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

A southern Arizona State Parks road trip

Southern Arizona is not only about saguaro cacti and desert sunsets. Somewhat unexpectedly, the arid region also features several lakes and wetland areas teeming with fish and migratory birds. Add in majestic mountain ranges and fascinating historic sites and you have the makings of a wonderful southern Arizona state parks road trip.

In all, Arizona has 31 state park units. While much of the attention centers on high-profile parks including Red Rock and Slide Rock near Sedona and the Phoenix-area Lost Dutchman, the parks near the southern Arizona community of Tucson along with those in the southwestern corner of the state shine brightly as well. A number of southern park beauties seemed to be fairly unknown to the rest of the state.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

Beaches in Arizona are admittedly few and far between and for a sandy swimming beach less than a half-hour drive northeast of the Arizona/Mexico border town of Nogales locals flock to Patagonia Lake State Park. Considered a hidden treasure of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a manmade body of water created by the damming of Sonoita Creek. The 265-acre lake cuts a vivid blue swath through the region’s brown and amber hills.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with swimming which is popular throughout the warm-weather months, Patagonia Lake offers boating, fishing, waterskiing, a picnic area with ramadas, tables, and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, a marina, and bird-watching. Its unique arched bridge that rises over a lake channel is a great place to spot birds in the reeds along the shoreline or just enjoy the warm breeze. Hikers can also stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a unique place to stay in the area, the park features a campground and seven camping cabins with beautiful views of the lake. The 105 developed campsites offer a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $15-$20 per vehicle; camping fee $27-$30 per night

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Located downstream from Patagonia Lake along the lower Sonoita Creek, the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area is its own entity within the Arizona State Parks system and has an identity of its own as a world-class birding area. The lower Sonoita Creek, a perennial tributary of the Santa Cruz River has a well-developed riparian forest that fosters a great diversity of birds and other wildlife. The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area consists of thousands of acres and includes a trail easement that connects it to Patagonia Lake State Park.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of trails are available for hiking and eight miles of trails are shared with equestrians.  A 1.5-mile hike of moderate difficulty called the “Overlook Trail” is close to Patagonia Lake State Park and is a great way to see 360 degrees of spectacular scenery. Most of the trails are more remote and the shortest round trip hike to the creek is three miles on the Sonoita Creek Trail. At all times of the year, boots with good traction, sun protection, food, and water are recommended. The minimum elevation change on any route is 300 feet.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area has been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. During the spring migration from late January through early April, a guided bird walk could yield sightings of more than 60 species and the complete bird list consists of more than 300 species. One of the most sought-after birds is the elegant trogon which might be seen between November and March. Ducks, rails, raptors, and flycatchers are commonly sighted. Other animals in the area include creek squirrels, coatis, raccoons, skunks, deer, snakes, javelina, jackrabbits, and an occasional bobcat or mountain lion.

The Sonoita Creek State Natural Area’s visitor center is located within Patagonia Lake State Park and entry fees for the lake include the use of the natural area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located within minutes of the Tucson metro area, Catalina State Park makes a convenient place to camp while exploring the city and its iconic national park, Saguaro National Park. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. The campground is located in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers birding opportunities and spectacular dusk and dawn views.

Related: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; camping fee $30 per night

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

From military conquests to ranching endeavors to mining claims, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park runs the gamut of early Arizona history. The story of New Spain’s presidios (forts) is a unique one and Tubac’s primary purpose is to preserve the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in Arizona—San Ignacio de Tubac established in 1752. Tubac is one of few such sites that remain and its historic significance is heightened by the rarity of presidio sites.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, a walk through the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park includes not just the history of the New Spain fort but also of the people who came afterward to live and work in the region. Along with the ruins of the fort the park preserves the 1885 Territorial Schoolhouse, the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio Museum houses interpretive exhibits with many original artifacts and the original Washington Printing Press that printed Arizona’s first newspaper in 1859. The Visitor Center contains Spanish/Mexican-influenced furnishings and an artist mural of the Presidio, a model of the Presidio, historic maps, and a seven-minute video presentation that gives a brief history of the village of Tuba.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of birds can be spotted on the grounds, including roadrunners. Although large mammal sightings at the park during park hours are rare, the Anza Trail passes through the park, and visitors can catch glimpses of javelinas, deer, and coyotes.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is just one aspect of the artsy community of Tubac. The village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are interested in exploring more of the area around Tubac, Tumacácori National Historic Park preserves the ruins of three Spanish mission communities and is less than five miles from Tubac. These abandoned ruins include San José de Tumacácori, Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi, and San Cayetano de Calabazas.

Related: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

For most, the name Tombstone conjures up images of the Wild West and the gunfights that occurred there. Certainly, Tombstone is known as the site of a bloody gunfight that occurred at the O.K. Corral Livery & Feed in 1881 that killed three and wounded three others. The legend of the shootout has lasted through the centuries and spawned numerous Hollywood movies.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a deeper understanding of the town and the region is available at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The two-story courthouse designed in the Victorian style was constructed of red brick in 1882. The courthouse, a splendid example of territorial architecture, continued to serve as a county facility until 1931 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the old courthouse houses information on the gunfight at the O.K. Corral along with artifacts from Tombstone’s mining past including a saloon and gaming room, a period sheriff’s office, and a period lawyer’s office and courtroom. Outside in the courtyard is a reproduction gallows—the site where many convicted murderers met their fate.

Boothill, Quartzsite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Schieffelin Monument is the last resting place of Ed Schieffelin, the prospector who discovered the mineral deposits that triggered the Tombstone silver boom in 1877. Located in the beautiful high desert 3 miles northwest of Tombstone, the Monument is now part of the Tombstone Courthouse State Park. It is a place where you can feel a direct connection to the Old West days of Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.”

Park Entrance Fee: $7 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Located in the far southwestern corner of the state, the Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma. Ocean vessels brought supplies around the Baja Peninsula from California to Port Isabel, near the mouth of the Colorado. From there, the cargo was loaded onto smaller steamships and brought upstream to Yuma. The purpose of the depot was to store six months’ worth of supplies for the forts in the area. The depot operated from 1864 until 1883 when the arrival of the railroad made the long steamship route unnecessary.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. Made of adobe, essentially mud and plant material, they have survived well in Yuma’s dry climate. In fact, since their original construction, the buildings have been used by the Weather Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Signal Corps, the Border Survey, and the Yuma County Water Users Association as recently as the late 1980s.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Colorado River State Historic Park preserves the history of the facility while providing additional information about Yuma as a Colorado River community and the engineering behind one of its impressive canal systems. The park’s visitor center features an exhibit on the military history of the Yuma Quartermaster Depot and includes a model depicting the depot’s appearance in 1872. The park is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Related: Winter Hiking in Arizona State Parks

Park Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

Sitting on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River, 3 miles west of the confluence of the Colorado and the historic Gila River, stand the ruins of Arizona’s famous Territorial Prison.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fans of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures know it as “Hell Hole Prison” for the dark and twisted tales which linger long after the last inmates occupied this first prison of the Arizona Territory. For many others, the 1957 and 2007 films “3:10 to Yuma” are what bring this “Hell Hole Prison” to mind.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is open, welcoming convicts of another kind —those guilty of having a curiosity for what it was like to work and live inside the prison walls. The cells, main gate, and guard tower are still standing providing visitors with a glimpse of convict life in the Southwest over a century ago. Turn yourself in for a fascinating experience, which includes a look into “The Dark Cell” and a look back at the men AND women who served hard times in Yuma.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, you don’t have to wait until 3:10; the park is open from 9 am -5 pm so stop in and take a walk through a big slice of the history of the Old West. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Park Entrance Fee: $8 per vehicle; no overnight parking is permitted

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

The Top 10 in 2021

Today, I’m delighted to bring you RVing with Rex’s Best of 2021: a collection of articles about RVing and the RV Lifestyle

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.
—Brad Paisley

Hello, RVing friends! The year has turned over and another 12 months of RVing, photography, hiking, and birding has crept by.

I tried to squeeze in all of the things I didn’t get to do this year into the last remaining days of 2021. Truth be told, we weren’t able to do a lot of things.

We can all agree this was a year like no other, at times feeling like a refugee from reality.

Sonoran Desert near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who is pumped for 2022???

(cicadas chirp loudly)

Yeah, that seems to be the general vibe. While a new calendar year typically means exciting new opportunities, a chance for a fresh start, 2022 feels like it could just be another disappointing sequel to 2020 and 2021.

Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It makes sense—we’re all beaten down. We’ve socially distanced, worn masks, Zoomed into important events for what seems like an eternity. And each time we made progress toward normalcy a new variant came along and pushed us back into the Twilight Zone.

As each new variant arrived, lockdowns and quarantines returned. We circled back to the same old, same old, expecting different results.

Related: Best of 2020: Top 10 RVing Articles of 2020

I don’t have a feeling next year is going to be different, better.

Farmers Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some day in the future, this thing will transition into an endemic virus and we can go back to talking about all the things we talked about before COVID, like…yeah, I forget too.

As the year mercifully comes to a close, RVing with Rex celebrates the must-reads that you loved the most over the past 12 months. I’ll start off by doing a sincere thank you so much for reading this year and returning frequently to read my latest articles. Thank you for your continuing support!

The End is almost here!

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is article # 1,065 since my first post on January 16, 2019. Okay, the end isn’t near, but the end of the year is almost here, and it’s time to think about wrap-ups as 2020 draws to a close. The end of the year is the traditional time for doing a summary and some reflection.

Looking back there were certain events and articles that kindled reader interest.

Related: Top 10 RV Travel Tips of All Time

It’s always fascinating to look back and see what stories enjoyed the most readership and interest that year. The results often confound my expectations.

Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I check my readership data for several important reasons. First and foremost, I want to keep my finger on the pulse of what my readers actually want to read. While it’s tempting to assume I know what you want to read—my gut and personal preferences have some definite opinions—but the data is the reality.

This is actually a relief as it gives me a concrete direction on what types of content to focus on going forward. I can’t always provide the content that’s most wanted as I attempt to keep the blog well-rounded and offer something for all RVers—and wannabes—but the readership data is a fantastic guide.

Kentucky Artisan Center, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RVing with Rex would like to wish its readers a safe and happy New Year.

Here are the top 10 most read and most popular RVing with Rex posts of the year, listed in the order of their readership numbers.

The top 10 most popular articles of 2021 were…

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Absolutely Best Road Trips from Houston

Texas lends itself well to adventure

Originally Posted: March 17, 2020

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. 10 Amazing Places to RV in January

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

Originally Posted: January 4, 2021

Related: Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The Real Florida Comes Alive at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This state park offers many opportunities to observe the Real Florida and its wildlife

Originally Posted: January 13, 2021

Travel trailer at Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Pros and Cons of Buying a Travel Trailer

A travel trailer offers the amenities of a home with the portability of a trailer

Originally Posted: August 8, 2020

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

If you’re planning on snowbird RVing this winter consider one of these state parks. They all offer warm weather and beautiful views of the Gulf or Technicolor deserts.

Originally Posted: January 5, 2021

Related: Top 10 State Parks to Visit

Truth BBQ, Brennan, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Everything a foodie should know about the Lone Star State

Originally Posted: January 20, 2021

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. National Monuments Feature Places for Reflection and Hope

From the legacy of ancient peoples to Colonial times

Originally Posted: January 18, 2021

Tiffin motorhome at Jackson Riviera Casino RV Park, Jackson, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. THOR Buys Tiffin Motorhomes: What Happens Next?

THOR Industries Buys Tiffin Motorhomes

Originally Posted: January 16, 2021

Buckhorn Lake RV Park, Kerrville, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Announcing the Absolutely Best Campgrounds and RV Parks for 2021

Explore this guide to find some of the best camping locations across America

Originally Posted: January 3, 2021

And the most popular article of 2020 is…

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Absolutely Best Road Trip from LA to the Grand Canyon

This road trip goes from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to Prescott to Williams to the Grand Canyon to Mojave National Preserve and back to LA

Originally Posted: July 26, 2020

A Happy New Year to all my readers. Best wishes for 2022. Find what brings you joy and go there.

Fountain Hills, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May the months ahead be filled with great RVing experiences! Remember, the journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing. Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Worth Pondering…

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,

The flying cloud, the frosty light,

The year is dying in the night.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow,

The year is going, let him go.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Take a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day

First Day Hikes are a healthy way to start 2022 and a chance to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature, and connect with friends

Usher in 2022 with other outdoor lovers at one of the many First Day Hikes offered on January 1 at state parks and forests across America.

On New Year’s Day, park rangers across the country are inviting Americans to start 2022 with inspiring First Day Hikes. First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states. Families across America will participate in First Day Hikes, getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.

America’s State Parks will help capture the collective strength and importance of the great park systems developed in the 50 states. With 10,234 units and more than 759 million visits, America’s State Parks works to enhance the quality of life.

Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to foster healthy lifestyles and promote year-round recreation at state parks.

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers. The distance and rigor vary from park to park but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks

Spend the first day of the year in a state park and kick off the year on a healthy note. There are fun activities for all including hikes, tours, boat rides, and even s’mores! Remember to wear the appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, a camera, and your sense of adventure.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park: Meet at the West Lagoon parking lot. The guided 3-mile birding and nature hike will go along the riparian area of the Verde River and around the edges of the lagoons to look for evidence of beaver, otter, waterfowl, and other wildlife found in the park. Enjoy cookies prior to the hike.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park: Start the year off right with a moderate hike on Treasure Loop Trail. Be ready for rocky terrain with a 500-foot elevation gain over 2.4 miles. Bring your water bottle, sturdy shoes, and cameras. A guiding ranger will answer questions you’ve always wanted to ask about the landscape around you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park: Hike the Calloway trail up to an overlook below the face of Picacho Peak. This trail is moderately difficult. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring water. Elevation gain will be 300 feet, 1.5 miles round-trip, and roughly 1.5 hours. Meet at Harrington Loop.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park: Learn about Sedona’s diverse and beautiful bird species while taking a stroll through this gorgeous park with a veteran bird enthusiast. Bring binoculars to get the most out of the experience. The hike lasts approximately two hours. Meet at the Visitor Center rooftop.

Related: Hiking Arizona

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California State Parks

More than 40 state parks and over 50 guided hikes will take place across the state in this National-led effort by the First Day Hikes program which encourages individuals and families to experience the beautiful natural and cultural resources found in the outdoors so that they may be inspired to take advantage of these treasures throughout the year.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Starting at the Visitor Center, explore desert plants, crypto-biotic crust, and signs of animals as you walk cross-country to the ½-mile Panorama Overlook Trail. Ascend by switch-backs about 200 feet up the moderate-strenuous trail to a scenic overlook of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point. At the viewpoint, reflect on your new year with a lighthearted introspection guided by a Park Interpretive Specialist. Walk down the mountain as the sun sets on your first day of 2022.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks

In Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, more than 40 guided treks will encourage friends and families to connect with nature and each other. Outings range from a kid-friendly stroll through Mistletoe State Park’s campground, a hike along the banks of the Suwanee River in Stephen C. Foster State Park, a 3-mile hike through Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, and even a night hike at Reed Bingham State Park.

Related: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

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

During winter, hikers will notice interesting tree shapes, small streams, and rock outcrops that are normally hidden by summer’s foliage. Many guided hikes are dog-friendly and visitors are welcome to bring picnics to enjoy before or after their adventure. First Day Hikes are listed on GaStateParks.org.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina State Parks

Kick-off the New Year with fresh air and family-friendly fun on a First Day Hike in South Carolina State Parks. More than 40 ranger-led hikes are scheduled across the state with most parks offering half-mile to 3-mile guided adventures for all ages and skill levels.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All participating hikers will receive an official First Day Hike sticker.

First Day Hikes will also jumpstart a new initiative in South Carolina State Parks. Beginning January 1, use #StepsInSCStateParks to share your walking, hiking, or other active adventures any time you’re visiting a park. The year-long promotion aims to encourage more visitors to get moving in South Carolina State Parks.

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the park enthusiasts who want to visit as many parks as they can on January 1, you can squeeze in four hikes by following the First Day Dash schedule:  

  • Start the day at 9:00 a.m. with a hike on the 1.25-mile Interpretive Trail at Lake Warren State Park
  • Head north to the Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site for an easy 1-mile hike on the Battlefield Trail at 11
  • Cruise over to Barnwell State Park for a 1.5-mile hike along the Dogwood Nature Trail at 1:00 pm
  • Finally, finish your day on the 1.5-mile Jungle Trail at Aiken State Park at 3:00 pm
Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other First Day Hikes include a wildflower walk at Oconee Station State Historic Site, stepping into Revolutionary War history on a walk at the Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, and hunting for fossils and shells during low tide at Edisto Beach State Park.

Other events happening at parks around the state on January 1 include a ranger-guided walk on the beach at Edisto Beach State Park and an easy 1.5-mile ranger-guided hike before along the lagoon at Hunting Island State Park.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks

As New Year’s Eve merriment gives way to New Year’s Day, start 2022 in the great outdoors. Over the years, First Day Hikes have become a tradition at Texas State Parks and across the country.

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

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Enchanted Rock hosts three guided summit hikes at 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:45 p.m. The park is located at 16710 RR 965 between Llano and Fredericksburg. The two-hour hikes will be led by a park ranger or knowledgeable volunteer. Meet at the gazebo at the start of the Summit Trail.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedts

Pedernales Falls State Park: Located east of Johnson City at 2585 Park Road 6026, Pedernales Falls offers two guided hike options. The first is the Pedernales Falls and Beyond hike which starts at 9 a.m. in the Falls Parking Lot. It’s a 2-mile, moderate hike. The half-mile, moderate Twin Falls Nature Trail hike starts at noon from the Twin Falls trailhead. The park is also hosting a First Day Campfire at 3 p.m. at Campsite 68.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia State Parks

Set the tone for a fantastic 2022 with a New Year’s Day hike in one of Virginia’s State Parks. First Day Hikes are a great opportunity to improve one’s physical, mental, and social health, and what better way to start the New Year than by connecting with nature. State parks offer iconic and beautiful outdoor places that support healthy, affordable, physical, and social activities.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park: Join the Friends of Shenandoah River for a hike celebrating the New Year. Bring your family and leashed pets to Shenandoah River State Park for a hike on the Cottonwood Trail. The Cottonwood trail is about 1.5 miles long with little change in elevation. The loop at the end of the trail is a raised boardwalk but the rest can be muddy in wet weather. The Friends Group will lead the hike and provide light refreshments in the Massanutten Building. The parking fee is waived on January 1.

Conquering a challenging trail on the first day of the year will keep you motivated towards tackling even the toughest goals throughout the year.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir, Steep Trails, 1918

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

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

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

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

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

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

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

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

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

Hoover Dan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

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

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

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

Last year at this time, these were the most popular articles:

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

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

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

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

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

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

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

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

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

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

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

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

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Will Rogers

10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

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

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

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

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale

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

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, far West Texas

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

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, near Beaumont

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

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

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg

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

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

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

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, near Rockport

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

Related: Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, near Mission

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

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

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

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi

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

Related: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin

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

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, near Pecos

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

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Holly Jolly Jekyll

Discover holiday lights and magical sights on Jekyll Island

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.” Today, it sits a short drive from Savannah with more than 10 miles of beaches, a historic landmark district, golf courses, and state park-protected land that includes a campground.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island was named Money Magazine’s #1 Place to Go in the U.S. in 2019. It also houses a sea turtle rescue center and has been the filming location for films like X-Men: First Class, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and The Walking Dead.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island packs a lot of action into its small seven-by-two-mile border. One of the four Barrier Islands that are accessible by car, this tucked-away gem off the coast of Georgia is a favorite vacationing spot. Plus it offers the best of nearby historic Savannah (1½ hours away) and Florida beaches (one hour away).

duBignon Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature lovers will feel right at home with eight miles of beaches, 20 miles of hiking trails, and a flat landscape all well within reach, making the area ideal for casual walking and biking. The Historic District surrounding the Jekyll Island Club—featuring 200 acres of buildings dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the town was developed—helped it join the ranks of the most beautiful small towns in America, according to Architectural Digest.

GoodyearCottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to take in the lights from the comfort of your own vehicle? Follow Jekyll Island’s Self-Guided Light Tour map to see some of the island’s best light displays. (Be sure to follow traffic patterns and tour signs and remain in your vehicle while snapping photos of your favorite twinkling lights.)

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tap into your competitive spirit while celebrating the holiday season at Peppermint Land at Jekyll Island Mini Golf. Take a walk down peppermint lane and enjoy one or both of the 18-hole courses while surrounded by life-size gumdrops, peppermint sticks, gingerbread friends, and more.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

(Pro tip: If you play into the evening, you can also enjoy all the twinkling holiday lights!)  Or round up your group for the free Holly Jolly Drive-in Movie (December 12 and 19) to enjoy a special screening of the original “Frosty the Snowman” movie in the Jekyll Island Convention Center parking lot. Find your spot, wave hello to Santa on his big red fire truck, and tune in to the movie using your car radio. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, need to pick up some last-minute gifts? For holiday shopping, stroll through the beautifully decorated historic Goodyear Cottage which transforms into the Merry Artists Holiday Market showcasing one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces by local artists and makers—perfect for one-of-a-kind presents. Gift certificates are available for purchase.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or pop into the Holly Jolly Trading Post to pick up your Holly Jolly Jekyll season novelties and collectibles and enjoy Christmas candies and warm holiday beverages while you stroll.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without a joyous parade. During the Holly Jolly Jekyll Light Parade (December 4), find your spot in the beachfront spectator areas to watch as Santa and his friends make their way beachside in a variety of golf carts and vintage vehicles—all lit up in their holiday best. 
For a nighttime celebration, ooh and aah at holiday fireworks (December 11 and 18) launching near Beach Village. Park beachside and watch the free show from your car to stay warm and cozy while taking in the spectacular sights. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If adventure is calling your name, infuse some excitement into your holiday vacation with outdoor activities on Jekyll Island’s beaches. 

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Show your daring side during the new Cold-Stunned Plunge (November 27) as you run into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. This fun (and frigid) fundraising event benefits the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on behalf of the Jekyll Island Foundation. Many sea turtles get caught in hypothermic water temperatures during winter months and your support assists cold-stun rehabilitation and recovery. Mascot Scute C. Turtle and friends will cheer on participants and hang around for festive photos. Take the plunge, raise some funds, and receive a commemorative T-shirt for your good deed. 

Related: 10 Cool Buildings for a Cross-country Road Trip

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride into this holiday season with a one-hour horse ride on the beach (November 26-January 2)! The horses will be decked out for Christmas in Santa hats and jingle bells and ready for their photo-op. Come enjoy some holiday tunes while sharing a candy cane treat with them!

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

The Ultimate Guide to Camping in the Southwest

A road trip through the American Southwest is of the most iconic road trips in the country. Here’s what you need to know!

Picture it: craggy, towering, red-rock formations in every direction. You’re hiking through narrow slot canyons, down verdant riverbeds, and along snow-capped mountains. You’re identifying a variety of cacti—from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. Citrus-colored sunrises and sunsets define the days’ end. Inky night skies sparkling with stars are worth staying up through the night. The open road rambles on as far as the eye can see.

Driving an RV in Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is RVing in the American Southwest! It’s arguably wilder than anywhere else in the country and requires a bit more preparation and know-how than your average destination.

Feeling intimidated? Not to worry, you’re in the right place. Prepping starts right here, right now, so let’s dive in.

Apache Trail, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning your trip

Before we begin, be sure to prep your RV for travel; inspect your RV tires, belts, hoses, check for leaks, you name it. That’s done? Great—now we’re really ready.

Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step one: Find your route

Map out your destinations prior to hitting the road. In the Southwest, national parks and monuments, state parks, and other must-see places can sit hundreds of miles apart across arid landscapes with limited services in between.

Related: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Step two: Find a camp

Once you’ve mapped out your route and your destinations, it’s time to plan where you’ll spend your nights. Make sure you know the maximum length of your RV, towed vehicle, and tow hitch combined. The last thing you want is to drive all day to a campsite that’s too short for your setup. In national parks, the average campsite length is 27 feet but you may find some that go up to 40. Be sure to make reservations especially in high seasons. Many campgrounds and RV parks are fully booked months in advance.

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

Step three: Take it slow

If you’re new to RVing, know that traveling in an RV takes longer. Don’t plot out your trips like you would in your car. You’ll rarely exceed 60 mph so plan to drive fewer miles in a day. Give yourself plenty of time to make stops for fuel, food, and rest breaks. Start long driving days early so you’ll arrive at the campground in time to set up and enjoy a desert sunset while toasting marshmallows around the campfire. Arriving early allows time to enjoy your surroundings and helps you avoid disturbing other campers after dark.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water, lots of water

In the Southwest, this is rule number one: water for you, your pets, and your vehicle. The heat of the Southwest is unforgiving from giving you a dehydration headache to an overheated engine.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many national parks including Grand Canyon and Arches have free water-refilling stations at their visitor centers. Use them. In this dry climate, water is crucial.

Related: Five National Parks to Visit on the Ultimate Southwestern Desert Road Trip

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good rule of thumb for gauging water needs: One gallon of water per person per day. Fill up the fresh water tank in your RV before hitting the road. If you’re boondocking, double the water you think you’ll need.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip: If your engine begins to overheat turn off the A/C especially on steep grades. If necessary find a safe place to pull over and inspect coolant levels, fans, and any possible obstructions. About a half-cup of clean, air-temperature water (not cold; that can crack a hot engine block) added to the coolant tank can help get you to an auto repair shop. This is not a fix, it’s a Band-Aid. Use extreme care when removing the cap as pressure and hot steam may be released.

Date palm groove, Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First aid, for you and your pets and your RV

Know that heat can mess with tire pressure, too. And any responsible RVer will want to travel with a first-aid kit, tool kit, fire extinguisher, coolant, and oil.

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

A weatherproof wardrobe

Then there’s your clothes closet. When packing for your Southwest trip, bring layers—the temperatures in the desert can vary 30 to 40 degrees in a single day.

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

Cool, moisture-wicking clothes work well in the heat and then you can add layers at night or higher elevations. It’s not all low-lying desert in the Southwest (Arizona, for example, has an average elevation of 4,000 feet), and high-desert temperatures can plummet when the sun goes down. There can be snow flurries in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon while the temperature in the Sonoran Desert reaches 75 to 80 degrees.

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

What to see in the Southwest

You likely know the big national parks of the Southwest. Bucket-list destinations like Arches, Zion, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon attract millions of visitors a year. Although these spots shouldn’t be overlooked, lesser-known parks like Capitol Reef or Petrified Forest might get you closer to the quiet solitude you desire.

Related: Stunningly Beautiful Places in the Southwest

Canyonlands National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t forget the many state parks, national monuments, and national forests, either! Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Dead Horse Point State Park, Escalante-Petrified Forest State Park, Coconino National Forest…the list goes on. These lesser-known locations offer less-crowded trails, incredible photo ops, and easier social distancing.

Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are over 60 NPS sites in the Southwest and the NPS’ annual America the Beautiful Pass ($80) pays for itself after visiting just a few. But if you plan to spend an abundance of time in one state, consider purchasing that state’s parks pass. Utah, for example, has more than 40 state parks making the $150 pass a good value if they’re serving as your main playground. And, yes, Utah’s state parks have just about all the iconic Southwest landscapes you can imagine.

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

Where to camp in the Southwest

If your heart is set on staying at one of the crown jewels of the Southwest, book early. Reservations for most national parks can be made six months prior to your arrival date and you’ll need every day of that especially if your RV exceeds 27 feet as larger campsites are limited. Find more campgrounds in national forests or on Army Corps of Engineers land. Other camping options include private RV parks and resorts.

Tombstone, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A huge advantage to RVing the Southwest is the availability of boondocking options. There are hundreds of millions of acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in this region and much of it is open for dispersed camping. Arizona alone is 38 percent federal land. Never mind Nevada, which is 85 percent. To find dispersed campsites, stop at the local BLM office ask at just about any local visitor center.

Related: 10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Cedar Breaks National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip: If you’re interested in boondocking in the Southwest consider solar panels to maximize your RV’s off-grid range. Put all that desert sunshine to good use! Solar is an investment upfront but allows you to boondock off-grid at length, saving money on campsites over time.

Zion National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seasonal considerations in the Southwest

The American Southwest ranges from the lowest point in the US to some of the highest peaks in the lower 48. This diversity creates a variety of weather conditions with the changing of seasons. Here’s a brief rundown on what to expect:

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer: Be prepared for temperatures well above 100 degrees in the low-lying desert regions of Southern California and Arizona. Expect temps into the 90s for most other regions of the Southwest.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter: Desert winters can be surprisingly chilly. As you reach higher elevations (Cedar Breaks National Monument, for example, sits at 10,000 feet), don’t be surprised to find snow and freezing temperatures. Be prepared with tools for snow removal and be ready to protect your RV pipes hoses from freezing.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall: Fall arrives late in the Southwest usually around early November. It brings with it stunning fall colors in places like Sedona, Flagstaff, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, and Carson National Forest.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring: Traveling in the Southwest in the spring—think March and April—provides an opportunity to experience fields of wildflowers especially when it follows a wet winter. Check out places like Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Picacho Peak State Park for desert blooms.

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah/Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To boost your luck at nabbing a quiet campsite and a quiet everything else, travel in the shoulder seasons and avoid holidays and weekends when possible. That aside, any time of year will make for a memorable RV trip in the American Southwest. But it’s proper planning for that trip that will make it comfortable, too.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

The Best RV Camping November 2021

Explore the guide to find some of the best in November camping across America

But where should you park your RV? With so many options out there you may be overwhelmed with the number of locales calling your name.

Here are 10 of the top locations to explore in November. RVing with Rex selected this list of 5 star RV resorts from parks personally visited.

Related: 12 Unspoken Etiquette Rules of RV Camping

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly RV park recommendations for the best places to camp in September and October.

Wahweep RV Park and Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort.

Wahweep RV Park and Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barnyard RV Park, Lexington, South Carolina

Barnyard RV Park offers 129 level and grassy sites with paved interior roads. All sites include water, sewer, electric (30 and 50 amp), and cable TV. Most sites are pull-through and can accommodate large units including a tow car. Amenities include bath and laundry facilities, Wi-Fi available at the site, and a dog park.

Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barnyard RV Park is located 8 miles from downtown Columbia. From Interstate 20, take Exit 111 west on US-1 to the park. On weekends, experience Southern hospitality at the huge Barnyard Flea Market. The RV Park is located behind the Flea Market.

Katy Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Katy Lake RV Resort, Katy, Texas

Katy Lake RV Resort is situated on 18 acres surrounding a 6-acre lake nestled in the heart of West Houston. Katy Lake offers lake-view drive-in and back-in sites 45 feet in length. Other site types include pull-through (65 feet), premium pull-through (85 feet), and covered.

Katy Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amenities include 30/50-amp electric service, water, sewer, cable TV, Wi-Fi, activity center, exercise room, dog park/dog washing station, walking/jogging trail, walk-in pool with hot tub, concrete streets, sites, and patios.

Related: A Dozen Spectacular RV Parks for Winter Camping

Eagles Landing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagles Landing RV Park, Auburn, Alabama

Eagles Landing RV Park is located near Auburn University; a mile from campus and just under 2 miles from Jordan-Hare stadium. This puts the park close enough to the action to enjoy the city but just far enough to be able to enjoy a comfortable and quiet country setting.

Eagles Landing RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV site offerings include everything from large concrete pull-through to gravel back-in. Shady sites are also available and you also have a wide selection of hookup options ranging from basic to full service with the 50-amp power source.

Hacienda RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Hacienda RV Resort is located off the I-10, exit 140, in Las Cruces, 1.5 miles from Historic Old Mesilla. Hacienda offers paved roads leading to 113 spacious RV sites with a variety of sizes and layouts with many boasting breathtaking views of the Organ Mountains. Relax in the large outdoor patio with a wood-burning fireplace or enjoy the comfortable southwestern community clubhouse with an indoor fireplace, workout facility, and gift shop.

Hacienda RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park amenities include 30/50 amp service with full hookup (electric, water, and sewer), private showers/dressing rooms with hairdryers, free cable TV, high-speed Wi-Fi, and a large, enclosed dog run. Choose from pull-through sites (55– 59 feet), back-in sites (34–36 feet), extra-long back-in sites (52–53 feet), and extra-long, big-rig pull-through sites (69–130 feet).

RV Park at Rolling Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino and Resort, Corning, California

The RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino is an easy-on, easy-off (I-5; Exit 628) 96-space RV park with long pull-through sites (up to 75 feet in length) with 30/50 amp electric service, water, and sewer conveniently located. All spaces are pull-through. Wi-Fi access is available over most of the park. The RV Park is within an easy walk of the Casino and golf course. Laundry facilities are available nearby at the Traveler’s Clubhouse. The site is safe and secure with the 24-hour patrol.

Lake City RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake City RV Park, Lake City, Florida

Located at the crossroads of I-75 and I-10, Lake City is a 24-acre RV park with 67 pull-through sites. A pleasant campground with most sites under the live oak and Spanish moss, Lake City are big-rig friendly with sites in the 75-foot range and utilities centrally located. Amenities include complimentary cable TV and Wi-Fi, 24-hour laundry facility, large clubhouse with commercial kitchen, and dog run. Due to low hanging limbs and the draping Spanish moss, not all sites are suitable for high-profile rigs.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona

Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino and a short distance from Montezuma Castle National Monument. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level.

Distant Drums RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Galveston, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Related: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty camping sites are available on the bayside of the park. Each site offers 50/30 amp electricity, water, a picnic table, and nearby restrooms with showers. These sites are for RV camping only. Additionally, 10 sites are available for tent camping only.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Morton, Mississippi

Conveniently located between Meridian and Jackson, Mississippi, Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park including a visitor center, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool, and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150-acre freshwater lake.

Related: The Best RV Camping January 2021

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, a motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. The RV sites feature a picnic table and grill. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature waterfront access. Campground roads and RV pads are paved. All of the RV pads are within easy access of a dump station and a bathhouse with hot showers.

Worth Pondering…

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.

—John Ruskin

Cultural Interplay along the Bayou Teche: Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site

Stand at a cultural crossroads in Louisiana’s first state park

It’s not often that a poem can awaken the public to the history of an entire culture but Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie has done just that. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem tells of an Acadian woman named Evangeline who was separated from her beloved Gabriel during the Acadians’ expulsion from Nova Scotia (circa 1755). The poem’s popularity taught Americans about the people known today as Cajuns who moved to Louisiana from eastern Canada over 260 years ago. In Louisiana, the story is also known through the poem’s local counterpart, Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline written by Judge Felix Voorhies in 1907.

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

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, the first in the Louisiana State Parks system, honors the story of Evangeline and the author who made her famous. The main attraction here is Maison Olivier, a Creole plantation built around 1815 that once grew indigo, cotton, and sugar. Sitting on the banks of Bayou Teche (pronounced “tesh”) on the northern edge of St. Martinville, Maison Olivier features a mix of French, Creole, and Caribbean architectural influences that were typical of the early 1800s.

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

Enjoy sweeping views of the Bayou Teche and the surrounding landscape from the long veranda that stretches across the second floor of the big house. The blacksmith shop and visitor center which contains an outstanding museum are nearby and walking down the path towards the bayou you’ll find the Acadian farmstead that includes a kitchen and barn. All are open for group tours that can be arranged at the visitor center.

Related: I’m going to Cajun Country!

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

For generations, a blend of history and legend has drawn visitors to this meeting place of incredible natural beauty and unique historical background. In legend—the area was the meeting place of the ill-fated lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel. In history—it was the meeting place of exiled French aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution and of Acadians of Nova Scotia seeking refuge after the British expulsion. In nature—it is the meeting place of the swamp and the prairie.

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

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site explores the cultural interplay among the diverse peoples along the famed Bayou Teche. Acadians and Creoles, Indians and Africans, Frenchmen and Spaniards, slaves and free people of color, all contributed to the historical tradition of cultural diversity in the Teche region. French became the predominant language and it remains very strong in the region today.

An Acadian Cabin vividly illustrates how different the lives of the Acadians and Creoles were. Prior to the arrival of the Acadians, or Cajuns, in 1764, the Bayou Teche area had already begun to be settled by the French. Many of these settlers were descendants of the first wave of French settlers in Louisiana. They are sometimes called “Creoles,” meaning native since they were born in colonial Louisiana.

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

Once part of the hunting grounds of the Attakapas Indians, this site became part of a royal French land grant first used as a vacherie or cattle ranch. When the grant was sold and subdivided, this section was developed as an indigo plantation. In the early 1800s, Pierre Olivier Duclozel de Vezin, a wealthy Creole, acquired this property to raise cotton, cattle, and eventually, sugarcane.

He built the Maison Olivier, the circa 1815 plantation house which is the central feature of Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site. His son, Charles DuClozel Olivier, inherited the property and made improvements to the home in the 1840s. Under his management as a sugar planter, the plantation attained its greatest prosperity.

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

The structure is an excellent example of a Raised Creole Cottage, a simple and distinctive architectural form that shows a mixture of Creole, Caribbean, and French influences. The ground floor walls, 14 inches thick, are made of brick from the clays of the adjacent Bayou Teche. The upper floor walls consist of a mud and moss mixture called “bousillage” which is placed between cypress uprights.

The house is furnished with a variety of pieces dating to the mid-19th century. The landscape surrounding the home includes native and exotic fruit, nut, and shade trees. Near the Maison Olivier is a barn constructed in the 1820s near Grande Cote. The pasture is home for horses typical of a type common in this area in the 19th century.

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

In 1934, the property became the first park of the Louisiana State Parks system. In 1974, Maison Olivier was designated a National Historic Landmark.

There are numerous more ways you can get up close to Cajun culture in St. Martinville. The city itself is historical being the third-oldest in Louisiana. Evangeline Oak Park centers on an ancient live oak tree on the Bayou Teche that has been the most visited spot in St. Martinville since the late nineteenth century. The tree is named for the heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem Evangeline. Take a stroll along the Boardwalk where you can observe local flora and fauna including an ancient cypress tree and an occasional alligator.

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

Adjacent to Evangeline Oak Park, the Acadian Memorial and the Cultural Heritage Center houses the African-American Museum and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial. Listen to the story of Evangeline under the Oak, visit St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church, and the Maison Duchamp to learn about St. Martinville’s history and development. The Historic District boasts of 50 historic landmarks/sites and registered historic buildings in downtown St. Martinville. Many of the sites continue to host local businesses such as gift shops and cafes.

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

Related: Authentic Breaux Bridge: Crawfish Capital of the World

Another town worth visiting is New Iberia, where you’ll see the Bayou Teche meandering through its picturesque downtown and plenty more historical homes. Avery Island, home to the TABASCO hot sauce factory and the nature preserve known as Jungle Gardens are other attractions worth seeing in southern-central Louisiana. And, Lafayette, the capital of the region known as Acadiana whose wide selection of restaurants will guarantee you won’t go home hungry.

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

Fact Box

Admission/Entrance Fees: $4 per person; free for seniors (62 and older)

Location: Southern Louisiana, 16 miles southeast of Lafayette

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Edisto Beach State Park: Unspoiled Paradise

Edisto Beach State Park perfectly captures the unspoiled natural beauty of the area. There’s no roughing it here; it’s too perfect for that.

Located on Edisto Island, Edisto Beach State Park is one of four oceanfront parks in South Carolina. Edisto Island lies about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida, is a world apart.

It’s hard to beat the Carolinas’ pristine coastlines and Edisto Beach State Park is a picture-perfect example. Its 1.25-mile public beach is ideal for swimmers and beachcombers—and also a nesting site for loggerhead turtles.

Related: Why Edisto Beach is the Most Effortless Vacation

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park is situated neatly between a salt marsh and the beach making it possible to hear the waves lapping at the shore regardless of whether you’re staying in an RV, tent, or cabin. Located in the town of Edisto Beach, it’s just a short walk or bike ride from the grocery store, gas station, restaurants, and shops.

The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression-era program designed to create jobs for the unemployed youth. Several structures erected by the CCC remain. Edisto Beach is one of 16 state parks in South Carolina built by the corps.

Edisto Beach State Park camping site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet. There are 64 oceanside sites and 33 sites along the salt marsh. Many sites offer easy access to the sea, sand, and sun. There is also a restroom and showering facility on the premises.

There are seven cabins located in the park. Five of the cabins are one-bedroom units while the other two are three-bedroom units. All of the cabins are completely furnished and feature heating and air conditioning, bath and bed linens, basic cooking and eating utensils, a microwave, coffee maker, and television. Each cabin also has a screened-in porch so visitors can enjoy the sights and sounds of Edisto Beach.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s interpretive and historical programs focus on coastal ecology and the Native American presence in the region. Part of an area called the ACE Basin Natural Estuarine Reserve, Edisto Island preserves fragile coastline resources.

Nature and history are both important components of the park and are impressively highlighted in the park’s Environmental Learning Center—a unique, 11,000-square-foot, LEED-certified structure that showcases artifacts and exhibits that span from the last ice age to today. Many exhibits are hands-on and interactive, including a “touch tank.”

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As for history, evidence of Native Americans dating back more than 4,000 years is here: The park’s Spanish Mount Trail will lead you past a midden, or mound, of oyster shells—left by early diners there. Another historical artifact is the Bache Monument, where you’ll see evidence of survey markers used in the 1840s to accurately measure the East Coast.

This water-oriented park has both ocean and tidal/estuary components. Fishing, shrimping, and crabbing are very popular (South Carolina licenses are required). If you have a kayak or other boat, a ramp is available within the park. Be mindful of the tides, as they can strand you in mud if you’re not careful.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Diverse habitats within the park range from marsh—with grasses that look like waves in the breeze—to woodland to the ocean. This means that you’ll find a wide array of animal life, including amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds. In marshy areas, keep your eyes peeled for alligators.

Edisto Beach’s trail system includes the state’s longest handicapped-friendly trail. The trails are easy and range from about a half-mile to just over 1.5 miles, with opportunities to add on by connecting to other trails.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One you should definitely try is the Forest Loop Trail. It’s just a half-mile or so but takes you through some gorgeous maritime forest, canopied with large live oaks with draping Spanish moss, giving it an enchanted look in places.

Edisto Beach State Park is a family-friendly place offering a wide range of outdoor activities. Day admission to the park is $8 for adults, $5 for South Carolina seniors, $4 for children ages 6-15, and free for children 5 and under.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BY THE NUMBERS

  • 1255 acres make up this special park
  • 4 miles of ADA accessible trail
  • 1.5 miles of beach, laden with seashells
  • 2 oceanfront picnic shelters
  • 2 campgrounds with 120 sites that accommodate RVs or tents; 115 sites offer water and 50 amp electric service
  • 7 cabins located on the salt marsh
  • 1 Environmental Learning Center with interactive exhibits, sea life and more

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau