The Complete Guide to Mesa Verde National Park

A thrilling collection of ancient canyon-carved cliff dwellings welcomes visitors in Colorado

Most of the country’s 63 national parks are beloved for their wild and rugged beauty but Mesa Verde National Park is a cultural treasure unlike any other.

Located in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado it preserves the heritage and hand-built architectural accomplishments of the Ancestral Pueblo people, an ancient civilization that produced awe-inspiring handiwork between 550 and 1300 A.D. Home to 5,000 archaeological sites including 600 canyon-carved cliff dwellings, the 52,485-acre park strewn with verdant clusters of pinyon, juniper, and Gambel oak trees safeguards the United States’ largest archaeological preserve. ​

President Theodore Roosevelt established the park in 1906 and in 1978 Mesa Verde National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Yellowstone National Park, the first such accreditations given in the United States.

The region’s first Spanish explorers gave the area its name—Mesa Verde is Spanish for green table—inspired by its vast and lush mountainous shrublands. Geologists will tell you that Mesa Verde National Park is technically a cuesta (not a mesa) due to its sun-tilted topography which the Ancestral Puebloans used to grow corn, their primary food.

​For reasons unknown, by the late 1200s following seven centuries of building and harvesting the Ancestral Puebloans had all but deserted the cliffs, canyons, and villages of modern-day Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While there were surely plenty of explorers in the area in the years after, it wasn’t put on the map until a snowy December day in 1888 when local ranchers Charlie Mason and Richard Wetherill spotted Cliff Palace—the largest cliff dwelling in the park and the main attraction. Fast-forward to 2022 and this sacred Indigenous site where 100-mile views into Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico can be had on clear days attracts close to 600,000 visitors annually. ​

An interpretive sign in the park offers this plea to visitors from T.J. Atsye, a park ranger and direct descendant of the people who once lived here: “To Pueblo people, this is still a living place. We make pilgrimages back to Mesa Verde to visit the ancestors and gather strength and resilience from them. I ask you to please visit with respect. If you’re genuine, and true, and respectful, the ancestors will welcome you.”

​Easy to navigate, Mesa Verde National Park is divided into two distinct sections: Chapin Mesa which features two short, drivable roads and where parkgoers spend most of their time and Wetherill Mesa highlighted by a paved 5-mile walking loop. You won’t need more than a day to experience the park but to explore its best sites—Cliff Palace, for example—you need to purchase tickets for ranger tours in advance of your arrival.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

The gateway city of Cortez is 10 miles west of the park.

​Most visitors drive to Mesa Verde National Park as part of an extended road trip that includes stops in Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah and other attractions in scenic southwestern Colorado including national monuments and the San Juan Skyway, a scenic 236-mile mountain loop through Telluride and other charming former mining towns.

​Mesa Verde National Park’s entrance is on the park’s northern edge directly off U.S. Highway 160 with the lone visitor center nearby. To maximize your day give yourself 30 minutes at the center to take in its interactive exhibits, small museum, bookstore, and gift shop before venturing into the park.

​From the entrance, it’s about an hour’s drive on Mrsa Verde National Park’s slow and serpentine main thoroughfare to the cliff dwellings at Chapin and Wetherill mesas in the park’s far southern quadrant. Be sure to stop at the Park Point overlook, Mesa Verde National Park’s highest point (8,572 feet) for scenic views of the San Juan Mountains’ 14,000-foot peaks. You might even spot a golden eagle riding the warm air currents above the Mancos Valley.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​The thoroughfare forks at mile marker 15 (near Far View Lodge) with offshoots leading to each of the two mesas. From Far View Lodge, it’s a 5-mile drive to Chapin Mesa’s two loop roads and 12 miles to Wetherill’s loop trail. The road to Wetherill Mesa, the park’s less-visited side closes at the end of October and reopens in May. Chapin Mesa is open year-round; its cliff dwellings can’t be toured in the winter but many of the dwellings in both mesas can still be seen from the park’s overlooks.

​The season is crucial when planning your trip to Mesa Verde National Park. April and May are pleasant and the temperatures are comfortable but you can get snow. September is going to give you the best, most consistent weather in the unpredictable Rockies.

​Summertime temps range from the mid- to upper 80s so bring plenty of water (you’ll be driving at between 7,000 and 8,400 feet) and stay hydrated. With cool mornings and 65- to 75-degree temperatures early fall delivers prime camping conditions. Frigid mountain air sweeps through Mesa Verde in winter shutting down the park tours. When the most popular sites reopen for tours in April temperatures are still chilly (with highs in the low 50s) before jumping into the 70s in May.

​There’s limited to no cell phone service inside the park.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

The closest hotel is the moderately priced Far View Lodge in the heart of the park 15 miles from the entrance and perched atop a mesa, 8,250 feet above sea level. Its 150 rooms sport private balconies perfect for sunset and wildlife viewing (elk, coyotes, mule deer). Metate, the hotel’s signature restaurant (it serves only dinner) offers contemporary American plates including pan-seared rainbow trout.

​Far View Terrace just a short walk from the hotel serves coffee and snacks at the Mesa Mocha Espresso Bar as well as cafeteria-style breakfast and lunch (think omelets and sandwiches). Both the hotel and terrace are open from April to late October. In Chapin Mesa, the Spruce Tree Terrace Café serves basic concession food and stays open through December then reopens in spring.

​Four miles beyond the park entrance, in a picturesque canyon of native Gambel oaks, you can sleep under some of the darkest skies you’ll experience in a national park at the 267-site Morefield Campground (open April through October). Amenities include picnic tables, firepits, and 15 electrical hookups for RVs.

There’s also a full-service village with a gift shop, grocery store, showers, and all-you-can-eat pancakes at the Knife Edge Café. Outside the park in nearby Cortez the affordable Retro Inn open year-round offers brightly colored, accessible rooms and complimentary breakfast.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

​See the biggest cliff dwellings

These ancient marvels are the park’s main draw. You can explore a handful of them but only on ranger-led tours (the one exception: the self-guided Step House tour in Wetherill Mesa) most running from mid-April to late October. Tickets cost $8 to $25 per dwelling and can be purchased up to 14 days in advance. While the tours are not wheelchair-friendly or suited for those with physical limitations, anyone can view the dwellings from good vantage points. 

​The park’s absolute must-see is Cliff Palace in Chapin Mesa near the start of the 6-mile Cliff Palace Loop Road. This rock, mortar, and timber-constructed village built in the 13th century is jaw-dropping with its 150 rooms, 23 circular kivas used for ceremonial gatherings, intricate ventilation system, and remarkable dry stack masonry. Their walls are within 2 degrees of square but without any builder’s squares. It’s a testimony to how well the Ancestral Puebloans could lay stone.

At its peak, the alcove settlement could have housed upwards of 150 people. Touring it involves climbing uneven steps and ladders but those with physical limitations can get a good view of the site and a terrific postcard shot from Sun Temple on Mesa Top Loop Road.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Just shy of 2 miles farther down Cliff Palace Road is Balcony House with 38 well-preserved rooms as well as kivas and plazas. Another 13th-century masterpiece it’s considered the park’s most adventurous tour due to its tight passageways, 32-foot entrance ladder, jagged stone steps, and 60-foot ascent up an open cliff face. It’s for thrill seekers and the physically fit but the easy Soda Canyon Overlook Trail (1.2 miles round trip) affords an alternate view.

​Square Tower House on Mesa Top Loop Road in Chapin Mesa, the park’s tallest dwelling, stands 26 feet high. Inhabited during the mid-1200s the three-story structure features intact wooden beams and an original clay kiva roof. If the strenuous mile-long hike to tour the house deters you, get a bird’s-eye view of the dwelling from the overlook here which provides one of the best vistas in all of Mesa Verde National Park.

​Due to rockfall, Spruce Tree House in Chapin Mesa, the park’s best-preserved dwelling has been closed since 2015. But snag a stellar aerial view of the park’s third-largest cliff dwelling from the wheelchair-friendly porch at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum located less than a mile before the start of the two loop roads.

Tucked beneath a sandstone archway, the dwelling was constructed between 1211 and 1278 A.D. When ranchers discovered it in 1888 they climbed down a large Douglas spruce tree (now called a Douglas fir) to enter it, thus the name.

​In Wetherill Mesa tour Long House, the park’s second-largest dwelling highlighted by a dance plaza and multiple seep springs that provided the Ancestral Puebloans with water. From the beginning of the paved, 5-mile Long House Loop Trail near the mesa parking lot walk 1.5 miles to the Long House trailhead. From there it’s an arduous 2.25-mile hike (round trip) to the dwelling.

​For a more leisurely stroll (just a 1-mile loop) the mesa’s wheelchair- and bike-friendly loop trail passes through an eerie-looking burned forest that leads to the Nordenskiöld Site No. 16 trailhead. To view the two-level, 50-room village excavated by a Swedish geologist in 1891 walk the flat, half-mile gravel path to an overlook.

​Near the parking lot is Mesa Verde National Park’s only cliff dwelling that doesn’t require a tour ticket, the easy-to-walk-around Step House carved inside a 300-foot alcove. When excavated, the dwelling housed stunning handcrafted baskets in its six pit houses (insulated semisubterranean homes) evidence that Ancestral Puebloans occupied it six centuries before the park’s most famous dwellings were constructed circa the 13th century. Access it via a moderate, half-mile offshoot (1-mile round trip) at the beginning of the loop trail.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Drive the Mesa Top Loop

This 6-mile, 11-stop scenic road which runs parallel to the Cliff Palace Loop in Chapin Mesa traces the Ancestral Puebloans’ seven-century footprint in and around the park with rousing overlooks and stops at various archaeological sites. At the loop’s end you’ll see Sun Temple (1275 A.D.), a large D-shaped complex that experts believe served as an observatory for astronomical events such as the winter solstice that guided the Puebloans’ planting and harvesting activities.

​Go hiking

Mesa Verde National Park has a few noteworthy short hiking trails though the rough, challenging terrain means they aren’t suitable for the mobility-impaired. In Chapin Mesa, the half-mile Farming Terrace Trail near Cedar Tree Tower provides a window into the Ancestral Puebloans’ unique agricultural system with its check dams and terraces.

From the Spruce Tree House Overlook in Chapin Mesa the steep Petroglyph Point Trail (2.4 miles) loops through a fragrant pinyon-juniper forest where hikers slip between mammoth boulders en route to a 35-foot-wide rock-art panel with more than 30 figures (human and animal), spirals, and handprints.

​Closer to the park’s entrance three trailheads ranging from easy to difficult start at the Morefield Campground: Knife Edge (2 miles), an ideal trek for savoring Colorado’s pastel sunsets; Point Lookout (2.2 miles), replete with views of the snowcapped San Juan and La Plata ranges; and Prater Ridge (7.8 miles), a challenging, two-loop combo that splits Prater and Morefield canyons above Montezuma Valley where an estimated 35,000 people lived in the 1200s.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway towns

The Old West town of Durango, 36 miles east of Mesa Verde National Park on U.S. Highway 160 lures the bulk of parkgoers with its charming shops and art galleries, eclectic restaurants and microbreweries, outdoor recreation options, and rich railroad history. Indeed, a train ride aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a must.

From downtown Durango, the 1880s steam engine winds through the spellbinding San Juan Mountains skirting the edge of cliffs and crossing lofty bridges over the clear and ever-flowing Animas River chugging its way to the historic mining town of Silverton. It’s a thrilling nine-hour, round-trip adventure (May-October) with two hours spent exploring Silverton. Even the vision-impaired enjoy the ride hearing the steam whistle as the vintage locomotive pulls the train up steep grades. For alpine aromas and the best views, book a gondola seat.

​Splurge on a stay at the 15-room Rochester Hotel (with multiple wheelchair-accessible rooms). Built in 1892, the former boarding house-turned-boutique hotel recently reopened downtown following a modern makeover. Just two blocks away, the 88-room Strater Hotel is moderately priced and feels like you’re sleeping in a museum with period wallpaper and American Victorian walnut antiques awash in a building dating to 1887.

​Start your morning with a breakfast burrito at Durango Coffee Company on downtown’s Main Street. Around the corner, for lunch, munch on mouthwatering al pastor tacos or a chicken torta at the Cuevas Tacos food truck. Come dinnertime sink your teeth into a juicy grass-fed burger topped with Belford cheese at the James Ranch Grill, 10 miles north of downtown on U.S. Highway 550. Cream Bean Berry’s delicate artisan ice cream on Main Street will satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. Across the street, sip a cold one at Carver Brewing Company, one of Colorado’s first brewpubs.

​Blink twice and you might miss the closest town to Mesa Verde National Park—Mancos, a sleepy dot on the map 8 miles east of the park on U.S. 160. Accommodations are sparse here but the moderately priced Western-themed lodge rooms at the Starry Nights Ranch Bed & Breakfast make for a homey overnight.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before heading into the park fuel up for the day at the Absolute Bakery & Café on the Mesa Verde Stack, an egg-and-hash browns combo slathered with homemade green chile. At lunchtime, Chef Ben’s Cubano Sandwich is a must-try.

​Ten miles west of the park on U.S. 160 is Cortez, a terrific launch point for driving the 116-mile Trail of the Ancients Scenic and Historic Byway with its multiple national landmarks. The town’s lodging options are mostly hotels—the Holiday Inn Express Mesa Verde-Cortez has a pool and wheelchair-accessible rooms. For home-cooked comfort foods order the country fried chicken or elk shepherd’s pie at the Loungin’ Lizard cantina.

Mesa Verde National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact box

  • Park location: The Four Corners region in southwestern Colorado
  • Size: 52,485 acres
  • Highest peak: Park Point’s Fire Lookout Tower at 8,572 feet above sea level
  • Lowest valley: Soda Canyon, about 6,000 feet above sea level
  • Miles of trails: 20-plus miles over 12 trails
  • Main attraction: Cliff Palace
  • Cost: $30 per-vehicle entrance fee May until October, valid for seven consecutive days; $20 per vehicle from November through April
  • Best way to see it: Ranger-led tours of the cliff dwellings
  • When to go: May through September when the park’s most significant sites are open. September has the best weather.

Worth Pondering…

The falling snowflakes sprinkling the piñons gave it a special kind of solemnity. It was more like sculpture than anything else … preserved … like a fly in amber.

—Novelist Willa Cather, describing the rediscovery of Cliff Palace

5 Expert Tips to Prepare for Your Utah National Parks Adventure

Headed off to one of Utah’s National Parks for vacation? Maybe you have the whole The Mighty Five in your sights? Here’s some expert advice on how to prepare.

A family road trip through Utah’s five national parks and the surrounding areas makes for a quintessential American vacation. Of course if you’re traveling over summer vacation you may not be the only one on the road. In fact, June is one of the busiest months for Utah’s national parks. What does that mean for you? Well, if you can be flexible with your travel, it can yield big rewards. 

Here are five tips to help you prepare, courtesy of Aly Baltrus, the former chief of interpretation and visitor services at Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Pack the essentials

We’re human; we forget things. For your trip to any of The Mighty Five, some things are more essential than others. Visitors are advised to carry a lot of water—at least one gallon per person per day. In Zion, there’s several water refilling stations so you don’t have to carry in absolutely everything you’re going to drink during your stay unless you have a permit for more remote areas. 

Arches National Park near Moab has water at the visitor center near the entrance and at the Devils Garden Campground. There’s a water bottle filling station in the visitor center of Bryce Canyon National Park. In other areas of the national parks in Utah, water is significantly scarcer particularly in Canyonlands National Park.

If there are any concerns, check at the visitor center to learn about water availability and always plan ahead. Many travelers carry water coolers or extra jugs of water in their cars to fill up before a hike.

Good hiking shoes are important. That doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive brand. Make sure they fit you and you’ve used them before taking long hiking trips. Flip-flops are not appropriate footwear for the vast majority of trails in the national parks. Similarly, budget tools can help you in the outdoors. If folks are hiking into the Narrows, simple locking plastic bags can be helpful to keep your snacks and cell phone dry.

And remember to follow Leave No Trace principles—plan to pack out everything you pack in (garbage, etc.) and have a plan for when nature inevitably calls.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Know the terrain

Being prepared isn’t exclusive to the things you can wear or bring along in your pack. Sometimes, it requires understanding what’s required in certain weather conditions. If you are from lower elevations, take your time when hiking. It is much harder to hike in higher elevations. If you are around for a few days, ease yourself into hiking by starting with easier hikes. (For example, Bryce Canyon reaches up to over 9,000 feet of elevation).

Baltrus’s special expertise in Zion helps visitors understand the unique qualities of the park. There is very little shade in Zion. Sunscreen, wide-brimmed hats, plenty of water, and some salty snacks are a must when you’re packing for a trip there. The same rules apply to most hikes throughout The Mighty 5. While several hikes are family friendly these wonders are significantly more enjoyable if everyone knows what to expect and comes prepared.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Go at your own pace

It’s exciting to be in the outdoors and everyone should consider going at their own pace. If you have very little hiking experience you don’t want to start out with a 40-mile, hardcore backpacking trip.

Several of Zion’s trails including Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Point have steep climbs and drop-offs. These are not the best trails for people who are afraid of heights or those who have heart issues. If you’re traveling with friends or family discuss your preferences and skillset before you head out on the trail.

The park’s visitor center is an ideal place for this conversation because skilled staff will be able to provide advice on trail conditions, skills needed, and offer alternative trail options. What’s more, rugged national parks like Capitol Reef and Canyonlands have several front country, family-friendly trails and experiences, they are equally known for their expansive backcountry—not a place you’ll want to venture without good preparation, packing, wayfinding skills, and a stop at the visitor center for current conditions.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Know your companion’s limits

As with the above point, it helps to travel with people who won’t push you too far outside your comfort zone. Sure, a little challenge makes us feel good. But following a buddy’s plea to just do it his way this time may not end well. Peer pressure is sometimes a problem when visitors are part of a bigger group.

Friendships are important but your well-being is even more so. Be honest and up-front about your hopes for the trip and your experience. That will encourage others to do so, as well, and you can address issues of conflict early, instead of on the trail. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. How to avoid the crowds

Utah’s national parks can be a popular draw which means deciding when to visit a park feature can be as important as deciding what to see in the first place. In order to avoid the most crowds come early in the morning or after 2 p.m. And note that from April through October (between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.), Arches National Park requires a timed entry ticket to enter the park.

Many of Utah’s best sights are especially spectacular at sunrise and sunset during which some of the longer trails receive less traffic. But hikes of any distance at these times do require extra care.

Add a headlamp or flashlight to your pack and be prepared for the possibility of cooler temperatures. In other cases, you’ll be joining the crowd for a sunrise: Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park receives a lot of traffic around the sunrise hours because it’s a very short hike meaning photographers can easily haul in their gear and grab a truly iconic image at an easily accessible destination. The same goes for the Rim Trail of Bryce Canyon which is easily accessible from the scenic drive and the perfect time to see the hoodoos play with the changing light.

But visitors should also note that there a number of dazzling Utah State Parks that are near to The Mighty 5 and they make for a good stop when the national parks are particularly busy.

On the other hand, take some time to get to know your fellow travelers and celebrate the vast, natural beauty together.

You’ll likely hear a number of different languages on Zion National Park’s multi-passenger shuttle and in popular places to cool off in the peak season of summer like in the Virgin River at the Mouth of the Narrows. Elements took eons to create the varied wonders of Utah’s national parks. Visitors who rush through will only get a small taste of the power of these places. Visitors who plan extra time at each park will enjoy a less hurried, more intimate stay.

Learn more about how to visit Zion National Park. The ideas here apply to all of Utah’s incredible natural sanctuaries. Generally, people should plan to be as self-sufficient as possible. Be prepared, don’t take additional risks, and practice good trail etiquette.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus: Southern Utah State Parks near the Mighty 5

Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Mighty 5 National Parks. Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

There are eight enticing state parks along the The Mighty 5 road trip which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time to Utah or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle.

Learn more…

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

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

—Zane Grey

How to Care For Your RV Awning + Maintenance Tips

It’s nowhere near as important as the engine and you probably don’t give it as much thought as your RV interior but your RV awning is still a big part of what makes your RV home

On a nice day, unrolling your awning creates a shaded, breezy respite from the hot sun. It turns the bare space around your parked rig into a welcoming patio area. It essentially creates an outdoor living room and doubles your RV’s living space.

In a campground full of parked RVs, unrolled awnings create a front porch effect where others are welcome to sit and chat for a while and everyone is a friendly neighbor.

Like just about everything else on your RV though, your RV awning requires a little bit of ongoing care and maintenance to keep it functioning properly. None of them are major but you will want to put some thought into how you treat this small but transformative part of your rig. Taking care of your awning is as important as caring for your RV roof. And, it doesn’t take much to keep your RV awning in good condition.

Here are nine tips for regular RV awning maintenance.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to care for your RV awning

Maintaining and inspecting your awning from season to season keeps it intact and smelling fresh. Stained, mildewed, or torn awnings can lead to more significant problems if left untreated and may require you to replace the entire awning. The following tips can help keep your awning intact and lasting for many seasons!  

1. Wash the awning once or twice a year

Dirt stains, sap, and leaves from trees can leave your awning looking dingy and worn. Mold and mildew can also build up quickly and all of these factors combined can cause unpleasant odors and unsightliness. Routine washing will help to minimize these occurrences.

Most of the time, a light spray with a hose is sufficient to clean dirt and debris off your awning. However, if stains persist, you can use a soft, long-handled brush and some mild soap to scrub them out before rinsing. Be as gentle as possible to avoid removing the protective waterproof coating.

Depending on your volume of usage, regular cleanings may be required more or less frequently. If you are a full-time RVer, you will want to clean your awning at least three or four times per year. If you are a snowbird or part-time RVer a thorough cleaning once or twice a year should suffice.

No matter how often you use your RV awning be sure to clean it with a proper awning cleaner at least once a year. These can be found at most RV supply stores and should be sprayed onto the awning before scrubbing or rinsing. Follow all package instructions for best results.

Keep in mind that a high-quality cleaning product can make the job much easier.

2. Allow time for the awning to dry before storing it

Improper drying practices can be extremely damaging to your awning. These can cause mold and mildew growth as well as fabric dry rot and rust on your awning’s mechanical components.

Be sure to allow your awning to fully dry before you roll it up and store it. In addition, if your awning is left open on a rainy or humid day, it should be allowed to dry for at least three additional days before putting it away. This is especially important for those who use their awning less frequently as it can stay damp on the inside for weeks after you roll it up.

Ensure that your awning is completely dry to prevent unnecessary issues. If you must retract the awning before it’s completely dry, open it back up at your next destination.

Just like putting away a wet tent, rolling up a wet RV awning can lead to mold and all of the problems that go along with it (dry rot, a bad stink, and eventually ruined fabric). Fortunately, if the sun’s out, the drying-out process should not take too long.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Inspect your awning during each use

Each time you use your awning, you should inspect the fabric for stains, tears, loose threads, pinholes, or excessive wear. 

You should also look at the mechanical pieces to make sure they do not look broken. Watch the awning while it is extending and retracting to ensure it rolls evenly. It is a telltale sign of mechanical damage or an issue if both arms aren’t moving evenly.

4. Roll your awning up when it’s not in use

Although the awning’s main purpose is to provide shade from the sun, constant UV rays can damage your awning over time. When you are not using your awning for shade or heat prevention, roll it up and stow it away to minimize damage from the sun’s strength. This is especially pertinent if you are a full-time RVer who utilizes their awning often or if you take lots of trips during the summer.

5. Repair rips and tears ASAP

Once extended, look closer at the awning fabric from a ladder, rooftop view, or the ground. Most small holes can be repaired with a vinyl patch kit. If you see deterioration or tears, you’ll want to patch it as soon as possible.

A small hole or tear can quickly expand if ignored and it’s easier to patch than you might think. Simply seal the tear with awning repair tape. Using repair tape can extend the life and use of the current awning without having to replace the whole cover.

6. Engage the awning lock

If you have a manual awning, make sure to engage the awning locking mechanism when you travel. It’s usually a lever-like mechanism at the end(s) of your awning. Check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

By ensuring the awning locking device is engaged before departure you can avoid tears in the fabric or damage to awning mechanical pieces while traveling.

If you have an electric awning, you may or may not have a travel locking mechanism. So, be sure to check your owner’s manual to learn if you need to engage a lock or not.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Don’t leave your awning open in high winds

Heavy wind or unexpected wind gusts can wreak havoc on your awning. It can even rip the entire awning off the side of your RV. 

Keep an eye on your weather app and the skies. If severe winds or weather is headed your way, retract your awning as necessary. Some RVs have auto-closing awnings when the wind picks up.

On that same note, be mindful whenever you’re leaving your campsite for the day or turning in for the night. The weather may be fine when you’re getting ready to leave but it doesn’t mean it’ll be fine the whole time you’re gone or while you sleep.

I know of campers who have returned to their campsite or woke to a badly damaged awning because it was left open in bad weather.

My best advice is to retract the awning before leaving your campsite and before retiring for the night.

8. Lower one side during the rain

If you leave the awning extended during a rain shower, lower one side of the awning more than the other. This allows the rain to run off instead of pooling on top. Pooling water on top of an awning can tear the fabric or damage the mechanical pieces if it becomes too heavy or submerges items in water. 

This tip doesn’t work for all awning types as some do not allow you to extend the sides differently. But if yours does, this tip will come in handy on rainy days.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Inspect your awning twice each year

Despite proper maintenance and care your RV awning will wear as it ages. In order to stay ahead of any potential issues you should thoroughly inspect your awning at least twice per year. Follow this basic guide:

Open your awning slowly and pay attention to how it feels. If there is resistance or loud noises, it may need to be inspected by a mechanic.

Once the awning is out, you should check over all the mechanical parts. Start by inspecting the roller tube closely for signs of warping. If it is warped, it will be fairly obvious to you.

Check over the awning arms. Inspect the brackets and poles for missing screws or signs of bending. Look for broken rivets or enlarged holes in the handles. All of these can cause issues in the future if they are not repaired.

Look over the awning end caps, checking closely for signs of damage and broken or missing rivets.

Inspect the mounting hardware and ensure that it is properly secured to the RV.

Thoroughly inspect the awning fabric keeping an eye out for tears or signs of excessive wear. Talk to your RV mechanic about patching holes if they arise.

Roll up your RV, paying close attention to its movement as you put it away. Once again, listen for loud noises, clicking, or other unusual sounds.

Once your awning is away, test the safety locking mechanism. Pull very gently on the awning to see if you can open it while it is locked. If the lock is working properly, the awning should not budge.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to wash your RV awning

Although there are several ways to wash your awning, the following is the easiest and most thorough way to clean your RV awning. 

After each season, it gets all that weathering soot and stains from our rig’s awning. Always do a reasonable inspection of the awning while cleaning it. That way, you can repair rips and tears right then and there. 

1. Extend the awning

Extend the awning to full length. You want to be sure that it is fully open so that you can clean every part of the awning. That also allows the fabric to dry completely so you do not get mold or mildew issues once it is closed. 

2. Spray the awning with your preferred cleaner

Use a secure step ladder and spray the awning with your desired cleaner. Always refer to your owner’s manual to see if there is a suggested cleaner. 

Let the cleaner saturate for about 10 minutes. That will help loosen hardened dirt and debris on the fabric. It makes your cleaning job a whole lot easier.

3. Scrub with a long-handled brush

Once the cleaner has soaked in, use an RV brush to scrub the awning. Lightly scrub the awning with a long-handled brush and a sponge with the green scrubber side. 

4. Rinse and let the awning air dry

After scrubbing the awning, rinse it thoroughly. Let the awning dry completely. 

Once completely dry, crank it slowly watching for an even and steady closure. Then you are ready for next time.

RV awnings require care and maintenance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Spray mechanical parts with lubricant

Before closing the awning, spray some lubricant on the mechanical parts. That will help keep the mechanism working smoothly. 

Keep your awning in great shape

It’s true that your awning isn’t as integral to the functionality of your RV as some of its other components but having your RV awning in good working condition can really contribute to your quality of life when you’re on the road. Take good care of it and you’ll not only be rewarded with a great outdoor extension of your living space but you won’t have to spend your road trip money on a new awning.

Worth Pondering…

Until next time, safe RV travels, and I’ll see you on the highway!

Custer State Park: A Majestic Corner of South Dakota’s Black Hills

Custer State Park is one of the most beloved and diverse parks in the U. S. featuring breathtaking natural scenery, diverse wildlife, and a wide range of outdoor activities

An ever growing one of a kind event is putting South Dakota’s Custer State Park ever more on the map. Those who experience the thrill of the park’s annual late-September Buffalo Roundup quickly discover that nearby Mount Rushmore is not the only dramatic site in this southeast corner of the Black Hills region. Some two million guests a year who now make the trek here are on to something, after all.

Composed of one of the oldest and most diverse geologic foundations in America that makes for hairpin curves and tunnels that you can follow for fourteen miles along Needles Highway, Custer State Park is as much a natural treasure as any lands that make up America’s national parks. And you will no doubt eventually wonder why this spectacular landscape hasn’t been declared one.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t worry about it: South Dakotans are perfectly content to manage it themselves and a great job they do indeed with fine roads and an excellent tourism infrastructure. No matter the park’s official status a few days or a week in and around these 71,000 acres promise to reveal one adventure after another.

Within the southern part of the Black Hills National Forest the mile-high town of Custer serves as a gateway to the state park that lies just a few miles to the east. As your base, book yourself straight into the cute family-run Bavarian Inn in the hills just outside of town. Another of all things named for the notorious commander around here, The Custer Wolf is a locally popular casual pub restaurant.

Strolling Mt. Rushmore Road—effectively Custer’s main street whose broad width was designed to allow oxen freight carts to turn around—you’ll delight in many of the town’s fun and quirky brightly painted buffalo statues.

Also there, Keely and Damien Mahony operate the Black Hills Balloons adventure outfit. The American wife and Irish husband’s crew will take you on a short early morning drive to a forest clearing while you watch the balloons get filled in anticipation of the launch of your hour-long flight. Below you, Black Hills ridges and valleys are filled with ponderosa pine, while fog swirls around rock spires and rises from the surface of forest ponds below.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After your flight, you’ll be ready for a hearty breakfast at Baker’s Bakery & Café hash house whose tagline You’ll Love Our Buns is placed under a cheeky logo of a waitress with baked buns peeking out from her skirt.

For lunch or dinner the Pounding Fathers Restaurant/Mt. Rushmore Brewing Company is the place to sample some of dozens of Dakota state beers on draft. So massive is the complex that you could get lost there after knocking back a few (opened seasonally from May through October).

Just north of the Custer State Park boundaries book ahead for the super popular 1880 Train that runs between the towns of Hill City and Keystone. You’d think you’re in an Old West movie when at one point the vintage train will create a steamy scene by blasting sand through the flues to clear soot and whenever the tracks curve over the hour journey and you spot the engine chugging along. Conductors with old-timey facial hair help set the mood.

Anyone whose route ends in Keystone certainly needs no introduction to Mount Rushmore National Memorial which lies minutes away.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seemingly content as they are with the superb vantage point from the Grand View Terrace and to take in the extensive displays in its visitor’s center the vast majority of park goers don’t follow the half-mile-long looping Presidential Trail whose wooden stairs drop and rise again and get you right below the talus slope. You’ll have a close up of the presidents all to yourself at various viewing platforms to suss out just where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint dangled from and scampered down those granite faces.

Headed west back to the town of Hill City, stop and sample what at Prairie Berry Winery will surely be your most unusual wine tasting ever—that is, unless you have already tasted rhubarb wine or their raspberry-inflected Red Ass Rhubarb blend. They have a brew pub as well for that mango IPA you never knew you wanted.

Taking up a huge house that you wish you could live in, Hill City’s Alpine Inn restaurant was built in 1884 as a hotel serving the mining and railroad companies. The lunch menu is ample but for dinner it’s just two sizes of filet mignon or spaetzle primavera followed by a massive homemade dessert selection. It’s cash-only and it’s wildly popular.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A massive site off the highway between Hill City and Custer, The Crazy Horse Memorial mountain carving is a truly odd slice of Americana. Still far from completion since sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began blasting rock away in 1948 the work depicts the warrior whose Oglala Lakota people knew as Tasunke Witko, famous for his role in the defeat of Custer at Little Bighorn. Funded by donations and entry fees and finally advancing quickly with newer rock carving technologies, the memorial now includes the chief’s hand pointing in the distance to go along with his long-ago finished head.

The memorial museum is filled with artifacts and art from many Indian nations across the continent. One wall display you might not have expected is made up of small early 20th-century advertising illustrations of romanticized Indian and Western figures and scenes that were made for a gum company by Winfried Reiss, a German born artist recently rediscovered for his murals in the Empire State Building and Harlem Renaissance portraits.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back in Custer, you might think you’ve stumbled upon a slice of Brooklyn in the Black Hills. Were Skogen Kitchen actually in Brooklyn, the restaurant with the Norwegian name would be a hit there too for its urban vibe and dishes like hiramasa sashimi and duck leg.

Rapid City is now well-known for its nearly-life-sized bronze statues of presidents around town. Back in the 1930s, the WPA erected a truly delightful curiosity on a hill outside of town, where the life-size concrete creatures in Dinosaur Park have fared remarkably well in the near century of their existence. You can expect the unexpected in this southwest corner of South Dakota.

Custer Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

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

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Worth Pondering…

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where never is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

How to Keep Ants Out of Your RV

Ants in RV living spaces can be a real problem—one that many RVers have encountered from time to time

If there is one thing that can bug you (pun intended!) in your RV, it’s ants! Ants can be incredibly annoying because where there is one, there are usually hundreds. 

You might walk into your kitchen to find just a few exploring your countertop. Or, you might wake up to a full-blown infestation! 

If you are like most people who have an RV you probably take a lot of pride in your vehicle. You keep it clean and well-maintained so what to do if you have an ant infestation in your RV?

How can I keep ants from entering the RV via water and power lines?

I’m being invaded by ants! Best solution besides a blow torch?

Camping at Sand Hollow State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get rid of ants in the RV by using natural repellents such as vinegar spray and cinnamon powder. Simply apply it to the area in your RV where you see ant trails to eliminate ant pheromones.

Pesticides that can be used include ant foggers, baits, sprays, and similar. However, ensure that you do not use the RV during treatment with toxic pesticides.

Following is a step by step instructional guide for getting rid of the ants in the RV. Follow the guide and tips and you will clean your RV from ants without a hassle.

Let’s start with suggestions on how to keep ants out of your RV in the first place. One way ants can quickly gain access to your RV is by entering through an opening. 

If you have an open window or any open gaps around slide-outs, water lines, or power lines, this gives ants enough space to squeeze into your RV. So what can you do about it? 

Camping at Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Close the gaps

Ensure all weather-stripping or gaps are filled and closed from outside access. Check the space around all water and power lines at entry. 

Check for gaps around vents, windows, doors, cabinets that also open to the outside and slide-outs. 

If you need to fill gaps, spray expanding foam around pipes and holes. Or, you can use a sealant.

This is a great thing to check when de-winterizing your RV for the upcoming camping season. 

Diatomaceous Earth

If you’re in an area where ants are prevalent, you can use Diatomaceous Earth (DE) around the outside of your RV to prevent them from establishing a new colony in your RV. This is a natural and completely safe powdery compound that is mined from calcium deposits on the seabed.

Put DE anywhere under and around your RV where ants might gain access. You can put it on your electrical cord, sewer connection hose, water line, tires, or anywhere ants might establish a path into your RV. Ants can gain access from overhanging foliage so don’t park your RV where tree branches touch your roof or they can crawl up and under anything that is connected to the ground. 

Diatomaceous Earth is such a fine dry powder that it literally clings to the dampness found at the joints of any exoskeleton insects (ants, fleas, ticks) causing the joints to freeze up much like a motor freezes up if the oil gets too gummy. Because it only works when it’s dry you may need to repeatedly apply DE to exterior surfaces.

Camping at River Sands RV Resort, Ehrenberg, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar oil and diluted vinegar

If your environment is too wet to use DE, other options include Wondercide flea and tick spray. That’s just cedar oil. Diluted vinegar is also effective as an ant repellant.  Of these three, DE is usually the most effective but it must be dry to do any good.  Of course, it’s better to prevent an infestation rather than deal with it after the fact but that’s not always possible.

Bug spray

If you spray around the lines and any opening to the RV you might prevent an infestation. Administer the bug spray to all cords at the spot where they leave the ground.

Be careful using sprays around your water line.

Clean the lines

Another great option is to clean the lines once you have already gotten rid of the pests. Use white vinegar to wipe surfaces where they have been to destroy scent trails since the elimination of the trail is critical to avoid a repeat infestation. Follow the wipe down with an application of Advion around connections and any area with potential for entry.

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

Use powders

Try using baby powder. Ants do not like crossing powder of any sort. Baby powder is a non-invasive and non-toxic solution to sprinkle around the spots where the cords touch the ground. 

You can also encircle the campground power pedistal with baby powder. 

Some campers use ashes from the fire pit to encircle their tires and anything else that touches the ground. Not only are ashes a natural substance but they are easily found at almost any campsite. Just make sure the ashes are completely cooled.

If you prevent the ants from accessing the lines they will not have a bridge to your RV. 

Camping at Canyon Trails RV Park, Boulder City, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sticky fly tape

Sticky fly tape is a tape that attracts bugs. They land or walk onto the tape and get trapped. 

Depending on your setup, this might be a good solution for you. You can place the tape on either end of the water line or power cords. 

You can also place this at the base of the power box or where the lines touch the ground to prevent the ants from accessing the line. 

How to get rid of ants once they’re inside

Sometimes, despite our best efforts we still find ourselves infested with ants. So what are the best ways to get rid of these buggers? 

Ant baits

Bait products such as Terro liquid ant baits work well for many RVers. Place the ant baits all over the rig, the gel type.

Camping at Peach Arch RV Park, Surrey, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Non-traditional repellents

Some campers use natural repellents or other products that are not typically thought of as something to repel ants. Try a mixture of cinnamon and water to control ants. Mix these two ingredients and wipe them on and around the lines. This can be an effective DIY option because ants do not like the scent so they stay away from those areas. 

Other natural repellents include using borax, baking soda, lemon, and vinegar to name a few. 

Worth Pondering…

If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?

—Marie Dressler

The Complete Guide to Arches National Park

View jaw-dropping sandstone archways in a red-rock wonderland plus nearby Canyonlands and Capitol Reef

Professional photographers and camera-toting travelers flock to eastern Utah’s Arches National Park to marvel at its striking namesake geology created by millions of years of extreme temperatures, underground salt movement, and elemental erosion. With more than 2,000 arches spread across 76,519 acres of red rock and blue sky, no place on Earth hosts a higher concentration of natural sandstone archways. These miracles of nature as they’ve long been hailed span from three to a staggering 306 feet in width.

Native Americans including Ancestral Puebloans, Archaic, Fremont, and Ute peoples inhabited the area for thousands of years (petroglyphs provide evidence of their presence). Traders and trappers rode horses through the dusty region in more recent times but it wasn’t settled until the 1890s when disabled Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son Fred built a log cabin and operated Wolfe Ranch. President Herbert Hoover declared the area a national monument in 1929 and it became a national park in 1971.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decades later in 1956 and 1957 famed nature writer and environmental activist Edward Abbey worked as a ranger in what was then a national monument perched high above the Colorado River. Abbey anointed Arches the most beautiful place on Earth in the opening line of Desert Solitaire, his classic memoir and love letter to red-rock country.

The grandeur of Arches National Park’s dramatic terrain begins as soon as you enter the park and begin cruising the park’s scenic drive, the main thoroughfare swiftly ascending 500 feet over a series of winding switchbacks. Without warning, stunning geological wonders unveil themselves across the juniper-dotted red landscape: balanced rocks, fins, monoliths, petrified sand dunes, pinnacles, and spires.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re on a movie set when you hit the road’s first straightaway. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma and Louise were both filmed inside the park.

From the park’s scenic drive, you can easily experience Arches National Parks’s most significant arches and viewpoints in one day. You’ll likely have plenty of company: This awe-inspiring red-rock wonderland attracted 1.4 million people in 2023.

At the end of this article you’ll also find information on nearby Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reservations

To control the crowds, Arches reintroduced a timed-entry program that runs from April 1 to October 31, 2023 with reservations available three months in advance of a visit date on recreation.gov (new reservations will become available once a month; see the park’s site for details). Each reservation which includes all passengers in a vehicle gives entry to the park during a one-hour time slot from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (visitors can then stay as long as they like that day). Guided tours are exempt from the reservation requirement as are those who visit on foot or bike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

Most visitors to Arches National Park drive 230 miles southeast from Salt Lake City to the town of Moab, the gateway to the park.

The park is open year-round but attracts the most visitors between March and October. Peak tourist months are July and August despite triple-digit temperatures most days. If visiting during this time be sure to pack a wide-brimmed hat, water bottle, and sunblock.

Pro tip: Arrive between 7 and 8 in the morning or 3 and 6 in the afternoon for cooler temperatures and any chance of a tourist-free arch photo; otherwise, expect long entrance lines into the park, limited parking at viewpoints, and crowded trails.

April, May, September, and October are the optimal time to visit with smaller crowds and daytime temperatures ranging from the upper 50s to 80s. If you can brave the cold, November through February will reward you with big savings in Moab and plenty of solitude in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter when you visit, dress in layers because you’re in the high desert (4,085 feet elevation at the park entrance) where temperatures can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees on a given day and are considerably cooler morning and evening.

Five miles north of Moab, the park’s lone visitor center sits directly off U.S. Route 191 just beyond the main entrance. Here, fill up your water bottle, shop for souvenirs in the bookstore, pick up free maps, and learn about ranger-led programs scheduled spring through fall.

There are no shuttles or public transportation to or in Arches so you’ll need your own vehicle. The 18-mile-long scenic drive runs through the heart of the park beginning at the entrance and ending at the Devils Garden Trailhead. The picturesque route provides access to Arches’s most outstanding rock formations and trailheads plus panoramas of the snowcapped La Sal Mountains.

You can drive it in about three hours including 10-minute stops at each viewpoint.  Be sure to start early in the day as parking lots along the way get crowded quickly.

There’s limited cellphone reception in the park.

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

Where to stay and eat

You won’t find lodging options in Arches National Park and it has only one campground: the 51-site Devils Garden a stunning spot to sleep between slickrock ledges in your RV or tent. Reservations ($25 a night for a 10-person, two-vehicle site) can be made six months in advance for camping March through October; it’s first- come, first-served the rest of the year. Facilities include barbecue grills, potable water, and both flush and pit-style toilets but no showers or hookups.

The secluded Kayenta Campground at Dead Horse Point State Park ($20 per vehicle) is about a half-hour’s drive from Arches on the edge of Canyonlands National Park. Its 21 quiet campsites tucked within a juniper grove are open for tents ($35 per night) and RVs ($50 per night). The adjacent Wingate Campground atop a mesa has 31 campsites for tents and RVs and extensive views of the surrounding mountains and canyons.

You can find various places to pop your tent or park your RV on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, too, such as the Sand Flats Recreation Area near Moab where 140 individual campsites ($15 per night) are spread across nine campgrounds ranging from 4,500 feet to 5,700 feet in elevation.

For additional amenities, head to the Sun Outdoors Arches Getaway (from $59 a night) about 5 miles from the entrance to Arches National Park.

Since there are no restaurants or concessions in the park, pack a lunch or bring snacks. Enjoy your meal break at the scenic Devils Garden picnic area with charcoal grills, shaded tables to dodge the hot desert sun, and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. It’s right off the scenic drive.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

See the main arches

You can see most of Arches National Park’s grandest structures via access roads directly off the scenic drive. From the parking lots at each archway short walking trails lead to up-close views.

Freestanding 52-foot-tall Delicate Arch which adorns Utah’s state license plate is one of the world’s most recognized geological features. To marvel at what Abbey called “a weird, lovely, fantastic object,” park in the Wolfe Ranch parking lot (13 miles from the park entrance) and hike the Delicate Arch Trail, a 1.5-mile climb up a slickrock slope with 480 feet of elevation.

For a less-grueling alternative, park one mile up the road in the Delicate Arch Viewpoint lot. From there a flat 50-yard (and wheelchair-accessible) trail takes you to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint where you can see the arch from a mile away. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint requires a moderately challenging half-mile walk but gets you that much closer.

Twelve miles from the park entrance, the Windows Section contains the best concentration of Arches National Park’s most mesmerizing formations. Delicate Arch is the busiest spot in the park but the Windows Section is the park highlight.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A gentle half-mile trail from the Windows Section parking lot (the first 100 yards are wheelchair-friendly) takes you to North and South windows also known as the spectacles because they look like a pair of reading glasses from afar. Stand inside the North Window’s 90-foot-wide mouth and admire the glistening peaks of the distant La Sal Mountains on your left then look right and snap a panoramic shot of the towering spire protecting nearby Turret Arch.

Elsewhere in the Windows Section is Double Arch easily accessible via a quarter-mile trail on the parking lot’s north side. Formed by water erosion from above, two arches share the same foundational stone with the southern span holding claim to the park’s tallest arch opening at 112 feet. You really need to stand underneath Double Arch to appreciate it. Scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma and Louise were filmed in this exact location.

At the end of the scenic drive in the Devils Garden area, Landscape Arch’s staggering 306-foot-wide light opening (longer than a football field) is the widest span of any arch in North America. An easy 1.6-mile round-trip hike on the first portion of the Devils Garden Trail takes you to the razor-thin formation.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go hiking

Aside from the 3-mile round trip to Delicate Arch, the park’s signature attractions can be seen from flat, short trails.

For a lengthier, moderately difficult hike with a little bit of rock scrambling tackle the complete Devils Garden Trail, a 7.9-mile loop in the back of the park alongside spires and pine trees with spurs that lead to eight archways including the lesser-visited Double O Arch and Navajo Arch.

Insider tip: Hike this trail counterclockwise so you end at Landscape Arch.

For something truly special, sign up for a ranger-led hike ($16) through the Fiery Furnace, a 2-mile, three-hour adventure through an isolated labyrinth of canyons, fins, and body-scraping passageways. Offered daily March through October, you’ll need to reserve your ticket online at nps.gov) as spots typically fill up a couple of months in advance.

Note: In a fragile ecosystem like Arches one errant footprint can cause years of damage. Visitors are reminded to “stay on the trail and don’t bust the crust!” Cryptobiotic crusts are an amalgamation of green algae, fungi, and other tiny organisms that hold the soil together and prevent erosion.

The wheelchair-accessible Park Avenue Trail with its skyscraper-canyon walls is one of the most beautiful walks at Arches National Park. The easy stroll (2-mile round trip) along the valley floor gives you a close-up of the Courthouse Towers, towering stone columns that shoot from the desert like a NASA rocket.

Park Avenue, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover unique (non-arch) geology

Archways are Arches National Park’s marquee attraction but its other head-turning geological features deserve attention, too.

As you cruise the scenic drive, it’s hard to miss the Three Penguins, the park’s first significant sandstone tower (130 feet tall) which hovers above the visitor center and resembles a marching trio of the tuxedoed seabirds.

To the south of Double Arch, the Parade of Elephants—a lone section of sandstone shaped like a single-file herd of elephants parading through the desert—would make Michelangelo envious of nature’s ability to sculpt a masterpiece.

Balanced Rock (nine miles from the park entrance), a giant chunk of sandstone standing 128 feet tall sits atop an eroding pedestal of mudstone like a sundae cherry. You can see it from the scenic drive but hike the short 0.3-mile trail around its base to fully grasp its size and beauty.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargaze

On a clear night, a wealth of stars can be seen from anywhere in Arches, a certified dark sky destination. During the summer months, rangers lead one- to three-hour stargazing sessions that include constellation talks and telescope viewing at Panorama Point (11 miles from the park entrance). Reservations aren’t necessary but check with the visitor center for an updated schedule.

More parks nearby

Take in more natural beauty at two other national parks within driving distance of Arches National Park: Canyonlands National Park (26 miles southwest of Arches) and Capitol Reef National Park (132 miles southwest of Arches).

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Vast mesas, ethereal pinnacles, canyon mazes, and remote backcountry buttes paint the sprawling red-rock hinterland of Canyonlands National Park. Even though its Utah’s largest national park, the 337,598-acre desert wilderness attracts fewer than half the visitors of nearby Arches which is less than a quarter its size.

Canyonlands National Park is divided into three land districts split by the Colorado and Green rivers: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze spread apart by miles of roadless red rock. (Visitors must return to U.S. Route 191 and drive to the different park sections which takes anywhere from two to six hours).

More than three-quarters of visitors go to the Island in the Sky district where the 34-mile scenic drive is the park’s best sightseeing option. The high mesa cradled by the confluence of the rivers rests atop a sandstone bench—the White Rim—that rises 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain.

Mesa Arch and the Green River Overlook are the best viewpoints with Green River being the best for photography. A short half-mile loop trail (not wheelchair-accessible) takes you to Mesa Arch, the park’s signature vista at the edge of a cliff. The Green River Overlook, ideal at sunset provides a rooftop view of one of Canyonlands’s powerful riverways.

The park offers ranger-led talks spring through fall at the Grand View Point Overlook (accessible to wheelchairs), a sweeping panorama of the Canyonland’s multilayered geology. And do stop at the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint for a bird’s-eye view of the snaking 18-mile Shafer Trail, a cliff-hanging dirt road with steep drop-offs that descends 1,500 feet to the canyon floor.

For backcountry exploration, head to the Needles district, a two-hour drive away. The park’s southeast corner named for the multicolored sandstone spires that skyrocket from the desert floor is home to 74 miles of trails ranging from short interpretive loops to heart-pumping day hikes.

The Maze district exemplifies some of the Lower 48’s most untrodden terrain. Located on the other side of the Green and Colorado rivers getting there requires a nearly six-hour drive from Moab. For unmatched solitude in the Maze’s wilds, an experienced guide is highly recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

You haven’t landed on Mars but don’t be shocked if your first glimpse of Capitol Reef National Park with its otherworldly canyons and miles upon miles of rusty desert hues feels like a mission to the Red Planet.

What makes the park unique is the Waterpocket Fold and the topography that resulted from that. Created by a buckle in the Earth’s surface, the park’s defining geologic feature stretches nearly 100 miles running north-south from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. The fold, rising from the desert like a massive ocean break, destined for the coast is one of the largest and best exposed monoclines in North America. When the uplift fired some 65 million years ago it left behind a dramatic landscape of jagged cliffs and giant monoliths. 

Drive the Scenic Drive (directly off state Route 24), an 8-mile route that begins near the visitor center and runs through the heart of the park. Besides the fold, you’ll see Cassidy Arch named after Butch Cassidy who is said to have hidden here following his first bank robbery, the slot canyon at Capitol Gorge with its rain-filled water pockets known as the Tanks, and the resplendent 7,041-foot Golden Throne dome.

For million-dollar views of one the park’s largest sandstone monoliths the challenging 4-mile Golden Throne Trail is a stunning hike. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the park’s 20-something desert bighorn sheep.

Other must-see sites include Capitol Dome, a majestic white sandstone formation towering 800 feet above the road; thousand-year-old petroglyphs; Chimney Rock, an eroded sandstone pillar with a 6,420-foot summit; the 133-foot-long natural sandstone Hickman Bridge; and the Goosenecks Overlook, a striking viewpoint more than 800 feet above a serpentine canyon.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Fact box

  • Location: Eastern Utah about 230 miles southeast of Salt Lake City
  • Acreage: 76,519
  • Highest point: Elephant Butte, 5,653 feet
  • Lowest point: Visitor Center, 4,085 feet
  • Miles of trails: 28
  • Main attraction: 2,000-plus natural sandstone arches
  • Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven consecutive days; $20 for an annual Senior Pass (62+)
  • Best way to see it: By car along the scenic drive
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: November through February (if you want solitude and arch photos sans the tourists)

Worth Pondering…

A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship.

—Edward Abbey, once a park ranger at Arches, from his classic novel Desert Solitaire

10 Reasons Why the Super C Motorhome Is the King of RVs

Super C motorhomes have numerous benefits for travelers with specific needs. Let’s take a closer look at 10 of the reasons for owning one.

What’s so super about a Super C motorhome? Lots of things and I’ll go down the list one by one. Are they sturdy, powerful, and comfortable? Check, check, and check. In fact, they might just be the most versatile style of RVs.

With just a quick look up and down the highway or around the RV parks, you’ll see they’re growing in popularity. I’ll show why they’ve earned the crown as the king (or queen!) of all RVs.

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a Super C motorhome?

As the name implies, a Super C motorhome is a bigger, more rugged version of a Class C motorhome. They can be quite luxurious, too!

A Super C is a souped-up version of a traditional Class C motorhome.

Like the Class C, a Super C motorhome has a distinctive cab-over area in the front that’s usually a sleeping area. And that’s along with a bedroom in the back plus a kitchen, bathroom, separate shower, dinette, and living area. What’s different is the Super C is built on a heavy-duty truck chassis rather than a van chassis so it’s sturdier and can carry heavier loads. 

This opens up possibilities for better-quality furnishings and accessories—and more of them. The Super C has more storage space and more power under the hood. A Super C motorhome is big—typically ranging from around 33 feet to about 45 feet. It’s safe to say that many RV parks can accommodate them, even with a vehicle in tow.

➡ You might consider a Super C a big rig but some RV parks and campgrounds have a different opinion. Before you book a stay, find out What Does Big Rig Friendly Really Mean?

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10 reasons why Super C motorhomes are RV royalty

I’ve already checked quite a few boxes in favor of the Super C motorhome. I’ll expound on those a bit and add a few more to explain why they reign supreme.

1. They have a powerful engine and driveline

A Super C has its engine in the front and it’s usually a diesel (but not always). The engines pack a lot of power, too. These are large displacement engines with lots of horsepower and torque to carry heavy loads and tackle challenging terrain.

Many times Super C motorhomes have a more robust drive than even the biggest class A motorhomes. Like a semi, many of them have two sets of dual rear wheels and sometimes both are powered giving them far more carrying capacity and traction.

2. Safer in a crash

A Super C’s heavy-duty truck chassis will hold up better in a collision. With the engine in front (unlike a diesel pusher) you have more of a protective barrier in a head-on crash. And with a wider wheelbase they’re less likely to overturn.

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. They drive like trucks

Super C motorhomes may have more muscle than what you’re used to but it’s probably within your comfort zone. Getting behind the wheel of a Super C is more or less like driving a big pickup truck with a truck camper on the back.

By comparison, there’s a bigger learning curve with the larger, lumbering Class A motorhomes. Driving a Class A is more like driving a bus because you’re positioned on top of the front wheels rather than behind them.

4. Straightforward maintenance

Those truck engines are easy to work on and most mechanics have experience with them. You won’t have to hunt down a specialist when you need to do some repairs. And it may be a while before you do. Heavy-duty truck engines are designed to go for hundreds of thousands of miles with routine maintenance.

5. Ride in comfort

When in transit, the extra weight and width of the Super C motorhome’s heavy-duty chassis give you tons of stability. Combine that with air suspension and you’ve got an exceptionally smooth ride. This is true on open highways as well as bumpy country roads.

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Quality interiors

Because Super Cs can carry heavier loads, manufacturers don’t have to compromise by using lightweight materials. Many of these motorhomes have upgraded components and features like solid wood cabinetry, granite countertops, tile flooring, and electric fireplaces.

7. Spacious floorplans 

Those wider wheelbases are often a bit longer, too. A few extra inches here and there can add up to much more living space, even king-sized beds. In addition, some Super C motorhomes have multiple slide-outs so you can stretch out even more.

8. Significant towing capacity

With a Super C, you’ll be able to bring along a second vehicle to use as a daily driver. Or, you may want to tow your boat or other toys you can’t leave behind. Towing capacities of 10,000 pounds to 20,000 pounds are more typical but some models can tow up to 25,000 pounds.

9. Large holding tanks

Bigger tanks mean you can stay in one place longer even off the grid. It’s not unusual for a Super C to have a fresh water capacity of 100 to 150 gallons. Count on 75 gallons or so for black and grey tanks.

10. Increased storage (and cargo carrying capacity)

While Class C motorhomes are notorious for their limited storage space, their super-sized cousins have more room to spare. The roomy basement area is more like what you’d expect to find on a Class A motorhome. You’ll still need to pack wisely but you can definitely carry more things with you.

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you need a special driver’s license to drive a Super C?

In most places, you don’t need any kind of special driver’s license to drive a motorhome if you’re doing it for recreational purposes. However, if it’s for business, you should have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

These laws vary from state to state and province to province but most of them don’t have any particular restrictions on RVs that weigh less than 26,000 pounds. Most Super C motorhomes weigh more than that and you might need a special license so check your state or provincial laws.

How much does a Super C motorhome cost?

You can expect to pay $500,000 or more for a brand-new Super C off the lot. And when we say or more, it could be considerably more. The price could rise as high as $775,000 depending on the manufacturer and what kinds of extras it has. On the other hand, you may be able to buy a used one for $150,000 to $200,000.

While we’re talking numbers, you should also consider fuel costs. Unfortunately, many Super C motorhomes get less than 10 mpg.

Pro tip: Some motorhome buyers forget to factor in the cost of the RV lifestyle.

Super C motorhome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you considering a Super C motorhome?

As you can see, the Super C motorhome has a lot going for it. They’re spacious, easy to drive, and have high-end features. In fact, you might even feel like you’re riding on a cushion of air thanks to the suspension. 

Super C motorhomes are also powerful, safe, and dependable. And if you have a maintenance issue, they’re usually not difficult to repair.

It’s no wonder we see so many running the roads and settling in for long stays. They may not be the ideal rig for everyone but there are many Super C owners who wouldn’t want any other kind of RV.

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

Tourist + Moron = Touron… And National Parks Have A LOT of Them

Invasion of the idiots

Ever see a video of a tourist at a National Park and all you can do is shake your head?

I mean, what is with these folks?

They go into completely wild environments and act like they know what’s going on.

No ma’am, that bull elk will kill you, the bison will hit you like a truck, and that grizzly bear is not a teddy.

It’s funny, annoying, and scary all in one when you see a tourist do some stupid crap trying to get a photo of wildlife. We all know you’re not a professional photographer so please tell me why you’re putting your life on the line for a few photos for the ‘Gram?

It just ain’t worth it, not even a little…

On a typical internet search for all things wildlife, a video surfaced on my feed. The video itself was nothing special but I came across a term I hadn’t seen or heard before, touron.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s pretty simple… Tourist + Moron = Touron!

Urban Dictionary defines it as “any person who, while on vacation, commits an act of pure stupidity.”

Not only does touron roll oddly smooth off the tongue but it also really is just the perfect description of all the people who ignore the painfully obvious signs of what to do and not do with the wildlife.

However, wherever there is a touron with a cell phone, there’s probably someone else close by capturing the stupidity.

These videos are living proof of the kind of idiots that walk into National Parks on a daily basis. It is not a zoo, there are no cages for a reason, and these animals have the ability to seriously harm you…

The one with a fella trying to scare a mother black bear off is insane. Rule number one is stay away from a mother and her young. You are just asking to get attacked.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can see a mother bear and her three cubs. The man walks around a vehicle to try and scare a bear. Two big no-no’s! Don’t approach a mother bear or try to scare any bear. That’s a good way to, oh, I don’t know… die?

In this case the man got off lucky. She just bluff charged and slapped at the man as he ran off.

Grade A Touron.

Here is some more helpful information on bear safety: You Come Across a Bear. Your Next Move Is Very Important. Do You Know What To Do?

Once you’re aware of the word touron, it seems to come up everywhere. There’s an entire subreddit dedicated to visitors who hike off trail, get too close to wildlife, and bathe in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.

The popular Instagram account @touronsofyellowstone which posts videos and photos of park visitors misbehaving has amassed 486,000 followers while @touronsofnationalparks has 176,000 and dozens more accounts have popped up (there’s @touronsofhawaii, @touronsofthepnw, and @tourons_of_joshuatree just to name a few).

Instagrammer Jackie Boesinger Meredyk (@jaboes) posted video footage of a tourist getting too close to a herd of bison that caused a road blockage near Bridal Veil Falls at Yellowstone National Park.

The video was reposted on @touronsofyellowstone and the caption describes how the person got out of their vehicle about 20 cars back and walked along the mountain road, all while holding an iPad to get a unique picture.

The park’s law enforcement was trying to get the herd moving and they were stunned to see the tourist getting unreasonably close. After calling for the man to follow the park’s rules by standing at least 25 yards away, he retreated.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The comments section was not impressed.

“Entitled seems fitting,” said one Instagrammer with another adding, “The ranger needs to fine him.”

While getting in the personal space of bison is unwise at the best of times, this bunch featured a couple of calves increasing the risk to anyone who approaches.

“They had their babies with them,” another observed. “He’s lucky he’s still alive.”

The Government of the Northwest Territories advises never to get within a herd of bison or to come between two of the mammals, especially between a mother and calf.

Bison can be unpredictable and charge at any moment and threatening behavior from humans is sure to make this more likely.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Male bison can weigh up to 2,000 pounds, according to Yellowstone National Park while females can be as heavy as 1,000 pounds. Being charged by either isn’t likely to end well. The park says bison have harmed more people at the park than any other animal.

There are plenty of other reasons to be respectful of wildlife. Yellowstone has noted that feeding animals in its parks can lead to them getting too familiar with humans and reliant on the food they offer meaning they can become aggressive when trying to get it.

We can observe nature from a distance and still be amazed by what we see. Getting too close can be a recipe for disaster.

These reckless actions by uninformed or careless tourons put themselves, park resources, and others at severe risk of injury or death. Responsible behavior and respecting all park rules and regulations is crucial for safety.

These accounts and numerous news stories reveal that touron activity is often found in national parks and according to the Topical Dictionary of Americanisms, the term is considered “park ranger slang.” Urban Dictionary agrees. “The term has its roots in the resort, park service, and service industries and can easily be dated back at least as far as the mid-1970s,” the entry states.

Don’t be a touron! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lists could go on and on…

Either way, I’m very happy to have stumbled upon the word Touron, it’s just so perfect.

Friggin’ Tourons….

Here are a few great articles to help you stay safe in national parks:

Worth Pondering…

I love the term touron. It’s a delicious portmanteau.

—Aspen Daily News

Outdoorsy Releases Generations in the Wild: The 2024 U.S. Family RV Travel Report

Teens drop tech and look to faith for meaning during family road trips. Baby Boomers beef up multigenerational camping plans this summer. Economic constraints and appetite for travel push GenZ to search for free campsites. Demand for developed campgrounds booms.

Outdoorsy, a leading outdoor travel and accommodation marketplace recently released Generations in the Wild: The 2024 U.S. Family RV Travel Report. The company’s inaugural independent research explores motivations behind travel, benefits of time on the road, and cultural values restoring human relationships across four generations of RVing American families.

“This independent research was deliberately designed to span not just generations, but to represent Americans from all walks of life who seek the benefits only the outdoors can provide,” said Outdoorsy Co-Founder Jennifer Young. “Resoundingly, every group acknowledged that RV travel provides a powerful way to strengthen family bonds, reconnect with themselves, and draw closer to their faith.”

Spending time in nature at Snow Canyon State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Notably, Outdoorsy’s survey found that today’s always-on work culture is negatively impacting young families on the road—cutting into quality time and reducing enjoyment for GenZ parents in particular. GenZ is most likely to take work on the road with 74 percent saying they work at least sometimes during a trip and 96 percent of those who do reporting that their work hours negatively impact their time with family. By comparison, GenX has a healthier work life balance with only 53 percent reporting that they work during family trips.

“Creating time for a digital detox is closely correlated to better reported trip outcomes, but we found that only one in five families will always take the time to do so,” said Young. “However, we discovered that disconnecting from tech isn’t the only way to reliably improve your summer vacation. Our research showed that parents who involve their children in every aspect of trip planning—from meal planning to destination selection to activity mapping—report improved journeys across almost every metric.”

Families with children who are highly engaged in trip planning report lower stress (+21 percent), an increase in positive attitudes (+12 percent), and increased excitement (+16 percent). Families who engage their children in every aspect of trip planning are also more likely to report strengthened faith after a trip (65 percent vs. 39 percent) and a higher likelihood of tech-free time (66 percent vs. 52 percent).

Spending time in nature hiking Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional key findings from this year’s report include:

  • GenZ: The changing face of RV travel: The youngest generation of RVers are notably different from their peers. They’re the most likely to travel with the majority (65 percent) saying they plan to take at least five RV trips this year. However, this cost-conscious generation is also the most likely (47 percent) to seek out free RV accommodations this year signaling that this cohort especially is feeling the strain of inflation. This group also tends to stay closest to home with an average trip length that is 100 miles less than that of older generations.
  • Developed campgrounds are the most in-demand in 2024: This year, developed campgrounds are in high demand with 83 percent of families preferring their RV campground to be packed with amenities like showers, pools, biking paths, pickleball courts, and more.
  • RV trips reduce tech time and increase spiritual connectedness for teens: Nearly half of all teens (48 percent) report reduced screen time during family RV trips and the vast majority (88 percent) report at least some level of spiritual connectedness with more than half (59 percent) engaging in prayer, reflection (34 percent), and reading sacred texts (21 percent) during family RV trips.
  • Baby Boomers beef up multigenerational camping plans this summer: In their youth, Baby Boomers popularized backcountry camping. However, over time they fell into travel patterns that were less likely to include outdoor experiences. Now that they’re entering their retirement years, they are much more likely to turn to RV trips as an affordable means of travel that can include their children, grandchildren, and extended family. Three fourths (74 percent) of Baby Boomers will include their adult children in their next RV trip and 31 percent will include their grandchildren.
  • Millennials: The experience-first generation: This formidable travel group started the trend of investing in experiences instead of things and their desire to fully lean into family travel shows up in a variety of ways. Seven out of 10 Millennials say RV trips are an important time to disconnect from technology and this generation is less than half as likely to always work while traveling as their GenZ counterparts (11 percent vs. 26 percent) signaling they have a better handle on work/life balance.
  • Nearer, my God, to thee: RVing families tend to be highly religious or spiritual with 96 percent of parents and 88 percent of teens reporting at least some connection to faith or spirituality. 82 percent of religious families report being Christian. And although teens are less likely to say they’re very connected to religion or spirituality, they’re just as involved (and in some cases more involved) as their parents in spiritual pursuits while in nature. 

Since I’m talking the outdoors, here are a few related articles:

Spending time in nature at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Methodology

The results of the first Outdoorsy U.S. RV Family Travel Report are based on a total of 3,200 surveys completed among a random sample of U.S. families and a corresponding sample of n=400 teens. Within the sample of families, quotas were established for each of the four primary census regions: Northeast (n=800), Midwest (n=800), South (n=800), and West (n=800). Overall, a sample of n=3,200 U.S. families is associated with a margin of error of +/- 1.63 percentage points and a sample of n=400 teens is associated with a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points. All surveys were completed only via an outbound solicitation sent to a randomly selected cross-section of families. The sample of respondents was statistically balanced to ensure that the results are in line with overall population figures for age, gender, and ethnicity. Some results may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

Spending time in nature at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About Outdoorsy

Outdoorsy transformed access to the outdoors with the launch of its RV and campervan rental marketplace in 2015 and expanded to offer marketplace insurance in 2018. Today, Outdoorsy’s partnership with its hosts has resulted in over 7 million travel days through RV rentals that are available in 4,800 cities across North America. Outdoorsy’s marketplace, insurance, and retreats provide life-changing financial benefits for RV hosts and retreat communities and offer guests the trust and guidance they need to enjoy memorable rustic travel experiences. Outdoorsy’s team is inspired by a mission to restore our relationship with the outdoors and each other by inviting guests to Live Outdoorsy.

Worth Pondering…

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is a society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

FREE National Parks to Visit (2024)

These national parks are free year-round, and not merely on certain days

The National Parks are some of the best places to visit in the country and one of the best excuses for a nature-filled getaway from the stress of the cities.

Many of the parks do require an entrance fee. On the other hand, there are many National Parks Service (NPS) sites that are free year-round and not merely on certain days.

Please note that at the end of this guide I list the national park free days that you can visit without having to pay. The free days pertain to all US National Parks and designated sites.

National parks are protected for everyone to enjoy, but a visit to one can be expensive. As an example, it’s $35 to bring a car full of people into Grand Canyon National Park, or $20 per individual if you hike in, and that doesn’t account for parking fees, camping costs, or the price of lodging and extra activities. 

However, a handful of national parks don’t charge admission fees at all. Here are 16 national parks in the U.S. that are always free to enter (but keep in mind that there might still be other costs including boat rentals, camping permits, or parking fees).

From Arizona to Virginia, these parks don’t charge admission fees and are always free to enter.

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

1. New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

America’s newest national park is indeed FREE. Not only is it free to enter the park but it is also free to go camping although it is only equipped for primitive camping.

The West Virginia national park spans over 73,808 acres and is located near Beckley.

The gorge is carved out by the New River and is the longest and deepest gorge in the Appalachians and throughout the park you will get to see exposed sandstone and shale alongside large boulders and other areas that are perfect for bouldering.

One of the most popular things to do in New River Gorge National Park is to fish. There is a lot of diversity in the waters there. Another popular thing to do is to go whitewater rafting. The Lower Gorge of the New River is the premier spot and you will find rapids ranging from Class III to Class V there.

As for rock climbing, you will find over 1,400 established climbs and it is one of the most famous places in the United States for rock climbing.

There are also around 50 miles of hiking trails in New River Gorge National Park that range from easy to difficult. Some of them are actually rail to trails and are perfect for biking.

Here are some helpful resources:

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

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

It’s not hard to see why this is America’s most-visited National Park; it’s a quick trip from many major cities in the South and Midwest, the Appalachian foothills are gorgeous, and it’s free. Drive or bike the serene hidden valley of Cades Cove, explore the ghost town of Elkmont, or take in the views from Clingmans Dome during the day and bask in the folksy kitsch of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge at night. Oh, and did I mention that the park is totally, 100 percent free?

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

If you need ideas, check out:

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park is one of America’s free national parks and it can be explored on foot or by its waterways. Most visitors decide to explore the area either through the South Carolina national park’s nearly 25 miles of hiking paths or 2.4 miles of boardwalk. 

Weston Lake and other trails can be accessed via the boardwalk circle route. Hiking options in the park include short hikes on the Boardwalk Trail or longer backcountry ones.

You are free to choose based on your desire and abilities, of course. The pathway of almost all trails leads up to picturesque lakes, the Congaree River, or views of ancient trees that are part of one of the tallest forests in the US. 

Also, don’t underestimate the thrill of canoeing and kayaking in Congaree.

Here are some articles to help:

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Virginia

History comes to life at this historic park. Plan a national park trip to the scene of the end of the Civil War and experience history with your family.

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces on April 9, 1865. Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation.

The National Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home—where Lee made his formal surrender—and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County.

Check this out to learn more: Appomattox Court House: Beginning Peace and Reunion

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Explore the Aztec ruins, enjoy a half-mile walk through an original Pueblo House, and discover how ancient people built their homes in the desert.

Built and occupied over 900 years ago, Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. Excavation of the West Ruin in the 1900s uncovered thousands of well-preserved artifacts that provide a glimpse into the life of Ancestral Pueblo people connecting people of the past with people and traditions of today.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

The Blue Ridge Parkway borders both the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah National Park offering stunning views of Appalachia.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, noted for its relaxing pace and scenic beauty, also showcases a cross-section of Appalachian mountain culture and history. Stretching 469 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains through North Carolina and Virginia, it encompasses some of the oldest pre-historic and early European settlements.

Visitors can trace much of the history of Appalachian culture through overlook signs, visitor center exhibits, restored historic structures, and developed areas, all of which reveal the many communities along the route that make the region so special. Fall leaf peeping is a hugely popular activity along the Parkway, as are hiking and wildlife viewing.

That’s why I wrote these four articles:

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

Relive history in Gettysburg, where the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War occurred and where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.

Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union Army of the Potomac and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the High Water Mark of the Confederacy. It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a Soldiers Cemetery was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.

Check this out to learn more: Gettysburg National Military Park: A New Birth of Freedom

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

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Canyon de Chelly is unique among National Park Service units as it is comprised entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land that remains home to the canyon community.

Reflecting one of the longest continuously inhabited landscapes of North America, the cultural resources of Canyon de Chelly including distinctive architecture, artifacts, and rock imagery exhibit remarkable preservation integrity that provides outstanding opportunities for study and contemplation.

Here are some articles to help:

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

Petroglyph National Monument protects one of the largest petroglyph sites and features volcanic rock carved by Native American and Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved by native peoples and early Spanish settlers.

Many of the images are recognizable as animals, people, brands, and crosses; others are more complex. Their meaning may have only been understood only by the carver. These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and all who appreciate them.

Check out Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument for more inspiration.

Casa Grande Ruins National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona

Casa Grande Ruins, the nation’s first archeological preserve protects the Casa Grande and other archeological sites within its boundaries.

For over a thousand years, prehistoric farmers inhabited much of the present-day state of Arizona. When the first Europeans arrived all that remained of this ancient culture were the ruins of villages, irrigation canals, and various artifacts. Among these ruins is the Casa Grande or Big House, one of the largest and most mysterious prehistoric structures ever built in North America.

You are invited to see the Casa Grande and to hear the story of the ancient ones the Akimel O’otham call the Hohokam, those who are gone.

Check this out to learn more: The Mystique of the Casa Grande Ruins

Boston National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Boston National Historical Park, Massachusetts

Boston National Historical Park tells the story of the events that led to the American Revolution including many sites found along the Freedom Trail.

Many of the historic sites that make up Boston National Historical Park tell the story of what kept the Navy strong. In downtown Boston, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Faneuil Hall, the Paul Revere House, and Old North Church bring to life the American ideals of freedom of speech, religion, government, and self-determination.

In Charlestown, visit the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. Nearby is the Charlestown Navy Yard, one of the nation’s first naval shipyards and home to USS Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world.

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

Twenty-seven million years ago a volcanic eruption of immense proportions shook the land around Chiricahua National Monument, a mecca for hikers and birders.

One thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Turkey Creek Caldera eruption eventually laid down two thousand feet of highly silicious ash and pumice. This mixture fused into a rock called rhyolitic tuff and eventually eroded into the spires and unusual rock formations of today.

Read more: The Otherworldly Wonderland of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Free National Park Days in 2024

Throughout the year, there are days that are free for all national parks, not just the ones on this list. These are the already-designated free national park days for 2024.

January 15 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

April 20 – First day of National Park Week

June 19 – Juneteenth National Independence Day

August 4 – Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act

September 28 – National Public Lands Day

November 11 – Veterans Day

Free National Park Week

In addition to free national park days, there is also National Park Week which celebrates the National Parks with special events all week long. 

In 2024, National Park Week runs from Saturday, April 20, 2024 to Sunday, April 28, 2024.

Additional National Parks Guides

Best National Parks by Month

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock