Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

With towering red rock formations, natural stone arches, and 77,000 acres of land to explore, Arches National Park lives up to its name. The park is minutes from the city of Moab. Deciding what to see can be somewhat overwhelming as the crescent-shaped rocks seem to be everywhere. So far, there are 2,000 confirmed rust-colored natural formations in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best times to visit Arches National Park are April-May and September-October. The National Parks Service states on its website that traffic can get congested and parking can be a problem from March through October. However, we visited in late October and the park was not overcrowded, parking was not an issue, and it was cool but comfortable.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Delicate Arch is the most famous and popular arch in the world and is seen on TV and in photographs many times over. People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of this iconic stone. Visitors cannot see the arch from the car, however—there are a couple of viewing points to see the arch without a long walk. If you are hiking to the arch, allow at least two to three hours. At Delicate Arch is a historic homestead from the turn of the 20th century, Wolfe Ranch. On the hike the homestead can be seen, as well as Ute Indian petroglyphs.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Windows Section of the park is an area where Turret Arch, Double Arch, and North and South Windows are located. These are some of the largest arches in the park.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balanced Rock can be seen from the road and those wanting a short hike can walk around it and get views of the Windows Section.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden is home to a variety of arches that are connected by hiking trails. Landscape Arch is located at the end of the Devils Garden Trail. Possibly even more delicate than Delicate Arch, this 290-foot sandstone spiderweb makes you feel like you might be the last person to see it intact. It’s an easy 0.8-mile hike from the Devils Garden Trailhead with numerous other arches you can add on to your hike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers are seen shortly after passing the visitors center and making your way up the steep winding road. The canyon walls of Park Avenue stand tall with the thin, statuesque rocks resembling a big-city street lined with skyscrapers. You can walk among massive monoliths and towering walls and see views of the nearby La Sal Mountains. Beyond the viewpoint, the trail descends steeply into the spectacular canyon and continues one mile to Courthouse Towers.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether your visit is for one day or a week, taking the scenic drive is the best way to see the highlights. Driving all the paved roads in the park would take about 4.5 hours with time to stop at each viewpoint.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you only have a short time to drive, go as far as you can and it is easy to turn around and go back to town or make your way to the next destination. Maps are available at the visitors’ center.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking opportunities are abundant. Hikers can spend days on the trails which vary in length and skill level ranging from a 50-yard nature trail to a several-hour hike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab offers visitors many places to camp, eat, and play. Outdoor activities include Colorado River rafting, canyoneering, golfing, rock climbing, slick-rock biking, and more.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Moab and Arches visitors can go to Canyonlands National Park. Also close by are Dead Horse Point State Park and Manti-La Sal National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

Time, geologic time, looks out at us from the rocks as from no other objects in the landscape.

—John Burroughs

Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Overrun.

As red-rock meccas like Moab, Zion, and Arches become overrun with visitors, I have to wonder if Utah’s celebrated Mighty Five ad campaign worked too well—and who gets to decide when a destination is “at capacity”

Though COVID-19 has stalled a lot of travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

Utah had a problem. Shown a photo of Delicate Arch, people guessed it was in Arizona. Asked to describe states in two adjectives, they called Colorado green and mountainous but Utah brown and Mormon. It was 2012. Anyone who had poked around canyon country’s spires and red rocks knew it was the most spectacular place on the continent—maybe the world—so why did other states get the good rep? 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state tourism folks hired an ad firm called Struck. They created a rebrand labeled the Mighty Five, a multimedia campaign to extol the state’s national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches. By 2013, a 20-story mash-up of red-rock icons towered as a billboard in Los Angeles. Delicate Arch bopped around London on the sides of taxicabs. The pinnacle was a 30-second commercial that was masterpiece. It was like they took natural features that have been there forever and parks that have been there for decades and putting it together with a new brand.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mighty Five campaign was a smash. The number of visitors to the five parks jumped 12 percent in 2014, 14 percent in 2015, and 20 percent in 2016, leaping from 6.3 million to over 10 million in just three years. The state coffers filled with sales taxes paid on hotels and rental cars and restaurants. The Struck agency brags that the state got a return on its investment of 338 to 1.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And then, on Memorial Day weekend of 2015, nearly 3,000 cars descended on Arches National Park for their dose of Wow. All 875 parking places were taken with scores more vehicles scattered in a haphazard unplanned way. The line to the entrance booth spilled back half a mile blocking Highway 191. The state highway patrol took the unprecedented step of closing it effectively shutting down the park. Hundreds of rebuffed visitors drove 30 miles to Canyonlands where they waited an hour in a two-mile line of cars. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since then, Arches has been swamped often enough to shut its gate at least nine times including the most recent Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, in Zion, hikers wait 90 minutes to board a shuttle and an additional two to four hours to climb the switchbacks of Angels Landing. There, visitors sometimes find outhouses shuttered with a sign that reads: “Due to extreme use, these toilets have reached capacity.”

Moab is the gateway to Arches where famous landmarks like Delicate Arch, Fiery Furnace, and the Windows are reached by a single dead-end road. More than any other town, it has borne the brunt of the tourism spike.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the county population has grown in 30 years from roughly 6,500 to 9,500 and where there were a dozen or so small inns there’s been an enormous growth in lodging: there are now 36 hotels and 2,600 rooms, plus 600 overnight rentals, and 1,987 campsites. There’s no way to track how many people occupy each, but on a fully booked holiday that’s at least 15,000 people vastly outnumbering the locals. Traffic jams extend from tip to tail, and the two-mile drag down Main Street is a 30-minute morass. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe we can think of the Utah Office of Tourism as Dr. Frankenstein and its Mighty Five campaign as the glorious creature run amok.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course neither the tourism folks nor the Mighty Five campaign can take full credit for these booming figures or for the onslaught of tourists. Other factors helped. In 2016, the Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday launching its own ad campaign; between 2013 and 2016, park visits jumped 21 percent nationwide. The past six years have seen a recovery from the recession, low fuel prices, and a continued reluctance by Americans to travel overseas. And social media creates its own viral marketing.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Utah is a victim—or beneficiary—of the global phenomenon of overtourism that has wreaked havoc from Phuket to Venice and Machu Picchu. The rise in disposable income, the advent of discount airlines, and innovations like Airbnb and TripAdvisor made travel easier and cheaper.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t want to just be a curmudgeon who mourns the passage of time and fights any change to the way things were. I will never be young again, I get that. But maybe, one way we tap into the eternal is to see how that which is not made by human hand will outlast us all, just as it preceded us. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church—this is Zion.

— Isaac Behunin, 1861

National Parks Week: Teetering in the Unknown

From Shenandoah and Arches to Joshua Tree National Park these scenic drives are worth the trip

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has impacted RV travel right now. As RVers, travel is our way of life and, if you’re like us, you’re feeling the frustration of being limited to one location without the freedom to travel. 2020 is certainly presenting new challenges and now, more than ever, we realize that the freedom to travel is something we can’t take for granted. Now is a great time to start thinking of places you’d like to go—especially national parks.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The late travel icon Anthony Bourdain might have said it best: “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.” It’s about that friction of nervous excitement, that exultant moment, giving way to revelation as you open your senses to somewhere different and new. That’s the mark of an RV trip well taken.

White National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Teetering in the unknown” doesn’t necessarily mean winging it—you need to know where to go before you actually go and just as important the why and the when. That’s where we come in. We littered our motorhome with maps to find the three coolest road trips in honor of National Parks Week.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state of Virginia is home to Shenandoah National Park set along the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western part of the state. The park features a range of environments including forests, wetlands, and mountain peaks as well as waterfalls, hiking trails, picnic areas, and wildlife.

Scenic Drive

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting at the Front Royal Entrance, you’ll get to the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center in about four miles. Take in the view and make plans for hikes to take and waterfalls to see. Skyline Drive is the starting point for a variety of hiking trails many of which permit dogs making Shenandoah one of the most pet-friendly national parks.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll very likely spot wildlife like bears, deer, groundhogs, or wild turkeys crossing the road from your car and many overlooks from the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains provide stunning views.

Scenic Drive, Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In southeastern Utah, near the town of Moab, is a wonderland of more than 2,000 sandstone arches, set in a picturesque landscape of soaring fins and spires. The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only three feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Scenic Drives

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turnoffs lead to the Windows section and Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located in southeastern California about an hour east of Palm Springs. Named for the twisted trees that reminded early Mormon settlers of arms reaching up in prayer, Joshua Tree includes parts of both the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Striking rock formations, boulders, and varied terrain make Joshua Tree popular with hikers, campers, and rock climbers. The weather ranges from very hot summers to colder winters and occasional snow.

Scenic Drives

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park can be entered from the north at either Joshua Tree or Twenty-nine Palms. From the south the entrance is from I-10 and the first Visitor Center is at Cottonwood. Stop at the Cholla Cactus Garden where you can walk (carefully) on a path among the prickly cacti. Geology Tour Road is an 18-mile drive through some of the park’s most fascinating landscapes. The Keys View detour takes you to an elevation of 5,185 feet for views of the Coachella Valley, Salton Sea, and San Jacinto Peak.

If You’re Not a Hiker

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll be surrounded by views of rocks, hills, Joshua Trees, and more on the drive through the park. The panoramic sights from Keys View can be seen from the parking area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

In southeastern Utah, near the town of Moab, is a wonderland of more than 2,000 sandstone arches, set in a picturesque landscape of soaring fins and spires

Five miles east of Moab in southeastern Utah, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches are preserved at Arches National Park. The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

Visitor Center and entrance road to Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor’s first stop should be the visitor center, located just inside the park entrance. The modern center offers excellent interactive exhibits and a film that highlights Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park. Park rangers are available to assist in planning hikes and other activities, answer questions, and provide maps and other materials.

Park Avenue area at Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the park, the 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Balanced Rock, a turnoff leads to the Windows section, home to the first concentration of arches and some of the parks largest. Short trails lead from the road to Cove Arch and to Double Arch. This side road ends at the site of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

Along the 18-mile Scenic Drive in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking area, a one-mile trail loop leads visitors around and through three massive arches. The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to the main park road, the Scenic Drive continues for 2.5 miles to another turnoff which leads to Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. One mile past Wolfe Ranch, you can access two viewpoints for the iconic 52-foot Delicate Arch, which is commemorated on the centennial Utah state license plate.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. Due to the maze-like canyons , it’s best explore the area as part of a ranger-guided tour.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Open year-round, the campground offers 52 sites, flush toilets, and water. Evening campfire programs are presented at the campground several times per week in season. Camping fees are charged. Please note that this campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Trail showcases many of the park’s best arches and can be hiked from 1.6 miles to 7.2 miles, depending on your time, fitness level, and number of arches you wish to see. The shortest leg takes visitors to the Famous Landscape Arch, an amazing ribbon of rock that spans more than a football field from base to base.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is hard to believe that a piece of rock like this can exist. In its thinnest section the arch is only 6 feet thick, yet it supports a span of rock 290 feet long. In 1991, a 73-foot slab of rock fell out from underneath the thinnest section of the span, thinning the ribboned curve even more. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1995, a 47-foot mass of rock fell from the front of the thinnest section of the arch, followed by another 30-foot rock fall less than three weeks later. Due to these events the Park Service has closed the loop trail that once led underneath the arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the Colorado Plateau, the park’s elevation ranges from 4,085 feet to 5,653 feet. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

When hiking all trails in Arches, it’s important to drink plenty of water, regardless of the season. The park recommends visitors drink a minimum of 1 gallon of water a day.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe.

It has symmetry, elegance, and graced—

those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures.

You can find it the turning of the seasons,

in the way sand trails along a ridge…

—Frank Herbert, Dune

Utah Runneth Over With National Parks

America’s southwest is home to lots of jaw-dropping scenery—how do you decide where to go and what to see?

The days are getting warmer, there’s more daylight hours, and school will soon be out. A great formula for a summer vacation, for sure.

BUT, where to go and what to do?

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you enjoy wide open spaces, room to stretch your legs, and unlimited opportunities to observe Mother Nature at its finest—consider UTAH.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a state that is 13th in area, Utah has an amazing number of locations managed by the National Park Service. These parks include seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, one national historical site, and five national parks. It is these “crown jewels,” the BIG FIVE, we’ll briefly describe in today’s post.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the southwest corner of Utah is magnificent Zion National Park. Highway access is prime at this incredible park, as I-15 rims the park on its western edge. SR-9 runs through the southern portion of the park, and 12 miles east is the community of Mt. Carmel Junction.

Located at the park’s southern entrance, Springdale offers numerous visitor facilities.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV camping is available inside the park at South Campground (117 sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites) near the south entrance of Springdale. Reservations are strongly suggested as both campgrounds are full every night during the reservation season. Several private RV parks are available a short drive from the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help ease traffic congestion, a shuttle service runs from early March through October. There are two shuttle loops. The Zion Canyon Shuttle connects the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to stops at nine locations on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Springdale Shuttle has nine stops in the town of Springdale. The Springdale Shuttle will take you to the park’s Pedestrian Entrance near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is all about hiking, and the beauty of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This famous drive runs from the visitor center to the famous Temple of Sinawava.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is located northeast of Zion.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls, carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater (pictured above), which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks called hoodoos (odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion). Their colors vary, giving the area unusual hues during the changing daylight hours. The largest collection of hoodoos in the world is found in Bryce. Descriptions fail. Bring your sense of wonder and imagination when visiting Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North (99 sites) and Sunset (100 sites), located in close proximity to the visitor center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and Bryce Amphitheater. Sites fill by early afternoon during the busy summer months.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to Rainbow Point (18 miles one way) and stop at the 13 viewpoints on your return trip. Hiking trails are numerous. Since park elevations reach over 9,000 feet, even mild exertion may leave you feeling light-headed and nauseated.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park preserves 337,598 acres of colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires in the heart of southeast Utah’s high desert. Water and gravity have been the prime architects of this land, sculpting layers of rock into the rugged landscape you see today.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands preserves the natural beauty and human history throughout its four districts (Islands in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, Horseshoe Canyon) which are divided by the Green and Colorado rivers. While the districts share a primitive desert atmosphere, each retains its own character and offers different opportunities for exploration and adventure.

Island in the Sky is the most accessible district, offering expansive views from many overlooks along the paved scenic drive, several hikes of varying length and a moderate four-wheel-drive route called the White Rim Road.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available in the Islands of the Sky District at Willow Flat (12 sites) and Needles District at Needles Campground (27 sites).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Almost next door, is smaller, unusual, Arches National Park. It is located 5 miles northwest of Moab. Visitor services including several RV parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile scenic road passes the many outstanding natural features. Parking is limited at all destinations, and popular trailheads like Delicate Arch and Devils Garden may fill for hours at a time, especially on weekends and holidays. Tent and RV camping is available at Devils Garden Campground (51 sites), 18 miles from the park entrance.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s main driving tours include the paved Scenic Drive and two long, mainly unpaved, loop tours through the park’s Cathedral and Waterpocket Districts. The Scenic Drive starts at the park Visitor Center and provides access to Grand Wash Road, Capitol Gorge Road, Pleasant Creek Road, and South Draw Road. The Scenic Drive is a 7.9 mile paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 71-site Fruita campground is the only developed campground in the park, located south of the visitor center in the Fruita Historic District.

Utah national parks bring superlative sights like no other state. It’s one of the few where someone can look at a picture and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s Utah.”.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

America’s 10 Most Popular National Parks, Ranked

The top 10 national parks according to which ones are the best

The national parks system is arguably the best idea America ever had. More than 300 million people visit every year, pouring over $35 billion into the national economy.

Many parks offer free entrance days—for some, every single day is a free entrance day—and if you want to go all out, an $80 annual pass gets you unlimited access to all the national parks for the entire year.

But which parks to visit? There are currently a whopping 60 national parks in America. To help narrow the playing field, we have thusly ranked what are, per to National Parks Service’s 2017 data, the 25 most-visited.

Now, it should be noted that the least-visited national parks are often the least-visited not because they are uncool, but because they are geographically inconvenient for most visitors to reach (like Virgin Islands National Park or Alaska’s Gates of the Arctic). By the same token, Great Smoky Mountains National Park wins “most-visited” year after year on a technicality (basically, people drive through it a lot just to get from Point A to Point B).

But while it is widely known that there is nothing bloggers love more than to put things in numerical order according to how good they are, I don’t love it enough to do 60 things or even 25 things. I will be doing 10 things.

Did we rank the parks according their uniqueness, or photogenicness, or diversity of flora and fauna, or for the level of adventure contained therein? Yes. We ranked them according to which ones are the best. Let’s begin.

10. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands, near Moab, has always been upstaged by its more famous neighbors, Grand Canyon to the south and Arches to the north; and yet it merits a visit just as much as they do. Ancient waters and relentless winds have carved intricate canyons, pillars, stairs, and narrow paths through the sandstone, creating a stunning park that’s best explored on foot or bicycle. There are very few paved roads throughout the park’s 527 square miles.

9. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Lassen Volcanic is one of few locations on Earth where you can see all four types of volcanoes—plug dome, shield, cinder, and cone. While Lassen Peak is the most famous, as well as the dominant feature in the park, there are numerous other—literally—hotspots to explore including mud pots, stinking fumaroles, and hot springs.

8. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree is no more, but we’ve still got General Sherman—the biggest tree in the world, weighing in at 275 feet tall and 60 feet wide. We’ve also got the underground stalactites and stalagmites of the Crystal Cave system. This is a park where you go to be fully immersed in nature; most of it isn’t accessible by car.

7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

The Clingman’s Dome observatory tower offers truly incredible panoramic views of the whole mountain range and to really cap things off you can pick your fill of wild strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries while you’re hiking around.

6. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve


Zion is a perennial favorite. Backcountry hikers and climbers come here for The Subway, a nine-plus-mile hike that can involve rappelling, depending on which direction you try to tackle it from. The slot canyons here, set off by rust-red rocks and waterfalls (don’t miss Weeping Rock) are undeniably iconic, and Angel’s Landing is a great underrated hike.

5. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

One of the most beautiful places in America, this park contains a massive collection of naturally formed amphitheatres and spire-shaped features called hoodoos that are some of the most distinct-looking geological features you’ll ever see in your life.

4. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Joshua Tree become more beloved every year. Climbers enjoy the wide variety of rock faces available to them here. The dry, arid desert is notably home to 501 archaeological sites and camping among the rugged geological features and famously twisted Joshua Trees—to say nothing of the stargazing—is something everyone should do at least once.

3. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Most of the meager attention that gets paid to Capitol Reef—it’s competing with four other national parks in the state of Utah alone—revolves around the Waterpocket Fold, a unique 100-mile-long wrinkle in the Earth’s crust. But you don’t have to be a geology nerd to enjoy what this park has to offer.

2. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Thanks to millions of years of sandstone erosion, we’re blessed with the beauty that is the Arches National Park. There are over 2,000 natural stone arches in this 119-square mile park, the most famous being the 65-foot Delicate Arch.

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Truly a sight beyond words, the Grand Canyon should be on every RVer’s bucket list. You can’t describe in words what takes your breath away with each view.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

The vast and rugged desert surrounding Moab is known for its starkly beautiful red-rock country and fantastic rock formations

Moab is unique in that it has two national parks just outside city limits: Arches and Canyonlands, about 10 miles apart, and each represent different visions of what a national park can be.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Five miles east of Moab, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches are preserved at Arches National Park.

Natural arches abound at the park and come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once inside the park, the 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Continuing on the park road, a turnoff leads to the Windows section, home to the first concentration of arches and some of the parks largest. Short trails lead from the road to Cove Arch and to Double Arch. This side road ends at the site of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Returning to the main park road, the Scenic Drive continues for 2.5 miles to another turnoff which leads to Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace, home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Devils Garden Trail showcases many of the park’s best arches and can be hiked from 1.6 miles to 7.2 miles, depending on your time, fitness level, and number of arches you wish to see. The shortest leg takes visitors to the Famous Landscape Arch, an amazing ribbon of rock that spans more than a football field from base to base.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands National Park covers a vast area of wilderness, centered round the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. The park preserves an immense wilder­ness of rock, in which water and gravity have carved hundreds of canyons, mesas, buttes, spires, arches, and other spectacular rock formations.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Green and Colorado rivers have carved two large canyons that serve as the centerpieces for the colorful but smaller canyons that sur­round the area.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Over millions of years, the rivers and their small tributaries have carved the flat sandstone rock layers into many amazing forms with an immense variety of colors.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Although there are some paved roads, much of Canyonlands is still largely inaccessible. The best way to see most of the park is by 4WD vehicle, but many roads are rough, and huge areas lack any access.

Two Parks Contrasted

One makes the vast and rugged desert accessible to all; the other makes exploration more work, but worth it.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arches attracts large crowds because of a paved road that brings you a short distance from all the major attractions. Delicate Arch, the red-rock wonder that adorns Utah license plates, requires the most work to see: a 3-mile hike round trip.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In contrast, most of the 520 square miles of Canyonlands cannot be accessed by road. The park is divided into four sections: Island in the Sky, the most accessible and popular area; the Needles, a more remote area with spectacular rock formations; the Rivers, where people raft the Colorado and Green rivers; and the Maze, the least accessible area in the park.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

The Absolute Best Places to RV This April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

April pops to life after a long stretch of colder months and it welcomes outdoor exploration before the heat and humidity of summer step in. April is all light showers, cool breezes, and flowers galore, making it the perfect time to hit the road in an RV.

Here are five of the absolute best places to find you and your family in the merry month of April.

Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Texas

There is a lot to see in Texas, and you’ll definitely want to take it in before May, that’s for damn sure. Texan summers range, but you can bank on serious heat rolling through the cities and countryside—and it’s not like a coastal breeze tumbles across the state. So April’s your last month to do up Texas right for a good spell.

San Antonio Riverwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Don’t worry, though, because April features an incredible score of festivities throughout the entire Lone Star State, including the Andrews Wild Wild West Fest, Fiesta San Antonio, Austin Reggae Festival, Celina Cajun Fest, Dallas International Film Festival, Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival, Galveston Island Food & Wine Festival, Grapevine Jazz Wine Train, Houston Comedy Film Festival, Katy Jazz Festival, Kilgore Film Festival, and on and on and on. The whole state is a party in April and anyone’s welcome.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is regularly described as one of America’s most beautiful places. Nowhere else will you find a landscape as dramatically colorful. The towering red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes matched against an almost always blue sky have beckoned to professional and budding artists for years

Sedona Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The best time to visit Sedona is from March to May when the temperatures are warm—but not scorching—and the area is in full bloom. Hikers love this season, as desert flowers add a pop of color to the rust-colored trails.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park encompasses a collection of red rocks that make visitors feel more like they’re on Mars than near the northern edge of Moab. Sandstone monuments like Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock scatter the park, which spans nearly 77,000 acres.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The otherworldly atmosphere draws avid photographers in droves, while the wonky landscapes attract adventurous hikers and rock climbers. Note that Arches National Park is in a high desert region, meaning temperatures can vary widely throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 40 degrees.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

This medium-sized 132 acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers a number of recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it.

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

Mount Dora, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Florida

Before the entire state turns hot, humid, and expensive, you can have the time of your life in Florida. There are an estimated billion things to do across the state, though Orlando’s metropolitan area obviously holds many of the big-time sights—Walt Disney World, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Blizzard Beach, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios Florida, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, to name a few. There’s also the Florida Film Festival as well as the Florida Music Festival and Conference in April.

Lake Okeeochobee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

If you’re looking for less chaos, though, spring is also the best time to visit the Everglades. It may be peak season, but it’s still the best stretch of months weather-wise for such a swampy (and seriously beautiful) national park. Meanwhile, the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral will blow your mind, Busch Gardens will bring you to Tampa, and the reef islands of Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely something to see, and the Florida Keys are unreal fun and wonderful—especially Key West.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty is before me, beauty is behind me, beauty is below me, beauty is above me. I walk in beauty.

—ancient Navajo poem

10 National Parks to Visit Now That the Government Shutdown Is Over

Come along and visit these 10 national parks that don’t always get enough love

Good news! The government shutdown is over! Not only will you be getting your tax refunds, but you can also visit— trash free—America’s most treasured scenic and historically important federally-administered land. Of course, we’re talking about the National Parks Service sites.

But instead of talking up Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, two of which you’re already familiar, below are 10 national parks that don’t always get enough love.

Petrified Forest National Park

Most visitors come to see the ancient tree trunks which are preserved by minerals they absorbed after being submerged in a riverbed nearly 200 million years ago. And they’re quite a sight: Over time, the huge logs turned to solid, sparkling quartz in a rainbow of colors—the yellow of citrine, the purple of amethyst, the red-brown of jasper. This mineral-tinted landscape also boasts painted deserts and striated canyons.

Pinnacles National Park

California has so many well-known national parks that smaller parks tend to be overlooked. But Pinnacles should be on your must-visit list. Its unique landscape of towering rock formations that form “pinnacles” is the result of volcanic activity in the area some 23 million years ago.

Congaree National Park

Congaree offers the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern U.S. This South Carolina park includes the area where Congaree and Wateree Rivers converge. Canoeing, hiking, and fishing are all popular pastimes and may be enjoyed in peace thanks to the sparse number of fellow travelers.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

With its multiple stems the organ pipe cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ.

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

Capitol Reef National Park

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles. The park’s main driving tours include the paved Scenic Drive and two long, mainly unpaved, loop tours through the park’s Cathedral and Waterpocket Districts.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

A Nor-Cal beaut, Lassen is home to numerous active volcanoes which include fun, fumaroles (openings in or near a volcano, through which hot sulfurous gases emerge). RV here, if you really want to “blow up” on social media.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place. Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine, an area created much the way uplift and water formed the Grand Canyon.

Arches National Park

Another reason to hit up southern Utah? Arches. And not like the St. Louis “Gateway Arch.” We’re talking an area that includes over 2,000 natural arches formed over 100 million years by a combo of water, ice, and extreme temperatures.

Big Bend National Park

Few national parks can match the scenic variety of Big Bend. A land graced with desert, mountain, and river environments makes for a compelling study in contrasts. The Chihuahuan Desert, with its vastness and stark beauty, is joined by the abrupt canyons of the Rio Grande and the forested peaks of the Chisos Mountains.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Located in the Badlands of western North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named for the 26th President. This austere landscape is home to a surprisingly dense population of wildlife including bison, pronghorn antelope, elk, wild horses, and bighorn sheep. Theodore Roosevelt is unique among the scenic parks in that it preserves not only an extraordinary landscape but also the memory of an extraordinary man.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?