12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Skip the crowds (and the pricey entrance fees) and head to a nearby state park

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but is well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases, you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Galveston Island State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Related Article: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

105 developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30 amp and 50 amp voltage. Sites tend to fill up in the evening from May until November. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV. Quiet hours (no generators, music, or loud voices) are from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long for camper/trailers.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island State Park, Georgia

The State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club for use as a state park 75 years ago.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A century ago, Jekyll Island provided a winter escape for a handful of America’s wealthiest families who valued its natural beauty, mild climate, and seclusion. They built magnificent “cottages” and a grand, turreted clubhouse on a sliver of the island’s 5,700 acres, preserving the remainder for hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits. Today, a bike ride across Jekyll reveals remnants of that grandeur, some of it vividly restored, some in ruins—along with modest campgrounds, facilities devoted to public education, pristine new hotels and shops, and, still, vast swaths of the untamed landscape.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull-through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet are free for registered guests.

Related Article: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

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

Elephant Butte has 133 partial hookup sites and 1150 sites for primitive camping.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

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

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. In addition the park offers three camping cottages, two yurts, and three group camping areas. The maximum reservation window is 12 months in advance to the date.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

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

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island is home to the historic Hunting Island lighthouse built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889. Due to safety concerns, the Hunting Island lighthouse is currently closed to tours, until repairs can be made. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Situated in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park has miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, great climbing routes, the beautiful Sylvan Lake which sits beneath granite crags, and wildlife.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park offers 9 campgrounds in a variety of scenic locations. Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest near French Creek, Blue Bell Campground accommodates large RVs and tents with 31 camping sites. Center Lake Campground is located just above Center Lake with 71 sites shaded by ponderosa pines. This campground can accommodate smaller RVs and tents and all sites are available by same-day reservations. No electricity. Centrally located in the park near the visitor center, Game Lodge Campground offers 59 camping sites with electricity. Legion Lake Campground accommodates large RVs and tents. 26 camping sites with electricity are available.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Able to accommodate any camping unit, Stockade North Campground offers 42 campsites with electric hookups. Located on the western side of Custer State Park, Stockade South Campground can accommodate mid-sized RVs. 23 sites available with electric hookups. Just a short stroll from Sylvan Lake, the crown jewel of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake Campground is the highest campground within Custer State Park at 6,200 feet. Sites within the campground are close together and are not suitable for large tents or RVs over 27 feet. In addition, walk-in primitive camping and group and youth camping areas are available.

Related Article: Go Here, Not there: 7 State Parks that Rival National Parks

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Turkey Sink Campground offers 48 sites with 50 amp electric service. Cedar Sage Campgrounds offers 37 sites with 30 amp electricity. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and tent pad with restrooms with showers located nearby.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco State Park, Texas

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

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Or reserve a screened shelter overlooking the river.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. 

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled within a grove of junipers, the Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 AMP). Modern restroom facilities are available and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, and the Visitor Center.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons.  This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RV or tent campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites. All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under shade shelters, and access to bathrooms with running water and dishwashing sinks. RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Note: Water is not available at Dead Horse Point to fill up RVs. The water table is too low for a well so the park must truck it up every day. The closest town to fill up at is Moab.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. 

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newly renovated facilities include four boat launch ramps, marina, boat slips, courtesy docks, modern restrooms, visitor center, showers, campsites, a fishing area for the physically challenged, and sewage disposal and fish cleaning stations.

The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and power hookups. The campground is located on the east side of the lake. All campsites are available for reservation on a four-month rolling basis.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. There is also a pleasant picnic area. 

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

The park includes a developed campground with RV sites and six with partial hookups.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway: Moab’s Most Scenic Drive

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway begins at the turnoff from Highway 191 which is easily accessible from Moab

Moab has a reputation for being an outdoor junkie’s wonderland. No wonder, since it’s close to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Smack dab in the middle of those two famously stunning swaths of land is another gem: Dead Horse Point State Park. Cruise the park’s Dead Horse Point Scenic Drive and see why it’s such an underrated spot as you make your way between the two national parks.

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing better than a scenic drive that’s also incredibly short. This allows for a number of things: First, it saves time one would spend on the road and allots it to sightseeing. Second, it’s easy enough to fit into one day giving travelers the option to extend their time in a specific place. When it comes to the most scenic drive in the Moab area, Dead Horse Point checks all of these day-trip-drive boxes.

Related: Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the drive is one that’s well-known, it’s one that’s also incredibly underrated. The total length of the trip is less than 25 minutes and takes almost 30 minutes to traverse with no stops along the way. Here’s everything you need to know about taking this scenic drive, and why it’s worth so much more hype than it currently has.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are some things that visitors should know when taking the Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway and the first is that it resides mostly on the top of a plateau or mesa. The second is that on the way up, visitors will observe the narrow strip of land that connects the starting point of the byway to the top of the mesa, giving one a pretty good idea of the incredible views that wait at the top. The third is that Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway gives way to multiple hikes along the way, all before one even enters the park itself—so if this is something one wishes to take advantage of, it’s a good idea to note where the trailheads are beforehand.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway takes you through miles of incredible red rock canyon country. To reach the byway, head north from Moab on US-191. After about 9 miles look for the “Dead Horse Point State Park” sign and turn left (west) onto SR-313. This is the start of the byway.

Related: Moab’s Scenic Byways

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a grand finale before reaching Dead Horse State Park, the Dead Horse Point Overlook is one for the books. This is not only a great way to end what’s already a short and scenic drive but it’s also one of the most spectacular views in the Moab Desert. From this elevation, visitors will be able to see the Colorado River roughly 2,000 feet below them as well as extensive views of the red canyonlands. On a clear day, it’s very possible to be able to see for nearly 100 miles in any direction.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a series of hairpin curves you begin to ascend the plateau as the road mellows out allowing you to better appreciate the scenery. At about 14.6 miles from the beginning of SR-313 a fork to the left leads to Dead Horse Point State Park. Note that a fee is required to proceed to the viewpoints in the park. The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas anywhere. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, the overlook provides a breathtaking panorama of Canyonlands National Park’s sculpted pinnacles and buttes.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A campers’ paradise, Dead Horse Point State Park encompasses 5,362 acres of desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Hiking is a popular activity with seven miles of trails taking you to eight breathtaking overlooks. The visitor’s center will help with navigating the park and learning the history of all its beauty. If you plan on staying the night, you can camp here as well. For geocachers, there are three official geocaches at Dead Horse Point, each with souvenirs.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Basin Overlook offers a short, easy hike down a nature trail that’s paved for easing trekking. Additionally, visitors can find other hikes along the rim of the canyonlands. This is also a popular spot for photographers.

Related: Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another scenic point along the 22-mile route worth mentioning is known as The Neck. This is easily recognizable due to its small parking area and it’s a great midpoint to take advantage of on the way to the final overlook.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip: For more hiking, the West and East Rim trails can be found at The Neck; these trails are shorter than the rim trails at the Visitor Center thus better for novice hikers.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dead Horse Point State Park, backtrack on SR-313, turn left, and head toward the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park ultimately ending at Grandview Point. This section of the park sits atop a massive 1,500 foot mesa—quite literally an Island in the Sky.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The access road for Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park, SR-313 was first built in 1975 in place of SR-278. In 1988 the route was rebuilt from its original state of steep grades and blind switchbacks to its current state.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip: Although those driving along the scenic byway will have the protection of the vehicle and, hopefully, access to AC, it’s important to remember that this remote stretch of land is still a desert. Visitors are advised to bring plenty of water and snacks as well as pack a first-aid or emergency kit in their vehicles.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Fact: According to a legend, Dead Horse Point State Park got its macabre name in the early 1800s when cowboys rounded up wild horses through a narrow land strip called the neck that was 30 yards wide. At the neck, they selected the horses they wanted and the released horses died of thirst after they were rounded up at a waterless point.

Related: If the Outdoors is your Thing, Utah is your Place

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Fact: The Dead Horse State Park is known in popular culture for a Grand Canyon scene filmed there for 1991, Thelma and Louise movie starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One doesn’t necessarily need a reason to take the 30-minute desert drive through the Moab Desert. One doesn’t even need a reason to visit the scenic vistas of Dead Horse State Park; however, its breathtaking views and ease of access are two great reasons to do so.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

A Winter’s Desert: Visiting Southern Utah in the Slow Months

Experiencing the peace of canyon country in the winter is an attraction of its own

Winter in Utah is usually thought of as a ski haven (and rightly so) but the Southern Utah landscapes are an underappreciated delight.

Many people are drawn to Southern Utah in the winter as they also seek out peace among the sparse vegetation and sprawl of open spaces. Looking across the different formations of land is a way to look into Earth’s distant past and to grow a connection to how the land operates free from human interaction. Adding the brisk stillness of winter to the formula makes it a rejuvenating retreat.

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While hiking and scenic spots can be shoulder-to-shoulder from April to October in the red rocks of Utah, the off-season carries a special silence to offer a welcome respite from the daily grind. A word of caution: preparation is the key as many roads or ranger stations may be closed during the winter months. And though the daytime temperatures will be warmer than higher up in the mountains, the desert climate is still cool and nights can be especially chilling.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and skiing can be enjoyed in the Southern region of Utah but you can also enjoy scenic drives or hike at one of the more popular destinations with a smaller crowd. Read on to find out more about must-visit places in Southern and Central Utah in the winter and remember throughout your travels to leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photos. This way we can protect the landscape and everyone can enjoy the sought-after stillness that Utah deserts bring.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Torrey: Capitol Reef National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Located 11 miles east of Torrey, Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s best-kept secrets. It is home to Cassidy Arch (named for Butch Cassidy), one of the few arches that you can walk on (conditions permitting). To reach the arch from the Visitor Center, take Scenic Drive south about 3.5 miles and turn left at the sign for the Grand Wash Trailhead. You’ll drive down a dirt road that sometimes requires 4WD or high-clearance vehicles (check with the Visitor Center for road conditions). After you travel 1.2 miles, you’ll reach the Grand Wash parking area. From there, walk up Grand Wash for less than a mile to reach the well-marked junction with a path that leads to Cassidy Arch.

Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hike is rated strenuous, so be sure to wear shoes with good grip and watch out for ice patches. The trail is generally well-traveled and marked with cairns. When you reach the arch, take in views of Grand Wash’s red rock walls and the snow-capped arch, which sits at an elevation of 6,450 feet.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the same trailhead, the Grand Wash Trail offers a less strenuous walk that’s about four miles out and back. You’ll walk through a dry creek bed with towering sandstone walls. Keep an eye out for the enormous dome-shaped rock formation known as Fern’s Nipple. Grand Wash can be accessed from either the Scenic Drive side or Highway 24.

Escalante Petrified State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also known as “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” Highway 12 offers a fantastic stretch of views and winding roads through Escalante and Boulder. This All American Road connects U.S. 89 near Panguitch on the west with S.R. 24 near Torrey on the northeast and while it isn’t the quickest route between these two points, the journey becomes part of the destination. You can take your time on this highway and break up the trip into a multi-day journey with some stops along the route to enjoy the distinct geology of Bryce Canyon National Park, Escalante Petrified State Park, and Grand-Staircase National Monument.

Near Moab: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling to Arches National Park during the winter is a great way to visit the hot spots without dealing with the hassle of long lines of cars or hikers. You can check out the classic Delicate Arch through a short hike or from the viewpoint. A more moderate hike with assorted arches and rock formations wanders through the Devil’s Garden. (Read: The 5 Best Hikes in Arches National Park)

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Colorado River Plateau surrounding Moab also includes must-visit spots like the La Sal Mountain range, Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and stretches of BLM land between that carry hidden gems. World-renowned mountain biking can still be enjoyed in winter given the right gear or you can drive through many scenic roads with viewpoints and easy hikes. (Read: Moab’s Scenic Byways)

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand View Point is one such drive and provides an excellent view of the mountains and gorges of Canyonlands. If you’re up for a short walk, take the half-mile loop trail to visit the impressive Mesa Arch which sits at the edge of a 500-foot cliff. The arch frames a picture-perfect view of the White Rim country plus you can see the La Sal Mountains towering in the distance.

La Sal Mountains as seen from Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To extend the scenic drive add the spur trip to Dead Horse Point State Park. You’ll find overlooks in the park that offer dramatic views of the Colorado River and the White Rim country of Canyonlands. For an added treat, bring blankets and hot drinks and stay for the sunset.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near St. George: Zion National Park and Quail Creek State Park

The famed Zion Canyon in Zion National Park takes on a much quieter persona during the winter months so accessing popular trails and finding parking when the temperature drops are much easier. While one of the more popular destinations in the summer is The Narrows in Zion Canyon, it’s unlikely to be heavily used in the winter. This deep section of the canyon is a narrow corridor with towering sandstone walls with a gentle water flow through this section of the Virgin River. In the colder weather, it is best to use a dry suit for this hike.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers, campers and hikers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Monticello: Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Bears Ears

Learn more about the Indigenous roots of Utah by spending time respectfully on Ancestral Puebloan land. Set aside by the Navajo Tribal Council in 1958, Monument Valley Park covers almost 92,000 acres in northern Arizona and southern Utah and lies within the Navajo Nation reservation.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Arches and Canyonlands national park to the north, Monument Valley showcases eons of nature’s erosive power, yet has distinctive formations unlike anywhere else in the world. For millions of years, layers upon layers of sediments settled and cemented in the basin. The basin lifted up and became a plateau; then the natural forces of water and wind slowly removed the softer materials and exposed the spires, buttes, and other formations we see today—some of which you may recognize from many Western films.

Goulding’s Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Resort and Tours offers guided trips to the surrounding areas such as Tear Drop Arch, as well as access to their lodging, restaurant, grocery store, convenience store, museum, and theater.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can also take another trip by car through the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway which connects Monument Valley to Bears Ears National Monument to round out your journey and catch some of the most iconic mesas and views the state has to offer. You’ll enjoy the breath-taking vistas as you wind through the iconic Moki Dugway and pass through other noteworthy attractions such as the Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum, Natural Bridges National Monument, Valley of the Gods, and Hovenweep National Monument.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near Cedar City: Cedar Breaks National Monument

Hidden within the mountains above Cedar City is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The natural formation made of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone is home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a plowed parking area at the junction of Highway 143 and Highway 148. From the parking lot, it’s an easy 5-minute snowshoe to the rim of the amphitheater. Approach the rim with caution, because it’s not maintained during the winter and there can be sheer cliffs. The National Park Service recommends staying at least 200 feet from the rim.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the edge, you’ll see a beautiful landscape of spires, hoodoos, and cliffs tinted with shades of red and orange. During winter, brilliant snow caps the rust-colored spires creating a striking contrast in colors. Situated on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau, the raised area of earth located in Southern Utah sits entirely above 10,000 feet.

Brian Head Resort area near Cedar Breaks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To explore the area further, don your skis or snowshoes and make your way down Scenic Byway 148. In the winter, it’s closed to vehicle traffic and becomes a groomed snow trail that runs for several miles along the rim of the park. From January through March, volunteers lead guided snowshoe hikes, and you can check online or contact the park for specific dates. The area is also popular for snowmobiling, and Cedar Breaks is one of the few national monuments that allows people to ride unguided.

Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.

Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.

Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.

On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion

For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Beyond Capitol Reef

The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Beyond Arches and Canyonlands

One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, head to the lesser-visited west side of Canyonlands National Park for a guided 4×4 tour. Spend ample time in the Bears Ears National Monument area with a scenic drive through Valley of the Gods and visits to Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument—both of which are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. 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 has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

15 Surreal Desert Landscapes that Feel Like a Different Planet

You don’t have to travel to the moon to feel like you’re no longer on Earth

In 2004, Burt Rutan’s privately built SpaceShipOne flew just beyond the edge of space before landing safely back on Earth. That historic feat was enough to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize as well as help convince the public that an era of space tourism was finally within humanity’s grasp. Now, more than 15 years later, aspiring space tourists are on the verge of having their dreams realized.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A year ago this month, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule safely ferried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken back to Earth following a multi-month trip to the International Space Station (ISS). No privately built spacecraft had ever carried humans into orbit before.

It’s finally looking like the exciting era of space tourism is about to erupt. A handful of so-called “new space” companies are now competing to sell space tourists’ trips on private spacecraft. Each one has a slightly different means of reaching space and not all of them will get you all the way into orbit. But as long as you’re rich you should have no problem purchasing your ticket to space.

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last week, the space tourism company Space Perspective opened up reservations for a “luxury” six-hour flight to the edge of space on giant balloons the size of a football stadium. The cost per ticket: $125,000. Which begs the question: Would you be willing to pay to travel to space or would you need to get paid to travel to space? 

For those of us who prefer to stay grounded and travel in a recreational vehicle, there are numerous options to explore land formations created by volcanic eruptions or extreme temperatures that have altered the planet in strange ways.

My round-up of 15 of the most surreal landscapes in America showcases locations that have mesmerized travelers, inspired local legends, and even baffled scientists for centuries.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

If you’ve never heard the word “hoodoo,” it’s probably because you’re unfamiliar with the bizarre rock formations at Bryce Canyon. Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock that come out of an arid basin or badland. The ones found in Southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon are particularly fascinating and striking due to their size and volume with the natural amphitheaters inside the park. All year-round, the park is known for its surreal Instagram-able sights including when snow falls on the hoodoos. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

At first glance, the glistening hills of White Sands National Park appear to be mounds of snow—but upon closer examination, the dunes are made of stark-white gypsum sand. It’s a natural wonder that spans 275 square miles making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world. When you’re done staring in awe at the surreal white dunes, you can hike them, camp on them, sunbathe on them, and even slide down them in plastic sleds. Some of the wildlife that lives in the dunes has adapted to its surroundings by taking on a white color (namely the white sands wood rat and the bleached earless lizard). When daylight breaks, the white sand takes on a surreal red-pinkish hue and for a few minutes after sunset, the sand seems to glow.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

The mesas, thin buttes, and the tall spires rising above the valley, and the contrasting orange sand makes Monument Valley the most surreal landscape in the southwest. Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. It is those sights that take your breath away and make you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses were trapped at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst for an inexplicable reason. Taking a mountain bike to the area is a great way to explore the park and imagine the cowboy way of life at this surreal location. 

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Painted Desert, Arizona

Who says deserts have to be drab beige? In the Painted Desert of Petrified Forest National Park, the rocky badlands range in color from reds, oranges, and pinks to dark purples and grays. It is the sort of place that truly lives up to its name—making you feel as though you’re looking at a brightly colored painting, not a real place. For the best experience, visit at sunrise or sunset when the sun makes everything pop even more.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is famed for its sheer sandstone cliffs. A rich diversity of wildlife thrives in this biologically rich habitat. Narrow canyons, flowing rivers, ponderosa forests, and waterfalls add to the wonder. Thrill-seekers can test their mental and physical fortitude by attempting to conquer the five-mile-long Angel’s Landing trail. Sharp switchbacks and dizzying drop-offs make it a challenging trek but the stunning views from the summit are well worth it.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park spans 800,000 arid acres and includes two distinct desert ecosystems. Its surreal tableau is punctuated by massive boulders, Dr. Seuss-like yucca palms, and archaeological marvels. Hiking is the primary draw but with 8,000 climbing routes, vertical adventure is a close second. At night, dark skies are sublime for stargazing. You can sleep under the cosmos at the nine on-site campgrounds.

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

Glen Canyon, Arizona and Utah

Sitting on the Utah-Arizona border and encompassing over a million acres, Glen Canyon has a ton of stuff to see and experience. Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and the iconic formations at Rainbow Bridge are all found in Glen Canyon. Petroglyphs and other ancient markings show just how long people have been coming to the area for all kinds of adventures. Modern-day explorers will enjoy bringing their cameras and taking some incredible photos to share on social media. 

Cathedral Rock at Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

Mystical, majestic, and surreal, Sedona casts a spell with its fiery rock formulations, steep canyons, energy vortexes, and pine forests. This hallowed landscape attracts four million people each year—many seeking spiritual transformation. Not surprisingly, it has become a hotbed of New Age healing with many wellness-oriented outposts like crystal shops, aura readers, yoga studios, and holistic spas. In case you are curious, this Sedona road trip is as magical as everyone says it is.

San Rafael Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Rafael River, Utah

To those who think, “Gosh I love the Grand Canyon, I just wish it was smaller,” the San Rafael River is the place for you. Located in Emery County, the San Rafael River Gorge is often called the “Little Grand Canyon.” The canyons’ walls that sit at a nearly 90-degree angle serve as eye-catching views from above and from those floating through the Green River which flows through the gorge on its way to joining the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park near Moab.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah

The Valley of the Gods lies below the Moki Dugway overlook on US-163 south of Natural Bridges National Monument. You enter another world as you descend from scrub forest to desert. Like a miniature Monument Valley, the Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley near many of the formations. Days can be spent by anyone with a camera and time. The Valley of the Gods is full of long and mysterious shadows in the evening. The morning sun shines directly on the valley and its towers.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

There are a lot of things going on in Capitol Reef which was named a national monument in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then a national park in 1971. The Navajo Sandstone cliff features fascinating white dome formations. The area also features amazing ridges, bridges, and monoliths (not the metal ones that have been mysteriously popping up around the state). The petroglyphs in the gorge are also a must-see.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock, Texas

Enchanted Rock, the 425-foot-high dome that is the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest exposed batholiths in the country. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when the molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. The trail begins at the Westside parking area where it descends briefly into an arroyo before ascending quickly.  

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Every adventure needs a base camp. Moab offers access to the mind-blowing red rocks of Arches National Park and gushing waters of the Colorado River plus plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Uranium may have put this Utah town on the map in the early 1900s but its story began in the Mesozoic Era. Aspiring paleontologists can dig for fossils and follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Moab Giants. For the over 21 crowds, there’s a brewery and Spanish Valley Vineyards hosts daily wine tastings.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

California’s paramount landscape of fire and ice, Lassen Volcanic National Park opened for summertime activities last week. All the park’s roads, campgrounds, and trailheads opened for the first time in seven months with some high-country trails in sun-shielded sites still covered with patches of snow. Lassen features a landscape built primarily by volcanic blasts and lava flows with the last series of major eruptions from 1914 to 1918. Its high country is cut by ice and snow. The park’s 106,000 acres is a matrix of lava peaks, basalt flows, and geothermal basins that are set amid forests, lakes, and streams.

Worth Pondering…

Life is surreal and beautiful.

—Kenneth Branagh

The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. Here’s how to outsmart the crowds.

Good morning. Your friendly reminder that with the summer solstice arriving tomorrow, this weekend will have the most daylight of any weekend this year (in the Northern Hemisphere). Enjoy it!

Before earning its spot as one of Utah’s five national parks in 1971, this fantastical landscape spent over 40 years as a national monument. It was during this time that esteemed writer and environmentalist Edward Abbey worked at Arches as a seasonal ranger documenting both his love for the area and his disdain for people’s poor treatment of it in the classic Desert Solitaire. Abbey spent only two years at the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What You Need to Know Before Visiting 

Watch the mercury (and your H20 intake). Heat-related illness is a common affliction for those who fail to respect both the weather and their own bodily needs. Park guidelines suggest consuming a gallon of water per day year-round to stay hydrated during your time at the park and after my hiking experiences in the Southwest desert areas I’d say that advice is pretty spot-on. You’ll find water at the visitor center and at the Devils Garden Campground and trailhead. Since the shade is even harder to come by than water packing a wide-brimmed hat is good advice (I recommend a Tilley).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy—and respect—the power of wind and water. The park’s incredible formations wouldn’t exist without the power of Mother Nature at her most intense. These same erosive forces continue to shape Arches today. Visitors have been stranded on trails and roads when flash floods overtake low-lying areas. Sandstone fins (narrow walls that remain after surrounding rock has been eroded away) are no place to be near during high winds. Skyline Arch doubled in size after dislodging a hefty boulder in 1940, Landscape Arch gave up some of its innards in 1991, and Wall Arch disintegrated in 2008. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park feels crowded but it actually isn’t. Relatively speaking, Arches is a fairly compact park (at roughly 76,000 acres) with very few named routes. This means that viewpoints and trails (not to mention front-gate traffic) can often feel jammed. You can still beat the crowds, however, by going the extra mile—literally and figuratively. Arrive before dawn. Not only is it absolutely awe-inspiring to watch the sunrise light up the sandstone (along with the La Sal Mountains to the southeast) but you’ll nab some solitude on the park’s most popular trails. You can also branch out on Arches’ network of unpaved roads. Developed areas make up only a tiny portion of the park’s acreage and there’s so much more to see once you leave the pavement behind. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to Get There

Arches National Park is located off U.S. Route 191, just north of Moab which is centrally situated near Utah’s border with Colorado.

When Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Arches National Park?

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter

Snow isn’t uncommon during the winter months when temperatures hover in the forties during the day and routinely dip below freezing at night. But if you’re prepared with the proper gear, it’s a real treat to see the vivid red-rock landscape all snow capped. This time of year the park experiences its lowest visitation and you’re sure to snag a site at its sole campground.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring

Welcome back, humans! Between the thawed-out trails and crowd-drawing events to Moab, prepare to jostle for space at popular viewpoints and trails. It’s hard to beat Arches this time of year—the mercury begins to rise with daytime highs topping off in the sixties and seventies and tiny wildflowers start to sprout from the desert crust.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer

The best way for most folks to experience Arches in the summertime is from inside an air-conditioned vehicle or toward nightfall when temperatures slide into the sixties. That said, you’ll see just as many people crawling along its trails in July as you will in April—and that is a lot. I can’t say it enough: carry lots of water and drink said water, no matter the kind of activity. And come prepared for the monsoon season which is marked by intense thunderstorms prone to causing flash floods; this season begins in July and can last through September.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall

Sweet relief! Temperatures dip back down to mirror springtime conditions and come November, the hordes begin to do the same. I have toured Arches in November and it’s been an amazing experience due to the pleasant weather and lack of crowds. Darkness arrives more quickly this time of year but that just leaves more time for stargazing.

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Camp in and near Arches

The only camping option inside the park is the Devils Garden Campground, a slickrock-flanked oasis at the end of the park’s main road. Reservations are available and recommended via Recreation.gov, March through October and are available up to six months in advance; its 51 sites are first come, first served the rest of the year. 

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you strike out, there are plenty of other options scattered around the greater Moab area including an endless parade of RV parks and resorts stuffed with equally endless amenities. For more rustic surrounds, bunk down at one of 26 different BLM camping areas all of which are first come, first served except for the reservoir-adjacent Ken’s Lake Campground which requires advance reservations from March through mid-November.

What to Do

Along the 18-mile scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sightseeing

Get the lay of the land by driving the park’s 18-mile scenic drive which rolls past a handful of pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s wild landscape. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day Hiking

Yes, it’s worth the hype—you really should see Delicate Arch while you’re at Arches. You don’t have to make the somewhat strenuous three-mile round-trip to do so; instead, bypass the trailhead and drive a little farther down to a pair of viewpoints. The lower one is only 50 yards from the parking lot along an accessible path while the upper one rewards a half-mile climb with a closer look.

Balanced Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another accessible and very worthy stop is the gravity-defying Balanced Rock which can be seen from its parking lot or from a 0.3-mile loop, roughly half of which is paved. Nearby, the Windows Area is a popular stop especially at sunrise when you can scamper around the back side of North Window to look through and spot Turret Arch bathed in reddish glow. The mile-long Park Avenue Trail which connects its namesake overlook with the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint is a quieter option (though just as beautiful) especially at sunrise and sunset. 

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deeper into the park the impossibly thin Landscape Arch (1.8 miles round-trip), the longest such span in North America at 306 feet, is a must-see. If you’re feeling adventurous continue past this point to complete a 7.9-mile loop of the Devils Garden area. The route travels across sandstone fins and requires good navigation skills.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving

While you can’t go off-roading (or use off-highway vehicles) anywhere in the park, you can get off the beaten path by driving around its quiet interior via a network of unpaved roads, one of which—Salt Valley Road—is accessible to two-wheel-drive vehicles. This route travels between the Devils Garden area and the park’s northeast boundary; a 2.6-mile round-trip near the latter deposits you at Tower Arch situated in the fantastically lumpy Klondike Bluffs. If you have four-wheel drive visit Herdina Park, an even more remote area home to several arches and zero crowds. Keep an eye on the weather no matter where you drive and stay off backcountry roads right after a rain when they turn into mush. 

Cycling

Moab is arguably one of the best mountain-biking destinations in the U.S. but you can’t get your fix inside the park where it isn’t allowed. That said, you can still cruise along any of its roads. Just know that you’re going to share space with a lot of cars if you stick to pavement; making the steep, narrow, winding climb from or descent to the visitor center not without its risks especially.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyoneering

A journey through the Fiery Furnace, an unmarked sandstone labyrinth that requires quality boots, a good sense of balance, and an even better sense of direction. While it’s possible to purchase a permit for a self-guided trip ($3 to $6 via recreation.gov), it’s better to buy a ticket for a ranger-led tour ($10 to $16) unless you have previous experience navigating the mazelike canyons or are traveling with someone who does. (Note: The Fiery Furnace has been closed throughout the COVID pandemic.) 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If You Have Time for a Detour

Listen—it’s not if you have time for a detour, it’s that you’d better make time for a detour. Moab is a fantastic base camp for enjoying all the region has to offer. 

The most obvious side trip is one to neighboring Canyonlands National Park about a half-hour southwest from Arches. This section of the park rises like a wedge above the snaking Colorado and Green Rivers whose tight bends carve canyons over 2,000 feet below the overlook. For a more illuminating perspective on the local landscape, set out at dawn for the short hike to cliffside Mesa Arch which glows at sunrise; just know that you won’t be the only person jockeying for the perfect photo.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The same road that leads to Canyonlands, State Route 313, will also steer you toward Dead Horse Point State Park whose namesake overlook is worth the price of admission. But you’d be remiss to simply gawk and go; instead, leash up Fido to enjoy the roughly seven miles of trail that trace the rim or pedal the park’s network of beginner-to-intermediate-level mountain-bike trails.

Castle Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s incredible to scope the mighty Colorado River from high above its waters, make time to get down to its level by driving all 44 eye-popping miles of State Route 128 most of which runs directly next to the iconic flow. Dip off the main drag for side trips to ogle—or even climb—the postcard spires of Castle Valley and Fisher Towers; a 4.5-mile trail weaves throughout the latter.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

These 15 state parks across the U.S. have campgrounds that you really need to add to your travel list

While national parks are at the top of many RV travel bucket lists, state parks often offer more camping amenities than national parks. State park campgrounds are located in areas that feature natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historic significance. Some state parks are smaller and may only feature a visitor center and day-use area. Some areas are large as a national park and feature several campgrounds and access to lakes, trails, and nearby towns.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

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

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte was active in smuggling and pirating along the Gulf Coast. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp-store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition, Buccaneer has 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. The campground offers 120 electric and water sites with picnic tables and BBQ grills.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst. Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The campground offers 64 RV and tent sites including 44 with partial hookups.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. The “Big Tree,” a massive coastal live oak estimated to be centuries old is one of the natural wonders of Texas.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a new Lodge and Conference Center. Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake is one of the closest to saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. The park has a multitude of activities to participate in that includes hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, exploring, geocaching, and paddling. Reconstruction of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, is complete and new hostel-style accommodations are available nearby as well. The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

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

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

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three lakes. The park’s campground offers 44 RV campsites with electricity utilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, the park is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet. In the late 1800s, Jacob Waltz emerged from this area with gold. When he died in 1891, he was found with 24 pounds of high-quality gold ore under his bed. Purportedly, before he died he left clues to the mine’s location. Needless to say, it is a haven for treasure hunters today. The Park also offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, 35 campsites, picnic facilities, and special programs throughout the year.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a scenic park with a day-use area and modern camping hook-ups. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk offers an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T”. Meaher’s campground offers 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. Four bay-side cabins (1 is handicap accessible) overlook Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.The park offers 26 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas. The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RV and tent camping. No water or sewer hookups are available. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking during the fall when the forest is bright with autumn colors.A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt including a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Spotlight on Utah: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Soaring peaks and deep red canyons around every bend

Every state thinks it’s fun. Every state claims to have “something for everyone.” But not every state has five national parks, 45 state parks, five national historic sites and trails, and a dozen national monuments and recreation areas. There isn’t a single amazing thing about Utah. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

When visiting Utah, definitely take in the Mighty 5. But don’t let the splendor of it all blind you to the other spectacular experiences the state has to offer.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. Notable landmarks include Landscape Arch, the North and South Windows, Park Avenue, and Balanced Rock.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

In Utah’s southwest corner, the Virgin River carved through 2,000 feet of porous sandstone, forming a canyon so grand it needed a name equally majestic: In Hebrew, “Zion” means “promised land.” The seasons drastically change Zion’s landscape; cottonwood trees glow gold in the fall, the ridges shine with snow in winter, and waterfalls and pools spring to life in summer. There’s no bad time to visit Zion.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create a 387-mile outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, and photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

The past 60 million years have done a number on this section of southern Utah turning it into the world’s largest collection of hoodoos. The park’s 18-mile scenic drive takes you by a series of amphitheaters. But at 12 miles long, three miles wide, and 800 feet deep, Bryce Amphitheater steals the show. You’ll find the best views at the first four overlooks.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands has four separate districts and you can’t access one from another. Island in the Sky is the most popular and accessible. Here, head to Grand View Point for panoramas of the White Rim sandstone cliffs. With one paved road, the Needles district is rugged and difficult to navigate, so its many trails are consistently quiet. The Maze district is harder still to access. The Colorado and Green rivers make up the fourth district; parts of both are calm enough for kayaking.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Located in southwestern Utah, Scenic Byway 12 is nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. A 121-mile-long All-American  Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade) which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below. The term “moki” is derived from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante contains three distinct units, Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyon. The Monument was the last place in the U. S. to be mapped. From its spectacular Grand Staircase of cliffs and terraces, across the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau, to the wonders of the Escalante River Canyons, the Monument is a diverse geologic treasure speckled with monoliths, slot canyons, natural bridges, and arches. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower to heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. The bridges are named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park

Utah Lake is unique in that it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the West and yet it lies in an arid area that receives only about 15 inches of rainfall a year. Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, paddleboarding, and fishing. The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and electric hookups.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is known for its aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state.

Matheson Wetlands, Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

Cutting through the red rock gorge of the Colorado River, this 44-mile long byway (UT-128) offers a panoramic view of the LaSal Mountains whose snow-capped peaks rise in vivid contrast to the red rock sandstone typical of this canyon country. About four miles from Grandstaff Canyon, the byway passes the Big Bend Campground and picnic area with its white sand beach. The next section of the road closely parallels the Colorado River.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dixie National Forest

This massive 2-million-acre forest is known by most people as little more than a cool photo-op spot on the way to Bryce Canyon but those who linger will be rewarded with amazing sights. The crimson canyons of the forest’s aptly-named Red Canyon area are easy to access (with some sections of picturesque road carved right through the canyon) but also explore the aspen-packed Boulder Mountain area or peer out into three states from the top of Powell Point.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures campers, hikers, boaters, and anglers year-round. The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Situated at an elevation of 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks is shaped like a giant coliseum dropping 2,000 feet to its floor. Deep inside the coliseum are stone spires, columns, arches, pinnacles, and intricate canyons in varying shades of red, yellow, and purple. The bristlecone pine, one of the world’s oldest trees, grows in the area.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Sal Mountain Loop Road

A special place full of wonderful sights, smells, and sounds is the La Sal Mountains just east of Moab. The second-highest mountain range in Utah, the La Sals have six peaks that soar over 12,000 feet. One of the best ways to become acquainted with these mountains is to take a road trip along the La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop. The La Sal Mountains occupy a relatively small area running just 15 miles north to south and 6 miles across. They are most easily accessed from the west on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road that begins south of Moab.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bears Ears National Monument

The twin, towering buttes are so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or in English: Bears Ears. The land includes red rock, juniper forests, a high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area is southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat. It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever. Located on BLM land, the area is open for hiking, backpacking, and camping. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It provides a fun drive through an area that is usually deserted. It is a great place to get away from civilization

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is located at the end of a beautiful mesa where you can look for miles into Canyonlands National Park or 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River. The vista offers outstanding views of the river and surrounding canyon country. There are a few short hikes around the edge of the mesa with stunning views into the deep canyons. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

The six abandoned Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Hovenweep National Monument are impressive not only for their excellent state of preservation but also for the diversity in the structures. The park preserves 700-year-old—and even older—archeological sites that visitors can access by paved and dirt roads. Hovenweep boasts incredible skies for night viewing and has been named a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, one of Utah’s newer state parks is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in a campground on the beach. Boating and fishing on its warm blue waters is the most popular activity in the warmer months but visitors can also go off-roading amidst wild red sandstone dunes in the park’s Sand Mountain area.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Camp along the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle board. Hike along park nature trails through a petrified forest. Bordering the massive Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, this rarely visited jewel on Scenic Byway 12 allows you to peep fossilized dinosaur bones before trekking through an ancient petrified forest.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

The Moab area is known for its abundance of Indian rock art. This byway (UT-279) features several petroglyph panels with many individual carvings depicting symbolic animals. Other ancient traces include a roadside display of dinosaur tracks and a number of delicate, naturally formed stone arches. There are also many opportunities for outdoor adventure and extreme sports. Climb Wall Street, a popular stretch of cliffs just after JayCee Campground.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

America’s Best State Parks

Check out the best of the best in our list of the most enchanting state parks in America

State parks are giving national parks a run for their money drawing an average of 807 million visitors annually.

Each state has a considerable amount of protected land with state park designation—a whopping 18,694,570 acres, to be exact. With 8,565 parks and 14,672 trails to explore, chances are there’s a local park worthy of a day trip. As a bonus, state parks also offer grandeur, history, and natural beauty.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park, Arizona

Red Rock State Park isn’t your everyday desert landscape. In fact, this 286-acre nature preserve is home to lush green meadows, juniper, Manzanita, and is adorned with miles of striking red rock formations. The park offers 5 miles of interconnected, family-friendly trails that traverse a variety of unique desert habitats.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Take a scenic drive along Arizona State Route 89A which winds its way through Oak Creek Canyon and provides several places to pull over and picnic or snap photos of incredible, colorful rock formations.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

You might be heading to South Dakota to catch a glimpse of Mount Rushmore but while you’re out exploring the Black Hills there’s another South Dakota gem you’ll want to add to your bucket list. Named one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destination and one of the country’s largest state parks, Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of granite cliffs, rolling plains, and beautiful mountain wilderness.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Drive the Wildlife Loop to see a variety of wildlife including bison, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk. Or, drive along Iron Mountain Road for incredible, panoramic views of the Black Hills and unique vantage points of Mount Rushmore.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Despite its grisly name, the view from Dead Horse Point remains one of the most scenic vistas in the world. Towering 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, Dead Horse Point is an iconic peninsula of rock sitting on top of incredible vertical sandstone cliffs that was formed by geological activity millions of years ago.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Pack a camera and drive along Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway to experience the park’s deep canyons and ridges via a variety of scenic overlooks, including the most notable overlook: Dead Horse Point Overlook.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park, Texas

The wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys at Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offering a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as close-up views of a unique desert environment.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

There is something for everyone inside Gulf State Park with two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a brand new Lodge and Conference Center. There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: Gulf State Park has a multitude of activities to participate in including hiking, biking, fishing, exploring, geocaching, and paddling with beach vendors offering parasailing and kayaking. 

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Highlights: If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Worth Pondering…

Stuff your eyes with wonder…live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

—Ray Bradbury

Photographic Proof That Utah Is Just One Big Epic National Park

These state parks are national treasures

Perhaps no state is more synonymous with national parks than Utah: Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands. Utah’s world-famous “big five” national parks are some of the most popular in America attracting more than 10 million visitors in 2019. That doesn’t leave a ton of space for social distancing.

Those five national parks managed to bring in more crowds than all of Utah’s 44 state parks combined with many state parks seeing annual visitation roughly equivalent to a busy summer weekend at Zion or Bryce Canyon.

But here’s a little secret: Many of those state parks hold their own against the grandeur of the Big Five, usually with a fraction of fellow humans crowding the trails and vistas. With many national parks currently limiting capacity, now’s the ideal time to point your GPS toward one of Utah’s 5 coolest, and less visited, state parks. 

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park

If the mind-blowing landscapes of this Grand Canyon-styled park look familiar, it’s probably because the final scene of Thelma & Louise was filmed here. But you don’t need to launch your car off a cliff to appreciate the views: there are plenty of vista points to gaze upon the color-packed vertical cliffs and rugged canyons rising 2,000 feet above the Colorado River with sweeping views extending into nearby Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to mountain biking 17 miles of expert single-track along the Intrepid Trail or peering out over the edge hiking the East Rim and West Rim trails, you can also camp in an RV, tent, or even a yurt. Water is NOT available.

Kayenta Campground, Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayenta Campground offers 21 campsites with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 amp). New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far reaching views to the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons. This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RV or tent campers. RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, one of Utah’s newer state parks is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in a campground on the beach.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This popular park about 30 minutes east of St. George is like a “best of” for Utah’s state park system all rolled into one. Boating and fishing on its warm blue waters is the most popular activity in the warmer months but visitors can also go off-roading amidst wild red sandstone dunes in the park’s Sand Mountain area.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Camp along the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir, or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle board on its clear waters. Hike along park nature trails through a petrified forest but remember to take only photos.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bordering the massive Delaware-sized Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, this rarely visited jewel on Scenic Byway 12—only 64,000 people visit annually—allows you to peep fossilized dinosaur bones before trekking through an ancient petrified forest. Anglers can also test the bluegill and rainbow trout-stocked waters of the laid-back Wide Hollow Reservoir where canoeing and kayaking are also excellent and solitary endeavors.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park

Utah Lake is unique in that it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the West and yet it lies in an arid area that receives only about 15 inches of rainfall a year. Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities.

Utah Lake Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. The park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and electric hookups.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Camp. Hike. Explore.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass which is also stocked and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But wait, there’s more!

Other spectacular state parks on our bucket list include Snow Canyon, Kodachrome Basin, Coral Pink Sands, Goblin Valley, and Goosenecks. And I would be remiss not to mention spectacular Natural Bridges National Monument which attracted a mere 88,000 recreational visitors in 2019.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?