The 10 Best Places to Visit for Christmas Holiday Displays

Best Places to Visit for Christmas

The travel network over at National Geographic  displayed the following picture of Vienna, Austria as one of their top 10 international Christmas travel destinations.

Best Places to Visit for Christmas

The holiday lights on display in Vienna, Austria.
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See this picture in its original context at http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/top-10/holiday-lights-photos/

Such a beautiful sight!

However, if you’re staying in the good old USA for Christmas, there are plenty of beautiful sights to see right where you are.  Here’s a list of the top 10 holiday light displays in America.

The Top 10 Places in America to Visit for Christmas Holiday Displays

#1 Oglebay Park Winter Festival of Lights, Wheeling, WV

Watch this video, and you’ll see why Oglebay Park Resort’s Winter Festival of Lights is one of the most beautiful light shows in the country.

OK, I really don’t know what the lovely lady at the beginning is saying, but I’m hoping it’s good, and the sights and sounds of the area and the light show will dazzle you.  I’ll tell you a little more after this 5 minute video, so watch the show here and then stick around!

 

 

What makes Oglebay Park in Wheeling, WV my #1 choice is a combination of a magnificent light display, the absolute beauty of the area (some of the most beautiful laying land in the country), and the usual winter feeling in the air in those foothills of the Appalachian mountains not far from Pittsburgh, PA.

OK, and I grew up there too, so this place is a part of my childhood memories.

However, don’t let my hometown bias get in the way.  This really is a top holiday destination for families and for romantic couples getaways during Christmas.

Oglebay park’s Wilson Lodge has accommodations perfect for holiday travel; there are also some great cottage and cabin rentals right on the park.  They are pretty hard to get so call them and find out how far in advance you need to reserve one.  Here’s some Oglebay Park cabin and cottage rental information:  http://www.oglebay-resort.com/cottages/cottageinfo.htm

You can also stay at one of the local hotels in the Wheeling WV area and drive in to enjoy the festivities.

While at Oglebay, make sure you also stop at the park’s zoo, open throughout the season, and definitely plan to tour the Oglebay Park Mansion Museum, a charming bit of history which will have every single room decorated in such a fashion that you will always remember your time there.

For an extra special treat, experience 1800s farmhouse dining at Drover’s Inn in Wellsburg, WV about 40 minutes away.  See their info and reviews here:  http://www.yelp.com/biz/drovers-inn-wellsburg

Also while there, you’ll find some other great down home American things to do in Wheeling, WV, or take the 40 minute drive up to Pittsburgh, PA to enjoy the urban center of southwestern Pennsylvania.

If you want to expand your Christmas family break and travel a bit more, you can add to a memorable trip by experiencing Christmas in southeastern PA.  See my article on Christmas Family Holidays in Southeastern Pennsylvania here:  http://padoozles.com/family-holidays-in-se-pa/.

Oglebay Park’s Winter Festival of Lights in and of itself is by far one of the best light displays in the country.  Add the beautiful area and the historical richness of one of the earliest gateways to the west, and you’ve got a great Christmas holiday destination.

For more information on Oglebay Park year round or to travel there over your Christmas family break, go to http://www.oglebay-resort.com/

#2  River of Lights and Luminaria Tour, Albuquerque, NM

Not only does the Albuquerque Botanic Gardens sponsor one of the most fascinating displays of lights in this country, the historically rich and richly beautiful city of Albuquerque comes alive with luminarias.  There’s a reason why Albuquerque NM is one of the most visited cities in the United States on December 24.

You can get an idea of the atmosphere you’ll encounter here in this video:

 

#3  Christmas at the Newport Mansions, Newport, RI

You’ll get a different kind of experience here in Newport Rhode Island but one that is well worth the trip to this quaint New England city.  The Newport Mansions, owned in their time by the likes of English families, French royalty, and some of our most prestigious first European and American summer dwellers here in America is prepared for the Christmas season to show all the splendor and grand scale elegance of such magnificent homes of America’s past.

Seeing these homes in and of themselves is a thrill.  Seeing their halls gracefully decorated with holiday cheer and remembrances of days long gone is an even greater treat.

Get a peak of the noble New England lifestyle and Christmas cheer you’ll experience in Newport, Rhode Island here:  http://youtu.be/-F7V0Mtniqk  (VIDEO:  5:53)

4.  The Holiday Road Light Show, 16204 Heather Ct., Spring Lake MI 49456

A group of families in Spring Lake, Michigan hits the top list here with their 360 degree surround sound, coordinated and computerized Christmas display.  Before you pffffhh it, thinking it’s just a bunch of neighbor guys who just like lights, check this out.  You’ll never be the same.

For more information on this extraordinary display of creativity and engineering, go to the website for this event at The Holiday Road Show.

#5 Holiday River Parade and and Lighting Ceremony, San Antonio, TX

The only way to make the San Antonio River Walk even prettier is to decorate it with illuminated boats and give it a holiday glow.  It’s already a tourist paradise.  During Christmas, it almost feels like a magical dream.

Holiday festivities including the parade of boats and the switch of the twinkling lights over the River Walk always begin at 7:00 PM the Friday following Thanksgiving with the lights shining brightly all the way through January 1.

#6 The Pigeon Forge Winterfest, Pigeon Forge, TN and The Smoky Mountains Winterfest, nearby Gatlinburg, TN

These two go hand in hand.  Check out Sevierville, TN as well.  All three areas are right together and even share a trolley.

While you’re there, visit Dolly Parton’s Dollywood Amusement Park.  Their Christmas in the Smokies Festival will keep you busy and put you in the mood to celebrate Christmas in a very special way.  Go here for more details and for show information:  http://www.dollywood.com/themepark/entertainment/Christmas-in-the-Smokies.aspx

#7  The Rockefeller Center and…  Well All of New York City, New York, NY

There is so much to see in NYC, and Christmas just adds to the appeal of this great city.  See all the different places in and around this great city where you can see great lights:  http://nymag.com/guides/holidays/lights/

#8 Christmas at Biltmore, Ashville, NC

Enjoy the beauty of the season in America’s largest home.  From miles of real evergreen garland to dozens of Christmas trees, hundreds of Poinsettias, and thousands of ornaments, a walk through this richly ornamented home (even before Christmas), and you’ll be glad to go home to have just your own little kitchen to clean up.  It will be a special moment in time for you though, none the less!

#9 The Branson Area Festival of Lights, Branson, MO

In addition to this drive-through light display, Branson has two other major holiday light displays to enjoy as well.  Add some family oriented shows in there too, and you may just put this at the top of your list as the best place to go for a family Christmas.  Get info on the lighting shows here:  http://www.branson.com/news/2009/10/19/branson%E2%80%99s-major-drive-through-christmas-lighting-displays/

While in the area, do also enjoy Branson’s Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas, rated one of the top holiday events of the country.  Silver Dollar City’s Festival website is here:  http://festivals.bransonsilverdollarcity.com/ 

Here’s a video from last year’s Christmas light display and info about the upcoming 2012 Christmas season:  http://www.explorebranson.com/christmas/bafol#.UFnkV7KPUks

#10  Your own hometown.

Never forget the treasures you have to enjoy right in your very own backyard!

If you would like to discover more places to go for Christmas to have fun and enjoy dazzling Christmas decorations and displays, check out this website at :  http://parentables.howstuffworks.com/family-travel/50-best-places-see-christmas-lights-america.html

Have fun during your Christmas break!

Where Can I Get a Texas Free Vacation Guide?

texas driving tour guides

Don’t miss out on all those great Texas vacation spots!

Here is my list of the best places to get a Texas free vacation guide so you can get some family vacation ideas rolling.

Get Your Free Texas Travel Brochures From TourTexas.com.

I am amazed by this online travel site.  If you want to visit or vacation in Texas, this is a top destination BEFORE you plan your vacation destination.

You can order travel brochures for different cities in Texas, different regions in Texas, even specific tourist attractions and specific vacation destinations Texas has to offer and have them sent to you free of charge through the postal service or download them right onto your computer for free.

Note:  A few of the individual attractions can only be sent to you through the mail with a 2 – 4 week delivery time, but most city travel guides and many of the individual tourist attractions are both available for download or through the mail.

I really like this site.  Not only can you order all kinds of Texas travel brochures, you can see travel videos of all the major vacation destinations in the state.

You can also search for and get info on events throughout Texas like festivals, fairs, air shows, farmer’s markets, sports events, etc…  You know…  all those activities to do on Texas family vacations to help you have a fun trip.

Another benefit of this website is its interactive maps of Texas and its cities.  Having a resource like that right at your fingertips when you are planning a vacation is really helpful.

texas free travel guides for vacation areas in texas

That’s right, partner… Welcome to Texas!

Get a Great Free Travel Guide for Texas plus vacation planning tools, family vacation packages, and some of the best travel deals around from TravelTex.com.

I also found the most amazing thing on this site.  They have downloadable podcast walking tours of the major cities in Texas.   I mean like this is where you can actually download free walking tours onto your MP3 player and listen to a tour guide as you walk through the most exciting and popular tourist attractions in Texas.

Yes, you can hear those recordings right on your computer at home too which makes vacation planning even easier!

The list of driving tours in Texas on the TravelTex website are just absolutely the best next to sliced bread too!  You can find dozens of driving tours for summer road trips, day trips, family weekend getaways in Texas, even homeschool field trips if you live in this region of the country or are just moseying through.

If your planning a family vacation in Texas, use these driving tours as a part of your planning too!

Get bunches of free Texas driving tour guides at:  http://www.traveltex.com/plan-your-trip/driving-tours?c=All too!

texas driving tour guides

Travel Texas!

Here’s another sure fire way to get some great free Texas travel guides:

Always… ALWAYS check the convention and visitors bureau of each each city where, or close to where, you want to go.

Just do an online search something like “name of city” (and write the city in.. and state abbreviation if it could get confused with another state) followed by the words “visitors bureau” or “convention and visitors bureau”.  Doing a search for the city plus “things to do” or “visitors center” takes you to some places to get free tourism brochures and guides as well.

It would look something like this:

Amarillo TX visitors bureau

Dallas convention and visitors bureau

San Antonio visitor center or San Antonio visitors

Abilene TX tourist attractions or Abilene TX Convention visitors OR

Austin TX convention and visitors bureau

Any combination will get you to the city’s official convention and visitors bureau where you can order or download a free vacation guide.  That same search will also show other local sites which provide vacation information and lists of things to do in whatever specific city you searched for.

And of course, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has all the free Texas vacation information anyone needs to enjoy the Texas great outdoors.

You can view online travel info about the parks in Texas plus get info on cabin rental reservations, camping info for those interested in camping at Texas state parks, check out boating, fishing, and other lake activities, etc there!

And as a surprise BONUS

Whenever your family vacation destination takes you to Texas, make sure you take advantage of the travel resources at the Texas Department of Transportation website!

The TDOT has lots of traveling resources you can use free of charge right on their site.  Check that link out there.  You’ll be really surprised!

There, you’ve got my list to help you plan a vacation in Texas, but if you know about a free Texas vacation guide that you would recommend to others, please feel free to leave a comment below and share it!

Take a Horseback Riding Vacation in Palo Duro Canyon Texas

wild west family vacation in texas

The views are spectacular in Texas at Palo Duro Canyon, and there are plenty of things to do for kids and adults alike, but experiencing the environment of the canyon as western folk did back in western days is an experience an entire family will remember and cherish forever.

If you’re interested in finding the best place to go for a family vacation where you can enjoy beauty, history, and horses, here’s the info you need to plan a horseback riding vacation in Palo Duro Canyon Texas.

palo duro canyon texas

Imagine the west as it once was at Palo Duro Canyon in Texas.

Check out the Old West Stables located right in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

An outfitter who can provide the knowledge of the area AND the horses for you and the kids, Old West Stables is an excellent resource for those who might like or need the services they provide.

horseback riding vacation in texas

Old West Stables in Palo Duro Canyon

Old West Stables also hosts wagon rides and campfire breakfasts, and they run a snack bar right inside the Palo Duro State Park that boasts of their top notch hamburgers.

There are trails rides and fun horse-related activities for the entire family.  However, there is a minimum age limit of 6 years old and a maximum weight limit of 250 pounds to to on their one hour guided ride on the Palo Duro Canyon trails.

You can get more information about their services, events, and reservation contact info at http://www.oldweststables.com/

If you already own horses, you can also go family camping at one of the park’s campsites and take your horses with you.

Traveling in Texas with kids (and horses) is fairly common, so it’s not surprising the Palo Duro State Park in Texas has both an equestrian campground as well as large trailer parking in addition to their equestrian trails with corrals and water for horse family vacations.

You can get more information on the Equestrian Camping Sites and the canyon’s back packing, primitive, family tent camping, and RV campgrounds at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park website at:  http://www.palodurocanyon.com/.

Add to your horse back riding vacation by seeing the American Quarter Horse Museum and Hall of Fame in Amarillo, TX, just a few miles from the canyon.  

If you still have a little more time, there are a couple of other places and things to do in Amarillo, TX and around the canyon area which are fun family vacation ideas for amateur horse enthusiasts and wild west lovers.

The Cowboys and Cowgirls of the West company in Amarillo Texas offers horseback riding and horse-related activities for beginners through experienced riders and, like the Wild West Stables, hosts horseback tours of the canyon.  They also offer horseback riding getaways in Amarillo Texas and in other areas like New Mexico by the way.

If all the horsing around (pun intended) has you hungry, you can order a chuck wagon meal right there at “Cowboys and Cowgirls” as well.

Sick of horses?  How about a cattle round up vacation!  You can find out more about that at Cowboys and Cowgirls of the West in Amarillo too!

Take horseback riding lessons to learn a little more about these beautiful animals which our wild west ancestors depended so much on.

There are several stables that offer riding lessons close to the canyon.  See a video here from the Golden Horse Training Center just minutes from the canyon:  http://www.retvofama.com/goldenhorse.htm.

Even kids with disabilities can enjoy a horseback riding vacation here!

If you are traveling with a family member with a mental or physical challenge or disability, the 7 Star Therapeutic Riding Center in nearby Claude, TX offers equine-assisted therapy and riding lessons for individuals with any number of illnesses, physical challenges, or disabilities.  They also have horse therapy for veterans.

You can get more information about their services at http://www.7starhorsetherapy.org/.

wild west family vacation in texas

The wild west awaits.

Palo Duro Canyon is a beautiful place, and its rich western history makes it an irresistible family vacation destination.

You can combine the scenes with the historical richness the area has to offer by taking a horseback riding vacation together with your family members and a few horses to help you get back to, or discover for the first time, your western spirit of excitement and adventure.



Camping With Kids at Palo Duro State Park Texas

palo duro canyon in texas

Palo Duro State Park in Texas oversees the Palo Duro Canyon, a western, rustic gorge in the northwestern panhandle of Texas and the 2nd largest canyon in the United States.

The folk around here call it the Grand Canyon of Texas.

And a canyon it is too.

That’s why you’ll want to know a few things about camping with kids if you travel to Palo Duro State Park Texas for a family getaway.

Here’s what you need to understand, and be prepared to do, if you plan on camping with children here in the Grand Canyon of The Lone Star State.

Know about the Canyon Temperatures

Texas is a southern state, and winter temperatures are not bad relatively.  However, it can get down to the teens even in this canyon in the south.

If your family camping vacation is during the winter months, you’ll want to have sleeping bags for the kids that are warm enough to tolerate temperatures as low as the teens or so.

It’s the heat of the summer months, though, that surprise some parents and which parents should be prepared for.

A canyon acts as a cauldron.  The hot temperatures of Texas settle in that basin with no place to go, and temperatures can be extreme during the summer months when the area is having a hot spell to begin with.

My family was just there for a weekend family getaway this past weekend.  The temperature on the rim was over 100 degrees.  The temperature down on the floor was 115 – 120 degrees!

Palo Duro State Park Texas Temperature

A view of the temperature at Palo Duro State Park Texas during our weekend family getaway last week

If you’re going camping in Texas with kids during the summer, be prepared for very hot weather.  If you’re going camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, be overly prepared and cautious of any high temperatures that could lead to dehydration, illness, or risk.

Take sunscreen, caps, and plenty of water.  Have shelter and protection.  Be aware and alert to temperatures that get too hot for the kids at play, and direct them to a different activity, or take a short drive up to Amarillo TX to do something there and get out of the heat.

Being on watch makes a difference.  Being cautious makes all the difference in the world.

Be Aware of Area Weather and Flash Flooding in the Gorge

This is a beautiful area to go camping in, and the weather will generally comply with your plans to have a good time, especially since Texas is generally dry over the summer months.  Chances are you won’t get rained out if you travel here to get away from it all and to let your children have a little fun with all the great cowboy and cowgirl things to do here.

But if it DOES rain, use a watchful eye and be ready to take the children to higher ground if you’re camping on the canyon basin and you see water accumulating on the ground.

With plenty of high terrain for downward momentum, heavy rains can collect in the basin causing flash flooding.

Palo Duro State Park Texas Flood Guage Sign

Always keep an eye on nature when camping with children in a canyon or valley.

Most chances are you’ll never encounter a problem at all, but whenever there is nature or wildlife involved, it always pays to be aware of your environment.

Let the Kids Enjoy the History but Make Sure They Also Respect the Excavations Currently In Progress.

Indians lived here.  Cowboys rode here.  Calvary fought here.

This area is full of the stuff Cowboy movies are made of, and it’s no wonder archeologists today crave to know just exactly who WAS here and exactly WHAT they did.

While the park lands are open via trails and in open fields and valleys for exploration such as  hiking, biking, and horseback riding, you might also be observant enough to notice the lights of archeology digs going on deep inside some of the caves and crevices.

history of palo duro canyon in texas

We just happened to notice a big light for an archeology dig inside this cave as we drove through the canyon last weekend. Notice the walkway that goes right up to the cave door!

 

Camping with kids in Texas is always a taste of nature and history.  Camping at Palo Duro Canyon State Park brings both nature and history right to the front door of your family tent or RV.

Your entire family can see history being discovered in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, but help the kids be respectful of what’s going on there now.

While camping here can be a fun getaway for a family, it is also family camping in an environment that takes understanding and awareness on the part of parents.

Be informed.  Be aware.  Be a parent.

Then just go have some fun and enjoy the sights.

PS, Here’s a list of the best things to do in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas.  Go to that article now or check our other related posts below.



The Ten Best Do Not Miss Things to Do in Palo Duro Canyon

driving to the palo duro basin in palo duro canyon state park

It’s rugged.  It’s majestic.

And it’s full of naturally fun things to do.

Here’s a list of 10 awesome things to do with your family in Palo Duro Canyon, just a short drive outside Amarillo, TX.

1.  Drive the scenic Palo Duro Canyon State Park trail to the bottom of the basin and back up again.

driving to the palo duro basin in palo duro canyon state park

You’ll see tons along the way down to the basin of the canyon.2

Get a travel map at the park service booth at the very edge of the Palo Duro State Park Texas entrance.

The 16 mile round trip can be made in 45 minutes if you don’t stop or look around, but you’ll want to enjoy the scenery, stop at various places along the way, and get out to explore.  You could easily spend an afternoon or a day just driving around.

2.  See the Palo Duro Canyon Texas play at the Palo Duro Canyon Amphitheater.

Entrance to the Palo Duro Canyon Amphitheater

Entrance to the Palo Duro Canyon Amphitheater area

The Texas Show, the action filled, rough riding, family friendly musical theater production held in the canyon’s amphitheater each summer is one of the more expensive activities you’ll find here, but it’s well worth the ticket cost.

The show offers a professionally done presentation with singing, dancing, humor, lighting, dancing waters, and even a few Texan surprises, all presented with a canyon wall as its backdrop.  All combined, it’s hard to get more western than this!

3.  Go hiking on one of the rugged hiking trails.

palo duro canyon hiking trail

One of the many Palo Duro Canyon hiking trails

You’ll find a variety of trails with different experiences and for different level hikers there.

4.  Run the Palo Duro Trail Run.

The Palo Duro Canyon Trail Run is a 20K, 50K, and 50 mile race on the floor of the canyon and held in October each year.  With 99% of the run being on dirt trails, this race is for hearty folk who can run in rugged terrain.

Registration for the 20K race fills pretty quickly, so either make sure you register early or plan on training for a little longer race.

For more info on the run, go to http://www.palodurotrailrun.com/

 

5.  Picnic among the canyon’s famous hardwood trees on a shady trail.

palo duro wildlife

Wildlife in the basin

Don’t necessarily plan on the picnic area all to yourself though!  We found ourselves looking right a deer by one of the shaded picnic tables when we were meandering about.

6.  Stay in one of the state park’s cabins.

Texas State Park cabin in palo duro state park

As you can see here, Palo Duro cabin rentals are like no other.

 

Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine names the cabins here as one of the best cabins in Texas.  To see the best cabins in Texas State parks, see Best Cabin Rentals in Texas State Parks.

7.  Rent a horse at Old West Stables in the park and go horseback riding through the canyon.

8.  Or ride a bike.

There are more difficult areas where a mountain bike would be best suited, but there are flat areas and trails where families with children can ride together.

9.  Go camping in one of the canyon campgrounds.

A campsite in Palo Duro Canyon

RV, tent camping, and backpack camping are all popular activities in the canyon’s campsites.

This park is not big on playground equipment, so if you are camping with kids, bring some outdoor games, bikes, and outdoor play equipment.  In fact, a Frisbee would be perfect to have too.

If you’re going tent camping with kids, the bathroom and shower facilities are just fine, by the way.

You can make reservations for one of the Palo Duro campsites through Texas Parks & Wildlife Department online or by calling them at (512) 389-8900.

10.  Take pictures of Palo Duro Canyon and let your imagination run wild with its history.

Picture of caves in Palo Duro TX

Can you imagine someone taking refuge in those caves?

 

I can say from experience that taking pictures expands your interest in the area.

Not only could I see the caves in my pictures and envision who may have spent time inside those rock cliff hangouts, I think I figured out where the Travelocity Gnome has been hanging out recently too!

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