Top 5 National Park Sites To Visit in New Mexico this Spring (2024)

New Mexico’s newest national park tops the list with more than half a million visitors last year

Some of New Mexico’s highest mountains and deepest caves are preserved for residents and visitors to the state alike via the National Park Service (NPS).

The Service has two national parks in New Mexico along with nine national monuments, two national historic parks, and one national preserve.

Millions of people flock to these sites every year as New Mexico’s mostly mild winter gives way to a hotter spring and often sweltering summer.

Here are the Top 5 popular National Park Service destinations based on visitation data from 2023.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park – 729,096 visitors

White Sands was a national monument since 1933 before being designated a national park in 2019.

It’s situated just west of Alamogordo and northeast of Las Cruces in south-central New Mexico alongside White Sands Missile Range.

The park is known for its namesake, the white gypsum sand dunes that sprawl across it’s about 145,000 acres.

Visitors can hike, camp, or even sled along the iconic dunes.

Here are some helpful resources:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park – 394,121 visitors

About 700 feet beneath southeast New Mexico is the Carlsbad Caverns known for enormous underground rock formations and thousands of stalactites and stalagmites that wowed visitors since they were discovered in 1898.

Carlsbad Caverns became a national monument in 1923 and a national park in 1930.  

The park is amid the Chihuahuan Desert and Guadalupe Mountains in the southeast corner of New Mexico just outside Carlsbad to its east.

Most visitors opt to travel underground via a hike down the cavern’s natural entrance or a ride down the park’s massive elevator shaft to view the iconic formations but there are also hiking trails and other recreation opportunities on the surface.

Here are some articles to help:

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyph National Monument – 314,528 visitors

Ancient drawings and indigenous symbols survive today in New Mexico from 400 to 700 years ago at Petroglyph National Monument.

The monument is just outside Albuquerque amid the city’s West Mesa, a volcanic escarpment seen by all those who visit New Mexico’s largest urban area.

Hiking trails can take visitors alongside petroglyphs for a glimpse into the past and the lives of Native Americans and Spanish settlers who carved the symbols into the volcanic rocks.

That’s why I wrote this article: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument.

Bandelier National Monument – 199,501 visitors

Ancient pueblos once dwelled in the 33,000 acres protected at Bandelier National Monument north of Santa Fe and just outside Santa Fe National Forest.

The monument is sacred to the state’s indigenous community and presents an opportunity for visitors to become acquainted with New Mexico’s past and enjoy breathtaking mountain views.

Bandelier can get snow throughout winter and early spring until May but visitors can journey to the monument all year for short hiking trails amid the remains of ancient dwellings.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument – 167,107 visitors

Volcanic terrains are a rare sight throughout the U.S. but can be enjoyed at El Malpais National Monument which is situated between the Acoma Pueblo and Ramah Navajo Indian Reservation about 80 miles west of Albuquerque.

Geologic features like lava flows, cinder cones, lava tube cave, and sandstone bluffs are all available to enjoy at the monument.

Visitors can find short to challenging hikes, scenic overlooks, and journey underground to explore the area’s cave systems.

The name was given by early Spanish explorers who encountered the lava flows and  it translates to the badlands or bad country.

If you need ideas, check out:

Five other National Park sites to visit in New Mexico

Capulin Volcano National Monument – 88,514 visitors

  • Region: Northeast New Mexico
  • Closest city: Raton
  • Activities: Hiking, auto tours

Valles Caldera National Preserve – 76,090 visitors

  • Region: Northern New Mexico
  • Closest city: Los Alamos
  • Activities: Hiking, fishing, mountain biking, hunting, camping
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National Monument – 54,836 visitors

  • Region: Northwest New Mexico
  • Closest city: Grants
  • Activities: Hiking, camping

Pecos National Historic Park – 50,709 visitors

  • Region: Northern New Mexico
  • Closest city: Pecos
  • Activities: Museum, hiking, guided tours, fishing in the Pecos River
Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument – 47,554 visitors

  • Region: Northwest New Mexico
  • Closest city: Aztec
  • Activities: Hiking, historic trails, Heritage Garden

What missed the list?

  • Chaco Culture National Historic Park – 40,198 visitors
  • Salinas Pueblos Missions National Monument – 39,556 visitors
  • Gila Cliff Dwellings – 33,973 visitors
  • Fort Union National Monument – 9,570 visitors

More New Mexico travel stories

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

10 Visitor Centers You Shouldn’t Miss

10 National Park Visitor Centers that are worth exploring

National Park Visitor Centers offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of the parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Stopping at the National Park Visitor Center is a must!

Our first National Park Visitor Center experience happened by chance. We stumbled upon the visitor center on our way into a park. Stopping at the visitor center wasn’t even on my radar at the time. The visitor center is now the first place that we stop when going to a new national or state park, state, city, or town and I am saddened when I see people pass up on their opportunity to stop at one.

When I was a National Park newbie (for lack of a better word) I really didn’t know what to expect from park Visitor Centers. I thought that they were just a place to stretch your legs and maybe grab a quick snack from a vending machine. But, I was SO WRONG! The National Park Visitor Centers are so much more than any ol’ dingy rest area off of any ol’ winding interstate!

Below are a few reasons that I sing the praiss of National Park Visitor Centers and highly encourage you to not pass them up!

The ability to travel and explore new places is one of the best parts of the RV lifestyle. There’s no better way to truly experience the country. You get to know the areas you travel through and you have the opportunity to participate in local events and visit interesting landmarks.

Visitor centers are one of the best ways to learn about a new area. There are countless visitor centers scattered across the country and they serve a wide variety of purposes. Some of them educate, others entertain, and others showcase interesting features of the area. Lots of national and state parks have at least one visitor center but some businesses, churches, museums, and other interesting locations have them as well.

Since I’m talking visitor centers, here’s a great related article: Why Stop At Visitor Centers?

It’s hard to define what the best visitor centers are but I’ve selected 10 fantastic options below. Check out my list and consider adding one or two of these to your upcoming travel plans. For your convenience, I’ve also provided some additional resources.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are numerous guided tours available.

Enjoy the hands-on exhibits to help you understand how the cavern was formed, discover the animals and plants that make the desert their home, and be amazed by the history of the park.

Before starting on your cavern adventure you may want to enjoy the free, 16-minute, park film Hidden World showing at the visitor center every 30 minutes. Check at the information desk for times.

Browse through a variety of gift items including t-shirts, hat, mugs, and Native American art. You can also enjoy snacks, drinks, and hot and cold meals. The bookstore offers a variety of items including books, photos, passport books, and junior ranger products.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

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

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many interesting historical sites and beautiful natural landmarks. Begin your exploration of the park at a visitor center. Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park. For current ranger-led activities, visit the park’s calendar for details.

Four visitor centers are located within the national park at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cades Cove, and Clingmans Dome.

Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Sugarlands Visitor Center is an excellent starting point as you enter the park’s North District. Learn about the park’s plants and animals with natural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Access public restrooms and drink vending machines. The Backcountry Permit Office is here, too.

Sugarlands is a top-rated visitor center.

Near Cherokee, North Carolina, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is an ideal starting point as you enter the park’s South District. Explore cultural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Find public restrooms and drink vending machines. The adjacent Mountain Farm Museum contains a collection of log structures including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, applehouse, corn crib and others.

About half-way through the Cades Cove Loop Road, pause to speak with park staff and visit various exhibits at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. Learn about Southern Mountain life and culture and see a gristmill (operates spring through fall), the Becky Cable house, and other historic structures. Enjoy seasonal ranger-led activities and peruse the park bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Enjoy sweeping views of the Smokies, weather permitting, and get your park questions answered at the Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station Peruse a small bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon draws crowds from all over the country. The park offers several visitor centers including the South Rim (Grand Canyon Village), Desert View, and the North Rim. Since they may be closed during different periods of the year, be sure to check their availability. All of the visitor centers provide a great experience but the South Rim center is especially noteworthy. Trip planning and hiking information is available through exhibit kiosks and sidewalk signs outside of the building.

Park in one of four large parking lots and get your first look at Grand Canyon by walking to nearby Mather Point. With your vehicle parked at the Visitor Center, you can also board free shuttle buses and be transported around the village and out to scenic overlooks.

Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, the park’s 20 minute orientation film, is presented on the hour and half-hour on the large screen in the theater.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Zion National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, one of five national parks in Utah (Mighty Five) is known for its distinctive red rock and otherworldly geological formations.

Located near the South Entrance of the park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Zion Canyon. Park rangers and outdoor exhibits will help you plan your visit and make the most of your time. Inquire at the Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk about permits for backpacking, canyoneering, and other trips into the wilderness. Visit the bookstore for maps, books, and gifts.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main facility in the North Unit of the park. Stop by to talk with rangers, explore museum exhibits, check out the Fossil Preparation Lab, or visit the Badlands Natural History Association bookstore. There’s something for everyone at the visitor center.

At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, visitors to Badlands National Park can get answers to their questions from rangers at the information desk. There, park staff can distribute maps and other park materials, provide directions and local area orientation, hand out Junior Ranger booklets, and answer any questions you might have about earth science, wildlife, history, and more. There is also a self-serve passport stamping station at the information desk.

If you’re not stopping by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center during your trip to the Badlands, you can also access rangers at the White River Center, via email or by calling (605) 433-5361

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Sequoia National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sequoia and Kings National Parks, California

The park’s visitor centers, ranger stations, and a museum offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of these parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park. All purchases in these stores support park programs through the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

While the parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not all visitor centers are open year-round. Some close seasonally.

Foothills Visitor Center is one mile past the Ash Mountain entrance station along the Generals Highway. Stop here for information, maps, books, gifts, and restrooms. Browse exhibits about the ecology and human history of the foothills and join a free ranger-led program.

Giant Forest Museum is housed in a historic market in the Giant Forest sequoia grove at 6,500 feet elevation. Explore exhibits about sequoias and learn why this landscape grows the biggest of big trees. Stop here before you explore the grove. During wilderness permit non-quota season, permits can be picked up at a self-issue station outside the museum.

Kings Canyon Visitor Center is in Grant Grove Village at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Learn about three regions in Kings Canyon National Park: giant sequoia groves, Kings Canyon, and the High Sierra. Watch a 15-minute movie. A park store sells books, maps, and educational materials.

Located in the conifer zone at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Lodgepole Visitor Center provides opportunities to view exhibits, get trip planning advice, get a wilderness permit, watch several park films, or shop at the gift shop. New exhibits immerse visitors in the wilderness environments of the parks, from the foothills to the highest peaks and to underground caves, as well as exploring the human history of the southern Sierra Nevada with tactile exhibits and soundscapes from every park environment.

Cedar Grove Visitor Center is next to the South Fork of the Kings River in mixed conifer forest at an elevation of 4,600 feet. Learn about the natural and cultural history of the Cedar Grove area. Nearby services include accessible restrooms and a pay phone.

Located in a mixed-conifer forest at 7,600 feet, the Mineral King Ranger Station houses some exhibits on Mineral King’s human and natural history. Food storage canisters are available. Obtain wilderness permits here.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park is separated into two districts: Rincon Mountain District (East) and Tucson Mountain District (West), each with their own visitor center.

Red Hills Visitor Center (Saguaro West) Tucson Mountain District has cultural and natural history exhibits of the Sonoran Desert.

The visitor center at Saguaro East is smaller and more rustic. There is an interesting and well done exhibit just outside the center that walks you past about 15 major plants that live in the Sonoran Desert. You can see the living plant and plaque with a name and description of each plant.

Both visitor centers are open all year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday except Christmas where you can view  a 15 minute program called Voices of the Desert giving a Native American perspective of the Sonoran Desert. There is also a bookstore operated by the Western National Parks Association.Various Ranger guided programs are held throughout the year. During the winter months (November to mid-April) several different programs are offered daily.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Congaree National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open year-round. It is the main hub for Congaree National Park which is the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U. S. and home to one of the largest concentrations of champion trees. The center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. 

Visitors can find the Congaree National Park Passport Stamp at the center. Restrooms and a small gift shop can be found at the center. The Whippoorwill Cafe & Bakery and A Charming Country Cottage Nestled in the Woods are restaurants near the center.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Arches National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Visitor Center is located at the entrance of Arches National Park just off U.S. Highway 191 about 5 miles north of Moab. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except December 25. The center offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms that can be accessed 24 hours a day.Visitors can learn about the park’s history, geology, climate, and wildlife.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Petrified Forest National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is connected by the 28-mile-long Main Park Road which winds past viewpoints, trailheads, and other attractions. Visitors can get up close to petrified logs by wandering along trails in the park’s southern section. Petrified Forest National Park is a high-desert geologic treasure chest that features loads of petrified wood and eye-popping views of The Painted Desert, which sweeps through the park

Painted Desert Visitor Center is located at exit #311 off of I-40 in Petrified Forest National Park. It provides information, brochures, book sales, exhibits, restrooms, and a gift shop.The center is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm year-round with extended hours as staffing permits.

The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center is located to the south and offers exhibits, books and gifts, limited food service, and restrooms.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

Planning your Summer Road Trip Begins NOW

Mapping your route and stocking up on gear in advance will pay off when you hit the road

In February’s cold, dark days, a summer road trip might be the farthest thing from your mind. Without the need to book a flight or coordinate other transportation, it’s easy to rely on spontaneity for a last-minute escape once the weather warms up. The beauty of an RV road trip is its structured freedom: you can do anything you want just as long as you are willing and able to drive.

But pushing off your planning until sunnier days could affect your vacation down the road. Investing a little time now will go a long way toward making the most out of your summer.

If plotting a course feels daunting, start by clustering destinations that will you give you something concrete to plan around. Depending on the number of days you expect to travel, you can add or remove stops along the way.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For example, a trip through three national parks in New Mexico and TexasWhite Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains—could be knocked out in a long weekend. Tack on Big Bend National Park for an additional few days to account for the extra mileage and time to explore.

A classic way to plan a road trip is to follow one of America’s best-known vacation drives such as Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition Trail. Though they may seem cliché these drives are still famous for a reason: They capture the history of America. You can use social media to find modern attractions along these well-tread routes.

Search for geotags along the route for crowdsourced advice on what to visit while you pass through. Use hiking apps like All Trails to explore what nature recommendations people have outside of national park suggestions. Start following accounts of bloggers or local experts who post about the areas you’re visiting. To keep yourself from overcommitting, keep a list of these potential food stops, campgrounds, roadside attractions, and nature areas along the way to reference when you need options.

Whether you’re planning to follow a well-known path or keep a looser schedule, become familiar with your major waypoints by April. This will give you time to research lesser-known sights and dig for local suggestions. By the time you hit the road, you’ll have the confidence to make quick (but informed) decisions.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make reservations at national parks

While reserving a spot inside a national park isn’t the only way to camp near popular nature sites, it is well worth the foresight if you can book a few nights ahead of time.

Every park has its own schedule of openings, reservation requirements, and campsite availability so the best advice is to closely track a few parks for announcements. While some national parks save a portion of their campsite reservations to be released a week before booking, most park reservations open six months in advance.

Most National Parks reserve a few spots per campground as a first-come, first-serve option. They can be impossible to predict so do not rely on their availability if you are set on camping inside the park. Note that reservations often become available at 8 a.m. in the time zone of that park.

Permits for popular hikes and activities also become available at this time at Recreation.gov.

Timed entry reservations will still be required at a handful of popular parks during the peak summer months: Yosemite, Arches, Zion, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Haleakalā National Parks will all require some reservation to enter.

For complete details read 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits

To the National Park Service’s credit, these required dates cluster around the most popular weeks and holidays and there are usually exceptions like entering a park before 5 a.m. that still allow for some flexibility if you can’t score a reservation in time.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buy gear and supplies

A backpack, good walking shoes or hiking boots, wide-brimmed hat, and sun protection are all important regardless of how much outdoor activity you’re planning. It’s not just the outdoor gear to keep an eye out on—road trip essentials range from storage options to electronics to RV supplies.

Be sure to stock up on household and RV-related items: paper products, water filter, plastic bags, tissues, disinfecting wipes, and a fully stocked first aid kit.

That’s why I wrote this article: 35 Little Things to Remember to Pack for Your RV Road Trip

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your vehicle

Don’t forget about a checklist for your RV. A tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, and a roadside tool kit can all come in handy even if you’re renting an RV. And always keep a paper atlas on hand in case you’re out of cell service range.

Beyond the typical under-the-hood checks—engine oil, transmission fluid, hydraulic oil, coolant, and washer fluid—be sure to check your lightbulbs and brake reactivity, even in rentals. Spending hours on the road can decrease your focus and reaction time so ensure that the RV will be safe and comfortable. That’s why you should follow the 330 Rule.

The biggest investment to make in your pre-road trip vehicle is a new set of tires especially if you tend to only drive in the city. If you’re planning on driving or pulling a camper, van or RV and have been putting off upgrading your tires consider buying tires with a longer tread life or thicker tread for more diverse terrain.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some helpful resources when it comes to tire safety:

Worth Pondering…

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

—Miyamoto Musashi

The Best National Parks to Visit in February

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

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

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

Planning a trip to the US national parks in February but don’t know which ones to visit? In February, much of the country is cold and covered in snow but there are plenty of parks you can visit to escape the wintry conditions. In this article, I cover the best national parks to visit in February plus several bonus parks and a road trip idea.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting the National Parks in February

In February, much of the United States is cold and blanketed in snow. Like January, park visitation remains relatively low in February making this a great time to visit most of the parks with low crowds. 

Best National Parks to visit in February

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Visiting Petrified Forest National Park is like taking a step back in time. The petrified logs date back hundreds of millions of years to a time when this land was once lush and fertile. These trees fell and became the mineralized versions of their original forms even before dinosaurs walked the earth.

This national park beat all of my expectations. I imagined a barren desert with a few colorful hills, littered with some ancient, petrified stumps. Instead, we were treated to the colorful, uniquely beautiful hills of the Painted Desert, giant, petrified trees that puzzle the mind, and the chance to walk backcountry trails without another person in sight.

Petrified Forest is a very cool, underrated, and easy park to visit.

Why visit Petrified Forest in February: Even though temperatures are on the chilly side, this is a great time to visit Petrified Forest because crowd levels are low and this makes a great February road trip destination with several other parks in Arizona.

Weather: The weather is surprisingly cool in February. The average high is 53°F and the average low is 25°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 6 pm.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, walk the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.

Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.

How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.

Plan your visit

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Why visit Saguaro National Park in February: For the near perfect weather conditions. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February. These great weather conditions do draw big crowds so expect busy trails and make your travel arrangements in advance.

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 42°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 6:10 pm.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Bajada Loop Drive and hike the Valley View Overlook Trail and the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, see the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, and drive the Cactus Forest Drive. Just outside of the park is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum which is well worth the time.

How much time do you need? You will need two days to see the highlights of Saguaro National Park; one for each unit. With more time, you can go backpacking or hike the longer, more challenging hiking trails and visit the above mentioned Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

With sand as white as the snow, this might look like a winter wonderland, but in February, this is one of the warmer parks to visit in the United States.

White Sands National Park is home to the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. These pure white dunes create a fun place to explore, for both kids and adults. Hike out into the dunes, learn about the wildlife that calls this park home, and go sledding on sand as white as the snow.

Why visit White Sands in February: February is one of the quietest months to visit this park in terms of crowd levels. Although the days start off cold, the temperature warms up very nicely during the day making this one of the warmer parks to visit in February.

Weather: In February, the average high is 63°F and the average low is 28°F. This is one of the driest months to visit the park although rainfall is low all year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:45 am and sunset is at 5:50 pm.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels.

I’m not a big fan of caves and caverns but I found this place to be amazing. If you want to see stalactites, stalagmites, ribbon-like curtains, totem poles, and unique formations called soda straws, Carlsbad Caverns is the best cave system in the US to put on your list.

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in February: In terms of park visitation, February is one of the quietest months to visit Carlsbad Caverns (park visitation spikes in March with Spring Break). The caverns remain a consistent 56°F all year. With good weather and low crowds, February is one of the best months to visit Carlsbad Caverns and it can be combined on a road trip with White Sands National Park (mentioned above).

Weather: In February, the average high is 61°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 5:44 pm.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour.You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Plan Your Visit

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park makes a great winter destination especially for those who like hiking and rock climbing. Joshua Tree is a top rock climbing destination in February since temperatures are relatively mild.

Most visitors spend their time along Park Boulevard where the Joshua Trees and enormous piles of boulders form the iconic landscapes that many people imagine when they think of Joshua Tree National Park.

You can also combine a visit to Joshua Tree with Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian, and/or San Diego (more great spots to visit in the winter).

Why visit Joshua Tree in February: With its mild weather this is one of the best hiking and rock climbing destinations in the US in February. However, it is also one of the busiest months to visit Joshua Tree (but March tends to be the most crowded time to go).

Weather: In February, the average high is 61°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall chances are low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 5:30 pm.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top Experiences: Hike the Hall of Horrors, see Skull Rock, explore Hidden Valley, hike to an oasis, hike to Arch Rock and Heart Rock, drive Geology Tour Road, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and go stargazing.

How much time do you need? Ideally, you need at least two full days in Joshua Tree National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights, go rock climbing or take a lesson, hike a few trails, and go on the scenic drives.

Plan your visit

3 more national parks to visit in February

Here are 3 more great national parks to visit in February.

Grand Canyon National Park

February is one of the least crowded months to visit Grand Canyon National Park. If you don’t mind cold temperatures and the chance of snow, this is a great time to visit the Grand Canyon if you prefer low crowds.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a chilly place to visit in February but if you want to visit the park with low crowds, this is a good month to go. February is the second least-visited month to go to Zion with January being the quietest month of the year.

Arches National Park

Like Zion, temperatures are low but so are the crowds. In February, you can visit Arches National Park relatively crowd free.

Bonus! 3 NPS sites to visit in January

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Chiricahua National Monument

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

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona.

February road trip idea: Arizona road trip

Arizona makes a great February road trip destination.

On this 10 day Arizona road trip, you can visit three national parks (Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and Saguaro) and three NPS sites (Organ Pipe, Chiricahua, and Casa Grande Ruins) plus visit Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Sedona. February is a great month for this road trip before temperatures heat up and people start hitting the road for their spring break trips.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

National Parks at Their Absolute Best in Winter

All the wonder, none of the crowds

America’s national parks were established as places where we can experience its awesome power, often in isolation. Tell that to the summer crowds clogging the trails of Zion or the campfire troubadours whose open mic-caliber guitar playing echoes off of Joshua Tree’s trippy crags until dawn.

The national parks remain America’s Best Idea and something we all can—and should—enjoy, screaming kids at Old Faithful included. But winter can be the best time to go for those who wish to experience the parks with the same sense of solitude as a pronghorn. The trails are clear of obstacles. Campsites might not require a reservation. And, unlike peak season, you’ll feel like you have everything to yourself. These are the parks that are at their absolute best in the winter.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Spoiler alert: You’re going to see four of Utah’s Mighty Five on this list. And to clarify, I’d include Capitol Reef if I had the space. Even with next-door neighbor Arches showing off Grade A sights when temperatures dip each year, Canyonlands stands out as a banger.

The largest yet least-visited national park in the state, Canyonlands’ snow-dusted spires, arches, mesa tops, and sandstone cliffs are made all the better by the fact that crowds clear out almost completely come winter turning this into a place of spectacular, sweeping solitude. (Just be sure to check for road closures before you head out.)

2. Zion National Park, Utah

In the summertime, Zion is basically Disneyland. It’s crowded. It’s hot. You’re standing in two-hour lines to be able to do the one thing you most want to do that day and they’re often out of turkey legs.

End this madness and go in the wintertime. Just 13 percent of Zion’s visitors, journey to the park between November and March, and a wintertime desert is one of nature’s most glorious settings. Even better, once you’ve had your fill of the park and its legendary trails, you’ll be able to explore all the surrounding (and vastly overlooked) state parks unencumbered.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

When it comes to winter wonderlands few national parks come close to the beauty of Bryce Canyon in the snow. The canyon’s red hoodoos and evergreen trees pop under the smattering of white and the majestic sunrises and sunsets cover the landscapes in ethereal light. For the best views, take the two-mile hike from the visitor center to Bryce Point which ends at the Bryce Amphitheater. This is the most famous overlook in the entire park—the perfect place to snap some photos.

Winter sports enthusiasts should especially plan a trip to Bryce Canyon. The park has many daily activities like ranger-led snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing, and backpacking. National Park Service (NPS) also offers winter astronomy programs and full moon hikes (weather permitting) letting visitors take in the splendor of the unfiltered night sky.

4. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Often overlooked and under-visited despite its proximity to bustling Tucson, Saguaro’s expanses of cartoonishly contorted cacti and relatively easy hikes are best explored during the winter. In the off-season, the already thin crowds dissipate and you’re free to cavort with owls and gaze at petroglyphs with little interruption and minus the oppressive heat.

Even better, the campsites—a relatively hot commodity numbering a scant 20—are easier to bag allowing you to spend the night under the stars with only coyotes (and maybe roadrunners, given the landscape) as your company.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Less than 1 million people drop by South Dakota’s most gorgeous landscape annually and come winter the place is virtually deserted (December sees a scant 8,400 people while February tops out at 13,400). What a stunning time to go full Dr. Manhattan and have 244,000 acres of Mars virtually to yourself, give or take a few bison.

Snag a campsite under a blanket of stars if you’re hardy or a cozy cabin (and maybe some donuts and buffalo burgers) in nearby Wall (think, Wall Drug). Then strap on snowshoes or skis and get ready to truly know what it’s like to be tiny and gloriously alone in the wild.

6. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and winter is arguably the best time to see stars. Clear nights mean great views of celestial phenomena; however, they can also bring freezing temperatures to the desert so don’t let the southwest Texas location fool you into thinking it’s always hot.

Cool days are conducive to ticking off some of the more challenging hikes like the 6.5-mile Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail which can be dangerous to attempt in the warmer months.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight on its own. Now imagine seeing the fiery sandstone and surrounding evergreen trees with a layer of fresh snow. The winter scenery at this Natural Wonder of the World is absolutely magical.

Visiting the South Rim in the off-season means popular hikes like the Bright Angel Trail are blissfully quiet and much more comfortable than in the summer, thanks to cool temperatures. Grand Canyon National Park’s free shuttles run fewer routes in the winter but there are still plenty that stop at the different trailheads and Grand Canyon Village viewpoints.

8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

This boulder- and bush-dotted park straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts is a serene winter escape from bustling Los Angeles (130 miles away) and Las Vegas (217 miles away).

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for rock climbers who take advantage of bouldering while the granite is cool. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to snag one of the first-come, first-served campsites.

If you’re able to spend the night in the park, you’ll get access to some of the best stargazing the West Coast has to offer.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Time slows to a primeval pace in the sequoia groves that make up Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where arboreal giants have watched the seasons come and go for more than 2,000 years. In the winter, hike along quiet, snowy trails to the General Sherman Tree among the world’s largest living icons at a height of 275 feet.

These parks are also great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. On free, ranger-led snowshoe walks, shoes are even provided. For something less strenuous, try driving through the wintry landscape though be aware that tire chains are often required during this time of year.

10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly.

The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.

For those looking to check yet another winter-friendly park off their list while in the area, the nearby Guadalupe Mountains feel like an island in the Chihuahuan Desert with vista-rich hiking trails you won’t want to miss.

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

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

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park roughly half the season’s days boast a high temperature in the 50s—perfect for hiking the park’s more than 800 miles of trails.

Start the day by taking in the views at Newfound Gap, nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina then hike to craggy Alum Cave or explore the old-timey wooden structures at Cades Cove. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground or retreat to an RV park in nearby Sevierville.

12. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures can rise above 100 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and roads impassable so be sure to plan if you intend to visit this national park in winter.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy, volcanoes become topped with heavy snow, and steam vents become especially smoky.

For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak here with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beaten.

14. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close. I drove through here a few years ago on a whim, and it was one of the most unique National Parks I’ve ever been to.

The weather may be cooler in winter, but snow is rare. But don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night!

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, since it’s a less-visited park in general, you’re likely to see very few people and can sled down the dunes all by yourself! 

Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re very unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.

By the way, I have a series of posts on exploring national parks in winter:

Worth Pondering…

A national park is not a playground; it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

—Michael Frome

Top 10 National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

The chance to spot a bear, bison, or bald eagle in the wild is one of the major reasons RVers visit America’s 63 national parks

The sky is broad, the land is rugged, and the air fills your lungs with joy. But for many adventurers, the true appeal of a trek through a national park is the fine detail: the living flora and fauna often rare and unusual that quietly populate the landscape.

U.S. national parks are each home to an average of 415 species of wildlife—often hundreds more—and over a thousand different plants. Yet there’s not really such a thing as the average national park. Each has its unique characters, families, sights, and sounds. From tiny but tough pikas to trumpeter swans and Dutchman’s breeches, these wild expanses are full of surprises.

So where are most of those surprises found? A recent report from vacation rental site Casago analyzed National Park Service data to find out which parks have the most wildlife and plants per 100 km² (38.61021585 square miles) and which have the greatest biodiversity overall.

Casago sourced the number of species of amphibians, birds, fishes, mammals, and reptiles in each national park from the National Park Service’s Integrated Resource Management Applications (IRMA) portal. They combined the figures to give the total number of animals overall and per 100 km² in each park and calculated additional figures just including birds. And then they did the same for plant species.

Dear in Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Key findings

  • Congaree in South Carolina has the greatest density of wildlife species with 362 per 100 km²
  • However, Biscayne in Florida has more overall: a total of 1,002
  • Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico boasts 194 bird species per 100 km², the highest density
  • Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio has the densest plant biodiversity of all at 935 species per 100 km²
  • The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee have the highest number of plant species overall: 2,278.
Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Number of species per square kilometer: 362

Life of all kinds from tiny synchronous fireflies to 160-foot-tall loblolly pines crowds this park’s bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem 18 miles from Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. Congaree is also laced with rivers and lakes that sustain its astonishing biodiversity. 

Paddling the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is a great way to look for wildlife. Most commonly you see what we call the creepy-crawlies including fishing spiders with leg spans wider than your palm and red-bellied water snakes. Other residents you might encounter include barred owls, river otters, pileated woodpeckers, and sometimes, alligators gliding on the water.

2. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Number of species per square kilometer: 317

Located 20 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a mixed ecosystem of oak-hickory forest, meadows, and wetlands sheltering a variety of animals. From the boardwalk at Beaver Marsh watch for water-loving mammals (river otters, muskrats, beavers) or snapping turtles that can weigh as much as 55 pounds each. It’s neat to see the old-timers covered in moss. 

More than 200 bird species live or migrate through the park including nesting peregrine falcons (near the Route 82 Bridge) and bald eagles (hike the Towpath Trail north from Station Road Trailhead). Check the park website for occasional birding walks or ranger talks.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Number of species per square kilometer: 286

The poster child for Carlsbad Caverns is the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Every summer, hundreds of thousands of the furry, big-eared creatures roost in these honeycombed limestone caves in southeastern New Mexico attracting crowds at sunset with their spectacular outflight. But it’s just as exciting to come just before dawn and watch the bats return; the bats tuck their wings and execute speedy dives back into the caverns.

The Brazilians are one of 17 bat species that nest at Carlsbad. You might also encounter ringtails (a small, raccoon-like mammal), porcupines, peccaries, and cave swallows.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Pinnacles National Park, California

Number of species per square kilometer: 255

Driven to the brink of extinction in the 1980s, the mighty California condor now soars again over this landscape of twisty volcanic peaks in central California. Intense recovery efforts including a captive breeding program and the establishment of two distinctive wild-flying populations have brought the population of the largest birds in North America from just 22 in in 1982 to 347 condors today. 

Eighty-nine of the birds are thought to live in and around Pinnacles. If you have binoculars, you have a good chance of seeing condors flying over the ridge behind the main campground in the mornings and evenings.

Other Pinnacles standouts include golden eagles, peregrine falcons, an exceptionally high density of prairie falcons, and more than 400 species of bees.

5. Acadia National Park, Maine 

Number of species per square kilometer: 242

The Atlantic Ocean meets the cliff-lined Maine coast at this popular park on Mount Desert Island providing habitat for wildlife with feet and flippers. From the shore or a sea kayak (try Castine Kayak Adventures or Coastal Kayaking Tours) scan the water for the dorsal fins of harbor porpoises and the sleek heads of harbor and gray seals.

On land, you might spot beavers, snowshoe hares, or if you’re lucky a mink or bobcat. In between in the intertidal zone tide pools hold translucent anemones, sea urchins, snails, and sea stars. Acadia also draws loons and songbirds and fall, rangers and volunteers conduct an annual hawk watch from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia’s highest point.

Pronghorns near Wind Cave National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Number of species per square kilometer: 235 

Located at the edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest this park may be best known for its unique boxwork cave geology. But wildlife watchers also come for the herds of American bison, elk, and pronghorns grazing above on the mixed-grass prairie. 

Wind Cave is part of an ecosystem restoration and species recovery program that’s been going since the early 20th century. Populations of all three ungulates have rebounded since then and in 2007, biologists also returned the critically endangered black-footed ferret to the grasslands. Drive the 3.7-mile Bison Flats Road or hike the steep, challenging Boland Ridge Trail for the best chance to see animals.

7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Number of species per square kilometer: 223 

Contrary to its name, water makes up 99 percent of this park located on and around a seven-island archipelago some 70 miles off the coast of Florida. Visitors must catch a seaplane or ferry from Key West to get to this remote part of the Florida Keys but they’re rewarded with excellent coral reef and seagrass habitats. 

The part of the park’s name that does make sense: Five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles (Tortugas in Spanish) nest here; visitors might see them swimming or on the sandy beaches.

Book a snorkeling or scuba diving excursion to explore the reefs where green sea turtles, nurse sharks, barracudas, and decorator crabs live amid elkhorn and staghorn corals. Divers can also access the Windjammer wreck site where an iron-hulled ship that sank in 1907 provides a home for marine life. 

8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Number of species per square kilometer: 219

In western Colorado, the 2,722 vertical feet between this sparsley visited park’s canyon rim and the Gunnison River below support multiple wildlife habitats. Experienced climbers and hikers who venture into the inner canyon, find collared lizards and mule deer near the rim and bighorn sheep scampering along the middle of the cliffs. Trails are extremely steep, covered with poison ivy and require a wilderness permit to use.

It’s easier to access the Gunnison River by driving down East Portal Road where anglers fish for brown and rainbow trout and nature-lovers might run into river otters and ringtails. 

9. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Number of species per square kilometer: 217

Located in central Kentucky this national park holds the longest known underground cave system in the world. Mammoth’s 426 miles of caverns are home to 160 species from animals that merely visit (think bats) to those that can’t live anywhere else. Long-legged cave crickets pick their way up the walls, eerily eyeless white cave fish swim the underground waterways, and black-spotted orange cave salamanders lurk under rocks. 

If you’re going into the cave system, stop and slowly look around. You might see some of the small, inconspicuous vertebrates that are thriving in complete darkness.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Number of species per square kilometer: 215 

The glowing orange hoodoos and rocky walls of Bryce Canyon National Park might seem stark but the arid Utah landscape teems with life. Scan carefully for short-horned and side-blotched lizards basking among the boulders and look out for the venomous Great Basin rattlesnake under the canyon rim. 

Small, furry mammals like the golden-mantled ground squirrel, Uinta chipmunk, and Utah prairie dog are easy to see throughout the park but you’re less likely to spot larger predators such as mountain lions and black bears.

Take only memories

A wildlife trip to a national park makes for a welcome alternative to urban life and the computer screen. But to stand your best chance of spotting some gems and avoiding harm to the park’s natural life, leave no trace.

  • People only, no pets
  • Keep quiet and stay still where possible
  • Dress in natural tones and don’t wear scent
  • Keep your distance and never feed wildlife
  • Take only memories (and photos); leave only footprints
  • And don’t forget to look at the clouds

Worth Pondering…

Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Best National Parks to Visit in September

Wondering where to travel in September? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in September!

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

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

September is one of the best months of the year to visit the national parks. The weather is fantastic across much of the US, the busy summer season is coming to an end and in some parks you can see the first of the fall colors. In this guide, I list five of the best national parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in September

In my opinion, September is one of the best months of the year to plan a national parks trip. In September, the weather is still warm and the snow has melted on the higher elevation trails. After Labor Day, crowds get lower in the national parks now that children are back in school.

During September, you can visit almost any national park and have a great experience. The parks in the northern half of the US are still relatively warm and the roads are still open. In warmer climates like Utah and Arizona, September is still a hot month to visit but not as bad as June through August especially if you can delay your visit to the end of the month. And in a few places, you can even catch the first fall colors at the end of September.

I recommend avoiding Everglades and Congaree in September as they tend to be hot, humid, and swarming with mosquitoes.

For this guide, I could have listed 30 great parks to visit in September since there are so many good options. Instead, I list five of the very best parks to visit with more suggestions at the end of this guide.

Let’s get started.

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

Best National Parks in September

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in September: Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s weather is defined by the seasons. Summers are warm with occasional hot periods. Thunderstorms occur in the afternoons. Spring and fall are mild. Winters can be quite cold with high winds.

Weather: Although some days will be in the 80s, the average high is 74°F and the average low is 42°F. Rainfall is low with only 1.3 inches of rain falling in September.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

An underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

From late May through October you can watch the Bat Flight program. At the Bat Flight Amphitheater, grab a seat and watch as the bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave. The best time to see the bats is in August and September when the baby bats join the show. The Bat Flight Program takes place every evening and it is weather dependent.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in September: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: Carlsbad Caverns National Park has a semiarid climate with generally mild winters and warm to hot summers. In September, the average high is 83°F and the average low is 60°F. September is one of the wettest months of the year with 2.9 inches of rainfall. The average temperature throughout the cave is 68°F and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100 percent.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour.You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Plan Your Visit

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking traverse the park.

Shenandoah is a beautiful park to visit in September. From the viewpoints along Skyline Drive, you can gaze across the mountains and the valleys below.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Shenandoah in September: The fall colors begin the last two two weeks of September in the higher elevations. Plus, the weather is perfect for sightseeing and hiking.

Weather: The average high is 66°F and the average low is 58°F. On warmer than average days, it can get up into the high 70s. Rainfall averages about 5 inches per month through the year and September is no different.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:20 am and sunset is at 6:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Skyline Drive and visit the overlooks, hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain, visit Dark Hollow Falls, enjoy the view from Hawksbill Mountain, hike to Mary’s Rock, and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike Old Rag Mountain, a 9-mile loop trail.

Old Rag is generally considered a challenging route. The best time to hike this trail is May through October. You’ll need to leave pups at home—dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. From March 1-November 30, visitors to Old Rag Mountain including hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails will need to obtain an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance.

How many days do you need? You can drive the length of Skyline Drive in one day, visiting the overlooks and hiking a trail or two. For a more leisurely experience or to do several more hikes plan on spending two or more days in Shenandoah.

Plan your visit

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

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, over 12 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4 million visitors).

This national park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains runs through the center of the park and it is here that you will find some of the tallest peaks in eastern North America.

With over 100 species of trees that cover various elevations in the park, the peak time for fall colors lasts quite a while in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The trees first begin to change color at the higher elevations as early as mid-September. From early to mid-October, the colors slide down the mountains. Peak season comes to an end at the beginning of November when the trees at the lower, warmer elevations finally change colors.

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

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in September: For great weather for hiking and the beginning of fall colors.

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 52°F. Rainfall is about 4 inches for September which is one of the driest months of the year. 

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

Top experiences: Enjoy the view from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, hike the Alum Trail to Mount LeConte, drive through Cades Cove, and drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

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

How many days do you need? You can drive the park’s main roads and visit the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in one day. To explore the parks more fully plan three to four days and avoid Cades Cove on weekends. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close with the cliff dwellings on a tour.

Why visit Mesa Verde in September: Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Mesa Verde. There are fewer visitors in the park than during summer and cooler temperatures make conditions more comfortable for hiking and other activities. September brings sunny days, pleasant temperatures, and fewer rainy days.

Weather: The average high is 75°F and the average low is 48°F. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6 am and sunset is 8:15 pm.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Take a ranger guided tour of a cliff dwelling, see the Spruce Tree House, hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, drive Mesa Top Loop, explore the Far View sites, and hike the Point Lookout Trail.

How many days do you need? One to two days are all you need to take a cliff dwelling tour and go on the scenic drives through the park. Consider spending a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. 

Plan your visit

Bonus! More parks to visit

As stated earlier, September is a great time to visit just about any of the US national parks.

In the east, September is a beautiful time of year to visit New River Gorge National Park.

In the west, the list is long and includes Pinnacles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Badlands.

September is still a bit warm for Utah’s Mighty 5 and the American Southwest but the later you go, the cooler it will be. I prefer October into November for these parks.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in September

Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses, each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. 

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, Georgia is a significant Native American landmark dating back over 10,000 years. Visitors can learn about the Mississippian culture, climb atop the seven mounds, and even go inside one of the mounds’ Earth Lodge. Eight miles of walking trails wind through the park including by the namesake river. The park is making efforts to become a national park and hosts annual events like the fall Ocmulgee Indian Celebration (31st annual; September 16-17, 2023).

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

The Best National Parks to Visit in August

Wondering where to travel in August? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in August!

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

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

Planning a trip to the US national parks in August and don’t know which ones to visit? August is a busy time to visit the national parks but crowd levels aren’t quite at their peak (that typically happens in July for many parks).

In this guide, I cover five great parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in August

Like July, August is a very busy time to visit the US national parks. The combination of great weather and summer vacations makes August one of the most popular times of the year for travel in the US. Fortunately, in many places, crowd levels aren’t quite as large as they were in July. And the later in August you go, the quieter the parks will be.

If you only have the summer to plan a trip to the national parks either because of your children’s school schedule or your own work schedule, June and August tend to be quieter than July. There are some exceptions to this rule but in general you’re better off waiting until August and even the end of August for lower crowds in the parks.

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

Best National Parks in August

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

An underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

From late May through October you can watch the Bat Flight program. At the Bat Flight Amphitheater, grab a seat and watch as the bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave. The best time to see the bats is in August and September when the baby bats join the show. The Bat Flight Program takes place every evening and it is weather dependent.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in August: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: In August, the average high is 90°F and the average low is 66°F. August is one of the wettest months of the year with 2 inches of rainfall. The average temperature throughout the cave is 68°F and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100 percent.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour. You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2 & 3. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: California

Kings Canyon preserves Grant Grove which is home to General Grant, the second largest tree in the world and Kings Canyon which is a glacially carved valley.

Sitting right beside Kings Canyon is Sequoia National Park. It is here that you will walk among towering sequoia trees and see the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman.

These two national parks can be visited together in two busy but memorable days. It’s a great add-on to a California road trip.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Kings Canyon & Sequoia in August: The weather is fantastic and this park makes a great addition to a California road trip. Summer is a busy time to visit these two parks but August typically gets fewer visitors than July. 

Weather: The average high is 80°F and the average low is 53°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6:15 am and sunset is 7:45 pm.

Top experiences: Visit Grant Grove and drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, visit Zumwalt Meadows, see the General Sherman Tree, hike Moro Rock, and visit Crescent Meadows.

Ultimate experience: Explore the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. 77 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail runs through Kings Canyon National Park making this a top backpacking destination in the US.

How many days do you need? To see the highlights of both parks, two day is all you need but to explore further add a couple more.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: California

This national park protects Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. In Lassen Volcanic, you’ll see steaming fumaroles, pretty lakes, colorful landscapes, and Lassen Peak.

Why visit Lassen Volcanic in August: The weather is great for hiking and crowds are a bit lower than those in July.

Weather: In July, the average high is 85°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is low.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Walk Bumpass Hell Trail (isn’t that the best name for a hiking trail?), capture the reflection of Lassen Peak in Manzanita Lake, go for a scenic drive on Lassen Park Highway, visit Kings Creek Falls and Mill Creek Falls, visit Devils Kitchen, and hike to the top of Lassen Peak.

Ultimate adventure: Hike to the summit of Brokeoff Mountain for panoramic views of the park. Note, this hike is best attempted in late summer to early fall when the trail is free of snow.

How many days do you need? One day is just enough time to see the highlights but plan on spending two to three days here to hike several more trails and thoroughly explore the park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in August: For those seeking out a little solitude in nature, the somewhat out of the way location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be a blessing in disguise. While many national parks are battling traffic congestion and parking problems during the peak summer season, you may see more bison than people during your time at this amazing national park. While summer is the busiest time at the park, though by national park standards, it’s still not very busy. 

Weather: Summer also brings the warmest weather with high temperatures averaging in the 80s, and sometimes into the 90s. Rainfall is relatively low with about 2 inches of rain falling in August.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in August

Volcanic
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah. Outdoor activities are what Glen Canyon is all about. There is something for everyone’s taste. 

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Four of the five surviving Spanish colonial missions in and around San Antonio comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park and its missions offer visitors a look at the oldest unrestored stone church in the country—Mission Concepción, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.

More Information about the National Parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

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

These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel

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

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

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

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon, Arizona

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Charleston, South Carolina

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sedona, Arizona

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

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

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

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Lake Winnipesaukee

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Blue Ridge Parkway

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Banff National Park, Alberta

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

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

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

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

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

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

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

11. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

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

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

12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

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

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Savannah, Georgia

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Wells Gray Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Wells Gray Park, British Columbia

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

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

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Wells Gray

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

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

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Tombstone, Arizona

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

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

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Hoover Dam, Arizona and Nevada

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Hoover Dam

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Arches National Park, Utah

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Big Bend National Park, Texas

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Black Hills, South Dakota

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

>> Get more tips for visiting the Black Hills

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Cavern

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2023

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

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller

Throughout her life as an author and social reformer, Helen Keller motivated people around the world to overcome obstacles even in the most difficult circumstances. Despite losing both her sight and hearing when she was just 19 months old, she went on to become a prolific writer, lecturer, and disability rights advocate, helping found the American Civil Liberties Union and authoring hundreds of essays. Keller wrote these words of encouragement in her 1940 book Let Us Have Faith, calling upon us to take chances in life and trust in the path of discovery.

Glacial Skyway, Icefields Parkway, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to July! While the sun and warmth may be reason enough to celebrate, there’s even more cause for jubilation in America’s neighbor to the north. Today is Canada Day, a holiday marking the Great White North’s independence from Britain. On July 1, 1867, a Dominion was formed through the British North America Act as approved by the British Parliament. It consisted of territories then called Upper and Lower Canada and of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The act divided Canada into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and it included provisions for other colonies and territories to join in the future which made possible the growth of Canada into its present form. The act served as Canada’s constitution until 1982.

By terms of the Canada Act of 1982, the British North America Act was repatriated from the British to the Canadian Parliament and Canada became a fully independent country. At the same time, the name of the national holiday was changed to Canada Day. It is celebrated with parades, displays of the flag, the singing of the national anthem, O Canada, and fireworks. When July 1 falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following day.

July 1 is now commemorated annually nationwide from Halifax to Vancouver and everywhere in between. In honor of this historic occasion, today’s roundup touches on a variety of cultural histories in Canada and the United States.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also check out my recommendations from July 2022 and August 2022.

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

1. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

Travel to southern Alberta and you’ll uncover unique landscapes like badlands and hoodoos around lush green river valleys and literal writings on the stone around you. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park offers the natural scenery of the Milk River and the badlands but also significant cultural history.

The Visitor Centre trail is about 0.3 mile with great hoodoo views and information on upcoming events or tours. The park offers guided experiences throughout summer but you can visit for a hike or picnic any time of year. The Milk River is also a wonderful spot for a paddle.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. American History, Alive in Stone

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.  Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles site because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from environmentalists and Native American groups. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled on the Mount Rushmore location which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain.

After securing federal funding construction on the memorial began in 1927 and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941 his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

The National Park Service (NPS) took control of the memorial in 1933 while it was still under construction and has managed the memorial to the present day. It attracts nearly three million people annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Best of the Rockies

When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want.

Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named in honor of a British nurse who saved the lives of many soldiers during the First World War, Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most recognizable mountaintops in Jasper National Park. Here, you can hike along different trails that lead you to some fantastic panoramic views.

If scenic road trips are your thing, you’re definitely going to want to drive the Icefields Parkway. Named after the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers that reside there, this enchanting stretch of highway passes through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and is one of the most remarkable routes in Canada.

So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, and bighorn sheep and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where nature and history meet

If you should know one thing about Cumberland Island, know this: The southernmost barrier island in Georgia with its 18 miles of unspoiled beach and acres of breathtaking natural beauty is more than sand and sea.

People obviously appreciate Cumberland for the peace and quiet, the recreation, the beaches, the camping, and whatnot. But they might not know—unless they’ve either done some reading or taken a ranger-led tour—that there’s history here. This place has been an integral part of practically every era in American history—and pre-American history.

Dungeness ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can walk the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and tour the 22,000-square-foot Plum Orchard Mansion, two early 20th-century Carnegie family estates.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands Astronomy Festival

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16.

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Ocmulgee Mounds

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. NPS manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. But national parks are created through congressional legislation and there are many considerations including available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

The verdant human-made knolls here are a vivid window into more than 17,000 years of Indigenous habitation. The ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is a leading contender for the next national park slot thanks to a robust community initiative and bipartisan support in Congress. “We know that our ancestors are buried in this land and national park status would establish protections,” says Tracie Reevis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Exploring Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are tons of guided tours available. Tour guides point out particularly interesting features, teach you about \the formation and history of the area, and help you stay safe as you explore these naturally formed caves.

The visitor center is also quite impressive. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’ll love the 16-minute Hidden World video presentation that they play every 30 minutes. This will give you additional information about the caverns so you can more fully enjoy your experience once you’re in them. The center also has exhibits about the native plant and animal species as well as hands-on learning experiences about the geology and history of the area. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and buy some fun souvenirs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Black’s BBQ, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel to Texas for beef brisket 

Travel to Texas and you’ll quickly learn something important about the locals: they know their barbecued meats. So when they line up for four or more hours to get some, it has to be special. That’s the situation at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue six days a week. Through the Franklin’s menu includes pulled pork, ribs, sausage, and more, the main attraction is its smoked beef brisket.

The team here keeps it simple rubbing the meat with a mix of salt and black pepper then cooking it low and slow in oakwood smoke until it’s fall-apart tender and encased in a thin, salty crust. It’s a juicy, smoky Texas classic, judged best-in-class by Texans themselves. 

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could drive to Lockhart, the state-legislated Barbecue Capital of Texas and be back in the time it takes to get into Franklin’s. But the queue is good fun; you can have a beer and meet some friendly Texans while you wait—and damn, that brisket is good.

Franklin Barbecue can now be shipped to your home anywhere in the United States. Get the best brisket in the known universe without standing in line. 

Learn to smoke meat like a pro! Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.

>> Get more tips on the best of Texas BBQ

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park

The construction is complete on the Gateway to the Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park. The park is part of the Alabama Birding Trails Coastal Trail Series making the boardwalk a great place to bird watch.

The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different bird species within each region.

Stop number 26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding Trail, Meaher State Park’s 1,327-acres are situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a multi-use scenic park with picnic areas, 61 RV camping sites, 10 improved tent sites all with full hook-ups and a shower house with laundry facilities for overnight visitors. A boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at the gate house to pay a nominal $3 entrance fee and then drive to the shell road which runs a quarter mile to the aforementioned boardwalk. Park here (there is a chain across the shell road at this point) and walk on toward the boardwalk that extends out into Mobile Bay.

In winter, watch for Swamp and White-throated Sparrows as you approach the boardwalk. Herons, egrets, and gulls can be seen from the boardwalk and Least Bittern (summer) and Clapper Rail. In winter, American White Pelicans find this a favorite spot as do large rafts of waterfowl.

In summer, this is a great place for terns including Gull-billed Tern. In addition, Least Terns often gather on the railings of the boardwalk offering excellent views. On the south side of the island looking west into the bay there are often White Ibis. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be frequently seen near the entrance eating crabs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico considers roasted chile as official state aroma

The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.

Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile.

Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to proudly have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.

“It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chile. “I have tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that is that distinctive statewide, and I can’t think of any.”

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For New Mexico, chile is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the center of the official state question—Red or green?—and is one of the state’s official vegetables.

New Mexico produced more than 60 percent of the U.S. chile pepper crop in 2021 and is home to Hatch, an agricultural village known as the Chile Capital of the World for the unique red and green peppers it has turned out for generations. The famous crop also is used in powders, sauces, and salsas that are shipped worldwide.

>> Learn more about New Mexico’s famed chiles

Worth Pondering…

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

—Roald Dahl