10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

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

The ultimate luxury in life remains nature.

—Robert Rabensteiner

After spending two decades at L’Uomo Vogue—the menswear counterpart to Vogue Italia—Robert Rabensteiner is now the fashion editor-at-large for Condé Nast’s Italian division. Part of his job is appraising runway collections in New York, Paris, London, and Milan, his primary residence. Yet some of his most cherished trips to a remote chalet near his hometown in the Austrian Alps are far less elaborate. Hidden deep in the forest, the chalet is only accessible by riding a chairlift and then taking a half-hour trek. When his mother died, Rabensteiner sought refuge in the house and, more so, it’s calm setting. With this quote, he speaks to a feeling shared by so many of us: that the connection to nature offers an unparalleled source of wonder, healing, and joy. 

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

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its unforgettable vista.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and new-school Hollywood iconography serving as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Place in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

For a minute there, it seemed like society’s obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ’50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena last year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.

All this time, a few towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians (or, did they?). In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. One of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial is Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

The country was whipped up into a frenzy and soon after the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. But, I’m still withholding judgment!

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.”

2022 is the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. It all comes down July 1-3. And it’s going to be the biggest, best UFO Festival yet!

Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For colors—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic highways. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is home to one of the world’s most unique geological wonders: the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Formed millions of years ago when a fault line shifted and exposed thousands of acres of rust-tinted sandstone and slate-gray shale, the resulting rugged cliffs and arch formations are the red rocks Utah is known for.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grab a cinnamon bun or freshly baked mini-pie in the historic village of Fruita located within the park’s borders then stroll through verdant orchards and hunt for petroglyphs near the visitor center. Hikers won’t want to miss the 1-mile jaunt up to Hickman Bridge nor the chance to squeeze through a narrow slot canyon in Cottonwood Wash. Stay in nearby Torrey for the best BBQ and wild-west themed hotels and RV parks.

Some roads in Capitol Reef National Park remain closed due to flash flooding that occurred last Thursday (June 23, 2022). Check with the Park Service as to the current status before visiting the park.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Newport Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is absolutely worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell

Visiting Hollywood South: Louisiana’s Film Trail

Locations tied to Louisiana-filmed movies and TV shows are numerous

Louisiana’s official state nickname is Sportsman’s Paradise thanks to rich and abundant natural resources and the fish and wild game that call it home. Related nicknames for the state include The Pelican State, about the state bird, and Bayou State, thanks to the slow-moving streams.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s another nickname for Louisiana that is not all about the flora and fauna—Hollywood South. Thanks to its diverse settings for movies (Louisiana has everything including bustling cities, antebellum mansions, and lush wilderness areas), generous state tax incentives for film producers, and numerous production support businesses, Louisiana is a global player in a movie and TV filming location. And, like other visitors to the state, movie and TV stars rave about enjoying the food, music, and joie de vivre away from the sets.

A comprehensive list of major movies and TV shows made in Louisiana in recent years would be too long to list here but here are a few ideas for mixing some of Louisiana’s more notable filming sites with your travels throughout the state.

Gator at Jungle Gardens on Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Steel Magnolias (1989)

Scene: Filmed in Natchitoches, a good part of the film takes place in M’Lynn Eatenton’s (Sally Field) fictional 1830s home in the fictionally named Chinquapin Parish. It’s the site of memorable quotes such as one during the annual Christmas party when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley MacClain) turns to M’Lynn and quips, “M’Lynn, what’s wrong with you these days? You got a reindeer up your butt?”

Crawley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Laugh through tears (Truvy’s [Dolly Parton] “favorite emotion”) as you enjoy a weekend staying in the actual 1830s, six-bedroom, six-and-a-half bath Steel Magnolia House. The bed and breakfast is where much of the movie was filmed.

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

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

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Scene: Louis (Brad Pitt), an unwilling vampire, decides he’s had enough of his so-called life and takes a torch to his sprawling manor setting the curtains ablaze which ticks off the aristocratic vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) who was rather fond of the place.

Crawfish farming © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Louis’ homeplace was filmed at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie. Take a tour and see the restored antebellum Greek Revival mansion—sans flames—plus spots where the graveyard scenes were filmed. Decide for yourself if it’s a fitting estate for a vampire.

Frog mural in Rayne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Easy Rider (1969)

Scene: On a break from their iconic, cross-country road trip, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) along with a couple of bleary-eyed prostitutes, drop acid in an ancient cemetery prompting them to get dazed, philosophical, and naked.  

Above-ground cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Don’t drop acid or get naked but do get philosophical while wandering around the famous, above-ground St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans where the scene took place. Specifically, seek out the massive, queen-like sculpture set into the “Italia” gravesite where, like Wyatt, you can imagine yourself talking to dead relatives. Several tour companies offer cemetery tours.

Louisiana sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Scene: Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) wakes up his father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), drives him out to a lake, and then carries him on his shoulders to the pier where he sets him on a chair and they watch the sunrise. During the three-minute scene, a beautiful song, Sunrise on Lake Pontchartrain, is playing in the background.

Tabasco factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Start early and park yourself on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans where the song takes its name. Watch a real sunrise while listening to the music and chances are you’ll end up teary-eyed at the beauty of both. Afterward, take a ride by the Nolan House at 2707 Coliseum Street, a spectacular Garden District mansion where the bulk of the film took place.

Related: ‘Pass a Good Time’ on the Bayou Teche Byway

Along the Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Duck Dynasty (2012-2017)

Scene: The Robertson boys deck themselves out with camo gear, shotguns, and their famous, handmade duck calls, then cruise on an airboat through the North Louisiana marsh, gather ’round the duck blind, and proceed to gleefully blast down one quacker after another.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: If that sounds like your idea of happiness then order a few of the Robertsons’ custom duck calls from the Duck Commander company website and head to one of the prime duck hunting areas in North America: Chenier Plain in southwest Louisiana. On the Sabine and Lacassine national wildlife refuges in Cameron Parish, it’s where you can fire away at gadwalls, blue-winged teal, pintails, mottled ducks, and white-fronted geese. 

St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tremé (2010-2013)

Scene: This Emmy Award-winning HBO drama (2010-2013) is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Co-created by David Simon—best known for blockbuster television drama The Wire—Wendell Pierce (a native New Orleanian) and a cast of costars work on rebuilding their lives in the wake of one of the nation’s most significant natural disasters. The series name refers to a New Orleans neighborhood that is the historical heart of the city’s African American community through Tremé was filmed throughout the Crescent City.

Experience: All over New Orleans including numerous bars and restaurants (Vaughn’s Lounge, Liuzza’s By the Track), the French Quarter, and historical shotgun-style homes central to New Orleans’ architectural distinctiveness.

Atchafalaya National Heritage Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swamp People (2010–present)

Scene: This reality show based in south Louisiana focuses on the lives of alligator hunters in the Atchafalaya Basin swamps and depicts life (and wildlife) in the bayous. At times intense—alligator hunting is not for the squeamish, after all—Swamp People is a testimony to the resilience of the men and women who call the region home. 

Related: Lake Martin: An Accessible Louisiana Swamp and Rookery

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience: Throughout rural central and south Louisiana. Pierre Part, a village a few miles due south of Baton Rouge, is among the primary filming locations. Others include Houma, Hammond, Bayou Sorrel, Thibodaux, and Zwolle. An airboat swamp tour with RJ Molinere, star of Swamp People, is about as close as you can get to the real thing you see on the show.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NCIS: New Orleans (2014-2021)

Scene: A spinoff of the enormously successful CBS network show, NCIS. NCIS: New Orleans stars Scott Bakula as Special Agent Dwayne Pride whose investigations into crimes involving military personnel have made for captivating, edge-of-your-seat viewing since it premiered in 2014. While NCIS: New Orleans shows off the talent of Golden Globe winner Bakula and an extensive roster of actors, the real star may be New Orleans itself with each episode showcasing the city’s unique architecture and unconventional characters.

Experience: Iconic locations throughout New Orleans. Bourbon Street, Louis Armstrong Park, Café Du Monde, Jackson Square, Plaza Tower, and New Orleans Motorsports Park (in Avondale) make appearances.

Denham Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More stops along the Louisiana Film Trail

Louisiana’s antebellum plantations on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge remain a magnet for blockbuster films. In recent years, 12 Years a Slave was filmed at Felicity Plantation. For the classics enthusiast, the tours at Houmas House Plantation and Gardens explain the mansion’s role in making Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Plantations along the Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Baton Rouge, visit Louisiana’s State Capitol to see where All the King’s Men, a story based on Huey P. Long, was filmed. Just a few blocks away sits the USS KIDD, a WWII-era battleship where Tom Hanks’ Greyhound was filmed.

Read Next: 6 of the Best RV Parks in Louisiana

Worth Pondering…

Goodbye joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My yvonne, the sweetest one, me oh my oh
Son of a gun, well have good fun on the bayou

—Lyrics and recording by Hank Williams, Sr., 1954

Summer 2022: 11 Best Things to Do in Western Canada

Your Canada bucket list just got (a lot) longer…

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within Canada and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Rocky Mountain sheep in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer in Western Canada include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit all seven of the Rocky Mountain Parks

Renowned for their scenic splendor, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are comprised of Banff, Jasper, and Waterton Lakes national parks in Alberta, Kootenay and Yoho national parks in British Columbia, and Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber provincial parks in British Columbia. The seven parks of the Canadian Rockies form a striking mountain landscape. With rugged mountain peaks, icefields and glaciers, alpine meadows, lakes, waterfalls, extensive karst cave systems, and deeply carved canyons, the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks possess an exceptional natural beauty that attracts millions of visitors annually.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Snap postcard-worthy photos of Banff National Park

Explore pine forests, glacier-carved valleys, and snow-capped peaks in Alberta’s Banff National Park. 

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you Google “Canada nature,” you’ll see pictures of Banff National Park in the Rockies—and for good reason. Canada’s oldest and most popular national park is Mother Nature’s best. Anywhere you look, there are jagged peaks sprinkled with fluffy powder, bluer than blue glacial lakes, and majestic wildlife including bears (black and grizzly), elk, wolves, big horn sheep, and foxes.

Related: Doctors Can Prescribe Year-Long Pass to Canada’s National Parks

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite being busy year-round, Banff is big enough that you can find something to do without being shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists (well, except perhaps if you’re waiting for that photo of Lake Louise).

Banff National Park is a hiker’s playground with more than 1,000 miles of trails. Following these trails up ridges leads to impressive viewpoints of craggy peaks, surprise waterfalls, and massive glaciers. The higher you go, the more you’ll see of the 1.6 million acres that make up the park.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Immerse yourself in nature at Jasper National Park

Jasper has been named one of the 30 best national parks across the globe. Outside, an online publication has included the picturesque spot on its list of must-see destinations. Jasper is the only Canadian entry.

Elk in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of “wild and scenic.” It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff.

Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travellers to explore.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. A scenic drive of a lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Related: RV To Canada This Summer

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” is the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 90,000 acres in area and 100 to 360 feet in depth and receive up to 7 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Reach new peaks at Mount Robson Provincial Park

“On every side the snowy heads of mighty hills crowded round, whilst, immediately behind us, a giant among giants, and immeasurably supreme, rose Robson’s Peak.”

—Milton and Cheadle, 1865

Mount Robson Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system, is truly one of the Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Mount Robson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With Alberta’s Jasper National Park as its easterly neighbor, Mount Robson Provincial Park comprises a portion of one of the world’s largest blocks of protected areas. Designated as a part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, Mount Robson provides everything from developed, vehicle-accessible camping to remote valleys that seldom see a human footprint. Mount Robson Provincial Park also protects the headwaters of the Fraser River.

First attempted in 1907, it was not until 1913 that humans finally stood on the summit of Mount Robson. On that clear, cold day guide Conrad Kain, W.W. Foster and A.H. McCarthy beheld a view no person had ever seen before.

Fort Langley National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Stand in the spot where BC began

Experience the excitement of the early West Coast fur trade at Fort Langley and stand in the spot where British Columbia was proclaimed a British colony in 1858. Explore the scenic fort—built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1827—where fur traders once exchanged furs, salmon, and cranberries with Indigenous communities.

Fort Langley Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Langley National Historic Site offers interactive displays and activities. Watch blacksmithing, barrel-making, or historic weapons demonstrations, take a guided tour and pan for gold. Additional experiences include overnight stays in a furnished oTENTik, audio tours available in seven languages, and Sxwimelə Boutique and Gifts. There is also free parking on-site for visitors.

Fort Camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Special events take place throughout the year such as Grave Tales walking tours, Brigade Days, Canada Day, the Cranberry Festival, Christmas events, and Vive les Voyageurs Winter Festival in January.

The Fort Langley National Historic Site is within walking distance of the Fort Langley Village where you can explore locally-owned shops, cafes, restaurants, museums, and beautiful walking trails along the Fraser River.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 120-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Related: What you should know about Wine and Canada

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Lesser Slave Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel off the beaten path in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park

As you dig your toes into warm, soft sand and watch the setting sun reflect off the glassy surface of the lake, you may feel like you are far away in some tropical locale. At nearly 450 sq mi, it isn’t hard to mistake Lesser Slave Lake for an ocean. Its white sand beaches are some of the finest in Alberta and when the west wind blows across the vast waters, you can get wave action big enough to surf on—though most people choose to ride the big breakers in kayaks.

Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique microclimate that encompasses the lake and rich habitat of the surrounding boreal forest has created a haven for nesting and migratory birds—particularly songbirds—which is why the area has been dubbed the continent’s bird nursery. Built to study them, the Lesser Slave Lake Bird Observatory and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation are fascinating to visit. You’ll learn that nearly half of all North American bird species nest and raise their young here and billions of birds pass through during the spring and fall migrations. Tour the Boreal Centre and take a walk along the Songbird Trail pausing in the middle to stand quietly and listen to the natural symphony created by songbirds in the towering aspen-poplar forest.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone / Áísínai’pi resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors, or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes, but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park, but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Explore the natural wonders at Elk Island National Park

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This “island of conservation” is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Elk Island Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island has several trails of varying lengths winding through the different habitats found within the park. Since the park is not mountainous, the trails have very few steep inclines. Each trail contains many wildlife viewing opportunities from two different subspecies of bison to a multitude of songbirds. Whether you’re out for a leisurely hike or a longer adventure, make your trip a safe one by checking the latest conditions.

Read Next: Plan Your Travels around a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

A Giant UFO Festival with All the Outer Space Vibes

It’s going to be out of this world!

Was it an alien encounter, a weather balloon, or a flying saucer? The event known as the Roswell Incident quickly swept through the nation in 1947. The “UFO Capital of the World” is known internationally by UFO enthusiasts and deniers alike!

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beware, Earthlings, soon you will be abducted and dropped into a land full of alien fun. If you love UFOs, Sci-Fi, and all things extraterrestrial, the Roswell UFO Festival this summer is the place to be. This is the only RV road trip that will take you to outer space!

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roswell UFO Festival is a 3-day event happening on July 1-3, 2022. This fest will be filled with tons of music, photo ops, and activities (most of them free) for everyone. This destination Festival will include plenty of immersive experiences, live music, local food, out-of-this-world photo ops as well as other family-friendly events happening all over the city.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a great place to visit if you plan to go on a road trip with family or friends this July. If you plan to stay for the three days, make camping reservations early since the fest is quite popular.

The festival will have guest speakers, space-loving authors, live entertainment, a costume contest, a light parade, a reenactment tour, and even the cutest pet costume contest (Saturday, 10 am), and parade. Family-friendly activities will also be part of the schedule. You will be learning how to create your very own alien hat and other fun crafts.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the adorable ET to the vast alien universe of Star Wars, American Culture loves all things alien. But the city of Roswell plays an essential part in our fascination with UFO appearances beyond movies. 

Related: 4 Things to Know Before Visiting New Mexico

Roswell has been at the heart of the UFO scene since July 1947 when the military announced it had found the remains of a crashed UFO in the desert nearby.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seventy-five years ago, a rancher named W.W. Mack Brazel checked his sheep after a thunderstorm and found debris made of a strange metal scattered in many directions. He noticed a shallow trench cut into the desert floor. As the story goes, Mac Brazel drove his rusty pickup to the county seat of Roswell to inform authorities that something had crashed and scattered metallic debris across his ranch land.

Figuring it must have come from the nearby Army airfield, officers accompanied him back to the ranch and what they witnessed in the desert has, in the decades since, mushroomed to become the most widely publicized event in UFO lore.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Days after something shiny crashed in the New Mexico desert, the Roswell Army Air Field issued a press release that said the military had recovered the remains of a “flying disc.” Although quickly discounted as erroneous, the announcement laid the groundwork for one of the most enduring UFO stories of all time. There had been 16 reported unidentified flying object sightings reported that year during the several months preceding what would be known as the Roswell Incident.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So—what is the truth? Well, plan to attend the Roswell UFO Festival and judge for yourself. Roswell has become the epitome of everything alien and is even called the “UFO Capital of the World.” The city is home to a UFO Museum and a planetarium that you can visit during the festival.

Related: What Really Happened at Roswell?

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Will Rogers, Roswell was the prettiest little town in the west. Money magazine has called it one of the 10 most peaceful places to retire. Hugh Bayless, in his book, The Best Towns in America, listed Roswell as one of the 50 most desirable communities in which to live.

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The festival is a loved tradition in the city of Roswell, so you’ll see people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying the festivities. Many will be wearing costumes, hats, makeup, matching outfits with their pets, or creating their own UFO vehicles for the parades. 

Both UFO enthusiasts and skeptics alike are welcome to join the fun. 

Roswell UFO Museum and Research Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides the activities, parades, movie screenings, panels, and contests, you will also be able to shop alien and UFO unique souvenirs and presents and even have some awesome thematic food and drinks. 

During the UFO Festival you will love the entire festivity in Roswell. But what to do if you arrive a week before or stay a few days after the festival?

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to visit the world-famous UFO Museum and Research Center, Bottomless Lakes State Park, Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (free admission), Roswell Museum and Art Center (free admission), Walker Aviation Museum (free admission), Spring River Zoo (free admission), all of which are located in Roswell.

Related: Spotlight on New Mexico: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for more fun near Roswell? You can plan a day trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park or enjoy gaming at the Casinos and Ruidoso Downs race track in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Visit Lincoln and see where Billy the Kid made his last escape. There are countless sightseeing places you can explore in a day.

If you are ready to experience tons of alien fun, let this UFO festival “abduct” you this summer. You won’t regret it.  

Worth Pondering…

Well, at least my mom knows what species I am.

The Best Stops for a Summer Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico

The International UFO Museum and Research Center at Roswell is the focal point of the industry that has built up around The Roswell Incident, an event that took place nearby in July 1947. What’s beyond question is that something crashed. This could have been a UFO or a military project, either way, there appears to have been some kind of cover-up. The wealth of testimonies, photographs, and other exhibits leaves you in no doubt as to what they believe here.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Believers and skeptics alike are invited to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the famous “Roswell Incident.” Mix and mingle with UFO and space enthusiasts at the Roswell UFO Festival (July 1-3, 2022) while enjoying live entertainment, family-friendly activities, guest speakers, authors, costume contests, and maybe even an alien abduction.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District, Jekyll Island, Georgia

The Jekyll Island Club was called “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world” by Munsey’s Magazine. The Club House is now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the hotel and 33 other historic structures on 240 acres have been designated by the National Park Service as a Historic Landmark District. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can visit the museum and take a historic tour, plus visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near Brunswick, Jekyll Island is one of the barrier islands designated as part of the Golden Isles. In addition to the historic district, recreation opportunities abound golf, biking, birding, fishing, swimming, and more. Other hotels as well as a campground with primitive and RV sites provide accommodations.

Bryce Canyon from Rim Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

The views over Bryce Canyon are spectacular from any of the park’s 14 viewing points but Bryce Point, the last stop on the shuttle route allows you to appreciate the full scale of this natural wonder. Stand at the viewing point and the sheer breadth of colors of the hoodoos from snow white through pale rusty to brilliant orange is amazing. Bryce Point is also the starting point of the Rim Trail, a relatively easy hike that offers outstanding views of the hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon from the Rim Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rim Trail passes by all the viewing points served by the shuttle (Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise Points) so you can hike as much or as little of the rim as you like. Drop your car off at the shuttle parking area opposite the visitor center.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island is where America’s wealthiest families chose to build their summer “cottages” in the late 19th century. Today, known collectively as the Newport Mansions and managed by The Preservation Society of Newport County, these lavish properties offer a rare insight into the Gilded Age of American history. The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, is the largest and most opulent of them all and was owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Mount St. Helens from Hoffstadt Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, Toutle, Washington

If, like most people, you approach Mount St Helens by the northern route SR 504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center provides one of the best panoramic views along the way. As well as looking left towards the volcano, look down into the valley and you may be lucky enough to spot members of the elk herd that has moved into the mudflow area of the Toutle River Valley. Facilities available at the center include restaurant and helicopter tours.

Powerhouse Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Powerhouse Visitor Center, Kingman, Arizona

As its name implies, this 1907 building was once the source of electrical power for the city of Kingman and remained so until 1938 when the Hoover Dam was constructed. It was such an eyesore by the 1980s that the city considered demolishing the building but fortunately, it was saved, restored, and in 1997 reopened as the Powerhouse Visitor Center. Today it is also home to the excellent Historic Route 66 Museum which tells the story of the highway from its earliest years through the 50s and 60s.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont

Fans of “The Sound of Music” will love visiting the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Take one of the daily Von Trapp Family History tours. Pictures of the family and its history are also hung in public areas. For resort guests, there are a variety of activities for all seasons, tours, and food choices.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of accommodations are available. History tours are $10 for adult guests, $5 for children, and $15 for adult day visitors. Services are available in nearby Stowe.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, South Dakota

This beautiful—and extremely photogenic—the lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. Described as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake offers a swimming beach and boat rentals and there’s a wonderful loop trail that leads between the rock formations that make this such a distinctive site.

The Sylvan Lake campground is open from late May to the end of September (not suitable for large RVs). The upscale Sylvan Lake Lodge, built-in 1937, is also nearby.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire

At 6,288.2 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869. Grades average 25 percent! Keep your eye out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the line about three-quarters of the way up. Enjoy far-reaching panoramic views at the summit on the Observatory deck on a nice day. The visitor center has snacks, restrooms, and a post office. And, don’t miss the Mt Washington Weather Museum.

Perrine Bridge and Snake River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls, Idaho

The Perrine Bridge spans the majestic Snake River Canyon on the northern edge of Twin Falls. The bridge is 486 feet above the river and 1,500 feet long and offers pedestrian walkways with views of the river, lakes, and waterfalls. BASE jumpers can enjoy the Perrine Bridge year-round as the launching point for parachuting to the canyon floor below.

Snake River from Perrine Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the south side of the bridge is a large parking area (RV friendly) with the Twin Falls Visitor Center and access to the canyon rim trails leading to the bridge. To the east of the bridge along the south rim of the canyon the dirt ramp used by Evel Knievel when he unsuccessfully attempted to jump the canyon on his steam-powered “skycycle” in 1974 is still visible.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Certainly one of the most famous roadsides stops out there, the Corn Palace is a great place to take a short break from the road while traveling across the prairie. Located a few miles off I-90 in Mitchell, South Dakota, The Corn Palace is a big building that’s covered in the corn! Each year, artists design murals that are created using nothing but locally grown corn. Inside the building is a small museum showing the site’s history dating back to 1892 and pictures of the murals from previous years, a basketball arena, and a gift shop.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential colony in the budding republic. The restored version of Colonial Williamsburg has provided the public with a detailed, vibrant re-creation of this city with the opportunity to travel back in time amid 88 rebuilt homes, taverns, restaurants, and shops.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia, was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Each of these sites has its unique features and historical significance.

Lake Winnepesaukee Cruise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Winnipesaukee cruises, Laconia, New Hampshire

Take a narrated day cruise on New Hampshire’s largest lake, Lake Winnepesaukee. The M/S Mount Washington holds over 1200 passengers and has several ports of call. Dinner cruises are offered in the evenings plus Sunday brunch and specialty cruises. Or, ride along on the M/V Sophie C, the only U.S. Mailboat on an inland waterway, as it delivers mail to five islands.

The season begins near the end of May and runs through most of October.

Hole N’ the Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N’ the Rock, Moab Utah

Located 12 miles South of Moab on Highway 191, ‘Hole N’ the Rock’ is a unique home and Trading post carved into a huge Rock. Take a tour through the 5,000-square-foot home with 14 rooms. Have a wander around the Gift store and keep the kids happy with a visit to the Petting Zoo and an ice cream from the General Store.

Gilroy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gilroy, California

If you don’t already know that Gilroy is dubbed the Garlic Capital of the World, your nose might tell you as you approach the town. So will your eyes as you see not only plenty of garlic fields and numerous shops selling garlic and other produce, and garlic-related items such as garlic-flavored chocolate and garlic-flavored ice cream. The city also holds a garlic festival every year that has drawn worldwide attention. The Garlic Festival is held in late July each year (42nd annual, July 22-24, 2022). Some of the most interesting and longest-established garlic shops are located on Highway 101 on the outskirts of town.

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York

The museum is just about all that remains of the original Owens-Corning Glass Factory in Corning. All but a few commercial products are now made in other parts of the world. The museum houses a fabulous collection of rare glass artifacts, a modern art/glass gallery, and several demonstration areas where visitors can watch glass being blown, heated, and worked into practical or artistic shapes. There is even an area where you can make your glass pieces.

A reasonable entrance fee covers two days which you might need to see everything. A cafe is on the premises to accommodate lunch guests. There is a massive gift shop, too, so you can purchase just about anything made in glass.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota

Love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore Wall Drug, not least because of the dozens of signs that announce its existence from miles away. The original signs were erected back in 1936 as owners Ted and Dorothy Hustead used the offer of cheap coffee and free ice water to tempt travelers to their drug store in the small town of Wall.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the store is so tacky it’s brilliant with dozens of specialty stores and a collection of novelty items from fiberglass dinosaurs to animations that can be activated for a quarter. It’s not subtle but makes no pretense to be. Yes, they do still offer free ice water and coffee at 5 cents a cup.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough, New Hampshire

Completed in 1914 as the estate of shoe tycoon Thomas Plant, Lucknow Estate, as it was called, is considered a prime example of Arts and Crafts architecture. Opened to the public in 1959, Castle in the Clouds is now a museum that preserves the opulent lifestyle of the period.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is known as the City Different and within one visit you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history of melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art. Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country, after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

Read more: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

Monument Hopping: El Malpais and El Morro

Trek back through time

Hiking El Malpais and El Morro national monuments prompt a different view of the past.

If people had been there to see it—and there’s a chance Ancestral Acoma or Zuni people were—lava flowing across what’s now El Malpais National Monument might have looked a little like a dark ocean swelling with waves. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When an eruption began, magma poured and oozed from an erupting vent or fissures in the earth spreading across the ground into channels. Everything in its path would be knocked over, surrounded, buried, or ignited by the extremely hot temperature of lava. As the liquid fire continued to flow, it sometimes moved underneath and lifted a blackened crust.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As it reached the rim of sandstone mesas around the southeastern edge of El Malpais, lava rolled away from the rock walls, slipped into cracks, or filled in corners. Here, some of the continent’s newest rock now abuts the sandy floor of the ancient inland sea. 

Behind the park’s western visitor center, lava ran over Precambrian granite. So it’s 1.5-billion-year-old rock and on top of it is a 10,000-year-old rock.

Related: New Mexico’s Land of Fire & Ice: Hike through Volcanic Rock and Ice Caves at This National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), El Malpais has the unusual distinction of having a twin park in El Morro National Monument to its west along State Route 53. Together they offer an action-packed adventure. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I contemplated the geological forces as we drove west on State Route 53 crossing a landscape that has reshaped itself over thousands of years. Every time I stepped out of my car, I shifted back in time by thousands of years. At the eastern edge of the park, the newest flows are about 3,000 years old, give or take a millennium—just a blink of an eye in geologic time. Elsewhere, the lava was last liquid 150,000 to 170,000 years ago.  

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surviving in this region has long meant journeying around, not the shortest path to your destination but the one that passed by water sources which are how Spaniards began visiting what’s now El Morro National Monument. A drive of fewer than 30 minutes takes you from one park to the next. But for anyone on horseback, it would have taken at least a day. Back then, the road we now call State Route 53 which threads between heaps of lava rock and sandstone would have been a major trade route.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For thousands of years, people have found their way to a small pond fed by a reliable spring below a towering cliff. There, they rested, watered their horses, and camped under a diamond-specked sky. Quite a few labored to chisel their names into the sandstone wall.

Travelers knew to head to El Morro’s massive, cream-colored sandstone buttress for the pool of water at its base, the only reliable source in a region with no perpetual streams or rivers.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain and snowmelt still gather there, in a deep-green pool ringed by cattails that rattle in the breeze. Spaniards stopped here on their way to preach to the Zuni and Hopi or to colonize the region. Later, government survey teams and homesteaders spreading into the new U.S. territories in the Southwest did, too. They used knife blades or horseshoe nails to sign their names and record their destinations and purposes, even a poem, on the soft surface of the 200-foot-tall monolith of Inscription Rock. Those markings layer alongside much older petroglyphs and pictographs.

Related: A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

A short, steep hike leads to the mesa-top home of an Ancestral Zuni village perched on sandstone. The trail loops past a few rooms and kivas after dipping and twisting over sandstone bleached as white as the clouds above. 

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today that wall at El Morro National Monument serves as a guest book of history. Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate “passed by here” in 1598; hundreds of others did so as well, before and after. Inscription Rock is just one reason to put El Morro on your must-see list.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A superintendent in the 1920s scrubbed out signatures added after 1906 when El Morro became a national monument assessing them as illegal graffiti and leaving bald patches on the surface. No record remains of who made the arduous drive to see the area’s second national monument or who visited around 1918, during a major war and another pandemic. Now, as water works through and over the sandstone, the etchings’ lines soften, lichen obscures some, and rockfall has taken down others. It’s hard to hold history in place.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission is free—to the visitor center, the half-mile paved Inscription Trail, and even the campground. If you’re up for a little challenge tack on another mile or so and clamber up the Headland Trail. On the mesa top, you can explore the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo and snag some snaps of the nearby Zuni Mountains and remnants of ancient volcanoes.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in these faded bluffs, in the creases of lava flows, I start to see landscape-scale reminders that history is also happening now. We don’t live at the end of the timeline, a terminus point from which history is a fixed and distant object we look back on. Rather, it’s something that is in constant flux, written moment by moment. 

Related: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor centers for El Malpais (off I-40 at exit 85) and El Morro (between mile markers 44 and 45 on State Route 53) provide restrooms, maps, and rangers’ advice.

Travel on an ancient pathway by hiking the eight-mile Acoma-Zuni or Zuni-Acoma Trail (depending on your direction of travel). Trailheads are on SR-117 and SR-53 so set up a car shuttle.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A three-mile loop hike at El Calderon off SR-53 skirts cave entrances and climbs a cinder cone. Wildflowers may be abundant.

At El Morro, a trail passes along the base of Inscription Rock then switchbacks 200 feet up the mesa passing through an ancient pueblo before looping back to the visitor center in just over two miles.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at El Morro is one of nine sites spread among the junipers, each with a fire pit, a picnic table, and a view of stars thick overhead in this official International Dark Sky Park. Open on a first-come, first-served basis with water available seasonally.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Discover the National Forests during Great Outdoors Month

America’s National Forest system stretches over 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered

During this Great Outdoors Month, try to imagine you inherited millions of acres of forest and grasslands teeming with wild animals, brilliant wildflowers, deep blue lakes, rushing rivers, unspoiled beaches, and majestic mountains and all within a few hours’ drive. You would suddenly feel like the luckiest person on Earth.

Lassen National Forest, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You are. With nearly 200 million acres of forest and grasslands, the USDA Forest Service lands are available for all to use. And these forest lands are open for all to recreate 365 days of the year—unless a natural disaster or maintenance issues force a closure. So, get outdoors and enjoy those natural landscapes this summer—or anytime, for that matter.

Sequoia National Forest, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting for you to discover. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve. And remember, it’s all yours to discover.

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

Coronado National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The available activities are as big as your imagination and the national forests. Camping, hiking, biking, birding, boating, fishing, rock climbing, and swimming are good starting points. For instance, in California, just outside of the massive metropolis of Los Angeles County, lies the 700,000-acre Angeles National Forest. For the 10 million-plus people who live in the LA area, this forest is a treasure trove of fun, challenging, and exciting outdoor activities, and, yes, it’s big enough for all to share.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And if you think the national forests are only for trees, think again. Just north of Tucson in the southern portion of Arizona’s ponderosa pine-dotted Coronado National Forest, you’ll find an easy-to-access recreation area called Sabino Canyon. In this vibrant desert landscape, you’ll see towering saguaro cacti—some as impressive as the great conifers of the forests. Visitors walk, jog, hike, do wildlife viewing, photography, and so much more.

The Coronado National Forest spans sixteen scattered mountain ranges or “sky islands” rising dramatically from the desert floor supporting plant communities as biologically diverse as those encountered on a trip from Mexico to Canada.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a popular destination for wildlife watchers and nature lovers who come to see the more than 240 species of birds (including more than a dozen species of hummingbirds) that live in its nurturing environment.

Related: The 10 Most Breathtaking National Forests in America

Fishlake National Forest, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling northeast are the great Colorado Rocky Mountains where 14,000-foot high peaks are not uncommon. Seriously, there are 53 of them! Just outside the city of Colorado Springs is Pikes Peaks. It is one of the most well-known of the great 14,000-footers. Keep in mind that the most experienced hikers consider climbing Pikes Peak a challenge so just walking around the foothills isn’t a bad idea for the less seasoned hikers among us.

Buffalo Gap National Grasslands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After you cross the Continental Divide, the mountains begin to melt away—a process that has taken millions of years—as you enter the Great Plains. Here sweeping grasslands like those on Colorado’s nearby Comanche National Grasslands and South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grasslands near Badlands National Park invite visitors to hike pleasant trails and see the wildflowers and tall grasses that once stretched from Colorado to the Mississippi River.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming consist of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and mountains approximately 110 miles long and 70 miles wide. The name “Black Hills” comes from the Lakota words Paha Sapa, which means “hills that are black.” Seen from a distance, these pine-covered hills rising several thousand feet above the surrounding prairie appear black.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid the splendid scenery of the Black Hills, National Forest is 11 reservoirs, 30 campgrounds, 32 picnic areas, two scenic byways, 1,300 miles of streams, over 13,426 acres of wilderness, and 353 miles of trails, and much more. Every location in the Black Hills is a special place but there are hidden gems around every corner.  

Related: On Camping and Spending Time in Nature

Once you cross the Mississippi River, the mountains begin to rise again but these mountains, far older than the Rockies, are literally part of the oldest lands on earth. In fact, the Appalachian Mountains were once right up there in height with Mount Everest.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now the tallest mountains in the eastern United States rarely break 6,000 feet but the views they offer are spectacular. Check out the George Washington and Jefferson Forest straddling Virginia and West Virginia overlooking the serene Shenandoah Valley, the bare granite summits of New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, or the breathtaking mountain views of North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of just two national forests in New England, the White Mountain National Forest is a year-round adventure destination. Crowned by the highest peaks in the region—the Presidential Range—the national forest includes the largest alpine zone in the Eastern U.S. For hikers, more than 1,200 miles of hiking trails wind through hardwood and conifer forests offering access to secluded waterfalls, glassy ponds, and granite peaks.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Nantahala National Forest lies in the mountains and valleys of southwestern North Carolina. The largest of North Carolina’s four national forests, the Nantahala encompasses 531,148 acres with elevations ranging from 5,800 feet at Lone Bald to 1,200 feet along the Hiwassee River. The Forest is divided into three Districts, Cheoah in Robbinsville, Tusquitee in Murphy, and the Nantahala in Franklin. All district names come from the Cherokee language. “Nantahala” is a Cherokee word meaning “land of the noonday sun,” a fitting name for the Nantahala Gorge where the sun only reaches the valley floor at midday.

Read Next: The Reason for Which You Wake up in the Morning

With so much public land available from coast to coast, no matter where you are you can find opportunities to recreate in the Great Outdoors!  

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

The Guide to Driving the Back Roads

Driving the back roads is relaxing and enjoyable, taking in scenery that is unspoiled and seldom seen

Plying the back roads—the back, back roads—of rural America inevitably will present you with a gift basket of surprises.

America is home to countless back roads, side roads, country roads, scenic routes, historic routes, tourist routes, scenic byways, and historic highways—and more road trip possibilities than any one person could complete in a lifetime.

Back roads of Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I have a love-hate relationship with Interstates. There are times when you need to be somewhere fast and the Interstates are the only viable options. But fast is the problem. With speed limits of 70 miles per hour in most states (more in a handful of mostly western states), it’s rare to find traffic moving at the speed limit. It is often much closer to 80.

Between Moki Dugway and Mexican Hat, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you are in an RV—a towable or motorhome—excessive speed is not your friend. The faster you go, the harder it is to stop and control your rig.

Add to that the fact that the tires on most RVs are not engineered to drive as fast as the tires on your toad/tow vehicle. Suddenly there’s a compelling case for driving the roads less traveled. But aside from safety, back roads travel can be much more enjoyable.

Related Article: Life is a Byway: The Roads Less Traveled

Burr Trail, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why drive the back roads?

On back roads, speed limits are usually 55 to 65 miles per hour. Lower speeds usually result in improved mileage. Budget stretching and safety are two top reasons you consider driving secondary roads. But there are more reasons:

  • Back roads get you closer to the countryside and the people; scenic vistas, Mom and Pop stores, and restaurants provide a real feel of the area
  • Back roads are calming; the stress of interstate driving takes a physical and emotional toll
  • Back roads make for more enjoyable road trips that can give you a much better appreciation for the country
Schnebly Hill Road near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for driving the back roads

Look for two-lane state routes: Like the so-called Blue Highways, popularized in the best-selling 1982 book of the same name by William Least Heat-Moon. Here is where you will find small-town America. Don’t be afraid to pull off the highway at a park, a roadside attraction, along a riverbank or lakefront, or with a great view of the mountains or the valleys and just hang out for a while in a beautiful location.

Road to Peralta Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beware of dirt or gravel roads: They may be tempting. But they have a way of going bad and becoming rutted and potholed. Avoid them when driving an RV. They may be doable in a Class B van or a small Class C motorhome. Dirt and gravel roads coat everything in the RV with dust in dry weather while coating the exterior in mud following rain. And stones kicked up by your tires can chip your paint job.

Related Article: Ambling Down Country Roads in Bluegrass Country

Moki Dugway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider county routes with care: Some paved county roads peter out after a few miles to gravel or dirt. Others are quite narrow and offer few places for an RV to pull over or turn around. That’s why it’s wise to travel with an RV-specific GPS to navigate safely based on your vehicle dimensions. You can input your vehicle’s height, length, and weight as well as fuel information like whether or not you’re carrying propane. This will not only help you avoid steep mountain roads but also low clearance bridges, bridge weight limits, and tunnels with propane restrictions. Also, check locally regarding road conditions, especially during inclement weather.

Back roads of Parke County, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t rely on GPS: The more remote the country, the less reliable GPS can be. That’s why drivers need to apply a dose of common sense to a computer’s suggestions starting with not taking RVs and other vehicles that aren’t up to the task down unpaved roads. State highway maps are a must if you plan to drive the backroads. County maps are often available from regional visitor centers or local stores.

Back roads of Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving the back roads takes more planning: There are numerous RV trip planning apps available to help but you’ll want to consider places to refuel, buy groceries, find restaurants or picnic spots (county parks are often true gems), and RV parks and campgrounds.

Back roads of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ask for places to overnight: In some small towns you can camp free in local parks, churches, parking areas, or behind businesses. But, be sure to ask first. If you can’t find someone to give permission, stop by the sheriff’s office or police department. Naturally, your RV needs to be self-contained to do this. Obviously, this works best if you’re driving a small RV.

Roaring Fork Nature Motor Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat local: While it is more economical and efficient to eat in your RV or at a picnic site, consider a meal in a local “Mom and Pop” restaurant or market to experience local and regional foods that aren’t pre-packaged, frozen, or microwaved. Ask the staff or other diners what you should see in the area. You’ll likely get some great suggestions.

Related Article: Barn Quilt Trail: Folksy Phenomenon

Piano Bridge near Schulenburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch for low bridges, underpasses, and low-hanging trees: Those RV trip planning apps will help here as will RV-specific GPS modules. On the interstate, overpasses are usually 16 feet or more. Along some secondary routes, 12-foot or lower bridges will pose a big-time problem to most RVs. Also be aware of low-hanging trees and branches as they can do a number on your satellite dish and air conditioner units. Trust me on this one!

Scenic Byway 24 near Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no hurry: The journey can be as enjoyable as the destination. Be flexible. Stop when you want, where you want. Setting a rigid agenda and over-planning may result in missing an unexpected attraction not included in travel guides—some things just happen along your journey. Take time for the unexpected!

Indian Creek Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow the 330 Rule: The 330 rule is you stop when you have driven 330 miles or it is 3:30 in the afternoon. The idea is to get somewhere while it is still early enough to explore, chill-out, and enjoy the place when you’re not exhausted from driving mega miles. Is there anything worse than pulling into a campsite after dark? Embrace less miles and stopping early as your travel style of choice. I have found as I’ve aged that the 220 rule works even better!

Read Next: Introducing New Scenic Byways and All-American Roads

Adventure awaits! Happy trails!

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

On Camping and Spending Time in Nature

Spending time in nature is the best way to refuel your body and your mind

The Great Outdoors became a top travel destination in 2020 for obvious reasons: endless social distance, campgrounds within driving distance, and dramatic settings for an existential crisis. Zoom ahead to summer 2022 and the world has reopened—so has camping fallen out of favor?

Turns out, instead of returning their REI equipment, many rookies are still adding camping reservations to their travel plans.

According to Campspot, a platform for reserving campsites, there are 49 percent more bookings for this summer compared to last year and a six times jump in new campers.

33 percent more people are shopping on Amazon for camping tents this year compared to 2019 and demand for other outdoor gear (lanterns, backpacks, camp stoves) has also risen by double digits, per data analytics company Pattern.

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glamping’s also holding onto its pandemic popularity: Getaway, which rents tiny, posh cabins you may have seen on Instagram had its most guests ever in Q1 2022.

Between inflation, the stock market, supply-chain issues, and recession fears, people have a strong desire to find ways to disconnect from the stress and spend time in nature to help them reconnect with themselves and their family and friends.

Relaxing nature activities will rejuvenate your mind, from the simple to the life-changing.

The back roads of Kentucky’s Blue Grass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savor the scenery

Movies beaming with CGI (computer-generated imagery) dazzle our imaginations but the most mind-blowing spectacles are not found on a screen. When was the last time you watched the sunrise or ventured to the nearest hilltop to watch it set? Or plied the back roads?

A back road in South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The back, back roads of South Carolina, for example, will present you with a gift basket of surprises. Looming magnolia trees and Spanish moss! Tiny, rural communities populated with folks who more than likely will be happy to spend the afternoon beguiling you with the stories of their lives. Makeshift farm stands and BBQ pits that you can sniff out a mile away. Ramshackle houses and dilapidated plantations evoking chapters from another world!

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is a beautiful Virginia byway that goes straight through Shenandoah National Park and the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret, but if you hit the road early enough to catch a misty sunrise, you might be able to beat some of the crowds. At just over 100 miles long, it makes for a great half-day drive.

Walking a trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander the wilderness

Walking is good for you, but not all walks are created equal. Cruising urban streets doesn’t provide the same mental boost as hiking a local trail or feeling the sandy beach between your toes. You don’t have to have a specific destination in mind, either—your goal isn’t to hike a particular number of miles but to aimlessly immerse yourself in the natural world around you. The Japanese call this “forest bathing” and it can rejuvenate a weary mind.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Short, sweet, and steep are the best descriptors of the flagship trail at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Characterized (and named for) a massive pink granite dome—the same unique Texas pink granite that was used to build the State Capitol building—this park is a popular outing for those visiting Central Texas. From the top of the steep Summit Trail, you’ll see unparalleled 360-degree views of untouched terrain. For more entertainment, Fredericksburg, a charming German-Texan small town, is only a 20-minutes drive away.

Bird watching in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meditate on the music

Not the music playing in your headphones. Leave your electronics behind and listen to the melodies nature has to offer: babbling brooks, bird songs, wind whistling through the trees, and the scurrying of animals through the canopy. It’s a lot more relaxing than the honking horns and text message alerts you’re all too used to and it offers the opportunity to practice some meditative mindfulness in your tranquil surroundings.

Pack a picnic

Load a basket with your favorite healthy goodies and have lunch among the flora and fauna. A picnic is a perfect way to spend quality time with friends and family without the distractions of the modern-day world. And nature makes socializing with others easier so it’s the perfect place to build stronger relationships with those you love.

Fishing at Lynx Lake in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go fish

Fishing puts you outside, near a body of water, and it rewards patience. All of those are good things. Even if you don’t catch (and release) anything, you’ll both forge a treasured, lifelong memory. With a little luck, you reel in a perch that will grow into a marlin after multiple retellings of the story at family events.

Bird watching © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look, up in the sky

Thousands of people who watch birds as a hobby are on to something: There’s a special thrill when you can recognize a bird by sight or by its sound. Odds are, a nearby Audubon location offers free birding walks that are open to the public. Or, turn to the internet for free resources to help you identify the birds in your area. Either way, bird watching gives you the perfect excuse to relax in nature with your head in the clouds. That’s a great way to fend off stress.

Camping in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sleep beneath the stars

Now you’re getting serious. Why not disconnect entirely for several days or more and make nature your home? Camping lets you get further away than a simple day trip allows. Or, if roughing it isn’t your style, consider glamping where you can maintain some of the creature comforts you love, but still be away from it all.

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

Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.

If you take your phone, use it for that cool star-gazing app (or emergencies, of course) but not for scrolling social media 24/7. Forget the Fear of Missing Out and try the Joy of Missing Out instead. #JOMO!

World’s Largest Roadrunner at La Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s that giant roadrunner doing there? Read about the weird world of giant roadside attractions

Listen up: This is the only summer playlist you’ll need

Looking for a memorable road trip: Choose a location and route that aligns with your passions

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More trip ideas: These are the best things to do this summer

And finally: Here’s what to expect at national parks this summer

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, and the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson