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mount rushmoreQuick quiz: Can you name all 44 U.S. presidents? Er … neither can we. But that won’t stop us from using their special day as an excuse for a mid-winter long weekend getaway!

In honor of George and those who came after him, here are five presidential-themed U.S. destinations to consider.

Washington D.C.
It might seem like an obvious first pick, but if you love all things presidential then you can’t beat Washington D.C. Beyond the White House, the Capitol and the world-class network of the Smithsonian museums are plenty of other ways to fill a long weekend. To learn more about the city’s fascinating history, take a walking tour with Free Tours by Foot (the company offers an interesting option focused on Lincoln’s assassination) or Walk of the Town.

If you’d prefer to eat your way around the city, try DC Metro Food Tours, or browse the ethnic offerings in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Our Favorite Washington D.C. Hotels

Mount Vernon Estate
George Washington and his wife Martha called this estate home for more than 40 years. Learn about George and Martha’s life and enjoy their legacy at their home along the Potomac River. In honor of Washington’s 281st birthday, admission is free on February 18, and the estate will open one hour early. There are several events scheduled over the weekend including book signings, discussions, musical salutes and a wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s tomb.

Mount Vernon is located in Northern Virginia, just 16 miles from Washington D.C. The estate is accessible by car and public transportation.

Mount Rushmore
The Black Hills of South Dakota are home to an incredible granite sculpture of four past presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. There’s more to do here than just ogling the big heads; guided tour options include a Ranger Walk, Sculptor’s Studio Talk and a Heritage Village tour that highlights the customs of local Native American communities.

Other activities in the area include the Black Hills National Forest, which boasts the highest point east of the Rockies, and Badlands National Park, with its amazing landscapes. Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest sculptural undertaking in the world, is also nearby.

The 10 Best U.S. National Parks

Gettysburg National Military Park
The year 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the military park’s calendar is filled with events to commemorate the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. President Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in American History, the Gettysburg Address, on the property.

Events scheduled over Presidents’ Day weekend include educational talks, an art exhibit, tastings at a nearby winery and the chance to “meet” President Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents.

Washington Crossing Historic Park
On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River and marched to Trenton, New Jersey, in a surprise attack against the Hessians during the Revolutionary War. The area is now a historic park, which will hold a birthday party for Washington on February 17 — complete with a cake cutting at 1:30 p.m. (Admission is a measly $1.)

Washington Crossing is a bucolic village located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just down the road from the artsy riverfront community of New Hope.

– written by Lori Sussle

There are certainly reasons to avoid leaf peeping in its usual incarnation. You could easily overdose on quaintness while choosing the plumpest pumpkin or dearest antique. If you shy away from scores of children wielding candied apples while running wild through cornstalk mazes, you may want to skip the season altogether. Understood.

But you’d be missing some glorious sights, whether you go simply for the visual treat or allow the colors to enhance a trip with an entirely non-related agenda. Don’t allow the scarecrows to chase you away. Indulge. Here are some places we wouldn’t mind visiting during the autumn months. We may even enjoy a crisp apple or some pumpkin ice cream along the way.

Take the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway up the Hotake Mountains, near Nagano, Japan. From both the double-decker gondolas and the observation deck, you’ll enjoy a glorious view.

hotake japan



Explore the monasteries of Echmiadzin, Armenia. Perhaps sight a few khachkars, outdoor stone slabs carved with detailed motifs, which can still be found although many have been destroyed.

khachkars armenia



Drive the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway through the beautiful Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains. This National Scenic Byway, which runs through Virginia and North Carolina, is bordered with deciduous trees, such as oak, dogwood, hickory, buckeye and ash.

blue ridge parkway



Skip Paris in the springtime and visit in autumn. The fall foliage in Jardin du Luxembourg easily rivals its colorful May blooms.

jardin du luxembourg paris



For more lovely landscapes in autumn, don’t miss the Butchart Gardens, just north of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. You’ll find a serenity impossible to locate in a corn maze.

butchart gardens




Eight Unique Ways to Experience Fall


Where will you take in the fall foliage this year?

– written by Jodi Thompson

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which begins April 12, commemorates a conflict that preserved the United States and ended slavery, albeit at the cost of some 625,000 soldiers’ lives. That’s a sobering figure, yet this sesquicentennial is not all memorials, re-enactments and conventional battlefield tours. The occasion has also inspired a lot of offbeat Civil War tours and events — some wacky, some enlightening — thanks to a few folks with horse sense, tours that tell the oft-neglected African-American story, one baritone and 100,000 ghosts.

Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry: Harpers Ferry, WV
Of the gazillion ghost tours offered in the U.S.A., Ghost Tours of Harpers Ferry stands out. That’s partly because John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry (1859) is said to have created a lot of ghosts, and partly because guide Rick Garland, a dead ringer for Jeb Stuart, is a spellbinding storyteller. This baritone and pianist also offers intimate O’ Be JoyFull performances of Civil War period music. “I play a lot of Stephen Foster, who invented American popular music,” says Garland. “I’ve also seen veterans cry over ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home.’” Surely not because of the price: just $10.

rick garland o be joyfull tour



The Civil War and Slavery Walking Tour: Charleston, SC
This tour is “offbeat” because of its emphasis on the oft-neglected African-American experience. After you’ve visited Fort Sumter, where Secessionists first fired at Union troops on April 12, 1861, take this two-hour walk with Old Charleston Tours. Goosebump moment: When guide Michael Brown points to where Robert Smalls, a slave, “borrowed” a boat and sailed off into Charleston Harbor to escape bondage. He later joined the U.S. Navy and risked death, or worse, by piloting a Union warship right back into Charleston Harbor.

Segway Tours of Battlefields: Petersburg, Spotsylvania and Richmond, VA
To some people, Segways on these hallowed grounds (90,000 casualties) are a sacrilege; to others they just look goofy. But folks, they are practical. “These battlefields are huge, so most people can’t cover them by foot,” says Trent Adams of Segway of Richmond. “And unlike cars, Segways let you explore the parts of Petersburg National Battlefield Park in the order in which events happened. Besides, on Segways, you can ride into the fort, and you can ride right up to the crater.”

Crater? Union soldiers created it when they set off gunpowder in a mine. “The explosion,” says Adams, “was kind of bigger than they’d expected.” Segway of Richmond, whose tours start at $45, is also rolling out (heh heh, a little Segway humor) a new Civil War tour of Richmond. For Segway tours of nearby Spotsylvania National Battlefield, contact Old Town Seg Tours.

petersburg battlefield segway tour



Buckboards and Bikes: Antietam National Battlefield Park, MD
With 23,000 casualties, the Battle of Antietam, near Sharpsburg, was the bloodiest 12 hours of the Civil War. After the battle, hundreds of civilians rode onto the fields in buckboards to pick up the dead. You can visit Antietam in an authentic, hand-made buckboard, too; contact Bonnymeed Stables: (304) 876-1307 or bonnymeedfarm@gmail.com ($75). You’re also allowed to ride bicycles on many Civil War battlegrounds; Pedal and Paddle offers rentals ($30 – $40) and shuttles to Antietam.

The Haunted Hearse: Vicksburg, MS
The Union’s victory in this Mississippi city split the Confederacy in two: ergo, lots of unhappy ghosts. History buff Morgan Gates takes up to six passengers at a time for Haunted Vicksburg Tours ($25) in a most appropriate vehicle: a hearse. But how do you see ghosts, or anything else, from inside a hearse? There are, in fact, five windows, and Gates has also mounted a videocam on the hearse that streams on an inside monitor. “There’s a lot of paranormal activity now because of the upcoming anniversary,” says Gates. Uh, okay.

vicksburg hearse tour



Horseback Riding Tours: Gettysburg, PA
Site of the turning point of the Civil War, Gettysburg offers every imaginable way to revisit history, from traditional tours to SegTours’ guided tours of the sprawling battlefield, as well as numerous ghost tours, including Ghosts of Gettysburg excursions run by author and historian Mark Nesbitt. Perhaps best of all, Artillery Ridge offers two-hour horseback tours of the battlefield ($75 per person) with recorded narration, and Hickory Hollow Farm offers horseback tours with a licensed guide ($55 an hour). Riding across the Gettysburg battlefield, you get a profound sense of how this terrain looked to the mounted troops. These rides follow the same route up the Union-held ridge that the right flank of 12,000 Confederates took in Pickett’s Charge. At the top you get a sweeping view of the battlefield, but Pickett’s men didn’t get that far. So on July 3, 1863, the whole direction of the war changed.

gettysburg horseback riding tour ride horse battlefield



Ghouls Across the Globe: Seven Thrilling Ghost Tours

– written by Ed Wetschler, the executive editor of Tripatini.com, the travel social media site a.k.a. “Facebook for travelers.”