’ll need to register to climb in advance.
If a straight-up ascent is too daunting, you can hike the Tower Trail, which is a little more than two miles round trip. The park encompasses more than eight miles of other hiking trails. After your trip up or around the tower, you can spend time exploring the rugged beauty of the Black Hills.
10. Camden, Maine
Summer is the perfect time of year to enjoy the East Coast ocean haven of Camden, Maine. This storybook town has much to do and enjoys some of the most comfortable temperatures in the country during its warm summer months. With major destinations like Acadia National Park and the White Mountains National Forest nearby, Camden is often overlooked by the large crowds.
The town still sees a sizable influx of tourists during the summer, but since Maine is one of the least densely populated states in the country, it’s hardly overflowing. In Camden during the summer, Maine lobster reigns supreme and is pretty affordable, so you can eat your fill every single day of your vacation if you want.
Enjoy relaxing or exciting sailing on a wide variety of sailboats for rent or partake in guided daily excursions and stunning sunset tours. Go on a guided fishing or lobstering trip or tour the numerous examples of the quintessential New England lighthouse that dot the coastline.
Camden Hills State Park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails that will suit all fitness levels. Beachgoers love having their choice of the calm freshwater at Barrett’s Cove on Megunticook Lake or the salty, active waves on Laite Memorial Beach, where you can search for shells and sea glass. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the rugged coastline and friendly spirit of this quaint New England fishing town.