Saguaro National Park: 11 Planning Tips

Some planning tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

To make the most of your visit to Saguaro National Park, we’ve compiled these 10 tips, in no particular order. The park is open 24 hours a day via walking or bicycling and 7 a.m. to sunset in the Tucson Mountain District (West) and 7 a.m. to sunset in the Rincon Mountain District, 364 days a year (closed Christmas Day).

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan Ahead: Since the park is open year-round and located in a desert it’s important to consider weather conditions. While daytime temperatures in the winter range from the low-50s to the high-70s, summertime temperatures rise to the mid-80s to low-100s. The busiest times in the park are November through March.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Two parks in One: Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of town. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the saguaro cactus.

Related: Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Drink Up: The Sonoran Desert climate is dry whatever season and it’s important to stay hydrated. Be sure to bring along plenty of water when Saguaro. Park rangers suggest one quart of water per hour of hiking during hot weather. Water refilling stations are found at both visitor centers. Also, bring along some sports drinks and salty snacks with you to replenish your electrolytes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Go for a Hike: With more than 165 miles of hiking trails in the park’s two districts, there are ample opportunities for hiking. Numerous hiking trailheads are located along the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District and throughout the Tucson Mountain District. Stop at a visitor center and map out your hike before setting off on the trails.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Go for a Drive: In the Rincon Mountain District the eight-mile Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive features several trailheads, pullouts, and incredible views along the way. The unpaved, graded dirt/gravel Scenic Bajada Loop Drive takes you into the Tucson Mountain District’s foothills with scenic pullouts, picnic areas, and trailheads along its six-mile loop.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Go for a Ride: The same loop drives that are great for driving are also terrific for biking. In addition, two trails in the Rincon Mountain District are open to bicycles—the new 2.8-mile Hope Camp Trail and the 2.5-mile Cactus Forest Trail. All trails in the Tucson Mountain District are off-limits for bicycling.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mount Up: Horseback riding is possible within Saguaro National Park and if you don’t have your own horse, there are a few local outfitters who can take you to experience the park from the saddle. A guided ride will also help make sure that you stay on the trails where horses are permitted.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Watch for Wildlife: The varied landscapes of Saguaro National Park provide ideal homes to numerous species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Watch for roadrunners (beep beep!), cactus wrens, Gila woodpeckers, desert tortoise, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, coyotes, collared peccaries, and much more.

Related: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Ancient Artwork: Ancient petroglyphs are found throughout the American Southwest including Saguaro National Park. Take a walk along the Signal Hill Trail in the Tucson Mountain District and you’ll find a hill covered with dozens of petroglyphs that date 800 years. And of course, look but don’t touch to help preserve these ancient pieces of art.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Live the Nightlife: When the sun goes down, the park’s nightlife comes alive. The park rangers offer numerous evening programs to experience it all. Reservations advised.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Spend a Day at the Museum: Just outside the park (Tucson Mountain District), the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a terrific place to learn all about the area. A regional showcase for native plants and animals, the museum’s 98 acres includes a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium—and 85 percent of the experience is outside. The park’s hours vary seasonally.

Read Next: Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Winter Listicle: Experience Winter Wonderlands in National Parks

The days are shorter, but the possibilities are endless to enjoy national parks in the winter season

Winter is the perfect time for some creatures to hibernate and RVers to explore a magical season in the national parks. The serenity of fresh powder sprinkled over pine trees and the silence of the winter air are just a few of the wonders of winter.
So pack a canteen of hot cocoa, put on your coziest mittens, and get ready to explore the parks during this season in a variety of favorite ways. Be sure to do some trip planning before you embark on your journey—be prepared and be safe.

Winter Play

A little cold only adds to the fun outdoor adventures you can have during winter. Grab your ice skates, snowshoes, or cross country skis and feel like you’re gliding through a snow globe.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The stark white of freshly fallen snow, red rocks, blue sky, and evergreen trees—some say Bryce Canyon is even more beautiful in winter! Here at 8,000 feet, the scenery changes dramatically in the colder months, providing unique opportunities to see the park and requiring a very different packing list.

Related Article: Best National Parks to Visit this Winter

In addition to daily activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter hiking the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival (February 19-21, 2022) is a popular annual event.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Vehicle access is limited to one mile from the Southwest and Northwest Entrances approximately November through May. Beyond the plowed roads to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and Loomis Plaza, the entire park is snow-covered.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Southwest Area (6,700-10,457 feet) offers steep slopes and sweeping vistas just beyond the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center which offers the only services between November and early May.

The Manzanita Lake Area (5,800-7,200 feet) consists of gentle slopes and scenic lakes. It offers the easiest routes for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the park.

Wildlife watching: Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter Wildlife Watching

Winter provides an amazing opportunity to see new seasons of animals and enjoy the wonders of animal life at every part of the year.

Wildlife watching: Elk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way to stay safe when watching wildlife is to give animals room to move. Parks provide a unique opportunity to view animals’ natural behavior in the wild. In general, animals react to your presence when you are too close. If you’re close enough for a selfie, you’re definitely too close. Use binoculars or a zoom lens and move back if wildlife approaches you. Let wildlife be wild and observe safely from a distance.

Related Article: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

Wildlife watching: Rocky Mountain sheep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Enjoy one of the world’s most famous national parks enveloped in winter magic. See the dramatic beauty of the canyon, dusted with snow, and maybe even mule deer, bald eagles, elk, condors, or ravens as an extra treat.
Colder temperatures, shorter days, and snow bring a slower pace to one of the nation’s most visited national parks. Winter visitors find paths less traveled throughout the park. Those prepared for ice and snow will find the Bright Angel Trail a bit quieter and scenic drives less congested.

Pack your jacket and winter gloves, avoid the crowds, and experience a Grand Canyon winter wonderland,

Bird watching: Roseate spoonbill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Birds are on the move this winter. Located on the Central Flyway, a major bird migration route, Padre Island National Seashore provides a chance to spot flying feathered travelers from more than 380 species of birds.

Bird watching: Great blue heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You never know what you may see when you join a volunteer-led birding guide on a tour of the park—the magnificent grasslands, the beach filled with shorebirds, and the long, shallow, hypersaline lagoon of the Laguna Madre. Each habitat abounds with a rich variety of birds. Your guide will take you to some significant birding locations within these habitats including one that would otherwise be inaccessible to the public.

Carlsbad National Park

Winter Escape

Not a fan of the wintery blues? Head south as a snowbird and enjoy warm weather year-round.

Related Article: National Parks that are Beautiful & Empty in Winter

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Regardless of the snow and cold temps above, the cave is always a temperate 56-57 degrees.

The most popular route, the Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25-mile trail is relatively flat and will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Tucson, Arizona is home to America’s largest cacti. The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro National Park can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek. Both districts of Saguaro National Park offer a variety of hiking trails. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t wait for the snow to melt. Plan an incredible trip to a national park. Always be sure to check specific parks websites for safety tips, road closure information, and general advice before planning your trip.

Read Next: 7 National Parks You Should Have on Your Radar This Winter

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

Several National Parks require reservations or permits in 2022

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to have an epic experience at one of the national parks, you may want to set calendar alerts for some of these dates in 2022.

As some national parks have recorded record visitation, several have introduced reservation and permitting systems in order to control crowds and offer visitors a better experience.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reservations and permits for most of these experiences are made through the National Park Service’s website Recreation.gov.

Here are some of the popular visits and treks that require reservations. Some of these, book up quickly. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

The visitation numbers at Arches increased 66 percent over 10 years bringing in an estimated 1,659,702 visitors in 2019. The increase in numbers visiting the park has resulted in entrance line wait times, parking lot congestion, and overcrowding on trails.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To better manage crowds, the park will pilot a new seasonal reservation system for all visits between April 3 through October 3, from 6 am and 5 pm. The reservation costs $2. Visitors will need to show this reservation and a photo ID to enter the park. Reservations are now open.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Angels Landing in Zion National Park draws in hikers from around the world for its reputation as a dangerous trail, not for the faint-hearted. The trail climbs 1,488 feet and the last section requires hikers to navigate a narrow section by holding on to chains. 

Related: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Since that area often gets bottlenecked, the Utah park announced starting April 1, 2022, you’ll need a permit to access its iconic chained portion of the hike. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first seasonal lottery opened on January 3, 2022, for permits from April 1 through May 31.  You’re required to pay a nonrefundable $6 fee to enter the lottery which closes on January 20, 2022. If you are chosen for a permit on January 25, you’ll then pay an additional $3 fee per person listed on the permit. According to the National Park Service (NPS), the fee will help to defray the cost to administer the program as well as for the rangers who will check permits and assist visitors on the trail. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t obtain a permit through the initial lottery, you can try to enter a second lottery the day before you plan to hike. The lottery will open each day at 12:01 am. Mountain Time and close at 3 pm. Rangers will draw permits at 4 pm.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granite Park and Sperry Chalet, Glacier National Park

Built-in the spirit of the architecture of Switzerland, there are two historic chalets in Glacier National Park that you can only reach by hiking through the backcountry.

They’re only open for a few months during the summer and book up quickly. In 2022, Granite Park Chalet will open June 28 through September 11. Sperry Chalet will open July 9 through September 11. 

Related: Guide to Adventure Activities in National Parks

Reservations open on January 10, 2022, at 8 am. Mountain time. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mt. Whitney, California

The tallest peak in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney has grown in popularity partially due to the fact that the summit can be reached on a day hike. This is a challenging hike and the altitude can make it difficult for even the most experienced hikers. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A permit is required to hike Mt. Whitney from May 1 through November 1. 

There are two separate permits available. One requires you to summit as a day hike (midnight to midnight). There are 100 people allowed this permit per day.

The other permit allows you to do it over multiple days as an overnight hike. There are 60 people allowed entry under this permit each day. 

The lottery is open from February 1 through March 15, 2022. The results are announced on March 24. If you don’t get a permit, you can circle back on May 1 at 7 a.m. when they make any unclaimed permits from the lottery available.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

An epic 50-mile winding road through the heart of Glacier National Park, Going-to-the-Sun Highway will require a reservation to enter in 2022. The park has yet to announce an exact date that tickets will be made available but they have indicated that it will be sometime in March. 

Tickets are required from May 27 through September 11, 2022, and are valid for three days after the reserved date. The fee to reserve the ticket is $2. In addition, you’ll have to pay the $35 park entry fee or show your America is Beautiful park pass on the day you enter the park.

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park: March 1-31, 2022

During the summer months, typically late May to mid-October, Yosemite National Park rangers put up chains so fearless hikers can summit Half Dome. Rangers permit 300 hikers daily (225 for a day hike, 75 as backpackers).

These permits are in high demand with the preseason lottery opening from March 1-31.

Those who enter can apply for up to six permits and those who enter the lottery receive an email with the results by mid-April.

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

If you don’t obtain a permit through the initial lottery, you can try to enter a second lottery that opens two days prior to the hiking date and rangers provide notification to those who are selected late that same evening. 

Ongoing Reservations

There are two other locations with ongoing reservations year-round. 

Vermillion Cliffs National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Wave, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

There are 64 permits available daily to hike the 6-mile roundtrip hike to the Wave. Of those, 48 are available four months in advance and 16 are available the day before you plan to hike.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phantom Ranch, Grand Canyon National Park

With sometimes more than 300 applications, it can truly be like winning the lottery to snag one of these spots. Still, if you’d like to try your luck, the lottery opens four months in advance. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built-in the 1920s, Phantom Ranch is the place to stay if you want to make the long hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and relax a bit before making the trek back out. Phantom Ranch opens its lottery for spots in its cabins and dorms on the 15th of the month, 14 months in advance. So, if you logged in on January 15, 2022, you’d find the lottery available for March 2023 reservations. 

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

You can access the lottery through the Phantom Ranch website. It’s been even more difficult to land a reservation in recent months as only the cabins have been available due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

National Park Service Offer 5 Free Entrance Days in 2022

Five days in 2022 will be free of entrance fees at national parks that charge them

There will be five days in 2022 when you can enter for free a national park that normally charges an entrance fee.

According to a news release from the National Park Service, the free admission days “are designed to encourage discovery and visitation of the country’s variety of national parks. With at least one in every state, national parks are accessible places to visit to refresh body, mind, and spirit.”

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The free entrance dates for 2022 are: 

  • Monday, January 17 –  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Saturday, April 16 – First Day of  National Park Week
  • Thursday, August 4 – Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • Saturday, September 24 –  National Public Lands Day
  • Friday, November 11 –  Veterans Day
Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Whether on an entrance fee-free day or throughout the year, we encourage everyone to discover their national parks and the benefits that come from spending time outdoors,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams.

“National parks are for everyone and we are committed to increasing access and providing opportunities for all to experience the sense of wonder, awe, and refreshment that comes with a visit to these treasured landscapes and sites.”

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In honor of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., National Park Service sites will waive entrance fees for everyone on Monday, January 17, 2022, as the first fee-free day of the year. Commemorated on the third Monday of January every year, it is also a day of service when hundreds of volunteers participate in service projects at parks across the country. This is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. Many national parks traditionally host a variety of service projects that people can sign up for as volunteers.

Related: These National Parks are ALWAYS FREE

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate National Park Week 2022 from April 16 to 24. Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences. Entrance fees are waived on April 16 to kick off National Park Week and encourage everyone to enjoy their national parks.

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great American Outdoors Act established the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund which uses revenue from energy development to provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years to provide needed maintenance for critical facilities and infrastructure in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, recreation areas, and American Indian schools. The National Park Service which has one of the largest asset portfolios of all federal agencies receives 70 percent of the Legacy Restoration Fund each year.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1994 and held annually on the fourth Saturday in September, National Public Lands Day is traditionally the nation’s largest single-day volunteer effort. It celebrates the connection between people and green space in their community and encourages the use of open space for education, recreation, and health benefits. This year, National Public Lands Day falls on September 24.

Related: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service invites all visitors to remember our veterans by visiting any National Park Service site for free on Veterans Day (November 11). Many national parks have direct connections to the American military—there are dozens of battlefields, military parks, and historic sites that commemorate and honor the service of American veterans. In addition, every national park is part of our collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They are tactile reminders of the values, ideals, and freedoms that our veterans protect.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks have something for everyone. Recreational experiences can range from a relaxing picnic to a thrilling white-water adventure and everything in between including hiking, camping, fishing, stargazing, swimming, and paddling. Demonstrations and programs at cultural sites connect us with traditions from the past. Notable people and their contributions to society are remembered at historical sites. Chances to view wildlife in their natural habitats and see geological wonders provide lasting memories.

Vanderbilt Estate National Historic Site, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are encouraged to begin their trip to a national park with a stop at NPS.gov or the NPS app to help plan and prepare. Online you can find tips to help you Plan Like a Park Ranger and Recreate Responsibly. It is important to know before you go what is open and available, especially if you are interested in staying overnight. There are maps, updated conditions, and suggested activities to help you decide where to go and what to do. 

Related: Guide to Adventure Activities in National Parks

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regardless of the activity, visitors should follow Leave No Trace principles. Each of us plays a vital role in protecting the national parks. As we spend time outdoors in the natural world and in the wilderness it’s important to be conscious of the effects our actions may have on plants, animals, other people, and even entire ecosystems. Following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles, we can help minimize those impacts. They can be applied anywhere, at any time, while taking part in recreational activities.

  • Plan ahead and prepare
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  • Dispose of waste properly
  • Leave what you find
  • Minimize campfire impacts
  • Respect wildlife
  • Be considerate of other visitors
Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days applies only to National Park Service entrance fees and does not cover amenity or user fees for activities such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most national parks do not have entrance fees at all. Out of more than 400 national parks, approximately 110 have admission fees that range from $5 to $35. The money from entrance fees remain in the National Park Service and 80-100 percent stays in the park where collected. The funds are used to support the visitor experience by providing programs and services, habitat restoration, and building maintenance and repair. 

Related: How National Parks Saved Us?

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2020, $170 million was collected in entrance fees. Entrance fees, along with other funding sources such as the Great American Outdoors Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Federal Transportation Program, and the Cyclic Maintenance program are part of a concerted effort to address the extensive maintenance backlog in national parks.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free annual passes to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including all national parks, are available for members of the U.S. Military and their dependents, U.S. Military veterans, Gold Star Families, fourth-grade students, and eligible NPS volunteers. U.S. Citizens with a permanent disability can obtain a free lifetime pass. U.S. Citizens 62 years and older can purchase an $ 80-lifetime pass or a $20 annual pass. And the annual $80  America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass  is a great option for those who visit multiple parks each year.

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Escape Winter in an RV: The How and Where

Hit the road and escape to warmer weather!

Winter is upon us and travelers looking to escape the cold are seeking new ways to travel this season after being mostly shut down last year. While looking for that sunny and warm getaway seems to be universal, many are still looking for ways of travel that avoid large, crowded airports and busy hotels with lots of small, shared spaces like elevators and hallways.

This is just one of the reasons RV travel has soared in popularity over the last year and throughout the pandemic.

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a survey conducted by Lending Tree, “Interest in RVs was up 41 percent and 56 percent, respectively, in January and February 2021 compared to the year prior.” And when planning a getaway this winter, RVing checks many boxes: It’s a great way to travel safely in today’s COVID environment, it’s a quick and easy way to leave the expected bitter cold behind, and it also makes for a truly unique experience when visiting sunny hot spots like Southern Arizona and South Texas.

Colorado River Historic Park in Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No RV? No problem!  

You’ve tried Airbnb or VRBO, now it’s time to try a peer-to-peer RV rental company to experience the RV trend! This is an easy way to explore the open road and get a taste of the RV lifestyle without the commitment of buying your own. Whether renting in a hometown location and hitting the road to your destination or securing an RV rental upon arrival at your destination, a rental makes it easy.

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

One of the most popular, Outdoorsy, offers hundreds of RVs in all shapes and sizes for rent across the country, perfect for your next getaway. Rentals start at $109/night.

Now where to RV? The southwest is home to some of the best winter RV resorts in the country. Here are some fantastic options to explore this winter and enjoy the sunshine and 70-plus degree weather.

Related Article: Why You Need to RV in the South This Winter

California

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm), and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The waterfalls of Tahquitz Canyon are truly astounding, flanked by lush greenery and picturesque wildlife. The crisp water rushing past you tumbles 60 feet from apex to completion.

Palm Springs and the San Jacinto Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful San Jacinto Mountains are the backdrop to Palm Springs. You can visit the top of the San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s the world’s largest rotating tramcar. It travels up over 2.5 miles along the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon. The weather is about 30 degrees cooler so you can go from warm to cool weather in a 10-minute tram ride.

Related Article: A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

VillageFest rocks Palm Canyon Drive every week with a dazzling array of delightful fare. Fall hours are 6–10 pm. 

Coachella Valley Preserve

Downtown Palm Springs transforms into a diverse array of artists, artisans, entertainers, and purveyors of fresh fruits and veggies, flowers, jewelry, snacks, and sweets. Add all that to the great shops, restaurants, clubs, and entertainment venues located along World Famous Palm Canyon Drive—and the result is one of Southern California’s most popular weekly events: VillageFest!

Arizona

Yuma Date Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the sun shining 360 days a year, Yuma is known as the sunniest place on Earth, averaging more than 4,000 hours of sun per year (out of 4,456 possible). Winter guests enjoy activities like the nationally recognized Medjool Date Festival (January 8, 2022) where thousands of visitors head to Yuma’s historic downtown to get a taste of the delicious southwest fruit from local and regional growers.

Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for some history? Touring the Yuma Territorial Prison, a famous Yuma landmark that was opened in 1876 and operated for 33 years is the city’s number one tourist attraction. Visitors can tour the prison, view the cells, get a feel for what 1800’s solitary confinement felt like, and get a mug shot memento to take home.

Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors looking for more should head to the nearby Imperial Sand Dunes National Recreation Area. With sand dunes topping 300 feet, these massive dunes are perfect for all-terrain vehicle riding and also made the perfect backdrop for the scenes in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

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

The sights and sounds of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an International Biosphere Reserve, reveal a thriving community of plants and animals. Thirty-One species of cactus have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures and little rainfall including the park’s namesake and the giant saguaro.

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive is the most popular scenic drive in the monument. It is a 21 mile, mostly gravel road usually passable by a normal passenger car. RVs over 25 feet are prohibited due to the twisting and dipping nature of the road.

Related Article: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

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

You can camp in one of two campgrounds within the monument. They have different amenities and offer campers a choice between modern comforts and rustic wilderness. You may see the desert, dark sky subtlety illuminated by countless stars or shadows that are awakened under a full moon’s glow at either campground.

Texas

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter, the seasonal warmth visitors enjoy from both the sun and the southern hospitality makes Texas the place to be when looking to escape the cold. With the Texas winter temperatures averaging in the mid-70s, visitors enjoy the sandy beaches of South Padre Island which is also the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world. The water sports and the abundant fishing throughout the Gulf provide plenty of opportunities for fun in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Great kiskadee in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For travelers looking to develop a new hobby, it’s not only the human snowbirds that make the seasonal trek to South Texas, as there is a wide variety of migratory birds to spot throughout the area. The World Birding Center (WBC) has nine locations throughout the Rio Grande Valley that are suitable for first-timers or expert birders.

Altamira oriole in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters for the WBC, the wildlife-viewing is nonstop. A plain chachalaca strolls the grounds while a green jay stops for a drink and an Altamira oriole takes a bite of an orange at the feeding station. Three different species of hummingbirds zoom in and out.

Plain chachalaca in the Rio Grande Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. It’s at a biological crossroads with two migratory flyways. The result is one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth with more than 530 species documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself.

Related Article: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, when thinking of Texas, one can’t forget The Alamo. The 300-year-old Spanish Mission is located in San Antonio where the Battle of San Jacinto took place on April 21, 1836. Visitors also enjoy the miles of dining, shopping, and museums along San Antonio’s well-known Riverwalk.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

National Parks inspire life-changing love of nature by taking people out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary

Teddy Roosevelt was on to something. It’s been 149 years since the former president set aside 3,500 acres in Montana and Wyoming for Yellowstone National Park. Now, there are 6,000 similar parks around the world and more than 400 national parks and monuments spread across all 50 U.S. states. The first 10 U.S. national parks were all in the West, and include Yellowstone (1872), Sequoia (1890), Yosemite (1890), Mount Rainier (1899), Crater Lake (1902), Wind Cave (1903), Mesa Verde (1906), Glacier (1910), Rocky Mountain (1915), and Haleakala (1916).

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park service manages 63 national parks including iconic parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Canyon, and the Great Smoky Mountains. These spectacular parks are some of the most famous destinations in the U.S. They’re iconic and beautiful, and deserving of their stellar reputations.

But there are 423 parks, monuments, preserves, reserves, seashores, recreation areas, and other units under the protection of the National Park Service.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From golden sand dunes to hardwood forests, from historic sites and iconic monuments to the winding trails that crisscross the U.S. Encompassing mangrove forests, massive glaciers, active volcanoes, and towering mountains, these protected areas provide visitors with a firsthand look at the unique beauty of the untouched American wild.

Related: How National Parks Saved Us?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famously called “America’s best idea” by historian Wallace Stegner, the national park system offers families a wonderfully affordable way to visit these cherished and beautiful landscapes, view wildlife in their natural habitat, learn about geological and cultural history, and appreciate the great outdoors. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many parks have interpretive exhibits and dioramas in the Visitor Center, and often movie theaters. They’re always well worth the time, and you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the park.

The park rangers and volunteers are a huge resource as well. Chatting with one of the staff will often yield insider knowledge about the best places to visit at that time. If you have a specialized interest such as birding, photography, hiking, or history, let the staff know and they’ll point you in the right direction.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most parks have self-guided tours and hiking trails. Hike as much as you can. There are often hidden treasures of the park that can only be discovered on foot.

Related: These National Parks are ALWAYS FREE

The following National Park Service sites are just a sample of the hundreds of other worthwhile destinations in America.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amphitheater of multi-hued rock at Utah’s Cedar Breaks National Monument is shaped like a massive coliseum. Filled with hoodoos, spires, fins, arches, and columns, these intricately shaped sculptures were formed by wind, rain, ice, and streams. More than 2,000 feet deep and 3 miles across, the huge bowl is sculpted along the steep west-facing side of the 10,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin.

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

Great Smoky Mountain National Park has one of the world’s best-preserved deciduous forests, the oldest mountains in the United States, and more annual visitors than any other national park in the country. The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) bisects the park, stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina with incredible views. Clingmans Dome is just past the “gap,” commonly referred to as “pass” in other parts of the country.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia’s largest barrier island, is full of untouched maritime forests, beaches, and marshes. Visitors can find solitude while camping under the stars in the 9,800 acres of a designated wilderness area or can see one of the many historic sites and structures such as Dungeness (an abandoned mansion that was originally built as a hunting lodge in 1736). Access to the island is by ferry out of St. Marys.

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway lazily meanders through the Appalachian Highlands in Virginia and the Blue Mountains of North Carolina. Some of the parkway’s most spectacular stretches can be found in North Carolina, south of Asheville.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most unusual places in California, yet is relatively little visited. Lassen is spectacular. It’s the only place you can see several volcanoes that all have a different type of cone. Lassen is renowned for its volcanic past and its massive eruptions from 1914 through ’18, and as a destination for its lava-plug-dome volcanic peak, geothermal areas, great day hikes, and wilderness, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is no symbol more emblematic of the American Southwest than the saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)—standing tall with arms reaching out from the trunk toward the sky. And if you want to spend the day with these goofy, prickly characters, Saguaro is one of the easiest national parks to visit. It’s separated into two sections, each of which can be easily tackled in a day: East (also called the Rincon Mountain District) and West (aka the Tucson Mountain District). In between are I-10 and the city of Tucson so getting here by the interstate is pretty straightforward.

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

Located in southern West Virginia, the New River Gorge National Park offers something for everyone. New River, estimated to be over 250 millions year old, is the second oldest waterway in the world after the Nile. Its meandering course through the Appalachian mountains hides many natural wonders that appeal to every type of outdoor enthusiast.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few National Parks boast the mythical and mystical quality of Joshua Tree. Massive boulder piles, bleached sand dunes, and Dr. Seussian yucca forests spread across hundreds of square miles of the desert are an otherworldly sight to behold. The good news for RVers is that the majority of campgrounds near the park are RV-friendly. The key is to call ahead to confirm any maximum length restrictions before you arrive. Like many National Parks in the Western United States, there are plenty of free dispersed camping options on BLM land nearby.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a perfect refuge in the midst of the Southeast: Congaree National Park, a 41-square-mile patch of old-growth forest. Congaree is the last stand of a forest ecosystem that was long ago cleared to supply timber and to make room for farmland and development.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the words “badlands” and “petrified” evoke harsh landscapes devoid of life, the Petrified Forest National Park is both beautiful and bountiful. Located about 110 miles east of Flagstaff,  the park’s badlands and petrified wood (the world’s largest concentration) are composed of bands of blue, white, and purple which come from quartz and manganese oxides. See fossilized trees and crystalized wood up close on the 0.75-mile Crystal Forest Trail or 3-mile Blue Forest Trail.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

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

If you don’t have a bucket list, I highly recommend you create one

While we’re often daydreaming of beaches in the Maldives and vineyards in Tuscany, there are plenty of amazing destinations in our own backyard. To help you with your bucket list, I’ve rounded up 20 places you have to visit in the United States before you die—in no particular order.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions, Texas

Sure, you probably know about The Alamo in San Antonio, but it’s actually one of five Spanish missions found across the city that was established to spread Christianity and act as a refuge for Native Americans. The oldest is Mission Espada which was built in 1690, original frescoes are still visible inside Mission Concepcion, and the largest is Mission San José.

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

Great Smoky Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

Both a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site, the Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in America. Recreational opportunities include hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and water tubing. Fall also offers striking foliage.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is a charming town with a strong Native American influence. Pueblo-style architecture, a central plaza, and Loretto Chapel give the city a unique feel. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and restaurants serving New Mexican cuisine are additional highlights.

Related: Why NOW is the Best Time to Plan Your Travel Bucket List

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston Freedom Trail, Massachusetts

Boston played a major part in America’s independence and the city’s Freedom Trail passes through 16 historically significant locations. The two-and-a-half-mile trail takes visitors to Boston Common (America’s oldest public park), Paul Revere’s House, and the USS Constitution (the oldest commissioned ship).

Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quartzsite, Arizona

Travel through this dusty outpost between April and November and you might wonder why this wide spot along Interstate 10 is such a popular snowbird destination for RVers. But visit in January and you’ll quickly see why: it morphs into a non-stop social event for RVing snowbirds.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Avery Island is the home of Louisiana’s iconic hot sauce: Tabasco. See how it’s made during a factory tour, pick up a few souvenirs at the Tabasco Country Store, and tour the island’s Jungle Gardens.

Joshua Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is a dreamy destination known for its distinctive-looking and namesake trees, big boulders that are ideal for rock climbing, and stellar stargazing opportunities. Visitors can drive through, hike around and camp, or horseback ride through the varied desert landscape.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

The distinctive Spanish Moss-draped trees, antebellum homes, and horse-drawn carriages help to give a relaxed and comfortable feel. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Monument Valley is one of the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. Eons of wind and rain carved the red-sandstone monoliths into fascinating formations, many of which jut hundreds of feet above the desert floor.

Related: Bucket List Trip for Your Lifetime: America’s Ultimate National Park Road Trip

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

If you doubt the Appalachians can hold their own with any other mountain range on the continent, travel this 469-mile stretch of road from Rockfish Gap, Virginia, to Swain County in North Carolina.

Mount Rushmore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

This famous landmark depicts four American presidents carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore. The sculpture features the 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon is best known for its concentration of hoodoos. The park was recently designated an International Dark Sky Park due to the great nighttime visibility and many astronomy-related programs on offer.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina

The 1670-founded Charleston offers Southern charm with cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and historic mansions in its well-preserved Historic District. Boutique shops and traditional Southern comfort food appeal to visitors.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona. If you admire exquisite art or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona. Of all the places to visit in the Southwest, Sedona may be the most beautiful.

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Just outside Moab is Arches National Park, famous for its more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. The most-photographed is the 52-foot-tall, freestanding Delicate Arch, plus the park has many other striking geological formations.

Okefenokke © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia

The Okefenokee offers so much, one could spend a lifetime and still not see and do everything. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters, while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface. Here, paddlers and photographers enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die,” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes.

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

Nowhere in New England compares to the Gilded-Age splendor of Newport, a coastal town set upon cliffs dotted with some of the most spectacular mansions of the 19th century.

Related: 20 Charming Towns for Your Bucket List

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen National Park is one of few locations on Earth where you can see all four types of volcanoes—plug dome, shield, cinder, and cone. While Lassen Peak is the most famous, as well as the dominant feature in the park, there are numerous other—literally—hotspots to explore including mud pots, stinking fumaroles, and hot springs.

Worth Pondering…

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

—Goethe

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 16 Places to See & Things to Do

In many ways the beauty of Arizona is embodied by its most famous natural landmark, the Grand Canyon but there is so much more. Discover the endless possibilities now.

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 16 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view, you absolutely have to add this to your bucket list. The hiking trails will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities! Check out the El Tovar Hotel, a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, the dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get as well.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

One of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the historic town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, and galleries plus hiking, birding, gallery-gazing, or dining, Bisbee offers a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle, near Camp Verde, has nothing to do with Montezuma, nor is it a castle. The Sinagua built the five-story, 20-room pueblo about 1150 but abandoned it in the early 1400s, almost a century before Montezuma was born. Montezuma Castle is built into a deep alcove with masonry rooms added in phases. A thick, substantial roof of sycamore beams, reeds, grasses, and clay served as the floor of the room built on top.

Hoover Dan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to walk across the dam or take a tour. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least, with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

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Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area, which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has many things to offer, including the old courthouse, Whiskey Row, Elks Theatre, and numerous other tourist attractions. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

After getting its start as a silver mining claim in the late-1870s, Tombstone grew along with its Tough Nut Mine becoming a bustling boomtown of the Wild West. From opera and theater to dance halls and brothels, Tombstone offered much-needed entertainment to the miners after a long shift underground. The spirits of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Clanton Brothers live on in the authentic old west town of Tombstone, home of Boothill Graveyard, the Birdcage Theatre, and the O.K. Corral.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown Phoenix, Papago Park offers great hiking and a wide array of recreational facilities. Comprised primarily of sandstone, the range is known for its massive buttes that rise and fall throughout the park. Papago is home to two of the region’s most visited attractions, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present-day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. From the mesa east of Chinle in the Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly is invisible. Then as one approaches suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, El Presidio Historic District, and Old Tucson Studios. You will also discover hiking trails, and afterward, you can find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the park is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

In the Lone Star State, find natural springs, granite batholiths, and even gypsum sand dunes

Texas is known for big skies, wide-open spaces, and starry nights. Parts of it bristle with cacti. Others glisten with swampy, tea-colored water. Along the coast, endangered sea turtles nest along sandy beaches, towering cypress trees lean over cool green rivers, and fossilized dinosaur bones poke out of dry creek beds.

Every corner of the Lone Star State serves up its own version of Texas terrain, from mountains to beaches and well beyond. And less than five percent of its land is publicly owned. In all, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees nearly 100 parks, historic sites, and natural areas across the state. The National Parks Service operates 16 more public spaces including national parks, monuments, recreation areas, preserves, trails, and memorials. Below, I’ve picked 10 of my favorite state and national parks in Texas to plan a trip around.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale

It’s hard to imagine finding a giant blue-green swimming hole swirling with fish in the middle of a desert but that’s what beckons at Balmorhea State Park where more than 15 million gallons of water flow daily from San Solomon Springs into a 25-foot deep pool with a natural bottom. Native Americans, early explorers, and passing U.S. soldiers have all watered up here and in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, it’s popular with land-locked scuba divers, swimmers, and anyone looking to take a flying leap off a 7-foot 3-inch-high diving board. It’s also home to two small endangered species of fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and Pecos gambusia.

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

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, far West Texas

At first blush, Big Bend National Park in far West Texas looks desolate and uninviting. But get out and hike its prickly folds, armed with plants that poke, scrape, and stab, and you’ll discover spectacular geologic formations and a diverse range of inhabitants from javelina to tarantulas, black bear, snakes, and mountain lions.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backpack the South Rim high in the Chisos Mountains at the center of the park, raft the café-au-lait-colored water of the Rio Grande or explore the desert floor and the old farming and ranching ruins it holds. The largest of the national parks in Texas, Big Bend sprawls over 801,100 acres, so one thing you won’t find is big crowds. Peak season is November through April—no surprise, as temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees in summer.

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, near Beaumont

Four types of carnivorous plants live in the Big Thicket and chances are you’ll be able to watch one of them turn an unsuspecting insect into a slow-cooked meal if you visit. But first, stop by the preserve’s visitor center to get the lay of the land at this diverse park which is made up of non-contiguous units that cover 113,114 acres of land and water in seven counties.

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

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find sections of longleaf pine forest, swampy bayous, and wetland savannas, crisscrossed by about 40 miles of hiking trails including a few wooden boardwalks that take you past carnivorous pitcher plants. Paddlers can explore the waterways by kayak or canoe, too. Just remember to bring the bug spray.

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

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg

Enchanted Rock looms like a giant pink onion, half-buried in the Hill Country scrub. It formed a billion years ago when a pool of magma pushed up through the earth’s surface and hardened into a granite batholith. Most visitors make the 30- or 45-minute beeline to the top of the 425-foot dome passing fragile vernal pools where water collects in shallow pits providing a home for freshwater shrimp.

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

But don’t miss the loop trail that encircles the main attraction. Pitch a tent in the primitive sites alongside Moss Lake and watch the sun cast a rosy glow on the rock—and maybe catch the eerie creaking and groaning that some report hearing at night.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, near Rockport

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related: Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Johnson City, and Stonewall

If you’re looking for a history lesson during your next park outing, consider Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park a two-in-one immersion into rural Texas life in the 1950s. First, tour the grounds of President Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City then drive 14 miles to the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House where you can drive past his birthplace, a show barn, a small schoolhouse, and the Texas White House (which is temporarily closed to indoor tours due to structural issues).

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you make the rounds, imagine the former president known for pulling pranks on his guests—like the time he loaded dignitaries into a vehicle, rolled it down a hill, and into a pond, hollering that the brakes had given out. He didn’t tell them it was an amphibious vehicle designed to drive on roads and float in the water. Time your visit for early spring to coincide with the annual bluebonnet display.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, near Mission

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi

Grab your swimsuit and aim for Padre Island National Seashore which hugs 70 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast on the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Related: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Splash in the ocean, admire birds (including the Pepto Bismol-colored Roseate spoonbill), sail, fish, and, during the summer, watch Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings dash across the sand as scientists release them into the wild. Many a Spanish ship met its fate off the coastline here and visitors can park an RV or pitch a tent on the beach.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; we’re just 13 miles from the state capitol. Here you can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, near Pecos

A mystical place where the wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys, Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. These natural sand dunes are ever-changing and worth stomping around after a few hours behind the wheel.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop here for a picnic or sled down the swirling dunes on rentable plastic lids if you’re so inclined. Entry is $4. And spend the night at one of the 26 camping sites with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and shelter. Camping is $15 nightly plus the entry fee.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Consider this list your reason for an epic cross-country road trip

As we travel around the United States, we observe fantastic buildings that adorn the country’s cities and towns. These incredible structures all have a story to tell and have been built to honor culture, challenge mankind’s abilities, and represent a time and place that is meaningful to its residents.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You learn a lot about a society from its buildings. Are they beautiful? Do they serve the people who live in them? Do they last? You could ask the same questions of civilization.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By those measures, the British Empire fares well. The English, like them or not, planted pretty buildings around the world. It may be the most unusual thing they did. Certainly, no one has done it since. Not only are these buildings interesting to look at, but they’re also full of fascinating history. Most cities (including Washington) haven’t constructed a graceful building in over 50 years. It makes me wonder about our civilization.

We’ve rounded up the most interesting structures in a variety of states. Let’s take a cross-country road trip as we explore nine of the coolest buildings in America.

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

Arizona – Chapel of the Holy Cross

This cool chapel was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s students—Marguerite Brunswig Staude. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is 4 miles south of Sedona. It juts out from the colorful red cliffs and the large stained-glass windows overlook the Verde Valley.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia – Jekyll Island Club

The Club officially opened in 1888, quickly becoming a retreat for families that represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth including the Vanderbilts, Morgans, Pulitzers, and Rockefellers. Over time the Clubhouse with its elegant spire expanded to include the Annex and accommodations for the Member’s Guests, or “Strangers” as they were affectionately called, and a few Members even built their own Cottage.

Related: 8 U.S. Towns Stuck in Time

Boone Tavern Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky – Boone Tavern Hotel

A historic Berea hotel, Boone Tavern was built in 1909 at the suggestion of Nellie Frost, the wife of the College president, William G. Frost. Boone Tavern Hotel—named for Appalachian hero Daniel Boone—has been hosting visitors of Berea ever since including the Dalai Lama, Henry Ford, President Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost.

Cathedral of St. Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana – Cathedral of St. Helena

The Cathedral of Saint Helena was modeled by architect A.O. Von Herbulis after Vienna’s neo-Gothic church, Votivkirche. Construction began in 1908 and the church held its first mass in 1914. The impressive spires rise 230 feet above the street and can be seen from all parts of Helena. The stained-glass windows were made in Bavaria and shipped to Helena.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico – Loretto Chapel

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small-sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder. When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Vanderbilt Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion

By any standard, past or present, this property—with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains—would be considered prime real estate. A series of fine homes have stood on the tract since about 1764, and in 1847 the estate was called “one of the finest specimens of the modern style of Landscape Gardening in America.”

Related: 7 of the Most Visited National Historic Sites (NHS) in America

Vanderbilt Mansion gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Such superlatives attracted the attention of Frederick Vanderbilt, the grandson of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who had built a fortune from shipping, ferries, and the New York Central Railroad. One of Frederick’s brothers, George Washington Vanderbilt, is perhaps best-known for his Biltmore Estate near Ashville, North Carolina. The Vanderbilts were known as the richest—and the most powerful—family in America in the late 1800s.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota – The World’s Only Corn Palace

The World’s Only Corn Palace or the Mitchell Corn Palace is a quirky, but cool multi-purpose arena in Mitchell. It was built in the Moorish Revival style and is adorned with crop art made from corn and other grain that features a constantly-evolving design.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corn Palace hosts concerts, sports events, exhibits, and other community events like the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas – Mission San Jose

If you visit Texas, expect to see a lot of missions. But if you want to see the coolest one, check out the “queen” of all the San Antonio missions—Mission San Jose. Once the heart of a vibrant Spanish community founded in the early 18th century, San Jose attracted people from all over the area. The church, which still stands, was built in 1768.

Related: Exploring What Is Old and Discovering What’s New along San Antonio Missions Trail

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire – Castle in the Clouds

Built on a mountainside overlooking New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, the Moultonborough mansion originally named Lucknow has aptly been called Castle in the Clouds since it opened to the public in 1957. The beautiful Arts and Crafts–style home was built in 1913 as the luxury Ossipee Mountain retreat of Thomas Plant, a millionaire shoe-manufacturing mogul.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island – The Breakers

There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of mega-mansions in Newport. The coolest of the over-the-top palatial “summer cottages” is the Breakers. This home symbolizes the social and financial preeminence of the Vanderbilt family who built the mansion.

Related: Jacksonville: The Historic Small Town That Never Gets Old

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Architects were tasked with designing an Italian Renaissance-style palace inspired by the 16th-century palazzos of Genoa and Turin. The manor was completed in 1895 and after the death of the last remaining Vanderbilt associated with the Breakers, it’s now in the hands of the Preservation Society and is the most visited attraction in Rhode Island.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes