The Unbeaten Path and Your Overtested Schoolchild

My son will be graduating from high school in May and then heading off to lapidary arts school—cabochons, casting, faceting, mineral ID, opals, silver. For the past twelve years, he has been standardized tested to the point of ridiculousness. In celebration of his upcoming release, here’s the quote that, along with CBS’s The Amazing Race, has fueled our spirit of adventure these past summers:

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” — John Hope Franklin

Many of the places we’ve gone in the U.S. are popular tourist attractions: Denali National Park (AK), Gatlinburg (TN), Lake George (NY), Rehoboth Beach (DE) to name a few. But we always get off the beaten path. Here, I post some of our favorite, lesser-known places and activities. I hope they inspire you to explore the United States, and am happy to answer questions about them.

(Note: I/we have no affiliations with the following places and activities, and quoted material is taken from their websites.)

Arnolds Park Amusement Park (Lake Okoboji, Iowa)
Rides, raceway, cruises on the steamer Queen II, maritime museum, concerts, food, games, shopping, pebble beach, chilly lake

Bushkill Falls (Bushkill, Pennsylvania)
“The Niagara of Pennsylvania”…scenic trails, gift shops, gem mining, miniature golf, paddle boats, fishing, picnic areas, children’s playground


Cape Henlopen State Park (Lewes, Delaware)
Beaches, disc golf course, historic Fort Miles, hiking, biking, nature center


Carolina Motel (Franklin, North Carolina)
Hands down, our favorite home away from home, anywhere—super clean, friendly, and affordable


Dry Falls (near Highlands, North Carolina)
A kid-friendly waterfall you can walk behind, but the spray won’t keep you “dry”


Exit Glacier (Seward, Alaska)
A road-accessible glacier with a nature center, trails, and ranger-led hikes


Franklin Gem & Mineral Museum (Franklin, North Carolina)
Located in the old jail, eight rooms housing one of the largest collections of gems and minerals in the Southeast (don’t miss the Coca-Cola gems), gift shop

Funland (Rehoboth Beach, Delaware)
“Family business since 1962″…rides for all ages, food, games, prizes


Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community (near Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
“The largest group of independent artisans in North America. This historic 8-mile loop has been designated a Tennessee Heritage Arts & Crafts Trail.”

The stretch between marker R-39 and Indian Creek (on Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia)
The first and only place I’ve ever caught a striped bass on artificial bait—a white bucktail


Martin Guitar Museum and Factory Tour (Nazareth, Pennsylvania)


Motel Nord Haven (Healy, Alaska)
Clean and cozy lodging 15 minutes from the tourist traps near the Denali National Park entrance


Mountain Springs Lake Resort (Reeders, Pennsylvania)
A hidden gem in the Poconos (when I stopped to asked directions, no local had ever heard of it)…nature trail, beaches, fishing, playgrounds, Ping-Pong barn, cottages, a bit of a property management feel but quaint and quiet


Mt. Washington Auto Road (Gorham, New Hampshire)
“Completed and opened to the public in 1861, the privately-owned and operated Auto Road climbs 4,700 feet from the base and reaches more than a mile in the sky to the highest point in the Northeast at 6,288 feet.” The drive is not for the faint of heart.


Natural Stone Bridge and Caves (Pottersville, New York)
62′-high, 180′-wide stone bridge arch, self-guided tours, rock and gift shops, gem mining, disc golf


Pemi Valley Moose Tours (Lincoln, New Hampshire)
3-hour tour—air conditioned bus, main roads through the White Mountains, one potty stop, moose, deer, a bear or two

Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm (Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania)
“Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm, is a non-profit, living history museum preserving 19th century Pennsylvania German agricultural heritage. Period dressed interpreters portray descendants of Johann Depper, re-enacting daily life on the farm.”


Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail (near Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
Narrow, winding, scenic; saw eight bears one early August evening

Rose Creek Mine (Franklin, North Carolina)
Undoubtedly, our favorite family activity. Bring rubber gloves, a change of clothing and shoes, and a chair pad or towel to soften your seat on the sluice bench.


Schooner Eastwind (Boothbay Harbor, Maine)
Built by hand by a family that has sailed around the world twice


Sled Dog Kennels and Demonstrations (Denali National Park, Alaska)


Zoder’s Inn and Suites (Gatlinburg, Tennessee)
“Its Main Street location puts guests within walking distance to the town’s restaurants, galleries and shops, while its wooded six-acre setting offers just the right amount of privacy and seclusion.” I’m 45 and may have been conceived at Zoder’s.