The Complete Guide to Coconino National Forest

From the famous red rocks of Sedona to Ponderosa pine forests, from southwestern desert to alpine tundra, the Coconino National Forest is one of the most diverse and unforgettable destinations in the country

Stretching across two million acres of northern Arizona, the Coconino National Forest is a captivating tapestry of natural wonders and diverse ecosystems. Originally established in 1898 as the San Francisco Mountains National Forest Reserve, it gained its current designation as a U.S. National Forest in 1908.

Named after the Coho Native American people, the forest encompasses three distinct districts: Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim, and Red Rock. From the awe-inspiring peaks of the San Francisco range to the iconic red rock formations near Sedona, the landscape is as varied as it is breathtaking.

With elevations ranging from 2,600 to 12,633 feet, the forest boasts a mosaic of environments including deserts, ponderosa pine forests, alpine tundra, and ancient volcanic peaks. Beyond its stunning natural beauty, Coconino National Forest preserves a historical narrative reflecting the delicate balance between human settlement and environmental conservation. Today, it stands as a sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts beckoning visitors to explore its trails, discover hidden canyons, and connect with the timeless allure of the Arizona wilderness.

Oak Creek Canyon in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Features of the Coconino National Forest

San Francisco Peaks: Dominating the Flagstaff District, the San Francisco Peaks are a majestic volcanic range showcasing the highest point in Arizona—Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet. This ancient volcanic field covers 1,800 square miles featuring tree-covered cinder cones, lava flows, and the intriguing Lava River Cave. The peaks provide a diverse and captivating landscape for exploration.

Red rock formations: The Red Rock District unveils the iconic red rock formations, mesas, and canyons that have made the region famous. These geological wonders sculpted by millions of years of erosion contribute to Sedona’s status as Arizona’s second most popular tourist attraction. The vibrant red hues and intricate formations create a breathtaking and unique landscape.

Mogollon Rim: Defining the southern edge of the forest, the Mogollon Rim stretches across central Arizona marking the boundary of the Colorado Plateau. The Mogollon Rim District features a dense ponderosa pine forest, lakes, and perennial streams. This area serves as a transition zone between the high-altitude plateaus and lower elevations, offering diverse ecological habitats and picturesque scenery.

Diverse vegetation zones: Coconino National Forest boasts varied vegetation zones from the arid lowlands with shrubs and sagebrush to the towering stands of ponderosa pine in high-altitude plateaus.

Verde Canyon Railway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historical landmarks: The forest preserves historical landmarks including Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. These sites offer insights into ancient civilizations and volcanic activity adding cultural depth to the Coconino National Forest experience. Exploring these landmarks provides a connection to the region’s rich history.

Recreational lakes: Natural lakes like Mormon Lake, Ashurst Lake, and Marshall Lake dot the landscape offering recreational opportunities such as fishing and boating. Additionally, manmade reservoirs like Upper Lake Mary and Lower Lake Mary provide water resources and scenic spots. These lakes contribute to the diverse recreational activities available within the forest.

Distinct districts: Divided into three districts—Flagstaff, Mogollon Rim, and Red Rock—the forest ensures a varied experience. The Flagstaff Ranger District surrounds the San Francisco Peaks, the Mogollon Rim Ranger District showcases a dense ponderosa pine forest, and the Red Rock Ranger District captivates with its famous red rock formations. Each district offers unique ecosystems ensuring a comprehensive exploration of Coconino National Forest’s vast and varied terrain.

Schnebly Hill Road in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Established against the backdrop of the late 19th-century expansion and evolving land management practices, the Coconino National Forest has a rich and storied history. In 1898, President William McKinley responded to Gifford Pinchot’s advocacy for forest conservation by creating the San Francisco Mountain Forest Reserve. However, local opposition in Williams, Arizona, viewed the reserve as detrimental to Coconino County. In 1905, the Forest Reserves transitioned to the Department of Agriculture, marking a pivotal shift toward federal management.

Finally, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt merged various forest reserves including the San Francisco Mountains to form the Coconino National Forest. Covering two million acres, this diverse landscape became a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and a testament to the delicate balance between human settlement and environmental preservation. Today, the Coconino National Forest stands as a testament to the enduring importance of conservation and sustainable land management in the American West.

Oak Creek near Sedona in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique location of Coconino National Forest

Located in northern Arizona, the Coconino National Forest covers a vast two million acres extending from the vicinity of Flagstaff. Its elevations range from 2,600 feet to Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak at 12,633 feet. What makes it special is the wide range of landscapes it includes. From the red rock formations near Sedona to the famous San Francisco Peaks in the Flagstaff District and the dense ponderosa pine forests along the Mogollon Rim, the Coconino National Forest boasts a diverse mix of ecosystems.

It not only surrounds lively towns like Sedona and Flagstaff but also shares boundaries with four other national forests, making it an essential part of the expansive Arizona wilderness. The forest’s strategic location contributes to its unique blend of geological wonders, rich biodiversity, and recreational opportunities making it a must-visit for those wanting to explore the varied beauty of the American Southwest.

Red Rock Scenic Byway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vegetation and plant species in Coconino National Forest:

Ponderosa pine forests: The Coconino National Forest is renowned for its extensive ponderosa pine forests covering vast expanses of the landscape. These towering and aromatic trees thrive in the high-altitude plateaus particularly between 6,500 and 8,000 feet contributing to the forest’s distinctive and pleasant fragrance.

Engelmann spruce and blue spruce: At the highest elevations particularly around the San Francisco Peaks the forest hosts coniferous species such as Engelmann spruce and blue spruce. These hardy trees are adapted to the challenging conditions of alpine environments adding to the unique character of the highest reaches of the Coconino National Forest.

Bristlecone pine: The high-altitude regions including areas near Humphreys Peak are home to the bristlecone pine. These ancient trees, known for their twisted and gnarled appearance are among the oldest living organisms on Earth adding a sense of historical depth to the forest.

Corkbark fir: A variety of subalpine fir known as corkbark fir is found in isolated areas of the Coconino National Forest specifically around the San Francisco Peaks. This unique tree species contributes to the biodiversity of the high-elevation zones.

Juniper-pinyon woodlands: In the lower elevations between 4,500 and 6,500 feet the forest transitions to juniper-pinyon woodlands. Species like alligator juniper and Utah juniper dominate this region accompanied by Arizona cypress, manzanita, and pinyon pine.

Quaking aspen: Scattered among the ponderosa pine forests particularly between 6,500 and 8,000 feet, quaking aspen stands offer a visually striking contrast with their white bark and vibrant golden leaves in the fall. Aspen stands are often the first to regenerate after wildfires contributing to forest renewal.

Alpine tundra vegetation: Above 11,000 feet, the Coconino National Forest features the only alpine tundra region in Arizona. Here, vegetation is sparse with small grasses, lichens, and alpine wildflowers dotting the landscape showcasing the resilience of life in extreme conditions.

Deciduous trees in Oak Creek Canyon: Part of the Red Rock District, Oak Creek Canyon stands out for its deciduous trees. In the fall, the canyon becomes a popular leaf-peeping destination as deciduous trees such as oak and maple dominate the vegetation offering a burst of autumnal colors.

Grand Canyon Railway in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Elk: The Coconino National Forest is a sanctuary for elk where these magnificent creatures roam through the ponderosa pine forests and open meadows. With their impressive antlers and graceful presence, elk are a common sight especially during the cooler months when they gather in larger groups. The forest’s diverse landscapes provide ideal habitats for elk making it a key destination for wildlife enthusiasts hoping to witness these majestic herbivores in their natural environment.

Mule deer: Mule deer are a familiar sight throughout the Coconino National Forest adapting to various habitats across the region. Whether traversing the high-altitude plateaus or navigating the edges of the ponderosa pine forests, these adaptable herbivores are integral to the forest’s ecosystem. Their presence adds to the allure of the Coconino National Forest offering glimpses of these agile and resilient mammals against the backdrop of the diverse landscapes.

Mountain lion: The elusive mountain lion, a symbol of stealth and power finds a home in the Coconino National Forest. Though rarely seen by visitors these solitary predators play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance within the forest. Navigating the rugged canyons and dense woodlands, mountain lions are a testament to the wild and untouched nature of this expansive landscape.

Black bear: Iconic symbols of North American wilderness, black bears inhabit the Coconino National Forest with occasional sightings reported particularly in the Mogollon Rim District. These omnivores contribute to the forest’s biodiversity foraging for food in the diverse ecosystems that range from dense forests to open meadows. The presence of black bears underscores the importance of the Coconino National Forest as a haven for various mammalian species.

Bobcat: In the Coconino National Forest the elusive bobcat with its tufted ears and spotted coat adds a touch of mystery to the forested landscapes. These skilled predators navigate the transition zones where forests meet open spaces. The bobcat’s presence highlights the delicate balance maintained by the forest’s ecosystem.

Abert’s squirrel: The ponderosa pine forests of the Coconino National Forest are home to the distinctive Abert’s squirrel. Recognizable by its tufted ears and grayish fur, this arboreal squirrel is well-adapted to life among the towering pine trees. Their presence adds a lively element to the forest canopy contributing to the rich biodiversity of the Coconino National Forest.

Golden eagles: High above the diverse landscapes of the Coconino National Forest, golden eagles soar through the expansive skies. These majestic raptors showcase the importance of the forest as a habitat for various bird species. With their keen eyesight and impressive wingspan, golden eagles contribute to the avian diversity that characterizes the skies above this vast and varied landscape.

Gila monster: In the lower elevations, the Coconino National Forest is home to the Gila monster, a unique and venomous lizard. Thriving in the desert shrublands within the forest, the Gila monster adds a touch of exoticism to the region’s wildlife. This distinctive reptile is a testament to the diversity of habitats within the Coconino National Forest.

Mexican spotted owl: The old-growth forests in parts of the Coconino National Forest provide a crucial habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species facing conservation challenges.

Trout species: The lakes and streams within the Coconino National Forest such as Upper Lake Mary and Oak Creek teem with various trout species. These aquatic ecosystems not only provide recreational opportunities for fishing enthusiasts but also contribute to the overall biodiversity of the forest. The presence of diverse trout species reflects the health and vitality of the forest’s waterways.

The Coconino National Forest’s diverse fauna from iconic large mammals to elusive predators, arboreal creatures, and unique reptiles, underscores the ecological richness of this Arizona landscape. Conservation efforts within the forest contribute to the overall health of these ecosystems providing a unique opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts to experience a rich tapestry of biodiversity.

Arizona Route 89A in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Activities in Coconino National Forest

1. Hiking and trail exploration

The Coconino National Forest offers an extensive network of hiking trails that cater to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts. Whether exploring the lush landscapes around Oak Creek or trekking through the high-altitude plateaus near Flagstaff, visitors can immerse themselves in the diverse beauty of the forest. Trails like the West Fork of Oak Creek Trail provide a scenic journey through canyons and alongside babbling creeks, creating a memorable hiking experience.

2. Scenic drives

For those who prefer a more leisurely exploration, scenic drives within the Coconino National Forest offer breathtaking views of its diverse landscapes. The Forest Roads such as the scenic drive along the Mogollon Rim provide opportunities to witness the forest’s grandeur from the comfort of a vehicle. Visitors can take in panoramic vistas, ancient volcanic peaks, and the iconic red rock formations surrounding Sedona.

3. Wildlife watching

The forest’s diverse ecosystems make it an ideal habitat for a wide array of wildlife. Visitors can engage in wildlife watching activities hoping to spot elk, mule deer, and a variety of bird species. The forest’s status as a wildlife corridor enhances the chances of encountering these creatures in their natural habitats creating a unique and enriching experience for nature enthusiasts.

4. Fishing in lakes and streams

Coconino National Forest features numerous lakes and streams including Upper Lake Mary and Oak Creek providing excellent opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Trout species thrive in these clear waters offering a serene and picturesque setting for anglers. Fishing permits are typically required adding to the regulated and sustainable nature of this recreational activity.

5. Camping and picnicking

The forest provides an array of camping options from established campgrounds to dispersed camping in more remote areas. Camping allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the natural surroundings with the sound of rustling leaves and the scent of ponderosa pine filling the air. Picnic areas are also available providing a peaceful setting for outdoor meals amidst the forest’s beauty.

6. Mountain biking

Mountain biking enthusiasts can explore designated trails that wind through the Coconino National Forest offering a thrilling way to experience its diverse terrain. Trails like the Soldiers Pass Trail near Sedona cater to bikers of various skill levels providing an adrenaline-packed adventure through red rock formations and shaded canyons.

7. Rock climbing

The unique geological features of the Coconino National Forest especially around Sedona make it a popular destination for rock climbing and bouldering. Climbers can challenge themselves on the red sandstone cliffs with routes that offer both breathtaking views and a sense of accomplishment upon reaching the summit.

8. Stargazing

The forest’s expansive and less light-polluted areas make it an excellent location for stargazing. Visitors can witness a dazzling night sky especially in higher elevations where constellations, planets, and the Milky Way become visible. Stargazing events and programs are occasionally hosted to enhance the celestial experience for visitors.

The Coconino National Forest provides a diverse range of activities ensuring there’s something for every nature lover and outdoor adventurer. Whether seeking serene moments in nature, engaging in recreational pursuits, or embarking on thrilling adventures visitors can tailor their experience to fully appreciate the beauty and diversity this forest has to offer.

Jerome in the Coconino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Coconino National Forest stands as a testament to the extraordinary diversity and beauty that the American Southwest has to offer. From the towering ponderosa pine forests and iconic red rock formations to the serene lakes and high-altitude plateaus, this expansive landscape captivates the senses and beckons explorers to its scenic trails.

Here are a few more articles to help you explore the area:

Looking for more on national forests? Here are some articles to help:

Worth Pondering…

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

—Willa Cather

What is Seasonal Camping? Is It for You?

Are you looking for a way to enjoy RVing without the hassles of packing, towing, and setting up? If so, seasonal camping just might be for you.

Do you search for a convenient weekend retreat to spend quality time outdoors? Consider a seasonal getaway or yearly vacation tradition at a campground or RV resort near you. Seasonal camping is a great way to enjoy your favourite destination and activities time and time again.

What is seasonal camping?

A seasonal campsite is just like a regular campsite rather, rented for a long term. As the name suggests a seasonal is generally over the whole camping season which typically runs from the months of April to October in many northern campgrounds. Head south, and you’ll find campgrounds and RV resorts offering seasonal sites on a three-month, six-month, or year-round basis.

Ultimately at any location, seasonal RVers tend to leave their camper right on-site for the extended duration versus routine travel. This gives couples, solo travelers, or camping families an amazing place to retreat to, similar to a second home, getaway cottage, or vacation rental but with their own RV parked on their own piece of paradise.

Some seasonal campers choose a campground close to home while others snag a spot at a favorite destination even if it is a bit of a drive. Your trailer or motorhome will be parked for the season and you can come and go as you please.

Ambassador RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Caldwell, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is seasonal camping for you?

Seasonal camping might appeal to you if:

  • You like to head to the campground at the last minute: If you find yourself deciding to camp on short notice, you may have trouble finding open campsites. Having a seasonal spot means no more making reservations.
  • You dislike the weekend camping hustle: By the time you get off work on Friday, get home, and get hooked up and packed up, you are exhausted when you arrive at the campground. You face the same struggle when you get home on Sunday. Having a seasonal spot means you can load up the essentials and head to the campground with much less hassle.
  • You are paying for off-site storage: If you have a HOA or other reasons for not storing your RV at home, you might find a seasonal campsite that costs only slightly more than paying for storage.
  • You would like to be part of a community: Some campgrounds have a lot of seasonal campers and you may enjoy socializing at the campground (of course, you may discover you don’t like this aspect!).
  • You’d like an affordable vacation home: If you’ve considered getting a vacation home near one of your favorite destinations, a seasonal campsite would give you a similar experience while also allowing the flexibility to take your RV offsite for trips.
Monte Vista RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why choose seasonal camping? There are many advantages.

  • Camp more often: Seasonal camping allows you to camp more often because you don’t have to worry about searching for and booking a different campsite every time you want an adventure. If your seasonal spot is close to home weekend getaways are even easier.
  • Less stress over packing: With a seasonal campsite your RV and belongings are already set up for you when you arrive after a long workweek. You can spend less time packing and more time enjoying your weekend.
  • Make last minute decisions: If you find yourself deciding to camp on short notice, you may have trouble finding open campsites. Having a seasonal spot means no more making reservations.
  • Meet other campers: You are able to easily meet and make new friends with the other campers at the site. Seasonal camping allows you to be a part of the community at your specific campsite.
  • Save money: This value can vary greatly due to family size, location, and other personal preferences. So, if you plan on camping often, becoming a seasonal camper can save you money.
Sun Outdoors Pigeon Forge is a popular seasonal park in Sevierville, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sounds good? Before you decide seasonal camping is for you, here are some things to consider:

  • Find a place that you love: Consider your favorite campgrounds and decide if you’d be happy to stay there for an entire season.
  • Do your research before committing: Talk to other campers in the park and see if they are having a good experience. If you decide to stay for more than a few days at a time, can you get the supplies you need easily? What is the storage situation? What is the campground’s policy on guests? Are there activities and attractions close by? What about shopping? Location is important!
  • Give it a try first: Rent a spot for a couple of weeks. Leave your RV and see how you like the experience of coming and going. Ask yourself if the drive is too long. Be sure to include a holiday camping weekend to see how much the atmosphere changes.
  • Calculate your costs: Does the cost of a seasonal spot fit your budget? Will it be worth your while in the long run? Understand what is and what is not included (for example, some campgrounds charge extra based on usage for electricity or water on seasonal sites). Find out the exact dates that are included. Some seasonal sites can be rented for the whole year while other parks offer shorter seasons. Find out whether you have to pay the fee upfront or is it there a pay-by-month option. Ask about cancellation fees if you decide the park isn’t for you.
Settlers Point RV Resort is a popular seasonal park in Washington, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for finding the perfect seasonal campground

Here are five tips for finding the perfect seasonal campground.

1. Find a place that you love going back to again and again

Lots of campgrounds are just fine for a night or two but how enjoyable is the campground for repeat visits? Think about the location, the amenities, the campsites, and the overall atmosphere as you consider how often you’d like to camp in a particular park.

2. Do your research and ask the right questions

There are a lot of elements to consider when you are looking at a long-term spot. Are other seasonal campers happy with their experience at this park? Will you be surrounded by other seasonal campers or overnighters? Can you get Amazon deliveries? Can you store stuff outside of your RV? Try to think about all of the items that contribute to a great experience and think of things that make the long-term experience different from a short-term stay.

3. Check out the surrounding area

If you are returning to the same campground again and again, chances are you will also be exploring the local area. Does it offer the kinds of activities, restaurants, shops, and amenities you will need and enjoy? As with buying a home, think location, location, location.

4. Do a trial run of weekends

Try out the seasonal camping experience by renting a spot for a couple of weeks. Leave your RV and see how you like the experience of coming and going. You’ll soon figure out how far of a drive works for your situation. Be sure to include a holiday camping weekend to see how much the atmosphere changes.

5. Calculate your costs

Does the cost of a seasonal spot make sense for your budget? Sure, it will cost more but if you get out camping more, the cost could be well worth the experience.  A seasonal sites may cost anywhere between $2,000 to $10,000 per year. Make sure you understand what is and what is not included (for example, some campgrounds charge extra based on usage for electricity or water on seasonal sites).

Find out the exact dates that are included. Some seasonal sites can be rented for the whole year, while other parks offer shorter seasons. Ask whether you have to pay the fee upfront, or is it there a pay-by-month option. Also, you may want to check into any cancellation fees if you decide the park isn’t for you.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

The Ultimate Guide to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a National Park Service (NPS) site with 1.5 million acres of mesmerizing landscapes, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes of vibrant blue waters. This park is a playground for adventurers who love hiking, watersports, fishing, boating, scuba diving, and more.

This national recreation area offers a chance to see the Hoover Dam, enjoy the waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead, and retreat into nature in one of the park’s 9 designated wilderness areas.

Where Is Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The closest major city to this park is Las Vegas, 26 miles away. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area opening hours and seasons

This national recreation area is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This facility is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

Driving to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are nine access points to this national recreation area so the route you choose will depend on the area from which you are coming and the entrance you want to utilize for your arrival. The best and most popular entrance is the one that takes you to the visitor center. U.S. Highway 93 is the main road used by those driving to the park. 

Getting around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The best way to get around this park is by private vehicle. This vast recreation area has so many sites and attractions to explore; the best way to do this is by driving to the different areas and exploring on foot.

Of course, another good way to explore the park on the water is by boating or paddling on the bright blue waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to see and do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area covers 1.5 million acres of canyons, lakes, valleys, and mountains. There is no shortage of adventure at this park. Check out some of the most popular activities and sights at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Boating

Over 290 square miles of waterways are within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide some of the best boating opportunities for those who love to explore the park on the water. Whether you want to speed through the open water or float in a private cove, there are many fun and relaxation opportunities here. 

Boat rentals are available at the marinas on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Many types of boats are available to rent, including sports boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, pontoons, and houseboats. These locations also rent out water skis and wakeboards for even more adventures. 

Tip: Be sure to read the park’s boating rules and regulations to ensure you have a fun, safe time.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canoeing and kayaking

Thanks to all the water within the park’s boundaries, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at this national recreation area. The views from the calm lake waters and majestic mountains surrounding them are breathtaking.

The Black Canyon Water Trail and Mohave Water Trail are the most popular trails for paddling but there are also many hidden coves throughout the park just waiting to be discovered.

Guided tours

A variety of guided tours are offered at this national recreation area. The park’s visitor center is a wonderful place to learn about the various tour options.

Some of the guided tour options include cruises, ranger-led hikes, and hunting and fishing adventures. The most popular tours include the Cruise to the Hoover Dam and the Float Down the Colorado River. There are also self-guided options should you choose to explore on your own. Taking advantage of the many tour options is a fantastic way to learn about and explore this impressive area. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

Although most visitors are attracted to Lake Mead National Recreation Area because of lakes Mead and Mohave more than 87 percent of the park protects a vast area of the eastern Mojave Desert. Perhaps the best way to explore this diverse ecosystem is on foot, traveling across open expanses of rock formations that contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Which trail is right for you? There are a variety of hikes that vary in difficulty and length. These trails are in the Lake Mead and Lake Mojave areas. The hiking trails show off the park’s diverse ecosystems and take hikers past incredible rainbow-colored rock formations, canons, and washes.

Some of the favorite trails include the Historic Railroad Trail, River Mountains Loop, and Owl Canyon. The best time to hike here is from October to April. The temperatures are cooler during these months and the journey is much more enjoyable. Visitors are not recommended to hike during the summer months as the temperatures are dangerously high. 

Scenic drives

There are two main scenic drives in Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. These drives travel through the mountains, canyons, and desert basins. Driving these roads offers visitors excellent opportunities to enjoy the views and capture photos of the bright blue waters and colorful mountains.

Visitors also enjoy stopping for picnics while driving along these roads. Cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife use these scenic roads, so stay alert and mindful of those sharing the road with you. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor center

The Lake Mead Visitor Center is an excellent place to visit before starting your park adventures. This facility is just a few miles north of the Hoover Dam and has so much to offer park visitors. 

Park rangers are stationed at the visitor center to help you plan a fantastic adventure or answer any questions. You can obtain park maps brochures, get a national park passport stamp, or turn in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn your Junior Ranger Badge.

There is also a store inside this facility that is run by the Western National Parks Association. This store offers guests a chance to buy books about the park, Native American arts, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, and postcards.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best times to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

You’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip any time you’re able to visit this national recreation area. There are better times than others to plan a trip here especially if you hope to participate in particular activities. Take a look at the best times to visit this park.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for summer fun

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is an exciting place for summer fun. The best time to visit during the summer months is in June. The high temperatures typically reach the upper 90s and the lows dip down to the low 70s. There is an average of 0 days of precipitation during the time making the summer adventure opportunities never-ending.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area to avoid the crowds

The best way to explore a new place is without having to worry about crowds and traffic. If you want to experience this national recreation area without crowds, plan to come in November. This time of year is the least busy making it a perfect time to enjoy the park at your own pace. 

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for ideal weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is a great idea. If you want to experience this park when the weather is ideal, plan to come in April. The daily lows are in the mid-50s and the highs are in the upper 70s. It typically only rains an average of 1 day in April but it’s wise to come prepared for rain just in case.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual events in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area hosts several events on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of the regularly scheduled events include star parties, guided hikes through the wetlands, and hikes to Majestic Canyon. There are also some annual events.

National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup

Each September, Lake Mead National Recreation Area participates in the National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup. This free event is an excellent way for visitors to positively impact the park and help remove litter from the beaches and other areas. A benefit to visiting on this day is that participants will receive a voucher to visit a federal public land at no charge. 

Rage Triathlon

Each year in April, the Rage Triathlon takes place at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This race has taken place since 2001 and offers a fantastic way to experience this park. It winds through beach campgrounds and along river and mountain trails. The Rage Triathlon is considered one of the region’s most scenic desert landscape triathlons.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has an abundance of options for those who want to stay within the park’s boundaries or in a nearby town. Check out some of the best places to stay both in and near this recreation area. 

Inside the park

There are many options for accommodations within this national recreation area. From campgrounds to resorts and lodges, the options are many. Check out some of the different places to stay within this park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campgrounds

Spend your next camping adventure on the lake. With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes sure to please everyone. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables and shade. RVs and tents are welcome.

Most of the campgrounds can be reserved but there are a few that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service such as Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, Cottonwood Cove, Echo Bay, Las Vegas Bay, and Temple Bar.

Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park. These campgrounds include Katherin Landing and Willow Beach.

Bottom line:

If you prefer to set up camp and sleep under the stars, you will find so many options at Lake Mead that you may have difficulty narrowing down where to pitch your tent.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina is a beautiful option for those wanting to stay within the park’s boundaries. This Spanish-style resort is right off the shores of Lake Mohave and offers red-roofed motel rooms and lots of amenities for a comfortable stay. 

This lodging option features covered outdoor patios with tables and chairs for lounging and taking in breathtaking sunsets and lakefront views. There are also outdoor barbecues for those who prefer to cook outdoors. 

Another unique choice for visitors who want to get off the grid is renting a houseboat during your stay. This is a great way to experience the lake and take a break from the duties of home.

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Several types of accommodations are available at Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing. Visitors can choose from mid-century-style rooms, a full hook-up RV or tent site, and even private homes. This resort has gorgeous views of the desert scenery and Lake Mohave.

The lodge offers standard double or standard king rooms. These rooms feature a private bathroom, air conditioning, coffee makers, and satellite televisions to make you feel at home. There is also a spectacular restaurant on-site to take care of any cravings you may have during your stay. 

Visitors who stay here can enjoy world-class boating, water skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and striper bass. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temple Bar Marina Resort

Temple Bar Marina Resort is located on Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the park. This resort offers lake view lodging, an RV park, access to hundreds of beaches and coves, an on-site store, gift shop, café, bar, and launch ramp. This is an incredible option for a home base when visiting this national recreation area. 

Temple Bar has standard motel rooms and cabins for those who want a more traditional type of stay. Visitors can choose from standard rooms with lake views or desert views, fishing cabins, or suites with kitchen access. Whatever type of stay you prefer this resort has a perfect solution for your travel needs. 

Towns near Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are several towns near this recreation area for those who prefer to set up a base camp outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you seek a quiet, small town or a lively, larger city, there’s a perfect place for you in these towns.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City is a charming small town with a rich historical heritage, only 6 miles from the park. For those wanting to stay near the recreation area, this town has a variety of options for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

This city has a variety of accommodations including RV resorts, contemporary hotels, and budget-friendly motels. Whether you’re looking for a unique stay in a themed motel, a luxury stay in a hotel, or a relaxing visit to a resort, there are plenty of options in this city. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this city. A variety of restaurants, including cafes, sushi bars, diners, and Mexican taquerias are scattered throughout this town.

For recreation, there are incredible opportunities available in this town. From kayaking to golfing, visiting museums, and exploring several types of parks, there’s no shortage of fun here. You are also in the perfect location for exploring famous landmarks like the Hoover Dam. 

Boulder City is an ideal home away from home for those visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its proximity to the park and its incredible opportunities for food, fun, and lodging make the choice of where to settle an easy one. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Henderson, Nevada

Henderson is located approximately 19 miles from the national recreation area. This city is a great place to make a home base during a visit to this park. It has perfect options for those traveling with family, friends, or solo. 

The accommodations in this town range from luxury hotels to smaller, more affordable motels to 5-star luxury resorts. Whatever budget or type of stay you have in mind, you can find a perfect option for your vacation needs here. 

This city has fantastic restaurants including pizza parlors, formal dining rooms, authentic cultural cuisine, diners, and cafes. This city has something to offer every palate. 

If you’re looking for fun, this is the right place. Henderson has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, playgrounds, splash pads, skate parks, and bicycle trails.

Where to eat in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are eight different restaurants within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These restaurants serve a variety of cuisines and are located in or near the marinas. Here are two popular choices.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Harbor House Café and Lounge

The Harbor House Café and Lounge is a floating restaurant and bar right on Lake Mead. This dining option serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks daily. 

The menu seems endless at this restaurant. From freshly tossed salads to stacked sandwiches, breakfast specialties, and fish and chips, there’s something for every palate here. Some of the most popular menu items include the classic club sandwich, buffalo chicken wrap, and the Harbor Burger.

Be sure to stop by this café and lounge when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Not only will you enjoy a fantastic meal but you can also take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding slips, lake, and mountains. 

Temple Bar Café

Temple Bar Café is located at the Temple Bar Marina. This restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast burritos, stacks of fluffy pancakes, signature sandwiches, juicy burgers, and sizzling pizzas are just some of the items on the menu here. Customers rave about patty melt, Rueben sandwiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, and home-cooked weekly specials. 

For a delicious meal in this recreation area, you won’t regret a stop at Temple Bar Café. It’s a great place to rest up and refuel for more adventures in the park.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area facts

1. Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964. This was America’s first national recreation area. 

2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the third largest NPS area other than the parks in Alaska. This recreation area covers 1.5 million acres. 

3. This area was occupied by desert Indian cultures that existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s believed that the ancestral Puebloan people were the first to inhabit this land. These people group hunted game, gathered edible plants in the area, and practiced farming.

4. Lake Mead is a large reservoir on the Colorado River. This lake was formed by Hoover Dam located in Black Canyon. Lake Mead is the largest U.S. reservoir by volume coming in right before Lake Powell. 

5. An abundance of animals call Lake Mead National Recreation Area home thanks to its diverse ecosystems. These animals have special adaptations that help them survive the harsh environment. Some commonly seen animals here include the Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and 19 species of bats. 

Final thoughts

Whether you seek outdoor adventure or solitude in nature, Lake Mead National Recreational Area is a bucket list location. With so many options to hike, fish, boat, view wildlife, attend a guided program, and tour amazing places, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this beautiful park. Book your trip to Lake Mead today and discover what brings in millions of visitors from around the world each year.

Details

  • Area: 1,495,806 acres
  • Established: October 13, 1936
  • Recreation visits in 2023: 5,798,541
  • Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

Memorial Day Weekend: Let’s Go Camping

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

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

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

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

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

Wondering where to camp?

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Waveland, Mississippi

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

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Elephant Butte State Park

Cedar Pass Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Hunting Island State Park

Blanco State Park, Texas

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

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

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Laura S. Walker State Park

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Myakka River State Park

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

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

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

Get more tips for visiting My Old Kentucky Home State Park

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

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

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snow Canyon State Park, Utah

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Snow Canyon State Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Laura S. Walker State Park Plus a Bonus

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman, an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven

Waycross is located in the heart of beautiful Southeast Georgia at the northern tip of the Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife Refuge. Waycross is a nationally-recognized Main Street City filled with Southern hospitality and charm. From the historic downtown district to the swamp lands of the Okefenokee, there is something for everyone.

The city sits on the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, the land of the trembling earth, one of Georgia’s natural wonders. Waycross is home to one of the most unique ecosystems on the planet. The swamp is teeming with wildlife and flora you won’t find anywhere else. Carnivorous pitcher plants, alligators, and a seemingly endless variety of birds make Waycross the perfect place for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there is so much more to this historic town. Down-home cooking at local restaurants, comfortable accommodations, a thriving downtown business district, and a music scene that continues to draw on the city’s rich musical past make Waycross a great place to visit for everyone in the family.

But Laura S. Walker State Park was the initial reason for driving our RV 55 miles northeast of Kingsland on I-95 to Waycross.

Laura S. Walker seemed quite small when we first arrived compared to the other parks I’ve been to recently but that’s just because I didn’t realize how spread out it was.

The initial entrance gives you two options, going straight into the RV parking and their group summer camp rental or left to the picnic areas, big group shelters, and amenities.

Something this state park offers that none of the others I’ve visited is a dog park. It was fairly large too with a couple benches and a splattering of trees.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two sand volleyball courts were also in the main section of the park as well as a large playground right on the edge of the lake and exercise equipment for a full body workout.

Heading over to where the boat ramp disappears in the water there is a gazebo with a fan.

I was very excited by this and after I explored everywhere went back to it so I could enjoy sitting under it for a while. It gave me the chance to enjoy the fresh air while both having a constant breeze, albeit warm, and not having the sun blasting down on me.

As I sat and ate a snack, I could hear the laughter of the families playing in the park’s small sand beach. It’s even roped off to keep people from swimming out too far and to keep the boats from coming in too close. A disclaimer though, there are no lifeguards at this swimming spot so please make sure you are safe if you choose to swim here.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If swimming doesn’t interest you, there are two main trails at Laura S. Walker State Park, the Lake Trail and the Big Creek Nature Trail with a couple small connecting trails.

Though I didn’t make it this far on the Lake Trail (because I primarily walked the other one and then ran out of time) there is a boardwalk that passes by an egret rookery with a wildlife observation platform. That is something I would like to come back and see and photograph.

Critters and plants that can be found on the trails at Laura S. Walker State Park are snakes, alligators, pitcher plants, gopher tortoise, otters, saw palmettos, and a variety of pine and oak.

The main thing I found unique about this state park is there is one primary entrance but if you know where to go there are other parking lots around the back of the lake with a separate boat ramp, entrance to the lake trail, and more group shelters for parties.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I discovered these hidden gems on the way to take a peek at The Lakes Golf Course at Laura S. Walker State Park.

This 18-hole course features three different lakes and accommodates both junior and adult players.

After noticing the parking lot to the golf course was quite full, I didn’t want to take a parking spot for too long since I wasn’t there to golf and it was off to Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Ownership of the swamp was transferred to the State of Georgia in 1955; however, Okefenokee Association, Inc. still leases the land for the Okefenokee Swamp Park as a private non-profit.

Though the swamp was placed under permanent protection as a National Wilderness area by Congress during President Gerald Ford’s era it is not a Georgia State Park.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What it is, however, is one of Georgia’s Seven Wonders.

Covering roughly 700 square miles, Okefenokee is the largest swamp in North America, spanning across four counties: Ware, Charlton, Brantley, and Clinch.

25 dollars gets an adult one 45-minute train ride through the drier parts of the swamp as well as a 25-minute nature instruction.

For an extra $10 there is the option to also have a 45-minute tour through the swamp via a jon boat.

Not to mention just the landscape itself is so unique to be in. Not many places a person can be in a swamp like that and have a wild alligator only a handful of feet away from you in the water.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee also has an adventure camp as well with its own entrance on the other side, but I chose to go to the entrance that was only 10 miles from the park. I wanted to be able to get a taste of the swamp without having to spend all day there.

Maybe another year I’ll go back and explore the swamp further but I’m really glad I decided to spend a day at Laura. S. Walker State Park.

Worth Pondering…

There’s no other place in the world like the Okefenokee.

—Francis Harper

How to Go Camping in National Parks: Tips and Tricks for the Best Experience

If you missed National Park Week, you can still celebrate by camping in one of the country’s pristine national parks

Did you know you can camp overnight in many national parks? It’s one of the best ways to enjoy a national park—you can spend a night under the stars far from the noise and traffic of busy cities and enjoy an immersive experience instead of simply passing through.

The National Park Service (NPS) recently commemorated National Park Week which ran April 20-28 this year with a slew of celebrations. If you missed out on the fun, you can still celebrate by visiting a national park and even camping in one. Here is some advice for having the best experience camping at a national park.

Camping at Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to go camping in national parks

1. Reserve a campsite

Not every national park has a campground, but most do. You can find which parks have campsites on the NPS Find a Campground locator.

Once you’ve chosen your desired campground, make sure to reserve a spot. NPS campsites can fill up quickly, so you should always have a reservation before you arrive at the campground.

Some campgrounds are closed during certain times of the year because of weather so spring through fall is generally the best time to camp in a national park.

Keep in mind that the remaining national park free entrance days in 2024 are June 19, August 4, September 28, and November 11—this could be an optimal time to go if you want to avoid park entrance fees but a bad time if you want to avoid crowds.

Camping at Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Do your research

Once you’ve confirmed your reservation, read up on the campsite’s rules and regulations. This information available on the park’s website will let you know whether campfires are allowed (and if so, whether you can buy firewood in the park), if there are food lockers, what sort of bathrooms are available, and whether the site has potable water. This will help you plan what to bring on your camping trip.

You should also research the park itself. Each national park’s website has “plan your visit” and “learn about the park” sections which are great resources to help you prepare. Learn what the park has to offer so you can plan hikes and other excursions and study the flora and fauna so you can identify the native plants and animals you come across while there.

Camping at Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Pack for the weather

The park’s website should also have information on weather patterns so you can get a general overview of what to expect from the conditions when you visit. This will help you guide whether you need rain gear, how insulated your sleeping bag needs to be, what kind of shoes and clothes you should bring, and more. Don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray!

Even if you’re camping in the middle of the summer and rain isn’t in the forecast, you should always be prepared with a rain cover for your tent, an extra blanket and a rain jacket.

Camping at Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bring food

Some national parks have restaurants on site, but many don’t. Again, do your research before you go to see what options are available within the park you’re visiting. However, in case of unexpected closures, it’s safest to bring your own food.

Nonperishable food is always great for camping but if you have the space, you can bring a cooler and have more options. If campfires or camping stoves are allowed in your campsite, you can cook something over the fire or bring packaged backpacking food and reheat it in minutes.

5. Be prepared for wild animals

If your food looks or smells enticing to you, it’ll be even more so to the animals in the parks. Make sure you keep all food safely stored—some sites have food lockers and in others you’ll want to bring a bear box.

Never keep food in your tent and make sure to clean up your food and wash all plates and utensils immediately after eating. Dispose of any trash in designated garbage bins and clear everything out before you leave your campsite.

Camping at Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Leave no trace

This is one of the most important elements of visiting any natural area but especially in a national park. These areas are beautiful, diverse environments and it’s important to protect and preserve them for future generations to enjoy and for the good of the ecosystem. Furthermore, national parks are protected by law and causing any harm to them could leave you subject to a pricey fine.

To keep them safe, follow the seven basic principles of Leave No Trace which are:

  • Plan ahead and prepare: If you know where you’re going and what the rules and regulations are, you are less likely to cause accidental harm to an area.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Never go off trail in a national park, as you can disturb the environment. Even if an off-limits area seems like plain dirt, you may actually be looking at something like cryptobiotic soil crusts, which are full of biotic organisms that hold the soil together and prevent harmful erosion. Make sure you stay within designated areas at all times.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Waste can attract animals causing dangerous situations for them or you. Additionally, garbage and other waste can pollute the local environment causing additional harm to animals and nature and making the park experience less enjoyable for others.
  • Leave what you find: While it may be tempting to pluck flowers for scrapbooking or take home a giant stick, these things are all essential parts of their respective ecosystems. Leave them where they are to avoid affecting the environment and to allow others to enjoy them.
  • Minimize campfire impacts: Nearly 85 percent of wildfires are caused by humans according to the U.S. Forest Service and unattended campfires are one of the biggest culprits. If you make a campfire, make sure you watch it constantly and keep flammable items far away from it. When you put out the fire, don’t just douse it with water; mix in cool ashes and make sure you see no smoke or glowing coals before you leave.
  • Respect wildlife: While it may be tempting to offer a squirrel your leftover sandwich crusts, it’s best not to feed animals. If you see any, make sure to admire them from a distance. If you bring any pets with you, make sure they are on a leash and stay close to you.
  • Be considerate of others: Don’t be that person that brings a loudspeaker on a hike and don’t stop to take pictures in the middle of the trail if there are people trying to get past you. Be courteous and do your best to stay out of others’ way.
Camping at Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. DIG DEEPER: The Ultimate and Complete Guide series

I have written two series of guides on national parks to help you explore these protected areas in greater depth. Each guide helps you plan your adventure and discover the magic of the park.

The Ultimate Guide series of National Parks include:

The Complete Guide series include:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

The Ultimate Guide to Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is filled with great hiking, beautiful Navajo sandstone formations, ancient lava rock (basalt), and out-of-this-world views, so come along, as we tour this amazing hidden gem.

On the edges of ecosystems, eras or civilizations, you’ll find some of the most remarkable travel destinations. Snow Canyon State Park is one such place. Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure—and photo opportunities.

Cut by water, sculpted by wind and time, Snow Canyon’s Navajo sandstone cliffs share the same history and geology as Zion National Park to the east. You may find yourself wondering why it isn’t a national park.

As recently as 27,000 years ago lava flows exerted their powerful force reshaping the canyons and creating the park’s distinctive landscapes. The blend of Navajo sandstone cliffs, petrified sand dunes, and broad lava fields make this terrain a fantastic playground for both adventurous travelers and families looking to give kids an outlet to expend some of their boundless energy.

Snow Canyon State Park is one of those state parks often overlooked by people touring Utah. While Utah is obviously known for The Mighty Five and as a prime destination for winter recreation as well, there are also 43 state parks. Many of these parks are just as majestic as the national parks but without the crowds. Also, state parks are generally dog friendly.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Snow Canyon State Park?

Snow Canyon State Park is located in southwestern Utah near the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. If you are planning to stay close to the park, the best city to stay in is St. George because it is just an 11-mile drive.

When to visit Snow Canyon State Park

Spring and fall have average high temperatures of 80 degrees and 73 degrees respectively creating a sweet spot for active adventures at Snow Canyon. Summer can get pretty warm with very little shade available but getting out early in the day is ideal. Winter packs mild temps and all activities remain available. 

Despite its name, the park rarely sees snow. (The park is named for Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, Utah pioneers, not the white precipitation.)

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Snow Canyon State Park

Snow Canyon State Park is about 7,400 acres located within the 62,000 acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The reserve was established to protect the desert tortoise! I wish I would have been able to see one on our visit here. It was created in 1959 and opened to the public in 1962.

It is likely that humans have been using this park for more than 10,000 years based on the artifacts found in the park. The users of the park ranged from Paleoindian mammoth hunters to 19th century settlers.

Why is it called Snow Canyon?

When people hear the word snow they often think of frozen white stuff falling from the sky. While it is possible for Snow Canyon to receive snow, it’s not common.

Snow Canyon was originally called Dixie State Park but was later renamed. The snow in Snow Canyon is in reference to two early Utah leaders, Lorenzo and Erastus Snow.

The park is also known as movie sets for a few Hollywood films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do at Snow Canyon State Park

There are more than 38 miles of hiking trails, excellent biking trails, opportunities for technical climbing, and more than 15 miles of equestrian trails.

Hiking

Hiking is the prime activity in the canyon. As soon as you drive in, you can quickly see why. Gorgeous red and white sandstone streaks together with black lava flows spilling along the canyon floor- create a perfect playground for exploring on foot. Along with slot canyons to enter and lava tubes to explore, the sweeping vistas and overlooks might have you grabbing for your camera. You’ll need more than one day to do a thorough job of exploring the park’s 18 hiking trails

Check out my list of the most popular below. Distances are roundtrip.

Note: Most of these trails do not have shade. Come prepared with water (1 liter per person) and plenty of sun protection (UV clothing, sunscreen, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lava Flow Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some uneven surfaces

Hike through a jumbled lava field, the vivid remains of a long ago volcanic eruption.

The Lava Flow Trail, also known as the Lava Tubes is a 2.5 mile, family-friendly trail that takes you back in time. The trail takes you past three lava cave entrances. Entering the caves can be a little dangerous as it can get dark and slippery at times. There is a dedicated parking for the trail head.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jenny’s Canyon Trail

Distance: 0.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy, level with a few slopes and steps

This is a very short trail with easy access from the road; a great children’s trail that leads to a short, sculpted slot canyon. According to the park brochure, kids enjoy this trail the most due to the geological features and because it’s a slot canyon.

It will take you half an hour to complete the hike but it might take you longer if you decide to take time to admire the Snow Canyon Sand Dunes on your way.

Petrified Dunes Trail

Distance: 1.2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some uneven surfaces and steep slopes

This route crosses massive Navajo sandstone outcrops and sand dunes frozen in time.

A favorite of many, this hike takes you to one of the best viewpoints of the park. The trail is relatively well marked but you’ll definitely want to wander around and explore the unique formations in the area. It’s located in the heart of Snow Canyon State Park and one of the most photographed hikes in the canyon due to its unique beauty.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pioneer Names Trail

Distance: 0.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy, fairly level with some steps and slopes

This crescent-shaped trail passes pioneer names written in axle grease dating back to 1881.

This trail is accessible from two different parking lots. From the North lot, it is less than a quarter-mile to the end and the southern lot is a little more than a mile long. The hike takes you to a canyon wall that was written on by early pioneers. The axle grease writing has been preserved by an arch that hangs over it and provides a reminder of the early settlers in the area. It’s a sandy trail, so make sure to bring a good pair of shoes.

Butterfly Trail

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Moderate, some steep slopes, steps, and uneven surfaces

Winding along the west side of Petrified Dunes this trail leads to West Canyon Overlook and lava tubes.

You can access this trail from its own parking lot or continue from Petrified Dunes Trail (see above) since they intersect. It is best known for winding along the petrified dunes and leads to several overlooks and lava tubes.

The best time to do it is in spring and fall. Start in the morning to better appreciate the great views. It’s not a family hike since it has plenty of uneven surfaces.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Johnson Canyon Trail

Distance: 2 miles

Difficulty: Easy, level with some rocky slopes and steps

Leads to a sheltered canyon of willow and cottonwood winding through lava flows and red rocks to an arch spanning 200 feet.

Passing through stream beds, lava flows, and a beautiful canyon this trail is a grand experience. The canyon is more shaded than many of the other hikes making it one of the best hikes for the summer and fall months. It’s a great place to take a rest and enjoy quality time with your family and friends, and it will only take 1 hour to hike it. This trail also has seasonal closures, so check the availability before you plan your trip.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biking

Besides simply biking the main road through the park, two other bike-friendly trails exist. The first is Whiptail Trail, an out-and-back, paved path that runs from the south entrance and through about two-thirds of the canyon. Delightful for bikers of all experience levels but the last quarter mile is steep. There’s always the option to turnaround before this steep climb.

The second bike path is West Canyon Road. Once a road, as its name suggests, it is a dirt and gravel path. Beefier tires than those of a road bike are needed but you won’t need a high-end mountain bike to enjoy this trail. The road runs four miles up the canyon and takes the west fork at the end of the canyon that will lead you past the Whiterocks Amphitheater at the northern end. This path traverses parts of the park that no other trail will show or lead to.

Access the West Canyon Road at Sand Dunes picnic and parking area for an eight-mile round-trip excursion.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rock Climbing

Well-known for its incredible rock cliffs, you’ll find from short sports clip-ups to mixed multi-pitch routes in Snow Canyon. With more than 7,100 acres available, rock climbing is one of the top outdoor activities to do here. Take a look at these areas and pick your next rock climbing route.

For a full list, visit mountainproject.com.

Johnson Canyon

Ideal for trad climbing, this trail allows you to descend at the dead end of Johnson Canyon. If you go during the week, it is almost always empty so you will have the wall for yourself. These are the coordinations: 37.17970°N / 113.6347°W. You can climb all year long.

Hackberry Wash

At this trail, you can do trad and sport climbing. If, if you are coming from St George this will be the first crag in the park. It is close to Jenny Trail (see above). The best time to climb is spring, fall, and winter. 

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Island of the Sky

This sandstone is located in the middle of Snow Canyon. To reach the top you have ledges, dihedrals, and ramps that will be a huge help. The level of difficulty is moderate and it has an elevation of 3,780 feet. There is no easy pathway in this sandstone, be prepared. You can visit any time of the year. 

Balkan Dome

One of the shortest routes in Snow Canyon but is fun to try. You can reach this part via the Pioneer Names Trail (see above). Everything is covered with sandstone that sometimes makes it harder to climb, so be patient. Is located across the Islands of the Sky and is an ideal route for sport climbing. The best time to go is summer, fall, and spring. 

West Canyon

Probably the most complete trail since you can not only do trad and sport climbing but also hike. This canyon features five routes that range from 5.8 to 5.11c. You can access it via the Three Ponds trail. The coordination is 37.19330°N / 113.6425°W.

Horseback riding

There are several trails open to horseback riding in Snow Canyon: Beck Hill Trail, Chuckwalla Trail, Gila Trail, Lava Flow (only between West Canyon Road and turn-off to White Rocks Trail), Rusty Cliffs, Scout Cave Trail, Red Sands (from West Canyon Road Trail to the west), Toe Trail, West Canyon Road, and the equestrian trail (starting at Johnson’s canyon lot and running parallel to whiptail until the sand dunes lot, from here the trail parallels West Canyon Road).

If you don’t have your own horses, a guided experience is offered by local companies. Take a leisurely stroll with an equestrian friend and soak in the views, floral, and fauna and everything Snow Canyon has to offer the senses.

Petroglyphs

If you hike the Gila Trail to about the halfway mark, trail markers designate petroglyph sites. These illustrations, carved into stone by Native Americans, are delicate historical landmarks and are fun to examine.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyoneering

Canyoneering combines hiking with rappelling allowing exploration into slot canyons and down-climbing through the canyon. It’s a unique outdoor adventure that doesn’t exist in most places but the area has lots of options. Snow Canyon has two canyoneering routes, both of which require an access permit. If you want to explore Island in the Sky or Arch Canyon, secure a permit through the state park’s website or contact a guide company to take you.

Wildlife

Snow Canyon isn’t just famous for its hiking trails, rock climbing walls, and sandstone cliffs but also for its unique wildlife. You can find coyotes, kit foxes, quail and roadrunner, and sometimes tortoises and peregrine falcons in this State Park.

Millions of people come from across the country to watch leopard lizards, gopher snakes, canyon tree frogs, and sometimes tortoises and peregrine falcons. 

There are thirteen sensitive species protected by law within the park including the Gila Monster which is the only venomous lizard in the United States. The best time to watch the wildlife is at dawn and dusk. You will have plenty of time to go hiking and observe the wildlife since the park opens at 6:00 am and closes at 10:00 pm. 

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

A night or two under the stars is the perfect escape from a fast-paced lifestyle. Snow Canyon State Park is the ideal place to find those stars and quiet nights. The campsites will have you feeling like you’re camping in the Flintstones’ backyard with views of a cinder cone towering above and petroglyphs etched into rocks. 

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

Final thoughts

Snow Canyon State Park is truly one of the most beautiful places in all of Utah! Southern Utah is a well-known location for outdoor activities and Snow Canyon should be on any outdoor lover’s list whether you visit with friends or family.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snow Canyon State Park FAQ

Is Snow Canyon State Park worth visiting?

Absolutely! It’s one of the most popular parks in Southern Utah and has so many hidden gems like the Petrified Dunes or Lava Tubes that will blow your mind. It’s a great place to try new outdoor activities like hiking, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping. Also, it’s less crowded than Zion National Park or any other National Park located in Utah.

Are dogs and other pets allowed in the park?

If you’re planning a trip with your furry friend, this is going to make you really happy because you’re allowed to bring them with you! However, they must be on a leash around the campground and they can only accompany you to the Whiptail Trail and the West Canyon Rim Trail. Take into consideration that the leash must be a maximum of six-feet long.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Address: 1002 N. Snow Canyon Road, Ivins, UT 84738

Phone: 435-628-2255

Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Directions

From I-15 northbound: Take exit 6 (Bluff Street). Go north on Bluff Street to the intersection with Snow Canyon Parkway. Turn left onto Snow Canyon Parkway and proceed approximately 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Follow this road to the south entrance of the park.

From I-15 southbound: Take exit 10 (Washington). Turn right off the ramp then an immediate left at the light. Follow this road for approximately 5 miles to the intersection with Bluff Street/ SR-18. Proceed through the light and continue on Snow Canyon Parkway for approximately 3.5 miles and turn right onto Snow Canyon Drive. Follow this road to the south entrance of the park.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day-use fees:

Utah resident: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 per vehicle (up to eight people); seniors 65 and older (with UT driver’s license); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to four people)

Non-resident:  $15 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclist (up to four people)

Camping fees:

Non-hookup sites: Standard sites $40 per night; hookup sites (water/electric) $45 per night; extra vehicle fees (one extra vehicle per site permitted) $20 per night

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.

—John Muir

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

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

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

When is the best time to go camping in Utah?

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

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

Driving in Utah

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

Some of the major highways in Utah include:

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

Scenic drives in Utah

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

Utah Scenic Byways include:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

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

Scenic Byway 12

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

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24

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

Mt. Carmel to Long Valley Scenic Byway

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

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

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

National Parks in Utah

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

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

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

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

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

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

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah State Parks

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

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

Camping near Salt Lake City

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

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

Camping on the Great Salt Lake

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

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

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

Camping on Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell camping

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

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

Camping near Moab

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

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

Boondocking in Utah

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

Plan your Utah camping trip

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Experience the Wonders of the Desert at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Salton Sea

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a gem of a state park. With desert landscapes, slot canyons, and dirt roads to explore, and hidden oases, this is a great place to add to your southern California itinerary.

Anza Borrego is about 90 miles east of San Diego, due south of Palm Springs, and is larger than the other 279 California State Parks combined. This huge desert expanse is ripe for winter exploration. It includes the strange and alien Salton Sea just to its east, 35 miles long and almost 20 miles wide.

The park’s name comes from a combination of 18th-century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista De Anza and the Spanish word borrego for bighorn sheep which De Anza found in his explorations. Dunes and lofty mountains ring the park’s diverse desert and depend on sparse rainfall to yield diverse wildflowers, cacti, and exotic California fan palm trees.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can find mule deer, kit, foxes, roadrunners, eagles, and the elusive Peninsular bighorn sheep. Additionally, rattlesnakes, iguanas, and chuckwallas call the park home.

Begin your exploration at park headquarters, visitor center, and developed campground on the edge of Borrego Springs, a town offering provisions for travelers, restaurants, and several motel options. Start your tour in the primarily underground, calm visitor center offering the history of the indigenous peoples that populated the area thousands of years before settlers arrived.

The center does an excellent job explaining the region’s geography; its adjoining garden is full of the plants you’ll find throughout the park. This is the Colorado Desert where the Colorado River met the Gulf of California millions of years ago. Today’s visitors touring the Grand Canyon wonder where all that rock went—the answer is the Anza Borrego desert!

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Begin an early morning hiking adventure to beat the heat starting at the park’s main campground and following the Palm Canyon trailhead a mile and a half up a bone-dry canyon. With a vertical foot gain of about 300 feet, you’ll eventually reach a point where you’ll hear unexpected running water, find a pretty stream, increase vegetation, and revel as the narrow canyon opens upon a beautiful California fan palm oasis. 

As you take in the lush oasis, keep your eyes on the bluffs and ridges above for views of the elusive Peninsular big horn sheep. Throughout the park, you’ll find a variety of desert plants including creosote, blue Palo Verde with yellow flowers, brittlebush, indigo bush, Cholla cacti, barrel and hedgehog cactus, and Mojave yucca. A favorite, the tall, 18-foot rangy Ocotillo, shoots its spines skyward and with just a bit of rainfall bursts forth in bright red plumage.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Indian Hills area and explore pre-Colombian rock art and petroglyphs. You’ll also find several morteros and bedrock motors used by ancient peoples to grind acorns. When nighttime comes, the park and Borrego Springs, an International Dark Sky Community offer outstanding opportunities for taking in a wondrous, star-filled night sky.

Explore just east of the park to find the eerie Salton Sea where an inland ocean formed in 1906, the result of huge Colorado River floods sending waters raging down recently excavated irrigation canals flooding the desert for 18 months and creating a 25 x 35-mile inland ocean almost 60 feet deep and 220 feet below sea level.

Angelinos stocked this new sea with gamefish; with the advent of air-conditioning, a half dozen resort towns sprang up around the sea, all vying for southern California crowds. Lakeside resorts grew quickly, speculation led to boom times, and lakeside resorts like Desert Shores, Riviera Keys, and Salton City grew on the west and Bombay Beach and others on the east. Resorts drew big crowds for fishing, water sports, and nighttime performers like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Good fortune did not bless the area as tropical storms Kathleen and Doreen slammed the Salton Sea area in 1976 and 1977. Heavy rains and floods with nowhere to go but into the sea raised the lake level steadily flooding most of the resort towns. Property values collapsed, owners abandoned homes and trailers, leaving only skeletons and ghost resorts behind.

More recently, the ongoing California drought continues to lower the lake level, perpetuating this ecological disaster area. Today, visit the Salton Sea Visitor’s Center in Mecca and explore this intriguing territory.

Anza Borrego has a nice campground for tents and RVs near Borrego Springs which offers several motel options and restaurants. Several additional more primitive and backcountry camps provide further opportunities.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best time to visit Anza-Borrego State Park and Salton Sea

The best time to visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is from late fall through early spring, when temperatures are mild.

Winter: During the day the temperatures get to 70°F although they start off chilly in the low to mid-40’s. Rainfall is the highest during the winter months, but even so, it’s still relatively dry. Only about an inch of rain falls each month during the winter season.

Spring: Temperatures climb throughout the spring. In March, the average high is 78°F and by early June the average high is approaching 100°F. On unusually warm days even in March temperatures can hit or get over the 100 degree mark. Rainfall is low. From late February through March, it is possible to see wildflowers although the number of flowers varies greatly from year to year.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer: Summers are very hot and dry. The average high temperature is 105°F and can get up to 120°F on the hottest of days.

Fall: Fall is the reverse of spring. Temperatures cool off and rainfall is low. In October, the average high is 90°F and in November the average high is 78°F.

Happy desert travels!

Worth Pondering…

There are not many places in the world where you can get to the beach in an hour, the desert in two hours, and snowboarding or skiing in three hours. You can do all that in California.

—Alex Pettyfer

Big Bend National Park: Where the Mountains Meet the Desert in Texas

If you’re ready to see what the big deal is about Big Bend, here’s what you need to know to make the most out of your trip

Picking a national park is all about setting: Do you want deserts, forests, mountains, or water? Since everything’s bigger in TexasBig Bend National Park has it all. Cacti-strewn deserts shift to the wooded slopes of imposing mountains before again changing to spectacular river canons where greenish water flows.

Tucked in a remote corner of southwest Texas, mountain peaks meet the Chihuahuan Desert in the vast wilderness of Big Bend National Park. Adventure comes in many forms in this 1,252-square-mile reserve. You can hike to the top of lofty peaks, go paddling on the Rio Grande, soak in hot springs, or look for wildlife amid the park’s diverse habitats. Beyond the park, there are ghost towns to visit, scenic drives, and magnificent night skies—the stargazing is so impressive that Big Bend was named an International Dark Sky Park back in 2012.

As is the standard way of getting places in Texas, arriving at this natural marvel requires a good amount of driving, so get those road trip snacks and playlists ready. Given the logistical challenges of getting here, you’ll want to stick around a while to make the most of your stay.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Lay of the Land

The park has two main visitor centers: one at Panther Junction near the south end of Highway 385 and another at Chisos Basin where you’ll also find the Chisos Basin Campground and the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Three other visitor centers open seasonally from November to April.

There’s no public transport in the park, so you’ll need a car. If you plan to explore some of the backcountry roads, make it a high-clearance SUV.

Getting There

This park is far from everywhere which is part of Big Bend’s allure. Even if you live in Texas, you’ll be up for a serious drive: it’s over seven hours from San Antonio.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to Do

The national park has over 150 miles of trails from short jaunts to multi-day backpacking adventures. One of the best full-day hikes is the ascent up Emory Peak, a roughly 10.5-mile roundtrip hike that affords magnificent views from atop the park’s highest summit (7,825 feet).

For something shorter but no less rewarding, hike the 1.7-mile Santa Elena Canyon Trail which takes you through a steep-walled canyon along the edge of the Rio Grande.

Speaking of the Rio Grande, this life-giving river in the desert offers a wide range of aquatic adventures. If you’re not packing a canoe, sign up for a river trip with a park operator like Far Flung Outdoor Center based in Terlingua. Going strong since 1976, this outfitter offers river trips ranging from half a day to 3- or 4-day trips, camping in pristine spots along the way. For DIY (Do It Yourself) adventures, Far Flung also hires out gear including canoes and an open-topped Jeep Wrangler.

While you’re in the Big Bend area, be sure to pay a visit to Terlingua, a former mining town that went bust in the 1940s. You can check out a desert graveyard and the ruins of old buildings some of which have been revitalized into newer restaurant and lodging options.

Wherever you roam, be sure to leave some time at the end of the day for a soak in the park’s hot springs. Set along the Rio Grande on the southeast side of the park, the hot springs are reachable via an easy half-mile hike and the 105-degree waters offer a delightful cap to the day’s adventures.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay in and around Big Bend

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 expect to find a campsite when you arrive; booking in advance is crucial if you plan on camping at Big Bend. Seriously, reservations for the developed campgrounds are required. These campgrounds are pretty much guaranteed to be full every night from November through April and there’s no first-come, first-serve situation here.

You definitely don’t want to be that person who just spent who knows how many hours driving to Big Bend to realize you’ll have to drive an hour or more back out to find somewhere to stay because there are no overflow campsites. And don’t even think about setting up camp in a parking lot or along the park roads because you will get in trouble—sorry ‘bout it.

So, on to the options! 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. You can book your site up to six months in advance, so get to planning now.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re someone who waits a little bit longer before making a move, there are a limited number of sites available for reservation up to 14 days in advance, but again—planning ahead pays big time with this out-of-the-way national park. There are also backcountry campsites and you’ll need a permit for those.

If there are no developed campsites within the park available during the time of your planned visit, don’t assume your big Big Bend camping adventure is dashed. There are still some camping options outside the park in nearby areas like Study Butte, Terlingua, and Lajitas.

Chisos Basin Campground (elevation: 5,400 feet) is nestled in open woodland within a scenic mountain basin. Campers enjoy the views of Casa Grande and Emory Peak. The sunset through the nearby “Window” is a Big Bend highlight. Some of the park’s most popular trails begin nearby. Chisos Basin offers 56 camping sites. Trailers over 20 feet and motorhomes over 24 feet are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin and small campsites at this campground.

Rio Grande Village Campground (elevation: 1,850 feet) is set in a grove of cottonwoods and acacia trees near the Rio Grande River. Paved roads connect each campsite and grassy areas separate each site. Flush toilets, running water, picnic tables, grills, and some overhead shelters. Dump station nearby. Campers enjoy birdwatching, hiking, exploring. A camp store with showers and a park visitor center are nearby. Rio Grande Village offers 93 camping sites.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood Campground (elevation: 2,169 feet) is a quiet oasis in the western corner of Big Bend National Park. Reservations are required. Conveniently located between the Castolon Historic District, the scenic Santa Elena Canyon, and the tail end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, this small 22-site campground is one of the least-known and quiet campgrounds in the park. There is one group campsite and 21 individual sites. This is a remote campground in a remote park. It is dry camping, no hook-ups, and no generators are permitted.

Rio Grande Village RV Campground (elevation: 1,800 feet) is operated by Forever Resorts and offers 25 back-in RV sites with full hookups. Adjacent to the Rio Grande Village camp store the campground features a paved lot with grassy, tree-lined edges. This campground has the only full hook-ups in the park. Periodically, a few sites may not be available for a 40 foot or longer RVs due to the size of the parking lot and orientation of the spaces.

Your best bet if you’re staying outside the park is in Terlingua about a 45-minute drive from the Chisos Basin. Terlingua Ranch Lodge RV Park offers 8 pull-through sites with electric, water, and sewer connections and 12 back-in sites with electric and water hookups and a dump station nearby.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maverick Ranch RV Park offers 100 full-service sites including 60 pull-through sites. Guests of the Maverick Ranch RV Park enjoy all of Lajitas Golf Resort amenities and activities including the Agave Spa, Black Jack’s Crossing Golf Club, horseback trail rides, and shooting activities including 5-Stand Sporting Clays, 3-Gun Combat Course, Cowboy Action Shoot, ziplining Quiet Canyon, mountain bike trails, and fitness center. Situated 12 miles southwest of Terlingua on FM 170, Lajitas Golf Resort is located between the Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Looking for the most unique place to stay in the Big Bend? Located in Terlingua just across the road from the Historic Terlingua Ghost Town, The Buzzard’s Roost is a collection of three, fully furnished, traditional Sioux-style tipis.

The summer heat is no joke here, so come prepared. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, use strong sunscreen, and bring four liters of water per person per day on full-day hikes. Be mindful of desert critters (scorpions, snakes, spiders): Shake your shoes out before putting them on your feet. Keep in mind that cellphone reception is poor in the park; help is a long way off (the nearest hospital is 100 miles away in Alpine) so don’t go beyond your limits.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Time to Visit

The summer is blazing hot with temperatures regularly above 100 degrees and even reaching 110. The most pleasant times for hiking, camping, and other activities is in the spring (March to April) and fall (October to November). Winter can be chilly, bringing occasional snowfall, but it’s rarely enough to prevent hiking. As long as you have adequate clothing, it can be a great time to visit without the crowds.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Location: Far West Texas

Acreage: 801,163 acres

Highest peak: Emory Peak at 7,832 feet

Lowest point: Rio Grande Village at 1,850 feet

Miles of trails: 200

Main attraction: Hiking the trails

Entry fee: $30 per private vehicle (valid for 7 days)

Best way to see it: Day hikes

Best time to visit: In the cooler months, between November and April

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Big Bend is a land of strong beauty—often savage and always imposing.

—Lon Garrison