11 National Parks Perfect to Visit This Fall

What better place to witness the changing of the seasons than at your favorite National Park?

Every year across the national parks, the leaves shift from their familiar green into a rainbow of warm colors. With this change of seasons also come fewer crowds and cooler temps as kids shuffle back to school and winter creeps closer. I’d argue it’s one of the best times to visit most national parks—though some truly stand out during the autumnal season. 

Each summer, millions of people head into the great outdoors to enjoy America’s national parks. And while the warmer months are no doubt the most popular time to visit parks overall, there are still some parks that are just as good—or even better—to visit in the fall. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a lengthier fall vacation, here are the top 11 national parks to visit this fall.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon isn’t just one of America’s most recognizable and iconic natural features. It’s also a great destination for a fall vacation. Temperatures can be over 100 degrees in the summer at the bottom of the canyon. While it can still be warm in the area through the fall, average temperatures do start to drop down to a more manageable range of 70 -80 degrees. This means that October and November are great months to visit.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Joshua Tree National Park

Here’s another national park that’s a great choice to visit in the fall because of dropping temperatures. Joshua Tree National Park’s desert location means extreme heat can make it difficult to enjoy the park in the summer months. A fall visit will allow you to enjoy countless hiking trails with cooler weather.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those planning a trip will likely want to look into accommodations ahead of time—Joshua Tree National Park is fairly remote. There are two main towns nearby: Twenty-Nine Palms and a town also named Joshua Tree. Camping is also a possibility in the park but you’ll want to secure a reservation as soon as possible. The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park

Zion is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall for several reasons. Firstly, the weather is more pleasant in fall than in the summer when temperatures can be brutally hot. Secondly, the changing colors of the cottonwoods and brush compliment the giant sandstone walls within Zion Canyon. Lastly, the crowds are less extreme at this time of the year than during the busy summer holiday period. It can still be busy with people looking to see the colors changing, but less so than the summer holidays.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit Zion for fall colors is between mid-October and early November. The exact timing can vary year to year but this is generally a safe bet to see some great fall foliage in the park. Fall is an amazing time of year for most of the parks in Utah so you could extend your trip and visit the other parks in Canyon Country.

Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

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

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another excellent choice for those looking to see some changing colors alongside their outdoor adventure. Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only home to gorgeous fall leaf displays but also countless hiking trails as well as wildlife such as black bears and white-tailed deer.

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

Great Smoky Mountains is home to some of the most scenic fall drives in the country. Don’t miss Cade’s Cove, a lush valley surrounded by mountains and filled with history. The drive up to the viewpoint at Clingmans Dome is perhaps the most famous in the park. There are layers upon layers of mountains stretching as far as the eyes can see rich with color this time of the year.

Not far out of the park is the Blue Ridge Parkway. This National Scenic Byway links Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park. This scenic drive is famous for its views and fall colors.

Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is one of the lesser-visited national parks due in part to its remote location. Lesser known doesn’t mean less to do, however. The park is home to countless hiking trails, opportunities for river rafting and kayaking trips, camping, and even hot springs. Like Joshua Tree, fall is one of the better times to visit as the area enjoys cooler weather. Temperatures are perfect during October and November. You’ll enjoy beautiful warm days and cooler nights.

Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is covered in deciduous trees and during fall turns into a golden paradise. Similar to the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah is a fall classic and offers visitors some of the most abundant and vibrant colors in the country. This park takes on a completely new look once the colors change and it’s just hard to beat those scenic drives through the park as the fall leaves drop all around you.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah is home to one of the best scenic fall color drives in the country. Skyline Drive is the main road through the park and runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has around 70 different overlooks and spending a day or two exploring this incredible stretch of road is often the highlight of a visit to the park.

Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Arches National Park

Another Utah park best seen in autumn is Arches National Park. The powerful dance of wind, rain and red sandstone over many eons created the 2,000-plus fantastical arches at Arches—but it did not leave much shade or shelter. Visits in 100-degree summer or 10-degree winter weather can be unpleasant but in autumn you’ll enjoy temperate conditions and smaller crowds.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aesthetically pleasing erosion is the big lure stirring the soul with unusually balanced rocks, fins, spires, and arches. The autumn light cast on the red rocks is spectacular.

The park and its surrounding area offer excellent mountain biking, canyoneering, rock climbing, and hiking. Many people who travel here turn their trip into a national park two-fer adding on nearby Canyonlands, a 30-minute drive south.

Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

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

8. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The country’s newest national park, the 7,000-acre New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia can be visited any time of year—but it stands apart in the fall. October, after the heat subsides, is a particularly popular time to visit. It’s also when the annual Bridge Day event takes place (in 2022, on October 15), and thousands of visitors congregate to walk across the park’s eponymous bridge and watch BASE jumpers and rappellers descend over the side of the bridge.

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

And, of course, visitors who head to the New River Gorge in the fall will be rewarded with stunning fall foliage which arrives first in the mountains and works its way down into the valleys throughout the season.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Badlands National Park

Only a few centuries ago, over half the North American continent was carpeted in the same type of mixed grass prairie one encounters in Badlands National Park. The park retains the largest intact prairie of any in the National Park Service providing an enduring home to the animals that keep this type of ecosystem healthy: bison, prairie dogs, ferrets, pronghorns, coyotes, big horn sheep, golden eagles, and others.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the summer months, violent thunderstorms and blazing temperatures can make touring the Badlands challenging but come fall the weather mellows to the 60s and 70s. Some of the grasses are yellow in autumn too making it easier to spot wildlife and shutterbugs are rewarded with gold-hued landscapes.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Saguaro National Park

Named for the United States’ tallest cactus (it can reach up to 50 feet), this Sonoran Desert park is split into two parts by the city of Tucson. The Sonoran people also known as the Hohokam settled here in 2100 B.C. and built some of the earliest canal irrigation systems on the continent. The park is pitted with their ruins and tagged with petroglyphs.  

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The temperatures drop to an average of 70 degrees in October and November making the fall ideal for comfortable visits. It’s also fun to drop by Tucson in the fall thanks to its mix of Mexican and American seasonal celebrations that include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Halloween activities, and All Souls processions.

Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Congaree National Park

To finish my list, here’s a hidden gem! Take time to explore Congaree National Park in South Carolina in autumn when there are fewer insects and the weather is ideal for outdoor activities such as bird-watching, canoeing, and kayaking. Hike the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail which is a great way to get to know the park. Pick up a self-guided brochure or join a ranger-led walk. More adventurous types may want to hike the 11-mile Kingsnake Trail which takes parkgoers through some of the more remote parts of the park.

In the winter, this park tends to flood and in summer the humidity and heat make human bodies feel like they’re flooding. But autumn is the Goldilocks time in South Carolina’s only national park devoted to the natural world. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree harbors the biggest old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest left in the Southeast. It’s an arboreal paradise and 15 trees growing here are the largest known specimens of their kind on the planet including loblolly pine, cherry bark oak, American elm, sweetgum, and swamp chestnut oak—all of which are over 130 feet tall. Sheltering in and among those trees are feral pigs, bobcats, alligators, river otters, and deer.

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Bottom line

It’s hard to go wrong with a trip to a national park during the fall. After all, October and November are really the best times to get out of doors and enjoy the crisp, autumnal air before the winter cold settles in. Whether you’re seeking lower temperatures and smaller crowds or you’re purely in pursuit of peak foliage, pack your jacket, bring the camera, and get ready to have an unforgettable trip.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn brings a longing to get away from the unreal things of life, out into the forest at night with a campfire and the rustling leaves.

—Margaret Elizabeth Sangster, poet

Five Fall Road Trips in Arizona

Get on the road again with five sojourns perfect for your Arizona fall season

Despite what it seems like by the time September rolls around, summer is not endless. It is winding down. So it’s time to start planning your quest to see some fall colors.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon North Rim Drive: Highway 89 from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Lodge

Driving Distance: 208 miles from Flagstaff

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Head north from Flagstaff on US-89 to Bitter Springs. Here, turn left onto US-89A. Follow this north to SR-67. Turn left and drive south on SR-67 to the lodge. 

There’s nothing like tracing the Grand Canyon’s edge with the Colorado River raging below. If that isn’t enough to inspire a drive on Highway 89, I’ll also tempt you with Marble Canyon, Vermilion Cliffs, and the aspen golds of the North Rim.

Navajo Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan this trip for early fall, since the Grand Canyon’s North Rim closes for the season on October 15. Launching from Flagstaff, you emerge from the pine forest to a desolate expanse of land with sightlines for miles. The road moves over rounded slopes while reddish sandstone cliffs tower on either side. At Bitter Springs, veer left on Highway 89A to Marble Canyon which offers a good stopping point for breathtaking photo-ops and sustenance. First up, pics: Stand on the Navajo Bridge, a historic span over the Colorado River. Then, food: Marble Canyon Lodge serves hearty lunch and dinner with outdoor seating to boot. 

Marble Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marble Canyon marks the beginning of the Grand Canyon and nearby is a campground and popular put-in for river runners and Horseshoe Bend paddlers. Push on southwest, nestling close to the bewildering spectrum of reds, yellows, and oranges of Vermilion Cliffs rising from Paria Plateau. 

You’ll spot junipers and pines the closer you inch to Kaibab National Forest but once you reach the North Rim the scenery explodes in leafy canopies of firs, spruces, tall pines, and aspens.

Leaving Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Arizona Drive: Highway 83 from Tucson to Bisbee by way of Sonoita and Sierra Vista

Driving Distance: 109 miles from the starting point in Tucson

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Follow I-10 east to SR-83. Drive south on SR-83 to SR-82. Take this east to SR-90. Head south on SR-90 to Sierra Vista and continue southeast on SR-90 to SR-80. Follow this east to Bisbee. 

The southern half of the state can’t compete with Flagstaff’s autumnal glow. And yet… This south-of-Tucson trip is fraught with scenic vistas. 

On the road to Sonoita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Tucson, you’re on I-10 for only a short stretch before you get to ease off the accelerator and enjoy the leisure of Highway 83. The road weaves through the Santa Rita Foothills where desert flora fades into one of the finest grassland valleys of the Southwest—45,000 acres to be exact. Las Cienegas National Conservation Area preserves this landscape of cottonwood trees, spiny mesquite, and the rare marshes of a perennial creek. Stop and stretch your legs before the quick drive to Sonoita. 

Sonoita and nearby Elgin boast the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Arizona and the Santa Rita, Whetstone, and Huachuca mountain ranges that envelop grasslands and vine-covered hills. Take Highway 82 east to explore the tasting rooms; this will also link to SR-90, your route to Sierra Vista.

Lesser Goldfinch at San Pedro House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Huachuca Mountains punctuate the expansive views in Sierra Vista. Pine trees crowd the peaks and thick-leafed oaks in crimson and orange blanket the lower elevations. And all around, the sycamore and maple trees of Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area bloom in full fall color. 

Bisbee and the Mule Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, arrive in Bisbee in style. By style, I mean Mule Pass Tunnel, a dramatic entrance through the Mule Mountains that leads travelers into the stair-clinging slopes of Bisbee.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail Bypass: Highways 60 and 188 from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake

Driving Distance: 80 miles from Apache Junction

Turn-by-Turn Directions: From Apache Junction, drive east on US-60 to SR-188. Turn left and follow SR-188 north to Roosevelt Lake. 

Superstition Mountains along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As scenic drives go, the 40-mile Apache Trail (Highway 88) winds through the Southwest’s most stunning scenery. It’s a rugged ribbon of hairpin turns and stark drop-offs that meanders past three lakes and carves through canyons and over the Superstition Mountains before concluding at Roosevelt Dam. 

Highway 88 runs northeast from Apache Junction passing through Tortilla Flat along the way to Roosevelt Lake. While you can still access the road to Tortilla Flat, the portion north of the town is temporarily closed. 

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Advisory: In 2019, the Woodbury Fire burned several areas on the Apache Trail, and a 7-mile section of the road from Fish Creek Hill Overlook (milepost 222) to Apache Lake Marina (Milepost 229) remains closed. 

For a still-scenic alternative, leave Apache Junction via Highway 60. The Superstition Mountains with their jagged peaks are to the north. The “Supes” backcountry area delineates the transition from the Southern Sonora Desert to the Central Mountains. Take in the sight of thousands of saguaros set against colorful rock layers as you approach Miami. 

Along Highway 60 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, you have two options: Continue on Highway 188 or hang in town to peruse the shops on Main Street, grab a bite to eat (crispy fried chicken at Dick’s), or visit the impressive Bullion Plaza Cultural Center & Museum. 

Then it’s north on 188. Unlike the original alignment of the Apache Trail, here the bends are gentle and the curves wide. No white-knuckling the steering wheel. Roosevelt Lake’s serene blue sparkle comes into view.

Along Highway 177 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Pueblo Back Way: Highway 177 from Phoenix to Tucson through Winkelman and Oracle

Driving Distance: 163 miles from Downtown Phoenix

Turn-by-Turn Directions: Drive east on US-60 out of Phoenix. Turn right and head south on SR-177. In Winkelman, pick up SR-77 and follow it south to Tucson. 

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel east on US-60 to Superior and Globe. Visit Besh-Ba-Gowah Museum, search out a rare find at the Pickle Barrel Trading Post, or munch on quiche at the Copper Hen. Follow SR-77 past the Pinal Mountain-shrouded ghost town of Christmas. You’ll want to spend time in Winkelman delighting in the fall glory of Aravaipa Canyon.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue south to see the Galiuro Mountains rise from the golden grasslands. Thickets of oak, Ponderosa pines, maple trees, and Douglas fir cover the slopes, the tallest of which tops at 7,671 feet. Stop for a quick visit to the mining camps of Mammoth and Copper Creek.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up: Oracle, where the hardwood forests of the Santa Catalina Mountains meet the desert. Oracle is your destination; good news because after sundown you’re rewarded with the celestial sights of the city’s International Dark Sky. 

In the morning, venture up to Oracle State Park, then south again on Highway 77 past Oracle Junction to Catalina State Park on the northwestern edge of Tucson.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs & Mad Max Cities: I-10 to Palm Springs and home through Joshua Tree National Park

Driving Distance: 653 miles round trip from Downtown Phoenix

Turn-by-Turn Directions: From the I-10, go south on CA-78 to CA-115. Turn right. Drive north on CA-115 to Wiest Road. Turn right and head north on Wiest. At Noffsinger Road, turn right, then make a quick left on Highland Canal Road. When you reach Beal Road, turn right and follow it to Salvation Mountain.

 “Let’s plan a fall colors drives on Interstate 10!” Said nobody, ever! But hear me out. This trip features all the hallmarks of an autumn getaway: quieting the noise, slowing the pace, and discovering new places.

Colorado River near Ehrenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading west on I-10, saguaro sightings become fewer and sand gathers in windswept piles. After crossing the Colorado River (you’re in California now), drive south on Highway 78. But first, fuel up in Ehrenburg, Arizona, and avoid the high cost of gas in the Golden State. This is the route to the Salton Sea through the hottest, driest corner of the Sonoran Desert

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Salton Sea sounds like a magical place ruled by a Greek god. In reality, it’s more mythological than magical. Accidentally created thanks to an irrigation “oops” in the 1900s, the Salton Sea once reigned as a 1950s retreat. Today, over-salinity has nearly dried it up. What’s left: brackish, murky water, a shore lined with decomposing bird and fish bones, and an abandoned beach town or two. Well, almost abandoned. 

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bohemians and wanderers have made their way here to set up desert communes of makeshift homes and life-size art. One striking example is Salvation Mountain, an art installation of discarded tires, old windows, rusted auto parts, and bright paint spelling out spiritual messages. The work is so strangely beautiful that it boasts a stamp of approval from the Folk Art Society of America and has been covered in National Geographic.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Salvation Mountain, drive north on Highway 111 to join I-10 to the Coachella Valley cities of Indio, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs. Immerse yourself in the fall foliage of the San Jacinto Mountains which loom over the valley at nearly 9,000 feet. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ferries you from the foothills to the peaks and hiking trails letting you wander among the vibrant leafy color.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the trip home, opt for the roundabout drive through Joshua Tree National Park. Start at the West Entrance, then follow a paved, two-lane road scattered with scenic pullouts and dotted not with maples and oaks, but with yucca, ocotillo, “jumping” cholla cactus, and its namesake Joshua trees.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

The Best National Parks for Fall Foliage—and When to Visit Them for Peak Leaf-Peeping

The dog days of summer have us dreaming of crisp autumn air, leaf peeping, and camping in America’s national parks

Every year across the national parks, the leaves shift from their familiar green into a rainbow of warm colors. With this change of seasons also come fewer crowds and cooler temps as the kids shuffle back to school and winter creeps closer. It’s one of the best times to visit most national parks—some truly stand out during the autumnal season. 

What better place to witness the changing of the seasons than at your favorite National Park?

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These 12 national parks offer spectacular fall foliage viewing. Find out the best times to visit below and as always don’t forget to follow “leave no trace” principles when visiting wild places. 

Stop by any of these locations across the United States—starting from early September through November—to see golden, sweeping views.

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

As the summer gradually transitions to fall, the beauty that comes with the new season includes everything from crisp temperatures to changing leaves. The latter is always a sight to see each year as lush green trees get tints of red, orange, and yellow all around. Even though this transformation happens nearly at the same time every autumn it never gets old—especially when you visit new spots to take in all of the fall foliage. If you’re in search of different views outside of those around your neighborhood taking a trip to the most scenic national parks across America is your next best bet.

Related article: Plan Your Autumn Getaway around Fall Foliage

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

When the leaves change, visitors come in droves to Skyline Drive which runs 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia’s the Blue Ridge Mountains. This national scenic byway offers numerous stops to take in the foliage but it can be slow going on weekends. If you can visit on a weekday when you can enjoy popular lookout points such as Hemlock Springs Overlook and Range View Overlook with fewer crowds. Enjoy a self-guided driving tour, go on a nature hike or sign up for a horseback ride to enjoy the spectacular fall colors.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Shenandoah National Park is only a 75-mile drive from America’s capital, it’s a world away from the Washington, D.C. metropolis. As autumn approaches, the foliage across the landscape turns into stunning red, orange, and yellow hues. The best time to see the stunning sight is from September through October. This national park also has a fall color webcam that shows the changing leaves virtually on a week-to-week basis through the peak of the season.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The fall colors at Great Smoky Mountains National Park are incredible as the red maples, yellow birch, and flowering dogwoods begin to change hues in October and November. Take in the views from Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. On your way down, take a few steps and strike a pose in front of the iconic Appalachian Trail sign. Most visitors explore the park by car so you won’t be alone if you opt to drive to scenic lookout points. The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is especially popular among motorists.

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

Mid-October to early November is the best timeframe to pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see fall foliage. Embedded in the Appalachian Mountains across North Carolina and Tennessee, the array of over 100 tree species—such as sugar maple, scarlet oak, and sweetgum—change from green to yellow, orange, red, and even purple hues. The best views of the 4,000 miles of foliage are from mid-to lower elevations as this is where the leaves reach their peak. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Aside from paddling through Cedar Creek during the autumn in central South Carolina, you can find peak fall foliage from the end of October until early November at Congaree National Park. This region is filled with yellow hues during the mild season (it’s usually around 70 degrees on average during that time of year).

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take time to explore Congaree National Park in South Carolina in autumn when there are fewer insects and the weather is ideal for outdoor activities such as bird-watching, canoeing, and kayaking. Hike the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail which is a great way to get to know the park. Pick up a self-guided brochure or join a ranger-led walk. More adventurous types may want to hike the 11-mile Kingsnake Trail which takes parkgoers through some of the more remote parts of the park.

Related article: Stunning Fall Drives across America

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Starting in late September, the leaf colors will begin changing to orange-like hues until around the end of October at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah. The best colors, though, appear in early October every year.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Fall is an incredible time to visit Zion National Park. As temperatures cool, it’s the perfect time for a hiking adventure. Also, the crowds are much smaller compared to summer and the park looks stunning as beautiful red, yellow, and orange leaves add so much color to its rugged desert landscape.

Fall colors make their way to Zion in late October and early November and November temperatures often range from the 30s to the 50s—so pack plenty of layers. Also, remember that as visitors disperse for the winter, Zion’s shuttle buses begin running a little less frequently and for fewer hours each day.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the climate in Zion National Park is arid, many trees thrive in the park. Evergreen white pines, ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir are mixed with golden aspens, crimson maples, copper oaks, and yellow cottonwoods. During the fall months, red and gold accents brighten the desert landscapes creating numerous opportunities for nature photographers.

To get the big picture of the fall in Zion, take the easy one-mile Canyon Overlook Trail east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. The views of Zion Canyon from far above will take your breath away. A one-hour trail is perfect for families and those who are not ready for long strenuous hikes.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

At Big Bend National Park visitation peaks in the fall and winter months when the weather makes for more pleasant conditions along the more than 200 miles of hiking trails. A birder’s paradise, Big Bend is home to more than 450 bird species and is an ideal place to catch a glimpse of birds migrating south. Drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive which winds through the Chihuahuan Desert and offers great vantage points of interesting rock formations as well as park highlights such as Mule Ears Viewpoint and Santa Elena Canyon.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Back in the West, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a park where you might not expect fall colors. This quiet northern California park has pockets of cottonwood, oaks, and sagebrush which together create a vivid palette. Crystal clear Manzanita Lake is one area of the park with bright colors in addition to the ubiquitous evergreens. Even if you don’t time it right for the fall colors, you’ll still enjoy an iconic view of Lassen Peak.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because the park has several high elevation areas, autumn arrives early. Your best chance of seeing brilliant foliage is in September and October. As the season progresses, be prepared for temporary road or trail closures due to snow at higher altitudes. Don’t be disappointed if you see snow instead of fall colors, though. And don’t miss the geothermal areas of Sulphur Works and Bumpass Hell Trail which are beautiful in a different way.

Related article: Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

The country’s newest national park, the 7,000-acre New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia can be visited any time of year—but it stands apart in the fall. Anglers catch fish such as walleye and bass in the New River and rock climbers can be seen ascending the more than 1,400 routes established on the park’s sandstone cliffs.

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

October is a particularly popular time to visit. It’s also when the annual Bridge Day event takes place (in 2022, on October 15) and thousands of visitors congregate to walk across the New River Gorge Bridge and watch BASE jumpers and rappellers descend over the side of the bridge.

And, of course, visitors who head to the New in the fall will be rewarded with stunning fall foliage which arrives first in the mountains and works its way down into the valleys throughout the season.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

In addition to glimpses of changing leaves, the temperatures in Arches National Park are much more tolerable with highs in the 70s in October (compared to daily highs in the 90s from June through August). If you’re hoping to capture some amazing photographs, the autumnal light cast on the red rocks is spectacular—and you’re also more likely to see wildlife if you’re camping in the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan for hiking, biking, backpacking, or camping and be sure to check out the Fiery Furnace, a unique sandstone formation that offers incredible views at sunrise and sunset. The Devils Garden Trail is one of the most popular points of interest in the park exposing viewers to a wide range of arches.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The downside of being one of the most notable national parks is that things stay pretty crowded. The Grand Canyon’s 3 million annual visitors swarm the more popular South Rim for hikes, mule rides, and unnerving selfies throughout the summer—yes, even despite the heat. But after road trip season screeches to a halt, this natural wonder gets a lot more accessible.

September through November sees lower crowd levels and cooler, comfier temps that hit that sweet spot between sweater weather and shorts season. You’ll be able to ride your mule in peace and get a photo of the mile-deep canyon without worrying you might accidentally get bumped off the edge.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

South Dakota’s Badlands is the only national park in the country where you can get psychedelic desert colors at sunrise and the deep, burnished gold of autumn grasses in the afternoon. Hike the quiet trails like the hands-on Notch Trail which weaves through a canyon and up a wooden ladder before culminating in a sweeping prairie vista.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through the park and you’ll also see otherworldly rock formations, their pink and yellow striations bathed in the warm autumn light, streaks of bright foliage in the backdrop. Or, if you’re up to it, take advantage of the vastly reduced post-summer car traffic and hit the roads by bike.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

One of America’s newer national parks is a place of weather extremes with occasional freezing temperatures in the winter, scorching forecasts in the summer, and wind-swept afternoons in the spring—all of which sounds fine and dandy until you’re rinsing your eyes of gypsum crystals or sweating like a hog. Fall in White Sands National Park is where it’s at: The cottonwood trees are changing color, the crowds have thinned, and the comfortable dry warmth of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin makes it easy to hike through snow-white sand for hours on end or rent a sand sled from the visitor center and embrace your inner child as you careen down the dunes.

Related article: Fantastic Fall Foliage…and Where to Find It

Bottom line

It’s hard to go wrong with a trip to a national park during the fall. After all, September, October, and November are the best times to get out and enjoy the crisp, autumnal air before winter blankets the countryside with snow. Whether you’re seeking lower temperatures and smaller crowds or you’re purely in pursuit of peak foliage, pack your jacket, bring the camera, and get ready to have an unforgettable trip.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

The 8 Best National Parks for a Weekend Getaway

Only have two days for a quick getaway? These stunning national parks are perfect for a weekend trip.

All over the United States, there are national parks filled with trails, wildlife, and plenty of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Even better: plenty of them can be thoroughly enjoyed throughout a two-day weekend.

From the lush green landscapes of the Smoky Mountains to the desert environment of Arches National Park, odds are, there’s a park that’s close to you (or just a car or RV ride away) that can make for an epic quick getaway.

If you’re thinking about a weekend getaway in the great outdoors, consider one of these eight national parks which are among the best for an in-and-out style vacation. And for even more travel ideas, don’t miss The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

A weekend getaway to Joshua Tree National Park—which is best if you’re coming from the western U.S. like California, Nevada, or Arizona—can include everything from birding and horseback riding to camping and stargazing. While the park is known for its interesting-looking trees, called Joshua trees, it’s also known for its rocky landscape that beckons rock climbers into the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 300 miles of hiking trails and 8,000 established rock-climbing routes, there’s something for everyone who enjoys the great outdoors. Just be sure to take a break in the middle of the day so you can stay up late to enjoy the nightly spectacles in the sky from the Milky Way galaxy. The park’s nearly complete darkness allows you to see millions of stars and planets throughout the year.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. While a little planning is a key to getting into the park on busy days, once you’re in for the weekend, you don’t need to leave. The park allows camping along the South Rim and North Rim and those who want to venture past the edge of the canyon into the depths can take a mule ride (though some limitations do apply and spots fill up months in advance).

Weekend getaways are the most convenient from Arizona, California, and Utah.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

One of the coolest national parks in the country is Arches National Park in Utah. The park features more than 2,000 natural rock arches that dot the rugged desert landscape. Camping at the park can be done at Devils Garden Campground from the beginning of March until the end of October. The area offers a tranquil location to lay your head at night and spectacular views to wake up to each morning. Tours via bike, car, and horse are all available daily and allow you to see different sections of the park.

Utah, Colorado, and Nevada are all within a weekend getaway distance to the park.

Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

With ten different camping locations and plenty to offer in the way of activities, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great weekend escape for families or friends traveling together. Trails offer picnic stops where you can munch on a snack or eat lunch near waterfalls. Those who love to fish can do so within the park as long as they have a fishing license for the states of North Carolina or Tennessee. (Fun fact: You can keep up to five of the fish that you catch and be able to cook them for dinner at night.)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideal for those living in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands takes up 275 square miles of breathtaking landscape in southeastern New Mexico. Its most noticeable feature: miles of undulating dunes made of blindingly white gypsum crystals which were formed 10,000 years ago when shallows sea that had existed for millions of years dried up leaving the gypsum behind. Though long a National Monument, White Sands was elevated to park status in December 2019. Four marked trails allow hiking and since gypsum unlike sand reflects the sun’s heat, the dunes are easy on your feet. And if you’re so inclined, you can rent plastic sleds to slide down them.

New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and West Texas are within a weekend getaway distance to the park.

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

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

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

Hidden in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, America’s newest national park attracted over one million visitors last year so clearly, the secret is out. It’s been called the Grand Canyon of the East and this park’s most prominent feature is a wide, fast-flowing whitewater river that snakes through the gorge. Inside, you can hike on any number of different trails, traverse the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, the third-highest bridge in the US, or indulge in a full-on class five whitewater raft trip along the 53 miles of accessible river. Just bring some dry clothes.

New River Gorge National Park is ideal for those living in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

A weekend getaway to Badlands National Park—which is best if you’re coming from the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, or Kansas—can include everything from hiking and horseback riding to camping and stargazing. This bizarre moonscape was created millions of years ago when ash deposits and erosion sculpted sedimentary rock into rippled peaks.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fossils show that rhinos and camels once roamed here but today these 244,000 acres are home to bison, bobcats, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep. As long as you stay hydrated, the park’s 800,000 annual visitors find the Badlands fascinating to explore. Hikers scale the rocks to take in otherworldly views of the White River Valley and cyclists coast by colorful buttes and grass prairie. At night, the pitch-black sky reveals 7,500 stars and a clear view of the Milky Way; telescopes provide close-ups of moons and planets.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing compares to sleeping under the stars and with four campgrounds there’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah National Park.

Just 75 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is also ideal for those living in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Delaware.

Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

12 Dog Friendly National Parks

More than 300 million nature lovers head to a national park annually, many with their four-legged friends. Not all parks, however, welcome them. Which parks are the most pet friendly and which should you avoid when accompanied by a furry friend?

Although most of the 63 national parks don’t allow dogs so as not to disturb the wildlife, a few permit dogs on leash and in designated areas (except service dogs who are allowed to move around more freely).

A tour of America’s national parks is on many RV bucket lists but bringing your pet to these destinations can be a challenge. It’s important to know pet restrictions in the national parks you’re hoping to visit to minimize your impact on these sensitive environments. But an easier alternative is to target the most dog-friendly national parks in the US. Some of these parks offer miles of pet-friendly hiking trails as well as boarding services if you plan a hike to a location where your pups can’t go. 

So let’s check them out!

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Stunning sandstone cliffs naturally colored in brilliant orange and pink hues leave visitors amazed in this 229-square-mile national park including a 15-mile-long narrow canyon popular for hiking through. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are allowed on the Pa’rus Trail. All other trails and wilderness areas are off-limits. Pets are allowed along public roads and parking areas, in developed campgrounds and picnic areas, and on the grounds of Zion Lodge. No pets, other than service animals are allowed on shuttle buses.

Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

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

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia

One of the newest areas under the management of the National Park Service is also one of its most dog-friendly parks. Dogs are welcome on all park trails which provide spectacular views of the gorge. 

Several trails lead to spectacular waterfalls where you and your pup can cool off during the summer. There are also several pet-friendly campgrounds down in the gorge if you’re looking for a beautiful place to camp right along the river. 

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Explore miles of ever-shifting dunes with your pup by your side in this unique New Mexico national park. Your pup has to remain on a leash with a maximum length of six feet but dogs are permitted everywhere in this park aside from public buildings. 

Be aware that there is very little shade out on the dunes. So your best bet is to explore first thing in the morning or take your pup out for a sunset stroll if you’re spending the night in this otherworldly national park. 

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest is a unique stop just off Interstate 40 about two hours east of Flagstaff, Arizona. At one time, the environment here held the ideal conditions for preserving (well, petrifying) vast stands of now-extinct conifers. 

You’re allowed to bring your dogs on all park trails and along paved roads as well as into official wilderness areas off-trail. Just be aware that the park can be hot, offers minimal shade, and contains many fossil deposits that dogs should be discouraged from gnawing on. 

Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In a park that boasts more than 500 miles of hiking trails only 20 miles are off-limits to our four-legged friends. Dogs are also welcome in park campgrounds, picnic areas, and pull-outs along the park’s famous Skyline Drive. 

Whether you and your pup are looking for some wilderness solitude, picturesque views, or cooling waterfalls, you’ll find them here. Plus, you’re even welcome to explore sections of the famed Appalachian Trail. 

Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

While a swampy sanctuary in South Carolina might not be your first thought for a pet-friendly vacation, Congaree permits leashed pets on all hiking trails and campsites. The fall and winter months are the best time to visit after the summer heat dwindles and flood waters recede. 

Plus, you’ll avoid the height of mosquito season. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rent a kayak or canoe to explore one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America so long as you don’t mind catching the occasional sight of an alligator. 

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Heading down into the canyon with your pup is not an option here but walking on a leash along the paved South Rim Trail is permitted. So you can enjoy the views down into the canyon while your pup gets some exercise. 

The 13 miles of trails along the South Rim give you a chance to get away from the park’s most crowded areas but the South Rim Kennel is an option if you want to board your pup and explore a little further. The Mather, Desert View, and Trailer Village campgrounds are all pet-friendly as well. 

Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Pets are allowed on leash in the developed areas of the park and on the trail from the visitor center to the Fruita Campground. Pets are also allowed on the Fremont River Trail from the campground to the south end of Hattie’s Field in unfenced and/or unlocked orchards in the Chesnut and Doc Inglesby picnic areas and campgrounds. The apples were certainly unexpected treats.

Pets are allowed within 50 feet of the centerline of roads (paved and dirt) open to public vehicle travel and in parking areas open to public vehicle travel. Pets are not permitted on other hiking trails, in public buildings, or the backcountry.

Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, dogs are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roads but must be kept on a leash at all times. Dogs are only allowed on two short walking paths—the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail. The Gatlinburg Trail is a perfect hike for dogs and it leads right into the town of Gatlinburg. Streams, creeks, little bridges, and friendly folks will all be found along the way. You may see bears during your time here, so if your dog is reactive, just keep that in mind.

Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

You’ll love Joshua Tree National Park! Pets are allowed within 100 feet of roads, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Pets are also permitted on the paved Oasis of Mara and Keys View trails. Be aware of hot sidewalks and pavement that will burn your pet’s feet and walk only during the cooler parts of the day.

Unpaved roads offer spectacular scenery and a chance to immerse yourself in the desert landscape with your pet while following park regulations and protecting the park. Anywhere you can drive your vehicle you can go with your leashed pet. Some unpaved roads require 4-wheel drive and/or high clearance.

Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Can you say prairie dogs? So cute and so plentiful in Theodore Roosevelt National Park! Leashed pets may be walked along roads and road shoulders, sidewalks, parking areas, and in campgrounds and picnic areas. Seeing your dogs looking at the prairie dogs from the car will be so memorable. The sidewalk at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (I-94, exit 32) is a good place to walk dogs and has fantastic views of the badlands all along the way. Pets are not allowed on trails.

Get more tips for visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Visitors take a trip to the prehistoric past when visiting Badlands National Park known to contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. Ancient rhinos, horses, and saber-toothed cats once roamed the area that’s now home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets in the 244,000 acres of protected grass and prairie lands.

Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and are only allowed in developed areas such as campgrounds, picnic areas, and other areas open to motor vehicles. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails, public buildings, and backcountry areas.

Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Your Dog Can Become A B.A.R.K. Ranger!

The Bark Ranger program was introduced by the National Park Service as a way to encourage responsible national park travel with dogs.

Visit a park. Take the pledge. Get a badge.

Worth Pondering…

The dog lives for the day, the hour, and even the moment.

—Robert Falcon Scott

Extraordinary Places

Beautiful Experiences Extraordinary Places

My ever-growing list of Extraordinary Places will help take your road trip planning to the next level. Hand-picked, I promise each one is worth the detour.

What is an Extraordinary Place?

Extraordinary Places are the places that stay with you long after visiting. They are the places that fill you with wonder. They are epic natural wonders, weird roadside attractions, and deeply meaningful locations. Simply put, Extraordinary Places turn a great road trip into an unforgettable adventure.   

Explore my list and start planning your next RV road trip today.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

There are, essentially, three ways to experience the Grand Canyon: The more remote and less crowded North Rim, the more developed South Rim with more amenities, and the rigorous Rim to Rim hike that lets you experience both. Another important thing to remember is that it’s incredibly difficult to take a good picture that captures the size and scale of the canyon.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, a World Heritage Site, encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States. Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock-forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, and a vast array of geologic features and rock types. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground with 496 full-hookup sites, and a brand new Lodge. The Lakeside Cabins and Eagle Cottages are also available for overnight stays. Longleaf pines and the local palmetto forest surround the four “woods cabins”. Remaining “lakeside cabins” along Lake Shelby offer swimming, fishing, and sunrise walks right outside your front door.

Related: Life Is a Highway: Taking the Great American Road Trip

There’s gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that encourage visitors to explore its nine distinct ecosystems. Enjoy the serenity of Gulf Oak Ridge trail as you stroll underneath Live Oak trees draped in Spanish Moss. Take a bike ride on Rosemary Dunes. If you’re hoping to see an Alligator, explore Gopher Tortoise trail along the edge of Lake Shelby. A majority of the trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s proximity to Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley, Fairhope, and Mobile provides Gulf State Park with several retail and restaurant options to choose from. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, Weeks Bay Reserve, The USS Alabama, and Meaher State Park are all within driving distance.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

This great Navajo Nation valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s about 16 miles from Bluff to the eastern entrance on the right of Valley of the Gods, a miniature version of Monument Valley without the crowds. Its mesas and spires are formed of the same Cedar Mesa sandstone as the somewhat larger formations at Monument Valley. The 17-mile loop drive on a dirt road is suitable for most vehicles in good weather. Drive this beautiful, lonely loop—though not in a large RV and not towing a trailer. Heavy rains often make this road impassable. Valley of the Gods is also a good place to dry camp.

Related: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

The loop finishes on Highway 261 (paved) just south of the descent from the Moki Dugway and north of the turnoff for Goosenecks State Park. Highway 261 will take you south back to U.S. 163.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations anywhere. While you could make it a day trip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it.

Your itinerary includes the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (established 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You’ll be consuming a lot of meat so be sure to stop for breaks. Proceed in any order you please.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart has one more stop in the store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-through and BBQ sandwiches if you so please but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad—because you should probably get some greens in.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. This “little city with a big heart” as the town slogan goes retains much of its wild cowboy roots and will show you an entirely different perspective on Texas. Check out the Jail Museum for its take on Norman castellated architecture (a popular style for jails during the period; it was built in the mid-1800s). Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also has RV camping, an on-site swimming pool, and a fishing hole.

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

Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. Most of Lake Powell along with Rainbow Bridge National Monument is located in Utah. It is a major vacation spot that around two million people visit every year.

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

Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made reservoir by maximum water capacity in the US behind Lake Mead storing 24,322,000 acre-feet of water when full. However, due to high water withdrawals for human and agricultural consumption and because of subsequent droughts in the area, Lake Mead has fallen below Lake Powell in size several times in terms of volume of water, depth, and surface area.

Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam which led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park, California

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree, measured by volume. It stands 275 feet tall and is over 36 feet in diameter at the base. Sequoia trunks remain wide high up. Sixty feet above the base the Sherman Tree is 17.5 feet in diameter. A fence protects the shallow roots of the Sherman Tree. Help protect the tree by staying on the paved trail.

Related: The Wonderful National Parks of the West

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two trails lead to the Sherman Tree. Parking for the Main Trail is off Wolverton Road (between the Sherman Tree and Lodgepole); just follow the signs. The half-mile trail has a few stairs and is paved. As you walk, you’ll enter the Giant Forest sequoia grove. Exhibits along the trail explain the natural history of giant sequoias.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of sequoias grow in the Giant Forest sequoia grove. The Congress Trail, a paved two-mile loop that begins near the Sherman Tree offers excellent opportunities to see notable trees. Big Trees Trail, a one-mile loop around a lush meadow has interpretive exhibits about the natural history of giant sequoias. For a longer walk, explore the many miles of trails in the area. Beyond the Giant Forest, more sequoia groves await.

Visit the world’s second-largest tree, the General Grant Tree in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park is immense—nearly 800,000 acres—and infinitely variable. It can seem unwelcoming even brutal during the heat of summer. This is a land shaped by strong winds, sudden torrents of rain, and climatic extremes. Rainfall is sparse and unpredictable. Streambeds are usually dry and waterholes are few.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two deserts, two large ecosystems primarily determined by elevation come together in the park. Few places more vividly illustrate the contrast between “high” and “low” deserts. Below 3,000 feet the Colorado Desert (part of the Sonoran Desert) occupying the eastern half of the park is dominated by the abundant creosote bush. Adding interest to this arid land are small stands of spidery ocotillo and cholla cactus.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The higher, slightly cooler, and wetter Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the undisciplined Joshua tree, extensive stands of which occur throughout the western half of the park. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the “promised land”. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.”

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home from about A.D. 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the US.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park. It has 150 rooms plus an additional 75 open areas. Twenty-one of the rooms are kivas and 25 to 30 rooms have residential features.

Forsyth Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forsyth Park, Savannah, Georgia

Forsyth Park is a large city park that occupies 30 acres in the historic district of Savannah. The park is bordered by Gaston Street on the North, Drayton Street on the East, Park Avenue on the South, and Whitaker Street on the West.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park contains walking paths, a café, a children’s play area, a Fragrant Garden for the blind, a large fountain, tennis courts, basketball courts, areas for soccer and Frisbee, and a home field for Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club. From time to time, concerts are held at Forsyth Park. Standing in the middle of the park with the pathway wrapping around it lies the Confederate Memorial Statue. This work of art was donated by the Monroe County Courthouse to commemorate those volunteers who gave their lives fighting for the Confederacy. Surrounded by a fence, it is protected to sustain its culture and longevity.

Worth Pondering…

Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!

—Donovan Campbell

From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

Read more: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

The Grand Canyon Is Hosting a Star Party This Week—and It’s Totally Free

The annual party takes place from June 18 to June 25

Imagine being able to see billions of stars in the Milky Way just with your naked eye from your own backyard. It was once a common reality until artificial lights from our growing cities started encroaching upon the night sky. Today to see the Milky Way and most constellations other than, say, the Big Dipper you have to trek far, far away from humanity. The darker the sky, the better!

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

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What began in 1988 as a grassroots movement among astronomers in Tucson is now international with 170 certified Dark Sky Places in 21 countries. Its mission is to protect natural landscapes, educate, and counteract the harmful effects of excessive light pollution linked to everything from insomnia to obesity to cancer. “It messes with our circadian rhythms,” says Ryan Parker, Chair of the Colorado chapter of the IDA. “Our body naturally needs to sleep and rest and rebuild. And when we don’t allow that to happen, it interferes with our natural homeostasis.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2016. Many of the best protected night skies in the country are found within national park boundaries.

Grand Canyon joined eleven other national park sites certified by IDA. Including Grand Canyon, eight of the national park sites with IDA Dark Sky Park status are located on the Colorado Plateau. The NPS especially focuses on sustainable outdoor lighting because it combines technology, design, and practice in a way that allows parks to increase energy efficiency and enhance visitor experiences.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between its Dark Sky status and its ease of accessibility, the Grand Canyon attracts the astronomically inclined. There’s an annual Grand Canyon Star Party held in June and the Desert View Watchtower is a popular spot for capturing the Milky Way with astrophotography.

For over 30 years, the Grand Canyon National Park and Grand Canyon Conservancy have hosted a week-long June stargazing party with free entrance to the park and a multi-day program. And while during the COVID-19 pandemic the annual event went viral, the in-real-life celebration runs between June 18 and June 25 this year. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the event kicks off Saturday after sunset. So, 9 p.m. is reportedly the best time for viewing and visitors are encouraged to bring a red flashlight rather than a white one as that can interfere with the viewing.

“Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night,” the NPS wrote on its website. “It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the South Rim, the seven-day event kicks off with a Mars Perseverance presentation on June 18 where visitors can learn about the Red Planet rover from the person who built it followed by presentations throughout the week on everything from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to learning how astronauts trained in northern Arizona in the 1960s and 1970s.

Each evening, the NPS will also host a telescope viewing behind the Grand Canyon Visitor Center while park rangers will offer constellation tours. Night sky photography workshops will also be available.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the North Rim, an astronomy-related evening program will be offered at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of the Grand Canyon Lodge and constellation talks will also be given throughout the night. During the day, solar telescopes will also be set up at the lodge.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to Know about the 2022 Star Party

  • Attend this free, open-to-the-general public, event. The park entrance fee ($35/vehicle) is valid on both South and North rims for 7 days. No additional tickets or sign-up is required.
  • The event begins at sunset although the best viewing is after 9 p.m. and many telescopes come down after 11 p.m.; however, on nights with clear and calm skies, some astronomers continue sharing their telescopes into the night.
  • Campground or lodging reservations are recommended.
  • Dress warmly. Temperatures drop quickly after sunset—even during summer months.
  • View an assortment of planets, double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and distant galaxies by night and perhaps the Sun or Venus by day.
  • Skies will be starry and dark until the moon rises the first night. It rises progressively later throughout the week of the Star Party.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Rim Star Party 2022

  • Events include an outdoor evening program nightly just outside Grand Canyon Visitor Center at 8 p.m. followed by telescope viewing in the large lot behind the Visitor Center. To attend the evening programs arrive before 8 p.m. to be sure of getting a good view of the screen or arrive after dark and head straight to the telescope lot.
  • Park rangers offer constellation tours at 9, 9:30, and 10 p.m. The slide show, constellation tours, and at least one telescope are wheelchair accessible. The closest accessible parking is in lot 4. Lots 1 through 3 offer additional parking. During the Star Party, the Village Route (blue) shuttle bus runs every half-hour until 11 p.m. sharp.
  • The South Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association. Amateur astronomers from across the country volunteer their expertise and offer free nightly astronomy programs and telescope viewing.
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Rim Star Party 2022

  • Telescopes are set up on the porch of the Grand Canyon Lodge every evening. An astronomy-related evening program will be presented at 8 p.m. in the auditorium of Grand Canyon Lodge. Check park bulletin boards for the evening program schedule. Constellation talks are also given, throughout the evening.
  • By day, solar telescopes are set up at the lodge, the Visitor Center, and the general store (by the campground.)
  • The North Rim Star Party is sponsored by the Saguaro Astronomy Club of Phoenix, Arizona.

Park Alerts in Effect

  • Alert 1, Severity danger, Inner Canyon High Temp of 100 °F (38 °C) Excessive Heat Warning – Saturday, June 18, 2022; hiking into Grand Canyon is not advised this week. If you do, don’t hike between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Bring water and electrolytes, food and salty snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, a water spray bottle, loose/protective Clothing, wide-brimmed hat.
  • Alert 2, Severity danger, Grand Canyon National Park is in STAGE 2 FIRE RESTRICTIONS. Campfires are prohibited. Wood burning and charcoal fires including campfires and warming fires are prohibited.

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene

America the Beautiful: The National Parks

63 national parks draw millions of visitors a year to unique natural wonders and unforgettable terrains

In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City and was so struck with inspiration at the summer scene that he immediately composed a tune.

A decade later on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.

From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events but also in the natural splendor of the land spurring several conservation efforts including the creation of the National Parks System. Wilderness areas for people to enjoy the rugged beauty were set aside while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include a shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States and is protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.

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

New River Gorge National Park

Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Worth Pondering…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

—Catharine Lee Bates

Ghost Wright: On the Future of AI

The Ghost in the machine

Meet Ghost Wright, my new writer. His first article appears below. But before I go on, let me be honest with you (as I always am). Even though Ghost Wright is a fairly capable writer (more on this later), I detest him. I loathe him. Okay, I mean it: I detest and loath Ghost Writer.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s why: Ghost Writer wants to make me and all my writer friends, go the way of the dinosaur. He wants to put us out of business. And he is no friend of yours, either, which you may figure out as you read on.

Ghost Wright is, indeed, a writer (of sorts). He (or “she” or “it”—pick one) writes articles on any subject a writer or publisher requests for a dollar or two (I used the free version) each using artificial intelligence (AI)—10 times faster than a human, maybe 20 times faster. For example, for a story about how to back up an RV, I can write it myself, or “Ghost Wright” can do it in a few minutes for a fraction of the time required to research the topic and write the first draft followed by several revisions.

Ghost Writer? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright only exists in cyberspace. At this very moment, I bet he is writing thousands of articles for publishers, bloggers, advertising agencies, and “content creators”—anyone who needs editorial or advertising copy. I call him Ghost Wright because he/she/it is a ghostwriter on steroids. And, I’ll tell you a little secret. When starting down this AI road, the first task I assigned to my still unnamed “ghost writer” was best name for an AI writing tool using a “friendly tone”. The Blog Post Wizard generated close to a dozen friendly names including Publisho, Scribbly, Write Out Loud, Ghost Write, and Blog Fast. As I kept coming back to Ghost Write the bells chimed and the angels sang sounds of praise. Returning to Earth, Ghost Write seemed the perfect name for my phantom writer. But he doesn’t really have a name because he does not exist in real life.

A ghost-like setting? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ghost Wright at work

To give you an idea of Ghost Wright’s skills, I asked him to write an article with this headline: “Learn how America’s national parks got their names”. Below is Ghost Wright’s lead paragraph exactly as he “wrote” it in minute or two.

“National parks in the United States were created by acts of Congress and named by local people. These names usually reflect the natural characteristics of an area such as a river, mountain range, or gorge. For example, Zion National Park was named after the nearby Zion Canyon in Utah.”

Following this lead paragraph, Ghost Write selected a number of national parks and spit out the origins of each.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

The park’s namesake, Ebenezer Bryce, was an early settler in southern Utah who had a large influence on the area’s development. He and his many descendants helped found natural landmarks like Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park (which was also named for one of Bryce’s grandchildren). Since its inception in 1923, this park has been visited by millions of tourists every year; it’s still a popular tourist destination today!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

”Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona and established in 1919, is the fifth-largest national park in the United States. Stretching 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide, it contains some of the most iconic landscapes on Earth. The Grand Canyon has been around for 4 billion years but only received its official name after being officially recognized as a national park in 1919 by Woodrow Wilson.

The name “Grand Canyon” was given by John Wesley Powell during his second expedition down the Colorado River through what is now known as Marble Canyon on August 27th, 1869 (and yes, he named it before he even knew how big it was). He described it as being “one mile deep”

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

“Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The name of the national park comes from the mist that hangs over the mountains. The mist is caused by cold air moving over warm air, a phenomenon known as adiabatic cooling. In this case, it happens when humid air from the Gulf of Mexico moves northward into a region where temperatures are colder than average. The warm and cool air mix together to form clouds which produce fog or mist when they reach ground level.

This happens often in Great Smoky Mountains National Park because there’s plenty of cold weather surrounding it: In wintertime, temperatures can drop below freezing even on sunny days; whereas during summertime they may hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 Celsius).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This park is named for the petrified wood that can be found there. Located in the northwest corner of Arizona, it’s a great place to go hiking or camping. The park also offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, including bighorn sheep and black bears.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is located in California, a state that’s known for having some of the biggest trees in the country.

The park was named after the Sequoia tree and the Kings River. In fact, it was established only two years after Yellowstone National Park (which you may have heard of before), making it one of America’s first national parks!

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot has changed since the park was established in 1890: now there are over 400 units across America! But these two remain special because they’re home to some truly massive trees like General Sherman—which is more than 1,000 years old!”

The facts and specifics produced by the current generation of AI models including Ghost Write are not checked or verified. While it may be okay sometimes, at other times it can be absolutely wrong or so wishy-washy you can’t figure out what he’s saying.

Future generations may integrate fact checking but it will be awhile for commercial AI to incorporate this. So every AI-produced piece of writing has to have every fact and statement checked for accuracy, relevance, and context.

Ghost Write is a writing assistant and not a fact-checker. I still need to go through and correct the truthfulness of Ghost Write produced content.

Fact checking of the above article generated by Ghost Write uncovered numerous inconsistencies, incomplete information, and errors.

Several examples follow:

There is no evidence that Zion National Park was named by one of Ebenezer Bryce’s grandchildren. Zion was named by Mormon pioneer, Isaac Behunin in 1863. He thought it so peaceful that he named it Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Since its inception in 1923” is a misleading statement and only partially correct. In fact, Bryce Canyon became a national monument on June 8, 1923 and on February 25, 1928 Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

Grand Canyon is NOT the fifth-largest national park; it is the eleventh-largest at 3,021 square miles.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many species of wildlife can be viewed in Petrified Forest National Park but don’t expect to see either big horn sheep or black bears. Some of the many species of animals found in the park include 16 varieties of lizards and snakes, pronghorn antelope, jackrabbit, bobcat, mule deer, and 258 bird species.

General Sherman tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing at 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter at the base, Sherman Tree is considerably older than 1,000 years. According to Wikipedia, it is estimated to be around 2,200 to 2,700 years old.

NOTE: This article was NOT written by a real live person. It was 100 percent written using artificial intelligence by a fictional writer I call Ghost Write. A human “content creator” with minimum writing skills and virtually no knowledge of the subject could turn out articles like this all day long, good enough for search engines to interpret as real. Alas, these “content creators” are doing it 24/7 with one purpose: to attract visitors to a website or blog to earn money. I decided from the get-go not to monetize rvingwithrex.com.

RVs on Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may have seen their work. In articles about RVing, you may notice that something seems wrong. The “writer” uses an RVing term improperly or offers advice that you know is wrong or at least written awkwardly, not like a knowledgeable RVer would write it.

And, to a website publisher’s or blogger’s joy, the articles written using such artificial intelligence are done in a way that pleases Google, so they stand a good chance of ranking high in search results.

An RV traveling on Newfound Gap Road, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My articles at rvingwithrex.com, on the other hand, are thoroughly researched and written for RVers. They may be rated lower because I do not play the game “SEO first, quality of content second.” SEO = Search Engine Optimization, i.e., more traffic to a website or web page from search engines.

I have posted it here to illustrate how easy it is to populate a website or blog with relevant content that attracts readers but generally offers only mediocre advice and information.

Ghost Writers? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So guess what you get when you search a particular subject written by artificial intelligence? You get low quality and often incorrect information.

Again, the above article was written in three minutes using artificial intelligence, not by a human. Would you have known if you read it elsewhere without any notice that it was the product of an algorithm? To read a real article on how national parks got their names, click here.

Okay, now the good news: Ghost Write will NOT write for rvingwithrex.com! Ghost Write will NOT run me outta Dodge! Be assured that all content on this site is researched for accuracy and written by the author.

Worth Pondering…

True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating things new.

—Antoine de Saint-Exupery