Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

The best parks for snowbirds to explore this winter

While the most familiar of America’s parks are the national parks and state parks, America’s parks operate under a variety of names including county parks, regional parks, metro parks, natural areas, national forests, national grasslands, national wildlife refuges, landmarks, monuments, historic sites, geologic sites, recreation trails, memorial sites, preserves, scenic rivers, and wildlife areas.

So it should not surprise anyone when I say that there are scores of incredible sites worth exploring in America.

Whether you’re looking to explore waterfalls or rivers, volcanoes or deserts, canyons or mountaintops, there’s a park for snowbirds to discover this winter.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park in Arizona

The giant Saguaro cactus is the most distinct feature is this park that straddles the city of Tucson. The park, created to preserve the cacti, boasts some great hikes. Driving Saguaro will take you through a Western landscape that’s unmistakably Arizona.

The busiest time of the year is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the high-70s. Starting in late February and March, the park begins to get a variety of cactus and wildflower blooms. In late April, the iconic Saguaro begins to bloom.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree is a diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The park is home to two deserts: the Colorado which offers low desert formations and plant life, such as ocotillo and teddy bear cholla cactus; and the Mojave. This higher, cooler, wetter region is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Preserving the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S., Congaree National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on hiking trails and the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

The park is also one of the most diverse in the country—with dense forests giving way to massive expanses of swamplands. The forests are some of the biggest and oldest old-growth in America and offer great opportunities for recreation of all kinds.

Catalina State Park in Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park in Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. Visits here can be as active or as relaxing as you like. Try exhilarating water sports, go fishing, learn about coastal creatures at the nature center or simply sprawl out on the sands.

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

Anza-Borrego State Park in California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks in Arizona

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, picnicking and camping, educational programs and guided hikes. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 11 parks in Maricopa County, which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

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

Many RVers prefer state park camping for the access to outdoor activities. Depending on the area, most state parks have all the amenities needed to stay comfortable such as hookups, bathhouses, a dump station, and laundry facilities.

If you are one of the many snowbirds heading south for the winter in an RV, you can find dozens of state parks open for year-round camping. These are 10 of our favorite spots for their great location, spacious RV sites, hookups, and other modern amenities.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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 and trailers 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 mountain, desert, and canyon views.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities. Located near Meaher State Park is the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center; which features a natural history museum, live native wildlife, a theater, gift shop and canoe/kayak rentals. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks. Camping is available at 100 campsites with water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground. Camping reservations must be made for a minimum of two nights.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

In Southern New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park sits on a large reservoir along the Rio Grande River just north of the town Truth or Consequences. State park camping is available at Lions Beach Campground along with a variety of activities on the lake such as boating, fishing, kayaking, and jetskiing. The campground has 173 sites including some with full hookups, as well as primitive beach and boat-in camping. There are also 15 miles of hiking trails, boating facilities, and picnic tables available for day-use.

Note: The park is currently open to New Mexico residents only. Reservations are required for camping and can be made online.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

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 a 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.

Patagonia Lake 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. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

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.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity, are open on a limited basis and are only available through the park office. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby. Castaway Cove (campground activity pool) is available to all visitors to the Park for a fee. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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 invites 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 which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

Most Breathtaking Deserts to Explore in Winter

These deserts are even more stunning in winter

Desert regions might conjure up images of soaring temperatures, rolling sand dunes, and prickly cacti. And while these areas can be excruciatingly hot during the summer, they transform in the winter with falling temperatures, serene landscapes, and even, on occasion, powdery snow.  

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One benefit of winter travel is you’ll usually experience fewer crowds. Winter light can be harsh for photography but it can also create incredible shadows and sunrises and sunsets you just don’t find during the summer months. Depending on the rainfall and temperatures, the latter part of winter may signal impressive spring wildflowers.

From California to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, these eight desert areas are beautiful to explore in winter.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two major deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. This outstanding scenic point overlooks a breathtaking expanse of valley, mountain, and desert.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter brings cooler days, around 60 degrees and freezing nights. It occasionally snows at higher elevations. With the right timing, it doesn’t get more magical than seeing freshly fallen flakes gracing the smoothly rounded boulders that seem straight out of The Flintstones and the Joshua trees that look like something from an alien planet. Don’t miss other highlights of Joshua Tree including the fan palms (Washingtonia filifera). These trees are some of the tallest palms native to North America and can live around 80 or 90 years.

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Organ Pipe is where “summer spends the winter” with warm days (60s) and chilly nights (40s) common from late fall to early spring. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

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

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. There are 28 different species of cacti in the monument, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. These cacti are all highly adapted to survive in the dry and unpredictable desert. They use spines for protection and shade, thick skin, and pulp to preserve water, unique pathways of photosynthesis at night, and hidden under their skin are delicate to sturdy wooden frames holding them together.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

New Mexico is one of our favorite winter road trip destinations and Santa Fe is one reason why. A city that embraces its natural environment, Santa Fe is a city whose beautiful adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape. A city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals. Santa Fe draws those who love art, natural beauty, and those who wish to relax. As the heart of the city and the place where Santa Fe was founded, the Plaza is the city’s most historic area. Surrounded by museums, historic buildings, restaurants, hotels, galleries, and endless shopping, the Plaza is the place to start understanding Santa Fe.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise. Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. An escape from winter’s chill and snow, it is also a destination filled with numerous places to visit and things to do.

Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. There are so many great trails to choose from—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours. Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.

Rio Grande River and Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This sprawling west Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm along the Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size and geographic diversity this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week or more with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend receives very little precipitation as storm systems are blocked by the mountain ranges that surround it. Snow is rare and generally light. Winter visitors should prepare for a variety of conditions. Air temperature changes by five degrees for every 1,000 feet of elevation change; temperatures in the high Chisos Mountains can be 20+ degrees cooler than temperatures along the Rio Grande. Be prepared for this kind of variation during your trip. Winter visitors should be prepared for any weather; temperatures vary from below freezing to above 80 degrees.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego is the largest state park in California with just over 640,000 acres. There are over 10,000 years of human history recorded here including Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. Winter is a popular time to visit Borrego Valley as it’s sunny and warm. When you have sufficient winter rain, spring wildflowers begin to show as early as February. Hiking and mountain biking are popular in the canyon washes and over the ridges of red desert rock.

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

Winter also sees the visitor center open daily. The visitor center is an experience in itself as it was built with the environment in mind. It was built underground and has a landscaped roof topped with plants, native soil, and rocks. You can reserve camping sites in the park which has 175 developed sites, eight primitive campgrounds, and plenty of options for dispersed camping.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

The red rock expanse of Southern Utah is stunning in all seasons, but winter is unique. Arches is one of the most beautiful national parks to visit in winter (seriously!). The quietness of the park is perfect for those hoping to photograph the beauty of Arches in winter. Yes, it does snow in Arches National Park although not often. When it does snow, it tends to be a light covering that melts fairly quickly. If you’re timing is right, you will be able to see the arches and fins covered in snow creating a unique landscape where the orangey-brown rock contrasts beautifully with the white snow. And wherever you roam, you find few other travelers and plenty of peace and solitude.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

Located in Arizona’s high desert under the towering southwestern rim of the vast Colorado Plateau, Sedona is blessed with four mild seasons marked by abundant sunshine and clean air. Almost the entire world knows that Sedona, strategically situated at the mouth of spectacular Oak Creek Canyon, is a unique place. Characterized by massive red-rock formations, as well as the contrasting riparian areas of Oak Creek Canyon, the area surrounding this beloved community is at least as beautiful as many national parks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the winter months, Sedona transforms into a dazzling wonderland with light dustings of snow and millions of twinkling stars amidst the dark night sky. Sitting at 4,500-feet elevation, the town enjoys moderate winters. Mild temperatures during the day are perfect for hiking the famed Red Rock Country. Snow occasionally dusts the upper reaches of the surrounding mesas and mountains in a most picturesque fashion.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Desert Solitude: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park became California’s first desert park in 1933

Anza-Borrego was named for a Spanish explorer and an animal inhabitant. It was through Borrego Valley that Juan Bautista de Anza discovered the first land route to California. This happened five years after Father Junípero Serra had founded the first mission in San Diego.

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

In 1774 Anza led a party of explorers from Arizona south into Mexico and up along the Colorado River, then finally north across a dead sea into California and the Borrego Valley. Coyote Canyon, at the north end of the valley, provided a natural staircase over the mountains.

One of the park’s year-round residents is the desert bighorn sheep. The word “borrego” is Spanish for sheep.

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

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites.

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

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.

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

Anza-Borrego’s historical roots run deep. Within the park’s boundaries are portions of the southern route to the California gold rush, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, and the Southern Emigrant Trail.

Situated northeast of San Diego and south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our journey took us south of Indio on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on S22 (Borrego Salton Seaway) which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo.

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

A considerable diversity of terrain and vegetation awes the visitor. Eroded badlands sprawl at near sea-level elevation and piñon-juniper woodlands cover 6,000-foot-high mountains. The park is a fascinating nature reserve with over 1,000 species of plants amid a great diversity of terrain.

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

To reach the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, drive northeast through the tiny town of Borrego Springs. When you first approach the visitor center you may not see anything except the sign, but look closely. The center is built into the earth—be a desert ground squirrel and burrow deeply into the attractive chambers for a bounty of desert touring information. Exhibits include a film of an actual earthquake experience as it occurred in the desert here, live pupfish, desert stones to touch, and temperature gauges.

Flora, fauna, and wildlife you might see near the visitor center are ocotillo, cholla, desert bighorn sheep, roadrunners, black-tailed jackrabbits, and several species of hummingbirds.

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

At first glance, the desert can seem like an inhospitable place, which makes Anza-Borrego’s wildflower bloom seem all the more miraculous. The park’s more than 200 flowering plant species put on a brilliant display each spring—if winter rains have worked their magic.

Typically the bloom occurs between late February and April, with early March being the safest bet. Once the bloom starts, it lasts only for a few weeks.

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

Borrego Palm Canyon Trail usually has good displays of spiky ocotillo, saffron-yellow brittlebrush, and desert lavender. For a longer trek, hike about 3 miles into Hellhole Canyon and reap rewards of flowering barrel cactus and sweet-smelling lupine, plus cascading water at Maidenhair Falls.

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

If you have a 4WD, scope out the sand verbena and dune evening primrose along what’s commonly called Coyote Canyon Jeep Trail, a dirt road at the north end of DiGiorgio Road.

There are more stories to tell about some of the other interesting places in this area. Watch this space.

The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay: Palm Canyon Campground (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park); The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

The 10 Best State Parks in America

These underdogs can hold their own against the national parks any day

America’s 62 national parks may get all the glory and the Ken Burns documentaries but nearly three times as many people visit the country’s 10,234 state parks each year. In total, they span more than 18 million acres across the US—or roughly the size of South Carolina.

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

This summer with so much of the world effectively grounded and many national parks limiting access and services, state parks are poised for a long-overdue place in the spotlight offering a chance to get out, stretch, and explore. Below you’ll find the cream of the state-park crop from picturesque mountainscapes and deserts, lakes and ocean beaches, and expansive hikers’ playgrounds. Time to get outside! Here’s how to do it right.

NOTE: Be sure to double-check each park’s status before making the trip—as with most things right now, their status can change day by day.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

It may be South Carolina‘s most visited state park but that doesn’t stop this secluded barrier island located 15 miles east of Beaufort from being one of the most picturesque destinations in the South thanks to its famous lighthouse, pristine beaches, and popular fishing lagoon. Fun fact: many of the Vietnam scenes from Forrest Gump were filmed here.

Adirondack Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adirondack Park, New York

Part state park, part forest preserve, and part privately owned land encompassing 102 towns and villages, Adirondack Park is massive. Totaling 6.1 million acres, America’s biggest state park is larger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Nearly half of the land is owned by the State of New York and designed as “forever wild,” encompassing all of the Adirondacks’ famed 46 High Peaks as well as 3,000 lakes and 30,000 miles of river. So pack up the canoe or kayak, get ready to scale Mount Marcy, or simply meander about its 2,000 miles of hiking trails. You’re gonna be here a while.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is just over an hour north of Las Cruces, bordering the Rio Grande. As New Mexico’s largest state park, there are plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Fishing, boating, kayaking, and jet skiing are all commonplace at Elephant Butte Lake. For less water-based activities, you can enjoy the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around the lake. Camping is allowed, including along the beach.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in South Dakota‘s fabled Black Hills region, the state’s first and largest state park is most famous for its photogenic herd of 1,500 wild bison that freely roam the land as well as other Wild West creatures like pronghorns, bighorn sheep, burros, and mountain lions. The scenery is everything you think of when you close your eyes and picture the great American West, laid out amidst 71,000 acres of vast open vistas and mountain lakes. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. The place is so cool that even President Calvin Coolidge made it his “summer White House,” so that has to count for something, right?

Myakka State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park, Florida

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. There are 120 campsites available, 95 with water and 50/30 amp electric service. Most sites are spacious and level easily accommodating the largest of RVs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Sprawling out across a stark expanse of 600,000 acres, California’s largest state park (and second-largest in the lower 48) is a crown jewel of America’s state park system. By day it has 110 miles of hiking trails to explore and 12 designated wildlife areas and by night the huge desertscape delivers some of the best stargazing in America. The park is also a site of great geological importance as it has been found to contain over 500 types of fossils that are up to 6 million years old. If you can’t picture the prehistoric vibes on your own, there are also 130+ giant metal animal sculptures that pop up out of nowhere as you roam the park’s unforgiving terrain.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

You could be forgiven for thinking you drove to Utah and ended up in the Grand Canyon instead. Mountain biking the Intrepid Trail is a must for thrill seekers, but the more relaxed can simply gaze open-mouthed at the deep-red rocks and glorious hues via panoramic vistas of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The park gets its name from horses that died in this unforgiving landscape and with much of the park open with unfenced cliffs and little signage you’re best exercise a bit of common sense if you want to make it out of here alive.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville. One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. 

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so emerges with sunshine and air and running water that whole eons might pass in a single afternoon without notice.

—Loren Eisley

3 Classic California Road Trips to Drive in Your Lifetime

California’s iconic sunshine, endless outdoor experiences, and ever-changing landscapes is your road trip dream come true

California is, hands down, one of the best places for a road trip. It’s the third largest state in the US and its 164,000 square miles are packed with glorious, varied terrain highlighted by 66 scenic byways. Rocky desert landscapes give way to rolling farmlands, and two-lane highways carve through quiet groves of towering sequoias before climbing into the high, rugged peaks of the 352 mountain ranges.

Famous Sundial Bridge at Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With all that, it’s no wonder you simply cannot get to know the Golden State unless you hit the road. We’ve gathered together three essential California road trips to get you started. Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Distance: 188 miles

Lassen Volcanic National Park and the area around form one of the more beautiful parts of California especially if you’re a mountain junkie who loves craggy peaks and volcanic rock. But it’s one that even locals often miss, partly because of its distance from major population centers. But those who make the trek should plan for a minimum of three days with plenty of day hikes and geologic curiosities—this is, after all, volcano country. 

Sacramento River as seen from the Sundial Bridge in Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in Redding, a bustling city on the Sacramento River, travel north on 1-5 to Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. Continue north on I-5, passing through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and maybe stopping to take in the ragged spires at Castle Crags State Park before reaching Mount Shasta where you can stop to stroll through town or hike in the mountain’s foothills.

Lassen Peak © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, escape from the interstate and head south on Highway 89. This section of the highway is actually part of the 500-mile Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway which travels from Oregon in the north down to Lassen along the Cascade Mountain Range. Take some time to hike McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park and see the 129-foot-tall waterfall that shares a name with the park. Or kayak and paddleboard on serene Lake Almanor. Finish your trip with a day, or two, wandering through Lassen Volcanic National Park which is filled with mud pots, geysers, lava fields, shield and cinder cone volcanoes, mountain lakes, and even a few green meadows where you’ll find wildflowers in the spring. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Highway (Highway 49)

Distance: 295 miles

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or “49ers” who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike it rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada too. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Sutter Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start off with a history lesson at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, just north of Oakhurst. As you drive north along the route, you’ll pass a number of Gold Rush–era buildings and towns. In Coulterville, Hotel Jeffery, first built in 1851, is known for paranormal activities and claims John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt as past visitors. Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 Historic State Park gives a glimpse of what transportation was like in the late 1800s and Columbia State Historic Park and the town of Jackson are both well-preserved mining towns. 

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 49 passes over the South Fork of the American River near Placerville which is a popular place for river rafting. A little farther north here, in Coloma, you can actually try your own luck with a gold pan at Sutter’s Mill in Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. Continue up through Auburn State Recreation Area where the north and middle forks of the American River meet stopping in Auburn’s Old Town and later Nevada City for Victorian-era homes and a little more historic charm.

Along the Gold Rush Trail in Murphys© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there Highway 49 heads northeast through Tahoe National Forest but there’s more mining history to see before you end in Vinton. Be sure to stop at Empire Mine in Grass Valley, one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and richest gold mines in California.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Drive

Distance: 290 miles

Plenty of travelers make the trip from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park to marvel at its spiky namesake trees. But many think of Joshua Tree as a destination and miss out on all the beautiful and sometimes quirky things the deserts of Southern California have to offer along the way. In fact, you should really spend a full week exploring the rock formations, wildflower meadows, art installations, and architectural hot spots of this region.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in San Diego, point your vehicle northeast on Highway 163 to Highway 78 heading toward Julian, a year-round getaway for the day, a weekend, or longer. Julian is also well-known for its famous homemade apple pie served year-round. Born during the 1870s gold rush, Julian is a small town cradled in the mountains, surrounded by apple orchards.

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

Continue east to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, famous for its wildflower super blooms in the springtime. But even when the flowers aren’t blooming, the landscape is striking, with its badlands, slot canyons, and cactus forests. Near the park entrance, keep an eye out for the 130-foot prehistoric animal sculptures created by Ricardo Breceda.

Borrego Desert sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you’ve explored the park, you can either head north on Highway 79 and cut through Anza en route to Palm Desert—the drive through wooded Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument is a nice break from the desert sun—or continue on Palm Canyon Drive toward the Salton Sea.

Salton Sea from Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in late afternoon light © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Salton Sea is fascinating: It’s one of the world’s largest inland seas and is rapidly drying up. Skirt the southside of the body of water then make your way toward Slab City, an abandoned Navy base that’s become an off-grid living community and the massive, hand-built and brightly painted art piece Salvation Mountain just outside.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Slab City, take Highway 111 north to Palm Springs, an oasis of midcentury modern architecture that’s home to plenty of pools that provide respite from the heat. From Palm Springs, follow Highway 62 to Yucca Valley and Pioneer Town for a drink or a meal or maybe a concert at the famous saloon Pappy and Harriet’s. Joshua Tree has long attracted artists and bohemian types, so while there’s plenty of natural scenery to enjoy such as Jumbo Rocks or Skull Rock.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

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

Skip the traffic, crowds, and costs

America’s 61 national parks are some of America’s greatest national treasures. Yellowstone National Park was first, designated in 1872, and 44 years later, President Woodrow Wilson created the National Park Service. This was an official way to commit to protecting and preserving America’s most beautiful and unique natural spaces, ecosystems, and habitats for future generations to enjoy.

Fast forward a century plus, and the number of annual visits to national parks has surpassed 300 million.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s great that so many people appreciate this great resource and want to get out and enjoy the parks, anyone who’s sat in an endless line of traffic to enter Zion or Arches in Utah knows that the popularity of national parks can hinder the beauty of the experience.  Visiting a national park becomes less appealing when you take into account the mobs of people elbowing each other to take a selfie at the Grand Canyon and the overcrowded parking lots and scenic overlooks.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the national parks are some truly fantastic state parks that aren’t getting the crowds or the attention. These smaller unsung heroes feature scenery and outdoor adventures that rival national parks. And fewer visitors mean easier access to parking space, hiking trails, fishing spots, and campsites. Another bonus: if you’re traveling with Fido, most state parks allow dogs on trails whereas national parks do not.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10,234 state parks in the U. S., spanning 18 million acres, so get out there and explore. Here are some notable parks to get you inspired. Go ahead and argue with our choices, but here’s our list of places that we can’t stop drooling over.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This park has several dramatic scenic overlooks and an 8-mile hiking trail that includes vistas from the East and West Rim Trails. There’s a 17-mile single track mountain biking trail and road biking options. Three campgrounds include RV campsites, yurts, and hike-in tent-only campsites.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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 invites camping, picnicking and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia

Stephen C. Foster State Park named after the popular Southern songwriter is one of the primary entrances to the famed Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Spanish moss-laced trees reflect off the black swamp waters while cypress knees rise upward from the glass-like surface.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The 4,000 acres of wind-sculpted sand dunes found at this Texas state park resemble a landscape straight out of the Sahara. The Harvard Oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above 3 feet in height even though their root structure may extend down 90 feet or more. The park offers an interpretive center and museum as well as picnicking and camping…and many visitors’ favorite activity, sand surfing.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 6,000-acre Gulf State Park offers more than 2 ½ miles of white sand beaches, a convention site, 468-site campground, resort inn, modern 2 and 3 bedroom cabins, nature center, interpretative programs, family resort, marina, 18-hole and 9-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and an 825-foot pier—the longest on the Gulf of Mexico.

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a short walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Anza Borrego State Park, California

Anza Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One surprise about this area of the southeastern Californian desert is the palm oases which you come upon in the Borrego Palm Canyon through the park’s most-visited hiking trail. When you want to take a break from hiking, you can make yourself at home in Borrego Springs, a small town entirely encompassed by the State park itself and full of art as well as natural beauty. Anza Borrego has numerous camping options with four established campgrounds and 175 total campsites.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is a major lure

The park’s name was derived from that of an early Spanish explorer, Juan Bautista de Anza, who came through in 1774 in search of a land route from Sonora, Mexico, to Spanish settlements along the California coast. The explorer’s name is combined with Borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep that live in the rocky hillsides of this desert.

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

Covering more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego is the largest state parks in the contiguous United States. From a distance, its mountains and valleys look dry and barren—yet amidst the arid, sandy landscape you can find regions rich in vegetation and animal life.

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

Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.

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

Early American history holds a prominent place in the Anza-Borrego story; between the years 1848 and 1880, a steady stream of California-bound travelers crossed the Anza-Borrego Desert along the Southern Immigrant Trail or by way of the Butterfield Stage Line on their way west from Missouri. This was the only all-weather road overland route across the American continent at that time. Thousands of sheep and cattle also made the arduous journey as Arizona ranchers drove their herds across the desert to feed the hungry miners in California gold fields.

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

Situated northeast of San Diego and due south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our own journey took us along Interstate 10, then south on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on County Highway 22, which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo, with their graceful wands richly tipped in deep scarlet-red blossoms.

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

Driving to the state park visitor center we were momentarily confused. Walking up the trail there were no buildings in sight. Then we realized that the visitor center had been built underground with a desert garden covering it. The 7,000 square-foot building houses exhibits, a small theater, and bookstore. Park rangers were helpful in answering our queries and directing us to interesting scenic drives and hikes.

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

Later in the day we drove our four-wheel-drive dinghy up the sandy wash to Fonts Point, where the Borrego Badlands spread out to the southeast. Deep chocolate ridges twisted and turned in convoluted patterns of crumbling sandstone where thick layers of fossilized shellfish and coral told the story of an ancient sea that covered the area millions of years ago.

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

Driving southwest of Borrego Springs to Ocotillo Wells we drove south on Split Mountain Road to Split Mountain where tremendous geological pressure had rolled a sandstone cliff into a spectacular, spiral rock face. The road wound through the middle of a sandy wash, and we held our breath a couple of time when our tires started to spin in the deep sand.

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

Farther along Split Mountain Road we parked and hiked back to see rare elephant trees with their thick, stubby trunks, free-form limbs and peeling yellowish bark. Early Native Americans used the reddish-colored sap of the tree as a dye. Near the end of the road we hiked the steep but easy trail up to the wind caves which as strange sandstone formations from an ancient seabed. From there, we had a splendid view out over the Carrizo Badlands and the unique Elephant Knees formation.

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

Yet another dinghy side trip, this time following County Highway 2 took us southeast along the Old Southern Immigrant Trail as it wound in and out of the park boundary. Reaching the Blair Valley area, we pulled off and hiked the short 0.25-mile Morteros Trail to a boulder-strewn area where a Kumeyaay village stood centuries ago, leaving their story behind in the agave cooking pits and metates that are still found there. Unique pictographs tell more of their story to those who may have any idea how to decipher them.

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

The Anza-Borrego Desert with its incredible beauty, its mystery and legends is quite a lure. And there’s so much more to discover on our next visit.

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

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Discover these lesser-known natural wonders

America’s state parks may keep a lower profile than the renowned national parks but that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a worthwhile destination. With 8,565 designated areas spanning over 18 million acres of land, there’s an incredible range of outdoor experiences to explore—including some real standouts that deserve to be on your RV travel radar.

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

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

This state park in southeast Utah has drawn comparisons to the Grand Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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 invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. Commonly encountered species of wildlife include javelin, coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and various reptiles.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

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 forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular activities. 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. Rustic, modern, and full service sites are available.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, for the old Kentucky Home far away.”

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours. Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill was the home of Judge John Rowan. Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Boasting South Carolina’s only publicly accessible lighthouse, Hunting Island is a popular stop on the coast. It has five miles of beaches, a saltwater lagoon, and 5,000 acres of marshland and maritime forest, plus one hundred campsites. Local wildlife includes loggerhead turtles, which nest in the summer, alligators, and hundreds of bird species.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie, which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, big horn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites. Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or kayaking on the scenic river. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites.

Worth Pondering…

Don’t live the same year 75 times and call it a life.
—Robin Sharma