My family has been traveling to the Outer Banks for decades. After so many years of visiting the same place, we have developed a list of favorites and must-dos for each trip. While that list may vary from year to year, one thing remains the same: visit Jockey's Ridge.
Jockey's Ridge State Park, located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina's eastern shores, is the tallest living sand dune on the United States East Coast and a popular spot for locals and visitors, families and adults. The perfect place to fly a kite or watch the sunset, the fun that comes with a visit to the dunes easily invokes a sense of childhood simplicity, reminding you of how easy it is to have fun, no equipment needed.
While some may see the park as a glorified sand box, and it can certainly feel that way, Jockey's Ridge has played a major part in the history of the Banks and forms a part of a complex living ecosystem. Believed to have formed between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, the dunes are constantly shifting as winds blow in different directions, resulting in an ever-changing silhouette.
Lined with sea grasses and small shrubs, the sand does support some plant life. You'll find thicker pockets of live oaks, wax myrtles, and red cedars near the parking area. Small mammals can also be found within the park boundaries, including rabbits, foxes, raccoons, oppossums, and dozens of bird species. Check out the Visitor Center museum to learn more about the history and ecology of the area. Visitors can also participate in hang-gliding lessons on the dunes.
Need to know:
Entry fee: None
300 W. Carolista Drive
Nags Head, NC 27959
Visitors with mobility restrictions can call 24 hours in advanced to reserve a ride to the top of the dunes-- 1-877-722-6762
The year 2020 gave me a lot of time to change up my hobbies. I've always been an outdoor-lover and hiking enthusiast but after moving to Charlotte, it took me several years to really feel comfortable seeking out and participating in hikes alone.
I'm thankful for the push I felt during 2020 to hike more and explore more of the Carolinas. And, as someone who really likes to cross things off as a count down to a goal, I was pretty stoked to find that both North and South Carolina State Parks offer a program for visiting all of the parks.
While I live in NC, I have found that many of the SC parks are actually within a closer driving distance to me, and therefore set out on a journey to visit all of them. The SC program revolves around the Official Guide. Bring this guide with you to all of the 47 state parks, and get it stamped at each location. Each park features a unique stamp design that you can add to your guide. Once you have visited every park and have gotten each page stamped, you can get a Park Ranger to sign your book and you'll receive a commemorative t-shirt, thus officially titling yourself an Ultimate Outsider!
Visit the SC State Parks page for more information. You can print your own copy of the guide, or pick up a free copy in the visitor's center at any of the parks.
Below are all 47 of the South Carolina State Parks. I will update the list as I visit with * - be sure to check back for posts on my experience of each one!
Aiken State Park
* Andrew Jackson State Park
Baker Creek State Park
Barnwell State Park
Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site
Caesars Head State Park
Calhoun Falls State Park
Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
Cheraw State Park
Chester State Park
Colleton State Park
Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
Croft State Park
Devils Fork State Park
Dreher Island State Park
Edisto Beach State Park
Givhans Ferry State Park
*Goodale State Park
H. Cooper Blac Memorial Field Trial and Recreation Area
Hamilton Branch State Park
Hampton Plantation State Historic Site
Hickory Knob State Park Resort
Hunting Island State Park
Huntington Beach State Park
Jones Gap State Park
* Keowee-Toxaway State Park
* Kings Mountain State Park
Lake Greenwood State Park
Lake Hartwell State Park
Lake Warren State Park
* Lake Wateree State Park
* Landsford Canal State Park
Lee State Park
Little Pee Dee State Park
Myrtle Beach State Park
Oconee State Park
Oconee Station State Historic Site
Paris Mountain State Park
Poinsett State Park
Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site
Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site
Sadlers Creek State Park
Santee State Park
* Sesquicentennial State Park
Table Rock State Park
Woods Bay State Park
Visiting the Equator is somewhat of a novel idea and a fun activity to do, but it especially makes sense to do so in Ecuador, which actually translates to equator.
Ecuador's capital city of Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world, located at 9,350 feet above sea level, and is the closest capital city to the equator. Ecuador takes great pride in having such a strong claim to the equator and has gone to great lengths to ensure a satisfying experience when visiting this imaginary line.
The Mitad Del Mundo monument is a 100-foot tall building created in dedication to the location of the equator. Surrounding this monument is somewhat of a small village, filled with shops, food, and even a museum. All of this was built to celebrate Ecuador's proud relationship with the equator, but what's truly ironic is that this structure and small town were actually constructed about 800 feet off of the actual coordinates of the position of the equator. While the reasons for the slightly askew monument are a bit unclear, the immense pride of the Ecuadorian people and their love for the equator remains stronger than ever.
Visiting Mitad Del Mundo, or Middle of the World, whether it is the true equatorial location or not, is a cool experience. From balancing eggs on nail-heads to getting your passport stamped, browsing through the museum and learning about the history of Ecuador, and grabbing some delicious ice cream (remember it's hot at the equator), there is something for everyone! If standing in two different hemispheres at once really excites you, you do not want to miss this.
If you do want to visit the other equator, just walk a few blocks, roughly four minutes, down the road to Museo Intiñan. Unfortunately we were not able to enter as we arrived too late, but it look pretty fascinating from the outside.
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador is nestled tightly in the Andes Mountains cloud forest, one of the richest bio-diverse ecoregions in the world. Mindo is a well-kept secret and has no shortage of fascinating attractions, but its reputation and popularity as an adventure destination is growing rapidly.
Just a block or two off the main square, you will find a tall building looming over the trees. Featuring on-site chocolate making, a delicious cafe, locally roasted coffee, and rooms with a view, El Quetzal is THE destination for chocolate lovers and adventure seekers the world over.
After you grab a bite to eat at one of the many delicious cafes in town, you can check into your room at the chocolate factory! Located up a few flights of stairs, we choose the room that features a balcony, swinging hammock, and amazing views of Mindo and the surrounding mountains.
Because we were guests in the lodge, we were permitted free entrance into one of their world-famous tours. You can follow along as a guide walks you step by step through the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process. Starting with the cacoa bean, you will learn about the ins and out of how modern-day artisans have turned this amazing bean into one of the most lusted after flavors across the world. You'll even get to sample a batch of fresh chocolate brownies and experience for yourself the rich flavors grown right in the Ecuadorian valley!
Breakfast the next day was the cherry on top! We woke up and were treated to special seating on the veranda, surrounded by beautiful foliage and the sounds of the town waking up. Choose from a selection of cooked-to-order meals and fresh coffee-there's really no better way to start your day!
Staying at El Quetzal was more than just finding a room on Airbnb- we got to experience part of the amazing chocolate-making culture of Mindo. The secluded atmosphere allowed us to observe Mindo life from above, taking it all in.
Need to Know:
- Chocolate tours are offered 7 days a week, from starting each hour on the hour from 10:00am-5:00pm
- Cost $10/person (*Free entry if you are staying in one of their Airbnb suites!)
- You can book a stay in the lodge here
new to airbnb? use my referral code here and get $55 off your first booking
Visiting the Mariposario de Mindo, or butterfly gardens, is a must-do activity during your time in Mindo, Ecuador.
Located on the grounds of Hosteria Mariposas de Mindo, a full-service hotel, the gardens offer a highly interactive and vibrant experience for visitors. Whether you're interested in learning more about the lifecycle of butterfly species native to the region, or you simply want to witness nature's beautiful kaleidoscope, a visit is well worth your time.
Be sure to check out the rest of the grounds, including the observation tower and hummingbird feeding platform. Take in great views of the surrounding cloud forest and enjoy up close and personal experiences with some of Ecuador's amazing flying species.
Need to know:
Hours: Monday- Sunday 9:00am-4:00pm
Address: Mindo Sector La Yaguira- 2km from town of Mindo
Best time to visit: 10:00am-12:00pm- the butterflies are most active during this time
Don't use insect repellant before entering
Check out their website for more information:
One of the things I love about Asheville is the overwhelming sense of comfortableness that this city exudes. Everyone is simply comfortable being themselves, and expressing it in a way that suits them. One very noticeable way this can be seen is through the city's prominent street art. Every street, every corner, and every alley is guaranteed to feature a work of art, and if you walk the streets long enough, you will start to recognize an artist's work by the style you see repeated throughout.
The best place to view a highly concentrated amount of street art without the worry of potentially getting hit by a car is in a quiet corner of the River Arts District. This patch of land, located on Old Lyman Street, is known as the Foundation Walls Project. Property owner Brent Starck began the project when he couldn't face tearing down the falls that had been covered primarily in graffiti tags. Instead he worked with the Asheville Legal Department and the Graffiti Appeal Committee to come up with a plan for allowing artists to put their work out there in an organized and inclusive manner. As long as artists follow the rules (no racist, hateful, or inappropriate content), they can obtain a permit and are free to let their designs come to life.
Foundation Walls is a great place to see a lot of the city's artists in one area. The artists respect the work of others and work to support each other, rather than compete for the best wall space. The inclusive and collaborative approach makes unique park a noteworthy destination during your stay in Asheville.
What's your favorite street art destination? Share in the comments below!
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations