From one end of the country to the other, places exist that serve as the hub, or gateway, to many other destinations to explore and experience. The hub destinations are great for tour groups because they allow everyone to get the most out of their trip: Planners can find all the amenities and offerings of a big city, but not far away find other places—or spokes—to put on their group’s itinerary.

Group tour planners seeking options for their clients have many to choose from. Not all hub destinations have the same type of spoke offerings either—although each usually provides ideas in the way of outdoor adventure. That’s another beauty about these types of trips: Clients can experience entertainment and culture, but also the country’s rugged side.

New York City, New York, for instance, is a hub for culture, exploration, and history, but is also a gateway to outdoor destinations, such as Niagara Falls. Likewise, Las Vegas, Nevada, at the other end of the country, offers entertainment (including an active nightlife) and recreation not terribly far away to toss on your itinerary.


Speaking of, roll the dice in Vegas, then set about exploring other attractions, all within a day’s trip. According to Tracie Barnthouse, chief communications officer with Travel Nevada/Nevada Division of Tourism, it might surprise people just how much there is to experience and enjoy in the Silver State.

“Nevada is an amazing state full of so much diversity in landscapes, and I think people are often surprised of how much the state has to offer—especially for groups,” she says. “From the culinary scene to the outdoor recreation opportunities and the state and national parks in Nevada, there are plenty of activities and experiences for groups to explore.”

In fact, Travel Nevada has developed a road map to help visitors experience all that the Silver State has to present groups. “Our Neon to Nature road trip is developed as a hub-and-spoke from the Las Vegas area,” she says.

Outside the flashing casino lights of Vegas, Mother Nature has her hand in the colorful hues of the state, including those found at Valley of Fire State Park. The park lives up to its name with its fiery-looking sandstone formations, many of which contain petroglyphs carved into its ancient rock. The carvings are believed to be from the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in the Moapa Valley some 2,500 years ago. The passing of time over centuries also has played a hand here with the interesting formations of petrified wood found in the area. Since you’re just about an hour’s drive away, why not visit iconic Lake Mead and Hoover Dam?

Mesquite, about 80 miles north of Vegas, serves as the gateway to these places, but it also has plenty of things to experience in town—including multiple championship golf courses designed by legendary golfers Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. These golf courses, Barnthouse says, offer “amazing views of the desert landscape.”

The riverside community of Laughlin, about 90 miles south of Las Vegas in the southernmost tip of Nevada, offers “access to the Colorado River, dinner cruises, and entertainment,” Barnthouse says. Among the offerings are hotel/resort casinos and their playgrounds, but with its proximity to the Colorado River there’s also dinner, jet boat, and riverboat cruises as well as Jet Ski rentals. Visitors can even take a water taxi. The Laughlin Riverwalk also connects travelers to Fisherman’s Access Park, the Laughlin Bridge to Arizona, and the Colorado River Heritage Greenway Park and its trails.

Douglas Corner Cafe, Nashville, Tennessee;
Credit: Jeff Adkins

In the southern region, make way to Nashville for all things music, but don’t forget to put other Tennessee destinations on your list. To get a taste of history, visit the Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery, where guided group tours are available. Different tour options are offered, and visitors can learn about the history of Belle Meade from the early 1800s through the early 1900s.

Visitors also have the option to take the “Southern Food Traditions Tour,” during which participants of the tour will learn about the rich culinary history of the mansion and local food delights. Here, there’s a smokehouse and stream-powered dairy, as well as gardens and fruit trees.

A rather remarkable place sure to please tour groups is the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. Located in Manchester, the fort dates back some 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. By the time the European settlers arrived, it was unsure what exactly the place was used for, and they misnamed it a “fort.” Really, it is a study in geology. Here, groups can enjoy hiking and, as they traverse the trails, can learn the history of the area through 12 interpretive panels set up along the way. Depending on the time of year, there also are festivals and other activities in which to partake.

What’s a visit to Tennessee without a stop at Graceland? A nearly 14-acre site in Memphis, the mansion was the home of early rock star Elvis Presley. Today, the property is open to tours, where visitors can see where the talented singer not only lived but also where his body is buried.

Loess Hills State Forest, Iowa;
Credit: Iowa Tourism Office

Not to be overlooked when it comes to exploring hub and spoke destinations in the Midwest is the Hawkeye State. Start your journey in Des Moines, Iowa, where exploration and fun are only clicks away—literally, with the city’s many app-directed scavenger hunts. Put on your thinking cap and get started exploring the landmarks and hidden gems of the city while answering questions on the app that will reveal new clues. There are several themed apps to choose for hunts in and around Des Moines.

Also in the city are several places to enjoy the fine arts, including the Des Moines Art Center, a free museum that showcases modern and contemporary art from various genres and media. The State Historical Society of Iowa and the Salisbury House & Gardens also are located here. The latter has been described as a Tudor, gothic, and Carolean-style manor built in the 1920s by cosmetics magnate Carl Weeks and his wife, Edith Van Slyke Weeks. The house is open for tours and other occasions for both private and public groups.

After the book “The Bridges of Madison County” was published, a popular movie was also released based on the book, and, besides its romantic themes, got people curious about Iowa’s bridges. So, why not explore the covered bridges of southern Iowa? While on the road, drive one—or several—of the state’s 13 scenic byways while uncovering the beauty and overlooked wonders of the area.

For fun, did you know Iowa is home to the World’s Largest Grotto or manmade cave? The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption, located in West Bend, is another site to put on your itinerary. Something else Iowa boasts is it being the home to the world’s largest fiberglass strawberry statue, located in Strawberry Point. Hint: Bring your camera.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York;
Credit: Adobe/Casual-T
New York

You experienced Vegas, now hit the lights of New York City. If ever there was a mecca for art and entertainment, it is the Big Apple. You know Broadway, of course, but there are many other cultural experiences to explore here, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Academy Museum School of Fine Arts, and International Center of Photography. At the museums, learn the important history of the city, state, and country. Be sure to include the Jewish Museum and Museum of the City of New York on your list.

There also are all the iconic places here to take your tour group—Central Park, Niagara Falls, Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and more. But once you’ve experienced the Big Apple, embark on the other adventures New York provides, including the Mohonk Preserve, a protected natural area that spans some 8,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains; Jones Beach State Park, home to more than 6 miles of white sand beach on the Atlantic Ocean; Storm King Art Center, an open-air-museum-turned-sculpture garden, home to the largest collection of outdoor sculptures in the United States; and, across state borders, the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, located in West Orange, New Jersey, where the famous inventor Thomas Edison helped change the world. These are all must-see stops while in the Empire State.

Lastly, perhaps you’ve read the book “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Now, groups can see the land where the fictional story takes place. The real Sleepy Hollow—no headless horseman here, though—is a unique and welcoming community filled with interesting architecture and historical sites. Among them are the Old Dutch Church, built in the 1690s, and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. There’s even the Headless Horseman Bridge in homage to the famous book and its author.

Sleepy Hollow is a tranquil area that still lives up to the description that Irving described, denoting it as “a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquility.”

By Andrew Weeks

Main Image: Lake Mead, Nevada; Credit: Travel Nevada/Sydney Martinez