10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2024

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

I think you travel to search and come back home to find yourself there.

—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Venturing into the world is often seen as a rite of passage whether it’s leaving the family home or moving to a different continent. For MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie leaving her home country of Nigeria to live in the United States and traveling around the world to promote her books began a journey to find herself.

Whether a sense of wanderlust is inherent in us or not, exploring beyond the life we know filled with familiar people is one path to discovering who we really are—which elements of our cultural identity fit and which we prefer to leave behind.

As Adichie observed, it’s the journey that helps us find who we are, and discover where home really is. 

’Tis the season for mosquito spray, sunscreen, and summer heat. As you’re making travel plans don’t forget to double-check that your A/C and fridge are working properly. And while you’re at it, it can’t hurt to check your batteries, too,

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 5-7

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. You can see things like sod tables and clastic dikes during the day then stay to take advantage of their dark night skies. 

The Badlands Astronomy Festival partners with the NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium. Their festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided walk through a scaled solar system model!

Stargazing season is amazing! Enjoy the night skies at their brightest at National Parks stargazing festivals.

Find my Ultimate Guide to Badlands 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.

Spotted Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake)

Spotted Lake is a geological wonder located in Osoyoos, the southernmost town in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The lakewater holds a wealth of minerals—including calcium, sodium sulfate, and magnesium sulfate—and as the summer heats up, the lake’s water gradually evaporates. What’s left is a mesmerizing sight: vibrant dots of mineral pools scattered like a mosaic and creating an otherworldly landscape. 

The mirage-like effect is more than just a popular sight—it’s considered sacred to the Syilx people, the Indigenous First Nations of the Okanagan region. For centuries, the Syilx have revered this site utilizing its mud and therapeutic waters for various medicinal and healing purposes. Due to the lake’s cultural and ecological significance, access to the lake itself is restricted. Visitors can instead observe the landscape from the highway or from a designated viewing area.

UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Alien Capital of the World

Fancy coming face-to-face with an extraterrestrial? Roswell, New Mexico’s claim to fame is a mysterious UFO crash that allegedly occurred here in 1947. Known as the Roswell Incident locals claimed that the debris found near the crash site was from a flying saucer and that the U.S. government covered it up.

Roswell’s location in the middle of the New Mexico desert means that visitors can enjoy not only UFO watch towers and the International UFO Museum but also scenic wilderness areas. Fanatics can attend the annual UFO Festival held every year in early July (July 5-7, 2024). Get your picture with the famous welcome sign to prove to skeptical friends that you really did visit the Alien Capital of the World.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Savannah’s Waterfront Independence Day Celebration

Savannah’s Waterfront is hosting its annual Independence Day Celebration on Tuesday, July 4, 2024. The event is free and open to the public.

The annual Independence Day Fireworks Show begins at 9:30 pm. and is expected to last about 20 minutes. Spectators on the waterfront can bring chairs and blankets; however, coolers are discouraged. The show takes place from a barge in the Savannah River in front of the Savannah Convention Center. River Street and the ramps will close at 6:30 pm. and cars parked on the ramps and parking lots will need to remain there until the street opens to vehicular traffic after the show.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Banff National Park

Established in 1885 as Canada’s first national park and the flagship of the nation’s park system, lies the allure of Banff. Even the name sounds like an adventure waiting to happen. Situated in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Banff National Park is a mix of awe-inspiring landscapes from majestic mountains to pristine turquoise lakes.

Moraine Lake and Lake Louise have been coined the crown jewels of this park with their stunning clear waters and gorgeous backdrops. Banff is home to the historic Banff Springs Hotel which looks like a castle straight out of a fairy tale. Let’s not forget about the impressive Chateau Lake Louise where you can hike or canoe to your heart’s content. Whether you’re hiking or simply relaxing and taking it all in at one of its world-renowned hotels, Banff’s beauty and magnetism are unparalleled.

It’s certainly no secret why Banff National Park has been attracting visitors from around the world for decades. If you haven’t yet, I hope you can join those lucky visitors this summer!

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Jasper National Park

Jasper is Banff’s laid-back cousin. While it’s certainly less crowded, it’s equally as stunning offering a charming, serene and untouched wilderness experience. Jasper National Park is vast and is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies.

Its quaint community welcomes travelers from all over the world and boasts the world’s largest dark sky preserve where no artificial lighting is visible. The prestine park features glaciers, lakes, incredible falls, hot springs, wildlife, and some of the most scenic drives in the world including the Icefields Parkway.

Jasper National Park is a trip worth the trek.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Where the buffalo roam

This 71,000-acre state park is so good it would be easy to mistake it for a national park. Home to 1,400 bison—not to mention elk, pronghorn antelope, black bears, and a herd of wild burros—this is definitely a destination for wildlife lovers. Custer State Park also offers excellent hiking, mountain biking, and paddling in a wilderness that is remote, rugged, and beautiful. At night, the park is no less enthralling, offering some of the best stargazing in the country. Here, a sense of adventure is a prerequisite to entry.

Here are some helpful resources:

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Best Hill Country hit: Fredericksburg

A short drive from the cosmopolitan hubs of Austin and San Antonio lies the Texas Hill Country. Amongst this plethora of hamlets and hills, Fredericksburg reigns supreme. Here, you’ll find more than 60 wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms in the area as well as over 700 historically significant structures—most notably, Sunday Houses. These types of small homes built by German settlers were used on Sundays when families would head from their rural homesteads into town to get supplies, do business, and go to church services.

Those German settlers—who first arrived in 1846—have a lasting legacy in eateries like Otto’s German Bistro and lodging like Behr Haus Bed & Breakfast. Visitors can learn about the region’s German history on a trolley excursion with Fredericksburg Tours.

Other worthy stops here include The National Museum of the Pacific War, a tribute to service members in the Pacific during World War II (including native son, U.S. Navy Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz) and Enchanted Rock, the second-largest granite dome in the United States and a Dark Sky International designated park.

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Newport, Rhode Island

With opulent Gilded Age mansions and beautiful beaches, Newport is a lovely summer destination. Visitors and residents alike stroll along the scenic Cliff Walk, bike along Ocean Drive, browse farmers markets, and picnic on the beach. Every Saturday throughout the summer, visitors can watch exciting polo matches with competitors from around the world, and tennis fans will want to catch the annual International Hall of Fame Open from July 14-21, 2024.

The 55th Annual Newport Classical Music Festival is set for July 4-21, 2024. For a quintessential Newport day experience the historic mansions and enjoy fresh seafood at one of Newport’s many waterfront restaurants.

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Galveston

Summers in Texas can be hot and humid but the cool waters of the Gulf of Mexico are inviting all year long. Galveston features 32 miles of beaches for those looking to relax in the sun. But the barrier island is also home to historic architecture, a vibrant art scene, excellent seafood restaurants, and fun, quirky shops. Join a walking tour to learn more about the local history, jump on a boat to spot dolphins in the gulf, or go fishing from a pier. 

Worth Pondering…

If I had my way, I’d remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.

—Roald Dahl

The Complete Guide to Badlands National Park

Amber walls and prairie grass make for impressive landscapes in South Datoka

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple the painted walls and serrated peaks of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands making for a stunning surprise in remote western South Dakota. They are both badlands—a geologic term for soft sedimentary rocks that erode easily—and Badlands, a title derived from the Native American Lakota name mako sica or bad lands referring to the scarcity of water, the difficulty of navigating peaks and valleys, and weather extremes that bake the ground in summer and freeze it in winter.

As badlands, the 244,000-acre national park preserves a naturally excavated landscape revealing Earth’s history. Rock layers that stacked up over about 75 million years began eroding a half-million years ago sculpted into channels and canyons by the Cheyenne and White rivers. Sod-covered buttes represent the Ice Age-era prairie where ancient hunters left behind bison bones and arrowheads up to 12,000 years old.

Paleontologists—often seen working in an active lab at the park’s main visitors center—continue to sift through the striated rocks for ancient seashells, ancestors to the modern horse and 50-foot-long marine mammals known as mosasaurs.

To Native Americans, the area was a seasonal hunting ground for buffalo, animals that again inhabit the park a deceivingly still preserve that teems with life provided you slow down to see it. Bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and pronghorn are just a few of the endemic prairie species that star in the uniquely American safari that visitors can self-guide on foot or by car.

At sunset and sunrise the vivid hues of mineral deposits in the rocks radiate warmth. Overnight, countless stars pierce the dark night sky. Whether because of time of day or eons past change is a motif central to the Badlands still eroding under nature’s forces by about an inch a year.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip to Badlands

The beauty—and the challenge—of Badlands National Park is its remote location. The park lies only about 60 miles southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota but about 375 miles north of Denver and 500 west of Minneapolis. The drive from either is fairly rural with farm fields or prairie which only emphasizes the drama of Badland’s colorful eroded hills.

Just shy of a million visitors come to Badlands National Park annually most of those in June, July, and August when the weather is quite hot (highs average above 90 degrees) and prone to thunderstorms. But visitor numbers dip by half in September when the weather moderates and even more in cooler May when you won’t have to time your hikes to avoid the heat or the crowds.

Migrating birds are another reason to visit in spring or fall. In spring, you’re also more likely to see prairie animals such as bison with their young and in fall the golden color of turning leaves fill the canyons and ravines. During the cold and biting winter months wind whips across the largely treeless landscape.

The park is divided into two sections: the main North Unit and the largely roadless and inaccessible Stronghold Unit located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the park’s southern section. Driving is one of the most popular ways to see the park and routes such as the Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) are well-marked. Park entry costs $30 per car ($15 if you enter by foot or by bike).

Think of Badlands National Park as remote and prepare accordingly. You can access free public Wi-Fi in the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the main visitors center about eight miles into the park from the Northeast Entrance—one of three main entrances all in the North Unit—but expect spotty cellular service elsewhere.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Neighboring Cedar Pass Lodge serves as Badlands National Park’s only commercial hub with a restaurant, gift shop, and snacks for sale. Restrooms are available here as well as in the park’s two visitor’s centers, campgrounds, and picnic area. The lodge, visitor’s centers, and restrooms are fully wheelchair accessible.

Come prepared with ample supplies of water; you’ll find few places to refill water bottles. This is especially important if you go hiking; the Park Service recommends two quarts per person for every two hours of hiking. Also bring your own food, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Sturdy hiking boots will help with footing on some of the looser trails and also protect you from cactus spines and, possibly, snake bites.

That said, you don’t have to be an outdoors expert or hiking ninja to enjoy the park. In addition to scenic drives and turnouts, there are easy short hikes of less than one mile and one fully accessible boardwalk trail as well as wooden boardwalks at most scenic overlooks which makes them accessible to all visitors.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

The Badlands has no iconic hotel or even many services but with little commercial fanfare to get in the way it is easy to appreciate its ancient geological, Native American, and homesteading past.

For the closest experience to nature, try camping. In addition to backcountry camping for the super experienced Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park’s northwest has 22 sites (free), vault toilets, picnic benches, and bison trails.

For running water and electricity opt for the Cedar Pass Campground adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge where you’ll find RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables. Two sites are fully wheelchair accessible but most of the terrain around the campsites is accommodating. The lodge also rents 26 pine-paneled cabins with minirefrigerators, microwaves, and deck chairs perfect for gazing at the night sky.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just south of the park at Circle View Ranch check into cozy B&B accommodations on a 2,800-acre working cattle ranch. For more adventure book the property’s Hamm Homestead Cabin built in 1880. It’s still without running water and electricity and you’ll have to bring your own bedding, water, and camp supplies but the experience on the edge of the White River is 19th-century authentic.

You’ll also find motels and chain hotels including Econo Lodge and Best Western properties in the gateway town of Wall on the park’s far north side.

Cedar Pass Lodge operates the park’s only restaurant specializing in must-try Sioux Indian Tacos featuring fry bread topped with refried beans, buffalo meat, and cheese. For other dining options you’ll need to either bring picnic food or leave the park and head to Wall or the gateway town of Interior in the southeast for casual roadhouses and taverns including the Badlands Saloon & Grille, best for hamburgers, in Wall.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Hike

While breathtaking at a distance the Badlands are geologically fascinating up close, best explored by hiking. Its eight official hiking trails all in the North Unit are not extensive—the longest, the moderate Castle Trail in the park’s northeast is 10 miles round trip but they introduce the rock formations, canyons, ledges, cliffs, and passes interspersed with prairie grasslands. A few trails are strenuous but most are moderate and some including the quarter-mile Fossil Exhibit Trail also in the northeast follow a fully accessible boardwalk.

The park’s Open Hike Policy means visitors may go off trail and many do especially to climb the buttes. But this is often harder than it looks and rangers warn inexperienced hikers against it as coming down can be more challenging than going up.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive

Even if you go hiking you’ll also want to take a drive or two in the park to take in its full scope. The 40-mile Badlands Loop Road connecting the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall winds up and down the contours of the Badlands threading steep passes with about a dozen opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts for photo ops (most overlooks on the road have wheelchair-accessible boardwalks).

Instead of following the loop road out of the park continue west via the Sage Creek Rim Road. It’s a dirt road but hard-packed and offers a chance to see across the park’s largely roadless wilderness area and to look for wildlife.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch wildlife

The Badlands appear still but the more time you spend contemplating the scenery the more life you’ll see in it. Buffalo and pronghorn graze the grasslands, prairie dogs scamper around their towns, and bighorn sheep deftly pick their way across rock ledges.

The Pinnacles Overlook off the Badlands Loop Road is a good place to look for bighorn sheep. Off Sage Creek Rim Road, Roberts Prairie Dog Town teems with the burrowing mammals and bison often graze nearby. Cliff swallows come and go from mud nests built on Badlands formations.

Caution: If you encounter a wild animal on a trail, stay at least 100 feet away.

Hunt for fossils

The thousands of years of geologic history revealed in the eroding Badlands have upturned fossils such as the mosasaur, a marine lizard living about 75 million to 69 million years ago when sea covered the area during the Cretaceous Age of the dinosaurs. Prehistoric crocodiles and horses attest to the subtropical climate between 37 million and 34 million years ago and the drier conditions that followed, between 34 million and 29 million years ago supported early ancestors to camels, pigs, rabbits, and rhinos.

The Fossil Exhibit Trail displays fossil replicas and reconstructions of the extinct animals who once roamed here. At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center you can view park paleontologists working on nearby specimens at the Fossil Preparation Lab. Hunting for fossils on your own—to photograph, not take, of course—is best pursued after a rainstorm when these remains tend to stand out on the wet ground.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn history

Human history in the Badlands goes back roughly 12,000 years beginning with ancient hunter-gatherers; later, the Native American Lakota people followed migrating buffalo to the area for seasonal hunting.

In 1887, the Dawes Act stripped more than 90 million acres of tribal land nationally from indigenous people to be given out in free 160-acre plots as authorized by the Homestead Act of 1862. Because of the poor soil for farming, however, the government didn’t distribute plots until the early 20th century.

At the Homestead Overlook on Badlands Loop Road view a former homesteading region where prairie grass meets rock walls. Homesteaders would try to bale hay growing atop buttes such as Hay Butte visible from Sage Creek Rim Road.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, for an in-depth experience

Visit the remote southern Stronghold Unit located within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation established in 1889 and owned by the Oglala Lakota Tribe. During World War II, the U.S. government took more than 340,000 acres from the reservation to establish the Aerial Gunnery Range which the military used for bombing training.

Most of the unit lies within the former bombing range. Here, about a 20-mile drive from the North Unit visit the seasonal White River Visitors Center open only in summer for exhibits on the history and culture of the Lakota people.

You’ll find few paved roads in Stronghold and the park largely restricts access to Sheep Mountain Table on the border with the North Unit. The park’s highest area at 3,300 feet, it’s reached via a backcountry road that requires a high-clearance vehicle or a 14.6-mile round-trip hike.

Gateway towns to Badlands

You just might have heard of tiny Wall (population less than 1,000), Badlands National Park’s chief northern gateway and named for the rock-wall formation that runs across the park before you get there: Billboards on Interstate 90 touting free ice water have been pulling in traffic to Wall Drug since 1936.

Originally a drugstore, it’s now a tourist attraction—thronged in summer by up to 20,000 visitors a day—with a splash park, Western art gallery-cum-restaurant and a mall selling everything from cowboy boots to mounted Jackalope (a fictional animal). It’s a kitschy but must-visit experience complete with homemade donuts and five-cent cups of coffee.

For more to do, consider staying in Rapid City, the state’s second-largest city with 75,000 residents, an hour’s drive northwest of the park. It’s also a gateway to the Black Hills region—home to scenic Custer State Park and three more national park areas—providing a convenient perch between Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

Downtown Rapid City pays homage to Rushmore with a series of life-size sculptures of 43 American presidents. The town nurtures a lively urban core best on display at Art Alley covered in murals by local artists. Visit the Journey Museum to see many of the fossils uncovered in the Badlands.

From excellent Indian/Nepalese food at Everest Cuisine to Italian at Botticelli, Rapid City offers a global dining scene. Don’t miss Tally’s Silver Spoon, a diner with a gourmet heart specializing in dishes featuring local ingredients from breakfast (think buffalo hanger steak and eggs) to lunch (shaved ham and foie gras sandwiches) and through dinner (grilled quail).

While chain hotels abound the city’s Hotel Alex Johnson vintage 1928 will appeal to history and style buffs. Built by namesake Alex Carlton Johnson, former vice president of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad the 143-room hotel showcases his love of Native American culture in sculpture and iconography in a grand Germanic Tudor building updated with modern amenities such as a rooftop bar and accessible rooms.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route to Badlands National Park

Just north of the park, Prairie Homestead preserves the 1909 sod home of the homesteading Brown family complete with barking prairie dogs in the yard.

If you’re driving north from Denver (or even driving around) on Highway 18 stop in Hot Springs, South Dakota, for a soak in its naturally warmed waters. Bathing options range from pools as hot as 102 degrees at Moccasin Springs Natural Mineral Spa to the water-park-like Evans Plunge Mineral Springs. Or wade into the warm waters of Fall River at Brookside and Chautauqua parks.

Dry off to check out the Mammoth Site, an active dig site with more than 1,200 fossils of mammoths as well as prehistoric prairie dogs and giant short-faced bear.

About 10 miles north of Hot Springs lies Wind Cave National Park. Below its more than 33,800 acres of prairie and forest lies a vast cave system with rare boxwork formations that resemble honeycombs made of calcite.

From there, it’s a scenic half-hour drive north to biodiverse Custer State Park, a 71,000-acre home to pine forests, granite spires and prairie grassland. Its 18-mile Wildlife Loop drive offers a DIY American safari where you’re likely to see buffalo (about 1,500 roam in the park), elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and prairie dogs.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the town of Custer just west of the park refuel at Black Hills Burger & Bun where the kitchen staff prepares everything in house from grinding the meat to baking the buns.

You can’t visit the Black Hills region without taking in the 60-foot-high faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln carved into granite at Mount Rushmore National Memorial a little more than 20 miles southwest of Rapid City.

Don’t miss its Native American counterpart less than 20 miles west of the memorial at Crazy Horse Memorial the still-under-construction mountainside sculpture of the eponymous Oglala Lakota leader.

Badlands 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:

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact box

  • Where the park is: Western South Dakota
  • Size: 244,000 acres
  • Highest peak: Sheep Mountain Table, 3,300 feet
  • Miles and numbers of trails: 17.5 miles among eight trails
  • Main attraction: Striated rock formations
  • Cost: Entry $30 per vehicle for 7-day permit; $20 per year or $80 for a lifetime America the Beautiful Pass for people age 62-plus
  • Best way to see it: Driving the Badlands Loop Road
  • When to go to avoid the crowds: Spring and fall

Worth Pondering…

This is one of the few places I have ever seen where the night was friendlier than the day. And I can easily see how people are driven back to the Badlands. In the night the Badlands had become the Good Lands. I can’t explain it. That’s how it was.

—John Steinbeck

Memorial Day Weekend: Let’s Go Camping

Each year, the camping season kicks off on the Memorial Day weekend

As Memorial Day approaches, it’s time to dust off the camping gear, pack up the RV, and hit the road for a rejuvenating adventure. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and what better way to kick off the season than by immersing yourself in nature’s embrace?

Camping offers an abundance of benefits beyond just a temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It provides an opportunity to disconnect from screens, breathe in fresh air, and reconnect with loved ones or simply with one-self. Whether you’re an experienced RVer or a novice camper, there’s something special about spending a weekend under the stars.

One of the greatest appeals of camping is its versatility. Whether you prefer pitching a tent in a wooded area, parking your RV at a scenic campground, or even glamming it up in a luxurious glamping site, there’s a camping experience to suit every preference and comfort level. Memorial Day weekend presents an ideal opportunity to explore a new campground or revisit an old favorite.

As you make plans for Memorial Day weekend, consider embarking on a camping adventure to celebrate the beauty of the great outdoors. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or simply a chance to unplug and unwind, camping offers an unparalleled opportunity to reconnect with nature and create lasting memories with loved ones. So grab your gear, hit the trail, and let the adventure begin!

Wondering where to camp?

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool. 

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Castaway Cove (campground activity pool) is available to all visitors to the Park for a fee. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

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

Elephant Butte has 133 partial hookup sites and 1,150 sites for primitive camping.

Get more tips for visiting Elephant Butte State Park

Cedar Pass Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Located near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, the Cedar Pass Campground has 96 level sites with scenic views of the badlands formations. Enjoy the stunning sunsets, incredible night skies, and breathtaking sunrises from the comfort of your RV. Camping in Cedar Pass Campground is limited to 14 days. Due to fire danger, campfires are not permitted in this campground and collection of wood is prohibited. However, camp stoves or contained charcoal grills can be used in campgrounds and picnic areas.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Hunting Island State Park

Blanco State Park, Texas

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

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

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp. This park is home to fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons.

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

Get more tips for visiting Laura S. Walker State Park

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.

120 electric and water sites are available at Catalina. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

Get more tips for visiting Myakka River State Park

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night! is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named Federal Hill by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235 acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round.

Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station. A grocery store and a laundry are nearby across the street from the park.

Get more tips for visiting My Old Kentucky Home State Park

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

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

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse, desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

Snow Canyon State Park is filled with great hiking, beautiful Navajo sandstone formations, ancient lava rock (basalt), and out-of-this-world views

There are 29 camping sites at the Snow Canyon State Park; 13 are standard sites with no hookups and 16 are sites with partial hookups that come with water and electricity. Most sites are not big-rig friendly. Group camping is also available.

Get more tips for visiting Snow Canyon State Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

20 Amazing Campgrounds Worth the Road Trip

Sleep under the stars

Camping is great but camping in a one-of-a-kind site with unique features (saltwater pools, sweeping views, horseback riding, we could go on) is even better. The next time you decide to venture into the great outdoors be sure to first consult this list. From campsites nestled in legendary state parks to options located on warm, sandy beaches, here are 20 campgrounds in the worth the road trip.

Shenandoah National Park campgrounds, Virginia

All of the five campgrounds at Shenandoah are open seasonally from early spring until late fall. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. 

Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1) is the nearest campground for those entering the park from Front Royal in the northern section of the Park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and picnic table. Mathews Arm has a combination of reservable and first-come, first-served sites.

Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2) is centrally-located in the park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and a picnic table. All sites at Big Meadows Campground are by reservation only.

Other campgrounds in Shenandoah include Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Here are some helpful resources:

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

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park, Utah

Camping in Arches is only allowed in Devils Garden Campground. The demand for campground sites is extremely heavy and the park service recommends making reservations as early as possible. Reservations can be made up to 6 months before arrival and must be made at least 4 days before you arrive. If you don’t have a reservation, plan on camping outside the park. Between November 1 and February 28, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Arches:

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park campgrounds, California

There are fourteen campgrounds in the parks including two that are open during all four seasons. Campsites hold up to six people. Each has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and a metal food-storage box. Nearly all campgrounds require advance reservations; sites fill quickly.

Except when weather or safety conditions require a closure, Potwisha Campground is open year-round with a four-month advance booking window. The campground sits at 2,100 feet elevation along the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River under an open stand of oaks. Hot and dry weather in the foothills often require fire restrictions in the summer. In the winter, the campground is usually snow-free.

If you need ideas, check out:

Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds, California

The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation. 

You can camp among these truck-size boulders at Jumbo Rocks, one of the park’s eight campgrounds. Only two campgrounds (Black Rock and Cottonwood) have water, flush toilets, and dump stations. Cottonwood is especially popular with RVers. At the Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, RVs are limited to a maximum combined length of 25 feet (RV and a towed or towing vehicle); in the other campgrounds, the limit is 35 feet, space permitting.

Here are some articles to help:

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park campgrounds, South Dakota

Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The Cedar Pass Campground is a paid campground with 96 sites total, some designated for RV camping with electric hookups. Reservations for the Cedar Pass Campground can be made through contacting the Cedar Pass Lodge online or by phone at 877-386-4383. Sage Creek Campground is a free, first-come first-serve campground with 22 sites and limited to RVs 18 feet in length or less.

Read more:

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument camping, Arizona

Cottonwood Campground is managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. Nightly fee with 93 sites available first-come, first-serve. No showers or hookups.

Here are some helpful resources:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping, North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintains developed frontcountry campgrounds at 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek Campground, Balsam Mountain Campground, Big Creek Campground, Cades Cove Campground, Cataloochee Campground, Cosby Campground, Deep Creek Campground, Elkmont Campground, Look Rock Campground, and Smokemont Campground. Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year. Cades Cove and Smokemont Campgrounds are open year-round. All other campgrounds are open on a seasonal basis.

If you need ideas, check out:

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

White Tank Mountains Regional Park camping, Arizona

With nearly 30,000 acres, White Tank Mountain Regional Park is the largest park in Maricopa County. White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping.

Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers.

Read more: A Hiker’s Paradise: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island camping, Georgia

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

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

If you need ideas, check out: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Mesa Verde National Park camping, Colorado

Spend a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs including 15 full-hookup RV sites.
Morefield’s campsites are situated on loop roads that extend through a high grassy canyon filled with Gambel Oak scrub, native flowers, deer, and wild turkeys. Several of the park’s best hikes leave from Morefield and climb to spectacular views of surrounding valleys and mountains.

Here are some articles to help:

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

Dead Horse Point State Park camping, Utah

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

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

Read more:

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park camping, Arizona

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

Here are some helpful resources:

Grand Canyon National Park camping, Arizona

Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Open year-round, there are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, picnic table, and parking space. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available but a dump station is available.

Situated within a picturesque high desert landscape, Trailer Village RV Park park offers paved pull-through full hookup sites designed for vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village RV Park is open year-round.

The North Rim Campground is open from mid-May 15 through mid-October, weather permitting. The canyon’s rustic and less populated North Rim is home to abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and unparalleled views of this natural wonder. The facility is at an elevation of 8,200 feet with pleasant summer temperatures and frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

Here are some articles to help:

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park camping, Arizona

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 42 mixed-amenity sites. Campground F has 15 full-hookup sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Read more: Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park camping, Mississippi

Buccaneer State Park Campground has 206 premium single-family campsites and is located in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks and marshlands on the Gulf Coast. All of the 206 develop campsites have full hookups (water, electric, and sewer). There are also an additional 70 sites (with water and electric) that are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and 25 primitive (first-come, first-serve) sites located in the back of Royal Cay camp area.

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards this developed campground has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. Accessible sites (non-electric) are located adjacent to restrooms.

Here are some helpful resources:

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park camping, Alabama

Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 full hookup sites with paved pads. All full hookup camping pads are at least ~45 feet (most back-ins) to ~65 feet (most pull-through) long with more than enough room for RVs with pullouts, have picnic tables, and pedestal grill tops There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the campground.

Meahler State Park camping, Alabama

Meaher State Park has 61 RV campsites. Each site is paved, roughly 65 feet in length and has 20, 30 and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hookups. You have a grill and picnic table at your site and plenty of space between you and the next guest. The park has 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. All tent sites have a grill/fire pit and picnic table available. The campground features an air conditioned/heated main shower house equipped with laundry facilities for overnight campers and a smaller bathhouse equipped with restrooms only.

Read more: Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park camping, Arizona

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Goose Island State Park camping, Texas

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity and a group camp for youth groups.

Read more: Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

The Most Breathtakingly Beautiful Road Trips in America

There’s no better way to explore America than from behind the wheel of an RV. Discover my picks of the 10 best road trips in the U.S.

You could say that life is one big road trip but that is bordering a little too close to poetry. Why not just go on a big ol’ RV journey instead? America is filled with incredible roads that stretch on and on, traversing stunning sights and memorable spots that have dominated travel bucket lists for years. You’ll need plenty of fuel in the tank and a carefully curated list of road trip tunes lined up but the rewards are seemingly endless.

My selection of the best road trips in the U.S. will take you through a whole lot of incredible scenery not to mention a healthy portion of the weirdest things on the planet. There’s a lot to love out there.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Route 66 All-American Road

Best road trip for American kitsch

Route: Chicago to Los Angeles

Length: 2,250 miles

Recommended time: 1–2 weeks

Details: It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that Route 66 is the most iconic road trip on the planet. Nicknamed the Mother Road, Route 66 has permanently ingrained itself in the international psyche as the original US road trip. Starting in Chicago, it crosses eight different states and connects travelers to national parks, weird but wonderful roadside attractions, and tons of vintage Americana.

Planning tip: The route can be driven in pieces or all at once but I suggest allotting plenty of time to explore—distances are long and the activities are numerous.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Route 66:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Blue Ridge Parkway All-American Road

Best Appalachian road trip

Route: Cherokee, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Recommended time: 2–5 days

Details: This spectacular route takes you through the heart of America’s oldest mountain range delivering view after view of rolling green mountains chock full of enchanting hiking trails, thundering waterfalls, ancient rock formations, and prolific wildlife. Part of the National Park Service (NPS), the Parkway begins adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passes through the spectacular Pisgah National Forest, several state parks, and recreation areas before ending at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park.

Detour: In addition to state and national parks many one-off hikes originate along the parkway. Consult trail maps to avoid missing some of Appalachia’s top routes.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the Blue Ridge Parkway:

3. Pacific Coast Highway

Best road trip for Pacific views

Route: San Diego to Seattle

Length: 1,600 miles

Recommended time: 8–12 days

Details: The Pacific Coast Highway delivers one of the US’ most iconic road trip experiences linking together the West Coast’s most notable metropolises, quirky California beach towns, ancient redwood forests, and the dramatic capes and pools of the Pacific Northwest. The route includes Highway 1, Highway 101, and I-5 starting in San Diego; it winds up the coast through LA, Big Sur, San Francisco, and Redwood National and State Parks eventually terminating in Seattle.

Planning tip: Always check for road closures, particularly in the Big Sur area where rockslides are common along the sea cliffs.

4. Natchez Trace All-American Road

Best road trip for Southern history

Route: Pasquo, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi

Length: 444 miles

Recommended time: 2–3 days

Details: The path for the Natchez Trace was originally carved not by humans but by buffalo that wandered the region from middle Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. Indigenous hunters and traders soon followed and later the route became a full-fledged thoroughfare for European colonists, soldiers, and dignitaries. Today, a trip down the Trace yields gorgeous scenery, historic towns, and the experience of traveling on one of the most storied roads in the country.

Merritt Island National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Florida U.S. Highway 1

Best road trip for Gulf Coast culture

Route: Amelia Island to Key West

Length: 545 miles

Recommended time: 6 days

Details: Florida’s U.S. Highway 1 runs the length of the state’s Atlantic Coast before banking east at Miami and ending in stunning Key West. This sublime multi-day journey takes you through tons of Florida’s most iconic stops: historic St Augustine, windswept Canaveral National Seashore, NASCAR-fueled Daytona, laid-back Fort Lauderdale, and the glam and glitter of Miami and South Beach.

Planning tip: Hurricane season lasts from June through October with the most active months being August and September and has the potential to significantly affect Florida. If you’re visiting during this window, keep your eyes on the forecast.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Florida U.S. Highway 1:

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Badlands – Black Hills Loop

Best road trip to experience the Great Plains

Route: Badlands National Park to the Black Hills

Length: 330 miles

Recommended time: 2 days

Details: If you want to get a taste of how expansive the Great Plains are head to South Dakota for this fascinating road trip through a state of huge ecological and cultural importance. Start your trip at the mind-bendingly beautiful Badlands National Park before looping over to the Black Hills, home to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park. Along the way, take in views of thriving buffalo herds, fascinating rock formations, and plenty of rolling hills.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in the Black Hills and Badlands National Park:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. San Juan Skyway All-American Road

Best road trip for Rocky Mountain peaks

Route: Loop that begins and ends in Durango

Length: 236 miles

Recommended time: 1–3 days

Details: The San Juan Skyway delivers some of the Rockies’ biggest views in high definition. This route which includes the renowned Million Dollar Highway leapfrogs across central Colorado’s mountainous core connecting Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Mesa Verde National Park known for the cliff dwellings left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Whether you’re a history buff, ski bum, landscape photographer, or simply someone who enjoys a thrilling drive, San Juan Skyway has something for you.

Planning tip: A fact that can be deduced by its name, the San Juan Skyway runs through high-altitude terrain and that makes road conditions somewhat unpredictable particularly during shoulder season. Always check for closures or local warnings before heading out.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the San Juan Skyway:

8. Richardson Highway

Best road trip for Alaska outdoors

Route: Fairbanks to Valdez

Length: 364 miles,

Recommended time: 2–4 days

Details: No road trip list would be complete without a journey through the country’s largest, northernmost state. The Richardson Highway, Alaska’s oldest highway connects Fairbanks with Valdez winding past dramatic mountain peaks and glaciers and giving travelers a front seat to some of the country’s most jaw-dropping natural attractions. Be sure to make pit stops for hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and of course, photography.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Scenic Byway 12 All-American Road

Best road trip through red rock country

Route: Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park

Length: 122 miles

Recommended time: 1 day

Details: Southern Utah feels like an entirely different planet and this backroads route takes you through the best scenery this geologically diverse state has to offer. Start your journey in the town of Panguitch right outside of Bryce Canyon and follow the road through red rock canyons, historic towns, and pine forests until you finish your journey in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the west’s best-kept secrets.

Detour: From Torrey, it’s an easy 2.5-hour drive to Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches making these routes the best way to see Utah’s Big 5. And the road itself takes you through some amazing lunar-like scenery that contrasts sharply with the red rocks – wild.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Scenic Byway and beyond:

Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Coastal New England

Best road trip for Atlantic maritime vibes

Route: New York City to Portland, Maine

Length: 430 miles

Recommended time: 3–5 days

Details: Prep yourself for seafood chowder, picturesque oceanside towns, and all the lobster you can handle, this coastal New England trip will help you find your sea legs. Start in New York City and make your way north along the coast stopping to enjoy the lovely beaches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts’ wealth of historical heavy hitters, and New Hampshire’s lighthouses before arriving in culinary-minded Portland, Maine.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in New England:

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2024

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

April, dressed in all his trim, hath put a spirit of youth in everything.

—William Shakespeare

From time immemorial, spring’s awakening has signaled to humanity the promise of new beginnings. In William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, a love poem published in 1609, the prolific poet and playwright personifies the glorious month of April as the herald of youth, vitality, and hope. For the Bard, the coming of spring—the twittering birds, ambrosial flowers, and long-awaited sunny skies—brought with it all the delights of a fresh start.

We have made it to the fourth month of the year, the one we kick off by fooling acquaintances with sport. A warning to my readers: Watch out for tricksters in the RV travel realm.

April is a time of change. With the vernal equinox in the recent rearview mirror in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is slowly stirring from its months-long slumber preparing to soon be in full bloom. April also has outsized importance compared to other months: The ancient Romans tied the month to the goddess Venus because of its beautiful and life-affirming effects and for thousands of years the month was seen as the true beginning of the year.

Today, April is full of moments of mischief, reverence, and a budding excitement for the warmer times ahead. These six facts explore the history of the month and why it’s sometimes considered one of the best times of the year.

When it comes to the names of months, April is a bit of an outlier. Other months are either intimately tied to Roman history and culture—whether named after Roman gods (January, March, June, etc.), rituals (February), or leaders (July and August)—or are related to Latin numbers (September to December). April, however, is simply derived from the Latin aperire which means “to open.” This is likely a reference to the beginning of spring when flowers open as the weather warms.

Although April’s name isn’t etymologically tied to Roman culture, April (or Aprilis, as the Romans called it) was a month dedicated to the goddess Venus known as Aphrodite in the ancient Greek pantheon. On the first day of April, Romans celebrated a festival known as Veneralia in honor of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. This has led some scholars to wonder if the month’s name was actually Aphrilis about the goddess.

One of the most important holidays in April (and occasionally March) is the celebration of Easter which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus. Much like Christmas, this holiday has pagan origins and its name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term for the month, Ēosturmōnaþ. That name literally meant Ēostre’s month, a reference to the West Germanic spring goddess of the same name.

The only known historical text mentioning Ēostre comes from the Venerable Bede, a Christian monk who lived in the eighth century and who mentions the goddess (and the festivals dedicated in her name) in his work The Reckoning of Time. Because so little evidence of Ēostre exists some wonder if the goddess was a complete invention of Bede’s and whether she was real or not. Ēostre remains the namesake of April’s holiest days for Christians.

One of the oddest annual traditions on the modern calendar falls on the first day of April otherwise known as April Fools’ Day. Once a day reserved for harmless pranks pulled on friends and family, April Fools’ Day now reaches into the furthest depths of the internet with multimillion-dollar brands and corporations getting in on the fun.

Although the tradition is certainly an oddity, it’s strange still that no one is exactly sure where April Fools’ Day comes from. Some historians think when France moved to the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century, those who still celebrated the New Year in April (having not gotten the memo, wilfully or otherwise, about the calendar change) were labeled April fools.

Others have tied the tradition to an ancient Roman festival called Hilaria which took place in late March, along with many more theories. A more modern version of April Fools’ Day took root in 18th-century Britain before evolving into the mischief holiday we know today.

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

Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Visit Yuma

As the weather warms up and the paloverde explodes into bloom, there’s no better time to visit Yuma, Arizona for a unique outdoor adventure. Soak up every minute in Yuma the way you’ve always wanted to—without regrets. Kick off an adventurous stay at full throttle with high-speed boating. Find solace in the sunset from a pontoon, a paddleboard, or one of Yuma’s three national wildlife refuges. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or just starting, add Yuma to your bucket list.

Yuma is home to a variety of unique attractions that you won’t find anywhere else. Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is a must-see destination for history buffs while Colorado River State Historic Park provides a glimpse into the military history of the area. The Yuma Art Center features rotating art exhibits and cultural events and you can find beautiful, colorful murals scattered all around town.

Visit one of the date farms and enjoy a date milkshake in the shade of a Medjool date palm tree then explore some of the more offbeat destinations such as Lauren Pratt’s Little Chapel, the McPhaul Suspension Bridge (also known as the Bridge to Nowhere), the Center of the World, or the Museum of History in Granite.

Here are some helpful resources:

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Texas Hill Country

This year, all eyes are turned to the Texas Hill Country since it falls smack-dab in the path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8. As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, the day will turn to night. North America saw a total eclipse in 2017 but the last time the land now known as Texas experienced one was back in 1397.

Visibility will depend on two things: location (the Hill Country will get close to four and a half minutes of totality out of a possible seven and a half) and weather (Central Texas’s annual average of 300 sunny days bodes well).

Plan your next trip in the Texas Hill Country with these resources:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Forget Napa, Temecula is the underrated wine region to visit in 2024

For as great as they are, Napa and Sonoma wine regions are missing a rustic, casual wine-tasting trip with some great juice in its own right—Temecula wine country is the underrated wine region to visit this year.

There have only been commercial wineries in the Temecula Valley since the mid-’60s but in the intervening 55 years the industry has grown immensely and there are now almost 50 active wineries. It’s an officially recognized AVA with hot afternoons and cooler nights thanks to the breeze off of the Pacific Ocean which gives the area the right growing conditions for lots of different grapes, particularly Mediterranean varieties.

With all those wineries to explore (and lots of other things to do in Temecula), it makes a fantastic day trip from most anywhere in Southern California.

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

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Appalachia’s spectacular mountain road 

Discover the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains as you wind your way along the Blue Ridge Parkway. This 469-mile-long route passes through charming towns, dense forests, and stunning mountain vistas. With ample opportunities for hiking, picnicking, camping, and wildlife spotting, it’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. The parkway’s famous Linn Cove Viaduct is a must-see engineering marvel. Rest up at cozy lodges like Peaks of Otter Lodge or Pisgah Inn for a true mountain getaway experience. 

Check this out to learn more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

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

5. Springtime in the Smokies

This stunning national park is a great spot to visit any time of the year—which is probably why it’s the most popular one in America.

But come springtime, the Smokies are extra special: all covered over in a flood of newly-bloomed wildflowers from rhododendrons to black-eyed Susans and lots of others in between. In fact, over 1,500 types of flowering plants call the park their home, which naturalists celebrate by hosting the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage at the end of April and beginning of May (74th annual; May 1-4, 2024). Just make sure you reserve your campsite early! As with all national parks, sites have a tendency to fill up fast when the weather’s lovely.

Here are some helpful resources:

6. Festival International de Louisiane

For the Festival International de Louisiane (April 24-28, 2024), downtown Lafayette is turned into an international music hub, complete with live performances, street musicians, arts and crafts boutiques and more. Multiple countries are represented at this fest, making Festival International one of Louisiana’s premier multicultural events. All of the events, including cultural workshops, are free.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Triassic World

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy several breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Anything rock is found here. You can see trees dating more than 200 million years—turned to stone. And flora and fauna fossils as well as petroglyphs! Start at the Painted Desert Visitor Center and learn about all the stops and sights that are RV-friendly around the park. You can easily spot petrified wood near some of the parking areas and lots of wildlife.

Here are some articles to help:

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. The amazing Badlands

There are not too many hills and curves in this part of South Dakota and its big-rig friendly too, so the Badlands can make nice spring RV trips. Spring makes for a cool drive through the paint-colored hills. You can see bighorn sheep, buffalo, and prairie dogs that haven’t been scared off by crowds. There are several designated areas where you can pull over and enjoy the rock formations, or take a hike.

The park is very RV-friendly. You can park along the roadways and most of the roads are paved. If you have time, check out Mount Rushmore and the famous Black Hills. Finding open RV parks this time of year is a little challenging. Basic hookups are at the nearby 24 Express RV Campground. Or, if you book now, the national park’s Cedar Pass Campground is open on April 19.

Here are some helpful resources:

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Jekyll Island

Part of the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island provides a plethora of biking trails, beach access, wooded exploration, and a fun water park. Quiet and spacious, this island is big on downtime and memory-making. For even more island time, spend a day at the neighboring St. Simons Island. This chain of islands provides one of the most unique spring destinations.

Jekyll Island Campground provides everything you need for a great vacation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park moving to spring schedule

The possibility of a snowstorm after April 1 can’t be ruled out at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah but the park just the same will be transitioning to its spring season schedule on April 5.

No reservations are required to enter Bryce Canyon but planning ahead will help park visitors to enjoy a predictable visit even on the busiest days. 

Starting April 5, the Bryce Canyon Shuttle will be available to help ease traffic congestion at popular viewpoints and trailheads. Unlimited use of the shuttle is included with your park admission. Shuttle service will run until October 20 and begin every day at 8 a.m. In spring and fall, the last bus will depart the park at 6:15 p.m. Final bus times will extend to 8:10 p.m. from May 10 to September 22.  

Visitors riding the shuttle are encouraged to take advantage of free parking at the shuttle station in Bryce Canyon City. As in years past, vehicles 23 feet and longer are restricted from parking at Bryce Amphitheater viewpoints during shuttle operating hours. 

North Campground remains open all winter for first-come, first-served camping and will transition to reservation-based camping from May 18 through October 7. Reservations are available on a 6-month rolling basis. 

Sunset Campground is closed each winter and will open for first-come, first-served camping April 15 through May 17. Reservation-based camping on a 14-day rolling basis is available May 18 through October 14. Sunset Campground returns to first-come, first-served camping on October 15 before closing for the winter season on November 1. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Bryce Canyon:

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

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

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

Look to the Stars! National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

Stargazing season is amazing! Enjoy the night skies at their brightest at National Parks stargazing festivals.

National parks are helping visitors make the most of their dark skies by hosting stargazing festivals. The festivals include various night-time events in addition to stargazing. 

These events are right around the corner so bust out your stargazing kit and get going!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dark Sky National Parks

National parks are becoming night sky havens since they have less exposure to light pollution. Dozens of national parks are even designated Dark Sky Parks because of their “exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights…”

Some national parks with the official Dark Sky Park classification are:

You’ll notice Utah is a big hitter when it comes to stargazing. There are so many incredible places to not only see during the day but also to be mesmerized by at night!

That’s why it’s no surprise that my posts on Southern Utah are some of my most popular posts. Here’s a sampling:

I also have an article on the Best National Parks for Stargazing.

National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

These annual events are held at similar times annually so if you’ve missed one you can start planning for next year. 

National parks often host many stargazing activities and events throughout the year so check for those whenever you plan to visit.

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

Alrighty, let’s take a look at the national parks stargazing festivals 2024.

Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, March 1-3

Death Valley is known for some of the best stargazing in America. It’s even designated a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, the highest rating of darkness.

During the Death Valley Dark Sky Festival visitors can enjoy the stunning night sky as well as special events like the Exploration Fair, auditorium talks, astrophotography meetups, and more.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 5-7

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. You can see things like sod tables and clastic dikes during the day then stay to take advantage of their dark night skies. 

The Badlands Astronomy Festival partners with the NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium. Their festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided walk through a scaled solar system model!

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival, August 11-13

Shenandoah National Park is a gorgeous gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains in north-central Virginia. In fact, this almost 200,000-acre park is so breathtaking that I have done several posts about it:

You can view its cascading waterfalls, wildflower fields, and quiet woods daily then stay for its spectacular nighttime views.  

The other great thing about this park is its location. It is only a 75-mile drive from Washington, D.C. So, you’re close to many historical sites and museums as well.

Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions.

The event includes ranger talks, other lectures and presentations, and family-friendly activities. The guest presentations include a span of topics, including space travel, space weather, and our future in space. 

The event is free with park admission. 

Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 5-7

The Great Basin National Park might be for you if you prefer to avoid crowds. It is one of the least crowded national parks! 

The 77,000-acre park in eastern Nevada also has a research-grade observatory! 

This fall, you can attend their 15th annual stargazing event. This year’s festival will have many of the same events as 2023 with new guest speakers, ranger programs, and art projects.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October (Dates TBA)

Joshua Tree National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

Every year, the park and non-profit organizations Joshua Tree Educational Experience (JTREE) and Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center partner to bring this incredible stargazing event. 

The Night Sky Festival is a ticketed event and has a limited capacity. They haven’t announced the 2024 dates yet, but it’s typically held around the second weekend of October. You can click that link to see if they’ve updated their website with dates and ticket information.

It is usually located just outside the park limits at the Sky’s The Limit Nature Observatory and Nature Center. Tickets go on sale in early summer. 

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene