The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Following the past pandemic winter hibernation a national park adventure is one of the best family vacation ideas for spring

During April and May, national parks tend to be less crowded and cooler then during peak summer travel which means plenty of outdoor space to stretch out and burn off energy. As an added bonus, April brings National Park Week (April 17-25, in 2021), an annual celebration that includes FREE admission and special junior ranger programs for kids.

Spring is prime time for wildflowers, to spot baby wildlife, hit the hiking trails, and enjoy seasonal waterfalls. Here are 16 of the best national parks in spring throughout the United States. These exceptional public lands will help you reconnect and reboot.

Saguaro cactus in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Spring is the perfect time to visit Saguaro before the triple-digit summertime temperatures descend on the Sonoran Desert. The region’s giant saguaro cactuses are an iconic symbol of the Southwest and families are bound to see plenty of them along hiking trails and driving routes through the east or west section of the park. The greatest diversity of spring-blooming cacti species can be seen in April. The cactus show continues as the abundant prickly pears bloom in early May followed by saguaros from mid May to mid June.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Visitors will find cooler spring temperatures at Grand Canyon with even a chance of snow on the Rim. The possibility of rain and snow, combined with more breezes and skies clear of haze and smog (that tends to drift from Las Vegas and Southern California) makes spring an ideal time to see the canyon in all its drama and beauty.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia

In January 2021, New River Gorge was elevated to national park status focusing national attention on the natural beauty of one of West Virginia’s most beloved playgrounds. The New River is one of those places that gets under your skin and stays with you especially if you enjoy outdoor activities. Spring at New River Gorge means whitewater through deep canyons, the perfect backdrop for thrilling family rafting trips.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Spring at Shenandoah National Park brings blooming wildflowers and trees, flowing waterfalls and migrating songbirds. Only 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is an easy escape from the bustle of the city. A park hallmark is Skyline Drive, the scenic byway that runs 105 miles north and south along the mountaintop ridge. To escape any April showers, duck into Luray Caverns, located just outside park boundaries for a cave exploration filled with towering stone formations and massive caverns.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Each spring, the hollows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park bloom with ephemerals such as trillium, lady slipper orchids, bleeding hearts, violets, and other native flora. For 71 years wildflower enthusiasts have enjoyed the show during the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (May 8-16, in 2021). Later in spring, synchronous fireflies light up the woodland glens (dates vary year to year).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is among the most scenic drives in the Eastern U.S. Designed to “lie gently upon the land,” this national park corridor stretches from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offering scenic mountain views and ample hiking opportunities along the way. Expect to find a mix of wildflowers and tree blossoms including dwarf iris, tulips, violets, and various species of rhododendrons and dogwood trees. Craggy Gardens (MP 364.6) has a particularly spectacular rhododendron bloom in late spring.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Opt for the family-friendly Riverside Walk and look for early blooming wildflowers such as desert marigold, slickrock paintbrush, and western columbine. You just may catch a glimpse of baby animals including wild turkey chicks, mule deer fawns, and bighorn sheep.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Located north of Zion, Cedar Breaks National Monument is a 10,000-foot hidden gem, a wide red rock amphitheater similar to Bryce Canyon. Spring arrives later at this higher elevation but when it does, the meadows blaze with the brilliant colors of wildflower blooms. Be sure to hike to Spectra Point to glimpse the oldest tree in the park—a Bristlecone pine estimated to be 1,500 years old.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Tours of the cliff dwellings begin in May but early spring travelers won’t miss out since cliff dwelling structures like Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House can be viewed at overlooks year-round. Prior to June, the park is quieter with fewer crowds and moderate temperatures. A less-visited nearby site, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has the highest concentration of Native American archaeological sites in the U.S.—more than 6,300 including cliff dwellings, kivas, petroglyphs, and sacred springs.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of the least-visited national parks, Big Bend is a perfect place for physical distancing. Springtime at Big Bend National Park means cooler temperatures, wildflowers, and plenty of migrating birds. And Big Bend is a great place to explore the Rio Grande River which is framed by sheer canyon walls.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park preserves 11,000 acres of old growth bottomland hardwood forest with some of the largest trees (of their kind) in the United States. The sun and water reflect the trees creating a complex world of depth, light, and life.Cypress knees spring from the swamp like forest stalagmites.The story of spring in Congaree, is the trees, water, flowers, light, and life working together to bring you something entirely new, entirely special.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Above ground, the yucca bloom, cacti send out yellow arms, and mescal plants blossom across the Chihuahuan Desert landscape. Below ground, stalactites line cave ceilings and decorative rock formations keep youngsters enthralled along the Big Room Trail. Carlsbad Caverns is famous for its bat flight program and the Brazilian free-tailed bats make their migratory journey back to the park in late spring.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer gets hot in the desert but spring is the perfect season to visit. With its location within 1,200 square miles of Mojave and Colorado deserts, spring is prime time at Joshua Tree. Not only will you enjoy milder weather, you might also be treated to spectacular springtime displays of lupine, poppies, and Joshua tree blooms.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Spring is a time to enjoy sunshine and snow at Lassen Volcanic. The Manzanita Lake and Southwest Areas of the park remain accessible by car all year. Snow clearing on the park highway (which closes to through traffic in the snowy, winter season) begins in the Manzanita Lake Area in late March or early April. It takes two months on average to clear and open the 30-mile park highway. The snow clearing process is largely dependent on the depth of the winter snowpack and spring weather.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Utah

Arches and Canyonlands are colorful siblings that are great to visit any time of year but to avoid the high heat of summer the best time to visit is now. Spring-time activities run the gamut in these two parks. Hiking is the main attraction with endless miles of trails. Some of the more popular hikes in Arches lead to Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Park Avenue, and the Windows Section. In Canyonlands explore the Island in the Sky with its trails to Whale Rock and ancient granaries on Aztec Butte. Longer treks in the Needles District can fill several days and more. Spring also is a time of renewal, and you can see this in the blooming flowers.

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

The 6 Best Road Trips to Take in the Midwest

Hit the road and discover the Midwest

From Great Lakes and rivers to rolling hills, wide-open plains and lush forests, there’s plenty to discover in the Midwest. Whether you’re up for a summer vacation, week-long road trip, or a Sunday drive, set a course for the middle section of the United States and get out there to explore some of the most diverse scenic terrains in the country. Here are six Midwestern journeys of varying lengths and distances worth considering.

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio’s Amish Country Byway

Take a break from the fast-paced world of smart phones, computers, and demanding schedules and enjoy the “simple life” found on the Amish Country Byway in Ohio. At first, you may feel as if time is standing still, but you’ll soon discover that the Amish folk are highly enterprising and productive. They have simply chosen to maintain their traditional beliefs and customs, continuing a lifestyle uncomplicated by the ways of the modern-day world.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel the Amish Country Byway, sharing the road with horses and buggies, you will experience first-hand the Amish way of life. You will also take in plenty of beautiful scenery and have a wide variety of recreational opportunities to pursue.

McAllister Covered Bridge, Parke County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana’s Covered Bridge Tour

Explore Parke County (aka the Covered Bridge Capital of the World) on well-marked driving routes. Parke County has 31 historic bridges, many built in the 1800s and still in use. They’re especially charming nestled amid fall foliage and autumn is a great time to hike or go on a horseback ride at Turkey Run State Park.

Neet Covered Bridge, Parke County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five well-marked driving routes, each about 30 miles long make finding the bridges and exploring easy. Each covered bridge comes with its own unique past.

Downtown Wapakoneta. Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio’s Neil Armstrong Scenic Byway

The Neil Armstrong Scenic Byway celebrates the early years of Neil Armstrong’s life with special emphasis on the time period in which he obtained his pilot’s license. In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. Prior to that, his early interest in flying was cultivated in his hometown of Wapakoneta. Armstrong was so determined to fly that he successfully attained his pilot’s license before his driver’s license.

Armstrong Air & Space Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The byway route through downtown Wapakoneta retraces the route of his homecoming parade after returning from the moon. Some of the storefronts have changed but several of the sights appear largely as they did during Armstrong’s boyhood.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota’s Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

Anyone who’s ever made the patriotic pilgrimage to Mount Rushmore comes away impressed by the otherworldly Badlands geography, a scope of grassy stretches and startling rock buttes, mounds, and peaks. Throughout the 39-mile SD Highway 240 journey between Wall and Cactus Flat across Badlands National Park, 16 designated overlooks provide opportunities to stop and marvel at the surreal views.

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

If you choose to stop and hike, keep your eyes peeled for appearances by the indigenous wildlife—buffalo, prairie dogs, mule deer, and antelope, to name just a few. The Minuteman Missile Visitor Center and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center are great spots to load up on helpful maps and advice. 

Along the Amish Heritage Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana’s Amish Heritage Trail

Traveling along lively Main Streets and scenic backroads you’ll find surprises at every turn and soon discover why it was voted the top USA Today Reader’s Choice and editors of LIFE consider it one of “America’s Most Scenic Drives.”

The Old Bag Factory, Goshen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This scenic winding loop takes you through the communities of Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, Bristol, Wakarusa, and Shipshewana. Discover stunning views, historical sites, and Amish heritage along the scenic backroads. Explore country lanes dotted with inviting Amish-owned shops showcasing handcrafted and homemade.

Covered Bridges Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio’s Covered Bridges Byway

The Covered Bridges Byway in Ashtabula County (also known as the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Tour) is an especially beautiful way to take in some of Ohio’s back road scenery and discover some charming covered bridges along the way. You can drive through America’s shortest and longest covered bridge along this scenic route which features a total of 19 covered bridges in Ashtabula County. It’s perfect for a leisurely scenic drive or a weekend road trip in northeast Ohio.

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.

Considering a Summer Getaway? Tips for Reducing Your Risk during the Pandemic

If you’re looking for a COVID-friendly summer vacation, an RV road trip is a solid way to go

If the coronavirus has you going stir-crazy, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about taking an RV road trip. After all, an RV allows you to travel without exposing yourself to germy airports and hotels.

Your summer vacation plans probably look a little different this year. For many families, that may mean skipping the airport and loading up the RV for a family road trip. If you’re planning a trip before the end of summer, a little advance planning can go a long way toward making your vacation safe and fun for everyone.

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

Fears about the coronavirus are forcing many people to rethink traditional air travel and hotel stays and look into recreational vehicles as a safer alternative. Some RV dealerships have seen an increase in sales of up to 170 percent and many customers are first-time buyers. In May, peer-to-peer rental service RVshare saw a 650 percent spike in bookings since the beginning of April.

Along a scenic route in eastern Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An RV allows you and your family to get out of the house while maintaining social distancing. It even allows you to avoid places you might feel uncomfortable being in like a hotel or restaurant. With an RV, you can bring everything with you!

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two types of RVs to consider: a motorhome that combines the living quarters and vehicle in one package and a travel or fifth-wheel trailer.

What should travelers take into account when deciding whether to travel?

Psychologically, people are getting tired, and it’s only natural to want to get away and go out. The first step is ‘How much risk you’re willing to tolerate?’ And that has to do with our own health condition but also the health conditions of the people around you. We have to be able to live with the virus to some degree and manage the risk that we take. A lot of it has to do with thinking of other people and how your actions impact your community. 

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are some forms of travel safer than others? Is it better to drive or to fly?

I don’t know that we can necessarily say one is less risky. If you’re going on a road trip, for example, and have a large number of other people with you then it defeats the purpose. The larger the group the greater the chance of being exposed to others who may be infected with the virus!

Along Utah Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we talk about flying, a lot of airline companies have requirements in place for mask wearing, and they do health screening. But the risk of flying with people that we don’t know is higher than the risk of driving in an RV or car with people that we do know and that we live with. Looking at the risk overall, road trips with family members seems to be the safest at this point.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What precautions should a person take when planning a road trip?

The shorter distance you have to travel the better, especially if you have family with young children. You have to think about rest stops and bathroom breaks and where you’re going to be taking those. You have to think about where you’re going to be stopping to eat. The number of stops you make along the way increases the chances of being exposed to other individuals who may be infected.

Schulenburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given the rise of COVID-19 cases across the country, should travelers be careful about when or where they go?

I think we can safely say that the coronavirus is everywhere, so I wouldn’t say that any place is 100 percent safe. Avoid traveling to areas where the number of cases are on the rise. Definitely look at being flexible in your plans and in your final destination.

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here a several additional tips to help make your next road trip memorable—and prepare for whatever may come your way.

Pack smart and make a checklist. To avoid leaving any essentials at home, create a checklist a few weeks before you leave—and add to it as you think of new items.

Woods Hole on Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring an atlas. Even though you haven’t used one in ages, keeping a road atlas in the RV and car is always a good idea. With an old-school paper map, you don’t have to worry about losing your GPS signal, heading down a non-existent road, or running out of battery. And if you have kids, they may enjoy tracking your travels.

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your tires. Before you leave home, inspect the condition of your tires and inflate them to the pressure recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your emergency kit. If you find yourself stranded, a well-stocked emergency kit could help you get back on the road quickly and safely. Pre-assembled kits are available for purchase, or you can assemble your own kit.

Worth Pondering…

If you wait for the perfect moment when all is safe and assured, it may never arrive. Mountains will not be climbed, races won, or lasting happiness achieved.

—Maurice Chevalier

The Great American Road Trip: Born in 1856

Whitman describes a trip on which he is embarking. He describes himself as being “healthy and free,” and he realizes he is the only person who is in complete control of his life; he chooses his own destiny.

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Indian Creek Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great American Road Trip was born in 1856 with the publication of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road.”

Or at least that’s how the idea of such a journey came into being since 164 years ago there were no states between Texas and California, let alone cars, highways, or motels. A traveler’s creature comforts back then consisted of liberty and opportunity.

Plano Bridge along the Painted Churches tour in Fayette County, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whitman saw the (future) American Road Trip as a metaphor for democracy. In the new republic, a man had the freedom to go anywhere.

But for decades after Whitman’s poem, America’s “long brown paths” went nowhere.

A scenic drive in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1903, when Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, his dog Bud, and a mechanic named Sewall Crocker set out in a red Winton touring car to claim America for the automobile, barely 150 miles of paved road existed in the entire country. A friend had wagered Jackson $50 that it would take him at least three months to drive from San Francisco to New York. In the end, it took 62 days of hard slogging.

On the road to Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jackson’s feat quickly inspired imitators like the Murdocks, the first family to drive across America. In 1908, Jacob, Anna, and their three children successfully navigated the journey with the help of a personal mechanic for the car and a Winchester rifle for the coyotes.

Along Bush Highway, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to be outdone, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey led the first all-female road trip in 1909, tearing across the country at speeds of up to 42 miles an hour—when not being towed by horses.

Sharing the road in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road situation remained a literal mess when Dwight D. Eisenhower joined a military convoy on a trip across America in 1919. At times the drivers averaged a mere 6 miles an hour. Those two months on the road helped to convince the future president that a complete overhaul was needed. His answer was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the construction of the Interstate Highway System.

Driving Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The law spurred millions of Americans to take to the open road—and legions of filmmakers and novelists to write about it.

Explaining the point of “On the Road” (1957), Jack Kerouac wrote that the novel tried to recapture a sense of meanings—embarking “on a tremendous journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America.” 

Driving Montgomery to Wetumka, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Steinbeck took on a similar quest of rediscovery and reconnection—with his driving companion a poodle—and wrote about it in “Travels With Charley in Search of America” (1962). The author finished his journey with his hopes dashed, feeling lost, and worried about the rapid changes overtaking his country.

Schnebly Hill Road near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, Steinbeck fared better than most film characters who attempt the Great American Road Trip. In “Easy Rider” (1969), Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are pursued by murderous bigots; in “Thelma and Louise” (1991), the problem seems to be every American male.

On the road to Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, today’s family road trips don’t lack for human comforts—just a full tank of fuel and a great playlist.

But oh, the options today!

Smartphones or music players can plug directly into the RV’s sound system with a USB cable or auxiliary.

Mokee Dugway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And yet, there’s a lot to be gained from abandoning yourself to the mercies of local radio stations. It’s a chance to ride along, even briefly, with local color that’s otherwise passing too quickly outside the window—the DJ’s accent, charmingly quirky small town ads, music from artists not yet known beyond their part of the country.

Just a fleeting reminder that digital conveniences can deprive us of the analogue pleasure of immersing ourselves in somewhere new.

Worth Pondering…

The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.

What You Need to Know to Have a Perfect Road Trip

Travel essentials to maximize your mobile vacation

Good morning. Trying to think of a single thing that’s bad about the outrageous amount of daylight we have right now, and…drawing a blank. It’s simply magnificent at every level especially in an RV. 

wan•der•lust(n.) a strong desire to travel

Reconnect with nature at Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desire to travel! Desire to escape! Desire to reconnect with nature! The sense of wanderlust is stronger than ever and the idea of hitting the open road to find a change of scenery may be on your mind. At the end of the road, what will you find? Perhaps that is where your journey is just beginning.

Jetting off on vacation by plane has its advantages like efficiency and built-in downtime.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the disadvantages can outweigh the upsides: Air travel means missing out on the freedom and sense of adventure that come with road-tripping. The open road affords unplanned discoveries and cultural oddities taking in the view at a scenic overlook for however long you like and the feeling of satisfaction when you stop and stretch your legs out in the fresh air. A road trip is its own reward, no matter your destination.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GPS and smartphones have made taking a road trip easier than ever before but all you really need are miles of asphalt (which America has in abundance), an RV packed with supplies of your choice, and activities to keep you entertained during down time. Our wanderlust stays alive through the memories of the joy and fulfillment our travels have brought us in the past and the hope of realizing travel dreams again this summer.

Summer is full of life and excitement. It’s as thrilling as it can be calm and serene.

Davis Mountains in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to an annual American Automobile Association survey, more than two-thirds of American families take vacations each year with 53 percent opting for road trips. The global pandemic forced us to quarantine indoors for several months leaving many with cabin fever; RVing is proving to be the perfect solution. With many popular vacation destinations no longer an option due to closures, restrictions, and safety concerns, more and more people are turning to camping and RVing.

Roaring Fork Motor Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Par, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent Ipsos research examining consumer interest and planned actions on travel choices in light of the COVID-19 crisis suggests that RV travel and camping provide an appealing vacation option for American families. According to the research, 46 million Americans plan to take an RV trip in the next 12 months. If you’re one of those families, we hope these suggestions keep you on the right path.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rules of the road

  • Don’t hesitate to make detours. Road trips are all about discovering new places.
  • Stop and stretch often. Your muscles will thank you and your focus will be renewed.
  • Put away your screens. The passing scenery—and chats with your fellow travelers—is your source of entertainment!
  • Avoid dehydration: Drink plenty of water.
  • Play it safe. Get plenty of rest and stay alert on the road. Sleeping for at least eight hours each night is a good start.
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music tunes for the Road

  • “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson
  • “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads
  • “Take It Easy” by the Eagles
  • “Route 66” by Chuck Berry
  •  “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Hank Snow
  • “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams
  • “Life Is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane
  • “Everyday Is a Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow
Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More tunes for the Road

  • “King of the Road” by Roger Miller
  • “Hit the Road Jack” by Ray Charles
  • “Carolina In My Mind” by James Taylor
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
  • “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
  • “Georgia On My Mind” by Ray Charles
  • “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams
  •  “Wide Open Spaces” by Dixie Chicks
  • “Waltz Across Texas” by Ernest Tubb
  • “Miles and Miles of Texas” by Asleep at the Wheel
Get back to nature at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

JUST DO IT

  • Get back to nature
  • Learn something new at a historical marker
  • Take the scenic route
  • Sing “On the Road Again,” out loud, word for word
Kenedy County Courthouse in Sarita, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photo Op

  • A small-town courthouse
  • Field of wildflowers
  • Winding country road
  • Botanical garden
Truth Barbecue in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

VITTLES

Pecan pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing.

Is This The Summer Of The RV?

States across the U.S. are starting to open back up. What does that mean for when, where, and how to travel?

With the unofficial start of summer behind us and months before the kids go back to school—or not—many would-be-travelers with canceled plans are looking for ideas to travel safely. “Safe” does not mean the same thing to all people: While one person might be comfortable in an RV park because they have personal accommodations, another might find the campground itself too crowded for personal comfort.

Sea Breeze RV Resort, Portland, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In any typical year, the end of May marks the official start of road trip season. But 2020, as we’re all painfully aware is not a typical year. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just wreaking havoc on people’s health and livelihoods—in just a few months it’s all but decimated the travel industry as well. Airplanes are grounded, cruise ships are docked, hotels are closed, and several states still have stay-at-home orders in place. 

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

But for those of us who prefer road travel in our own vehicle over flights and cruises, the news isn’t all bad. According to recent headlines from The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN, LA Times, and many others, the American road trip is about to make a grand, splashing comeback. (Though, if you ask me, road trips never went out of style in the first place.)

Spirit River and Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer vacation will look at lot different for many families this year but perhaps what no one saw coming was the rise of the RV. The spread of COVID-19 has made air travel and public transportation mighty unpopular options while personal vehicles feel like more of a safe haven. Recent studies have shown travelers feel more comfortable in a personal vehicle where they can control the scenario, unlike shared transportation.

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The RV Industry Association says RV sales have increased 170 percent when compared to this time last year. Some dealers are reporting sales at any all-time high.

In an effort to keep things more contained, those renting RVs aren’t looking to hit the road and travel to crowded areas. RVshare said its study found 93 percent of respondents want to avoid crowds and 65 percent want to be surrounded by nature. We could see a far greater number of trips to national and state parks and wide-open spaces.

Along the Colorado River, Arizona side © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps playing to Americans’ stir-crazy feelings of confinement, they’re planning to take longer trips, too. Almost half of those surveyed planned to get away for a week or more than 10 days. But, if you’re thinking about taking the plunge on an RV and socially distanced vacation, just know you’re not alone. Quickly, isolated areas could become the next popular destination.

Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadtripping is a great way to explore some of the most beautiful places in the country while still avoiding big crowds, and after being cooped up at home many are understandably antsy to hit the road again. Remember to be mindful of risks, both to yourself and others.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we venture out consider that some of our fellow travelers are still adjusting to a new normal. To ensure everyone enjoys their chance to travel, keep these common-sense guidelines in mind:

  • Before heading out, check the status of the area you plan to visit
  • Phone ahead to determine under what conditions a park or attraction has reopened
  • Check the rules for recreation ahead of time for the specific area you’re planning to visit
  • Avoid high-risk activities like rock climbing or backcountry activities as law enforcement and rescue operations may be limited
  • Select low-traffic locations and times
  • Consider visiting less-traveled locations at off-peak hours to avoid potential crowding
  • Practice physical distancing outdoors by staying at least 6 feet apart
  • Avoid crowded locations where physical distancing may be difficult
  • Plan ahead, as services and facilities will be limited
  • If you are feeling even mildly sick, you should remain at home until you feel better
Historic Adairsville, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If we learn anything from these last few months, it should be to behave respectfully toward any people you encounter or communities you visit during your travels. Be kind, act responsibly, and leave it better than you found it.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

—Okakura Kazuko

Quarantine on Wheels: Families Turn to RVs to Save Their Summer Travel Plans

The summer getaway theme of 2020 is staying safe, healthy, and in control

It’s become clear that far-flung international travel isn’t going to be as common as it once was for quite some time. Four-hour wait times to get on a plane will be the norm with as much as twice that to get out of the airport when you arrive. That’s before you take into account that most international travel will require 14-day quarantine on arrival and once you return home or consider which borders will to be open to tourists from our continent. (For example, it’s looking more and more like Europe will only allow internal tourism for the rest of the year.)

Katy Lake RV Resort, Katy, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With international travel pretty much off the books for the rest of 2020, it’s time to look to the highways and byways of the good ol’ US of A to get your travel fix (assuming you’re lucky enough to get a couple weeks of vacation this year and feel able to afford it). That means the Great American Road Trip is back in a big way. A chance to see the ever-changing nation in a time of massive upheaval, use your tourist dollars to support struggling communities, and get a little elbow room as quarantine winds down. A chance to stay socially distanced without going stir-crazy.

Along Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a recent GasBuddy survey 36 percent of respondents are canceling trips that require flying and 24 percent plan to make shorter trips by distance. 31 percent are planning to take a road trip. Not to mention, gas prices are the cheapest they’ve been in almost 20 years, AAA says.  

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not a surprise that summer vacation will look at lot different this year but perhaps what no one saw coming was the rise of RV travel. A recent survey of 4,000 U.S. and Canadian residents by KOA showed the pandemic sparking interest in camping especially among first-timers and younger generations. 

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

“Once it is safe to travel, it’s likely the camping market will get a greater share of leisure travelers’ trips in 2020,” reads the May 11 report measuring the effects of COVID-19 on the campground industry. (The study showed camping drawing 16 percent of leisure travelers for the rest of 2020, up from 11 percent before the pandemic.)

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In March, as RV buyers evaporated and manufacturing plants—mostly in northeastern Indiana—closed, the RV industry pivoted toward crisis management. Dealers and manufacturers sent vehicles across the country for use as isolation units, housing for critical health care workers, command centers, and mobile testing labs. 

Along Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California ordered 1,309 to house the sick should hospitals be overwhelmed. Louisiana state police ordered nearly 100 for command posts. A dealer in Texas sent RVs across the state to municipalities. Florida health officials retrofitted RVs as rolling testing labs. 

Bird Island Basin Campground, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 418 businesses that make up the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association pushed federal and state lawmakers to keep RV manufacturers and dealers open as essential businesses to meet this new demand. 

The generally accepted plan for reviving the country’s tourism industry starts with people traveling closer to home. It’s not likely vacationers will be jumping in planes anytime soon, so the RV industry is hoping more people start looking at self-contained motorhomes and trailers as a way to vacation while distancing and controlling their own environments. 

Wind Creek Casino RV Park, Atmore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV production was strong in January and February with shipments pacing ahead of 2019. Even after the collapse in mid-March, the RV association reported a slight increase in shipments for the first three months of 2020 over last year. After a dormant April, the industry is seeing a revival in May, driven in large part by a surge in demand for RV rentals.

Capitol City RV Park, Montgomery, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 3,000-plus members of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds in recent years have seen a majority of their RV visitors traveling within 150 miles of their homes. This most certainly will be the case going forward in the age of COVID-19.

Tom Sawyer RV Park, West Memphis, Arkansas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The association’s latest survey of private campground owners estimates there are more than 1.2 million private campsites across the country and owners plan to add more than 60,000 this year. Private campground owners are preparing for wary visitors by scripting specific plans for cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining distancing. Most communal facilities including pools, gyms, and game rooms remain closed.

The MotorCoach Resort, Chandler, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As restrictions begin to ease we will see people get outside, stay closer to home, and be as safe as possible. The RV is a self-contained way for them to do that.

It’s like everyone was in a holding pen and as things begin to open up, there is a definite and growing demand for RVs and RV travel.

Rio Grande Bend Golf and RV Resort, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Happy (and safe) adventuring!

Worth Pondering…

Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course, of action and follow it to an end requires courage.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

After the Coronavirus: Your Next Vacation May Look Like This

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred quite a bit of interest in connecting with nature via RV travel

One thing is true with a large, extended, epic vacation: There is no flexibility. The dates are set. The hotel nights are purchased. The flights have been arranged. The pets have been boarded. Relatives or neighbors have been asked to collect the mail. These are the necessary evils that go hand in hand with planning a big trip.

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

For RVers the trip is easier to plan. No scheduling of flights. No searching for available hotels that meet your requirements. And you can even take your pets with you.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the travel industry, the demand for travel is slowly—very slowly—creeping back up again. But many remain wary of getting on a plane, a train, a bus, or a cruise ship and being packed tightly in with strangers and not knowing if somebody is carrying the virus.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to what could be the year of the recreational vehicle, more commonly known as the beloved RV. Americans and Canadians love the space and freedom of the outdoors and the enrichment that comes with living an active outdoor life. RVs not only enable this lifestyle, they also provide a self-contained existence that other forms of travel don’t allow.

Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After an indeterminate period of isolation families will be more enthusiastic than ever to get outside and see new places, even within their own local areas. RV travel allows people to sleep in their own bed, cook gourmet meals, and control where they go. As restrictions are lifted, you’ll be able to experience the endless range of outdoor wonders throughout the country and the freedom of independent travel that RVs offer.

Seabreeze RV Park, Portland, Texas

RVs provide travelers control: they allow people to travel where they want, when they want, and offer a unique travel experience that allows people to pursue their favorite activities and experience places they may have only seen in a coffee-table book or on Instagram. They can do this all with the ability to stay connected to family and friends.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are all positive features but particularly attractive during this most unprecedented time. RVs provide a wonderful opportunity for people to continue to enjoy vacations with their families while still adhering to social distancing, which will likely stay in place in some form for the foreseeable future.

Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s something about road trips that creates a nostalgic feeling. Beautiful scenery, regional cuisine, and good company are just some of the many things that make road tripping so awesome and there’s something profound about literally just driving away from it all to seek an adventure.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And with the U.S. packed with so many incredible road trips, there really is something for everyone! Whether you’re looking for a day trip or wanting to be out on the open road for a prolonged period of time, there are beautiful places both in your backyard and beyond proving you don’t have to get on a plane to have an epic vacation. So pack up the RV and keep reading to discover your next road trip.

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon is famous for its undeniable beauty, and I strongly believe everyone should see it in person at least once in their lifetime. Phoenix is a great place to start this journey and as you make your way north toward the Canyon be sure to stop and stretch your legs in Sedona and Red Rock Country.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Known as one of America’s best and most beautiful drives, the Blue Ridge Parkway runs for 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. It follows the Appalachian Mountains—the Blue Ridge chain, specifically—from Shenandoah National Park in the north to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the south. Because the Blue Ridge Parkway connects two national parks, it’s easy to visit both during your drive.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Well-known among rock climbers and hikers, this road trip through Southern California’s desert is filled with opportunities to experience nature. With almost 100 miles of paved roads and an almost equal amount of unpaved roads, this road trip has much to offer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A social distancing-friendly destination, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the colorful North Dakota badlands is a great place for hiking, camping, and sightseeing. Bison roam throughout the North and South units of the park and most visitors can see them as they drive along the park roads. Deer, elk, feral horses, longhorns, pronghorns, coyotes, and even bobcats can also be seen in various parts of the park.

Happy (and safe) adventuring!

Worth Pondering…

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

―Marie Curie

Family Vacation Spots for a Road Trip

Seven perfect family-friendly destinations you can visit as soon as summer rears its jolly head! (You can also visit earlier, but it may not be as fun, really.)

Most of us have been social distancing for weeks if not months now and between coronavirus anxiety and the weather getting warmer, a getaway sounds pretty nice right about now. It can be difficult to choose a place for a family trip. You want to consider cost as well as the interests of each of your family members. There are some destinations not suitable for young children and others that will sweep the whole gang off their feet.

Right now, without further ado, here’s the deal.

Pigeon Forge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

This destination is the perfect place to take your kids to experience the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. There are hiking trails, as well as guided horse tours, but the city also holds its own special brand of family activities. You can take a ride to Ripley’s Aquarium where your child can enjoy different species of fish or spend a day at Dollywood. This amusement park is great as all ages can find something interesting to do and the shows will keep anyone entertained.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Hills of South Dakota

There is nothing quite like the Black Hills of South Dakota. While they’re not super high in elevation, the centrally located Black Elk Peak does get up to and impressive 7,242 feet, the highest point east of the Rockies. And there are hiking trails and activities galore. Also, one finds numerous well-known sites including Mount Rushmore, the work-in-progress Crazy Horse memorial, and Deadwood (famous for its gold mining and heavy-handed gambling past, also the resting place of Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane). But when it comes to natural beauty, few can match the Needles Highway.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Ah, the Texas Hill Country. Imagine hills, soft and scrubby, green valleys, and limestone cliffs. Conjure up ranches and communities of German heritage, wineries, fields of wildflowers, and sparkling rivers lined with cypress and oak. No big cities, no hustle and bustle—just cafes with country cooking, water for fishing and inner tubing, and old places with timeworn comfort. Yes, it’s easy to feel at home in the Texas Hill Country. Prepare to be amazed.

Vogel State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia

What kind of mood is your family in? Want to climb mountains? Georgia has the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Want to explore barrier islands? Check out Cumberland Island National Seashore. Like swamps? Rivers? Lakes? Gorges? Georgia has them all, along with almost 50 state parks fairly representing the state’s varied terrain. If you want dank forests and rugged mountains, head to North Georgia. If you’re looking for Spanish moss and jungle-like barrier islands, the coast is for you. Meanwhile, the southern end of the state feels downright Jurassic thanks to the meandering swamps and abundance of gators.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona

This former mining hub at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction was founded in 1892. Keep cool on a 25-minute tour of mine shaft as the guide talks about the good ol’ days before the gold played out. The town includes a museum, LuLu’s Bordello, a church, livery stables, a reptile exhibit, and a mystery shack where objects seemingly defy gravity. Panning for gold, a shooting gallery and rides on a zip line, train, or horseback are among the activities, and gunfights are held on Saturdays and Sundays. And a steak house and saloon offers chow and cold drinks.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia

Colonial National Historical Park contains several iconic historic sites including the Colonial Parkway, Historic Jamestowne, the Jamestown Settlement, and Yorktown Battlefield with Colonial Williamsburg nearby. Hiking and biking are popular outdoor activities within the park as well as kayaking, canoeing, and fishing on the rivers. You can also tour Yorktown Battlefield on a seven-mile Battlefield Tour, marked by red arrow signs, or a nine-mile Encampment Tour, marked by yellow arrow signs.

Incline Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride the rail up to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga

Lookout Mountain features a nature-based triple threat: Ruby Falls, Rock City, and the Inline Railway. It’s an all-day, all-ages adventure based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Start with a guided cave tour or a 700-foot zipline adventure through Ruby Falls, home of the world’s largest underground waterfall, before strolling through the diverse flora and fauna of the Rock City Gardens. Wrap up your day with a mile-high ride on the Incline Railway, one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. At the top: a bird’s eye from the Lookout Mountain observation deck.

Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.

—Sir Francis Bacon

Anticipating and Planning for the New Era of Travel

Rethinking travel and changing your perceptions is the key to getting the most out of your travel time

Flight delays. Flight cancellations. Lost luggage. TSA checkpoints. Baggage screening. Customs. Turbulence. Little leg room. Hotel rooms not satisfactory or not ready. These are a few of the inconveniences that can set a vacation up for failure.

Blue Elbow Swamp, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carnival Cruise Line is trying to weather a sea of ill-will by offering August trips for as little as $28 a day which for some is cheaper than staying home. Carnival has yet to disclose what precautions it will be taking to prevent further outbreaks. Until it does, $28/day cruises might not be enough to dispel passenger fears of jumping aboard another floating disaster. 

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is making people rethink what a vacation looks like. How can we get the adventure and connections we crave without going through airports or taking a cruise? RVs answer that call.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we head into the summer months of 2020, the aftermath of the stay-at-home orders are affecting the way we think about travel plans and how we spend time outside our homes as safely as possible. 

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous travelers have ditched an overseas vacation or cruise in favor of a road trip. When traveling in an RV, you don’t have to wait to get to the hotel to unpack and begin enjoying the trip, you aren’t affected by flight cancellations or delays, and every layover “stop” can be planned by you. You will never arrive at an unsatisfactory room because your luxury condo-on-wheels is your method of travel.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The idea of vacation has changed significantly over the last few decades—even in the last few weeks. We have to get creative and change our perceptions of what makes for successful time off. The idea of vacationing more often and exploring more frequently has been a growing trend in recent years.

Marietta, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And as the world begins to return to some semblance of normal, it’s likely that “normal” will look and feel quite different. Our idea of getting away may shift in unexpected ways. Lavish, all-inclusive trips may give way to a minimalist approach in a desert expanse or a quiet forest. As we shift our expectations, some of the necessary lifestyle modifications may turn out to be exactly what we needed to achieve the relaxation we need.

Great Swamp Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than ever before in recent history, people are cognizant of the safety requirements to maintain their health during the pandemic. The perception of walking into a hotel or restaurant with other people has changed simply because there’s an unseen risk that didn’t cross our minds a few months ago. An RV is a self-contained home on wheels that include a full kitchen, bathroom, sleeping and lounging areas, and entertainment which keep the family safe and healthy.

Texas State Aquarium, Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few things having to do with travel will be unchanged in the post-coronavirus world but the road trip will be least affected—at least from a regulatory standpoint. No one will tell you to wear a mask or take your temperature before you hit the road this summer.

Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People will continue to be wary of crowded locations. Many will avoid the close quarters of airplanes, cruise ships, hotels, and restaurants with 93 percent of those polled stating they will avoid crowds.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s what your road trip of the future may look like. This will be the summer of road trips with the family including stops in national parks and state park and local recreation areas. It’s a controlled environment and a chance to spend time as a family and see the country—not just the airports or ports of call.

The roads are clear, fuel is a great bargain, and as places reopen they’ll be ready for you. Also, it’s easy to maintain social distancing.

Arkansas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing better than having your own space to come back to after a day of hiking or biking, lounging on the beach, or exploring a national or state park. Shower up, cook your own meal, relax with your favorite book or show, and settle down in your own bed.

Bartlett Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An RV is your self-contained home on wheels and gives you plenty of choices about how your travel experience looks and feels. Steering clear of busy public areas and eschewing the recycled air on a crowded flight will likely be smart decisions when trying to stay healthy in the coming months—and possibly for years to come

Worth Pondering…

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”