10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2024

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in June

Genius, like humanity, rusts for want of use.

—William Hazlitt

English essayist William Hazlitt is best known for his humanist writings which stress free will and self-actualization. In 1826, he published On Application to Study, an essay discussing how staying engaged keeps us moving forward. With this line, Hazlitt suggests that the drive for knowledge keeps our minds sharp—that genius is a muscle that can be exercised.

He wrote that “by continuing our efforts, as by moving forwards in a road, we extend our views, and discover continually new tracts of country.” In other words, we will always learn something new when we’re out looking for it with an open mind.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in April and May. Also check out my recommendations from June 2023 and July 2023.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8

Grand Canyon National Park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful rugged terrain. But did you know it also hosts some of the most beautiful night skies around? 

You can take in those skies in early June at their annual Star Party. The event is free but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is good for the North and South rims for seven days. 

The event starts at sunset and the best viewing time is after 9 pm. Most telescopes will be taken down at 11 pm although some folks still share theirs after that when the skies are crisp and clear.  

Find my Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park here.

If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, you can save a lot of money by getting an America the Beautiful Pass.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. This park has such excellent night sky viewing that it earned its dark-sky designation in 2019!

Come view the reddish-colored hoodoos during the day and then return for its spectacular nighttime views.

Their Annual Astronomy Festival includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. Last year, they had a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities. 

Find my Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

By the way, there will be more national parks with stargazing festivals in 2024. That’s why I wrote Look to the Stars! National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024).

Reedy Falls in Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Greenville, South Carolina

Located just over the border from North Carolina in the northwest corner of South Carolina, Greenville is a gorgeous city at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Greenville is equal parts natural escape, walkable downtown, foodie haven, and caffeine capital of South Carolina. Greenville is the biggest city in Upstate South Carolina but it’s not too big to where it’s overcrowded and not too small to limit your dining, drinking, and entertainment options.

Greenville strikes a balance between a bustling city and a quaint, small Southern town. Enjoy lunch and dinner at any one of the incredible restaurants located across the downtown area. From there, take a stroll through downtown and absorb the natural landscape with sights such as Falls Park on the Reedy River.

Falls Park on the Reedy is certainly one of the reasons for the town’s relaxing atmosphere. The park features riverside gardens, a suspension bridge, and beautiful waterfall views. Again, all of this is located in the immediate downtown area. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a hike or a bike ride around the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail which connects parks and the downtown area with nearby Travelers Rest, South Carolina.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a breathtaking destination in southeastern Utah renowned for its awe-inspiring collection of over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. June 2024 promises to be an extraordinary time to visit as the park unveils its vibrant beauty against the backdrop of a blooming desert landscape. With warm temperatures and extended daylight hours, you’ll have ample opportunities to explore the park’s iconic landmarks and hidden gems.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Wall Drug

A few minutes north of Badlands National Park in western South DakotaWall Drug is what kitschy roadside dreams are made of. It evolved from a frills-free pharmacy in 1931 to a requisite pitstop for passing roadtrippers, following the success of a guerrilla billboard campaign that advertised free ice water to Badlands-goers.

Nowadays, it’s a sprawling complex of quirky attractions and eateries where dinosaurs and jackalope figurines share turf with a pint-sized chapel, an arcade, saloons, a cafeteria-style restaurant (as seen in Nomadland) slinging frosted cake doughnuts, and an operating pharmacy whose storefront is a replica of the original Wall Drug store. 

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Among the stars

Anyone who grew up watching Video Soul on BET remembers host Donnie Simpson encouraging us to shoot for the moon but at Stephen C. Foster State Park you actually can be among the stars. Designated as one of the best places to stargaze in the world, this South Georgia Park was the first place in Georgia to be accredited by the International Dark Sky Places Program as a gold-tier International Dark Sky Park recognizing its stewardship of the night sky through responsible lighting policies and public education.

There’s very little light pollution here so views of the stars, comets, and planets are crystal-clear making it an unforgettable getaway for your starry-eyed family particularly if you choose to spend the night in one of the park’s campsites or platform cabins.

If you prefer a more solid roof over your head, Newell Lodge & Resort offers comfortable campgrounds and cabin rentals for families of five or less along the tranquil Okefenokee Swamp Park.

7. Winchester’s Beer Cheese Festival

The Annual Beer Cheese Festival held in historic downtown Winchester, Kentucky is the ONE and ONLY festival in the world dedicated to the celebration of beer cheese!

So, what happens at the Beer Cheese Festival? Well, obviously there are lots and lots of beer cheese. And that’s a good thing!

Dare you ask “What is Beer Cheese?” Well, in case you’ve never heard of it or tasted it… Beer cheese is a cheese spread that is predominantly found in Kentucky. Even though there are various recipes throughout Kentucky most commonly it is a spicy, smooth concoction that was originally created with the intent of making customers more thirsty—therefore buying more beer. Great for local bar owners! You can eat it with crackers, put it on burgers, use it in soups, etc.

The possibilities are endless but the most common uses are served as a dip with pretzels, celery, carrots, etc. Beer cheese is usually made with cheddar cheese, spices, and beer. It can vary from very mild to spicy hot.

So, there you have it. Beer Cheese 101. Join the good folks in Winchester for their annual Beer Cheese Festival on Saturday, June 8, 2024. In addition to many delicious Beer Cheese samples from local vendors there’ll be music, games, food, and fun for the entire family.

There’ll also be downtown events the night before the Festival on Friday’s “Rock the Block” event on June 7.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wickedest Town in the West

For a truly special adventure, you’ll want to visit Jerome. This former mountain mining town earned the nickname The Wickedest Town in the West during its heyday when rich copper ore deposits attracted miners, merchants, madams, and more to Yavapai County.

At its peak, Jerome was an early 20th-century copper mining town. Several mines operated in the area and as the money flowed out, people flowed in. At one point, Jerome had its own school, two churches, and an opera house. But when the markets crashed during the Great Depression the once-vibrant village became a ghost town.

However, thanks to local artists and historians, Jerome is lively again. The well-preserved buildings serve as mini-museums, exhibits, vintage shops, restaurants, and art galleries. You can even tour the Douglas Mansion where one of the village’s bigwigs lived.

There are tons of ways to spend a day in Jerome. You can grab a glass of wine at Caduceus Cellars owned by rock musician Maynard James Keenan. Check out the Mine Museum to learn how the village began then chow down at Bobby D’s BBQ, the oldest restaurant in Arizona. And don’t forget to partake in a haunted tour to really get that ghost town feel.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Carlsbad Caverns

Descend into the cool cave climate at Carlsbad Caverns, the iconic national park known for its cave systems which are laced with remarkable pinnacles and spires of rock.

There’s a chemistry lesson to be had here—acidic groundwater takes credit for dissolving the limestone former ocean floor into fantastical forms. Stalagmites emerge from the floor and the walls are adorned with speleothems in the form of columns, soda straws, draperies, and popcorn. Or set aside the science and focus your attention on the hunt for the fairies and giants for which these caves now take their names.

The caves also house 17 species of bats which take off en masse each evening. Peak season is May through October and ranger talks precede the sunset launch. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Bison in Elk Island National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Elk Island National Park 

Just a stone’s throw away from Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is a sanctuary for all things wild and is one of the best places in Alberta to see wildlife in their natural habitat. From the impressive bison roaming the prairie meadows and woodlands to playful beavers building dams and showcasing over 250 bird species this park is a nature lover’s dream.

Designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Elk Island plays an important role in the conservation of prairie ecosystems and the plains and woods Bison. It remains Canada’s only completely fenced National Park.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, when pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

The Complete Guide to Coconino National Forest

From the famous red rocks of Sedona to Ponderosa pine forests, from southwestern desert to alpine tundra, the Coconino National Forest is one of the most diverse and unforgettable destinations in the country

Stretching across two million acres of northern Arizona, the Coconino National Forest is a captivating tapestry of natural wonders and diverse ecosystems. Originally established in 1898 as the San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve, it gained its current designation as a U.S. National Forest in 1908.

Named after the Coho Native American people, the forest encompasses three distinct districts: Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim, and Red Rock. From the awe-inspiring peaks of the San Francisco range to the iconic red rock formations near Sedona, the landscape is as varied as it is breathtaking.

With elevations ranging from 2,600 to 12,633 feet, the forest boasts a mosaic of environments including deserts, ponderosa pine forests, alpine tundra, and ancient volcanic peaks. Beyond its stunning natural beauty, Coconino National Forest preserves a historical narrative reflecting the delicate balance between human settlement and environmental conservation. Today, it stands as a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts beckoning visitors to explore its trails, discover hidden canyons, and connect with the timeless allure of the Arizona wilderness.

Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Features of the Coconino National Forest

San Francisco Peaks: Dominating the Flagstaff District, the San Francisco Peaks are a majestic volcanic range showcasing the highest point in Arizona—Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet. This ancient volcanic field covers 1,800 square miles featuring tree-covered cinder cones, lava flows, and the intriguing Lava River Cave. The peaks provide a diverse and captivating landscape for exploration.

Red rock formations: The Red Rock District unveils the iconic red rock formations, mesas, and canyons that have made the region famous. These geological wonders sculpted by millions of years of erosion contribute to Sedona’s status as Arizona’s second most popular tourist attraction. The vibrant red hues and intricate formations create a breathtaking and unique landscape.

Mogollon Rim: Defining the southern edge of the forest, the Mogollon Rim stretches across central Arizona marking the boundary of the Colorado Plateau. The Mogollon Rim District features a dense ponderosa pine forest, lakes, and perennial streams. This area serves as a transition zone between the high-altitude plateaus and lower elevations, offering diverse ecological habitats and picturesque scenery.

Diverse vegetation zones: Coconino National Forest boasts varied vegetation zones from the arid lowlands with shrubs and sagebrush to the towering stands of ponderosa pine in high-altitude plateaus.

Verde Canyon Railway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historical landmarks: The forest preserves historical landmarks including Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. These sites offer insights into ancient civilizations and volcanic activity adding cultural depth to the Coconino National Forest experience. Exploring these landmarks provides a connection to the region’s rich history.

Recreational lakes: Natural lakes like Mormon Lake, Ashurst Lake, and Marshall Lake dot the landscape offering recreational opportunities such as fishing and boating. Additionally, manmade reservoirs like Upper Lake Mary and Lower Lake Mary provide water resources and scenic spots. These lakes contribute to the diverse recreational activities available within the forest.

Distinct districts: Divided into three districts—Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim, and Red Rock—the forest ensures a varied experience. The Flagstaff Ranger District surrounds the San Francisco Peaks, the Mogollon Rim Ranger District showcases a dense ponderosa pine forest, and the Red Rock Ranger District captivates with its famous red rock formations. Each district offers unique ecosystems ensuring a comprehensive exploration of Coconino National Forest’s vast and varied terrain.

Schnebly Hill Road in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Established against the backdrop of the late 19th-century expansion and evolving land management practices, the Coconino National Forest has a rich and storied history. In 1898, President William McKinley responded to Gifford Pinchot’s advocacy for forest conservation by creating the San Francisco Mountain Forest Reserve. However, local opposition in Williams, Arizona, viewed the reserve as detrimental to Coconino County. In 1905, the Forest Reserves transitioned to the Department of Agriculture, marking a pivotal shift toward federal management.

Finally, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt merged various forest reserves including the San Francisco Mountains to form the Coconino National Forest. Covering two million acres, this diverse landscape became a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and a testament to the delicate balance between human settlement and environmental preservation. Today, the Coconino National Forest stands as a testament to the enduring importance of conservation and sustainable land management in the American West.

Oak Creek near Sedona in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique location of Coconino National Forest

Located in northern Arizona, the Coconino National Forest covers a vast two million acres extending from the vicinity of Flagstaff. Its elevations range from 2,600 feet to Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet. What makes it special is the wide range of landscapes it includes. From the red rock formations near Sedona to the famous San Francisco Peaks in the Flagstaff District and the dense ponderosa pine forests along the Mogollon Rim, the Coconino National Forest boasts a diverse mix of ecosystems.

It not only surrounds lively towns like Sedona and Flagstaff but also shares boundaries with four other national forests, making it an essential part of the expansive Arizona wilderness. The forest’s strategic location contributes to its unique blend of geological wonders, rich biodiversity, and recreational opportunities making it a must-visit for those wanting to explore the varied beauty of the American Southwest.

Red Rock Scenic Byway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vegetation and plant species in Coconino National Forest:

Ponderosa pine forests: The Coconino National Forest is renowned for its extensive ponderosa pine forests covering vast expanses of the landscape. These towering and aromatic trees thrive in the high-altitude plateaus particularly between 6,500 and 8,000 feet contributing to the forest’s distinctive and pleasant fragrance.

Engelmann spruce and blue spruce: At the highest elevations particularly around the San Francisco Peaks the forest hosts coniferous species such as Engelmann spruce and blue spruce. These hardy trees are adapted to the challenging conditions of alpine environments adding to the unique character of the highest reaches of the Coconino National Forest.

Bristlecone pine: The high-altitude regions including areas near Humphreys Peak are home to the bristlecone pine. These ancient trees, known for their twisted and gnarled appearance are among the oldest living organisms on Earth adding a sense of historical depth to the forest.

Corkbark fir: A variety of subalpine fir known as corkbark fir is found in isolated areas of the Coconino National Forest specifically around the San Francisco Peaks. This unique tree species contributes to the biodiversity of the high-elevation zones.

Juniper-pinyon woodlands: In the lower elevations between 4,500 and 6,500 feet the forest transitions to juniper-pinyon woodlands. Species like alligator juniper and Utah juniper dominate this region accompanied by Arizona cypress, manzanita, and pinyon pine.

Quaking aspen: Scattered among the ponderosa pine forests particularly between 6,500 and 8,000 feet, quaking aspen stands offer a visually striking contrast with their white bark and vibrant golden leaves in the fall. Aspen stands are often the first to regenerate after wildfires contributing to forest renewal.

Alpine tundra vegetation: Above 11,000 feet, the Coconino National Forest features the only alpine tundra region in Arizona. Here, vegetation is sparse with small grasses, lichens, and alpine wildflowers dotting the landscape showcasing the resilience of life in extreme conditions.

Deciduous trees in Oak Creek Canyon: Part of the Red Rock District, Oak Creek Canyon stands out for its deciduous trees. In the fall, the canyon becomes a popular leaf-peeping destination as deciduous trees such as oak and maple dominate the vegetation offering a burst of autumnal colors.

Grand Canyon Railway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Elk: The Coconino National Forest is a sanctuary for elk where these magnificent creatures roam through the ponderosa pine forests and open meadows. With their impressive antlers and graceful presence, elk are a common sight especially during the cooler months when they gather in larger groups. The forest’s diverse landscapes provide ideal habitats for elk making it a key destination for wildlife enthusiasts hoping to witness these majestic herbivores in their natural environment.

Mule deer: Mule deer are a familiar sight throughout the Coconino National Forest adapting to various habitats across the region. Whether traversing the high-altitude plateaus or navigating the edges of the ponderosa pine forests, these adaptable herbivores are integral to the forest’s ecosystem. Their presence adds to the allure of the Coconino National Forest offering glimpses of these agile and resilient mammals against the backdrop of the diverse landscapes.

Mountain lion: The elusive mountain lion, a symbol of stealth and power finds a home in the Coconino National Forest. Though rarely seen by visitors these solitary predators play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance within the forest. Navigating the rugged canyons and dense woodlands, mountain lions are a testament to the wild and untouched nature of this expansive landscape.

Black bear: Iconic symbols of North American wilderness, black bears inhabit the Coconino National Forest with occasional sightings reported particularly in the Mogollon Rim District. These omnivores contribute to the forest’s biodiversity foraging for food in the diverse ecosystems that range from dense forests to open meadows. The presence of black bears underscores the importance of the Coconino National Forest as a haven for various mammalian species.

Bobcat: In the Coconino National Forest the elusive bobcat with its tufted ears and spotted coat adds a touch of mystery to the forested landscapes. These skilled predators navigate the transition zones where forests meet open spaces. The bobcat’s presence highlights the delicate balance maintained by the forest’s ecosystem.

Abert’s squirrel: The ponderosa pine forests of the Coconino National Forest are home to the distinctive Abert’s squirrel. Recognizable by its tufted ears and grayish fur, this arboreal squirrel is well-adapted to life among the towering pine trees. Their presence adds a lively element to the forest canopy contributing to the rich biodiversity of the Coconino National Forest.

Golden eagles: High above the diverse landscapes of the Coconino National Forest, golden eagles soar through the expansive skies. These majestic raptors showcase the importance of the forest as a habitat for various bird species. With their keen eyesight and impressive wingspan, golden eagles contribute to the avian diversity that characterizes the skies above this vast and varied landscape.

Gila monster: In the lower elevations, the Coconino National Forest is home to the Gila monster, a unique and venomous lizard. Thriving in the desert shrublands within the forest, the Gila monster adds a touch of exoticism to the region’s wildlife. This distinctive reptile is a testament to the diversity of habitats within the Coconino National Forest.

Mexican spotted owl: The old-growth forests in parts of the Coconino National Forest provide a crucial habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species facing conservation challenges.

Trout species: The lakes and streams within the Coconino National Forest such as Upper Lake Mary and Oak Creek teem with various trout species. These aquatic ecosystems not only provide recreational opportunities for fishing enthusiasts but also contribute to the overall biodiversity of the forest. The presence of diverse trout species reflects the health and vitality of the forest’s waterways.

The Coconino National Forest’s diverse fauna from iconic large mammals to elusive predators, arboreal creatures, and unique reptiles, underscores the ecological richness of this Arizona landscape. Conservation efforts within the forest contribute to the overall health of these ecosystems providing a unique opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to experience a rich tapestry of biodiversity.

Arizona Route 89A in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Activities in Coconino National Forest

1. Hiking and trail exploration

The Coconino National Forest offers an extensive network of hiking trails that cater to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Whether exploring the lush landscapes around Oak Creek or trekking through the high-altitude plateaus near Flagstaff, visitors can immerse themselves in the diverse beauty of the forest. Trails like the West Fork of Oak Creek Trail provide a scenic journey through canyons and alongside babbling creeks, creating a memorable hiking experience.

2. Scenic drives

For those who prefer a more leisurely exploration, scenic drives within the Coconino National Forest offer breathtaking views of its diverse landscapes. The Forest Roads such as the scenic drive along the Mogollon Rim provide opportunities to witness the forest’s grandeur from the comfort of a vehicle. Visitors can take in panoramic vistas, ancient volcanic peaks, and the iconic red rock formations surrounding Sedona.

3. Wildlife watching

The forest’s diverse ecosystems make it an ideal habitat for a wide array of wildlife. Visitors can engage in wildlife watching activities hoping to spot elk, mule deer, and a variety of bird species. The forest’s status as a wildlife corridor enhances the chances of encountering these creatures in their natural habitats creating a unique and enriching experience for nature enthusiasts.

4. Fishing in lakes and streams

Coconino National Forest features numerous lakes and streams including Upper Lake Mary and Oak Creek providing excellent opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Trout species thrive in these clear waters offering a serene and picturesque setting for anglers. Fishing permits are typically required adding to the regulated and sustainable nature of this recreational activity.

5. Camping and picnicking

The forest provides an array of camping options from established campgrounds to dispersed camping in more remote areas. Camping allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the natural surroundings with the sound of rustling leaves and the scent of ponderosa pine filling the air. Picnic areas are also available providing a peaceful setting for outdoor meals amidst the forest’s beauty.

6. Mountain biking

Mountain biking enthusiasts can explore designated trails that wind through the Coconino National Forest offering a thrilling way to experience its diverse terrain. Trails like the Soldiers Pass Trail near Sedona cater to bikers of various skill levels providing an adrenaline-packed adventure through red rock formations and shaded canyons.

7. Rock climbing

The unique geological features of the Coconino National Forest especially around Sedona make it a popular destination for rock climbing and bouldering. Climbers can challenge themselves on the red sandstone cliffs with routes that offer both breathtaking views and a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the summit.

8. Stargazing

The forest’s expansive and less light-polluted areas make it an excellent location for stargazing. Visitors can witness a dazzling night sky especially in higher elevations where constellations, planets, and the Milky Way become visible. Stargazing events and programs are occasionally hosted to enhance the celestial experience for visitors.

The Coconino National Forest provides a diverse range of activities ensuring there’s something for every nature lover and outdoor adventurer. Whether seeking serene moments in nature, engaging in recreational pursuits, or embarking on thrilling adventures visitors can tailor their experience to fully appreciate the beauty and diversity this forest has to offer.

Jerome in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Coconino National Forest stands as a testament to the extraordinary diversity and beauty that the American Southwest has to offer. From the towering ponderosa pine forests and iconic red rock formations to the serene lakes and high-altitude plateaus, this expansive landscape captivates the senses and beckons explorers to its scenic trails.

Here are a few more articles to help you explore the area:

Looking for more on national forests? Here are some articles to help:

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

Road Trip Theme Ideas for Your Next RV Adventure

Creating a theme for your RV road trip elevates the fun

If you’ve ever thought road trips were just about long drives and random stops, think again! The open road offers an incredible canvas for themed adventures that cater to every imaginable interest.

Choosing a road trip destination

Many times, the biggest decision that we make when planning a new RV trip is WHERE TO GO. A lot of thought goes into the destinations and on more than a few occasions we have planned out a THEMED road trip. Road trip themes are plentiful and going on a trip that focuses on one main topic is a LOT of fun (The planning process can be ALMOST as enjoyable as the actual trip).

You can put a lot of care and thought into the details of a themed road trip and you can choose themes to match just about any interest or hobby.

Whether you’re a foodie on the hunt for the best diners, a history buff tracing historical trails, or simply someone looking for the road less traveled, themed road trips are your ticket to a more personalized adventure.

The following themes represent the wide variety of interests and inspirations showing how diverse themes can cater to different passions, hobbies, and curiosities. I also include related links to help you start planning.

Perhaps my list will give you some inspiration?

Foodie road trip on the Kolache Trail in central Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan Road Trips Early

The best tip that I have for planning a successful road trip: plan EARLY. By early, I mean AT LEAST 4-6 months ahead.

Popular attractions, campgrounds and RV parks, and other locations fill up quickly. It is best to book the highly sought-after events and locales as soon as possible.

Road trip themes

I had a fun time putting together the (rather) extensive list below. There are a lot of different themes and each one can be broken down and personalized based on individual preference. Most would work well as family road trips, couples trips, friend’s trips, or even solo trips.

The themes are listed in no particular order below:

  • Foodie Road Trip
  • Famous Authors Road Trip
  • Roadside Attractions Road Trip
  • National Parks Road Trip
  • Music Themed Road Trip
  • Movie or TV Show Themed Road Trip
  • Wine Country Road Trip
  • Bourbon Country Road Trip
  • Historical Road Trip
  • Scenic Byways Road Trip
  • Coastal Highway Road Trip
  • Amish Country Road Trip
  • Wildlife and Nature Road Trip
  • Photography Road Trip
  • Adventure Activities Road Trip
  • Sports Road Trip
  • Wildflowers Road Trip
  • Birdwatching Road Trip
  • Exploring the Arts Road Trip
  • Space Themed Road Trip
  • Science and Tech Themed Road Trip
  • Genealogy Road Trip
Blue Bell Ice Cream tour in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Foodie Road Trip

Plan a road trip that’s ALL ABOUT FOOD! You can choose the specific concentration for your trip, but here are some suggestions:

  • Eat at iconic restaurants featured in your favorite TV shows or movies.
  • Visit factories that make your favorite foods (especially if they offer tours, for example Blue Bell Ice Cream.
  • Visit orchards during fall pick-your-own season.
  • Check out some popular food trucks! Head to social media and find amazing trucks that have big followings. Put together an itinerary that will take you to several of these trucks. Another option for food trucks is to find a food truck festival.
  • Focus on a geographical location known for certain foods or dishes and see how many different varieties you can try. Examples include: pizza in Chicago, lobster in Maine, crab in Maryland, BBQ and kolaches in Texas, green chile burger in New Mexico, and boudin and crawfish in Louisiana.
  • Go on a road trip and focus on trying specific foods the whole time: pizza, BBQ, seafood, chocolate, ice cream, donuts, sandwiches, burgers, or wings.

Famous Authors Road Trip

Is there a famous author or a book that really moved you as a kid or adult? Plan a road trip around that author’s life or important milestones.

If the book is set in a particular town (real life town, obviously), visit the town.

World’s Largest Roadrunner in Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadside Attractions Road Trip

Roadside attractions are silly, kitschy stops that you can check out as you drive from point A to point B. They are places that are fun to see but you won’t spend an entire day there. There are so many cool roadside attractions across the country. A few examples include:

Gather inspiration for these and other roadside attraction with these resources: 

Arches National Park in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks Road Trip

Planning a National Parks Road Trip can be an exciting adventure! With over 60 national parks and countless other National Park Service (NPS) sites in the United States, there are numerous routes and itineraries to explore.

Consider the distance and time you have available as well as your interests and preferences. You can focus on a specific region such as the West Coast, East Coast, or the Southwest, or create a loop that covers multiple regions.

Research the national parks you want to visit and plan your itinerary accordingly. Make sure to allow enough time for each park considering factors like driving distances, park hours, and activities you want to do.

Maybe you’ll plan a trip to Utah’s Mighty Five or expand it to a Grand Circle Tour. Or explore Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains in leaf-peeping season.

No matter which parks you choose, there are incredible vistas and wildlife just waiting for you to take them in. National Parks make great family vacations. The kids love participating in the Junior Ranger programs which offer the youngest travelers an array of activities and the opportunity to earn a ranger badge or pin upon program completion.

Note: National Parks are at the top of the list for destinations that require some pre-planning and booking. A number of parks require advanced reservations and timed entry during the peak travel season.

I have a lot of NPS content on the blog. Check these posts to learn more:

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music Themed Road Trips

Whether you love rock ‘n roll, country music, or the sounds of smooth jazz, there are some wonderful options for music themed trips in the US!

Head to Memphis and Nashville in Tennessee and hear incredible country tunes at just about every bar plus visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, and Grand Ole Opry. Top off the trip with a tour of Graceland, home of Elvis Presley.

If jazz is your thing, immerse yourself in its roots down in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Love rock ‘n roll? Make a stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Movie or TV Themed Road Trip

You can find filming locations for most movie and TV film productions with a little bit of research (simple internet search). Sometimes a whole town is used to film various scenes in the show or movie.

Choose a fave flick or two and head to the town where it was filmed.

By the way, I have a series of posts on movie and film locations:

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine Country Road Trip

This road trip is PERFECT for couples or friend groups. Gather up your fellow wine connoisseurs and head out on a road trip to wine country. Your best bet is to visit an area known for its wineries so that you can visit multiple locations during your trip.

Here are some helpful resources:

Buffalo Trace Distillery bourbon tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon Country Road Trip

Explore the rich tradition of America’s Official Native Spirit on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail featuring a number of signature distilleries nestled among beautiful Bluegrass Region scenery.

In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association formed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of Kentucky’s signature spirit.

If you need ideas, check out these blog posts:

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historical Road Trip

Choose a time period or event in the long past that really interests you and build a road trip around it. There are so many different ideas for things to visit on a historically themed road trip. Choose the historic sites that interest you the most and use that as your starting point.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Early American History
  • Revolutionary War Battlefields
  • Civil War Battlefields
  • Pioneer Life and Travel
  • Native American History

Specific ideas and locations include:

  • Ghost towns
  • Museums
  • Historic parks and sites
  • Presidential libraries
  • Pioneer trails like Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail
  • Route 66

Here are some articles to help:

Utah Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byways Road Trip

In This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie sang the words, “As I went walking that ribbon of highway / I saw above me that endless skyway.” If Guthrie was singing about some of the most beautiful ribbons of highway in the U. S., there’s a good chance he was talking about one of the country’s scenic byways.

Cutting through prairies, grasslands, mountains, forests, and deserts, many of the scenic byways are not only modes of transport but destinations in themselves. While highways are wide traffic-filled roads connecting major cities, byways tend to be narrower, secondary roads in more rural areas.

The National Scenic Byways Program began in 1991 to promote roads of special aesthetic or cultural significance in one of six topics: archaeological, cultural, natural, historic, recreational, or scenic. Those that meet two or more criteria are designated “All-American Roads.”

I’ve written numerous articles on scenic byways and All-American Roads. Here are a few to help you plan a Scenic Byways Road Trip:

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

What is Seasonal Camping? Is It for You?

Are you looking for a way to enjoy RVing without the hassles of packing, towing, and setting up? If so, seasonal camping just might be for you.

Do you search for a convenient weekend retreat to spend quality time outdoors? Consider a seasonal getaway or yearly vacation tradition at a campground or RV resort near you. Seasonal camping is a great way to enjoy your favourite destination and activities time and time again.

What is seasonal camping?

A seasonal campsite is just like a regular campsite rather, rented for a long term. As the name suggests a seasonal is generally over the whole camping season which typically runs from the months of April to October in many northern campgrounds. Head south, and you’ll find campgrounds and RV resorts offering seasonal sites on a three-month, six-month, or year-round basis.

Ultimately at any location, seasonal RVers tend to leave their camper right on-site for the extended duration versus routine travel. This gives couples, solo travelers, or camping families an amazing place to retreat to, similar to a second home, getaway cottage, or vacation rental but with their own RV parked on their own piece of paradise.

Some seasonal campers choose a campground close to home while others snag a spot at a favorite destination even if it is a bit of a drive. Your trailer or motorhome will be parked for the season and you can come and go as you please.

Ambassador RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is seasonal camping for you?

Seasonal camping might appeal to you if:

  • You like to head to the campground at the last minute: If you find yourself deciding to camp on short notice, you may have trouble finding open campsites. Having a seasonal spot means no more making reservations.
  • You dislike the weekend camping hustle: By the time you get off work on Friday, get home, and get hooked up and packed up, you are exhausted when you arrive at the campground. You face the same struggle when you get home on Sunday. Having a seasonal spot means you can load up the essentials and head to the campground with much less hassle.
  • You are paying for off-site storage: If you have a HOA or other reasons for not storing your RV at home, you might find a seasonal campsite that costs only slightly more than paying for storage.
  • You would like to be part of a community: Some campgrounds have a lot of seasonal campers and you may enjoy socializing at the campground (of course, you may discover you don’t like this aspect!).
  • You’d like an affordable vacation home: If you’ve considered getting a vacation home near one of your favorite destinations, a seasonal campsite would give you a similar experience while also allowing the flexibility to take your RV offsite for trips.
Monte Vista RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why choose seasonal camping? There are many advantages.

  • Camp more often: Seasonal camping allows you to camp more often because you don’t have to worry about searching for and booking a different campsite every time you want an adventure. If your seasonal spot is close to home weekend getaways are even easier.
  • Less stress over packing: With a seasonal campsite your RV and belongings are already set up for you when you arrive after a long workweek. You can spend less time packing and more time enjoying your weekend.
  • Make last minute decisions: If you find yourself deciding to camp on short notice, you may have trouble finding open campsites. Having a seasonal spot means no more making reservations.
  • Meet other campers: You are able to easily meet and make new friends with the other campers at the site. Seasonal camping allows you to be a part of the community at your specific campsite.
  • Save money: This value can vary greatly due to family size, location, and other personal preferences. So, if you plan on camping often, becoming a seasonal camper can save you money.
Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge is a popular seasonal park in Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sounds good? Before you decide seasonal camping is for you, here are some things to consider:

  • Find a place that you love: Consider your favorite campgrounds and decide if you’d be happy to stay there for an entire season.
  • Do your research before committing: Talk to other campers in the park and see if they are having a good experience. If you decide to stay for more than a few days at a time, can you get the supplies you need easily? What is the storage situation? What is the campground’s policy on guests? Are there activities and attractions close by? What about shopping? Location is important!
  • Give it a try first: Rent a spot for a couple of weeks. Leave your RV and see how you like the experience of coming and going. Ask yourself if the drive is too long. Be sure to include a holiday camping weekend to see how much the atmosphere changes.
  • Calculate your costs: Does the cost of a seasonal spot fit your budget? Will it be worth your while in the long run? Understand what is and what is not included (for example, some campgrounds charge extra based on usage for electricity or water on seasonal sites). Find out the exact dates that are included. Some seasonal sites can be rented for the whole year while other parks offer shorter seasons. Find out whether you have to pay the fee upfront or is it there a pay-by-month option. Ask about cancellation fees if you decide the park isn’t for you.
Settlers Point RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Washington, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for finding the perfect seasonal campground

Here are five tips for finding the perfect seasonal campground.

1. Find a place that you love going back to again and again

Lots of campgrounds are just fine for a night or two but how enjoyable is the campground for repeat visits? Think about the location, the amenities, the campsites, and the overall atmosphere as you consider how often you’d like to camp in a particular park.

2. Do your research and ask the right questions

There are a lot of elements to consider when you are looking at a long-term spot. Are other seasonal campers happy with their experience at this park? Will you be surrounded by other seasonal campers or overnighters? Can you get Amazon deliveries? Can you store stuff outside of your RV? Try to think about all of the items that contribute to a great experience and think of things that make the long-term experience different from a short-term stay.

3. Check out the surrounding area

If you are returning to the same campground again and again, chances are you will also be exploring the local area. Does it offer the kinds of activities, restaurants, shops, and amenities you will need and enjoy? As with buying a home, think location, location, location.

4. Do a trial run of weekends

Try out the seasonal camping experience by renting a spot for a couple of weeks. Leave your RV and see how you like the experience of coming and going. You’ll soon figure out how far of a drive works for your situation. Be sure to include a holiday camping weekend to see how much the atmosphere changes.

5. Calculate your costs

Does the cost of a seasonal spot make sense for your budget? Sure, it will cost more but if you get out camping more, the cost could be well worth the experience.  A seasonal sites may cost anywhere between $2,000 to $10,000 per year. Make sure you understand what is and what is not included (for example, some campgrounds charge extra based on usage for electricity or water on seasonal sites).

Find out the exact dates that are included. Some seasonal sites can be rented for the whole year, while other parks offer shorter seasons. Ask whether you have to pay the fee upfront, or is it there a pay-by-month option. Also, you may want to check into any cancellation fees if you decide the park isn’t for you.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

National Wine Day: May 25

We don’t typically need an official reason to celebrate over a bottle of wine but today we have one— National Wine Day is celebrated annually on May 25.

The growing number of wineries coupled with the proliferation of social media options has prompted more creative ways to celebrate with wine for people of all (legal drinking) ages and beverage preferences. Whether you host a wine tasting to try the latest rosés or meet friends for an evening of professionally paired food and wine, the celebration begins as soon as the cork is popped. Cheers!

Cooper Vineyard, Amador County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of National Wine Day

Wine has been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. The natural likeness for this drink is not only because it tastes wonderful but also because of its nutritional value and psychotropic effects. 

Wine has also had a significant impact on the economy and the shaping of societies. Out of all the alcoholic beverages, it is the trade of wine that allowed exploration of different cultures and paved the way for philosophical and religious ideas to spread. Wine is cited frequently in the Bible from the time of Noah to Jesus, indicating its integral role. Wine-making was also seen as a sign of a provident economy as only provident societies could accommodate a well-established wine industry. In fact, it is often debated that the foundations of western society were built on wine.  

The wine enjoyed in the olden days is a distant relative to the wine enjoyed today. Red, pink, green, white, and blue grapes were used by the Egyptians to prepare the drink. Palm dates, figs, and pomegranates were often added to the mix too. So the taste was completely different from what we know today. Using different fruit to make wine is similar to how it is prepared using grapes except that sugar is also added to aid the fermentation process.  

The exact origin of National Wine Day is unknown but the earliest references date back to 2009. It is a day for wine enthusiasts to unite and celebrate our favorite fermented fruit juice. 

Since its establishment in 1812 by Spanish missionaries, California’s wine country in the northern Bay Area of northern California has dominated American wine production. There were a mere 25 wineries in this area of California in 1974. Today, there are over 800.

While California still leads U.S. wine production and is now home to over 4,000 wineries state-wide, wineries exist across the U.S. with at least three in every state. In fact, the most frequently visited winery today is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina with over one million people annually.

This availability of wineries enables us to visit the rolling hills of a beautiful vineyard closer to home. Yes, it is very likely one is near you, within range for a fun day trip or weekend getaway. So, pack your bags and set your GPS to the winery closest to you.

Dirty Laundry Vineyard, Summerland, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Wine Day timeline

  • 4100 BC: Archaeologists discovered evidence of winemaking in an Armenian cave including cups and jars for holding wine, wine presses and vats for fermentation, and even grape seeds and vines
  • 6000 BC: Although it had been believed that the earliest wines were made around the fourth century BC, much older wine has been found in what is now the country of Georgia
  • 1628: New Mexico becomes the first region in America to begin producing wine.
Robert Renzoni Vineyards, Temecula, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditions

Traditions for National Wine Day all revolve around indulging in and celebrating with wine. Friends and family get together and uncork their favorite bottles of wine. Splurging on quality wine is also the norm today so treat yourself to that fancy vino you’ve always wanted to buy.

Wine tasting events are hosted where wine lovers and connoisseurs enjoy different flavors and varieties of wine. Wine bottles are aesthetically pleasing so reusing them for a DIY project or making a rack from scratch to display them are also go-to celebratory traditions for National Wine Day.

Black Hills Winery, Oliver, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wine by the numbers

  • 55 degrees: optimal temperature for storing wine
  • 60 gallons: amount of wine in a single barrel
  • 4-10:  clusters of grapes in a single bottle of wine
  • 100-150: calories in a single serving of wine
  • 2 grams: carbohydrates in a single glass of wine
  • 10,000: number of different varieties of grapes worldwide
  • 700 million: number of gallons of wine produced in the U.S. in 2020
  • $88 billion: estimated value of the U.S. wine market in 2020
  • 7.3 million: hectares of land that vineyards occupied worldwide in 2020
Winery 101, Cottonwood, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fascinating facts about wine bottles

  • Size matters: There are over a dozen different sizes of wine bottles many named after Biblical kings or other historical figures
  • Who’s the king? At 30 liters the largest wine bottle size is named Melchizedek or Midas holding 200 glasses of wine
  • Sealed with a cork: Almost 70 percent of wine bottles are sealed with natural cork; the majority of this cork comes from Portugal
  • Judging a bottle by its cover: There are over 60,000 wine labels in the market today
  • It takes a lot of grapes: One bottle of wine holds an average of 600 grapes
Helwig Winery, Amador County, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why I love Nationl Wine Day

  • I love varietals: While there are five basic types of wine (red, white, rose, sparkling, and dessert), there are thousands of varietals of wine grapes. The options you have for trying a new wine are practically endless. You’ll never get bored in your pursuit for trying something new in the wine world.
  • I savor life with wine: Wine is not the type of beverage you drink quickly. You sip it, savor it, linger with it. Which means, you are likely lingering with whomever you’re sharing the wine. Taking your time to enjoy a glass of wine allows you to enjoy other things with it—people, scenery, food.
  • Wine allows you to travel the world in a bottle: Each bottle of wine tells a unique story. If you close your eyes, wine’s aromas and flavors can transport you to faraway lands giving you hints about the soil and weather the grapes grew in, the landscape of the country the wine originated in, and what was happening in the world at the time the wine was bottled. The best part? You don’t even have to get on a plane to travel the world!
Church and State Winery, Okanagan Wine Country, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Wine Day related holidays

Worth Pondering…

Anyone who tries to make you believe that he knows all about wines is obviously a fake.

―Leon D. Adams, The Commonsense Book of Wine

The Complete Guide to Badlands National Park

Amber walls and prairie grass make for impressive landscapes in South Datoka

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple the painted walls and serrated peaks of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands making for a stunning surprise in remote western South Dakota. They are both badlands—a geologic term for soft sedimentary rocks that erode easily—and Badlands, a title derived from the Native American Lakota name mako sica or bad lands referring to the scarcity of water, the difficulty of navigating peaks and valleys, and weather extremes that bake the ground in summer and freeze it in winter.

As badlands, the 244,000-acre national park preserves a naturally excavated landscape revealing Earth’s history. Rock layers that stacked up over about 75 million years began eroding a half-million years ago sculpted into channels and canyons by the Cheyenne and White rivers. Sod-covered buttes represent the Ice Age-era prairie where ancient hunters left behind bison bones and arrowheads up to 12,000 years old.

Paleontologists—often seen working in an active lab at the park’s main visitors center—continue to sift through the striated rocks for ancient seashells, ancestors to the modern horse and 50-foot-long marine mammals known as mosasaurs.

To Native Americans, the area was a seasonal hunting ground for buffalo, animals that again inhabit the park a deceivingly still preserve that teems with life provided you slow down to see it. Bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and pronghorn are just a few of the endemic prairie species that star in the uniquely American safari that visitors can self-guide on foot or by car.

At sunset and sunrise the vivid hues of mineral deposits in the rocks radiate warmth. Overnight, countless stars pierce the dark night sky. Whether because of time of day or eons past change is a motif central to the Badlands still eroding under nature’s forces by about an inch a year.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip to Badlands

The beauty—and the challenge—of Badlands National Park is its remote location. The park lies only about 60 miles southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota but about 375 miles north of Denver and 500 west of Minneapolis. The drive from either is fairly rural with farm fields or prairie which only emphasizes the drama of Badland’s colorful eroded hills.

Just shy of a million visitors come to Badlands National Park annually most of those in June, July, and August when the weather is quite hot (highs average above 90 degrees) and prone to thunderstorms. But visitor numbers dip by half in September when the weather moderates and even more in cooler May when you won’t have to time your hikes to avoid the heat or the crowds.

Migrating birds are another reason to visit in spring or fall. In spring, you’re also more likely to see prairie animals such as bison with their young and in fall the golden color of turning leaves fill the canyons and ravines. During the cold and biting winter months wind whips across the largely treeless landscape.

The park is divided into two sections: the main North Unit and the largely roadless and inaccessible Stronghold Unit located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the park’s southern section. Driving is one of the most popular ways to see the park and routes such as the Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) are well-marked. Park entry costs $30 per car ($15 if you enter by foot or by bike).

Think of Badlands National Park as remote and prepare accordingly. You can access free public Wi-Fi in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the main visitors center about eight miles into the park from the Northeast Entrance—one of three main entrances all in the North Unit—but expect spotty cellular service elsewhere.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Neighboring Cedar Pass Lodge serves as Badlands National Park’s only commercial hub with a restaurant, gift shop, and snacks for sale. Restrooms are available here as well as in the park’s two visitor’s centers, campgrounds, and picnic area. The lodge, visitor’s centers, and restrooms are fully wheelchair accessible.

Come prepared with ample supplies of water; you’ll find few places to refill water bottles. This is especially important if you go hiking; the Park Service recommends two quarts per person for every two hours of hiking. Also bring your own food, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Sturdy hiking boots will help with footing on some of the looser trails and also protect you from cactus spines and, possibly, snake bites.

That said, you don’t have to be an outdoors expert or hiking ninja to enjoy the park. In addition to scenic drives and turnouts, there are easy short hikes of less than one mile and one fully accessible boardwalk trail as well as wooden boardwalks at most scenic overlooks which makes them accessible to all visitors.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

The Badlands has no iconic hotel or even many services but with little commercial fanfare to get in the way it is easy to appreciate its ancient geological, Native American, and homesteading past.

For the closest experience to nature, try camping. In addition to backcountry camping for the super experienced Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park’s northwest has 22 sites (free), vault toilets, picnic benches, and bison trails.

For running water and electricity opt for the Cedar Pass Campground adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge where you’ll find RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables. Two sites are fully wheelchair accessible but most of the terrain around the campsites is accommodating. The lodge also rents 26 pine-paneled cabins with minirefrigerators, microwaves, and deck chairs perfect for gazing at the night sky.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just south of the park at Circle View Ranch check into cozy B&B accommodations on a 2,800-acre working cattle ranch. For more adventure book the property’s Hamm Homestead Cabin built in 1880. It’s still without running water and electricity and you’ll have to bring your own bedding, water, and camp supplies but the experience on the edge of the White River is 19th-century authentic.

You’ll also find motels and chain hotels including Econo Lodge and Best Western properties in the gateway town of Wall on the park’s far north side.

Cedar Pass Lodge operates the park’s only restaurant specializing in must-try Sioux Indian Tacos featuring fry bread topped with refried beans, buffalo meat, and cheese. For other dining options you’ll need to either bring picnic food or leave the park and head to Wall or the gateway town of Interior in the southeast for casual roadhouses and taverns including the Badlands Saloon & Grille, best for hamburgers, in Wall.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Hike

While breathtaking at a distance the Badlands are geologically fascinating up close, best explored by hiking. Its eight official hiking trails all in the North Unit are not extensive—the longest, the moderate Castle Trail in the park’s northeast is 10 miles round trip but they introduce the rock formations, canyons, ledges, cliffs, and passes interspersed with prairie grasslands. A few trails are strenuous but most are moderate and some including the quarter-mile Fossil Exhibit Trail also in the northeast follow a fully accessible boardwalk.

The park’s Open Hike Policy means visitors may go off trail and many do especially to climb the buttes. But this is often harder than it looks and rangers warn inexperienced hikers against it as coming down can be more challenging than going up.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive

Even if you go hiking you’ll also want to take a drive or two in the park to take in its full scope. The 40-mile Badlands Loop Road connecting the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall winds up and down the contours of the Badlands threading steep passes with about a dozen opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts for photo ops (most overlooks on the road have wheelchair-accessible boardwalks).

Instead of following the loop road out of the park continue west via the Sage Creek Rim Road. It’s a dirt road but hard-packed and offers a chance to see across the park’s largely roadless wilderness area and to look for wildlife.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch wildlife

The Badlands appear still but the more time you spend contemplating the scenery the more life you’ll see in it. Buffalo and pronghorn graze the grasslands, prairie dogs scamper around their towns, and bighorn sheep deftly pick their way across rock ledges.

The Pinnacles Overlook off the Badlands Loop Road is a good place to look for bighorn sheep. Off Sage Creek Rim Road, Roberts Prairie Dog Town teems with the burrowing mammals and bison often graze nearby. Cliff swallows come and go from mud nests built on Badlands formations.

Caution: If you encounter a wild animal on a trail, stay at least 100 feet away.

Hunt for fossils

The thousands of years of geologic history revealed in the eroding Badlands have upturned fossils such as the mosasaur, a marine lizard living about 75 million to 69 million years ago when sea covered the area during the Cretaceous Age of the dinosaurs. Prehistoric crocodiles and horses attest to the subtropical climate between 37 million and 34 million years ago and the drier conditions that followed, between 34 million and 29 million years ago supported early ancestors to camels, pigs, rabbits, and rhinos.

The Fossil Exhibit Trail displays fossil replicas and reconstructions of the extinct animals who once roamed here. At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center you can view park paleontologists working on nearby specimens at the Fossil Preparation Lab. Hunting for fossils on your own—to photograph, not take, of course—is best pursued after a rainstorm when these remains tend to stand out on the wet ground.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn history

Human history in the Badlands goes back roughly 12,000 years beginning with ancient hunter-gatherers; later, the Native American Lakota people followed migrating buffalo to the area for seasonal hunting.

In 1887, the Dawes Act stripped more than 90 million acres of tribal land nationally from indigenous people to be given out in free 160-acre plots as authorized by the Homestead Act of 1862. Because of the poor soil for farming, however, the government didn’t distribute plots until the early 20th century.

At the Homestead Overlook on Badlands Loop Road view a former homesteading region where prairie grass meets rock walls. Homesteaders would try to bale hay growing atop buttes such as Hay Butte visible from Sage Creek Rim Road.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, for an in-depth experience

Visit the remote southern Stronghold Unit located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation established in 1889 and owned by the Oglala Lakota Tribe. During World War II, the U.S. government took more than 340,000 acres from the reservation to establish the Aerial Gunnery Range which the military used for bombing training.

Most of the unit lies within the former bombing range. Here, about a 20-mile drive from the North Unit visit the seasonal White River Visitors Center open only in summer for exhibits on the history and culture of the Lakota people.

You’ll find few paved roads in Stronghold and the park largely restricts access to Sheep Mountain Table on the border with the North Unit. The park’s highest area at 3,300 feet, it’s reached via a backcountry road that requires a high-clearance vehicle or a 14.6-mile round-trip hike.

Gateway towns to Badlands

You just might have heard of tiny Wall (population less than 1,000), Badlands National Park’s chief northern gateway and named for the rock-wall formation that runs across the park before you get there: Billboards on Interstate 90 touting free ice water have been pulling in traffic to Wall Drug since 1936.

Originally a drugstore, it’s now a tourist attraction—thronged in summer by up to 20,000 visitors a day—with a splash park, Western art gallery-cum-restaurant and a mall selling everything from cowboy boots to mounted Jackalope (a fictional animal). It’s a kitschy but must-visit experience complete with homemade donuts and five-cent cups of coffee.

For more to do, consider staying in Rapid City, the state’s second-largest city with 75,000 residents, an hour’s drive northwest of the park. It’s also a gateway to the Black Hills region—home to scenic Custer State Park and three more national park areas—providing a convenient perch between Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Downtown Rapid City pays homage to Rushmore with a series of life-size sculptures of 43 American presidents. The town nurtures a lively urban core best on display at Art Alley covered in murals by local artists. Visit the Journey Museum to see many of the fossils uncovered in the Badlands.

From excellent Indian/Nepalese food at Everest Cuisine to Italian at Botticelli, Rapid City offers a global dining scene. Don’t miss Tally’s Silver Spoon, a diner with a gourmet heart specializing in dishes featuring local ingredients from breakfast (think buffalo hanger steak and eggs) to lunch (shaved ham and foie gras sandwiches) and through dinner (grilled quail).

While chain hotels abound the city’s Hotel Alex Johnson vintage 1928 will appeal to history and style buffs. Built by namesake Alex Carlton Johnson, former vice president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad the 143-room hotel showcases his love of Native American culture in sculpture and iconography in a grand Germanic Tudor building updated with modern amenities such as a rooftop bar and accessible rooms.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route to Badlands National Park

Just north of the park, Prairie Homestead preserves the 1909 sod home of the homesteading Brown family complete with barking prairie dogs in the yard.

If you’re driving north from Denver (or even driving around) on Highway 18 stop in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for a soak in its naturally warmed waters. Bathing options range from pools as hot as 102 degrees at Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa to the water-park-like Evans Plunge Mineral Springs. Or wade into the warm waters of Fall River at Brookside and Chautauqua parks.

Dry off to check out the Mammoth Site, an active dig site with more than 1,200 fossils of mammoths as well as prehistoric prairie dogs and giant short-faced bear.

About 10 miles north of Hot Springs lies Wind Cave National Park. Below its more than 33,800 acres of prairie and forest lies a vast cave system with rare boxwork formations that resemble honeycombs made of calcite.

From there, it’s a scenic half-hour drive north to biodiverse Custer State Park, a 71,000-acre home to pine forests, granite spires and prairie grassland. Its 18-mile Wildlife Loop drive offers a DIY American safari where you’re likely to see buffalo (about 1,500 roam in the park), elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and prairie dogs.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the town of Custer just west of the park refuel at Black Hills Burger & Bun where the kitchen staff prepares everything in house from grinding the meat to baking the buns.

You can’t visit the Black Hills region without taking in the 60-foot-high faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved into granite at Mount Rushmore National Memorial a little more than 20 miles southwest of Rapid City.

Don’t miss its Native American counterpart less than 20 miles west of the memorial at Crazy Horse Memorial the still-under-construction mountainside sculpture of the eponymous Oglala Lakota leader.

Badlands National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact box

  • Where the park is: Western South Dakota
  • Size: 244,000 acres
  • Highest peak: Sheep Mountain Table, 3,300 feet
  • Miles and numbers of trails: 17.5 miles among eight trails
  • Main attraction: Striated rock formations
  • Cost: Entry $30 per vehicle for 7-day permit; $20 per year or $80 for a lifetime America the Beautiful Pass for people age 62-plus
  • Best way to see it: Driving the Badlands Loop Road
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: Spring and fall

Worth Pondering…

This is one of the few places I have ever seen where the night was friendlier than the day. And I can easily see how people are driven back to the Badlands. In the night the Badlands had become the Good Lands. I can’t explain it. That’s how it was.

—John Steinbeck

The Ultimate Guide to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a National Park Service (NPS) site with 1.5 million acres of mesmerizing landscapes, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes of vibrant blue waters. This park is a playground for adventurers who love hiking, watersports, fishing, boating, scuba diving, and more.

This national recreation area offers a chance to see the Hoover Dam, enjoy the waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead, and retreat into nature in one of the park’s 9 designated wilderness areas.

Where Is Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The closest major city to this park is Las Vegas, 26 miles away. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area opening hours and seasons

This national recreation area is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This facility is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

Driving to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are nine access points to this national recreation area so the route you choose will depend on the area from which you are coming and the entrance you want to utilize for your arrival. The best and most popular entrance is the one that takes you to the visitor center. U.S. Highway 93 is the main road used by those driving to the park. 

Getting around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The best way to get around this park is by private vehicle. This vast recreation area has so many sites and attractions to explore; the best way to do this is by driving to the different areas and exploring on foot.

Of course, another good way to explore the park on the water is by boating or paddling on the bright blue waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to see and do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area covers 1.5 million acres of canyons, lakes, valleys, and mountains. There is no shortage of adventure at this park. Check out some of the most popular activities and sights at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Boating

Over 290 square miles of waterways are within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide some of the best boating opportunities for those who love to explore the park on the water. Whether you want to speed through the open water or float in a private cove, there are many fun and relaxation opportunities here. 

Boat rentals are available at the marinas on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Many types of boats are available to rent, including sports boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, pontoons, and houseboats. These locations also rent out water skis and wakeboards for even more adventures. 

Tip: Be sure to read the park’s boating rules and regulations to ensure you have a fun, safe time.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canoeing and kayaking

Thanks to all the water within the park’s boundaries, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at this national recreation area. The views from the calm lake waters and majestic mountains surrounding them are breathtaking.

The Black Canyon Water Trail and Mohave Water Trail are the most popular trails for paddling but there are also many hidden coves throughout the park just waiting to be discovered.

Guided tours

A variety of guided tours are offered at this national recreation area. The park’s visitor center is a wonderful place to learn about the various tour options.

Some of the guided tour options include cruises, ranger-led hikes, and hunting and fishing adventures. The most popular tours include the Cruise to the Hoover Dam and the Float Down the Colorado River. There are also self-guided options should you choose to explore on your own. Taking advantage of the many tour options is a fantastic way to learn about and explore this impressive area. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

Although most visitors are attracted to Lake Mead National Recreation Area because of lakes Mead and Mohave more than 87 percent of the park protects a vast area of the eastern Mojave Desert. Perhaps the best way to explore this diverse ecosystem is on foot, traveling across open expanses of rock formations that contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Which trail is right for you? There are a variety of hikes that vary in difficulty and length. These trails are in the Lake Mead and Lake Mojave areas. The hiking trails show off the park’s diverse ecosystems and take hikers past incredible rainbow-colored rock formations, canons, and washes.

Some of the favorite trails include the Historic Railroad Trail, River Mountains Loop, and Owl Canyon. The best time to hike here is from October to April. The temperatures are cooler during these months and the journey is much more enjoyable. Visitors are not recommended to hike during the summer months as the temperatures are dangerously high. 

Scenic drives

There are two main scenic drives in Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. These drives travel through the mountains, canyons, and desert basins. Driving these roads offers visitors excellent opportunities to enjoy the views and capture photos of the bright blue waters and colorful mountains.

Visitors also enjoy stopping for picnics while driving along these roads. Cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife use these scenic roads, so stay alert and mindful of those sharing the road with you. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor center

The Lake Mead Visitor Center is an excellent place to visit before starting your park adventures. This facility is just a few miles north of the Hoover Dam and has so much to offer park visitors. 

Park rangers are stationed at the visitor center to help you plan a fantastic adventure or answer any questions. You can obtain park maps brochures, get a national park passport stamp, or turn in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn your Junior Ranger Badge.

There is also a store inside this facility that is run by the Western National Parks Association. This store offers guests a chance to buy books about the park, Native American arts, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, and postcards.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best times to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

You’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip any time you’re able to visit this national recreation area. There are better times than others to plan a trip here especially if you hope to participate in particular activities. Take a look at the best times to visit this park.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for summer fun

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is an exciting place for summer fun. The best time to visit during the summer months is in June. The high temperatures typically reach the upper 90s and the lows dip down to the low 70s. There is an average of 0 days of precipitation during the time making the summer adventure opportunities never-ending.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area to avoid the crowds

The best way to explore a new place is without having to worry about crowds and traffic. If you want to experience this national recreation area without crowds, plan to come in November. This time of year is the least busy making it a perfect time to enjoy the park at your own pace. 

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for ideal weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is a great idea. If you want to experience this park when the weather is ideal, plan to come in April. The daily lows are in the mid-50s and the highs are in the upper 70s. It typically only rains an average of 1 day in April but it’s wise to come prepared for rain just in case.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual events in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area hosts several events on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of the regularly scheduled events include star parties, guided hikes through the wetlands, and hikes to Majestic Canyon. There are also some annual events.

National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup

Each September, Lake Mead National Recreation Area participates in the National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup. This free event is an excellent way for visitors to positively impact the park and help remove litter from the beaches and other areas. A benefit to visiting on this day is that participants will receive a voucher to visit a federal public land at no charge. 

Rage Triathlon

Each year in April, the Rage Triathlon takes place at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This race has taken place since 2001 and offers a fantastic way to experience this park. It winds through beach campgrounds and along river and mountain trails. The Rage Triathlon is considered one of the region’s most scenic desert landscape triathlons.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has an abundance of options for those who want to stay within the park’s boundaries or in a nearby town. Check out some of the best places to stay both in and near this recreation area. 

Inside the park

There are many options for accommodations within this national recreation area. From campgrounds to resorts and lodges, the options are many. Check out some of the different places to stay within this park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campgrounds

Spend your next camping adventure on the lake. With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes sure to please everyone. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables and shade. RVs and tents are welcome.

Most of the campgrounds can be reserved but there are a few that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service such as Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, Cottonwood Cove, Echo Bay, Las Vegas Bay, and Temple Bar.

Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park. These campgrounds include Katherin Landing and Willow Beach.

Bottom line:

If you prefer to set up camp and sleep under the stars, you will find so many options at Lake Mead that you may have difficulty narrowing down where to pitch your tent.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina is a beautiful option for those wanting to stay within the park’s boundaries. This Spanish-style resort is right off the shores of Lake Mohave and offers red-roofed motel rooms and lots of amenities for a comfortable stay. 

This lodging option features covered outdoor patios with tables and chairs for lounging and taking in breathtaking sunsets and lakefront views. There are also outdoor barbecues for those who prefer to cook outdoors. 

Another unique choice for visitors who want to get off the grid is renting a houseboat during your stay. This is a great way to experience the lake and take a break from the duties of home.

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Several types of accommodations are available at Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing. Visitors can choose from mid-century-style rooms, a full hook-up RV or tent site, and even private homes. This resort has gorgeous views of the desert scenery and Lake Mohave.

The lodge offers standard double or standard king rooms. These rooms feature a private bathroom, air conditioning, coffee makers, and satellite televisions to make you feel at home. There is also a spectacular restaurant on-site to take care of any cravings you may have during your stay. 

Visitors who stay here can enjoy world-class boating, water skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and striper bass. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temple Bar Marina Resort

Temple Bar Marina Resort is located on Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the park. This resort offers lake view lodging, an RV park, access to hundreds of beaches and coves, an on-site store, gift shop, café, bar, and launch ramp. This is an incredible option for a home base when visiting this national recreation area. 

Temple Bar has standard motel rooms and cabins for those who want a more traditional type of stay. Visitors can choose from standard rooms with lake views or desert views, fishing cabins, or suites with kitchen access. Whatever type of stay you prefer this resort has a perfect solution for your travel needs. 

Towns near Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are several towns near this recreation area for those who prefer to set up a base camp outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you seek a quiet, small town or a lively, larger city, there’s a perfect place for you in these towns.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City is a charming small town with a rich historical heritage, only 6 miles from the park. For those wanting to stay near the recreation area, this town has a variety of options for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

This city has a variety of accommodations including RV resorts, contemporary hotels, and budget-friendly motels. Whether you’re looking for a unique stay in a themed motel, a luxury stay in a hotel, or a relaxing visit to a resort, there are plenty of options in this city. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this city. A variety of restaurants, including cafes, sushi bars, diners, and Mexican taquerias are scattered throughout this town.

For recreation, there are incredible opportunities available in this town. From kayaking to golfing, visiting museums, and exploring several types of parks, there’s no shortage of fun here. You are also in the perfect location for exploring famous landmarks like the Hoover Dam. 

Boulder City is an ideal home away from home for those visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its proximity to the park and its incredible opportunities for food, fun, and lodging make the choice of where to settle an easy one. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Henderson, Nevada

Henderson is located approximately 19 miles from the national recreation area. This city is a great place to make a home base during a visit to this park. It has perfect options for those traveling with family, friends, or solo. 

The accommodations in this town range from luxury hotels to smaller, more affordable motels to 5-star luxury resorts. Whatever budget or type of stay you have in mind, you can find a perfect option for your vacation needs here. 

This city has fantastic restaurants including pizza parlors, formal dining rooms, authentic cultural cuisine, diners, and cafes. This city has something to offer every palate. 

If you’re looking for fun, this is the right place. Henderson has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, playgrounds, splash pads, skate parks, and bicycle trails.

Where to eat in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are eight different restaurants within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These restaurants serve a variety of cuisines and are located in or near the marinas. Here are two popular choices.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Harbor House Café and Lounge

The Harbor House Café and Lounge is a floating restaurant and bar right on Lake Mead. This dining option serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks daily. 

The menu seems endless at this restaurant. From freshly tossed salads to stacked sandwiches, breakfast specialties, and fish and chips, there’s something for every palate here. Some of the most popular menu items include the classic club sandwich, buffalo chicken wrap, and the Harbor Burger.

Be sure to stop by this café and lounge when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Not only will you enjoy a fantastic meal but you can also take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding slips, lake, and mountains. 

Temple Bar Café

Temple Bar Café is located at the Temple Bar Marina. This restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast burritos, stacks of fluffy pancakes, signature sandwiches, juicy burgers, and sizzling pizzas are just some of the items on the menu here. Customers rave about patty melt, Rueben sandwiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, and home-cooked weekly specials. 

For a delicious meal in this recreation area, you won’t regret a stop at Temple Bar Café. It’s a great place to rest up and refuel for more adventures in the park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area facts

1. Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964. This was America’s first national recreation area. 

2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the third largest NPS area other than the parks in Alaska. This recreation area covers 1.5 million acres. 

3. This area was occupied by desert Indian cultures that existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s believed that the ancestral Puebloan people were the first to inhabit this land. These people group hunted game, gathered edible plants in the area, and practiced farming.

4. Lake Mead is a large reservoir on the Colorado River. This lake was formed by Hoover Dam located in Black Canyon. Lake Mead is the largest U.S. reservoir by volume coming in right before Lake Powell. 

5. An abundance of animals call Lake Mead National Recreation Area home thanks to its diverse ecosystems. These animals have special adaptations that help them survive the harsh environment. Some commonly seen animals here include the Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and 19 species of bats. 

Final thoughts

Whether you seek outdoor adventure or solitude in nature, Lake Mead National Recreational Area is a bucket list location. With so many options to hike, fish, boat, view wildlife, attend a guided program, and tour amazing places, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this beautiful park. Book your trip to Lake Mead today and discover what brings in millions of visitors from around the world each year.

Details

  • Area: 1,495,806 acres
  • Established: October 13, 1936
  • Recreation visits in 2023: 5,798,541
  • Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

Patchwork Parkway: The Steepest Road in Utah

Driving State Route143 will put your brakes to the test with 13 percent grade; it’s the steepest paved road in the state

Starting and ending points: Parowan to Panguitch

Steepest section: Area around Brian Head Ski Resort

Max grade: 13 percent

Go up this road that tops out at 10,567 feet at Cedar Breaks and your engine will grind to let you know this is no ordinary route. Come down this road and your brakes will be constantly tested.

Climbing 4,600 feet in about 18 miles from Parowan to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Iron County, State Route 143 is the steepest paved state road in Utah with a maximum grade of 13 percent.

The highway is among about a dozen roads in the state that have a geographic distinction.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most major U.S. highways don’t exceed a 6 percent grade, the magic number for the preferred maximum steepness of a road. Parleys Canyon (I-80) has a maximum grade of 6 percent.

In the U.S. only the grades of interstates are required by law to remain under a certain percentage. A grade is based on the number of feet that a road changes every 100 feet at its steepest part. The interstate system in the United States must maintain roads with no more than a 6 percent grade. However, the steepest road in Utah will make you grip your steering wheel tight!

Originally an old pioneer road used to transport logging materials, Utah Route 143 winds its way through the Dixie National Forest. The highway can reach grades of over 13 percent as it ascends to the top of the ski resort. As a result, drivers frequently overheat their brakes and large trucks will try to avoid the byway altogether to keep them from catching fire.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh, and of course, having fresh snow and ice on the ground really doesn’t help matters. Neither do the out-of-towners with two-wheel-drive cars and no winter driving skills trying to make their way in late at night on Fridays.

Utah Route 143 is so steep that the toughest parts only have a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. This highway is also known as the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway or as the Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway.

The state highway climbs drivers over 10,500 feet into mountainous terrain near Cedar Breaks National Park. It’s also traversed by skiers headed to Brian Head Resort.

If you’re planning on traveling Route 143, remember that it’s not the drive up to the top that’s the scariest. Most hairy incidents happen while descending as inexperienced drivers may burn their brakes out. It’s not unheard of for freight trucks to have their breaks catch on fire while navigating hairpin turns with no shoulders.

Patchwork Parkway at Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Route 143 is the second-highest paved road in Utah. The highest, State Route 150 is the highest paved road by a few hundred more feet.

An unpaved gravel road that travels around Mount Brigham may be the highest in Utah. It reaches over 11,100 feet above sea level as it travels around Mount Brigham. The unpaved road breaks off of Tushar Road on Highway 89 south of Marysvale.

If jeep routes are considered unpaved roads, some jeep passes go higher. There are no official records about exactly how high these routes go, however. 

State Route 143 is a meandering drive between the small cities of Parowan and Panguitch. Parowan is 70 miles northeast of St. George a little more than 230 milessouthwest of Salt Lake City.

Fall colors and lava flows along Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brian Head Resort is a small ski area that gets most of its business from surrounding desert cities. It is only accessible via Route 143 and the steepest grade on the route must be traversed to get there. 

The main drag into Cedar Breaks National Park is Route 143. The highway also skirts Panguitch Lake about 30 minutes outside of the City of Panguitch.

Route 143 has a stretch with a grade of 13 percent. This is over twice as steep as allowed on any interstate in the nation. Between the town of Parowan and Cedar Breaks National Monument, travelers ascend around 4,600 feet in approximately 18 miles.

Because the road takes drivers up high into the mountains, it’s important to carry chains in the winter. The Utah Department of Transportation issues chain controls during bad weather conditions.

Panguitch Lake on the Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch Lake is a reservoir on Route 143 that’s a well-known spot for fishermen. The word panguitch means big fish in the Paiute language and this is an apt name as Panguitch Lake is popular for its huge trout.

Before the 1900s, the western part of Route 143 was used by pioneers. In 1933, it officially became a state highway. By 1985, and after two additions, the road had become the length that it remains today. 

Route 143 is known as the Patchwork Parkway after the perilous journey that a group of Mormon pioneers undertook in the winter of 1864. In desperation, a group in Panguitch decided to walk to Parowan in thick snow for needed food. Everyone back in town was starving to death.

After traveling so far that they were too committed to their journey to turn back, the snow became so thick that it was impossible to navigate. Fortunately, the pioneers discovered that the homemade patchwork quilts they had with them for warmth also allowed them to walk on the snow without sinking. It took them almost two weeks but the men methodically used their quilts to inch their way to Parowan and back with the desperately needed flour.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides Utah Route 143 being Utah’s steepest paved road with a 13 percent grade, the following tidbits about other Utah highways have been gathered from Utah maps, the Utah Department of Transportation, and other sources:

  • Highest paved road in Utah: Mirror Lake Highway (SR 150) which crosses Bald Mountain Pass, 10,715 feet above sea level. The road is usually open June to early November depending on the weather. Its latest-ever opening was June 29, 1995.
  • Highest paved road along the Wasatch Front: The Mount Nebo loop road that reaches 9,353 feet above sea level at the Monument trailhead.
  • Highest gravel road in Utah: From Big John Flat to a high ridge in the Tushar Mountains between Beaver and Marysvale at 11,500 feet above sea level.
  • Highest gravel road along the Wasatch Front: Skyline Drive in Davis County between Farmington and Bountiful. A spur road that heads north to the Francis Peak radar domes above Fruit Heights tops out at almost 9,500 feet above sea level. The road is passable by cars in the summer.
  • Lowest elevation paved road: River Road in Washington County south of Bloomington Hills and St. George at 2,697 feet above sea level.
  • Lowest elevation unpaved road: Several jeep roads in the Beaver Dam Wash area, west of St. George that approach 2,500 feet in elevation.
  • First Utah roads to be hard-surfaced: Richards Street in downtown Salt Lake City from South Temple to 100 South and also State Street from South Temple to 400 South—both in 1891 and probably paved with a combination of granite blocks, asphalt, and brick. Main Street in Salt Lake City from South Temple to 300 South was the next street paved.
  • Longest straight stretch of road: I-80 on the Salt Flats between Wendover and Knolls with an approximately 50-mile straightaway.
  • Longest tunnel: Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (SR 9), 5,613-feet long, the nation’s fifth-longest land tunnel. It opened in 1930 and is in Zion National Park.
  • Best paved road test for acrophobiacs: Probably Scenic Byway 12 between Escalante and Boulder where the highway traverses a knife-edge with high cliffs on both sides of the roadway and no guardrails.
  • Most likely roads to get a speeding ticket: Salt Lake’s North Temple (600-650 West) and State Street (2700-3000 South) plus Syracuse’s Allison Way (1525 West) and West Valley City’s 2700 West at 4650 South are all mentioned as the state’s newest speeding traps on the speedtrap.com website.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Memorial Day 2024: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

Each year, the summer road trip season kicks off with Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend changes things. The calendar claims that weeks of spring still remain on the books. But for all intents and purposes, it’s hello, summer. The holiday also provides a chance to get out of town for a wonderful stretch. 

While backyard barbecues and pool parties are great, there’s a whole lot of Arizona just waiting for you. Take this opportunity to head someplace cool or wet or both. For a few glorious days, you can refresh and recharge. Now you’re ready to face the summer. At least until the July 4 break.

Here are some of Arizona’s best Memorial Day getaways. 

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley adventure: Tigers, a zip line and a historic train ride

Cottonwood and the Verde Valley are your destinations for an action-packed holiday weekend.

Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and features dozens of large predators. The preserve spreads across 100 acres of rolling terrain. Tiger Splash is the signature show. There is no training and no tricks.

The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their caretakers. Visitors can also take a narrated African Bush Safari and attend the Giant Snake Show.

Outside the park is Predator Zip Line which offers a two- to three-hour zip line tour across five lines and a suspension bridge high above the animals. Tours are $99.95; you can save $10 by booking online. 

For a ground-based journey, climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad and rumble into scenic backcountry. The train departs from the station in Clarkdale and travels into a high-walled canyon carved by the Verde River and lined by cottonwood trees. Such a rich riparian habitat lures a variety of wildlife, notably eagle, hawk, heron, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and beaver.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Verde Valley:

Verde Canyon Railroad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Wupatki National Monument’s centennial

On the quiet prairie northeast of Flagstaff the pueblos of Wupatki National Monument rise like red-boned ghosts above swaying grasses.

The eruption of Sunset Crater in 1085 covered the dry basin with volcanic ash and cinders creating arable terrain. Soon afterward, Ancestral Puebloans moved in and built the freestanding dwellings that appear almost as natural rock formations.

This year Wupatki celebrates its centennial as a national monument. Short pathways lead to up-close encounters with a handful of these ancient structures. Behind the visitor center, a paved trail leads to Wupatki Pueblo, the largest dwelling in the park. The sprawling three-story ruin contains nearly 100 rooms and straddles an outcropping of sandstone.

Admission is $25 per vehicle and covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, connected by a scenic road.

Tackle the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

After your visit to Wupatki and Sunset Crater, you’ll have the rest of the weekend to experience Arizona’s summer capital. Why not sample the tree-top thrills of Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course at Fort Tuthill County Park?

Conquer rope swings, climbing walls, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, and ziplines. There are multiple circuits on the adult playground plus a course designed for children ages 7-11. Adult course costs $60 as does the zipline adventure or combine the two for $99. Children’s course is $30.

Ax throwing and laser tag in Flagstaff

If you prefer indoor activities, FlagTagAZ offers ax and knife throwing, laser tag, darts, arcade games, and more. They also serve beer, wine, and mead in their pizza café.

Flagstaff Brewery Trail

Speaking of beer, there’s something supremely satisfying about a day spent walking around Flagstaff’s historic downtown and Southside neighborhoods with their eclectic collections of shops, galleries, restaurants and, yes, craft breweries.

There are eight breweries to be exact, all waiting to quench your thirst with a cold craft beer. You can download a digital passport and score a free commemorative pint glass.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You really should see Canyon de Chelly. Here’s how.

At Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, sheer cliffs plunge hundreds of feet to lush bottomlands lined with crops, pastures, and cottonwood trees.

It’s a staggering blend of high drama and pastoral beauty. The scenic canyon shelters thousands of archaeological sites while dozens of Navajo families still live and farm there during warmer months.

Take one day to travel the rim drives for the stunning vistas. The North Rim Drive is 17 miles with three overlooks at prominent cliff dwellings and is best in the morning. The South Rim Drive is 19 miles with seven viewpoints is even more spectacular and is especially exquisite when afternoon light floods the canyon. 

Then take another day to explore the inner canyon with a Navajo guide. Private operators offer jeep, horseback, or hiking outings. Park admission is free; there are fees for tours.

Tours also leave daily from Thunderbird Lodge within the park.

Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation also manages Cottonwood Campground near the Canyon de Chelly visitor center. The campground has grills, picnic tables, and restrooms. No showers or hookups are available. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.

Here are some helpful resources:

Fool Hollow Lake: Fish, hike, or take a swim 

Nestled in the pines outside of Show Low, 149-acre Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area contains one of the loveliest bodies of water in the White Mountains which is high praise indeed. There’s big open water and isolated coves, quiet marshes, and long channels.

This is the kind of lake that makes you want to jump in a kayak and go exploring. Fortunately, you can. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals are available from J&T’s WildLife Outdoors at the east boat launch ramp. They also offer a guided pontoon boat tour. You can learn about Adair, the town submerged beneath the water.

Landlubbers can hike the 1.5-mile trail running along the edge of the lake. Anglers try their luck landing rainbow trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, and more. And yes, swimming is permitted. Fool Hollow also has campsites for tents and RVs. Park admission is $7 per vehicle Mondays-Thursdays and $10 per vehicle Fridays-Sundays and on holidays.

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore art shows in Prescott

When artists display their work on the big grassy lawn of Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza, you know summer has arrived. Spend a day browsing, listening to music, and enjoying the mild temperatures.

The Phippen Museum holds its popular Western Art Show and Sale on the plaza May 25-27. More than 100 artists will have booths set up beneath the big elm trees. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday. A Quick Draw Challenge will happen on the north steps of the courthouse from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

With a little planning, you can double your art show fun in Prescott. The Prescott OffStreet Festival is May 25-26 at its new home, Pine Ridge Marketplace, formerly the Gateway Mall. There will be fine art, photography, handmade crafts, and food. The fun starts at 9 a.m. both days and ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Scenic drive: Traverse more than 460 curves on the Coronado Trail

A segment of U.S. 191, the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway twists and turns for 123 miles between Morenci and Springerville in eastern Arizona. The road parallels the New Mexico state line and is the nation’s curviest and least-traveled federal highway.

Expect a 6,000-foot elevation change as the Coronado Trail climbs from cactus-strewn desert to lush alpine meadows and aspen-clad mountains with more than 460 curves along the way. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is thought to have followed this route centuries ago as he searched for the Seven Cities of Gold.

The road passes the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci and curves around one of the world’s largest open pit mines. It snakes its way up narrow Chase Canyon and switchbacks through scrubby woodland that gives way to dense pine forests as you climb.

The Coronado Trail skirts the edge of the Blue Range Primitive Area where Mexican gray wolves roam. Stop at the high perch of Blue Vista Point for incredible views and to breathe the cool mountain air. Oxygen at 9,100 feet just seems to have a fragrance all its own.

Beyond Hannagan Meadow Lodge, the road softens its tone. The curves are lazier as it winds through forest to alpine ringed by mountains. From here, continue past brush-covered plateaus and the shimmering waters of Nelson Reservoir to the towns of Springerville and Eagar nestled in Round Valley, an idyllic spot to land on Memorial Day weekend.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee Queen Mine Tour

Back in the days when copper flowed like a river from the hills of Bisbee, the Queen Mine was one of the richest producers in town. The mine operated for nearly a century before closing in 1975.

Today, retired miners lead tours 1,500 feet deep into the dark cool tunnels gouged from the Mule Mountains. Visitors outfitted in yellow slickers and hard hats with headlamps get an up-close look at mining conditions, techniques and dangers. You’ll emerge from the Queen Mine Tour with a whole new appreciation of your current job.

Tours depart several times throughout the day and reservations are required.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Bisbee Ghost Tour

When you’re above ground again in this mile-high town, sign up for an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

The city’s rowdy past led to some hard deaths among the citizenry and Bisbee maintains a healthy population of lingering ghosts. You’ll learn about them all on this tour that departs at 7 p.m. each evening and lasts about an hour and 45 minutes.

Guides dress in period garb and spin sinister tales of the restless spirits as you roam the twilight streets of Bisbee. Even ghostly skeptics will enjoy the great history and fascinating stories.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 ways to see Monument Valley: Hike, drive, guided tour

Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley draws visitors from around the world.

Within the tribal park are a restaurant, gift shop, campground, and the Navajo-owned View Hotel. The rooms with private balconies are a great place to watch one of Monument Valley’s lavish sunrises.

Historic Goulding’s Lodge sits just outside the park and also offers a full range of services including guided tours.

The scenic 17-mile drive that winds through the heart of the valley reveals stunning views of the buttes. If you want more of an outdoor experience, hike the 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail that loops around the West Mitten butte.

Yet the best way to experience the beauty of this iconic western landscape and learn about the culture and history of the people who inhabit it is by signing up for a Navajo-led tour. Tours leave daily from the View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Safety and Security Tips for Traveling in your RV

Traveling into the great unknown can be a lot of fun. Discovering new places adds excitement to an RV trip. Yet many people worry about RV safety. RV security is an important factor to consider and there are things you can do to increase the security of your RV, no matter where you are traveling.

RVing has become one of the most popular ways to travel. But a successful and safe RV trip takes preparation and planning to make it a good experience. Whether you are new to RVing or not, these tips can help ensure that your trip will be problem-free.

Embarking on an RV adventure brings the promise of freedom and exploration but ensuring safety as you travel in your RV is critical. In this article I delve into the realm of RV security providing key safety measures to safeguard your RV while you travel.

Cracker Barrel in Goodyear, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware of your surroundings: A critical crime-prevention tool

This rule of thumb sounds obvious but it can be easy to forget. Whether you’re parked at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel or boondocking in a national forest, always be aware of what’s around you. When you stop somewhere, get out and take a look around before you commit to staying. We’ve stopped in places where we just didn’t feel safe. Rather than try to talk ourselves into it, we’ve moved on.

We’ve also learned that those uncomfortable feelings are a matter of perspective. We’re more cautious when we’re in the backcountry in areas that are unfamiliar to us. Use your best judgment and only stay in places where you are comfortable.

Leave temptation behind: Keep valuables hidden

Though it may seem obvious, you should never leave valuables in plain sight and unattended. Laptops, smartphones, cameras, and other personal belongings should be stored when they are not in use.

This one seems pretty obvious. To eliminate temptation put all your things away prior to leaving your site. This could include camping chairs, cooking equipment, and/or firewood. Don’t make it easy for them!

Don’t litter your site with valuables. Put away tablets, cell phones, and extra gadgets. Pull the blinds after dark in your rig. Don’t be a lone ranger; camp near other people. Get a safe. Each of these simple steps will keep robbers at bay.

Camping with your dog © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set up your campsite with security in mind

From the moment you park your RV, you should start thinking about security. For instance, most RVers reverse into their parking spot but this means that your rig is more accessible.

Also, take a good look at your surroundings and follow your gut feeling. If something about the spot can become a security risk, you’re better off finding a space that feels safer.

If you’re bringing your furry friends with you, you’ll also need to think about their well-being. Therefore, you’ll need to follow RV pet safety best-practices like sweeping for choking hazards and making sure you’re far from a busy road.

Lock it down: The importance of robust door and window locks

One of the first lines of defense for your RV is secure entry points. Invest in quality door and window locks to thwart potential intruders. Consider upgrading to smart locks that provide added convenience and control through mobile apps ensuring you can monitor and secure your RV even when you’re away exploring.

One of the easiest ways to deter thieves is to simply lock your doors anytime you leave, no matter how long you’re going to be gone.  Also, make sure to close and lock exterior storage compartments.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Illuminate and deter: Motion sensor lights for enhanced security

Enhance your RV’s security by strategically placing motion sensor lights around your vehicle. These lights not only illuminate the surroundings at night but also serve as a deterrent to potential intruders. The sudden burst of light can startle and discourage unwanted visitors adding an extra layer of protection to your home on wheels.

Eyes everywhere: The benefits of a security camera system

In the digital age, technology offers advanced solutions for RV security. Consider installing a security camera system to keep a watchful eye on your RV. Modern systems provide real-time monitoring accessible from your smartphone giving you peace of mind and the ability to act promptly in case of any suspicious activity.

Conceal and protect: Disguising your RV with camouflage measures

Make your RV less enticing to potential thieves by adopting camouflage measures. This could include discreet branding, covering valuable items, or even using window coverings to conceal the interior. The goal is to avoid drawing unnecessary attention, reducing the risk of burglary when your RV is parked.

Camping at Lady Bird Johnson Park near Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GPS tracking for recovery: Protecting your investment with GPS technology

In the unfortunate event that your RV is stolen, having a GPS tracking system can be a game-changer. These devices allow you to track the location of your RV in real-time aiding law enforcement in recovering your property quickly. It’s a worthwhile investment for both security and peace of mind.

Community vigilance: Utilizing the power of RV communities

The RV community is vast and supportive. Leverage this by staying connected with fellow travelers. Join online forums, share your location with trusted friends, and participate in local RV groups. In the world of RVing, a collective eye is often the best security measure with fellow enthusiasts looking out for each other’s well-being.

Camping at Palo Casino RV Resort, Palo, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Emergency preparedness: Security beyond theft

Security extends beyond theft prevention. Equip your RV with emergency preparedness items including a first-aid kit, fire extinguishers, and smoke detectors. Being ready for unexpected situations helps to ensure the safety and well-being of you and your fellow travelers.

Have a way to protect yourself

Whether you’re at an RV park or out in the wilderness, there may come a time when you need to protect yourself. This can mean protection from another person, or from a wild animal like a bear or mountain lion.

There is no shortage of choices when it comes to self-defense from firearms to pepper/bear sprays to blunt objects. Pick the method that you feel most comfortable with. Then, practice using it. Whatever you choose, it’s important that you know how to use it before you ever need to (and hopefully, you won’t).

Camping in Dixie National Forest, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never post your current location on social media

I totally get that you want to share your cool adventures and amazing places you are at. But, be cautious about giving your exact location and time.

If you want to post a photo of your RV at your campsite or in a certain location, refrain from posting the campground name and town you’re currently located. In other words, keep your social media shares vague. Wait until after you leave the area to share those beautiful views online.

Here are some helpful resources on increasing the security and safety of your RV:

Effective security requires a layered approach. There is no single security measure that is guaranteed to deter and prevent crime. However, by implementing the layered approach outlined above, you can feel confident that you have a good plan in place to deter and prevent crime.

As you embark on your RV journey, remember that security is a crucial aspect of traveling. Implementing these measures can safeguard your home on wheels, allowing you to explore with confidence. By combining technology, community support, and smart practices, you’ll fortify your RV against potential risks ensuring a secure and enjoyable adventure on the open road.

Safe travels!

Worth Pondering…

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

—Okakura Kazuko