12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Skip the crowds (and the pricey entrance fees) and head to a nearby state park

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but is well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases, you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can 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 State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

105 developed campsites with 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. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long for camper/trailers.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island State Park, Georgia

The State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club for use as a state park 75 years ago.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A century ago, Jekyll Island provided a winter escape for a handful of America’s wealthiest families who valued its natural beauty, mild climate, and seclusion. They built magnificent “cottages” and a grand, turreted clubhouse on a sliver of the island’s 5,700 acres, preserving the remainder for hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits. Today, a bike ride across Jekyll reveals remnants of that grandeur, some of it vividly restored, some in ruins—along with modest campgrounds, facilities devoted to public education, pristine new hotels and shops, and, still, vast swaths of the untamed landscape.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet are free for registered guests.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers restrooms, picnic areas, and developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Elephant Butte has 133 partial hookup sites and 1150 sites for primitive camping.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. In addition the park offers three camping cottages, two yurts, and three group camping areas. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance to the date.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park attracting more than a million visitors a year as well as a vast array of land and marine wildlife. Five miles of beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon, and ocean inlet are all part of the park’s natural allure.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island is home to the historic Hunting Island lighthouse built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889. Due to safety concerns, the Hunting Island lighthouse is currently closed to tours, until repairs can be made. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park camping is available at 102 campsites with water and 50-amp electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground. Two campgrounds are located at the northern end of the park near the ocean. One of the campgrounds provides individual water and electrical hookups. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; others up to 28 feet. A designated walk-in tent camping area is available that includes tent pads, fire rings, picnic tables, no power, and centralized water. 

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park offers 9 campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Able to accommodate any camping unit, Stockade North Campground offers 42 campsites with electric hookups. Located on the western side of Custer State Park, Stockade South Campground can accommodate mid-sized RVs. 23 sites available with electric hookups. Just a short stroll from Sylvan Lake, the crown jewel of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake Campground is the highest campground within Custer State Park at 6,200 feet. Sites within the campground are close together and are not suitable for large tents or RVs over 27 feet. In addition, walk-in primitive camping and group and youth camping areas are available.

Related Article: Go Here, Not there: 7 State Parks that Rival National Parks

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! 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.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Turkey Sink Campground offers 48 sites with 50 amp electric service. Cedar Sage Campgrounds offers 37 sites with 30 amp electricity. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and tent pad with restrooms with showers located nearby.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco State Park, Texas

This small park hugs a one-mile stretch of the Blanco River. On the water, you can swim, fish, paddle, or boat. On land, you can picnic, hike, camp, watch for wildlife, and geocache. A CCC-built picnic area and pavilion are available for a group gathering. Anglers fish for largemouth and Guadalupe bass, channel catfish, sunfish, and rainbow trout. Swim anywhere along the river. Small children will enjoy the shallow wading pool next to Falls Dam. Rent tubes at the park store.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from full hookup sites or sites with water and electricity. Eight full hookup campsites with 30/50-amp electric service are available. Nine full hookup sites with 30-amp electric are available. 12 sites with 30 amp electric and water hookups are also available. Amenities include a picnic table, shade shelter, fire ring with grill, and lantern post.

Related Article: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst.

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

Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. 

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

Nestled within a grove of junipers, the Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 AMP). Modern restroom facilities are available and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, and the Visitor Center.

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

New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons.  This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RV or tent campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites. All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under shade shelters, and access to bathrooms with running water and dishwashing sinks. RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Note: Water is not available at Dead Horse Point to fill up RVs. The water table is too low for a well so the park must truck it up every day. The closest town to fill up at is Moab.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. 

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newly renovated facilities include four boat launch ramps, marina, boat slips, courtesy docks, modern restrooms, visitor center, showers, campsites, a fishing area for the physically challenged, and sewage disposal and fish cleaning stations.

The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and power hookups. The campground is located on the east side of the lake. All campsites are available for reservation on a four-month rolling basis.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area. 

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

The park includes a developed campground with RV sites and six with partial hookups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

The Ultimate Guide to Custer State Park

With spectacular towering rock spires, gorgeous lakes, scenic drives, and abundant wildlife, Custer State Park is a world of beautiful nature

Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to plentiful wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2 million people from around the world visit Custer State Park every year and it’s easy to see why. With its combination of rolling hills, stunning granite peaks, and abundant wildlife, Custer is a uniquely beautiful location. The park itself can be seen and enjoyed in two to three days but I suggest a longer stay to enjoy the area around the park and all it has to offer.  If you are planning a trip to South Dakota or want to be inspired, read on to find out all you need to know about this beautiful and unique destination.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Custer State Park

Custer State Park was born in 1919. Governor Peter Norbeck had long admired the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota and once elected governor of the state, he set out to permanently preserve the area. Once the park was created, Norbeck himself helped to plan the layout of roads and scenic vistas throughout the park. The twisty turns and narrow granite tunnels of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are designed to offer breathtaking views while blending with the scenery they traverse.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When asked about the routes he had planned throughout the park, Norbeck famously said “You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles per hour; to do the scenery justice you should drive at no more than 20. To do it full justice you should just get out and walk it.”

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer of 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spent three months visiting the Black Hills and Custer State Park in particular. He and Mrs. Coolidge stayed primarily at the State Game Lodge during this time, earning it the nickname the “Summer White House.”

Related Article: Into the Hills: Can’t Miss Spots for Your Black Hills Tour

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for many of the projects we currently enjoy in the park. From 1933 to 1941 they built the dams, bridges, and buildings that makeup Stockade Lake, Center Lake, Wildlife Station Visitor Center, the Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower, and most notably the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location of Custer State Park

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Custer State Park is a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. The drive south from Rapid City on Highway 79 is an easy and pleasant one offering impressive views of the Black Hills. Turn right onto Highway 36 and the main entrance to the park. Once you enter the park gates, the highway name changes to Highway 16A which can be a little confusing. Turning right onto Highway 16A takes you north on Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Monument while continuing straight on Highway 16A takes you west on the park’s main road.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two of the Park’s lodges (State Game Lodge and Legion Lake Lodge) and three of its campgrounds (Game Lodge Campground, Grace Coolidge Campground, and Legion Lake Campground) are located along this route. Turning south just past Legion Lake, one encounters Highway 87 which takes you to the Blue Bell Lodge and campground and Custer’s famed Wildlife Loop Road.

The area immediately surrounding the park is a tourist playground with scenic drives, national monuments (Mount Rushmore), and private attractions such as the Crazy Horse Monument. The town of Custer is located just outside the west entrance to the park and is convenient for restocking on fuel and groceries or for grabbing a bite to eat.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geography of Custer State Park

Granite spires, stunning mountain views, and rolling grasslands all combine in this very special and scenic location. Located in Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park encompasses approximately 71,000 acres of land.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorn antelope, elk, wild burros, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woven throughout this landscape are several streams and lakes that further add to the beauty and ambience of the area. Taken together, Custer State Park offers a unique landscape that creates a stunning palette of colors, shapes, and textures that many consider to be unparalleled in its scenic beauty.

Related Article: Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife in Custer

Wildlife in Custer is abundant and includes bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, coyotes, burros, and prairie dogs. While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along the road.

Burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros (as they are known) have inhabited the grasslands of Custer for nearly a century. Originally, these donkeys were used as pack animals to shuttle visitors between Sylvan Lake Lodge and Black Elk Peak (the highest peak east of the Rockies). When their services were no longer needed these animals were released into the wild to roam freely in the park.

Begging burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros are extremely friendly and easily approachable. They’ve even been known to poke their heads into the windows of passing cars that stop long enough on the side of the road. Although park officials don’t recommend it, visitors enjoy feeding the burros that are eager to accept almost any handout that is offered.

Pronghorns along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The big wildlife draw in Custer is their herd of over 1,500 wild bison. The herd roams freely in the grasslands in the southern part of the park and has thrived in this area. Visitors on the Wildlife Loop Road are almost guaranteed to see bison during their drive. And it’s not uncommon to be caught in a “buffalo jam.”

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This unique experience occurs when the bison herd stops on the roadway or crosses the roadway in the park. Don’t be surprised to find a car or truck surrounded by bison almost like a metal island in a sea of brown hides and horns. While not tame, the bison are also not easily intimidated by people or automobiles. This is truly a unique experience that would be hard to duplicate anywhere in the world outside of Custer State Park.

Related Article: Explore the Black Hills

How to explore Custer State Park

Scenic drives

Almost every road in Custer can be considered a scenic drive! But, there are three that stand out above the others.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway 

The Needles Highway (also known as Highway 87) is a beautiful drive that runs from Highway 16A in the park up to the northwest corner of Custer where Sylvan Lake is located. This 14-mile road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and was once thought to be impossible to build by many engineers. However, through hard work and dedication, it was completed in 1922. This spectacular drive twists and turns its way through forests of pine and spruce, across sunny meadows, and up rugged mountains.

Needles Eye Tunnel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway’s name is derived from the rugged granite spires (tall granite towers) that rise majestically into the air. The road terminates at Sylvan Lake after passing through Needles Eye Tunnel, a one-lane tunnel carved into a mountain of granite that measures only 8 feet 4 inches wide by 11 feet 3 inches tall. With the many twists, turns, and narrow tunnels, this highway is definitely not RV-friendly so leave the rig at the campsite while enjoying this drive. Expect a 45-minute drive one-way from end to end.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iron Mountain Road

Iron Mountain Road is the portion of Highway 16A that travels north after one enters the park from the east on Highway 36. This 17-mile stretch of highway is yet another example of determination and ingenuity. The road was specifically designed with 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and three one-lane tunnels to force visitors to go slow in the hopes that they would enjoy and take in the scenery during their drive.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southern portion of the road begins in Custer then leaves the park after a few miles and ends at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Along the way, visitors are treated to the scenic beauty of the Black Hills including many overlooks and beautiful pine forests. On your journey toward Mount Rushmore, you will cross over wooden “pigtail” bridges (bridges that loop over their road as they climb). As you near the end, be on the lookout for Doane Robinson Tunnel. This tunnel carved through the mountain is 13 feet 2 inches wide and 12 feet 2 inches tall and was designed to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore while you’re heading north. It is quite an impressive sight. This beautiful drive is not an RV-friendly stretch of highway so once again you’ll want to leave your rig parked while exploring this road. Expect a 60-minute drive one way along this route.

Along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Loop Road

As mentioned before, this 18-mile scenic loop travels through the south end of the park and winds through open grassy meadows and hills dotted with pine and crosses clear flowing streams. Depending on the day, you can see pronghorn antelope, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the begging burros on your drive. But, perhaps the most well-known feature of the drive is Custer’s bison herd. At over 1,500 animals strong, this herd roams the grasslands in the park’s southern end and can almost always be seen from the road. We have seen and experienced cars completely surrounded by bison and it makes for an extremely unique experience. Depending on “buffalo jams,” and whether you stop to feed the burros, we recommend planning around 1 hour to 1½ hours for this drive.

Related Article: The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

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

Hiking

The park offers many hiking opportunities that allow visitors to get off the beaten path and explore the park in an up close and personal way. In addition to the designed and marked trails, off-trail hiking also is encouraged in Custer and visitors are allowed to hike wherever they would like. Depending on the area of the park in which you hike, the trails differ greatly in their topography and geography.

Camping in Custer State Park

Camping in Custer

Custer features 10 campgrounds, each with a unique feel, throughout the park:

  • Blue Bell Campground
  • Center Lake Campground
  • French Creek Horse Camp
  • French Creek Natural Area
  • Game Lodge Campground
  • Grace Coolidge Campground
  • Legion Lake Campground
  • Stockade North Campground
  • Stockade South Campground
  • Sylvan Lake Campground

Most campgrounds offer electric sites with water available at various locations throughout the campground. The lone dump station in the park is located at Game Lodge Campground. 

Other activities

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake is a beautiful body of water located in the northwest corner of Custer State Park. It can be accessed via the Needles Highway if you’re in the Park or by Highway 87 from the north. The Sylvan Lake area offers many activities to visitors; you can rent canoes or kayaks or try your hand at fishing for the trout, panfish, and bass found in its waters.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The loop trail that goes around the lake is 1.1 miles in length, mostly flat and comprised of packed gravel making it a relatively easy hike for most individuals. The views from the trail can be stunning as it traverses the shoreline and there are several large boulders along the way that kids and adults alike will enjoy scrambling to the top of in order to enjoy the breathtaking views from that vantage point. There is even a small swimming beach at the lake for those that are interested in cooling off on a hot summer day.

Related Article: Needles Highway: National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Sylvan Lake Lodge offers visitors a chance to grab lunch in the restaurant or stock up on drinks, snacks, and souvenirs while they are there. Due to the many activities and its scenic beauty, Sylvan Lake is quite popular and parking can be somewhat limited. So, we suggest arriving at the lake early in the day when crowds are somewhat minimized.

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

Custer State Park is home to a number of other activities as well. The streams in Custer are teaming with trout waiting to be caught. The trails and roads in Custer are perfect for biking and walking. Eagles and other birds fill the skies and are waiting to be seen by all those who are interested. And the lakes in the park are waiting for you to take a cool refreshing dip.

Truly Custer is a magnificent destination unlike any other we have experienced!

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,500 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. 

Related Article: South Dakota: Fly Over State? Not a Chance!

Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m.

At the Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, up to 150 vendors offer their fine arts and crafts for sale including many South Dakota made products.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your morning with a pancake feed and enjoy on-going Western and Native American entertainment under the big top. All events and vendors will be located on the festival grounds across from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.

The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is open to the public. In 2022, the 57th annual Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 30.

Details

Park Size: 71,000 acres

Camping at Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: 10 campgrounds with 341 campsites and 50 camping cabins, horse camp

Park entrance fees: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days); $36 for annual pass; vehicles traveling non-stop through the park on US Highway 16A do not need an entrance license

Operating hours: Open year-round (between October 1 and April 30, showers, flush toilets, and other water systems may be closed; vault toilets usually remain open)

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearest towns: Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone

Note: GPS can be unreliable in the area

Read Next: Doorway to Forever: Badlands National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway: Moab’s Most Scenic Drive

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway begins at the turnoff from Highway 191 which is easily accessible from Moab

Moab has a reputation for being an outdoor junkie’s wonderland. No wonder, since it’s close to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Smack dab in the middle of those two famously stunning swaths of land is another gem: Dead Horse Point State Park. Cruise the park’s Dead Horse Point Scenic Drive and see why it’s such an underrated spot as you make your way between the two national parks.

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing better than a scenic drive that’s also incredibly short. This allows for a number of things: First, it saves time one would spend on the road and allots it to sightseeing. Second, it’s easy enough to fit into one day giving travelers the option to extend their time in a specific place. When it comes to the most scenic drive in the Moab area, Dead Horse Point checks all of these day-trip-drive boxes.

Related: Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the drive is one that’s well-known, it’s one that’s also incredibly underrated. The total length of the trip is less than 25 minutes and takes almost 30 minutes to traverse with no stops along the way. Here’s everything you need to know about taking this scenic drive, and why it’s worth so much more hype than it currently has.

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

There are some things that visitors should know when taking the Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway and the first is that it resides mostly on the top of a plateau or mesa. The second is that on the way up, visitors will observe the narrow strip of land that connects the starting point of the byway to the top of the mesa, giving one a pretty good idea of the incredible views that wait at the top. The third is that Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway gives way to multiple hikes along the way, all before one even enters the park itself—so if this is something one wishes to take advantage of, it’s a good idea to note where the trailheads are beforehand.

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

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway takes you through miles of incredible red rock canyon country. To reach the byway, head north from Moab on US-191. After about 9 miles look for the “Dead Horse Point State Park” sign and turn left (west) onto SR-313. This is the start of the byway.

Related: Moab’s Scenic Byways

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

As a grand finale before reaching Dead Horse State Park, the Dead Horse Point Overlook is one for the books. This is not only a great way to end what’s already a short and scenic drive but it’s also one of the most spectacular views in the Moab Desert. From this elevation, visitors will be able to see the Colorado River roughly 2,000 feet below them as well as extensive views of the red canyonlands. On a clear day, it’s very possible to be able to see for nearly 100 miles in any direction.

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

After a series of hairpin curves you begin to ascend the plateau as the road mellows out allowing you to better appreciate the scenery. At about 14.6 miles from the beginning of SR-313 a fork to the left leads to Dead Horse Point State Park. Note that a fee is required to proceed to the viewpoints in the park. The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas anywhere. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands National Park’s sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

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

A campers’ paradise, Dead Horse Point State Park encompasses 5,362 acres of desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Hiking is a popular activity with seven miles of trails taking you to eight breathtaking overlooks. The visitor’s center will help with navigating the park and learning the history of all its beauty. If you plan on staying the night, you can camp here as well. For geocachers, there are three official geocaches at Dead Horse Point, each with souvenirs.

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

Basin Overlook offers a short, easy hike down a nature trail that’s paved for easing trekking. Additionally, visitors can find other hikes along the rim of the canyonlands. This is also a popular spot for photographers.

Related: Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?

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

Another scenic point along the 22-mile route worth mentioning is known as The Neck. This is easily recognizable due to its small parking area and it’s a great midpoint to take advantage of on the way to the final overlook.

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

Tip: For more hiking, the West and East Rim trails can be found at The Neck; these trails are shorter than the rim trails at the Visitor Center thus better for novice hikers.

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

After leaving Dead Horse Point State Park, backtrack on SR-313, turn left, and head toward the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park ultimately ending at Grandview Point. This section of the park sits atop a massive 1,500 foot mesa—quite literally an Island in the Sky.

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

The access road for Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, SR-313 was first built in 1975 in place of SR-278. In 1988 the route was rebuilt from its original state of steep grades and blind switchbacks to its current state.

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

Tip: Although those driving along the scenic byway will have the protection of the vehicle and, hopefully, access to AC, it’s important to remember that this remote stretch of land is still a desert. Visitors are advised to bring plenty of water and snacks as well as pack a first-aid or emergency kit in their vehicles.

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

Fun Fact: According to a legend, Dead Horse Point State Park got its macabre name in the early 1800s when cowboys rounded up wild horses through a narrow land strip called the neck that was 30 yards wide. At the neck, they selected the horses they wanted and the released horses died of thirst after they were rounded up at a waterless point.

Related: If the Outdoors is your Thing, Utah is your Place

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

Fun Fact: The Dead Horse State Park is known in popular culture for a Grand Canyon scene filmed there for 1991, Thelma and Louise movie starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

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

One doesn’t necessarily need a reason to take the 30-minute desert drive through the Moab Desert. One doesn’t even need a reason to visit the scenic vistas of Dead Horse State Park; however, its breathtaking views and ease of access are two great reasons to do so.

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

The Golden Isles of Georgia

Warm Atlantic waters, miles of winding marshland, and magnificent beaches

The mainland city of Brunswick and a series of barrier islands are nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah (Georgia) and Jacksonville (Florida). In an earlier post, I detailed St. Simons and Sea Islands.

Jekyll and Little St. Simons along with Historic Brunswick offer the visitor numerous unique experiences.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families for a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months during the winter.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Goulds, and Cranes and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms).

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These vacationers came by train to Brunswick and crossed the river to Jekyll or arrived in their yachts with family members, servants, and supplies aboard.

Related: Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

The men relaxed and hunted while the ladies had tea, planned parties, and went to the beach.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1942 most of these elite vacationers departed the island, never to return. World War II and the economy had taken its toll. Some of the wealthy families left their homes fully furnished and the buildings fell into disrepair.

In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island for $650,000 and set a provision that 65 percent of it must always remain undeveloped. Some of the wealthy families’ cottages have been restored and are open for tours.

duBignon Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, this era of Jekyll Island’s history can be dramatically revisited with a tram tour of the National Historic Landmark District including many of the opulent mansions their millionaire owners called “cottages”.

Goodyear Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages. A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

To see more of the island’s eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers guided tours routing through beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel and oceanfront properties. RV camping is available at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 206 campsites on the Island’s north end.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of flat, mostly paved bike paths encircle the island. You can spend a whole day riding beneath canopies of live oaks, along the beach, and through the historic district.

Related: Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History and Beauty

Bikes can be rented at Jekyll Island Campground, the shopping mall, and various hotels around the island. Tram tours, Victorian carriage history tours, and nature and landscape walks are available from the visitor’s center, located on the Jekyll Causeway.

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A fishing pier is located across from Jekyll Island Campground and fishing is available along the beaches.

Jekyll Island, once a haven for America’s elite, now beckons to all.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little St. Simons Island

Little St. Simons Island (though not so little at 10,000 acres) lies only a 15-minute boat ride from its bigger, better-known sister, St. Simons Island.

In terms of development, however, the two islands couldn’t be further apart. Whereas St. Simons offers residents and the visiting public a variety of condominiums, shopping centers, golf courses, and mini-mansions, Little St. Simons is one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands—a privately owned sanctuary devoted to preserving and protecting its ample wildlife.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible only by boat from Hampton River Marina on St. Simons Island’s north end, Little St. Simons Island is a privately owned resort offering a limited number of guests the rare opportunity to experience isolated beaches and marshlands.

Known for its privacy, The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island features six cottages, several of which date back to the early 1900s, that can host a total of 32 guests at one time.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An ideal destination for family reunions and small gatherings, Little St. Simons Island offers guest activities ranging from guided nature walks through the ancient maritime forest to canoeing, kayaking, fishing, shell collecting, bicycling, and birding.

Related: Holly Jolly Jekyll

Guests may also choose to pass the day relaxing on the porch or enjoying the tranquility of the island’s seven-mile, undeveloped beach.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Brunswick

The mainland, port city of Brunswick is named for Braunschweig, Germany, the ancestral home of King George II, grantor of Georgia’s original land charter.

The streets and squares of this quiet port city were laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s and still bear their colonial names—Newcastle, Norwich, Prince, and Gloucester—giving Brunswick a decidedly English flavor.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unmistakable flavor of the south, too, can be sampled here, home of the original Brunswick Stew.

Docked at the wharf, the array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters—evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Watch the ocean vessels come into port, see the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street, and then sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Downtown Brunswick, also known as the Old Town Brunswick, is enjoying a renaissance, with the ongoing renovation and restoration of historic buildings and public squares. Old Town Brunswick is centered at the intersection of Newcastle and Gloucester Streets, the traditional commercial corridors of the city.

Newcastle Street is anchored on the south end by Old City Hall (1888) with its distinctive clock tower.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the north end of Newcastle Street is the Historic Ritz Theatre. Built in 1898 as the Grand Opera House, the Ritz Theatre is Brunswick’s center for quality exhibits and performances by local, regional, national, and international artists.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Homes in Old Town reflect a variety of styles dating from 1819, including Queen Anne, Jacobean, Eastlake, Mansard, Gothic, and Italianate architecture. The Brunswick Landmarks Foundation works to educate the public and protect and enhance the special historic character and charm of Old Town.  

The downtown district features a growing mix of antique shops, specialty shops, art galleries, theaters, and restaurants.

With ideal weather conditions throughout the year, Brunswick also supports an active and healthy outdoor life.

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful natural scenic landscape invites jogging and walking, from the challenging Sidney Lanier Bridge to the Old Town Brunswick National Historic District and from Mary Ross Waterfront Park to the Howard Coffin Park.

Read Next: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep

Roll in on the souls of men,

But who will reveal to our waking ken

The forms that swim and the shapes that creep

Under the waters of sleep?

And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in

On the length and the breadth of the marvelous marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Desert, mountains, sandy beaches, clear blue rivers, and deep canyons. The Lone Star State has it all—and you can find it in a state park.

Texas is one of the most geographically diverse states in America—it is the largest state in the contiguous United States after all with a thriving state park system to match that has more than 80 different sites across the state to explore.

Officially established in 1923, Texas’s state park system was loosely modeled on the United States’ national parks. When Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, the state government stipulated that Texas must retain control over its public lands, so when the country’s national park movement was first gathering steam in 1916, very little land was allocated to the federal government. There’s now a grand total of 603,748 acres of Texas state parks to traverse, so there’s a little something for every type of adventurer.

Here are the 10 best Texas state parks to visit.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Davis Mountains State Park

Why go: Desert mountain hikes and a historic lodge

Nearest town: Fort Davis

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay: Davis Mountains State Park offers primitive camping, campsites with electricity and water, and full hookup campsites for RVs. If you’re not into camping, check out the Indian Lodge, a full-service hotel in the state park. 

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you ask any Texan what they think of when they hear the words “West Texas,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is Big Bend National Park (or, alternatively, the cool little art town in the middle of nowhere, Marfa). But about 140 miles north of Big Bend country are the Davis Mountains which are geologically classified as a “sky island”—an isolated mountain range surrounded by a radically different lowland.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mountains were created 35 million years ago after a series of violent volcanic eruptions which gave the area a large outcropping of rare (for Texas) igneous rock. The park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails and horseback riding corridors plus what the park fondly calls the “best little bird blind in Texas.”

McDonald’s Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the state park’s proximity to the McDonald Observatory, the area enjoys mandatory dark skies making it an ideal spot for stargazing.
Davis Mountains State Park isn’t known only for its outdoor activities. One of the most distinctive hotel options in the area is the Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The pueblo-style lodge functions as a full-service hotel and has 39 rooms and a dreamy swimming pool.

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

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Why go: Big Bend’s geography without the crowds of Big Bend National Park

Nearest town: Lajitas or Terlingua

Where to stay: Primitive camping only. Nearby towns of Lajitas and Terlingua have RV parks, hotels, and motels.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park is often overshadowed by its spectacular national cousin, Big Bend National Park. But just a few minutes down Highway 170 (which, by the way, was named one of the most scenic drives in the country) is this state park—the biggest in Texas at a whopping 300,000 acres. Admittedly, Big Bend Ranch State Park is not for the faint of heart: There’s only primitive (a campsite with no water or electricity, but can be driven to) and backcountry (campsites with no water or electricity either, but require a hike to reach) camping in the park.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its size and remoteness, it offers little in the way of amenities. What the park does have is 238 miles of multiuse trails for hiking, biking, and riding horses. Bring plenty of water—temperatures can reach as high as 130 degrees in the summer, so plan your visit for sometime during late November to early March. This west Texas park also makes a great place to stargaze.
For an extra dose of personality, add a stop in Terlingua to your trip. The famous revitalized “ghost town” serves up some serious western-inspired grub, drinks, and music at the Starlight Theatre. 

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

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 

Why go: Hike a gorgeous pink granite monolith

Nearest town: Fredericksburg

Where to stay: Group campsites, campsites with water, and backcountry camping are all available.

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

As any Texan knows, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a must-visit park. You can see what makes the region special from miles away along the drive on Ranch Road 965—a gargantuan hunk of pink granite that’s completely unique to Texas. (The state capitol is made of the same rock.) Geologically, the unusual formation is known as a ​​monadnock, a hill of bedrock that rises above its surroundings.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

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

The stunning monolith has always had a mystical ambience. Before the Spanish and Anglo settlers arrived, the Plains Native Americans who frequented the area called the formation the “Singing Rock.” When the granite would cool from Texas’s ultra-hot summer temperatures as the sun went down, the stone would moan and groan as it shrank in the cool night air. If you’re lucky, you can still catch this phenomenon during a sunset hike.

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

There are 11 miles of trails in Enchanted Rock State Natural area; the most popular hike goes straight up to the top of the rock, the Summit Trail. The “trail” (there are few ways to mark a path on bare rock) can be slippery at times but the view of the Hill Country at the apex makes the near vertical trek worth it. Because this hike is up a hunk of granite, the trail has little to no shade or vegetation, so be prepared with hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water. 

Mustang Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mustang Island State Park

Why go: White, fluffy sand in Texas’s best beach town

Nearest town: Port Aransas

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity and primitive camping are available. There are also RV parks in the area.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, so calling Port Aransas Texas’s best beach may be a controversial statement—South Padre Island is regularly flooded with spring breakers each year, Galveston enjoys a steady stream of tourists, and let’s not forget Latina superstar Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But many Texans will say that Port Aransas easily beats them all. And if you’re into fishing, the reel-’em-in heaven of Rockport is only 18 miles away from this island community. 

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Port Aransas so special? Think small-town Texas with charming coastal vibes and the whitest, fluffiest sand your toes will ever have the pleasure of knowing. Plus, being located on the barrier island, the area enjoys an ecosystem populated by seabirds, 600 species of saltwater fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even a few alligators. One of the best places to experience the island’s environment is Mustang Island State Park.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has five miles of coastline where visitors are encouraged to camp, bird-watch, kayak, fish, or simply play in the surf. Camping here is a little different than in most Texas state parks—though there is a designated camping area with electric hookups, guests can also camp primitive-style directly on the sand near the surf with the appropriate permits. 

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park

Why go: Visit one of the largest spring-fed pools in the world

Nearest town: Balmorhea

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity, group campsites, and cabins are available.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton Springs in Austin is indisputably one of Texas’s favorite swimming pools thanks to its year-round cool temperatures and convenient location in the heart of the capital. But if Balmorhea were a little closer to central Texas, it would definitely be a fierce competitor. It offers a sizable spring-fed pool that hovers around 72 to 76 degrees all year, right smack in the middle of the desert.

Related Article: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the Civilian Conservation Corps built the concrete swimming pool and cabins in the 1930s, the San Solomon Springs provided water for local wildlife and hunter gatherers who are believed to have first made their appearance in the area around 11,000 years ago. During the 1800s, cattle ranchers and railroad workers often used the springs.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the pool is most commonly frequented by Texans looking to escape the oppressive summer heat in an appealing desert landscape. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive at the pool which hosts two endangered species of fish: the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Though Balmorhea State Park is a bit out of the way from any major city (the nearest one—Odessa, Texas—is 116 miles away), getting to take a dip in the turquoise gem of the west Texas desert is an experience not to be missed. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Why go: Play on the Sahara-like dunes

Nearest town: Monahans

Where to stay: Campsites with water and electricity are available; also equestrian sites.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for “fulgurites” (melted sand created by lightning strikes), ride your horse, or borrow a disk to surf the dunes. This park seriously reminds me of a scene from Aladdin. Oh, and did I mention that you can surf down the sand dunes? I can’t think of many activities more fun than that!

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park

Why go: Lapping water and Gulf breezes

Nearest town: Rockport-Fulton

Where to stay: 

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport-Fulton, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. With a height of 44 feet, a circumference of 35 feet, and a crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) for more than 1,000 years.

The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter

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. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

Read Next: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Discover Awe and Adventure in Arizona

Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, and soulful journeys. Start planning your trip with this guide.

Timeless beauty. Mind-boggling geology. Pristine pine forests. Dramatic sun-drenched desertscapes. Old West haunts. Puebloan cliff dwellings. And star-filled dark skies.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona is a wonderland of awe-inspiring sights, bucket-list adventures, culinary delights, and soulful journeys. Now that 2022 has been coined the Year of Arizona Discovery, it’s a perfect time to pack up the car or RV and take a scenic road trip. Arizona has so much to offer with its incredible landscapes, diverse culture, and endless natural playgrounds. Here are a few of my favorite scenic road trips and quaint towns to check out. 

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Sister Cities of Miami and Globe

Heading east from Phoenix on US Route 60 toward Miami, be sure to stop at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden which has desert species from around the world, gentle hiking trails, and rich bird life.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the classic western town of Miami, visit the Bullion Plaza Museum to explore the ranching and cultural history of this copper mining boomtown. In Globe, you can belly up to the bar for a burger and bloody Mary at the historic Drift Inn Saloon. Cruising the switchbacks through the Salt River Canyon Wilderness Area reveals mountain panoramas and Arizona’s “other Grand Canyon.”

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Globe visit Besh-Ba-Gowah, the heartland of the Salado people. The term was originally given by the Apaches to the early settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means “place of metal.” Here visitors will see the partially restored ancient ruin of the Salado people who occupied the site between A.D. 1225 and A.D. 1400. Enjoy the self guided tour of the village which allows visitors to experience the mysteries of those who came before.

Related: Spotlight on Arizona: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page to Canyon de Chelly

Traveling up US Route 89 from Flagstaff leads to the marvels surrounding Page, gateway to Lake Powell. Drink in dramatic views of the famed Horseshoe Bend stretch of the Colorado River or take a tour of Antelope Canyon and witness the wonders of wind and water erosion in the narrow slots.

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

Then, road trip it to the Navajo Nation to see Canyon de Chelly National Monument where towering rock spires, stunning sandstone cliffs, and Ancestral Puebloan art and villages await. 

White House Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two ways to experience Arizona’s lesser-known canyon. You can drive along the rim stopping at overlooks to marvel at the vertical cliffs and stone spires and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Charm of Cottonwood

Located in the heart of Arizona and the heart of wine country, Cottonwood is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cooler temperatures of Arizona’s high country. Surrounded by the red rocks of Sedona to the northeast and Mingus Mountain to the southwest, its lower elevation makes it a perfect spot for your next Arizona adventure.

Related: Best Things to Do in Charming Cottonwood, Arizona

Wine tasting in Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Cottonwood is known for its Main Street with over 60 businesses including charming boutique hotels, wonderful restaurants, shops, antique stores, and wine tasting rooms. The Verde Valley Wine Trail runs right through town and has more stops here than anywhere else on the trail. Sit back and sip, savor, and enjoy the fruit of the vine in Old Town.

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

Cottonwood is also home to Dead Horse Ranch State Park. Less than two miles from Old Town, this landmark has earned a reputation as a favorite fishing hole, bird lover’s paradise, and hiker’s dream. Its trails meander through sycamore and cottonwood trees along the banks of the Verde River making it a jewel in the center of Cottonwood all year round. Visit Cottonwood, the heart of Arizona wine country, where everyone is welcome!

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley

A hundred miles north of Phoenix, the Verde Valley region is home to red rocks, green mountains, and scenic journeys. Head to Montezuma Castle National Monument, a 900-year-old, 20-room dwelling built into a limestone cliff—or, hop on the Verde Canyon Railroad luxury train and cruise through the canyons in an open-air viewing car. The Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale features galleries of amazing copper art and artifacts. Oenophiles will appreciate the Verde Valley Wine Trail whose 26 winery stops lead through charming towns like Jerome, Clarkdale, and Cottonwood. 

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Sedona and the Verde Valley

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Native American Culture

The territory we’ve come to know as Arizona has only been a state for a relatively short time, the last of the lower 48 to be admitted to the Union. Indigenous people have lived here for millennia.

Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 22 sovereign nations here including the Hopi tribe, the Apache tribe, the Navajo (known as Dineh, “the people,” in the four corners), and the Hualapai, the tribe that manages the famous Grand Canyon West.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The seven Navajo tribal parks and three national monuments in Najavoland are treasured by outdoor enthusiasts. There you will find fascinating rock formations, sandstone canyons, historical sites, and ancient ruins; and visitors have the opportunity to learn about Navajo history, traditions, and culture.

Goulding’s Trading Post, Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Tuba City, located on the western Navajo Indian Reservation, check out the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum which features a traditional hogan, handmade rugs, and baskets. Next door is the Navajo Code Talkers Museum dedicated to Navajo veterans who served in the US Marines and used the Navajo language to send encrypted messages during World War II.

Driving through Navajo Land © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, don’t skip the opportunity to visit Tuba City Trading Post, which offers a variety of handmade items like extraordinary Indigenous art, handmade jewelry, and beautiful textiles.

Related: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of Tuba City, Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Worth Pondering…

It’s breathtaking. You can’t believe it. It’s very photogenic; it has a kind of mythic feeling of age, of legend…You’ve seen it in the movies, but when you see it in life, it’s so epic in its proportions that it almost stands for the whole of the West.

—Peter Bogdanovich, filmmaker

The Absolutely Best State Park for RVers

Check out the best of the best in our list of the most enchanting state parks in America

The United States is home to more than 10,000 state park units, attracting some 739 million annual visitors. As more and more travelers seek the open road and open spaces, these numbers will continue to grow. More and more of these parks are catering to RV travelers with campgrounds, hookups, and other amenities. As a bonus, state parks also offer grandeur, history, and natural beauty.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Vogel State Park

Vogel, one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain inside Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is particularly popular during the autumn months when the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a colorful display of fall foliage. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Custer State Park

Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison—one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet—who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds, including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Elephant Butte State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas: Galveston Island State Park

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart! With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Visit their nature center to learn more about the park and its programs.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida: Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park can be found north of Fort Myers with wetlands and forests surrounding the Myakka River. The campgrounds make a perfect home base while you go kayaking on the river, hiking the park’s trails, or exploring on one of their boat tours. The park has three campgrounds with 90 sites total including Palmetto Ridge with full hookup gravel-based sites and Old Prairie and Big Flats campgrounds with dirt-based sites.

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

California: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers primitive campgrounds as well as developed campgrounds including Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and Tamarisk Grove. Borrego Palm Canyon has full hookup sites that can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length. The smaller Tamarisk Grove campground has 27 well-shaded sites with no hookups but potable water and showers available. The state park is recognized as a Dark Sky Park with some of the darkest night skies for stargazing. It also has miles of great hiking trails with beautiful mountains, deserts, and canyon views.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Shenandoah River State Park

This lovely park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

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

Georgia: Stephen C. Foster State Park
Known across the country due to its International Dark Sky Designation, this breath-taking park is at the western entrance of Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. It is a favorite with astronomy fans for the abundance of stars that illuminate the night sky. Reserve a guided pontoon boat tour of the swamp, kayak out on your own, or enjoy a cool walk on 1.5 miles of hiking trails. You’ll get an intimate look at the variety of wildlife that calls this park home. Visitors can stay overnight in a wooded campground or fully equipped cabins.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Gulf State Park

Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.

Related Article: America’s Best State Parks

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

12 of the Best State Parks for Spring Camping

Parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but is well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

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

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

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

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make their own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park’s campground offers 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

The story of the park’s name begins with the Ireys family who came to Arizona from Minnesota looking for a ranch to buy in the late 1940s. At one of the ranches they discovered a large dead horse lying by the road. After two days of viewing ranches, Dad Ireys asked the kids which ranch they liked the best. The kids said, “the one with the dead horse, dad!” The Ireys family chose the name Dead Horse Ranch and later, in 1973, when Arizona State Parks acquired the park, the Ireys made retaining the name a condition of sale.

There are three lagoons within the park that offer great fishing and a place to watch the area aquatic wildlife and birds. All three lagoons have trails that navigate their circumference and are full of a variety of sport fish. 

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

More than 100 spacious sites grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. The campground consists of four loops that each have varying numbers of spots available for you to stay. Most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet long. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Clean, accessible restrooms and showers are available at the campgrounds and near the lagoons. A dump station is available. 

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

Eight one-room cabins are available who would rather not do so in the campground. All eight cabins have electricity, lighting, and heating/cooling but there is no water available. These dry cabins are however situated close to a clean restroom with showers. 

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

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

Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are basically two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.

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

There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds which are free but offer few amenities and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.

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

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.

Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.

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

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

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. This park is home to fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons.

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

The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

The park offers 44 electric campsites suitable for RVs, six cottages, and one group camping area. Sites are back-ins and pull-through and range from 25 to 40 feet in length.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include: visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, 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 fresh water lake.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills. 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 water front access. Campground roads and RV pads are paved.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of the RV pads are within easy access of a central sewage dumping station and a bathhouse with hot showers. Washers and dryers are located at the bathhouse in each campground.

The park also offers primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Rich in Native American history, Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is one of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide a wonderful tour of the park. The park’s environmental education center is a “green” building with exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A series of short and mostly level trails wind through Edisto Island’s maritime forest of live oak, hanging Spanish moss, and palmetto trees. During your walk you may see white-tailed deer, osprey, or alligators, and may even catch a glimpse of the wary bobcats. Two picnic shelters are available on a first-come, first-served basis for family or other group gatherings at no charge.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.Edisto Beach offers 112 standard campsites with water and 20/30/50 amp electrical service. A dump station is available.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Please be aware that because of the dynamic location of the park, the water has a high salt content. The water is treated by the Town of Edisto Beach and deemed safe to drink from the Department of Health and Safety. The Town of Edisto Beach does have a water filling station, which allows you to fill up to five gallons per day. Bottled water is also available at the local filling stations and grocery stores.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

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. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service. Other amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, lantern post, tent pad, and restrooms with showers located nearby. A dump station is available.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Spend a relaxing night camping under the stars. Tee off on the historic golf course built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago. Look for geocaches and wildlife while exploring the hiking trails. Stroll the easy Clear Fork Trail for views of the creek, plants, wild­life, and check dams built by the CCC to create fishing holes. Or hike the short but challenging Persimmon Trail. Try your luck fishing in Clear Fork Creek year-round and swim in the pool in summer. Pick up a souvenir at our park store. Drive into Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserve a campsite with water and electricity or full hookups. Eight full hookup sites with 30/50-am electric are available. These sites can now accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and are in the Fairway View Camping Area. Eight sites with 30-amp electric and water are also available. These sites are in a wooded area with large trees along a creek and are in the Clear Fork Creek Camping Area. Campground amenities include picnic table, fire ring, upright grill, and washroom with showers nearby. Dump station located nearby.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding, or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Canoe the San Marcos River. The river has a steady current but no rapids; check river conditions at the park. Bring your own canoe and arrange your own shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose one of 19 tent sites or 17 RV sites. The RV sites are long back-ins and offer 30/50 amp electric and water hookup, picnic table, outdoor grill, fire ring, and lantern post. Restrooms with showers are located nearby. The maximum length of vehicle is 65 feet. The tenting sites have enough space for families with multiple tents or families camping together. Or rent the air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people). The cabin is next to the San Marcos River near the small fishing pond and four-acre lake with a pathway down to the river for fishing and swimming.

Related Article: America’s Best State Parks

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. 

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newly renovated facilities include four boat launch ramps, marina, boat slips, courtesy docks, modern restrooms, visitor center, showers, campsites, a fishing area for the physically challenged, and sewage disposal and fish cleaning stations.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and power hookups. The campground is located on the east side of the lake. All campsites are available for reservation on a four-month rolling basis.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

The park includes a developed campground with RV sites, six with partial hookups.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, recreational yurts, six-bedroom lodge, and a group campground are available. Camping is year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs up to 60 feet long. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers. Sites have fire-rings, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. All sites are specifically reserved.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Boundless discovery

Get away to new adventures and wide-open beaches. It’s the perfect time to discover why this coastal haven is an escape unlike any other.

Jekyll Island Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club for use as a state park 75 years ago, Governor M.E. Thompson declared the island “a playground that now belongs to every Georgian.” For the first time in its history, a sizeable portion of Georgia’s coastline became available for public use. Plans were quickly implemented to “transform Jekyll into the finest seashore park in America,” from a fading millionaire’s retreat to a public treasure.

A century ago, Jekyll Island provided a winter escape for a handful of America’s wealthiest families who valued its natural beauty, mild climate, and seclusion.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They built magnificent “cottages” and a grand, turreted clubhouse on a sliver of the island’s 5,700 acres, preserving the remainder for hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits. Today, a bike ride across Jekyll reveals remnants of that grandeur, some of it vividly restored, some in ruins—along with modest campgrounds, facilities devoted to public education, pristine new hotels and shops, and, still, vast swaths of untamed landscape.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Jekyll Timeline

Pre-Colonial era: Believed to be called Ospo by Native Americans, the island is fertile ground for hunting, fishing, and shellfish gathering.

1562: French explorers first arrive in the region.

Related: 10 of the Best Places to Visit in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1734: General James Edward Oglethorpe named “Jekyl Island” in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, a politician and financial supporter of the Georgia colony.

1735: British colonial trustees grant 500 acres on Jekyll to William Horton who establishes the South’s first brewery on the island.

1792: Privateer Christophe DuBignon buys the property. For close to a century, the DuBignon family lives on the island growing cotton and promoting it as a hunting getaway.

Jekyll Island cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1861: Confederates occupy the island during the Civil War abandoning it to Union forces in 1862.

1886: A consortium of northern businessmen, among them J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Vanderbilt, buys the island from the DuBignons and creates the Jekyll Island Club, used mainly during winter.

1947: The Georgia State Department of Parks acquires the island for $675,000.

Goodyear Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1948: Jekyll Island opens as a state park. Visitors can rent its cottages and facilities for the same cost as at other state parks.

1950: The Jekyll Island Authority is created with a mandate to operate the island at no cost to the state while protecting it from overdevelopment.

1954: The drawbridge to the island is completed. (Prior to this, visitors could only reach it by boat or plane.)

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1964: Jekyll is integrated through a court order.

1978: The historic district, once home to the Jekyll Island Club, gains National Historic Landmark District status.

1984–1986: The Club’s centerpiece clubhouse is renovated and reopens as a historic hotel.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2007: The Georgia Sea Turtle Center opens.

2010: The Hampton Inn opens, the first new hotel built on Jekyll in more than thirty years.

2012: The new convention center opens.

2015: Beach Village, Westin, and Holiday Inn Resort open as part of an island-wide redevelopment effort while additional historic structures are restored.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landmark Trolley Tour

The Jekyll Island Club members created an exclusive Gilded Age island retreat for family and friends on this barrier island. Those empire builders shaped America’s future, now step into their past. This guided trolley tour of the 240-acre historic district includes entry into Indian Mound Cottage and admission into the Mosaic Gallery and Faith Chapel at your leisure. The tour lasts 60 minutes and begins at Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranger Walks

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources from Jekyll’s park ranger during these unique eco-experiences. Public and private tours are available.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biking

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 22 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. Bikes can be rented from Jekyll Island Bike Barn, Beachside Bike Rentals, and Jekyll Wheels.

Related: Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sea turtle display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Since 2007, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center has treated hundreds of sick and injured turtles with most of the animals returning home to the ocean. Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility is open 9 am-5 pm daily. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Indian Mound Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Golf Club

The history, the challenges, the serenity, and the courses—these are the things that go into making golf “the greatest game there is.” Jekyll Island has a tradition of inspiring some of golf’s greatest stories and living up to expectations.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1898, members of the Jekyll Island Club created the island’s first golf course. The island has been a heralded golf destination ever since attracting such acclaimed designers as Donald Ross, Walter Travis, and Joe Lee—as well as players from around the world.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each course is a masterpiece. Imagine playing through some of Jekyll Island’s most pristine lakes, marshes, and forests. There are very few man-made obstructions here. But you will have to navigate the island’s alligators, osprey and deer.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Campground

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.

Read Next: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Worth Pondering…

A playground that now belongs to every Georgian.

—Governor Melvin Thompson, 1948

Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Exploring the desert and cacti is so awesome and surreal that you’ll feel like you’re on another planet

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long-term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

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

The saguaros are everywhere—thousands of 30-foot-tall green pillars with nubby arms. No matter where I looked, my brain couldn’t help but turn the centuries-old saguaros into a veritable freak show of desert cartoons. There was a sassy lady with her prickly arms at her hips, an emerald strongman showing off his biceps, and a towering mint skyscraper full of carefully carved bird apartments.

Saguaro in Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The giant saguaro (pronounced “sah-wah-roh”) is the universal symbol of the American West. A trip to the Sonoran Desert is not complete without examining one of these famous desert plants. These huge green columnar cacti have fascinated nearly every person who has seen one. To the local Tohono O’Odham people, the saguaro cacti are even more important. These giant cacti are not plants to the Tohono O’Odham but a different type of humanity and are viewed as respected members of the Tohono O’Odham Tribe.

Related Article: Where Are America’s Best Kept Secrets? Think the Southwest Deserts!

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

The saguaro cactus is the largest cactus in the United States and will normally reach heights of 40 feet tall. The tallest saguaro cactus ever measured towered over 78 feet into the air. The saguaro cactus grows like a column at a very slow rate with all growth occurring at the tip, or top of the cactus. It can take 10 years for a saguaro cactus to reach 1 inch in height.

Saguaro in Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 70 years of age, a saguaro cactus can reach 6½ feet tall and will finally start to produce its first flowers. By 95-100 years in age, a saguaro cactus can reach a height of 15-16 feet and could start to produce its first arm. By 200 years old, the saguaro cactus has reached its full height reaching upwards of 45 feet tall. Some saguaros have been seen with dozens of arms while others produce none.

Saguaros at Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west of Tucson. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti, silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cactus Forest Loop Drive in Saguaro’s eastern Rincon Mountain District is an eight-mile paved roadway full of breathtaking views and easy pullouts to nab that perfect sunset shot. Be sure to stop at the .25-mile accessible, interpretive Desert Ecology Trail on the northern rim of the drive.

Related Article: Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Saguaro at Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near the park’s west entrance is a great side trip for families and animal lovers looking to learn more about the flora and fauna of the region. The Museum’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, and a mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants).

Saguaro at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking through the museum’s trails, visitors get acquainted with desert life.  Enjoy live animal presentations that showcase a variety of desert animals and be sure not to miss Raptor Free Flight where native birds of prey fly so close you can feel the brush of feathers!

Saguaro at Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the magic of nature as you ride a comfortable shuttle through the wonders of Sabino Canyon. Ringed by four mountain ranges with magical names—the Santa Catalina to the north, the Santa Rita to the south, the Rincon to the east, and the Tucson to the west—the city of Tucson is surrounded by trails. Each one winds through the rugged and sometimes otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti stand like sentinels in the sand and ancient canyons await exploration.

Saguaro at White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Neighboring the Coronado National Forest, Catalina State Park is located at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains and offers a variety of hiking trails available for on-foot travelers, bicyclists, and horse riders alike. One of the special features of Catalina State Park is the amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Related Article: Saguaro-speckled Desertscapes of Cave Creek Regional Park

Saguaros at North Mountain Park near Casa Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument celebrates the life and landscape of the Sonoran Desert. This is a showcase for creatures who have adapted themselves to the extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, and little rainfall that characterize this Southwest region. Twenty-six species of cactus live here including the giant saguaro and the park’s namesake. This is the only place in the U. S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild.

Saguaros at Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sometimes our journeys begin and end in the same way or with the same emotion. I felt that in the vast Sonoran Desert craning my neck skyward to marvel at the enormous cacti. They are bizarre and cartoonish, yes, but they are also beautiful. Timeless. Centuries-old totems of desert wisdom.

Read Next: Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor