2023 Travel Season Recap: Our Top Picks of the Year

With so many places to visit, it’s hard to know which destination will be your next favorite trip.

For that reason I’ve compiled a list of our favorites of the 2023 Travel Season. In this post I’ll include our picks for the best campground, National Park, state park, small town, hiking trail, and more. 

This list focuses on off-the-beaten-path destinations, places with virtually no crowds, small towns, a few bigger cities, and a few places from Maine where I live. 

A Recap of the 2023 Travel Season

First let’s go over where we went in 2023 because it was a lot! We traveled from May-October this year. 

May

In May we took one of our big trips for the year and spent two weeks driving from Tennessee, through Virginia, up to Washington DC. 

  • Stayed at Mountaineer Campground in Townsend, TN to visit the Great Smoky Mountains
  • Stayed at Hungry Mother State Park and visited Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia
  • Stayed at Cherry Hill Park Campground in College Park, Maryland and visited Washington DC.
National Mall, Washington DC

July

Just one trip in July to Sagadahoc Bay Campground in Georgetown, Maine (2 nights)

Read More: 3 Maine Oceanfront Campgrounds: Reviewed for You!

August

My mom and I stayed at the Wild Duck Adult RV Park and Campground in Scarborough, Maine (2 nights)

Ben and I also spent 4 nights at Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Campground in Bar Harbor, ME near Acadia National Park (4 nights)

Scarborough, Maine

September

In September I had to take a work trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and we stayed at the Loews Hotel (3 nights)

Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, Pennslyvania

October

Our first trip in October was a week spent in Prince Edward Island on the North Cape. We rented an Airbnb right on the ocean.  (7 nights)

And our final trip of the year was to Rhinebeck, NY to attend the New York Sheep and Wool Festival (a big deal for knitters!) (3 nights)

Rhinebeck, New York

Our 2023 Travel Season in Numbers:

We stayed at 7 campgrounds, 1 hotel, and 1 Airbnb rental.

Spent 36 days traveling. Used 20 days of PTO. 

We stayed in 6 states (including our home state Maine) and 2 countries (US & Canada). 

We visited 2 National Parks and over 10 state parks. 

We stayed in 2 cities and 7 small towns.

Best of 2023 Travel Season

Now that we’ve recapped our 2023 Travel Season let’s go over our picks for the best of this travel season! 

Best Campground

We stayed at so many wonderful campgrounds this year but the best campground this year goes to Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Campground in Bar Harbor, Maine

This campground was my favorite because of the amazing oceanfront campground site we had. 

We loved watching the sunset over the ocean at night stargazing, and taking in the salty air. I also love that we could launch our kayaks from our campsite. We were able to kayak multiple times. 

If you’ve never sea kayaked, it’s a thrilling experience, knowing that below you is teaming with wildlife!

Bar Harbor / Oceanside KOA Campground in Bar Harbor, Maien

While the Bar Harbor area and anywhere near Acadia National Park can get quite touristy, visiting in the shoulder season is a wonderful experience. I recommend visiting in September, which is what we did. 

Keep in mind these sites book up extremely fast. And if you’re looking for an oceanfront site, make sure to select that when you book. If you want a specific site, for example, we had site #311, then you’ll need to pay an extra $50 to do this. All of the oceanfront sites looked amazing so this might not be necessary.

Best Beach

This was the year of the beach trips. We visited a ton of beaches in Maine and of course during our trip to Prince Edward Island. Of all of the beaches we visited, this year’s best beach goes to  Cabot Beach Provincial Park in Prince Edward Island

I loved this beach because it was so unexpected. It was grand and it made you feel small. There were loads of lobster boats going by and tons of birds to watch. And it was really secluded and hardly any people.  

I’m sure in the summer it does get busier but we found that in October it was a secluded paradise. It also has the famous Red Cliffs for a picturesque moment. Although you won’t find white sand here, anyone who is looking for a peaceful beach experience will love it. 

Cabot Beach Provincial Park and Beach in Prince Edward Island

Best Hike

For best hike I’m going with Wilburn Ridge via Appalachian Trail in Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia. 

This trail is a 4.4 mile out and back hike where we saw adorable wild ponies. Seeing the ponies was such a highlight, especially when we saw a young fowl and its mom. 

This whole hiking trail was really enjoyable and peaceful, and it wasn’t busy at all. We saw only a few other folks and that was while we were coming down from the hike. 

We did start early in the morning and there was plenty of parking, but I also think this area is super underrated. 

So if you’re someone who likes hiking, this is a really nice area to stay in. We originally were hoping to RV at Grayson Highlands State Park, but we found it was booked at the time that we were visiting for camping. So instead, we stayed at Hungry Mother State Park only about 45 minutes away and we really enjoyed our stay there as well.

Best Scenic Drive

Best scenic drive goes to the Great Smoky Mountains. There was so much lush greenery in May when we visited. I highly recommend planning your trip during this time. Not only will the scenery be beautiful, but this is also the best time to see young black bear cubs. We saw 6 cubs and 12 adult black bears in just 5 days!. Most of those black bears we saw while driving along Cades Coves Loop. 

Read More: 11 Photos of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We got to see the vast majority of the national park because we drove from one end of the park to the other to visit the Cataloochee Valley to see elk. 

An honorable mention for the best scenic drive goes to the drive between Intervale RV Park in Rhinebeck, NY and Kaaterskill Falls in upstate New York during peak foliage season. It was stunning!

Best Small Town

This year’s Best Small Town goes to Townsend, Tennessee. Known as the “quieter” side of the Great Smoky Mountains, this is such a cute little area and it really felt like it could have been our hometown. There was plenty to do and it is close to popular areas like Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge if you’re wanting more adventure. For those seeking a quieter setting, Townsend is a great place to visit. 

We loved taking our bikes and exploring the cafes, little restaurants, and shops. Everyone was extremely friendly. They even had a Sasquatch event going on. Apparently, this is a big area for Sasquatch lovers and enthusiasts. And even still it didn’t feel crowded at all. Little towns like Townsend are high on our list. We will definitely be visiting again!

Townsend, Tennessee

Best City

Although we didn’t stay in Charlottetown on our trip to Prince Edward Island, we loved the short time we spent in this city. With a population of less than 50,000 people, most might not even consider it a city. And perhaps that’s why we liked it so much!

There were so many things to explore, restaurants to try, and little shops to browse. While we were visiting, Ben tried oysters for the first time and he really enjoyed them. We went to a specific oyster bar that raves about the oysters so that was a really fun experience. 

We only got to spend a little time here after visiting Prince Edward National Park. We wish we could have stayed longer! I’m sure we’ll be back in the future. 

Read More: How to Spend 5 Days in Prince Edward Island

Downtown Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island

Best National Park

We visited 3 National Parks last year and picking our favorite is a hard choice. 

My choice for the top National Park goes to Great Smoky Mountains simply because we love the outdoors and there were so many things to do. We only spent four nights in this area and we were quite active. But you could easily spend a month there just hiking and driving around. 

One of the best activities we did while visiting was bike the 11 mile loop on Cades Cove which is one of the routes that’s known for black bears and other wildlife.  It was actually freezing the morning of our ride because it was foggy and and early, remember to bundle up if you decide to do this on your visit! The fog prevented us from seeing any black bears BUT I would still highly recommend the experience. The scenery is breathtaking!

Cades Cove Loop Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best State Park

Our pick for Best State Park goes to Grayson Highlands State Park, again, because the hike we mentioned above was so magical. This area is serene and has virtually no visitors. I think anyone who’s looking for secluded nature would really love this area. 

Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

Best Memory

One of my favorite memories from this year’s travel season was when we got to see a black bear on our hiking trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park! On our way back on the Abrams Falls hiking trail, all of a sudden there is a black bear within a few feet of my husband! I have to admit I was freaking out internally, but he handled it like a pro and shooed the black bear off by himself.

By that time of our trip we’d seen plenty of black bears in the national park. In fact, we saw over 18 black bears including their cubs! So we’d already seen a ton, but to see one so close up and just doing it’s thing, was a completely different experience. And a moment I’ll never forget.

Read More: How to Spend 48-hours in Townsend, TN (with an RV)

We saw a Black Bear on the Abram’s Falls Hiking Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Another memory that stays with me is both funny and not so funny. During our trip to Tennessee, I got us completely lost. I was not understanding the map, I was frazzled from the previous week, and was not on my A game at all. And one of the funny memories is when we literally almost went down a road that said absolutely no RVs on this bridge 

Sometimes the best moments you have on a trip are accidents and even when your trip doesn’t go to plan iit still adds to the experience. 

Best Activity

Best Activity goes to sea kayaking in Sagadahoc Bay, near Georgetown, Maine. We were camping at the aptly named Sagadahoc Bay Campground. We were able to take our kayaks and launch right from the campground which was so exciting. And when we went out, we were able to see a ton of seals and even saw porpoises a smaller version of dolphins

It’s always wonderful when you get to see wildlife doing their thing and having their day and you get to be a part of it. We stayed in the same place, floating in our kayaks, waiting to see if the seals and porpoises would come back for a good 20 minutes. 

During the same kayaking adventure, we also found this little cove for a quick rest and we saw TONS of tiny little hermit crabs. Such a fun day!

Being able to see wildlife up close, surrounded by the breathtaking Maine coastline is one of the reasons we’re thinking of moving closer to the Maine coast when we retire.

Sea Kayaking in the Sagadahoc Bay in Georgetown, Maine

Best Museum

Although this was a somber moment, our Best Museum goes to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC

All of the Smithsonian museums along the National Mall are superb. The level of detail and professionalism that goes into the exhibits and permanent displays is unreal. It’s so hard to compare the museums, but the Holocaust Museum left an incredibly strong impression on my heart, I had to choose it for the best museum.  

Even if you’re not museum people this is still a must visit. 

I would have liked to have visited later in the afternoon when it was perhaps quieter and less busy. We arrived at 11a it was really packed with student trips for and therefore wasn’t the most relaxing experience. Even so, the exhibits and the amazing work that the museum curators are doing is a worthwhile experience. If you’re ever in the National Mall area, I highly, highly recommend visiting some of the National Mall museums.

Holocaust Museum in Washington DC

Final Thoughts

As you can see, this was an amazing travel season and we hope our top picks make it on to your travel bucket list next year.

Whether you visit Grayson Highlands National Park, try out sea kayaking on the Atlantic Ocean, or visit the Great Smoky Mountains in hopes of seeing a black bear, get out there and happy traveling!