The Complete Guide to Arches National Park

View jaw-dropping sandstone archways in a red-rock wonderland plus nearby Canyonlands and Capitol Reef

Professional photographers and camera-toting travelers flock to eastern Utah’s Arches National Park to marvel at its striking namesake geology created by millions of years of extreme temperatures, underground salt movement, and elemental erosion. With more than 2,000 arches spread across 76,519 acres of red rock and blue sky, no place on Earth hosts a higher concentration of natural sandstone archways. These miracles of nature as they’ve long been hailed span from three to a staggering 306 feet in width.

Native Americans including Ancestral Puebloans, Archaic, Fremont, and Ute peoples inhabited the area for thousands of years (petroglyphs provide evidence of their presence). Traders and trappers rode horses through the dusty region in more recent times but it wasn’t settled until the 1890s when disabled Civil War veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son Fred built a log cabin and operated Wolfe Ranch. President Herbert Hoover declared the area a national monument in 1929 and it became a national park in 1971.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decades later in 1956 and 1957 famed nature writer and environmental activist Edward Abbey worked as a ranger in what was then a national monument perched high above the Colorado River. Abbey anointed Arches the most beautiful place on Earth in the opening line of Desert Solitaire, his classic memoir and love letter to red-rock country.

The grandeur of Arches National Park’s dramatic terrain begins as soon as you enter the park and begin cruising the park’s scenic drive, the main thoroughfare swiftly ascending 500 feet over a series of winding switchbacks. Without warning, stunning geological wonders unveil themselves across the juniper-dotted red landscape: balanced rocks, fins, monoliths, petrified sand dunes, pinnacles, and spires.

Don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re on a movie set when you hit the road’s first straightaway. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma and Louise were both filmed inside the park.

From the park’s scenic drive, you can easily experience Arches National Parks’s most significant arches and viewpoints in one day. You’ll likely have plenty of company: This awe-inspiring red-rock wonderland attracted 1.4 million people in 2023.

At the end of this article you’ll also find information on nearby Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reservations

To control the crowds, Arches reintroduced a timed-entry program that runs from April 1 to October 31, 2023 with reservations available three months in advance of a visit date on recreation.gov (new reservations will become available once a month; see the park’s site for details). Each reservation which includes all passengers in a vehicle gives entry to the park during a one-hour time slot from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (visitors can then stay as long as they like that day). Guided tours are exempt from the reservation requirement as are those who visit on foot or bike.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

Most visitors to Arches National Park drive 230 miles southeast from Salt Lake City to the town of Moab, the gateway to the park.

The park is open year-round but attracts the most visitors between March and October. Peak tourist months are July and August despite triple-digit temperatures most days. If visiting during this time be sure to pack a wide-brimmed hat, water bottle, and sunblock.

Pro tip: Arrive between 7 and 8 in the morning or 3 and 6 in the afternoon for cooler temperatures and any chance of a tourist-free arch photo; otherwise, expect long entrance lines into the park, limited parking at viewpoints, and crowded trails.

April, May, September, and October are the optimal time to visit with smaller crowds and daytime temperatures ranging from the upper 50s to 80s. If you can brave the cold, November through February will reward you with big savings in Moab and plenty of solitude in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter when you visit, dress in layers because you’re in the high desert (4,085 feet elevation at the park entrance) where temperatures can fluctuate as much as 40 degrees on a given day and are considerably cooler morning and evening.

Five miles north of Moab, the park’s lone visitor center sits directly off U.S. Route 191 just beyond the main entrance. Here, fill up your water bottle, shop for souvenirs in the bookstore, pick up free maps, and learn about ranger-led programs scheduled spring through fall.

There are no shuttles or public transportation to or in Arches so you’ll need your own vehicle. The 18-mile-long scenic drive runs through the heart of the park beginning at the entrance and ending at the Devils Garden Trailhead. The picturesque route provides access to Arches’s most outstanding rock formations and trailheads plus panoramas of the snowcapped La Sal Mountains.

You can drive it in about three hours including 10-minute stops at each viewpoint.  Be sure to start early in the day as parking lots along the way get crowded quickly.

There’s limited cellphone reception in the park.

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

You won’t find lodging options in Arches National Park and it has only one campground: the 51-site Devils Garden a stunning spot to sleep between slickrock ledges in your RV or tent. Reservations ($25 a night for a 10-person, two-vehicle site) can be made six months in advance for camping March through October; it’s first- come, first-served the rest of the year. Facilities include barbecue grills, potable water, and both flush and pit-style toilets but no showers or hookups.

The secluded Kayenta Campground at Dead Horse Point State Park ($20 per vehicle) is about a half-hour’s drive from Arches on the edge of Canyonlands National Park. Its 21 quiet campsites tucked within a juniper grove are open for tents ($35 per night) and RVs ($50 per night). The adjacent Wingate Campground atop a mesa has 31 campsites for tents and RVs and extensive views of the surrounding mountains and canyons.

You can find various places to pop your tent or park your RV on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property, too, such as the Sand Flats Recreation Area near Moab where 140 individual campsites ($15 per night) are spread across nine campgrounds ranging from 4,500 feet to 5,700 feet in elevation.

For additional amenities, head to the Sun Outdoors Arches Getaway (from $59 a night) about 5 miles from the entrance to Arches National Park.

Since there are no restaurants or concessions in the park, pack a lunch or bring snacks. Enjoy your meal break at the scenic Devils Garden picnic area with charcoal grills, shaded tables to dodge the hot desert sun, and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. It’s right off the scenic drive.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

See the main arches

You can see most of Arches National Park’s grandest structures via access roads directly off the scenic drive. From the parking lots at each archway short walking trails lead to up-close views.

Freestanding 52-foot-tall Delicate Arch which adorns Utah’s state license plate is one of the world’s most recognized geological features. To marvel at what Abbey called “a weird, lovely, fantastic object,” park in the Wolfe Ranch parking lot (13 miles from the park entrance) and hike the Delicate Arch Trail, a 1.5-mile climb up a slickrock slope with 480 feet of elevation.

For a less-grueling alternative, park one mile up the road in the Delicate Arch Viewpoint lot. From there a flat 50-yard (and wheelchair-accessible) trail takes you to the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint where you can see the arch from a mile away. The Upper Delicate Arch Viewpoint requires a moderately challenging half-mile walk but gets you that much closer.

Twelve miles from the park entrance, the Windows Section contains the best concentration of Arches National Park’s most mesmerizing formations. Delicate Arch is the busiest spot in the park but the Windows Section is the park highlight.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A gentle half-mile trail from the Windows Section parking lot (the first 100 yards are wheelchair-friendly) takes you to North and South windows also known as the spectacles because they look like a pair of reading glasses from afar. Stand inside the North Window’s 90-foot-wide mouth and admire the glistening peaks of the distant La Sal Mountains on your left then look right and snap a panoramic shot of the towering spire protecting nearby Turret Arch.

Elsewhere in the Windows Section is Double Arch easily accessible via a quarter-mile trail on the parking lot’s north side. Formed by water erosion from above, two arches share the same foundational stone with the southern span holding claim to the park’s tallest arch opening at 112 feet. You really need to stand underneath Double Arch to appreciate it. Scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Thelma and Louise were filmed in this exact location.

At the end of the scenic drive in the Devils Garden area, Landscape Arch’s staggering 306-foot-wide light opening (longer than a football field) is the widest span of any arch in North America. An easy 1.6-mile round-trip hike on the first portion of the Devils Garden Trail takes you to the razor-thin formation.

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

Go hiking

Aside from the 3-mile round trip to Delicate Arch, the park’s signature attractions can be seen from flat, short trails.

For a lengthier, moderately difficult hike with a little bit of rock scrambling tackle the complete Devils Garden Trail, a 7.9-mile loop in the back of the park alongside spires and pine trees with spurs that lead to eight archways including the lesser-visited Double O Arch and Navajo Arch.

Insider tip: Hike this trail counterclockwise so you end at Landscape Arch.

For something truly special, sign up for a ranger-led hike ($16) through the Fiery Furnace, a 2-mile, three-hour adventure through an isolated labyrinth of canyons, fins, and body-scraping passageways. Offered daily March through October, you’ll need to reserve your ticket online at nps.gov) as spots typically fill up a couple of months in advance.

Note: In a fragile ecosystem like Arches one errant footprint can cause years of damage. Visitors are reminded to “stay on the trail and don’t bust the crust!” Cryptobiotic crusts are an amalgamation of green algae, fungi, and other tiny organisms that hold the soil together and prevent erosion.

The wheelchair-accessible Park Avenue Trail with its skyscraper-canyon walls is one of the most beautiful walks at Arches National Park. The easy stroll (2-mile round trip) along the valley floor gives you a close-up of the Courthouse Towers, towering stone columns that shoot from the desert like a NASA rocket.

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

Discover unique (non-arch) geology

Archways are Arches National Park’s marquee attraction but its other head-turning geological features deserve attention, too.

As you cruise the scenic drive, it’s hard to miss the Three Penguins, the park’s first significant sandstone tower (130 feet tall) which hovers above the visitor center and resembles a marching trio of the tuxedoed seabirds.

To the south of Double Arch, the Parade of Elephants—a lone section of sandstone shaped like a single-file herd of elephants parading through the desert—would make Michelangelo envious of nature’s ability to sculpt a masterpiece.

Balanced Rock (nine miles from the park entrance), a giant chunk of sandstone standing 128 feet tall sits atop an eroding pedestal of mudstone like a sundae cherry. You can see it from the scenic drive but hike the short 0.3-mile trail around its base to fully grasp its size and beauty.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stargaze

On a clear night, a wealth of stars can be seen from anywhere in Arches, a certified dark sky destination. During the summer months, rangers lead one- to three-hour stargazing sessions that include constellation talks and telescope viewing at Panorama Point (11 miles from the park entrance). Reservations aren’t necessary but check with the visitor center for an updated schedule.

More parks nearby

Take in more natural beauty at two other national parks within driving distance of Arches National Park: Canyonlands National Park (26 miles southwest of Arches) and Capitol Reef National Park (132 miles southwest of Arches).

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Vast mesas, ethereal pinnacles, canyon mazes, and remote backcountry buttes paint the sprawling red-rock hinterland of Canyonlands National Park. Even though its Utah’s largest national park, the 337,598-acre desert wilderness attracts fewer than half the visitors of nearby Arches which is less than a quarter its size.

Canyonlands National Park is divided into three land districts split by the Colorado and Green rivers: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze spread apart by miles of roadless red rock. (Visitors must return to U.S. Route 191 and drive to the different park sections which takes anywhere from two to six hours).

More than three-quarters of visitors go to the Island in the Sky district where the 34-mile scenic drive is the park’s best sightseeing option. The high mesa cradled by the confluence of the rivers rests atop a sandstone bench—the White Rim—that rises 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain.

Mesa Arch and the Green River Overlook are the best viewpoints with Green River being the best for photography. A short half-mile loop trail (not wheelchair-accessible) takes you to Mesa Arch, the park’s signature vista at the edge of a cliff. The Green River Overlook, ideal at sunset provides a rooftop view of one of Canyonlands’s powerful riverways.

The park offers ranger-led talks spring through fall at the Grand View Point Overlook (accessible to wheelchairs), a sweeping panorama of the Canyonland’s multilayered geology. And do stop at the Shafer Canyon Viewpoint for a bird’s-eye view of the snaking 18-mile Shafer Trail, a cliff-hanging dirt road with steep drop-offs that descends 1,500 feet to the canyon floor.

For backcountry exploration, head to the Needles district, a two-hour drive away. The park’s southeast corner named for the multicolored sandstone spires that skyrocket from the desert floor is home to 74 miles of trails ranging from short interpretive loops to heart-pumping day hikes.

The Maze district exemplifies some of the Lower 48’s most untrodden terrain. Located on the other side of the Green and Colorado rivers getting there requires a nearly six-hour drive from Moab. For unmatched solitude in the Maze’s wilds, an experienced guide is highly recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

You haven’t landed on Mars but don’t be shocked if your first glimpse of Capitol Reef National Park with its otherworldly canyons and miles upon miles of rusty desert hues feels like a mission to the Red Planet.

What makes the park unique is the Waterpocket Fold and the topography that resulted from that. Created by a buckle in the Earth’s surface, the park’s defining geologic feature stretches nearly 100 miles running north-south from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. The fold, rising from the desert like a massive ocean break, destined for the coast is one of the largest and best exposed monoclines in North America. When the uplift fired some 65 million years ago it left behind a dramatic landscape of jagged cliffs and giant monoliths. 

Drive the Scenic Drive (directly off state Route 24), an 8-mile route that begins near the visitor center and runs through the heart of the park. Besides the fold, you’ll see Cassidy Arch named after Butch Cassidy who is said to have hidden here following his first bank robbery, the slot canyon at Capitol Gorge with its rain-filled water pockets known as the Tanks, and the resplendent 7,041-foot Golden Throne dome.

For million-dollar views of one the park’s largest sandstone monoliths the challenging 4-mile Golden Throne Trail is a stunning hike. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the park’s 20-something desert bighorn sheep.

Other must-see sites include Capitol Dome, a majestic white sandstone formation towering 800 feet above the road; thousand-year-old petroglyphs; Chimney Rock, an eroded sandstone pillar with a 6,420-foot summit; the 133-foot-long natural sandstone Hickman Bridge; and the Goosenecks Overlook, a striking viewpoint more than 800 feet above a serpentine canyon.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Fact box

  • Location: Eastern Utah about 230 miles southeast of Salt Lake City
  • Acreage: 76,519
  • Highest point: Elephant Butte, 5,653 feet
  • Lowest point: Visitor Center, 4,085 feet
  • Miles of trails: 28
  • Main attraction: 2,000-plus natural sandstone arches
  • Cost: $30 per vehicle, valid for seven consecutive days; $20 for an annual Senior Pass (62+)
  • Best way to see it: By car along the scenic drive
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: November through February (if you want solitude and arch photos sans the tourists)

Worth Pondering…

A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship.

—Edward Abbey, once a park ranger at Arches, from his classic novel Desert Solitaire

Southern Utah State Parks near the Mighty 5

Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Mighty 5 national parks. Visit some of the best state parks in Southern Utah offering a range of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery.

There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and the promise of big adventure lure travelers from around the world to The Mighty 5 National Parks. Once here, visitors soon realize Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond their borders. Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are eight enticing state parks along the The Mighty 5 road trip which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time in Utah or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle. Best of all, most of these parks offer a wider array of recreation opportunities including mountain biking, ATV riding, kayaking, SUPing, boating and fishing (with a Utah fishing license of course).

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

1. Sights and bikes at Dead Horse Point

Get up early to start your trip on the right note: Sunrises are spectacular in Canyon Country. Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Grab your camera. You’ll want to be sure to take lots of pictures to try and share the experience with your friends.

For mountain bike enthusiasts, Dead Horse has a splendid network of rolling singletrack trails over gentle slick rock domes and through the knee-high sage. The trails offer several opportunities to stop and savor the views before tackling the next leg of trails. Though technically mild by Moab standards, the trails are a hit for riders of all abilities.

In the neighborhood: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $15 for Utah seniors 65 and older; $10 per motorcycle; $4 pedestrian or cyclist

Camping: Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience or overnight in one of two campgrounds (most sites offer RV electrical hookups)

2. Hoodoos, yurts, and slots of Goblin Valley

Sandstone goblins and fascinating formations cover Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park which Hollywood frequently turns for its unusual landscapes like alien worlds. Explore the geology and camp among the nooks and gnomes. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons.

Three established trails through the Valley of the Goblins suit almost everyone. If you brought mountain bikes be sure to check out the nontechnical Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. If not, introduce yourself to the family-friendly canyoneering of Little Wild Horse Canyon (may not be suitable for smaller children).

In the neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older; $10 per motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian

Camping: Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).

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

3. Cool waters and kaleidoscopes at Escalante Petrified Forest

Explore the kaleidoscopic colors of wood reclaimed from the Earth and find yourself in awe at the ancient remnants at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Pause to take in the expansive vistas of the reservoir and surrounding mountains from the top of the hiking loop. Then, cool off in the refreshing waters of the reservoir, popular for boating, canoeing, and fishing.

The Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a .75-mile loop that is much steeper than the other trails but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

In the neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 day-use pass; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older

Camping: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.

4. Pillars and pictures at Kodachrome Basin State Park

If ever a state park was made to be photographed, it is Utah’s Kodachrome Basin State Park. Many of the gorgeous rock columns in the park can be seen while driving but it’s worth your time to get out and explore. Some of the popular sites include Chimney Rock, Shakespeare Arch, and Ballerina Geyser.

Kodachrome Basin covers 2,24 0 acres and is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides. With its close proximity to other popular destinations down Cottonwood Road, it makes for a spectacular base camp or a stop on an event-filled day in the desert. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park making it a great place for stargazing too.

In the neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max. 8 people per vehicle)

Camping: Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 & 6. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state park are less than 10 miles apart where warm reservoirs play host to an array of water sports and quality fishing and the surrounding landscapes provide sites for camping and extensive off-highway action. Lovers of hiking, nature, and wildlife alike will want to visit one (or both) of these sister reservoirs. 

Quail Creek State Park lures swimmers, boaters, and anglers year-round with its exceptionally warm waters and mild winter climate. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting. 

Sand Hollow State Park is a favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

In the neighborhood: Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and Zion National Park

Entrance fee (Quail Creek): $15 per vehicle (max 8 people per vehicle); $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max 8 people per vehicle)

Entrance fee (Sand Hollow): $15 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Climb the dunes of Coral Pink

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is where weekend warriors can leave footprints in soft sand. Walk among old juniper and pinion and ponderosa pines. Then take your shoes off to leave footprints in the orange-red sand dunes.

These geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby Navajo sandstone cliffs. Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for ATV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.

Visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes have a world of outdoor adventure just around the corner: Several additional trailheads access Grand Staircase–Escalante along U.S. 89 in the extreme southern part of Utah. Explorers will discover some of the best slot canyons while lovers of the water have Lake Powell’s thousands of miles of shoreline just a little further along the road. 

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle; $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Camping: Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mojave majesty at Snow Canyon

Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure. Snow Canyon State Park is a 20-minute drive from St. George and just an hour from the entrance to Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon is popular with road cyclists touring the park’s scenic drive and hikers exploring the network of trails through the main canyon and numerous side canyons. Numerous bolted routes throughout the canyon lure rock climbers.

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)

Camping: The Snow Canyon Campground has 27 total available campsites including accommodations for groups, pets and partial hookups.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make it a road trip

With this many marvels of nature in such close proximity why not extend the fun and make it a road trip? Visiting these destinations makes for an unforgettable tour of southern Utah’s state parks. This trip assumes a start in Salt Lake City and heads toward Moab though travelers arriving via Las Vegas should reverse the order and launch their Utah trip from St. George.

Though they aren’t as highly trafficked as the national parks, you can still improve your trip by making reservations where permitted as some state parks near national parks are popular base camps. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.

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Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2024

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

Genius, like humanity, rusts for want of use.

—William Hazlitt

English essayist William Hazlitt is best known for his humanist writings which stress free will and self-actualization. In 1826, he published On Application to Study, an essay discussing how staying engaged keeps us moving forward. With this line, Hazlitt suggests that the drive for knowledge keeps our minds sharp—that genius is a muscle that can be exercised.

He wrote that “by continuing our efforts, as by moving forwards in a road, we extend our views, and discover continually new tracts of country.” In other words, we will always learn something new when we’re out looking for it with an open mind.

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

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8

Grand Canyon National Park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful rugged terrain. But did you know it also hosts some of the most beautiful night skies around? 

You can take in those skies in early June at their annual Star Party. The event is free but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is good for the North and South rims for seven days. 

The event starts at sunset and the best viewing time is after 9 pm. Most telescopes will be taken down at 11 pm although some folks still share theirs after that when the skies are crisp and clear.  

Find my Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park here.

If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, you can save a lot of money by getting an America the Beautiful Pass.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. This park has such excellent night sky viewing that it earned its dark-sky designation in 2019!

Come view the reddish-colored hoodoos during the day and then return for its spectacular nighttime views.

Their Annual Astronomy Festival includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. Last year, they had a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities. 

Find my Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

By the way, there will be more national parks with stargazing festivals in 2024. That’s why I wrote Look to the Stars! National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024).

Reedy Falls in Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Greenville, South Carolina

Located just over the border from North Carolina in the northwest corner of South Carolina, Greenville is a gorgeous city at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Greenville is equal parts natural escape, walkable downtown, foodie haven, and caffeine capital of South Carolina. Greenville is the biggest city in Upstate South Carolina but it’s not too big to where it’s overcrowded and not too small to limit your dining, drinking, and entertainment options.

Greenville strikes a balance between a bustling city and a quaint, small Southern town. Enjoy lunch and dinner at any one of the incredible restaurants located across the downtown area. From there, take a stroll through downtown and absorb the natural landscape with sights such as Falls Park on the Reedy River.

Falls Park on the Reedy is certainly one of the reasons for the town’s relaxing atmosphere. The park features riverside gardens, a suspension bridge, and beautiful waterfall views. Again, all of this is located in the immediate downtown area. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, take a hike or a bike ride around the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail which connects parks and the downtown area with nearby Travelers Rest, South Carolina.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a breathtaking destination in southeastern Utah renowned for its awe-inspiring collection of over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. June 2024 promises to be an extraordinary time to visit as the park unveils its vibrant beauty against the backdrop of a blooming desert landscape. With warm temperatures and extended daylight hours, you’ll have ample opportunities to explore the park’s iconic landmarks and hidden gems.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Wall Drug

A few minutes north of Badlands National Park in western South DakotaWall Drug is what kitschy roadside dreams are made of. It evolved from a frills-free pharmacy in 1931 to a requisite pitstop for passing roadtrippers, following the success of a guerrilla billboard campaign that advertised free ice water to Badlands-goers.

Nowadays, it’s a sprawling complex of quirky attractions and eateries where dinosaurs and jackalope figurines share turf with a pint-sized chapel, an arcade, saloons, a cafeteria-style restaurant (as seen in Nomadland) slinging frosted cake doughnuts, and an operating pharmacy whose storefront is a replica of the original Wall Drug store. 

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

6. Among the stars

Anyone who grew up watching Video Soul on BET remembers host Donnie Simpson encouraging us to shoot for the moon but at Stephen C. Foster State Park you actually can be among the stars. Designated as one of the best places to stargaze in the world, this South Georgia Park was the first place in Georgia to be accredited by the International Dark Sky Places Program as a gold-tier International Dark Sky Park recognizing its stewardship of the night sky through responsible lighting policies and public education.

There’s very little light pollution here so views of the stars, comets, and planets are crystal-clear making it an unforgettable getaway for your starry-eyed family particularly if you choose to spend the night in one of the park’s campsites or platform cabins.

If you prefer a more solid roof over your head, Newell Lodge & Resort offers comfortable campgrounds and cabin rentals for families of five or less along the tranquil Okefenokee Swamp Park.

7. Winchester’s Beer Cheese Festival

The Annual Beer Cheese Festival held in historic downtown Winchester, Kentucky is the ONE and ONLY festival in the world dedicated to the celebration of beer cheese!

So, what happens at the Beer Cheese Festival? Well, obviously there are lots and lots of beer cheese. And that’s a good thing!

Dare you ask “What is Beer Cheese?” Well, in case you’ve never heard of it or tasted it… Beer cheese is a cheese spread that is predominantly found in Kentucky. Even though there are various recipes throughout Kentucky most commonly it is a spicy, smooth concoction that was originally created with the intent of making customers more thirsty—therefore buying more beer. Great for local bar owners! You can eat it with crackers, put it on burgers, use it in soups, etc.

The possibilities are endless but the most common uses are served as a dip with pretzels, celery, carrots, etc. Beer cheese is usually made with cheddar cheese, spices, and beer. It can vary from very mild to spicy hot.

So, there you have it. Beer Cheese 101. Join the good folks in Winchester for their annual Beer Cheese Festival on Saturday, June 8, 2024. In addition to many delicious Beer Cheese samples from local vendors there’ll be music, games, food, and fun for the entire family.

There’ll also be downtown events the night before the Festival on Friday’s “Rock the Block” event on June 7.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wickedest Town in the West

For a truly special adventure, you’ll want to visit Jerome. This former mountain mining town earned the nickname The Wickedest Town in the West during its heyday when rich copper ore deposits attracted miners, merchants, madams, and more to Yavapai County.

At its peak, Jerome was an early 20th-century copper mining town. Several mines operated in the area and as the money flowed out, people flowed in. At one point, Jerome had its own school, two churches, and an opera house. But when the markets crashed during the Great Depression the once-vibrant village became a ghost town.

However, thanks to local artists and historians, Jerome is lively again. The well-preserved buildings serve as mini-museums, exhibits, vintage shops, restaurants, and art galleries. You can even tour the Douglas Mansion where one of the village’s bigwigs lived.

There are tons of ways to spend a day in Jerome. You can grab a glass of wine at Caduceus Cellars owned by rock musician Maynard James Keenan. Check out the Mine Museum to learn how the village began then chow down at Bobby D’s BBQ, the oldest restaurant in Arizona. And don’t forget to partake in a haunted tour to really get that ghost town feel.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Carlsbad Caverns

Descend into the cool cave climate at Carlsbad Caverns, the iconic national park known for its cave systems which are laced with remarkable pinnacles and spires of rock.

There’s a chemistry lesson to be had here—acidic groundwater takes credit for dissolving the limestone former ocean floor into fantastical forms. Stalagmites emerge from the floor and the walls are adorned with speleothems in the form of columns, soda straws, draperies, and popcorn. Or set aside the science and focus your attention on the hunt for the fairies and giants for which these caves now take their names.

The caves also house 17 species of bats which take off en masse each evening. Peak season is May through October and ranger talks precede the sunset launch. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Bison in Elk Island National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Elk Island National Park 

Just a stone’s throw away from Edmonton, Elk Island National Park is a sanctuary for all things wild and is one of the best places in Alberta to see wildlife in their natural habitat. From the impressive bison roaming the prairie meadows and woodlands to playful beavers building dams and showcasing over 250 bird species this park is a nature lover’s dream.

Designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Elk Island plays an important role in the conservation of prairie ecosystems and the plains and woods Bison. It remains Canada’s only completely fenced National Park.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, when pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

The Grand Circle Tour

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

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Zion National Park

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

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

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

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

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

Check into your campground in or near Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Zion National Park

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

Explore Zion Canyon (all day)

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

Shuttle stops:

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

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

Find my complete guide to Zion National Park here.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

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

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

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

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

View points of the Scenic Loop:

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

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

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

Find my ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

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

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and Scenic Byway 12

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

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles round trip)

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

Drive All American Road Scenic Byway 12 (4 hours)

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

Highlights of Scenic Byway 12:

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

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

Drive the scenic drive south from the Visitor Center.

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

Find my ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 6: Arches National Park

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

Main points of interest:

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

Eat lunch in route.

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

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

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

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

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Main Points-of-interest:

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

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

Here are some helpful resources:

Day 7: Moab

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

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

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 8: Monument Valley

Drive to Monument Valley (150 miles)

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

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

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

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

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 9: Lake Powell

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

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

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

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Points of Interest on North Rim:

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

Check into accommodations near the Grand Canyon.

Day 11

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

Worth Pondering…

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

The 10 Best National Parks That Need to Be on Your Bucket List (2024)

Craving some American beauty? Reconnect with nature by visiting the best national parks in America.

Sometimes—and let’s not beat around the bush, quite a lot recently—it feels like society itself is unravelling. And when that happens, we all need to take a deep breath, pause…and go somewhere nearby to just appreciate nature.

And once you’ve realized how well that works, you might want to ponder taking this enlightening experience one step further and plan either a road trip that incorporates one or two of the best national parks in the U.S. or even a dedicated visit to one a little bit further away.

See the forces of nature at work at stunners like Arches and Bryce (two of Utah’s Big Five), witness the power of water that carved out the Grand Canyon over thousands of years, or unique wildlife viewing like the bighorn sheep and pronghorns at Badlands National Park.

Visiting a national park can be as easy or challenging as you want. For diehard backcountry types, there are trails and rustic campsites that can keep you out in the wilderness for days. For the average visitor, paved roads through the parks offer the opportunity to easily see the best views and features of the park in a short amount of time.

There are 63 major national parks (in addition to hundreds of smaller sites) spanning the entire country including Alaska and Hawaii. Next time you hit the road, pick up an America the Beautiful pass and check out the best national parks in the country (but trust us, all of the parks are amazing and all should be on your list).

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park

This natural wonder cradles two billion years of geologic history with 40 layers of rock shaped into buttes, spires, and cliffs. Carved by the Colorado River, the 277-mile gorge is magisterial from any perspective but it’s thrilling to venture below the rim. The safest place to start is the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail which follows an ancient route past sculpted sandstone to a cottonwood oasis.

Look for elk, mountain lions, and condors along the way plus the 1,000 species of plants that survive in this semi-arid desert.

Here are some helpful resources:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zion National Park

You’ve seen Utah’s wild landscape in almost every John Wayne western but now its time to see it for yourself. The incredible thing about Zion National Park is that it hasn’t changed an iota over the years—you’ll see the same massive sandstone formations, twisty caves, and dark skies bursting with stars that Wayne himself walked through and people have been admiring for thousands of years.

Mosey to spectacular overlooks, hike to Emerald Pools, walk to Weeping Rock, or stroll on Riverside Walk and you’ll get a sense of the grandeur of this spectacular national park.

That’s why I wrote these four articles:

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Arches National Park

Located north of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is so named for the 2,000 wind-sculpted sandstone arches gracing the area—the largest such concentration in the world. The most famous of these is the iconic 52 foot-tall Delicate Arch whose image has been depicted on Utah license plates but Arches will amaze you with its sheer range of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. 

Arches is also one of the few national parks where many of the top formations can be seen from the comfort of your car—perfect for those who want the sights without the sweat.

If you need ideas, check out:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas await at this Insta-famous national park in Utah. People travel to Bryce Canyon from around the world to see the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in the world but the park’s high elevation also makes it a great place for star gazing.

One of the country’s more compact national parks, you don’t need a ton of time to hit the highlights like Thor’s Hammer, Inspiration Point, and the Queens Garden Trail.

For more tips on exploring Bryce Canyon, check out these blog posts:

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Between them, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain some of the oldest trees on the planet—and just standing in their presence is a humbling experience. Many of these ancient wooden giants have been on Earth for 3,000 years and there are even a couple of trees where you can actually drive your car through. There are some gorgeous hiking trails here in addition to a small number of campsites.

If you’re on a road trip, try to allocate a reasonable amount of time to explore these wonderful parks.

Read more:

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Badlands National Park

This bizarre moonscape was created millions of years ago when ash deposits and erosion sculpted sedimentary rock into rippled peaks. Fossils show that rhinos and camels once roamed here but today these 244,000 acres are home to bison, bobcats, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep.

As long as they stay hydrated, the park’s 800,000 annual visitors find the Badlands fascinating to explore. Hikers scale the rocks to take in otherworldly views of the White River Valley and cyclists coast by colorful buttes and grass prairie. At night, the pitch-black sky reveals 7,500 stars and a clear view of the Milky Way; telescopes provide close-ups of moons and planets.

Here are some helpful resources:

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. White Sands National Park

White Sands takes up 275 square miles of breathtaking landscape in New Mexico. Its most noticeable feature: miles of undulating dunes made of blindingly white gypsum crystals which were formed 10,000 years when shallows sea that had existed for millions of years dried up leaving the gypsum behind. Though long a National Monument, White Sands was elevated to park status in December 2019.

Four marked trails allow hiking and since gypsum, unlike sand, reflects the sun’s heat, the dunes are easy on your feet. And if you’re so inclined, you can rent plastic sleds to slide down them.

If you need ideas, check out:

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Capitol Reef National Park

You’ll probably notice that Utah features quite prominently in this list and there’s good reason—its natural geology and geography make it arguably the most exciting state to visit if you’re the outdoors type. This particular park is not one of the Beehive State’s most well known but that’s precisely why it’s on my list.

As you’d expect there’s plenty offer here including 15 hiking trails to explore along with four-wheel-drive road tours, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Or you could just marvel at the colors, canyons and rock formations, and even harvest fruit from orchards in the Fruita Historic District in the summertime.

Read more:

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

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The most visited national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains is also home to the highest number of animal species—1,778 species of animals, including a notable populations of black bears and elk and more than 2,600 different plant species call this national park home.

But you might be most familiar with the parks’ famous fireflies. Every year, the synchronous fireflies, Photinus carolinus or Elkmont fireflies put on a synchronous light display in order to find a mate. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light.

For more tips on exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, check out these blog posts:

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Despite the millions that flock here every year, many don’t realize that Joshua Tree National Park is actually made up of two different deserts; the southern tip of the Mojave Desert makes up its western edge and the Colorado Desert covers its eastern and southern areas.

And as such, The Joshua trees for which the park is named are more prevalent in the higher elevations on the Mojave side but here’s the funny thing, they’re not actually trees. The plants are a member of the Yucca genus and they can grow up to 70 feet tall, though they can take up to 50 years to reach their full size.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Camping In Utah: Explore the Mountains, Lakes, and Red Rock Country

Some of America’s most spectacular camping spots are in Utah

Whether you want to experience the wonders of red rock country, the many activities in the mountains, or the sparkling shores of the Great Salt Lake, you’ll find there is a little something for everyone in Utah.

When is the best time to go camping in Utah?

There are activities to enjoy year-round in Utah. In the warm spring and summer months, you can hike miles of trails through red rock country or go canyoneering through slot canyons. By winter, the mountains provide a wonderland for activities like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Spring is the perfect time to go camping in Utah when the temperatures are more comfortable, there are fewer crowds than in the summer, and the wildflowers are blooming. 

Driving in Utah

Utah has some of the most scenic roads in the country but not all routes are suitable for RVs. Make sure you have an RV-safe GPS to get turn-by-turn directions based on your vehicle’s specifications. Current weather and traffic conditions are regularly updated on the UDOT website. 

Some of the major highways in Utah include:

  • Interstate 15 runs north-south all the way through Western Utah and connects most of the state’s major cities including Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and St. George
  • Interstate 70 branches off I-15 in the western half of the state near the Cove Fort Historic Site and continues to Maryland on the East Coast
  • Interstate 80 spans east-west in Northern Utah through Salt Lake City, over the Wasatch Mountains, and northeast into Wyoming
  • U.S. Route 6 runs east-west through Central Utah. Stretches of the route are concurrent with the other major highways including I-15, I-70, and US-50.
  • U.S. Route 191 runs north-south through Eastern Utah and passes through Moab and serves as the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
  • U.S. Route 89 spans north-south through Central Utah’s Wasatch Mountains
Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic drives in Utah

Although many roads in Utah provide beautiful views some routes have been designated as Scenic Byways. However, not all of these routes are RV-friendly.

Utah Scenic Byways include:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

This scenic route twists and turns through the towering cliffs in Zion National Park. It follows up a series of switchbacks and through a tunnel built right into the rock cliff. Keep in mind the road has a vehicle length limit of 40 feet (or 50 feet for vehicle combinations) and is not suitable for large RVs. 

Scenic Byway 12

Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road that connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. The byway leads over Boulder Mountain Pass and through Red Canyon tunnels.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24

This scenic stretch of US Route 24 runs through Capitol Reef National Park. The route begins in Torrey and heads east through the park passing by the visitor center. It continues through a remote area before reaching the small town of Hanksville and then follows north to connect with I-70. 

Mt. Carmel to Long Valley Scenic Byway

This byway follows a beautiful stretch of US-89 for about 60 miles. It begins in the town of Kanab and leads north toward Mt. Carmel Junction. Several roads branch off the byway and provide access to Grand Staircase National Monument. The road winds through red rock canyons and a forested mountain landscape until it comes to an end at the US-89 and US-12 junction.

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

If you’re camping in Utah during the fall, the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway is the perfect route to take to see the seasonal foliage. The route runs east-west on US-89 from Logan to Garden City and on to Bear Lake. This area provides access to all kinds of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and skiing.

National Parks in Utah

Utah is best known for its Mighty Five National Parks. The parks are all within a relatively short drive of one another and some can be connected via the scenic byways listed above.

If you plan on visiting at least several of the parks purchase an America the Beautiful Pass ahead of time. This annual pass is $80 and good for the entire year. Considering the entrance fee to these national parks are $35 for each location the annual pass pays for itself after visiting just three parks.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion is the westernmost national park in Utah located 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The landscape is dominated by giant sandstone cliffs and slot canyons providing ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. Hike the park’s scenic trails such as the famous Angels Landing, climb or canyoneer in the slot canyons, or enjoy tubing on the Virgin River.

There are three campgrounds in Zion including South Campground and Watchman Campground. There are also several campgrounds and RV parks within a short drive of the park.

Bordering the eastern entrance to the park is Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. This vast, 4,000-acre ranch offers spacious RV sites, a variety of glamping accommodations such as cabins, yurts, and Conestoga wagons as well as on-site activities available through East Zion Adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Less than two hours east of Zion, Bryce Canyon is known for its massive hoodoos and spires. At 9,100 feet in elevation, Bryce Canyon is nearly double that of Zion (at just 4,000 feet). The landscape becomes blanketed in snow during the winter and one of the two campgrounds in the park closes for the season. 

Sunset Campground is open April 15–October 31 with three loops of campsites. Reservations are required during the peak season May 20–October 15. North Campground has 99 campsites that are available all year on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can get sweeping views of Bryce Amphitheater from both Sunrise and Sunset Points. If you want a closer look hike the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop to make your way down into the canyon. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is perhaps Utah’s most underrated National Park. The park is 116 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon via the Scenic Byway 12. Much like Zion, the landscape is centered round the massive red rock cliffs.

There is only one developed campground in Capitol Reef and it is open year round: Fruita Campground accepts reservations during the peak season March 1–October 31. The campground has spacious sites for all types of RVs as well as a dump station and potable water. The area is remote with no cell service, so come prepared and be ready to unplug. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is not only the most iconic park in Utah but one of the most famous national parks in the country. The park is home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. The natural arches and giant rock formations provide amazing views. Stop by the viewpoint overlooking the famous Delicate Arch or take the 3-mile hike to see the arch up close.

As a relatively compact national park, Arches does not have the acreage of some of the other national parks for guests to spread out. As a result, a timed program is in place to manage the crowds that the park sees between April and October. For additional information refer to 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits.

There is one campground located in the park, Devils Garden Campground. Due to the park’s popularity, reservations are essential if you want a spot. There are numerous full-service RV parks in the Moab area and BLM land for boondocking just a short drive from the park entrance.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is about an hour’s drive from Moab. The park is divided into four districts; the Island In The Sky District is the most popular and the easiest to access. The Needles District is located in the southeastern part of the park with scenic hiking trails, a campground, and a visitor center. The Maze is the most remote district in the park. Those visiting the Maze will need to be completely self-sufficient as there are no services available. Lastly, the Rivers District provides access to the Colorado and Green Rivers which carve the park’s massive canyons.

One of the best known highlights in the park is the Mesa Arch. This iconic rock formation is located in the Island In The Sky District just off Grand View Point Road. The arch is easy to access from the trailhead at just a half-mile walk with minimal elevation gain.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah State Parks

While the Mighty Five National Parks get all the attention, there are several Utah State Parks with equally impressive views. Some notable parks include:

  • Dead Horse Point State Park is just a short drive from Moab and Canyonlands National Park. The park also has two RV campgrounds along with hiking trails and beautiful canyon views.
  • Deer Creek State Park sits about an hour away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir. The park has great views of the Wasatch Mountains, a campground with waterfront sites, and opportunities for fishing and boating. 
  • Goblin Valley State Park located about an hour from Capitol Reef has hiking trails, unique rock formations, as well as an RV-friendly campground with about 23 sites.
  • Jordanelle State Park makes a great home base just 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. The park is located on the shores of Jordanelle Reservoir and offers several activities like hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • Rockport State Park is also just 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Rockport Reservoir. The park has five developed campgrounds with both RV and tent sites available. 
  • Utah Lake State Park is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.
  • Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.
Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping near Salt Lake City

There are numerous campgrounds and RV parks to choose from in the Salt Lake City area.

This includes Salt Lake City KOA Holiday, Sun Outdoors Salt Lake City (formerly Pony Express RV Resort), nearby state parks, forest campgrounds, and private RV parks like the highly rated Mountain Valley RV Resort in Heber City.   

Camping on the Great Salt Lake

If you’re camping in Salt Lake City, you’ll be close to all kinds of attractions, restaurants, and businesses. However, if you want to camp even closer to the Great Salt Lake, there are a few state park campgrounds that will put you just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Antelope Island is the largest island on the Great Salt Lake. The island is preserved as a state park with a few RV-friendly campgrounds, beach access, and several hiking trails that overlook the lake.

Great Salt Lake State Park also has a campground open year-round. The campground can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length. The sites include water and electricity and have access to the park’s dump station. The park additionally offers boat slips and public viewpoints overlooking the lake.

Camping on Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell camping

Lake Powell is located in Southern Utah and stretches into Northern Arizona. It is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as part of the Colorado River. There are several RV campgrounds in the area including NPS-managed campgrounds and privately operated parks that provide spacious RV campsites and access to the river for activities.

Bullfrog RV & Campground is operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas on the north end of Lake Powell. The campground has spacious tent and RV sites with full hookups and concrete pads. They have a camp store as well as a dump station, potable water, and a launch ramp.

Camping near Moab

Moab is a prime destination in Eastern Utah for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its close proximity to the iconic Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and several other parks and trails.

The city has a wide variety of restaurants, guided tours are available, and there are numerous RV camping accommodations to choose from. One of the best options in the area is Moab Valley RV Resort with spacious RV sites, tiny home rentals, and all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay.

Boondocking in Utah

Did you know that nearly 42 percent of Utah is public land? According to the BLM, the bureau manages over 22.9 million acres of public land in the state. This provides endless opportunities for RVers to go boondocking off the grid away from the crowded campgrounds.

Plan your Utah camping trip

Camping in Utah is a great adventure to experience in your RV. For more tips check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park, on Canyonlands

Finding Adventure (Without the Crowds) in Utah

Avoid the masses but not the epic adventures at these breathtaking under-the-radar desert landscapes around Moab

From Jurassic-era dunes and prehistoric petroglyphs to amber-tinted cliffs and spires, Moab is an adventure traveler’s dream. Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, this small city in southeast Utah is one of North America’s greatest outdoor recreation hubs and a gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  

Millions of years of erosion by ancient oceans, freshwater lakes, streams, and windblown dunes shaped this region’s 2,400 square miles of sandstone arches, picturesque mountain peaks, Martian-like rock formations, and colorful mesas and canyons. 

Along the Colorado River near Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain bikers, hikers, campers, climbers, paddlers, and off-road drivers arrive in droves to explore this red rock playground in jaw-dropping numbers—more than 3 million visitors annually.

With increasing use come big problems! Overcrowding and overuse of trails, campgrounds, and recreation facilities led Arches to institute a timed entry reservation system between April and October. Other popular national parks have implemented similar measures encouraging people to come during off-peak times or explore other nearby recreation areas. 

But here’s the good news: The National Park Service (NPS) manages other parks, monuments, recreation areas, and historic areas within a day’s drive from Moab including Aztec Ruins National MonumentGlen Canyon National Recreation AreaHovenweep National MonumentMesa Verde National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. About 94 percent of the land surrounding Moab is public meaning there are also plenty of lesser-visited state parks and federal recreation areas extending into the Greater Moab region to discover. 

For adventurers and nature lovers who want to see more of the great outdoors—and less of each other—here are five tips to beat the crowds and explore the elements in Moab this spring.

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Get crafty about campsites

Many of the private RV parks, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and state and federally owned campgrounds demand ample planning time. Campgrounds closer to U.S. Route 191 and Utah Routes 128 and 279 along the Colorado River (The Riverway) usually fill up by mid-morning. 

Getting one of the 51 campsites at Devils Garden Campground—the only developed campsite in Arches—can be challenging without some pre-trip planning. During the high season (March 1-October 31), sites are reservable up to six months in advance. But from November 1 to February 28 when temperatures are cooler, the campground is first-come, first-served.

For fewer crowds, venture to Canyon Rims Recreation Area, an hour’s drive south of Moab on Route 191. It has two campgrounds to stage your hiking, biking, and driving adventures—Hatch Point in the north and Windwhistle in the south which rarely fills up and don’t require reservations. Be sure to stop at one of the park’s visitor centers and ranger stations to get the scoop on current park conditions and for other trail and campground suggestions.  

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

Explore public lands south of Moab

Parks closer to downtown Moab (just five miles from Arches National Park) are usually slammed with eager outdoor enthusiasts, especially during summer months. While spring (April through May) and fall (mid-September through October) still have crowds, they are some of the best times to score prime campsites and experience uncrowded trails, climbing routes, and iconic arches around the city.

During the busy seasons, visiting Moab can be kind of overwhelming but the public lands around Moab offer remarkable remote experiences.

With breathtaking views into Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below, Dead Horse Point State Park, a 40-minute drive south of Moab is a highlight for hikers and photographers exploring canyon country. The park, named for an era when cowboys corralled wild mustang herds on the high mesa is also a terrific first outing for bikers new to the area. The 16-mile Intrepid Trail System offers a variety of single-track loops and slickrock (Moab’s weathered sandstone) sections that allow all ages and abilities to experience incomparable cliff-top and canyon vistas. 

Drive further south to Canyon Rims, a 100,000-acre BLM-maintained land between Moab and Monticello to peer over one of three spectacular overlooks—Anticline, Minor, and Needles. Each offers unique views of Canyonlands’ Islands in the Sky and Needles Districts and Bears Ears National Monument’s Indian Creek and Lockhart Basin sections. These sites are comparable to those seen from the rim of the Grand Canyon but without the shoulder-to-shoulder visitor experience.   

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bike away from the crowds

With its seven new non-motorized trails, updated signage, and fresh markings on existing trails plus stunning views of the Salt Valley and Arches National Park, Klondike Bluffs should be on every biker’s list. Just a 30-minute drive north of Moab, this 58-mile single-track trail on dirt and slickrock includes 26 named paths from beginner to advanced which can be combined into loops of any length. It’s the first trail that visitors pass on the way to Moab from I-70 in the north making it the most accessible for cyclists coming from Denver or Salt Lake City. 

Further into the park is the Dinosaur Stomping Grounds hiking trail which features several dinosaur trackways and individual dinosaur prints. Paleontologists believe Utah was part of an island landmass called Laramidia where a wide range of dinosaur species roamed more than 75 million years ago. 

Indian Creek Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a desert road trip

Recreation areas south of Moab such as Canyon Rims and Bear Ears National Monument are usually less crowded due to fewer developed trail systems. Take a scenic drive through Utah’s vibrant vermillion canyons, over plateaus of mesas and buttes, and around the region’s open plains of grass and shrubland.

In Canyon Rims, travelers may spot pronghorn antelope near Hatch Point and can cruise to remote overlooks with breathtaking views of Canyonlands and the Colorado River.

Rather than endure the hours-long wait to see Delicate Arch in Arches, drive an hour south of Moab to reach Bear Ears’ Indian Creek Scenic Byway. This 40-mile-long route takes travelers through flat-top buttes and colossal sandstone towers. Along the way, make a pitstop at Newspaper Rock, one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in the world.

Newspaper Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike in solitude

A hike around Moab’s natural spaces reveals deep red canyons, buttes, and pinnacles. Summer brings high temperatures and midday crowds around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. To get around that, experienced adventurers plan their hikes and bike rides in the morning and evening, bringing the best sunlight for photography. To help photographers, the NPS has created a table of the park’s notable landscape features and the best time to photograph them. 

For a quieter trek outside the national parks head three miles from the Hatch Point campground in Canyon Rims to Trough Springs Canyon trail a relatively easy five-mile roundtrip hike. It starts at the top of the plateau and descends 2.5 miles into the canyon where a creek flows year-round. The path continues through the waterway’s riparian zone, riddled with tamarisk, cottonwoods, and willow. Follow the stream into the larger Kane Creek Canyon where a popular but difficult 4×4 off-road trail of the same name invites adventurers to explore. 

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downstream, where Kane Creek approaches the Colorado River, travelers find several ancient rock art sites, including Moonflower Canyon Panel, Elephant Panel, and False Kiva. The drawings resembling bighorn sheep and hunters with spears along with crescent moons, lightning bolts, and snakes tell the story of the nomadic Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi) who briefly farmed and built dwellings and granaries—used to store squash, maize, and beans—around the region.

Even today, potsherds (or pottery fragments) can be found poking out of the sand near surviving granaries but visitors should be careful to leave these artifacts untouched.

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park, on Canyonlands

The Best National Parks to Visit by Season

Best season to visit each national park

When planning a trip to the national parks one of the most important things to consider is the time of year that you are planning your visit. Most national parks have an optimal time to visit based on factors such as weather, crowd levels, and road closures.

In this article, I cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by two lists that illustrate the best months to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit the National Parks by month

Below is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. Each national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times.

These guides take many factors into consideration: weather, crowd levels, special events, fall colors, the best time to go hiking, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at least one occasion.

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

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete list of the National Parks

This guide covers the best time to visit each national park based on weather, crowd levels, and my personal experiences in the parks. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month by month. I list each of the national parks we have visited in alphabetical order and indicate the best months to visit each of these parks.

This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

There are two different ways to use these tables.

If you have a particular month or season that you are planning your trip, you can look at that column (for example: May) and the parks that are listed for that month make great options for your trip.

If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months listed are the best times to visit this park.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best parks to visit by month

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit national parks by month

  • Arches National Park (Utah): January, March, November, December
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota): April, October
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): March, April, November
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah): March, April, November
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): February, July, August, September
  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): March, May, November
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): January, April, June, November, December
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina & Tennessee): May, September, October
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): January, February, November
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): June, July, August
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): May, September
  • New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia): June, October
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): February, April, November
  • Pinnacles National Park (California): March, April, November
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona): January, February, May
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California): June, July, August
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): May, September, October
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): June, July, September, October
  • White Sands National Park (New Mexico): February, March, November
  • Zion National Park (Utah): January, October, November, December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

Utah’s Most Visited Park in 2023 Wasn’t One of the Mighty 5

Visitation to Utah’s Mighty 5 appears to be stabilizing after a rapid decline in 2020 and an uptick in 2021 tied to the pandemic. But one other park in the state bucked all the trends last year.

A little more than 10.6 million people visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks in 2023 representing an increase of nearly 1 percent from the previous year per recently updated National Park Service (NPS) visitation data. Last year’s total also finished slightly below the 10.7 million visitors recorded in 2019.

Three of the five national parks did experience year-over-year growth though none of the parks broke any visitation records like what happened at four of the five parks in 2021. A record 11.3 million visited the park during a revenge travel surge as pandemic-era restrictions were lifted, a 45 percent increase from figures posted in 2020.

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

Ultimately, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area located along the Utah-Arizona border led in visitation among all NPS entities in Utah last year bringing in a record 5.2 million visitors. Its visitation surged by a whopping 83 percent over 2022 visitation figures and it bested Zion National Park’s total by close to 600,000 visitors.

Some people say that Lake Powell offers some of the finest water recreation opportunities available. Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the United States and visitors can bring their watercraft or choose to rent houseboats, personal watercraft, powerboats, kayaks, and other water toys.

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

Behind the 2023 trends

Glen Canyon which includes Lake Powell previously hit a record high of 4.5 million in 2017 but it failed to reach 4 million after 2019 between a mix of the COVID-19 pandemic and Lake Powell’s record-low water levels amid an ongoing drought.

Its popularity surge is likely a byproduct of record snowpack levels that helped the reservoir gain dozens of feet in elevation over the spring and summer last year. Its rise allowed more boat ramps to reopen.

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation. The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah encompassing scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a vast panorama of human history.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was established on October 27, 1972, to provide opportunities to explore and enjoy Lake Powell and surrounding lands stretching from Northern Arizona through Southern Utah.

Tucked among the red rocks canyon and mesas on the Colorado Plateau, Glen Canyon’s unique desert region is characterized by expansive areas of exposed and uplifted rocks. Their beauty is carved out by the Colorado River, its several tributaries, powerful wind, and time.

The park preserves a record of more than 10,000 years of human presence, adaptation, and exploration—a story that highlights the connections of people with the landscape.

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

Best camping sites at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an ideal place for camping adventures of all kinds. There are tons of nearby hikes, adventurous activities, and sights to see. You’re sure to find the perfect spot for your RV camping adventure.

Campgrounds Operated by NPS

These campgrounds do not take reservations and do not have phone numbers.

Lees Ferry Campground

Camping fee: $20 per site/per night

Designated sites: 54

Details: No hookups, RV dump station, grills provided, modern bathroom/comfort station, potable water available, launch ramp 2 miles, gas and supply store at Marble Canyon about 5 miles away

Lone Rock Beach Primitive Camping Area

Camping fee: $14 per vehicle/per night

Details: Primitive camping is on a sandy beach or in dunes, no designated campsites, open fires permitted (must be within four foot squared area), 4 micro flush toilets, 6 vault toilets, 1 comfort station/wheelchair accessible, outdoor cold shower, Off Road Vehicle area, dump station, potable water (seasonal), and day use area

Stanton Creek Primitive Camping Area

Details: Designated primitive camping areas that are accessible by vehicle and sometimes by vessel as well, no designated sites, no potable water, when pit toilets are unavailable campers must bring portable toilets for use and proper disposal into the sewer system

Beehives Campground

Camping fee: $14 per night

Designated sites: 6

Location: Across the highway from Wahweap South Entrance

Details: Picnic table at each site, no hookups, no dump station, no restrooms, portable toilets required, no campfires or glass containers, 3 night camping limit

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

Campgrounds Operated by Park Concessioners

Book your campsite through the consessioner.

Wahweap Campground & RV Park

Location: Wahweap developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

Designated sites: 112 dry campsites (no hook-ups), 90 full hook-ups, and 6 group camping sites Reservations: Visit www.lakepowell.com or call 800-528-6154.

Details: Facilities include restrooms, laundry, showers, store, phones, dump station, and potable water; amphitheater, picnic area, and swim beach nearby

Bullfrog RV & Campground

Location: Bullfrog developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

Designated sites: 78

Details: Facitities include restroom, phones, dump station, and potable water station; ½ mile to laundry, store, post office, and launch ramp.

Reservations: No reservations

Note: The concessioner also operates a separate RV park with 24 sites, full hook-ups, restrooms, showers, ½ mile to laundry, store, post office, launch ramp; for reservations visit www.lakepowell.com or call 800-528-6154

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

Halls Crossing RV & Campground

Location: Ride the ferry located at Bullfrog Marina and Halls Crossing, stop at the Village Store to check-in – and don’t forget to pick up food and beverages while you are there

Details: With Halls Crossing RV Park & Campground, you’re just steps from food, fun, and the Village Store.

Antelope Point RV Park

Designated sites: 104 full hook-up spaces, 15 pull-through spaces

Note: While the Antelope Point RV Park is not physically within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, it is adjacent to the Antelope Point Marina, restaurant, and gift shop

Details: This site is for RVs only, maximum length is 70 feet, 2 RV dump stations

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

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

So we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features—carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon.

—John Wesley Powell, 1869 Colorado River Exploration.

10 Visitor Centers You Shouldn’t Miss

10 National Park Visitor Centers that are worth exploring

National Park Visitor Centers offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of the parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Stopping at the National Park Visitor Center is a must!

Our first National Park Visitor Center experience happened by chance. We stumbled upon the visitor center on our way into a park. Stopping at the visitor center wasn’t even on my radar at the time. The visitor center is now the first place that we stop when going to a new national or state park, state, city, or town and I am saddened when I see people pass up on their opportunity to stop at one.

When I was a National Park newbie (for lack of a better word) I really didn’t know what to expect from park Visitor Centers. I thought that they were just a place to stretch your legs and maybe grab a quick snack from a vending machine. But, I was SO WRONG! The National Park Visitor Centers are so much more than any ol’ dingy rest area off of any ol’ winding interstate!

Below are a few reasons that I sing the praiss of National Park Visitor Centers and highly encourage you to not pass them up!

The ability to travel and explore new places is one of the best parts of the RV lifestyle. There’s no better way to truly experience the country. You get to know the areas you travel through and you have the opportunity to participate in local events and visit interesting landmarks.

Visitor centers are one of the best ways to learn about a new area. There are countless visitor centers scattered across the country and they serve a wide variety of purposes. Some of them educate, others entertain, and others showcase interesting features of the area. Lots of national and state parks have at least one visitor center but some businesses, churches, museums, and other interesting locations have them as well.

Since I’m talking visitor centers, here’s a great related article: Why Stop At Visitor Centers?

It’s hard to define what the best visitor centers are but I’ve selected 10 fantastic options below. Check out my list and consider adding one or two of these to your upcoming travel plans. For your convenience, I’ve also provided some additional resources.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are numerous guided tours available.

Enjoy the hands-on exhibits to help you understand how the cavern was formed, discover the animals and plants that make the desert their home, and be amazed by the history of the park.

Before starting on your cavern adventure you may want to enjoy the free, 16-minute, park film Hidden World showing at the visitor center every 30 minutes. Check at the information desk for times.

Browse through a variety of gift items including t-shirts, hat, mugs, and Native American art. You can also enjoy snacks, drinks, and hot and cold meals. The bookstore offers a variety of items including books, photos, passport books, and junior ranger products.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many interesting historical sites and beautiful natural landmarks. Begin your exploration of the park at a visitor center. Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park. For current ranger-led activities, visit the park’s calendar for details.

Four visitor centers are located within the national park at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cades Cove, and Clingmans Dome.

Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Sugarlands Visitor Center is an excellent starting point as you enter the park’s North District. Learn about the park’s plants and animals with natural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Access public restrooms and drink vending machines. The Backcountry Permit Office is here, too.

Sugarlands is a top-rated visitor center.

Near Cherokee, North Carolina, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is an ideal starting point as you enter the park’s South District. Explore cultural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Find public restrooms and drink vending machines. The adjacent Mountain Farm Museum contains a collection of log structures including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, applehouse, corn crib and others.

About half-way through the Cades Cove Loop Road, pause to speak with park staff and visit various exhibits at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. Learn about Southern Mountain life and culture and see a gristmill (operates spring through fall), the Becky Cable house, and other historic structures. Enjoy seasonal ranger-led activities and peruse the park bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Enjoy sweeping views of the Smokies, weather permitting, and get your park questions answered at the Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station Peruse a small bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon draws crowds from all over the country. The park offers several visitor centers including the South Rim (Grand Canyon Village), Desert View, and the North Rim. Since they may be closed during different periods of the year, be sure to check their availability. All of the visitor centers provide a great experience but the South Rim center is especially noteworthy. Trip planning and hiking information is available through exhibit kiosks and sidewalk signs outside of the building.

Park in one of four large parking lots and get your first look at Grand Canyon by walking to nearby Mather Point. With your vehicle parked at the Visitor Center, you can also board free shuttle buses and be transported around the village and out to scenic overlooks.

Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, the park’s 20 minute orientation film, is presented on the hour and half-hour on the large screen in the theater.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Zion National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, one of five national parks in Utah (Mighty Five) is known for its distinctive red rock and otherworldly geological formations.

Located near the South Entrance of the park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Zion Canyon. Park rangers and outdoor exhibits will help you plan your visit and make the most of your time. Inquire at the Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk about permits for backpacking, canyoneering, and other trips into the wilderness. Visit the bookstore for maps, books, and gifts.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main facility in the North Unit of the park. Stop by to talk with rangers, explore museum exhibits, check out the Fossil Preparation Lab, or visit the Badlands Natural History Association bookstore. There’s something for everyone at the visitor center.

At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, visitors to Badlands National Park can get answers to their questions from rangers at the information desk. There, park staff can distribute maps and other park materials, provide directions and local area orientation, hand out Junior Ranger booklets, and answer any questions you might have about earth science, wildlife, history, and more. There is also a self-serve passport stamping station at the information desk.

If you’re not stopping by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center during your trip to the Badlands, you can also access rangers at the White River Center, via email or by calling (605) 433-5361

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Sequoia National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sequoia and Kings National Parks, California

The park’s visitor centers, ranger stations, and a museum offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of these parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park. All purchases in these stores support park programs through the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

While the parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not all visitor centers are open year-round. Some close seasonally.

Foothills Visitor Center is one mile past the Ash Mountain entrance station along the Generals Highway. Stop here for information, maps, books, gifts, and restrooms. Browse exhibits about the ecology and human history of the foothills and join a free ranger-led program.

Giant Forest Museum is housed in a historic market in the Giant Forest sequoia grove at 6,500 feet elevation. Explore exhibits about sequoias and learn why this landscape grows the biggest of big trees. Stop here before you explore the grove. During wilderness permit non-quota season, permits can be picked up at a self-issue station outside the museum.

Kings Canyon Visitor Center is in Grant Grove Village at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Learn about three regions in Kings Canyon National Park: giant sequoia groves, Kings Canyon, and the High Sierra. Watch a 15-minute movie. A park store sells books, maps, and educational materials.

Located in the conifer zone at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Lodgepole Visitor Center provides opportunities to view exhibits, get trip planning advice, get a wilderness permit, watch several park films, or shop at the gift shop. New exhibits immerse visitors in the wilderness environments of the parks, from the foothills to the highest peaks and to underground caves, as well as exploring the human history of the southern Sierra Nevada with tactile exhibits and soundscapes from every park environment.

Cedar Grove Visitor Center is next to the South Fork of the Kings River in mixed conifer forest at an elevation of 4,600 feet. Learn about the natural and cultural history of the Cedar Grove area. Nearby services include accessible restrooms and a pay phone.

Located in a mixed-conifer forest at 7,600 feet, the Mineral King Ranger Station houses some exhibits on Mineral King’s human and natural history. Food storage canisters are available. Obtain wilderness permits here.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park is separated into two districts: Rincon Mountain District (East) and Tucson Mountain District (West), each with their own visitor center.

Red Hills Visitor Center (Saguaro West) Tucson Mountain District has cultural and natural history exhibits of the Sonoran Desert.

The visitor center at Saguaro East is smaller and more rustic. There is an interesting and well done exhibit just outside the center that walks you past about 15 major plants that live in the Sonoran Desert. You can see the living plant and plaque with a name and description of each plant.

Both visitor centers are open all year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday except Christmas where you can view  a 15 minute program called Voices of the Desert giving a Native American perspective of the Sonoran Desert. There is also a bookstore operated by the Western National Parks Association.Various Ranger guided programs are held throughout the year. During the winter months (November to mid-April) several different programs are offered daily.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Congaree National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open year-round. It is the main hub for Congaree National Park which is the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U. S. and home to one of the largest concentrations of champion trees. The center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. 

Visitors can find the Congaree National Park Passport Stamp at the center. Restrooms and a small gift shop can be found at the center. The Whippoorwill Cafe & Bakery and A Charming Country Cottage Nestled in the Woods are restaurants near the center.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Arches National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Visitor Center is located at the entrance of Arches National Park just off U.S. Highway 191 about 5 miles north of Moab. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except December 25. The center offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms that can be accessed 24 hours a day.Visitors can learn about the park’s history, geology, climate, and wildlife.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Petrified Forest National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is connected by the 28-mile-long Main Park Road which winds past viewpoints, trailheads, and other attractions. Visitors can get up close to petrified logs by wandering along trails in the park’s southern section. Petrified Forest National Park is a high-desert geologic treasure chest that features loads of petrified wood and eye-popping views of The Painted Desert, which sweeps through the park

Painted Desert Visitor Center is located at exit #311 off of I-40 in Petrified Forest National Park. It provides information, brochures, book sales, exhibits, restrooms, and a gift shop.The center is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm year-round with extended hours as staffing permits.

The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center is located to the south and offers exhibits, books and gifts, limited food service, and restrooms.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer