The Best RV Camping March 2022

Explore the guide to find some of the best in March camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in March. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in January and February. Also, check out my recommendations from March 2021.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, Hunting Island, South Carolina

Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park attracting more than a million visitors a year as well as a vast array of land and marine wildlife. Five miles of beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, and an ocean inlet are all part of the park’s natural allure. The Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only one in the state that is publicly accessible. From the top, guests can stand 130 feet above the ground to take in the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Atlantic Coast and surrounding maritime forest. Camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. 102 sites offer water and 20/30/50 amp electric service. Campground roads are paved while the sites are packed soil. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; others up to 28 feet. The campground is convenient to hot showers with restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground.

Eagle View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle View RV Resort, Fort McDowell, Arizona

Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings, and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library. If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.

Related: Announcing the Absolutely Best Campgrounds and RV Parks for 2022

Lakeside RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana

Easy-on, easy-off (Interstate 12, Exit 22), Lakeside RV Park is big-rig friendly with 127 back-in and pull-through sites. Our back-in site was in the 55-60 foot range with 50/30-amp electric service, water, and sewer centrally located. Site amenities include a picnic table and fire pit. The park features a beautiful 17-acre fishing lake, a large pool with lounge chairs, a family game room, laundry facilities, an enclosed dog park, children’s playground, modern bath facilities, free Wi-Fi, and two large lake-view open-air pavilions. All interior roads and sites are concrete.

Katy Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Katy Lake RV Resort, Katy, Texas

Katy Lake RV Resort is situated on 18 acres surrounding a 6-acre lake nestled in the heart of West Houston. Katy Lake offers lake-view drive-in and back-in sites 45 feet in length. Other site types include pull-through (65 feet), premium pull-through (85 feet), and covered. Amenities include 30/50-amp electric service, water, sewer, cable TV, Wi-Fi, activity center, exercise room, dog park/dog washing station, walking/jogging trail, walk-in pool with hot tub, concrete streets, sites, and patios.

Palm Canyon Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California

Located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon campground has approximately 120 campsites and 6 group campsites. There are 51 RV campsites with full hookups. Each campsite has a table, fire ring, and grill. Several campsites also have shade structures. Campground amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers, RV dump station, group camping, and hike/biking camping. Borrego Palm Canyon campground is just a few miles from the town of Borrego Springs. It is also located next to popular hiking trails (including the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail) and about a mile from the Visitor Center. Outdoor activities include biking, hiking, photography, picnicking, exploring historic sites, OHVing, and wildflower and wildlife viewing.

Related: 10 RV Parks across America that are One Step above the Rest

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

Laura S. Walker State Park, Waycross, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating. Kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. The park’s namesake was a Georgia writer, teacher, civic leader, and naturalist who loved trees and worked for their preservation. 64 RV and tent camping sites are available, 44 with electric service. A dump station is available. The park is located 9 miles southeast of Waycross on SR-177. From 1-75 take Exit 62, follow US 82 east through Waycross.

Pala Casino RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pala Casino RV Resort, Pala, California

A new facility, Pala Casino RV Resort offers 100 full-service sites with grass lawns and picnic tables. Site selection includes 30 feet x55 feet back-in sites, 30 feet x 60 feet luxury sites with barbecue grills, and 30 feet x 70 feet pull-through sites. Amenities include 20/30/50 amp power, water, and sewer hook-ups, free Wi-Fi, cable TV, restrooms and showers, a heated swimming pool, two spas, a fenced dog park, and 24-hour security patrol. Pala Casino RV Resort received top marks from Good Sam in every category including facilities, restrooms and showers, and visual appearance. The resort is located on SR-76, 6 miles east of I-15.

Related: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Sunny Acres RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunny Acres RV Park, Las Cruces, New Mexico

A 12-acre park, Sunny Acres RV Park offers big sites and lots of space. The park is away from interstate noise with access to I-10, I-25, and US-70. Amenities include large 40 foot wide sites, wide gravel streets throughout the park, full hookups with 30 or 50 amp electric service, cable TV, free high-speed Internet, laundry facilities, and private restrooms and showers.

All About Relaxing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All About Relaxing RV Park, Theodore, Alabama

This park has 41 pull-through and back-in RV sites with 30- and 50-amp hookups. The pet-friendly, RV park features several amenities such as high-end restrooms, showers, a modern laundry facility, barbecue grills, a swimming pool, and an on-site dog park near a beautiful pavilion. The park is conveniently located off Interstate 10, less than 20 miles west of downtown Mobile. Nearby attractions include Bellingham Gardens and Home, a 65-acre garden with year-round blooms; Battleship Memorial Park which includes the U.S.S. Alabama and the U.S.S. Drum, a submarine; and the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the first Catholic parish on the Gulf Coast, established in 1703.

Casa Grande RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, Casa Grande RV Resort features two swimming pools including a new aerobics/volleyball pool, two pickleball courts, Bark Park, spa with full power jets, Wi-Fi, Internet Phones (free for calls to Canada and US), computer lounge with free printing, barbeque area, fitness center, billiard room, spacious clubhouse, card room, kitchen area, and exchange library.

Read Next: Consider Your Needs When Choosing RV Parks and Campgrounds

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

10 Amazing Places to RV in March 2022

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

Don’t plan it all. Let life surprise you a little.

—Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is an award-winning Dominican American poet, novelist, and essayist who drew national attention with her popular 1991 novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and 1994’s In the Time of the Butterflies in which this quote appears. These simple words encourage us not to undervalue spontaneity: While we’re busy grasping for control, our most meaningful experiences are often the result of life’s unexpected twists and turns.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some travelers plan trips minute by minute. Others take a more carefree approach. But, RV travel requires planning. If you’re driving a Class A motorhome, you’ll at least need to know which country roads have low bridges. The smallest RVs, like tiny teardrop trailers and pop-ups, lend themselves to the fancy-free lifestyle where knowing the twists and turns of every route isn’t as critical.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shoulder season in travel is the best time to visit popular places. March may have weather risks but you may have a place to yourself. Some of the most popular national parks may not be entirely accessible in March. Places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountains National Park may have blizzards, ice, and impassible roads to get there or in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road, for example, is a popular attraction at Glacier that usually doesn’t open until May.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, even in March, you can find enough places at lower elevations or with passable access to stretch your legs and breathe crisp air. If you want to have less travel weather risk, try some of the national parks in warmer and more temperate climes. You’ll enjoy your time spent in these places especially when your mode of travel is in an RV. 

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January and February. Also, check out my recommendations from March 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Spring in Zion National Park may have cold nights in March but the days should be beautiful. The tram through the park is running and most of the trails are accessible. This popular park is gorgeous this time of year. Wildflowers will be blooming and trees will be greening, depending on the weather as snow will fall in higher elevations of the park during the month. There are hikes of all levels including the infamous and challenging Angels Landing. Depending on how much rain falls, The Narrows may be closed.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a popular spring break destination and you may find some crowds. Of course, it will be much less crowded than it is in the summer months. There is a lodge within the park that hosts a restaurant and there also is a fast food cafe on site. The little town of Springdale is right at the entrance gate and has many restaurants for visitors. The park tram goes all the way up to The Narrows and makes a number of stops along the way where you can get off to a picnic, get on a trail, or marvel at the sights, like the Court of the Patriarchs. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watchman Campground opens in March but books far in advance. Zion River RV Resort is just outside Springdale and there are more parks in nearby Hurricane. If you like to camp off-grid, there are a number of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels from St. George to Springdale on Route 9 (which leads into the park). 

Related: The Absolute Best Places to RV This March

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of destinations. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix and is indeed a world away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. There’s no cellphone access in the park and no gas or food for sale. Bring water, food, and enough gas to get around the park before you get here. Indio, California, is 30 minutes west of the park from the south entrance and Twentynine Palms, California, is just outside the north entrance.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. Dirt road enthusiasts can enjoy miles of backcountry roads to get a glimpse of old mines, Eureka Peak with a view of Palm Springs, and roads that lead to bike trails. There are three visitor centers in the park as well as an accessible nature center with a boardwalk that depicts the desert cacti and bighorn sheep that populate the area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parkland began as a national monument in the 1930s, became a designated wilderness area in 1976, and became a national park in 1994. You may feel like you’re on the set of an old movie in Joshua Tree and you are because numerous Westerns were filmed here. 

There are 500 camping spots inside the park. The popularity of the park makes getting a reservation challenging. There are numerous RV parks nearby and BLM land is available for camping on the north side of the park.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This may be one of the more crowded national parks in March because the weather is particularly appealing before the brutal summer temperatures arrive. Big Bend National Park is very large, many of the roads are unimproved, and the nearest towns are Terlingua and Lajitas. There is a gas station and a small grocery inside the park but it’s best to bring food and water for your stay. The park, located on the Mexican border in southwest Texas, will bloom with wildflowers depending on the weather.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many trails to hike, you can boat on the Rio Grande, and there are breathtaking drives on paved roads to take you into the Chisos Mountains and through other parts of the park. If you stay inside the park in the Chisos Lodge or snag a camping spot, you will see a wondrous night sky of stars as this is dark sky country. Cell phone reception is hit and miss and mostly not available in this park. There are three trails and four visitor centers.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park is named for its 1,500-foot spire visible from downtown Tucson (45 miles away) and Interstate 10. Used as a distinctive landmark by travelers for centuries, Indigenous peoples built irrigation canals, ball courts, and agricultural settlements in the area which is also home to desert cottontail rabbits, mule deer, and badgers.

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in March

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 their 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. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park has a visitor center with exhibits detailing the region’s history, picnic spots, and a campground. With 85 electric sites for tent and RV camping, Picacho Peak State Park is a great place to stay while exploring nearby Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, Saguaro National Park, Biosphere 2, and the Old Pueblo.

Bring plenty of food and water and wear proper footwear. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views. 

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont Maple Syrup

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Morris Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course, there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take note of the books for sale written by Burr Morse, a seasoned member of the clan collecting colorful stories about the maple syrup trade over the years. Burr is a congenial and funny character who does some of the presentations. He also does the whimsical wood carvings that are on display.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. The harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deep South Charm

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Charleston. Avid tourist? Charleston is the city for you. Lover of good food and charming scenery? Charleston has your number.

Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes Deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a celebrated culinary scene, luxurious accommodations, historic architecture, and big events on the 2022 calendar, Charleston remains a perennial favorite destination.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 2005, the Charleston Wine + Food Festival infuses homegrown flavor with top chefs, winemakers, authors, storytellers, artisans, experts, and food enthusiasts from around the globe. The city’s popular culinary festival is a five-day event that spans the first full weekend each March (2-6, 2022).

Magnolia Plantation, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The anticipated International African American Museum Center for Family History which explores the city’s role in the history of slavery is also set to open early in the year. This one-of-a-kind research center dedicated to African American genealogy is a part of the International African American Museum. The museum sits on the shoulders of 18 strong columns. On the ground level, the African Ancestors Memorial Garden highlights the original shoreline—the exact spot where so many captive Africans first set foot in America.

Related: Best Places for RV Travel this March

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species, while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands, the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, with active springs and a seasonal creek, is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. From Green Valley to the 9,453-foot summit of Mt. Wrightson, the mountains rise nearly 7,000 feet. Moisture increases and temperature decreases 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, creating a succession of four life zones. Each life zone has communities of plants and animals adapted to the environmental conditions found in the zone.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Musical Events

For more than a decade, Savannah Stopover has been putting on stellar lineups of ones-to-watch, saw-them-whens, and look-at-them-nows of music’s hardest-working touring acts before they get to Austin’s SXSW. This spring, the festival takes place at the Georgia State Railroad Museum where live music will radiate from multiple stages at the historic site. Be sure to arrive early for the opening night event on March 10 at Service Brewing.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia’s largest musical arts event and one of the most distinctive cross-genre music festivals in the world, the Savannah Music Festival is a world-class celebration of musical arts. Find a true medley of melodies where music ranges from country to folk to jazz to chamber. Venues showcase the best of Savannah’s walkable vibrancy and include intimate churches, synagogues and club venues, breezy outdoor streets settings, and revered cultural centers and historic theatre spaces like the Johnny Mercer Theater.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With strength in classical music, Americana, acoustic, and jazz—but also rock n’ roll, dance events, and a variety of world music—the Savannah Music Festival is the tie that binds an immersive, global music experience to peak spring in an iconic Southern city.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And while your evenings will be spent listening to some amazing music, Savannah has a lot of opportunities for arts and culture and amazing outdoor activities. Tack on a few days to visit several of the many world-class museums or historic destinations, talk a walk or bike ride and explore the beautiful squares and parks, or visit Tybee Island for a boat ride or a day at the beach.

Savannah’s cuisine is world-famous and extremely diverse. Sink your teeth into extra-crispy fried chicken, authentic shrimp and grits, and finger-licking-good barbecue.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upcountry South Carolina Delight

Greenville has flown largely under many travelers’ radar but this special Southern city is worth discovering in 2022. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park—Greenville’s downtown oasis of green space, waterfalls, flowers, and walkways.

Related: The Best RV Camping March 2021

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills making it the “Textile Center of the South.” It took 40 years of cleaning after the mills closed to make Falls Park into a regional jewel, crowned by the award-winning Liberty Bridge that was designed by architect Miguel Rosales with a distinctive curve as it pitches toward the falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set on a historic rail bed that in places runs alongside the Reedy River, the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail is one of Greenville’s most popular and accessible recreation options. The paved path bisects Falls Park on the Reedy.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be one of the first visitors to the stunning new 60-acre outdoor park, Unity Park in an area west of downtown Greenville. Located right along the 22-plus mile Swamp Rabbit Bike Trail, it’s set to open in the spring. That’s right around the same time as NCAA March Madness comes to town, too. Greenville will host games from the first two rounds of the 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament from March 18 and 20 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Bernardino National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest has many special places including three National Monuments, eight designated wilderness areas, three Wild and Scenic Rivers, and numerous noteworthy and beautiful locales.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. Providing a picturesque backdrop to local communities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Its extensive backcountry can be accessed via trails from both the Coachella Valley and the alpine village of Idyllwild.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway runs from Palm Desert past snow-peaked mountains to Banning Pass. This 67-mile route offers a full variety of ecosystems in the Lower Sonoran region. From clusters of desert palms to high country conifer forests and snow-capped mountains, experience a contrast of ecosystems within a short distance. Admire fantastic views of the urbanized valley floor below, craggy mountains, and the San Gorgonio Wilderness area to the north on the Banning Pass section of the byway.

Worth Pondering…

In March the soft rains continued, and each storm waited courteously until its predecessor sunk beneath the ground.

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden 

Tips for Reserving a National Park Campsite

Some of the best places to go camping are America’s national parks

More people are leaping into the RV lifestyle every year. They’re exploring national parks in comfort but all that extra traffic makes spontaneous road trips to the parks largely a thing of the past, at least during the busy summer season. With more rigs on the road than campsites to accommodate them, RVers are constantly competing for a scant number of RV-friendly campsites.

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mobile lifestyle exploded during the 2020 pandemic year and it hasn’t slowed down yet. In 2021, the RV industry saw a record 11.2 million households buying into RV ownership. That’s a 26 percent jump since 2011 when 8.9 million people bought their first rig. These figures don’t include the millions of pre-owned motorhomes, truck campers, travel trailers, toy haulers, and camper vans streaming into national parks all year long.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite this era of rising fuel prices and inflation, there’s no telling when or if RVing’s popularity will slow down. But as prices for other methods of travel increase, too, more people will likely buy into the relatively low cost of vacationing and living in RVs. Finding RV-friendly campsites at national parks is only going to get tougher but there are some steps you can take to enhance your odds of landing one.

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First, know your RV measurements. Starting this year, RVers at Gulf Islands National Seashore are discovering that size is everything when camping in national parks. Those RVers who ignore campsite length and height limits and trample vegetation and terrain with their rig will pay a price as park rangers are now enforcing maximum RV size limits to protect natural resources.

Related: National Park Campgrounds by the Numbers

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The restrictions are in place for all campsites in the Fort Pickens Campground in Florida and the Davis Bayou Campground in Mississippi. Visitors can verify the campsite length on recreation.gov. Reservations for vehicles exceeding the campsite size limits will be canceled by campground staff on-site.

Created in 1971, the national seashore stretches 160 miles along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida and Mississippi and includes barrier islands, maritime forests, historic forts, bayous, and marine habitats.

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

Unfortunately for many RV owners, the average length of campsites in national park campgrounds is around 30-feet long. This figure comprises the entire RV unit from end to end, including a tow or towed vehicle. New RVers tend to learn the hard way that many national park campsites just can’t accommodate newer, bigger motorhome and travel and fifth wheel trailer models rolling off RV assembly lines. 

Twin Peaks Camping, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even a couple of feet make a huge difference in where an RV can go. Smaller is just better for exploring national parks. From the front bumper to the rear bike rack, rooftop A/C to where the rubber meets the road, if you own an RV and you want to camp in national parks, here’s what you need to do for a successful experience:

  • Gather all of your RV unit’s measurements from end-to-end and top-to-bottom
  • Find your desired national park campground and look for the amenities you want (Hint: most national park campgrounds do not have utility hookups)
  • Check for road restrictions to the campground (many national parks prohibit longer RVs from traveling certain roads with a tight turning radius)
  • Look for campsites that can accommodate the type of rig you own
  • Pinpoint the earliest dates you can reserve a spot, reserve it online, or call to book your stay
Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your RV exceeds the biggest campsite length where you want to go, don’t give up. In many campgrounds, guests can detach the trailer and park their tow vehicle elsewhere. When in doubt, call the reservations agency to confirm that the entire RV can be accommodated.

Related: Choose Your National Park Campground Carefully

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, research the campground facilities. Most national park websites don’t make it easy to find helpful trip planning logistics. From ADA-accessible sites to mandatory reservation seasons, much of the important information needed for RV trip planning to national parks is buried deep inside each campground’s park profile.

Twin Peaks Camping, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As an RV owner, I need a certain amount of information before I feel confident reserving a campsite. For example, I work online and have a long list of questions I need to be answered, such as: 

  • Does the campground have drinking water to fill my tanks?
  • Will there be dump station access or should I plan on emptying holding tanks outside the park?
  • What does cellular connectivity look like in and outside of the park boundaries?
  • Is Wi-Fi available?
Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone has different considerations for RV camping in national parks. National Park Traveler is currently developing a traveler’s directory that will make it easy to scan national park campground information pertinent to RVers and find key details that will help make your trip a success. I will provide additional information as more details become available.

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many campgrounds are in the National Park System? How many are needed? If you’ve struggled with making a campsite reservation on recreation.gov, these questions might have come to mind. Here are some answers.

Related: Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

According to the National Park Service, there were 1,421 campgrounds in the park system with 27,513 campsites. Filter that done a bit more and there are 502 front-country campgrounds with 16,648 sites (another 494 campgrounds don’t have front- or backcountry designations), according to the Park Service. 

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That 16,648 number might explain why it is such a struggle to reserve a campsite. After all, Yellowstone National Park has more than 2,000 front-country campsites alone, Yosemite National Park has nearly 1,500, Glacier National Park has more than 1,000, Grand Teton National Park has more than 1,100, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon combined have just a bit more than 1,200 sites. Do the math and you’ll see that those six parks alone hold 40 percent of those 16,648 campsites.

Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelley National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many other parks that are highly desirable with campers, meanwhile, have considerably fewer sites. Canyonlands National Park has fewer than 40, Arches National Park has 50, Rocky Mountain National Park has around 571, Acadia National Park has a few more than 600, and Shenandoah National Park has 472.

Of course, if you’re looking for RV campsites, they are even more scarce.

Wahweep Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, don’t leave your trip to chance. My wife and I started snowbird RVing in 1997. We were recently retired and few working-age people were long-term RVers back then. But today, we are surrounded by RVers of all ages. It’s great seeing people enjoy this lifestyle before (and after) retirement but the consequence is a loss of spontaneous road trips to national parks or most anywhere else. Impromptu decisions usually lead to disappointment in all but the most remote parks. Those who arrive without reservations usually get turned away. So forget spontaneity. Like it or not, this is a new era of planned camping trips to America’s most beloved natural gems.

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

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When there’s a park you want to visit, do your homework, and book your spot as early as possible. Persistence and flexibility pay off in the never-ending game of national parks camping reservations.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Celebrating Pistachios annually on February 26, known as National Pistachio Day and World Pistachio Day and loving them all year long

Hard to believe, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Americans harvested the first commercial crop of pistachios. They had been enjoying the nut since about the 1800s but it was not until the 1930s that the love for pistachios really took off. What may have made the little tree nut so admired, though, is the invention of pistachio ice cream in the 1940s by James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 26th recognizes all things pistachio and National Pistachio Day is the day to celebrate! Pistachio lovers rejoice as they eat their favorite nut all day long. For those who do not eat pistachios, buy some and give them to someone who does. Crack them open and eat them up or enjoy them in ice cream or your favorite pistachio dessert!

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that the fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees. Legend has it that for the promise of good fortune lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders including travelers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West. In the first century A.D., Emperor Vitellius introduced Rome to the pistachio. Apicius, Rome’s Julia Child of the time, included pistachios in his classical cookbook.

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

The scientific name for pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green-colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

The pistachio nut is one of the most popular tree nuts in the world and is valued globally for its nutritional value, health, and sensory attributes, and economic importance.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio nuts are relatively low in sugar (approximately 10 percent) and high in protein (20 percent) and oil (50 percent) contents. The oil is 90 percent unsaturated fatty acids, 70 percent of which is oleic acid and 20 percent the more desirable linoleic acid.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Related: 12 Must-See Roadside Attractions for the Perfect Road Trip

Although the pistachio was first introduced into California by the US Department of Agriculture about 1904, little interest was generated until the 1950s. Since that time pistachios have become a significant farm commodity in California.

World’s Largest Pistachio at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plantings have also been made in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in those areas that meet the climate criteria. The tree flourishes and bears well in well-drained soils but its root system will not tolerate prolonged wet conditions. It seems more tolerant to alkaline and saline conditions than most other commercial trees. The vigor and productive life of the tree are extremely long-lasting. In the mid-East, there are trees on record of having productivity of several hundred years.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usual commercial plantings are approximately 120 trees per acre. The trees begin to produce nuts in the fourth or fifth year after planting with good production taking 8 to 10 years and full bearing maturity occurring after 15 to 20 years. The average yield per tree is one-half pound the fifth year increasing to 20 pounds at maturity.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachios have always been on the pricier end of the nut scale costing three or four times as much as other nuts. Generally eaten roasted and salted as a dessert nut, the pistachio is often used in cooking as a garnish or decoration in sweet and savory dishes.

China is the top pistachio consumer worldwide with annual consumption of 80,000 tons while the United States consumes 45,000 tons. Russia follows with consumption of 15,000 tons followed by India at 10,000 tons.

Related: Wake Up In New Mexico

Pistachios ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel splits the shell. These trees are wind-pollinated which means one male tree can produce enough pollen for 25 nut-bearing female trees. Female trees produce their first nuts at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pistachio Day activities

1. Be a “pistachi”-oholic for the day

Try and go nuts today by incorporating pistachios into every meal. These versatile nuts have a powerful flavor that can elevate a sweet or savory dish throughout your day. Start off with a stack of pistachio pancakes, ease into lunch with pistachio, pomegranate, and arugula salad, then enjoy pistachio encrusted salmon for dinner, and top it all off with some pistachio gelato.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Give the gift of good health

Think of ways to food swap some of your not-so-good snacks with pistachios and introduce your friends to these green goodies too. They’re healthy, delicious, and by wrestling them from their shells, they help down your food intake (Ever heard of the Pistachio Effect?). Pistachios might be the golden (green) ticket to helping you and your friends keep those new year diet resolutions.

World’s Largest Pistachio at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Eat your heart out

These green nuts will make your heart smile too. Heart-healthy monounsaturated fat makes up the majority of the fat in pistachios, so they decrease bad cholesterol and even lower your risk of heart disease. There’s no better way to celebrate than getting your snack on, guilt-free. Grab a handful (or two) and go nuts!

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Facts

What’s in a name?

That which we call pistachio is known as the “smiling nut” in Iran and the “happy nut” in China. They’re also known as the “green almond.” Where’s the green come from? Pistachios are the “colorful” nut, owing to their green and purple hue to antioxidants.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chock full of nutrition

Pistachios are a good source of protein, fiber, magnesium, thiamin, and phosphorus. They’re an excellent source of vitamin B6, copper, and manganese.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surprise relationships

Among its “kissing cousins”: pistachios are related to the mango and the spice sumac.

A queen-sized craving

Perhaps the original royal nut, the Queen of Sheba loved pistachios. In fact, she demanded that the entire region’s pistachio harvest be set aside for her.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s to your heart

Scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Read Next: Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

Worth Pondering…

The pistachio: it’s just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that’s when the nuts come out.

―Stephen Colbert

Yuma: Gateway to the Great Southwest

Plan for sunny and warm in Yuma, Arizona

The true Southwest awaits in Yuma. Immerse yourself in rich culture and heritage rooted in centuries of history. Soak in blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year—perfect for outdoor excursions.

Yuma is the winter lettuce capital of America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Yuma is known as the Winter Lettuce Capital—thanks to its abundant vegetable production—and it holds a Guinness World Record as the “Sunniest City in the World.” With a prime location overlooking the Colorado River and home to the well-preserved Wild West-era Yuma Territorial Prison, this destination is an ideal place to explore.

Your first stops should be the Yuma Visitor Center and the Colorado River State Historic Park, the former site of the Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. Stock up on brochures and maps and find the latest info on Visit Yuma’s food tours and specialty dinners which are a great way to experience the region’s agritourism.

The Park includes a visitor center, the office of the Depot Quartermaster, the officer’s quarters, the corral house, the storehouse, a passenger train car, and more. Visitors can learn about how supplies delivered by ship from the Sea of Cortez were distributed to Army forts throughout the Southwest.

Related Article: I Was Wrong About Yuma

Serving hard time in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River are the remains of Arizona’s famous Yuma Territorial Prison. On July 1, 1876, the first seven inmates entered the Territorial Prison at Yuma and were locked into the new cells they had built themselves. A total of 3,069 prisoners including 29 women lived within the walls during the prison’s 33 years of operation. You can tour the original cell blocks, guard tower, and solitary chamber. In the museum, browse prison artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the prison staff and the notorious convicts.

Explore Yuma’s lush parks and perhaps spot a LeConte’s thrasher or the elusive black rail. Be sure to pick up a copy of Finding Birds in Yuma County AZ by local birder Henry Detwiler available at the Visitor Information Center. East Wetlands Park offers 400 acres of wetlands at the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area; it’s part of an environmental restoration effort that’s doubled the bird population and increased species diversity. There are paved pathways suitable for all abilities.

See a 1907 Baldwin steam locomotive, hear a “ghost train” travel along the original railroad alignment, and learn about the historic importance of the Yuma Crossing. The outdoor exhibit area opened in 2010 where Madison Avenue meets the river―the exact site where the first railroad train entered Arizona in 1877.

Yuma Territorial Prison is a living museum of the Old West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Toast the survivors of the Territorial Prison at the Prison Hill Brewing Company with a craft beer and conversation. Then, continue a few blocks to Lutes Casino, a historic establishment dating back to 1901. Despite the name, there are no card tables or slot machines; however, you can shoot some pool, order food, shop, or eye the quirky décor: retro signage, vintage photos, and posters of iconic Hollywood stars.

Related Article: The Beating Heart of Yuma

Never had a date shake? Now is your chance. You’re in date country after all. At Martha’s Gardens sip on a Medjool shake, a sweet and creamy concoction made from Medjool dates grown right on-property. While indulging take a tour of the grounds to find out how these dates are cultivated in the desert (offered November–March only).

The Peanut Patch is nuts for you. Stop for a visit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Converted from a vaudeville house, the Yuma Art Center features a pottery studio, an artists’ gift shop, four visual-art galleries, and a 1912 theater. Before you leave, pick up a map for a self-guided tour of Yuma’s public murals and sculptures. Don’t forget to snap some photos!

Now it’s time to stroll Yuma’s downtown center. Stretch your legs without stretching your wallet as you shop for handmade wares and agri-centric souvenirs at Brocket Farms, Colorado River Pottery, and Desert Olive Farms.

E.F. Sanguinetti helped transform the economy of Yuma heading into and through the start of the 20th century © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out the day with a stop at the historic Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens and Jack Mellon Mercantile. Named after the “Merchant Prince of Yuma” and a riverboat captain, respectively, these charming abodes are full of memorabilia and antiques, and frequently offer events such as tea time and haunted ghost tours.

Related Article: Yuman Nature

Now an Arizona Historical Society museum, Sanguinetti House Museum chronicles E. F. Sanguinetti’s (1867-1945) life as the Merchant Prince of Yuma. Visit the museum and hear stories of how Sanguinetti came to Yuma as a penniless young man at just 15 years old. He quickly grew to become a civic-minded businessman whose various enterprises—electricity, ice house, ranching, farming, merchandising, banking, and real estate—advanced his own well-being and that of the community he loved.

Related Article: Of Yuman Interest: Top 7 Attractions In and Around Yuma

Gateway Park is Yuma’s downtown riverfront park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three national wildlife refuges in the Yuma area—Cibola, Imperial, and Kofa—make up one of the country’s largest contiguous protected areas for wildlife. With more than 1,000 square miles between them, their ecosystems include desert, desert upland, riparian, grasslands, and forest.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2021

Nearly 300 million visited National Park System in 2021 but most headed to just 25 parks

Stir-crazy from the pandemic, visitors poured into US national parks and related sites last year—especially the marquee names. Visitation to the National Park System approached 300 million, rebounding from 2020 levels, but the bulk of those visitors headed to just 25 of the 423 units, the National Park Service (NPS) announced last week.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Park Service figures, the system saw 297.1 million recreation visits in 2021—an increase by 60 million over 2020—but 148.2 million of those visitors were counted in just 25 parks. Indeed, visitation records were set at Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and a number of other parks. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NPS to visitors: Let’s spread it out

In trying to encourage visitors to expand their travels in the park system, the Park Service suggests visitors “create your own circle of discovery. A visit to Redwoods State and National Parks offers a great opportunity to explore Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your 2022 trip will take you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also consider Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, and Obed Wild and Scenic River.

Related: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When in Utah for a visit to the Mighty Five, don’t miss Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bears Ears National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to really avoid the crowds and be alone with nature, Kobuk Valley National Park in northwestern Alaska had only 11,540 recreational visits in 2021. Even by Alaska standards, this place is remote.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you plan your travels, the Park Service urges you to take advantage of the search feature on the NPS website to search by state, activity, and topic, as you might find a hidden gem or two. Also, download the NPS App from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store to find up-to-date information about all 423 national park sites.

Related: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the 2021 visitation report

  • Forty-four parks set a record for recreation visits in 2021
  • Six parks broke a visitation record they set in 2020
  • Blue Ridge Parkway remained the most-visited park in the National Park System
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park set a visitation record in 2021 and passed 14 million recreation visits for the first time
  • Five parks began reporting official visitor statistics for the first time: Alagnak Wild River (Alaska), Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky), Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi), Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (Nevada), and World War I Memorial (District of Columbia)
  • In 2021, some parks operated with limited capacities or indoor space restrictions but most were open to visitors. Seven parks—all of them historic sites in urban areas—remained closed throughout 2021 due health and safety concerns related to COVID-19
  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.43 billion in 2019 to 1.36 billion in 2021, a 5 percent decrease
Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2021 by the numbers 

  • 297,115,406 recreation visits  
  • 1,356,657,749 recreation visitor hours
  • 12,745,455 overnight stays (recreation + non-recreation)
  • Three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits—Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Eleven parks had more than five million recreation visits—up from seven parks in 2020 and equal to the number of parks in 2019
  • 73 parks had more than one million recreation visits (19 percent of reporting parks)—up from 60 parks in 2020 and down from 80 parks in 2019
  • 25 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top eight most-visited parks (2 percent of all parks in the National Park System)
  • 50 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top 25 most-visited parks (6 percent of all parks in the National Park System)  
Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25 most visited parks in the National Park System

1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 15.9 million

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.1 million

3. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 13.7 million

4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 9.1 million

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 7.6 million

Related: Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 6.8 million

7. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.4 million

8. Lincoln Memorial: 5.8 million 

9. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5.5 million

10. Zion National Park: 5 million 

11. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 5 million

12. Yellowstone National Park: 4.9 million

13. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.5 million

14. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.4 million

15. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4.3 million

16. Acadia National Park: 4 million

17. Cape Cod National Seashore: 4 million

18. Grand Teton National Park: 3.9 million

19. World War II Memorial: 3.7 million

20. Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 3.6 million

21. Yosemite National Park: 3.3 million

22. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: 3.3 million

23. Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 3.2 million

24. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.2 million

25. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 3.1 million

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 10 national parks

Of the 423 sites in the entire system, only 63 of them are actually designated a national park. These are the most visited national parks of 2021:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.16 million

2. Zion National Park: 5.03 million

3. Yellowstone National Park: 4.86 million

4. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.53 million

5. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.43 million

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

6. Acadia National Park: 4.06 million

7. Grand Teton National Park: 3.88 million

8. Yosemite National Park: 3.28 million

9. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.17 million

10. Glacier National Park: 3.08 million

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

Chill out on National Chili Day

It is fitting that we celebrate National Chili Day every year on the fourth Thursday of February since there’s nothing better than enjoying fiery fare during one of winter’s coldest months. On February 24, we celebrate National Chili Day—a moment to pay homage to the legendary dish that brings people together and can tear them apart.

Chile peppers in the Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chili is the ultimate people-pleaser but it’s also the ultimate cook-off dish. Family recipes are guarded like crown jewels and secret ingredients are never spoken of above a whisper. And the debates about what makes true chili—beans or no beans?—are fierce! But these are all part of what makes chili such an experience. When the chili is being served—perhaps with some chopped onions and shredded cheese on top—everyone comes to the table.

Chile Peppers and La Cruces Craft and Farmers Market, Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is widely believed that cultivated chile peppers were introduced to the United States in 1609 by the Spanish conquistador Captain General Juan de Onate, the founder of Sante Fe. However, there are contentions that chile peppers may have come earlier during the 1582 Antonio Espejo Expedition. What is a fact is that as soon as the Spanish settled in Texas and New Mexico and other border states, the cultivation of chile peppers expanded and exploded at an exponential rate.

A point of clarification: In New Mexico, chile is with an “e” when talking about the plant and the pepper. Chili is a delicious dish of ground beef and beans. But go beyond state lines, especially in Texas, chili with an “i” refers to both the plant and the dish.

When it comes to the story of chili, tales, and myths abound. While many food historians agree that chili con carne is an American dish with Mexican roots, Mexicans are said to indignantly deny any association with the dish.

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enthusiasts of chili say one possible though far-fetched starting point comes from Sister Mary of Agreda, a Spanish nun in the early 1600s who never left her convent yet had out-of-body experiences in which her spirit was transported across the Atlantic to preach Christianity to the Indians. After one of the return trips, her spirit wrote down the first recipe for chili con carne: chili peppers, venison, onions, and tomatoes.

Another yarn goes that Canary Islanders who made their way to San Antonio as early as 1723, used local peppers and wild onions combined with various meats to create early chili combinations.

Most historians agree that the earliest written description of chili came from J.C. Clopper who lived near Houston. While his description never mentions the word chili this is what he wrote of on his visit to San Antonio in 1828: “When they (poor families of San Antonio) have to lay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for the family; it is generally cut into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat—this is all stewed together.”  

Chile peppers at La Cruces Craft and Farmers Market, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1880s, a market in San Antonio started setting up chili stands from which chili or bowls o’red, as it was called, were sold by women who were called “chili queens.” A bowl o’red cost diners such as writer O. Henry and democratic presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan ten cents and included bread and a glass of water.

The fame of chili con carne began to spread and the dish soon became a major tourist attraction. It was featured at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 at the San Antonio Chili Stand.

La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the 20th-century chili joints had spread across Texas and became familiar all over the west by the roaring ’20s. In fact, by the end of that decade, there was hardly a town that didn’t have a chili parlor which often was no more than a shed or a room with a counter and some stools. It’s been said that chili joints meant the difference between starving and staying alive during the Great Depression since the chili was cheap and crackers were free. 

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson was a big chili lover. His favorite recipe became known as Pedernales River chili after the location of his Texas ranch. Johnson preferred venison which is leaner to beef. Lady Bird Johnson, the First lady, had the recipe printed on cards to be mailed out because of the many thousands of requests the White House received for it.

Chile peppers at Mesilla,

“Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing,” Johnson is quoted as saying. “One of the first things I do when I get home to Texas is to have a bowl of red. There is simply nothing better.” 

In 1977, chili manufacturers in the state of Texas successfully lobbied the state legislature to have chili proclaimed the official state food of Texas “in recognition of the fact that the only real bowl of red is that prepared by Texans.”

As enthusiasm for chili grew so did the competition. Chili cook-offs started cropping up locally and nationally. It’s believed the first one took place in Texas in the early 1950s although some accounts say it was in Terlingua, Texas in 1967.

Tabasco, a favorite hot pepper sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chili Day

The International Chili Society was spawned about 48 years ago to motivate competition. Today, the society which has 2,000 active members puts on 150 to 200 cook-offs each year mainly in the U.S. but occasionally in Canada and Europe. Chili cooks can win as much as $25,000 for their best rendition of red chili.  

Chile peppers in Mesilla Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Chili Day activities

1. Cook up your favorite chili

Maybe your go-to recipe is in your head or maybe it’s earmarked in your favorite cookbook. Maybe you need to call your mom and have her give your step-by-step instructions. However, the chili gets on the stove, get it there, and then enjoy a piping hot bowl of the good stuff.

2. Host a chili cook-off

Everyone and we mean everyone, has a chili recipe. So invite everyone over and have a chili throwdown. The competition will be fierce, but so will your appetites.

3. Go on a chili tour

We mean it when we say that everyone has a chili recipe—that includes the chefs at your favorite restaurants. Find out which spots in your town have chili on the menu and do your own version of a progressive dinner to find your favorite. Then next year on National Chili Day, you’ll know where to head.

Chile peppers in Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most popular chili accompaniments 

1: Shredded cheese (31 percent)

2: Crackers (15 percent)

3: Cornbread (15 percent)

4: Sour cream (12 percent)

5: Tortilla chips (9 percent)

6: Diced onions (5 percent)

7: Hot sauce (4 percent)

8: Avocado (3 percent)

9: Salsa (3 percent)

10: Black olives (1 percent)

11: Cilantro (1 percent) 

La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most popular ways to eat chili

1: In a bowl (52 percent)

2: On a hot dog (12 percent)

3: In a Frito chili pie (9 percent)

4: On top of fries (8 percent)

5: Over rice (6 percent)

6: On a baked potato (4 percent)

7: On garlic bread (3 percent)

8: Over spaghetti (2 percent)

9: With mac and cheese (2 percent)

10: On a sloppy joe (2 percent)

Tabasco, a favorite hot pepper sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little trivia to go with your chili

  • A green chili pod has as much vitamin C as six oranges  
  • Some cultures put chili powder in their shoes to keep their feet warm
  • Hot chili peppers burn calories by triggering a thermodynamic burn in the body which speeds up the metabolism
  • Chili pepper color is a function of ripeness; green peppers are usually not fully ripe and the same pepper could be green, yellow, orange, or red depending on its level of ripeness
  • The first documented recipe for chili con carne is dated September 2, 1519, according to Wikipedia
Tabasco, a favorite hot pepper sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What ingredients make the best chili? 

Some cooks insist it’s all about the cumin while others choose coffee. Others say beef bouillon is a must but some say it’s the beer. Popular ingredients are ground beef, pork, venison, and chili peppers while variations depending on geography also include onions, peppers, tomatoes, and beans. 

Google best chili recipe and you’ll get about 20 million results—from Firehouse Chili (inspired by America’s firehouses where it’s often on the menu for firefighters) to Texas Red (an all-meat dish with dried red chilis) to Cincinnati chili (characterized by cinnamon, cloves, allspice, or chocolate and commonly served over spaghetti or as a hot dog sauce).

Louisiana hot sauces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Probably one of the most famous chilis is Chasen’s, named for the legendary restaurant in Hollywood. Owner Dave Chasen entrusted his recipe to no one and for years came to the restaurant every Sunday to privately cook up a batch which he would freeze for the week, believing that the chili was best when reheated. Chauffeurs and studio people, actors, and actresses would come to the back door of Chasen’s to pick up the chili by the quart. It’s said Elizabeth Taylor had 10 quarts flown to her in the early 1960s while filming Cleopatra in Rome.

Tabasco, a favorite hot pepper sauce © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking Ahead

Celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of February, future National Chili Days to mark on your calendar includes:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Thursday, February 27, 2025

Worth Pondering…

Delectable chile-con-carne… composed of delicate meats minced with aromatic herbs and the poignant chile—a compound full of singular saver and a fiery zest.

—O. Henry, The Enchanted Kiss

10 Things You Might Not Know About Mardi Gras

Everywhere else, it’s just a Tuesday

Mardi Gras. Two little words with an infinitely large explanation.  For different people, it means different things—an event, an idea, a day, a way of life, a piece of history, a state holiday, or a million parades, and countless memories. Think you know Mardi Gras? That it’s all about booze and beads? Think again! 

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy. The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state and beyond has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you, including tons of family-style celebrations.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is Mardi Gras? Do you know the meaning of krewe? Or where to get one-of-a-kind beads? Here are 10 things to know about Mardi Gras to make your Carnival the best!

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carnival is a Season; Mardi Gras is a day

Sure, we all do it. “Yea, I’m going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras!” we say when we’re actually going to see parades the weekend before Mardi Gras or the weekend before that. Technically, “Mardi Gras” is the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and ushers in 40 days of best behavior during Lent, and “Carnival” is the season that begins on the Feast of Epiphany.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras 2022 falls on Tuesday, March 1, 2022. The official start of Carnival Season is Twelfth Night, January 6.

A krewe (pronounced the same way as “crew”) is an organization that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season.

Bonus Fun Fact: Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in Louisiana and has been since 1875 when Governor Warmoth signed the “Mardi Gras Act.”

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Your Dog Will Love Mardi Gras

Dogs just want to have fun! And that’s what they get at their very own parades in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the Louisiana Northshore, and more locations! These animal-dedicated parades show off the fun and revelry from our furriest of friends and do they look cute.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans’ French Quarter goes to the dogs at the annual Krewe of Barkus where dogs and their owners dress up in cute, crazy costumes.

Related Article: Joe Cain, Moon Pies & Mobile Mardi Gras

Shreveport goes to the dogs (literally) at the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Parade. Head to Old Reeves Marine to see the pups strut their stuff and feel free to bring your own. The cuteness of this parade will have you telling everyone “Happy Mardi Paw!”

Start planning your dog’s costume for the celebration.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mardi Gras Is for Families

There are many activities and Mardi Gras parades that are family-friendly. In New Orleans, there are a few favorite family parade-watching spots which include St. Charles and Napoleon Streets. As you explore the state, you’ll find that many Louisiana cities host huge Mardi Gras celebrations with brightly colored floats and marching bands that are perfectly appropriate for the whole family.

Lafayette goes big with its Mardi Gras festivities and two of the family-friendly highlights are the annual Children’s Parade and the Krewe of Bonaparte.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. The Best Ways to Get Parade Goods Aren’t Always Obvious

Sure, you could say, “Throw me something, mister!” or you could stick your cute kid on your shoulders but if you really want to test your suitcases’ weight limit, head to the end of the parade. You’ll be showered by effervescent float-riders with a single goal: chuck all bags of beads off before they get off the float themselves.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. You never know what they’ll Throw

Bathroom humor never grows old, as evidenced by the irreverent joy of Krewe of Tucks riders including the King’s Throne (a giant toilet) float! The screaming crowds line the street begging for their bathroom-themed throws including monogrammed toilet paper, sunglasses shaped like toilets, mini-plungers, and more.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Shreveport, you’ll love the Krewe of Highland who throw a new surprise each Carnival season. The first of Krewe’s famously unusual throws began with candy canes in its founding year. Over the years, throws have included recycled beads, rubber chickens, Beanie Babies, and food, from spaghetti and meatballs in Ziploc bags to pickles, hot dogs, Capri Suns pouches, Ramen Noodles, MoonPies, and even coined money. The throws are as exciting as the floats from which they’re thrown; every year brings a new surprise to parade go-ers, screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!”

Anyone can come home with beads. Only those “in the know” get miniature squirting toilets and dinner.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Best Parades Aren’t Necessarily the Biggest

You can’t get any smaller than ’tit Rex, New Orleans first and only MicroKrewe. A group of artists, business people, teachers, workers, and bon vivants founded ‘tit Rəx in 2009 in a response to the super krewes constantly setting records for floats, throws, and extravagance.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

‘tit Rəx takes an opposite approach focusing instead of on massive floats that take up entire blocks, the ‘tit Rəx floats are made from shoeboxes and found objects that look like full-size floats. Carnival throws are handed out by krewe members rather than tossed, since—in keeping with the theme of the parade—they are so tiny.

Related Article: How to Celebrate Mardi Gras in 2021?

The parade’s name comes from the Cajun abbreviation of petite, used as a prefix before the name of the smaller or younger of two people who share a first name.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Why They Throw Beads at Mardi Gras?

Legend has it that in the 1880s, a man dressed as Santa Claus received such fame throwing beads, that other krewes followed suit. Makes sense, seeing as, before that, krewes threw any manner of items including food and dirt. Today, krewes buy plastic beads en masse which parade-goers prefer over dirt! Locals still love to see throws of tiny glass bead strands which are rare and seemed to have phased out in the 1960s and 1970s.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Weight of Revelry

Think your suitcase is heavy? Officials estimate upwards of 25 million pounds of Mardi Gras items get tossed from floats. In fact, locals like to visit the Arc of New Orleans and recycle their beads for next year. It is a 67-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the independence and well-being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Royalty is Often Top Secret

Ever see the term “Mystic Krewe” and wonder what that means? Many Mardi Gras Krewes use “mystique” or “mystic” in their titles, meaning krewes will not reveal the identities of their royalty until they’re presented at the royal ball. King, Queens, and Maids are often sworn to secrecy all year until they’re able to make their grand debut.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Mardi Gras is More Than New Orleans

When you hear “Mardi Gras” do you only think of New Orleans? Think again. Mardi Gras is celebrated around the state! Cajun Mardi Gras (yes, there is a Cajun spin on Mardi Gras) can be found in the Lafayette and Eunice area. In Baton Rouge, parades roll many weekends before and during Mardi Gras. Plan to experience some family-friendly Mardi Gras fun in Alexandria, Lake Charles, Monroe, and many other locations throughout the state.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to explore the small cities and towns of South Louisiana such as Houma and Thibodaux as every region has its own way of celebrating the carnival season.

Related Article: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

And don’t forget where it all began in America. In 1703, the tiny settlement of Fort Louis de la Mobile celebrated America’s very first Mardi Gras, 15 years before New Orleans was established.

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that you are well versed in Carnival knowledge, it’s time to plan your trip to visit the Bayou State and “let the good times roll.”

Worth Pondering…

But, after all, if, as a child, you saw, every Mardi Gras, the figure of Folly chasing Death around the broken column of Life, beating him on the back with a Fool’s Scepter from which dangled two gilded pig bladders; or the figure of Columbus dancing drunkenly on top of a huge revolving globe of the world; or Revelry dancing on an enormous upturned wine glass—wouldn’t you see the world in different terms, too?

—Eugene Walter, The Untidy Pilgrim

Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Explore my list of fun things to see and do in the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city

Consider this your introduction to the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city—the essential, can’t miss, make-sure-you-check-out things to see and do in the towns of Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, and beyond.

Northern shovelers at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert

Stroll 110 acres of greenery, ranging from marshland and riparian habitats to upland vegetation areas. Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park with interpretive panels on wildlife and vegetation throughout. Viewing blinds have been established at various locations near the edge of several ponds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site. A floating boardwalk crossing the northern end of the lake allows visitors a close-up view of the fish and ducks on the water. Additional educational areas include an ethnobotanical garden, a paleontology dig site, a hummingbird, and a butterfly garden. 

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also at the preserve: the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory where you can see comets, meteors, planets, and the sun Just be sure to check the hours—the trails are generally open from dawn to dusk, but the observatory operates separately.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multi-use trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. Discover canyon-walled Saguaro Lake aboard The Desert Belle. Relax in air-conditioned comfort on one of her 80 minute narrated cruises and see exotic Arizona wildlife, towering canyon walls, and dramatic desert vistas. Live music cruises, wine, and live music cruises, and craft beer, and live music cruises are also available.

San Tan Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. San Tan Mountain Regional Park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. The park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. This mostly unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goldfield Ghost Town

Established in 1893, Goldfield was a mining town with saloons, a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, meat market, and a schoolhouse. The grade of ore dropped at the end of the 1890s and the town was all but deserted. The town came back to life from 1910 to 1926.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, visitors can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, visit the Goldfield Museum, pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, explore the shops and historic building, eat at the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, and witness an old west gunfight performed by the Goldfield Gunfighters.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

Some cities have a clock that chimes on the hour—Fountain Hills has a fountain (the fourth-tallest in the world) that shoots water 562 feet in the air for 15 minutes on the hour. But there’s much more than that. Jump in on a docent-led art walk around the city and see a large collection of sculptures on public display as the docent explains how each piece was created. Meander some more in the Fountain Hills Desert Botanical Garden where a half-mile trail weaves you past 29 desert plants, interesting rock formations, wildlife, and the abandoned P-Bar Ranch campsite.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstition Mountain Museum

Hikers, horseback riders, photographers, and tourists come to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Superstition Mountains now preserved in the Superstition Wilderness Area. But, many are curious about the history and mystery of this intriguing area and visit the museum comprised of a central 4,900-square-foot exhibit hall and Museum Shop and numerous outdoor structures and exhibitions including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge 20-stamp gold mill, a mountain man camp, Western storefronts, and a labeled Nature Walk.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit.

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Huhugam Heritage Center, Chandler

This modern cultural center highlights the ancestral, historic, and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community made up of two tribes—the Akimel O’otham and the Pee Posh. The Huhugam Heritage Center was built in 2003 to create a place for community, culture, land, tradition, and spirit: a place to honor and preserve their Him dak (our way of life).

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience its unique and calming architecture. The Center stair-steps up out of the desert, the building silhouettes designed to blend in with the nearby mountain ranges and hills.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

A Winter’s Desert: Visiting Southern Utah in the Slow Months

Experiencing the peace of canyon country in the winter is an attraction of its own

Winter in Utah is usually thought of as a ski haven (and rightly so) but the Southern Utah landscapes are an underappreciated delight.

Many people are drawn to Southern Utah in the winter as they also seek out peace among the sparse vegetation and sprawl of open spaces. Looking across the different formations of land is a way to look into Earth’s distant past and to grow a connection to how the land operates free from human interaction. Adding the brisk stillness of winter to the formula makes it a rejuvenating retreat.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While hiking and scenic spots can be shoulder-to-shoulder from April to October in the red rocks of Utah, the off-season carries a special silence to offer a welcome respite from the daily grind. A word of caution: preparation is the key as many roads or ranger stations may be closed during the winter months. And though the daytime temperatures will be warmer than higher up in the mountains, the desert climate is still cool and nights can be especially chilling.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and skiing can be enjoyed in the Southern region of Utah but you can also enjoy scenic drives or hike at one of the more popular destinations with a smaller crowd. Read on to find out more about must-visit places in Southern and Central Utah in the winter and remember throughout your travels to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos. This way we can protect the landscape and everyone can enjoy the sought-after stillness that Utah deserts bring.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Torrey: Capitol Reef National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Located 11 miles east of Torrey, Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s best-kept secrets. It is home to Cassidy Arch (named for Butch Cassidy), one of the few arches that you can walk on (conditions permitting). To reach the arch from the Visitor Center, take Scenic Drive south about 3.5 miles and turn left at the sign for the Grand Wash Trailhead. You’ll drive down a dirt road that sometimes requires 4WD or high-clearance vehicles (check with the Visitor Center for road conditions). After you travel 1.2 miles, you’ll reach the Grand Wash parking area. From there, walk up Grand Wash for less than a mile to reach the well-marked junction with a path that leads to Cassidy Arch.

Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hike is rated strenuous, so be sure to wear shoes with good grip and watch out for ice patches. The trail is generally well-traveled and marked with cairns. When you reach the arch, take in views of Grand Wash’s red rock walls and the snow-capped arch, which sits at an elevation of 6,450 feet.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the same trailhead, the Grand Wash Trail offers a less strenuous walk that’s about four miles out and back. You’ll walk through a dry creek bed with towering sandstone walls. Keep an eye out for the enormous dome-shaped rock formation known as Fern’s Nipple. Grand Wash can be accessed from either the Scenic Drive side or Highway 24.

Escalante Petrified State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” Highway 12 offers a fantastic stretch of views and winding roads through Escalante and Boulder. This All American Road connects U.S. 89 near Panguitch on the west with S.R. 24 near Torrey on the northeast and while it isn’t the quickest route between these two points, the journey becomes part of the destination. You can take your time on this highway and break up the trip into a multi-day journey with some stops along the route to enjoy the distinct geology of Bryce Canyon National Park, Escalante Petrified State Park, and Grand-Staircase National Monument.

Near Moab: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling to Arches National Park during the winter is a great way to visit the hot spots without dealing with the hassle of long lines of cars or hikers. You can check out the classic Delicate Arch through a short hike or from the viewpoint. A more moderate hike with assorted arches and rock formations wanders through the Devil’s Garden. (Read: The 5 Best Hikes in Arches National Park)

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

The Colorado River Plateau surrounding Moab also includes must-visit spots like the La Sal Mountain range, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and stretches of BLM land between that carry hidden gems. World-renowned mountain biking can still be enjoyed in winter given the right gear or you can drive through many scenic roads with viewpoints and easy hikes. (Read: Moab’s Scenic Byways)

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand View Point is one such drive and provides an excellent view of the mountains and gorges of Canyonlands. If you’re up for a short walk, take the half-mile loop trail to visit the impressive Mesa Arch which sits at the edge of a 500-foot cliff. The arch frames a picture-perfect view of the White Rim country plus you can see the La Sal Mountains towering in the distance.

La Sal Mountains as seen from Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To extend the scenic drive add the spur trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. You’ll find overlooks in the park that offer dramatic views of the Colorado River and the White Rim country of Canyonlands. For an added treat, bring blankets and hot drinks and stay for the sunset.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near St. George: Zion National Park and Quail Creek State Park

The famed Zion Canyon in Zion National Park takes on a much quieter persona during the winter months so accessing popular trails and finding parking when the temperature drops are much easier. While one of the more popular destinations in the summer is The Narrows in Zion Canyon, it’s unlikely to be heavily used in the winter. This deep section of the canyon is a narrow corridor with towering sandstone walls with a gentle water flow through this section of the Virgin River. In the colder weather, it is best to use a dry suit for this hike.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers, campers and hikers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Monticello: Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Bears Ears

Learn more about the Indigenous roots of Utah by spending time respectfully on Ancestral Puebloan land. Set aside by the Navajo Tribal Council in 1958, Monument Valley Park covers almost 92,000 acres in northern Arizona and southern Utah and lies within the Navajo Nation reservation.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Arches and Canyonlands national park to the north, Monument Valley showcases eons of nature’s erosive power, yet has distinctive formations unlike anywhere else in the world. For millions of years, layers upon layers of sediments settled and cemented in the basin. The basin lifted up and became a plateau; then the natural forces of water and wind slowly removed the softer materials and exposed the spires, buttes, and other formations we see today—some of which you may recognize from many Western films.

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Resort and Tours offers guided trips to the surrounding areas such as Tear Drop Arch, as well as access to their lodging, restaurant, grocery store, convenience store, museum, and theater.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also take another trip by car through the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway which connects Monument Valley to Bears Ears National Monument to round out your journey and catch some of the most iconic mesas and views the state has to offer. You’ll enjoy the breath-taking vistas as you wind through the iconic Moki Dugway and pass through other noteworthy attractions such as the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, Natural Bridges National Monument, Valley of the Gods, and Hovenweep National Monument.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Cedar City: Cedar Breaks National Monument

Hidden within the mountains above Cedar City is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The natural formation made of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone is home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a plowed parking area at the junction of Highway 143 and Highway 148. From the parking lot, it’s an easy 5-minute snowshoe to the rim of the amphitheater. Approach the rim with caution, because it’s not maintained during the winter and there can be sheer cliffs. The National Park Service recommends staying at least 200 feet from the rim.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the edge, you’ll see a beautiful landscape of spires, hoodoos, and cliffs tinted with shades of red and orange. During winter, brilliant snow caps the rust-colored spires creating a striking contrast in colors. Situated on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau, the raised area of earth located in Southern Utah sits entirely above 10,000 feet.

Brian Head Resort area near Cedar Breaks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To explore the area further, don your skis or snowshoes and make your way down Scenic Byway 148. In the winter, it’s closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a groomed snow trail that runs for several miles along the rim of the park. From January through March, volunteers lead guided snowshoe hikes, and you can check online or contact the park for specific dates. The area is also popular for snowmobiling, and Cedar Breaks is one of the few national monuments that allows people to ride unguided.

Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey