Arizona State Parks for Every Interest

Try new outdoor things this year

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone—from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping. Here’s my abbreviated look at some of the more niche offerings to add to your bucket list.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for hiking

Sedona‘s picturesque wonderland of red boulders is on display at Red Rock State Park, a 286-acre nature preserve. Hikers can pick from several trails—Eagle’s Nest Loop, Coyote Ridge, a guided nature walk, full-moon hike and more—many of which lead to Oak Creek and the iconic Cathedral Rock.

Located in the Superstition Mountains on the eastern edge of metro PhoenixLost Dutchman State Park offers hikers plenty of trails to explore, not to mention an opportunity to seek the gold supposedly hidden in the 1870s by German native Jacob Waltz, aka the Dutchman. You might not find gold but on the Native Trail you’ll spot cholla, prickly pear, and ocotillo cacti. Moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View are available for semi-seasoned hikers while advanced hikers will want to climb Siphon Draw Trail and Flatiron.

Note: Since trails often get overcrowded on the weekend aim to hike on a weekday for a better experience and even better views.

Check out Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks for more hiking inspiration.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for wildflowers

As you travel I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, you can’t miss the 1,500-foot distinctive rock formation of Picacho Peak State Park. The peak is obvious but hiking the trails especially during spring will be nature’s eye candy—a blanket of Mexican gold poppies as far as the eye can see.

For more wildflower viewing, Catalina State Park near Tucson is home to around 5,000 saguaros. Between February and April, lupine, desert chicory, penstemon, and more wildflowers bloom into vibrant color.

Read Beauty of the Desert: Arizona in Bloom and Wildflower Season Has Arrived in Arizona! and Where to See the Best Blooms? for more floral inspiration.

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

Best Arizona State Parks for family fun

For families who love the outdoors, Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is the perfect destination. With more than 120 campsites situated in a Ponderosa pine forest near Show Low plus boating, swimming, Junior Ranger activities, a park store, and a visitor center Fool Hollow offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

For families not too keen on roughing it but who would still like to enjoy nature, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood (30 minutes from Sedona) has cozy log cabins with heat and air-conditioning. Game night, anyone? Families can also sign up for guided horseback rides, go fishing in the lagoons, photograph birds, or spend an afternoon at the playground complete with a zip line.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for water sports

Water activities reign supreme at Patagonia Lake State Park in southern Arizona. A sandy beach slopes down to the shoreline making it easy to dip in for a swim. To get on the water, rent a canoe, rowboat, or pontoon from the marina. You can also put in your own boat including motorized boats for water skiing at the ramp. Better still, the town of Patagonia lies near one of Arizona’s three wine-growing regions, Sonoita-Elgin. End your day at the lake or take some time away for a tasting room tour of the area’s award-winning wineries.

If you want to chill waterside, bring your yoga mat to the tranquil beaches of Cattail Cove State Park or ply the calm waters of the 45-mile-long Lake Havasu with a kayak or paddleboard, available for rent at the park. This Lake Havasu City-area park is renowned locally for its sandy beaches and gets quite popular during the summer months.

Best Arizona State Parks for stargazing

As of 2023, there are more than 200 places in the world designated official dark-sky places by the International Dark-Sky Association. In Arizona, two state parks hold this distinction: Oracle State Park and Kartchner Caverns. This means they “possess an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage and/or public enjoyment.”

Oracle State Park, located just north of Tucson earned its designation in 2014 thanks to star-studded skies so free of light pollution that you can see the Milky Way. Stargazers should head to the American Trailhead Parking Lot for celestial viewing opportunities. Since 2010, Kartchner has been hosting nighttime astronomy programs for visitors and has achieved 99 percent compliance with its Lightscape Management Plan which has improved outdoor lighting codes countywide.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for history

Fort Verde State Historic Park showcases the original buildings used in the 1870 and 1880s by General Crook’s army in the small north-central town of Camp Verde. History buffs will appreciate that this state park near Camp Verde is considered the best-preserved example of an Indian Wars period fort in Arizona.

At Tubac, in southern Arizona, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of a Spanish Presidio site, San Ignacio de Tubac. The on-site museum houses interpretive exhibits, and nearby sits a Territorial school from 1885—the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona.

Back up north near Winslow, Homolovi State Park is home to more than 300 American Indian archaeological sites from the Hopi people many sites dating to the 1200s. A paved trail to the ruins with interpretive signage makes this a particularly appealing accessible option, too.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for camping

Making its second appearance on this list is Patagonia Lake State Park for its camping options—pitch your tent, drive your RV, or reserve one of the furnished cabins. Campsites come with picnic tables and fire rings, some even have ramadas. Cabins boast porches from which you can spot blue heron or whitetail deer. Or, amp up the adventure level by booking one of the boat-in campsites.

If you want a riverfront campsite along the Colorado River, book early at Buckskin Mountain State Park in western Arizona near the California border. There are 80 spots, many of which sit at the water’s edge. While away the hours with picnics, swimming, watching wildlife, playing basketball or volleyball or simply enjoying the views along this 18-mile stretch of river between Parker and Headgate dams.

Overnight camping near Tucson is available at the 120 electric and water sites in Catalina State Park. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best Arizona State Parks for Fishing

Couched in the Bill Williams River Valley, 37 miles north of the town of Wenden, Alamo Lake State Park gives anglers an opportunity to catch largemouth bass, black crappie, or tilapia in the 3,500-acre lake.

For a lesser-known gem, Dankworth Pond State Park in Safford—about two hours east of Tucson and three hours east from Phoenix—features a fishing dock and quiet environs for a peaceful day of tossing in a line. You’ll likely snag largemouth bass or rainbow trout in the small but mighty pond.

BONUS: Most unique State Parks

Ten miles north of Payson Tonto Natural Bridge State Park showcases a true Arizona treasure: the world’s longest and largest travertine bridge. Most natural bridges found throughout the world are created from sandstone or limestone which makes the travertine aspect of Tonto especially unique. You can see the bridge from any of the four trails in the park.

Witness the underground beauty of Kartchner Caverns, a living cave that discoverers kept secret for years until they could ensure its preservation. The caverns are carved out of limestone and speleothems, which have been slowly growing for 50,000 years.

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

13 Remote Lakes in Arizona to Fish and Swim

Arizona’s expansive and varied landscapes are simply incredible but few realize that this desert state has tons of water recreation opportunities as well

Known for its stunning desert landscapes, Arizona is also home to a collection of remote lakes. These bodies of water offer the perfect blend of fishing and swimming opportunities. These hidden gems provide a serene escape to enjoy their favorite water activities.

Arizona’s remote lakes offer a diverse range of experiences. In picturesque settings, you’ll find tranquil reservoirs nestled in national forests and crystal-clear lakes. Whether you’re an avid angler or yearning for a refreshing swim, these 13 remote lakes are worth checking out. They are sure to provide an unforgettable outdoor adventure.

Please note that the term remote can have varying interpretations. The level of solitude and seclusion may differ from lake to lake. Also, the availability of swimming and fishing activities may vary depending on specific regulations, seasons, and conditions.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Patagonia Lake

Situated in southern Arizona, Patagonia Lake is a hidden gem that offers a wide range of recreational opportunities. Situated in a picturesque landscape, this remote state park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can engage in fishing, swimming, water skiing, camping, picnicking, and hiking, immersing themselves in the tranquil beauty of the lake and its surroundings.

The expansive Patagonia Lake beckons fishing enthusiasts with its abundance of bass, trout, catfish, and sunfish. Anglers can cast their lines from the shore or venture out onto the calm waters in boats. For those seeking a refreshing dip, the lake provides ample space for swimming offering a respite from the Arizona heat.

The well-maintained camping area is perfect for overnight stays under the starry night sky. Picnic spots provide idyllic settings for enjoying a meal amidst nature’s splendor. Hiking trails wind their way around the lake inviting visitors to explore the diverse flora and fauna and soak in the peaceful ambiance.

2. Horseshoe Reservoir

Tucked away in the pristine beauty of the Tonto National Forest, Horseshoe Reservoir is a hidden gem that promises a tranquil fishing experience in a remote setting. As a notable fish nursery in Arizona the reservoir attracts anglers in search of a diverse range of fish species.

Surrounded by rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas, Horseshoe Reservoir provides a serene atmosphere for fishing enthusiasts. The calm waters are teeming with bass, catfish, crappie, and other sought-after fish making it an ideal spot for a day of angling. Whether from the shore or a boat, fishermen can cast their lines and enjoy the peacefulness of the surroundings.

The remote nature of Horseshoe Reservoir adds to its allure providing a sense of solitude and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With its unspoiled beauty and abundant fish populations, this hidden gem is a haven for those seeking a peaceful fishing experience in the heart of Arizona’s wilderness.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Saguaro Lake

Giant cactuses with arms outstretched toward shimmering water might seem to be out of sync but Arizona is all about emerging scenic landscapes. The aptly named Saguaro Lake is located about 45 miles from Phoenix as Tonto National Forest emerges from the Sonoran Desert. One of the Salt River’s four reservoirs, Saguaro Lake was shaped after the Stewart Mountain Dam was completed in 1930.

Launch your boat from one of the two marinas to water ski the 10-mile-long lake or stake out swimming spots at Captain’s Cove, Sadie Beach, or at Pebble Beach on the Lower Salt River. Tour-boat trips are available on the Desert Belle. Try the upper reaches of the lake (east end) for more seclusion. An idyllic way to see the stars among the saguaros is to camp overnight at Bagley Flat with grills and tables provided. It’s free for up to 14 days but the site’s 10 spots are only accessible by boat.

Over 2,200 fish-habitat structures were installed to enhance fishing on the lake. According to Bass Master Magazine, the best time for trophy bass is October to December and February to mid-April. There is large bass in the lake; fish census shows that 12+ pound bass and 30-pound Carp exist in the depths. Bluegill comes in a variety of sizes. Occasional species caught include Walleye, Black Crappie, Small-mouth Bass, Bigmouth Buffalo, and Yellow Bass.

Parker Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Parker Canyon Lake

This medium-sized 132-acre lake is nestled in the gentle Canelo Hills east of the Huachuca Mountains. Just seven miles north of Mexico, Parker Canyon Lake was created in 1966 by the Coronado National Forest and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Ringed with cottonwoods, juniper, piñon pine, scrub oak, and manzanita, Parker Canyon Lake offers several recreational possibilities for those willing to drive the dirt roads that lead to it. The temperature in the area which lies about 5,400 feet above sea level generally runs about 10 degrees cooler than Tucson.

For those who like to fish, Parker Canyon Lake offers both cold and warm water species including stocked rainbow trout and resident bass, sunfish, and catfish. There is a fishing pier and a paved boat ramp at the lake as well as a lakeside paved area and a graveled path along some of the best catfishing shorelines.

There is also a concessionaire-operated country store at the lakeshore where you can pick up some last-minute supplies, buy a fishing license, camping gear, tackle, and worms, or rent a boat.

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn’t look very big. Take off on the trail around the lake, though, and you’ll find it’s a heck of a lot bigger than you thought.

5. Bear Canyon Lake

Bear Canyon Lake, nestled in the forested areas of Arizona is a remote gem that provides camping, fishing, and hiking opportunities. The lake is home to a diverse array of fish species including trout and bass making it an ideal spot for anglers of all skill levels. Whether casting a line from the shore or venturing out onto the calm waters in a boat, visitors can enjoy the serenity of the surroundings and the thrill of a potential catch.

While swimming may not be specifically mentioned visitors to Bear Canyon Lake can still revel in the natural beauty of the area. The lake’s pristine waters and scenic shoreline offer a tranquil setting to unwind and connect with nature. Additionally, hiking trails wind through the surrounding forest, providing opportunities for exploration and immersing oneself in the peaceful ambiance of the area.

Alamo Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Alamo Lake

Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional bass fishing opportunities as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.

Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230 feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.

Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and black crappie.

7. Woods Canyon Lake

Woods Canyon Lake located in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona offers opportunities for fishing and swimming. It is a beautiful, canyon-bound lake with plenty of trout fishing opportunities. The lake covers 55 surface acres and has a maximum depth of 40 feet. Woods Canyon Lake is regularly stocked with catchable rainbow trout and there are also some large brown trout remaining from previous stockings.

While specific details about swimming conditions and amenities may not be available in the search results, Woods Canyon Lake is mentioned as a place where swimming is possible. It’s always a good idea to check with local authorities or park websites for the most up-to-date information regarding swimming regulations and safety precautions before planning a visit.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Bartlett Lake

Located in the Tonto National Forest, Bartlett Lake offers opportunities for fishing and swimming. It is a reservoir formed by the damming of the Verde River. The lake is known for its fishing potential including large and smallmouth bass, crappie, and catfish. Visitors can enjoy swimming in popular areas such as Rattlesnake Cove and SB Swimming Cove.

Bartlett Lake is a popular destination for outdoor activities and is located just 35 miles from North Phoenix. It offers a variety of recreational opportunities including boating, water skiing, and paddleboarding. The lake is 12 miles long and covers over 2,830 acres providing ample space for water-based activities.

9. Ashurst Lake

Ashurst Lake located in northern Arizona is one of the few lakes in the natural state. It offers opportunities for both fishing and swimming. It is considered a medium-sized lake in comparison to other lakes in the region. The lake is known for its fishing potential and is stocked by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Visitors can enjoy activities such as fishing, boating, swimming, and camping at Ashurst Lake. The lake is situated in the Coconino National Forest, providing excellent views of the San Francisco Peaks.

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Watson Lake

Nestled in the breathtaking landscape of Arizona, Watson Lake stands as a remote gem that offers both fishing and swimming opportunities. Located near Prescott this serene lake presents a picturesque setting for outdoor enthusiasts.

Fishing enthusiasts will find Watson Lake to be a haven for angling. The lake is home to various fish species including bass, catfish, and trout. Whether you prefer casting from the shore or venturing out in a boat the tranquil waters of Watson Lake provide ample opportunities to reel in a catch and enjoy the serenity of the surroundings.

In addition to fishing, visitors can also indulge in swimming activities at Watson Lake. The clear, inviting waters beckon swimmers to take a refreshing dip and enjoy the peaceful ambiance. Surrounded by majestic granite boulders and scenic nature trails the lake offers a serene oasis for those seeking relaxation and the chance to connect with nature.

Apache Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Apache Lake

In the heart of the Tonto National Forest, Apache Lake is a remote oasis that offers both fishing and swimming opportunities. This picturesque reservoir formed by the Apache Dam on the Salt River stands as a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts in Arizona.

Anglers flock to Apache Lake to experience its abundant fishing possibilities. The lake is known for its diverse fish populations including bass, catfish, crappie, and sunfish. With its remote location and serene waters anglers can cast their lines from the shore or venture out onto the tranquil lake in boats immersing themselves in the solitude and natural beauty that Apache Lake has to offer.

Not only is Apache Lake a paradise for fishing but it also provides a refreshing escape for swimmers. The clear, inviting waters offer a sanctuary for those seeking a cool respite from the Arizona heat. Visitors can enjoy leisurely swims basking in the tranquil atmosphere and marveling at the surrounding rugged landscapes.

12. Lake Mohave

Lake Mohave along the Colorado River showcases the natural beauty of Arizona’s desert landscape. It also provides a remote oasis for fishing and swimming. Located between the Hoover Dam and Davis Dam this pristine lake offers a variety of recreational opportunities.

For fishing enthusiasts, Lake Mohave is a hidden gem brimming with possibilities. The lake boasts a diverse range of fish species, including bass, catfish, crappie, and trout. Anglers can cast their lines from the shore or embark on a boating fishing adventure. Either option will allow you to relish the solitude and tranquility of the lake’s remote location.

Swimmers are also drawn to escape the heat in Lake Mohave’s clear, refreshing waters. Take a leisurely swim near the shoreline or explore the lake’s hidden coves and sandy beaches. Visitors can revel in the serenity and enjoy the unique experience of swimming in this remote desert oasis.

Lynx Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Lynx Lake

If you’re looking for a cool, calm, and relaxing day, Lynx Lake offers some of the best fishing in the area. At 55 acres, Lynx Lake is the largest and busiest lake in the Prescott National Forest. Nestled amid ponderosa pines and claiming temperatures 10 to 15 degrees below those in the desert, Lynx Lake holds rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and more. Even better, its waters are limited to electronic- or people-powered watercraft, perfect for fishing or napping. The only thing separating the two is luck.

A popular lakeside picnic and fishing area, South Shore has ample parking for cars and vehicles towing trailers or boats on all but the busiest days of the year when it fills up. Lynx Lake North Shore’s day-use area provides lake-side recreation, fishing, picnic tables, and grills, a wildlife viewing scope, and interpretive signs. Lynx Lake Marina provides restaurant dining, fishing/camping supplies, bait, boat rentals, and firewood. Located atop a bluff on the north shore of Lynx Lake, Lynx Lake Café is a full-service restaurant.

Worth Pondering…

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

—John Muir

The Ultimate Guide to Hunting Island State Park

Hunting Island State Park boasts five miles of wild but beautifully kept beaches along with thousands of acres of marsh and forest land. It even has a saltwater lagoon and a beautiful lighthouse turned museum.

Hunting Island is a 5,000-acre secluded semitropical barrier island located just 15 miles east of Beaufort between beautiful Harbor Island and Fripp Island. It’s South Carolina’s most popular state park attracting over 1 million guests per year. You can visit year-round and enjoy miles of beautiful South Carolina coastline, a historic lighthouse, hiking, and camping.

Adding to the natural history of the big park is a piece of man-made history: South Carolina’s only publicly accessible historic lighthouse. Dating from the 1870s, the Hunting Island Lighthouse rises 170 feet into the air giving those who scale its heights a breathtaking view of the sweeping Lowcountry marshland and the Atlantic Ocean.

The history of the area as a whole goes back much further but the history of Hunting Island as a State Park began in the 1930s when it acquired that designation. In 1967, the forestry commission shifted ownership of the island to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism and since then it has become an iconic South Carolina destination.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Hunting Island is one of the last barrier islands that are undeveloped. Hunting Island State Park is a place where visitors come to enjoy a pristine natural area. So what do you need to know before your visit to Hunting Island State Park? Let’s dig in!

By the way, this is one article in a series of Ultimate Guides. You may find them helpful if you’re considering travel to these areas:

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Hunting Island State Park?

Within this huge 5,000-acre park, visitors enjoy swimming, hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, birdwatching, and wildlife viewing. Due to the semi-tropical climate of the area, many of these activities can be done all year round. Although it’s an island, you’ll likely see plenty of wildlife during your visit. Deer, alligators, raccoons, rattlesnakes, and turtles are just some of the wild creatures you might spot during your Hunting Island adventure. 

One of the top attractions in the park is the beautiful beaches where you can walk for miles in the sand and surf. You may even find some fossilized shark teeth at low tide and with a little digging. The best part about the beaches is that since the miles of white sand are usually uncrowded you may very well have a long stretch of paradise all to yourself.

As you explore the park, you’ll come across a variety of terrains and ecosystems including maritime forest, saltwater lagoons, marshes, and ocean inlets. It’s in these places that you’ll be able to observe a variety of plant and animal species thriving in their native environment. 

Hunting Island State Park is so beautiful and so unique that even film crews have used it for filming scenes for blockbuster movies such as Forrest Gump and The Big Chill

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Hunting Island State Park?

Hunting Island State Park is situated along the southeastern coast of South Carolina about 15 miles from the small town of Beaufort.  Its location between Harbor Island and Fripp Island is telling of the type of area you’ll be exploring; one with several beautiful barrier islands to explore including Hunting Island. 

You’ll be awe-inspired before you even get through the entrance to the park. You will pass through a sub-tropical maritime forest and embark on a scenic, but short, drive through stunning low-country landscape. This winding road with lush greenery will take you to the entrance of Hunting Island State Park where you’ll continue your adventure in one of South Carolina’s most popular state parks. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park hours and admission

Hunting Island State Park is open from 6 am to 6 pm every day (park hours are extended to 9 pm during Daylight Saving Time). The best time to visit will depend on what you want to see and do. If you want to observe wildlife, the best time to go is early in the morning or into the evening hours but other than that, any time of day is a good time to visit. Just be sure to set out early if you plan to do a longer hike. 

The office and visitor center are open from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 5 pm on weekends. The fee to enter the park is $8.00 per adult. There are discounted prices for South Carolina seniors and youths and children under the age of five years old can enter for free. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When is the best time to visit Hunting Island State Park?

You can visit Hunting Island State Park any time of year but ultimately it will depend on what you plan on doing there that will determine the best time for you to go. If swimming, kayaking, or sailing are on your mind, the end of spring to the first weeks of fall is the best time to visit with the summer months being the warmest but also the most crowded. 

If hiking and fishing are on your mind spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler is the best time to visit. The best thing about spring and fall is this tends to be the time of year when there are fewer people so you get the trails and top fishing spots almost all to yourself. If you visit during the winter months it’s even likely you’ll have the park to yourself.

Things to do in Huntington Island State Park

Hunting Island Lighthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island Lighthouse

Originally built in 1859, Confederate forces destroyed the structure to ensure the Union would not be able to use it against them. A new lighthouse was built in 1875 using interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled and moved should the ocean ever encroach upon it. Severe erosion forced the lighthouse to be relocated 1.3 miles inland in 1889.

Decommissioned in 1933, it still retains a functional light in its tower. It’s a 167- step climb to the 130-foot observation deck where you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding maritime forest. Due to safety concerns, it is currently closed to tours until repairs can be made. However, visitors are welcome to walk though several buildings on the site featuring exhibits on the construction of the lighthouse and life as a lighthouse keeper.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island Nature Center

While exploring the outdoors is the best way to get to know the park, a visit to the Hunting Island Nature Center will help you understand what you’re seeing while exploring the park. Inside this fascinating place, you’ll see a variety of exhibits featuring live animals and information about the various habitats.

Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk

The Hunting Island Marsh Boardwalk makes it easy for visitors to walk over the marshy tidal flats and observe the area’s wildlife and natural surroundings without disturbing anything. It’s also one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

Hunting Island Fishing Pier

Whether you want to do some fishing or just watch for seabirds and dolphins, the Hunting Island Fishing Pier is a great place to take a break. 

South Beach Boneyard

The combination of erosion and saltwater has created a unique scene on a beach on the southern portion of the island. This area known as the South Beach Boneyard looks much like a boneyard with the remnants of trees toppled over with their roots and dead branches strewn across the area. 

Hunting Island Lagoon

If you want to do some paddleboarding, kayaking, or tubing during your time in Hunting Island State Park, Hunting Island Lagoon is a popular place to do these things and so much more.  Fishing is also popular here and some people just come to relax, birdwatch, and enjoy the peacefulness of the area. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to eat at Hunting Island State Park

Since there are no restaurants in Hunting Island State Park, you’ll either have to leave the park and drive to nearby Beaufort to grab something to eat or you’ll need to pack a lunch.  

When enjoying a full day in nature, packing a lunch is your best option. There are plenty of picnic facilities and nice places to sit and enjoy a homemade meal while taking in the sights around you. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destination hikes in Hunting Island State Park

One of the most popular activities in Hunting Island State Park is hiking and there are numerous trails in the park.  Some trails are longer than others and some are more difficult, so there’s something for all ages and skill levels.  

Diamondback Rattlesnake Trail: At 1.9 miles, this trail won’t take much time to do but it’s a bit difficult in spots. Only tackle this one if you’re fit and used to hiking on rugged trails. 

Magnolia Forest Trail: If you’re looking for a more relaxing trail or you’re traveling with children, this trail is easy and at only 1.2 miles, it’ll only take a short time to do. From the campground, you’ll walk through a hilly area full of beautiful Magnolia trees. 

Maritime Forest Trail: This is another short and easy trail at only 2 miles long. It travels through the interior of a maritime forest area where you’ll see a protected habitat that’s home to deer, owls, raccoons and other animals. 

Lagoon Trail: Winding around the lagoon, this 1.4-mile trail is suitable for all levels.  Along the trail, you’ll enjoy amazing views of the lagoon and observe different habitats. 

Nature Center Scenic Trail: At only 0.7 miles long, the Nature Center Scenic Trail combines two attractions in one. You’ll get to visit the Nature Center and you’ll get an easy hike in.  If you do decide that you’d like to keep hiking, this trail hooks up to some of the park’s other popular trails including two that are situated on Little Hunting Island.

Hunting Island Lighthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 5 things to do at Hunting Island State Park

  • Visit the historic Hunting Island lighthouse
  • Enjoy a sunrise, walk along the beach and look for sharks’ teeth and other shells that have washed ashore
  • Visit the nature center at Hunting Island State Park and see the alligators
  • Visit the Marsh Boardwalk, the best place in the Lowcountry to watch the sunset
  • Take a ferry from Hunting Island for a naturalist-led tour of St. Phillips Island where you can explore trails, enjoy the beach, and see wildlife of this pristine barrier island

Things to do near Hunting Island State Park

If you plan to stick around the area for a while, there are many things to do outside of Hunting Island State Park too.  

Most of the area’s attractions can be found in and around the city of Beaufort. A popular thing to do to get familiar with this city is to take a walk around the historic streets and admire the grand mansions that line them. The downtown district is full of beautiful old buildings and this is where you’ll also find many of the area’s restaurants and shops.

The Beaufort History Museum is a must-stop for visitors who want to learn more about the city’s history, culture, and people and its surrounding area. The John Mark Verdier House is a historic mansion offering guided tours of the house and grounds. The Beaufort National Cemetery has connections to the American Civil War.  

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 5,000 acres

Location: South Carolina Lowcountry in Beaufort County

Directions: From I-95 take US-21 east toward through Beaufort to the park

Date acquired: 1938 from Beaufort County

Designation: Hunting Island State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal Program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The program was designed to provide employment during the Great Depression while addressing national needs in conservation and recreation. A number of buildings built by the CCC in the 1930s are still in use at this park.

Park entrance fee: $8/adult; $5/SC seniors; $4/ child age 6-15; free for children 5 and younger

Pets: Pets are not allowed in the cabins or the cabin areas. Pets are allowed in most other outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet.

Significant Natural Features: Hunting Island is always changing. Migrating creatures in air and sea come and go with the seasons and the natural forces of erosion constantly re-shape the island. In addition to some 3,000 acres of salt marsh and more than four miles of beach, a large lagoon created by sand dredging in 1968 has become a natural wonderland and home to such unexpected species as seahorses and barracuda. The park’s upland areas contain one of the state’s best examples of semi-tropical maritime forest, ancient sand dunes now dominated by such vegetation as slash pines, cabbage palmetto (the state tree), and live oak.

Animals: Loggerhead turtles nest on the island in the summer months. Deer, alligators, raccoons, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes

Birding: Numerous species of birds include painted buntings, tanagers, orioles, pelicans, oystercatchers, skimmers, terns, herons, egrets, and wood storks. Hunting Island’s beaches are important for shorebirds and seabirds which use the beach to feed, nest, and rest along their migration route.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monthly average air and ocean temperatures

January: Air 59 degrees F; Ocean 52 degrees F
February: Air 61 degrees F; Ocean 54 degrees F
March: Air 67 degrees F; Ocean 59 degrees F
April: Air 76 degrees F; Ocean 67 degrees F
May: Air 82 degrees F; Ocean 75 degrees F
June: Air 86 degrees F; Ocean 82 degrees F
July: Air 89 degrees F; Ocean 84 degrees F
August: Air 89 degrees F; Ocean 84 degrees F
September: Air 84 degrees F; Ocean 80 degrees F
October: Air 77 degrees F; Ocean 73 degrees F
November: Air 69 degrees F; Ocean 63 degrees F
December: Air 61 degrees F; Ocean 54 degrees F

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 5: miles of beach
  • 1: saltwater lagoon
  • 5,000: acres of Lowcountry South Carolina that includes beach, marsh, and maritime forest
  • 1: historic lighthouse, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina
  • 167: steps to climb to the top of the lighthouse
  • 102: standard campsites, all of which offer 50 amp service and are highly-coveted year round
  • 25: rustic tent sites
  • 1: cabin located near the lighthouse
  • 1: nature center with all sorts of neat creatures and regularly scheduled programs for you to enjoy
  • 1: pier for fishing or just strolling to the end to see the view
  • 1: picnic shelter for family reunions or other group outings

Worth Pondering…

As the old song declares, “Nothin’ could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning,” or almost any other time.

Outdoor Activities Bucket List: 18 Fun Things to do Outdoors

From chasing fireflies to floating down a river, this list can break you out of a summer rut

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

—John Burroughs

Not only can heading outside inject excitement into a blah-feeling day, but it can also deliver serious health benefits: Exposure to greenspace is linked to a whole slew of physical perks including reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2018 meta-analysis of 143 studies published in the journal, Environmental Research

Separate research supports the outdoors for your mental health too. Time in nature can decrease mental distress while boosting happiness, subjective well-being, cognitive functioning, memory, attention, imagination, and creativity, a 2019 review in Science Advances concluded.

In short, there’s a lot to gain from stepping out of doors. And with a handy list of outdoor activities at your fingertips, you can soak up all the awesomeness of nature.

From chasing fireflies to birdwatching, here are some pretty amazing things to do outside. Let this article be your outdoor activities inspiration guide.

Hiking Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Lace up for a mindful nature walk

Feeling on edge or unfocused? Slip on your sneakers, head outside, and get in some steps. Not only is walking an excellent form of exercise but intentionally strolling through a natural setting can help you chill out.

When people with chronic stress walked outdoors for 40 minutes, they decreased their cortisol levels more than those who did likewise on a treadmill or who watched nature programming on TV for the same amount of time, a 2020 study published in Environment and Behavior found. They also experienced more a mood improvement afterward. 

To make the most of your stroll, tune into the present moment including what you see and hear around you. Mindful hiking is the perfect way to explore how being present in nature can transform how you feel. For more on mindful hiking you can read these two articles:

2. Gaze at the night sky

Stargazing, one of the most underrated outdoor activities has much to offer: It’s free, accessible, and can be incredibly calming. For an optimal experience, try to get as far away from city lights as possible and turn off all sources of manmade light.

The ultimate stargazing spots are fittingly called Dark Sky Places, designated pockets where light pollution is at a minimum and the stars can shine in all their glory. And the keeper of those Dark Sky Places is the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). 

Across the 94 Dark Sky Places in the United States, you’ll find friendly amateur astronomers and ample opportunities to gaze uninterrupted into the heavens. Consider picking up a red light headlamp—a hands-free way to illuminate your path but not obstruct the experience. Check the weather forecast, bring layers and plenty of water, tell someone where you’re going, and don’t forget to look down every once in a while. You can fall off a cliff if you’re not paying attention.

For more on stargazing and Dark Sky Parks check out these posts:

3. Chase fireflies

Remember how magical the outdoors felt when you were little? Recreate some of that wonder on a summer night by catching fireflies in a jar and briefly observing them before setting them free. 

There are a number of different species of fireflies, none of which are actually flies—they’re beetles. They get the names firefly and lightning bug because of the flashes of light they naturally produce. This phenomenon is called bioluminescence and the bioluminescent organs in fireflies are found on the underside of the abdomen.

A similar group of organisms are glowworms. The term glowworm can refer to firefly larva or wingless adult females—some of which are not in the firefly family lampyridae.

Both glowworms and fireflies are bioluminescent. The important distinction is that fireflies have wings and glowworms do not. Fireflies can reach up to one inch in length.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Dust off your bike and go for a ride

Cycling is a healthy exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages from young children to older adults. Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse, and reduces blood fat levels. A Danish study conducted over 14 years with 30,000 people aged 20 to 93 years found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease.

If you want to blend low-impact exercise with quality time outdoors, make biking one of your go-to outdoor activities.

5. Be a tourist in your town

Can you confidently say that you know your city in and out? Take the time to visit more than just your usual hangout places. 

Be a tourist in your city, go someplace new and you may be surprised by just how wonderful that old town can be. Most cities have free tours too. You could discover streets, shops, and landmarks that you never knew existed. 

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

6. Go camping

Camping could mean different things to different people. It can be a chance to bond with family or friends, rediscover yourself, or take a break from regular routines and away from distractions. Nevertheless, it is one of those outdoor activities that could spark that adventurous spirit within you.

You may be wondering, “What are the best places to camp near me?” One of the greatest things about traveling around the U.S. and Canada is that from coast to coast there’s no shortage of beautiful places to camp. Nature lovers can enjoy fresh air, glorious mountains, and clear lakes and streams during a weekend (or longer) camping trip.

Not only can you set up an RV or tent at these picturesque locations, but they also come with plenty of picnic areas, hiking trails, and ample opportunities for fishing, swimming, and other outdoor activities. From scenic forests in New Hampshire to peaceful beaches in Florida and majestic Rocky Mountains in Alberta, there amazing places to camp in the U.S. and Canada.

For more on camping, check out my other posts:

Exploring Enchanted Rock State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore a state park

If you are interested in the outdoors, being active, or exploring something new, or the combination of all three, perhaps it’s time to take your day exploring the nearest state park. Whether you are looking to explore the mountains, woodlands, or prairies, hike, mountain bike, or horse ride there’s a state park for you. 

From my many articles on state parks here are a few to get you started:

Birdwatching at Bisque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Go Birdwatching

You could go birding right now—this very moment—no matter who you are, where you are, or what stuff you do or don’t own. The most important thing—and really the only thing—you must have as a birder is yourself and your awareness.

There are certain tools that you’re going to want to enhance the experience although the list is short. You don’t need to start out birding by splurging on binoculars that run well above $2,000. Quality binoculars for birding cost between $100 and $400. You’ll also need a bird book (it can be an app as well) and a good amount of patience. You can also connect with any local birders in your area for tips and more.

Here’s more on birding:

9. Float down a river

For super-adventurous folks, whitewater rafting may make the list of ideal outdoor activities. But for people seeking chill time on the water, a gentle river float may be just the ticket. And don’t forget to grab life jackets and tie a whole bunch of inner tubes together and then float on them down a river.  

Rivers are trails. They invite a visitor to put in and travel a distance to a destination or simply float to another landing upstream or downstream. 

The National Water Trails System is a network of water trails open to the public to explore and enjoy. National Water Trails are a sub-set of the National Recreation Trails Program. National Water Trails have been established to protect and restore America’s rivers, shorelines, and waterways; conserve natural areas along waterways, and increase access to outdoor recreation on shorelines and waterways. The Trails are a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails that are cooperatively supported and sustained.

I have an entire article on river trails. You can read it at National Fishing and Boating Week: Exploring National Water Trails

You’re bringing sunscreen, right? Okay, good. Just checking! Additionally, you should bring a hat. And although you may feel tempted to leave your shirt back in the car, take it. At some point, you may want to cover up.

Canoeing Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Go Kayaking

Kayaking, as well as canoeing, is a physical outdoor activity you can do in any type of space with water, from a river to the sea. It’s a great way to exercise and improve your body’s strength, all the while being a low impact activity that can offer a whole lot of peace of mind. 

Kayaking can be a great way to get out on the water whether for a leisurely morning paddle or a more rigorous overnight adventure. When kayaking, it’s good to have clothing that you can easily move around in, dries quickly, and will help protect you from the sun. Since you’ll likely be getting wet, you want to stay away from anything cotton which will leave you dripping and soggy all day (and could cause chafing).

Zip line in the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Go Ziplining

No outdoor activity bucket list is complete without zip lining included on it! This is an extreme sport where you are attached to cords that zip you from one tree to the next. It has grown so popular over the years it seems to be possible to do just about anywhere! And while it can get your nerves on overdrive before setting off, it’s usually totally safe to do.

Fishing Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Go fishing

Another outdoor recreation idea is fishing. Regardless of whether you catch anything, it can be a fun and relaxing experience. There’s something about just being out there in nature and the feel of the cold water rushing by you and the sound of the river. Fishing can also be a great way to find a sliver of solitude especially if you go in the early morning when few other folks are out. 

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail, Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Hike a new trail

Each season of the year offers something different for your hiking experiences from the nature around you to the trails that are best to be taken. Hiking offers amazing landscapes with the flowers and the returning greenery! This is your sign to hike a trail you’ve never tried before.

Check these out to learn more:

14. Journal

Journaling allows you to express your innermost feelings and ideas without fear of being criticized or seen by others. It may also assist you in better organizing and comprehending those items. It’s similar to maintaining a diary, except with more freedom. You are free to write (or even draw) whatever you like, so just scribble down any thoughts or emotions as they occur to you!

15. Take a bike ride

Biking is such a great outdoor activity, no wonder it’s so popular. Not only can the bike actually take you to the same places you might otherwise go by public transportation or a car but it’ll keep you fit as you do so. On top of which you might also get some great scenery to enjoy during your bike ride!

For many people, bicycling never stops and continues right into their 80s and 90s and has been an intricate part of their entire life.

Horseback riding Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Go horseback riding

Whether it’s a forested trail or along the beach, horseback riding is another amazing way to enjoy time outdoors and in nature. Horseback riding has an inherent relaxing effect. According to Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Rheta D. Connor, “The natural rhythm of the horse aids in circulation and relaxation while gently exercising and massaging the rider’s joints, muscles and spine”. These physical motions bring about feelings of relaxation naturally without any thought on behalf of the rider.

Wildlife World Zoo, Litchfield Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Visit a zoo

What is your earliest recollection of going to the zoo? It’s likely that you were on a field trip with your class or your family, being fascinated by the many different creatures that make the place their home.

From thrilling encounters with lions to petting rabbits to holding a snake and more, a trip to the local zoo is an entertaining, educational experience for people of all ages.

Sunset Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Watch a sunrise or sunset

Whether you’re catching it from a mountain top, the beach, or someplace else, sunsets and sunrises are the days at their most beautiful. So find a spot from where you can clearly see it, preferably against nature’s beautiful backdrop, and perhaps bring along a picnic basket and a mat to fully immerse in enjoying the sight.

Worth Pondering…

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is a society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

21 Enjoyable and Fun Hobbies to do while Camping

What hobbies can y’all do while RVing?

RVing is a great way to escape it all. You can relax in the quiet beauty of the natural world. Some people live in the peaceful and relaxing setting of a campsite. 

But sometimes camping by itself can be a little, ahem, dull. While a quiet and serene landscape may be incredible for a few days, you may need a hobby while on the road. 

Maybe you’ll find a new hobby on this list!

1. Create nature art

Many RVers enjoy creating art out of items they find in nature. For example, some folks like to create a nature journal and include leaf rubbings of the foliage nearby. While creating art out of natural items is engaging, be sure that you follow all park rules and laws. For example, picking flowers from a national park is a big no-no. You want to ensure you know what you are and are not allowed to do before starting a hobby in a state or national park. 

Yarn for knitting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Knitting

Knitting is a great portable hobby that’s perfect for camping. Not only is it enjoyable but it is useful too. While you create beautiful, handmade items, your body relaxes and experiences therapeutic healing at the same time. Using both of your hands for a focused activity is stimulating for your brain. So if you find yourself wishing for something to keep your hands and your mind busy, give knitting a try.

3. Metal detecting

A unique hobby some RVers enjoy is metal detecting. You never know what hidden treasure might be found in a campground or on a deserted stretch of beach. You can find a good metal detector for only about a $100. Not too pricey for a new hobby that keeps you active. However, it’s important to research metal detecting restrictions and the code of ethics before you dive into this hobby.

4. Wood carving/turning pens

Turning pens is a woodworking technique to create custom pens, pencils, and other writing instruments. Many people like to work with wood in varying capacities whether by carving or making a helpful tool from wood. You can get a mini wood lathe for about $200 and wood carving set for under $20 to keep in your RV.

Hiking in Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hiking

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.

6. Painting Rocks

Painting rocks is a fun thing to do while camping. Rock painting is a fun, creative outlet that doesn’t require you to be da Vinci in order to enjoy it. It requires minimal supplies (paint brush and paints) and you can search for smooth rocks right at your campsite. It is like treasure hunting and painting in one fun hobby.

7. Geocaching (modern day treasure hunting)

One of the more popular activities that many campers and hikers take part in is geocaching. A geocache can be anything from a simple logbook where you add your name and the date you found the hidden cache or something larger such as an ammo box which may be filled with trinkets left by other geocachers. (If taking something from a Geocache, it’s customary to replace it with a similar object of equal or more value.) Geocaching can be a fun way to get out and explore around your campground and people of all ages love treasure hunting.

Texas Quilt Museum, La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Quilting

Quilting is another relaxing hobby you can work on when traveling. It’s a wonderful way to create items you can use in your RV or give as gifts. Some RVers make quilts out of t-shirts they buy wherever they travel. So, the quilt becomes a storyboard for their journey.

9. Paper quilling/paper crafting

Paper quilling is the art of cutting paper into long thin strips and rolling and pinching them into different shapes to create an overall design. You can buy paper quilling kits online to get started. They have everything you need to complete numerous beginner projects. 

Fishing at Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fishing

Fishing offers a double dose of fun and food—as long as the fish are biting. Be sure to check the local fishing regulations, get your fishing license, and read up on what kind of fish you’ll find near the campsite.

11. Jewelry making

Another fun hobby you can try is jewelry making. Create earrings, necklaces, or bracelets that are just your style. Jewelry making includes many different options including wire wrapping, leatherworking, and beading. There are numerous starter kits available. Some RVers sell the jewelry they make at swap meets or on Etsy. Talk about a creative way to make money while RVing.

12. Travel journaling

Instead of waiting until after their trip (and inevitably putting it off), many RVers journal and/or scrapbook as they travel.

13. Lego

Lego aren’t just for kids anymore. Some folks find it relaxing to build intricate lego sets while camping. You may think taking these tiny bricks camping will be a disaster but you can use an organizer box to stay tidy. You can even build a Volkswagen T2 Camper Van. The building kit for this classic camper van comes with 2,207 pieces.

Horseback riding at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Play outdoor games

Fun outdoor games to play while camping include horseshoes, bocce, cornhole, ladder golf, and Frisbee. You can also toss around a mini football or play catch with a baseball.

15. Painting

While getting started painting can be daunting given the wealth of incredible art that has been produced for centuries, it can also be an enjoyable pastime for anyone to try. Painting is a calming hobby that also allows you to express yourself creatively. On top of that, it’s surprisingly affordable to get started and you can make real progress very quickly with a little dedication.

16. Gardening

Keeping a garden while traveling can be challenging but it also helps ground you and brings in wonders like fresh herbs and produce or simply beautifies and detoxifies a closed space like an RV. Start small and then work your way up to edibles. Even a cache of succulents can brighten the interior of a motorhome or trailer and are low-maintenance. 

Gambel’s quail in Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Birding (or bird watching)

Bird watching is an ideal way to keep in touch with nature and you also have the satisfaction of learning something new. Birding also relieves stress and can provide a place of solitude except for the sweet song of a bird. Most people go birding as a casual activity. One of the must haves for this activity is a field book that has pictures and tips about birds in your area or wherever you plan to identify them. Good binoculars are one of the most important items for a pleasurable time.

Boating at Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Boating

Boating and camping just go together. Who doesn’t love a day on the water? From canoes and kayaks to small sailboats, fishing charters and recreational crafts, these vessels can be seen gliding across lakes and rivers from coast to coast. Love boating? Many campgrounds and RV parks provide on-site and nearby opportunities for boating rentals and charters.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Biking

In the minds of some, camping and bikes go hand in hand. Nearly everyone is aware of the fact that spending time outdoors is good for your health. In fact, this health benefit is one of the best reasons to go camping. And, this can be enhanced if you throw some exercise into the mix. Riding a bike to get from point A to point B is a wonderful way to get some exercise into your trip while also reaching your desired destinations. Best of all, you’ll be spending even more time outside.

20. Crossword puzzles

You might think of a crossword puzzle as a fun way to pass the time on a lazy Sunday. They’re inexpensive (especially at a Dollar Store), require only a pencil and your brain, and can be played wherever you happen to be including camping. And, it turns out that there are quite a few benefits to solving crossword puzzles. One of the most obvious benefits of solving crossword puzzles is that it can help improve your memory. This is especially beneficial for older adults who are at risk for memory decline. Solving a crossword puzzle also requires focus and concentration.

Photographers at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Photography

Camping is a fantastic opportunity to get started with photography. You will have a wealth of subjects, events, and scenery that you simply have to record for later enjoyment. Taking photos means you can keep a visual record to look back on for years to come. Preferably you want as little equipment as possible—both weight and space are often at a premium when camping.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

Elephant Butte Lake State Park: Paradise in the Chihuahuan Desert

If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte Lake is for you

Seventeen of New Mexico’s 35 state parks are based around an artificial lake of which by far the largest is Elephant Butte, a 40,000-acre expanse formed by a concrete dam (completed 1916) across the Rio Grande River, a few miles north of Truth Or Consequences and 80 miles from Las Cruces.

The park contains 200 miles of shoreline and over 40 miles of the river valley including a band of marshland several miles upstream of the lake’s high water mark extending almost as far as Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge though most visitor activities are concentrated in a five mile section along the southwest shore and include marinas, boat launch ramps, campsites, picnic areas, and beaches.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is plenty of water and plenty of beach room at New Mexico’s largest state park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the state park offers restrooms, picnic area, playgrounds, and developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Elephant Butte Lake is one of the most visited state parks in New Mexico, popular because of the abundant water recreation and the easy access, just a few miles off Interstate 25.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This part of the Rio Grande valley forms the northernmost tip of the great Chihuahuan Desert so summer temperatures are hot and the vegetation includes several types of cactus. The lake itself is named after a strangely-shaped remnant of an ancient volcano now forming an island just opposite the dam.

The visitor center and state park headquarters are reached by State Routes 179 and 195; near the junction, a spur road leads to facilities including a launch ramp near Marina Del Sur and to a number of picnic areas and overlooks. The scenery here is typical of the whole lake—earthen hills sloping quite gently down to the water, sparsely covered with straggly bushes and cacti, many small bays and inlets, several islands, and a higher range of hills along the inaccessible east side of the reservoir.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main shoreline access is a little further north via Rock Canyon Drive forking off SR-195 in the middle of Elephant Butte, a small village offering all kinds of boat-related businesses. This paved road follows close to the water’s edge for 8 miles before turning inland and meeting Interstate 25 at exit 89. En route are many side roads, some paved with facilities and self-pay fee stations, others unpaved and free to enter.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Before the dam was built the Rio Grande River flowed through on its way to Mexico. In 1905, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation received approval from the United States Congress to construct Elephant Butte Dam and Spillway to provide flood control and irrigation downriver. Construction of the dam started in 1911 and was finished in 1915. Materials and supplies were brought in by rail and transported to the dam by a 300-horse-power electric-motor-powered cable system.

Upon completion, the dam had a 1,674-foot crest, a spillway, and a road running across the top. The channel and the downstream concrete-lined chute weren’t completed until 1922. In 1940, a 23,400-kilowatt hydroelectric power plant connected to the dam began operating. One year later, the spillway was used for the first time and then not used again until 1985 when the lake reached its record high.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most common misconception visitors have of the lake is that the water levels have become dangerously low. However, even at its current level, water in the lake is up to 30 feet and in places 60 feet deep.

During the late 1980s to mid-1990s the water levels were at their highest. It even flowed over the floodgates of the dam. Before then it looked just like it does today. Even at its lowest levels Elephant Butte Lake can support boating, fishing, and many other types of aquatic fun.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun on the water

Speaking of fun, there is a lot to be had on the water. Bring your watercraft whether it’s a houseboat, yacht, speed boat, fishing boat, rowboat, jet-ski, kayak, canoe, or paddleboard.

Don’t have your own? Don’t worry! There are numerous places to rent your toy of choice for a few hours, the day, or the whole weekend.

Fishing is another popular activity at the lake and a fishing license is required to cast your line. You can get them at Zia Kayak Outfitters or Walmart in Truth or Consequences.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake is known for record-breaking black, white, and striped bass as well as crappie and bluegill. The lake is stocked with all kinds of fish including four species of bass, catfish, carp, salmon, pike, walleye, and sunfish.

There are fun landmarks to explore while on the water like Kettle Top Mountain which avid lake-goers use as a geographical reference. Pirate’s Cove is a great place to anchor, go for a swim, and mingle. Castle Rock is a popular . . . well . . . rock in the middle of the lake that people climb and jump off. And, most famous of all, the elephant: a volcanic core that looks like an elephant lying down. You’ve likely already guessed that’s how Elephant Butte acquired its name!

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two marinas to serve boaters:

  • Dam Site Marina, near the rock formation for which the lake is named, is also within view of the Elephant Butte Dam. The marina has a store and offers kayak and standup paddle board rentals.
  • Marina del Sur is located at the main entrance to Elephant Butte State Park and offers boat rentals, slip rentals, dockside facilities, and a convenience store.

Fun on land

How about some lakeside hiking and nature observing? West Lakeshore Trail is a six-foot-wide hiking and biking trail with a gravel surface that spans 12 miles through the desert along the lake. It can be accessed from six different trailheads including Overlook Trailhead and Sailboat Cove Trailhead. Dirt Dam Trail is 1.5 miles of fully paved road that is closed to traffic making it a safe spot for hiking with children and pets. Use the restroom and pick up snacks first as there are no facilities along the trail.

The Paseo del Rio Interpretive Trail is a one-mile loop, half gravel and half paved. This trail features great views and restrooms at the trailhead and midway point of the loop.

The closest hiking trail to Marina del Sur is the Lucchini Trail, a sandy 1.5-mile loop that can be accessed near the Elephant Butte State Park Visitor Center and the Desert Cove Campground where you will also find restrooms.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

This park is a prime area for waterbirds and shorebirds. The best birding is between September and May. At the lake, you may see American white pelicans, thousands of western and Clark’s grebes, several terns, and unusual gulls. Some of the better birding spots are at the marinas at Long Point, Three Sisters Point, and South Monticello Point (check for shorebirds, gulls, terns, waders, and ducks). Loons are more common at the southern end of the lake. Birding on land is best from Rock Canyon south where tall scrub and houses with plants and feeders attract numerous species. Check migrating horned lark flocks for longspurs. 

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Camping is available in various designated areas located throughout Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Despite its large size, the park has an elaborate system of roads within it that makes the park reasonably easy to navigate—SR-181, SR-195, SR-171, and SR-51 all wind through parts of the park. Inside the campgrounds, visitors can make use of sites that accommodate rigs of up to nearly 90 feet long with a mix of pull-through and back-in options.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park has plenty of campsites to offer guests with 173 developed campsites, 144 water and electric sites, and eight full-hookup sites spread across four campgrounds and multiple primitive camping areas.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Cove Campground is in the southern half of the park, just north of the Visitor Center and offers 16 reservable sites with water and 50-amp electric hookups. These sites are all back-in access and can accommodate rigs of up to 50 feet in length.

South Monticello Campground is home to 15 reservable sites and even more first-come, first-served sites. The campground is located in the far northern area of the park past many of the primitive camping areas. These sites can accommodate vehicles up to 87 feet in length and offer water in-site, electric hookups, a table, canopy, and fire ring. Some of these sites also offer views of the lake. Guests at South Monticello Campground can also make use of the RV dump station located near the entrance to the campground, the restrooms, and showers located in the campground, and easy access to both hiking trails and a boat ramp.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Run Campground is located next to Desert Cove Campground and has an additional set of RV campsites, two of which can be reserved ahead of time. These sites offer 20- to 30-amp electric hookups and can accommodate rigs of up to 73 feet in length. Some of the sites offer pull-through access and stunning lake views depending on the water level. Each site has a table, canopy, and fire ring. Visitors can also make use of the restrooms located in the campground and the dump station located at Desert Cove Campground. Guests staying at Quail Run Campground will be about one mile away from the lake and a half-mile from a playground. Guests can also enjoy easy access to nearby Luchimi Trail.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just northeast of Desert Cove Campground, Lions Beach Campground offers 25 sites which feature water and 30-amp electric hookups. Many of these sites offer stunning views of the lake and most have a table, canopy, and fire ring. These sites are all back-in access and can accommodate rigs of up to 70 feet in length. Visitors can also make use of the modern restrooms with running water and an RV sanitation dump station located in the campground. Guests staying at Lions Beach Campground can enjoy very easy access to the lake and nearby access to hiking trails. Some of the sites at Lions Beach Campground can be reserved ahead of time, while others are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Elephant Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Location: Southern New Mexico, 80 miles north of Las Cruces

Elephant Butte Lake surface area: 40,000 acres

Park Elevation: 4,527 feet

Daily entrance fee: $5/vehicle

Annual pass: $40/vehicle

Maximum RV camping length: 87 feet

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Camping Activities Guide

Fun things to do while camping

It doesn’t matter how you camp—in a tent or an RV. Camping is an opportunity for serious fun and activities. Moreover, it’s an experience that you can customize for your family’s interests based on the season and where you’re camping.

You don’t have to pack to the hilt to stay entertained. In fact, there are plenty of simple activities for your next family vacation by the lake or in the mountains. 

Here’s my super RVing with Rex Checklist of Camping Activities.

Fishing is a favorite camping activity © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Water-based activities

There are tons of exciting things you can do in the water if your campsite is near a lake, seashore, river, pool, or other body of water. Some are very active; others are for lazy relaxing days. Slip on your bathing suit and have some fun in the water—here’s how:

  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Floating or lounging
  • Canoeing or kayaking
  • Boating
  • Water skiing
  • Tubing
  • Water volleyball or basketball
  • Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Water balloon fight
Hiking is a favorite camping activity © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Sports-related activities

Not all camping and RV resorts have a full list of amenities. If you’re rustic camping in the wild or you’re somewhere with limited amenities—or maybe just want some more variety—here are some great ideas to stay active with your family:

  • Disc golf (Frisbee golf)
  • Horseshoes
  • Ringtoss
  • Corn Hole
  • Lawn bowling
  • Soccer
  • Football
  • Kickball
  • Baseball
  • Biking
  • Hiking
  • Nature walks
  • Spelunking/caving (make sure you have an experienced guide with you)
  • Capture the Flag
  • Hide and Seek
  • Tag (there are dozens of variations)
  • Red Rover
Combining photography with birdwatching © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Nature-related activities

Part of the joy of camping is being closer to nature. Explore the great outdoors more with these activities. Be sure to respect the area where you are. Don’t disturb or damage the wildlife.

  • Birding (bird watching)
  • Animal watching
  • Photography
  • Sketching
  • Catching fireflies
  • Collecting leaves
  • Cataloging rocks
  • Fossil hunting
  • Exploring
  • Search for wild berries, nuts, and other edible plants
  • Watch the sunrise/sunset
  • Camping scavenger hunt
  • Geocaching
Canoeing is a favorite camping activity © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Winding down activities

Staying active and enjoying the day is an important part of every camping trip. But you also need to embrace the down time and give your mind and body a rest. Camping to relax and get away from daily stress? Here are some great ways to relax and enjoy the family camping trip:

  • Swing in a hammock
  • Watch the trees blowing in the breeze
  • Listen to nature
  • Take lots of naps
  • Daydream and let your mind wander
  • Float on the water
  • Stargaze
Fishing is a favorite camping activity © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Downtime activities

Maybe the kids need some downtime in the tent. Or perhaps someone isn’t feeling well. There could be some unexpected weather that is keeping you indoors.  Of course, you could just be relaxing under the protection of your tent to escape the bugs. There are plenty of things you can do inside the tent or RV either alone or with friends and family:

  • Read books and magazines
  • Read aloud to each other
  • Card games
  • Board games
  • Crafting (knitting, sewing, drawing)
  • Watch movies on portable devices
  • Play on other electronic devices (iPods, iPads, Gameboys, etc.)
  • Make up stories to tell each other
  • Snuggle
Enjoying nature is a favorite camping activity © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping activities: Evening activities

The camping trip doesn’t end when the sun sets. A whole slew of activities become available when evening comes and dark settles on the campground. The darkness is a thrilling time while family camping because you’re not dealing with the lights and commotion of the city. Check out these awesome evening activities:

  • Sit around the campfire
  • Sing campfire songs
  • Play a guitar or other instrument
  • Dance around the fire
  • Try out new varieties of s’mores
  • Make colored fire (packages of colored fire crystals or pine cones are sold at many camping supply stores)
  • Make shadow puppets
  • Go for a nighttime walk (with a flashlight, of course)
  • Stargaze
  • Play flashlight tag
  • Play hide and seek in the dark
  • Go for a midnight swim
  • Play glow in the dark bowling. Put glow sticks in 2-liter bottles filled with water. Use a ball to knock them down.
  • Tell ghost stories
  • Play Truth or Dare

Now that you have great ideas for things to do while camping, it’s time to get out there and try them.

Enjoying nature while camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related Posts:

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

Patagonia Lake State Park: A Southern Arizona Oasis for Boating, Fishing, and Camping<

Whether you are interested in birding, fishing, camping, water sports, or just enjoying one of the favorite lakes in southeastern Arizona, make a stop at Patagonia Lake State Park

When a sign suddenly popped up along a two-lane highway carving through Arizona’s wine country I wondered if it was a mistake. It pointed to a back road leading into the desert foothills promising an unlikely destination. Is there really a lake amid these gentle rolling hills covered in desert brush?

Taking that turn we traveled a road whose route is dictated by the landscape almost doubling back on itself as it follows the path of least resistance. The drive took us through semi-desert grasslands and rolling hills studded with ocotillo, yucca, and scrub oak. After four miles it ended at small lake tucked within the contours of rolling hills.

Road to Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding and fishing in winter

The first glimpse of water at Patagonia Lake State Park came through the tents and RVs that crowd the campground. On a winter morning early risers walk their dogs nodding to their fellow campers taking leisurely strolls through scenery that demanded attention.

The 2½-mile lake plays hide and seek throughout its length ducking around bends and into coves. On this day, anglers are the first ones on the water, prowling for bass, catfish, crappie, and even rainbow trout which are stocked during the winter. Fishing opportunities abound from both shore and boat, and anglers typically do fairly well in their pursuit of whichever species they are targeting.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Later on they will be joined by kayakers who cruise silently along the placid surface. Two-thirds of Lake Patagonia’s 265 surface acres are devoted to no-wake zones, the perfect playground for those who prefer to explore in a canoe or kayak.

Patagonia Lake also draws those who have binoculars and know how to use them. More than 300 species of birds have been spotted and the area has a national reputation among birdwatchers.

More on Arizona State Parks: Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Many head to the east where the Sonoita Creek Trail leads to a riparian area perfect for the area’s full-time avian residents as well as those stopping briefly during migration. Birders have reported seeing such common species as the broad-billed hummingbird and great horned owl as well as the harder-to-find vermilion flycatcher, elegant trogon, and spotted towhee.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek

Sonoita Creek flows for two-and-one-half miles along the edge of the park providing some of the richest riparian habitat in the area.

Sonoita Creek courses its way through Coronado National Forest between the Santa Rita Mountains in the north and the Patagonia Mountains in the south and is notable for its extensive, well preserved riparian corridor which harbors many rare species of plants and animals, especially birds. The creek creates a band of greenery in the otherwise arid mountains in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts and which stretches for 15 miles from the village of Patagonia to the low elevation foothills east of the Santa Cruz Valley where the waters evaporate or seep below ground.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A dam over the creek (constructed in 1968) formed Patagonia Lake, a small but scenic reservoir. Its blue waters are surrounded by a narrow band of trees and bushes set beneath barren, rocky hillsides bearing cacti and yucca. Below the dam, several miles of the creek and an area of hills on both sides are further protected as the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area (see the above photo).

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV and tent camping

One hundred five developed campsites with a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites have 20/30/50 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.–8 a.m. 

More on Arizona State Parks: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

There are also two non-electric campsites available. They have a picnic table, a fire-ring/grill, and parking for two vehicles with a ramada for shade. These two sites are 22 feet long and are suitable for camper vans and short trailers.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boating and swimming in summer

As the weather warms, Patagonia Lake becomes an altogether different beast. The park is no secret to the thousands who come each summer to splash along its beach or carve rooster tails on its western third where wakes are to be jumped rather than shunned.

People from all over the area come to escape the heat. Summer weekends can get pretty crazy.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most summer visitors settle in at the beach finding a seat among the dozens of picnic tables shaded by a ramada or playing in the gentle water of the protected cove as parents make sure their children don’t venture past the line of buoys protecting the area from passing boats.

About a mile away on the lake’s western portion motor boats dominate, most of them towing skiers in an orderly counter-clockwise circle. At the end of the day some will head to the handful of camping sites available only by boat enjoying sunset from their secluded nooks.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A history of recreation

The lake’s popularity nearly killed it when local citizens first dammed Sonoita Creek 50 years ago to attract recreational enthusiasts. Members of the Patagonia Lake Recreation Association built facilities to make the area popular with those who wanted to fish, water ski, or simply have a picnic. Visitors flocked to the lake in the late 1960s and early ’70s so much so that owners couldn’t safely keep up with the demand.

More on Arizona State Parks: The Most (and least) Popular Arizona State Parks

Eventually the area was acquired by the state and on April 1, 1975 it was opened as Patagonia Lake State Park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park Fact Box

Size: 2,658 acres

Elevation: 3,804-4,200 feet

Established: April 1, 1975

Location: Southeastern Arizona, 15 miles northeast of Nogales

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Directions: From Tucson, take Interstate 10 east to Vail (Exit 281); south on SR 83 to Sonoita; west on SR 82 past Patagonia to the Patagonia Lake State Park turnoff (distance is 177 miles one way)

Nearest services: In Patagonia, 10 miles away.

Park entrance fee: $15/vehicle Mondays-Fridays; $20/vehicle Saturdays-Sundays.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best time to go: Summer, if you want to cool off; Winter, if you want to kayak or fish when crowds are gone and the lake is calm.

Trails: There are more than 25 miles of hiking trails. All but a half-mile of them are within the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

Visitor center: This should be your first stop for maps and a list of boating and swimming rules. Wakes are prohibited along two-thirds of the lake and rangers keep a close eye to make sure everyone is enjoying responsibly.

More on Arizona State Parks: Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Picnic areas: Ramadas and picnic tables are scattered about the lake’s south shore with most clustered at the beach.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campground: There are 105 sites with electricity and room for two vehicles. Sites with electricity are $25-$30 per night; non-electric sites are $20-$25. The 12 boat-in campsites ($20-$25 per night) have no power or bathrooms. Cabins have a queen-size bed, two sets of bunk beds, table and chairs, mini-fridge, microwave, ceiling fan, heating and air conditioning. Bring your own bedding and supplies. Cabins cost $119 per night, $129 on holidays with a three-night minimum. Campsites and cabins can be reserved at azstateparks.com.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Supplies: The Lakeside Market sells food, drink, and other common provisions and also offers boat rentals, fishing licenses, and bait.

Worth Pondering…
Patagonia is a tiny hamlet located in the Sonoita Valley in southeastern Arizona. A few blocks from the main street through town, on the edge of The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, lies a non-descript ranch house that is no less than one of the most famous bird watching sites in the world.

―Mathew Tekulsky, National Geographic News, 2004

It’s Fall Y’all in Georgia State Parks

Cooler temps, cozy blankets, sweet s’mores, campfires and more! Fall is one of the best times to enjoy camping with family and friends in Georgia State Parks.

Crimson reds, rustic oranges, and bright yellows mark the highly anticipated start of fall in Georgia’s State Parks. Nature lovers can opt outside to take in the kaleidoscopic scenery with family and friends from atop overlooks, underneath waterfalls, in kayaks, RVs, or tents. Whatever adventure you seek, there are activities that everyone can fall for at Georgia’s State Parks. Venture out to discover why these parks are a must-visit for autumn.

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the “Leaf Watch 2022” travel planner, visitors can find information on the perfect Georgia State Parks for viewing fall foliage at GaStateParks.org/LeafWatch. The site also includes hiking tips, autumn events, and updates from park rangers. Visitors are encouraged to tag their most Instagram-worthy photos with #GaLeafWatch and #GaStateParks for a chance to be featured on the Leaf Watch website.

Laura S. Walker State Park

Sleep under the stars: For those looking for the perfect spot to toast s’mores and truly enjoy crisp, cool fall air there is no better time to gather around the campfire than fall. Regardless of equipment whether it be a motorhome or a trailer or the preferred method of getting there—via foot, boat or car—Georgia State Parks have campsites for all tastes.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay in the heart of autumn beauty and the middle of the action at Black Rock Mountain, F. D. Roosevelt, or Tallulah Gorge state parks. A few unique camping spots include Chattahoochee Bend and High Falls where visitors can paddle into their site; lakefront locations at Tugaloo, Elijah Clark, and Seminole; or tent platforms at Victoria Bryant and Fort Mountain. Camp with a steed at equestrian campsites at Hard Labor Creek, A.H. Stephens, General Coffee, and Watson Mill Bridge state parks. 

More on Georgia State Parks: Best Georgia State Parks: Plan Now for a Spring or Summer Getaway

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf peeping at top overlooks: Track vibrant fall color as it moves across the Peach State at some top parks for leaf peeping. Top overlooks to experience glorious fall foliage await in Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Amicalola Falls, Vogel, Unicoi, F.D. Roosevelt, and Tallulah Gorge state parks. Visit these hot spots to revel in the dazzling display of fall color in late October through November depending on weather and temperatures.

Those who enjoy venturing off the beaten path will particularly enjoy the lesser-known state parks for viewing fall color: Moccasin Creek, James H. Sloppy Floyd, Victoria Bryant, Chattahoochee Bend, and Watson Mill Bridge. 

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go chasing waterfalls: Waterfalls are Georgia’s State Parks’ calling card. Pick and choose from one of Georgia’s many awe-inspiring waterfalls perfectly positioned around the state. Watch from atop an overlook or a bridge below at the whitewater cascading down as the rocks reflect bright reds and oranges of fall.

At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Cloudland Canyon has two waterfalls that tumble over layers of sandstone and shale into pools below. Visitors also can discover these wonders of nature at Fort Mountain, Black Rock Mountain, High Falls, Tallulah Gorge, and Vogel state parks. Best of all, the cooler fall temperatures make the hike to reach these falls even more worth it.

Ocmulgee National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing in Georgia’s State Parks: Reel it in this fall. From trout to spotted bass, striped bass, and crappie, Georgia’s State Parks offer some of the best fly fishing, trout fishing, and bass fishing in the country. Pick from a wide variety of parks to get the adventure started.

More on Georgia State Parks: 4 Best Georgia State & National Parks

Are you new to fishing? The Georgia Department of Natural Resources Fishing Tackle Loaner Program provides a way for budding anglers to try fishing without having to purchase any equipment. Available at 24 Georgia State Parks the program provides rods, reels, and tackle box equipment. Interested visitors can inquire at the park office and check out the equipment for the day.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall water adventures: At Hard Labor Creek, Stephen C. Foster, George L. Smith, and Indian Springs, water lovers who prefer leaf peeping from a kayak are in for a treat. Paddling tours of lakes let visitors enjoy autumn color from a different perspective, including copper-colored cypress trees reflecting off tannin-tinted ponds. Sign up for a ranger-led paddle or rent a canoe to explore solo. 

Fort Mountain, Vogel, and Unicoi rent equipment for paddling their small mountain lakes. These are good locations for beginners to practice paddling skills. Visitors at Fort McAllister can rent canoes to explore Redbird Creek with its sawgrass, fiddler crabs, and occasional dolphins. Paddlers who bring their boats to Crooked River can enjoy the abundant wildlife and the shortest route to Cumberland Island National Seashore (across the Intracoastal Waterway).

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster is the western entrance to the famed Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It features more “open” water than the grassy plains of the eastern entrance. Rent canoes or kayaks to explore Minnie’s Lake, Billy’s Island, or “the narrows.” Alligators, deer, ibis, herons, and egrets are commonly seen within the swamp. Reed Bingham, George L. Smith, Magnolia Springs, Laura S. Walker, and Little Ocmulgee also have pretty lakes where Spanish moss, cypress trees, and lily pads reflect off the dark water.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horseback riding at F.D. Roosevelt State Park: Trot through the Georgia countryside on guided rides surrounded by brilliant fall foliage and breathtaking views of Georgia hardwoods, mossy rock gardens, and Pine Mountain valley.

Some Georgia State Parks welcome horseback riders offering miles of horseback riding trails, equestrian campsites, horse stalls, or riding rings. Guided rides are available at Don Carter and F.D. Roosevelt State Parks. Most horseback riding trails are loop rides with links to other trails allowing you to customize your adventure. A.H. Stephens, Cloudland Canyon, F.D. Roosevelt, Fort Mountain, General Coffee, Hard Labor Creek, Don Carter, and Watson Mill Bridge offer horseback riding trails.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore on two wheels: Bicycles are welcome at most state parks and some parks rent bikes. State law requires that riders 15 and younger must wear a helmet.

More on Georgia State Parks: Laura S. Walker State Park: A Place to Reconnect With Nature

Bikers will get their fill of fall thrills as they speed down invigorating hills and breeze past colorful overlooks at Fort Mountain and Cloudland Canyon state parks. Race past bright fall colors and scenic views in the forests of Panola Mountain and Red Top Mountain. These parks belong to Georgia’s Muddy Spokes Club, a series of mountain biking trails created to challenge experienced and casual cyclists alike to tackle 68 miles of trails in 11 state parks. 

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find paved trails at Panola Mountain and Tallulah Gorge state parks. Hard-surfaced trails are located at Red Top Mountain, Skidaway Island, Smithgall Woods, and Magnolia Springs state parks and Hart State Park.

Mountain bikers may test their endurance at Cloudland Canyon, Hard Labor Creek, Fort Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi, Richard B. Russell, Mistletoe, Fort Yargo, Watson Mill Bridge, and Victoria Bryant state parks.

More on Georgia State Parks: Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

It’s fall in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bike rentals are available at A.H. Stephens, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Crooked River, Florence Marina, Fort McAllister, General Coffee, Georgia Veterans, Laura S. Walker, Little Ocmulgee, Magnolia Springs, Panola Mountain, Reed Bingham, Richard B. Russell, Skidaway Island, and Vogel state parks. Contact the park for pricing.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

Everything You Need for Lake Camping

Summer is prime camping season but if you don’t pick the right destination you may find yourself sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why camping near the water is key!

Lake life is where it’s at. Camping near a lake allows for playing at the beach, going fishing, boating, canoeing, or stand-up paddle boarding. Being by the water not only gives you plenty of things to do but also triggers a sense of calm and joy. I love hearing the sound of birds calling or waves hitting the shoreline. And there’s nothing better than ending a beautiful day of RVing with an even more beautiful sunset over the lake.

To prepare for a week of RVing at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.

Boating on Lake Okeechobee, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book early

Waterfront campsites are among the most popular spots at campgrounds. Be sure to book your lake campsite far in advance if you want to guarantee a spot for your RV. Be sure to hit the refresh button often and check for last-minute cancellations at campgrounds. 

Screen room at Poche’s RV Park near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shoo, bugs!

Where there is water, there are typically pesky insects—especially when temperatures heat up. It’s the unfortunate part of camping near a lake or in the woods. It is hard to truly enjoy the outdoors when you’re constantly swatting away unwanted insects. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks are among your worst enemies so come prepared with you anti-insect weapons of choice: bug spray with DEET, permethrin-treated clothes, Thermacell, and a screen room.

Related Article: 6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bug spray: Look for a spray with 25 to 50 percent DEET. Spray every couple of hours especially if you’re using repellent that isn’t waterproof. After a day on the water, douse yourself in bug spray before coming back to the campsite.

Permethrin: Treat your clothing with permethrin a few days before your camping trip for best results. The treatment usually lasts up to five or six washes. The best part is that after you treat your clothes there’s no odor or sticky residue that bug spray often leaves behind. 

Lake Martin near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thermacell: Create your own little forcefield of protection around your campsite by using a Thermacell or two. It works wonders for any outdoor area whether it’s the dock, beach, campsite, or the park. Thermacells run off a butane cartridge which heats up a replaceable mat that’s saturated in a repellent called allethrin which releases into the air to create a protection zone. 

Screened room at Poche’s RV Park near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Screened room: A screened room is an easy way to create an outdoor space that’s bug-free. It’s basically a large tent with screen walls so that you can still see and feel the outdoors while keeping unwanted pests away. It does take up space so ensure you have room for one when booking a campsite. 

Related Article: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Fishing at Parker Canyon Lake in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reel in your next big catch

If you’re camping by a lake, be sure to pack your fishing gear. In fact, many RVers choose lake campsites because they want to fish. It’s a great way to spend time outdoors alone or with friends and family. Consider keeping an extra travel rod in the RV in case you forget to pack the fishing gear or end up breaking a rod.

Fishing at Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Telescopic rods are perfect for RVers. The telescope in and out so that they can be a full-sized rod but also collapse to fit inside a backpack for portability. Be sure to have a ready-to-go tackle box filled with a variety of lures including spinners, jigs, bare hooks, crankbaits, spoons, and bobbers. And be sure to swing by the bait shop for minnows, leeches, nightcrawlers, or grubs depending on what you’re fishing for.

If you plan to catch and cook, then be sure to pack a sharp filet knife, cutting board, and your favorite dry batter. If you keep these fish fry essentials in your RV pantry at all times there will be fewer things you need to remember to pack.

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Safety first with life jackets

When it comes to spending time on the water, safety is always first. If you plan to boat, kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board, a life jacket should always be worn or at least on board.

If you don’t like the bulk of life jackets, there are lower profile vests as well as inflatable vests that inflate upon immersion in water or manually inflate when you pull the inflation handle.

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

Stay safe in the sun

While soaking up the sun and having fun, it’s easy to forget about sun protection. Before heading out onto the lake, plan ahead and lather on your sunscreen. A day on the water usually means stronger sun rays due to reflection from the water.

Related Article: 10 Best Campgrounds with Lakes

Lake Mead, Nevada

UV rays can even impact your skin even when swimming in a lake as the rays penetrate through the water. Look for a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and apply it often.

If you’re not vigilant about putting on sunscreen, there are plenty of athletic and outdoor apparel brands with built-in UPF 50+ sun protective clothing. The material is lightweight and breathable while protecting your body from sun exposure.

Lake George, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget to protect your noggin and peepers by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. A hat can not only be stylish but also helps block the sun from burning our scalp and ears. Eyes also need protection from sun exposure too. Look for sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.

Boating (and fishing) on Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get on the water without towing a boat

No lake getaway is complete without a way of getting on the water. When towing isn’t an option because you’re already hauling an RV, there are still other ways to bring a boat with you to the lake. You can paddle around on a lake in a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddle board. It allows you to fish and explore different areas of the lake that you otherwise can’t experience.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many kayaks can fit through the door of most RVs. Wrap your kayak in a blanket before sliding it in to avoid scuffing up cabinets and walls.

Most toy haulers are perfectly suited for hauling all your water sports equipment. Kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards will easily slide through the ramp door opening. Canoes tend to be longer than kayaks, especially if it’s a tandem, so be sure to measure your canoe before attempting to make it fit in your RV. Another advantage of a toy hauler is that they have hooks on the floor to secure any objects while on the move.

Canoe on a roof rack goes where you go © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to be able to take your kayak to a lake that isn’t within walking distance, you’ll want a roof rack for your toad/tow vehicle. Again, you’ll want to take note of the length of your kayak and how far forward you can secure it onto your roof rack so that there is enough clearance between your RV and kayak when making turns. 

If you don’t want to deal with hauling a kayak or canoe, look into the wide variety of inflatable boats that are available today. From kayaks to stand-up paddle boards, floating docks, and regular tube floats—there are many durable and versatile options to get on the water.

Many inflatable kayaks come in a kit with a carrying case for storage and portability and a manual pump so that you can pump them up anywhere. Since it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to fully inflate, consider an electric pump.

Fish Lake, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach Party Essentials

A day at the lake may put you in the mood for a beach party or at least the atmosphere that feels like a beach party.

Related Article: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Must-pack essentials that make your lake day feel more like a party may include:

  • Folding beach wagon to carry all your items for a day at the beach
  • Beach bag to carry additional essentials
  • Sand-free beach towels as a way to mark your home base on the beach and to dry off after a dip in the lake
  • Portable beach chairs that you can place on the shallow shoreline to cool off your toes (ideally one with a cup holder)
  • Cooler to keep your food and drinks perfectly chilled throughout the day (throw in some freeze pops for a summer treat and also to keep items cold)
  • Umbrella or portable beach shade to protect little ones and grownups from the sun
  • Waterproof Bluetooth speaker to blast some Beach Boys or other lake-vibe tunes
  • Beach games like volleyball, water frisbee, water pickle, and velcro ball toss 
Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake camping comes with some preparation work but packing the essentials and planning ahead will help you enjoy your RV getaway even more. After that, relax! You’re on lake time.

Worth Pondering…

It is good to appreciate that life is now. Whatever it offers, little or much, life is now—this day—this hour.

—Charles Macomb Flandrau