Patchwork Parkway: The Steepest Road in Utah

Driving State Route143 will put your brakes to the test with 13 percent grade; it’s the steepest paved road in the state

Starting and ending points: Parowan to Panguitch

Steepest section: Area around Brian Head Ski Resort

Max grade: 13 percent

Go up this road that tops out at 10,567 feet at Cedar Breaks and your engine will grind to let you know this is no ordinary route. Come down this road and your brakes will be constantly tested.

Climbing 4,600 feet in about 18 miles from Parowan to Cedar Breaks National Monument in Iron County, State Route 143 is the steepest paved state road in Utah with a maximum grade of 13 percent.

The highway is among about a dozen roads in the state that have a geographic distinction.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most major U.S. highways don’t exceed a 6 percent grade, the magic number for the preferred maximum steepness of a road. Parleys Canyon (I-80) has a maximum grade of 6 percent.

In the U.S. only the grades of interstates are required by law to remain under a certain percentage. A grade is based on the number of feet that a road changes every 100 feet at its steepest part. The interstate system in the United States must maintain roads with no more than a 6 percent grade. However, the steepest road in Utah will make you grip your steering wheel tight!

Originally an old pioneer road used to transport logging materials, Utah Route 143 winds its way through the Dixie National Forest. The highway can reach grades of over 13 percent as it ascends to the top of the ski resort. As a result, drivers frequently overheat their brakes and large trucks will try to avoid the byway altogether to keep them from catching fire.

Patchwork Parkway near Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh, and of course, having fresh snow and ice on the ground really doesn’t help matters. Neither do the out-of-towners with two-wheel-drive cars and no winter driving skills trying to make their way in late at night on Fridays.

Utah Route 143 is so steep that the toughest parts only have a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. This highway is also known as the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway or as the Patchwork Parkway Scenic Byway.

The state highway climbs drivers over 10,500 feet into mountainous terrain near Cedar Breaks National Park. It’s also traversed by skiers headed to Brian Head Resort.

If you’re planning on traveling Route 143, remember that it’s not the drive up to the top that’s the scariest. Most hairy incidents happen while descending as inexperienced drivers may burn their brakes out. It’s not unheard of for freight trucks to have their breaks catch on fire while navigating hairpin turns with no shoulders.

Patchwork Parkway at Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Route 143 is the second-highest paved road in Utah. The highest, State Route 150 is the highest paved road by a few hundred more feet.

An unpaved gravel road that travels around Mount Brigham may be the highest in Utah. It reaches over 11,100 feet above sea level as it travels around Mount Brigham. The unpaved road breaks off of Tushar Road on Highway 89 south of Marysvale.

If jeep routes are considered unpaved roads, some jeep passes go higher. There are no official records about exactly how high these routes go, however. 

State Route 143 is a meandering drive between the small cities of Parowan and Panguitch. Parowan is 70 miles northeast of St. George a little more than 230 milessouthwest of Salt Lake City.

Fall colors and lava flows along Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brian Head Resort is a small ski area that gets most of its business from surrounding desert cities. It is only accessible via Route 143 and the steepest grade on the route must be traversed to get there. 

The main drag into Cedar Breaks National Park is Route 143. The highway also skirts Panguitch Lake about 30 minutes outside of the City of Panguitch.

Route 143 has a stretch with a grade of 13 percent. This is over twice as steep as allowed on any interstate in the nation. Between the town of Parowan and Cedar Breaks National Monument, travelers ascend around 4,600 feet in approximately 18 miles.

Because the road takes drivers up high into the mountains, it’s important to carry chains in the winter. The Utah Department of Transportation issues chain controls during bad weather conditions.

Panguitch Lake on the Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch Lake is a reservoir on Route 143 that’s a well-known spot for fishermen. The word panguitch means big fish in the Paiute language and this is an apt name as Panguitch Lake is popular for its huge trout.

Before the 1900s, the western part of Route 143 was used by pioneers. In 1933, it officially became a state highway. By 1985, and after two additions, the road had become the length that it remains today. 

Route 143 is known as the Patchwork Parkway after the perilous journey that a group of Mormon pioneers undertook in the winter of 1864. In desperation, a group in Panguitch decided to walk to Parowan in thick snow for needed food. Everyone back in town was starving to death.

After traveling so far that they were too committed to their journey to turn back, the snow became so thick that it was impossible to navigate. Fortunately, the pioneers discovered that the homemade patchwork quilts they had with them for warmth also allowed them to walk on the snow without sinking. It took them almost two weeks but the men methodically used their quilts to inch their way to Parowan and back with the desperately needed flour.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides Utah Route 143 being Utah’s steepest paved road with a 13 percent grade, the following tidbits about other Utah highways have been gathered from Utah maps, the Utah Department of Transportation, and other sources:

  • Highest paved road in Utah: Mirror Lake Highway (SR 150) which crosses Bald Mountain Pass, 10,715 feet above sea level. The road is usually open June to early November depending on the weather. Its latest-ever opening was June 29, 1995.
  • Highest paved road along the Wasatch Front: The Mount Nebo loop road that reaches 9,353 feet above sea level at the Monument trailhead.
  • Highest gravel road in Utah: From Big John Flat to a high ridge in the Tushar Mountains between Beaver and Marysvale at 11,500 feet above sea level.
  • Highest gravel road along the Wasatch Front: Skyline Drive in Davis County between Farmington and Bountiful. A spur road that heads north to the Francis Peak radar domes above Fruit Heights tops out at almost 9,500 feet above sea level. The road is passable by cars in the summer.
  • Lowest elevation paved road: River Road in Washington County south of Bloomington Hills and St. George at 2,697 feet above sea level.
  • Lowest elevation unpaved road: Several jeep roads in the Beaver Dam Wash area, west of St. George that approach 2,500 feet in elevation.
  • First Utah roads to be hard-surfaced: Richards Street in downtown Salt Lake City from South Temple to 100 South and also State Street from South Temple to 400 South—both in 1891 and probably paved with a combination of granite blocks, asphalt, and brick. Main Street in Salt Lake City from South Temple to 300 South was the next street paved.
  • Longest straight stretch of road: I-80 on the Salt Flats between Wendover and Knolls with an approximately 50-mile straightaway.
  • Longest tunnel: Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (SR 9), 5,613-feet long, the nation’s fifth-longest land tunnel. It opened in 1930 and is in Zion National Park.
  • Best paved road test for acrophobiacs: Probably Scenic Byway 12 between Escalante and Boulder where the highway traverses a knife-edge with high cliffs on both sides of the roadway and no guardrails.
  • Most likely roads to get a speeding ticket: Salt Lake’s North Temple (600-650 West) and State Street (2700-3000 South) plus Syracuse’s Allison Way (1525 West) and West Valley City’s 2700 West at 4650 South are all mentioned as the state’s newest speeding traps on the speedtrap.com website.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Memorial Day 2024: Best Arizona Road Trips for the Long Holiday Weekend

Each year, the summer road trip season kicks off with Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day weekend changes things. The calendar claims that weeks of spring still remain on the books. But for all intents and purposes, it’s hello, summer. The holiday also provides a chance to get out of town for a wonderful stretch. 

While backyard barbecues and pool parties are great, there’s a whole lot of Arizona just waiting for you. Take this opportunity to head someplace cool or wet or both. For a few glorious days, you can refresh and recharge. Now you’re ready to face the summer. At least until the July 4 break.

Here are some of Arizona’s best Memorial Day getaways. 

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley adventure: Tigers, a zip line and a historic train ride

Cottonwood and the Verde Valley are your destinations for an action-packed holiday weekend.

Nestled in the high desert of Camp Verde, Out of Africa Wildlife Park provides sanctuary for hundreds of exotic animals and features dozens of large predators. The preserve spreads across 100 acres of rolling terrain. Tiger Splash is the signature show. There is no training and no tricks.

The daily program is spontaneous, just animals frolicking with their caretakers. Visitors can also take a narrated African Bush Safari and attend the Giant Snake Show.

Outside the park is Predator Zip Line which offers a two- to three-hour zip line tour across five lines and a suspension bridge high above the animals. Tours are $99.95; you can save $10 by booking online. 

For a ground-based journey, climb aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad and rumble into scenic backcountry. The train departs from the station in Clarkdale and travels into a high-walled canyon carved by the Verde River and lined by cottonwood trees. Such a rich riparian habitat lures a variety of wildlife, notably eagle, hawk, heron, mule deer, javelina, coyote, and beaver.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Verde Valley:

Verde Canyon Railroad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Wupatki National Monument’s centennial

On the quiet prairie northeast of Flagstaff the pueblos of Wupatki National Monument rise like red-boned ghosts above swaying grasses.

The eruption of Sunset Crater in 1085 covered the dry basin with volcanic ash and cinders creating arable terrain. Soon afterward, Ancestral Puebloans moved in and built the freestanding dwellings that appear almost as natural rock formations.

This year Wupatki celebrates its centennial as a national monument. Short pathways lead to up-close encounters with a handful of these ancient structures. Behind the visitor center, a paved trail leads to Wupatki Pueblo, the largest dwelling in the park. The sprawling three-story ruin contains nearly 100 rooms and straddles an outcropping of sandstone.

Admission is $25 per vehicle and covers both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, connected by a scenic road.

Tackle the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course

After your visit to Wupatki and Sunset Crater, you’ll have the rest of the weekend to experience Arizona’s summer capital. Why not sample the tree-top thrills of Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course at Fort Tuthill County Park?

Conquer rope swings, climbing walls, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, and ziplines. There are multiple circuits on the adult playground plus a course designed for children ages 7-11. Adult course costs $60 as does the zipline adventure or combine the two for $99. Children’s course is $30.

Ax throwing and laser tag in Flagstaff

If you prefer indoor activities, FlagTagAZ offers ax and knife throwing, laser tag, darts, arcade games, and more. They also serve beer, wine, and mead in their pizza café.

Flagstaff Brewery Trail

Speaking of beer, there’s something supremely satisfying about a day spent walking around Flagstaff’s historic downtown and Southside neighborhoods with their eclectic collections of shops, galleries, restaurants and, yes, craft breweries.

There are eight breweries to be exact, all waiting to quench your thirst with a cold craft beer. You can download a digital passport and score a free commemorative pint glass.

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

You really should see Canyon de Chelly. Here’s how.

At Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona, sheer cliffs plunge hundreds of feet to lush bottomlands lined with crops, pastures, and cottonwood trees.

It’s a staggering blend of high drama and pastoral beauty. The scenic canyon shelters thousands of archaeological sites while dozens of Navajo families still live and farm there during warmer months.

Take one day to travel the rim drives for the stunning vistas. The North Rim Drive is 17 miles with three overlooks at prominent cliff dwellings and is best in the morning. The South Rim Drive is 19 miles with seven viewpoints is even more spectacular and is especially exquisite when afternoon light floods the canyon. 

Then take another day to explore the inner canyon with a Navajo guide. Private operators offer jeep, horseback, or hiking outings. Park admission is free; there are fees for tours.

Tours also leave daily from Thunderbird Lodge within the park.

Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation also manages Cottonwood Campground near the Canyon de Chelly visitor center. The campground has grills, picnic tables, and restrooms. No showers or hookups are available. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.

Here are some helpful resources:

Fool Hollow Lake: Fish, hike, or take a swim 

Nestled in the pines outside of Show Low, 149-acre Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area contains one of the loveliest bodies of water in the White Mountains which is high praise indeed. There’s big open water and isolated coves, quiet marshes, and long channels.

This is the kind of lake that makes you want to jump in a kayak and go exploring. Fortunately, you can. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals are available from J&T’s WildLife Outdoors at the east boat launch ramp. They also offer a guided pontoon boat tour. You can learn about Adair, the town submerged beneath the water.

Landlubbers can hike the 1.5-mile trail running along the edge of the lake. Anglers try their luck landing rainbow trout, bass, walleye, northern pike, and more. And yes, swimming is permitted. Fool Hollow also has campsites for tents and RVs. Park admission is $7 per vehicle Mondays-Thursdays and $10 per vehicle Fridays-Sundays and on holidays.

Prescott Courthouse Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore art shows in Prescott

When artists display their work on the big grassy lawn of Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza, you know summer has arrived. Spend a day browsing, listening to music, and enjoying the mild temperatures.

The Phippen Museum holds its popular Western Art Show and Sale on the plaza May 25-27. More than 100 artists will have booths set up beneath the big elm trees. Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday. A Quick Draw Challenge will happen on the north steps of the courthouse from 2-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

With a little planning, you can double your art show fun in Prescott. The Prescott OffStreet Festival is May 25-26 at its new home, Pine Ridge Marketplace, formerly the Gateway Mall. There will be fine art, photography, handmade crafts, and food. The fun starts at 9 a.m. both days and ends at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Scenic drive: Traverse more than 460 curves on the Coronado Trail

A segment of U.S. 191, the Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway twists and turns for 123 miles between Morenci and Springerville in eastern Arizona. The road parallels the New Mexico state line and is the nation’s curviest and least-traveled federal highway.

Expect a 6,000-foot elevation change as the Coronado Trail climbs from cactus-strewn desert to lush alpine meadows and aspen-clad mountains with more than 460 curves along the way. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado is thought to have followed this route centuries ago as he searched for the Seven Cities of Gold.

The road passes the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci and curves around one of the world’s largest open pit mines. It snakes its way up narrow Chase Canyon and switchbacks through scrubby woodland that gives way to dense pine forests as you climb.

The Coronado Trail skirts the edge of the Blue Range Primitive Area where Mexican gray wolves roam. Stop at the high perch of Blue Vista Point for incredible views and to breathe the cool mountain air. Oxygen at 9,100 feet just seems to have a fragrance all its own.

Beyond Hannagan Meadow Lodge, the road softens its tone. The curves are lazier as it winds through forest to alpine ringed by mountains. From here, continue past brush-covered plateaus and the shimmering waters of Nelson Reservoir to the towns of Springerville and Eagar nestled in Round Valley, an idyllic spot to land on Memorial Day weekend.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee Queen Mine Tour

Back in the days when copper flowed like a river from the hills of Bisbee, the Queen Mine was one of the richest producers in town. The mine operated for nearly a century before closing in 1975.

Today, retired miners lead tours 1,500 feet deep into the dark cool tunnels gouged from the Mule Mountains. Visitors outfitted in yellow slickers and hard hats with headlamps get an up-close look at mining conditions, techniques and dangers. You’ll emerge from the Queen Mine Tour with a whole new appreciation of your current job.

Tours depart several times throughout the day and reservations are required.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Bisbee Ghost Tour

When you’re above ground again in this mile-high town, sign up for an Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

The city’s rowdy past led to some hard deaths among the citizenry and Bisbee maintains a healthy population of lingering ghosts. You’ll learn about them all on this tour that departs at 7 p.m. each evening and lasts about an hour and 45 minutes.

Guides dress in period garb and spin sinister tales of the restless spirits as you roam the twilight streets of Bisbee. Even ghostly skeptics will enjoy the great history and fascinating stories.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 ways to see Monument Valley: Hike, drive, guided tour

Straddling the Arizona-Utah border, Monument Valley draws visitors from around the world.

Within the tribal park are a restaurant, gift shop, campground, and the Navajo-owned View Hotel. The rooms with private balconies are a great place to watch one of Monument Valley’s lavish sunrises.

Historic Goulding’s Lodge sits just outside the park and also offers a full range of services including guided tours.

The scenic 17-mile drive that winds through the heart of the valley reveals stunning views of the buttes. If you want more of an outdoor experience, hike the 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail that loops around the West Mitten butte.

Yet the best way to experience the beauty of this iconic western landscape and learn about the culture and history of the people who inhabit it is by signing up for a Navajo-led tour. Tours leave daily from the View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Mount St. Helens Erupted 44 Years Ago Today: Here’s How It Unfolded

After the eruption, ash poured into the atmosphere for nine hours

Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted for nine hours on this day in history, May 18, 1980, killing 57 people and triggering the largest landslide in recorded history. 

Prior to the eruption, Mount St. Helens stood at 9,677 feet, says the website for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). It was the fifth-tallest mountain in the state of Washington.

“It stood out handsomely, however, from surrounding hills because it rose thousands of feet above them and had a perennial cover of ice and snow,” said the site.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That changed on May 18 when the volcano erupted for the first time in more than a century. Instead, there was a horseshoe-shaped crater in its place. The crater’s highest point located on the southwestern side of the mountain is 8,365 feet. The eruption came almost exactly two months after seismic activity began on the long-dormant volcano. 

On March 16, 1980, a series of small earthquakes began to shake the area. Eleven days later, on March 27 following hundreds of small earthquakes, Mount St. Helens had a relatively small eruption—it’s first since 1857. 

In that eruption, steam explosions blasted a 200- to 250-foot wide crater through the volcano’s summit ice cap and covered the snow-clad southeast sector with dark ash. 

These eruptions continued through April 22. 

After about a two-week stop in volcanic activity, smaller eruptions and earthquakes continued from May 7 through May 17. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By that time, more than 10,000 earthquakes had shaken the volcano and the north flank had grown outward about 450 feet to form a prominent bulge. 

This bulge was strong evidence that molten rock (magma) had rose high into the volcano and was growing at a rate of up to five feet per day.

At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, a 5.1 earthquake with no immediate precursors struck Mount Saint Helens triggering a rapid series of events. 

At the same time as the earthquake, the volcano’s northern bulge and summit slid away as a huge landslide—the largest debris avalanche on Earth in recorded history. 

A small, dark, ash-rich eruption plume rose directly from the base of the debris avalanche scarp and another from the summit crater rose to about 650 feet high. 

The volume of the avalanche was the equivalent of one million Olympic-sized swimming pools. 

Following the landslide, the destruction continued. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landslide had removed part of the cryptodome which was a very hot and highly pressurized body of magma. With the cyptodome removed, Mount St. Helens’s magmatic system depressurized, triggering powerful eruptions that blasted laterally through the sliding debris knocking 1,000 feet off the height of the mountain. 

The cloud of tephra or rock fragments reached 15 miles within 15 minutes. 

The aftermath of the initial eruption was devastating. 

Virtually no trees remained of what was once a dense forest in the six-mile radius of the former summit and other trees were knocked to the ground and seared.

The eruption then became a Plinian eruption defined as as one that produces a sustained convecting plume of pyroclasts and gas rising more than 15 miles above sea level.

The Plinian eruption lasted for nine hours sending 520 million tons of ash into the air.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ash was so thick that the city of Spokane, Washington, located 250 miles from Mount Saint Helens was plunged into complete darkness. Over four inches of ash covered Yakima, Washington. 

Major ash falls occurred as far away as central Montana and ash fell visibly as far eastward as the Great Plains of the Central United States more than 930 miles away. 

The ash cloud spread across the U.S. in three days and circled the Earth in 15 days.

The blast also triggered something called a lahar which is an Indonesian term that describes a hot or cold mixture of water and rock fragments that flows down the slopes of a volcano and typically enters a river valley.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Mount Saint Helens’ case, the snowy peak melted in the initial eruption. That rush of water combined with the rock flow created a lahar. 

In the weeks leading up to May 18, people who lived near Mount St. Helens were evacuated.

The area immediately surrounding Mount St. Helens was divided into a red zone and a blue zone

Of the 57 people who died in the eruption, only one Harry Randall Truman did not have express permission to be near the mountain the day it erupted and most of the deaths actually occurred outside the boundaries of the blue zone. 

Truman, an 83-year-old man who had lived near Mount St. Helens for 54 years refused to comply with evacuation orders and leave the red zone. 

In a colorful interview with National Geographic prior to the eruption, Truman said, “I’m going to stay right here because, I’ll tell you why, my home and my (expletive) life’s here.” 

“My wife and I, we both vowed years and years ago that we’d never leave Spirit Lake. We loved it. It’s part of me and I’m part of that (expletive) mountain,” he said.

Truman’s remains were never found. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mt. St. Helens eruption 44th anniversary

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980 at 8:32 am

The volcano, located in southwestern Washington used to be a beautiful symmetrical cone about 9,600 feet above sea level.

Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!

On March 1, 1980, a new system of seismographs at the University of Washington went into operation to monitor earthquake activity in the Cascades. On March 20, it recorded a magnitude-4.2 earthquake deep beneath Mount St. Helens inaugurating a round-the-clock watch that was to save many lives. From March 25 to March 27, quakes of magnitude 4.0 rocked the mountain as many as three times a day and smaller quakes occurred several times every hour.

At 8 a.m. PST on March 27, the U.S. Geological Survey issued an official Hazard Watch for Mount St. Helens; around noon, the first eruption of steam from the summit sent a column of ash and steam 6,000 feet into the air. Twin fissures opened on the mountain’s north face.

On the morning of May 18, USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston camped on the ridge with his lasers, radioed in his regular 7 a.m. report. The changes to the bulging mountain were consistent with what had been reported several times daily since the watch began. At 8:32, a magnitude-5.1 earthquake registered on the seismographic equipment. His excited radio message, “This is it!” was followed by a stream of data. It was his last transmission; the ridge he camped on was within the direct blast zone.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 57: Lives lost
  • $1.1 billion: Damage costs
  • 9,600 feet: Height before eruption
  • 8,300 feet: Height after eruption
  • 200: Homes destroyed
  • 90 mph: Mudflows speed
  • 5,400,000 tons: Estimated ash
  • 2,200 square miles: Ash covered
  • 185 miles: Roads destroyed
  • 15 miles: Railways damaged
Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go deeper

Worth Pondering…

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)

Six Tips for Visiting the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky

The Bourbon Trail in Kentucky is a bucket list trip for whiskey lovers around the world

Kentucky is home to some of the most famous whiskey distilleries on the planet and touring them is a treat. But there are some things to know before visiting the Bourbon Trail that will make your trip hiccup-free.

Before we set out on our trip I did a ton of research and even still learned many things once we arrived. Here are the best tips for visiting the Bourbon Trail.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Bourbon Trail is not a singular trail so plan accordingly

The Bourbon Trail may sound like a singular, simple road connecting all of Kentucky’s distilleries but the distilleries are actually quite spread out. They are loosely categorized into four regions: Central (Louisville and Bardstown), Bluegrass (Lexington), Western (near Tennessee), and Northern (near Cincinnati). It’s best to organize your itinerary into those regions as well focusing on one region (or partial region) a day.

The Central and Bluegrass regions are the most popular consisting of the best-known whiskey brands. We used two bases for our touring: Grandma’s RV Park in Elizabethville (20 miles northwest of Bardstown) and Whispering Hills RV Park in Georgetown (22 miles north of Lexington).

Which leads me to my next point…

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The best way to get around the Bourbon Trail is a car—or a tour

Because the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky is so spread out the only way to get from region to region—and even distillery to distillery—is a car. Ubers and carshares are unreliable or nonexistent in the small towns and many distilleries are an hour’s drive or more from main areas like Louisville and Lexington.

3. Plan your distillery tours early and carefully

Distillery tours must be booked in advance. And a word of warning: they fill up fast, so book early! Organize the distilleries based on the area you’ll be in and keep an eye on the travel times between each one. Some are farther away than you think! Also, most require visitors to check in 15-20 minutes before the tour starts so make sure to plan extra time into your day.

If you’re planning to cover a lot of ground, divide your distilleries into different areas on different days.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Don’t forget to eat

When planning your distillery tours, don’t forget to schedule time for lunch. You don’t want to spend an entire distillery tour with your stomach growling and it’s always best not to drink on an empty stomach.

Some distilleries have on-site cafés or restaurants. Check distillery websites beforehand. One place that comes highly recommend is The Bar at Willett. It’s a beautiful place for a great cocktail and some food. But it’s no secret, so make reservations in advance. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 am.-5:30 pm.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Don’t overbook yourself

Obviously you want to see all your favorite distilleries while you’re in Kentucky but don’t overbook yourself. It’s tough to visit more than two distilleries a day because of the tour times and the distance between them.

Plus distillery fatigue is real! While distillery tours are definitely fun they require paying careful attention and some even require a lot of walking. Plus you’ll be drinking at each one. All that adds up to an exhausting day, so give yourself some down time to reflect on your adventures.

And know that it will probably take more than one trip to see all the distilleries you want.

Burton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The whiskey distilleries aren’t all the same

Even though there are distinct differences between bourbons, I half expected the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky to be similar to each other.

So I was surprised to learn that the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky are quite different from one another. Most distilleries make whiskey using a column still (typical of bourbon and rye production). And even those using column stills varied in size from Barton 1792’s 55-foot high still to Angel’s Envy’s 35 foot still. Then there are those using pot stills instead of column stills like Michter’s, Woodford Reserve, and Willett.

There were old, historic distilleries on huge campuses like Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace compared with Angel’s Envy’s modern, petite downtown distillery that looks like a cathedral. There were really good tours (like Barton 1792) and not-so-good tours (Four Roses). So every day—and every distillery—was a different experience.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. When is the best time of year to do the Bourbon Trail? 

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is open year-round except for a few weeks in the late summer (usually August) when the distilleries close for routine maintenance. Plan your trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail around this routine closure. 

Here’s a breakdown of visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail during each season: 

  • Winter: Winter is a great time to visit the distilleries if you’d like to dodge the crowds and don’t mind the cooler weather. However, if you’re planning on doing a self-guided driving tour, be prepared to potentially drive in rain, ice, and snow. 
  • Spring: Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because the crowds are still slim and the weather is pleasant. However, remember that the Kentucky Derby takes place in May and hotels and RV parks will book up quickly. Early spring is the ideal time to visit! 
  • Summer: Summer is one of the busiest (and least pleasant) times to embark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you can handle the heat and humidity, it may be tolerable. However, keep in mind the distilleries close in late August so plan your trip accordingly. 
  • Fall: Thanks to the beautiful weather, fall is the most popular season to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you’re planning an autumn distillery trip, tours will book out quickly, so book the tours you want to go on a month or so in advance. 
Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. There’s more to Kentucky than just whiskey

For whiskey nerds, it’s easy to forget that Kentucky contains more than just whiskey distilleries! Louisville is also home to Churchill Downs, the home of the famous Kentucky Derby horse race. If there’s not a race while you’re in town, you can also tour the racetrack. Or check out the Kentucky Derby museum.

Speaking of museums, there are dozens in Louisville including the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Muhammad Ali Center. There’s plenty of history in Kentucky, so seek out some historical spots in between distillery tours.

As for food, Kentucky is home to more than just fried chicken (although don’t miss that while you’re there!). It’s famous for the Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with Mornay sauce. And, the Derby Pie, a chocolate and walnut tart.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to know before you hit the Bourbon Trail

  • Book your tour reservations in advance—at least a week, if not more.
  • Leave plenty of time between tours to assure you arrive 15 minutes before your tour starts.
  • Children can attend tours as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. You must be 21 to participate in tastings.
  • Some distilleries offer samples of other products during tastings such as moonshine or vodka.
  • Some distilleries sell cocktails before and/or after tours.
  • Most distilleries sell bottles and other merchandise at their Visitor’s Centers.
  • Plan on spending at least 90 minutes at each distillery for the tour and tasting although some specialty tours may take longer.

Here are a few links to related articles I’ve previously posted on the Bourbon Trail:

Not only are there hundreds of distilleries in Kentucky, there’s plenty to do and to eat. So take your time, enjoy your trip, and keep a running list of what to do on your next visit—because your first trip likely won’t be your last!

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart

Laura S. Walker State Park Plus a Bonus

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven

Waycross is located in the heart of beautiful Southeast Georgia at the northern tip of the Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife Refuge. Waycross is a nationally-recognized Main Street City filled with Southern hospitality and charm. From the historic downtown district to the swamp lands of the Okefenokee, there is something for everyone.

The city sits on the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, the land of the trembling earth, one of Georgia’s natural wonders. Waycross is home to one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. The swamp is teeming with wildlife and flora you won’t find anywhere else. Carnivorous pitcher plants, alligators, and a seemingly endless variety of birds make Waycross the perfect place for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there is so much more to this historic town. Down-home cooking at local restaurants, comfortable accommodations, a thriving downtown business district, and a music scene that continues to draw on the city’s rich musical past make Waycross a great place to visit for everyone in the family.

But Laura S. Walker State Park was the initial reason for driving our RV 55 miles northeast of Kingsland on I-95 to Waycross.

Laura S. Walker seemed quite small when we first arrived compared to the other parks I’ve been to recently but that’s just because I didn’t realize how spread out it was.

The initial entrance gives you two options, going straight into the RV parking and their group summer camp rental or left to the picnic areas, big group shelters, and amenities.

Something this state park offers that none of the others I’ve visited is a dog park. It was fairly large too with a couple benches and a splattering of trees.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two sand volleyball courts were also in the main section of the park as well as a large playground right on the edge of the lake and exercise equipment for a full body workout.

Heading over to where the boat ramp disappears in the water there is a gazebo with a fan.

I was very excited by this and after I explored everywhere went back to it so I could enjoy sitting under it for a while. It gave me the chance to enjoy the fresh air while both having a constant breeze, albeit warm, and not having the sun blasting down on me.

As I sat and ate a snack, I could hear the laughter of the families playing in the park’s small sand beach. It’s even roped off to keep people from swimming out too far and to keep the boats from coming in too close. A disclaimer though, there are no lifeguards at this swimming spot so please make sure you are safe if you choose to swim here.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If swimming doesn’t interest you, there are two main trails at Laura S. Walker State Park, the Lake Trail and the Big Creek Nature Trail with a couple small connecting trails.

Though I didn’t make it this far on the Lake Trail (because I primarily walked the other one and then ran out of time) there is a boardwalk that passes by an egret rookery with a wildlife observation platform. That is something I would like to come back and see and photograph.

Critters and plants that can be found on the trails at Laura S. Walker State Park are snakes, alligators, pitcher plants, gopher tortoise, otters, saw palmettos, and a variety of pine and oak.

The main thing I found unique about this state park is there is one primary entrance but if you know where to go there are other parking lots around the back of the lake with a separate boat ramp, entrance to the lake trail, and more group shelters for parties.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I discovered these hidden gems on the way to take a peek at The Lakes Golf Course at Laura S. Walker State Park.

This 18-hole course features three different lakes and accommodates both junior and adult players.

After noticing the parking lot to the golf course was quite full, I didn’t want to take a parking spot for too long since I wasn’t there to golf and it was off to Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Ownership of the swamp was transferred to the State of Georgia in 1955; however, Okefenokee Association, Inc. still leases the land for the Okefenokee Swamp Park as a private non-profit.

Though the swamp was placed under permanent protection as a National Wilderness area by Congress during President Gerald Ford’s era it is not a Georgia State Park.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What it is, however, is one of Georgia’s Seven Wonders.

Covering roughly 700 square miles, Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, spanning across four counties: Ware, Charlton, Brantley, and Clinch.

25 dollars gets an adult one 45-minute train ride through the drier parts of the swamp as well as a 25-minute nature instruction.

For an extra $10 there is the option to also have a 45-minute tour through the swamp via a jon boat.

Not to mention just the landscape itself is so unique to be in. Not many places a person can be in a swamp like that and have a wild alligator only a handful of feet away from you in the water.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee also has an adventure camp as well with its own entrance on the other side, but I chose to go to the entrance that was only 10 miles from the park. I wanted to be able to get a taste of the swamp without having to spend all day there.

Maybe another year I’ll go back and explore the swamp further but I’m really glad I decided to spend a day at Laura. S. Walker State Park.

Worth Pondering…

There’s no other place in the world like the Okefenokee.

—Francis Harper

39 Best Apps for RV Travel (iOS & Android)

Apps for RV travel can come in handy on the road. From finding a place to stay to documenting your journey, chances are you will find more than one app that fits your needs.

Planning and executing the perfect RV road trip can be a challenge and having the right RV-related apps makes all the difference.

Whether you’re going on a weekend camping trip or you’re full-timing in your rig, there are numerous things to consider when you’re hitting the road in your RV. Where are you going to camp? Will there be internet? Will it rain and keep you trapped inside all weekend?

Whether you’re looking for free dispersed camping options, a place to dump your RV tanks, read campground reviews, connect with other travelers, plan your route, or check the weather there’s a mobile app or two (or three) to help you do just that. 

Keep reading for my list of favorite apps for RVing and travel.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel: Find a place to overnight

Finding a place to stay, of course, is integral to any successful RVing adventure which is why five of the 39 apps deal with finding a place to stay overnight.

Allstays: Allstays lists campgrounds, boondocking spots, BLM land, parks, attractions and more, and it shows them all on a map. You can search near you or along a route or by state and you can have the map show you everything from campgrounds to interstate rest areas to Walmarts, RV dump sites, pretty much anything an RVer needs to find.

Harvest Hosts: More than 5,100 farms, wineries, breweries, and attractions across North America are listed in this subscription service…places where RVers can stay free overnight. The app shows details, gives directions, contact numbers, photos, and reviews from other RVers. Many of the Harvest Hosts offer overnight camping in absolutely beautiful spots.

KOA: KOA is the go-to campground for many RVers. The app lets you see photos of the campground, get an idea of what amenities are available, and read reviews from other RVers who have stayed there. You can also reserve a spot from the app.

Overnight RV Parking/TogoRV: Togo RV is now integrated into Roadtrippers Premium

Cracker Barrel: The Cracker Barrel app shows Cracker Barrel locations near you or on your route, many of which allow free overnight stays in the parking lot for RVers. You can also order take-out meals from restaurants along your route allowing you to have it ready by the time you get there. Cracker barrel is very friendly to RVers usually offering parking even for big rigs.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel – Plan a trip

Whether plotting out a trip or already on the road and looking for a place to stop, these apps help you find the destinations you’ll be seeking out.

iExit: Making a pit stop for food, gas, or a bathroom break is easy when you have the iExit app. Whether you’re looking for well-known franchises like Starbucks and Walmart to convenient amenities like free Wi-Fi and truck or trailer parking, this app has you covered. It locates fuel stops, tells you the average cost per gallon, notes what restaurants and businesses are at that exit.

Yelp: Yelp can help you find restaurants, bakeries, donut shops. Pick a location and see what’s near you.

Here’s a hint: Always look for places with the best reviews, four or five stars.

Roadtrippers: This app helps you find fun and interesting things to see along your travel route. You can filter it however you want but the app covers just about every region in the country and makes some great suggestions for off-the-beaten-path exploration. Read the reviews from others who have been there and you’ll find some fun places to stop.

Waze: Waze is a community-driven travel app that shows you the shortest possible route to your destination. Like Google Maps, Waze makes real-time adjustments for traffic jams and other obstacles—but Waze is often more accurate since it caters specifically to drivers.

Yes, you may have GPS built into our RV. But Waze is hands down the best app I have found to not only navigate us to where we need to be but to show us in almost real-time things like traffic backups, speed traps, road construction, debris on the road, and other important information about what’s ahead. It’s updated by users like you who are up ahead and you’re encouraged to report issues you encounter for those behind you.

GasBuddy: GasBuddy is an app specifically designed to find nearby gas stations and save money on gas. Use it to find the cheapest gas in your area and filter gas stations by amenities like car washes, restaurants, and bathrooms.

It’s the app you want to have if you’re serious about finding the cheapest gas around. Information comes from users like you, so you have the most up-to-date prices.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel – Connect with a physician while on the road

Health care should always be a priority when you’re on the road. These apps can connect you with a physician via smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Keep in mind of course there will be costs/insurance involved.

Teladoc connects you with a board-certified doctor 24/7/ via phone or video. Teladoc physicians can diagnose, recommend treatment and prescribe medication, for many medical issues, including sore throat and stuffy nose, cold and flu symptoms, and respiratory infection. The app is free for iOS and Android with costs for connecting with a doc dependent on insurance and other factors.

Doctor On Demand allows users to connect face-to-face with a doctor through video on your smartphone or tablet. Doctor On Demand works with or without insurance and is available at reduced rates through many major health plans and large employers. Providers are licensed and board-certified. The app is free for iOS and Android with costs for connecting with a doctor dependent on insurance and other factors.

MDLive offers virtual doctor visits with board-certified physicians from wherever you are, whenever you want. Users can schedule a non-emergency appointment at a time and day that’s convenient or have an on-demand visit in around 15 minutes. The app is free for iOS and Android though there are costs for connecting with a doc dependent on insurance and other factors.

Apps for RV travel – Keep track of your family and friends

Keeping track of family members and friends you might be traveling with is important. Likewise, if you’re traveling solo, you want to make sure others know where you are located while on the road. These apps take the idea of staying connected to a whole new, safer level.

Life360 sets up small circles of friends to automatically share information such as location and arrival. You can create custom circles, too, like if a group is going on a hike or exploring and wants to keep track of each other for a short time. The app allows for chatting and sending private messages to other users. It’s free for Android and iOS.

MamaBear Family Safety: MamaBear Family Safety is designed for parents to monitor their kids’ location. But since it allows users to get updates and messages, it can easily be oriented towards RVing. For example, you could use it to check in with family back home and keep them updated as to your location without having to text or call or check-in. The app even has a panic button that can be activated if needed.

For parents, the app has a social media monitor that allows Mom and Dad to see what the kids are doing on social media. It even can be set to show their teen’s driving habits to know if they are speeding. But RVers could use those features so friends and family back home could follow their social media posts and see whether they are on the road or camped somewhere.

Apps for RV travel – Summer Safety

With the brunt of RVing during the summer it’s important to remember the elements presented by Mother Nature during the warmest time of the year. These apps help you practice even better summer safety.

OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps you take precautions against outdoor heat while working or playing. It features a real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to your location. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Waterlogged app makes sure you stay hydrated. The app tracks your water intake with minimal effort and can send reminders of when it’s time to drink water. The app is free for iOS and Android with in-app purchases for premium features.

EPA’s SunWise UV Index app provides a daily and hourly forecast of the expected intensity of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun as well as sun safety tips to help you plan your outdoor activities. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Apps for RV travel – Get help in the kitchen

I suppose you could technically dine out for every single meal you have while on the road but that doesn’t seem especially economical or super healthy. Be sure to check out these steady flows of recipes tailored to RVing as well as resources for great-tasting dishes.

Tasty Meal Planner & Cookbook offers more than 3,000 recipes right at your fingertips. The app features an innovative search tool that allows you to filter by ingredients, cuisine, and social occasion you’re in the mood for. There are even videos to help you figure it all out. The app is free for iOS and Android.

NYT Cooking browses and searches thousands of recipes from The New York Times. Recipes feature photography and easy-to-follow instructions. It sets up your own personal recipe box. Mark recipes you’ve cooked, rate recipes, and leave notes. The app is free for iOS and Android with premium features available for purchase.

Food Network Kitchen includes more than 80,000 recipes and step-by-step cooking classes. Choose from more than 50 live classes each week taught by your favorite Food Network stars, culinary experts, award-winning chefs, and surprise celebrity guests. The app is free for iOS and Android.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel – Connect with nature

Use your smartphone or tablet to (ironically) connect with nature.

Audubon Bird Guide is an app that helps you get outside and get your birdwatching on. It covers 810 species using photos instead of drawings, includes range maps, has a good selection of audio recordings including alternate calls and regional variations, and slightly more descriptive text including habitat, range, and nesting information. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Sky Guide shows a detailed picture of the heavenly bodies above as well as what’s over the horizon and on the other side of the world. The app points out constellations and their exact locations so you can look up at the real sky and find everything. The app is $2.99.

iNaturalist app helps you identify the plants and animals around you. Get connected with a community of over 400,000 scientists and naturalists who can help you learn more about nature when you document what you’ve seen. The app is free for iOS and Android.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel – Fishing apps

What’s a great RV trip without doing some fishing? We have three apps for RV travel that will help you.

Fishbrain is currently the number one fishing app serving as a personal fishing log, map, and forecasting tool. Other features explore the most effective baits and you can know exactly what you’ve caught with the app’s species recognition tool. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Fishing Points lets you save and find your favorite fishing locations and trolling paths. There are satellite views from Google Maps or you can use offline mode with nautical charts for boating whether on open seas, lakes, or rivers. The app is free for iOS and Android.

BassForce puts the expertise of the greatest bass anglers of all time right at your fingertips. Just input the conditions for your fishing day and the app’s pros will show you the specific baits that have worked for them under those exact same conditions. The app is free for iOS.

Apps for RV travel – Streaming video apps

With so many TV shows and movies available in so many different services like Netflix, Hulu, and more, keeping track of it all can be a big job—especially if you’re looking for your favorites.

JustWatch Streaming Guide lists streaming services where you can watch movies and TV for free, rent, or buy. There are nearly 40 streaming providers including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go. The app has lots of interest and genre filters and newly added shows and movies for each service. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Yidio Streaming Guide monitors major services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime as well as smaller services, delivering more than 100 in total. When you find a TV show or movie, the app will list the streaming sites that have it available. Choose one and you will be taken to their app or website to buy, rent, or watch. Some shows you can watch in-app. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Apps for RV travel – Improve your sleep

Having trouble sleeping? These apps can monitor how well you sleep—or don’t. This information can be especially useful if working with a physician to address what could be pretty serious problems.

SleepScore app tracks your sleep and shows when you sleep light, deep, and when you wake up. The app uses sonar technology so you only have to have your phone by your bedside for it to work. The app is free for iOS and Android with premium features available for purchase.

Sleep Cycle provides analysis to help you get a good night’s sleep. The app has an intelligent alarm clock designed to gently wake you up while you’re in your lightest sleep phase. It also integrates with Apple Health. The app is free for iOS and Android with premium features available for purchase.

Apps for RV travel – Weather apps

Bad weather can happen anytime. There are several apps for RV travel that will help you prepare for the worst when it comes to the potential devastation that can be brought by Mother Nature.

Drive Weather app illustrates the National Weather Service’s forecast shows weather along your route at the expected time you will be at each point on your trip. Drive Weather also compares weather on different routes allowing drivers to add stops and interactively change departure time to find the safest time to travel. The app is available for Android and iOS.

NOAA Weather Radar Live provides weather forecasts with features including a radar overlay that shows areas of rain, snow, and mixed precipitation in high resolution and vivid colors. Set your device to received alerts from the app whenever severe weather is on the way. The app is free for iOS and Android.

The Storm Radar app brings you up-to-date high-definition radar provided by NOAA. In fact, Storm Radar lets you view weather patterns up to six hours ahead of time. Allow the app to send you notifications and you won’t even have to keep checking the app for bad weather that might be on the way. The app is free for iOS and Android.

The Weather Radar app from AccuWeather goes beyond your local forecast to provide a daily snapshot of the UV index, visibility, allergy, precipitation, and air quality reports, all the information can be accessed directly via the app. Look ahead 15 days to ensure you’re prepared for any weather or use the app’s MinuteCast feature for hyper current and local forecasts. The app is free for iOS and Android.

There’s an app for that © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apps for RV travel – Petcare on the road

With so many RVers traveling with their pets, I would be remiss to not include two apps that can be useful for RVing with four-legged friends.

Pet First Aid from the American Red Cross is a first aid guide and knowledge base for owners of dogs and cats. The app provides instant access to simple first aid lessons, step-by-step guides, and how-to videos. There’s also a section for vet contact details. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Rover: Dog Sitters & Walkers is often called a Uber for dog sitters. It helps you find dog sitters near you all of whom have been vetted for trustworthiness and the service is covered by insurance. Book a pet sitter for boarding, house sitting, and doggy daycare. Sitters can use the app to provide photo updates and notifications to pet owners. The app itself is free for iOS and Android.

Apps for RV travel – Document your journey

When it’s all said and done, you may want to document your story for your records—or to share with others.

Driftr: Social Travel Platform app supports photos and videos and encourages sharing reviews and travel advice. Create your own travel blog instantly. Quickly and easily find the best places to stay, attractions, places to eat anywhere in the while taking advantage of exclusive offers. It’s helpful in planning a trip as well. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Day One Journal lets you create an entry with just one click or use one of the numerous templates. You can add data like location, weather, the music you are listening to, and more. Plus, you can embed photos and videos or even draw. And to make sure you stay consistent, you can set notifications to remind you that it’s time to journal. The app is free for iOS and Android.

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need to have all the answers. What you need to do is be curious and open-minded enough to learn.

—David Fialkow, co-founder of General Catalyst

The Otherworldly Wonderland of Rocks: Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is recognized by its whimsical rock gardens with pinnacles that reach hundreds of feet skyward. This is the homeland of the Chiricahua Apache who relied on the natural resources in the area as far back as the 1400s.

A Wonderland of Rocks is waiting for you to explore at Chiricahua National Monument. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 12,025 acre site.

About 120 miles east of Tucson, Arizona lies a sea of monolithic wonders forged in volcanic fury. Here, thousands of rocky hoodoos twist skyward under a vivid blanket of stars. The Martian-like landscape is crawling with rare creatures and abstract natural phenomena unlike any you’ve ever seen.

The Chiricahua Mountains stand shoulder to shoulder rising over 6,000 feet in silent solidarity from the surrounding Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. Driving south from Willcox, Arizona, Highway 186 is sun-faded and snaked with cracks. Beyond barbwire fences, cattle graze on what grass they can find. A solitary pickup passes us, heading to town.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We are entering Chiricahua National Monument named for the Chiricahua Mountains, homeland of the Chiricahua Apache people who lived here for generations.

Driving down the monument’s main road, I glimpse green and shady Bonita Canyon Campground at the base of a redrock wall. This is my first view of the area’s stone columns and pinnacles. The Apache reportedly called this region, The Land of Standing-Up Rocks.

Twenty-seven million years ago, a series of volcanic eruptions rapidly covered 1,200 square miles with ash. The hot ash deposits (tuff) compressed into rock—welded tuff—and as it cooled, it contracted and cracked allowing wind, water, and freeze/thaw cycles to erode these towering cylindrical shapes.

Dubbed the The Land of Standing-Up Rocks by the Apache, Chiricahua’s iconic rhyolite pillars earned it national monument status back in 1924. These otherworldly oddities—reminiscent of the orange-hued hoodoos of Utah’s Bryce Canyon—number in the thousand and were formed millions of years ago by a volcanic eruption 1,000 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens. Adding to the mystique, Chiricahua is one of Arizona’s sky islands, a prodigious mountain range that emerges from the desert like a hazy mirage.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique geological features of sky islands result in some pretty unpredictable climate conditions; think t-shirts at the lower elevations and winter coats closer to the highest peaks. And as the elevation changes, so do the ecological communities.

Located at the convergence of the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Madres, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert, Chiricahua is home to five world biomes that range from deserts and grasslands to chaparral, deciduous, and coniferous forests. It’s basically the Grand Central Station of ecosystems and it’s teeming with innumerable desert-dwelling critters and creepy crawlies.

Here’s how to best experience the starry skies, ancient lava flows, and wildlife of this Southwestern dreamscape.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cruise through Bonita Canyon

Seeing the best of Chiricahua doesn’t necessarily mean lacing up your hiking boots: Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive serves as the perfect gateway to adventure. This eight-mile drive provides access to scenic pullouts, trailheads, and Bonita Canyon Campground. Enjoy the scenic drive as it rambles through cypress, oak, and pine forests and climbs to Massai Point where you’ll gaze over a sea of trippy hoodoos, distant mountain ranges, and surrounding valleys from a 6,880-foot vantage.

Be sure to stretch your legs along the paved half-mile Massai Nature Trail. The path is outfitted with informative signs about the natural history of the area so you can depart Chiricahua with some impressive facts that give context to your photos. Oh, if you want to catch a sunset, this is the place.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be wowed under a blanket of stars

Unparalleled sunsets are a highlight in Chiricahua but that little ball of fire dropping behind distant mountain ranges is just the opening act. Chiricahua is a premier destination for astronomy tourism and it wows with spellbinding views of the crystal-clear night sky.

In 2021, Chiricahua added International Dark Sky Park status to its resume making it the 12th such stargazing destination in Arizona. Definitely stay up past your bedtime for a chance to glimpse the Milky Way in all its glory.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore hidden grottoes and towering volcanic rocks

Overall, there are 17 miles of day-use hiking trails snaking through the monument ranging from easily accessed to knee-shaking. For a panoramic view, Sugarloaf Mountain should be first on your list. The 1.8-mile moderate hike rises 7,310 feet above canyons to one of the highest points in the monument. It winds through carved tunnels and culminates at a fire lookout that offers far-reaching views in every direction.

Echo Canyon Loop is your best bet for stellar photo ops. Spanning 3.3 miles and best hiked counterclockwise (trust me on this one), Echo Canyon Loop leads you through rock pinnacles and popular areas of the monument including the grottoes and through the narrow rock wall corridors known as Wall Street.

The ultimate physical test has to be The Big Loop. Landing at the top of the list of the most strenuous trails in the monument, the 9.5-mile loop twists through mazes of rhyolite formations and it’s peppered with scenic outlooks which make the trek through those elevation changes worth the sweat. Tackling the Big Loop gets you up close and personal with the monument’s most notable (and aptly named) geologic formations like Camel’s Head, Kissing Rock, and Big Balanced Rock.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encounter some truly wild wildlife

From falcons and finches to swallows and swifts, southeastern Arizona is renowned for its avian diversity. In fact, close to 200 bird species have been documented throughout the monument. Each year, thousands of migrating birds funnel through Chiricahua highlighted by massive migrations between mid-April and mid-May.

Far from simply a birder’s paradise, Chiricahua is one of the northern hemisphere’s most biologically diverse areas. Javelina, black bear, jaguar, ocelot, whitetail deer, and the white-nosed coati (the cuter cousin of the common raccoon) are among the 71 species of mammals in the monument.

There are also 46 species of reptiles—including the western box turtle and venomous banded rattlesnake—and eight amphibian species including the smirking, striped tiger salamander that inhabits Chiricahua’s wetland areas.

Like the fauna, the flora in Chiricahua abounds. Experts cite that 1,000 plant species flourish throughout the monument including an eye-popping, sinus-destroying superbloom of desert wildflowers. For the best wildflower peeping, plan your trip for late spring or early summer.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to know before you go

Chiricahua’s busiest months are March and April but ultimately the best time to visit is between March and June or from October to November. Just remember as a rule to expect the unexpected. In Chiricahua, weather events like unpredictable thunderstorms are common in the summer monsoon season and snowstorms are a normal occurrence during winter months.

Road tripping in? Campers and RVers are allowed inside the monument boundary and in the campground but all vehicles longer than 24 feet are prohibited on Bonita Canyon Scenic Drive. The closest services are in Sunizona and Wilcox, 24 miles and 34 miles away, respectively. That’s a long way to walk for gas—especially with ocelots watching—so fuel up before you enter and keep an eye on the gauge.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Bonita Campground is the only area where camping is permitted in the monument. It has 26 individual sites and they go fast. Reserve campsites through recreation.gov. Vehicle length limit is 29 feet. The campground is equipped with flush toilets and running water but that’s about it. There are no hookups, showers, or laundry facilities and cell service is nonexistent.

Chiricahua does have a visitor center and a bookstore, but it’s not a big-box grocery store by any means. Some food items are stocked but you probably won’t see any spirulina-dusted artisan popcorn on the shelves here. There are no restaurants, either. So bring plenty of provisions and water for your trip and prepare to be awed.

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

Bird Spring Migration: Where to Go

Spring means migrating birds are on the move! Find a bird spring migration hotspot near you to see them in all their glory.

The words bird spring migration is enough to bring a gleam to any birder’s eye. Spring birding is legendary. Birds are flaunting their very best and brightest feather colors as they prepare for mating season. Their journeys take them across hundreds and even thousands of miles giving birders a chance to see a wider variety of birds. Though migratory birds can (and do) show up anywhere some spots are better than others.

Things that make an outstanding bird spring migration hotspot include:

  • Resting places before or after water crossings: Areas on the edges of large lakes, gulfs, bays, or oceans draw migrants as they rest in anticipation of their crossing or recover from their extended efforts. Some examples include Magee Marsh and Point Pelee on the shores of Lake Erie.
  • Stands of trees or water in otherwise open spaces: When birds journey across places like the Great Plains, trees or bodies of water become an immediate draw. The same goes for parks in urban places.
  • Food and fresh water: When you’re crossing a desert or a large body of salt water, there’s little food and fresh drinking water to be had. That makes places like the Dry Tortugas a real attraction for migrating birds.

I’ve gathered a list of some of the best bird spring migration hotspots across the United States. Before you go, be sure to research any fees or restrictions. Review recent eBird sightings to see what’s been showing up recently. Once you’re there, chat with other birders and find out where the action is. Finally, remember to be considerate to other birders, natural areas, and the birds.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird migration hotspots can be divided into the following five regions:

  • Gulf Coast and Southeast Bird Migration Hotspots
  • West Coast and Southwest Bird Migration Hotspots
  • Rocky Mountains and Great Plains Migratory Birds Hotspots
  • Great Lakes and Midwest Bird Migration Hotspots
  • Northeast and Atlantic Coast Bird Migration Hotspots

Since our travels that coincide with spring migrations center mostly on the Gulf Coast and the Southwest, I will focus on these two regions.

Roseate spoonbills at South Padre Island Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Coast and Southeast Bird Migration Hotspots

High Island, Texas

High Island is one of the most active spring bird migration hotspots on the Gulf coast. The whole High Island area is designed to be birder-friendly and is full of different hotspots.

Nearby: Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Point, Sabine Woods

If you need ideas, check out: World Migratory Bird Day: My 12 Favorite Birding Sites in Texas

Dauphin Island, Alabama

Dauphin Island sits just off the the coast of Alabama. It’s one of the first places that migrants make landfall after flying over the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Nearby: Fort Morgan, Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Gulf Island National Seashore

I have a helpful article on Dauphin Island: Marvelous Mobile Bay: Dauphin Island

More on birding the Alabama Gulf Coast: The Ultimate Guide to the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail

Whimbrel at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Padre Island, Texas

This is the place to go for early migrants, since it’s so far south. The best site on the island is the South Padre Island Convention Center trails.

Nearby: Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Hugh Ramsey Park, Boca Chica National Wildlife Refuge

Check this out to learn more: Discover Over 500 Bird Species in South Texas

I have an article on a Texas birding trails: World Migratory Day: Texas Birding Trails

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Remote Fort Jefferson is an amazing place to be when a fallout occurs. The only fresh water on the entire island is a small well and since all of the birds need water the well is the place to be!

Nearby: Fort Zachary Taylor (Key West), Bill Baggs Cape State Park, Everglades National Park

Little blue heron at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort De Soto County Park, Florida

The special secret that brings all the birds to this park in spring is the Mulberry bushes! The sweet fruit provides the sugar kick migratory birds need after crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The best spot is the fountain and bushes behind the Ranger’s House at East Beach.

Nearby: Sawgrass Lake Park, Lettuce Lake County Park, Circle B Bar Reserve

Here is another great birding site in Florida: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary: Land of the Giants

Sandhill cranes at Whitewater Draw, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Coast and Southwest Bird Migration Hotspots

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

This national seashore is large and you’ll need several days to really do it justice. It’s a renowned place to see Pacific Flyway migrants, especially on the outer peninsula that projects 10 miles into the ocean.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, Arizona

Arizona is known as a birder’s paradise and the San Pedro valley in spring helps prove that point. In addition to migrants keep an eye out for area specialties like the elegant trogon.

Nearby: Patagonia Lake State Park, Whitewater Draw, Madera Canyon

Here are some additional resources:

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

In winter, the thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes are the draw for birders here. In the spring, as the water dries up, migrating shorebirds take their place, joined by warblers, vireos, and flycatchers.

Nearby: Rio Grande Nature Center, La Joya Wildlife Management Area, Caballo Lake State Park

Here are some helpful resources:

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

Migrating shorebirds pass through Grays Harbor in enormous numbers each spring. Look for species like red knots which spend the winter in southern South America then fly all the way north to the Arctic Circle to breed each year.

Nearby: Ocean Shores, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Pt. Brown Jetty

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Butterbredt Spring, California

This is the place to go for warbler fans with more than 20 species regularly spotted during migration in late April to early June.

Nearby: Kern River County Park, California City Central Park, Kern River Preserve

With all the diversity to be seen among spring migrators, you might worry about how to make the most of your bird watching travels. My advice is to not stress out by trying to see everything at once but instead focus on one or two areas of travel.

Also, concentrate on several species and see if you can identify them. By comparing the birds you’re seeing to the ones you already know, you can start piecing everything together by color or size and develop birding skills that way.

The great thing about birding is that there’s no governing body to the enjoyment of bird watching.

Great kiskadee at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park/World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gather inspiration for birding and bird photography with these resources: 

Worth Pondering…

I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence―that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.

―Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir

The Grand Circle Tour

11 days, 1,500 miles, 6 National Parks, Monument Valley, adventure towns, lakes in the desert, and something about a Dead Horse Point? Yes, please. Strap your seat belts on for this one.

Millions of years of erosion have created a spectacular display of cliffs, canyons, arches, natural bridges, red slickrock, hoodos, and mountains that you will experience during your two-week travels.

The canyons, sunsets, trails, colors, and rock formations will keep your camera busy so bring lots of flash memory and batteries. And don’t forget your hiking boots.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Zion National Park

Drive from Las Vegas (168 miles) or Salt Lake City (314 miles) to Springdale, gateway to Zion National Park.

Park Fees: I recommend that you buy the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Lands Pass that covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish & Wildlife Service and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at lands managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hike Canyon Overlook Trail (1 hour, 1 mile round trip)

This short moderate hike on a well-marked trail leads to an overlook offering incredible views of lower Zion Canyon. If you time it right, the sunset will light up the whole canyon. The trailhead is at the parking lot just beyond the east entrance of the tunnel. Cross the road and begin the easy 1 mile hike. This hike is great for people who want to see a beautiful overlook of Zion that don’t necessarily like long hikes and it’s great for kids.

Return back to your accommodations by following State Route 9 back into Springdale.

Check into your campground in or near Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Zion National Park

Stop at the local market to get water and (healthy) snacks for the day. You will want a day pack to carry things in since you will be gone for the entire day.

Explore Zion Canyon (all day)

During the summer months, the shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm. Since parking at the Visitors Center inside the park can be difficult from May-October, riding the shuttle from Springdale is a better option. November through March you can actually drive in the canyon.

Shuttle stops:

  • Court of the Patriarchs (5 minutes, 0.1 mile)
  • Zion Lodge: Emerald Pools trailhead (1-3 hours; lower, 1.2 miles; middle, 2 miles; upper, 3 miles)
  • The Grotto: Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hours, 5 miles)
  • Weeping Rock: Weeping Rock trail (½ hour, 0.4 mile)
  • Big Bend: View the Angels Landing ridge trail
  • Temple of Sinawava: Riverside trail, gateway to the Narrows (1.5 hours, 2 miles)

Add a little extra adventure and incredible scenery by walking up the Virgin River Narrows a mile or two. You might want to bring an extra pair of shoes and a walking stick. The trail is the river and you are walking on slippery rocks as you go up the Narrows.

Find my complete guide to Zion National Park here.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

Leave for Bryce Canyon National Park (86 miles). Enjoy the scenic drive through Utah State Route 9 and U.S 89. Pass through historic towns and the beautiful Red Canyon.

At Bryce Canyon, visit some of the scenic overlooks. If you’re looking to relax a little, stay in or near the park. There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. 

Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse.

For sunset, I recommend Inspiration Point, Paria View, or Sunset Point and plan to arrive one-and-a-half hours before sunset for the best lighting. If you want to see mostly all of Bryce Canyon, drive or take the shuttle on the scenic loop. Its 38 miles (one way) of pure beauty and you will cover many viewpoints.

View points of the Scenic Loop:

  • Swamp Canyon
  • Piracy Pointe
  • Fairview Point
  • Aqua Canyon
  • Natural Bridge
  • Ponderosa Canyon
  • Black Birch Canyon
  • Rainbow Point
  • Yovimpa Point

Check into your campground in or near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Eat at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill and enjoy great Cowboy Entertainment. Or check out other restaurants in the area.

Find my ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Get up early and see the sun rise over Bryce Canyon. The two most popular viewpoints for sunrise are Sunrise Point and Bryce Point.

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles round trip)

This is hands-down the greatest way to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon from the canyon floor. You start by hiking down Wall Street a narrow canyon with high rock walls on either side.

Drive All American Road Scenic Byway 12 (4 hours)

This drive cuts through a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park and then follows a breathtaking scenic route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a good, paved highway but steep in spots. It descends into the Escalante Canyons region and then climbs over Boulder Mountain. From Boulder Mountain you can see the Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park. Stop at scenic turnoffs as time permits. Scenic Byway 12 ends in Torrey near the Capitol Reef National Park entrance.

Highlights of Scenic Byway 12:

  • Mossy Cave, a sneak peak of Bryce (drive past Bryce toward Tropic and there is a pullout on the right; play in the small cave and waterfall down a short half mile path
  • Kodachrome Basin (22 miles from Bryce)
  • Escalante State Park (44 miles from Bryce)
  • Calf Creek Falls (67.6 miles from Bryce)
  • Anasazi Indian Village (80.8 miles from Bryce)

Check into an RV park in Torrey or the 71-site Fruita campground in Capitol Reef National Park.

Check out the restaurants near Capitol Reef too. Torrey is so small that all you need to do is drive down the main road (SR 24) and you’ll see all of the restaurants.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is amazing in its own special way. The formations you see here you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Drive the scenic drive south from the Visitor Center.

The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile mostly paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that weather permitting are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. In every direction the views are fascinating. From the road you can see sheer sandstone cliffs, uniform layers of shale and rocks that have been lifted and folded and carved into shapes that stir the imagination. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. Entrance fees of $5 per vehicle are charged for the Scenic Drive.

Find my ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

In the afternoon begin your drive to Moab, Utah’s Adventure Capital (144 miles).

Check into an RV park in Moab or Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 6: Arches National Park

In the morning, pack a lunch and plenty of water and drive to Arches National Park to watch the sunrise over the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches (2,000 and counting). Drive North on U.S. Highway 191 from Moab for 5 miles. The turnoff for Arches will be on the East side of road. For the more adventurous, get up 1 hour before sunrise and hike the 1.5 mile trail to Delicate Arch and watch the sun rise.

Main points of interest:

  • Park Avenue
  • Balanced Rock
  • Windows Section
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  • Devils Garden
  • Landscape Arch

Eat lunch in route.

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

In the afternoon drive to Dead Horse Point State Park and to the scenic overlooks in Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park offers spectacular vistas with views of Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. From Arches, drive back to U.S. 191 and head north for about 6 miles to State Route 313 and take the signed turnoff to Dead Horse Point. Follow SR 313 for about 22 miles as it winds to the top of the plateau and then south to Dead Horse Point.

Tour Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District (2-3 hours)

Island in the Sky comprises the northern portion of Canyonlands National Park. From Dead Horse Point, return north on SR 313 for 7 miles to the junction with the Grand View Point Road and then drive the Grand View Road south into Canyonlands. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a map and information before continuing to the lookout points.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Main Points-of-interest:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grandview Point
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Green River Overlook

Return to Devils Garden Campground (Arches National Park) or Moab for the night.

Here are some helpful resources:

Day 7: Moab

Engage in one of Moab’s many adventure activities; whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, horseback riding among the red cliffs, mountain bike the slick rock trails, take a Hummer 4×4 ride over red rock trails or hike to Corona and Bow Tie Arches.

If you need ideas, check out: Moab’s Scenic Byways

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 8: Monument Valley

Drive to Monument Valley (150 miles)

This is a scenic drive; plan to stop at the historic towns and viewpoints and take some pictures.

Eat lunch en route. Drive to the Visitors Center and sign up for a Navajo guided tour through Monument Valley at Sunset. Check out the amazing overlooks East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Unique sandstone formations, red mesas and buttes surrounded by desert were used in hundreds of western movies. There is only one hiking path called Wildcat Trail (3.2 miles) that starts at the Visitors Center and loops around West Mitten Butte. At night the stars are absolutely amazing because of the remote area and no city lights.

Check into The View Campground or lodge at Monument Valley and eat dinner.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 9: Lake Powell

Leave for Lake Powell (132 miles) in the morning. Lake Powell offers one of the most beautiful views of water and red rock cliffs. Take a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural stone bridge in the world. I recommend bringing hiking shoes for the trail to Rainbow Bridge (3 miles round-trip). Click here for more information on boat tours: Eat lunch before the tour in Page, Arizona or pack one for the boat tour.

Check into Wahweep Campground and RV Park centrally located at Wahweap Marina about ¼ mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys from which to choose. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. 

Read more: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lake Powell and So Much More

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 10: Kanab and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Drive 110 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim has the most spectacular views and is surrounded with forest of Ponderosa Pines. The North Rim averages 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim! Perfect for hiking and great photos! Eat lunch and enjoy the view at the North Rim Lodge. Be aware that that State Highway 67 leading to the North Rim closes from about mid-October to mid-May due to heavy snow.

From here you can drive to Las Vegas (266 miles) for the night or stay in lodging near the Grand Canyon (77 miles).

Points of Interest on North Rim:

  • Point Imperial is often considered the greatest viewpoints on the North Rim. It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of Grand Canyon and different than other viewpoints.
  • Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a 1 mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon.
  • Cape Royal (0.6 miles round trip) is a long peninsula extending from the North Rim out over the Grand Canyon. It offers a phenomenal view perhaps the most sweeping view of any Grand Canyon vista. You can see much of it from your vehicle but the best views await those who take the short, easy stroll to the end of the cape.

Check into accommodations near the Grand Canyon.

Day 11

Drive to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or destination of your choosing. Need ideas?

Worth Pondering…

RVing and imagination—both take you anywhere you want to be.

10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2024

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

There is only one success… to be able to spend your life in your own way.

—Christopher Morley

With more than 100 books to his credit, Christopher Morley’s oeuvre includes novels and essay and poetry collections. Perhaps his best-known work is 1939’s Kitty Foyle, a novel that sold over a million copies and was adapted into a film starring Ginger Rogers.

The source of this quote, however, is a satirical novel that the American writer debuted 17 years earlier. In Where the Blue Begins, all the characters are anthropomorphized dogs starting with Gissing, the protagonist.

When three puppies fall under his care, Gissing travels to the city and attempts to earn money in various ways such as managing a department store. His adventures in the workforce remind him that accomplishments are defined by individuals, not society, and self-awareness can clarify our  unique sense of success.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March and April. Also, check out my recommendations from May 2023 and June 2023.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. One of America’s oldest settlements

Santa Fe boasts some of the most eye-catching architecture in the U.S. This historic New Mexico city, also one of America’s oldest settlements, is proud of its long heritage and celebrates it with the conservation of the adobe buildings built by the region’s Indigenous Puebloans as early as 800 AD. 

The Puebloans layered adobe onto a basic wooden framework of vigas and latillas and the Spanish later adapted the technique in the 16th century by filling wooden molds to make brick and then spreading a thin layer of adobe over the rough walls to retain the smooth rounded finish that we still admire today. Features such as covered porches (portales), arches set within interior walls (nichos) and kiva fireplaces also originated during this period.

Be sure to seek out landmark buildings such as La Fonda on the Plaza, San Miguel Chapel, and the Palace of the Governors as you stroll around. 

Here are some articles to help:

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Synchronous fireflies viewing event

With over 2,000 species found world-wide, there are only three species of synchronous fireflies that can be found in North America. Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. During this time visitors can experience an awe-inspiring display of synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate. This special and unique phenomenon is extremely popular.

The 2024 Synchronous Fireflies Viewing Event will take place May 16-25. Passes will be required to enter the park on event nights and will be awarded through a lottery system hosted through recreation.gov.

Unfortunately, Congaree is well-known for another insect that certainly isn’t as appealing as fireflies. Yep, mosquitos! So much so that they even have a Mosquito Meter above the entrance to the National Park visitor center.

The Mosquito Meter has a half-circle dial with an arrow that points to numbers 1-6.

The lowest in its range reads all clear, the midpoint reads severe, and at the top of the scale reads war zone.

Visitors laugh at the meter but a ranger told us, “It’s no joke.  Lots of folks call us up and ask what the meter says before they come out here.”  

By the way, I have a series of posts on Congaree National Park:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hoodoos galore

When May comes around in Bryce Canyon National Park, the snow is nearly gone which means the park’s main road and popular trails are likely to be open. Highs are typically in the 60s during the day, too―ideal conditions for hiking the park’s trail. Visitor numbers start to ramp up this month but it’s still early enough in the season that you’re unlikely to have to jostle for a view at the popular Bryce Point which overlooks Bryce Amphitheater, a landscape of otherworldly rock spires (called hoodoos).

With elevations reaching 9,115 feet, Bryce offers about 150 miles of visibility on a clear day. Plus, since it’s exposed to very little light pollution the park offers optimal conditions for stargazing. In fact, in 2019 the International Dark-Sky Association designated Bryce Canyon an International Dark Sky Park. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Enjoy the season in Charleston

Charleston is a year-round destination but May brings something special. Spring is turning to summer and it’s time for the beach and boats but also Spoleto and the arts. The acclaimed annual performing arts festival, Spoleto runs from May 22 to June 9. But before that, the North Charleston Arts Fest (May 1-5, 20124) highlights dance, music, theater, visual arts, and literature. Named America’s favorite city (again) in the 2023 World’s Best Awards, Charleston’s warm weather in the low 80s makes May a perfect time to explore all the city has to offer. 

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

5. Almost Heaven

Nicknamed The Mountain State and Almost Heaven (thanks to John Denver’s classic song), West Virginia is the home of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Spring is truly one of the best seasons to visit the park. In early spring before the trees leaf out, wildflowers of many colors and varieties carpet the forest floor. Later, the leaf canopy appears and you can see shades of light and dark green as the leaves mature.

Hiking, river rafting, biking, and exploring by car are some ways to enjoy New River Gorge’s 70,000 acres of land and the New River which despite its name is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Spring in Boston

Boston, the capital of Massachusetts is a vibrant city offering plenty to see and do. The weather in Boston in May tends to be cool and fresh but sunny. There also aren’t too many tourists at this time of year but everything is still bustling to a nice degree. So spring is the perfect time for exploring the city.

As part of a fun-packed Boston itinerary, you should make time to relax with a picnic among the colorful tulips on Boston Common. This lush green space in the center of the city looks stunning in May as everything starts to bloom.

Head over to nearby Quincy Market for lunch choosing from the myriad of cuisines available (opt for a lobster roll) before doing the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile tour of American Revolution points and landmarks.

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Georgia Mountains

Anyone who has spent time around charming mountain towns like the Alpine village of Helen or Blue Ridge knows that North Georgia offers a wonderful array of wilderness areas for nature lovers to explore. And May just so happens to be an excellent time to do so!

Picture this: You’re exploring the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the morning light revealing a misty haze coming off the trees of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

The white-tailed deer and black bears begin to emerge with their young and a dazzling array of birds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies flit and buzz about as they search for nectar. Wildflowers begin to crop up everywhere with native Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Honeysuckle adding sweet smells that waft on the gentle breeze.

The spring rains turn everything in these hills a brilliant verdant green, and the temperatures at this elevation (3,000+ feet) remain relatively cool because you’re still in the Deep South.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Texas Hill Country’s most getaway-worthy German town

May is the best time to head on down to Fredericksburg, Texas. The average temperatures sit right in the mid-70s during May offering cooler and calmer weather before the blistering Texas summers hit.

Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is one of the best small towns in the South. Head out to the rolling hills to discover thousands of colorful wildflower varieties. Keep an eye out for the blooming Bluebonnets while strolling the area’s meadows to catch a glimpse at one of the must-see Texas Hill Country spectacles.

Wine lovers will also be happy to visit Fredericksburg in May as there are plenty of wine tastings and tours along the famous Wine & Wildflower Wine Trail.

History buffs will also love this cute Texas town as it is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. Here, you will find elaborate exhibits illustrating the Pacific Theater with thousands of artifacts and historic machinery.

Make sure to stop in at one of the city’s unique dining venues to try some authentic Fredericksburg food. From Texas Hill Country cuisine at the Cabernet Grill to German cuisine at Der Lindenbaum, your stomach will be thanking you for visiting Fredericksburg in May.

Check out Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg for more inspiration.9. Island life.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Oceans of fun

As only established town found on Mustang Island, Port Aransas boasts countless family-oriented activities that people of all ages would enjoy.

Get the most out of the Texas coast at this original island life destination with 18 miles of shoreline featuring wide, sandy beaches. This breathtaking island offers fabulous outdoor activities from parasailing to bird watching to sport fishing, dolphin watching, and kayaking. 

As one of the cutest towns in Texas, you will find plenty of year-round festivals and activities including the famous BeachtoberFest, Texas SandFest, and the Whooping Crane Festival. If you are looking for a place to stay during your visit, there are plenty of cute coastal homes and hotels perfect for a large family vacation or a last-minute getaway.

For more ideas, check out Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Pahá Sápa (Hills that are black)

Western South Dakota’s stunning Black Hills region is a beautiful part of the U.S. to visit any time of year but May might just be the very best month of all.

Perfectly comfortable weather conditions coupled with fewer tourists than peak summer season make May the ideal time for taking on the spectacular Black Elk Peak hiking trail. Summit views from an old fire watchtower across four U.S. states are extraordinary.

Mount Rushmore is arguably South Dakota’s most famous landmark and late May marks the beginning of the iconic granite sculpture’s esteemed evening light show.

Custer is one of the most beloved U.S. State Parks, in part thanks to its amazing family-friendly, 18-mile wildlife loop drive.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

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

―Lucy Larcom