10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2024

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

There is only one success… to be able to spend your life in your own way.

—Christopher Morley

With more than 100 books to his credit, Christopher Morley’s oeuvre includes novels and essay and poetry collections. Perhaps his best-known work is 1939’s Kitty Foyle, a novel that sold over a million copies and was adapted into a film starring Ginger Rogers.

The source of this quote, however, is a satirical novel that the American writer debuted 17 years earlier. In Where the Blue Begins, all the characters are anthropomorphized dogs starting with Gissing, the protagonist.

When three puppies fall under his care, Gissing travels to the city and attempts to earn money in various ways such as managing a department store. His adventures in the workforce remind him that accomplishments are defined by individuals, not society, and self-awareness can clarify our  unique sense of success.

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

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. One of America’s oldest settlements

Santa Fe boasts some of the most eye-catching architecture in the U.S. This historic New Mexico city, also one of America’s oldest settlements, is proud of its long heritage and celebrates it with the conservation of the adobe buildings built by the region’s Indigenous Puebloans as early as 800 AD. 

The Puebloans layered adobe onto a basic wooden framework of vigas and latillas and the Spanish later adapted the technique in the 16th century by filling wooden molds to make brick and then spreading a thin layer of adobe over the rough walls to retain the smooth rounded finish that we still admire today. Features such as covered porches (portales), arches set within interior walls (nichos) and kiva fireplaces also originated during this period.

Be sure to seek out landmark buildings such as La Fonda on the Plaza, San Miguel Chapel, and the Palace of the Governors as you stroll around. 

Here are some articles to help:

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Synchronous fireflies viewing event

With over 2,000 species found world-wide, there are only three species of synchronous fireflies that can be found in North America. Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. During this time visitors can experience an awe-inspiring display of synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate. This special and unique phenomenon is extremely popular.

The 2024 Synchronous Fireflies Viewing Event will take place May 16-25. Passes will be required to enter the park on event nights and will be awarded through a lottery system hosted through recreation.gov.

Unfortunately, Congaree is well-known for another insect that certainly isn’t as appealing as fireflies. Yep, mosquitos! So much so that they even have a Mosquito Meter above the entrance to the National Park visitor center.

The Mosquito Meter has a half-circle dial with an arrow that points to numbers 1-6.

The lowest in its range reads all clear, the midpoint reads severe, and at the top of the scale reads war zone.

Visitors laugh at the meter but a ranger told us, “It’s no joke.  Lots of folks call us up and ask what the meter says before they come out here.”  

By the way, I have a series of posts on Congaree National Park:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hoodoos galore

When May comes around in Bryce Canyon National Park, the snow is nearly gone which means the park’s main road and popular trails are likely to be open. Highs are typically in the 60s during the day, too―ideal conditions for hiking the park’s trail. Visitor numbers start to ramp up this month but it’s still early enough in the season that you’re unlikely to have to jostle for a view at the popular Bryce Point which overlooks Bryce Amphitheater, a landscape of otherworldly rock spires (called hoodoos).

With elevations reaching 9,115 feet, Bryce offers about 150 miles of visibility on a clear day. Plus, since it’s exposed to very little light pollution the park offers optimal conditions for stargazing. In fact, in 2019 the International Dark-Sky Association designated Bryce Canyon an International Dark Sky Park. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Enjoy the season in Charleston

Charleston is a year-round destination but May brings something special. Spring is turning to summer and it’s time for the beach and boats but also Spoleto and the arts. The acclaimed annual performing arts festival, Spoleto runs from May 22 to June 9. But before that, the North Charleston Arts Fest (May 1-5, 20124) highlights dance, music, theater, visual arts, and literature. Named America’s favorite city (again) in the 2023 World’s Best Awards, Charleston’s warm weather in the low 80s makes May a perfect time to explore all the city has to offer. 

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Almost Heaven

Nicknamed The Mountain State and Almost Heaven (thanks to John Denver’s classic song), West Virginia is the home of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Spring is truly one of the best seasons to visit the park. In early spring before the trees leaf out, wildflowers of many colors and varieties carpet the forest floor. Later, the leaf canopy appears and you can see shades of light and dark green as the leaves mature.

Hiking, river rafting, biking, and exploring by car are some ways to enjoy New River Gorge’s 70,000 acres of land and the New River which despite its name is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth.

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

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Spring in Boston

Boston, the capital of Massachusetts is a vibrant city offering plenty to see and do. The weather in Boston in May tends to be cool and fresh but sunny. There also aren’t too many tourists at this time of year but everything is still bustling to a nice degree. So spring is the perfect time for exploring the city.

As part of a fun-packed Boston itinerary, you should make time to relax with a picnic among the colorful tulips on Boston Common. This lush green space in the center of the city looks stunning in May as everything starts to bloom.

Head over to nearby Quincy Market for lunch choosing from the myriad of cuisines available (opt for a lobster roll) before doing the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile tour of American Revolution points and landmarks.

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Georgia Mountains

Anyone who has spent time around charming mountain towns like the Alpine village of Helen or Blue Ridge knows that North Georgia offers a wonderful array of wilderness areas for nature lovers to explore. And May just so happens to be an excellent time to do so!

Picture this: You’re exploring the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the morning light revealing a misty haze coming off the trees of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

The white-tailed deer and black bears begin to emerge with their young and a dazzling array of birds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies flit and buzz about as they search for nectar. Wildflowers begin to crop up everywhere with native Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Honeysuckle adding sweet smells that waft on the gentle breeze.

The spring rains turn everything in these hills a brilliant verdant green, and the temperatures at this elevation (3,000+ feet) remain relatively cool because you’re still in the Deep South.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Texas Hill Country’s most getaway-worthy German town

May is the best time to head on down to Fredericksburg, Texas. The average temperatures sit right in the mid-70s during May offering cooler and calmer weather before the blistering Texas summers hit.

Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is one of the best small towns in the South. Head out to the rolling hills to discover thousands of colorful wildflower varieties. Keep an eye out for the blooming Bluebonnets while strolling the area’s meadows to catch a glimpse at one of the must-see Texas Hill Country spectacles.

Wine lovers will also be happy to visit Fredericksburg in May as there are plenty of wine tastings and tours along the famous Wine & Wildflower Wine Trail.

History buffs will also love this cute Texas town as it is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. Here, you will find elaborate exhibits illustrating the Pacific Theater with thousands of artifacts and historic machinery.

Make sure to stop in at one of the city’s unique dining venues to try some authentic Fredericksburg food. From Texas Hill Country cuisine at the Cabernet Grill to German cuisine at Der Lindenbaum, your stomach will be thanking you for visiting Fredericksburg in May.

Check out Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg for more inspiration.9. Island life.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Oceans of fun

As only established town found on Mustang Island, Port Aransas boasts countless family-oriented activities that people of all ages would enjoy.

Get the most out of the Texas coast at this original island life destination with 18 miles of shoreline featuring wide, sandy beaches. This breathtaking island offers fabulous outdoor activities from parasailing to bird watching to sport fishing, dolphin watching, and kayaking. 

As one of the cutest towns in Texas, you will find plenty of year-round festivals and activities including the famous BeachtoberFest, Texas SandFest, and the Whooping Crane Festival. If you are looking for a place to stay during your visit, there are plenty of cute coastal homes and hotels perfect for a large family vacation or a last-minute getaway.

For more ideas, check out Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Pahá Sápa (Hills that are black)

Western South Dakota’s stunning Black Hills region is a beautiful part of the U.S. to visit any time of year but May might just be the very best month of all.

Perfectly comfortable weather conditions coupled with fewer tourists than peak summer season make May the ideal time for taking on the spectacular Black Elk Peak hiking trail. Summit views from an old fire watchtower across four U.S. states are extraordinary.

Mount Rushmore is arguably South Dakota’s most famous landmark and late May marks the beginning of the iconic granite sculpture’s esteemed evening light show.

Custer is one of the most beloved U.S. State Parks, in part thanks to its amazing family-friendly, 18-mile wildlife loop drive.

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

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

―Lucy Larcom

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.

Romantic Road Trips for RVing Couples

Spend quality time together discovering the best of what roadside America has to offer

February has arrived and love is in the air! If you’re tired of the same old Valentine’s Day celebrations why not spice things up with a romantic road trip

Forget the cliched candlelit dinners and hit the open road with your special someone. After all, they say that couples who travel together, stay together (Okay, I may have made that up but it’s true). Imagine planning and exploring the most romantic destinations across America, hand in hand with your partner. It’s time to add some adventure to your love life; a road trip is the perfect way!

Whether you’re still in the honeymoon phase or you’ve been together for years, a weekend away—or longer—can seem like magic in its ability to rekindle that spark that first drew you to one another.

And if you’re looking for the perfect way to travel together while enjoying flexibility and convenience, RVing might be exactly what you’re after.

Think about it. Road trips already make for some of the best couples’ vacations. You’ve got all that driving time to simply sit and chat, catching up on those meandering conversations you might not have time or energy for over dinner after a busy day.

The U.S. is home to thousands of miles of scenic roadways with numerous national parks, state parks, beaches, and mountain vistas along the way.

For the ultimate bonding experience, gather your favorite (healthy) road trip snacks, sync your playlists, and embark on one of these romantic road trips for couples with many travel links to make trip planning easier.

May romance be rekindled with these suggestions!

Ferris Wheel on The Wharf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alabama: Gulf Shores/Orange Beach

The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area of ‘Bama had plenty of activities for you and your college friends but it also boasts plenty to do now that you’re an adult and attempting to impress someone not wearing an airbrushed tank.

You can ride the Ferris wheel on The Wharf, go mini-golfing on Adventure Island, take a glass-blowing class at the arts center, or, you know, lie on the beach together. But anytime you have the opportunity to eat and drink on a boat while watching dolphins, you should always take it—so make that a priority.

I’ve written several posts about the area if you’re interested in learning more:

2. Arizona: Phoenix/Scottsdale

Scottsdale’s entire raison d’être for the last several decades has been the art of rest. Lucky for you, all of that R&R has begotten a third R: romance. Aside from the bachelor and bachelorette parties romping through Old Town, there are plenty of more peaceful ways to celebrate love in this desert city: candlelit dinners, couples spa treatments at one of the more than 50 resorts around town, watching the sun set behind the mountains silhouetted against saguaros.

Here are some articles to help:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Georgia: Savannah

It’s impossible not to swoon at the Spanish moss in Savannah billowing over every street corner and park. The iconic Southern flora is just part of the charm of this hauntingly beautiful coastal city renowned for its Lowcountry cuisine and ornate architecture. For a small-ish city, there’s a ton to do here.

Itching for some fun in the sun? Take a day trip to Jekyll Island, a gorgeous barrier island in the Golden Isles with historic mansions, miles of unobstructed beachfront, and the majestic Jekyll Island Club Resort, a sprawling hotel that looks like a chic—and harmless—Hill House. 

4. Kentucky: Versailles

Lexington on its own is an ideal place for a romantic city getaway in the Bluegrass State: It’s home to more than 450 incredible horse farms, its fair share of bourbon distilleries, and some of Kentucky’s best restaurants for a special night out.

But what sweetens the deal is the opportunity to stay in a genuine castle during your stay: A short drive from the city in the aptly named Versailles sits the Kentucky Castle which is less Medieval Times and more fairytale hotel complete with high-end farm-to-table dining, a full-service spa, and a chance to unwind like royalty in the Bluegrass region. 

If you need ideas, check out:

Bird City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana: Avery Island

Nothing reignites a fiery romance quite like hot sauce, so get yourself to Avery Island, home of Tabasco. Your priority is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre collection of azaleas, camellias, old Buddha statues, and the rogue croc or deer. If you’re a bird-watching couple, there’s a separate tour of Bird City as well.

After you’ve taken in all the pretty flowers, it’s time to tour the super-romantic Tabasco factory. The hot sauce company has an additional restaurant and Cajun-inspired food tour on Avery Island, just in case your date isn’t impressed with bottling operations. 

Read more:

6. New Mexico: Truth or Consequences

If you want to get away from it all—like really, really away from it all—head out into the desert about two hours south of Albuquerque to Truth or Consequences. Despite the bizarre, Western movie-sounding name, this tiny town is utterly serene. Surrounded by mountains, it was called Hot Springs thanks to the soothing mineral springs found throughout the area.

You’ll find plenty of options in the aptly-named Hot Springs District but the best of them is arguably Riverbend Hot Springs where you and your lover can lounge on the shores of the Rio Grande. Book a soak in the private pools for extra intimacy and be sure to stay until after dark when fairy lights strung along the water turn the riverbank into a sight resembling an ocean of stars. 

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Dakota: Medora

We’re obviously sending you to the Badlands—ignore the name, they’re good!—but specifically to historic Medora. The town is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and you know if it’s got Teddy’s name on it, it’s a natural beauty. The town itself is a Wild West riot, especially in the summer when the famous Medora Musical goes full Broadway. For dinner, head to Theodore’s Dining Room to sample buffalo osso buco or indulge in the regional marvel that is Pitchfork Steak Fondue which just as the name suggests involves skewering steaks on a pitchfork and dunking them in hot oil. 

8. Rhode Island: Newport

Newport is so old money and it knows it. The town is home to so many Gilded Age manors, that there’s a separate mansions page on its tourism site. Once you’ve gawked at enough chandeliers (and tour guides in old-timey hats), book a massage at one of the town’s several spas or head to the Newport Vineyards’ tasting room which is also home to the excellent Taproot Brewing.

Learn more about Newport: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. South Dakota: Black Hills

Set your compass toward Spearfish, South Dakota, and get ready to be amazed at the grandeur of the Black Hills. Make haste for Spearfish Canyon whose 1,000-foot walls snake along a roaring river then head to Sylvan Lake home to a shimmering mirror lake.

The spoils of the Black Hills await whether you’re interested in the extraterrestrial wonders of nearby Devils Tower, the majesty of the Badlands National Park, the cowboys-and-casinos delights of Deadwood, or, the kitschy charms of the world’s greatest tourist trap, Wall Drug. All are within an hour or two of Spearfish although you’d be forgiven for snuggling up and enjoying nature by fireside instead of venturing out, too.

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

10. Tennessee: Gatlinburg

The Smoky Mountains setting allows for hiking, horseback riding, and skiing (Ober Gatlinburg is the state’s only slope). Spending the day at Cades Cove is a must for every visitor to the Smoky Mountains,

And the fact that it’s in Tennessee means you can drink moonshine at several distilleries. There are also wineries and breweries if you prefer something lighter.

Here are some helpful resources:

More fun and romantic RV trip ideas for couples

Looking for more romantic road trip ideas?

RVing getaways help create romantic memories by putting you in the driver’s seat of your own adventure. It’s all about helping you restore your relationship with the outdoors while strengthening your relationship as a couple.

If you are ready to plan that long-deserved romantic RV vacation then here are more road trips and great locations that are worth visiting. Because it’s never too soon to start mapping out your next great getaway!

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

Where there is love there is life.

—Mahatma Gandhi

Creation of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Began 96 Years Ago TODAY

American landmark took 14 years to complete, meant to commemorate the nation ‘until the end of time’

A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated.

— Gutzon Borglum

The creation of Mount Rushmore which set the images of four American presidents in towering monumental relief in the Black Hills of South Dakota began on this day in history, October 4, 1927. 

“Mount Rushmore is a project of colossal proportion, colossal ambition and colossal achievement,” writes the National Park Service (NPS) which assumed management of the landmark by order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.  

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument immortalizes presidents George Washington (1789-97), Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09), and Abraham Lincoln (1861-65). 

Danish-American sculptor Gutzon Borglum led the effort which employed about 400 men and women before it was completed on October 31, 1941.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is open year-round, seven days a week, and is located 23 miles from Rapid City. The memorial offers a variety of activities so plan to spend at least four to five hours there. Visitors can leave and return to the memorial the same day for the evening lighting ceremony. Mount Rushmore also features a gift shop, an information center, and an award-winning audio tour. 

“A monument’s dimensions should be determined by the importance to civilization of the events commemorated,” Borghlum said of his majestic relief in which the face of each president stands about 60 feet in height. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what matter of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and the rain alone shall wear them away.”

When Texas Sen. Tom Connolly questioned the project, Borglum responded fiercely, “Mount Rushmore is eternal. It will stand until the end of time.”

The artist never saw his vision to completion. 

He died of a heart attack in March 1941. His son Lincoln Borglum oversaw the project in its final months. 

The face of each president was slowly revealed over years of work: first Washington (1930), then Jefferson (1936), then Lincoln (1937), and finally Roosevelt (1939). 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington’s faith in the new republic in its darkest hours earned him the title Father of His Country.

Jefferson gave humanity the belief that “all men are created equal.” 

Roosevelt was one of the world’s leading reformers and environmentalists and won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

And Lincoln emancipated from slavery nearly 4 million Americans and inspired the nation through the tragedy of the Civil War. 

Yet those achievements are not good enough for some Americans today—as Mount Rushmore has come under attack in recent years by “woke” pundits.

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Can we retire using Mount Rushmore? That should be offensive to all of us especially Native Americans—indigenous people who were the first people here before Christopher Columbus,” former NBA star and basketball analyst Jalen Rose said in a video tweet. “That land was stolen from them when it was discovered that it contained gold,” he also said. 

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., responded days later by introducing the Mount Rushmore Protection Act.

The act prohibits the use of federal funds “to alter, change, destroy, or remove the likeness, the name of or any of the faces on the Mount Rushmore National Memorial,” Johnson’s office said in a press release. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The process for carving the monument from a mountain face of granite and sandstone was ambitious, daring, and dangerous.

Rock was first blown off the mountain with the use of targeted explosives before the process got increasingly more precise.

“Dynamite was used until only three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to the final carving surface,” writes the NPS. 

Mount Rushmore National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At this point, the drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.”

NPS also said, “After the honeycombing, the workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. In this final step, the bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as a sidewalk.”

The work “was exciting, but dangerous”—yet not one person died in the 14 years of construction despite the explosives, heights and daunting conditions, the NPS reports.

Worth Pondering…

The noble countenances emerge from Rushmore as though the spirit of the mountain heard a human plan and itself became a human countenance.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Highlights of a Fall Adventure to Custer State Park: Needles Highway and Bison Roundup

When the Black Hills turn golden, magic happens

Few truly wild places remain in the U.S. Custer State Park is one of them. Nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres which they share with pronghorn antelope, elk, mountain goats, and a band of burros. Trail rides, scenic drives, bike rides, and safari tours are perfect ways to explore this impressive South Dakota attraction

Below are two highlights of a fall visit to Custer State Park: Needles Highway and the legendary Bison Roundup.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway

The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.

As names go, Needles Highway does the job well. Along this winding 14-mile stretch of South Dakota Highway 87 in South Dakota’s Custer State Park, eroded granite spindles and pillars tower all around, hundreds of rocky splinters stitching the sky. 

The Needles Highway is more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains. The road’s name comes from the needlelike granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.

Needles Eye © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On foot and horseback in the early 20th century, South Dakota Gov. Peter Norbeck mapped out the entire striking, spiking passage of what is now known as the Needles Highway. All you need are four wheels. Set aside an hour for a scenic drive through forests of ponderosa pine and spruce, past meadows of aspen and birch, around hairpins, next to rock walls, through tight tunnels.

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing. The route includes the not-quite-9-foot-wide (8 feet 9 inches wide by 9 feet 8 inches high) Needles Eye Tunnel; creeping through it feels like threading its namesake.

Cathedral Spires Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take it easy

Winding drives throughout the park are most enjoyable at a slower pace. Allow ample time to travel at a safe speed—generally 25 miles per hour or slower. Expect a travel time of about 45 to 60 minutes to enjoy Needles Highway.

If a coveted parking spot remains at the cramped Cathedral Spires Trailhead near the tunnel, grab it. Even the view from the lot is pretty but sure-footed visitors can get even bigger, more dramatic vistas from the trail. 

This trail features areas unique to the Black Hills area such as the Cathedral Spires/Limber Pine Area, a Registered National Natural Landmark. This is a one-way trail and does not connect to the Black Elk Peak Trail System.

The 2.3-mile out-and-back starts gently enough. Soon, though, hikers encounter steps, switchbacks, and steep scrambles. The trail ends in a flat mountain valley, spires rising like a Gothic holy place—albeit the kind with mountain goats flaunting their fleet feet. Keep a camera close at hand. Goats give great faces, their spindly little horns right on brand with the well-named scenery.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sunday Gulch Trail offers perhaps the most unique scenery of all the park’s hiking trails. Descending into Sunday Gulch the trail crosses the stream several times while passing over large boulders and near magnificent granite walls. Sunday Gulch presents a variety of unique plants rarely seen in other areas of the park. Spruce, pine, and a mixture of hardwoods line the trail.

The Sylvan Lake Shore Trail offers passing motorists an opportunity to stretch their legs on a leisurely walk the whole family will enjoy. This trail makes a complete loop around Sylvan Lake and is among the easiest trails in Custer State Park. Enormous granite formations line portions of the lake making it one of the most picturesque in the Black Hills. While most of this trail is relatively flat, a portion contains steps and crosses exposed rocky areas. Sections of the trail are not suitable for strollers.

The Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take it slow

Don’t worry about cramming everything at Custer State Park into one day. A $20 park pass allows entry for seven consecutive days. Annual passes are available too.  The park’s lodging offers a choice of four resort areas with plenty of activities and camping sites.

Take it steady

Mountain goats have four appendages helping them stay upright in this craggy landscape. No shame in doing the same with a good pair of hiking poles.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bison Roundup

On a fall trip to South Dakota, feel the thunder of bison on the move at Custer State Park’s annual buffalo roundup and arts festival.

It is the quiet before the thunder. The morning sun has further gilded the golden grasslands of Custer State Park, spread over more than 70,000 acres in western South Dakota. Cowboys and cowgirls mill on their mounts, dotting ridgelines above a sprawling valley. Riders chat; horses whiny. Most eyes fix on the sight below—hundreds of cocoa-hued bison, grunting, wandering, and waiting. 

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, a hoot. A whipcrack. More shouts. Riders begin to move in an annual choreography to gather the herd from the open range, check its health, and chart its future.

The annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival attracts more than 20,000 spectators who edge the vistas the last Friday of each September (September 28-30, 2023) to watch riders corral the beasts. But this isn’t herding cattle. (And, if we’re getting technical, they aren’t buffalo.) The bison is North America’s largest mammal. Bulls can weigh up to a ton and reach 6 feet tall. And they can move, running 35 mph with the ability to turn on a dime.

Around 1,300 head of bison call the park home. But they don’t just live here. They are the lifeblood, the heartbeat of this place. Once 30 million strong and the cornerstone of life for Native Americans who used them for food, fuel, shelter, and spiritual celebration, bison were driven to the brink of extinction by settlers.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer bison descend from the private herd of a South Dakota rancher named James Scotty Philip whose wife was part Cheyenne. Philip and his family worked at the turn of the 20th century to rescue the dwindling species and eventually sold a few dozen animals to the state of South Dakota.

More than a century later, the herd thrives, freely and at home on this range in the Black Hills, a sacred landscape to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and other peoples. However, the park holds only so much grass, disrupting the bison’s instinct to roam. With bulls consuming dozens of pounds a day, it’s critical to manage the population so that all have enough to eat. 

Riders work in teams to guide the animals, collecting wayward groups and stragglers. The crews are alert and watchful, striving for balance. Pushing but not driving. Finding flow, not forcing it. Hundreds of hooves pound the ground in a musical rumble. The bison move as one, like flocks, like fishes. Dust rises, billows, drifts. 

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After several miles and several hours, the herd is contained and visitors can gather at the corrals outside the new-in-2022 Custer State Park Bison Center to watch crews work. Calves get shots, ear tags, and brands. Cows are checked for pregnancy. A few hundred heads depart for auction. After a few days, the remaining animals are released. 

The sun is now bright overhead, the dust continues its unhurried return to the earth. But the history here still thrums, long after the thunder has quieted.

Bison Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Game plan

Before you go, decide on the North or South viewing area—they’re both great but not close together. Arrive early to stake out a good spot. Parking lots open at 6:15 a.m. and the roundup starts around 9:30.

What to eat

You can buy breakfast and lunch on-site: pancakes and coffee in the viewing areas and a hearty chuckwagon-style lunch at the corrals.

Keep your distance

Don’t be the one who goes viral for trying to befriend a bison. Admire these huge animals from afar.

Enjoy the fest

An arts fest lasts all weekend. Sip a beer and browse bison-themed art, hand-woven bullwhips, and turquoise jewelry.

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

Plan your fall trip

There is much more to see and do in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Let’s explore further:

Worth Pondering…

My first years were spent living just as my forefathers had lived—roaming the green, rolling hills of what are now the states of South Dakota and Nebraska.

—Standing Bear

Top 12 Escapes for Labor Day Weekend

Relax on a long weekend RV trip that fits perfectly in that sweet spot between summer and fall

If you missed taking a vacation during summer getting away for the long Labor Day weekend may be just what you need. You can enjoy time at the beach or a dip in the lake or head to the mountains for a mild breeze and a hopeful peek at fall.

These 10 favorites are ideal for relaxing RV trips anytime. You might even find availability and rates that better fit your schedule before or after the holiday. No matter when you go, you’ll feel refreshed and rewarded by the chance to escape your daily routine at these great escapes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Jekyll Island Club Resort on Jekyll Island, Georgia

If you’re looking for a family beach getaway with sunny weather and shoreline for miles then head to Jekyll Island. Stay at the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort and visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or Summer Waves Water Park. Kayaking, biking, dolphin cruises, exploring Tidelands Nature Center—there are plenty of ways to adventure here.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Edisto Beach State Park has various activities on the east coast of South Carolina. The park offers a beach, hiking trails, and cabins. The park is also home to a nature center, gift shop, and nature trail.

If you’re interested in camping in the area, Edisto Beach State Park offers two campgrounds: Beach Campground and Live Oak Campground. Both campgrounds offer great views of the ocean and marsh. The campgrounds also have a large lake, a popular fishing spot.

Both campgrounds offer water and electrical hookups. In addition, the campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and other amenities. A general store and coffee house/cafe is also available at the campgrounds. There are also picnic tables and fire pits.

Spanish Mount Trail leads to a 4,000-year-old shell midden. The trail also has informational signs about land surveying. Another trail, the Bache (Monument) Trail leads to a granite monument that was used to measure the east coast of the United States in the mid-1800s.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Fuel up the rig and pop Louisiana into the GPS because it’s time to visit Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge has 452 RV sites and 25 new luxury cabins.

Last winter, Camp Margaritaville announced it was transitioning the Cajun Palms RV Resort into Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. The resort reopened as Margaritaville property on May 23. It’s located 15 miles east of Lafayette in Henderson.

The RV resort invites guests to pull up and unplug. They can hang by one of the resort’s three pools—each comes with private cabanas. One even has a swim-up bar. Plus, there’s an adults-only hot tub for guests 21 years old and older.

It’s also ideal for a family getaway as it has a water park for little ones, cornhole, minigolf, and a playground that opened in June. There are also arts and crafts sessions—think sand art, tie-dye, and ceramics.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Santa Fe, New Mexico

With rich Native American history, strong Spanish influences, and a vibrant arts scene from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to Canyon Road, a stretch of art galleries featuring a diverse selection (think: Fernando Botero sculptures, handwoven Navajo rugs), you can’t go wrong with Santa Fe. A trip to the city is worth it alone just to check out the Bishop’s Lodge, a legendary 150-year-old landmark that Auberge Resorts recently restored into a luxurious property sitting on 317 acres bordering the Santa Fe National Forest. It beautifully pays homage to the city’s Southwestern heritage with activities like sunrise horseback riding and alfresco art classes.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills offer opportunities for outdoor adventures along with lots for history buffs and animal lovers too. Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, this densely forested area is filled with sparkling lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife.

You can’t see and do it all in three days so if you have to choose head to Custer State Park. One of the country’s largest state parks, it boasts miles of scenic hiking trails, the legendary scenic Needles Highway with its unique rock formations, tranquil lakes for swimming, fishing, and paddle boating as well as an array of wildlife, including wild burros, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk.

Just outside the park is iconic Mount Rushmore, a sculpting feat that honors four presidents. To delve into Old West history, head to Deadwood, less than an hour north. The popular HBO series Deadwood was filmed here and you’ll also find interesting museums, gambling, and lots more.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is a charming city oozing with Southern hospitality and a whole lot more. Boasting some of the prettiest beaches on the east coast, it’s a haven for sun worshipers, ocean enthusiasts, surfers, and kiteboarders too. Sunset cruises around the harbor, picking up fresh produce at the festive farmers market, and attending the annual Greater Charleston Lowcountry Jazz Festival which features big-name musicians, are just a few of the popular things on top for Labor Day weekend.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Sedona, Arizona

Sedona has long been considered a sacred place by Native Americans and many visitors head here for its healing energies as well as its gorgeous red rock scenery and multiple recreational opportunities. If you need a potentially life-changing escape, this is the spot. Renowned for its vortexes, you can sit with a spiritual guide to take part in healing meditations and breathing exercises in these powerful spots or take a mystical tour with a Native guide who shares spiritual wisdom and sacred songs.

If that’s not up your alley, you can always go on a scenic hike, rent a 4X4 and hit the back roads, indulge in spa treatments, or just browse the many galleries and boutiques in town.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Gruene, Texas

Gruene is pronounced like the color green and its location along the Guadalupe River allows the town to be exactly that—at least, more so than other Texas towns. Only 50 minutes from Austin, Gruene in its entirety is designated as a historic site.

The music scene and Gruene Hall in particular can claim a good chunk of the credit for that storied status. It’s there that Willie Nelson has his own private entrance and that he and George Strait and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage. Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar is right across the street for sustenance and libations.

The less musically inclined might find adventure and float down the Guadalupe with Rockin’ R River Rides where the atmosphere may be particularly rowdy with revelers enjoying the long weekend.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Utah’s Mighty Five

While Utah’s national parks are swamped with tourists during the summer season, as the end of summer approaches the crowds die down giving you a bit more space to explore the hiking trails within the five national parks and numerous state parks that give Utah its celebrity status as a nature lover’s dream destination.

Whether you prefer to spend your days exploring hiking trails or stargazing at night from one of Utah’s many campgrounds, a long weekend spent in Utah’s national parks is the ultimate last hurrah of summer.

Ideas for your epic Utah Labor Day Weekend include:

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Newport, Rhode Island

Set on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island is the coastal city of Newport. This resort town is a cool, relaxing destination to explore in the summertime. Its rich Gilded Age history and sailboat-filled marinas make for a scenic and luxurious vacation. 

Soak up ocean views: Newport has panoramic ocean views that go on for miles. The best way to capture it is to take a stroll along the Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile cliffside trail features tranquil picnic spots, benches, and access points to other interesting Newport experiences. 

Tour lavish mansions: The most famous Newport features are its Gilded Age mansions found across the city. These lavish summer cottages built for the rich and famous are open to the public for tours. Head to Bellevue Avenue to explore the iconic Breakers and Marble House!

Pro tip: If you plan to walk the entirety of the Cliff Walk, wear layers, sturdy shoes, and sunblock. Utilize the public restroom found a mile into the walk—it’s the only one directly along the route.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. White Mountains, New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s White Mountains comprise stunning alpine peaks cloaked in forest. The higher you go, the cooler it will be. Low elevations see summer temperatures in the mid-70s; the high points are perpetually chilly sometimes not even shedding their layers of snow until well into July. Temperatures on Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast, range from about 40 to 55 degrees at the height of summer. Visitors can climb out of the heat by foot on the many hiking trails or drive up the slopes on the scenic Kancamagus Highway.

There are some special towns nestled in the White Mountains. Quaint villages like Sugar Hill enjoy blooming fields of lupines in the summer while North Conway is home to ziplining tours and Alpine Slide adventures.  

The White Mountains are filled with exciting activities like hikes and sweeping summit views. Ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to feel like you’re flying, hike the famous Artists Bluff Loop, or drive to the summit of Mount Washington. Don’t want to take the difficult hike or the foreboding drive up to Mount Washington? Ride the historic Mount Washington Cog Railway. This steam train will chug its way up to the summit.  

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, Arizona, a town with a name as intriguing as its history, is a must-visit for those with an interest in the Old West. Located in the southeast part of Arizona, this town is a living testament to the Wild West era. It’s the place where the infamous Gunfight at O.K. Corral occurred, an event that has been immortalized in numerous films and books.

Visitors can relive this piece of history at the O.K. Corral Historic Complex or learn more about the town’s mining past at the Goodenough Mine Tour. Despite its wild past, Tombstone is now a friendly town offering a variety of activities such as stagecoach rides and visits to the Bird Cage Theater which once was a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. This town, which was once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, is a destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s itinerary.

Worth Pondering…

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize.

—George Eliot

The 25 Most Beautiful Places in the U.S. and Canada

These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel

What is the most beautiful place in America? To compile most beautiful places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most beautiful places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are definitely worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most photographed sites in the world but there’s no way pictures can do it justice as impressive as they may be. Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term breathtaking. The vast geologic wonderland, one mile deep and up to 18 miles across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Historic Antebellum Mansions, Civil War sites, year round festivals, pristine beaches, barrier islands, and mouthwatering Lowcountry cuisine are just a few of the reasons why Charleston is one of America’s favorite destinations. Experience this diverse southern city which blends French, English, West African, and traditional Southern American cultures into the music, art, food, and lifestyle. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

Glorious Navajo Sandstone cliffs, rainbow-colored canyons, and incredible biodiversity make Zion one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.

>> Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sedona, Arizona

Renowned for the radiant red sandstone formations surrounding it, Sedona is set in a serene spot. The towering red cliffs are almost other-worldly in a way and they are definitely worthy of a photo or two. Make sure to check out some of the area’s most popular sightseeing spots while you’re there such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Coffee Pot Rock.Located in the center of Arizona, the small city has long been considered a sacred and spiritual place. Many New Age shops, alternative healing and wellness centers can be found around town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.

The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.

Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lake Winnipesaukee

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 mph, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue. Driving down this highway will allow you to take in the stunning Appalachian Mountains including multiple valleys and peaks such as the Peaks of Otter and Roanoke Mountain.

>> Get more tips for visiting Blue Ridge Parkway

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Banff National Park, Alberta

Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home) and azure glacier-fed lakes such as Moraine Lake set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S. and as such it has a very colorful history including a historic main plaza that will make you feel as if you’re in an entirely different country. The City Different is renowned for its abundance of unique attractions, a wide array of art galleries, extraordinary museums, and magnificent architecture. Not surprisingly, for decades Santa Fe has also been a haven for artists including Georgia O’Keefe. By staying in the downtown area’s historic La Fonda you can walk to the Plaza to discover handmade jewelry and browse beautiful works of art.

>> Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Monument Valley is a minimalist attraction located along the border of Utah and Arizona. In spite of its simplicity, this red-sand desert may just be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. A 17-mile Valley Drive leads into the area, and you can spot multiple sandstone buttes that make for amazing pictures. This valley will make you feel like you are part of an Old Western movie, set in the Wild, Wild West. John Ford’s Point is a great way to look over the scenery allowing you to feast your eyes on the Mittens buttes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

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

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

There are plenty of reasons to visit the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is packed with hiking routes ripe with emerald greenery, waterfalls and bodies of water, and pretty wildflowers ready for photos. Plus, there are many great stops along the way such as Clingmans Dome which contains an observation tower resting on top of the area’s highest peak for breathtaking views. There’s also Cades Cove which is a quiet little valley that feels like a calm, quiet place lost in historical times.

>> Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos. Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

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

12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de shay) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is an old city that is home to multiple fascinating sites. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and flanked by old buildings like museums and churches that are simply stuffed with history. Downtown, you’ll find one of the biggest National Historic Landmark districts in the U.S. which also connect to the riverfront and the coast. Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and fitted with a stupendous fountain, romantic benches, and plenty of iconic oaks covered in moss for an even more calming aesthetic.

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Wells Gray Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Wells Gray Park, British Columbia

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

>> Get more tips for visiting Wells Gray

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park may sound foreboding but in reality it’s one of the most beautiful places in the US. It is famous for holding an extremely rich and diverse fossil bed that is definitely one of the best that earth has to offer. On top of that, Badlands National Park is packed with incredible rock formations that look stunning at all times of the day with their differently shaded stripes. There are also grasslands if you’re more for wildlife where you can spot all the prairie dogs herding sheep for a calm, serene experience.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Tombstone, Arizona

You can’t come to the Southwest and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town. With attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and provide the opportunity soak in the town’s history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

An incredibly unique location, White Sands National Park consists of a reaching, widespread expanse of white gypsum crystal sand dunes backdropped by a picturesque blue sky. Though the sight of white sand as far as the eye can see isn’t the most exciting trip for some this tranquil environment is so individual and one-of-a-kind that it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Bask in the calm peace, feel the soft, warm sand beneath your toes, and marvel at the vastness of this monument.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Hoover Dam, Arizona and Nevada

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard to miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hoover Dam

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Arches National Park, Utah

The Arches National Park looks like a scene out of a movie. Erosion from millions and millions of years has led to the creation of more than 2,000 arches each fashioned naturally from sandstone. It is worth noting that environmental change has caused 43 of these arches to fall to time which means officials warn against getting too close. Still, the sight of these bright, orange structures is well worth the extra caution and you’ll want to plan your trip soon to catch as many of them as possible in full glory.

>> Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.

>> Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park on Rio Grande is an absolute wonder of untamed wildlife, spanning over much of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the Chisos mountains. You can go on a road trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, relax in the Langford Hot Springs, view the Sam Nail Ranch’s broken-down husk, and enjoy sights of limestone formations across the Rio Grande. There’s so much to do that you may just need to come back again!

>> Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Black Hills, South Dakota

In the early 1800s, 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. Rampant overhunting decimated their ranks and by 1889 fewer than 1,000 remained. Today, their numbers have climbed to 500,000; Custer State Park manages a healthy herd. Roading the Black Hills you’ll see the iconic buffalo and other legendary sights including the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, sprawling parks and the town made famous for having no law: Deadwood.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Black Hills

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico

In the Chihuahuan Desert lie more than 100 limestone caves and one of them is none other than the Carlsbad Cavern. Spikes hang from the ceiling in droves and clusters and its winding rocky walls are perfect for spelunkers and adventurers. The way you choose to go is up to you. You can go in through the beautiful, conventional entrance or you can begin 750 feet underground. Either way, you’re in for some enticing exploration,

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Cavern

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

The Ultimate Guide to Custer State Park

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

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Custer State Park

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location of Custer State Park

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geography of Custer State Park

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

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

Wildlife in Custer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Article: Explore the Black Hills

How to explore Custer State Park

Scenic drives

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

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway 

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

Needles Eye Tunnel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iron Mountain Road

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

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Loop Road

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

Related Article: The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

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

Hiking

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

Camping in Custer State Park

Camping in Custer

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

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

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

Other activities

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake

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

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

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

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Details

Park Size: 71,000 acres

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

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

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

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

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Note: GPS can be unreliable in the area

Read Next: Doorway to Forever: Badlands National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Custer State Park offers forest, meadows, mountains, and wildlife including a herd of 1,300 bison

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them.

Bison herd in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of America’s largest state parks, Custer has been home to diverse cultural heritages for thousands of years and has provided an array of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation for visitors since the early 1900s. Custer State Park is full of lush forests, quiet and serene meadows, and majestic mountains. Few truly wild places remain in this country. Custer State Park is one of them.

Thirty to sixty million bison once roamed the great plains of North America. By the close of the 19th century, it’s estimated that less than 1,000 bison survived. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “Tatanka” for food, clothing, and shelter.

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

Today, nearly 1,300 bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Bison herd in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bison herd roams freely throughout the park and is often found along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road in the southern part of the park. Bison seem docile but can run very fast and turn on a dime. Weighing as much as 2,000 pounds, these animals are forces to be reckoned with. Visitors should stay inside their vehicles when viewing the bison and not get too close. Most wildlife can easily be seen from your car. Bear in mind, they are wild. Keep your distance.

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, in 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, but it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

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

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Arrive early to pick your spot. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m. Crews will work the remainder of the herd in October.

In addition to wildlife, the park features several historic sites, including the State Game Lodge, the Badger Hole, the Gordon Stockade, the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center, and the Mount Coolidge Fire Tower. The Black Hills Playhouse, which hosts performances each summer, is also located within the park, as are four resorts, each offering lodging, dining, and activities.

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also has four mountain lakes. These lakes, along with several streams, offer many water recreation and fishing opportunities.

In March 1919, Custer State Park was named the first official state park. In 2019, South Dakota’s oldest state park celebrated 100 years of outdoor tradition. Each year, more than 1.5 million visitors enjoy the numerous and varied activities, attractions, and events found year-round within Custer State Park.

Needles Highway in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a driver’s delight. There are three scenic drives—Needles Highway, Iron Mountain Road, and Wildlife Loop Road—which are part of the extensive network of backcountry lanes on the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway for 70 miles, the route threads its way around pigtail bridges, through one-lane rock-walled tunnels, and ascends to the uppermost heights of the Needles.

The Needles in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The needle-like granite formations that seem to pierce the horizon in Custer State Park, known as the Needles, are truly see-it-to-believe-it phenomena. Drive Needles Highway to see for yourself just how majestic these outcroppings are in person. The Needles Highway is much more than a 14-mile road—it’s a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen, and rugged granite mountains.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventurous should carve out time to hike Cathedral Spires Trail. This moderate 1.5-mile trail offers spectacular views of these unique rock formations. You’ll likely pass rock climbers hauling gear in or out of the trail, as the spires are home to some of the most sought-after climbing routes in the Black Hills.

Wild burros seeking handouts in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other top trails include Sunday Gulch Trail, Little Devils Tower Trail, Lover’s Leap Trail, and Sylvan Lake Shore Trail. You can begin your trek to Black Elk Peak at one of two trailheads within the park.

The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.

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

Visitors traveling the highway pass Sylvan Lake and a unique rock formation called the Needle’s Eye, so named for the opening created by wind, rain, freezing, and thawing.

The 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road takes visitors through open grasslands and pine-speckled hills that much of the park’s wildlife call home.

Mount Rushmore from the Iron Mountain Road in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 18-mile Iron Mountain Road winds between Mount Rushmore National Memorial and the junction of U.S. 16A and SR 36. Constructed in 1933, only a portion of this road lies within the park, but it is a must-see.

The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway complements the park’s three scenic drives and includes some of the most dramatic natural and historic features in the Black Hills.

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

Following an action-packed day, sleep under the stars in Custer State Park. There are nine campgrounds tucked away in ponderosa pine forests, alongside fresh flowing streams, or near a mountain lake. The choice is yours! Campsites accommodate RVs and tents. Each campsite offers gravel or paved camping pad, a fire grate, and a picnic table. Electric hookups are available in most campgrounds. Or, you can relax in a one-room, log-style camping cabin or historic lodge located throughout the park.

The clear mountain waters are inviting and the open ranges are waiting to be discovered. Bring your family to Custer State Park and let yourself run wild.

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

Your Next Adventure Is Set In Stone

There is more than gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Above dense forests and pristine streams, Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents a national treasure. Symbolizing the ideals of freedom and democracy, it is a tribute to four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln and their invaluable contributions to the United States.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial represents not only the past, but also a promise for the future. It is a place surrounded by American history where the names of Gutzon Borglum and Crazy Horse are still heard, buffalo once again run free in Custer State Park, and the vision of the Keystone miners still cast a shadow on long deserted claims.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom, justice, hope—South Dakota‘s beloved national memorial, Mount Rushmore, is a testament to these deeply cherished American values. The quartet of presidential busts carved into a granite peak in the Black Hills is one of the most iconic symbols of the United States.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In fact, the colossal, 60-foot profiles of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt are so instantly recognizable, they’ve been spoofed in commercials, used as film backdrops, and reproduced in all sizes and forms including a 3 million-piece construction at Legoland. But for all of Mount Rushmore’s widespread fame (and 3 million annual visitors), it’s also a place with a deep history and plenty of little-known facts.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, 30 minutes from Rapid City, this colossal monument was the brainchild of state historian Doane Robinson, who conceived of the mountain carving in 1924 as a way to draw people from all over America to his state.

Whether a lifelong destination or a stop on a road trip, your visit to Mount Rushmore will be one you will tuck in your memory book forever.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is located in Keystone, South Dakota. It is surrounded by the lands of the Black Hills National Forest. It offers a unique experience year-round for outdoor adventures, sightseeing, and opportunities to soak up the history that surrounds the area.

Get there early for the best lighting conditions, or exercise your low-light skills with photos of the nightly lighting ceremony. Regardless of your timing, make sure to explore the many photo opportunities from different vantage points along the half-mile-long Presidential Trail.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chad Coppess, staff photographer for Travel South Dakota, recommends a spot right off the trail, which takes you down a little spur between two giant boulders. Look through a big crack between them to frame the Presidential faces from a vantage point often overlooked by most visitors.

Enjoy the works of genius by touring the various exhibits at the Sculptor’s Studio or Lincoln Borglum Museum. Both self- and ranger-guided tours are available.

Stroll the Avenue of Flags with flags representing 56 states and territories lining the walkway. View the memorial against the evening sky each night at the amphitheater (May through September) during the Evening Sculpture Lighting Ceremony. A sense of awe will come over you as the Memorial lights up the sky.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short stroll along the Presidential Trail will provide close access to the sculpture. More intimate views of the artwork are available along the way as either a self- guided or ranger-guided walk.

Two other trails lead to Borglum View Terrace and the Sculptor’s Studio: One is a nature trail that starts from the main entryway; the other is a steep trail with uneven steps that starts from Grandview Terrace.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s the thing, visit South Dakota once and the place SELLS ITSELF. Much more than just the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, SoDak is the most scenic places you knew nothing about. Until now.

You don’t carve the faces of presidents into a mountain unless you’re doing something right.

If you’re using Google Maps to locate this national landmark, be very, very specific. Apparently, general searches for Mount Rushmore often send travelers astray. If you find yourself at a Methodist campground called Storm Mountain Center, you’re about 12 miles away from the memorial.

Worth Pondering…

Great Faces, Great Places. Find your great place.