Friday, November 4, 2016

25 Things to do on Fort Rucker

Fort Rucker is a special place.  It's not your typical Army Post.

My husband and I like to say that Fort Rucker is what you would get if a National Park and a University had a baby that grew up and joined the Army.

This place is surrounded by thousands of acres of trees.  When you enter through some of the gates onto post you have to drive for at least a couple miles before you come to any buildings.  When you do see the buildings they aren't the drab yellow buildings that are typical of most military installations.  Instead these buildings are covered in red brick and situated on tree lined streets. The main part of this Army post feels like a college campus.

Of course, this whole place is owned and operated by the Department of Defense so you definitely can tell that this is a military installation.  There are statues made from decommissioned aircraft scattered between the buildings, soldiers in uniform can be seen everywhere you look, and every building has official looking signs placed out front.

My family has lived here on Fort Rucker for the past 18 months.  These months have been full of challenges, but they've also been full of good things.  I've loved getting to know this area.

We are preparing to move away from Fort Rucker in the near future.  I'm ready for this change, but I'm also sad to leave a place that I've loved so much.  I wanted to write this post to tell you about all the great opportunities of things to do on Fort Rucker.  This is something of a parting gift to this place and the wonderful people who live here.

Before we get started with the list, I need to let you know that this list is current as of November 2016.  I'm sure many things will change as time goes by. A good place to get current information about things on Fort Rucker is to read the At Ease Magazine put out by the MWR (Moral Wellness and Recreation).  This magazine is published monthly, and will tell you about many of the events happening on post. The Army Flier is also full of good info.  This is a weekly newspaper put out by Fort Rucker.  There are kiosks with the magazines and newspapers located all over post.  The MWR also puts out an annual Welcome Guide that is a great resource.

Everything on this list is available to active military personnel and their families.  Some of the things on this list are available to DoD personnel.  And a few things are open to civilians. If you have a question about what it available to you please call the organization to get the details.

And here's one more caveat. I have yet to find a good map of Fort Rucker.  Even Google isn't always super helpful with directing you.  (As a rule of thumb every google location in the residential areas is on the wrong end of the street.) I've done my best to tell you where certain things are located.  But you'll probably still have questions.  The good news is that Fort Rucker is small enough that you can get to know it pretty easily.  After a few days of driving around you'll have a good idea of where most everything is located.

Okay without any further ado, here is a list of 25 things you can do on Fort Rucker.

1. See helicopters
This is the home to Army Aviation, and boy do they make it obvious.  First of all, you can't miss all the helicopters flying overhead all the time.  But beyond that there are other ways to see all the aircraft.

The best place to go is the Army Aviation Museum located near the Daleville Gate on Novosel Street.  The museum is open to the public and free of charge. This place is full of historical military aircraft starting with one of the first Wright Fliers designed for the military.  Most of the aircraft are displayed so that you can't touch them.  But there is a Chinook that you can climb inside and sit down in the cargo area.

In addition to the aircraft inside the museum there are also plenty of aircraft on display outside the building.  And beyond that there are aircraft randomly placed around Fort Rucker.  One of my favorite displays is in front of the Headquarters building on Novosel Street.  You can see the four helicopters currently in use by the Army.

And don't forget that you can drive around to see the training helicopters sitting on the flight line.  My favorite view is of Lowe Field from the hill north of the field.  It's so amazing to see all the Black Hawks sitting out in neat rows.

2. Pose for pictures with a giant polar bear
Sergeant Ted E. Bear is a giant fiberglass statue of a polar bear who is stationed near the Daleville Gate.  He's one of the symbols of Fort Rucker.  Every month he has a different outfit painted onto him to help celebrate events going on around post.  You can take pictures with him, but be aware that he is located on the corner of a busy intersection.  The best place to park is on Raider Street and then walk across the field to the statue.  You can also buy souvenirs featuring the polar bear at the Aviation Museum gift shop and the Arts and Crafts Center.

3. Make (many) new friends
If you are new to Army life, here's a little secret for you. Everyone feels uncomfortable at a new duty station.  The trick to feeling like you belong is to make friends.  And the way to make friends is to get involved with things.

The Fort Rucker Community Spouses Club (FRCSC) is an awesome way to get to know people, and to really feel part of the Fort Rucker Community.  They have luncheons once a month.  They also have many volunteer and service opportunities.

Protestant Women of the Chapel is another great organization for meeting new friends.  They meet every Tuesday at Wings Chapel.  If you aren't interested in a Bible Study atmosphere you can come to their P31 Activity on the third Thursday of every month.  They do an easy craft and provide the supplies for a small suggested donation.  Childcare is provided for free for both PWOC and P31.

4. Attend church and/or send your kids to Vacation Bible School
While we are on the subject of churchy things lets talk about the chapel programs supported through Chaplain and Religious Support Services. I belong to a congregation that meets in Enterprise, but that hasn't stopped me from also participating in many of the programs offered on post.

There are a variety of religious services held at Fort Rucker.  You can find a complete list of meeting times  and locations here. In addition to worship services there are plenty of programs available that anyone can participate in - even if you aren't very religious.

This year the chapel program started Wednesday Nights Alive.  Dinner is provided, and then everyone splits off to different classes.  The main class is the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University that is available for free.  The class is offered in the spring and the fall. There are also bible studies, marriage classes, and choir practice. And there are programs for your children and teenagers. Childcare is offered for free.

During the summer the chapel program hosts a week long Vacation Bible School.  VBS is a staple of southern culture.  Even if you aren't very religious you might want to have your children attend this as a way to experience the  local culture.  The Fort Rucker VBS pulls out all the stops to help your children learn.  They aren't just coloring work sheets.  Instead they are interacting with bible themed activities.  It's a week your children will never forget.

5. Sign your children up for Child Youth and School Services Programs
Let's not forget about the other programs available to military children.  The Child Youth and School Services Program is pretty awesome.  Sure you have to do an insane amount of paperwork to get your children enrolled, but after that they have access to fun classes like gymnastics, karate, soccer, basketball, etc.  Also if your children are enrolled in CYS they can go to hourly care or the school age center if you need to work or just need a break. All these programs cost money, but the cost depends on your income, and is very affordable.

6. Visit the library
Another great option for entertaining your children is to take them to the library.  The Center Library is located on Ruf Avenue. The library has story time for young children every Friday morning at 10:15.  They also do a monthly craft.

There are also plenty of things for adults as well. They have book clubs, classes, and lets not forget the free wifi.  Plus it's just a quiet space.  Most the posts on this blog were written at the library when I needed a break from my children.

And you can always check out books and DVD's from the library. All you need is your military ID to act as your library card.

7. Learn a new skill
There are so many places to learn new things here at Fort Rucker. The Arts and Crafts Center on Ruf Avenue is one of the best places to learn a new hobby.  The skilled professionals at the center will help you learn skills such as drawing, framing, painting, pottery, sewing, stained glass, woodshop, and many more things depending on the skills of the current staff and volunteers. After you've taken a basic safety class you can use the equipment at the center to work on your own projects.  You can also have the staff do several things for you such as framing, color sublimation (putting pictures on stuff), screen printing, and custom engraving.

Another place to learn new skills is the Automotive Skills Center.  This is located on Headhunter Street and 2nd Avenue.  The building has 26 work bays.  After you take a basic safety class you can bring your own car to the center and work on it yourself.   The center provides classes on the basics of taking care of your car such as changing oil and using a diagnostic scan tool.

If you live on post you can sign up for a garden plot at the Fort Rucker Community Garden.  Alabama has two growing seasons which makes this a gardener's paradise.

8. Get into shape
There are so many ways to improve your health here at Fort Rucker.  The most obvious place is to go to the gym.  There are two gyms here, the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center (the big gym) is located on Andrews Avenue. There is a basketball/volley ball court, a swimming pool, free weights, three racket ball courts, treadmills and other machines, and a quarter mile track at this location.  The Fortenberry-Colton Physical Fitness Center (the little gym) is locate on Skychief Street. This building has a basketball/volleyball court, weight lifting equipment, spin bikes, and a climbing wall.  Both fitness centers provide a variety of classes.

If you want to assess your fitness level, and learn ways to improve it, you should schedule an appointment with the Wellness Center.  The Wellness Center is located across the street from the big gym.  It has equipment that will measure your metabolism, body fat composition, and maximal oxygen uptake.  These services could cost you over $2000, but they are available for free at the Wellness Center.  In addition to measuring your current fitness level the Wellness Center staff will offer you techniques for improving your fitness.

There are also several of healthy lifestyle classes offered at the Lyster Army Health Clinic. They offer free zumba and yoga classes as well as healthy cooking demos on a regular basis. There's even a class to help you improve your sleeping habits.

9. Update your resume
Okay, I know this one doesn't seem very fun.  But trust me, this may be one of the most important things you do while you are here.  The Army Community Service program offers an Employment Readiness Course at least once a month. There is a two hour class teaching you things you can do to maximize your job hunt.  After taking the class you can schedule a one on one meeting with a certified resume coach who will go over your resume with you.  He will help you turn it into a master piece.  This program is offered for free, and is definitely worth your time.

10. Attend a Festival
It seems like there is a festival or event happening on Fort Rucker just about every month.  Here's a list of the biggest ones.

Children's Festival
This festival is held in the spring in conjunction with the Month of the Military Child (April).  They pull out all the stops for military children.  Everything is free.  Everything.  There are bounce houses, petting zoos, crafts, a train ride, and an Easter Egg Hunt.  This is held at the Festival Fields across from the commissary.

Lake Fest
This festival is held at Lake Tholocco on the Saturday before Memorial Day.  It's a great way to kick off your summer. It's also a great way to see everything that Lake Tholocco has to offer.  Admission to the swimming beach and use of the recreational equipment is free of charge on this day.  There are also bounce houses and water slides.  The only thing that does cost money is food from the vendors.

Freedom Fest
Freedom Fest is held in conjunction with Independence Day in July, but it's usually held a few days before the Fourth of July.  This festival is held on the Festival Fields and  is open to the public.  There are small rides and large bounce houses for the kids - but be aware they cost money.  There are food vendors as well.  Static displays of helicopters are set up, and it's always fun to see kids climbing into them and pretending to be pilots.  The Army Band plays live music for the crowd for over two hours.  They are a surprisingly good cover band.  The highlight of the night is listening to the band play "Sweet Home Alabama" while the audience sings along.  That is followed by a 20 minute firework show set to patriotic music.  You don't want to miss this event.

October Fest
This is always held at the end of September to celebrate German Culture.  There is German food, German music, and of course German beer.  There are activities for all ages.

Camping Under the Stars
This event is held in November at Lake Tholocco. Everyone is invited to set up a tent on the side of a gentle hill, and then watch a movie  from their tent on a big screen set up at the bottom of the hill.  They usually play a children's movie first followed by one for older viewers. Hot chocolate and popcorn are available for everyone.  After the movies are over you can either go home or stay the night.

11. Find a bargain at a yard sale
I love yard sales!  And Fort Rucker makes it so easy to find good deals.  The housing communities allow yard sales on the first Saturday of every month. They post a list of participating addresses on the marquee signs near each community center.  All you have to do is drive to each address and check out the stuff.  And since this is a military community you'll find lots of deals on things that people want to get rid of before they move.

But wait, it gets even easier.  Twice a year the MWR hosts a yard sale on the Festival Fields across from the commissary. Anyone, civilian or military, can rent a booth to sell their stuff.  It's like seeing 50 different yard sales all in one place.  These sales happen in April and October.  The one in October is my version of Black Friday shopping.  I can usually find a lot of good Christmas presents there.

If you've missed the yard sales, but still want save money, you can visit the Fort Rucker Thrift Shop.  This store is full of great deals. And with so many people moving in and out of Fort Rucker there is always something new to find at the store.  The shop even offers a consignment program if you want to sell some of your own stuff.  If you just want to get rid of things you can always drop off donations in the shed behind the building.

12. Get outdoors
Remember that part about Fort Rucker being like a National Park?  That means there are tons of opportunities to experience the great outdoors.  Lake Tholocco is in the northern section of the post. It's the perfect place to go for fun in the sun. You can bring your own boat, canoe, or kayak to the lake, or you can rent one from the Outdoor Recreation Service Center for a nominal fee.  The lake is nice even if you don't want to get in the water.  There are several play grounds, picnic tables, and barbecue grills.

You can also go for a hike on one of the many trails around post.  The one near Beaver Lake is very pretty and paved the whole way.  If you want a more rustic trail you can go on the one near Parcours Lake.  The Fitness Center offers a list of running/walking trails.  I should add that you shouldn't go off on any unmarked trails.  This is a military installation after all and you don't want to wander into a training area or somewhere with unexplored ordnance.

13. Go fishing
There are six lakes of various sizes on Fort Rucker. A valid fishing permit is required to fish at five of the lakes. A complete list can be found on the MWR website, but let me just tell you about a couple of my favorites.

Parcours Youth Lake located on Farrel Ave is a great place to go if you want to teach your children to fish. This lake is specifically for use by children.  Children 15 years old and younger can fish at this lake without a licence.  Adults over 16 can help younger children fish, but they can't do any fishing on their own.

Buckhorn Lake is off of Hatch Road. This lake is tucked away in the trees and virtually unknown.  It's a beautiful place to go fishing or to just enjoy the outdoors.  Be aware though, this lake is used as a training location from time to time so it isn't always open.  A gate will be across the access road when the lake is closed to the public.

14. Go mountain biking
I was surprised to find out that there are mountain biking trails on post.  They are called the Warrior Adventure Quest Trails.  They have 3.5 miles of trails that run between Farrel Road, post headquarters, and the PX. The trail is designated by white arrows on trees.  The Physical Fitness Center has a bike issue program if you need a bike.

15. Go horse back riding
If you have a horse you can board it at the Fort Rucker Riding Stables. The stables have many amenities to help you take care of your horse properly. There are miles of equestrian trails near the stables. Recently the stables have started offering riding lessons.  They also allow you to schedule Pony Parties for birthday parties.

16. Run a 5K
MWR hosts a different 5K race just about every month.  Favorites include the the Color Run in August, and the Turkey Trot in November, but every race is great.  They are very accommodating and no matter how fast or slow you are you'll have a good time.  You can register for the 5K races by visiting the Fitness Centers.

17. Go swimming
Going swimming is about the only way people survive the summers here.  It's just too hot and muggy for anything else during the day.  Fortunately there are plenty of places to choose from.

If you live on post you can go swimming at the pools at any of the three community centers.  These pools are usually open from Memorial Day to the end of September.  They have beach entries and little splash pad areas in the shallow part of the pool

SPLASH! is a waterpark located on Fort Rucker. It's not very big, but it does have several water slides and a splash pad. It's behind the Landing on Novosel Street.  This water park does cost money.  The price depends on whether you are military or a civilian.  Season passes are available.

If you want a more natural experience you can go swimming at Lake Tholocco. West Beach is open for swimming during the summer.  It costs $1.50 for children ages 3-9, $2.25 for ages 10-17, and $3 for adults. This beach has a waterside and a trampoline that floats on the water.  There are life guards on duty.

During the off season you can still go swimming inside the Physical Fitness Center. This pool is free. Swimming lessons for all ages are offered at this pool all year long.

18. Go rock climbing
The Fortenberry-Colton Physical Fitness Center has a 28 foot rock climbing wall.  There are four auto belay systems and four manual belay systems. The center is open from 5:00 to 9:00 on weekdays, 8:00 to 6:00 on Saturdays, and 10:00 to 6:00 on Sundays.

19. Go skeet shooting or do archery
This category was just going to be titled "shoot something," but since this is a military installation I thought I better be more specific.

The Skeet Shooting range is located down Minute Man road.  Unfortunately, I don't know much about the range, but the contact number is (334) 598-4204.

The Archery Range is located near the east beach of Lake Tholocco. The number to call for more info about the Southeast Alabama Archers Club is (334) 347-4990.

20. Go hunting
The MWR runs several hunting programs. Animals you can hunt include, deer, turkeys, and hogs. Right now the wild hog population is out of control in the area so there are all sorts of incentives to hunt hogs. You will need to have the proper permits of course.  The MWR has an Outdoor Mentorship Program where experienced hunters can pass on their knowledge.

21. Go bowling
Rucker Lanes Bowling Center is located on Ruf Avenue, and was recently renovated.  The center has 20 bowling lanes, ball and shoe rental, and a snack bar. They have bumpers to help children learn how to bowl.  They offer a variety of specials, but the best one is Monday Funday on Monday evenings when games are only 50 cents per game and shoe rental is only 50 cents as well.

22. Play bingo
Bingo is available at the Landing on Novosel Avenue.  Regular bingo games are held on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  Electronic Bingo is available at the The Landing and Rucker Lanes.

23. Play golf
The Silver Wings Golf Course is located off of Andrews Avenue on Combat Road. The course has 27 holes and is open year round. In addition to the course there is also a lighted practice range.  The facility is also home to a catering and event center, a pro shop, and Divots Restaurant and Grille.

24. Grab a bite to eat
There are a few options for places to eat on post.  You can find a few chain restaurants at the food court inside the PX.  Burger King is located across the street from the PX on Ruf Avenue.

There are also some places unique to Fort Rucker.  One is The Landing Zone located adjacent to The Landing on Novosel Ave. They serve lunch and dinner.  They have different specials for every day of the week.  They are closed on Saturday.

Divots Restaurant and Grille is associated with the Silver Wings Golf Course.  They are open every day from 10:00 to 2:00.  Their bar area seats up to 76 people.

Another place to eat is Mother Ruckers (yes it's really called that)  This is a Sports Bar. You have to be over 18 to enter the building.  They are open from 4:00 to 11:00 every day.

If you are interested in having an event catered you can contact either 5 Star Catering at The Landing or the Silverwings Golf Course.

25. Stay overnight
Let's say you are just here for a graduation.  Or maybe you have family in town.  You don't have to go off post at the end of the day.  There are several options to choose from on post.

There are several hotels on post.  There is a Holiday Inn Express located on 6th Avenue near the Lyster Health Clinic. There are also a few other IHG Hotels scattered around post.  Depending on the type of room you request you can have a full kitchen and on site laundry facilities.

Up at Lake Tholocco there are several gorgeous cabins.  These cabins have a living room, a kitchen - with pots and pans, a bathroom, two bed rooms, and a screened porch.  The beds come with linens.  The only thing you need to provide is toiletries.  These cabins are a great deal at only $85 a night.

There is also a campground located at Lake Tholocco.  This campground has spaces for RVs as well as tents.

Bonus: Plan a trip
Even though Fort Rucker has a lot to offer, there will be times when you'll want to get away.  If you want to know what things are in the area you should check out my post 100 Things to do within 100 miles of Fort Rucker.

You should also visit Leisure and Travel Services on the first floor of the 5700 Building on Novosel Street.  The MWR office functions as a travel agency.  They can provide you with visitor guides, maps, and info about things to do in the area.  Also they can help you book tickets and hotel reservations at special military rates.

The MWR also plans many day trips to fun things in the area.  These include deep sea fishing, white water rafting, wine tours, zip lining, etc.  The cost of these tips is very competitive and includes transportation.

* * *
I hope this list helps you fill your time while you are at Fort Rucker. This place may be small, it may be in the middle of no where, and you may be here for just a little while; However, this place can have a big impact on your life if you let it. 

One of my favorite memories from my time here at Fort Rucker was last summer at Freedom Fest. The band played Home by Phillip Phillps.  Along with the song they played a video of footage of Fort Rucker and the surrounding areas. They dedicated the video it to everyone who has ever called the Wiregrass Home.  I'd never really cared about that song before, but hearing the song paired with the video made me cry.  I realized that this place really felt like home.  


Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Here's the video from the Facebook Page for the  98th Army Band. (Now the Maneuver Center for Excellence - Fort Rucker Detatchment.)

I've loved my time here at this Home.  I hope this list can help you as Fort Rucker becomes your home.  This place truly is "Above the Best."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Cherohala Skyway (Highway 143) - Between Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina

The Cherohala Skyway is a National Scenic Byway. The skyway is about 40 miles long, and rises to a height of 5390 feet above sea level. It connects the town of Tellico Plains in Tennessee, with Robbinsville in North Carolina. There are many overlooks, picnic spots, and rest rooms along the route. It's a great way to see the Appalachian Mountains.

Location: Between Tellico Plains in Tennessee and Robbinsville in North Carolina

Cost: Free

Operating Seasons and Hours: The Skyway is open all year, though ice and snow can be present during the winter months. The Visitor Center is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm every day.

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Saturday, October 15, 2016

This was the first stop of the second day of our Fall Break Trip to Tennessee and Kentucky in October of 2016.  We'd driven up from Alabama the day before, and stayed the night at a motel in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Off the Interstate Road Trip Ideas: Alabama to Utah

I mentioned in my last post that my family was supposed to move away from Alabama at the end of September.   My husband didn't have a job lined up for when he finished with the Army so our plan was to move in with his parents in Utah while he continued the job hunt.  It wasn't an ideal situation, but it's what we had to do given the limited amount of time we had to prepare for this change.

We started prepping for the move, and of course I started planning a road trip to Utah. I wanted our route to stay off the interstate as much as possible. One of the upshots to not having a job was that we really didn't have to worry about travelling fast.  Usually when we drive back to Utah we are pressed for time.  We want to get there as fast as possible so we can spent as much time with family and friends before it's time to get back home.  This road trip, however, could take as much time as we wanted.  I decided to plan on taking about 10 days to travel from Fort Rucker, Alabama, to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The route would take us north from Alabama to Tennessee and Kentucky. Then we would turn west and travel across the southern most parts of Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado.  When we reached Utah we'd travel in roughly a diagonal line through the state before arriving in the Salt Lake are.

Well the good/bad news is that my husband's paperwork to get out of the Army needed to go through another department before he could leave.  That was good news in that we could stay here a few more months and save money while looking for a job.  The bad news was that we didn't get to go on this cool road trip that I'd been planning.

We ended up going on the Tennessee and Kentucky parts of the road trip during the kids' Fall Break from school.  I'll write about that trip soon.  The rest of the route will have to wait for some time in the future.  In the meantime, I wanted to type up my notes.  These are for my future reference, but I figured you might benefit from them too. Who knows, you might see some of these sights before I do.

[Update January 2017: We were able to move back to Utah in November 2016.  And we were able to see many places on this list - as well as discover more.  I'll start adding links to the place we visited as I write about each place.]

This is not an extensive list of every side-road attraction in each state.  Instead this is a compilation of places that caught my eye along our route.  Additionally these are places that were inexpensive enough for my family to visit.  There are plenty of other interesting places that were either too far out of our way, or were too expensive.

So let's get started.


I didn't plan any long stops in Alabama during our drive out of the state.  We've already explored most of this state during the 15+ months that we've lived here. If you want ideas of places to visit in North Alabama check out my post with Road Trip Ideas for the Lookout Mountain Area of Alabama. If you want ideas for southeastern Alabama check out my post with 100 things to do within 100 miles for Fort Rucker.


Originally we planned to just drive north to Nashville, and see some sights there.  However, nothing in the Nashville area seemed like things my family would love to do.  Instead I turned my attention to the eastern part of Tennessee.  We had no idea when we'd ever travel this far east again, and I figured that we might as well veer a little to the east and see the Appalachian Mountains before heading into Kentucky.

South Cumberland State Park
Location: Monteagle, Tennessee

What caught my eye about this state park was that it is home to Sewanee Natural Bridge, a natural sandstone bridge.  But that's not all this park has to offer.  There are miles of trails that lead to impressive natural wonders all over the park. The park has a campground so we might have planned to stay overnight here if we traveled this way.

Fall Creek Falls State Park
Location: Spencer, Tennessee

This is the most visited state park in Tennessee.  The park is home to at least four waterfalls including the 256 foot White Creek Falls which is one of the highest waterfalls in the Eastern United States. Campgrounds and cabins are available for overnight guests so this was another place we could choose to stay overnight.

The Cheroha Skyway (Highway 165)
Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border.

This scenic byway is free to drive on.  It connects the town of Tellico Plains in Tennessee, with Robbinsville in North Carolina.  The Skyway is about 40 miles long and rises to a height of 5390 feet above sea level.  Its a great way to see the Appalachian Mountains.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina Border.

This national park is free to visit. There are several nature centers and living history areas.  The mountains themselves are beautiful and offer many hiking adventures.  There are also many campgrounds.  Originally I hoped to stay in the Cade's Cove Campground near the southern side of the park, but we ended up at the Cosby Camp ground on the northern side.

Clingmans Dome
Located in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.

This mountain is 6,643 feet above sea level. It is the highest point in Tennessee, and the highest point on the Appalachian Trial. A paved road takes you up most the mountain, but you'll have to hike the last 1/2 mile on a paved trail to reach the observation tower at the summit.  The area is free to visit, but keep in mind that traffic up the mountain can be terrible on weekends and holidays.  The road is closed to vehicles from December 1 to March 31st.

North Carolina
Bryson City
Located in western North Carolina

This is the home of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, but that's not all the town has to offer. White water rafting and kayaking are available in various locations near the town. The town also has charming businesses and restaurants in the down town area.


For some reason I never went through a guidebook for Kentucky when I was planning this trip. My plan for Kentucky mostly centered around going on a cave tour in Mammoth Cave National Park, and driving through the rest of the state.

Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
Located on the border between Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia

This national historic park is free to visit. I wanted to visit the Cumberland Gap because it was another chance to see the Appalachian Mountains before we headed west.  I was also attracted to the historical significance of the area. When I was researching the area I was surprised to discover that the park also includes a cave.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
Located near Corbin, Kentucky

Cumberland Falls have been described as the Niagara of the South.  This waterfall is also the only place in the Western Hemisphere where you can consistently see a moonbow during a full moon.

Bailey's Point Campground
Bailey's Point Campground is situated on a peninsula that juts into the Barron River Lake. The peninsula is made up of six hills - each of which is it's own little peninsula. Campsites on these six hills have 180 degree views of the water. Sunsets and sunrises are absolutely amazing to watch from any location on Bailey's Point.

Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave was one of the main reasons I wanted to travel north on our way to Utah.  It would have made much more sense to just head northwest from the start, but I wanted to visit this famous cave.  The park itself is free to visit, but you have to pay for cave tour tickets.

Thousands of years ago an underground network of caverns and tunnels was carved by water flowing through limestone in what is now southern Kentucky. Mammoth Cave National Park contains a large portion of the cave network, and offers a variety of cave tours through various parts of the underground maze.

There was one thing in Missouri that I wanted to see more than anything else.  And that was the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home.  Actually visiting that home was the thing that got me considering an off the interstate road trip in the first place.  The home is located near Highway 60 which runs along the southern part of Missouri.  I found tons of interesting things to do in Missouri, but I had to limit my list to just the things that were near Highway 60.

Dorena-Hickman Ferry
Located on the Mississippi River near East Prairie

Crossing the Mississippi on a bridge is an impressive experience, but I'm curious what it would be like to cross the river on a ferry boat.  This ferry is one of the few remaining on the Mississippi River.  It's also the only one that connects Kentucty and Missouri.  The cost to ride the ferry is $16 per car.

Mississippi River Observation Deck
If you look at a map of where Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee meet at the Mississippi River you will see the river make a big sweeping gooseneck curve.  A little piece of Kentucky is located inside that curve. This geography anomaly has always intrigued me.  So when I found out about an observation deck overlooking the curve I wanted to see it in person.  The observation deck is free to visit.

New Madrid Museum
Loated in New Madrid

Since we were going to be in New Madrid to see the Mississippi River I figured we needed to plan a stop at this museum.  New Madrid was the site of three large earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and 1812.  Seismographs didn't exist in North America back then, but based on eye witness accounts these were some of the worst earthquakes to ever happen in the United States.  Some experts estimate that if these types of earthquakes were to happen again there would be widespread damage as far away as Boston.  (Just a friendly reminder to stock up on food storage.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Home
Mansfield, Missouri
I've been a fan of the Little House on the Prairie Books since I was five years old.  I've already read the whole series with my own 5 year olds, and we are actually reading it again for the second time.  So when I found out that the home Laura lived in as an adult is a museum I knew I had to visit it.  The cost to visit the home is $14 for adults, $7 for children 6-17, and free for children under six.  That price is worth it to me to see things such as Pa's fiddle.

Precious Moments Chapel 
Carthage, Missouri
The Precious Moments Chapel was completed in 1989. This small building was the culminating achievement for artist Samuel J. Butcher, the artist who created the iconic Precious Moments figurines. The inside of the building is full of large murals depicting biblical scenes that feature Precious Moments characters. Tours of the chapel are offered daily and are free.

Grand Falls/Shoal Creek Falls
Located near Joplin

This is the only continuous flowing waterfall in Missouri.  That's a fancy way of saying that there are other waterfalls in Missouri that are taller than this one, but they don't always have water flowing over them. These falls are 12 feet high and 163 feet wide. This area is free to visit, but make sure you have good directions to the falls before you set out.

Kansas was a pleasant surprise for me as I planned this trip.  I honestly thought that there would be nothing of interest worth stopping for in this state.  I assumed that we'd probably just hop on the I-70 and drive through the state in one day.  Instead I found many interesting places.  We easily could have taken 3 days to cross Kansas.

Little House on the Prairie Museum
Located near Independence
This was the first of many surprises inside of Kansas.  I had no idea that someone had recreated the actual little house from the second book in the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Not only that, but this house is located on almost the exact same spot where Laura lived as a little girl.  Visiting this house would make so many of my childhood dreams come true.  And for $3 per adult and only $1 per child it was definitely worth it.

Cowley Lake Waterfall
Located near Dexter

I've always assumed that Kansas was nothing but flat land.  So I was surprised when I saw a picture of this 25 foot high waterfall.  This waterfall is free to visit, but there are hardly any signs leading to it so make sure you have good directions before you go.

Located in Hutchinson

Strataca used to be a salt mine, but now it's a tourist destination offering a cave/amusement/historical experience. Activities inside the mine include a train ride and a dark ride.  Tickets are a little pricey at $19 per adult and $12.50 for children, but I might say they are worth it considering this used to be a salt mine and that's pretty unique.  Unfortunately no children under the age of four are allowed to go underground at this location.  My youngest just barely turned three so we'll have to save this for later.

Located in Hutchinson
Have you ever heard of the Cosmosphere, or even Hutchinson, Kansas?  Yeah neither had I.  But I'm willing to bet that you've heard of the Apollo 13 Command Module.  And guess what - you can see it inside the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson.  They also have a bunch of other space-race related things, but honestly this place had me at Apollo 13 Command Module. Tickets are $13.50 for adults, $10 for children, and free for children 3 and under.  That's pretty steep for me, but I'd probably pay that to see the Command Module.

Sand Hills State Park
Located north of Hutchinson

This state park is home to sand dunes which is another thing I never associated with Kansas.  This was one of the places where we could have camped during our road trip.

The Big Well
Located in Greensburg
When I first read that the "worlds largest hand dug well" was located in Kansas, I sarcastically thought, "big deal."  It seemed like one of those desperate tourism measures such as world's largest frying pan.  But then I saw a picture of this well. I was amazed. The well goes down 109 feet and is 32 feet wide. And it has a beautiful spiral staircase that allows visitors to travel down inside the well.  This isn't a tourist trap, this is a marvel of engineering.  The cost to visit the well is $8 for an adult and $6 for children from 5-12.  Children 4 and under are free.  There is also a family pass that is only $25.  That would be the most economical option for my family.

Monument Rocks
Located south of Oakley

These rocks are 70 foot tall outcroppings made of chalk. They have been eroded into fins and small mesas.  They look like something you'd expect to see in Southern Utah or Arizona, not Kansas.  And yet there they are.  They are located on private land, but the land owners allow access.  The area is free to visit.

Scott State Park
Located north of Scott City

This state park is something of an oasis amid the prairie.  It is located in a canyon and is full of history.  Most notable is the foundation from an old Pueblo known as El Cuartelejo.  Camping is available here, and so I planned on having my family stay the night.

I never got around to doing in depth research of our route through Colorado before our move to Utah was postponed.  But there were still some places that I wanted to visit.  Several years ago we went on a road trip to Colorado and visited locations in the Denver area.  This time I wanted to stay in the Southern Part of the state.  Most of our route would involve Highway 160.

Great Sand Dune National Park
Located near Alamosa Colorado

These are the tallest sand dunes in North America.  I think my kids would love sliding down the sand dunes.  Cost to visit the park is $15 per car.  There are also campsites here so we probably would have stopped here for the night.

Wolf Creek Pass
Located between South Fork and Pagosa Springs

Travelling on this route depends on the time of year we actually make this trip.  That's because Highway 160 climbs to the dizzying height of 10,856 feet above sea level. This is the top of the Continental Divide. I don't even want to think about trying to make that drive in the winter.

Chimney Rock National Monument
Located west of Pagosa Springs

I admit that when I first read the name of this national monument I assumed it was going to be a rock shaped like a chimney.  I thought it would be similar to the natural feature found in Nebraska.  Instead this Chimney Rock is really a Native American ruin.  And an facinating one at that.  The place looked like the Machu Picchu of North America. I can't wait to see this place in person.  However, I will have to wait because its only open from May 15th to September 30th each year.  The area is free to visit, however tours cost $12 for an adult or $5 for a child.

Mesa Verde National Park
Located east of Cortez

Mesa Verde has become my unicorn.  No matter how close we travel to the park I've never been able to visit the Cliff Dwellings.  I'm hoping that next time we travel to Utah I can finally realized my dream of visiting Mesa Verde.  Entrance to the park costs either $10 or $15 per car depending on what time of year you visit.  You also need to purchase tickets for tours of the cliff dwellings.  Tours start at $4 per person.

The more I see of Utah, the more I realize that there is even more to explore in that wonderfully diverse state.  Back in 2010 my husband and I went on an epic 9 day road trip around Southern Utah.  And we barely scratched the surface of things we could see and do.  As I wrote about that road trip for this blog I discovered more places that I wanted to visit. Some of those places are on this list - others will have to wait until my kids are older and can hike farther.

Moki Dugway (UT-261)
Located near Mexican Hat

This is a steep dirt road that rises 1200 feet over three miles.  From the top the view is amazing.

Butler Wash Ruin
Located south of Blanding

This cliff dwelling is located inside a stone alcove in the Comb Ridge.  Highway 95 runs near the ruin, and there are signs on the road letting you know it is there. Somehow we missed stopping here on our 2010 road trip and so I want to make sure we see it again. The ruins have several structures including 4 kivas. The trail to the ruins is only 1 mile round trip.

Needles Overlook
Located near Monticello

This is another thing that we completely passed by on our 2010 road trip.  This overlook is managed by the BLM, but it looks onto land that is part of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  The overlook is free to visit, but it's located about 22 miles off of highway 191 so that will take up some driving time. (Which is why we've never visited the overlook even though we drive past it every time we drive back to Utah.)

Arches National Park
Located Near Moab

I feel like Arches needs no introduction, but if you aren't familiar with this national park then you should take a minute and read my post about Arches National Park. This is the one place from the 2010 road trip that we've been fortunate enough to revisit.  The park is convientely located right off of Highway 191 so it doesn't eat up a lot of time to visit.  I'm hoping that next time we visit the park we'll be able to take the kids on the Delicate Arch trail.

San Rafael Swell 
Located between Green River and Castle Valley

Last year I wrote an entire post about all the things I want to visit within the San Rafael Swell. I don't know if we'd have time for everything, but I'd for sure want to drive out to the The Wedge Overlook of the Little Grand Canyon. This overlook is on the edge of a cliff above a deep canyon that the San Rafael River has cut between the ridges and cliffs of the swell. From what I've read, this is apparently known as the Little Grand Canyon of Utah, though I have to say that I've never heard anyone in Utah talk about it. The pictures I've seen of this overlook are spectacular.

Snow College
Located in Ephraim

I'm not quite sure where we would go after the San Rafeal Swell. Part of me wants to explore Castle Valley.  But another part of me wants to go to the Sanpeat Valley and take my kids to the Snow College campus.  I attended Snow from 2003 to 2005 and graduated with an Associates Degree.  I love that school and that area.  I haven't been back there for about 7 years so it would be really fun to go back and see what it's like these days.

* * *

Well that's the list. Like I said, I'm happy that we get to stay in Alabama a little bit longer.  But a little part of me is sad that my family can't go on this road trip yet.  I guess I'll just have to keep dreaming about it until we do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park - Ponce de Leon, Florida

Juan Ponce de León, was an early European explorer of Florida whose name will forever be linked with his search for the elusive Fountain of Youth.  He never found that fountain, but today his name graces the natural spring at a state park in a town that also shares his name.  Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is a small day use park in the pan handle of Florida.  Visitors to the park enjoy swimming in the cold waters in a swimming area built around the spring.  

Location: 2860 State Park Road Ponce de Leon Springs, Florida.  Ponce de Leon is about 100 miles west of Tallahassee.

Cost: $4 per car

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open from 8:00 am to sunset every day

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Saturday, September 10, 2016

Friday, September 30, 2016

St. Joseph State Park - Port St. Joe, Florida

St Joseph State Park has over 10 miles of perfect beach coastline.  The sand is a beautiful sugar white.  The water is pristine blue. Even the skyline is wonderful because it isn't spoiled by high-rise buildings. Visitors to the park can enjoy this wealth of nature in many ways. You can kayak or canoe in the calm waters on the bay side of the park.  You can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive in the waves of the ocean side.  If you want to stay on land the park has several hiking trails.  Campgrounds are available for campers whether they want to stay in a tent or an RV.  Cabins are available for visitors requiring more comfort. If you are truly adventurous, you can hike or kayak to the back country campgrounds located at the very northern end of the park.

Location: 8899 Cape San Blas Road Port St. Joe, Florida

Cost: Admission to the park is only $6 per vehicle.  Boat launching costs $5.  Camping is $24 a night plus a reservation fee of $6.70.  Cabins are $100 per night.  Back country camping costs $5 per person.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open every day of the year from 8:00 am to sunset.

Official Website:

Date of Visit:  Friday, July 19 and Saturday July 20, 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Foley Railroad Museum - Foley, Alabama

Foley, Alabama was once an important railroad town. These days the town honors is history with a railroad museum located at a park in the center of town.  The museum has real trains on display outside, and artifacts on display inside.  The best display of all is the 24 X 60 foot model railroad exhibit.  This is an O gauge display, and has over a quarter mile of track.  Twelve different trains circle the display.  Much of the display was donated to the city with the condition that the exhibit be available to children and free to visit.

Location: 125 E Laurel Ave Foley, Alabama.  Foley is less than an hour southeast of Mobile, Alabama.

Cost: Free, though donations are appreciated

Operating Seasons and Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Saturday, July 16, 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gulf State Park - Gulf Shores, Alabama

White sandy beaches and warm waters aren't just found in Florida.  The Gulf Coast of Alabama has it's own share of beautiful beaches. Gulf Shores State Park is one of the best places to have a beach vacation in Alabama.  The park has over two miles of beaches - some of which are open to the public 24 hours a day. A long pier takes you over the waters of the gulf so you can get a birds eye view of sea life. The park also has a lake, miles of hiking trails, a large wooded campground, charming cabins, a zipline course, a golf course, a nature center, and more.

Location: 20115 State Highway 135 Gulf Shores, Alabama

Cost: The cost varies for different parts of the park.  The beaches around the pier are free to use, but the pier itself has a fee of $3 per adult to walk on the pier or $6 to fish from it.  The beach near the Beach Pavilion has a day use fee of $6 per car.  The fees are waived if you are staying overnight in the park. Camping starts at $18 for a primitive site, and increases to over $100 for the cabins.  The lake has fees associated with fishing and boating.

Operating Seasons and Hours: Hours vary for different parts of the park.  Most of the areas are open from dawn to dusk, however, the fishing pier and the beaches around it are open 24 hours a day.

Official Website:

Dates of Visit: Friday, July 14 to Sunday July 16. 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

Camping at Falling Waters State Park - Chipley Florida

Falling Waters State Park is home to a 73 foot waterfall.  The state park also has a campground with 21 spots.  The campground is located just a short hike away from the small lake that feeds the waterfall.  The lake has a small beach that is perfect for swimming on hot summer days.

Location: 1130 State Park Road Chipley, Florida

Cost: $5 per car. Camping is $18 per night (You don't have to pay the day use fee if you stay over night.)

Operating Seasons and Hours: 8:00 am to sundown every day

Official Website:

Dates of Visit: Saturday June 18th through Monday June 20th, 2016

St Andrew's State Park, Panama City Beach

St. Andrews State Park has the most beautiful beach in all of Panama City Beach. The park is located east of the city on a small peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Grand Lagoon on the other.  You can choose from swimming in the waves of the Gulf or you can swim in a sheltered lagoon. Fishing piers and a jetty are also part of the park. There are even places to scuba dive. If you choose to stay the night you can bring your RV or tent to the campground located on the edge of the Grand Lagoon.

Location: 4607 State Park Lane Panama City Beach, Florida

Cost: $8 per car for day use. Camping starts at $28.00 per night. (You don't have to pay the day use fee if you are camping.)

Operating Seasons and Hours: 8 am to sundown every day

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Friday, June 17, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Packing Tips for Travelling with Children - Featuring Pro-Packing Cubes

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, however I did receive a sample bag from Pro-Packing Cubes for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

I HATE packing.  I always whine about it for several days, before I finally buckle down and get it done.

I disliked packing before I had children, but having kids has taken my packing hate to whole new levels.  There are just so many contingencies that I have to plan for.  Will it rain? Will we want to go swimming? Will it be cold? or hot? What if something spills and we need more clothes?  Etc.  Worrying about all the clothes we will need has caused me a lot of stress on many occasions.

Over the years I've come up with several tricks that help make packing go smoother - after I finally quit whining and actually do it.  Today I want to share some of those packing tricks with you.  And I'm going to introduce you to Pro-Packing Cubes.

The first thing I do is I gather all the clothes that my kids will need.  And they need a lot of clothes. I have four kids all under the age of six.  The older two occasionally help me pick out the clothes they will wear, but usually I just do it because I've put off packing until after they are in bed.

I'll sort the clothes by how many days we'll be on vacation.  So if we will be gone for five days I make five piles.  Each pile has an outfit for each of my kids.  So that's four shirts and four pants on each pile.  I also make an extra pile for the "back up clothes" that I put into my Adventure Bag.
Below those piles I make a pile for pajamas.  My kids are old enough that they probably could wear the same pair of pajamas several nights in a row, but I still worry that some sort of bedwetting/diaper leakage will happen during the night.  So I pack a pair of pajamas for each child for every night we'll be gone.

If we'll be travelling late on the last day I make sure the kids will have pajamas to change into in the evening.  That way my husband and I can put the kids directly into bed when we get home. Even if we plan to arrive home early I'll usually make sure we have pajamas ready for us when we get home.

I put each pile of clothes into a plastic bag, and label the bag with when I plan to have the kids wear the clothes. Each bag will say something like, "Tuesday Day" or "Thursday Night." This helps me make sure my kids are dressed appropriately for different activities during our trips. For example, on our Lookout Mountain Road Trip, we spent Wednesday hiking around the Little River Canyon area.  On Thursday we went to the US Space and Rocket Center.  I made sure that we had "grubby" clothes packed for Wednesday, and dressier clothes ready for Thursday.
Some people recommend putting each child's clothes for each day into a separate zip-lock bag.  That's a great idea, but with four kids I'd be travelling with quite a few zip-locks. I prefer to keep all the clothes grouped by day.  I used to be able to fit all the clothes for all four kids inside one gallon size zip-lock.  But my kid's clothes don't fit like that anymore if there are jeans or large shirts involved.
These days I prefer to use grocery bags because they easily hold all four pants and all four shirts.  Plus grocery bags are a lot less expensive than zip-lock bags.
I do have one problem with using my grocery bag method.  I also use grocery bags as trash bags and so I'm always slightly worried that we'll mistake a bag of kids' clothes for a bag of trash.

I thought that grocery bags were my only option, until I found out about Pro-Packing Cubes.

Pro Paking Cubes are bags that help you organize your clothes and other gear.  So instead of having a huge mass of clothes, socks, and underwear thrown into a suitcase, you can organize everything into separate bags.  The bags themselves have heavy duty stitching and quality zippers so you don't have to worry about ripped seams or busted zippers.  The material is durable, and there is plastic mesh so you can easily see what is in each bag.

These cubes are pretty awesome.  Right now you can buy a set of six cubes in various sizes for only $34,99 on  That's a great deal for something that will save you a lot of trouble.

There are many uses for these bags. The thing I would probably use them for the most is to organize my kids' clothes.
I was easily able to fit four outfits into the 12 X 18 inch bag.  There was extra room so I decided to add pullups, diapers. and wipes  I always like to have those handy when I'm changing my kids' clothes.
If I had to pick which clothes in particular I would put into the cube it would have to be the clothes that my kids would wear on the first day of travelling.

That's because when we have an extra long car ride planned, my husband and I will usually put the kids into the car directly from their beds while they are still wearing pajamas.  Then later in the morning we'll worry about changing into regular clothes.  I'll usually pack a special bag with the clothes that I want the kids to wear.  This Pro-Packing Cube would work perfectly as the bag for the change of clothes.  I especially like the handle.  The handle would make the bag easy to pull out when it's time to get the kids changed.  
The bag also fits perfectly into my suitcase so I'd be able to put the clothes in there if I didn't want them rattling around with the rest of our travelling gear. 
Another feature I like about these bags is the mesh opening.  This would be especially useful when I'm trying to pack up slightly damp dirty clothes.  I'm always worried about putting damp clothes into a plastic bag because I don't want them to start to mildew before we get home.  This breathable mesh would help me get dirty clothes out of the way, without worrying that they are going to start stinking.

I'm very impressed by this bag, and I would love to have a full set to use when packing.  As my kids get older I might even invest in several sets of different colors, and assign each child a color. The bags come in aqua blue, graphite, hot pink, silver, sunset orange, as well as red.  We could have a lot of fun with those colors.

I suspect that owning some Pro-Packing Cubes might make me look forward to packing for trips instead of grumbling about how much I hate packing.  These bags might even help me like packing.

How about you?  What would you use this bag for?


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