Saturday, December 22, 2018

Peak Season/Off Season, Which do you Prefer?

After 5 years of full time travel, coast to coast and border to border....having visited numerous sights at peak tourist season and during the off season we continuously come to the same conclusion. We, by far, prefer the off season. It is not even close.
When else would you get pictures like this? 
Custer State Park in April

Or see a 10 foot snow bank?
Lassen National Park in March
Oh, there are some tradeoffs and it definitely depends on what you want to see and do in a specific location but for us, the quiet seclusion of the off season is the best way to go. 
But once in a while you do question your sanity
South Dakota November 
There is no better example of this than our home town of Custer South Dakota. Peak tourist there, like many summer-centric locations, is basically from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Kids are out of school, the sun hovers overhead and daylight hours go well into the evening. In Custer, everything is in full swing. Every business is booming, there are waiting lines at the restaurants, and the local attractions filled to capacity. This is a time we try to avoid town altogether.
But then you are rewarded with sights like this!
 But even after Labor Day the tourists don’t stop. Once the kids are back in school these locations start to see a different type of tourist. Many foreign tourists have waited for this time to visit these sights. In fact, many tour companies cater specifically to these travelers. This is also the time an entirely different demographic hits the road. The locals refer to them as “The newlyweds and nearly-deads”. The pre-nesters and empty nesters who are not tied to life centered around school hours. 
Crater Lake National Park in March
For us, there is no better time than to visit some of these iconic locations than the months of November through May. Oh sure, there are some downsides. Some of the attractions are closed, many of the souvenir shops are closed. Some restaurants and motels are even closed. But these are travel stoppers...... We are not there for souvenirs and dining where the locals eat is always a plus. 
You also get the trails to yourselves!
We were again reminded of this as we work our way south from Pennsylvania to Florida in mid-December. Campground after campground we had our pick of spots, in a couple places we were one of only 3 or 4 campers in the entire place!  

After leaving Assateague Island we headed south to the Cape Charles area where we enjoyed two rainy days at Eastern Shores Welcome Center where they allow you to stay for 48 hours free of charge (no hookups). This was the only free spot we were able to find on our journey south. It is just parking lot but since it was raining almost the entire time we were there we just enjoyed listening to the rain pitter patter on the roof while we read and watched a few movies. 
From there we were off to the Outer Banks! Along the way we had to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel where for the first time ever we drove underwater! The bridge/tunnel combination is 20 miles long and has two mile long sections that go underwater and allows ship traffic to pass overhead. 
20 miles of bridge!

Headed underwater!
We have read over a dozen blog posts of people who had visited the Outer Banks and were excited to see it for ourselves. ALL of the campgrounds in the area were closed except the Cape Hatteras KOA which was offering a 25% off-season discount. 

There was one other rig in the park but they managed to squeeze us in right along the beach.
We spent our days walking the beach. The dogs went crazy running and running. Dakota loves to run in the surf and has finally learned not to drink the salt water. Another bonus of off-season is the last two parks had relaxed leash rules on the beach between Labor Day and May 1st.
Dakota of course headed right for the water!

The entire beach to ourselves!

The bird on the right only had one leg and would hope around everywhere
One interesting thing about the area is all the wind and sand. There is so much sand blowing that there are drifts along the road that they have to use heavy equipment to move pretty much constantly.  
The sand drifts along the road were over 10' tall!
We also visited the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island Lighthouses while in the area. The temps were in the mid 50’s so it was quite comfortable and we were virtually the only people visiting the lighthouses. The downside was we could not walk up to the top as they were closed for the season. 
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Bodie Lighthouse

The other downside of the area….. The Dairy Queen was closed! The humanity! But, we did get to have our first Duck Donuts experience! For those of you who have never been to one they make donuts to order. You go in there and take an order menu selecting the toppings you would like on your donut. Apple, bacon, coconut, chocolate, maple…. Pretty much anything you can think of. Then they fry the donuts and make them on the spot. Delicious!
We also visited the town of Kitty Hawk where, you guessed it, is the home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. With free access using our National Park Pass, we walked the visitors center reading many of the displays. It is amazing what they did in the early 1900’s with the tools and equipment they had.
We walked the very spot where Orville and Wilbur took the first flights.

Each of these markers represent where each of the 4 flights landed
We also walked up to the Wright Memorial which overlooks the First Flight area. 

Barb joined in on the first flight!
Our bonus adventure in the area was visiting the Oregon Inlet famous as the port for the show Wicked Tuna Outer Banks. We toured the marina and saw The Fishin' Frenzy, one of the boat from the show.

We are not really into the touristy things like waterparks, paddle boarding and swimming in the ocean so we don’t feel we missed much in this area coming in the off season. Oh, wait, we did not have the humidity and mosquitoes that is prevalent in the summer months, so I guess we did miss those two things! 

While in Carolina Beach we stayed at the Carolina Beach State Park ($15/night no hookups). Again it rained pretty much the entire time we were here but we did manage to get out on a couple of hikes and do our first Navy ship tour when we toured the USS Carolina Battleship. Let me tell you it was well worth the $14 each! But we had a problem even before we got there. With all the rain the parking lot was flooded! I drove through the water and dropped Barb off at the front door but I had to wade through the water after parking the truck!
The parking lot. That small dot in the middle is the top of a fire hydrant!

The complexity of the ship was incredible. 9 levels; it took us over two hours to tour the ship. The tour is self guided and although they have directional signs we got turned around a number of times and probably missed parts of it. We only crossed paths with one other person in the entire 2 hours!

We have never really given them much thought and the fact that it is really a city within itself. It had a post office, dentist, barber, doctors office, metal machine room to make parts from scratch. You name it, it had it!
One of the ships stores

The bunks were 5 high!

One of several turret aiming stations
Powder being loading into gun

Powder stores

Ships wheel and controls
The battleship is a must see if you are in the area!

Our time in Carolina Beach is done and it is now time to move on. We are off to Myrtle Beach where hopefully the rains will subside and the sun will shine!


  1. I think you guys are reptiles that have taken on human form to enjoy such weather! 😜 But as you said it does have its advantages. That flooded parking lot was amazing! Great pics. You guys will be missed at the Q Happy Hours. 😢 Merry Christmas and Safe travels!

    1. You guys just make sure you toast to us once in a while and we will do the same wherever we are!

  2. It looks like a peaceful journey along the coast. It is sad that you can't get souvineers though. Lots of great sight seeing.

    1. Oh trust us, although many of them were closed there were several that we could have gone into had we wanted to....

  3. Hope you get some sunshine or you will definitely start getting "webbed feet". lol

  4. We prefer off season but not to the extent you guys do. You were in some of our old vacation spots. Dave agrees the battleship is a must see. The last time we were over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was when we brought Dave's father's ashes home from FL, he had always wanted to go over it. Heading to Oregon Inlet in April to visit friends in Southern Shores, I'll be looking for Duck Donuts.

    1. We hope to see an aircraft carrier in the future as well. Cool story about Dave's dad with him finally getting to go over the bridge.

      There are several Duck Donuts in the area but several were closed for the season so make sure they are open before you go!

  5. Sounds like an awesome time! I agree off-season can be awesome, but at the beach it’s hard for me to sit in my sand chair with my bathing suit on and drink in hand! Also - I’m surprised you didn’t find Sands of Time CG in Avon open - they used to be year-round.

    1. Now that you mention it, I think that one was open. The rate at the KOA was more competitive after the 25% discount.

  6. Just Getting Caught Up.
    Glad you have been seeing a lot of the places on your to see list.
    Where did you find a wading pool that size.
    We've paid as high as $4.00 a gallon for Diesel this year.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

    1. I don't think we have paid over $3/gallon since we left PA! $2.79 down here in Myrtle Beach.

  7. One advantage is that you were able to see the newly remodeled VC at Kitty Hawk. It was closed during the peak season! I’d recommend a tour of a battleship over an aircraft carrier any day. They are amazing.

    Hmmmm....I remember a certain comment on my blog in the winter of 2015, with the commenter saying that reading about our Michigan winter camping adventures made him cold. Wait...that was you! Wow, those tables have turned. I’m shivering just looking at your photos!

    1. Okay, we like snow and we don't mind cold but what you were doing in Michigan in '15 was beyond anything we would ever do!

  8. We too find that April/May/September/October/early November are the best. My best trip to Yosemite, decades before RV days, was in November with April coming in second. Went there this year in May and it was too crowded, but the falls were still going strong, and only road closed was road to Tioga Pass. Also, in July/August/September you fight the smoke. I think the same goes at other places like Yellowstone area...fought so much smoke in 2012 we could not see the Tetons, but hit them again in 2016 on way up to Alaska and it was GREAT. Have a great Christmas...perhaps we will run into while you are in Florida.

    1. Merry Christmas to you as well, let us know if it looks like we will be near each other! We visited Banff and Glacier on our way back from Alaska a few years ago and could not believe how crowded it was!

  9. Merry Christmas.....thanks for the beautiful pics of Custer, a slice of heaven on earth.....peak season or off season.
    Safe travels.....

  10. It's a fine line between off-season quiet and having everything closed up that you wonder why you bothered to visit. I certainly hate the peak season for sure.
    Nice battleship tour and the Wright Brothers Memorial would be so cool. We missed the North Carolina area completely on our way down. Wish now we would have made the time.

    1. The battleship was one of the coolest tours we have done in quite a while! Our favorite time of year is October/November, it is really the sweet spot when, kids are back in school, it is not too cold and everything is still open.

    2. off season hands down..We toured the Battleship Alabama and likeed

    3. You better hunker down up there, looks like you are getting a storm!

  11. Great post. Even before retirement we are off peak travelers. I don't do well in crowds. This fall in Grand Canyon we likely wouldn't have had an in town free rv lot with wifi if not off peak. Beauty snow pics, Crater Lake looked fabulous. Never toured a ship either, looks like a must see. Good work!

    1. You should stop by Crater Lake on your way back north, it is worth the stop!

  12. I totally agree that off season is best. Now that we are in South Florida, we went from off season to peak season and the vibe is much different.

    1. We transitioned from off-peak to peak this past week. It is only going to get worse as we get further south!

  13. Fun stuff! In summer we just try to take the trails/lakes that others don't. Sometmes though, you just can't escape those lines.

    1. True, sometimes they are just unavoidable. When we did Picacho Peak and Angels Landing there was not getting around the Congo line headed up and down the trails!