The 25 Most Breathtaking Places in the U.S. and Canada to Visit in your Lifetime

These are 25 of the most breathtaking for RV travel

What is the most breathtaking place in America? To compile the most breathtaking 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 breathtaking 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 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.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s name is rather deceiving. Instead of containing a canyon what it does have are stone pinnacles that were formed naturally over time due to erosion from the stream and weathering during winter’s frost. Multiple points throughout this park offer a stupendous view, but your best bet is Bryce Point in the southern region. From here, you’ll have a prime viewing of all the amazing stone formations known as hoodoos scattered about the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of wild and scenic. It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff. Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travelers to explore.

Organ Pipe National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the forests of Saguaro.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tulip fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

These farmlands are must-sees in the spring—namely in April which is the absolute best time to take a trip to this Pacific Northwest locale. That’s when all the bright, vibrant tulips are in full bloom and when you can enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. If you visit at the right time you’ll get to see not just tulips in all sorts of pretty, warm colors but also countless other flowers that add to the gorgeousness of the fields. During the festival, you can taste wine, enjoy strolling through gardens, sample barbecues, and feast your eyes on art exhibits.

Caverns of Senora  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. Five levels of the cave vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

>> Get more tips for visiting The Caverns of Sonora

Joshua Tree National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park and you won’t just feel like you’re in another country, you’ll feel as if you’re walking onto another planet. Filled with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region like the Joshua tree as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, the landscape has the appearance of a scene from a sci-fi flick. Joshua Tree National Park is a photographer’s, hiker’s, and climber’s dream while the village of Joshua Tree has a unique charm as an artists’ enclave home to an eclectic mix of nature lovers, artists, and hipsters.

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Bernheim Forest  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Forest

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Canadian Rockies

One of the most spectacular and beautiful places you will find anywhere, the Canadian Rockies are huge, pristine wilderness with local gems such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. All five parks combined with three British Columbia provincial parks have been name as a single UNESCO World Heritage site for the unique mountainscapes found here. Not to mention the world-famous lakes in the region. You’ll have plenty to explore with Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Maligne Lake, all stunning and fed by the glaciers in the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies

Cumberland Island National Seashore  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Botany Bay  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botany Bay

Mesa Verde National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Mesa Verde National Park, 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 to the cliff dwellings on a tour.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

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

13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Shenandoah National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Shenandoah National Park, 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 trails traverse the park.

 >> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Enchanted Rock in Texas Hill Country  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Texas Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

 >> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Hill Country

Okanagan Valley  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua-blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Painted Churches  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that had one thing in common: their painted churches. The term painted comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork.

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Painted Churches

Columbia Icefield  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145-mile stretch of highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests. Glacier Sky Walk is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Galveston, Texas

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time. Galveston Island is home to Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

>> Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mount Robson Provincial Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system is truly one of Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Museum of Appalachia  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine you’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Museum of Appalachia

Natural Bridges National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

La Connor  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

>> Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Elk Island National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Elk Island National Park, Alberta

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This island of conservation is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Capitol Reef National Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit. If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold. There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

>> Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

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

The Best National Parks to Visit in July

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

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

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

The list of national parks to visit in July is wonderfully diverse. Visit Carlsbad Caverns, go hiking in Lassen Volcanic, spend some time in the tranquil forests in Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks, and explore one of the most underrated US national parks, Theodore Roosevelt.

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

Sequoia & 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 July

July is the busiest month of the year to visit the national parks. The weather is warm, the days are long, and many people are hitting the road for summer vacation.

By July, all of the national parks are fully open with the last high mountain roads opening by early July. So, you can pretty much visit any park you want. However, some parks are very hot this time of year (particularly across the south and into the American Southwest) and some are extremely crowded (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountains make this list). You won’t see these parks on my list for July but there are some parks with lower crowds and great weather that make excellent picks this month.

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 July

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. 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.

Snow lingers on the roads and trails at the higher elevation of the park into June and sometimes into early July. If you want to hike to Lassen Peak and have full access to the park, July is the earliest time of the year when this is possible.

Cool fact: Lassen Volcanic National Park one of the only places in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes: shield, stratovolcano, cinder cone, and plug.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Lassen Volcanic in July: By early July, the roads and trails in the higher elevations of the park open, so this is about the earliest you can visit Lassen Volcanic and have full access to the park. Plus, the weather is pretty much perfect this time of year.

Weather: In July, the average high is 72°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:30 am and sunset is at 8:40 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.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Plan your visit

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

2 & 3. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks sit side by side in central California. Filled with alpine peaks, deep canyons, and the largest trees in the world, you should spend several days here.

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

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.

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

Why visit Kings Canyon & Sequoia in July: July is the busiest month of the year to visit but the weather is great.

Weather: The average high is 83°F and the average low is 65°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 5:40 am and sunset is 8:05 pm.

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

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

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 U.S.

How many days do you need? Spend a minimum of one day in each park.

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. 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 July: 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 July.

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

5. 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 July: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: In July, the average high is 91°F and the average low is 67°F. July 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.

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

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in July

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.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

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. 

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 May

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

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

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

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a trip to the U.S. national parks in May and don’t know which ones to visit? May is a beautiful time to visit the national parks now that the snow has melted across most of the country and roads have reopened. In this guide, I cover five great parks to visit plus five bonus parks and a road trip that links several of these parks together.

Great Smoky Mountains 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.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in May

May is an awesome time to visit the national parks. By May, warmer weather settles across most of the US. The snow has melted, the grass is green, the trees have leaves, and most roads are now open.

There are a handful of national parks that close their roads in late fall for snowfall and these roads don’t reopen until mid to late spring (or even early summer for some parks). You can still visit these parks in March and April but it is not until May that you have access to the full park.

May tends to be a busy month to visit the national parks but crowds are still lower than the summer months. If you want warm weather without massive crowds, May is a good time to plan your national parks trip.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Best National Parks in May

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. 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 trails traverse the park.

Why visit Shenandoah in May: This is the best month to see wildflowers blooming in Shenandoah National Park. Plus, the weather is warm, the trees have leaves, and the entire park is lush and green.
Weather: The average high is 66°F and the average low is 46°F. Rainfall averages about 4.5 inches per month through the year and May is no different.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District (East) and the Tucson Mountain District (West). Saguaro is a hot place to visit in May. So, why am I recommending it? Because this is the best time to see the Saguaro cactus in bloom.

The Saguaro cactus begins blooming in late April with peak blooming season in May. By the end of May into the first week of June, the blooming season ends.

Why visit Saguaro in May: To see the Saguaro cactus in bloom.

Weather: In May, the average high is 93°F and the average low is 60°F. Rainfall is extremely low.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:30 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Bajada Loop Drive, hike Valley View Overlook Trail and 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.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. 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.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Mesa Verde in May: In May, the roads reopen in the park and ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings begin for the year. The weather is fantastic and crowds are lower than what you would see here during the summer months.
Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 43°F. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6 am and sunset is 8:15 pm.

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.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree is hot and humid in May and with higher levels of mosquitoes, it’s not a great time to visit the park unless you want to see the synchronous fireflies.

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In order to protect critical firefly habitat and provide optimum visitor experience, tickets are required to enter the park during for this event. A set number of vehicle passes are issued for each evening of the event. Vehicle passes for this event are distributed by lottery hosted at www.recreation.gov/ticket/facility/300008.

Why visit Congaree in May: To see the synchronous fireflies.

Weather: The average high is 83°F and the average low is 60°F. On hotter than normal days, the high temperature can get up into the high-90s. In terms of rainfall, this is one of the drier months to visit the park but now that it is getting warmer expect humid weather. Mosquitoes can also be bad this time of year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan your visit

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

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains 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.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, 13 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4.7 million visitors).

In May of 2022, 1.3 million people visited this national park (you read that right…1.3 million people in one month). To put that into perspective, that’s about the same number of people that visited Capitol Reef National Park all year! And Capitol Reef was the 21st most visited national park lastt year.

And May isn’t even the busy time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The busy season is the summer months and peak visitation is July with 1.6 million visitors.

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

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in May: For great weather and lower crowds than the summer months.

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 45°F. Rainfall is about average for the year with the park receiving about 7 inches of rain.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 8 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 the weekend. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

1 more National Parks to visit in May

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was included in my series for the best parks to visit in April since that month is a great time to see wildflowers in the park. The weather in May is very good with average high temperatures in the low 80s and low rainfall but this tends to be the busiest month to visit Pinnacles so keep that in mind while planning your trip.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in May

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Known as an iron plantation, Hopewell Furnace illustrates how mining and producing iron ore spurred the United States to economic prosperity. Visitors to this Pennsylvania site can see demonstrations and hike the surrounding area which was originally farmland.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

On the banks of the Pedernales River in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, the LBJ Ranch tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails.

May road trip idea

In 10 days, you can drive point-to-point from Washington DC to Gatlinburg, Tennessee visiting three national parks along the way—Shenandoah, New River Gorge, and Great Smoky Mountains. You can also drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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…

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

—Michael Frome

The Best Things to do this Spring in Georgia

Spring in Georgia is the perfect time to bask in perfect weather at festivals celebrating music, art, food, and local traditions

Spring in Georgia brings blooming flowers, warmer days, and activities of all kinds. Spring is an undeniably beautiful time of year to visit Georgia. From March to May the average low of 65 degrees F and an average high of 80 degrees F is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, and strolling through the state’s many parks and botanical gardens. Spring break trips offer perfect opportunities to explore new places and attend events throughout the state.

From outdoor adventures that take advantage of the great weather to favorite events that only happen once a year, here are nine of the best things to do around the state this season.

Beach on Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Go to the beach

Georgia’s beaches are among its best resources. Plan a getaway to explore some of Georgia’s 15 barrier islands, including…

Golden Isles

Nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville lies the mainland city of Brunswick and its four barrier islands―St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island. 

The port city of Brunswick is laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s with city streets and squares still bearing their colonial names. Explore the historic area which is enjoying a renaissance and features shops, restaurants, and beautiful homes reflecting a variety of styles dating from 1819.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive to St. Simons Island. Check out Fort Frederica National Monument, the archaeological remnants of the island’s first European settlement or make your way to Neptune Park, an oceanfront park next to the St. Simons Island Lighthouse that offers a playground, picnic area, casino, and pool. Cannon’s Point Preserve features 660 acres of greenery and Late Archaic shell rings dating back to 2500 BCE.

Since 1928, Sea Island has been known as an exceptional destination featuring five miles of private beach, a Beach Club, tennis center, Yacht Club, and Shooting School as well as three championship golf courses including the home of the PGA TOUR’s RSM Classic.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 10 miles of sandy beaches, four golf courses, a 250-acre Historic Landmark District and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, Jekyll Island has been a family-favorite state park destination for 75 years. 

In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip with these guides to the Golden Isles and Jekyll Island:

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is a family-friendly beach town 20 minutes from downtown Savannah. Rent a cute cottage, go on a dolphin tour, dig into fresh seafood, and much more. Those traveling with RVs and tents can stay at River’s End Campground and RV Park which is a few blocks from North Beach. There are more than 100 sites with full hookups, cozy cabins, and primitive sites. Campground guests will enjoy convenient amenities and comforts of home like a 24-hour laundry room, a fully equipped fitness center, the island’s largest swimming pool, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island National Seashore is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia offering visitors more than 17 miles of secluded white, sandy beaches. Wild horses and other island wildlife roam freely throughout the ruins and along the beach. Glimpses of the Carnegie lifestyle can be easily imagined throughout the ruins of Dungeness, Plum Orchard, and Greyfield Inn.

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 and Brunswick.

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

Plan your trip with these guides to Cumberland Island:

2. Attend a spring arts or sports event

Just as daffodils, dogwoods, and azaleas flourish in the spring in Georgia so do outdoor arts and sports events. Pick any city and you’ll likely find a spring event to enjoy.

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

International Cherry Blossom Festival

Each March, Macon becomes a pink, cotton-spun paradise as over 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees bloom in all their glory.The International Cherry Blossom Festival is a perennial favorite held March 17-26, 2023 that features art exhibitions, rides, and performances. 

The Creek Indians were the first inhabitants of the area that would later become known as Macon, settled by Europeans in 1809. Celebrate the Native American tribes that called the Macon area home at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, a site dating back 17,000 years. The site has North America’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge with its original 1,000-year-old floor as well as the Great Temple Mound.

Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1960s, Macon was ground zero for the music industry thanks to Capricorn Records and artists like the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Learn about the band that called Macon home at The Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House, the Tudor-style home that Berry, Duane, and Gregg lived in with their family and friends. It has a large collection of guitars and band memorabilia.

The Blessing of the Fleet

Each spring, Darien holds The Blessing of the Fleet Festival for the captains of local shrimp boats. The largest event of its kind on the East Coast, it’s also a great time to get some exercise with the 5K run, admire arts and crafts, watch fireworks, and salute seagoing ships during the maritime parade. The 55th Annual Blessing of the Fleet on the beautiful, historic Darien Waterfront is set for April 21-23, 2023.

Savannah Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Music Festival

The annual 17-day springtime festival (March 23-April 8, 2023) is Georgia’s largest musical arts event featuring up to 100 productions. Established in 1989, Savannah Music Festival features artists from all genres including classical, jazz, folk, country, and rock. 

Savannah’s Historic District is sprinkled with 22 historic squares, stunning period architecture, and beautiful cobblestone streets, each with unique elements and stories. Take a walk down America’s Most Beautiful Street, Jones Street, take photos in front of the iconic Forsyth Fountain, and stop at places like Chippewa Square, best known as the site of the bench scene from the movie Forrest Gump.

Plan your trip with this Guide to Savannah.

Hank Aaron, a Braves legend

Atlanta Braves

Take in an Atlanta Braves game at Truist Park. The Braves open at home on April 6, 2023 against the San Diego Padres. The Braves’ first homestand of the season will continue with three more games against the Padres and a three-game set against the Cincinniti Reds. 

The Braves baseball team was moved to Atlanta in 1966 from stints in Boston and Milwaukee. It’s the longest continuously operating franchise in Major League Baseball. In their years as an organization, the team has won four World Series (most recently in 2021). Legends like Hank Aaron helped make the team what it is today.

In March 2017, the Atlanta Braves officially moved to their new home at Truist Park (formerly SunTrust Park). It’s surrounded by The Battery, an entertainment complex with restaurants, stores, concert venues, and a hotel.

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

The Masters

Tickets to the legendary golf tournament in Augusta are hard to come by but even if you don’t have tickets there is plenty to do off-course during Masters Week April 3-9, 2023. 

Established along the Savannah River in 1736, Augusta was once home to cotton production which helped it become the state’s second largest city. These days, much of the city’s industry surrounds the medical fields and technology thanks in part to nearby Augusta University. The city is home to Augusta National and the Masters Golf Tournament as well as the birthplace of legends like James Brown. A thriving arts community, plentiful outdoor exploration, and locally owned restaurants only add to its appeal for travelers.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Delight in spring blooms

Spring color pops out early in Georgia especially sunny yellow daffodils and cheery pink cherry trees and tulip magnolias. Trace the season’s progression through the rainbow of colorful flowers, trees, and bushes that burst onto the scenery from their winter slumber. From the North Georgia Mountains to the coast you can explore a gorgeous array of gardens expertly created to showcase the season’s best.

See the largest daffodil display in the nation at Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground in early March. More than 200 varieties of early, mid, and late bloomers cover 50 acres of hillsides and valleys.

Experience the beauty of 20,000 azaleas in bloom at Callaway Resort & Gardens in Pine Mountain during Spring FlowerFest March 25-May 7, 2023.

Spring blossoms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate Mother’s Day weekend at the 16th annual Picnic in the Garden in the Pecan Groove at Hills and Dales Estate in LaGrange on May 13, 2023 featuring a picnic spread contest, live music, pony rides, and yard games. Explore the historic Ferrell Gardens which are one of the best-preserved 19th-century gardens in America.

The Savannah Botanical Garden includes nature trails, a picturesque pond, and an archaeological exhibit among the formal and natural displays. Enjoy the Southern charm of the historic Reinhard House, the sweet sounds of songbirds, and wander along a path that explores camellias, ferns, and a children’s garden. Admission is free.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of the state

You can’t say we don’t eat well in Georgia! Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across the state.

Food Festivals

Georgia’s spring food festivals offer a huge menu of options. A few choices include:

  • Georgia Strawberry Festival, Reynolds, April 22, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Hiawassee Highlands Wine Festival, Hiawassee, May 13, 2023
  • Taste of Alpharetta, Alpharetta, May 11, 2023

Pick-your-own Farms

Grab a bucket and head to one of Georgia’s many pick-your-own farms for a true Southern springtime tradition. The whole family will have fun picking their favorite springtime treats fresh from farms throughout the state.

Springtime in Georgia means warmer temperatures, blooming flowers, and…strawberry season. The official strawberry season can stretch from late April to July 4th in Georgia with the best picking from May to mid June.

Adairsville Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Food Tours

Eat your heart out in Georgia where restaurant and dining options range from casual to fine dining and you’ll find all types of cuisines—especially Southern. Dig in to the South’s best barbecue smoked to perfection and matched with mouthwatering sides like baked beans and macaroni and cheese. Peel and eat sweet, wild Georgia shrimp served with a basket of warm hush puppies while a sea breeze carries away the cares of the day.

Check out one of the many food tours like Atlanta Food Walks, Taste of Thomasville Food Tours, or Savannah Taste Experience.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Taste of Thomasville is a three-hour progressive lunch though downtown Thomasville that starts in the courtyard of The Gift Shop. Participants and the tour guide walk to award-winning food establishments in the downtown area. Between the food establishments, the participants learn the history, culture and stories that make Thomasville a unique town. 

Take a three-hour walking and tasting tour through the gardens and historic, cultural landmarks of the squares of Savannah, the Hostess City of the South. Savannah Taste Experience food tours will open your palate through bites and tastings at distinctive restaurants, extraordinary specialty food stores, and other notable eateries while providing a local’s perspective on culture, history, and architecture of Savannah. 

Getting out on the water at Stephen S. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Get out on the water

Enjoy the great outdoors around Georgia, especially the lakes, rivers, and ocean.

Lake Life

Georgia’s Lake Country boasts two expansive lakes with more than 15,000 acres of water (Oconee and Sinclair) and more than 10 golf courses nestled in the neighboring communities of Eatonton, Greensboro, Madison, and Milledgeville.

Closer to Atlanta, Lake Lanier welcomes boaters and fishermen. Lakes Burton, Rabun, Hartwell, and Blackshear are also worth exploring.

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploring the Okefenokee Swamp

Take a walk on the wild side at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine 680-square-mile wilderness is an ecological wonder. The main entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge is located near Folkston.

Hike the Chesser Island Boardwalk to the Owl’s Roost Tower for an unparalleled view of the swamp prairies and the Okefenokee Wilderness. The Richard S. Bolt Visitor Center is a perfect place to begin your Okefenokee experience―talk to refuge staff and volunteers about recreational opportunities, recent wildlife sightings, and take a guided boat tour with knowledgeable naturalists or rent a canoe or kayak and set out on your own.

Take advantage of the discounts on multi-day, multi-entrance passes to Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross and Okefenokee Adventures in Folkston to experience boat tours, train rides, nature shows and the incredible scenery of the fascinating swamp environment.

Brasstown Bald with fall colors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Plan a road trip

What’s a better time to start planning a getaway by car or RV? Decide what you want to see whether it be coast or mountains, cities or small towns. Follow the 41-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway through the mountains, drive along US-17 to coastal communities from Richmond Hill to Darien or taste your way through the state on Georgia Grown Trail 37.

Surrounded by the beauty of Chattahoochee National Forest, the 40.6-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Georgia Grown Trail 37 is Georgia’s first officially branded agritourism highway created to spotlight the agricultural bounty and beauty found in Southern Georgia. Featuring over two dozen agritourism hotspots and out-of-the-way shopping adventures, Georgia Grown Trail 37 takes you on a tasty adventure through small towns and family farms. You will find olive farms, vineyards and wineries, U-Pick berries and produce, unique farm products, and specialty shops. Take I-75, Exit 39, East or West.

Hunt for murals © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Hunt for murals

Looking for colorful walls to photograph? You’re in luck. Atlanta has hundreds of murals in every corner of the city especially around Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward. Savannah also has its own usually commissioned by art galleries and non-profits to beautify their buildings. Macon also has upped its game in terms of public art, with murals, sculptures, and Little Free Libraries around town. Don’t miss the mural in Dublin which honors the civil rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

8. Tour a brewery, cidery, or distillery

The Peach State has a thriving scene for craft beverages as new breweries and distilleries are opening every year in every corner of the state. No matter where you go, plan on having a designated driver.

A brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breweries

They may be found in old warehouses where the grind of machinery has been replaced with liquid gold and the sound of good times or in new wide-open spaces.

Atlanta has the most craft breweries including big-name ones like Sweetwater and those with multiple locations like Monday Night. But there are many breweries in other cities and towns like Macon Beer Company, Creature Comforts in Athens, and Eagle Creek Brewing in Statesboro. Grab a bite with your pint at a brewpub, like Good Word Brewing and Public House in Duluth.

Located within walking distance of college dive bars, Creature Comforts Brewing Co. hangs out in a former car dealership and auto repair shop on the edge of downtown Athens. Try its Tropicalia and see why it’s considered one of the top IPAs in the country.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Macon has been making a resurgence thanks in part to breweries like the Macon Beer Company. This spot playfully uses the city’s name in the name of its beers such as Macon Love, Macon Plays and, of course, Macon Money.

Taking its name from the coastal Georgia Island, Jekyll Brewing has paved the way for craft breweries in the northern suburb of Alpharetta. And on the topic of branding you may be amused by the names of their beers such as Hop Dang Diggity, Southern Juice, Cooter Brown, and ‘Merican Amber.

Cideries

The gluten-intolerant can rejoice as there are also cideries around the state. Urban Tree Cidery is located on Atlanta’s Westside with a taproom to sample their varieties. Treehorn in Marietta is another favorite as is Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. If you’re looking for a low-alcohol option, Cultured South on Atlanta’s West End brews the popular Golda Kombucha.

A distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distilleries

Distilleries also are open to visitors to offer a glimpse into how your favorite spirits are made. Atlanta has the ASW Distillery, Old Fourth Distillery, and Independent Distilling distilleries. Dalton Distillery and Dawsonville Distillery both specialize in legal white lightning. Richland Rum in Richland and Brunswick crafts the only single-estate rum in the United States made from Georgia-grown sugar cane.

Moonshine and other spirits © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moonshine

Whether you go all in and tour a moonshine maker’s distillery or you attend a local festival named after the famous drink, Georgia is a great place to start your moonshine journey.

In the summer, classic cars and their owners head to the Georgia mountain town of Hiawassee for the annual Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruiz-In. The three-day event features live mountain music, a real moonshine still, arts and crafts vendors, automotive vendors, and hundreds of classic cars.

Visit Blairsville in September for the Moonshine Market Arts & Crafts Show featuring regional vendors, live music, food, beer and spirits, and distillery tours. 

A winery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wineries

Georgia is more than just craft beer and moonshine. The Peach State has its fair share of wineries especially clustered around the North Georgia Mountains. Muscadine and fruit wines are produced as well as well-known varietals.

Kaya’s Winery and Tasting Room in Dahlonega are built atop a ridge that is 1,600 feet above elevation and offers panoramic mountain views in North Georgia. Enjoy wine made from estate-grown grapes with a view from the covered deck.

On the Helen side of the North Georgia Mountains are a number of wineries but Yonah Mountain Vineyards & Winery is frequently listed as a favorite. The namesake mountain rises into view from the tasting room inspiring the logo that makes the rounded peak look like a bear’s back. Experience their tastings which showcase chardonnay, merlot, malbec, pinot noir, and sauvignon blancs. The wine cave tour is what makes Yonah Mountain completely unique, the only known one in the state.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Bike the trails

Gear up with your helmet and two wheels to explore the state. There are plenty of paved bike paths for beginner or expert riders.

The Silver Comet Trail rails-to-trails path connects Atlanta to the Alabama state line and is accessible from the cities of downtown Rockmart and Cedartown. Bikers, runners, hikers, skaters, and horseback riders use the trail for recreation and commuting. The Silver Comet Trail begins at the intersection of South Cobb Drive and the East-West Connector in Smyrna and runs all the way to the Alabama border. There, it meets the Chief Ladiga trail in Alabama. 

The Carrollton GreenBelt is the largest greenspace and greenway conservation project ever undertaken in the city of Carrollton’s almost 200-year history. The 18-mile long linear city park is the largest paved loop trail system in Georgia and provides residents and visitors a unique escape.

The Chattahoochee Riverwalk in Columbus runs 15 miles alongside the water offering views of the whitewater rapids and a connection to the National Infantry Museum. By foot or on bike, you will skirt the cityscape, examine historic monuments and markers, and take in the wild beauty of the rolling river and native wildlife. Geocachers can take on the RiverWalk GeoTour, the first of its kind in the world with 31 challenging geocaches with collector game pieces including three coins.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

The Least Visited U.S. National Parks

These least-visited national parks in the U.S. have all of the beauty and none of the crowds

Currently, there are 63 national parks in the U.S., alongside countless more national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national historic sites overseen by the National Park Service (NPS). These protected spaces represent some of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in the country.

The NPS recently released its latest annual visitation data which will help us (and you) decide where to plan your next hike, whether you’re looking for a communal vibe, or a more secluded and isolated experience.

With almost 13 million visits last year, the Great Smoky Mountains remain undefeated when it comes to the most visitors of any national park. But other, no less spectacular parks see a fraction of those numbers. If you want to head off the beaten path, here are 21 of the least visited NPS service sites in the U.S.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 38,786

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tumacácori National Historic Park

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 50,017

Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 50,396

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. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Aztec Ruins National Monument

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

State: Pennsylvania

2022 visits: 57,238

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best-preserved iron plantation in North America. Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smokehouses, a blacksmith shop, an office store, a charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 60,501

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country.At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone, are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

>> Get more tips for visiting El Morro National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 61,377

The most noticeable natural features in Chiricahua National Monument 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.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

State: Georgia

2022 visits: 64,387

There is only one place on Earth where you can find wild horses, secluded white beaches, live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and the skeletal remains of a once-famous mansion. Cumberland is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The National Park Service protects almost 36,000 acres of the island including miles of unspoiled beaches.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga National Historic Park

State: New York

2022 visits: 70,742

Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga is considered among the most decisive battles in world history. Here in 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender, an event which led France to recognize the independence of the United States and enter the war as a decisive military ally of the struggling Americans.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

State: Utah

2022 visits: 71,249

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 78,557

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing four-story building dating from the late Hohokam period probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle national monuments. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

State: Virginia

2022 visits: 83,483

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home where Lee made his formal surrender and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site, and have been restored to their original condition. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

State: Texas

2022 visits: 87,386

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire circle of life gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

State: New York

2022 visits: 100,665

See the place where Franklin D. Roosevelt was born and buried in Hyde Park at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The home is also the location of the first presidential library.

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

State: South Dakota

2022 visits: 105,776

Commemorating the Cold War, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site offers visitors a history of the U.S. nuclear missile program and their hidden location in the Great Plains. The site details U.S. foreign policy and its push for nuclear disarmament.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 116,639

Built atop a small 120 foot ridge is a large pueblo. Tuzigoot is Apache for crooked water; however, it was built by the Sinagua. With 77 ground floor rooms this pueblo held about 50 people. After about 100 years the population doubled and then doubled again later. By the time they finished building the pueblo, it had 110 rooms including second and third story structures and housed 250 people. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Tuzigoot National Monument

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Memorial

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 131,359

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley which was the route believed to have been taken by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition. If you’re interested in life in this region before the Coronado Expedition, take a tour of the Coronado Cave. For those looking to stay above ground, the scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico.

>> Get more tips for visiting Coronado National Monument

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 133,317

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce their first flower near the age of 35.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

State: Georgia

2022 visits: 155,242

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon 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).

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 162,755

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. Known as the badlands in Spanish, El Malpais was used by early Spanish map makers to describe areas of volcanic terrain. El Malpais preserves an ancient volcanic landscape and a history of human habitation.

>> Get more tips for visiting El Malpais National Monument

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

State: South Carolina

2022 visits: 204,522

Some of the tallest trees on the east coast are located inside Congaree which was named after the Native American tribe that used to reside in the area. Unlike many hardwood forests, Congaree was largely spared by the lumber industry in the late 1800s and was eventually designated as a national monument and then a national park. The terrain includes the forest, the Congaree River, and the floodplain.

>> Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cowpens National Battlefield

State: South Carolina

2022 visits: 212,534

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. The battle at the Cow Pens is one of only a few successful double envelopments in history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cowpens National Battlefield

These 21 lesser-known and visited parks have minimal visitors, plenty to do, and much-needed peace and quiet. Consider adding these least-visited national parks to your 2023 list of road trip destinations.

Worth Pondering…

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

—August Fruge

The Best National Parks to Visit in April

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

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 National Park Service website while planning your trip. 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in April

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

April is a big month for spring break travel. The warmer weather also draws more crowds now that much of the country is warming up.

That warmer weather means that a bunch of parks are now warm enough to visit without facing freezing temperatures and the chance of snow. For the most part, you won’t need a warm coat and gloves to visit the majority of the national parks on this list and in some places, shorts and a t-shirt is what you’ll be packing in your RV.

If you want to visit the national parks with great weather and lower crowds that flood the parks in the summer months, April is a great time to plan your trip.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

People from around the world travel to the Grand Canyon, making it one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. It also makes the list of Seven Natural Wonders of the World and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For millions of years, the Colorado River has been carving out this massive canyon. Grand Canyon National Park is enormous and with four rims to visit, there are many different ways to visit this park.

In April, the North Rim is not yet open (it typically opens in mid-May). The South Rim is the most spectacular area of the park to visit in April with sweeping, iconic views of the Grand Canyon and several epic hiking trails to choose from.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit the Grand Canyon in April: In April, daytime highs finally climb up into the 60s and with a low chance of rain the weather is very pleasant this time of year. Crowds are large in April but not as big as they are in the summer months so if you want good weather and lower crowds, April is a good time to visit the Grand Canyon. This is also one of the best times to go hiking in the Grand Canyon since the days are cool, rainfall is low, and you have over 12 hours of daylight. 

Weather: The average high is 61°F and the average low is 29°F. April is one of the driest months of the year to visit the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:50 am and sunset is at 7 pm.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, raft the Colorado River, and take a flightseeing tour or a ranger-guided tour.

Ultimate adventure: Hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. You can either hike a portion of the South Kaibab or Bright Angel trails out-and-back or combine them into one big loop. Called the rim to river to rim hike, only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.

How many days do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Four days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Badlands National Park

Location: South Dakota

Badlands National Park is a highly underrated park in the United States.

The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country (it’s the feature photo for this article). Bison and bighorn sheep roam the largest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The sunrises and sunsets are magical, the hiking trails are short and sweet, and for those looking for more solitude, you can take your pick from a handful of backcountry experiences.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Badlands in April: In April, the weather is getting warmer and this is the last quiet month in the park before visitation really picks up. In 2022, 35,000 people visited Badlands in April and this number jumped to 100,000 in May and increased throughout the summer months. So, in April, you can take advantage of good weather and low crowds. 

Weather: The average high is 62°F and the average low is 35°F. April is the start of the rainy season. March is drier but with low temperatures and the chance of snow, I think April is a better time to visit. 

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Badlands Loop Road and visit the overlooks, watch the sunrise and/or the sunset, hike the Notch Trail, hike the Door and Fossil Exhibit Trails, drive Sage Creek Rim Road, visit Roberts Prairie Dog Town, hike the Castle Trail, and count how many bison you can find.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate experience, venture into the backcountry. In Badlands National Park, you are permitted to hike off-trail and the Sage Creek Wilderness and Deer Haven Wilderness are great places to go hiking and spot wildlife.

How many days do you need? One day in Badlands National Park gives you just enough time to visit the highlights and hike a few short trails. Make sure you catch either sunrise or sunset in the park because these are one of the best times of day to look out across the landscape. To explore beyond the basics plan a second day.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas. It bumps up against Mexico and the Rio Grande forms the border between Mexico and Big Bend National Park. Big Bend gets its name from the prominent bend in the Rio Grande on this border.

This national park protects the largest area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US as well as the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend is a top hiking destination in with trails leading high into these mountains and into canyons along the Rio Grande.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Big Bend in April: In April, crowds are diminishing (March tends to be the busiest month of the year to visit Big Bend) and the weather is warm and sunny. However, if you are here during a heat wave temperatures can get up into the 90s, even reaching 100 degrees, so early April is the better time of the month to visit in order to avoid these hotter temperatures. By May, this park really begins to heat up.

Weather: The average high is 82°F and the average low is 54°F. Rainfall is very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 8:20 pm.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is both the largest and the least visited national park in Utah. I also think that it is one of the most underrated national parks.

This enormous national park preserves the canyons, buttes, and mesas that have been carved out by the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Enjoy the overlooks at Island in the Sky, go hiking in The Needles, drive the White Rim Road, and photograph Mesa Arch at sunrise. The list of things to do here is long and wonderful whether you prefer to visit the overlooks, hike a trail or two, or venture into the backcountry.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Canyonlands in April: The weather is great for hiking and exploring and the crowd levels are increasing but not yet near their peak for the year.

Weather: The average high is 62°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive.

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is small and easy to visit. This park is named for the petrified wood that dates back millions of years to a time when this land was lush and fertile.

But there is more to this park than looking at chunks of crystallized wood. The Painted Desert and the Blue Forest with their colorful, zebra-striped hills are a beautiful sight to see and they are very similar to Badlands National Park, mentioned earlier. There are also a few great trails to hike which are perfect for all ages and ability levels.

Petrified Forest is another park that can go on the underrated national parks list.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Petrified Forest in April: With highs near 70°F, this is one of the best months to visit Petrified Forest with regards to weather. It also makes a great addition to an Arizona or American Southwest road trip if you also plan to visit places like Monument Valley, Sedona, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 35°F. Rainfall is very low.

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

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit.

If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold.

There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Capitol Reef in April: Because the weather is pretty close to perfect. In April, Capitol Reef gets an uptick in visitation but it’s not as busy as it will be in May and June.

Weather: The average high is 65°F and the average low is 39°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

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

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Pinnacles in April: April is the best month to visit Pinnacles to see the wildflowers in bloom. Plus, the weather is fabulous.

Weather: In April, the average high is 72°F and the average low is 39°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is small and easy to visit. With several days, you can hike through a garden of hoodoos, take in the view from multiple viewpoints, and thoroughly explore the park.

What’s a hoodoo? Hoodoo can also be defined as a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin. Geologically, hoodoos are found all around the world but they occur in the most abundance in Bryce Canyon. Here, hoodoos are the main ingredient of this unique landscape. The thousands of hoodoos in Bryce are what attract so many visitors every year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Bryce Canyon in April: April is the end of the shoulder season in Bryce Canyon when the weather is cool and park visitation is still relatively low for the year. Go now, because in May, this park really begins to get busy. 

Weather: In April, the average temperature is 54°F and the average low is 29°F. There is a small chance of snow in April. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

2 more National Parks to visit in April

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is a great place to visit in April. The weather is perfect but higher crowd levels kept if off of the list above. However, if you are planning a visit to Canyonlands or the other national parks in Utah, its worth including Arches on your list just get an early start and expect busy parking lots and hiking trails.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

In April, the weather is just about perfect…daily highs of 75°F and one of the driest months of the year. However, those mosquitoes are starting to arrive and by the end of the month, the mosquito meter at Congaree with be ticking up to the mild to moderate levels.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in April

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means rock mounds, massive Kachina means dancer while Sipapu, the second largest natural bridge in the state, means place of emergence. A nine-mile scenic drive overlooks the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

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. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

April road trip idea

With 10 days, go on a road trip through four of the national parks in Utah—Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Arches National Park. This itinerary is perfect if you are looking for adventure, solitude, and unforgettable experiences. You also have enough time to journey into the backcountry where the real adventures await.

On this itinerary, you can also visit several state parks and national monuments in Utah which are just as great as the national parks. On this list are Natural Bridges National Monument and Dead Horse Point State Park.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More Information about the National Parks

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2023

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

The mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.

—Bill Watterson

Every day, for 10 years, cartoonist Bill Watterson delighted readers with a new story in his beloved syndicated comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. But that kind of round-the-clock ingenuity is no easy feat. His secret? Recharging the mind by letting it play. “I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness,” Watterson said in the same 1990 commencement speech at Kenyon College where he gave the quote above. “A playful mind is inquisitive and learning is fun.”

In other words, creative ideas come when the mind is encouraged to wander into new areas, exploring wherever your natural curiosity may lead. Instead of shutting off your brain at the end of a long day, reinvigorate it by indulging your innate sense of wonder. If you follow what makes learning fun, it’s bound to lead you to new ideas.

With a chill in the air we head into February literally and figuratively cold with no idea what those rodents we trust as meteorologists will predict. Will it be six more weeks of a holed-up winter? Or will it be an early, forgiving spring? Like pretty much every single day of the last three years, the answer is: Who knows! Certainly not our friend Punxsutawney Phil whose accuracy rate is a whopping 39 percent! You’d be better off flipping a coin.

We do know, however, that we’re gonna embrace the here and now. This month we do have ostrich races at the Indio Date Festival and another reason to visit Charleston. We also have desert warmth and wildflowers along the Pinal Parkway and places to celebrate President’s Day.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2022 and March 2022.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Pinal Pioneer Parkway

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway connected Tucson and Phoenix in the years before Interstate 10 was built. Now a little-traveled back road, it’s a much more picturesque route than the main highway especially in wildflower season. The parkway itself is a 42 mile-long stretch of Arizona State Highway 79, beginning in the desert uplands on the north slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains at about 3,500 feet and wending northward to just above 1,500 feet outside the little town of Florence.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spring, the parkway is lined with desert verbena, lupine, Mexican poppies, globemallow, chuparosa, penstemon, and daisies. Even in dry years when other parts of the desert aren’t flowering, the Pinal Pioneer Parkway always seems to manage a good show.

The parkway is marked with signs pointing out some of the characteristic desert vegetation such as saguaro and mesquite. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the many roadside tables. Stop at the Tom Mix Memorial, 23.5 miles north of Oracle Junction at milepost 116, to pay your respects to the late movie cowboy.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

2. Visit the Presidents (and other things) in South Dakota

As always, Presidents’ Day lands in February. So maybe it’s time to get extra presidential by firing up the RV for a jaunt to South Dakota. After your patriotic tour of Mount Rushmore, you’ll have free reign of one of the least-visited states at its emptiest time. Hike a frozen waterfall, hang out on a frozen lake, or get to know the land’s first people.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or dig deep into the western part of the state: Not far from Rushmore, you can pretend you’re on an alien planet in the Badlands, kick up your spurs with some ghosts in Deadwood, hop on a jackalope while stuffed with homemade donuts at Wall Drug, and gaze upon the wonders of the Corn Palace. Visit the stunning lakes and spires of Custer State Park and see where the thrilling buffalo roundup happens in September. Just give your new fuzzy friends lots of room.

>> Get more tips for visiting South Dakota

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. A place apart

Considered a place apart, this quaint seaside town has been named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel and was also recognized as a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine. From friendly folks to historic buildings, this unique city embraces the heritage of the Coastal Mississippi region.

The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Don’t miss the French Potager, an antique store and flower shop.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where Life is Rice & Easy

At the crossroads of LA 13 and U.S. Highway 90 lies the city of Crowley.

Rice is the bedrock of the region’s celebrated Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The swallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life. One such example is Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901 and was recently revived as an elegant space for world-class performers. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

>> Get more tips for visiting Crowley

Sculptures of Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Beyond the Sculptures of Borrego

Nestled between the historic gold mining town of Julian and The Salton Sea, Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offer several exceptional experiences. Located two hours from San Diego, there are activities and natural attractions suited for many types of RVers. With 500 miles of dirt roads, a dozen wilderness areas, and miles of hiking trails you would expect some great adventures, and you won’t be disappointed.

Christmas Circles in Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking downtown Borrego Springs is a fun experience. Start at Christmas Circle—the main attraction—and poke your head into some exciting shops or visit The Borrego Art Institute. This is where you can observe potters and en plein air artists complete their current artworks.

Hiking is popular in the Anza-Borrego Desert and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The desert trails are not for the faint of heart but rather ideal for those with a sense of adventure. Remember, hydration is vital in this arid region and be sure to bring along plenty of water. The routes are not always well marked and cell service is almost non-existent.

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

Borrego Springs isn’t known for its nightlife or at least not the club kind.  However, it is an area that should be explored well after the sun sets. Borrego is an International Dark Sky Community that was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Stargazing is encouraged.

There is no need for a telescope and the brilliantly lit skies will awe anyone who hasn’t been out of the dome of a city glow. Billions of stars make themselves known and form many prominent constellations.

>> Get more tips for visiting Borrego Springs

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Beauty and History Combine

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

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

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Texas Whitehouse

Those who have ascended to the presidency of the United States are products of the environments in which they were born, raised, and educated. Their early experiences usually have a significant effect on how they manage their presidency and the subsequent policy and programs developed under their watch. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon Baines Johnson is a fitting example of that.  His presidency was guided in full measure by his upbringing, his personal experiences with poverty and shame, and his observation of racism and hate. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a staggering impact on the United States during his time as president. Much of his approach to government was instilled during his early life in Texas. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wild now. Wild forever.

Since 1983, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) has celebrated the finest in wildlife art and the sporting lifestyle. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle.

Whether you’re browsing for your next piece of fine art, searching for distinctive hand-made creations, looking for family-friendly entertainment, or you just need an excuse for visiting Charleston and the Lowcountry, there’s something for everyone at SEWE, February 17-19, 2023. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Riverside County Fairgrounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. It’s a Date!

Originating as a festival to celebrate the end of the annual date harvest, the annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival welcomes over 250,000 guests each February. The 75th Annual Date Festival will be held February 17-26, 2023 featuring 10 days of family fun and world-class entertainment. 

Dates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio Date Festival and Riverside County Fair celebrate the desert’s favorite crop, dates. You’ll also see llamas, dairy goats, poultry, camel and ostrich races, WGAS Motorsports Monster Trucks, concerts, contests, games, food, and a carnival with midway action. It’s one of the best fairs in California because of its location and date.

The Riverside County Fairgrounds hosts a variety of community-focused events all year long, ranging from multi-day festivals to private events. The Fairgrounds are located on Highway 111 in Indio.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bourbon bonanza

Buffalo Trace is ringing in the New Year in record-breaking good spirits. The whiskey distillery officially filled its eight millionth barrel of bourbon since Prohibition. The major milestone occurred only four years after the seven millionth barrel was filled due to the distillery’s recent $1.2 billion expansion. 

To celebrate the major achievement, Buffalo Trace announced its Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest offering a $10,000 trip for two. After running (or walking) one mile, entrants have the chance to win a fully paid, two-night trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This includes first-class, roundtrip airfare, car service, and a one-night stay at Buffalo Trace’s exclusive Stagg Lodge. The invite-only lodge has never been open to the public before. Built adjacent to the distillery in 2020, the 4,000-square-foot log cabin overlooks the Kentucky River and the city of Frankfort. The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, gorgeous great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a double-sided fireplace, and a wrap-around deck. The experience includes a dinner for two prepared by a private chef at the lodge as well as private tours of the grounds and distillery.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The second-night stay will be in Louisville, Kentucky.

Winners will also be awarded an $800 Buffalo Trace Distillery gift card, plus Buffalo Trace will donate bourbon to a mutually agreed upon charity of the winner’s choice.

Interested participants in the Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest can enter at willrunforbuffalotracebourbon.com.

>> Get more tips for visiting Frankfort

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

Cumberland Island National Seashore Seeks Feedback on Visitor Plan

A management plan that will help visitors better enjoy the 40-square-mile Cumberland Island National Seashore barrier island off St. Marys, Georgia is available for public review and comment

After holding daily visitation at Cumberland Island National Seashore to roughly 300 for nearly four decades, the National Park Service (NPS) is proposing to more than double that under a visitor use management plan open for public comment.

Under the national seashore’s general management plan which was adopted in 1984, daily visitation to the park has been held to “approximately 300 people per day.” The Park Service’s preferred alternative in the visitor use management plan (VUM) now being crafted says that approximately 600 people per day could be allowed to enter the national seashore via the Dungeness and Sea Camp docks and another 100 people per day to the Plum Orchard dock if ferry service was available.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“These changes would be implemented adaptively meaning the park would monitor key indicators to ensure sensitive shorebirds are protected as are visitor opportunities to experience the rustic atmosphere, quiet solitude, and wilderness character described by visitors and public commenters. Adjustments would be made based on this monitoring,” a park release said.

The draft environmental assessment on visitor use explains that the cap of 300 daily visitors was related to the number existing ferry service could handle and that the higher number contained in the plan was built around the carrying capacities of specific areas on the national seashore.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The primary goal of this VUM plan is to preserve the fundamental resources and values of Cumberland Island. The amount, timing, distribution, and types of visitor use on Cumberland Island influence both conditions of fundamental resources and visitor experiences,” notes one section of the EA. “By identifying and managing the maximum amounts and types of visitor use that areas on the island can accommodate, the National Park Service can help ensure that resources are protected and that visitors have the opportunity for a range of high-quality experiences.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with increasing ferry traffic to the park which is set on an island off the Georgia coast, the preferred alternative calls for “adjustments to the locations and number of allowable campers at wilderness campsites to expand and disburse camping opportunities, establishes a few new trails to distribute use more evenly across the island, calls for limited facilities including boardwalks and a pavilion to facilitate greater accessibility for visitors with a range of abilities, provides for kayak and canoe rentals on the island to diversify the available recreational opportunities, and includes limited health and safety items for sale on the island.”

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the proposed changes are the following:

The park would expand camping opportunities at Sea Camp Campground by adding the three existing overflow sites to the current reservation system. Fifteen of the 19 individual sites would be available for visitors to reserve at any one time and four sites would be rotated into administrative closures to allow recovery or prevent impacts from heavy use. Parties of up to six campers would be able to reserve sites through Recreation.gov and fees would continue to be implemented for public campsite reservations. The two group sites that can accommodate up to 20 campers would remain open for reservations as well. Under the NPS preferred alternative up to 130 people may camp in the front country campground at one time with 40 campers allowed in the group sites and 90 campers allowed in the individual sites ([15 available sites x 6 people] + [2 group sites x 20 visitors] = 130 campers).

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would offer camping opportunities at four designated wilderness campsites and maintain the number of visitors that could camp in the designated wilderness at one time. Brickhill Bluff and Hickory Hill would remain active. Additional wilderness campsites would be designated at Toonahowie and Sweetwater Lakes. Sites at Hickory Hill and Sweetwater Lakes would be accessed by foot while the Brickhill Bluff and Toonahowie sites could be accessed via land or nonmotorized and/or small motorized watercraft. The existing site at Yankee Paradise would be abandoned and replaced by public camping opportunities at Hunt Camp campground which is adjacent to but outside the wilderness area.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would offer backcountry camping opportunities at current levels at Stafford Beach Campground and new opportunities at Beach Creek campsite and Hunt Camp campground. The designated backcountry sites would continue to be administered through a permit system managed by Recreation.gov; fees would be implemented for public camping reservations. Fees for Beach Creek campsite and Hunt Camp campground would mirror those charged for wilderness campsites and Sea Camp Campground, respectively as amenities are similar. 

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would construct and realign South End Trail to provide a loop trail opportunity by connecting the Dungeness Marsh Boardwalk to portions of the existing trail. That new segment would serve as one leg of the loop and the beach would serve as the other leg. A new spur trail would be constructed to connect with the proposed Beach Creek campsite. A portion of the existing South End Trail that runs through the south end marsh would be abandoned and the segment realigned onto upland terrain.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park would create one new trail segment to provide direct beach access from the Nightingale Trail. A bathhouse consisting of restrooms and outdoor showers (~400 square feet) would be constructed at the junction of the existing Nightingale Trail and the new segment.

Approximately 2,670 feet of water utility line would be installed from an existing well house across the Main Road and along the Nightingale Trail. Electricity would either be provided by solar panels or by extending an existing utility line approximately 1,850 feet along the Nightingale Trail from the Main Road. These utility lines would be installed utilizing a trenching machine along existing roads and trails.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An approximately 1,200-square-foot septic leach field would be installed in appropriate proximity to the bathhouse. The exact location of these facilities would be determined during design. Additional compliance requirements would occur before implementation. A pavilion (~800 square feet) would also be constructed alongside the Nightingale Beach access spur providing shelter to visitors within the dune field.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island was added to the National Park System in 1972. Accessible only by boat, the national seashore features unspoiled beaches and dunes, marshes, and freshwater lakes, along with historic sites. Twisting live oaks covered in resurrection ferns and Spanish moss make up the island’s maritime forest shading an understory of sable palms and palmettos. Facing the mainland the island gazes across mudflats during low tide and swaying marshes. Looking to the east, visitors step through designated pathways between rolling dunes to hit the sandy beach bordering the Atlantic Ocean. During low tide, sand appears to stretch in all directions.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor use management plan has been in the works since 2017. The Park Service sought public feedback on draft strategies for visitor use management in spring 2019 receiving 2,260 individual correspondences that helped guide the direction of the plan. A virtual meeting to discuss the plan with park staff has been set for November 17 at 6 pm. EST. The meeting will be recorded and available on the NPS planning website following the meeting. 

Comment period closes November 30, 2022.

More on Cumberland Island:

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Cumberland Island Celebrates 50 Years as a National Seashore

Experience the island’s unique history, natural beauty, and wildlife during special events throughout the year

There is only one place on Earth where you can find wild horses, secluded white beaches, live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and the skeletal remains of a once-famous mansion. Cumberland is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The National Park Service protects almost 36,000 acres of the island including miles of unspoiled beaches.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cumberland Island National Seashore, the southernmost and largest barrier island on the Georgia coast is just that place and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the congressional move that saved it from commercial development.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in October, Cumberland Island kicks off a year-long series of events including special programs, a speaker series, and even a parade. While special events such as the Cumberland Island-themed St. Marys Seafood Festival in October are exciting enough to entice a crowd the island’s history, beauty, and wildlife are unmatched experiences no visitor should miss at any time of year.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Although inhabitants of Georgia’s coast can be traced back thousands of years starting with a Timucuan tribe a more concrete history begins with 16th-century Spanish missions and James Oglethorpe’s 17th-century British forts. Oglethorpe also named a hunting lodge Dungeness in honor of a beloved landmark in England. The Dungeness name and remnants of the properties associated with the land remain to this day.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After the American Revolution, the island attracted prominent families with famous pedigrees such as General Nathaniel Greene, George Washington’s most trusted officer. He and his wife borrowed the Dungeness name and began construction on a four-story mansion that would undergo several alterations over the next century. Dungeness lands then fell into the hands of Robert Stafford who purchased most of Greene’s property at auction. He built his sprawling mansion and plantation of more than 1,300 acres.

Related article: Cumberland Island: Wild, Pristine Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Civil War brought more change to the island as formerly enslaved people, locals, and others trying to navigate Reconstruction all attempted to carve out a living and a life here. Near the turn of the 20th-century members of the renowned Carnegie, family made their way to the island, purchased 90 percent of the land, and built a Scottish castle aptly named Dungeness.

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

Dungeness Ruins

Visit the ruins of a mansion that was once called Dungeness. First built in 1884, the Dungeness Mansion was intended as a winter home for Thomas Carnegie (younger brother and business partner of Andrew Carnegie), his wife Lucy, and their nine children. Though Thomas passed away soon after construction, Lucy Carnegie went on to spend more and more time and resources on the island estate.

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

Several additions and remodels were made over the next thirty years. By the time Lucy passed in 1916 the mansion had grown to approximately 35,000 square feet. The mansion caught fire in 1959 and only the brick and stone walls remain.

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

Though the mansion is in ruins it remains one of the most picturesque and visited spots on the island. Visitors can walk the grounds around the house and the numerous support buildings that were part of operating the estate.

Related article: The Perfect Georgia Coast Road Trip

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beauty

There simply isn’t one way to describe the scenery on Cumberland Island; it offers a variety of breathtaking landscapes and backdrops. Take a few photographs on the island and you can easily convince someone that you have visited multiple countries and traveled many miles.

The quiet beaches bring peace and splendor together particularly in the evening when the soft lull of the waves blends into the pastel-colored sky. Walk in any other direction and you’ll run into a different kind of majesties such as salt marshes full of fiddler crabs, shrimp, and alligators.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rivers and sounds traverse through it all so that every turn is a new adventure. Point a camera anywhere and capture untouched nature in all its colorful brilliance. If you need shade, spend some time under the live oaks and let the trees serve as nature’s canopy to protect you from the elements.

Though the grandeur of nature is significant on Cumberland Island so is the architecture. Of the three dozen homes here almost all are still owned and cared for by the same families who built them. There is an affection for ensuring the dwellings capture some aspect of the scenery and many of the homes themselves are works of art.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach

Cumberland Island is home to 17 miles of uninterrupted beach. No docks, houses, or other structures interrupt its serene beauty. The island boasts a healthy expanse of vegetated dunes that make it one of the most important nesting spots for loggerhead sea turtles in all of Georgia and a sanctuary for migrating shore birds.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swimming is very popular but caution should be exercised. It is the open ocean and all the tides, currents, and animals that call it home exist. There are no lifeguards. There are designated crossings marked on the map providing access to the beach. These will either be trails or boardwalks. If a boardwalk exists, please use it to help protect the dunes. Crossings on the beach side are marked with a black and white striped pole along the dune line.

Related article: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife

Imagine a world where a wild horse gallops freely in the distance and you are so distracted that you almost don’t even notice a turkey scurrying across your path. On the other hand picture, yourself stepping onto a beach just in time to watch brown pelicans diving into the ocean for breakfast.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maybe you even catch a glimpse of the endangered loggerhead sea turtles struggling to make it to sea or you tread quietly while you observe deer challenging feral hogs for foliage. Cumberland Island is a playground for all of these animals and countless others who make their home here. Whether it’s woodpeckers, owls or even armadillos the importance of preserving all wildlife and their habitat is paramount throughout Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Ways to Experience Cumberland Island

Visit Cumberland Island for the day, camp overnight (walk-in tent sites), or be a guest at the upscale Greyfield Inn made famous by John F. Kennedy Jr.’s wedding. Day visitors and campers reach the island by taking the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Cumberland Island Visitors Center in St. Marys to the Sea Camp Dock. Guests of the Greyfield Inn take the hotel’s private ferry, the Lucy Ferguson. The boat ride itself is a wonderful way to see Cumberland’s beauty from the water.

St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Marys

As the Gateway to Cumberland Island and the Georgia Coast, St. Marys offers a laid-back vibe with Southern charm for a perfect relaxing retreat or an outdoor adventure. Attractions include the downtown historic district, the St. Marys Submarine Museum, and St. Marys Waterfront Park. You can visit the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum and the Cumberland Island Visitors Center. You’ll enjoy water sports and cycling plus shopping and dining at locally owned spots.

St Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual events include an Independence Day Festival, St. Marys Seafood Festival, and free concerts in the park. The Cumberland Island National Seashore and Crooked River State Park are visitor favorites and popular for biking, birdwatching, kayaking, hiking, camping, and more.

Related article: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Plan Your Visit

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cumberland Island at the St. Marys Seafood Festival on October 15 featuring vendors, food trucks, races, and an island-themed parade. Cumberland Island’s park superintendent is the grand marshal and the National Park Service will offer informative and kid-friendly activities such as colonial encampments, a highland pipe and drum band, musket firing, and a special 50th-anniversaryth anniversary program.

Enjoy Cumberland Island’s incomparable attractions anytime by taking the passenger ferry from downtown St. Marys, the Gateway to Cumberland Island for an island adventure.

Worth Pondering…

The beach is the draw—

17 miles of hard packed blonde sands.

You can walk forever and seldom meet a soul

—Esquire