Walmart is known for its mammoth superstores that sell everything from groceries to treadmills. For thousands of RV travelers, though, its stores are appealing for a different reason: Spacious parking lots where people can relax and stay overnight for free.
The company has allowed overnight parking for RVers in many of its 4,700 US lots going back to the days of founder Sam Walton in the mid-twentieth century. Even RV enthusiasts Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni Thomas, have been known to stay at Walmart.
But parking at Walmart is getting harder to find. In 2010, about 78 percent of Walmart stores allowed overnight RV parking. Now, it’s close to 58 percent, according to Jim O’Briant who runs OvernightRVParking.com, a website that tracks more than 14,000 free RV parking locations in the United States and Canada.
This presents a problem for scores of self-proclaimed nomads just looking for a place to settle after dark. RVers looking for a place to park overnight for one night will need to find other places.
Walmart is now taking camping to a whole new level. The mega-retailer recently announced (July 28, 2022) a partnership with Getaway, a health and wellness hospitality company to build small retail stores that will offer supplies to visitors spending time in nature. The companies say the partnership’s goal is to help consumers “live better by aiming to make traveling to nature even easier and convenient.”
Founded in 2015, Getaway, a network of modern cabin retreats said in a news release that it has averaged “above 84 percent occupancy over the year across Outposts” and recently announced nine new Outposts will open amounting to 28 total locations before the end of 2022.
According to the release, Getaway offers guests Wi-Fi-free stays in nature at its campsite-styled Outposts which are located less than a two-hour drive from major cities across the country. Getaway builds collections of tiny cabins, called Outposts. More “glamping” than camping, Getaway cabins have kitchens, toilets, and queen-size beds.
The new alliance which designates Walmart as Getaway’s first official retail partner will introduce innovative offerings for guests starting this fall at The General Store by Walmart.
A mini-retail experience at select Getaway Outposts, The General Store by Walmart will include seasonal products sourced from Walmart and curated by the outdoor experts at Getaway. Items may include hiking gear, leisure activities, and equipment including FujiFilm cameras, Lodge Cast Iron Skillets, Pendleton Outdoor Blankets, and Burt’s Bees lip balms to name a few. The everyday items will be available at the Outpost saving guests from having to travel off the property if they forgot an item at home.
At the time of check-in for the next six months, guests will also receive Welcome Kits which will include ingredients to make the ultimate camping treat: s’mores.
The General Store will also feature quality goods from small businesses within the community furthering Getaway and Walmart’s commitment to supporting local communities, the retailer said. The items on sale at the General Store will also be available on Walmart.com via a dedicated Getaway shopping page for travelers to shop in advance of their visit.
The General Store by Walmart will make its debut later this month at Getaway Hill Country, in Wimberly, Texas with additional locations to open by the end of the year. Wimberly is 37 miles southeast of Austin.
Meanwhile, there are plans to open four more General Store locations through the end of the year. The planned locations include:
Getaway Machimoodus in Moodus, Connecticut
Getaway Big Bear in Running Springs, California
Getaway Western Catskills in Roscoe, New York
Getaway Ozark Highlands in Osceola, Missouri
“At Getaway, our mission is to help people disconnect and spend time in nature,” said Carlos Becil, chief experience officer of Getaway. “In partnering with Walmart, we are able to amplify our efforts to a larger audience and provide our guests with more free time, helping them prepare for their stays and enjoy the comforts of nature once they arrive.”
In addition, Getaway guests who visit any Outpost during the next year will also receive a complimentary trial of Walmart’s membership program, Walmart+.
If this latest retailing venture is successful, WallyWorld may well export the mini-stores idea to campgrounds where you and I might actually stay.
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
See what great places are waiting for you on your Dakota road trip
Early experiences in the Dakotas provided valuable inspiration for the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. That inspiration drove his desire to form the National Park Service and you can easily imagine why he took up the cause at several national parks in the Dakotas.
Three parks are within two hours of each other in South Dakota. The fourth—Theodore Roosevelt National Park—is roughly five hours away in North Dakota. So you can reasonably hit all four on your next RV trip through the Dakotas.
Here’s your guide to these four parks in the Dakotas, three national parks and one state park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The park named after the 26th President is a great location to start or end your national park road trip in the Dakotas. Because it’s a little separated from the others, hit it on your way to South Dakota or on your way back.
The park is broken into northern and southern units. The southern unit is much more popular and easily accessed off Interstate 94 in the town of Medora. The northern unit is a good option for boondockers and those seeking a more remote experience as it’s about an hour north and closer to Watford City.
A healthy grazing population of bison— the largest land mammal in North America—is a major attraction at Teddy’s park. They tend to graze in roadside meadows and occasionally halt traffic as they cross.
The park is also home to feral horses, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, white-tail and mule deer, and more than 186 types of birds. Whether you just enjoy the 36 Mile Scenic Drive or come for the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival (September 16-18, 2022), this park offers plenty to do and see.
If you somehow miss the bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’ll get another chance to spot one in the Badlands. Along with bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn can regularly be spotted from the park’s many roadside overlooks.
The park’s multi-colored landscape is especially attractive to photographers at sunrise and sunset. But there are many pull-outs along the main park road for you to capture the landscape from a unique perspective.
The best times to visit the Badlands are spring and fall. Summer temperatures in the park can be sweltering and winter weather can be quite cold on the Dakota plains. There’s plenty of RV camping in the park but there’s also a large boondocking area for free RV and tent camping just outside the north entrance station.
Be sure to check out the Fossil Exhibit Trail and the Fossil Preparation Lab. The Badlands has been an epicenter for fossil discovery for decades and there’s a lot to learn about the area’s prehistoric inhabitants from scientists still conducting research at the lab.
Your Dakotas national park trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing Mount Rushmore in person. While the rest of the parks are a testament to nature’s creation, Mount Rushmore offers an ode to human engineering and persistence.
If it’s your first visit, you can quiz yourself on facts surrounding the four presidents enshrined on the hillside before you step into the information center. Enjoy the short hiking trail from the visitor center along the base of the monument to see the carvings from multiple angles.
When you do go inside, there’s a lot to learn about how this miracle of human engineering and construction came to be. From the many hurdles that had to be overcome to the techniques used to create the memorial, the informational exhibits are truly fascinating.
If you want to pick the brain of a park ranger there are five unique guided tours to choose from. All of these guided programs are free of charge and last anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes. You can also rent a multimedia device to learn the history of Mount Rushmore on a self-guided tour.
Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.
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 pronghorns, bighorn sheep, elk, wild burros, wild turkeys, coyotes, 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.
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 this road.
Custer State Park offers nine campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.
Planning a national and state park RV road trip takes a lot of preparation. But if you target these four parks, you can check four amazing parks off your bucket list without a ton of driving in between.
What are some of your favorite places to visit for lake camping?
Summer is prime camping season, but if you don’t pick the right destination, you may be sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why finding a great campground near the water is key!
Lake camping offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in the sunshine. Days by the lake can include everything from kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding to swimming and fishing while balmy evenings call for roasting marshmallows and playing board games. To prepare for a week at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.
Lakes are wonderful for camping and most have some amazing campgrounds nearby to choose from. You can build wonderful memories with your family at a lake. So, pack up your swimsuits, fishing poles, kayaks, and inflatable toys and head to one of these fabulous lakeside campgrounds.
Wahweap Marina RV Park & Campground, Arizona
Enjoy this desert oasis in the Southwest. The Wahweap Marina RV Park and Campground are located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which manages the lake as well as a large 1.3 million-acre swath of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. It is 186 miles long with 1,960 miles of shoreline and over 96 major side canyons.
The campground is a quarter-mile from the lake but set on a tiered hillside to provide fabulous views. They provide a shuttle to help you get around and you can charter a boat or book tours on the lake as well.
Utah Lake State Park, Utah
Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. Recently named one of America’s 21st Century Parks, Utah Lake State Park provides many recreation opportunities for visitors. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing. Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.
Facilities for picnicking, day-use, and overnight camping are also available. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.
The park is west of Provo and 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.
Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona
Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing camping experience.
Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, and rest. The lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.
Five campgrounds offer mixed amenity sites. Campground C offers 25 electric and water sites. Campground F has 15 full hookup sites. Both back-in and pull-through sites are available.
Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania
The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. The 2.5-mile-long lake has more than 7.5 miles of shoreline. Canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. There are three boat launches around the lake.
The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. Fox Run and Maple Lane loops allow pets at designated sites. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance.
Nestled in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest parks and favorite destinations offers hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats and during summer visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach. This park is rich in history with many facilities being constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Hikers can choose from a variety of trails including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.
Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric and water hookups.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. There is plenty of water and plenty of beach room at New Mexico’s largest State Park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Remember to wear your life jacket. Boat safe and boat smart!
Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic area, playgrounds, and developed camping sites for RVs. Campground facilities include 173 developed sites: 144 water and electric and eight full hookup sites.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada
Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. Lake Mead was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. With more than 750 miles of shoreline, you can enjoy a day at the beach, take a boat out and disappear for hours, or nestle into a cove to try to catch a big one. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes.
With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables, and shade. Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park.
Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona
Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina.
The nearby Lakeside Market offers boat rentals and supplies. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds.
Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi
A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.
There are several options when it comes to staying overnight. The park offers RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills; 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups and 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access.
Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.
Two campgrounds suit everyone from those who want only a basic campsite to those who want it all. Both campgrounds have restrooms with showers. The West Campground offers 50 spacious sites with full hookups, covered picnic tables, and fire rings. Some sites have views of the reservoir. ATVs are not allowed in this campground except on a trailer.
One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley regional park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona.
Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.
Quail Creek State Park, Utah
Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well.
After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.
Padre Island National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world
Are you ready for a day (or two or three) at the beach? Why not spend it at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, a park with “the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world.”
Padre Island National Seashore separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre, one of a few hypersaline lagoons in the world. The park protects 70 miles of coastline. It is a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a haven for over 380 bird species. It also has a rich history including the Spanish shipwrecks of 1554.
In addition to its 70 miles of protected coastline, other important ecosystems abound including rare coastal prairie, a complex and dynamic dune system, and tidal flats teeming with life. The National Seashore and surrounding waters provide important habitat for marine and terrestrial plants and animals including a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species.
Padre Island National Seashore and South Padre Island are two different places located over 100 miles apart. Sometimes Padre Island National Seashore is confused with South Padre Island but the two are very different destinations. Padre Island National Seashore is a National Park Service (NPS) site located just outside of Corpus Christi. South Padre Island is a resort community located near Brownsville with numerous hotels, clubs, and souvenir shops. The two destinations are at opposite ends of the long, barrier island named Padre Island and are about 100 miles apart.
Planning on putting the park address into a smart phone app or GPS? It most likely will NOT bring you to the park. For unknown reasons, many of those applications place the park’s physical address miles away from its actual location.
Fortunately, getting to the park is easy once you know that the road coming to the park—Park Road 22—actually dead ends into the National Seashore. The park entrance station is a booth that is located literally in the middle of the road. Once you’re on Park Road 22, just keep going until you reach the end and the park entrance station. Bring a paper map or use the above directions to locate the park.
Park entrance fees and passes can be purchased online before your visit or purchased in person at the entrance station upon your arrival. Your options include a 1-day pass ($10.00 per vehicle), a 7-day pass ($25.00 per vehicle), and a 1-year pass ($45.00 per vehicle). Those with federal interagency passes enter free.
Typical weather conditions. Weather on Padre Island varies widely and can change from sunny and warm to thunderstorms and heavy winds very quickly. Padre Island has long, hot summers and short, mild winters. Most rain falls near the beginning and end of hurricane and tropical storm season which lasts from June through October.
Daytime temperature in spring averages in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s. Summer daytime temperatures are usually in the mid-90s with very humid conditions. Lows are usually in the 70s. Afternoon and evening sea breezes help to moderate temperatures. In the fall, daytime temperature average in the 70s-80s with lows in the 50s-60s. Winter high temperatures are usually between 50 degrees and 70 degrees but can occasionally drop into the upper 30s. Sudden, strong cold fronts can move through bringing gale force winds and dropping temperatures quickly.
Average rainfall for the southern portion of the park is 26 inches and 29 inches for the northern area of the park.
Take a drive along the seashore. Many people come to the National Seashore to experience the beauty of nature in isolation. One way to do this is to travel down-island into the park’s most remote areas which are only accessible with a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle. Don’t try it with a regular car if you intend to drive further than 5 miles.
To get to the portion of the park where you can drive on the beach and down to the remote parts of the island, continue on the main park paved road (Park Road 22) past Malaquite Visitor Center until the pavement ends (South Beach). From that point, the park has 60 miles of beach open to driving. South Beach (and driving) ends at the Port Mansfield Channel, a man-made waterway cut through the island.
It is not possible to drive all the way down to South Padre Island due to this waterway. You must turn around at that point and drive 60 miles back north to reach the park paved road.
Remember that Texas beaches are public highways and all traffic laws apply including seat belt regulations. All vehicles on Padre Island National Seashore must be street legal and licensed.
Go camping. Padre Island National Seashore has two campgrounds and three areas for primitive camping. They are open year-round and are first-come, first-served. Campers must have a camping permit. There are no RV hook-ups on Padre Island but a dump station and a water filling station are available for all campers staying in the National Seashore.
Tucked in the dunes with a view of the Gulf of Mexico and a short distance north of the visitor center, Malaquite Campground features 48 semi-primitive designated sites. Located near the boat ramp on the waters of the Laguna Madre, Bird Island Basin Campground offers an opportunity for windsurfing, kayaking, boating, birding, and fishing. Both RV and tent camping sites are available but it is dry camping only.
If you’d rather stay in a full-service RV park, Corpus Christi, 10 miles away from the park entrance, has several choices. We stayed across the bay in Portland at Seabreeze RV Resort and would return in a heartbeat.
Since sunrises are spectacular along the seashore, plan to take a morning walk along the beach and bring your camera with you to capture the moment. During your early-morning walk, you might spot the elusive (and very fast) ghost crab peeking at you from its burrow.
Stick around after dark on a clear night for a little stargazing. Take a flashlight with you to spot ghost crabs as they move away from their burrows to seek a midnight snack.
Do some beachcombing. Have you ever gone to the beach with bucket in hand hoping to find treasures along the seashore? If so, then you have been beachcombing. Many of the currents that flow through the Gulf of Mexico bring endless curiosities onto the beach at Padre Island National Seashore. These items include seashells, beached jellyfish, sea beans (drift seeds), driftwood, lumber, plastics, and things that have been lost or discarded by seagoing vessels and other marine activities. The best time is immediately following a storm. You are allowed to keep a five-gallon bucket of treasures you might find but if an animal is still in its shell be sure to put it back where you found it.
Go fly a kite. Padre Island National Seashore has plenty of wind to fly a kite. The seashore has in the past hosted a kite festival in February filling the sky with all sorts of colorful kites including some intricate and creative Chinese kites. Be sure to check with the park before heading there with your kite.
Go swimming. Swimming at the National Seashore can be a lot of fun! You can swim in the recreation area at Bird Island Basin or in the Gulf of Mexico. However, remember that safety is important and there are no lifeguards on duty. Use caution when swimming and never swim alone.
Go fishing. Fishing has been one of the biggest attractions to Padre Island, long before its designation as a National Seashore. Visitors may fish along the entire length of the Gulf of Mexico beach in the Laguna Madre and at Yarborough Pass and Bird Island Basin. Two currents, one from the north and one from the south converge at Big Shell beach near the middle of the park.
These currents bring an abundance of nutrients which, in turn, attract plenty of fish. To fish anywhere within the park requires a valid Texas fishing license and a saltwater stamp which are only sold outside of the park at any local gas station or tackle shop.
Go boating. Bird Island Basin offers a boat ramp to provide access to the excellent boating and fishing waters of the Laguna Madre. It’s one of the world’s best windsurfing sites and you can fish and birdwatch there, too. You can get a daily pass to Bird Island Basin at the Entrance Station for $5.00 or an annual pass for $30.00. Be aware that jet skis, kite surfing, and air boats are prohibited at the national seashore.
Hatching releases. During the summer Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings are released from nests that were laid in the park and along parts of the Texas coast. Hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August. Most releases that are open to the public take place at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach in front of the Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore. For information about public hatching releases, call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163. Because park rangers cannot predict exactly when a sea turtle nest will hatch, not all hatchling releases are public and hatchling releases do not occur daily or on a regular schedule.
Go bird watching. With more bird species that any other city in the U.S., Corpus Christi has won the competition for being the “Birdiest City in America” for the past 10 years in a row. Needless to say, Padre Island National Seashore, located on 130,000 acres of undeveloped land is an exceptional place for bird watching.
Situated along the Central Flyway, Padre Island is a globally important area for over 380 migratory, overwintering, and resident bird species (nearly half of all bird species documented in North America). You’ll catch sight of brown pelicans, egrets, herons, terns, gulls, hawks, ducks, teals, and crested caracaras and not just along the beach but inland as well. The best time to bird Padre Island National Seashore is either during early spring or during fall and winter when thousands of birds either migrate through the park or spend the winter there.
Interpretive programs. Attend a ranger program to learn about the seashore, the birds, and the things that wash up on the beach. Informal 30-45 minute Deck Talks on various aspects of the island’s natural and cultural history are held Thursdays to Sundays at 1 pm at the Malaquite Visitor Center.
Be a Junior Ranger. Padre Island National Seashore is just one national park that gives you a chance to earn an official Junior Ranger badge. Ask a ranger for a Junior Ranger booklet when you stop by the Malaquite Visitor Center. The Underwater Explorer Junior Ranger Program is available as well. For all those who are young or young-at-heart, come out and earn your badge. All ages are welcome to participate in the Junior Ranger program at Padre Island National Seashore.
Relax on the beach, build a sand castle, and play in the sand. Just remember the Leave No Trace principles. If you dig any holes or trenches while playing in the sand, cover them back up so they don’t create a hazard for vehicles, people, and animals.
Remember to check the park’s website for any alerts and closures due to construction or weather-related damage. Check the site also for other things to know before you head out to the park and whether or not pets are allowed.
Looking to get closer to nature and linger longer at a US national park? RV camping is the perfect way to experience the majestic wide-open spaces of the national parks.
Camping in an RV within a national park provides a comfortable base to immerse yourself in a park’s beauty from sunrise to sunset (and beyond for great stargazing). National park campsites also create a fun sense of community between RV campers who share everything from vehicle advice to travel tips, BBQ recipes, and s’mores around the campfire.
The national parks listed below are top destinations not only for the quantity and quality of RV campsites within the parks but for the access that RVs have to tour the parks on paved roadways with key park attractions being within roadside viewing distance.
Top tips to consider when RV camping at national parks
Most national parks use Recreation.gov as the website to make reservations for campsites. Each park has its own quirks about the timing and process for making reservations, so check out your target park’s rules and regulations prior to booking.
Make reservations as far in advance as possible. National park RV campsites can become fully booked within minutes of dates being offered, particularly for summer high season and holiday weekends.
For your RV campsite, research the length restrictions and available hookups for water, electricity, and sewage dumps. You don’t want an unpleasant surprise after a late arrival to a remote campground.
If you’re not able to secure a RV campsite within a national park, be aware that many private RV parks and resorts operate just outside the boundaries of most National Parks. Reservations at commercial campgrounds will be easier to make and these campgrounds provide more services and amenities than those within park limits.
Bringing bicycles or a towed car with your RV can greatly expand your options for exploration in a national park particularly to areas with limited RV access. Also, consider leaving your RV in the campground and using park shuttle services when available.
Following are nine of the best US national parks for RV camping.
This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes.
Most scenic drive in the park: Arches’ Main Park Road traces 18 miles from the entrance to Devils Garden Campground on a nicely paved roadway with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s epic arches and other rock formations. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed. After your visit here, you can add stops to southern Utah’s Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion for an epic Utah national parks RV road trip.
Number of RV campsites: 1 campground with 51 sites
The only camping option inside the park is the Devils Garden Campground, a slickrock-flanked oasis at the end of the park’s main road. Reservations are available and recommended via Recreation.gov, March through October and are available up to six months in advance; its 51 sites are first come, first served the rest of the year.
The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space.
Most scenic RV route through the park: Desert View Drive portion of SR-64 is a scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. Private vehicles can drive east along the canyon rim for 23 miles to the Desert View Services Area and the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.
Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 519 sites available for RVs
Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. There are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, and picnic table. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available; however, there is a free dump station. Most RV spaces are pull-through.
Trailer Village is the only in-park RV campground with full hookups (sewage, water, and electrical with 30-amp and 50-amp sites available) Trailer Village features paved pull-through sites which can accommodate vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village is concessioner operated. Reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance.
The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.
Most scenic drives in the park: The main gateways to Great Smoky Mountains are the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina. Between the two is the scenic Newfound Gap Road which winds for 29 miles neatly bisecting the park on the only pavement traversing the Smokies.
Cades Cove is by far the most popular site in the park. You can meander along the 11-mile driving loop through pastoral landscapes to historic log cabins and churches all the while viewing wildlife without ever having to leave the comfort of your car.
Number of RV campsites: 9 campgrounds 924 sites available for RVs
Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers, electrical, or water hookups in the park.
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.
Most scenic drive in the park: Few roads pass through Joshua Tree but entrances at both north and south ends of the park connect in a cross-park scenic drive with spur roads to specific attractions. Driving the park north to south will give you roadside views not only of plenty of the park’s namesake trees but notable landmarks like Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rock formations. As you continue south watch as the landscape and flora transforms from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert ecosystems.
Number of RV Campsites: 8 campgrounds with 495 sites available for RVs
With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).
Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.
Most scenic drive in the park: The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.
Number of RV Campsites: 1 campground with 267 sites
Morefield Campground is located 4 miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs and includes 15 full-hookup RV sites.
With over 229 square-miles, more than 35 hiking trails, and cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place.
Most scenic drive in the park: The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park features the same dramatic desert landscape associated with the main section of the park: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus, and wooded trails along twisting side canyons.
Note: The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.
Number of RV Campsites: 2 campgrounds with 303 sites
South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.
Tip: This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures often exceed 95 degrees.
Scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventure, historic sites, and dark skies rank among the features visitors enjoy in Big Bend.
Tip: Big Bend is best enjoyed from late fall through early spring. Winter months bring beautiful days and pleasant temperatures. Summer months are scorching and outdoor recreation can be uncomfortable and unsafe. In the winter, five visitor centers are open, ranger programs occur more frequently, and local outfitters offer more activities. In the summer, many of these operations are reduced.
Most scenic drive in the park: The 30-mile-long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive holds up to its name taking you by noteworthy spots like the Mules Ears viewpoint (where you can see two jagged rock formations that jut up resembling donkey’s ears), Sam Nail Ranch (a historic homestead built in 1916), and Santa Elena Canyon (get those cameras ready).
Number of RV campsites: 5 campgrounds with 196 sites for RVs
Since it takes a long time to reach the park—and then once there, you can spend a good amount of time just getting around within the park—it’s not a good idea to reserve a campsite well in advance. For camping within Big Bend, you have four developed campgrounds to choose from: Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, Cottonwood, and Rio Grande Village RV Park. Reservations required. You can book your site up to six months in advance.
Note: At Chisos Basins RVs over 24 feet (trailers over 20 feet) and are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin and small campsites at this campground.
Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.
Most scenic drive in the park: The 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (also known as SR-240) connects the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall. This scenic route winds up and down the contours of the Badlands with about a dozen opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts for photo ops.
Number of RV campsites: 2 campgrounds with 118 sites
In addition to backcountry camping, Badlands offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park’s northwest has 22 sites (free), vault toilets, picnic benches, and bison trails. For running water and electricity opt for the Cedar Pass Campground adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge where you’ll find 96 RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables. Reservations recommended.
Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.”
Most scenic drive in the park: Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.
Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 357 sites
Nothing compares to sleeping under the stars and with four campgrounds there’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah National Park. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. Many sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.
Unless you are about to embark on your first RV road trip, you probably already practice the basic, common-sense rules of campground etiquette. They simply reflect the good manners that most of us observe in our everyday lives.
Unfortunately, many of us have encountered that rare individual with rude or thoughtless behavior that spoils a camping experience for others. It all begins with the Golden Rule. If we expect our campgrounds to be friendly, well-mannered communities, we should make sure we are friendly and courteous campers.
Virtually every RV Park has posted speed limits usually in the range of 5-10 miles per hour. Courteous behavior and good manners begin with observing speed limits throughout the park. Obey one-way signs as well.
Every campground has its own set of rules and regulations usually included in a park brochure or handout sheet. Read them carefully as they serve as a guide to what you can and cannot do at that particular campground.
Avoid walking through someone else’s campsite. You wouldn’t walk through a stranger’s yard without asking—so be polite and go the extra distance around.
Most RV campgrounds are family-friendly and, yes, kids deserve to have fun too. However, the fun shouldn’t be at the expense of the neighbors in your campground. Make sure they’re supervised when roaming about and know the campground rules.
Many RVers love to take their pets camping—and they love it too—but irresponsible pet owners are one of the most common causes of campground etiquette complaints. Keep your dogs on a short leash when walking and make sure they are properly restrained at the campsite. Not even the most ardent of dog lovers can put up with incessant barking, so if your pooch is one of those non-stop yappers plan to leave it with a sitter when you go camping.
Finally, it goes without saying that you should be prepared to clean up after your pet. If you forget to bring your own, most campgrounds provide doggie bags to make the cleanup easy and convenient.
Keeping the noise down is another important campground courtesy. You might jam to heavy metal but chances are your neighbor prefers Tchaikovsky. So, it’s good to remember that your sounds shouldn’t travel beyond your own campsite.
Most campgrounds post quiet hours so be sure you know when they are and be doubly sure to keep things quiet during that period. Outside lighting can be an irritant to neighbors as well so turn off your awning and/or porch lights when you retire for the evening.
Emptying holding tanks is not a popular task—but dumping those tanks is a nasty fact of life for every camper and should be done courteously and with consideration of your neighbors. Don’t do it when they are relaxing with a drink or enjoying a meal.
Late arrivals and early departures can create a campground disturbance, so try to be as quiet as possible. If you’re planning an early getaway, stow your camping gear the evening before.
Some state parks and most federal campgrounds don’t have power outlets, so in those instances, you’ll need to rely on your batteries, solar, or a generator. You shouldn’t need to run the generator for long to maintain your RV batteries. Having a solar system and generator is the best of both worlds minimizing generator usage for a more peaceful campground experience.
Since your campsite is just on loan to you, it’s important to leave it as you found it. Don’t move fire rings or boundary stones and if you relocate the picnic table, return it to its original place when you leave. Never cut branches or pound nails into trees for clotheslines or hammocks. Before departing, take a look around the site for personal items or litter.
As a final thought, take time to make some new friends. We all spend too much time on our personal devices these days, so crank up your communications skills and go for some old fashion personal contact. Time on the road is precious—so relax, have fun, and enjoy the company of some newfound friends.
Enjoy your days and love your life, because life is a journey to be savored.
Summer is in full swing: hot temperatures, afternoon and evening thunderstorms, beautiful sunrises and sunsets—and camping
While it has been a record year for campgrounds and RV parks, I am convinced the world needs more campers.
Stay with me, as this comment is not about occupancy rates or empty sites, it’s about campers. The campers you see in a state, provincial, or national park campground or privately owned RV park with a fifth wheel, pop-up trailer, truck camper, motorhome, or even a tent. The people who pack for the week or weekend, leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind, and enjoy their parks and being with other campers.
Maybe it’s these dog days of summer or the fact the nightly news seems to be filled with controversy, hostility, and real problems but I’m thinking the world needs to go camping.
And here is why: Camping brings out the best in people.
When walking through a campground or RV park, no one knows who you are—you’re just another camper on a morning or evening stroll. You’ll be greeted with a “good morning”, a “good evening”, or a “howdy” many times on your walk.
This greeting is much different than in the hectic hustle and bustle of city life as people go through their daily activities as if on an ever-moving treadmill. A polite exchange of greetings and nothing further.
When camping, it’s followed by more. “Where are you from,” and discussions about the weather and the beauty of the area. This is the norm in a campground or RV park—casual introductions turn into conversations and even lasting friendships. If you are a camper you know what I am talking about.
A camper need not worry if they forgot to pack something, as another camper will always step up with whatever was left back home. Need a hand? You don’t even have to ask, as campers are, by their very nature, always willing to lend a hand. If you’ve camped you’ve experienced this and if you haven’t camped, you don’t know what you’re missing.
The type of camper doesn’t matter, whether it’s a fifth-wheel trailer with four slide-outs or a camping van, a diesel pusher with a car in tow, or a two-person tent, campers are not defined by the units they camp in—campers are people. People who care and who enjoy the outdoors, fellowship, and other people.
Campers have an uncanny ability to see the good in people, to want to help those in need. It may be that campgrounds are seen as places of sanctuary from a world filled with controversy, misunderstanding, and real problems. Or, maybe it’s the parks, those places we can escape from the pressures and reality of a fast-paced world. Parks protect us with their tall trees, mountains, creeks, rivers, and lakes.
Maybe it’s a campfire and the darkness that seem to soothe the soul with time for reflection and conversation. A conversation around a campfire leads to laughter and smiles and often ends with a satisfying “good night, see you in the morning.”
Tip: avoid conversations about politics!
Maybe we all need these special places to escape to every now and then just to get away, recharge our batteries, and reconnect with nature and each other. Parks really do become a sanctuary and allow us to escape from the day-to-day rat race, allow us to put our guard down, relax, and enjoy life.
It doesn’t hurt when you fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves or the chorus of crickets and tree frogs and wake to the rising sun peeking through the tall pines or silhouetting stately saguaros or Joshua trees.
Could it be distinctive smells of a campground, lingering smoke that can only come from a campfire, the smell of coffee brewing, and bacon sizzling? Could it be these things influence our behavior and enable us to relax and revive those characteristics of kindness, friendliness, and a sense of community?
Or maybe, just maybe it’s the people who camp.
Yes indeed, the world needs more campers, let’s go camping!
See you in the parks!
Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.
At one of America’s newer National Park, the possibilities for discovery are limitless
The remains of an ancient volcanic field consisting of massive monoliths, rocky spires, pinnacles, red crags, and talus cave, rise out of the Meditteranean chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, a sanctuary for the California condor.
The Salinas Valley in west-central California is the site of an ancient history spanning 23 million years. Over the course of that time, the “pinnacles” have migrated some 200 miles from their original home on the San Andreas Fault where the volcano that they were born from once stood. Today, that volcanic rock from the Pacific Coast Range has morphed to form monoliths, spires, peaks, cliffs, and other formations that jut out from the pastoral hills of the region.
The park is split into east and west districts between which there are no driving roads connecting the entrances on either side. In the west district, there are rare and unusual talus caves—caves made up of fallen rock sandwiched in slot canyons. On the east side, you will find the most interesting views of the formations along with broader views of the entire park landscape, the main park visitor center, and an established camping area. Both sides are beloved by technical climbers, day hikers, cave-goers, and bird watchers eager to catch a glimpse of the endangered California condor.
The first 2,500 acres of the rugged Pinnacles were made a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Since 1908, the monument significantly increased in size to 26,000 acres and on January 10, 2013, Pinnacles became America’s 59th national park.
Hiking and rock climbing are popular activities in Pinnacles National Park as is watching for the majestic California condor overhead. Pinnacles National Park is a nesting place for the endangered soaring bird, the largest in North America.
By the early 1980s, the California condor population had dwindled to just 22. The birds were placed in captive breeding programs, and Pinnacles became one of the release sites. Other condors from the Big Sur area also frequent the area which increases the odds of seeing one of these rare creatures.
Remarkable rocks sculpted by 14 million years of volcanic turmoil. The rocky spires and pinnacles have long attracted rock climbers. So have talus caves (formed when massive boulders tumbled into narrow canyons) inhabited by protected bat communities. A well-maintained 30-mile trail system, partially created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, beckons hikers to this rugged landscape. Wildflowers bloom in the spring, and the temperate climate makes for year-round exploration opportunities.
The rock formations of Pinnacles National Park divide the park into east and west access points which are connected by trails. But, there is no road connecting the east and west entrances of the park.
The eastern access road (CA 146) branches off CA 25, 30 miles south of Hollister, and leads up a wide, partly wooded valley alongside Bear Creek, and past the park campground. The mountains are visible to the west though they seem unremarkable from a distance as the volcanic formations are hidden behind more conventional rocks.
Pinnacles Campground offers 149 tent, group, and RV sites with 30-amp electric service. Water is located throughout the campground. Showers and a dump station are available. During the spring and summer seasons, campers can enjoy the campground swimming pool and ranger programs at the campground amphitheater.
The road bends around a side canyon and ends next to the visitor center just as the main valley (Bear Gulch) starts to become relatively narrow. The center has exhibits, a small selection of books for sale, a public telephone, and flashlights for use in the caves.
The surrounding vegetation is typical of the chaparral zone, mostly small oak trees, and bushes, reflecting the low elevation, moderate rainfall, and long hot summers of this part of California. The main hiking area is to the west, further along, the canyon—within 2 miles are Bear Gulch Cave, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and many rock climbing sites, while 2 miles further are the extensive formations of the High Peaks. Many trails intersect, allowing for a short loop or a longer all-day hike.
The Bear Gulch Cave provides a home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats as they rest there in winter and raise their young in the late spring and summer. The colony in the Bear Gulch Cave is the largest maternity colony between San Francisco and Mexico. The lower half of the Bear Gulch Cave is usually open from mid-July through mid-May each year, depending on the presence of the colony of bats. The entire cave is closed from mid-May to mid-July while the bats are raising their young. Bring a flashlight if your hike leads through a cave.
The west entrance has just a ranger station plus parking and is reached by a narrow, 12-mile road from Soledad that is not recommended for RVs or other large vehicles. From the road’s end, three trails depart to the north, west, and east; the most popular routes are the Juniper Canyon Trail to the High Peaks, and the Balconies Trail which leads to volcanic rocks and a talus cave.
Size: 26,000 acres
Date Established: January 10, 2013
Location: West central California, in the Salinas Valley
How the park got its name: In 1880, the area where the national park is now was known as “the Palisades” until a newspaper article came out in 1881 describing the trellised areas as “the Pinnacles.” Further exploration of the area and additional marketing of it as a tourist destination helped the new name to stick. It has been officially known as Pinnacles since it was protected as a National Monument in 1908.
Iconic site in the park: The geologic formations are known as “the pinnacles” are a series of volcanic and sedimentary rocks that have eroded over time to take the shape of colorful and ornate cliffs, crags, and talus cave formations that rise from a forested landscape.
Did You Know?
Pinnacles, Muir Woods, and the Grand Canyon were all set aside as national monuments in the span of seven days in January 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt.
American writer John Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley and lived there until he went to Stanford University in 1919. The location inspired several of his works, one of them being East of Eden.
Recreational visits in 2020: 165,740
Entrance Fees: $30/vehicle (valid for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted
Camping Fee: $37/night
May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.
Thanks to the park’s varied terrain, you can choose between desert, mountain, and river hikes, or hop in your car and explore the park on four wheels
Big Bend National Park has it all—vast amounts of open space, rivers, canyons, pictographs, and hot springs. Located in southwest Texas, the park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.
Big Bend National Park abuts the border with Mexico across a stunning stretch of southwestern Texas where evenings are defined by an orange sky and red canyon walls and where chirps of yellow meadowlarks and the sounds of the Rio Grande fill the air. While such stunning scenes are commonplace within Big Bend, the massive desert preserve remains overlooked among U.S. national parks—it has never surpassed 500,000 annual visitors since its designation in 1944.
The lack of tourists is likely due to the park’s extreme remoteness: Big Bend lies 300 miles from El Paso, the nearest major metropolitan area, and is geographically isolated within a massive turn of the Rio Grande from which the park gets its name. Those who brave the miles will find the journey is filled with natural riverfront hot springs, luminous night skies, and secluded mountain trails. Here is how to make the most of your trip to one of the more underrated national parks in America.
Pick the right season and give yourself plenty of time
With its southerly location and exposure to the elements, triple-digit temperature stretches in the summer months are not uncommon and threaten to turn the most well-intentioned hiker into a sweaty, sunburned mess. A better experience is found in winter and autumn but spring comes with the double bonus of long daylight hours and wildflower season. If you do go in the summer make sure to bring lots and lots of water, sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley), and plan your excursions around the heat. Winters can also get surprisingly chilly—averages hover around 60 degrees but can dip into the forties—so dress warmly if you plan your trip in the colder months.
Big Bend is among the largest national parks in the United States. With numerous trails, mountains, canyons, and nearby villages to explore; each point of interest could easily yield itself to days of exploration. For the best experience resist making a set plan—allow yourself plenty of time to explore and discover each desert sanctuary at your own pace.
While the paved roads make it possible to explore much of the park’s natural beauty, many of the more obscure sights are hidden deep within the park’s interior on rough, dirt roads. To explore this rugged area bring a vehicle with four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance, and good tires.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and gaze at the night skies
Roadrunners, sparrows, and warblers are among the 450 species of birds found within Big Bend, home to more birds than any other national park. With a keen eye and a bit of luck, you can also spot jackrabbits, coyotes, black bears, mountain lions (known in Big Bend as panthers), and javelina—a hairier cousin to the familiar pig. Sunrise and sunset observations are recommended for optimal wildlife spotting and while the average smartphone may suffice take a camera capable of capturing the brilliant scenery at night.
This is dark sky country. Due to its relative isolation from major cities, this side of West Texas has some of the lowest levels of light pollution in the country. Thousands of stars are visible on a clear night and even the Milky Way can be seen under the darkest conditions earning it a designation by The International Dark-Sky Association. Consider bringing a telescope or simply lie down at night, looking up, and see what appears above.
Pass through Marfa on the way in and Terlingua Ghost Town on the way out
The tiny, peculiar artistic town of Marfa is about 100 miles north of Big Bend. Here you’ll find the El Cosmico hotel with rooms consisting of brightly colored vintage trailers, tepees, and yurts. The town acts as a venue for the annual Trans-Pecos festival in September containing a weekend’s worth of art, building, and songwriting workshops, artisanal markets, pop-up parties, live music of all genres, and the tense yearly sandlot baseball showdown between Austin’s Texas Playboys and the Los Yonke Gallos de Marfa.
Travel 30 minutes north on U.S. 90 to find the famous Prada Marfa art installation in neighboring Valentine, a tiny, fake store isolated within the surrounding landscape and complete with actual Prada shoes and handbags from the fall 2005 collection. Try heading east about 10 miles to watch for the mysterious Marfa Lights off of U.S. 67. Sometimes they’re red, sometimes they’re green, and sometimes they’re white. Visible at night regardless of season or weather, nobody is quite sure what causes them.
From Marfa travel 30 miles east on U.S. 90 to the town of Alpine and take TX-118 for 80 miles due south to Terlingua at the gates of Big Bend. The remnants of a mercury mining camp from the early 20th century, the former ghost town has become known for its charming assortment of gift shops, earthy hotels, and its famous chili cook-off in early November. Check out the Terlingua Trading Company for handmade gifts and grab a bite of chips and guacamole and catch live honky-tonk music at the old Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon. Spend a few days at Paisano Village RV Park & Inn to further explore the area.
Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and see Santa Elena Canyon in west Big Bend
At the western end of the park coming from Terlingua, the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is perfect for single-day trips. The paved road covers 30 miles of gorgeous desert scenery including stops at landmarks such as Sotol Vista, Tuff Canyon, and Mule Ears. The road ends at Santa Elena, one of the numerous river canyons within Big Bend.
Tour the Chisos Mountains in central Big Bend
In the center of Big Bend lies the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the United States fully contained within a single national park. Given their relatively high elevation—the summit of Emory Peak stands at 7,835 feet—the Chisos are typically 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the adjacent desert and home to a wide variety of shady juniper, mesquite, and oak. Within the 20 miles of trails here it’s a fairly easy hike to a beautiful view at the summit of Emory Peak. Camping is available here as well at the Chisos Basin Campground. If camping isn’t for you, try the stone cottages at the Chisos Mountain Lodge the only hotel within the park.
Visit the Hot Springs Historic District and Ernst Tinaja in east Big Bend
The eastern side of the park is home to Big Bend Hot Springs, a geothermally heated oasis now sitting within the remnants of an early 1900s bathhouse. Once a gathering place for locals, soak in the year-round 105-degree waters said to have healing properties and enjoy unobstructed views of the Rio Grande and into Mexico. A short trail passes Native American petroglyphs on the adjoining limestone cliffs and the still-standing Hot Springs Post Office where mail was delivered every Monday in the early 20th century.
What to know about camping in Big Bend National Park
When night falls, you’ll want to have an already reserved campsite so all you have to do is settle in. Here’s everything you need to know to secure that perfect Big Bend National Park camping spot.
There are four campgrounds inside Big Bend National Park—three park-operated camping areas with various services and one by an outside company. The three park-run campgrounds are Chisos Basin Campground, Rio Grande Village Campground, and Cottonwood Campground. All require advance reservations booked (up to 6 months in advance) through recreation.gov.
Chisos Basin Campground sits in a scenic mountain basin with views of Casa Grande and Emory Peak. There are plenty of hiking trails nearby, including Window Trail, a popular place to watch the sunset. The year-round campground has 60 sites with access to flush toilets, running water, and a dump station. There are no hook-ups, and trailers over 20 feet and RVs over 24 feet are not recommended.
The year-round Rio Grande Village Campground is nestled in a grove of trees near the Rio Grande. This is the place to go if you want access to more amenities—a store, laundromat, and visitor center are nearby. The park has 100 sites with access to flush toilets, running water, showers, and some sites with overhead shelters. A dump station is nearby.
The small Cottonwood Campground is more remote than the other campgrounds and has fewer services but tends to be quieter with plenty of shade. Cottonwood is a seasonal campground –(open November 1 to April 30) with 24 camp spots—all without hookups or generators.
While certain park-operated campgrounds allow RVs, you’ll want to head to the Rio Grande Village RV Park (operated by Forever Resorts) for a camping experience tailored to RV campers. All 25 sites at Rio Grande Village have full hook-ups—water, electrical, and sewer—and are built for RVs. The campground sits adjacent to the Rio Grande Village Store and allows pets. For reservations, call 432-477-2293.
Size: 801,163 acres
Date Established: June 12, 1944
Location: Southwest Texas
Recreational visits in 2020: 393,907
How the park got its name: Big Bend was named for the prominent bend of the Rio Grande River that runs through it along with the United States and Mexico border.
Did you know? Big Bend has more species of scorpions (14) than any other national park, including some species that have been found nowhere else in the world.
Big Bend is a land of strong beauty—often savage and always imposing.
There are tens of thousands of campsites across America, though not all offer breathtaking scenery. Many aren’t much more than a little dusty patch of earth. Some, however, offer campers spectacular vistas like these scenic campgrounds.
From Atlantic to Pacific, the US abounds with breathtaking scenery—and what better way to explore America’s beauty than an RV camping trip?
While many parks have distinct, built-up camping grounds to choose from with running water and electricity for RV parking (great for road trips), more experienced outdoors people can also find plenty of locations for backcountry camping where they can really rough it. Sleeping under the stars renews the spirit, and pitching a tent is a budget-friendly alternative to expensive.
Take a look at some of the amazing campsites, and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your camera.
Sage Creek Campground at Badlands National Park in South Dakota
Don’t underestimate the beauty of the Badlands. Between the many rock formations you’ll see there, you’ll also find prairies and places to peak at ancient fossils. There are two choices of campgrounds: Cedar Pass (with amenities like running water and electricity) and Sage Creek (with no running water but you can often see bison wandering around).
A stay at this primitive campground offers an authentic experience of the vast Badlands. Visitors can observe bison roaming the park’s prairie landscape, which abounds with colorful buttes formed from layers of sediment.
Devils Garden Campground at Arches National Park in Utah
Arches only has one campground, The Devils Garden, which has 50 campsites, but there are numerous other places to camp nearby in the Moab area.
At Devils Garden Campground, visitors spend the night among the natural sandstone formations of Arches National Park. During the day, they can hike through the desert landscape, admiring the flowering cacti and juniper trees.
One of the most popular trails, the Delicate Arch Trail, takes you on an amazing hike full of photo opportunities.
Campground at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina
Hunting Island is South Carolina’s single most popular state park, attracting more than a million visitors a year, as well as a vast array of land and marine wildlife. Five miles of pristine beaches, thousands of acres of marsh and maritime forest, a saltwater lagoon and ocean inlet, and a 100-site campground are all part of the park’s natural allure.
Each camping site offers water and 20/30/50-amp electric service. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; other up to 28 feet.
Campground at Edisto Beach State Park in South Carolina
Edisto Beach on Edisto Island is one of four oceanfront state parks in South Carolina. Edisto Beach State Park features trails for hiking and biking that provide a wonderful tour of the park. The park’s environmental education center is a “green” building with exhibits that highlight the natural history of Edisto Island and the surrounding ACE Basin.
Camping with water and electrical hookups is available ocean-side or near the salt marsh. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers.
Campground at Gulf State Park in Alabama
Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls, and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into.
Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full-hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. Tents are welcome on all sites.
Campground at Laura S. Walker State Park in Georgia
Located near the northern edge of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming and boating
The park has 64 camping sites; 44 sites offer electric utilities and accommodate RVs up to 40 feet.
Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.