10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2022

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

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

—J.R.R. Tolkien

One of the most beloved lines from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy is this bit of wisdom imparted from the wizard Gandalf to the young hobbit Frodo. In the first book, 1954’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” Frodo inherits a cursed ring and realizes he must take a frightening journey to destroy it. After confiding to Gandalf that he wishes the task had fallen to someone else, the wizard reminds Frodo that no one gets to dictate what challenges they face. Rather than lamenting unavoidable hardships, time is better spent focusing on the choices within our control, and making our time on Earth (or Middle-Earth) meaningful.

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

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

Great Smoky Mountains

Established in 1926, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is comprised of the ridge upon ridge of seemingly endless forest on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. Called the Smokies due to the ever-present morning fog, this mountain range is world-renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and its history of southern Appalachian mountain culture. With nearly 80 historic buildings, spectacular displays of wildflowers, and abundant wildlife, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers myriad activities to enjoy.

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

Observing wildlife is one of the most popular things to do in the Great Smoky Mountains. With a wide variety of animals including approximately 1,500 black bears, the park is a biologist’s paradise. Over 17,000 species have been recorded at the park and experts estimate that there are thousands more to discover. Fishermen can try their hand at catching brook, brown, or rainbow trout swimming throughout the 700 plus miles of fishable streams in the park.

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waco

Waco’s bad rap as a hotbed of cult activity has all but been erased by the flurry of excitement around HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” and Chip and Joanna Gaines’ modern farmhouse empire. Visitors can shop the Magnolia Trail or take a guided tour of homes and retailers featured on the show—you can even stay in Airbnb homes the duo remodeled (or ones that have been done in a similar style).

Antique shops and airy cafes aren’t the only things Waco has to offer. Sightseers will want to tour one of the many historic estates in the area like the Earle-Harrison House & Pape Gardens, the East Terrace Museum, and the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House. Lovers of natural history will want to check out the Mayborn Museum on the Baylor University campus while nature lovers will want to get into the great outdoors and hike or cycle the trails at Cameron Park.

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1968, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum is the official hall of fame, museum, and archives for the Texas Rangers, the oldest law enforcement agency in the United States and a symbol of the American West. The museum also is the headquarters for Ranger Company F.

Related: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

While in Waco, take a tour of the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute, a place that serves up history, nostalgia, and Waco’s favorite authentic soda fountain drinks. Most people agree: there’s nothing like a cold Dr Pepper float on a hot summer day, especially when enjoyed in the ambiance of a classic 1950’s soda fountain.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The City Different

In recent years, Santa Fe has emerged from the desert as an oasis for incredible food, art, culture, and natural beauty in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nicknamed “The City Different,” New Mexico’s capital city serves as a thriving creative hub; for proof, look to the trippy installations at Meow Wolf, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, and the classic Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. (One might argue that a day trip to El Malpais National Monument or El Moro National Monument could be equally inspiring.)

Related: The Amazing Badlands of El Morro and El Malpais National Monuments

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe is also home to many a tasty snack. We’re not just talking Hatch chiles—though those should be enjoyed, too, specifically in a cheeseburger at Shake Foundation and atop world-class Tex-Mex fare at a classic joint like Tia Sophia’s. And don’t skimp on the booze—this is allegedly the birthplace of the margarita, after all. Hit up Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, which boasts a 60-year legacy and more than 200 varieties on its binder-like menu.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Charm of Cottonwood

Located in the heart of Arizona and the heart of wine country, Cottonwood is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cooler temperatures of Arizona’s high country. Surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona to the northeast and Mingus Mountain to the southwest, its lower elevation makes it a perfect spot for your next Arizona adventure.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Cottonwood is known for its Main Street with over 60 businesses including charming boutique hotels, wonderful restaurants, shops, antique stores, and wine tasting rooms. The Verde Valley Wine Trail runs right through town and has more stops here than anywhere else on the trail. Sit back and sip, savor, and enjoy the fruit of the vine in Old Town.

Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood is also home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Less than two miles from Old Town, this landmark has earned a reputation as a favorite fishing hole, bird lover’s paradise, and hiker’s dream. Its trails meander through sycamore and cottonwood trees along the banks of the Verde River making it a jewel in the center of Cottonwood all year round. Visit Cottonwood, the heart of Arizona wine country, where everyone is welcome!

Related: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czech out La Grange

You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in the Central Texas community of La Grange, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town’s history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. The three-story Fayette County Courthouse is a masonry and stone Romanesque Revival structure with a clock tower over the main entrance.

Texas Quilt Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though many of the original buildings in La Grange are more than a century old, a number of them have been renovated and serve as creative outlets, blending history and modern-day function. The Texas Quilt Museum opened November 2011 in a two historic 1890s buildings, which provide a stunning showcase for both antique and contemporary quilt art with their high ceilings, brick walls, and original hardwood floors.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Top Auto Loop Road

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites. From remains of early pithouses and masonry villages to multi-storied cliff dwellings, archeological sites along this loop show how early Pueblo architecture evolved.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the road, you’ll find short, easily-accessible paved trails to view twelve archeological sites. Short trails along the Mesa Top Loop lead to surface sites such as pithouses and pueblos; overlooks of cliff dwellings tucked into alcoves; and viewpoints where you can enjoy the beauty of the landscape that was home to generations of Ancestral Pueblo people.

Highlights include Square Tower House Overlook, and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View and Sun Temple. The Mesa Top Loop Road is open daily, 8:00 am to sunset.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston to Savannah

Lined with massive oak trees that drip with Spanish moss and elegant antebellum plantations, the two-hour drive between two of America’s favorite southern cities makes for a fantastic road trip. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets of Charleston, South Carolina, and wander past secluded gardens and historic buildings that boast intricate iron-wrought balconies. Seek respite in the scorching heat of summer in the cool shades of Waterfront Park.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Historic District by horse-drawn carriage in Savannah, Georgia, and embark on leisurely strolls along the Savannah River. Shop and indulge in the regional cuisine on River Street where historic cotton warehouses have been converted into trendy boutiques and restaurants making sure to sample fried green tomatoes and hearty plates of shrimp and grits.

Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Giant Peach Does Exist

You can’t miss it as you drive down I-85 in South Carolina. The Peachoid, as it’s called, is a massive peach-shaped water tower. In Gaffney, the Peachoid is more than a water tower. According to official literature, the Peachoid boldly “sets the record straight about which state is the biggest peach producer in the South. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT Georgia.”

Without a doubt, the best known, most photographed water tank in America. It is painted to match the kind of peaches grown in the area using 20 colors and 50 gallons of paint.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park

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

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. In addition the park offers three camping cottages, two yurts, and three group camping areas. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance to the date.

Indian Creek Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Creek Scenic Drive

Amidst the red rock of the Moab area, the Indian Creek Corridor scenic byway leads to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Traversing across high sage plains, the route eventually leads to Indian Creek and Newspaper Rock Recreation Site.

Related: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Utah Scenic Byway traverses a high altitude (6,000 feet) sage plain before plunging into Indian Creek Canyon on its way to Canyonlands National Park. Along the way it passes the Dugout Ranch, one of the oldest operating cattle ranches in southeast Utah. The byway accesses Newspaper Rock BLM Recreation Site and cuts through the Canyon Rims BLM Recreation Area, a vast landscape of desert and low elevation mountain terrain with hiking and four wheeling opportunities.

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

―Lucy Larcom

Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Related Article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

Related Article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

Related Article: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

9 of Best National Parks for RV Campers

Looking to get closer to nature and linger longer at a US national park? RV camping is the perfect way to experience the majestic wide-open spaces of the national parks.

Camping in an RV within a national park provides a comfortable base to immerse yourself in a park’s beauty from sunrise to sunset (and beyond for great stargazing). National park campsites also create a fun sense of community between RV campers who share everything from vehicle advice to travel tips, BBQ recipes, and s’mores around the campfire.

The national parks listed below are top destinations not only for the quantity and quality of RV campsites within the parks but for the access that RVs have to tour the parks on paved roadways with key park attractions being within roadside viewing distance. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips to consider when RV camping at national parks

Most national parks use Recreation.gov as the website to make reservations for campsites. Each park has its own quirks about the timing and process for making reservations, so check out your target park’s rules and regulations prior to booking. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make reservations as far in advance as possible. National park RV campsites can become fully booked within minutes of dates being offered, particularly for summer high season and holiday weekends. 

For your RV campsite, research the length restrictions and available hookups for water, electricity, and sewage dumps. You don’t want an unpleasant surprise after a late arrival to a remote campground.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not able to secure a RV campsite within a national park, be aware that many private RV parks and resorts operate just outside the boundaries of most National Parks. Reservations at commercial campgrounds will be easier to make and these campgrounds provide more services and amenities than those within park limits. 

Bringing bicycles or a towed car with your RV can greatly expand your options for exploration in a national park particularly to areas with limited RV access. Also, consider leaving your RV in the campground and using park shuttle services when available. 

Following are nine of the best US national parks for RV camping.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. 

Main Park Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Arches’ Main Park Road traces 18 miles from the entrance to Devils Garden Campground on a nicely paved roadway with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s epic arches and other rock formations. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed. After your visit here, you can add stops to southern Utah’s BryceCanyonlandsCapitol Reef, and Zion for an epic Utah national parks RV road trip. 

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 1 campground with 51 sites

The only camping option inside the park is the Devils Garden Campground, a slickrock-flanked oasis at the end of the park’s main road. Reservations are available and recommended via Recreation.gov, March through October and are available up to six months in advance; its 51 sites are first come, first served the rest of the year. 

Related Article: To Visit a Popular National Park this Summer, Start Planning Yesterday

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic RV route through the park: Desert View Drive portion of SR-64 is a scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. Private vehicles can drive east along the canyon rim for 23 miles to the Desert View Services Area and the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 519 sites available for RVs

Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. There are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, and picnic table. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available; however, there is a free dump station. Most RV spaces are pull-through.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer Village is the only in-park RV campground with full hookups (sewage, water, and electrical with 30-amp and 50-amp sites available) Trailer Village features paved pull-through sites which can accommodate vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village is concessioner operated. Reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.  

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drives in the park: The main gateways to Great Smoky Mountains are the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina. Between the two is the scenic Newfound Gap Road which winds for 29 miles neatly bisecting the park on the only pavement traversing the Smokies.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is by far the most popular site in the park. You can meander along the 11-mile driving loop through pastoral landscapes to historic log cabins and churches all the while viewing wildlife without ever having to leave the comfort of your car. 

Sugarlands Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 9 campgrounds 924 sites available for RVs

Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers, electrical, or water hookups in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Few roads pass through Joshua Tree but entrances at both north and south ends of the park connect in a cross-park scenic drive with spur roads to specific attractions. Driving the park north to south will give you roadside views not only of plenty of the park’s namesake trees but notable landmarks like Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rock formations. As you continue south watch as the landscape and flora transforms from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 8 campgrounds with 495 sites available for RVs

With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Related Article: Tips for Reserving a National Park Campsite

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 1 campground with 267 sites

Morefield Campground is located 4 miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs and includes 15 full-hookup RV sites.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

With over 229 square-miles, more than 35 hiking trails, and cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park features the same dramatic desert landscape associated with the main section of the park: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus, and wooded trails along twisting side canyons.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 2 campgrounds with 303 sites

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Tip: This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures often exceed 95 degrees.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventure, historic sites, and dark skies rank among the features visitors enjoy in Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip: Big Bend is best enjoyed from late fall through early spring. Winter months bring beautiful days and pleasant temperatures. Summer months are scorching and outdoor recreation can be uncomfortable and unsafe. In the winter, five visitor centers are open, ranger programs occur more frequently, and local outfitters offer more activities. In the summer, many of these operations are reduced.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The 30-mile-long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive holds up to its name taking you by noteworthy spots like the Mules Ears viewpoint (where you can see two jagged rock formations that jut up resembling donkey’s ears), Sam Nail Ranch (a historic homestead built in 1916), and Santa Elena Canyon (get those cameras ready).

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

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 5 campgrounds with 196 sites for RVs

Since it takes a long time to reach the park—and then once there, you can spend a good amount of time just getting around within the park—it’s not a good idea to reserve a campsite well in advance. For camping within Big Bend, you have four developed campgrounds to choose from: Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, Cottonwood, and Rio Grande Village RV Park. Reservations required. You can book your site up to six months in advance.

Note: At Chisos Basins RVs over 24 feet (trailers over 20 feet) and are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin and small campsites at this campground.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (also known as SR-240) connects the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall. This scenic route winds up and down the contours of the Badlands with about a dozen opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts for photo ops.

Cedar Pass Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 2 campgrounds with 118 sites

In addition to backcountry camping, Badlands offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park’s northwest has 22 sites (free), vault toilets, picnic benches, and bison trails. For running water and electricity opt for the Cedar Pass Campground adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge where you’ll find 96 RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables. Reservations recommended.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 357 sites

Nothing compares to sleeping under the stars and with four campgrounds there’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah National Park. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. Many sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.

Related Article: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah’s four main campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service and are open seasonally from early until late fall and feature spacious tent, trailer and RV sites:

  • Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.2) 
  • Big Meadows Campground (mile 51) 
  • Lewis Mountain Campground (mile 57.2) 
  • Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5)

Worth Pondering…

If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then that beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese monk and Zen master, How to Love

The Best Locations to Visit this Spring According to TikTok

As warmer days approach, you might start thinking about your next vacation—and if you’re looking for an unexpected gem you might not have to look very far

International luggage delivery company MyBaggage recently published its list of the 10 most popular places in the U.S. to visit this spring based on a potentially surprising methodology: TikTok views. And for the most part, the winners weren’t typical beach destinations in Florida or tourist attractions in California or New York.

The Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rather, the list primarily featured locations near mountain ranges, national parks, and other natural attractions—mostly in the western and southern U.S.

To get the list, MyBaggage ran a series of location-based hashtag searches through TikTok and sorted the results by total views. At the time the report was compiled, videos tagged with Macon, Georgia had 53.7 million views on the app, according to MyBaggage. Texas Hill Country had 51.3 million views, by comparison.

Check out the top 10 for some great ideas on where to potentially travel this spring:

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon, Georgia

TikTok views: 53.7 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 71 F

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon, Georgia is a nature lover’s wonderland. Nestled in the middle of the state, it’s the perfect place for a getaway to experience the great outdoors. Hike through 180 acres of upland forest at Amerson River Park, pick fresh produce at Lane Southern Orchards or Dickey Farms, hop on your bike for a ride through the Historic Downtown, or kayak along the bubbling Ocmulgee River.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step back in time and visit Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. Ocmulgee has had 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. Explore the museum with over 2,000 artifacts and visit the Earth Lodge with its original floors that are dated to 1015. The park’s 702 acres include fields, forests, and wetlands located along Walnut Creek and the Ocmulgee River. The Ocmulgee Wetlands allows visitors a glimpse into an ecosystem including birds, animal, reptiles, and plants. Immerse yourself in the wetlands environment by taking a stroll on the park’s boardwalk.

Related Article: The Best RV Destinations to Explore this Spring

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country, Texas

TikTok views: 51.3 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 76 F

The Hill Country lies in southwestern central Texas. Although it has no technical geographic boundaries, it generally is defined as the area west of Austin and north of San Antonio—bordered by Interstate 35 on the east, U.S. 83 on the west, U.S. 90 on the south, and Texas State Highway 29 on the north. It is a land of steep, rolling hills; woods; streams and rivers; and small towns. Towns include San Marcos, Boerne, New Braunfels, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Johnson City.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a strong German heritage dating to the 1800s, several Hill Country towns are known for their German restaurants and bakeries. Other attractions include wineries, state parks, barbecue restaurants, festivals and fairs, and wildflowers. Canyon, Buchanan, and Marble Falls are three major lakes in the area and among the primary rivers are Medina, Guadalupe, Colorado, Pedernales, and Llano. RV parks and resorts are abundant throughout the Hill Country and along I-35 and I-10.

Related Article: The Best Stops for a Spring Road Trip

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

TikTok views: 28.9 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 51 F

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is also known as the Red Rock Country, which—as the name implies—is home to red-rock formations and canyons amongst the desert trails and cacti. The springtime offers visitors a mild temperature to enjoy those red rocks before the heat of summer sets in.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric red rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

TikTok views: 14.8 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 79 F

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains as a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape for area visitors and famous figures. Movie stars and mob bosses ditched L.A. to vacation here during the town’s first boom in the 1920s, popularizing a Spanish-Mediterranean architectural style.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received another tourist boost during the ’50s when this became a hip Rat-Pack hangout. They brought with them significant Mid-Century Modern architects who crafted uber-cool homes, many of which were restored in the 1990s.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

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

Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee

TikTok views: 5.2 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 67 F

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

The Great Smoky Mountains, also a national park, are a mountain range along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee where visitors can hike, camp, go whitewater rafting, and experience remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. It’s the country’s most-visited national park. The Appalachian Trail also runs through the Great Smoky Mountains.

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

Scenic drives such as the Newfound Gap Road provide a welcome mat to countless brooks, waterfalls, overlooks, and trailheads; along winding roads where we can capture those s-curve-through-nature photographs that we love so much. 

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Other locations in the top 10 most popular destinations include:

  • Oregon Coast, Oregon
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
  • Garden of the Gods, Colorado
  • Port Townsend, Washington

Worth Pondering…

You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.

—Florida Georgia Line, Cruise

11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Coined the ‘Main Street of America’, driving along this historic road elicits memories of days gone by when a nickel could buy you a bottle of coke and the sweet sounds of Billie Holiday crooned from every radio

No American road is as iconic as Route 66. Starting in Chicago, Illinois, and snaking cross-country to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 originally consisted of 2,418 miles of highway rich with neon-lit motels, quirky roadside attractions, and stretches of deserted landscape.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With such a wealth of inspiration, it’s no surprise that so many filmmakers have used Route 66 as a backdrop for their films. One of the pivotal scenes in the 1988 film Rain Man takes place at Route 66’s Big 8 Motel in El Reno, Oklahoma. Rain Man went on to win numerous accolades and prizes including four Academy Awards. While not every movie filmed on Route 66 goes home with an Oscar, there are many that are worth a watch.

So pop some corn, get yourself comfy, and binge watch these eleven must-see movies on our list.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Filmed along Route 66, primarily in Santa Monica, California, and Flagstaff, Arizona, this 1969 film follows two “biker-hippies” (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) as they head to New Orleans, crossing the west and southern United States. Along the way they encounter a host of interesting characters and strange situations. The ultimate biker road-trip film, this movie had a budget under $1 million and yet went on to gross more than $60 million worldwide. This movie is especially interesting because it marked the beginning of a cinematic revolution in Hollywood. Addressing topics such as sexuality, politics, and drugs with unprecedented candor, it marked a new wave of film and was one of the first low budget movies to enjoy such a high level of success.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Based on John Steinbeck’s novel of the same name, this 1940 film tells the story of an Oklahoman family heading to California on Route 66. Taking place during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl period, the poverty stricken Joad family leaves Oklahoma in search of a better life. Interestingly, Steinbeck was the person who first coined the term the “Mother Road” to describe Route 66, and many of its locations are prominently featured in this movie including spots through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, this movie is also listed 230 on the American Film Institute’s 2007 list of the best movies ever made.

Related: Route 66 across Arizona

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

This 1987 film, also known as Out of Rosenheim, is a German comedy-drama set in a remote truck-stop café and motel in the Mojave Desert in California. The story centers on two women who have recently separated from their husbands and the friendship that grows between them. The setting of this film, Bagdad, California, is a former town on Route 66 which was abandoned and eventually razed after being bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1973. While the town of Bagdad did have a Bagdad Cafe, the film was actually shot 50 miles west in the town of Newberry Springs, California, at the now titled, Bagdad Cafe. This café has since become something of a tourist destination on the route.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No Country for Old Men (2007)

This picture, based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, is a tension building cat and mouse drama which follows a Texas welder and a Vietnam veteran in the desert landscape of west Texas. Interestingly however, The Desert Sands Motel in the final scene, while depicted as El Paso, Texas, was actually filmed in the Route 66 town of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Critically acclaimed, this film took home four Academy Awards as well as numerous other prizes.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

This 2006 film follows the motley Hoover crew as they pile into a canary yellow Volkswagen bus, embarking cross-country to get the seven-year-old protagonist, Olive, to a beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Portions of the road trip were filmed in Route 66 locations including Chandler, Phoenix, and Flagstaff. Interestingly, this film, while having a relatively small budget of $8 million made a profit exceeding $100 million worldwide. Watch it for the great locations, but stay for the weird family antics.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

In this classic movie, starring funny man Chevy Chase, the Griswold clan drove from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit the theme park Wally World. Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona, and other Arizona highway locations were used in this comedy. Other locations close to Route 66 included Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon which the cast actually visited (unlike the cast of Thelma and Louise). This film was a box-office hit earning more than $60 million and increasing the popularity of the National Lampoon series.

Related: Get Your Kicks (And Burros) On Route 66

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starman (1984)

Although filmed in numerous locations throughout the United States, this 1984 film featured the Meteor Crater Trading Post, just west of Winslow, Arizona, on Route 66. Telling the story of an alien who has come to Earth in response to the Voyager 2 space probe’s gold phonograph record, this crater location served as the movie’s rendezvous point where the main character (Starman) was to meet and return to his ship. Interestingly, this film represents a rare instance where a film from the science-fiction genre received an Academy Award nomination for acting (Jeff Bridges for Best Actor).

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beneath the Dark (2010)

Located along Route 66 in the heart of the Mojave Desert sits Amboy, California, the backdrop for this 2010 mystery thriller film. Set largely in Roy’s Motel and Cafe (used over the years in many horror films), this movie introduces us to a couple driving through the desert to attend a wedding. When they end up at Roy’s for a roadside rest stop, it proves to be a strange and unsettling place where uncomfortable secrets will be revealed. Once a popular spot to stop along the route, Amboy struggled after the opening of Interstate 40 in 1973 and is now largely abandoned. Turn this movie on to be spooked, but take in a little piece of Route 66 history while you watch and get out and pay a visit to Roy’s for yourself.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Hogs (2007)

In this 2007 film, a group of middle-aged suburban bikers hit the open road on a quest for adventure. These “Wild Hogs” soon find they’ve gotten a little more than they bargained for when they encounter a New Mexican biker gang called the Del Fuegos. Filmed in a variety of locations in the Route 66 town of Albuquerque, New Mexico, this comedy flick has led to an influx of recreational bikers to the area. One key spot to visit is The Library Bar & Grill, a Central Avenue (Route 66) location in Albuquerque that was featured as a friendly biker bar in the film.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

One of the darker films on our list, this 1994 satirical film about serial killers on a murder spree was filmed in a variety of locations on Route 66 (Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona). Following Mickey and Mallory Knox as they drive down the highway in their Dodge Challenger, murdering every few miles, this controversial film focuses on how mass media can irresponsibly glorify individuals. Shot in a unique frenzied and psychedelic style making use of animation, different color schemes, and a variety of camera angles, filters and special effects, this film, while not the archetypal road trip film, is definitely a must-watch.

Related: Route 66: The Road to Adventure

The Outsiders (1983)

Shot on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Route 66 runs through the heart of the city), this 1983 coming-of-age drama is an adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel of the same name. In this film a teen gang (the Greasers) are continually at odds with a rival group (the Socials). When a brawl ends in the death of a Social member, the consequences for everyone involved are serious and tragic. A well acted and crafted film that stars some of Hollywood’s biggest names when they were still young and up-and-coming, this movie performed well at the Box Office, and solidified its place on our list.

Read Next: Road Trips Ratings: America’s Classic Routes Analyzed

Worth Pondering…

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

—Bobby Troup (1946)

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway: Moab’s Most Scenic Drive

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway begins at the turnoff from Highway 191 which is easily accessible from Moab

Moab has a reputation for being an outdoor junkie’s wonderland. No wonder, since it’s close to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Smack dab in the middle of those two famously stunning swaths of land is another gem: Dead Horse Point State Park. Cruise the park’s Dead Horse Point Scenic Drive and see why it’s such an underrated spot as you make your way between the two national parks.

There’s nothing better than a scenic drive that’s also incredibly short. This allows for a number of things: First, it saves time one would spend on the road and allots it to sightseeing. Second, it’s easy enough to fit into one day giving travelers the option to extend their time in a specific place. When it comes to the most scenic drive in the Moab area, Dead Horse Point checks all of these day-trip-drive boxes.

Related: Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the drive is one that’s well-known, it’s one that’s also incredibly underrated. The total length of the trip is less than 25 minutes and takes almost 30 minutes to traverse with no stops along the way. Here’s everything you need to know about taking this scenic drive, and why it’s worth so much more hype than it currently has.

There are some things that visitors should know when taking the Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway and the first is that it resides mostly on the top of a plateau or mesa. The second is that on the way up, visitors will observe the narrow strip of land that connects the starting point of the byway to the top of the mesa, giving one a pretty good idea of the incredible views that wait at the top. The third is that Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway gives way to multiple hikes along the way, all before one even enters the park itself—so if this is something one wishes to take advantage of, it’s a good idea to note where the trailheads are beforehand.

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

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway takes you through miles of incredible red rock canyon country. To reach the byway, head north from Moab on US-191. After about 9 miles look for the “Dead Horse Point State Park” sign and turn left (west) onto SR-313. This is the start of the byway.

Related: Moab’s Scenic Byways

As a grand finale before reaching Dead Horse State Park, the Dead Horse Point Overlook is one for the books. This is not only a great way to end what’s already a short and scenic drive but it’s also one of the most spectacular views in the Moab Desert. From this elevation, visitors will be able to see the Colorado River roughly 2,000 feet below them as well as extensive views of the red canyonlands. On a clear day, it’s very possible to be able to see for nearly 100 miles in any direction.

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

After a series of hairpin curves you begin to ascend the plateau as the road mellows out allowing you to better appreciate the scenery. At about 14.6 miles from the beginning of SR-313 a fork to the left leads to Dead Horse Point State Park. Note that a fee is required to proceed to the viewpoints in the park. The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas anywhere. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands National Park’s sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

A campers’ paradise, Dead Horse Point State Park encompasses 5,362 acres of desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Hiking is a popular activity with seven miles of trails taking you to eight breathtaking overlooks. The visitor’s center will help with navigating the park and learning the history of all its beauty. If you plan on staying the night, you can camp here as well. For geocachers, there are three official geocaches at Dead Horse Point, each with souvenirs.

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

Basin Overlook offers a short, easy hike down a nature trail that’s paved for easing trekking. Additionally, visitors can find other hikes along the rim of the canyonlands. This is also a popular spot for photographers.

Related: Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?

Another scenic point along the 22-mile route worth mentioning is known as The Neck. This is easily recognizable due to its small parking area and it’s a great midpoint to take advantage of on the way to the final overlook.

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

Tip: For more hiking, the West and East Rim trails can be found at The Neck; these trails are shorter than the rim trails at the Visitor Center thus better for novice hikers.

After leaving Dead Horse Point State Park, backtrack on SR-313, turn left, and head toward the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park ultimately ending at Grandview Point. This section of the park sits atop a massive 1,500 foot mesa—quite literally an Island in the Sky.

The access road for Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, SR-313 was first built in 1975 in place of SR-278. In 1988 the route was rebuilt from its original state of steep grades and blind switchbacks to its current state.

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

Tip: Although those driving along the scenic byway will have the protection of the vehicle and, hopefully, access to AC, it’s important to remember that this remote stretch of land is still a desert. Visitors are advised to bring plenty of water and snacks as well as pack a first-aid or emergency kit in their vehicles.

Fun Fact: According to a legend, Dead Horse Point State Park got its macabre name in the early 1800s when cowboys rounded up wild horses through a narrow land strip called the neck that was 30 yards wide. At the neck, they selected the horses they wanted and the released horses died of thirst after they were rounded up at a waterless point.

Related: If the Outdoors is your Thing, Utah is your Place

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

Fun Fact: The Dead Horse State Park is known in popular culture for a Grand Canyon scene filmed there for 1991, Thelma and Louise movie starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

One doesn’t necessarily need a reason to take the 30-minute desert drive through the Moab Desert. One doesn’t even need a reason to visit the scenic vistas of Dead Horse State Park; however, its breathtaking views and ease of access are two great reasons to do so.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The New Mexico Green Chile Peppers Guide

Introducing the New Mexico green chile peppers

Long, hot sunny days and cool nights, Rio Grande waters, and a high desert altitude make for perfect New Mexico chile peppers. Red or green, a robust Big Jim or sweeter Sandia, chiles are the stuff of family life and tradition in New Mexico.

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the broad floodplain along the Rio Grande north and south of Las Cruces, lush green plants droop with heavy loads of chiles—thick-walled varieties for harvesting green and roasting and thinner Sandia types that’ll ripen to rubies and be dried for ristras, chile powder, and just plain decoration.

Salsas, chorizos, burritos, and enchiladas are great with green chiles. But have you tried burgers, wine, margaritas, stews, and pizza oozing with genuine green or red Hatch chiles? If not, read on for a gastronomical and cultural journey of the green and fiery kind.

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hatch Chile Story

The term “Hatch Chile” or “Hatch Green Chile” actually refers to chile peppers grown in the Hatch Valley of Southern New Mexico, known as the Chile Capital of the World.

Mesilla Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several different chile pepper varieties are grown in Hatch and in the nearby Mesilla Valley ranging from mild flavor to extra-extra-hot flavor. Growing conditions for Hatch chiles and Mesilla Valley chiles are nearly identical and the resulting quality and flavor of both are indistinguishable from each other. The stars are all aligned here for the best chile-growing with the alkaline soil, water for irrigation, warm days, and cool nights the chiles need.

All flavors of Hatch green chile peppers as well as Mesilla Valley green chile peppers are available during the chile harvest season (July to October).

Related Article: The Fiery Appeal of Hot Chile Peppers

The genetic base for the Hatch green chiles and Mesilla Valley green chiles (in fact all New Mexican chile peppers) can be traced back to the improved chile varieties introduced by New Mexico State University (then New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts) and developed by Dr. Fabián Garcia in the early 1900s.

Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in 1894, Fabián Garcia crossed several local pod types to improve them for the region. He sought larger, smoother peppers that were better for canning. Following many years of crossing and growing, he released a variety called New Mexico No. 9 in 1913. Today, chile pepper studies continue at the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, founded by Paul Bosland to study New Mexican peppers and others from around the world.

Unlike other peppers, Hatch chiles come in different seed varieties that cover the full spectrum of heat levels. Typically, the mild to medium-hot varieties are more readily available. Then, there is red vs. green peppers. For those that didn’t know, red peppers are the same, but have simply been left on the plant longer to ripen.

Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico green chiles are piquant and crisp becoming sweeter as they age to red chiles. Small and oblong, they grow to an average of 5 to 8 inches with smooth, shiny skins of light green to emerald before ripening to a deep red-brown when dried.

Mild in flavor, these green chiles range from 500 to 3,500 Scoville Heat Units (which extends past 1 million for ghost peppers and such); Big Jims are milder, Sandias are hotter and grown for ripening, Lumbres are hotter still, and the list goes on.

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t confuse them with Anaheim or California chile peppers though they may have originated from the same organic strain. New Mexico green chiles have a distinct flavor of their own.

Authentic New Mexico green chiles are grown in southern New Mexico in the Hatch Valley where only six cultivars of this variety of Capsicum annuum are grown. Though some states and even countries are using the name “Hatch Green Chiles,” only those grown in New Mexico are worthy of the name. In the same way, there are several thousands of sparkling wines but only one is Champagne! One Hatch, one chile!

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Hatch Chile Peppers

Hatch chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Bit of History

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 New Mexico, cultivation of green chile peppers expanded and exploded in an exponential rate.

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chemical Heat

Capsaicin, a chemical found in concentrated amounts in chile peppers can be found in the membranes surrounding the seeds. If you want less heat, then remove the seeds and the membranes.

Chile-infused products © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Health Benefits

Dried New Mexico green chiles are good sources of iron, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin. Cholesterol-free and low in calories and sodium, these chiles also contain Vitamins A, B, and C. In fact one medium green pepper is thought to have as much vitamin C as six medium oranges. High-fiber and fat-free, indulge in the greenest of them for high flavor.

Researchers at the University of Vermont have found that eating chili peppers was associated with a 13 percent reduction in overall mortality—people who ate them lived longer. That was primarily due to a reduction in heart disease and stroke.

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plant Facts & Figures

New Mexico chiles grow into compact heights of 20 to 30 inches with indefinite stems. The pods are elongated oblong shapes with blunt points and may be as small as 2 inches to as long as 12 inches. They are usually dark green before ripening into various shades of red. Leaves are medium green, mostly smooth and grow as long as 3 inches and as wide as 2 inches.

Related Article: Chile Peppers 101

Green chile plants mature in about 80 days and grow the entire year. However, harvest time is late summer to early autumn and is a long-standing communal and cultural affair in New Mexico.

Ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Beauty of Ristras

Come late summer or early fall, green chiles are harvested throughout the Mesilla Valley, particularly the Hatch area where farms, usually family-held for several generations, have their own harvest traditions. From communal roastings with beer and margaritas, burger and steak cookouts with salsas and enchiladas, to the Hatch Chile Festival during the Labor Day weekend, one thing is for sure—ristras are awesome.

Ristras are strings and braids of dried green and red ripened chiles which are usually hung around storefronts, rooftops, and even home porches. Beautifully strung, these decorative garlands are also supposed to bring good luck.

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile or Chili Confusion

Before you get confused for the whole of New Mexico there is only chile with an “e” when talking about the plant and the pepper. Chili is the delicious dish of ground beef and beans. But go beyond state lines especially in Texas where chili with an “i” refers to both the plant and the dish.

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Hot is Hot?

Talk about heat! The 7 Pot Douglah is an extremely hot pepper (SCOVILLE HEAT UNITS: 923,889 – 1,853,986 SHU) from Trinidad. Its skin is notably dark chocolate brown and somewhat pimpled. It starts off green but matures to a rich brown. It is one of the Hottest Peppers in the World. Aside from the color, it looks very much like other superhot chili peppers, roughly habanero shaped, about two inches long. The hottest 7 Pot Douglas is about 232 times hotter than the hottest jalapeno pepper and more than 5 times a very hot habanero pepper.

Related Article: Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

La Posta, Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hooked on the Heat

My introduction to green chiles came long ago at a variety of restaurants in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, and Mesilla. My palate sizzled with capsaicin. Endorphins fizzed in my veins like butter. It was the start of a lifelong love affair and chiles have been a constant in my diet ever since. Once you get hooked, you can’t get unhooked. It’s an addiction, but it’s a good one!

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

The Golden Isles of Georgia

Warm Atlantic waters, miles of winding marshland, and magnificent beaches

The mainland city of Brunswick and a series of barrier islands are nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah (Georgia) and Jacksonville (Florida). In an earlier post, I detailed St. Simons and Sea Islands.

Jekyll and Little St. Simons along with Historic Brunswick offer the visitor numerous unique experiences.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families for a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months during the winter.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Goulds, and Cranes and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms).

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These vacationers came by train to Brunswick and crossed the river to Jekyll or arrived in their yachts with family members, servants, and supplies aboard.

Related: Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

The men relaxed and hunted while the ladies had tea, planned parties, and went to the beach.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1942 most of these elite vacationers departed the island, never to return. World War II and the economy had taken its toll. Some of the wealthy families left their homes fully furnished and the buildings fell into disrepair.

In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island for $650,000 and set a provision that 65 percent of it must always remain undeveloped. Some of the wealthy families’ cottages have been restored and are open for tours.

duBignon Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, this era of Jekyll Island’s history can be dramatically revisited with a tram tour of the National Historic Landmark District including many of the opulent mansions their millionaire owners called “cottages”.

Goodyear Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages. A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

To see more of the island’s eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers guided tours routing through beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel and oceanfront properties. RV camping is available at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 206 campsites on the Island’s north end.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of flat, mostly paved bike paths encircle the island. You can spend a whole day riding beneath canopies of live oaks, along the beach, and through the historic district.

Related: Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History and Beauty

Bikes can be rented at Jekyll Island Campground, the shopping mall, and various hotels around the island. Tram tours, Victorian carriage history tours, and nature and landscape walks are available from the visitor’s center, located on the Jekyll Causeway.

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A fishing pier is located across from Jekyll Island Campground and fishing is available along the beaches.

Jekyll Island, once a haven for America’s elite, now beckons to all.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little St. Simons Island

Little St. Simons Island (though not so little at 10,000 acres) lies only a 15-minute boat ride from its bigger, better-known sister, St. Simons Island.

In terms of development, however, the two islands couldn’t be further apart. Whereas St. Simons offers residents and the visiting public a variety of condominiums, shopping centers, golf courses, and mini-mansions, Little St. Simons is one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands—a privately owned sanctuary devoted to preserving and protecting its ample wildlife.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible only by boat from Hampton River Marina on St. Simons Island’s north end, Little St. Simons Island is a privately owned resort offering a limited number of guests the rare opportunity to experience isolated beaches and marshlands.

Known for its privacy, The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island features six cottages, several of which date back to the early 1900s, that can host a total of 32 guests at one time.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An ideal destination for family reunions and small gatherings, Little St. Simons Island offers guest activities ranging from guided nature walks through the ancient maritime forest to canoeing, kayaking, fishing, shell collecting, bicycling, and birding.

Related: Holly Jolly Jekyll

Guests may also choose to pass the day relaxing on the porch or enjoying the tranquility of the island’s seven-mile, undeveloped beach.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Brunswick

The mainland, port city of Brunswick is named for Braunschweig, Germany, the ancestral home of King George II, grantor of Georgia’s original land charter.

The streets and squares of this quiet port city were laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s and still bear their colonial names—Newcastle, Norwich, Prince, and Gloucester—giving Brunswick a decidedly English flavor.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unmistakable flavor of the south, too, can be sampled here, home of the original Brunswick Stew.

Docked at the wharf, the array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters—evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Watch the ocean vessels come into port, see the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street, and then sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Downtown Brunswick, also known as the Old Town Brunswick, is enjoying a renaissance, with the ongoing renovation and restoration of historic buildings and public squares. Old Town Brunswick is centered at the intersection of Newcastle and Gloucester Streets, the traditional commercial corridors of the city.

Newcastle Street is anchored on the south end by Old City Hall (1888) with its distinctive clock tower.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the north end of Newcastle Street is the Historic Ritz Theatre. Built in 1898 as the Grand Opera House, the Ritz Theatre is Brunswick’s center for quality exhibits and performances by local, regional, national, and international artists.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Homes in Old Town reflect a variety of styles dating from 1819, including Queen Anne, Jacobean, Eastlake, Mansard, Gothic, and Italianate architecture. The Brunswick Landmarks Foundation works to educate the public and protect and enhance the special historic character and charm of Old Town.  

The downtown district features a growing mix of antique shops, specialty shops, art galleries, theaters, and restaurants.

With ideal weather conditions throughout the year, Brunswick also supports an active and healthy outdoor life.

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful natural scenic landscape invites jogging and walking, from the challenging Sidney Lanier Bridge to the Old Town Brunswick National Historic District and from Mary Ross Waterfront Park to the Howard Coffin Park.

Read Next: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep

Roll in on the souls of men,

But who will reveal to our waking ken

The forms that swim and the shapes that creep

Under the waters of sleep?

And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in

On the length and the breadth of the marvelous marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Desert, mountains, sandy beaches, clear blue rivers, and deep canyons. The Lone Star State has it all—and you can find it in a state park.

Texas is one of the most geographically diverse states in America—it is the largest state in the contiguous United States after all with a thriving state park system to match that has more than 80 different sites across the state to explore.

Officially established in 1923, Texas’s state park system was loosely modeled on the United States’ national parks. When Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, the state government stipulated that Texas must retain control over its public lands, so when the country’s national park movement was first gathering steam in 1916, very little land was allocated to the federal government. There’s now a grand total of 603,748 acres of Texas state parks to traverse, so there’s a little something for every type of adventurer.

Here are the 10 best Texas state parks to visit.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Davis Mountains State Park

Why go: Desert mountain hikes and a historic lodge

Nearest town: Fort Davis

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay: Davis Mountains State Park offers primitive camping, campsites with electricity and water, and full hookup campsites for RVs. If you’re not into camping, check out the Indian Lodge, a full-service hotel in the state park. 

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you ask any Texan what they think of when they hear the words “West Texas,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is Big Bend National Park (or, alternatively, the cool little art town in the middle of nowhere, Marfa). But about 140 miles north of Big Bend country are the Davis Mountains which are geologically classified as a “sky island”—an isolated mountain range surrounded by a radically different lowland.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mountains were created 35 million years ago after a series of violent volcanic eruptions which gave the area a large outcropping of rare (for Texas) igneous rock. The park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails and horseback riding corridors plus what the park fondly calls the “best little bird blind in Texas.”

McDonald’s Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the state park’s proximity to the McDonald Observatory, the area enjoys mandatory dark skies making it an ideal spot for stargazing.
Davis Mountains State Park isn’t known only for its outdoor activities. One of the most distinctive hotel options in the area is the Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The pueblo-style lodge functions as a full-service hotel and has 39 rooms and a dreamy swimming pool.

Related Article: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Why go: Big Bend’s geography without the crowds of Big Bend National Park

Nearest town: Lajitas or Terlingua

Where to stay: Primitive camping only. Nearby towns of Lajitas and Terlingua have RV parks, hotels, and motels.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park is often overshadowed by its spectacular national cousin, Big Bend National Park. But just a few minutes down Highway 170 (which, by the way, was named one of the most scenic drives in the country) is this state park—the biggest in Texas at a whopping 300,000 acres. Admittedly, Big Bend Ranch State Park is not for the faint of heart: There’s only primitive (a campsite with no water or electricity, but can be driven to) and backcountry (campsites with no water or electricity either, but require a hike to reach) camping in the park.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its size and remoteness, it offers little in the way of amenities. What the park does have is 238 miles of multiuse trails for hiking, biking, and riding horses. Bring plenty of water—temperatures can reach as high as 130 degrees in the summer, so plan your visit for sometime during late November to early March. This west Texas park also makes a great place to stargaze.
For an extra dose of personality, add a stop in Terlingua to your trip. The famous revitalized “ghost town” serves up some serious western-inspired grub, drinks, and music at the Starlight Theatre. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 

Why go: Hike a gorgeous pink granite monolith

Nearest town: Fredericksburg

Where to stay: Group campsites, campsites with water, and backcountry camping are all available.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As any Texan knows, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a must-visit park. You can see what makes the region special from miles away along the drive on Ranch Road 965—a gargantuan hunk of pink granite that’s completely unique to Texas. (The state capitol is made of the same rock.) Geologically, the unusual formation is known as a ​​monadnock, a hill of bedrock that rises above its surroundings.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stunning monolith has always had a mystical ambience. Before the Spanish and Anglo settlers arrived, the Plains Native Americans who frequented the area called the formation the “Singing Rock.” When the granite would cool from Texas’s ultra-hot summer temperatures as the sun went down, the stone would moan and groan as it shrank in the cool night air. If you’re lucky, you can still catch this phenomenon during a sunset hike.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 11 miles of trails in Enchanted Rock State Natural area; the most popular hike goes straight up to the top of the rock, the Summit Trail. The “trail” (there are few ways to mark a path on bare rock) can be slippery at times but the view of the Hill Country at the apex makes the near vertical trek worth it. Because this hike is up a hunk of granite, the trail has little to no shade or vegetation, so be prepared with hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water. 

Mustang Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mustang Island State Park

Why go: White, fluffy sand in Texas’s best beach town

Nearest town: Port Aransas

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity and primitive camping are available. There are also RV parks in the area.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, so calling Port Aransas Texas’s best beach may be a controversial statement—South Padre Island is regularly flooded with spring breakers each year, Galveston enjoys a steady stream of tourists, and let’s not forget Latina superstar Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But many Texans will say that Port Aransas easily beats them all. And if you’re into fishing, the reel-’em-in heaven of Rockport is only 18 miles away from this island community. 

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Port Aransas so special? Think small-town Texas with charming coastal vibes and the whitest, fluffiest sand your toes will ever have the pleasure of knowing. Plus, being located on the barrier island, the area enjoys an ecosystem populated by seabirds, 600 species of saltwater fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even a few alligators. One of the best places to experience the island’s environment is Mustang Island State Park.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has five miles of coastline where visitors are encouraged to camp, bird-watch, kayak, fish, or simply play in the surf. Camping here is a little different than in most Texas state parks—though there is a designated camping area with electric hookups, guests can also camp primitive-style directly on the sand near the surf with the appropriate permits. 

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park

Why go: Visit one of the largest spring-fed pools in the world

Nearest town: Balmorhea

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity, group campsites, and cabins are available.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton Springs in Austin is indisputably one of Texas’s favorite swimming pools thanks to its year-round cool temperatures and convenient location in the heart of the capital. But if Balmorhea were a little closer to central Texas, it would definitely be a fierce competitor. It offers a sizable spring-fed pool that hovers around 72 to 76 degrees all year, right smack in the middle of the desert.

Related Article: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the Civilian Conservation Corps built the concrete swimming pool and cabins in the 1930s, the San Solomon Springs provided water for local wildlife and hunter gatherers who are believed to have first made their appearance in the area around 11,000 years ago. During the 1800s, cattle ranchers and railroad workers often used the springs.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the pool is most commonly frequented by Texans looking to escape the oppressive summer heat in an appealing desert landscape. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive at the pool which hosts two endangered species of fish: the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Though Balmorhea State Park is a bit out of the way from any major city (the nearest one—Odessa, Texas—is 116 miles away), getting to take a dip in the turquoise gem of the west Texas desert is an experience not to be missed. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Why go: Play on the Sahara-like dunes

Nearest town: Monahans

Where to stay: Campsites with water and electricity are available; also equestrian sites.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for “fulgurites” (melted sand created by lightning strikes), ride your horse, or borrow a disk to surf the dunes. This park seriously reminds me of a scene from Aladdin. Oh, and did I mention that you can surf down the sand dunes? I can’t think of many activities more fun than that!

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park

Why go: Lapping water and Gulf breezes

Nearest town: Rockport-Fulton

Where to stay: 

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport-Fulton, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. With a height of 44 feet, a circumference of 35 feet, and a crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) for more than 1,000 years.

The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

Read Next: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Scenic Byways across America Await Exploration

On the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again

“On the Road Again” is easily considered Willie Nelson’s signature song. On a flight together, Nelson was asked by the producers of the Honeysuckle Rose film to write a song about touring to be used as the movie’s theme song. By the time they had landed, the lyrics to “On the Road Again” had been composed. The song rolled up to No. 1 in 1980 and earned a spot in the Grammy Song Hall of Fame.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many aspects to travel. We go to places we’ve never been because we want to be surprised. We travel to see new sights and experience fresh things. We seek new places that might teach us about the world and ourselves.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While your plans may be for travel to a specific destination, a road trip need not be limited to getting to one location as fast as possible. Throughout America there are National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads, ready to introduce you to memorable adventures off the interstate while driving toward your primary destination.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The two road designations include a collection of 150 diverse tracks identified by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation as possessing intrinsic qualities that make each route particularly worthy of a driving experience.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Scenic Byway designation recognizes roads with one (or more) of six attributes contributing toward a unique travel experience. They must be scenic (natural and manmade), natural (undisturbed beauty), historic, recreational, archaeological, or culturally significant.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All-American Roads meet the same criteria, but must also feature multiple qualities of national significance. Also, All-American Roads must be considered worthy as stand-alone destinations.

Related: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“These roads are truly unique,” says Doug Hecox, a spokesman with the Federal Highway Administration. “They are special routes that offer unequalled ways to enjoy different facets of America. Sadly, too few people know they exist.”

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get your “personal mental engine” started thinking about the possibilities, here is a sampling of these federally recognized routes to whet your appetite for adventure as you get “on the road again.”

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

State: Utah

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it is far and away the best.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail

State: Louisiana

Designation: All-American Highway

Length: 180 miles

Often referred to as “Louisiana’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, and Cajun culture await discovery along this route through the marshes of Louisiana.

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway

States: Colorado and Utah

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 512 miles

If you have children interested in dinosaurs, this route encompasses one of the best areas in the world to find dinosaur fossils and for the public to see what paleontologists have uncovered. Key attractions include active quarries where you can watch paleontologists search for fossils embedded in stone, backcountry sites where you can view dinosaur fossils and footprints, and museums that display fossils, replicas, and information about dinosaurs. Nearby “side trips” include Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

States: North Carolina and Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 469 miles

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Santa Fe Trail and Historic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway

States: Colorado and New Mexico

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 565 miles

The Santa Fe Trail was one of America’s first trade routes. Operating between 1821 and 1880, it was critical to westward expansion, and remnants can still be seen along the byway. The byway partially follows the route and passes Fort Union National Monument where 170-year-old wagon ruts are still visible. Other points of interest include stage stops, trading posts (Brent’s Old Fort), pictographs, and the longest dinosaur track in North America.

Alabama Coastal Connection (Fort Gaines) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

State: Alabama

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 130 miles

This route and the waterways it follows are significant to the state of Alabama and the region for many reasons. Among them are the National Historic Landmarks of Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines, the protected lands of the Dauphin Island Audubon Sanctuary, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Gulf State Park, beaches and sand dunes, salt and freshwater marshes scrub forests, freshwater swamps, and uplands.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

State: South Dakota

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 68 miles

This byway will lead you on a delightful adventure as it winds its way around spiraling “pig-tail” shaped bridges, through six rock tunnels, among towering granite pinnacles, and over pristine, pine-clad mountains. Highlights include Mount Rushmore, Harney Peak, Sylvan Lake, the Needle’s Eye, and Cathedral Spires rock formations.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country Byway

State: Ohio

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 76 miles

Discover the cultural and historic treasures of the Amish and northern Appalachian people as you drive around the curves and over the hills of the pastoral countryside. Experience simple living and sustainability along charming country roads, taking you to a bygone era still present, manifest in the people and their lifestyle.

White Mountain Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain Trail

State: New Hampshire

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 100 miles

The White Mountain Trail offers New England’s most rugged mountain scenery as it travels through three historic “notches” or mountain passes. Views abound of villages and unspoiled National Forest. Stops include views of Mount Washington and the grand Mount Washington Hotel, mountain cascades, wildlife, and the Appalachian Trail.

Related: Take the Exit Ramp to Adventure & Scenic Drives

Great River Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great River Road

States: Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 3,000 miles

This byway twists and turns through 10 states as it meanders vertically through the center of the nation. It follows the entire route of the iconic Mississippi River from its Minnesota source at Lake Itasca to where it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Along the byway, there are thousands of places to visit, and more than 70 official interpretive centers such as museums and historical sites, as well as charming, small river towns and one-of-a-kind mom and pop restaurants.

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Journey Through Hallowed Ground Byway

States: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia

Designation: National Scenic Byway

Length: 180 miles

The 180-mile Journey Through the Hallowed Ground byway corridor from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Monticello, Virginia is “Where America Happened.” It is said that this three-state route spanning Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia holds more historic sites than any other in the US. It was an active transportation route during the Revolutionary War, a critical transition zone for the Underground Railroad, and a key battleground during the Civil War.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Parkway

State: Virginia

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 23 miles

The Colonial Parkway not only illustrates the English colonial experience in America but is also an outstanding example of American parkway design. Retaining its original scenic and historic integrity to a remarkable degree, the 23-mile route connects the historic sites of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

States: California and Oregon

Designation: All-American Road

Length: 500 miles

Several scenic days await exploration along this route connecting Lassen Volcanic National Park, Lava Beds National Monument, and Tule Lake National Monument. Crater Lake National Park is also on the route. The violent eruption of the Mt. Mazama volcano 7,700 years ago was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Lava flows sealed the bottom of the caldera, creating Crater Lake, the seventh-deepest lake in the world. Along the route, a 33-mile drive around the rim of the lake offers spectacular views.

Related: The 7 Most Scenic Drives in the Country to Add to Your Bucket List

The scenic byway also passes numerous mountain communities as it traverses the dramatic volcanic landscapes.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a Highway

Life is like a road that you travel on
When there’s one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend, sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your back to the wind

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you’re going my way
I wanna drive it all night long
Come on. Give me give me give me give me yeah

—recorded by Tom Cochrane from his second studio album, Mad Mad World (1991)