US national parks are overcrowded. Some think ‘selfie stations’ will help.
Arches National Park had to close its gate more than 120 times this summer when parking lots filled up creating a safety hazard for emergency vehicles. Yellowstone National Park reached 1 million visitors in July for the first time in its history. At Zion National Park, the wait to hike Angels Landing was a Disneyland-long four hours. And with the visitors came graffiti, trash, and reckless behavior.
It’s no secret that this summer has been the busiest summer ever. Preliminary visitation statistics show that the most popular 12 to 15 national parks are seeing record numbers.
On Facebook, the National Park Service (NPS) encouraged visitors to have backup plans when arranging a trip and included information on lesser-known parks with equally stunning sights and hikes.
“Travel off the beaten path,” the NPS wrote. “There are more than 400 national parks across the country. We love exploring the lesser-known ones. They can be a great option for travelers looking for all the beauty of nature, hiking trails, and rich history, with fewer crowds and lines.”
Have a plan…and a backup plan…Check
Pack your patience…Working on it.
Don’t pet the fluffy cows…
Summer is here and a little trip planning can ensure that your only surprises when visiting a park are happy ones. To help everyone have a great experience, National Park Service rangers have shared their top 10 insider tips to #PlanLikeAParkRanger.
The record-setting crowds of people surging into public lands this summer have set off new challenges for park managers. They are using counterintuitive tricks like encouraging selfies in one place to prevent them in another and they are rolling out algorithms and autonomous vehicles to manage the throngs of recreation-seekers.
They are also acknowledging a hard truth: perhaps there simply isn’t enough space at America’s most iconic attractions for everyone who wants to visit them. In an earlier post, I provided a framework for adding more national parks.
One of the biggest issues facing parks is the many visitors all aiming to get the perfect photo. At popular spots in Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, some have even fallen to their deaths in the process prompting the NPS to create a guide for safe selfie-taking. And in 2018, the tourism board in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, made an unusual request to visitors heading toward Grand Teton National Park after local trails were overrun with photo-tourists: stop geotagging photos.
Enter the selfie station: a humble wooden stand in front of a stunning vista, ready to hold a camera for a safe and easy photo experience. They are part of an effort to corral people’s natural desire to take photos and to promote less-well-known areas.
Tom Hazelton, who leads Iowa’s County Conservation System, has overseen the installation of more than a hundred selfie stations in his state. Some of the stations celebrate quirky parts of history like the first train robbery west of the Mississippi while others point people to a lake, vista, or nature center they might not otherwise come across. Similar efforts exist in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This is Iowa’s third season using the sturdy, cedar stations and they installed another 15 during the past few months. They are getting used and they are low maintenance and easy to build: the signs are $30 and the wood is another $60.
Another tactic to reduce the strain on parks is to cut the number of visitors permitted to enter them in the first place. The NPS oversees a total of 423 protected places that include national seashores, national lakeshores, national recreation areas, and national monuments, among others. Popular places like the summit of Haleakala on Maui or Muir Woods in California require timed entry slots available on Recreation.gov. More public lands are turning to such systems to reduce the number of visitors in one part of a park especially as the pandemic trimmed staffing numbers.
The Recreation.gov program uses algorithms to show where there might be less-trafficked attractions in the vicinity that you’re searching in real-time. The Park Service also launched an app with tools to explore more than 400 NPS sites. You can download content from entire parks for offline use. It’s especially handy if you’re exploring remote areas in parks or concerned about data limits. And it can point visitors to other potential public lands outside the parks.
In the future, the Park Service is focusing on rolling out predictive technologies that will allow people to anticipate crowds and plan accordingly. They are taking tools used in urban planning and congestion planning and repurposing them for recreation and parks. That could mean a future where a hiker scans a QR code to check-in at a trailhead sending information back to when the trails are most clogged with people. That way, the next group could be advised to wait an hour or come another time to take the same adventure. It also could mean that traffic is routed to less popular areas of the parks.
To cut down on traffic, some parks are experimenting with autonomous cars. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina tested out a driverless shuttle this summer and Yellowstone is also trying a shuttle. That park is expected to run out of space for additional cars by 2023. The idea is to stop people driving between the sights in the Canyon Village area—the area around the famous Yellowstone River and Tower Waterfall—and get them in the driverless shuttle instead.
Despite the crowds and the traffic and noise, the park service says it’s a good thing that more people are getting out to experience parks and public lands. The Park Service wants people to have exceptional experiences and they’re looking at ways to enhance opportunities for people to plan to have the best experience and stay safe.
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.
The diverse regions and terrain of Texas are nature made for sampling a wide variety of outdoor experiences
Outdoor recreation options in Texas are as big and wide as the state, thanks to a mind-boggling mix of landscapes. There are desert, rugged mountains, and wind-sculpted sand dunes in the far west; beaches, marshes, piney woods, and swamps in the east; and prairies, plains, plateaus, and rolling hills in between. Texas also has at least 3,000 caves and sinkholes, some of which, such as the Caverns of Sonora west of San Antonio, are open for tours.
Add abundant sunshine and temperate weather conditions into the equation and Texas is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure. So, whether you want to embrace your inner cowboy at Bandara, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”, or try something new like camping in the sand dunes, Texas has you covered. Here’s a quick look at some of my favorite Texas destinations where you can explore and relax outdoors.
Scenic State Parks
The 95 Texas State Parks protect invaluable natural resources and offer an array of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, horseback riding, and no-license fishing. Most parks charge a nominal entrance fee, well worth the price for access to the state’s natural wonders.
Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life seldom seen almost anywhere else in Texas. This little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.
Bounded by the waters of St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Visitors engage in a variety of activities including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Goose Island State Park is also known for the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes.
Goliad State Park is a chance for a history lesson if you choose. The main attraction here is the Spanish colonial-era mission which dates back to the 1700s. But Goliad is also a hot spot for camping, kayaking, canoes, and river activities.
Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top but an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to a 40-story building.
Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Onion Creek can flood after rainfall.
Urban Green Spaces
Nature is woven into the fabric of Texas’ biggest cities. Land conservation, public-private partnerships, and eco-friendly urban planning have created easy-access green spaces inside the city limits of places like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.
A 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green has a lake, water gardens, tree-shaded walks, grassy areas, and 100-year-old oak trees. Try out the new jogging trail that surrounds the park or splash around The Model Boat Pond.
In San Antonio, Emilie and Albert Friedrich Wilderness Park feature 600 acres of undeveloped Hill Country terrain with over 10 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Try the park’s rugged Vista Loop for clear-day vistas of the downtown skyline.
Austin regularly ranks among the greenest urban areas in the U.S. The city, which manages more than 300 parks, is also home to McKinney Falls State Park, a limestone-and-waterfall wonderland. 284-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the state botanic garden and arboretum of Texas. The center is home to the most diverse collection of native plants in the state with more than 800 species represented from many of the major eco-regions of Texas.
Connecting many of Austin’s green spaces is a network of natural greenways including South Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt. The roughly eight-mile-long greenbelt is a popular jumping-off point for outdoor adventures like bouldering, biking, hiking, rock climbing, and soaking in an old-fashioned Texas swimming hole.
Texas-style Bike Trails
Biking in Texas is whatever you want it to be. The state’s wildly diverse topography means there are plenty of options for leisurely pedaling, adrenaline-pumping mountain biking, and everything in between. For a uniquely Texan experience, tackle the mountain biking trails at Flat Rock Ranch, a Hill Country cattle ranch-mountain biking venue 5 miles northeast of Comfort (50 miles northwest of San Antonio). Ease into the action on the meandering Green Loop before tackling challenging uphill climbs, steep descents, and big-thrill enduro runs (a type of mountain bike racing where only the downhill is timed).
Texas State Parks offer an unparalleled world of fun for bicyclists of all stripes. From the massive Franklin Mountains in El Paso to the wildlife-rich Copper Breaks, the scenery and terrain in Texas’ State Parks offer something for everyone —whether you’re a self-proclaimed “mountain bike maniac” or simply looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors. The parks offer many opportunities to choose from—including road rides near some parks, rails-to-trails conversions where you can travel for miles along former railroad beds, and off-road experiences.
Bicycling in the Hill Country is a Lone Star treat. This challenging-yet-scenic ride through the shady Lost Pines of Central Texas is featured as part of the MS 150 benefit (first Saturday in May), a fundraising ride sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that runs from Houston to Austin. The 12.5-mile stretch of Park Road 1C between these Bastrop and Buescher state parks offers a taste of what road riding has to offer and serious roadies can be combined with other area rides for longer routes. The road is open to vehicle traffic.
State Historic Sites
Hike, pedal, or paddle through Texas history at a state historic site. Rising above the Aransas Bay and surrounded by stately live oaks, Fulton Mansion State Historic Site is located in Rockport-Fulton. The house must have appeared incredible in 1877 as it does today with its mansard roof and ornate trim. Interior gaslighting, flush-toilets and other refinements were progressive and luxurious elements for this period of Texas history.
In 1849, German immigrant Heinrich Ludwig Kreische purchased 172 acres of land including the Dawson/Mier tomb, now known as Monument Hill. In the 1860s, he utilized the spring water from the ravine below his house and started one of the first commercial breweries in Texas. Walk the ruins of this once bustling brewery and envision how Fayette County citizens would enjoy a pint of Kreische’s Bluff Beer.
The National Museum of the Pacific War is the only institution in the continental U.S. dedicated to telling the story of the Pacific Theater in World War II. The six-acre campus in the heart of Fredericksburg includes exhibits and memorial areas. Artifacts from the war, both large and small, shape the exhibits which feature ships and planes, weapons, helmets, and uniforms of those who served.
No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time takes your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. There will never be a photograph captured of the Grand Canyon that can adequately describe its depth, breadth, and true beauty.
The canyon walls have stories that we will never hear and a history that our eyes will never behold. But if you stand and watch long enough, you’ll start to appreciate the vastness as its depths open up as each emerging shadow moves across its void. It is perhaps for those reasons that it has earned a rare spot among the 7 Natural Wonders of the World and why everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.
The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space (millions if you really want to get technical). There are endless ways to experience it depending on what the body and mind are looking for and one’s level of endurance. The Grand Canyon is not “one place” but a desert wilderness with many areas to explore—North Rim, South Rim, and West Rim (outside of Grand Canyon National Park); the Village of Supai and Kaibab National Forest—there are different stories to seek out and to create in each of them.
In a well–known film lampoon of the family vacation, Chevy Chase stands at the edge of the Grand Canyon, nods his head in approval, and leaves. Visitors in real life tend to linger a bit longer—but not much. They emerge from cars or tour buses on the South Rim to peer out and take a selfie. Sometimes, they stay for a picnic or to have lunch at one of the rim lodges. Then they’re gone, the once-in-a-lifetime visit checked off their bucket list. According to Grand Canyon National Park officials, the average visit to this Arizona attraction lasts just two hours.
The Grand Canyon can be a disappointment. Viewed from the top near one of the visitors’ parking lots, the fissured network of buttes and desert plateaus that make up one of the world’s largest river gorges can appear almost like a two-dimensional painting. More than one spectator has called it overrated.
But for those who take the first steps to descend below the canyon rim, something magical happens. Despite all the beautiful parks and places to discover on Earth, they’ll decide this is the place they must return to, again and again.
When hikers step through the canvas of pastel pink, orange, grey, and deep blue, they become part of the landscape. Down foot trails gouged from the side of rock cliffs, the view expands to 360 degrees and the canyon takes on dimensions and distances that can’t quite be imagined. Only the condors and ravens seem to have mastered the terrain. A vast world like this leaves plenty of room for the mind to wander, to gaze, and to rest.
First, let’s take a quick look at the two most visited locations: the North and South Rims.
The North Rim is visited less frequently than the South Rim for a variety of reasons—it is more remote and difficult to get to than the busy South Rim, it is further removed from major population centers, it maintains a short season (May 15–October 15) because of its heavy snow and higher elevation (about 8,000 feet; 9,200 feet at the highest point), and it offers fewer easy access points to peer into the valley of views than its southern counterpart does.
If you plan to visit the Grand Canyon just once in your life, you’ll want it to be the South Rim, first to get a load of the views that drew awareness to the area in the first place. They really are spectacular. If you’ve already seen the South Rim, a visit to the northern side is where you can find solitude in backcountry camping and hiking and unique sites to photograph such as the Cape Royal viewpoint.
The South Rim is the best-known area of the park and is the passageway to iconic viewpoints such as Yavapai and Mather Points, both of which often serve up to many the first views of the colorful gorge as it is located just a short walk from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. At night, catch the sunset at Hopi Point and Mojave Point, two of the most popular places in the park to drink in the pink sky. Near to all of them are iconic lodges, located just steps from the canyon rim. The panoramic views in this area seem to stretch on endlessly and visitor amenities abound including shops, restaurants, free shuttle access to iconic viewpoints, trail access, historical sites, exhibits—and the list goes on and on.
You will find everything you need for a Grand Canyon adventure in Grand Canyon Village. This historic village has excellent shopping for all the hiking and camping gear you need, as well as authentic American Indian crafts and plenty of canyon souvenirs. The village also has stellar lodging options and a top-rated walking tour. Highlights of the tour include Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Buckey O’Neill Cabin, Hopi House, Lookout Studio, and Kolb Studio.
Begin your Grand Canyon tour at the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Here you can pick up a copy of the self-guided walking tour brochure for in-depth information on the canyon and its history. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunset and/or sunrise.
You’ll also learn how Grand Canyon Village grew up around the Santa Fe Railroad starting in 1901. Stop by the rustic Grand Canyon Railway Depot which welcomes Grand Canyon Railway passengers to the village. One fun way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway which runs from the historic town of Williams into the heart of the park allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.
There are many activities in the Village including helicopter tours, horseback rides, scenic train rides, and mule trips. Do you remember the Brady Bunch adventure when Mike, Cindy, and the clan ventured down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon by mule? This is an actual thing! But, why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses. From the South Rim, you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.
And, of course, the hiking can’t be beaten. Some of the best hikes include Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Hermit Trail, and Rim Trail. The simplest walk is the Rim Trail which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint. Backcountry permits are not required for day hikes, but—with the exception of Phantom Ranch—they are if you plan to spend the night.
If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top. The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.
For visitors who aren’t up for a hike into the canyon, a shuttle transports visitors along the rim of the canyon, stopping at many breathtaking vantage points. You can also enjoy the views directly from Grand Canyon Village and enjoy lunch at one of the village’s restaurants: Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar, or Maswik Lodge.
Part of the Grand Canyon but outside of the National Park is Hualapai Tribe’s Grand Canyon West. Walk the glass panels on the Skywalk. Soar over the canyon in a helicopter or on a zipline. Float down the Colorado River on a river tour. Take in the epic views at Guano Point and Eagle Point. And, you can stay on-site at the Cabins at Grand Canyon West.
Size: 1,218,375 acres
Date Established: February 26, 1919 (established as Grand Canyon National Monument on January 11, 1908)
Location: Northwestern Arizona
Park Elevation: South Rim, 7,000 feet; North Rim, 8,000 feet
Weather: Though open 365 days a year, Grand Canyon weather can present a few extremes. While the South Rim is warm in the summer, it’s also very busy and the temperature on the canyon floor can reach over 100 degrees. Spring and fall can be pleasant, but unpredictable.
How the park got its name: According to research by award-winning documentarian Ken Burns, the park got its name from a one-armed Civil War veteran and geology professor named John Wesley Powell who declared it the “Grandest of Canyons” after rafting the length of the Colorado River in 1869, after which the name stuck.
Iconic site in the park: Mather Point, just steps from the Grand Canyon Visitor Center is often the first view that visitors have of the park. Just after gathering the info needed in order to better plan their stay, visitors can step out onto a narrow railed overlook to take in some of the most extensive views that the canyon has to offer, including Yavapai Point and the Bright Angel Trail stretching down to the bottom of the canyon. From here you can also catch a glimpse of the mighty Colorado River.
Big adventure: There are two popular rim-to-rim hikes for adventurous souls yearning to gaze 4,000 feet skyward from the base of the Colorado River that bisects the canyon. The rim-to-river-to-rim hike starts at the South Rim—the most popular route being down the South Kaibab Trail (7 miles) and up the Bright Angel Trail (about 10 miles.) The true rim-to-rim hike starts on the Bright Angel Trail at the North Rim, descending to the bottom of the canyon for stays at the Phantom Ranch or the Bright Angel Campground, ascending the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim. This adventure covers 24 miles and takes about 3 days.
Designations: UNESCO World Heritage Site on October 26, 1979
Recreational visits in 2019: 5,974,411
Recreational visits in 2020: 2,897,098
Entrance Fees: $35/vehicle (valid for 7 days); all federal land passes accepted
Camping Fee: $18/night
Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.
Just north of the U.S. border is a wine lover’s playground, the Okanagan Valley
If the movie “Sideways”—in which best friends Miles and Jack road-trip through Santa Barbara (California) wine country—ever gets a sequel, screenwriters should consider setting it in a little-known area some 1,200 miles north. Canada’s stunning Okanagan Valley is emerging as a varied and exciting wine destination.
Only 150 scenic miles stretch from the northern edge of British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley to its southern limit at the U.S. border but that short distance encompasses a world of wine. The north with its cool, forested hills and racy Rieslings evokes Alsace or the Mosel; the south comprises Canada’s only desert where intense summer heat produces powerful Bordeaux-style reds and lush Rhône-style whites. The fact that from north to south there are so many pockets with so much potential for certain grape varieties makes the valley unique as there are very few wine regions like it in the world.
This sun-soaked valley follows a series of pristine lakes and steep bluffs carved out by retreating glaciers. The Okanagan has the most diverse and complex soil system of any wine region in the world. It’s the only region that was formed by volcanic activity and then overrun by not one but two glacial ages.
Part of British Columbia’s sun-kissed Okanagan Valley, the scenic Oliver-Osoyoos region is home to Canada’s most outstanding vineyards and wines. Oliver and Osoyoos are neighboring towns in British Columbia’s south Okanagan Valley. Just north of the U.S. border, they’re in the hottest and driest region of Canada. The desert landscape is ideal for vineyards and it’s the only one of its kind across the country. That’s why this region spanning 22 miles is host to more than 40 wineries producing some of Canada’s best bottles. Despite a relatively youthful vintner culture that began in the 1960s with table grapes today’s scene is prolific and world-class.
Before it became known as Canada’s wine capital, Oliver was the “home of the cantaloupe”. In 1919, John Oliver, then premier of British Columbia, had an irrigation canal built. The availability of water turned the arid town into a landscape lush with rotund cantaloupes, grain crops, and fruit trees. Grape cultivation followed soon after.
With rare exception, the 1 million cases of wine produced here annually—from pinot gris and chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon and merlot—don’t ever make it to US shelves or restaurants. In fact, they barely make it outside British Columbia due to limited production and locals’ voracious consumption of the stuff.
Among the most picturesque and family-friendly is Tinhorn Creek which hosts all-ages concerts between May and August. Tinhorn Creek is much more than a winery; it’s an experience. The winery offers not only outstanding wines but also lots to do. Tinhorn Creek is the starting point of the Golden Mile Trail which takes you past a 100-year-old historic stamp mill (a haven for hikers) as well as Miradoro Restaurant, an elegant spot with unforgettable views and a natural amphitheater overlooking the landscape that hosts a summer concert series.
What also sets the region apart from Napa or Sonoma is North America’s first Aboriginal-owned and -operated winery, Nk’Mip Cellars. Nk’Mip (pronounced “in-ka-meep”) contributes to the local success of the Osoyoos Indian Band while honoring and sharing their heritage. Whether you’re there to dine at Nk’Mip’s farm-to-table restaurant (enjoy dishes made using traditional Indigenous techniques), to stay at the stunning Spirit Ridge Resort or NK’mip RV park and campground, or simply to taste the award-winning wines, you’ll go home with a greater reverence for the history and customs of the Osoyoos Indian Band—and some stellar wine.
There are also a handful of Indian-run wineries. That’s because, during the 1980s and ’90s, many East Indian immigrants settled in Oliver Osoyoos as farmers; Punjab-born siblings Sukhi and Balwinder Dhaliwal were among them. After cultivating grapes for other wineries they founded a family label, Kismet Estate Winery. Producing 6,000 cases annually, their cellar includes a delicious, award-winning wine called Safed. The name means “white” in Punjabi and it’s a citrusy white wine blend with orange muscat and semillon. The Dhaliwals have added a four-room guesthouse and the delicious Masala Bistro restaurant.
Tastings throughout Oliver Osoyoos are a bargain. Stoneboat charges $5 for four samples. Husband and wife Lanny and Julie Martiniuk, a former scientist and pharmacist respectively, started growing grapes in 1979 and produce about 8,000 cases annually including the world’s only pinotage icewine ($36.90). A South African visitor gifted the Martiniuks some pinotage vine clippings and while uncommon in North America, Lanny found they propagated well thanks to western Canada’s dry desert-like climate.
The 9-year-old Platinum Bench draws a big following for its tasty artisanal bread including Double Cream Brie and Pear Preserves Epi (a type of baguette) and Chocolate Strawberry Balsamic Epi. Co-owner Fiona Duncan (husband Murray Jones is the co-owner and vintner) learned breadmaking in San Francisco as a form of stress management and they easily sell 250 to 350 loaves during peak days. Daily tastings at Platinum Bench see its wines expertly paired with Duncan’s fresh loaves. The gorgonzola and fig are accompanied by the Meritage, its complex bouquet of ripe plums, blackcurrants, blackberries, and cherries accentuating the loaf’s light, blue cheese flavor. The sharpness and saltiness of her asiago cheese bread pairs nicely with the Gamay Noir’s notes of raspberry and light pepper.
Tasty poolside pizzas and stunning hilly views can accompany tastings—six two-ounce pours for $15—at Black Hills Estate Winery. This flight features four of their current releases, two whites and two reds from their highly acclaimed Black Hills Estate Winery Portfolio. A red wine flight (four red wines) is also available for $20. Black Hills grow four clones of Cabernet Sauvignon, two clones of Cabernet Franc, and four clones of Merlot. Each clone reflects its terroir with a unique flavor profile. They respect each clone’s individuality by crushing, fermenting, and barrel aging them separately. When they are eventually blended together, this Clonal diversity gives multi-faceted depth and complexity to their famed Nota Bene.
In a valley resplendent with beautiful wineries, lush vineyards, and sumptuous award-winning wines, Hester Creek Estate Winery in the South Okanagan’s Golden Mile stands out as one of the finest. Hester Creek is situated within some of British Columbia’s oldest vineyards in the bountiful Golden Mile region. Definitely try the Okanagan’s only Trebbiano; its grapes plucked from the estate’s 50-year-old vines. It is velvety smooth and ripe with apple and pear flavors. A classic blend of almost equal parts Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, the Judge is a powerful, yet elegant Bordeaux style red that is built to age gracefully.
So take our word when we say Canada is the next hot spot. Or don’t (…more wine for us).
Where to Stay: Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver; NK’mip RV Park and Campground, Osoyoos; Walton’s Lakefront RV Resort, Osoyoos
Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks
Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.
Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.
Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.
On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.
Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion
For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area.
The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.
Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.
Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.
Beyond Capitol Reef
The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.
Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.
Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area. On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.
Beyond Arches and Canyonlands
One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.
The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.
The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’ while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.
The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.
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.”
With 63 national parks to choose from, it’s easy to find space of your own. You just need to know where to look.
National parks are having their moment. With many seeing record numbers this year and the number of yearly visitors rising by over 53 million from 2013 to 2019, it can feel like a fool’s errand to attempt an off-grid adventure amid throngs of other visitors. Not only are campgrounds booking up months in advance—at some parks, popular trails feel as jammed as Friday traffic in Los Angeles.
The good news is that, out of the country’s 63 national parks, only a dozen or so draw constant crowds. Many others remain off of many Americans’ radars. I’ve selected four of my favorite lesser-known national parks. Every one of these parks is bucket list-worthy on its own merits.
So if you’re seeking an outdoor escape with plenty of fantastic scenery and room to roam, turn your attention to the West Coast. California has nine national parks—more than any other state in the U.S. So you have tons of options! The toughest choice is which gorgeous locales to tick off your bucket list first and when to visit. Not to worry, I’ve gone ahead and done the research. Thus freeing up your time for more important matters, like reserving a campsite and buying hiking gear. Scroll on for a breakdown of four of my favorite national parks in the Golden State. Happy exploring!
Best for: Rock climbers, stargazers, desert wanders, Instagrammers, camping enthusiasts
An arid 800,000-acre expanse dotted with twisted trees, cacti, massive boulders, and starry skies, Joshua Tree has it all. Perched at the intersection of the Mojave and the Colorado Desert, this otherworldly Southern California region offers a surreal landscape and sense of serenity.
Rock formations are obviously a major drawcard for photographers and pretty much anyone who digs desert scenery. Not surprisingly, Joshua Tree continues to be a magnet for climbers.
Amazing hikes also come with the territory. Mastodon Peak is a strenuous odyssey that rewards trekkers with jaw-dropping panoramas. Seeking a less energetic hiking stroll? Try a loop path like Bajada Nature Trail, Cholla Cactus Garden, or Discovery Trail.
In terms of accommodations, you definitely don’t have to rough it in the traditional sense. Joshua Tree has some of the most swoon-worthy rentals around. Or, why not sleep under the stars? The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation.
When to go: Summer is brutal as the thermometer rarely dips below 100 degrees. Peak season—marked by pleasant weather and, admittedly, an influx of tourists—spans from October to May.
Can you guess the crown jewel of Lassen Volcanic National Park? We’ll give you one hint: The last time it erupted was a century ago. The chance of Lassen Peak blowing its top is unlikely. That should put your mind at ease as far as getting up close and personal with the park’s trademark lava rocks, steaming sulfur fumaroles, gurgling mud pots, hydrothermal springs, and jagged peaks.
Of course, volcanic features aren’t the only noteworthy attributes. This northern California gem brims with untamed forests, glistening lakes, and flower-filled meadows. I’d be remiss not to mention the 150 miles of hiking trails.
When to go: The window for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park is pretty tight. You’ll want to avoid heavy snowfall which just leaves May to October. This period of clear skies, warmer days, and open roads offers ideal conditions for a few days of earthy expeditions.
Best for: Hikers, climbers, birdwatchers, camping enthusiasts
The baby of the bunch (aka California’s newest national park), Pinnacles isn’t as well known as the rest of the stunners on my list. But I have a feeling that under-the-radar status won’t last long. Not when the region is defined by breathtaking rock formations, cliffs, canyons, spires, and caves created by an extinct 23-million-year-old volcano.
The most popular pastime is hiking. Easy, moderate, and challenging trails traverse the protected area. Adrenaline junkies with scrambling skills can attempt to tackle everything from straightforward top-roping to expert-level multi-pitch climbs. Look up and you may witness endangered condors soaring through the blue skies.
When to go: Speaking of birds, Pinnacles National Park ranks among the top locales to spot peregrine falcons, red-shouldered hawks, and golden eagles—especially if you go during the spring which is raptor breeding season. Aiming to avoid the crowds and don’t mind seriously scorching temps? Consider visiting during the sweaty summer months.
Where we stayed: San Benito Camping and RV Resort, Paicines
Best for: Tree huggers, hikers, climbers, fans of fishing, stargazers
A diverse and magical place, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is blessed with magnificent scenery unlike anywhere else. These adjoining nature areas have a wealth of immense canyons, alpine peaks, and truly massive trees. It’s here that you’ll discover the majesty of the 14,494-foot Mount Whitney.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the General Sherman Tree. (At 275-feet-tall and with a 36-foot-diameter base, it’s the biggest tree on the planet by volume. Follow the paved trail in Giant Forest. Needless to say, an epic photo opp awaits.
Also on the agenda? Go caving, fishing, and spelunking. Mosey to the top of Panoramic Point for spectacular vistas of Kings Canyon and Hume Lake. Park Ridge Fire Lookout is one of the many other jaw-dropping viewpoints.
When to go: By now, you’re probably pretty sold on Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Spring, summer, and fall are ideal for all sorts of outdoor activities. As if all that’s not enough. You can comfortably sleep under the stars at the Lodgepole Campground during the warmer months.
Where we stayed: Sun and Fun RV Park, Tulare
We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.
These Arizona lakes boast outdoor activities for the boater, fisherman, hiker, camper, and nature lover
When it’s been this hot for this long, the one thing you need is water. Not the stuff that comes in bottles or out of the tap. Nor the water that’s been slowly heating in concrete enclosures since May. You need an expanse of naturally occurring water, the kind that runs freely or accumulates in quantities so vast it can support all sorts of users.
It’s true that Arizona is best known for its dramatic desert landscapes but these arid regions also have hundreds of miles of lakeshore where you can sun yourself on sandy beaches or water ski past stately saguaros.
For water with a view, it’s hard to beat the rocky sentinels standing guard along Watson Lake. A little over 4 miles north of Historic Prescott, the Dells offer unique granite rock formations, two small lakes, and miles upon miles of trails. From easy mountain bike rides, leisurely hikes, to tough and technical terrain, the Dells offer something truly unique when it comes to outdoor recreation.
The Granite Dells, worn smooth by the elements, provide a scenic backdrop as you kayak or canoe along the placid surface of the lake. And when the light is right and the surface is glassy, photos of the reflection will light up your Instagram and Facebook feeds.
The two main areas to visit are the city parks located in the Granite Dells—Watson Lake Park and Willow Lake Park. Both parks are open year-round allowing visitors to see the changing scenery through the four mild seasons. The summers are cooler than Southern Arizona. And the winters are mild too, offering occasional snow that melts off pretty quickly.
If you’re looking for a cool, calm, and relaxing day, Lynx Lake offers some of the best fishing in the area. At 55-acres, Lynx Lake is the largest and busiest lake in the Prescott National Forest. Nestled amid ponderosa pines and claiming temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below those in the desert, Lynx Lake holds rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and more. Even better, its waters are limited to electronic- or people-powered watercraft, perfect for fishing or napping. The only thing separating the two is luck.
A popular lakeside picnic and fishing area, South Shore has ample parking for cars and vehicles towing trailers or boats on all but the busiest days of the year when it fills up. Lynx Lake North Shore’s day-use area provides lake-side recreation, fishing, picnic tables and grills, a wildlife viewing scope, and interpretive signs. Lynx Lake Marina provides restaurant dining, fishing/camping supplies, bait, boat rentals, and firewood. Located atop a bluff on the north shore of Lynx Lake, Lynx Lake Café is a full-service restaurant.
Giant cactuses with arms outstretched toward shimmering water might seem to be out of sync but Arizona is all about emerging scenic landscapes. Like the aptly named Saguaro Lake located about 45 miles from Phoenix in Tonto National Forest which emerges from the Sonoran Desert that sprawls across most of the southern half of Arizona. One of the Salt River’s four reservoirs, Saguaro Lake was shaped after the Stewart Mountain Dam was completed in 1930.
Launch your boat from one of the two marinas to water ski the 10-mile-long lake or stake out swimming spots at Captain’s Cove, Sadie Beach, or at Pebble Beach on the Lower Salt River. Tour-boat trips are available on the Desert Belle. Try the upper reaches of the lake (east-end) for more seclusion. An idyllic way to see the stars among the saguaros is to camp overnight at Bagley Flat with grills and tables provided. It’s free for up to 14 days but the site’s 10 spots are only accessible by boat.
Over 2,200 fish-habitat structures were installed to enhance fishing on the lake. According to Bass Master Magazine, the best time for trophy bass is October to December and February to mid-April. There is large bass in the lake; fish census shows that 12+ pound bass and 30-pound Carp exist in the depths. Bluegill comes in a variety of sizes. Occasional species caught include Walleye, Black Crappie, Small-mouth Bass, Bigmouth Buffalo, and Yellow Bass.
The most scenic of the Salt River-fed lakes, Canyon abounds with the steep walls and cliffs its name suggests. Canyon Lake is known for its wonderful shorelines along the red rock cliffs. Tuck into a secluded cove and fish for bass, trout, and many other kinds of fish, or take a leisurely cruise and marvel at the scenery. Boaters wanting scenery and seclusion should try the east end of the lake where it winds through steep canyon walls. There are occasional sightings of Big Horn sheep as well as other wildlife.
Boat-access camping is at The Point. November-March, Arizona Game and Fish stock the lake monthly with rainbow trout. Largemouth Bass are caught in Canyon Lake every year. A 15-pound state record Largemouth Bass was taken from the shoreline of Canyon Lake. A world record 1 pound 11 ounce Yellow Bass was caught in 1985.
Idyllic year-round weather makes Canyon Lake a great destination for all watersports and camping enthusiasts. When ready for a break, pick a spot along the 28 miles of shoreline and enjoy a picnic or stop at the Lakeside Restaurant and Cantina for a casual meal.
Located in the mountains northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake was formed by the damming of the Verde (Spanish for “green”) River. The pristine waters of the Verde were spoken of descriptively in legends of the Indians of the valley who called the water “sweet waters”. The lake is framed by Sonoran desert scenery with gently sloping beaches on the west side and the rugged Mazatzal Mountains on the east side, studded with saguaro, cholla cacti, mesquite, and ocotillo.
A fair portion of the west side of the reservoir is devoted to camping and picnicking. Bartlett has been a favorite with anglers since Bartlett Dam was constructed in 1939. Several state-record fish have been caught there. The 1977 Small-mouth Bass state record tipped the scales at seven pounds. The carp state record still stands at 37 pounds 5 ounces. Flathead Catfish lurk in the depths. “Fish City” near Bartlett Flat is a fish-habitat improvement project.
Patagonia Lake is one of those high-desert sanctuaries that seem to pop up out of nowhere. Situated 75 miles south of Tucson (and 16 miles northeast of Nogales, the entry point into Mexico), the park is framed by 3,750-foot hills.
With boat ramps, camping sites, and a nearby Lakeside Market, Patagonia State Park is a great base to while away the day waterskiing, picnicking, fishing for bluegill, and watching for wildlife. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.
The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. And the train tracks from the New Mexico and Arizona Railroad which served the mines and military forts lie beneath the water. Remnants of the old historic line may be found at the Patagonia-Sonoita Nature Conservancy in Patagonia. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds.
Parker Canyon Lake
This medium-sized 132-acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. The temperature in the area which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.
For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shorelines.
There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last-minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle, and worms, or rent a boat.
From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
Here comes fall and while some RVers are no doubt lamenting the end of summer there are many reasons to be excited about autumn’s arrival. If you’re looking to take advantage of the season but in need of a bit of inspiration, consider kicking off shoulder season in one of these under-the-radar small towns.
Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival (November), more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, chefs, and townspeople. You will see where tons of tobacco were loaded into ships to sail back to Europe and the Famous Mitchell map is displayed at the visitor center located in the James Mills Scottish Factor Store.
For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs, or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.
The name is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of the city dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceeding across the Bridge to the largely residential west side discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.
Stowe makes for an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its outdoor offerings and events), a fun fall trip (thanks to its kaleidoscopic foliage), and a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes). This quaint Vermont town is set in a valley and backed by mountains which means exploring Mother Nature by foot, bike, ski, or zip line is the top priority for most travelers. When it’s time to wind down, visit one of the area’s breweries.
Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers. East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.
The year was 1969, and Helen, Georgia, once a thriving lumber town, had fallen into decline. Jobs were scarce and the desolated main street did little to attract the attention of new investors and residents. Just when things were at their bleakest, three local businessmen hatched a scheme to renovate the business district to inject new energy into the town. They called on a local artist who recast the town in a new alpine light and within months many of the old buildings had new German-inspired facades that began to inspire the imagination of tourists. Almost 50 years later, Helen is the third most visited town in the state of Georgia, and yet this little piece of Bavaria in Appalachia is home to little more than 500 residents.
In Berea, you can celebrate Kentucky crafts by visiting dozens of artist’s studios, galleries, and stores. The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea is a growing, unique, and creative community—a place where it can indeed be said that the—Arts are Alive!
Whitehall, New York
With stunning views from land and water, you will definitely need your camera when you visit Whitehall. Located just outside of the Adirondacks, Whitehall sits on the southern end of Lake Champlain. Its strategic location on the New York-Vermont border allowed the town to become the “birthplace of the US Navy”. Take a trip up to The Skene Manor, affectionately known as “Whitehall’s Castle on the Mountain.” This symbol of turn-of-the-century wealth overlooks the harbor and offers additional views of the region that can be missed at lower elevations.
This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.
At its incorporation in 1854, Placerville was the third-largest town in California after San Francisco and Sacramento. Originally named Old Dry Diggins and later in 1849 as Hangtown, Placerville became an important supply center for the surrounding mining camps. Today the town is significantly tamer and its historic Main Street is an antique collector’s dream filled with stores carrying furniture, rusty old mining tools, and other products from bygone eras. Placerville is just minutes from over 50 farms and ranches of the Apple Hill area as well as award-winning wineries.
Before Mount St. Helens blew its top it was a beautifully symmetric rounded snow-capped mountain that stood between two jagged peaks, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams
The tranquility of the Mount St. Helens region was shattered in the spring of 1980 when the volcano stirred from its long repose, shook, and exploded back to life. The local people rediscovered that they had an active volcano in their midst and millions of people in North America were reminded that the active—and potentially dangerous—volcanoes of the U.S. are not restricted to Alaska and Hawaii.
The eruption of Mount St. Helens caused the largest landslide in recorded history, sweeping through the Toutle River Valley and removing 1,306 feet from the top of the volcano. The powerful lava flow, savage winds, and deadly heat destroyed much of the previous landscape. What the mountain left behind is the history of a violent eruption that shook the surrounding region and left many with stories of that tumultuous day on May 18, 1980.
Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest; the range extends from Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia to Lassen Peak in northern California. Geologists call Mount St. Helens a composite volcano (or stratovolcano), a term for steep-sided, often symmetrical cones constructed of alternating layers of lava flows, ash, and other volcanic debris.
Most people visit the area around Mount St Helens by leaving Interstate 5 in Washington state at exit 49 and traveling East along a road called Spirit Lake Highway. The road is so-called, because, before 1980, it used to terminate at Spirit Lake. The lake is no longer accessible by road from the West, and even from the East, a substantial hike is required. So, I like to refer to Spirit Lake Highway as the Road to Mount St Helens.
Four visitor centers tell the story of the mountain and the people living in the region surrounding it. The awesome views from each of the centers bring you face to face with a monumental natural event. These centers are located along the 52-mile-long Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, the only scenic byway in the United States that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone.
Like a book with four chapters, each visitor center tells a different part of the story: the mountain as it was before the blast at Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center; first-hand accounts from survivors who experienced the explosion at Johnston Ridge Observatory; the recovery of the mountain and the region at the Forest Learning Center; and its present state at the Silver Lake Visitor Center. Each center offers a unique experience that brings visitors face-to-face with one of the most memorable natural phenomena of our era.
Mount St. Helens Visitor Center
Located 5 miles from I-5, Silver Lake Visitor Center is a world-class facility located on the western shore of Silver Lake. With its high ceilings and massive windows, the outdoors becomes a part of the architecture. Your senses will come alive as you enjoy the interactive exhibits, a step-in model of the volcano, and theater programs. Outside, a mile-long trail takes you into marshy plains surrounding Silver Lake where you can see waterfowl and picture-perfect views of the mountain.
Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center
Located 27 miles from I-5, Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center offers an up-close view of the mountain and the flood plain where mud rushed down into the valley, raising it a mile higher than it was prior to May 18, 1980. Take a short walk to another viewing point where a grove was dedicated in 2000 in memory of the 57 people who perished during the eruption.
A large post-and-beam structure, Hoffstadt Bluff houses the “Memories of a Lost Landscape” exhibit, which provides an excellent depiction of the mountain prior to the blast, when the area was full of youth camps and visitors enjoying the outdoors.
Forest Learning Center
The Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, at milepost 33, describes the work of foresters before, during, and after the eruption, with an emphasis on the rebirth of the forest.
Walkthrough the forest, hearing the sounds of the birds and animals on the mountain prior to May 18, 1980. Enter the “eruption chamber” to view a video of what the forest looked like immediately after the eruption. Breathtaking photographs and life-size models of loggers working in the blast zone bring the experience to life.
Johnston Ridge Observatory
At the end of the scenic byway, 52 miles from I-5, Johnston Ridge Observatory is tucked into the side of Johnston’s Ridge, a mere 5 miles from the north side of the mountain. Providing visitors the opportunity to come within a stone’s throw of the crater, the observatory is unparalleled. Walkout on the viewing deck or take a stroll along one of the trails and feel the energy of the mountain as it continues to puff steam into the sky.
The 16,000 square-foot structure offers a fully-equipped theater where visitors can watch a video about the eruption. Just as the mountain surprised the world with its blast, the movie does likewise as the show concludes and the screen rises to deliver a picture-perfect view of the mountain.
View the many exhibits and read through personal survival stories from that fateful day in 1980. For more detailed information, catch a formal talk or join a guided walk led by one of the observatory’s volunteers.
Looking back across the long cycles of change through which the land has been shaped into its present form, let us realize that these geographical revolutions are not events wholly of the dim past, but that they are still in progress.
Whether you feel like tubing the river, making a craft beer pilgrimage, or working on your BBQ bucket list, these 20 road trip-able destinations are beckoning
From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. With a mix of Spanish and U.S. cultures, Mexican and Tex-Mex food is more authentic than found almost anywhere else in the country. There is a lot to do in San Antonio from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour. There is no lack of diversions to explore in this city and beyond.
But this is the summer of road trips! If you are wondering “What are the best places for road trips from San Antonio?” we have you covered. Road trips are a fun, safe option for traveling out of town for a getaway. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to head for the day or a weekend or a long driving tour of Texas, we have the list.
Distance from San Antonio: 47 miles
Comfort, Texas embodies everything there is about a small Texas town. One of the strange and fun attractions that Comfort has to offer is its Hygioestatic Bat Roost. This historic tower has been home to over 100 malaria-fighting bats for years and it’s a fun activity to watch them fly. There are also plenty of down-home restaurants and shops worth visiting in the old town. If you’re looking for a humble Comfort history, visiting shops in the old town is a great place to start.
Luling is home to some of the best barbecues in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only three types of meat—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative newcomer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which is still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins. To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the spring-fed San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather be on the water, you can tube down the river.
Distance from San Antonio: 59 miles
Blanco was settled in the mid-1800s for Texas Rangers, immigrants, and their families. Blanco State Park is filled with wildlife, diverse topography, and hiking trails. Once you’ve spent some time exploring the outdoors, you can head over to the local winery, Texas Hills Vineyards. They’re actually the only winery in Texas to produce Pino Grigio. Relax at their onsite tasting room. And don’t miss Real Ale Brewery!
A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any foodie’s bucket list. Tiny Lockhart can be found outside of San Marcos and is well known for its BBQ. In fact, Lockhart is the “BBQ Capital of Texas”. Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948) are the three you want to tackle. Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). Lockhart State Park is a great place to camp and hike after you eat copious amounts of delicious BBQ.
Distance from San Antonio: 70 miles
In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound.
Go there for the shopping but stay for the natural beauty and great attractions. You will definitely want to stop by one of their many wineries and weingartens but don’t miss the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park or the Pioneer Museum. The real gem, though, is the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. This huge, dome-like mountain of limestone has miles of trails. Make it to the top for a never-before-seen view of the Hill Country.
Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how their popular brews get made. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”
Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has rolling hills and beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either, Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.
The Painted Churches of Fayette County are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.
You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in this Central Texas community, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town’s history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and serve as creative outlets. The Texas Quilt Museum is located in two historic 1890s buildings. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.
Corpus Christi, Texas, nicknamed the “Sparkling City by the Sea,” is known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and sunsets framed by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So, it may come as no surprise that this sunny playground on the Texas Gulf Coast has two of the city’s most popular attractions directly connected to water: Texas State Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Texas, and the USS Lexington aircraft carrier.
Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.
Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.
The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. Be it sportfishing, bird-watching, seafood, shopping, the arts, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here revolves around Aransas Bay.
13. Port Aransas
Distance from San Antonio: 178 miles
Dive into fun at Port Aransas on Mustang Island. With 18 miles of wide, sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, there are endless ways to recreate in Port A. Two popular activities in Port Aransas are swimming and fishing. There’s also the Port Aransas Nature Preserve which is home to diverse wildlife, beautiful topography, and some of the most scenic sunsets on the island. Bird watching is also a popular activity in Port Aransas and the best place to go is Leonabelle Turnbill Birding Center.
Distance from San Antonio: 181 miles
The Heart of Texas has recently become famous for its Magnolia Market at the Silos, the birth child, and flagship home and decor store of Chip & Joanna Gaines from HGTV. The city on the Brazos (River) has so much more to offer—the Waco Mammoth National Monument is one of the best. The nationally recognized trails at Cameron Park are worth an entire day. If that’s not enough, you can visit the Dr. Pepper Museum and Texas Rangers Hall of Fame & Museum. Walk across the historic Suspension Bridge built in 1870 where the clopping hooves of cattle followed the Chisholm and Shawnee Trails up north.
The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.
Strung along a narrow barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is a beautiful blend of graceful Victorian and early 20th-century mansions, bungalows, and cottages, along with a stunning historic downtown lined with tall palm trees and shady live oaks. Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches.
17. South Padre
Distance from San Antonio: 297 miles
South Padre is a beautiful island set on the Texas coast that’s home to 34 acres of leisurely beachfront property and should be on your road trip from San Antonio’s list. The stunning sandy beaches, numerous tourist attractions, and exciting water activities make sure that every traveler will have fun in South Padre. Laguna Madre Nature Trail is a great place to start exploring the island.
Distance from San Antonio: 326 miles
Marathon, Texas is a tiny town close to Big Bend National Park. If you’re stopping in Marathon for the night, the Gage Hotel is a historic property that is full of local history in a comfortable setting. There’s also plenty of adventure to be had in Marathon. Post Park in the city is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert where travelers can head to the water and feed the local ducks.
Fort Davis is a small town in West Texas near Big Bend National Park. This town is well known for the observatory that helps travelers see the beautiful night sky and all the stars that dance and skip inside it. Fort Davis is also home to the Davis Mountains that are fun to explore at the Davis Mountain State Park.
This sprawling West Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres, in fact) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm offering shaded respite along the meandering Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size, geographic diversity, and faraway locale, this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.