Sculpted By Water: Natural Bridges National Monument

Situated high atop Cedar Mesa, Natural Bridges National Monument illustrates the power of water in shaping a high desert landscape

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden whereas arches are usually high and exposed as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges.

Unlike Arches National Park with over 2,000 classified arches, there are only three natural bridges here. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pinyon and juniper covered mesa is bisected by deep canyons exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges were formed. At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs and numerous plants flower in the spring.

Animals range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcats, and black bear.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Naming the Bridges

Several names have been applied to the bridges. First named “President,” “Senator,” and “Congressman” by Cass Hite, the bridges were renamed “Augusta,” “Caroline,” and “Edwin” by later explorer groups. As the park was expanded to protect nearby Puebloan structures, the General Land Office assigned the Hopi names “Sipapu,” “Kachina,” and “Owachomo” to the bridges in 1909. Sipapu means “the place of emergence,” an entryway by which the Hopi believe their ancestors came into this world. Kachina is named for rock art on the bridge that resembles symbols commonly used on kachina dolls. Owachomo mean “rock mound,” a feature atop the bridge’s east abutment.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three natural bridges. Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges which are located in two adjacent canyons.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experiencing the Bridges

To make the experience even more breathtaking, each natural bridge is accessed by a steep hike down to the base of the bridge and then back up again. Starting down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, we arrived at the first rough-hewn Navajo-looking log ladder and scampered down. The trail to the Sipapu Bridge hugs a massive overhanging rock wall that Mother Nature has painted in wide swaths of black, orange, and pink. Considering the forces of wind and water that shaped these rocks, we couldn’t help but imagine the ancient people who once sought shelter here.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world (only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger). In Hopi mythology, a “sipapu” is a gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world. After admiring the bridge for a while, we made our way back up along the striped rock wall to the wooden ladders and on up to the loop road that winds through the park.

The second stone arch, Kachina Bridge, also requires hiking down stairways that have been carved into the sandstone by the National Park Service and clambering down log ladders as well. Unlike Sipapu, however, Kachina is a thick and squat bridge that crosses a large cool wash filled with brilliant green shade trees.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. The relatively small size of its opening and its orientation make it difficult to see from the overlook. Along the flanks of this bridge we saw the faint etchings of petroglyphs that were pecked out of the rock eons ago. We were intrigued to learn that some of the cliff dwellers from the Mesa Verde area 150 miles away in Colorado had called this place home around 1200 A.D. We got our workout once again as we huffed and puffed up the ladders and staircases back to the loop road.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owachomu Bridge is probably the most spectacular and also the easiest stone bridge to reach. The trail into the canyon underneath the bridge is a short distance from the overlook. It is the oldest bridge in the park and rock falls have reduced the thickness to only 9 feet, so it may not be here much longer. Needless to say, walking on top of the bridges is not allowed.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Current Status

Natural Bridges’ roads, trails, campground, and restrooms are open. The visitor center remains closed. When open, the visitor center has a slide program, exhibits, publications, and postcards. A 13-site campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

People repeatedly occupied and abandoned Natural Bridges during prehistoric times. They first began using this area during the Archaic period from the year 7000 BC to 500 AD. Only the rock art and stone tools left by hunter-gatherer groups reveal that humans lived here then. Around 700 AD, ancestors of modern Puebloan people moved onto the mesa tops to dry farm and later left as the natural environment changed.

Three hundred years after their ancestors left, the farmers returned. They built homes of sandstone masonry or mud-packed sticks, both on the mesa tops and in alcoves in the cliffs. South facing caves provided passive solar heating and cooling. The farmers often chose sites near seep springs where water could be found.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Styles of masonry, ceramic decoration, and other artifacts suggest that the people here were related to those of the Mesa Verde region to the east. Influences are clearly evident from the Kayenta region to the southwest and the Fremont culture to the north. Like these people, the inhabitants of Natural Bridges left this area for the last time around 1270.

Navajos and Paiutes lived in the area during later times, and Navajo oral tradition holds that their ancestors lived among the early Puebloans.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 7,636 acres

Visitation: 52,542 (2020)

Established: April 19, 1908

Entrance Fee: $20/private vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days

Camping Fee: $15

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

Celebrating America’s Parks and American Heritage during National Park Week

From April 17-25, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation invite everyone to celebrate America’s treasured places during National Park Week. Join the fun!

The Department of the Interior has announced that National Park Week—an annual weeklong celebration of America’s national parks—will run from April 17 to April 25. National Park Week encourages the public to explore the vast network of national parks, sacred sites, and historical landmarks. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Park, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Every national park has its own unique story to tell, yet so much of our nation’s shared heritage can be found in the towering forests and vast desert expanses that make up our National Park System,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The outdoors has also proven to be a welcome refuge during the past year of the pandemic. I encourage everyone to enjoy the beauty and wonder of our national parks safely and responsibly.”   

To kick off National Park Week all parks will have a free admission day on Saturday, April 17. The public is asked to recreate responsibly when visiting parks.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service (NPS) invites everyone to participate in a Twitter chat preview of National Park Week on April 16 at 1 p.m. Join the conversation and share favorite memories, tips, and stories about national parks using the hashtag #NationalParkWeek.    

“National Park Week is always a great reminder of the wide variety of sites, parks and programs available for the public to explore in-person or online,” said National Park Service Deputy Director Shawn Benge. “Throughout the week, ‘travel’ to national parks through virtual tours and other entertaining and educational digital activities designed to connect visitors with the vast network of historical, cultural, inspirational, and recreational parks across the country.”   

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The National Park Foundation and our park partners celebrate the full diversity of our parks. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are urban and rural, natural and manmade. They each have their own, unique story, perspective and experience to share with all of us that, when taken together, really tell the American story,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth. “And each of us has an important role to play in helping to preserve and protect these special places.”

The 2021 National Park Week theme days are:  

Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 17: Free Admission and ParkRx Day

Spending time in parks and nature benefits overall physical and mental health and wellness. In honor of the NPS’ century-long collaboration with the Office of Public Health, National Park Week begins with ParkRx Day! Enjoy a free admission visit and experience the healing power of nature in a national park.   

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunday, April 18: Volunteer Sunday

Thank you to National Park Service VIPs (Volunteers-In-Parks)! With over 400 national park sites to manage, NPS volunteers play a critical part in helping parks thrive. From clearing trails and providing directions to assisting visitors through museum collections, volunteers help all of us enjoy national parks.   

Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monday, April 19: Military Monday

Thank you for your family’s military service. Many national parks have direct connections to the American military—there are dozens of battlefields, military parks, and historic sites that commemorate and honor the service of American veterans. In gratitude for their service, free annual passes are available for all those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Learn more at nps.gov/subjects/military.  

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuesday, April 20: Transformation Tuesday

National parks and communities are ever changing whether it is in nature, history, opportunities to experience places, and our own personal journeys. Some transformations in national parks have occurred naturally while others are the result of conservation and restoration projects. From restoring buildings to their historical appearance, to rehabilitating ecosystems, to the maturation of wildlife, to incorporating emerging technology, learn how and why parks and their features have transformed through the years.    

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wednesday, April 21: Wayback Wednesday

History happened and memories are made in national parks. Take a look at some of your favorite parks then and now. How has the view changed? Who else has stood in the same spot in the past? Learn about the living landscapes, historical battlefields, ancestral structures, homes of prominent people, and buildings that are tangible reminders of the ever-evolving U.S. story.

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thursday, April 22: Earth Day

A global celebration encouraging all people to learn more about and care for the planet, Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect on the natural wonders that the NPS helps to protect.   

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

Friday, April 23: Friendship Friday

Caring for the parks is a big job. Park partners have played an important role since the NPS was founded in 1916 and this tradition of generous, committed support continues today with individuals, groups, and communities helping preserve and enhance the national park experience.  

Capitol Reef National Park. Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 24: Junior Ranger Day

The NPS Junior Ranger program provides fun and engaging ways for young people to connect with America’s heritage and landscapes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunday, April 25: BARK Ranger Day

National parks are fun to share with those we love including those of the fluffy variety! BARK Ranger principles ensure a pet’s visit to a park is fun and safe.   

Go outside, spring is for feeling alive in national parks.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

Get Your Rig Ready for Spring Camping

It’s spring and with the traveling season right around the corner now is the perfect time to clear out the cobwebs and tidy up your RV

Spring is right around the corner and your RV is calling. The beginning of camping season is the perfect time to assess the condition of each distinct part of your motorhome or trailer. So go ahead, break your RV out of storage.

Let the sunshine in © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Let it Breathe

The first step is to open all of the windows and doors and let the fresh air take out any stale smells after being cooped up over the winter. It’s also a great idea to position the RV in a sunny spot and open up all of the blinds to let the sunshine in to help clean the air inside.

Shake it down and air it out © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Shake Things Out

Take all of the pillowcases, cushions, and sofa covers out and give them a good shake outside and either put them through the laundry or leave them in the sun to get rid of the stale smells that may be clinging to them.

Time for a visual inspection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Basic Inspection & Safety Checks

One of the first things to do is make sure your RV is roadworthy is to inspect the major systems: power, propane, and tires. Do this early to allow time to schedule any necessary maintenance before it’s time to embark on your first trip. Check the battery fluid levels, adding distilled water as needed. Check the tires for proper inflation. Conduct a visual inspection of each tire for cracks along the sidewall and tread depth. Take time to inspect your fire safety systems. Make sure the carbon monoxide detector, smoke alarm, LP detector, and fire extinguishers are all in working order. Replace batteries, as required.

A clean exterior © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Exterior Inspection & Wash

Walk around your RV and carefully climb up on the roof to inspect the exterior windows, doors, roof vents, and any other seams. If you find any cracks in the caulking or missing sealant, remove the old sealant and replace it.

Finally, give your RV a thorough washing using a gentle soap solution. Baby shampoo works well. Don’t forget the awnings. They are exposed to all weather conditions and rarely see sunlight on their underside making them prone to mildew especially during a long, damp winter.

Use a lamb’s wool pad or soft brush and the soap solution to clean. Be sure to rinse well and leave them out a few hours to fully dry before retracting.

Dust it down © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Dust, Dust, Dust!

With a damp cloth, dust down every surface in your RV and remember to open up all of the vent covers where possible and remove the dust from inside so you can enjoy clean air when traveling. Give a good dusting behind and around all of your appliances too.

Give the interior a good clean © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Clean the Cabinets, Drawers & Shelves

Give the interior a good thorough cleaning. Drain your dehumidifiers (or replace any disposables). Be sure to check inside the cabinets and under the sinks for any signs of pests or rodents.

With a warm and damp wash cloth, give all of the cabinets, drawers, and shelves a good cleaning to remove any crumbs, dirt, and grime that may have accumulated. If there are any stains, try mixing a teaspoon of baking soda with water to make a thick paste and gently apply to the stained area before wiping off.

With a clean cloth, give your fridge and freezer a thorough cleaning at this stage as well.

Now is a good time to go through all of your supplies and restock the camper with the essentials.

Windows clean again © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Window Time

Systematically go through the RV washing every window, and then do the same washing the outside of each window so that you have the best views when you go out on the next adventure.

Check to ensure all things work © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Check That Things Work

You should ensure that all of your air conditioning filters are clean, and while there check that each aircon vent is working. If it has been a while since the last time the RV was used, then take a few minutes to go through and ensure that each appliance inside still works and give them a good clean while you’re at it.

All clean and ready to travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Vacuum and Mop

With all of the surfaces and appliances clean, move onto the floors and give them a thorough vacuum along with the sofas if necessary. Once everything has been picked up, get the mop out and make the floors sparkle.

With an RV that has been aired out and cleaned top to bottom, you can rest knowing that everything is ready and waiting for the next adventure that lies just around the corner!

Now, hit the road already

10. All Systems Go!

Taking the time to run these checks and performing any necessary maintenance will go a long way towards making your camping season a success. Now all you need to do is pick a location and head out for an epic spring vacation.

Worth Pondering…

Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. Time for RVing and camping bliss!

Why RV?

Why RV vacations are the best

Do you want to live life on your own schedule in your own way? Do you want to be part of the landscapes you’ve only looked at in photos? Then you will love the RV lifestyle. Millions of folks have opted to live out their dreams and adventures in a recreational vehicle. Here is why you should too.

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

Reason # 1: Convenient Travel

The RV lifestyle is exploding due to COVID. The uptick in the number of camping trips Americans and Canadians are taking is not exactly a surprise given that it allows people to change their surroundings without greatly increasing the risk of contracting COVID. One thing we’ve been reminded of is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. Medical professionals advise us to socially distance from one another and tell us that when we spend time with others, it’s preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle.

Going for a hike in Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 2: Connect With Nature

A dose of nature does wonders for one’s well being. Anyone who has ever stepped foot in the forest or dipped a toe in a lake or creek likely knows this but nature is a happy-maker. A walk outdoors is more than just a great pick-me-up. It can be a calming and regenerative exercise improving your mood and easing anxiety, stress, and depression. Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides! With an RV, the whole world is right outside your front door, ready to be explored.

Camping at Whispering Hills RV Park, Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 3: Common Bond

When you RV, you’re never alone. From families to couples to solo travelers, all RVers have one thing in common: an urge to see the world on their own terms. When you pull into a campground or RV park, you know you’ll be surrounded by likeminded people who make up one of the most tight-knit communities around.

Freightliner Club Rally © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 4: Join a Community

RV memberships and clubs provide numerous services including a community for RVers. One reason for selecting an RV club is for cost savings and discounts on various RV parks. The discounts can vary from 10 to 50 percent and have restrictions on when they are valid. The choice of RV clubs also depends on the location of the campgrounds where the discounts are available and your current and future travel plans.

Staying active while camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 5: Travel with Comfort

Your home comes with you. A comfortable bed. A full kitchen. A restroom. A shower. An entertainment center. In an RV, it’s all with you. And the open road is yours for the taking. And when you RV, you can tailor your adventures from where you go to how and where you sleep to how you keep everyone active and entertained. RVing lets you make every adventure completely your own. It’s your schedule, your wish list, your road map, and your world to explore. Hike, bike, climb, kayak, ride horses, swim, and make the world your playground.

Everything you need is here © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 6: Everything you Need is with You

A pile of books. Your favorite coffee mug. Board games and video games. A cabinet packed with snacks. RV travel allows you to bring the comforts of home anywhere you go which is a relief for people who struggle to fit the essentials into an airplane carry-on. Just be aware that packing too much stuff into your RV can be a safety hazard. Every RV has a cargo carrying capacity—you can find this number on a label typically inside a cabinet or closet. The cargo carrying capacity is the weight of everything—people and stuff—you can safely carry in your RV. Exceeding capacity is dangerous, as it can strain your brakes, axles and tires, and potentially cause an accident.

Enjoying a sunset at Two Rivers Landing, Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 7: Family Togetherness

Nothing bonds families together like being together. Breathing the same air. Seeing the same sunrises and sunsets. Bringing on landscapes and campfire stories, not TV shows. RVing brings you closer to natural beauty. And to those you love.

Zip line adventure © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 8: Retire in Style

Your time. Your way. Make the road your new home. Best estimates indicate 750,000 to one million seniors call their RV home—and the ranks are growing. Go anywhere you want. Stay as long as you like. The possibilities are endless and the choices are all yours. So whether you become a full-time RVer, a snowbird, or simply travel from time to time, RVing is a great way to design your own life and your own adventures. Live your dream.

Traveling Scenic Byway 12, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reason # 9: Simply the Best Way to Travel

Anywhere the road takes you, you can go. Travel by RV allows you to fully appreciate the country around you and the people you meet on the way. If you’re not a fan of meeting people, there’s opportunity to avoid them as well. Never before has a vacation method been so affordable, yet so flexible. If you haven’t looked into RV camping you’re missing out on a great thing. RVs are simply the best way to vacation.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

Explore the best trails in some of the world’s most beautiful parks

From colorful badlands to cavernous canyons and old-growth wetlands, the National Park Service boasts incredible diversity when it comes to hiking trails. Whether you’re looking for an intense mountain ascent or an easy forest stroll, bucket list-worthy hikes come in all shapes, sizes, styles, and lengths. Here are 10 national park trails that belong on your must-hike itinerary.

Know your limits, pace yourself, and pay attention to how you are feeling. Your safety is your responsibility. Your tomorrow depends on the decisions that you make today.

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Do you want to view a landscape that is out of this world? If your answer is yes then the Blue Mesa Loop Trail is sure to please. This mile long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills. The trail descends 100 feet below the rim and can be a little steep in places.

Boardwalk Loop, Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Boardwalk Loop in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

This hike, though it’s really more of a walk, features an elevated boardwalk through old-growth swampland. Though the lush, green trees are beautiful in their own right the trail really shines at night (literally!) when thousands of fireflies come out and fill the area. For photographers, the trail is exceptionally beautiful at sunrise when both the boardwalk and bald cypress trees take on golden early-morning hues. Wildlife like deer and wild pigs can also be seen in the area for those willing to sit silently for a few minutes You’ll definitely want mosquito repellant, especially in the summer months.

Manzanita Lake Loop, Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manzanita Lake Loop in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

While much of the attention at this serene California park is drawn to its namesake Lassen Peak, a worthwhile trek for ardent day-hikers, there’s a more leisurely and accessible option that affords some of the most striking vistas in the park. Manzanita Lake is a tranquil, shimmering oasis in the northwestern portion of Lassen Volcanic offering a peaceful 1.8-mile loop trail around pristine, bright-blue water. From certain vantage points, the views of Lassen Peak are incomparable and the jaunt through dense forest feels downright rejuvenating for the soul.

Rim Trail, Grand Canyon N ational Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rim Trail in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Any section of the Rim Trail serves up jaw-dropping looks into the Grand Canyon but the unpaved section between Powell Point and Monument Creek is a dirt path and feels more like a genuine hike than its paved sections. But what’s underfoot doesn’t matter as much as what lies just beyond—canyons within canyons and cauldrons of rapids far below. Head to Maricopa Point by park shuttle to start the hike then take the shuttle back from Hermits Rest to Grand Canyon Village when you’re done.

Fairyland Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park

Fairyland Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

If you don’t know what a hoodoo is you’ll know after crossing this spectacular hike’s eight miles of hoodoo-covered trails. These unique rock columns can be found throughout the trail eventually culminating in Fairyland Canyon, a valley of staggeringly large and vast formations as tall as 150 feet. The colorful hoodoos are some of the brightest and most unusual in the park giving the whole area an otherworldly feel. Because of this trail’s length and constant up and downs it’s one of the least crowded hikes in the park.

Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Trees Trail in Sequoia National Park, California
Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, the Big Trees Trail is one of the best short and easy hikes you can do in Sequoia. This loop trail takes you completely around the meadow and provides impressive views of numerous massive sequoias as well as the beautiful meadow itself.

From the museum follow a paved path on a ridge above the road. In a few hundred feet, the path will cross the road as you near the meadow. From here the trail does a loop around the meadow which you can start in either direction. The path is paved or in some places a wooden bridge when it gets marshy. Allow 1 hour round trip.

Lower Bear Gulch Cave Trail, Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lower Bear Gulch Cave Trail in Pinnacles National Park, California

One of America’s newer national parks is one of the smallest at just over 26,000 acres but that doesn’t mean there isn’t space to get lost in its stunning terrain. The easy Lower Bear Gulch Cave trail takes hikers under moss-covered boulders and across alpine springs often at the same time. This short trail passes through strikingly angular rock formations before dipping down through Bear Gulch Cave—be sure to bring a flashlight. After you’ve hiked through Lower Bear Gulch you can double back and take a higher route past the 300 foot Monolith rock pinnacle, one of the largest in the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hawksbill Loop Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

At just 3 miles in length, the Hawksbill Loop Trail in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park may not seem very long but it packs plenty of punch. The route wanders along part of the legendary Appalachian Trail on its way up to the top of Hawksbill—the highest point in the park at just over 4,000 feet. Along the way hikers can spot wildlife as they work their way up to the summit where they’ll discover a stone platform that offers views of thick forests and rolling hills that stretch to the horizon. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park offers a wide range of hiking opportunities with something suitable for every age and experience level during every month of the year. The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion and one of the best slot canyon hikes anywhere. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suit any ability level. The trail is basically the Virgin River. The canyon is so narrow the river covers the bottom in many spots which means you have to wade or swim to proceed. The cool water makes this hike particularly pleasant during the hot months of summer.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devil’s Garden Hike and Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park in southeast Utah is a day-hikers paradise. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch. The Devil’s Garden Loop is at the far end of the park where the main road terminates. This is a 7.2-mile trail with some wonderful rock scenery and eight arches along the route. This is one of the more difficult hikes in the park with some scrambles over slickrock and exposed ledges. However, you don’t necessarily need to do the entire loop to experience some of the attractions in this area.  A 1.6-mile round-trip hike on relatively flat ground will take you to Landscape Arch which spans more than the length of a football field. Also in the same area are Navajo Arch and Partition Arch. Both of these hikes leave from the Devils Garden Trailhead.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

A four-story structure of mud and wood, the Great House, is all that remains of a community of Hohokam people who lived here during the 14th century

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing four-story building dating from the late Hohokam period probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle national monuments. It is situated in the flat plain of central Arizona between the Gila and Santa Cruz rivers just north of Coolidge and about 15 miles east of Casa Grande. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. The area has a low elevation and is very hot—often over 110 degrees for several months in the summer. Even in winter, daytime temperatures can reach 80.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guided tours are offered from late November to mid-April. Tours meet in the shaded Interpretive Ramada located immediately outside of the visitor center’s rear doors. While you are seated for the introduction the guide will explain the history of the ruins, the archeology, and the Hohokam Culture. Your guide then leads the tour into Compound A and points out interesting features. You may enter or leave the tour at any point or you may chose to visit the park on a self-guided tour. There are signs and exhibits to enhance your visit with volunteers and staff eager to hear your stories and discuss your questions. Tours are wheelchair friendly.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ruins

The Great House can be seen from some distance away owing to the flatness of the terrain and the rather curious appearance from a distance—the structure is protected from the harsh desert sun by a large metal roof supported by four great pillars designed by architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. This is an impressive design made necessary to help preserve the building but it is still rather incongruous. The present cover replaced an earlier wooden construction in 1932.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scale of the ruin is best appreciated from close up—it is 60 feet by 40 feet wide at the base and has caliche walls over three feet thick. Although visitors are not allowed into the building owing to its delicate state and for safety reasons, much can be seen from outside including details of the construction with wooden beams supporting the clay walls and various internal features such as stairways and windows. However, besides the protective canopy, the interior contains other modern items such as re-enforcing beams, metal ladders, and measuring devices on the walls, all contributing to the slightly unnatural scene.

Built by the ancestors of the present-day O’odham people the site was an ancient farming community and according to the oral history of their descendants, a ceremonial center. Walk through the indoor museum to learn about the ancient people of the desert who lived here and their ingenuity in making a life in the Sonoran Desert. Then walk through the site and experience the desert yourself.

History

It is believed that the Casa Grande functioned partly as an astronomical observatory since the four walls face the points of the compass and some of the windows are aligned to the positions of the sun and moon during the solstice. There are various smaller ruins to explore the remains of a Hohokam farming village and some are yet to be excavated. A second, similarly sized compound is located 850 feet northeast of the Casa Grande though this is usually closed to the public. Nowadays, the roof and walls of the main building provide shelter for several species of birds most notably a great horned owl.

The Hohokam themselves seem to have abandoned the complex around the 16th century. Apart from other Indian peoples and Spanish missionaries the area was not revisited until the 1880s when American settlers arrived and began to threaten the ruins by removing artifacts as souvenirs. In 1892, the Casa Grande became the first archaeological site in the US to be protected.

Explore the mystery and complexity of an extended network of communities and irrigation canals. An Ancestral Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and Great House are preserved at Casa Grande Ruins. Whether the Casa Grande was a gathering place for the Hohokam or simply a waypoint marker in an extensive system of canals and trading partners is but part of the mystique of the Ruins.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 472 acres

Established: August 3, 1918

Fees: No fee is currently charged

Operating hours: Limited Hours Due to Covid-19; check with the park before planning a visit

Great horned owl at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why go: The Hohokam were expert farmers who developed a network of 1,000 miles of canals to channel water from the Salt and Gila rivers. The monument preserves structures that are 700 years old.

Don’t miss: The tallest building is four stories high and covered with a shade structure to protect it from further deterioration. Based on holes in the walls that correlate to the path of the sun during the solstice it’s believed the building was used, at least partly, to study astronomy. Guided tours are available in the cooler months.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Spring

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your spring adventure

We’ve all been spending a lot more time daydreaming about all the places we want to visit this spring. Small town, big personality! The season of road trips is almost among us and sometimes the best places to go are the ones that are a little more under the radar. Check out these small towns in America that are just brimming with charm.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing, and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

The second-oldest city in Kentucky, Bardstown has other claims to fame: as the “Bourbon Capital of the World”, home My Old Kentucky Home of Stephen Foster fame, and Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains, dating to 1779. 

Bardstown is a popular starting point for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. But booze aside, the town has plenty of allure with its picturesque and quaint courthouse square.

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many, but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, browse through unique shops and art galleries, and visit the beautiful tulip fields of Skagit Valley.

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

The heart of Pennsylvania’s Dutch community can be found in Lancaster which famously acted as the state capital from 1799 to 1812. The local farms mean lots of amazing food and fresh produce which can be found at Lancaster Central Market (the U.S.’s oldest public market). The town is also the starting point for the Lancaster County Art Gallery Trail which travels through several nearby towns and showcases the area’s most interesting (and affordable) art.

Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

Marietta is a small city that lies right along the Ohio River in southeast Ohio.  While little in size and numbers, it’s bursting with local attractions. The downtown is lined with cozy shops and great restaurants—there’s even an historic bridge to take you over to Harmar Village. Marietta was the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory.  Founded in 1788, Marietta was named in honor of France’s Marie Antoinette showing thankfulness to France for their contribution to a US victory in the Revolutionary War.

Corning © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Corning is part of the Finger Lakes region of New York. Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone. Spend time at the Corning Museum of Glass and the Rockwell Museum.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

With a gorgeous backdrop of red sandstone formations which appear to almost glow in reds and oranges during sunrise and sunset, Sedona is a perfect destination for photographers or outdoorsy people alike. Take in the majestic views from the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a church built on a 1,000 foot red rock cliff. Hike out to Cathedral Rock or check out the Red Rock Scenic Byway. You can always do an off-roading ATV tour at Red Rock Jeep Tours if you are feeling adventurous, or hike out along the West Fork Oak Creek Trail.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp, California

Angels Camp is named after Henry Angel, a shopkeeper from Rhode Island, who opened a trading post here in 1848—a short time before placer gold was discovered. In 1864, Samuel Clemens wrote his first successful short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” based on a tall tale he was told at the Angels Hotel by local, colorful character, Jim Smiley (or so the legend goes). The story launched his career as Mark Twain and put Calaveras on the map. The town has kept the allure of the Gold Rush era alive with many of the 19th century buildings housing eateries and unique shops in the charming historic downtown.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

National D-Day Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and only 9 miles from the Parkway, Bedford is surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in Central Virginia. The town is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Meet the RVs: Find the Right RV Class for Your Travel Style

Recreational vehicles take many different forms—from small and simple tow trailers to mobile mansions with king-sized beds and granite countertops

Consumer preferences have changed drastically since the start of the pandemic with travel being no exception. Thousands of Americans and Canadians have opted out of airline tickets and hotel reservations in favor of RVs, a safer method of travel that allows for self-contained excursions with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen all on-board.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering if the RV lifestyle is for you. Good news—it most likely is! Because RVs offer so much variety in form, function, and value there’s bound to be an RV that suits your lifestyle and travel needs. Just like families, RVs come in all shapes and sizes. From large class A motorhomes and fifth wheel trailers to compact pop-ups and camper vans, there is an RV that will fit your lifestyle. From weekend getaways to touring the great outdoors to working from the road, there’s an RV for every family and every budget.

When deciding between different types of RVs, it is important to understand the features and amenities associated with each and the pros and cons. The categories are not super difficult to grasp. Motorhomes come in Classes A, B, and C and trailers break down into fifth wheels and travel trailers. I’ll dive right into each category including its pros and cons, model details, features and amenities, and approximate cost. In today’s post we’ll focus on the three classes of motorhomes.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class A Motorhomes

Class A motorhomes are built on specially designed motor vehicle chassis. This type of motorhome often includes multiple slide-out rooms. Class A motorhomes offer as many luxuries as the average house—and in some cases more! It is not uncommon for these coaches to include a king-sized bed, two bathrooms, washer and dryer, a large living area with sofas and reclining chairs, a dining table, a television, a fireplace, and a fully equipped kitchen with a dishwasher, microwave, oven, stovetop, residential refrigerator and freezer.

Class A motorhomes are popular with those who spend considerable time on the road including snowbirds and full timers and anyone with a mobile lifestyle. Due to their size and weight, these coaches are not suitable for all travel routes. The largest class of motorhomes, they can be powered by either gas or diesel engines. Towing a car behind the motorhome is an important consideration since running errands is easier in a smaller vehicle—you will not want to pack up the entire coach simply to go do some local site-seeing or shopping.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 26-45 feet
  • Cost: $150,000-$1,000,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Ample living space and storage
  • Full-sized bathroom
  • Residential kitchen
  • Full entertainment system
  • Can tow another vehicle
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • Contain all living amenities on board
  • Spacious and potentially luxurious
  • Does not require a towing vehicle and can tow another vehicle
  • Lots of storage space

Cons:

  • High cost of purchase, insurance, and service
  • Poor fuel-efficiency
  • Often need to be parked offsite when not in use as many communities do not allow them in driveways or parked on residential streets
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class B Motorhomes

Class B motorhomes also known as camper vans feature the conveniences of a furnished motorhome. They are built using an automotive manufactured van or panel-truck shells. Class Bs are easy to drive, park, and maneuver and include standard home-like amenities including a bathroom, sleeping area, and basic kitchen. What sets them apart from regular vans is that they are equipped for camping. Class Bs are best suited for users who have a smaller budget, need a smaller vehicle, or want a mobile base for their outdoor camping activities.

Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 16-21 feet
  • Cost: $110,000-$200,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-4

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Bedroom
  • Kitchen
  • Shower and toilet
Class A motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • Easy to navigate in traffic and park
  • Fuel efficiency is high relative to other RVs
  • Lower initial cost

Cons:

  • Tight living quarters, limited storage space
  • Limited creature comforts
  • No space for features like laundry, dishwashers, and other larger appliances
Class C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Class C Motorhomes

Class C motorhomes are ideal for families and groups of friends who want the adventure and flexibility of spontaneous vacation along with the convenience and amenities of home. Built on an automotive van frame with a wider body section attached to the original cab, Class C motorhomes are easily recognizable by the over-the-cab portion that is often an optional sleeping area. Many models have slide-out rooms.

Class C motorhomes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Model Details

  • Length: 25-35 feet
  • Cost: $110,000-$200,000+
  • Sleeps: 2-8

Typical Features & Amenities

  • Loft for extra sleeping space
  • Kitchen and bathroom facilities
  • Bedroom
Class C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pros:

  • More affordable than Class A motorhomes
  • More spacious than Class B motorhomes
  • Reasonable fuel efficiency

Cons:

  • Less spacious than Class A motorhomes
  • Fewer amenities than Class A motorhomes
  • Less affordable than Class B motorhomes

An apology: Why no image of a Class B motorhome? After searching through my vast photo file I came up blank and having made a decision early on to avoid the use of stock photos, and for this I apologize.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Experience the cultural, historical, recreational, and scenic qualities of these roads less traveled

These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a type of protected roadway within federal park lands that is managed by the National Park Service for recreational use.

Sometimes a road can have multiple honorary designations. If a particular parkway or scenic byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? We’ve listed a few of our favorites below.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sky Island Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 27.2 miles

Plan for three to six hours to drive, including backtracking.

Sky Island Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your journey among giant saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert and climb to shady conifer forests at nearly 9,000 feet, passing biological diversity equivalent to a drive from Mexico to Canada in just 27 miles. Enjoy spectacular views and recreational opportunities from hiking and camping to picnicking and skiing.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

All-American Road

Length: 124 miles

Allow three hours to drive or three days to experience the byway.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional 124 mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. You’ll encounter archaeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic qualities while driving this exhilarating byway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 44 miles

Two hours to drive the byway

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

All-American Road

Length: 180 miles

Depending on route, allow four or five hours to drive or two days to visit the byway.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Calcasieu and Cameron parishes in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild, along with colorful wildflowers and rare cheniers shaped by salty winds

Russell- Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

National Scenic Byway

Length: 40 miles

Three hours to enjoy the byway

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado and Utah: Trail of the Ancients

National Scenic Byway

Length: 480 miles

Nine hours to drive (including backtracking) or six days to enjoy the byway

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the long and intriguing occupation of the Four Corners region by Native American peoples. Travel through the archaeological heartland of America while crossing the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. World-renowned Mesa Verde National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park, and Four Corners Monument are highlights on the trail.

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2020

Outdoor experiences provided refuge from the pandemic for 237 million visitors to America’s national parks in 2020

While some people will spend their summer at the beach, many families will head out this summer to experience some of the great National Parks that America has to offer. Last year’s COVID closures resulted in fewer visitors but with people seeking outdoor activities many folks visited at least one National Park Service (NPS) site. Although overall visitation dropped, a number of parks experienced record crowds and welcomed new visitors. Trails, overlooks, and open spaces provided safe ways for visitors to recreate responsibly, get some fresh air, and stay active.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This past year has reminded us how important national parks and public lands are to overall wellbeing,” said NPS Deputy Director Shawn Benge. “Throughout the country, national parks provided close-to-home opportunities for people to spend much needed time outdoors for their physical and psychological health.”

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every National Park Service operation and parks continue to work with public health officials to navigate changing conditions. A maximum 66 of the 423 parks of the National Park System were fully closed for two months or more. The majority of parks—particularly those with outdoor spaces—remained accessible to the public. Just a handful of historic and cultural parks, primarily historic homes with limited indoor space, remain closed.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional information from the 2020 visitation report includes:

  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.4 billion in 2019 to 1.05 billion in 2020, a 26 percent decrease
  • 15 parks set a new recreation visitation record in 2020
  • Five parks broke a visitation record they set in 2019
  • Blue Ridge Parkway claimed the title of most-visited site in the National Park System
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintained its long-running position as the most visited National Park in 2020, a position it has held since 1944
  • Grand Canyon National Park dropped from the second-most visited national park—a position it held for 30 years—to the sixth most-visited
  • Yellowstone National Park moved from the sixth most-visited national park in 2019 to second most-visited—a position it has not held since 1947
  • Four parks began reporting official visitor statistics for the first time: Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, and Valles Caldera National Preserve
Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2020 by the numbers

  • 237,064,332 recreation visits
  • 1,054,952,540 recreation visitor hours
  • 8,039,768 overnight stays (recreation + non-recreation)
  • Three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits—Blue Ridge Parkway, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Seven parks had more than five million recreation visits—down from 11 parks in 2019
  • 60 parks had more than one million recreation visits (15 percent of reporting parks)—down from 80 parks in 2019
  • 19 national parks had more than one million recreation visits (30 percent of National Parks)
  • 25 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top six most-visited parks (1.5 percent of all parks in the National Park System
  • 50 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top 23 most-visited parks (6 percent of all parks in the National Park System)
Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 10 most visited NPS sites

Blue Ridge Parkway (14,099,485)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (12,400,045)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (12,095,720)

Gateway National Recreation Area (8,404,728)

Lake Mead National Recreation Area (8,016,510)

George Washington Memorial Parkway (6,237,391)

Natchez Trace Parkway (6,124,808)

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park (4,888,436)

Cape Cod National Seashore (4,083,505)

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (4,068,529)

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 10 most visited national parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (12,095,720)

Yellowstone National Park (3,806,306)

Zion National Park (3,591,254)

Rocky Mountain National Park (3,305,199)

Grand Teton National Park (3,289,638 million)

Grand Canyon National Park (2,897,098)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,755,628)

Acadia National Park (2,669,034)

Olympic National Park (2,499,177)

Joshua Tree National Park (2,399,542)

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit lesser-known national parks

Every national park-lover needs to visit Great Smoky Mountains, Zion, and the Grand Canyon at some point but consider visiting some of the lesser-known parks as well. One of my favorite “sleeper” parks is Petrified Forest in Arizona where you’ll find remains of a colorful prehistoric forest, some of the logs more than 100 feet long and up to 10 feet in diameter. But there’s so much more: artifacts of the ancient indigenous people who lived here including the remains of large pueblos and massive rock art panels, fossils of plants and animals from the late Triassic period (the dawn of the dinosaurs), a striking and vast painted desert (a badland cloaked in a palette of pastel colors), a remnant of historic Route 66 complete with a 1932 Studebaker, and a wilderness of more than 50,000 acres where you can find wildness, beauty, and quiet.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other favorites include Congaree in South Carolina (the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast) and California’s remote Lassen Volcanic, one of the only places in the world that has all four types of volcanoes—cinder cone, composite, shield, and plug dome.

Go outside, spring is for feeling alive in national parks.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983