10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2024

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

Genius, like humanity, rusts for want of use.

—William Hazlitt

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

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

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

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8

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

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

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

Find my Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park here.

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8

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

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

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

Find my Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

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

Reedy Falls in Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Greenville, South Carolina

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

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Arches National Park

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

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

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Wall Drug

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

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

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

6. Among the stars

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

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

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

7. Winchester’s Beer Cheese Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wickedest Town in the West

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

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

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

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

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Carlsbad Caverns

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

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

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

Here are some helpful resources:

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

10. Elk Island National Park 

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

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

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

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dark Sky National Parks

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

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

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

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

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

National Parks Stargazing Festivals (2024)

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

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

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

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

Death Valley Dark Sky Festival, March 1-3

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

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

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party, June 1-8

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, June 5-8

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

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

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 5-7

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival, August 11-13

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

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

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

Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions.

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

The event is free with park admission. 

Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 5-7

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

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

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October (Dates TBA)

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Brian Greene

The Best National Parks to Visit in March

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in March, this guide’s for you! It will detail eight beautiful National Parks to visit in March, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this month.

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to America’s national parks in March but don’t know which ones to visit? March brings warmer temperatures to most of the US. Travel begins to pick up during this month both because of the warmer weather and because families are hitting the road for spring break. There are many great national parks to visit in March which I cover in this guide plus eight bonus parks and two road trip ideas that links several of these national parks together.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This guide is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Visiting the National Parks in March

March is a great month to visit the national parks. With the warmer temperatures and the beginning of spring, the list of parks that you can visit without braving freezing temperatures gets larger. The days are getting longer, flowers start to bloom, and in some parts of the US, trees begin to get their first leaves.

Overall, park visitation still remains low for the year but there are a few hotspots that get busier as people visit the national parks for spring break. Even so, crowds are still quieter than the summer which is the busiest time to visit most national parks.

Best National Parks in March

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

This small, easy to visit national park is a joy to explore. It’s also the feature photo for this post.

You can see several arches and unique rock formations without ever stepping out of your car. With just a little bit of walking you can visit many of the top sights in Arches National Park such as the Windows and Double Arch. And for those who like hiking don’t miss the Devils Garden Trail, a thrilling hike where you get to see eight arches and hike on a primitive trail.

Why visit Arches in March: March is a great time to visit Arches National Park because the weather is getting warmer and crowds are still relatively low for the year. In 2022, Arches National Park had 142,000 visitors in March. Peak visitation for that year was in May when 172,000 people visited the park. If you want to visit Arches with even lower crowds plan your visit from December through February but be prepared for freezing temperatures.

Weather: In March, the average high is 62°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall is very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Why? The landscapes, the hiking trails, and the off the beaten path experiences make this one of the top parks for those who crave adventure.

Journey below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.

You can also explore The Needles, where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the US.

Why visit Canyonlands in March: Just like Arches, park visitation remains relatively low and the warmer temperatures make March a better time to visit than the winter months. Canyonlands only gets a fraction of the visitors that flood Arches National Park so this park will feel delightfully empty compared to Arches. March is also a good time to drive the White Rim Road since permits are a little easier to get than late spring through early fall.

Weather: The average high is 54°F and the average low is 35°F. Rainfall is low. Even though Canyonlands sits next to Arches National Park it is at a higher elevation so the temperatures are a bit lower here.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive. It can be done in the winter but snow can close Shafer Canyon Road and cold temperatures will make camping uncomfortable for some people.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is an underrated gem in the national park system.

This national park is full of many wonderful surprises. With an amazing scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, rugged, remote areas to explore by 4×4, short, easy slot canyons, historical landmarks, and even delicious pie, this is another one of my favorite national parks.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which are nice. But those who venture farther into the park either on the hiking trails or the backcountry roads are rewarded with incredible views of remote, rugged landscapes.

Why visit Capitol Reef in March: Temperatures are finally getting a bit warmer and crowd visitation is relatively low. You could still have some cold mornings but Capitol Reef warms up nicely during the day and the cooler temperatures make this a great time to go hiking.

Weather: In March, the average high is 57°F and the average low is 34°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry, either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantasyland of hoodoos, bizarre rock formations, and sandstone pillars.

This is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce Canyon may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.

Why visit Bryce Canyon in March: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. Temperatures are a bit warmer than January and February but snowfall is a possibility especially at the beginning of the month so you don’t have to brave frigid temps for the chance to see Bryce Canyon covered in snow.

Weather: In March, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 13 inches of snow in March. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5 making this the coolest one to visit (pun intended).

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:35 pm.

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are right along the rim which is easily accessible by car or the shuttle (mid-April to mid-September): Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. I recommend another day or two for additional time to hike into the canyon. You won’t regret it.

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano. The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and wildflowers in the spring draw the biggest crowds of the year. This park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 15th least visited park in 2022 with 275,023 visitors).

Why visit Pinnacles in March: March through May is the peak blooming season for the flowers in Pinnacles National Park. 

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 38°F. March is the end of the rainy season getting about 3 inches of rain during this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:12 pm.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: See the wildflowers in the spring, hike the High Peaks Loop, hike the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience spend two days here which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Isolated, remote, wild, and rugged…this is Big Bend National Park.

Located in the southwestern corner of Texas within the Chihuahuan Desert is an extraordinary mountain range that is a haven for hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

This is one of the most remote parks in the lower 48 states so crowd levels tend to be low all year. Even when it is at its busiest, Big Bend feels rather quiet.

Why visit Big Bend in March: We visited Big Bend in March and had a great experience. The weather was warm and in early March, crowds are low. The second and third weeks in March get busy because this is when Texans go on spring break. If you can, plan your visit for the first week in March to take advantage of great weather and low crowds.

Weather: The average high is 74°F and the average low is 47°F. Rainfall is very low especially this time of year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 8 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.

How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree National Park protects the oldest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States.

This is one of the smallest, least visited national parks in the United States (it was the 12th least visited park in 2022 with 204,522 visitors). A visit here is quick and easy to plan.

Walk the boardwalk trail through the forest, go kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek, go birdwatching and fishing, and, if you like, venture farther into the park on a number of other woodland trails.

Why visit Congaree in March: This is a good time to visit Congaree because it’s warm and mosquitoes aren’t too much of an issue (the worst time for mosquitoes is from late spring through summer). March is one of the wetter months to visit Congaree so there is also a good chance that you will see some flooding in the forests which is a very unique sight to see (the peak time for flooding is the winter months).

Weather: In March, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 43°F. Rainfall is above average for the year with park getting about 4 inches of rain this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.

How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

White Sands is a small, easy, fun park to visit. This national park protects the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Sledding on the dunes is one of the best things to do here but you can also hike out farther into the dunes on several different hiking trails or take a ranger-guided tour.

Why visit White Sands in March: White Sands is one of the warmer national parks to visit in March and with temperatures in the low 70s the weather is great for hiking and exploring. We visited White Sands in March and had a wonderful experience. It’s cool enough to do a long hike without getting hot and the mild midday temperatures make this a great time to spend all day on the dunes. Just be aware that March is the busiest month to visit the park.

Weather: In March, the average high is 71°F and the average low is 33°F. This is one of the driest months to visit the park.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dunefield. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.

How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Plan your visit

4 more parks to visit in March

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

I would have included Zion as a top pick for March since the weather is gorgeous this time of year, but, and this is a big but, crowd levels skyrocket in March. In 2022, about 170,000 people visited Zion in February. In March, that number grew to 446,000 people. And that wasn’t even the highest month for visitation…June was a busier month with 570,000 visitors! 

The trend for traffic to jump from February to March is not unique to 2022. This has been occurring for the last 20 years.

If you plan to do a Mighty 5 road trip in March (it’s a great one!) you can include Zion, just be prepared for large crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park

In March, temperatures are beginning to warm up and with that the Grand Canyon begins to draw more crowds. Even though visitation picks up in March, it’s still a lot quieter to visit the park now than during the busy summer months.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro in March with daily highs of 75°F and low rainfall. But this is the by far busiest month of the year to visit the park so keep that in mind while planning your visit.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Like Saguaro, March is the busiest month to visit Carlsbad Caverns. But the weather is pleasant and this is a great time for a Texas-New Mexico road trip so if you also have plans to visit Guadalupe Mountains, White Sands, and/or Big Bend, it is worth including Carlsbad Caverns in your travel plans.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in March

Chiricahua National Monument

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Carved into a cliff 1,500 feet above the ground and featuring more than 20 rooms constructed in multiple stories, it’s a remarkably example of Sinaguan architecture. Today a short trail takes you to a viewing spot below the ruins, and museum exhibits help you imagine what life was like in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

March road trip ideas

Here are two great road trip ideas for March. The best time for both of these is in early March to avoid spring break traffic. If you are planning your visit for spring break, make your reservations well in advance because this can be a busy time to visit some of these national parks.

Texas & New Mexico

Combine Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands into one big road trip. Start in Las Cruces, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas and drive this loop.

Utah’s Mighty 5

Visiting all of Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks) is one of America’s best road trips. To do this, you need 10 days or more.

Saguaro

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

Look to the Stars: How to Stargaze in National Parks This Summer

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

When you look up at the night sky, what do you see? Innumerable stars, a planet or two, even a bright meteor? Depending on where you are, you may see greater or fewer celestial objects in the night sky because light pollution can drown out all but the brightest stars and satellites.

To really take in the beauty of our solar system, you’ll want to visit the darkest places in the U.S. for some truly unforgettable stargazing. Of course, you’ll want to plan to go on a clear night, so you have the best chance of seeing the stars.

National parks are helping visitors make the most of this time by hosting stargazing festivals. The festivals include various nightime events in addition to stargazing.

These events are happening now and in the weeks and months ahead so bust out your stargazing kit and get going!

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring night skies

Many of the last dark skies in the country lie over the national parks. As over-lit skies become the norm, the public is seeking out star-filled skies. Many park visitors have never experienced the unfettered views of a starry night sky and are surprised to witness such a beautiful sight. Others may come to parks specifically to enjoy stargazing through telescopes, walking among a natural nighttime scene, or camping beneath the stars. A park ranger can not only connect you to the plants, animals, and geology of a park but also guide you through the night sky.

Several national parks have regular stargazing programs or night appreciation events. Examples include the bat flight breakfast at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, star parties or moonlight hikes at Bryce Canyon, telescope viewing at Rocky Mountain National Park, and the observatory at Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dark Sky National Parks

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

National parks with the official Dark Sky Park classification include:

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

That’s why I have articles on the Best National Parks for Stargazing and These National Parks Are Hosting Free Stargazing Festivals This Summer.

I’m a little late writing this article as the first two events have just passed. But these annual events are held at similar times annually so you can start planning those for next year. 

In the meantime, there are four amazing stargazing festivals at national parks in the near future. And, national parks often host many stargazing activities and events throughout the year so check for those whenever you plan to visit.

Let’s take a look at the national parks stargazing festivals 2023.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party, June 10-17 (Check in a few months for 2024 dates)

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

The event is free, but you must still pay to enter the park. The park fee is valid for the North and South rims for seven days. 

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

Check this out to learn more: The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festval, June 14-17 (Check in a few months for 2024 dates)

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

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

Their annual stargazing event includes lectures, star stories presentations, and guided stargazing sessions. They also have a performance by an Arizona string quartet called Dry Sky Quartet and other family-friendly activities. 

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Badlands Astronomy Festival, July 14-16

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In partnership with NASA South Dakota Grant Consortium, the festival typically includes guest speakers, telescopes, sky viewing, and a guided The annual Astronomy Festival partners with walk through a scaled solar system model.

Badlands is an amazing National Park. That’s why I wrote these articles:

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival, August 11-13

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

The other great thing about this park is its location. It is only a 75-mile drive from Washington, D.C. So if you will be checking out the nation’s capitol, it’s an easy trip to make.

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

Their annual stargazing event hosts public stargazing sessions, ranger talks and other lectures and presentations, and family-friendly activities. The guest presentations will include a span of topics including space travel, space weather, and our future in space. 

The event is free with park admission.

Check this out to learn more: Shenandoah National Park is Hosting a Night Sky Festival This Weekend—and It’s Free

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Great Basin Astronomy Festival, September 14-16

The Great Basin National Park might be for you if you prefer to avoid crowds. It is one of the least crowded national parks. The 77,000-acre park in eastern Nevada also has a research-grade observatory.

This fall, you can attend their stargazing event which usually includes constellation talks, guest speakers, and observatory tours. They also have a photography workshop for all you photo bugs out there.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival, October 13-14

Joshua Tree National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). That means it is the perfect spot to stargaze all year!

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

The Night Sky Festival is a ticketed event and has a limited capacity. It is usually located just outside the park limits at the Sky’s The Limit Nature Observatory and Nature Center. Tickets go on sale in early summer. 

Daytime can be pretty incredible, too, in Joshua Tree.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Night!

National Park Observatories

Chaco Culture National Historical Park Observatory

The Chaco Culture National Historical Park Observatory gives the public exceptional views of the night sky from its New Mexico location. Astronomy is an integral part of the park’s interpretive programming that connects park resources to the celestial knowledge of the ancient Anasazi people who settled the area. Park lighting is retrofitted to keep skies dark and reduce light pollution, and star programs are anticipated attractions.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin Observatory

Did you know that NPS has its own astronomical research observatory? Inaugurated in 2016, the Great Basin Observatory is the first NPS research-grade observatory to be based in a national park. Located in one of the darkest areas of the country at the border of Utah and Nevada, the observatory offers near pristine, unpolluted views of the night sky. The NPS observatory works with astronomy researchers across the country to advance our understanding of cosmic phenomena. Its telescopes can be remotely programmed to focus on any cosmic body or event from little known debris clouds and planets to the Milky Way and solar eclipse.

Rock Creek Park Planetarium

The NPS Rock Creek Park Planetarium in Washington, DC is another park venue that educates people about night sky phenomena and light pollution issues. Located within the Nature Center, it uses high-tech Spitz software to project the image of the night sky onto a large, dome-shaped ceiling. Rangers lead visitors on a journey of exploration into the solar system, galaxy, and beyond. Monthly, evening stargazing programs are also offered and give information about the seasonal night sky.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Brian Greene

You Need a Word at Least as Strong as MAGIC to Describe Bryce Canyon

Nature’s been luring people here for a very long time

Happy Anniversary, Bryce Canyon

The national park marks its 100th year within the National Park Service on June 8 with a centennial ceremony and live concert.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The outdoor ceremony will commemorate the exact date Bryce Canyon National Park became a National Monument. Following the ceremony, attendees are invited to bring their dancing shoes all the way up to the canyon’s rim for a free live concert by Utah’s very own, The Piano Guys. The event is free and open to the public (although registration is required). The incredible hoodoos and red rock background are truly the icing on the cake for this park’s 100th year celebration!

The national park and its partners plan to continue the celebration with special programs and events throughout the year for the public to enjoy.The centennial celebrations will consist of numerous unique opportunities for the local community and tourists alike to celebrate Bryce Canyon National Park’s rich past and promising future.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s certainly a lot to celebrate. 

From its iconic hoodoo rock formations to its dazzling night sky, Bryce Canyon’s sights are simply breathtaking.

“I think this is a landscape that many people still don’t realize even exists on the planet, much less in their own country,” Bryce Canyon visual information specialist and spokesman Peter Densmore said in a video on the park’s website. “Coming here and seeing that for themselves, I think you need a word at least as strong as magic to describe what that experience is like.”

Here’s what visitors should know about Bryce Canyon, the latest national park to celenrate its centennial year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why is Bryce Canyon so famous?

Bryce Canyon has the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are rocky spires that have been sculpted by erosion over time. Hoodoo comes from a Southern Paiute word oo’doo which describes something that is scary or inspires fear. This is connected to the Paiute legend of this area which tells of the Legend People being turned to stone by the trickster god Coyote as punishment.

The park also has some of the longest views on the continent. On especially clear days visitors at Yovimpa Point can see Humphreys Peak in Arizona, 150 miles away across the Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing there at the southern edge of the plateau, one stands upon the top step of the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs linking the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon. This sequence contains one of the Earth’s most complete fossil records of the last 200 million years including the last supercontinents, the first dinosaurs and flowering plants, and within Bryce Canyon’s Pink Cliffs the dawn of recent life.

The park is also a stargazer’s paradise with official International Dark Sky status. The park’s clean air, high elevation, and remote location combine to offer some of the nation’s darkest skies accessible by a paved road. The park has the longest continually running astronomy program in the National Park Service going back to 1969. The 2023 festival is scheduled for June 14-17.

As always, the festival is free with park admission. This year’s festival will feature family-friendly daytime activities and ranger-led evening programs and constellation tours. 

Kevin Poe, a ranger and astronomer at Bryce teaches employees how to operate the telescopes and identify constellations, planets, and stars as part of a long-running astronomy program.

The park’s centennial also coincides with a morning solar eclipse in October where a ring of fire will encircle the moon against a backdrop of vivid red and gold rock spires.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is unique about Bryce Canyon?

Bryce Canyon is the only national park with Utah Prairie Dogs.

It has three different climate zones.

And it’s not actually a canyon because it doesn’t have a river but rather an eroding plateau margin that retreats 1 to 4 feet a century—about the rate your fingernails grow.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon in Utah?

There’s truly not a bad time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Winter is a fantastic and blissfully quiet time to visit as snow blankets the park’s red rocks. 

Summer and early fall are popular times to visit the park which is one of the most visited national parks in the country.

Due to its high elevation, Bryce Canyon is typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler than nearby parks in the summer. But that elevation is also why visitors need watch out for lightning strikes during monsoonal storms in July and August. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Bryce Canyon located exactly?

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah within a couple hours’ drive of both Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.

They closest city is Cedar City which is about an hour and a half away by car though there are smaller towns nearby.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Can you just drive through Bryce Canyon?

Visitors can see Bryce Amphitheater and nine overlooks along the park’s main road which stretches 18 miles and climbs over 1,100 feet from start to finish.

It takes about two to three hours for a roundtrip including stops to take in scenery. I recommend driving straight to the Rainbow and Yovimpa view points at the end of the road then stopping at other outlooks on the way back.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is Bryce Canyon or Zion better?

Both parks are spectacular in their own right and part of the Mighty 5 national parks of Utah which also include Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

Bryce Canyon is the smallest and highest of them with 56 square miles, an average elevation of 8,000 feet, and some areas topping 9,000 feet above sea level.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Native tribes lived in Bryce Canyon?

According to the National Park Service, Fremont and Anasazi people lived near Bryce Canyon from around 200 to 1200 A.D. and Paiute Indians lived in the area starting at around 1200 A.D. 

“All directions around this canyon, there were different Southern Paiute bands that aren’t here today but were here in the past and their descendants still live on,” Glendora Homer of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians said in a video on the park’s website. “The Paiutes are still here.”

Hopi, Zuni, Ute, and Navajo peoples are also connected to the land.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More like this

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929

Bryce Canyon: Preparing a National Park for the Summer Season

This summer may be the busiest yet for Bryce Canyon which is celebrating its centennial this year

The majestic peaks, desert blooms, and geological wonders of the United States’ national parks have beckoned to billions since Yellowstone was established in 1872. Nearly 312 million people visited last year (2022) signaling a return to pre-pandemic levels.

Spring and summer months are particularly packed at the hundreds of sites managed by the National Park Service.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To prepare for peak season at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah—essentially, an island of crimson rock spires perched at about 8,000 feet—rangers begin restoring trails and training staff before the snows even melt.

This summer may be the busiest yet for Bryce Canyon which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Conservation is a key part of the National Park Service’s mission and Bryce has played an important role for one species in particular: the Utah prairie dog.

The park celebrated prairie dogs May 11 with rangers donning costumes, leading sightseeing walks, and judging a calling competition. Contestants try to mimic the animal’s distinctive sounds (some akin to a staccato squeak) which make up a complex vocabulary that can alert the colony to a predator’s size, shape, color, and speed.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Families met Petey the Prairie Dog, the park’s mascot, and observed the prairie dogs in their natural habitat.

Petey’s costume can get stuffy and rangers trade off wearing the suit which comes with a small fan at the back of the head.

Endemic to the state and considered crucial to its ecosystem, the Utah prairie dog was once abundant but habitat loss, intentional poisoning, and disease put it on track for extinction by 2000.

Establishing colonies in the meadows of Bryce Canyon helped preserve the population and today more than 600 prairie dogs call the park home.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The day lent biologists and rangers the opportunity to teach young wildlife enthusiasts about the conservation history of the species—inspiring some to become junior rangers.

The park’s 78 miles of hiking trails offer an up-close view of its rock spires. After months of snow and rain, rangers focus on clearing the way for visitors.

Every fall and winter, rain and snow saturate the soft-limestone formations at Bryce causing rockslides and degrading the trails. Every spring, crew members remove debris from hiking paths on the Navajo Loop Trail—an iconic 1.4-mile trek between the park’s colorful hoodoos, the name for the eroded towers of rock that date back tens of millions of years.

Unusually heavy storms and a wet winter last year wrought severe damage delaying the loop’s opening. One side of the trail remains closed as crews continue repairs, digging out the surface of the route and installing wire baskets filled with large rocks along the perimeter to divert water and facilitate drainage.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One sunny day, crew members picked up fallen bricks from a retaining wall by hand then excavated areas of trail and removed debris with pickaxes, rock bars, and shovels, and used rakes to smooth it out. This crew had five people—four working by hand and one driving a small bulldozer.

Rangers anticipate that the entire Navajo Loop Trail will be ready for visitors in June.

Rangers make sure humans stay safe learning to navigate the steep cliffs and towering pillars of the park when visitors run into trouble.

Bryce averages about 40 search-and-rescue operations a year with many emergencies arising because of the high elevation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park employees are taught to perform basic first aid such as CPR. In addition, some staff members are specifically trained as emergency medical workers and focus on prevention by monitoring hikers to make sure they are wearing proper footwear and are adequately hydrated.

Rangers and local volunteers undergo basic technical training, learning to use ropes, harnesses and other high-angle equipment needed for more complicated rescues.

To join the firefighting team, participants must complete a fitness test in which they have to carry 45 pounds over three miles in less than 45 minutes.

During one session for rescue training, some participants assembled at the canyon rim, a more remote area free of visitors. Outfitted with helmets and safety equipment, they tied lines to the trees to practice rescues and rappelling into the canyon to assist victims.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some situations call for solo missions while others require teams and the use of a stretcher.

Last summer, a visitor could not complete the Fairyland Loop trail, a strenuous eight-mile hike. She tried to take a shortcut to return to the starting point and became separated from her grandchildren. Hours later, rangers found her clinging to a precipitous slope, unable to move. Securing ropes, they descended and lifted her to safety.

Rangers hope to prevent such incidents by encouraging would-be visitors to be aware of trail conditions and the risks of altitude sickness.

Horseback riding is a popular draw for tourists and one family has guided people through the canyon for years.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like all national parks, Bryce Canyon contracts with private companies to run concession stands, lodges and guided tours.

One such company, family-owned Canyon Trail Rides has provided horse and mule rides into the canyon for a half-century.

From April to October, cowboys arrive at the stables at 5:45 a.m. to feed and groom the horses. Crystal Mortensen, whose parents started the business in 1973, loves summer days in the park particularly “when you can smell the pine trees and hear the locusts chirping in the manzanita bushes on the rim.”

In the winter, horses are put out to pasture while a few employees oil and repair stirrups and other equipment and make their own saddles. Heavy snowfall delayed the rides by two weeks this year. Because the company has to maintain its own trails, employees manually cleared two miles of snow—piled 7 feet high in some sections.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The corral is a short distance from the park lodge. Horses are tied together and travel in groups.

Visitors are assigned a horse based on experience (many have never ridden) before sloping down into the canyon. On early mornings, rays of sunshine peek over the hoodoos.

The horses are trained to walk near the edge to provide clearer views of the spires, inspiring the rule “Don’t lean and don’t scream.” The proximity can be thrilling or terrifying.

Simply looking up adds a whole new dimension to the park’s vistas.

At night, less than 1 percent of Bryce Canyon is lit by artificial light resulting in one of the darkest skies connected to a paved road in North America. In 2019, Bryce was designated a dark sky park meant to preserve the quality of the night sky.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomy has always featured prominently at Bryce where rangers say the darkness is celebrated almost as much as the geology. Nocturnal views attract far more visitors during peak season so the park hires staff to meet the demand.

The park’s annual Astronomy Festival is scheduled from Wednesday, June 14 through Saturday, June 17. As always, the festival is free with park admission. This year’s festival will feature family-friendly daytime activities and ranger-led evening programs and constellation tours. 

Kevin Poe, a ranger and astronomer at Bryce teaches employees how to operate the telescopes and identify constellations, planets and stars as part of a long-running astronomy program.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s centennial also coincides with a morning solar eclipse in October where a ring of fire will encircle the moon against a backdrop of vivid red and gold rock spires.

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929

These National Parks Are Hosting Free Stargazing Festivals This Summer

Here’s what you need to know about visiting the parks after dark

As magnificent as the United States’ 63 national parks are during daylight hours, after the sun sinks beyond the horizon these beautiful expanses (often far from city lights and carefully managed as dark-sky preserves) take on a stellar new look. In celebration of the constellations, various national parks hold festivals and evening events to teach visitors about the night sky.

Here’s what you need to know about four of the biggest astronomy parties in the United States national parks.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon Star Party

Each summer, Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona invites visitors to watch “an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies” dance above some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth during its Star Party which will take place from June 10 through June 17 in 2023.

Events begin on both the North and South Rims at 8 p.m. but according to the National Park Service (NPS) the best viewing is after 9 p.m.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party,” the NPS said on its website.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each night of the event, park rangers on the South Rim will lead tours of the constellations at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. and will host a night sky photography workshop at 9:30 p.m. Throughout the week, various speakers are slated to hold nightly presentations at 8 p.m. starting with park ranger Ravis Henry who will discuss how the stars are seen through the Navajo culture lens. Other speakers include NASA scientist Julie McEnery who will speak about the next NASA flagship telescope, the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope which is scheduled to launch in May 2027 and Dr. Vishnu Reedy, professor of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona will lecture about how astronomers mitigate the threats of meteor impacts.

On the North Rim, the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona will set up telescopes on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge and guide visitors in identifying constellations.

The 2023 Star Party is a free and open to the general public. The park entrance fee is good on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 pm and many telescopes come down after 11 pm; however, on nights with clear, calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.

Dress warmly. Temperatures drop quickly after sunset—even during summer months.

Related article: The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival

Taking place from June 14 through June 17 this year, Bryce Canyon’s Astronomy Festival in southern Utah happens to fall during the new moon when stars, planets, and meteorites are most visible.

Each night, volunteers from the Salt Lake Astronomical Society will bring their telescopes to share during the nightly stargazing sessions which will start at 10 p.m. across the road from the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center.

According to the park, the festival will also “include nightly lectures from leading academics in astronomy as well as park staff and planetarium educators who will share their expertise and research delving into the origin of stars and the universe itself.” Some of those lecturers will include Planetarium Educator Dr. Amy Sayle who will teach about legends surrounding the stars, former Northern Arizona University professor Dr. David W. Koerner whose presentation will focus on cultural astronomy and the arts, and astronomer Dr. Tyler Nordgren who will explain the magic of eclipses.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All the sessions are free but some talks require reservations which can be made at the visitor center any time during the days preceding the festival. It’s worth signing up early as this year’s festival is happening in conjunction with Bryce Canyon’s centennial celebration, a time that is expected to be busier than usual in the park.

Each night of the festival, shuttle service will continue to limited locations between 8 p.m. and 12:15 a.m. Parking will be limited at Evening Program and Telescope locations so the park strongly recommend parking at the Shuttle Station in Bryce Canyon City (2 miles north of park entrance) and riding the Star Shuttle into the park. Shuttles arrive at each stop every 15 minutes. Use of the Star Shuttle is free with park admission.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As always, attending the festival is free with park admission.

Overnight temperatures are typically in the 40s Fahrenheit. A light jacket is a good idea if you plan to be outside for awhile after dark. While red light flashlights are okay, no white light flashlights be used due to their negative effect on night vision. After using a white light, it can take well over thirty minutes for your eyes to begin to readjust to the profound darkness of Bryce Canyon.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands Astronomy Festival

In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16 in the South Dakota park.

Per the National Park Service, “Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomers (and their telescopes) from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, and the University of Utah will be on hand throughout the festival to lead guests in for day and night observations.

Lectures will be held each night at 9 p.m. starting with a deep-dive on NASA’s space telescopes with NASA scientists Tom Durkin on the 29th, an explainer on Lakota Tribal beliefs around stars with Megan Ostrenga of The Journey Museum in Rapid City on the 30th, and a family-friendly show about the universe with Kevin Poe of Dark Ranger Telescope Tours on the 31st.

Additional events will be announced closer to the festival.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah Night Sky Festival

Discover the Park after dark during the 2023 Night Sky Festival!

So far, only the dates for Shenandoah’s Night Sky Festival in Virginia have been announced: August 11 through August 13. But according to the National Park Service, the three-day event will include “stargazing, Ranger talks, kids’ activities, and guest presentations ranging from topics such as space weather, space travel, and our future in space.”

If you plan on attending one of the outdoor evening activities, be sure to be prepared for the weather and bring a flashlight with a red filter. All events are free with park admission.

Related article: Shenandoah National Park is Hosting a Night Sky Festival This Weekend—and It’s Free

Other Dark Sky Festivals

Great Basin National Park:

Great Basin Astronomy Festival will host its event September 14-16. Check back for more details closer to the event.

Glacier National Park:

Glacier National Park plans to offer Logan Pass Star Parties for the 2023 season. Check back for the exact dates and more details closer to the summer season. If you plan to attend it is important to come prepared. Wear warm clothing and be prepared for wind in St. Mary. Bring a headlamp or flashlight so you can safely move around in the dark. Seating is not provided at the Dusty Star Observatory so bring a chair for a more comfortable viewing experience.

How to attend the national park astronomy festivals?

Tickets to all the astronomy festival events are free though attendees still need to pay the park entrance fee. At Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon, that’s $35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, or $20 per person entering by foot, bicycle, or park shuttle bus. And for Badlands and Shenandoah, it’s $30, $25, and $15, respectively. Entrance passes can be purchased online or at the park entrance.

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Worth Pondering…

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

—Brian Greene