Exploring a State Park or National Park this Summer! How to Choose?

In state parks and national parks alike you’ll find things like caves and waterfalls, mountains and valleys, wide-open fields, and pristine lakes and seashores

There’s one thing you know for certain: you’re looking to get away, get outdoors, and go exploring. But where are you going? Chances are you want to visit a place where the natural world is front and center which means state parks and national parks are two of your best options. These special, protected environments are available for public use and offer plenty of opportunities for exploration, recreation, and adventure. Whatever outdoor activities you’re enthusiastic about it’s guaranteed that both national and state parks afford plenty of access to a variety of great places to pursue them.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in any case, you have no bad options! No matter which type of park you choose to visit, you’ll be able to explore endless trails, campsites, and outdoor adventure opportunities. So make your choice and get out there!

In the southeastern corner of Georgia lies the Okefenokee Swamp, a 438,000-acre wetland. The cypress-filled wilderness—with its labyrinth of black canals inhabited by some 12,000 gators—is a long drive from anywhere. The Native Americans aptly called the swamp the “land of trembling earth” because the unstable peat deposits covering much of the swamp floor tremble when stepped on.

Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spanish moss-laced trees sway in the breeze. A carpet of yellow bonnet lilies floats on top of the glossy dark waters of this refuge, home not only to alligators but also to turtles, black bears, herons, and many other creatures. At night, you hear the barred owls hooting deep within the forest.

More on state parks: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

One noise missing is the beep-beep of mobile devices. Cell phone service is spotty at best and honestly, you’ll be delighted by a break from the digital world. 

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

Visitors have three main entry points to choose from, each about two hours from the next. Stephen C. Foster State Park is the western entrance to the Okefenokee. It’s nestled within the much larger Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge but it offers much that the bigger reserve does not include campsites with electrical hookups, running water, and access until 10 p.m.—a plus for the stargazers attracted by its International Dark Sky designation in 2016. The park is 18 miles from the closest town of Fargo, Georgia.

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

Park staff removed 13 streetlights and switched many bulbs to light-emitting diodes (LED). They worked with a local power company to install state-of-the-art lighting which casts downward rather than outward. The staff even retrofitted outdoor lighting on park cabins to be motion-activated.

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

These days, Okefenokee’s 120 acres of state park have more fans than ever. Since the pandemic started, they’ve seen an uptick in visitation even in the summer when numbers are normally low. That’s no anomaly. As travelers seek new options for enjoying the outdoors, state parks across the country have reported rising attendance.

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

Surprisingly, as of 2019, they were already welcoming about 2.5 times more visitors than their higher-profile, federally funded counterparts despite having only 16 percent of the acreage. While many state campgrounds do book up fast, a relatively local audience means that visitors at this southern George park tend to be more evenly distributed throughout the year which preserves the low-key, less crowded atmosphere. People can be out relaxing in nature without encountering the Instagram swarms angling for photo ops in the more famous parks.

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

Crowd volume is also helped by the simple fact that there are more state-run options for travelers to choose from. America’s State Parks alliance tallied nearly 6,800 reserves while the National Park System manages just 423.

More on state parks: 12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

As national parks introduce timed entry tickets and day-use reservations in an attempt to tackle overtourism these laid-back siblings feel all the more inviting. Of course, 50 states mean 50 different systems for camping permits, and from park to park amenities are even more variable. Some sites are tricked out with golf courses, zip lining, and RV hookups; others, such as Maine’s Baxter and California’s Sonoma Coast state parks don’t even have running water.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As demand grows, so, too, do the choices. Texas’s first new state park in 25 years, Palo Pinto Mountains will open next year on nearly 5,000 acres halfway between Abilene and Fort Worth. Visitors will be able to hike, bike, and ride horses over the hills. There will be fishing and canoeing on Tucker Lake and campsites where you can stargaze. Once the park opens, one of the first things visitors will see is a sweeping view of the hills from a road built along a ridge. That was on purpose—to awe people on their way in and out.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And Michigan just announced $250 million in funding for state parks including $26.2 million to create one in Flint—a key investment in the community as it continues to move past its water crisis.

Older sites are getting new energy, too. Fall Creek Falls State Park in Tennessee opened a $40.4 million, 85-room lodge this past January.

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

In five Minnesota parks, all-terrain electric wheelchairs with continuous-track treads for navigating rugged ground will be bookable as of this summer.

More on state parks: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Still, state parks grapple with the same challenges national ones do—and then some. One big concern is having enough help to manage maintenance, ticketing, and other operations.

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

Pennsylvania recently announced the creation of three new state parks. The state’s 2022-23 spending plan includes $56 million to add the new state parks to what is currently a 121-park system. The three will be the first new state parks in Pennsylvania since 2005 not counting Washington Crossing which was transferred from the state Historical and Museum Commission. The money will also help develop the state’s first park for the use of all-terrain vehicles and similar motorized recreational vehicles.

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

Delaware State Parks which have been filled with a growing number of visitors in the past few years is getting $3.2 million to upgrade some facilities. The goal is to increase the number of attractions in the popular state parks drawing even more tourists to the state. A record-breaking 8 million people visited state parks in 2021 exceeding previous attendance numbers. State officials say this year’s numbers are on track to top that total. Since 2011, reservations and occupancy for camping nights in the parks have grown 124 percent. In 2011, 67,000 nights were reserved, while last year, total reservations approached 150,000.

More on state parks: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Worth Pondering…

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

—August Fruge

The Golden Isles of Georgia

Warm Atlantic waters, miles of winding marshland, and magnificent beaches

The mainland city of Brunswick and a series of barrier islands are nestled on the Georgia coast, midway between Savannah (Georgia) and Jacksonville (Florida). In an earlier post, I detailed St. Simons and Sea Islands.

Jekyll and Little St. Simons along with Historic Brunswick offer the visitor numerous unique experiences.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island, the southernmost island of the Golden Isles, was purchased in 1886 by a group of wealthy families for a private retreat. The Jekyll Island Club was formed and members built a clubhouse and a neighborhood of “cottages” to be used for a few months during the winter.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1900, The Jekyll Island Club membership included the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, Goodyears, Pulitzers, Goulds, and Cranes and represented over one-sixth of the world’s wealth (Mr. Crane’s cottage boasted 17 bathrooms).

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These vacationers came by train to Brunswick and crossed the river to Jekyll or arrived in their yachts with family members, servants, and supplies aboard.

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

The men relaxed and hunted while the ladies had tea, planned parties, and went to the beach.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By 1942 most of these elite vacationers departed the island, never to return. World War II and the economy had taken its toll. Some of the wealthy families left their homes fully furnished and the buildings fell into disrepair.

In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island for $650,000 and set a provision that 65 percent of it must always remain undeveloped. Some of the wealthy families’ cottages have been restored and are open for tours.

duBignon Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, this era of Jekyll Island’s history can be dramatically revisited with a tram tour of the National Historic Landmark District including many of the opulent mansions their millionaire owners called “cottages”.

Goodyear Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island offers an abundance of recreational activities that are sure to please visitors of all ages. A variety of amenities include ten miles of white sand beaches, 63 holes of golf, an outdoor tennis complex, a waterpark, fishing pier, nature centers, 20 miles of bike trails, and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

To see more of the island’s eco system, the Jekyll Island Authority offers guided tours routing through beaches, maritime forests, and salt marshes.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodations are varied and include a grand historic hotel and oceanfront properties. RV camping is available at the Jekyll Island Campground which offers 206 campsites on the Island’s north end.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Twenty miles of flat, mostly paved bike paths encircle the island. You can spend a whole day riding beneath canopies of live oaks, along the beach, and through the historic district.

Related: Discover the Golden Isles: Rich in History and Beauty

Bikes can be rented at Jekyll Island Campground, the shopping mall, and various hotels around the island. Tram tours, Victorian carriage history tours, and nature and landscape walks are available from the visitor’s center, located on the Jekyll Causeway.

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A fishing pier is located across from Jekyll Island Campground and fishing is available along the beaches.

Jekyll Island, once a haven for America’s elite, now beckons to all.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little St. Simons Island

Little St. Simons Island (though not so little at 10,000 acres) lies only a 15-minute boat ride from its bigger, better-known sister, St. Simons Island.

In terms of development, however, the two islands couldn’t be further apart. Whereas St. Simons offers residents and the visiting public a variety of condominiums, shopping centers, golf courses, and mini-mansions, Little St. Simons is one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands—a privately owned sanctuary devoted to preserving and protecting its ample wildlife.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible only by boat from Hampton River Marina on St. Simons Island’s north end, Little St. Simons Island is a privately owned resort offering a limited number of guests the rare opportunity to experience isolated beaches and marshlands.

Known for its privacy, The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island features six cottages, several of which date back to the early 1900s, that can host a total of 32 guests at one time.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An ideal destination for family reunions and small gatherings, Little St. Simons Island offers guest activities ranging from guided nature walks through the ancient maritime forest to canoeing, kayaking, fishing, shell collecting, bicycling, and birding.

Related: Holly Jolly Jekyll

Guests may also choose to pass the day relaxing on the porch or enjoying the tranquility of the island’s seven-mile, undeveloped beach.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Brunswick

The mainland, port city of Brunswick is named for Braunschweig, Germany, the ancestral home of King George II, grantor of Georgia’s original land charter.

The streets and squares of this quiet port city were laid out in a formal grid similar to Savannah’s and still bear their colonial names—Newcastle, Norwich, Prince, and Gloucester—giving Brunswick a decidedly English flavor.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unmistakable flavor of the south, too, can be sampled here, home of the original Brunswick Stew.

Docked at the wharf, the array of shrimp boats are ready to trawl the local waters—evidence of the area’s rich seafood industry. Watch the ocean vessels come into port, see the shrimpers unload at the docks along Bay Street, and then sample the catch of the day at one of the fine restaurants. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Downtown Brunswick, also known as the Old Town Brunswick, is enjoying a renaissance, with the ongoing renovation and restoration of historic buildings and public squares. Old Town Brunswick is centered at the intersection of Newcastle and Gloucester Streets, the traditional commercial corridors of the city.

Newcastle Street is anchored on the south end by Old City Hall (1888) with its distinctive clock tower.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the north end of Newcastle Street is the Historic Ritz Theatre. Built in 1898 as the Grand Opera House, the Ritz Theatre is Brunswick’s center for quality exhibits and performances by local, regional, national, and international artists.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Homes in Old Town reflect a variety of styles dating from 1819, including Queen Anne, Jacobean, Eastlake, Mansard, Gothic, and Italianate architecture. The Brunswick Landmarks Foundation works to educate the public and protect and enhance the special historic character and charm of Old Town.  

The downtown district features a growing mix of antique shops, specialty shops, art galleries, theaters, and restaurants.

With ideal weather conditions throughout the year, Brunswick also supports an active and healthy outdoor life.

Sidney Lanier Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful natural scenic landscape invites jogging and walking, from the challenging Sidney Lanier Bridge to the Old Town Brunswick National Historic District and from Mary Ross Waterfront Park to the Howard Coffin Park.

Read Next: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep

Roll in on the souls of men,

But who will reveal to our waking ken

The forms that swim and the shapes that creep

Under the waters of sleep?

And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in

On the length and the breadth of the marvelous marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Boundless discovery

Get away to new adventures and wide-open beaches. It’s the perfect time to discover why this coastal haven is an escape unlike any other.

Jekyll Island Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the State of Georgia bought Jekyll Island and the exclusive Jekyll Island Club for use as a state park 75 years ago, Governor M.E. Thompson declared the island “a playground that now belongs to every Georgian.” For the first time in its history, a sizeable portion of Georgia’s coastline became available for public use. Plans were quickly implemented to “transform Jekyll into the finest seashore park in America,” from a fading millionaire’s retreat to a public treasure.

A century ago, Jekyll Island provided a winter escape for a handful of America’s wealthiest families who valued its natural beauty, mild climate, and seclusion.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They built magnificent “cottages” and a grand, turreted clubhouse on a sliver of the island’s 5,700 acres, preserving the remainder for hunting, fishing, and outdoor pursuits. Today, a bike ride across Jekyll reveals remnants of that grandeur, some of it vividly restored, some in ruins—along with modest campgrounds, facilities devoted to public education, pristine new hotels and shops, and, still, vast swaths of untamed landscape.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Jekyll Timeline

Pre-Colonial era: Believed to be called Ospo by Native Americans, the island is fertile ground for hunting, fishing, and shellfish gathering.

1562: French explorers first arrive in the region.

Related: 10 of the Best Places to Visit in Georgia

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1734: General James Edward Oglethorpe named “Jekyl Island” in honor of Sir Joseph Jekyll, a politician and financial supporter of the Georgia colony.

1735: British colonial trustees grant 500 acres on Jekyll to William Horton who establishes the South’s first brewery on the island.

1792: Privateer Christophe DuBignon buys the property. For close to a century, the DuBignon family lives on the island growing cotton and promoting it as a hunting getaway.

Jekyll Island cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1861: Confederates occupy the island during the Civil War abandoning it to Union forces in 1862.

1886: A consortium of northern businessmen, among them J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and William Vanderbilt, buys the island from the DuBignons and creates the Jekyll Island Club, used mainly during winter.

1947: The Georgia State Department of Parks acquires the island for $675,000.

Goodyear Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1948: Jekyll Island opens as a state park. Visitors can rent its cottages and facilities for the same cost as at other state parks.

1950: The Jekyll Island Authority is created with a mandate to operate the island at no cost to the state while protecting it from overdevelopment.

1954: The drawbridge to the island is completed. (Prior to this, visitors could only reach it by boat or plane.)

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1964: Jekyll is integrated through a court order.

1978: The historic district, once home to the Jekyll Island Club, gains National Historic Landmark District status.

1984–1986: The Club’s centerpiece clubhouse is renovated and reopens as a historic hotel.

Related: Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

Moss Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2007: The Georgia Sea Turtle Center opens.

2010: The Hampton Inn opens, the first new hotel built on Jekyll in more than thirty years.

2012: The new convention center opens.

2015: Beach Village, Westin, and Holiday Inn Resort open as part of an island-wide redevelopment effort while additional historic structures are restored.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landmark Trolley Tour

The Jekyll Island Club members created an exclusive Gilded Age island retreat for family and friends on this barrier island. Those empire builders shaped America’s future, now step into their past. This guided trolley tour of the 240-acre historic district includes entry into Indian Mound Cottage and admission into the Mosaic Gallery and Faith Chapel at your leisure. The tour lasts 60 minutes and begins at Mosaic, Jekyll Island Museum.

Mistletoe Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ranger Walks

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources from Jekyll’s park ranger during these unique eco-experiences. Public and private tours are available.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Biking

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 22 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. Bikes can be rented from Jekyll Island Bike Barn, Beachside Bike Rentals, and Jekyll Wheels.

Related: Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sea turtle display © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

Since 2007, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center has treated hundreds of sick and injured turtles with most of the animals returning home to the ocean. Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility is open 9 am-5 pm daily. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Indian Mound Cottage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Golf Club

The history, the challenges, the serenity, and the courses—these are the things that go into making golf “the greatest game there is.” Jekyll Island has a tradition of inspiring some of golf’s greatest stories and living up to expectations.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1898, members of the Jekyll Island Club created the island’s first golf course. The island has been a heralded golf destination ever since attracting such acclaimed designers as Donald Ross, Walter Travis, and Joe Lee—as well as players from around the world.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each course is a masterpiece. Imagine playing through some of Jekyll Island’s most pristine lakes, marshes, and forests. There are very few man-made obstructions here. But you will have to navigate the island’s alligators, osprey and deer.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Campground

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items, and bike rentals, so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.

Read Next: Historic St. Marys: Gem of the Georgia Coast

Worth Pondering…

A playground that now belongs to every Georgian.

—Governor Melvin Thompson, 1948

Take a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day

First Day Hikes are a healthy way to start 2022 and a chance to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature, and connect with friends

Usher in 2022 with other outdoor lovers at one of the many First Day Hikes offered on January 1 at state parks and forests across America.

On New Year’s Day, park rangers across the country are inviting Americans to start 2022 with inspiring First Day Hikes. First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states. Families across America will participate in First Day Hikes, getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.

America’s State Parks will help capture the collective strength and importance of the great park systems developed in the 50 states. With 10,234 units and more than 759 million visits, America’s State Parks works to enhance the quality of life.

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

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to foster healthy lifestyles and promote year-round recreation at state parks.

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers. The distance and rigor vary from park to park but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks

Spend the first day of the year in a state park and kick off the year on a healthy note. There are fun activities for all including hikes, tours, boat rides, and even s’mores! Remember to wear the appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, a camera, and your sense of adventure.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park: Meet at the West Lagoon parking lot. The guided 3-mile birding and nature hike will go along the riparian area of the Verde River and around the edges of the lagoons to look for evidence of beaver, otter, waterfowl, and other wildlife found in the park. Enjoy cookies prior to the hike.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park: Start the year off right with a moderate hike on Treasure Loop Trail. Be ready for rocky terrain with a 500-foot elevation gain over 2.4 miles. Bring your water bottle, sturdy shoes, and cameras. A guiding ranger will answer questions you’ve always wanted to ask about the landscape around you.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park: Hike the Calloway trail up to an overlook below the face of Picacho Peak. This trail is moderately difficult. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring water. Elevation gain will be 300 feet, 1.5 miles round-trip, and roughly 1.5 hours. Meet at Harrington Loop.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park: Learn about Sedona’s diverse and beautiful bird species while taking a stroll through this gorgeous park with a veteran bird enthusiast. Bring binoculars to get the most out of the experience. The hike lasts approximately two hours. Meet at the Visitor Center rooftop.

Related: Hiking Arizona

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

California State Parks

More than 40 state parks and over 50 guided hikes will take place across the state in this National-led effort by the First Day Hikes program which encourages individuals and families to experience the beautiful natural and cultural resources found in the outdoors so that they may be inspired to take advantage of these treasures throughout the year.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Starting at the Visitor Center, explore desert plants, crypto-biotic crust, and signs of animals as you walk cross-country to the ½-mile Panorama Overlook Trail. Ascend by switch-backs about 200 feet up the moderate-strenuous trail to a scenic overlook of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point. At the viewpoint, reflect on your new year with a lighthearted introspection guided by a Park Interpretive Specialist. Walk down the mountain as the sun sets on your first day of 2022.

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

Georgia State Parks

In Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, more than 40 guided treks will encourage friends and families to connect with nature and each other. Outings range from a kid-friendly stroll through Mistletoe State Park’s campground, a hike along the banks of the Suwanee River in Stephen C. Foster State Park, a 3-mile hike through Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, and even a night hike at Reed Bingham State Park.

Related: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

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

During winter, hikers will notice interesting tree shapes, small streams, and rock outcrops that are normally hidden by summer’s foliage. Many guided hikes are dog-friendly and visitors are welcome to bring picnics to enjoy before or after their adventure. First Day Hikes are listed on GaStateParks.org.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina State Parks

Kick-off the New Year with fresh air and family-friendly fun on a First Day Hike in South Carolina State Parks. More than 40 ranger-led hikes are scheduled across the state with most parks offering half-mile to 3-mile guided adventures for all ages and skill levels.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All participating hikers will receive an official First Day Hike sticker.

First Day Hikes will also jumpstart a new initiative in South Carolina State Parks. Beginning January 1, use #StepsInSCStateParks to share your walking, hiking, or other active adventures any time you’re visiting a park. The year-long promotion aims to encourage more visitors to get moving in South Carolina State Parks.

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the park enthusiasts who want to visit as many parks as they can on January 1, you can squeeze in four hikes by following the First Day Dash schedule:  

  • Start the day at 9:00 a.m. with a hike on the 1.25-mile Interpretive Trail at Lake Warren State Park
  • Head north to the Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site for an easy 1-mile hike on the Battlefield Trail at 11
  • Cruise over to Barnwell State Park for a 1.5-mile hike along the Dogwood Nature Trail at 1:00 pm
  • Finally, finish your day on the 1.5-mile Jungle Trail at Aiken State Park at 3:00 pm
Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other First Day Hikes include a wildflower walk at Oconee Station State Historic Site, stepping into Revolutionary War history on a walk at the Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, and hunting for fossils and shells during low tide at Edisto Beach State Park.

Other events happening at parks around the state on January 1 include a ranger-guided walk on the beach at Edisto Beach State Park and an easy 1.5-mile ranger-guided hike before along the lagoon at Hunting Island State Park.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks

As New Year’s Eve merriment gives way to New Year’s Day, start 2022 in the great outdoors. Over the years, First Day Hikes have become a tradition at Texas State Parks and across the country.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Enchanted Rock hosts three guided summit hikes at 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:45 p.m. The park is located at 16710 RR 965 between Llano and Fredericksburg. The two-hour hikes will be led by a park ranger or knowledgeable volunteer. Meet at the gazebo at the start of the Summit Trail.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedts

Pedernales Falls State Park: Located east of Johnson City at 2585 Park Road 6026, Pedernales Falls offers two guided hike options. The first is the Pedernales Falls and Beyond hike which starts at 9 a.m. in the Falls Parking Lot. It’s a 2-mile, moderate hike. The half-mile, moderate Twin Falls Nature Trail hike starts at noon from the Twin Falls trailhead. The park is also hosting a First Day Campfire at 3 p.m. at Campsite 68.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia State Parks

Set the tone for a fantastic 2022 with a New Year’s Day hike in one of Virginia’s State Parks. First Day Hikes are a great opportunity to improve one’s physical, mental, and social health, and what better way to start the New Year than by connecting with nature. State parks offer iconic and beautiful outdoor places that support healthy, affordable, physical, and social activities.

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park: Join the Friends of Shenandoah River for a hike celebrating the New Year. Bring your family and leashed pets to Shenandoah River State Park for a hike on the Cottonwood Trail. The Cottonwood trail is about 1.5 miles long with little change in elevation. The loop at the end of the trail is a raised boardwalk but the rest can be muddy in wet weather. The Friends Group will lead the hike and provide light refreshments in the Massanutten Building. The parking fee is waived on January 1.

Conquering a challenging trail on the first day of the year will keep you motivated towards tackling even the toughest goals throughout the year.

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir, Steep Trails, 1918

Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

Shop from this list of Christmas gifts to find ideas that your RVing friend or family member will love

Have you put some thought into your holiday gift-giving this year? The way we shop and the intention behind gift-giving is changing. The global pandemic illuminated, for many of us, what is truly important and what our real needs are. This new way of viewing our lives may be reflected in how we give gifts—giving what is important and special over just giving to give.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With threats of supply issues leading to empty shelves at big box stores, the joy of finding that perfect gift may be a little harder this year. Just maybe, shopping local might be the way to find that joy in gift-giving this year. You’ll be putting money right back into your community and find unique gifts not available at big box stores.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the RVer and outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Following are six gift ideas or you can even add them to your own Christmas wish list.

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

Gifts for National Park Travelers

Gifts for National Park enthusiasts do more than tap into the spirit of the great outdoors—they celebrate America’s longstanding tradition of preserving awe-inspiring landscapes. Decade after decade, new generations of visitors come to these stunning spaces, eager to experience the vastness of untouched scenery.

Related: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

Wondering what to get a National Park fan for the holidays this year? Here are two gift suggestions for National Park visitors. 

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America the Beautiful Pass: The America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass offers free entry to all National Parks—including Joshua Tree, Olympic, and Arches—for the recipient and up to three other adults for 12 months. The pass also covers visitors at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in total. $80 from recreation.gov.

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

National Parks Pocket Notebooks: These National Parks-themed memo books from Field Notes are a stylish and convenient spot for outdoor enthusiasts to journal about their experiences in nature. Packed in a set of three, each notebook features vintage-style art from a specific National Park, along with a brief history of that park printed inside of the front cover. Each notebook has a brief history of its park printed inside the front cover, followed by 48 pages of graph-rules paper for all your note-jotting needs. $13 for a set of three from bespokepost.com.

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

Set of three pocket notebooks currently available are:

  • Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yellowstone National Parks
  • Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Mount Rainier National Parks
  • Yosemite, Zion, and Acadia National Parks
Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks Christmas Tree Ornaments

For 20 years, the annual park Christmas ornament has featured some of the most recognizable Texas State Parks landscapes. The metal ornament features photo-quality artwork in stunning color with rich, laser-etched textures and detail. This year, the ornament features a longhorn from the official state longhorn herd at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.

Enchanted Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Christmas ornament can be purchased exclusively on the new Texas State Park Online Store for $19.95 each, with free shipping. Purchase by Thursday, December 10 for likely arrival before Christmas. Taxes will be applied at check out.

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other items available for purchase include the Texas State Parks Pass which allows a carload of visitors into the park for free for a calendar year, a Bluebonnet metal bookmark, a wooden Texas State Park magnet and sticker, state park zipper pulls and key rings, hiking stick medallions, and ornaments from previous years.

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

Give the Great Outdoors: Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Gift Cards

Give the gift of the great outdoors this holiday season. With no shortage of possibilities, gift cards are the perfect solution to the gift-giving conundrum. Gift cards are perfect for golfers, hikers, anglers, campers, history buffs, or anyone who enjoys being outdoors. The credit-card-sized card may be bought in any denomination starting at $5 and can be purchased at most Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites or online at gastateparks.org.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 60 state parks across Georgia, there are many ways to treat family or friends to a year of outdoor fun. State Park Annual ParkPasses are $50 and help fund trail work, dock maintenance, and shelter renovations. Half-off ParkPass discounts are available for seniors 62 and older, as well as 25 percent off for active-duty military and veterans.

Squeeze 18 outings into one little card with a Historic Site Annual Pass. Available passes include adult ($30) and family ($50).

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Fido out in the great outdoors with the Georgia State Parks’ Tails on Trails Club. The quest challenges dog hikers to explore 12 specific trails at Georgia State Parks. Members get a bragging-rights t-shirt and matching bandana for Bailey. Finish them all and get a certificate of completion to show off on social media.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most state parks have gift shops where you can snag an ENO hammock, KAVU pack, or blanket to snuggle up in as the colder weather creeps upon us. While browsing, pick up a gift with hometown roots including Georgia Grown items, local honey, nature-themed books, clothes, and toys.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Looking for a stocking stuffer or gag gift to get a laugh? Forget coal and throw in a bag of cricket chips or a scorpion lollipop. Many quirky white-elephant gifts are available inside state parks and historic site visitor’s centers.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gift of Adventure: Arizona State Parks

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual day use pass allows access for up to four people to state parks throughout Arizona. A day-use pass opens the door to exploring every corner of the state. History lovers can explore the stories of the past at the state historic museums. Pair it with Roger Naylor’s book, Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State for a gift set they’ll use all year long.

Lost Dutchman Stae Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online (azstateparks.com) in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long, all over the state.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of Texas Under the Tree!

Give the full Great Texas Wildlife Trails 9-map set for $25. Texas Parks & Wildlife is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. Order a special, newly updated 3-map set of the original coastal trails for $10. The full set of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail maps provides a guide to discover more than 900 of the best wildlife viewing spots in Texas. This is a gift that keeps giving year-round!

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Order a full set of Great Texas Wildlife Trails for $25 or get a single map of your choice for $5. To order, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails. Order by December 11 for likely arrival before Christmas.

A Hug

A hug is a great gift—one size fits all!!!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.

—B. C. Forbes

Stephen C. Foster State Park: Rich in History and Isolation

This remote park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure.

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

Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is a primary entrance to the legendary Okefenokee Swamp, a peat-filled wetland in the southeast corner of Georgia. Though the park is only about 120 acres, it is a prime access point to the 700 square mile Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and its most famous island―Billy’s Island. The name “Billy’s Island” has a bit of a legendary history. Some claim that it came from the famous Native American chief―Chief Billy Bowlegs―of the Seminole Indian wars. Others claim there was a man named “Indian Billy” that lived there in the early 1800s and was murdered by some cattleman.

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

That aside, the most famous residents of the island, which then and now is only accessible by boat, were the Lee’s. James Lee started living a self-sufficient lifestyle with his family in the 1860s. His family had livestock and crops and they hunted, fished, and had everything they needed.

As is the case in most American stories, modern technology comes in and completely uproots, literally in this case, the frontier way of life. In 1907, a logging company moved in and introduced modern society to this contented family. In the next two decades, the company would clear 425 million board feet, the vast majority being old growth cypress trees, all the while setting up a movie theater, a cafe, a whole little town on Billy’s Island to support the operation.

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

Think about what it was like being the Lee’s. You are living with nature, utilizing its resources and all of a sudden this company brings other people from other places and destroys your way of life. As most adaptable families do, sons and grandsons of James Lee worked for the logging company, helping the swamp-foreigners to navigate and survive in the hostile environment of the swamp.

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

When the logging company left, so did the town and the rest of civilization. As with all things in the swamp―the water, roots, and mud overtook the town and all that remains of its past is some rusty fences and a few gravestones. Descendants of the Lee’s still remain in the area, along with other swamp families.

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

Today, Billy’s Island, along with the swamp, is the way it has been for thousands of years―a black water reservoir, filled with islands, black bears, alligators, waterways, and little remnants of the people who try to survive there. As it is, what most would call, an undesirable place to live, there have always been outsiders and people seeking refuge from whatever is haunting or hunting them.  

Escaped slaves have passed through as it is a great place to hide. Native Americans―the Seminole tribes―have made the swamp home at various times throughout history, most recently in an effort to escape forced exile in the 1800s.

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

Surely a place so rich in history and isolation has its share of ghost stories. There are various reports of mystical hazes, ghosts, bigfoot, and alien abductions that are easy to find and hard to substantiate, but there is an interesting story that come out of the swamp that, at least, comes from reliable resources.

The story is relatively recent and returns us to Billy’s Island. In 1996, a former park ranger from New York was visiting the swamp and disappeared. A search party looked for him for several days and weeks. Then, 41 days later, the ranger was found leaning against a tree with tattered clothes and bug bites everywhere. He claimed he got lost and survived on what the island gave him.

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

Some folks are skeptical of his story, due to Billy’s Island only being 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and there was no evidence of him trying to get help, however the facts of him being discovered 41 days after disappearing are true and the story was widely published at the time of it happening.  

All the historical richness and vastness of the swamp is at the fingertips of Stephen C. Foster State Park. They have all sorts of activities―star-watching (and alligator watching!) at night, canoeing, hiking, movies, and more. Stephen C. Foster is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky.

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

The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Worth Pondering…

Way down upon the Swanee River,
Far, far away
That’s where my heart is turning ever
That’s where the old folks stay
All up and down the whole creation,
Sadly I roam
Still longing for the old plantation
And for the old folks at home

—Stephen Foster, 1851

Find Holiday Spirit on Jekyll Island

The holiday spirit is in overdrive in this beautiful, bikeable state park

You may be desperate to inject some joy into 2020’s finale. A holiday getaway that’s semi-remote with space to roam while packing some good tidings and staying COVID-safe.

Then consider Jekyll Island. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never heard of Jekyll? Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized island off the coast of Georgia is one of four beautiful barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island—collectively known as the Golden Isles. Jekyll was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Besides partaking in myriad loops of the lights drive each night, take a turn through the mini-golf course—currently adorned with sugar plums, swirly oversized lollipops, and the likeness of Frosty and friends. Honestly, after the year we’ve had, leaning into some old fashioned holiday cheer never felt more necessary.

But this quiet island hideaway is an ideal escape any time of year. Here are some highlights.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the island’s northern end, a spacious campground shaded with enormous oaks is a dreamy spot to park an RV or pitch a tent. It sits within walking distance to Clam Creek and just across from Driftwood Beach, so-named for the ancient trees that fell there due to myriad storms and beach erosion. 179 total campsites with 167 full hook-up sites (back-in and pull-through options) and 12 primitive tent sites are spaciously located within 18 wooded acres.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bicycling has long been a favorite activity on Jekyll Island. With more than 20 miles of picturesque paths and trails, biking offers a scenic way to see all of the island’s hallmark points of interest. Paths wind around sand dunes, beaches, and historic sites while ancient oaks offer ample shade. You can rent from the Jekyll Island Bike Barn to explore the island’s coastal trails. At just seven miles long, it’s hard to get lost on Jekyll. 

Mistletoe Cottage, Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island is home to more than a thousand acres of maritime forest, 10 miles of shoreline, and marshes filled with many wonders. Learn more about the island’s natural resources on a Park Ranger Walk. Walk down a historic trail through one of the island’s most diverse habitats viewing Jekyll Island’s active bald eagle nest. On tour with Jekyll Island Conservation staff, learn the trail’s history, identify unique vegetation communities, and see examples of active wildlife research efforts.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. The Center offers the public a chance to learn about sea turtles and see rehabilitation in action with a host of interactive exhibits and experiences. Year-round indoor and outdoor programs are also available for guests of all ages.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Jekyll’s southern tip, the Wanderer Memory Trail is a new educational experience on Jekyll Island that tells the story of America’s last known slave ship, the Wanderer. The trail is located along the banks of the Jekyll River where the ship illegally came ashore 160 years ago with more than 500 enslaved Africans. Made up of individual exhibits, the trail walks visitors through the story of Umwalla, a young African boy brought to America on the ship. Visitors of all ages will follow Umwalla’s journey from capture through freedom told through interactive exhibits along the trail.

Marshes of Glynn, Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

The Marshes of Glynn

Glooms of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven

With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven

Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,

Emerald twilights,

Virginal shy lights,

The wide sea-marshes of Glynn.

—Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)

I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Christmas gifts ideas for outdoor lovers

Christmas is a great time to get out and visit a state park. There’s something for just about everyone this time of year when you visit a state park. Celebrate the chill in the air, the smell of a campfire, and quality time with friends and family.

What do you get for the person who has it all? Sometimes the best gifts aren’t things, but experiences. Make this the year you give the gift of outdoor recreation with any one of these state park options.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia State Parks Membership & Gift Cards

Share the gift of the great outdoors at the 60 Georgia State Parks and affiliated sites which span a variety of landscapes from mountains to coast to marsh. The parks system also includes historic sites like the retreats of presidents, battlefields, and Native American sites. The parks have amenities like hiking trails, ziplining, and camping. You can purchase Georgia State Parks gift cards to be used throughout the parks. You also can purchase Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites gift memberships which include a year’s worth of entry into affiliated parks. Extended passes include free nights of camping, discounted lodging, and discounts on picnic shelters.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island

Just north of the Florida border, this bite-sized barrier island off the coast of Georgia was once the wintering grounds of banking elites with surnames like Rockefeller and Morgan. Today Jekyll Island is 100 percent state park: beautiful, bikeable, and blissfully chill. Days are best spent on the island’s many bike trails, exploring maritime forests and driftwood-covered beaches, and eating all the shrimp and grits you can handle.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now through January 3, Jekyll packs a ton of Christmas spirit into its small acreage. And while programming looks different this year due to the pandemic, they’ve got parades, fireworks, drive-in holiday movies, and a few Santa sightings on tap. Even if you skip the events, the island’s atmosphere is straight-up magical: Its historic houses and oak-lined lanes are decked out with over a half a million twinkling lights.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Known across the country because of its International Dark Sky Designation, this breath-taking park is the western entrance of the Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders. It is a can’t-miss attraction for astronomy fans. As the temperature continues to drop, head for Stephen C. Foster State Park for the abundance of stars that illuminate the sky after the sun sets. Reserve a guided pontoon boat tour of the swamp, kayak out on your own, or bundle up for a cool walk on 1.5 miles of hiking trails. You’ll get an intimate look at the variety of wildlife that calls this park home. Visitors can stay overnight in a wooded campground or fully equipped cabins.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Annual Pass & Gift Cards

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long. These outdoor related gifts are designed to continually provide excitement, entertainment, and adventure throughout this amazingly beautiful state. By providing a gift of adventure and fun for your friends and family, your gift will help create memories.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long at all the state parks.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Red Rock State Park offers a classic Southwestern outdoor experience for visitors to Sedona and Red Rock Country. The beautiful red rocks and local wildlife can be viewed and enjoyed as you hike the 5-mile trail network around this 286-acrenpark. Nearby attractions include Red Rock Scenic Byway, Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon, Coconino National Forest, and Prescott National Forest.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama State Parks gift cards

Looking for a different Christmas gift this year? How about an Alabama State Parks gift card? From hiking and biking to dining and lodging, these gift cards are the gift that keeps on giving. This is a great idea for introducing someone new to all the outdoor recreational opportunities available in the state parks. 

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks Special Events & Christmas Ornaments

Let Texas State Parks add something special to your winter holidays. Try your hand at a craft project, go on a holiday scavenger hunt, decorate a campsite, or sip some hot cocoa on a hike. Take part in a special event or choose a unique gift.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Join the Buffalo Soldiers at LBJ State Park and Historic Site, as they bring in the Christmas holiday with engaging stories and displays that highlight Texas history and daily life of soldiers on the trail.  Listen to what Christmas meant to the soldiers and how they celebrated with their families over 150 years ago. Make a candle the old frontier way and gift it this holiday season or try cooking your own piece of Christmas hard tack. Stop by to view artifacts and listen to tales of the early frontier for the whole family.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas State Park ornament program began in 2002 to celebrate the diversity and beauty of Texas state parks. Each ornament features the natural, cultural, and historical resources that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department protects. You’ll find images of building, wildlife, plants, and some of the many outdoor activities that you can enjoy at the state parks and historic sites across Texas. This year’s ornament spotlights the ever-growing sport of kayaking, featuring Sea Rim State Park.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

Spotlight on Georgia: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

With all there is to see and do, you’ll want to make sure that Georgia is on your mind

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Georgia. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

Gorgeous Georgia is mostly known for being home to charming historic cities filled with leafy squares and oak-lined streets, sprawling farmlands, towering mountains, and Southern charm. That’s not forgetting the amazing beaches and coastline, sleepy rural settlements, roaring rivers, jaw-dropping parks, and clear sparkling lakes—to say this southeastern state is diverse would be an understatement. It sure is a tough task, but we’ve managed to narrow done to eight of the best and most beautiful places to visit in Georgia…

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles

Along the incredible 100 miles of Georgia’s coastline lies the magical seaside retreat of the Golden Isles. Nestled along stretches of sand dunes and salt marshes, the mainland city of Brunswick and its four beloved barrier islands—St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and Little St. Simons Islands—offer breathtaking landscapes, a variety of recreational pursuits, and inherent tranquility.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Constantly ranked amongst one of the “friendliest cities in the world”, Savannah’s colorful history attracts millions of visitors every year. Situated along the bubbling Savannah River, this strategic port city is Georgia’s fifth-largest city. With a history of almost 300 years, the cobbled and oak-lined streets, beautiful parks, and archaic buildings, the historic city retains its essence.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the 22 park-like squares in downtown Savannah or get intrigued with the Telfair’s Academy of Arts and Sciences, the South’s first public museum. A pretty and sophisticated city with delicious food, this place exudes natural beauty and beautiful locales.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park near Lookout Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lookout Mountain

One of the most beautiful places to visit in Georgia, Lookout Mountain is a wonderful and striking mountain ridge located at the northwest corner of the state. As well as offering truly stunning views and beautiful surroundings it’s also the place where you can view the most states at once. Located 25 miles from three different states, when the skies are clear (and with a good set of binoculars handy) you can see up to seven different states if you try hard enough—visit and see for yourself! 

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon

Located about 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, Macon is the perfect destination for Southern adventure. A pretty city with a rich history, incredible architecture, and music heritage, Macon is “Where Soul Lives”. Hike to the area’s 17,000 years of heritage at Ocmulgee National Monument which includes a reconstructed earthen lodge or stroll the streets and discover the state’s largest collection of African-American art in Tubman Museum. At every landmark, you’ll discover the untold stories of the Civil War. Pay tribute to Macon’s native son, Otis Redding, at his life-size statue.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide a much-needed escape from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, the Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of the Blood Mountain. Four hiking trails of varying difficulty offer opportunities to observe spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains scenery year-round, most popular during the autumn months as leaf-watching routes. A 22-acre lake is also open for boaters, along with a seasonal swimming beach available.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Also referred to as Appalachian Trail or A.T., this marked hiking trail extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Extending about 2,200 miles, the trail traverses scenic woods, pastoral, and wild lands of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. Established in 1937, today the trail is managed by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and numerous state agencies. Passing through 14 states and 8 national forests, hiking the entire trail takes five to seven months.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island

A ferry ride of about 45 minutes from St. Mary’s and you’ll head to Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. The Cumberland Island covers approximately 36,000 acres of land with unspoiled beaches, wide marshes and white sands with a variety of wildlife is a national seashore. With a deep history of the inhabitants and settlements you can have a glimpse of the Ruins of Dungeness and Greyfield Inn. It’s also a great place to visit in Georgia if you’re an animal lover—the island is home to a band of beautiful feral horses living and wandering free. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee

The Okefenokee is an area of swampland in southern Georgia, covering more than 770 square miles. It is a maze of watercourses, cypress swamps, and swamp grassland. Interesting features are the “floating islands” which quake under foot but nevertheless support whole forests and in the past provided protection for Indian settlements. The swamp is home to many endangered species as well as an estimated 10,000 alligators. From the little town of Waycross there are boat trips into the swamp.

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

Laura S. Walker State Park offers a large campground, golf course, and Sportsman’s Cabins as well as kayak rentals, playgrounds, and trails. The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. It surrounds Laura S. Walker Lake and sits just to the north of the Okefenokee Swamp.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park spans 80 acres anchored around the gorgeous Okefenokee Swamp. Park visitors can canoe, kayak, and boat on the Spanish moss-lined swamp’s waters or embark on guided fishing and boating tours.

Keep Georgia on your mind as you plan your next RV trip.

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

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

Chilly February is the perfect time to start daydreaming about warmer weather and weekend escapes

The newly published 2020 Guide to Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is a helpful resource for planning many kinds of trips. It’s filled with tips on the best hiking trails, favored spots, pet travel, golf courses, cabins, campsites, and glamping yurts.

Below are ten ideas for a memorable and affordable spring or summer getaway.

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

Camping: Forty-one parks offer more than 2,700 campsites including tent-only areas, RV pull-through sites, primitive camping, and group camping areas. Rates average $30–$35 per night. Most state parks have laundry facilities and sell camping supplies. All campgrounds have water and electric hookups, hot showers, and site-specific reservations. For more information and to reserve a camping site visit GaStateParks.org/Camping.

Hiking at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike the Trails: Explore the trails and discover the wonders of nature. Georgia’s State Parks offer a variety of hiking and biking paths from easy paved loops to challenging backcountry trails. Families will experience Georgia’s diverse landscape as well with canyons and waterfalls, salt marshes and streams. Energetic explorers can join the Canyon Climbers Club or Muddy Spokes Club to earn a members-only t-shirt. Bring Fido along for a full circle adventure via the Georgia State Parks Tails on Trails Club. Learn more at GaStateParks.org/ParkActivities.

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

Glamping Yurts: For a unique and affordable getaway, book a “glamour camping” yurt. These funky wood and canvas structures are a blend between a tent and cabin with furniture inside and fire rings outside. Guests can even walk to nearby hot showers. Yurts are available at Cloudland Canyon, Red Top Mountain, High Falls, Fort Yargo, Sweetwater Creek, and Tugaloo state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/UniqueAccommodations.

Camping at Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junior Rangers: Explorers of any age will have fun learning in the outdoors as they work toward earning a Junior Ranger badge. By following guidelines in activity book or attending ranger-led camps, they will experience nature first-hand and delve into Georgia’s fascinating history. The experience builds as children earn 59 park-specific badges. Download the free book at GaStateParks.org/EducationalResources.

Exploring history at Fort Frederica National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geocache through History: Love a treasure hunt? Georgia’s revamped History Trail offers new challenges, new locations, and a new reward. This mystery tour offers geocachers of all levels a chance to travel back in time and earn an exclusive trackable coin. Answer questions about each historic site you visit and discover the code to unlock hidden caches. Download and print a Time Travel Ticket prior to participating. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Geocaching.

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

Go Fishing: Grab your rod and reel and head out for a day of fishing. For families who would like to take their adventure up a notch, many state parks rent boats by the hour. Great places to try include High Falls, Reed Bingham, and Seminole state parks. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/ParkFishing.

Travel back in time at Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time: Step back in time at Georgia’s state historic sites. Explore colonial times at Fort Morris and Fort King George or Civil War bunkers at Fort McAllister. To learn about Native American history visit Kolomoki Mounds, New Echota, Chief Vann House, and Etowah Indian Mounds. Even more historic sites are listed on GaStateParks.org/History.

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

Go Paddling: Explore Georgia’s waterways through a variety of paddling adventures. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and aquacycles may be rented seasonally, or visitors may bring their own boats. Many parks offer guided tours including Stephen C. Foster’s tour of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp. For a challenge, join the Park Paddlers Club which takes explorers to six state parks as they show off their members-only t-shirt. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Paddling.

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

Cozy Cabins: For an affordable and cozy staycation, book a cabin or cottage surrounded by beautiful scenery. Ranging from one to three bedrooms, state park cabins come with fully equipped kitchens, screened porches, and a wide range of activities right outside the door. Choose from mini golf, nature trails, ranger programs, archery, disc golf, and more. Bring the four-legged family members along when you reserve a dog-friendly cabin in advance. For more information visit GaStateParks.org/Cottages.

Boating at Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tee Off: Tee off at one of Georgia’s eight state park golf courses offering a family-friendly atmosphere surrounded by sparkling lakes and scenic forests. Lessons, putting greens, pro shops and cabin packages are available. Green fees are as low as $20. To learn more visit GaStateParks.org/Golfing.

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