The Four Corners area represents more than the connection point of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.
A tourism destination by itself or a perfect addition to Arches and Canyonlands itineraries, Four Corners is a journey into sweeping landscapes with human and geologic history. Culturally, the region is a combination of Mexican, Mormon, Navajo, Hopi, Ute, and Zuni ancestry. It is a part of the Colorado Plateau, a geological formation responsible for much of the snow and rainfall over the central U. S.
Here are eight adventures in the Four Corners region that RV travelers shouldn’t miss.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
The iconic landscape of Monument Valley symbolizes the American West with its towering buttes and sweeping skies. Located on the Utah-Arizona border, a 17-mile loop drive takes visitors through the park with guided tours also available which allow access to more remote areas of the park. The 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail is open for unguided hiking. A $20 cash-only fee is charged to enter the park, and the on-site The View Campground has views living up to its name.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell
Stretching from the beginning of the Grand Canyon at Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is graced with scenic views, unique geology, and evidence of 10,000 years of human history. Within the recreation area, Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U. S. and is widely recognized as a premier boating destination.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Natural Bridges is home to three expansive rock arches and the first International Dark Sky Park. Though less accessible than Utah’s national parks, it is just as grand. At 6,500-feet in elevation atop the massive Cedar Mesa the park is a little cooler in the heat of summer than other parks. Abundant hiking, stargazing, and canyoneering make this a quiet haven for those looking to explore a little off the beaten path.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly offers a spectacular collection of sheer red sandstone cliffs forming a maze of canyons that all lead into the main Canyon de Chelly. Although none of the cliffs exceeds 1,000 feet the huge 800-foot monolith Spider Rock is an awesome sight. Part of the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly is also home to thousands of Ancestral Pueblo ruins and archaeological sites dating as far back as 2500 BC.
Hovenweep National Monument
Once home to over 2,500 people, Hovenweep includes six prehistoric villages built between A.D. 1200 and 1300. Explore a variety of structures, including multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. The construction and attention to detail will leave you marveling at the skill and motivation of the builders.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park (Spanish for green table) was established to preserve archaeological sites built by the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years (550 A.D. to 1300 A.D.). Currently Mesa Verde has over 4,700 archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings and the mesa top sites of pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures. These sites are some of the most notable and best-preserved dwellings in the U. S.
Navajo Bridge was the only vehicle structure spanning the Grand Canyon until it was replaced in 1995 by a new bridge immediately next to it. The old bridge was kept as a pedestrian bridge, and today visitors can walk across and take in the beginning of the Grand Canyon at Marble Canyon and the Colorado River 467 feet below. Often seen are Grand Canyon rafters and endangered California condors with nine-foot-wide wing spans.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers is home to many different types of travel experiences from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to moderate hikes through Islands in the Sky and the Needles district.
Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.
A Delaware-sized museum of sedimentary erosion that walks you down through a 200-million-year-old staircase
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.
So called for the series of plateaus that descend from Bryce Canyon south toward the Grand Canyon, marked by vertical drops at the Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermillion Cliffs, and Chocolate Cliffs. Lots of colorful scenery herein, natch! They ought to call it the Grand Stare-case.
The sense of wonder inspired by the magnificent beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument excites the imagination and invites exploration of the natural world. Within this vast and untamed wilderness, visitors find places for recreation and solitude.
This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service.
Entry into the national monument is by two paved roads: Highway 89 between Kanab and Big Water on its southern end and All American Road Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Boulder on the north. Johnson Canyon Road and Burr Trail are two other hardened-gravel access roads. All the other roads into the Monument are dirt, clay, or sand. Caution should be exercised when traveling on unpaved roads as conditions can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Services, smart phone access, and water are generally not available.
The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.
Despite their different topographies, these three sections share certain qualities: great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states. Human activities are limited on these lands, yet their very remoteness and isolation attract seekers of adventure or solitude and those who hope to understand the natural world through the Monument’s wealth of scientific information.
The Grand Staircase rises in broad, tilted terraces. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: vermilion, white, gray, pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history.
The highest part of the Monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the Plateau appears to fan out southward from the town of Escalante into an enormous grayish green triangle, ending far to the south at Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The 42-mile-long Straight Cliffs mark the eastern edge of the plateau, ending at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast.
To the north of Fiftymile Bench is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,000-foot Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of pale Navajo sandstone which the Escalante River and its tributaries, flowing down from the plateau, have carved into a maze of canyons. In this arid territory, it is ironically water that has done the most to shape the landscape.
As intriguing as it is beautiful, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also provides remarkable possibilities for scientific research and study. Researchers continue to uncover new insight about how the land was formed and the life it sustains.
What scientists are learning and the methods they use to understand what it all means can be discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors centers located in the communities of Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville, and Escalante. With so much information to share, each visitor center’s interpretive exhibits focus on different scientific themes, including paleontology (Big Water), geology and archaeology (Kanab), the human landscape (Cannonville), biology, botany, and eology (Escalante).
Through interpretive exhibit, visitors learn about the spectacular Monument resources and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world.
There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.
Before Mount St. Helens blew its top it was a beautifully symmetric rounded snow-capped mountain that stood between two jagged peaks, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams
Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest; the range extends from Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia to Lassen Peak in northern California. Geologists call Mount St. Helens a composite volcano (or stratovolcano), a term for steepsided, often symmetrical cones constructed of alternating layers of lava flows, ash, and other volcanic debris.
Forty years ago, Mount St. Helens erupted, killing 57 people and leveling the surrounding region. At 8:32 a.m. that fateful day, a 5.1 earthquake rattled the volcano, triggering an explosion of fluid. The north face of the volcano collapsed altogether. The eruption of Mount St. Helens caused the largest landslide in recorded history sweeping through the Toutle River Valley and removing 1,306 feet from the top of the volcano.
The powerful lava flow, savage winds, and deadly heat destroyed much of the previous landscape. What the mountain left behind is the history of a violent eruption that shook the surrounding region and left many with stories of that tumultuous day on May 18, 1980.
Four visitor centers tell the story of the mountain and the people living in the region surrounding it. The awesome views from each of the centers bring you face to face with a monumental natural event.
People remember the thick, dark plumes of clouds that day, the choking ash and lightning bolts that catapulted across the skies. That terrifying, apocalyptic scene is forever seared in the memory of so many.
Since that natural disaster, scientists have made considerable progress in tracking volcanic activity, but more still needs to be done. Seismologist and former University of Washington professor Dr. Steve Malone was one of many experts who had been tracking warning signs of the eventual eruption for months in advance. He said there’s a real threat for another eruption in the decades ahead.
While he says Mount St. Helens is the most likely to erupt next, Mt. Rainier is considered the most dangerous volcano of the Cascades, largely because it’s surrounded by communities that are heavily populated.
There are five major volcanoes in the Washington Cascades, including Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and of course, Mount Saint Helens. Mt. Hood in Oregon also poses a threat.
“The one we think is sort of the most frightening in many respects are what are called lahars or volcanic mudflows, that can travel down valleys and be totally devastating to anything within that valley,” Malone said.
While scientists can’t predict volcanic explosions with any precision, there can be warning signs up to a week in advance of an eruption.
“I think Mount St. Helens triggered that awareness, that says ‘hey, we really need to pay more attention to these’ and there’s not just Mount St. Helens, but the other cascade volcanoes as well,” Malone said.
Seismologists say scientists will likely never be able to predict future volcanic eruptions with a great level of accuracy and precision, better monitoring stations on the volcanoes can help. While there’s an adequate number of volcano monitoring stations at Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, more are needed on other Washington volcanoes like Glacier Peak.
The director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) says we cannot forget the message that Mount St. Helens communicated all those years ago. The mountains are beautiful, but they also have the potential to create these hazardous eruptions.
Congress has authorized $55 million to better track volcanoes across the country, but they have yet to invest that money. Even still, the PNSN says it’s working on plans to implement those monitoring devices for once those funds are appropriated and any permits have been granted.
Each volcano is an independent machine—nay, each vent and monticule is for the time being engaged in its own peculiar business, cooking as it were its special dish, which in due time is to be separately served.
—Clarence Edward Dutton, American geologist (1841-1912)
As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, I have to wonder if Utah’s celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is “at capacity”.
The Mighty Five campaign was a smash. The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years.
On the Memorial Day weekend of 2015, nearly 3,000 cars descended on Arches National Park for their dose of Wow. All 875 parking places were taken with scores more vehicles scattered in a haphazard unplanned way. The line to the entrance booth spilled back half a mile blocking Highway 191. The state highway patrol took the unprecedented step of closing it effectively shutting down the park. Hundreds of rebuffed visitors drove 30 miles to Canyonlands where they waited an hour in a two-mile line of cars.
Since then, Arches has been swamped often enough to shut its gate at least nine times including the most recent Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, in Zion, hikers wait 90 minutes to board a shuttle and an additional two to four hours to climb the switchbacks of Angels Landing. There, visitors sometimes find outhouses shuttered with the following sign: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”
When word trickled back in that the ads had worked too well, the Office of Tourism responded. In 2016, it tweaked the campaign, calling it the Road to Mighty and highlighting lesser-known state parks and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The strategy appeared to work. Visits to the Mighty Five flattened growing only 4 percent in 2017 and a little more than 1 percent in 2018 while the state parks saw double-digit jumps. Just as Road to Mighty hit the airwaves in January 2017 Bears Ears National Monument was created.
And in 2018, the Office of Tourism massaged the campaign again, calling it Between the Mighty and adding Bears Ears to its destinations. Many questioned if overcrowding could be addressed by sending tourists elsewhere. Comments like “They ruined the parks, and now they want to ruin the places in between” were not uncommon.
By 8:20 a.m. the Delicate Arch parking lot often reached capacity. This mob scene was nothing like the Mighty Five commercials.
With 4.5 million annual visitors, Zion is by far the most packed of the Utah parks (and was the fourth most visited U.S. national park in 2018). The horror stories about and the crowds are all true.
Twenty years ago, the park made the visionary decision to shut Zion Canyon to cars. Everyone leaves their cars at the visitor center, the campgrounds, or the town of Springdale and takes a shuttle to the trailheads for Angels Landing and the Narrows. So there are no traffic jams, no RVs circling for a space.
Better than any front-country park in the entire nation, Zion has realized Ed Abbey’s dream of carlessness: “You’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk,” he pleaded, “better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus.”
I don’t want to just be a curmudgeon who mourns the passage of time and fights any change to the way things were. I will never be young again, I get that. But maybe, one way we tap into the eternal is to see how that which is not made by human hand will outlast us all, just as it preceded us.
By doing just about nothing here in the wilderness beyond, the tourism folks appear to have done it right. As I looked around and found no trails, no rangers, nowhere to go other than this dirt lot, I wondered if this “park” might more accurately be called a scenic overlook or a campsite. Do humans need to change this landscape to make it more attractive, more fun?
With talk of “destination development” and “destination management,” civilization forges ahead, until one day this last remaining strip of wilderness will cease to be sacred—and will become a Brand.
Many national parks are overflowing with visitors. To get away from the crowds, seek an alternate route.
Since it was signed in 1906, the United States Antiquities Act has conserved millions of acres across 61 national parks. These protected areas encompass some of the country’s most extraordinary landscapes which have unsurprisingly prompted growing tourism numbers in the most popular parks. Competing with these throngs of tourists while is far from ideal. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of less crowded, yet equally scenic, alternatives to America’s most popular national parks.
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.
If you like Grand Canyon National Park, try Bryce Canyon National Park instead
Known as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list destination for travelers worldwide. This recognition comes at a cost, though, with 6.38 million arrivals to the park in 2018. Consider instead heading due north to Bryce Canyon National Park.
Situated along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, the park’s terrain has been shaped and eroded by the harsh high-altitude elements. The resulting hoodoos, jagged formations, and massive horseshoe amphitheaters are an astonishing sight to behold. Bryce Canyon’s extensive trail network is sure to satisfy any type of hiker. The park’s elevation ranges between a lofty 8,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level making for milder summer temperatures compared to the Grand Canyon.
If you like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, try Shenandoah National Park instead
A whopping 11.4 million people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2018. Heading six hours north along the Appalachian Mountains, hikers and drivers can find equally scenic roadways, stunning mountain vistas, and epic trails at Shenandoah National Park. Though it’s not exactly an off-the-beaten path destination, Shenandoah’s 1.2 million visitors are a mere trickle compared to its southern neighbor.
Spanning 105 miles between the Front Royal and Rockfish Gap entrances, winding Skyline Drive allows visitors to leisurely enjoy the park’s scenery from their car and choose from numerous trailheads for day hikes. Hiking options abound, with over 500 miles of marked trails, including a substantial section of the famed Appalachian Trail.
If you like Zion National Park, try Capitol Reef National Park instead
Zion’s famed Narrows and towering cliffs are nothing short of breathtaking. If you’re craving more solitude among southern Utah’s geological wonders, consider heading three hours northeast to Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef’s Scenic Drive takes in some of the most picturesque stretches of the park. Frequent pullouts permit plenty of stops for photos or embarking on a day hike. Turn down Grand Wash Road to hike a quarter-mile to Cassidy Arch where Butch Cassidy was rumored to have camped out.
The most conspicuous reminder of settlers is at Fruita where orchards and a few restored buildings serve as the last remnants of the Mormon town of 50. Depending on the season visitors can pick their own fruit including cherries, pears, and apricots.
If you like Yellowstone National Park, try Theodore Roosevelt National Park instead
Yellowstone’s wealth of attractions—unique wildlife, spouting geysers, volcanic landscapes, and churning rivers—are unmatched by any single national park. For similar wildlife spotting opportunities away from the crowds head east to the lesser-known Theodore Roosevelt National Park which sees just 749,000 annual visitors compared to Yellowstone’s 4.1 million.
Twenty-nine American bison were reintroduced here in 1956, with herd numbers today totaling several hundred between the park’s north and south units. For the best chance of seeing bison, make your way around the Scenic Loop Drive in the south unit but be sure to maintain a respectable distance from the massive creatures. Fortunately, bison prefer to graze the nutritious grasslands surrounding prairie dog communities, and thus, you may spot both species.
Beyond the park’s critters, there is an abundance of scenic views and impressive rock formations to enjoy. Visiting at sunrise or sunset is an ideal time to appreciate the multitude of colors emanating from bands of minerals in the rugged rock face.
If you like Yosemite National Park, try Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park instead
Although Sequoia and Kings Canyon’s natural beauty rival its northerly neighbor, it only received 1.2 million visitors in 2018 compared to Yosemite’s four million. The dramatic landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity—huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees. These two parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada east of the San Joaquin Valley.
You expect giant trees and huge canyons—and you won’t be disappointed. Within these parks, you can experience a spectacular range in elevation from warm foothills to cold alpine peaks. The largest and finest groves of giant sequoias grow at the sometimes snowy mid-elevations, along with extraordinarily diverse plants and animals living in extremely varied conditions.
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.
Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes
The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.
High ancient sea ledges, deep rocky canyons, flowering cactus, and desert wildlife are the treasures above the ground in the Chihuahuan Desert. Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 limestone caves that are outstanding in the profusion, diversity, and beauty of their formations.
Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of a desert above the cave, there were pine forests. Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.
Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture created an extraordinary variety of formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.
Cave scientists have explored more than 30 miles of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad, and investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles on a paved trail. Slaughter Canyon Cave provides the hardy an opportunity to play caver, albeit with a guide. The park has more than a hundred other caves open primarily to specialists.
One full day allows you time to tour the main cavern and take a nature walk or a drive before watching the bats fly at sunset. For a second day’s activity, reserve space on a tour of Slaughter Canyon Cave, if you’re ready for a more rugged caving experience.
At the Visitor Center, select either the Natural Entrance Tour or the Big Room Tour (both are 1.25-mile walks). Try the first unless you have walking, breathing, or heart problems. It starts at the natural entrance and is mostly downhill, except for one stretch where you climb 83 feet; an elevator whisks you back to ground level. The Natural Entrance Tour is more intimate and may be less crowded than the Big Room.
The cave climate is cool and averages about 56°F year-round. You may want to bring a light jacket or sweater. Comfortable, rubber-soled shoes with good traction are appropriate.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park was first designated a National Monument in 1923. It became a National Park in 1930. Carlsbad Caverns was also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Some visitors think the park’s most spectacular sight is the one seen at the cave’s mouth. More than a quarter million Brazilian (Mexican) free-tailed bats summer in a section of the cave, and around sunset they spiral up from the entrance to hunt for insects.
The nightly exodus led to the discovery of the cave in modern times. Around the turn of the 20th century, miners began to excavate bat guano—a potent fertilizer—for shipment to the citrus groves of southern California. One of the guano miners, James Larkin White, became the first to explore and publicize the caverns beyond Bat Cave.
The main cavern gets crowded, especially in summer and on major holiday weekends. Either spring or fall, when the desert’s in bloom, is an excellent time to go. You’ll see the bats fly from April or mid-May through October.
The park is off US 62/180, 20 miles southwest of Carlsbad and 164 miles east of El Paso, Texas. For the visitor center, turn west at Whites City and drive seven miles.
The beauty, the weirdness, the grandeur … absolved my mind of all thoughts of a world above. I forgot time, place and distance.
How to find a suitable camping site in a National Park?
The rustic accommodations of national park campsites get us closer to nature than private campgrounds outside the park. But opting for that primitive experience often puts RVers in the middle of that classic Goldilocks conundrum.
Without good planning, you just don’t know if a campground can accommodate your home on wheels. If you can count the number of times you have spent an entire afternoon jumping from one site to another, trying to find one that fits, you’re not alone.
As the owner of a 38-foot motorhome, I’m somewhat envious of truck campers, camping vans, and small motorhomes able to tuck themselves in a cozy gem of a campsite that could never accommodate our rig. The truth is, bigger is not better when it comes to RVing in national parks. The smaller your rig, the more campsite choices you have, including some amazing backcountry campsites where large rigs could never tread.
Many owners of RVs larger than ours are successful at squeezing into the pint-sized campsites at national parks, but we prefer to avoid being the afternoon entertainment when we arrive somewhere.
The best RV type for national parks is a unit that’s 30-feet or less including the toad (or tow) vehicle. The short, narrow parking sites in most national park campgrounds make navigation difficult in anything larger. That’s not to say your 40-foot motorhome won’t ever be able to camp in national parks, it just means that you’ll need to work harder to find a suitable campsite.
How to find the best national park campsite for your RV
If you’re one of America’s nine million RV owners and desire a national park experience, reserve a spot as far in advance as possible at Recreation.gov. Wherever you roam in the national park system, the RV-friendly spots are always the first to go. Spontaneous travel offers some amazing benefits, but showing up at a national park’s campground without a reservation is a recipe for disappointment.
From Joshua Tree to Arches and beyond, planning pays off for national park RV camping and it’s easier when you know the answers to these questions:
Will the campground accommodate my needs?
If your RV is self-contained with holding tanks, toilet facilities, and perhaps solar panels, you can go just about anywhere. But if you’re in a more basic rig without them, a designated campground with water and bathroom facilities is pretty much a necessity. And if you rely on generator power, you’ll need a campground that allows their use. Not all do in the national park system, so always verify that the one you want to visit has generator hours and other creature comforts you desire.
What is the length of my RV?
Don’t rely on the RV manufacturer’s sticker to tell you the length of your rig. That number usually only factors in the interior length dimension of the RV rather than the exterior measurement from front to back bumper. Your toad, or tow vehicle, adds additional length that impacts where you can camp.
To find out your actual length, measure your RV. You want to know the total number of feet for your RV and secondary vehicle, if any. Measure from the front bumper of the first vehicle to the back bumper of the second one. If you have bicycles or a cargo box hitched to the rear, add those in too. Also measure the height from the highest point on your roof, and total width with slides extended, if applicable. Many campsites have thick tree canopies with limited clearance for high profile vehicles.
What is the maximum RV length for the campsite I want?
You’ll see that number for every campsite on Recreation.gov, but it only refers to the vehicle being parked at the site. You may or may not be able to fit a second vehicle on the parking site. Before reserving a spot, contact the park to get a better idea of the campground’s ease of use for an RV like yours.
Do parking hazards exist?
Even when site dimensions look acceptable, natural obstacles may prevent you from maneuvering into the site. If there’s any question about fitting into a site, look carefully at Recreation.gov photos or download a Google Earth map to confirm that you can navigate that space without scraping a tree or boulder.
If you’re already at the campground, observe and note if the rig’s back end will hang over the parking site or encroach on your neighbor’s landscaping.
Many RVers will say that a small rig is best for one location while super-sized RV owners may say they don’t have a problem accessing that same spot. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.
Our wish to you is this: drive a little slower, take the backroads sometimes, and stay a little longer. Enjoy, learn, relax, and then…plan your next RV journey.
America’s greatest outdoor treasures are slowly starting to reopen
When COVID-19 took hold of the world the closures came fast. But the idea of a global pandemic shutting down America’s biggest, often extremely isolated natural spaces seemed unfathomable. It turned out that when the world’s health was at risk even Smoky the Bear had to do his part to flatten the curve.
Now, as the Memorial Day weekend kicks off a summer that will almost certainly be full of scenic drives, some national parks are slowly reopening their gates following months of closure. To help you track what’s open, we’re keeping tabs on our favorite national parks. We’ll keep you posted on what’s open (hint: not many), what services are available (if amenities are marked “limited,” chances are it has toilet facilities but no visitors center), and what you’re allowed to do once inside the park. And, in most cases you can drive the scenic roads and hike the trails. But we’ll take what we can get!
Hopefully, this list will change quickly as more and more of these national treasures open up to responsible, respectful, and safe use. The list is current as of the Memorial Day weekend. We’ll be updating as things progress.
Arches National Park, Utah Status: Closed. For the moment, the closest you can get to Balanced Rock, Devil’s Garden, and the other glorious spires is via Google Earth. Phased re-opening begins May 29.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited. The visitor centers, entrance fee stations, and South Unit of the park are currently closed. But other than that, this SoDak icon and its rugged geologic beauty is mostly open for business as usual.
Big Bend National Park, Texas Status: Closed. This hiker and kayaker paradise along the Rio Grande is hoping to begin phased reopening in June, so chances are you’ll be able to explore its waters right around the time temps hit 300 degrees in the Lone Star State.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited. While visitor center occupancy is limited and overnight stays are prohibited, the main park road and all viewpoints to Rainbow Point are open. The majority of trails (other than backcountry) remain open as well, so consider yourself lucky if you’re anywhere near this Utah showstopper. Plan your sunrise around it.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah Status: Closed. Phased reopening of this oft-overlooked Utah gem (the least visited of Utah’s famous “big five” parks) starts May 29. Social distancing is a breeze in this park where the ravens outnumber the humans on any given day.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No. This International Dark Sky Park combines the best of Utah’s more famous national parks into one lesser-visited package of surprises. While Scenic Drive, the visitor’s center, and most campgrounds are closed, you can still pitch a tent at Cedar Mesa and Cathedral Valley campgrounds.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No. Public trails, picnic areas, and roads are open across the park. Still, this isn’t called Carlsbad Picnic Area, so it’s probably not worth a journey just yet unless it’s close enough to justify a day trip.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina Status: Closed. The nation’s oldest hardwood bottomland didn’t keep its 500-year-old cypress trees alive through multiple plagues, yellow fever, and the Twilight Zone by taking chances. It remains closed until further notice.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited. The Grand Canyon has begun extremely limited access. You can enter the south rim viewpoints between 6-10 a.m. for now and go as far as Pipe Creek Vista, Twin Overlooks, Duck on a Rock, Thor’s Hammer, No Name Point, and Navajo Point. The rest of the Canyon is closed. Ditto for visitor centers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, Tennessee Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited. The nation’s most popular park (on a technicality, but whatever) allows access to most of its sprawling trails though this has always been a park most utilized as a scenic drive, so go forth, but keep an eye on their site for any changes.
Joshua Tree National Park, California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: Limited. Now back in the business of helping claustrophobic Californians “find themselves” after a painful couple months, this gloriously trippy desert playground has opened up its trails, roads, bathrooms, and individual “family” campsites, which in California parlance ranges from actual family units to cults.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California Status: Closed. When California emerges from quarantine, make a point to discover this remarkable national park in Northern California’s Shasta Cascades which is rich in rugged wilderness and rare geothermal delights.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado Status: Closed. With more than 5,000 sites including its famous ancient cliff dwellings such as Cliff Palace, America’s largest archeological preserve has been around since 7,500 BC. So it can wait out COVID-19.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona Status: Closed. Travelers along Route 66 (or Interstate 40) would be wise to pull over at this stunning park that suddenly pops up along both sides of the highway in eastern Arizona. Until the park reopens, however, it’s just more roadside oddities and vintage motel signs for Mother Road enthusiasts.
Pinnacles National Park, California Status: Open Camping: Yes Amenities: No. This Central California park is one of the lesser-known National Park Service destinations possibly due to the fact that it’s often 100-plus degrees and half of it is in an eroded-out, extinct volcano. Right now, day use passes are a no-no and the park’s largely open only to people helping in protection efforts. Still, the campgrounds are open to people with reservations. So if you scored one a while ago, you kind of have the run of the park. Just, you know, bring a ton of water.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: Limited. Located on either side of Tucson, this cacti-laden gem has opened all roads and trails though groups are limited to 10. Visitor centers and restrooms remain closed.
Sequoia National Park, California Status: Closed. Like its neighbor Kings Canyon, the densely forested Sequoia is closed until at least May 25. Highway 180 which runs through it is open for through traffic to private property.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia Status: Closed. Renowned for its fabled Skyline Drive, this national treasure encompassing part of the Blue Ridge Mountains is working on a phased reopening. It makes wonder how you open the Skyline Drive in stages.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No. Look, it’s not like they named this ultra-underrated park—where the prairies and the Badlands converge where Buffalo roam and the sky’s one big panoramic light show—James Buchanan National Park. It’s named after Theodore Roosevelt. Of course it’s open.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico Status: Closed. America’s newest national park didn’t pick a great time for its coming out party. Transitioning from a national monument to a national park in the final days of 2019, the park was forced to shut down just a few weeks later. Thanks a lot COVID: you’re a real jerk.
Zion National Park, Utah Status: Open Camping: No Amenities: No. One of America’s most beloved parks has just started to reopen in recent days with the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and many park trails currently open (with Zion’s often-packed shuttles mercifully suspended.)
One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.
A petroglyph is an image on stone, created by removing part of the surface of the rock by pecking, carving, etching, or abrading with a tool or harder stone
Greetings on day 1,999 of lockdown! Oh, wait, that’s not correct. It just feels that way.
Just remember, this isn’t forever, but you have to know what’s out there before you can step back into the world of RV travel. Today we keep the fire going as we head to the Land of Enchantment.
Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock. We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.
Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.
These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.
While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.
Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.
About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.
By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.
The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.
Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.
This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.
Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.
Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.
A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.
The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.
This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.
Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…
From Florida to Utah, national and state parks that have been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic have begun detailing how they will reopen
As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic lockdowns ease and Americans look to hit the road, national and state parks are among the first destinations to welcome them. Three national parks will open their gates in coming days and the National Park Service announced last week that it would start “increasing access and services in a phased approach across all units of the National Park System.”
In many cases, parks will reopen as they closed—by varying timetables, depending on the park and its region. The agency said the decisions would follow federal CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance as well as that provided by regional and local health authorities.
Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah opened trails around the red-rock spires of the Bryce Amphitheater on Wednesday (May 6). The main park road and all viewpoints along the way will be open from the entrance to Rainbow Point. However, the visitor center and fee booth, campgrounds, backcountry trails, park concession facilities, and restrooms remain closed (except for one at Sunset Point), a park announcement said.
Everglades National Park in Florida reopened some boat launch ramps, campgrounds, and restrooms Monday (May 4); Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee will allow visitors on most roads and trails starting tomorrow (May 9).
Everglades reopened access to the main park road from the Homestead entrance to Flamingo; external restrooms at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center; Flamingo Marina and boat launch ramps; Flamingo Marina Store, restrooms, and gas pumps; Flamingo Fish Cleaning Station and restroom; and Chekika Day Use Area (roads and surrounding areas only). In addition, entry fees are waived.
Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia reopened their beaches, public docking spaces, and trails this past Saturday (May 2). However, the park’s Ice House Museum, Sea Camp Ranger Station, Plum Orchard Mansion, campgrounds (including wilderness camp sites), the mainland visitor center, and the mainland museum remain closed.
“This has been a very difficult time for our community, our families, and our world. The park is thrilled to be able to take this small step forward with the hope it will help provide some with an opportunity to find peace and joy in visiting the seashore,” said Superintendent Gary Ingram.
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah slowly allowed visitors back into the park on Tuesday (May 5), though some of the most popular areas will remain closed for the time being. The park will reopen access to day use in the South District (Waterpocket Fold) and overnight stays in Cedar Mesa campground, day use in the North District (Cathedral Valley) and overnight stays in Cathedral Valley campground, and non-trailhead Pullouts along Highway 24 for scenic viewing.
“We are pleased to begin reopening the park to our communities and visitors and hope this helps our local businesses re-open their operations with assurance that the park is moving towards phased re-opening access. We look forward to seeing you in the broad expanses of the northern and southern portions of this spectacular park” said Superintendent Sue Fritzke.
Other national parks with plans to partially reopen this week Include Stone River National Battlefield in Tennessee, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and neighboring Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado, Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and New Jersey, and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi.
Zion National Park in Utah recently announced on its Web site that it will be reopening its gates next week (Wednesday, May 13). In a brief message on the park’s website, Zion National Park said it will reopen access to select areas. Access will be day-use and only in select parts of the park that have yet to be specified. Visitor access will be limited to available parking in some areas. Further details have not yet been released, but the park said it will release additional details in the coming days.
Some parks never officially closed (like Channel Islands). Some, like Yosemite, are such magnets for visitors that superintendents felt obliged to close them relatively early. Still others, like the Grand Canyon, closed later despite heavy visitor traffic.
At other parks, it’s harder to be sure what’s happening when.
But in hopes of reopening soon, The Xanterra Travel Collection which operates hotels and concessions in a number of parks—including Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, and Glacier—said that it would reopen the bulk of its park properties on June 15.
Check with individual parks for specific details since, in many cases, visitor centers, concessions, and bathroom facilities might be closed.
Stay six feet away from others (“social distancing”) and take other steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a park, beach, or recreational facility is open for public use, visiting is okay as long as you practice social distancing and everyday steps such as washing hands often and covering coughs and sneezes. Follow these actions when visiting a park, beach, or recreational facility:
Stay at least six feet from others at all times. This might make some open areas, trails, and paths better to use. Do not go into a crowded area.
Avoid gathering with others outside of your household.
Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
Bring hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol to use if soap and water are not available
That’s it from me for today. Hope you found this edition of RVing with Rex to be enlightening!
As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”