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Back Roads, Forests and Campfires: How to Travel the U.S.

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Hundreds of millions of people visit amusement parks and other tourist destinations every year. For some people, the rides, food, and non-stop activity are a thrill. They’re looking for an escape from the day-to-day responsibilities and need a break from their busy schedules. They’ll spend countless hours waiting in line for their turn, hundreds or even thousands of dollars on tickets, food, a hotel stay, and entertainment. And they’ll have a great time.

Back view mother and son tourists resting at camping in mountains, standing beside campfire and two tents, looking at night sky full of stars and Milky way, enjoying night scene. Woman pointing at sky

Other people recoil at the thought of participating in that kind of chaos. In fact, they go out of their way to avoid it. They like the back roads that lead to small towns, interesting people, unique experiences, and pristine natural places. Their playground is the forest, their roller coasters are winding mountain roads, and their entertainment is nature. Bright lights are replaced with a campfire and moonlight and life is slow and easy. They understand the value of being in the moment, no matter how mundane it may seem.

It’s About the Journey – Not the Destination

Most of the time when you get in the car, you’ve got a set destination in mind, even when you’re on vacation. There’s no real fun in getting there, just hurry, hurry. There’s a strict schedule to keep so you can complete the itinerary you’ve planned, plus you paid in advance. That’s something a back road traveler wouldn’t dream of doing. In fact, most don’t have a specific plan or destination in mind. It’s all about the journey and the discovery of new things along the way and the freedom to stop and enjoy the experience.

Slow-Paced Back Roads

City traffic is nerve-wracking and stressful and there’s always someplace you have to be. There’s nothing like a peaceful drive down a country road with no particular destination in mind. As you drive past farms where cows roam the pastures and corn waves in the fields, it’s a real-world reminder of where our food really comes from. It’s the roads that carve through forests, up mountains, down through valleys, that are truly worth driving.  They’re rarely straight so you have to slow down and pay attention, and that’s the point.

Incredible Natural Wonders

Nature’s beauty is hard to beat and that is profoundly evident when you travel at a slow pace down the side roads. You notice massive old trees growing in the middle of a field, untouched by time or man. Stunning views of lakes, ponds, mountains, valleys appear around every corner. If you’re lucky, you might spot a waterfall right next to the road in the hills of Tennessee. Driving near one of the Great Lakes, or down the road near the Gulf of Mexico the smell of the water and sound of the waves calm the mind and soothes the spirit.

Where the Wild Things Live

Those back roads lead to places where the wild things live. Even a short ride in the country will reveal some of the creatures that call the forests home. Sometimes they’re feeding on the side of the road, or along the treeline, but most often, they’re shy and private. Even so, deer, bear, wild boar, birds of every type and size, and countless other animals can be seen, if you’re patient and observant. There are literally thousands of places to experience unfiltered, unsanitized, and uncaged nature.

Thrills and Chills

Have you ever seen the ocean waves crashing, a river rushing by, or stood at the base of a tall waterfall? Ever walked down a path to find a beautiful whitetail deer standing a few feet away in beautiful profile? Have you ever climbed a 100 foot observation tower so you could overlook the forest? Or, stood at the base of a 65 foot waterfall like Benton Falls after hiking 1.5 miles through the forest? Those are the kinds of thrills and chills that make a traveler’s heart skip a beat. In the same way a thrill seeker who jumps out of airplanes can’t get enough, these kinds of travelers are constantly seeking those kinds of unique experiences in nature.

Campgrounds Not Hotels

When you’re traveling the back roads, campgrounds are the accommodation of choice. Everything from high-end, RV parks with water, electric, WIFI, cable TV to primitive campgrounds with nothing more than a spot to pitch a tent are available. Some cost as much as a hotel room every night. Low cost options range from $5 a night to $25 a night for basic campsite. Others, like West Tower Hunt Camp in the Osceola National Forest in Florida, are absolutely free!

Not Sure Where to Camp?

A great way to find an off-the-beaten-track campground is to use a Free Campsites or Campendium. You’ll find camping areas all over the country that are either free, or very low cost, depending upon its amenities. Developed campgrounds are the most expensive but include amenities like water, showers, and electric hookups. Undeveloped areas are generally free and may only offer drinking water and a pit toilet. Dispersed camping, is also free and it literally entails popping a tent up somewhere in the forest, within guidelines.

Before you run off and set up a tent in the woods, take stock of your outdoor experience. If you’re a newbie who’s never camped before, consider a campground with some amenities close to home. Campers are a friendly lot and are happy to lend a hand if you need it. If you’re experienced and confident in your skills and have all the right equipment, get out there and do your thing.

What Are You Waiting For?

As the spring flowers start to sprout and the snow fades away, the back roads beckon. Pack a tent, fill the cooler, and gas up. As you wind your way towards your campsite, take in the world around you. Turn off the air conditioning, open the windows and breathe in the fresh air. Set up camp, build a fire, cook a meal, and relax. Plenty of fresh air and exercise, followed by a good meal, pleasant company, cozy campfire, and a tent and the silence is only broken by the occasional hoot of an owl in the distance. These are the good things in life.

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