The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The craftsmanship and history behind America’s bourbon distilleries that reside along the bourbon trail

The fact that bourbon distilleries give away free samples of their product on their distillery tours isn’t the only reason I visit these landmarks—it’s the history!

Kentucky is an often overlooked and beautiful tourist destination that offers way more than just bourbon. There are also thoroughbred horses, a ton of civil war historical landmarks, and renowned hiking and rock climbing destinations. But you’ve come here for one thing, to learn about the bourbon trail, so the bourbon trail we will cover.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now consists of 18 whiskey distilleries. Some of them are new kids on the block and others have been around since bourbon’s inception. In fact, if you visit every distillery on the trail, you’ll probably hear more than one say it’s the oldest. This is because there are no definite records of how generic “whiskey” became bourbon. So distilleries are known to take liberties to be seen as the oldest and sell more bottles of bourbon at the end of their tours.

The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of bourbon, it doesn’t matter which distillery is the oldest. Each distillery on the bourbon trail (new or old) makes a fantastic product. Each one brings its own unique aspect to the buttery-brown spirit.

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

Very few people visit every distillery on the trail since it encompasses nine different cities/towns—some 70 miles apart. I’ve mapped out a bourbon trail itinerary that includes the distilleries we’ve visited during our several visits to the Bluegrass State. This guide will help you choose the ones you want to visit the most. There are some important logistics to note before we get into our guide.

Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base

It’s up to you where you stay during your trip but I suggest you set up camp near Louisville and Lexington. Being the two largest cities in Kentucky they provide the most options when it comes to campgrounds, food, outdoor recreation, and other non-bourbon-related offerings. Two excellent options for RV camping are Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Whistling Hills RV Park at Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington). We’ve also stayed at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Transportation

If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why would you not?), you’ll want to make sure you have a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk and the last thing you want is a DUI. Alternately, check out local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours

When planning your trip, keep in mind that you don’t have to go on every tour that each distillery offers. In fact, to be able to get in as many distilleries as possible, I’d suggest you don’t. Each distillery tour takes about an hour. In peak season (spring/summer), they can take even longer due to the high volume of visitors and COVID protocol.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get a good idea of any distillery’s history by strolling the grounds open to visitors and visiting the gift shop. If you decide to use a tour company for transportation, they can tell you everything you need to know about each distillery. We suggest saving the tours (and saving money) for your favorite distilleries. Now, break out your favorite whiskey glass, pour your favorite bourbon, and you’re ready to learn about Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Note: Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail have limited tour schedules or have canceled tours altogether, due to the pandemic. Check each distillery’s website for tour availability and safety guidelines.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Louisville (Shepherdsville)

Jim Beam

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up on one of its most influential brands.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven Hill

Continue your journey to historic Bardstown—the Bourbon Capital of the World and an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill is the world’s largest family-owned spirits producer making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna, Fighting Cock, and Evan Williams. The Heaven Hill distillery has been family-owned and operated since 1935 making it fairly young for a distillery of its size. With some help from a notable Kentucky distilling family member, Earl Beam (Master-Distiller from 1946-1975), Heaven Hill got its operations off the ground. Heaven Hill produces more than 400,000 barrels annually and has won multiple world spirit awards. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center you can choose from their tour options and enjoy your samples in their barrel-shaped tasting room.

Old Talbot Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind down in Bardstown as you peruse the shops and start planning your nightcap destination. Take a stroll through the past at the newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Don’t miss an opportunity to dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern (fried green tomatoes is recommended), have a nightcap in the “world’s oldest Bourbon bar”, and even spend the night if you feel so inclined.

Barton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton 1792

The sprawling Barton 1792 is an old-school distillery with an old-school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned. The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 Proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and oh so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves. Can you tell it’s one of my favorite bourbons?

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willett

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

From Bardstown we headed 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me, it is great fun!

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Lexington (Georgetown)

Four Roses

The beautiful Four Roses Lawrenceburg distillery reflects the story of the brand. The bourbon was named after founder Paul Jones Jr.’s romantic gesture of giving a four-rose corsage to his sweetheart before a ball in 1884. Now the distillery boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture and a mellow vibe.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkey

After visiting the Four Roses facility, we headed to their neighbor, the ever-intriguing Wild Turkey, another distillery on the trail with a ton of heritage and family influence. Their main claim to fame is Jimmy Russell, the world’s most tenured master distiller. He’s been crafting bourbon for over 60 years. He now makes bourbon next to his son Eddie who has more than three decades of experience.

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey joined Jimmy and Eddie Russell as Creative Director in 2016. The relationship very quickly turned into an opportunity to collaborate on both marketing campaigns and product development. This is most evident in Longbranch bourbon which carries McConaughey’s name and is refined with mesquite from the actor’s home state of Texas to form a unique flavor profile.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace

It’s not clear why Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 were pulled from the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and thereby out of the bourbon trail in 2010. It’s likely because at the time they were Kentucky’s largest bourbon producer and didn’t want to pay the dues (more about that at the end). A part of the bourbon trail or no, the Buffalo Trace distillery is considered a Mecca for bourbon lovers around the globe. The facilities are enormous and house a total of 19 brands of bourbon. If you can’t make their highly informative and still free tour simply strolling around the grounds and picking up a rare bottle of whiskey in the gift shop is worth it.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark.

Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Woodlord Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Does a Distillery Get Featured on the “Official” Bourbon Trail?

It’s not entirely clear how distilleries are selected to be featured on the bourbon trail. You probably already know that there are more than 18 distilleries in Kentucky. Currently, there are close to 100. For a distillery to be considered a part of the bourbon trail, they have to be recognized as a Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) member. The KDA is a non-profit association established in 1953 to ensure that its members followed the best distilling practices.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, 37 members of the Kentucky Distillers Association operate one or more distilleries in Kentucky. However, when it comes to who gets picked for the trail, it is probably left to closed-door KDA dealings.

Worth Pondering…

I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.

―Tom T. Hall

Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Custer State Park offers forest, meadows, mountains, and wildlife including a herd of 1,300 bison

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them.

Bison herd in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of America’s largest state parks, Custer has been home to diverse cultural heritages for thousands of years and has provided an array of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation for visitors since the early 1900s. Custer State Park is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Thirty to sixty million bison once roamed the great plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century, it’s estimated that less than 1,000 bison survived. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “Tatanka” for food, clothing, and shelter.

Bison in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Bison herd in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bison herd roams freely throughout the park and is often found along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the southern part of the park. Bison seem docile but can run very fast and turn on a dime. Weighing as much as 2,000 pounds, these animals are forces to be reckoned with. Visitors should stay inside their vehicles when viewing the bison and not get too close. Most wildlife can easily be seen from your car. Bear in mind, they are wild. Keep your distance.

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, in 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Bison in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Arrive early to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.

In addition to wildlife, the park features several historic sites, including the State Game Lodge, the Badger Hole, the Gordon Stockade, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, and the Mount Coolidge Fire Tower. The Black Hills Playhouse, which hosts performances each summer, is also located within the park, as are four resorts, each offering lodging, dining, and activities.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also has four mountain lakes. These lakes, along with several streams, offer many water recreation and fishing opportunities.

In March 1919, Custer State Park was named the first official state park. In 2019, South Dakota’s oldest state park celebrated 100 years of outdoor tradition. Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors enjoy the numerous and varied activities, attractions, and events found year-round within Custer State Park.

Needles Highway in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a driver’s delight. There are three scenic drives—Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and Wildlife Loop Road—which are part of the extensive network of backcountry lanes on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway for 70 miles, the route threads its way around pigtail bridges, through one-lane rock-walled tunnels, and ascends to the uppermost heights of the Needles.

The Needles in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The needle-like granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon in Custer State Park, known as the Needles, are truly see-it-to-believe-it phenomena. Drive Needles Highway to see for yourself just how majestic these outcroppings are in person. The Needles Highway is much more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventurous should carve out time to hike Cathedral Spires Trail. This moderate 1.5-mile trail offers spectacular views of these unique rock formations. You’ll likely pass rock climbers hauling gear in or out of the trail, as the spires are home to some of the most sought-after climbing routes in the Black Hills.

Wild burros seeking handouts in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other top trails include Sunday Gulch Trail, Little Devils Tower Trail, Lover’s Leap Trail, and Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. You can begin your trek to Black Elk Peak at one of two trailheads within the park.

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

Pronghorns in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing.

The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road takes visitors through open grasslands and pine-speckled hills that much of the park’s wildlife call home.

Mount Rushmore from the Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Iron Mountain Road winds between Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the junction of U.S. 16A and SR 36. Constructed in 1933, only a portion of this road lies within the park, but it is a must-see.

The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway complements the park’s three scenic drives and includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.

Camping in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following an action-packed day, sleep under the stars in Custer State Park. There are nine campgrounds tucked away in ponderosa pine forests, alongside fresh flowing streams, or near a mountain lake. The choice is yours! Campsites accommodate RVs and tents. Each campsite offers gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate, and a picnic table. Electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. Or, you can relax in a one-room, log-style camping cabin or historic lodge located throughout the park.

The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered. Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild.

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

These 15 state parks across the U.S. have campgrounds that you really need to add to your travel list

While national parks are at the top of many RV travel bucket lists, state parks often offer more camping amenities than national parks. State park campgrounds are located in areas that feature natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historic significance. Some state parks are smaller and may only feature a visitor center and day-use area. Some areas are large as a national park and feature several campgrounds and access to lakes, trails, and nearby towns.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte was active in smuggling and pirating along the Gulf Coast. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp-store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition, Buccaneer has 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. The campground offers 120 electric and water sites with picnic tables and BBQ grills.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst. Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The campground offers 64 RV and tent sites including 44 with partial hookups.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. The “Big Tree,” a massive coastal live oak estimated to be centuries old is one of the natural wonders of Texas.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a new Lodge and Conference Center. Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake is one of the closest to saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. The park has a multitude of activities to participate in that includes hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, exploring, geocaching, and paddling. Reconstruction of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, is complete and new hostel-style accommodations are available nearby as well. The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three lakes. The park’s campground offers 44 RV campsites with electricity utilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, the park is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet. In the late 1800s, Jacob Waltz emerged from this area with gold. When he died in 1891, he was found with 24 pounds of high-quality gold ore under his bed. Purportedly, before he died he left clues to the mine’s location. Needless to say, it is a haven for treasure hunters today. The Park also offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, 35 campsites, picnic facilities, and special programs throughout the year.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a scenic park with a day-use area and modern camping hook-ups. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk offers an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T”. Meaher’s campground offers 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. Four bay-side cabins (1 is handicap accessible) overlook Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.The park offers 26 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas. The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RV and tent camping. No water or sewer hookups are available. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking during the fall when the forest is bright with autumn colors.A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt including a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn. From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched. We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts. The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually, we just follow I-10 from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route. We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park are one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it is well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market. Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage rooted in cattle and cotton.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave us a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s more—much more—an adventure in Texas. Space does not permit us to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Corpus Christi, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, and Austin.

San Antonio Missions National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas. 

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

Your RV Camping Checklist: 10 Essentials for RV Travel

What To Take RV Camping?

COVID continues to restrict many people’s travel plans but you still need to take time to unwind and relax on a summer vacation. You can still enjoy everything you love about getting away in the comfort of your RV as these vehicles provide the perfect place to socially distance and stay safe while you’re away from home.

Want to make the most of summer and enjoy a vacation this year? The following camping checklist is a starting point to help you pack your RV and start exploring the country.

Driving an RV on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Choose RV Travel

One of the greatest benefits of staying in the US (or Canada, for Canadians) is the money you save on your vacation. Going abroad can be very costly. You have to pay for flights, accommodation, airport transfers, food, and souvenirs. However, with RV travel you save the cost of flights and airport transfers. You save on the cost of accommodations too.

Driving an RV in Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another benefit of RV camping is convenience and ease. Many countries around the world currently have travel restrictions and quarantine restrictions and these are constantly in flux. At the best of times, security checks and transfers can be quite stressful but add on restrictions and your vacation will definitely start off stressful. Whereas, RV travel is easier and can reduce stress meaning you can start enjoying your vacation from the start-go.

Business Wire found that in 2017 over 10 million US households owned an RV and the numbers have increased substantially since then. If you’re one of the many that own an RV then you’re able to pack up your rig and go on vacation whenever you want. However, before you go, make sure you have everything you’ll need during your trip with our RV camping essentials checklist.

Essentials include heavy duty sewer hose and water hose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. RV Essentials

There are certain RV camping essentials you need to take with you such as your RV paperwork (insurance, registration details, roadside assistance documents, and road maps). You also need to make sure you pack other RV essentials such as electrical or battery equipment, a tool kit, and a first aid kit

Check for essentials for the kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kitchen Essentials

If you plan to prepare meals in your RV (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll need to ensure you have all the equipment and supplies you need. For example, you’ll require bowls, plates, cutlery, cups, pots and pans, knives, chopping boards, and matches. You’ll also need to pack products to clean these items once you’ve used them, such as sponges, detergent, and trash bags.

Check for bedroom essentials © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bedroom Essentials

The RV checklist for the bedroom includes linen and bedsheets, duvets and blankets, pillows, and laundry essentials. You might also want to pack towels in your bedroom because RVs usually lack space in the bathroom to keep them.

4. Bathroom Essentials

Fully stock your bathroom with your bathmat and toiletries. Toiletries could include a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, deodorant, razors, and a hairbrush. And don’t forget the toilet paper and bathroom cleaning products too.

Check for essentials for the living area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Clothing Essentials

Nobody wants to go away and realize they only have one pair of underwear and socks, so make sure you pack your clothes carefully. Work out the number of days you’ll be away and decide which clothes you want to take and how frequently you’ll do laundry. For example, if you’re going away for a week, you’ll need enough clothes to last for seven days. 

Your clothing pack list should also be influenced by the location or time of year. For example, if you’re going on vacation to the coast make sure you pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and your swimsuit. If you’re heading to the mountains be prepared for all four seasons.

Plan to attend an RV rally or other event? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Entertainment Essentials

You won’t always spend all your time outside and on the go, so you’ll need to pack some entertainment. The type of entertainment depends on you and how much space you have in your RV. Some examples of entertainment essentials include movies, laptops, games, puzzles, toys, and books. 

7. Personal Essentials

Personal essentials you’ll need during your RV travels include your smartphone and charger, credit card and cash, and campground and RV park confirmations. Another personal essential might be medication; make sure you pack enough to last you the whole vacation.

Plan time for relaxation! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. First Aid Essentials

Accidents can happen which is why it’s important to be prepared and ensure your first aid kit is fully stocked. Ensure that your kit includes bandages, band-aids, antiseptic wipes, disposal plastic gloves, a thermometer, and any other medications or creams you might need. You might want to pack some insect repellent and bite and sting ointment. 

9. Grocery Essentials

A major positive about RV travel is that you are self-sufficient meaning you can be off-grid and explore the backcountry. However, if you’re planning on going off-grid and away from stores make sure you think about the grocery packing list for RV camping. Since you’ll need sufficient food in your RV to last during your vacation, pack plenty of canned goods, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and cereals.

Plan to spend some time fishing? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Camping Essentials

Whether you plan to go off-grid or not, you’ll also need camping supplies. These may include flashlights, maps, pocket knives, a compass, water filters, and ropes. If you plan to do specific camping activities such as fishing or kayaking, you should also pack these items.

Plan to spend some tome canoeing or kayaking? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack Everything You Need for an Incredible Adventure

Never forget or leave anything behind again with this RV camping checklist. Remember to pack everything you need and think about the time of year, weather, and the location where you’ll be going, so you can pack accordingly and be prepared.

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey

The Seducing Magic of Sedona: 20 Ways to Fall in Love

Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sedona, Arizona. The magic of the red rocks that tower above the town, the gorgeous hikes, the food, and culture.

Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land and buttressed by four wilderness areas and two state parks, this is a landscape built for adventure. Set amid beautiful red rock mountains, buttes, and canyons, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most beautiful destinations. The scenery here is nothing less than stunning with unbelievable views from every street corner and hiking trail. Also known as a spiritual center, particularly for its energy vortexes, the city has a unique vibe and attracts visitors with a diverse set of interests.

Attractions range from the spectacular natural areas and scenic drives to Native American ruins, architecture, galleries, and sacred sites. Many of the best things to do in Sedona are free including hiking, mountain biking, or stargazing. The city is a designated Dark Sky Community.

Cathedral Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock is the most photographed attraction in Sedona and one of the city’s most impressive sites. You can see the rock from Highway 179 as you drive from Oak Creek Village into Sedona or from the backside at several locations. The most classic view of Cathedral Rock is from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. If you feel an urge to climb this amazing rock formation, a hiking trail leads up to the saddle where you’re treated to incredible views to the east and west. It’s also the location of an energy vortex.

Uptown Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Uptown Sedona

Uptown Sedona is the old town where you’ll find boutiques, tourist shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. This area runs along with Highway 89A beginning where Highway 179 ends. If you are heading up Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff you will pass right through Uptown Sedona.

Establishments here include everything from jewelry and craft stores to crystal sellers and casual restaurants to fine dining. This is also where Jeep tours start. Parking can be at a premium here especially on weekends but there is a parking garage where you can usually find a spot.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Red Rock Scenic Byway

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a stunning drive along Highway 179 running from south of the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. Along with numerous natural attractions, hiking and biking trails and pullouts allow you to stop and appreciate the sights. Near the north end is the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. Some of the most popular sights along this route are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and a short distance off the road is the Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive

Stunning Oak Creek Canyon is upstream from Sedona on the road to Flagstaff. Rock formations, cliff walls, and forests line scenic Highway 89A as it follows Oak Creek before climbing up the canyon along a dramatic stretch of twisting road with switchbacks. The sharp corners and steep hills make this a road you will want to drive during daylight. One of the main attractions along this route particularly from spring ’til fall is Slide Rock State Park. You’ll also find hiking trails off this drive. One of the most spectacular hikes is the West Fork Trail.

Hiking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hiking Trails

One of the best ways to explore the natural beauty around Sedona is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Many of the hikes are less than three miles and can easily be done in just a couple of hours but they offer access to some of the most amazing views in the area. Longer and more challenging hikes can also be found around Sedona leading to mountain tops and up canyons. Some of the most popular hikes are to Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock.

Jeep tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jeep Tours

Jeep tours are one of the most popular activities in Sedona. They allow you to enjoy areas you wouldn’t see without an off-road vehicle. These tours are in open-air Jeeps which are an iconic sight in Sedona. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. The drivers are knowledgeable and keen to share the local history and geology of the area.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. It was built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The modern appearance with sharp lines and angles contrasts with the rounded red rocks. The Chapel is a short distance off Highway 179.

Mountain biking trail near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mountain Biking Trails

If you’re a mountain biker you probably already know Sedona is the place to be. And, if you’re new to mountain biking, Sedona will definitely spoil you. The Bell Rock Area Trails include 16 miles of beginner-friendly riding between Courthouse Butte and Little Horse Trail. Once you’re comfortable on the Bell Rock trails head to Long Canyon, a straightforward cruise with flowing turns in upper Dry Creek. You can also link Long Canyon with Deadmans Pass, a relatively flat ride with a few short, rocky climbs.

9. Climbing

Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to climb that happens to have some fairly soft rock. There are sport routes all the way up to seriously tough aid routes. Many of the newer routes feature liberal use of bolts where necessary.

10. Vortexes

Cathedral Rock is considered to be a vortex © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex. Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Bell Rock

One of the key natural sites around Sedona is the aptly named, Bell Rock. This bell-shaped formation is west of Oak Creek Village along the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Easily accessible this is a popular stop. You can park and have a quick look, walk up to it, do a short and easy hike along the side of the bell, and scramble up the rock a short distance. Behind Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, another famous sight and hike.

12. Boynton Canyon

Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Day Trip to the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive to one of the most famous and awe-inspiring sights in America. The drive from Sedona takes you up through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. From here, you can do a loop driving through Williams or up Highway 180 past Humphreys Peak to the Grand Canyon. Spend the day seeing the sights along the rim of the canyon or take a scenic flight over and into the canyon. Or alternately, ride the rails from Williams. The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily to the Grand Canyon.

View of Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Airport Mesa

Airport Mesa is a tabletop mountain in Sedona looking out over the entire area. The airport is located on a flat field on the top of the mesa thus the name. Many people come here to hike, look out from the viewpoint which is also the location of an energy vortex, or enjoy a meal at the Mesa Grill where you can watch the planes take off and land. Views here extend out over Uptown Sedona towards Coffee Pot Rock and Soldier Pass. For something a little more adventurous, you can also do the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hiking trail that runs along the edge and around the mesa.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Red Rock Crossing & Crescent Moon Recreation Area

If you are familiar with the classic site of Cathedral Rock reflecting in the calm waters of Oak Creek, this scene is the view from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This is a pleasant place to enjoy the creek on a hot day. You can wade in the creek, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax and appreciate the scenery. This is an incredibly popular location with photographers who come here in the late afternoon when the sun is lighting up Cathedral Rock.

Tlaquepaque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village

An unforgettable Sedona experience must include spending time at internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled beneath the shade of the sycamores on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is the most distinctive Sedona shopping experience to be found in the Southwest. Authentically fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, Tlaquepaque, meaning the “best of everything,” has been a Sedona landmark since the 1970’s. Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque is a perfect setting to witness gifted Sedona artisans absorbed in their work. Shoppers can see artists at work although most of what you will find is interesting retail establishments many of which showcase glass, ceramics, sculptures, weavings, paintings, decorative arts, photography, jewelry, and decor.

House of Apache Fire at Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.

Pillsbury tasting room in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Verde Valley Wine Country

Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as  Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.

Schnebly Hill Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Schnebly Hill Road

Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.

Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Coconino National Forest

Just outside Sedona, you’ll find the largest ponderosa forest in the world in Coconino National Forest. But that’s not all this area has to offer. From mountains and canyons to rivers and red rocks, this is the perfect place for some outdoor exploration, whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding.

Where to Camp in Sedona

Campgrounds and RV parks in the Sedona area offer a wide range of amenities in a variety of settings.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood

Distance to Sedona: 20 miles

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood and within the Verde River Valley corridor. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Over 100 spacious camp sites are scattered throughout the park. The campground consists of four loops; most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length.

Rain Spirit RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 22 miles

Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distance to Sedona: 24 miles

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level. The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.

Birding at Verde Valley Camping Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort

Distance to Sedona: 25 miles

Situated on the scenic Verde River, Verde Valley RV Camping offers 300 acres of picturesque beauty. A Thousand Trails membership park, Verde Valley RV is now open to the public through Encore RV Resorts.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

12 Unspoken Etiquette Rules of RV Camping

Are you practicing good RV campground etiquette?

RV camping in the great outdoors is a great way to spend time with your family. Whether you are in a fifth-wheel, travel trailer, or motorhome, knowing these unspoken etiquette rules of RV camping will make your next adventure go smoothly for your family and your campground neighbors.

RV camping at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort, Kerrville, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be a good neighbor

Whether camping in an RV or tent, being a good neighbor will set the tone for your stay. Following the rules of campground, etiquette is an easy way to ensure that everyone can camp together in harmony.

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

Know the rules

RV parks and campgrounds have rules for everyone’s comfort. Some RV resorts have more rules than others. Upon check-in, your host will go over those rules or hand them to you to read.

RV camping at Windcreek Casino RV Park, Atmore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t cut through other campsites

Everyone pays for a designated site to park their RV. Respect your neighbor’s space by not walking through their campsite.

Keep it quiet

Most campgrounds have designated quiet hours. These hours take effect typically around 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Be respectful and turn down your music and keep noise at a minimum. If you are getting to your campsite after hours, do the minimum to set up. You can always finish setting up in the morning.

RV camping at Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t overflow

Be respectful of each other’s space by not overflowing your own RV camping site and into your neighbors. If you bring a bunch of gear, like bikes, chairs, and outdoor games, make sure it fits inside your site.

Keep it clean

No one likes a dirty site. The campground caretakers do their best to clean up before you check-in, but sometimes there’s trash left on the ground or in the fire pit. Follow the old camping adage of “leave no trace” and double-check that all your trash is picked up before you pull out.

RV camping at Cochise Terrace RV Park, Benson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hook it up correctly

Full hook-up sites have sewer, water, and electric connections. If you are using the sewer and water hookups, make sure that you are using the ports designated for your site and that your hoses are in good repair. A leaking sewer hose is unpleasant and unsanitary.

RV camping at Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep track of your kids

Most RV campgrounds are family-friendly and, yes, kids deserve to have fun too. However, the fun shouldn’t be at the expense of the neighbors in your campground. Make sure they’re supervised when roaming about and know the campground rules.

RV camping at Hilltop RV Park, Fort Stockton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leash your pets

Many RV campgrounds are pet-friendly, but you’ll want to double-check the pet policy before you arrive. Most campgrounds require that your pets be leashed and under your control, both for the safety of your pet and other campers. Many RV campgrounds require that the leash is no more than six feet long and that your pet is secured when not leashed (like in a crate or pen).

RV camping at Smokian RV Park, Soap Lake, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t leave a barking dog

Dogs bark—that’s just a fact. However, not everyone is a dog lover. Being in a new area can be an adjustment for your pets due to new people and changing surroundings. Try to teach your pet how to behave around the campsite. If you have a dog that barks non-stop when left alone, consider taking him or her with you on hikes, or don’t bring them on your RV trip.

Worth Pondering…

Cherish yesterday, dream tomorrow, live today.

The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Thanks to the park’s varied terrain, you can choose between desert, mountain, and river hikes, or hop in your car and explore the park on four wheels

Big Bend National Park has it all—vast amounts of open space, rivers, canyons, pictographs, and hot springs. Located in southwest Texas, the park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park abuts the border with Mexico across a stunning stretch of southwestern Texas where evenings are defined by an orange sky and red canyon walls and where chirps of yellow meadowlarks and the sounds of the Rio Grande fill the air. While such stunning scenes are commonplace within Big Bend, the massive desert preserve remains overlooked among U.S. national parks—it has never surpassed 500,000 annual visitors since its designation in 1944.

The lack of tourists is likely due to the park’s extreme remoteness: Big Bend lies 300 miles from El Paso, the nearest major metropolitan area, and is geographically isolated within a massive turn of the Rio Grande from which the park gets its name. Those who brave the miles will find the journey is filled with natural riverfront hot springs, luminous night skies, and secluded mountain trails. Here is how to make the most of your trip to one of the more underrated national parks in America.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pick the right season and give yourself plenty of time

With its southerly location and exposure to the elements, triple-digit temperature stretches in the summer months are not uncommon and threaten to turn the most well-intentioned hiker into a sweaty, sunburned mess. A better experience is found in winter and autumn but spring comes with the double bonus of long daylight hours and wildflower season. If you do go in the summer make sure to bring lots and lots of water, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley), and plan your excursions around the heat. Winters can also get surprisingly chilly—averages hover around 60 degrees but can dip into the forties—so dress warmly if you plan your trip in the colder months.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend is among the largest national parks in the United States. With numerous trails, mountains, canyons, and nearby villages to explore; each point of interest could easily yield itself to days of exploration. For the best experience resist making a set plan—allow yourself plenty of time to explore and discover each desert sanctuary at your own pace.

While the paved roads make it possible to explore much of the park’s natural beauty, many of the more obscure sights are hidden deep within the park’s interior on rough, dirt roads. To explore this rugged area bring a vehicle with four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance, and good tires.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and gaze at the night skies

Roadrunners, sparrows, and warblers are among the 450 species of birds found within Big Bend, home to more birds than any other national park. With a keen eye and a bit of luck, you can also spot jackrabbits, coyotes, black bears, mountain lions (known in Big Bend as panthers), and javelina—a hairier cousin to the familiar pig. Sunrise and sunset observations are recommended for optimal wildlife spotting and while the average smartphone may suffice take a camera capable of capturing the brilliant scenery at night.

This is dark sky country. Due to its relative isolation from major cities, this side of West Texas has some of the lowest levels of light pollution in the country. Thousands of stars are visible on a clear night and even the Milky Way can be seen under the darkest conditions earning it a designation by The International Dark-Sky Association. Consider bringing a telescope or simply lie down at night, looking up, and see what appears above.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pass through Marfa on the way in and Terlingua Ghost Town on the way out

The tiny, peculiar artistic town of Marfa is about 100 miles north of Big Bend. Here you’ll find the El Cosmico hotel with rooms consisting of brightly colored vintage trailers, tepees, and yurts. The town acts as a venue for the annual Trans-Pecos festival in September containing a weekend’s worth of art, building, and songwriting workshops, artisanal markets, pop-up parties, live music of all genres, and the tense yearly sandlot baseball showdown between Austin’s Texas Playboys and the Los Yonke Gallos de Marfa.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel 30 minutes north on U.S. 90 to find the famous Prada Marfa art installation in neighboring Valentine, a tiny, fake store isolated within the surrounding landscape and complete with actual Prada shoes and handbags from the fall 2005 collection. Try heading east about 10 miles to watch for the mysterious Marfa Lights off of U.S. 67. Sometimes they’re red, sometimes they’re green, and sometimes they’re white. Visible at night regardless of season or weather, nobody is quite sure what causes them.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Marfa travel 30 miles east on U.S. 90 to the town of Alpine and take TX-118 for 80 miles due south to Terlingua at the gates of Big Bend. The remnants of a mercury mining camp from the early 20th century, the former ghost town has become known for its charming assortment of gift shops, earthy hotels, and its famous chili cook-off in early November. Check out the Terlingua Trading Company for handmade gifts and grab a bite of chips and guacamole and catch live honky-tonk music at the old Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon. Spend a few days at Paisano Village RV Park & Inn to further explore the area.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and see Santa Elena Canyon in west Big Bend

At the western end of the park coming from Terlingua, the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is perfect for single-day trips. The paved road covers 30 miles of gorgeous desert scenery including stops at landmarks such as Sotol Vista, Tuff Canyon, and Mule Ears. The road ends at Santa Elena, one of the numerous river canyons within Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour the Chisos Mountains in central Big Bend

In the center of Big Bend lies the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the United States fully contained within a single national park. Given their relatively high elevation—the summit of Emory Peak stands at 7,835 feet—the Chisos are typically 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the adjacent desert and home to a wide variety of shady juniper, mesquite, and oak. Within the 20 miles of trails here it’s a fairly easy hike to a beautiful view at the summit of Emory Peak. Camping is available here as well at the Chisos Basin Campground. If camping isn’t for you, try the stone cottages at the Chisos Mountain Lodge the only hotel within the park.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Hot Springs Historic District and Ernst Tinaja in east Big Bend

The eastern side of the park is home to Big Bend Hot Springs, a geothermally heated oasis now sitting within the remnants of an early 1900s bathhouse. Once a gathering place for locals, soak in the year-round 105-degree waters said to have healing properties and enjoy unobstructed views of the Rio Grande and into Mexico. A short trail passes Native American petroglyphs on the adjoining limestone cliffs and the still-standing Hot Springs Post Office where mail was delivered every Monday in the early 20th century.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to know about camping in Big Bend National Park

When night falls, you’ll want to have an already reserved campsite so all you have to do is settle in. Here’s everything you need to know to secure that perfect Big Bend National Park camping spot.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are four campgrounds inside Big Bend National Park—three park-operated camping areas with various services and one by an outside company. The three park-run campgrounds are Chisos Basin Campground, Rio Grande Village Campground, and Cottonwood Campground. All require advance reservations booked (up to 6 months in advance) through recreation.gov.

Chisos Basin Campground sits in a scenic mountain basin with views of Casa Grande and Emory Peak. There are plenty of hiking trails nearby, including Window Trail, a popular place to watch the sunset. The year-round campground has 60 sites with access to flush toilets, running water, and a dump station. There are no hook-ups, and trailers over 20 feet and RVs over 24 feet are not recommended.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The year-round Rio Grande Village Campground is nestled in a grove of trees near the Rio Grande. This is the place to go if you want access to more amenities—a store, laundromat, and visitor center are nearby. The park has 100 sites with access to flush toilets, running water, showers, and some sites with overhead shelters. A dump station is nearby.

The small Cottonwood Campground is more remote than the other campgrounds and has fewer services but tends to be quieter with plenty of shade. Cottonwood is a seasonal campground –(open November 1 to April 30) with 24 camp spots—all without hookups or generators.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While certain park-operated campgrounds allow RVs, you’ll want to head to the Rio Grande Village RV Park (operated by Forever Resorts) for a camping experience tailored to RV campers. All 25 sites at Rio Grande Village have full hook-ups—water, electrical, and sewer—and are built for RVs. The campground sits adjacent to the Rio Grande Village Store and allows pets. For reservations, call 432-477-2293.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 801,163 acres

Date Established: June 12, 1944

Location: Southwest Texas

Recreational visits in 2020: 393,907

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: Big Bend was named for the prominent bend of the Rio Grande River that runs through it along with the United States and Mexico border.  

Did you know? Big Bend has more species of scorpions (14) than any other national park, including some species that have been found nowhere else in the world.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Big Bend is a land of strong beauty—often savage and always imposing.

—Lon Garrison

Road Trip: The 15 Most Scenic Drives in America

Plan the road trip of a lifetime with these spectacular journeys that highlight all the beauty America has to offer

Ready to hit the road? Whether you have a few days or more than a week, these unforgettable road trip routes are the ultimate way to satisfy a year of pent-up wanderlust (no passport required).

What’s a person to do after months of staying at home with only the option to fantasize about traveling and exploring new places? Easy question: Take an epic road trip.

This may well be the summer of the road trip as vaccines roll out and Americans begin planning vacations again. With that in mind, I dipped into my travel logs to come up with 15 of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. from Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 to Virginia’s Skyline Drive and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway.

Alabama’s Coastal Connection © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Alabama’s Coastal Connection

This 130 mile scenic byway connects the people and places in coastal Mobile and Baldwin counties and showcases the rich culture and flavor of Alabama’s Gulf Coast region. You’ll discover beautiful beaches, authentic downtowns, wildlife preserves, historic sites, and the freshest seafood in the state.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail Loop

A National Scenic Byway, the 44-mile paved and gravel Apache Trail crosses the rugged northern part of the Superstition Mountains northeast of Phoenix offering access to three reservoirs and gorgeous desert scenery.

Gold Rush Highway through Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Throughout its length, the Gold Rush Trail winds through many of the towns that sprung up during the Gold Rush as it twists and climbs past panoramic vistas. Rocky meadows, oaks, and white pines accent the hills while tall firs, ponderosa pine, and redwoods stud higher slopes. Dozens of lakes, rivers, and streams complement the stunning background of rolling hills.

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

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway

The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including GA-17/75, GA-180, and GA-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet.

Bayou Teche Byway at St. Martinville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

Golf Coast Scenic Byway at Bay St. Louis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi: Gulf Coast Scenic Byway

The Gulf Coast Scenic Byway is the 36 mile stretch of roadway that runs through the cities of Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. Long Beach, Pass Christian, and Gulfport are all home to historic downtown districts through which the byway either runs or borders to the south.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

This scenic 232-mile drive winds along the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy some of the best mountain views in the world. There’s so much to admire en route; as the Parkway approaches Asheville, it offers breathtaking views of some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River and access to the area’s best hiking trails.

Covered Bridge Scenic Bway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Covered Bridge Scenic Byway

Covered bridges…Ohio once had more than any other state: over 2000 of them! You’ll come across four covered bridges on this route. This scenic byway travels across some of Ohio’s most beautiful countryside and many visitors choose to stop along its route to camp and savor the natural beauty of this area—and I suggest you do too!

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: The Newport Loop (Ocean Drive)

This famous drive loops around Newport’s rugged Atlantic Ocean coast passing by historic mansions built from 1865-1914. A highlight stopping point is Brenton Point State Park. Located at the south end of the island, Brenton Point faces out to Rhode Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Ashley River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina: Ashley River Road

Part of Ashley River Historic District, this charming road is thought to be the oldest road in South Carolina still in use today. A moss-draped live oak tree canopy draped over the 11.5-mile stretch of the Ashley River Road preserves its historic character.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

It only takes about one hour to drive the loop of South Dakota Highway 240 between the towns of Cactus Flat and Wall without stopping but almost no one does that. This loop passes through the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires of Badlands National Park. Stop at any (or all!) of the 16 designated scenic overlooks for amazing photo opportunities.

Newfound Gap © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap

At an elevation of 5,046 feet, the Newfound Gap is known as the lowest pass through the Great Smoky Mountains. The road passes through a variety of forest ecosystems ranging from cove hardwood, pine-oak, northern hardwood, and spruce-fir, similar to forests in New England and eastern Canada.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.

Edson Hill and West Hill Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Edson Hill and West Hill Loop

This scenic 10.5-mile drive loops around the Stowe’s village before traveling up Mountain Road—where you’ll have plenty of chances to stop, shop, or grab a snack on the way to Edson Hill. This drive will take you through farmland in the northwest corner of Stowe. Maple trees lining the road as you start up Edson hill and down West Hill are at their most beautiful in fall.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This scenic 105 mile byway travels through Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. It encompasses vibrant small cities, rural hamlets, mountains, rivers, national forests, and state parks as well as the national park.

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

Yes, You Can Avoid Crowds in the National Parks & Here is How

Tips on finding quieter havens and hidden gems

Given the astonishing beauty and richness of the 63 U.S. national parks, it’s no wonder they’re so popular: They received 237 million visitors in 2020—only a 28 percent drop from the year before despite widespread closures and travel slowing nearly to a halt due to the pandemic. This year will likely attract many more visitors drawn to outdoor spaces relatively close to home.

These are some of my tips for finding beautiful, less crowded spots, and moments of solitude even in the most popular of these wonderful destinations.

Petrified Forest 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; here 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 wilderness of more than 50,000 acres where you can find wildness and beauty, and a remnant of historic Route 66 complete with a 1932 Studebaker!

Painted Desert © 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.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find Little-known Havens within a Park

Most national parks are pretty big places but visitors tend to congregate at some of the most well-known and iconic sites leaving other areas blissfully quiet. For example, Yosemite Valley includes some of the park’s most famous attractions but the valley is a tiny fraction of the park. Visit the Hetch Hetchy area, often described as the twin of Yosemite Valley, and hike to Wapama Falls or Rancheria Falls. Or drive to the lesser-visited northwest corner of Yellowstone and walk the Bighorn Pass Trail that follows the striking Upper Gallatin River.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Rocky Mountain avoid the popular Bear Lake Corridor area and take the dramatic Ute Trail through the park’s alpine tundra or the lovely Colorado River Trail in the park’s Never Summer Range.

In Joshua Tree, take a walk to Cottonwood Springs Oasis, filled with thick California fan palms and large cottonwoods. Grinding holes in nearby rocks tell the story of the ancient use of the oasis by Native Americans centuries ago. Cottonwood Spring is noted for its birdlife. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit during the Off-season

Many parks accommodate the majority of their visitors in the three summer months leaving the rest of the year relatively fallow (although these shoulder seasons are growing shorter as more people are adopting this strategy). The waterfalls of Yosemite are typically at their peak in May when it gets 10 percent of the park’s annual visits compared to 16 percent in August; fall foliage at Acadia is at its most colorful in October when it sees 13 percent of its annual visitors, compared to 22 percent in August; and wildflowers in the Grand Canyon are usually most prolific in April (9 percent of visitors versus 13 percent in July). For even more solitude, go for the real off-season—usually winter—when many parks such as Arches and Zion are quiet and beautiful.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Out of your Car and Walk

It’s the natural law of parks that the number of people you see decreases exponentially with each mile you go from the trailhead and walking is the most intimate way to experience the parks. It allows you to appreciate the parks through so many of the senses: See the tracks of elusive mountain lions at Glacier National Park, hear the iconic call of the canyon wren as you hike through the Grand Canyon, smell the sweetness of Ponderosa pine bark warming in the sun in Yosemite, taste the salt air as you walk the Ocean Path at Acadia, and feel the solid granite beneath your feet as you explore the trails of Isle Royale.

Shuttle stop at Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use Shuttle Trams when Available

Traffic congestion and lack of parking plague many parks and the National Park Service is responding with shuttle buses at popular destinations such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Yosemite, Acadia, Grand Canyon, and Denali. Use these transit systems to avoid the traffic and parking headaches that too many of us face in our everyday lives.

Steller’s jay at Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rise Early and/or Stay Late

Get to attraction sites and trailheads early in the day and consider hikes late in the day—parking spaces are more readily available at these times and you’ll experience the parks at the “golden hours” when the light is at its finest—soft and rich—for viewing and photographing and when wildlife is more likely to be seen. Experience the dawn chorus of birds, one of the world’s great natural phenomena, and enjoy it in relative solitude.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Purchase Park Passes and Supplies before Arriving

Nearly all national parks require an entrance pass/fee. Of course, you can obtain passes at the parks you visit but this will probably require waiting in line at the park entrance station or visitor center. You can obtain passes in advance on the National Park Service website and some parks have an express lane for visitors who already have a pass. You can also save time and money purchasing the goods and services you’ll need (food, fuel, camping supplies) for your visit before you enter the park. These items are often available in the parks but only at a few locations and you’ll probably have to wait behind other visitors to make your purchases.

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

Visit National Monuments and Other National Park Service Sites

There are 423 national park service (NPS) sites in total and only 63 of them have the congressional designation of “National Park” including the most recent New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. In addition to monuments and national parks, there are national lakeshores and seashores, memorials, parkways, preserves, reserves, recreation areas, rivers and riverways, and scenic trails. Into military history? There are national battlefields, battlefield parks, battlefield sites, and national military. History buff? You’ll find national historical parks, national historic sites, and international historic sites.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There will always be a thirst for touring the nation’s iconic parks—for hiking in the canyons of Zion or scampering among the natural arches and pinnacles of Arches National Park. But travelers who’ve hiked New Mexico’s otherworldly Malpais National Monument or driven National Scenic Byway 12 through southeastern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument without having to navigate throngs of people may never again think the same way about visiting America’s iconic national parks.

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir