The Beginner’s Guide to Hiking

Hiking for beginners can be intimidating but there’s really not much to it. You don’t need any special skills to hike; you just have to be able to walk and know where you are. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in nature, get a good workout in, and recharge your batteries. This guide will give you some essential hiking for beginners’ tips to make your hike safe and fun.

Hiking is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the outdoors. Transported by your own two feet and carrying only what you need for the day on your back you can discover the beauty of nature at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. And, with a little planning and preparation, it’s an activity that almost anyone can do.

Hiking, a timeless and invigorating outdoor activity has been a favorite pastime for individuals seeking a harmonious blend of exercise, nature, and adventure. Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or a novice to the world of outdoor activities, hiking provides an excellent opportunity to reconnect with nature, improve physical well-being, and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

In this article, I’ll delve into the essence of hiking, highlighting its benefits and why it is an ideal activity for beginners. Moreover, I’ll underscore the inclusivity of hiking, catering to individuals of various fitness levels.

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

What is hiking and its benefits

Hiking is a form of outdoor recreation that involves walking or trekking through natural landscapes, often along trails or footpaths. Unlike more structured exercises, hiking allows participants to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature offering a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The benefits of hiking extend beyond the physical realm encompassing mental and emotional well-being.

Physical fitness

One of the primary advantages of hiking is the positive impact it has on physical health. As a weight-bearing exercise, hiking helps improve cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles, and enhance overall endurance. The varied terrain encountered during hikes engages different muscle groups providing a comprehensive workout for the body.

Mental well-being

The therapeutic effect of nature is well-documented and hiking serves as a conduit to experience it firsthand. The serene landscapes, fresh air, and the rhythmic act of walking contribute to reduced stress levels, improved mood, and enhanced mental clarity. Hiking provides a valuable opportunity to unplug from technology and connect with the present moment.

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

Social interaction

While hiking can be a solo endeavor, it also presents an excellent opportunity for social interaction. Group hikes allow individuals to share the experience with friends or meet like-minded individuals fostering a sense of community and camaraderie. Conversations flow more freely in the relaxed setting of nature strengthening social bonds.

Why hiking is ideal for beginners

Hiking’s appeal lies in its simplicity and adaptability making it an excellent choice for individuals new to outdoor activities. Here are several reasons why hiking is an ideal starting point.

Low entry barrier

Unlike some sports or fitness routines that require specialized equipment or skills, hiking has a remarkably low entry barrier. A comfortable pair of walking shoes, appropriate clothing, and a water bottle are sufficient for a beginner’s hike. This simplicity encourages more people to try hiking without the need for significant initial investment.

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

Flexible intensity

Hiking offers a wide range of intensity levels accommodating individuals with diverse fitness backgrounds. Beginners can choose trails with gentle inclines and shorter distances gradually progressing to more challenging routes as their fitness improves. The ability to tailor the intensity of a hike makes it accessible to individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

Connection with nature

For those unaccustomed to regular physical activity the prospect of heading to a gym can be intimidating. Hiking, on the other hand, provides a natural and scenic environment offering a more appealing setting for exercise. The desire to explore nature often serves as a strong motivator for beginners to lace up their hiking boots and hit the trails.

Varied terrain

Hiking trails come in various forms from easy, well-groomed paths to more rugged and challenging terrains. Beginners can choose trails that match their comfort level and gradually progress to more demanding routes. This adaptability ensures that hikers can tailor their experience to suit their fitness and skill levels.

Hiking Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessibility for people of different fitness levels

One of the most remarkable aspects of hiking is its inclusivity. Regardless of age, fitness level, or prior experience, there is a hiking trail suitable for everyone. Here’s why hiking is accessible to people of different fitness levels:

Trail diversity

Hiking trails are available in a range of difficulty levels from beginner-friendly to advanced. Novices can start with flat, well-marked trails, gradually progressing to more challenging routes with steeper inclines and uneven terrain. National and state parks often classify trails by difficulty helping hikers make informed choices.

Customizable distances

Hiking allows individuals to customize the length of their journey based on their fitness level and preferences. Beginners can start with short, leisurely hikes and gradually increase the distance as they build stamina. The ability to set one’s pace makes hiking an accommodating activity for people at different fitness levels.

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

Supportive hiking communities

The hiking community is generally welcoming and supportive providing resources and encouragement for individuals at all levels. Local hiking clubs and online forums offer valuable advice, trail recommendations, and shared experiences fostering a sense of inclusivity and making the transition into hiking smoother for beginners.

Adaptability to health conditions

Hiking can be adapted to accommodate various health conditions and mobility levels. Many trails are wheelchair-accessible and nature reserves are increasingly mindful of creating inclusive outdoor spaces. Those with health concerns can consult with healthcare professionals to find suitable trials and modifications that cater to their specific needs.

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

Choose your hiking gear

One of the wonderful things about hiking is that you don’t need a bunch of high-tech gear to get out there. With a few essential items for the trail and a sense of adventure, you’re ready to head into the wilderness.

Hiking footwear

Footwear is one of the most important items you need to choose and it’s a very personal choice. Some hikers prefer supportive over-the-ankle boots while others enjoy lightweight trail-running shoes. The terrain you’ll be walking on can also affect your decision. 

Food and water

As a beginner hiker, it can be tough to know how much food and water you need. A good general recommendation for how much to eat is 200–300 calories per hour. About a quart for every two hours of moderate activity in moderate temperatures is a good starting place for water intake. These amounts depend heavily on several factors such as the intensity of your hike, the weather, your age, your sweat rate, and your body type. As you gain more experience, you’ll get a better sense of just how much you need.

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

Appropriate clothing

Wide-brimmed hat or hat with a neck cape protects the head, face, and neck. Light-colored, light weight, long sleeve shirt protects shoulders, arms, and back. Light color reflects back more heat and light weight allows perspiration to evaporate.

In the realm of outdoor activities, hiking stands out as an accessible, adaptable, and immensely rewarding pursuit. Whether you’re seeking a stroll through scenic landscapes or a more challenging trek to test your limits, hiking offers something for everyone.

The physical, mental, and social benefits make it an ideal activity for beginners. So, lace up your hiking boots, explore the trails, and embark on a journey that not only enhances your well-being but also allows you to discover the wonders of nature.

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

Here are some helpful resources for hikers of all levels of experience:

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Complete Guide to Saguaro National Park

Iconic giant cacti are the stars in this photo-ready Southwestern desert preserve

A 40-foot saguaro strikes an invincible pose: bristling with defenses, assertively towering over every other living thing in the landscape, seemingly confident in its life span of 200 years or longer.

—Larry Cheek, Born Survivor

A sea of towering columnar saguaro cacti stretches out before you like a brigade of soldiers guarding the desert landscape. Formidable with their spiny armor, it’s hard to imagine America’s largest cactus is the species that needs safeguarding.

Found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert, this enduring symbol of the Southwest which requires just the right amount of heat and moisture to survive faces threats such as invasive species. The 91,327 acres that comprise Saguaro National Park in southeast Arizona provide the perfect climate as well as protection for vast forests of saguaro (pronounced Sa-WAH-ro) cacti to thrive.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These desert monarchs can grow upwards of 60 feet tall, weigh more than two tons, and live for two centuries. But while they’re certainly the park’s stars they’re far from the only reason it attracts more than a million visitors annually. For one thing, there are 24 other cactus species ranging from the fuzzy-looking teddy bear cholla to the pancake-shaped Engelmann’s prickly pear.

Despite the harsh desert environment an abundance of flora and fauna flourish here including such native species as the roadrunner, horned lizard, kangaroo rat, and the prehistoric-looking Gila monster. At the park’s higher elevations topping out at 8,666 feet, you’ll find oak woodland and pine forests that are home to black bears and the elusive coati which resembles a raccoon.

Saguaro National Park’s two distinct districts—the western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District—are separated by the city of Tucson. The western district is lower in elevation, has denser patches of saguaro, and is known for its iconic Southwest landscape. The eastern section larger and more mountainous contains six biotic zones and 6,000 plant species and it’s second in biodiversity to the Amazon rainforest.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Herbert Hoover established the area as a national monument in 1933 and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) laid the groundwork for tourism by building walking paths and installing picnic benches and visitor shelters. It wasn’t until 1994 that the area earned national park status.

Today the park’s proximity to Tucson combined with recently installed handicap-friendly amenities ranging from paved walking paths to picnic tables with overhanging ends for wheelchair access makes it one of the nation’s most accessible national parks.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip ​

Approximately 30 miles apart, Saguaro National Park’s eastern and western districts hug Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city with a population of 541,482. From downtown, you can drive to either park entrance in 20 minutes. The western district gets twice as many visitors as the eastern district thanks in large part to its proximity to the bucket-list Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (see below).

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each district has its own visitor’s center open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Both offer accessibility features including designated parking spaces, accessible restrooms and drinking fountains, paved paths, and captioned orientation programs. Both also have bookstores, information centers, and water-filling stations.

The National Park Service recommends drinking at least one gallon of water per day and during hot summer months at least one quart per hour when hiking. Be sure to have a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and a pack with clothing layers since it can get cold at higher elevations. Neither visitor center has Wi-Fi and cellphone service is spotty throughout the park.

The Red Hills Visitor Center (also called the West District Visitor Center) hosts a daily educational program on the Native American perspective on the saguaro that’s well worth the time.

The Rincon Mountain Visitor Center (the East District Visitor Center) serves as the starting point for the scenic Cactus Forest Loop Drive, an 8-mile, cacti-lined road that you can drive or bike. To reach the hiking trails from the visitor center you must drive into the park on the Loop Drive. The first trailhead with parking is about 2 miles along the drive and begins at the Mica View Picnic Area.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bajada Loop Drive is the best way to explore the western district’s foothills providing plenty of photo ops at pullouts and picnic areas plus access to trailheads. Although the 6-mile loop is unpaved you certainly don’t need a four-wheel-drive vehicle. It begins at Hohokam Road, a mile and a half west of the visitor center.

Since the park has no concessions pack a picnic lunch. Six picnic areas are accessible by vehicle—two in Saguaro East and four in Saguaro West—and each has a charcoal grill, a wheelchair-accessible pit toilet, and paved ground surfaces.

Saguaro is open daily except for Christmas Day. Annual visitation would almost certainly be higher if the summer months weren’t unbearably hot with triple-digit daytime temperatures. If you do visit in the summer, plan activities for early morning or the end of the day. This may be the desert but June 15 through September 30 is monsoon season so expect severe afternoon thunderstorms and even flash floods.

Cool temperatures ranging from the high 50s to the mid-70s make November to March prime time to visit.

And in spring—specifically the last two weeks of April through the first week of June—the park is a photographer’s paradise with cacti sprouting vivid blooms in hues of white, fuchsia, and canary yellow. June is a favorite time in the park. The flowers are usually at their peak. It’s an amazing sight to see but this isn’t the time of month to hike. Take in the blooms on a scenic drive.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat ​

You won’t find any lodging options in Saguaro National Park or even camping options in the park’s western section. To experience the desert, reserve one of the eastern district’s six designated backcountry campsites ($8 a night) which can be accessed only on foot and require a base level of fitness to reach. Limited facilities include vault toilets. Water is unreliable, so you should pack your entire water supply for your trip, carry a filter, and check current water reports at the visitor center (520-733-5153).

Manning Camp, the home of former Tucson mayor Levin Manning that sits atop the Rincon Mountains is a tough uphill day hike but worth the effort. To do this hike in a day takes a solid eight hours but you go from seeing saguaro forest and Gila monster lizards to aspen groves and owls in one day. It’s a unique ecosystem up there.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can take the Douglas Spring Trail or the Arizona Trail both of which have campgrounds along the way if you prefer to break the trek up into two days. The original Manning cabin built in 1905 now hosts trail crews and researchers, and from April through September a ranger is stationed here. The six tent sites are nestled in a conifer forest at nearly 8,000 feet and temperatures rarely exceed 85 degrees—a welcome relief from the valley floor’s sweltering heat. A waterfall fed from a large pond makes this one of the rare sites with a reliable water source.

The amenity-rich Gilbert Ray Campground sits just outside the west entrance to the park close to the Brown Mountain Loop trail. It features 130 RV sites ($20 per night) and five designated tent sites ($10 per night) plus picnic tables and modern restrooms with handicap accessibility.

RV parks ranging from luxury resorts to the basic are less than a 30-minute drive away in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do ​

Hike

With 192 miles of marked hiking trails, Saguaro National Park offers treks for visitors of all abilities. No matter your fitness level, be sure to plan your hikes to avoid the midday desert heat and pack plenty of water. And remember, those photogenic cacti are covered in spines so keep to the trail to avoid getting pricked.

For an easy stroll that doubles as an intro to the desert ecosystem walk the quarter-mile Desert Ecology Trail along the Cactus Forest Drive in the East District or the half-mile Desert Discovery Trail off of Kinney Road in the West. Both paved trails include resting benches and interpretive exhibits on the park’s plants and animals.

The 0.7-mile Mica View Trail in the east which begins at the Mica Picnic Area parking lot was recently flattened and hardened to meet ADA standards and support wheelchairs. On this hike, you’ll likely glimpse Gila woodpeckers and gilded flickers in their saguaro nest holes and you’ll take in views of Tanque Verde Peak and Mica Mountain.

If you want to challenge yourself, try the eastern district’s Tanque Verde Ridge Trail by the Javelina Picnic Area off of the Cactus Loop Drive. The strenuous 18-mile hike gains 4,750 feet of elevation and passes through all six of the area’s biotic zones.

On the west side, access the King Canyon trailhead outside of the park off of Kinney Road and zigzag up to the summit of 4,687-foot Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountain Range. Approximately 7 miles round trip with 1,939 feet of elevation gain, this moderate hike passes rock walls carved with ancient petroglyphs and an old stone miner’s hut.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bike

In this, one of the country’s most bike-friendly national parks, take your pick of four excellent scenic loops for road cyclists and mountain bikers. The popular and aptly named Cactus Forest Loop next to the East District Visitor Center runs for eight miles on a paved, rolling road that you’ll share with vehicles. On the park’s west side, the six-mile Bajada Loop Drive off of Kinney Road, a gravel path passes a giant forest of saguaros.

Watch the sunset

The desert sunset may rival the saguaros as the park’s most Instagrammed natural wonder. As dusk falls, the setting sun turns a brilliant red that paints the sky in pinks and oranges worthy of a Monet painting. On the easy-to-access Desert Discovery Trail off of Kinney Road in the West District, catch sunset views through a forest of saguaros. On the east side, the Cactus Forest Loop Drive remains open until 8 p.m. giving you plenty of time to pull off and savor sunset at the Javelina Rocks Overlook near the loop’s end.

Learn

Rangers typically lead four to six different daily talks and interpretive tours that explore topics including desert survival, the lifespan of a saguaro, and misunderstood predators such as the mountain lion. Both park visitor centers have cactus gardens with interpretive signs you can explore on your own or with a ranger. Also, both districts co-host monthly stargazing nights with a local astronomy group. Participants must sign up in advance.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

View petroglyphs

Most of Saguaro National Park’s rock art dates back to the prehistoric Hohokam culture. Abstract designs including spirals and squiggly lines as well as drawings of animals, humans, and astrological objects have been etched onto the surface of sandstone and other rocks throughout the park.

The best place to view the petroglyphs is along the Signal Hill Trail which starts at the Signal Hill picnic area off of Hohokam Road in the West District. Starting at the Signal Hill Picnic area, the 0.3-mile trail gently climbs to a hill with more than 200 petroglyphs believed to have been created between 550 and 1,550 years ago.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gateway towns​

Tucson is flanked on either side by Saguaro’s western Tucson Mountain District and the eastern Rincon Mountain District making it an ideal base for day trips. A dream destination for fit foodies, Tucson owns bragging rights to being one of America’s most bike-friendly cities as well as having America’s first and only UNESCO City of Gastronomy designation.

On the Loop, a network of 131 miles of paved bicycle paths you can access Saguaro National Park as well as a plethora of other parks, shops, and restaurants on two wheels. Transit Cycles and Bicycle Ranch are the city’s go-to bike shops.

For a hearty breakfast before hitting the park, head to Prep & Pastry’s east side location on Grant Avenue and order the oven-roasted sweet potato hash and breakfast sandwich with avocado. After working up an appetite biking or hiking in the park reward yourself with a prickly pear mojito and a braised lamb tostada at Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails run by James Beard Award-winning chef Janos Wilder.

Head to Penca, an upscale Mexican eatery in the heart of downtown for the best happy hour in town: two tacos for $5 and $5 sangria.

Two not-to-miss open-air shopping centers anchor downtown’s hip Mercado District on the west end of the city’s modern streetcar line: Mercado San Agustín and the MSA Annex. At the latter, a collection of 10 indie businesses housed in repurposed shipping containers pick up nostalgic Saguaro National Park-inspired gear at Why I Love Where I Live and home goods crafted by local artisans at Mesa.

The burgeoning town of Marana, an alternate gateway to the West District is located about 15 miles north of the visitor center. Don’t miss the pork carnitas at La Olla Mexican Café and stop by Catalina Brewing Co. to try craft ales brewed with local ingredients such as prickly pear fruit and mesquite flour.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

En route ​

Located down the road from the West District Visitor Center, the Arizona–Sonora Desert Museum ranks as the state’s second-most-visited attraction behind the world-famous Grand Canyon. Part natural history museum, part desert botanical garden, and part zoo, this 98-acre, indoor-outdoor attraction showcases more than 55,000 plants from 1,200 native species along 2 miles of gravel and paved trails.

View native animals such as coyotes, raptors, hummingbirds, ocelots, and piglike javelinas in re-created habitats. Learn about the area’s geology in the Earth Sciences Center and view nature-inspired exhibits throughout the year at two on-site art galleries.

Geology fans detour to 2,400-acre Colossal Cave Mountain Park, a 15-minute drive southeast of Tucson in the community of Vail to explore its extensive underground cave network. One of North America’s largest dry caves it took more than two years to map the 2 miles of passageways open to visitors.

Guided tours, which range from 40 minutes to 3.5 hours, require a decent fitness level, as you’ll be descending 350-plus stairs, scrambling down ladders, and crossing rock bridges to view stalactites and stalagmites sculpted throughout millions of years.

Back above ground, you can mount a horse at the park’s La Posta Quemada Ranch for a guided trail ride.

If you’re a fan of art and history, visit the village of Tubac, 40 miles south of Tucson. Established in 1752 as a Spanish presidio, Tubac has emerged as a destination for artists with top-notch galleries and studios. For tasteful souvenirs, this is your one-stop shop for turquoise and silver jewelry, Navajo blankets, and mesquite furnishings. 

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historical Park, less than a 10-minute drive from the village explores the region’s Spanish colonial past. The expansive grounds include a museum, the ruins of three Spanish mission communities, and the state’s second-oldest church.

Saguaro National Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. I hope this guide helps you plan your adventure and that you’ll soon discover the magic of this park.

Here are a few more articles to help you do just that:

Fact box

Location: Southeast Arizona

Size: 91,327 acres

Trails: 192 miles

Elevation: 2,180 to 8,666 feet 

Main attraction: The iconic saguaro cactus

Entry fee: $25 for a 7-day vehicle pass including all passengers; $20 for an annual Senior Pass (62+)

Best way to see the park: On foot or by bike along the Bajada Loop Drive or the Cactus Forest Loop

When to go: Winter and spring

Worth Pondering…

Stand tall.
Reach for the sky.
Be patient through dry spells.
Conserve your resources.
Think long term.
Wait for your time to bloom.
Stay sharp!

—Advice from a Saguaro

What NOT TO DO in National Parks

What are 10 things you really should NOT DO in a National Park? Here are the rules and regulations that protect wildlife, plants, and visitors.

National Parks are a treasured part of the American landscape offering visitors the chance to explore some of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural environments. It’s no wonder that millions of people flock to these parks every year. 

However, as with any public space, there are rules and regulations in place to protect the park’s natural resources and ensure the safety of visitors.

Whether you’re a seasoned park-goer or planning your first visit, it’s important to be aware of these rules to help preserve these amazing spaces for future generations. 

The following national park rules and regulations are in place for everyone’s safety. That includes people, plants, and wildlife. They should be respected and not bent for your convenience. The importance of these parks is more significant than you and me.

Bighorn sheep © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Do NOT feed the wildlife

The first item on the list is NOT feeding the wildlife. Feeding a cute little chipmunk some of your lunch can be tempting. However, human food can make wild animals extraordinarily ill or even kill them. 

In addition, feeding wild creatures can endanger humans and themselves. Wild animals may hurt a human to get their food if they are used to getting fed. 

In addition, they may be braver to approaching humans and inadvertently get hurt. Most animals are skittish for a reason. That hyper-awareness protects against predators.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Do NOT interact with wildlife

I know this goes along the same lines as not feeding wildlife. But you should NOT interact with wildlife at all. 

Two women were seriously injured in separate bison attacks while visiting national parks in just a few days. At Theodore Roosevelt National in western North Dakota, a woman suffered injuries to her stomach area and foot when a bison charged at her. Then, a bison gored a woman in Wyoming. Both were sent to hospitals for treatment.

When it comes to encounters with wild animals, park officials have issued timeworn advice: give them space. Visitors should stay at least 25 yards away from large animals which include bison, elk, bighorn sheep, deer, moose, and coyotes, the park said; they should stay more than 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Mid-July to mid-August is mating season, resulting in aggressive and unpredictable bison.

In June 2022, a bull bison gored a 34-year-old man after he moved “too close,” park officials said. Weeks earlier, a bison had flung a 25-year-old woman 10 feet into the air after she came within 10 feet of the animal. In 2019, a 9-year-old girl was sent airborne from a bison’s head butt which was captured on video and shared on social media. The girl was part of a group that stood within 5 to 10 feet of the bison for at least 20 minutes, officials said.

Pronghorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several reasons why interacting with wildlife is not recommended:

  • Safety: Wild animals are unpredictable and can become aggressive if they feel threatened or cornered. Approaching or touching a wild animal can endanger you and the animal.
  • Disease: Wildlife can carry diseases that can harm humans such as rabies, Lyme disease, and hantavirus. Interacting with wild animals can increase your risk of exposure to these diseases.
  • Disruption of natural behavior: Interacting with wildlife can disrupt their natural behavior and cause them to become dependent on humans for food or other resources. This can lead to problems for animals and humans as it can cause animals to become aggressive or reliant on human handouts.
  • Protection of the environment: Many wildlife species are protected by law and interacting with them can be illegal. Additionally, disturbing or harming wildlife can harm the environment and the ecosystem as a whole.

Overall, respecting the natural boundaries between humans and wildlife is essential to ensure their safety and well-being. If you encounter wild animals, it’s best to observe them from a safe distance and avoid any actions that could harm or disturb them is best.

Hiking the trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. You should NOT veer off trails

Staying on trails when hiking or exploring natural areas is essential for several reasons:

  • Safety: Trails are typically designed and maintained to be safe for visitors. Staying on the trail can avoid hazards such as unstable terrain, steep drop-offs, or poisonous plants.
  • Preservation of natural areas: Trails direct human traffic to minimize environmental impact. By staying on the trail, you can help prevent damage to fragile ecosystems and minimize disturbance to wildlife habitats.
  • Navigation: Trails can serve as a guide and help visitors navigate through unfamiliar terrain. You can avoid getting lost or wandering into unsafe or restricted areas by staying on the trail.
  • Respect for private property: Trails are often established with permission from private landowners or government agencies. You can respect their property and avoid legal or ethical issues by staying on the trail.

Stay on designated paths to help protect yourself and the natural areas you visit.

Animals in national parks are protected by law © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. You CANNOT hunt or trap

Hunting and trapping are generally prohibited in national parks. National parks are designated as protected areas to preserve and protect natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and wildlife populations. Hunting and trapping can disrupt these ecosystems and wildlife populations and are, therefore, not permitted in most national parks.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some national parks allow limited hunting for specific species to manage their populations or control invasive species. Additionally, some national parks allow certain traditional or ceremonial hunting types by indigenous communities with historical ties to the area.

It’s important to note that national park regulations can vary by location and season. If you plan to visit a national park and have questions about hunting or trapping, check with park officials or consult the park’s website for specific rules and regulations.

Be aware of fire safety when camping in national park and elsewhere © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. NO fires in an ubdesignated area or during a fire ban

Wildfires are a significant threat to national parks. Not only can they cause years of devastation to parks but they can kill many humans and animals in their wake. 

Many national parks allow fires in designated fire pits or grills. However, it’s essential to check with park officials or consult the park’s website to determine if fires are permitted in the area where you plan to visit. Follow any guidelines or restrictions that are in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the park.

If a fire ban exists, the fire danger is too high to light a fire. During fire bans, you are NOT allowed to have a fire, even in designated areas. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. NO drone flying

The NPS banned drone flying in national parks in 2014 according to Policy Memorandum 14–05. This policy applies to any “unmanned aircraft” that drones are classified as.

To fly a drone in a national park, you must obtain a Special Use Permit but these aren’t given out easily. These permits are only for special use cases such as search and rescue, research, and fire safety.

If you fly a drone without a permit, NPS rangers have the authority to confiscate your gear, fine you, and even put you in jail. The maximum penalty is 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

NPS has these strict guidelines for a reason, as explained in an article on their website:

“…their use has resulted in noise and nuisance complaints from park visitors, park visitor safety concerns, and one documented incident in which park wildlife were harassed. Small drones have crashed in geysers in Yellowstone National Park, attempted to land on the features of Mount Rushmore National Memorial, been lost over the edge of the Grand Canyon, and been stopped from flying in Prohibited Airspace over the Mall in Washington DC.“

Don’t pick the wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Can you pick wildflowers at a national park?

This one is a big NO! Not only are you not allowed to pick flowers or other plants in national parks but it is also illegal under federal law. That is because the NPS has regulations to protect national park areas’ natural beauty and resources of national park areas. 

The Plant Protection Act, the federal law governing the protection of plants, prohibits the unauthorized removal or destruction of plants from federal lands including national parks.

Visitors to national parks are encouraged to enjoy the beauty of the natural environment without disturbing it. Taking photographs or simply admiring the wildflowers in their natural habitat is a great way to appreciate these areas’ beauty while protecting them for future generations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Do NOT make excessive noise

You should not make excessive noise when visiting a national park. Playing music or speaking louder than a normal speaking tone can disrupt wildlife.

As I’ve already covered, we should disrupt wildlife as little as possible during visits. Loud noises can scare animals and cause them to act differently than they normally would. By disrupting their behavior you can impact their feeding, mating, and other vital habits.

Plus, excessive noise interferes with other visitors’ enjoyment. So, do not yell, scream, or play music for all to hear. It’s not fair to the wildlife or your fellow visitors.

BY THE WAY, if your solution to not playing music for all to hear is to wear headphones, be mindful of the volume level. For your safety, you need to still be able to hear your surroundings including nearby animal noises and shouts of warnings.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. DO NOT leave painted rocks

There is a well-meaning trend where people paint rocks and leave them for others to find. They often paint a happy design or write encouraging words earning them the name kindness rocks.

This trend spawned from a national campaign called The Kindness Rocks Project. It’s meant to inject a little joy or inspire those who find them. And it certainly does in non-public, landscaped settings.

However, as part of the Leave No Trace policy, you should never leave painted rocks in a national park. Nor should you remove any rocks from the national park to paint later!

Even if you use environmentally safe paint on the rocks, the colors and designs can disrupt an ecosystem. Birds and fish in particular can be thrown off by foreign objects disrupting their eating, nesting, and mating behavior.

The painted rocks also pose a serious risk to hikers. People have mistaken painted rocks for trail markers causing them to unwittingly go off trail. And as we learned in Gone Without a Trace: Mysterious Disappearances in National Parks, hikers in national parks go missing more often than you might think.

Be careful and obey all warning signs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. DO NOT ignore warning signs

I know this seems obvious but most incidents, injuries, and fatalities in national parks occur because people ignore the warning signs. As we saw in the above article signs are there for good reason.

The same goes for wandering off the trails and boardwalks. Not to mention touching things you’re warned against! Yet SO MANY PEOPLE ignore these warnings and pay the consequence.

The latest such story is a woman who actually dipped her hand into a steaming hot spring at Yellowstone and then jumped back, yelling, “It’s hot!” To do this, the woman and a man beside her chose to get off the boardwalk, walk to the edge of the hot spring, kneel, and place her hand in it. The whole thing was recorded by onlookers and spread over social media.

Yellowstone has rules prohibiting people from touching, swimming, or soaking in the hot springs because they are so hot they have KILLED people. The spring where this woman did this, Silex Spring, has an average temperature of 174.7 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Last year it was reported that a shoe with a partly disintegrated human foot was found in a hot spring. We’re not sure if the foot was ever identified.

The point is, do NOT think the warning signs don’t apply to you. They are there to keep you, other visitors, and the ecosystem safe.

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your next RV trip to a 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

Hike Smart: How to Stay Hydrated on the Trail

Water, water, water! The magical liquid that keeps us alive!

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

As the weather warms up, hiking starts to be the go-to weekend activity. With amazing trails in parks across the country, it’s a perfect time to lace up your boots and explore the diversity of landscapes and views. RVingwithRex.com has you covered with tips to hike safe and have fun this summer.

Did someone say water? Bring more water than you think you’ll need, every time. Pre-hydrate before you head out starting the night before a hike. Drink throughout the day and always over-prepare. When you’ve finished half of your water supply, it’s time to turn around—no matter where you are on the trail.

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

Plan ahead! Before you hike, check and download any trail maps or guides you might need. Take a GPS with you and make sure your phone is fully charged. If you’re hiking alone, let someone know where you’re going and about how long you’ll be gone. Most parks have rangers available to help you pick the trail that’s right for you.

Maintaining body fluids is essential for sweating so you must hydrate before, during, and after your hikes. Limit the amount of caffeine drinks such as coffee and colas because caffeine increases fluid loss. Avoid alcoholic drinks—they also cause dehydration.

When engaged in strenuous trail activity or when hiking in hot environments, drink at least one quart of fluid per hour. Providing a portion of fluid replacement with a carbohydrate/electrolyte sport beverage will help retain fluids and maintain energy and electrolyte levels—however, uou need to alternate sports drinks with plain water.

Continue drinking after hiking to replace fluid losses—thirst always underestimates fluid needs, so drink more than you think is necessary.

Hiking Peralta Trail, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rehydration is enhanced when fluids contain sodium and potassium or when foods with these electrolytes are consumed along with the fluid. Make potassium rich foods a regular part of your diet including:

  • Avocado
  • Bananas
  • Dried apricots
  • Citrus fruits
  • Lemonade
  • Orange juice
  • Tomato juice
Hiking Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Assess your hydration by looking for these signs:

  • Low volumes of dark, concentrated urine, or painful urination
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Dizziness

Continuing to hike in a dehydrated state can lead to serious consequences including heat stroke, muscle breakdown, and kidney failure.

Bring sun protection, like a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Consider wearing long, lightweight sleeves to protect you from the sun and help keep your body cool. This will help you enjoy your hike and enjoy the memories.

Did I mention water? Don’t get caught without enough to keep you hydrated throughout your hike—you need water for the return trip, too. Bring salty snacks or electrolyte tablets to help stay alert, too. Bananas, granola, dried apricots, and peanut butter are all great options.

Hiking along the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why hydration is important

Around 70 percent of the body is made up of water and it is vital for essential bodily functions and biochemical processes. We lose water through urine, breathing out water vapor, and through sweat.

Why is this so important when we’re hiking? When we hike the body uses water as a coolant. The body’s temperature rises, triggering the body’s cooling mechanism and signalling to the brain to increase sweat production to help prevent overheating. As a consequence, blood volume drops, less blood returns back to the heart, the heart pumps out less blood, and less oxygen returns back to the working muscles. This results in an increased heart rate, onset of fatigue, loss of energy, and eventually exhaustion.

Hiking Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Research shows that a loss of fluid equating to 1-2 percent of bodyweight while exercising can impact significantly on ones ability to continue on the trail. And it doesn’t stop there. Progressive dehydration can eventually lead to cramps, headaches, and nausea, heat exhaustion, and eventually to potentially fatal heatstroke.

This makes it important to replace lost fluids as quickly as possible and ensure you’re properly hydrated before, during, and after your hike.

The best way to hike is to be smart, be prepared, and check in with yourself.

Every trail can be your favorite if you have a great time.

Hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The role of sports drinks

When we sweat, we don’t only lose water. We also lose electrolytes including chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium and at the same time, glycogen stores become depleted. Sports drinks contain differing levels of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates and are optimised to effectively replenish these supplies during and after exercise.

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When and how often should I be drinking?

There’s no cut and dried or easy answer to this. How much you’ll need to hydrate on your hike depends on a number of factors including age, gender, amount you sweat, temperature, intensity, and distance. That said, there are some basic guidelines you can follow:

If you wait until during your hike to think about hydration, you’re on a straight path to becoming dehydrated. Nor is gulping down water an hour before your hike ideal—your gut can only absorb so much water and you’ll end up heading out bloated and uncomfortable—not to mention making needing a bathroom break more likely during your hike.

Instead, aim to stay continuously hydrated as part of your day to day lifestyle. For most people that means drinking around 1.5 to 2 litres of water daily (around 6 glasses of water).

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Explore the Nine Newest National Recreation Trails + Five Old Favorites

The United States has more than 1,300 national recreation trails spanning a total of 50,000 miles

A national recreation trail is a gateway into nature’s secret beauties, a portal to the past, a way into solitude and community. It is also an inroad to our national character. Our trails are both irresistible and indispensable.

—Stewart Udall, US Secretary of the Interior (1961–69); 1920–2010  

The National Trails System Act of 1968 as amended calls for establishing trails in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities. The National Trails System promotes the enjoyment and appreciation of trails while encouraging greater public access. The system includes national scenic trails, national historic trails, and national recreation trails.

Hiking Okd Baldy Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently announced (June 9, 2023), the newly designated routes span a total of 340 miles across nine states. From the lush, tree-covered peaks of the Ozark Mountains to the babbling Fox River in southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois, the nation’s trail system just got a big upgrade: Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has designated nine new national recreation trails spanning 340 total miles in nine states.

The new routes add to America’s existing network of more than 1,300 national recreation trails located in every state plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

More broadly, the National Trails System which includes recreational trails as well as historical and scenic trails spans 50,000 total miles across the country. Created with the National Trails System Act in 1968, the network is meant to promote access to the outdoors “in both urban and rural settings for people of all ages, interests, skills, and physical abilities,” per the National Park Service.

“These trails offer an abundance of opportunities to experience the breathtaking landscapes of our country, all while supporting outdoor recreation activities and boosting local economies,” says Haaland in a statement.

>> Read Next: The 10 Best Hiking Trails in America’s National Parks

If you’re looking for new destinations to explore, check out one of the additions.

Angel of Goliad Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crown Zellerbach Trail in Scappoose and Vernonia, Oregon: The 22-mile Crown Zellerbach or Crown Z trail is open to horseback riders, runners, and walkers of all ability levels. Made primarily of gravel, the route follows the path of the historic Portland and Southwestern Railroad through Oregon’s Columbia River wetlands and Coastal Range. It’s lined with interpretive signs that offer insights into the region’s human and natural history.

Enterprise South Nature Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee: The Enterprise South Nature Park includes 70 miles of trails through 2,800 acres of heavily wooded forests.

Fabulous Fox! Water Trail in Wisconsin and Illinois: This unique water trail along the Fox River invites kayakers, rafters, canoers, and paddle boarders to explore 158 miles throughout southeast Wisconsin and northeast Illinois. It offers more than 70 access points through a variety of landscapes.

Harris Greenway Trail in Gwinnett County, Georgia: This paved, multi-use trail spans over five miles and links two parks on the outskirts of Atlanta: Tribble Mill Park and Harbins Park. It’s named after Lloyd N. Harris, who helped strengthen and expand the county’s public lands.

Frances Beidler Trail (see description below) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iron Hills Trail System in Utah: Situated on Bureau of Land Management land north of Zion National Park in southwest Utah, the Iron Hills Trail System is perfect for mountain biking, hiking, trail running, and horseback riding.

Old Highway 131 Trail in Kickapoo Valley Reserve, Wisconsin: This four-season trail is beloved by cross-country skiers, snowshoers, cyclists, hikers, and pedestrians alike. The state has already created a handy digital interpretive guide for learning more about the region.

Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas: Spanning 40 miles, the Razorback Greenway is an ideal jumping off point for exploring the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. It connects the cities of Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers, Bentonville, and Bella Vista while also providing access to museums, historic sites, entertainment venues, lakes, and local businesses.

Vernon Bush Garden Trail in Jackson County, Alabama: Located at Jackson County Park, the one-mile Vernon Bush Garden Trail is lined with thousands of plants, flowers, and trees including hydrangeas, azaleas, and trilliums. It’s named after longtime volunteer Vernon Bush who dedicated thousands of hours to beautifying the park.

>> Read Next: National Fishing and Boating Week: Exploring National Water Trails

Wilson Creek Trail in McKinney, Texas: With nearly ten scenic miles to explore, Texas’ Wilson Creek Trail links Bonnie Wenk Park and Towne Lake Park. For adventurous four-legged friends, it also includes a special 0.44-mile dog park loop.

Old Favorites

We have hiked numerous trails including designated National Recreation Trails. Following are a few of our favorites.

Hiking Old Baldy Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Baldy Super Loop

State: Arizona

Location: Coronado National Forest near Madera Canyon

Length: 12.9 miles

Hiking Old Baldy Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The trails form a figure eight making it possible to put together a number of different loops using different portions of each. Old Baldy is the most heavily traveled and also remains the cooler of the two by keeping a more northerly aspect and staying in the trees for almost its entire length.

Above the midpoint of the 8 at Josephine Saddle, the Super Trail loops around the south side of the mountain through more arid country while Old Baldy switchbacks through thickets of New Mexico locust on a west-facing slope to Baldy Saddle. The last mile to the summit of Mt. Wrightson via the Crest Trail #144 is the same no matter which trails you’ve followed to the saddle.

The views from the summit are, to say the least, breathtaking. Actually, you don’t even have to go all the way to the top to enjoy great views.

And while you’re at it, remember that all that’s worth seeing here is not in the distance. The birdwatcher’s heaven that exists in Madera Canyon extends up the mountain into this area where in addition to the birds you have a chance to see Coues white-tailed deer, black bears, and even mountain lions.

Angel of Goliad Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angel of Goliad Trail

State: Texas

Location: Goliad

Length: 2 miles

Angel of Goliad Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Angel of Goliad Trail, a 2-mile hiking, bicycle, and pedestrian trail is handicapped-accessible with multiple entry points for selected distances. The trail took 10 years to complete and serves to link multiple historical sites in Goliad.

>> Read Next: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

Named after Panchita Alavez, the Angel of Goliad as so designated by the survivors of the Goliad Massacre during the Texas Revolution on March 27, 1836 where Col. Fannin and 341 of his men who were captured by the Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto and executed under direct orders of Santa Anna.

Panchita was the wife of the paymaster of the Mexican Army and was directly and solely responsible for saving at least 28 lives during several confrontations. Those lives were that of the brave men fighting for Texas Independence.

Many Winter Texans visit Goliad State Park and comment on the natural beauty of the trail in its serene setting. Goliad State Park encompasses the restored Mission Espiritu Santo, claimed to be the very first beginning of Cattle ranching in Texas during the Spanish missionary period.

Frances Beidler Forest Trail

Francis Beidler Forest Four Holes Swamp Trail

State: South Carolina

Location: National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest near Harleyville

Length: 1.75 miles

Frances Beidler Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest located in Four Holes Swamp contains within its 18,000 acres the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress and Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world. The Beidler Forest has been recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, a National Natural Landmark, an Important Bird Area, and a site on the Underground Railroad.

Wander along an elevated boardwalk past ancient trees, black water swamps, clear pools, and abundant wildlife. Thousand-year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia. The swamp is a birding paradise with some 140 species of bird documented on the sanctuary including nesting Prothonotary Warblers from April-July and Barred Owls present year-round. Reptiles are frequently seen on the boardwalk trail during the warm months.

A 1.75-mile self-guiding boardwalk trail allows visitors the chance to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp and experience the peace and serenity that characterizes the area, hear the sounds of birds and bugs, and take a relaxing and informative walk back in time and see a swamp the way nature intended it to be.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns

State: New Mexico

Location: Underground trails at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Length: 4.2 miles

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The underground trail system in Carlsbad Cavern is 4.2 miles long and includes six interconnected tour routes with 2.61 miles of paved trail and 1.59 miles of flagged off-trail tour routes. The paved routes include the 1.25-mile-long Main Corridor, the 1.2-mile-long Big Room loop, and the 0.16-mile-long Kings Palace loop.

The Main Corridor is a self-guided tour that drops 750 feet from the Natural Entrance to the Big Room and takes about one hour to walk. This tour passes Bat Cave where several hundred thousand Brazilian Free-tailed bats roost between April and November. It then descends down the impressive Devils Pit and into a giant hall before passing Iceberg Rock, one of the largest breakdown blocks found in any cave and finally past the Boneyard, a mazy area that resembles a giant sponge.

>> Read Next: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

The Big Room self-guided tour starts at the bottom of the elevator shaft and takes 1.5 hours to make a loop back to the elevator. This tour passes some of the most scenic and iconic places found in Carlsbad Cavern including the giant stalagmites in the Hall of Giants, the Chandelier, the Jumping off Place, the historic National Geographic Pit, Top of the Cross, Bottomless Pit, the impressive vista at Rock of Ages, and the beautiful Longfellows Bathtub, Painted Grotto, Dolls Theater, and Chinese Theater.

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Freedom Trail

State: Massachusetts

Location: In Boston a 2.5 mile path along city sidewalks marked by a red line that connects 16 historic sites.

Length: 2.5 miles

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: To travel back to Revolutionary Boston—to understand the people, the events, and the ideals of the 18th century—is a great leap for us today. But the sites along the Freedom Trail do speak eloquently of that time. Bostonians and other colonists shared a notion of liberty that was precious and worth fighting for. The Freedom Trail sites include scenes of critical events in Boston and the nation’s struggle for freedom.

Most of the Boston National Historical Park sites are connected by the Freedom Trail. Recognized as a National Recreation Trail, the 2.5-mile trail is a walking tour of 16 sites and structures of historic importance in downtown Boston and Charlestown. Sixty-minute tours begin at the Visitor Center at historic Faneuil Hall and cover the heart of the Freedom Trail from the Old South Meeting House to the Old North Church. Tours leave at regular intervals in the spring, summer, and fall, weather permitting.

Worth Pondering…

As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was about to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.

—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The Ultimate Guide to Congaree National Park

Home to the largest old growth hardwood forest in the American southeast

Just a half-hour outside of the state’s capital, Columbia, Congaree National Park is the only national park in South Carolina. Some of the tallest trees on the east coast are located inside Congaree which was named after the Native American tribe that used to reside in the area.

Unlike many hardwood forests, Congaree was largely spared by the lumber industry in the late 1800s and was eventually designated as a national monument and then a national park thanks to the work of preservationists. The terrain includes the forest, the Congaree River, and the floodplain.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is not a swamp but a dynamic river floodplain running through an old-growth forest of naked Cypress trees. When the waters flood in from the adjacent Congaree and Wateree Rivers, nutrients and sediments sweep in with them nourishing the ecosystem that is home to a diverse habitat of birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, insects, and mammals.

The weather in this part of South Carolina can be hot and humid throughout the year. With average highs in the 70s, springtime is one of the park’s most popular times for visitors. In the summertime, temperatures can reach up into the 90s with regular thunderstorms and an average monthly rainfall of 4.5 inches. The rain continues into the fall season, but temperatures typically dip back into the 70s withless humidity. Winters tend to be mild with daily highs in the 50s although snow does occasionally fall in the park. Winter is also the season that Congaree is most likely to flood, making it the slowest season for visitors.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The benefits of traveling during the off-season are astounding. We felt as though we had Congaree to ourselves. We did. We were the only people out there that day in mid-November. And we were mosquito free.

When you get to Congaree National Park, you first want to stop in at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. This is the hub of the park and has a nice-sized parking lot for cars. There is also limited parking for RVs and other oversized vehicles.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually, the visitor center has exhibits set up to give visitors some information on the park and you can gather plenty of information by chatting with the friendly rangers here. 

In addition to talking to the rangers, the visitor center as a place to use the restroom, refill water bottles, purchase snacks if needed, grab maps, ask for a Junior Ranger book, and pick up a Self-Guided Boardwalk Tour sheet. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are three ways to take in South Carolina’s only national park. The first is to walk the Boardwalk, a 2.4-mile loop that meanders through stands of massive bald cypress trees with their distinctive knees over creeks that move so slowly they resemble a swamp (but, technically, is not). You’ll stroll past turtles, snakes, alligators, deer, woodpeckers, deer, wild pigs, river otters, and even bobcats—some of which you will see but many of which will be invisibly watching you. Wide, handicapped-accessible, and sturdy, the boardwalk allows exploration without getting dirty, wet, or lost—a bonus for the directionally challenged or parents of young children.

For a bit of adventure, hop off the boardwalk and hike a section of the Sims Trail which runs from just past the Harry Hampton Visitor Center to Weston Lake remaining within the boundaries of the boardwalk the entire time. Challenge yourself even more and hike into the park’s wilderness, an area of nearly 22,000 acres.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With generally flat trails, hiking at Congaree National Park is great for visitors of all skill and age levels. Each of the park’s 10 trails starts at the Harry Hampton Visitor Center and ranges in length from 0.3 miles to 11.7 miles.

You’ll find about 25 miles of marked trails but they’re primitive: one of the ways that Congaree National Park maintains a pristine environment for all the senses is by prohibiting power tools that change the nature of the park with their noise and smell. For hikers, this means that when a huge tree falls across the trail, it’s often left there to be climbed over or walked around. Fast-growing plants and vines thanks to the park’s nutrient-rich soil also tend to spill into paths necessitating long pants and proper hiking boots.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An easy way to catch a glimpse of the Congaree River is to hike the Bates Ferry Trail, a just-over-one miler that opened in 2015 at the far eastern end of the park. The shady path leads to the site of Bates Ferry which shuttled travelers across the river for decades.

The third is to take to the water: a marked, 6.6-mile canoe and kayak trail follows Cedar Creek as it twists and turns through the park’s northwestern sector. It’s a safe, but challenging, course, bursting with both low-key natural wonders—silent owls, slithery snakes, champion trees—and a bevy of obstacles that include vines, fallen trees, live trees, more cypress knees, and outstretched limbs. It’s quiet, but not, thanks to the steady hum of birds, insects, frogs, and creatures rustling through dry leaves.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can explore on your own or participate in regularly-scheduled paddles led by the park’s team of rangers who come armed with facts, stories, lore, and history. It’s known, for instance, that runaway slaves set up communities within this unforgiving landscape, living “free” but remaining close to enslaved family members who risked their lives to provide food and clothing until the family could be reunited. Later, during Prohibition, these deep woods attracted bootleggers who found an easy place to hide their stills and thanks to the river transported their moonshine.

If you’re looking for events inside the park, National Park Service rangers coordinate several educational hikes and tours throughout the year. Learn more about owls and other nocturnal animals at the Owl Prowl or take a wilderness canoe tour through the forest to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna. The Audubon Society also leads a birdwatching tour on the second Sunday of every month.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is welcomed (and free) in the park and the riverbank is a glorious natural campsite particularly if you stumble onto a sandbar large enough for your tent. The four-or-so-mile Weston Lake Loop, for instance, leads to a point on Cedar Creek that just happens to be a favorite with river otters. The ten-mile-long River Trail leads to the Congaree River, a curling ribbon of placid water that forms the park’s more than 25-river-mile-long southern border. Along the way, there are sandbars, ancient bluffs, and all manner of wildlife. Camping is also permitted in the high-ground section of the park where an actual campground means you can have a fire.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re camping in an RV as we were, there are a few nearby state parks that have hookups for campers and trailers. Or you may opt to stay at one of the area’s many private RV campgrounds which tend to have more amenities like laundry facilities and pools.

However you choose to experience Congaree National Park, don’t forget to look up. The startlingly tall canopy which changes with the seasons from summer’s green veil to the sunset shades of fall and finally winter’s stark sculpture is remarkable to behold.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 24,180 acres

Date established: November 10, 2003

Location: Central South Carolina

Designations: UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and National Register of Historic Places

Park Elevation: 80 feet to 140 feet

Park entrance fee: Free admission

Recreational visits (2021): 215,181

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedA

How the park got its name:  The Park is named after the Congaree People, an American Indian tribe who lived in the area of central South Carolina before it was inhabited by settlers. 

Iconic site in the park: The trails among the Cypress trees. Preserved at Congaree National Park is the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the United States. The trees growing in the area are among the tallest in the Eastern U.S. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: The undisputed champion of this park is the elevated Boardwalk Loop stretching 2.4-miles from the Harry Hampton Visitor Center through the forest and its surrounding waterways. Slightly less accessible when covered with water. 

Big adventure: Canoeing or kayaking Cedar Creek provides 15 miles of Congaree Wilderness to visitors where they can explore the primeval old-growth forest from within while viewing various wildlife species such as river otters, birdlife, deer, turtles, armadillos, snakes, and alligators. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know? 

The mosquito meter at the visitor center ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone!”  You can find the war zone during summer months. 

Until 2003, when Congaree became the first and only national park in South Carolina, it was known as the Congaree Swamp National Monument.

American Indians used the wood from the Cypress trees to make canoes and structures, so much so, that there is very little of this tree left in North America.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the park are cattle mounds. These mounds were built to allow livestock to climb to higher ground during floods. In 1996 these mounds were added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

At Congaree, you will find one of the most diverse forests in North America with 22 plant communities living in the park.

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

First Day Hikes 2023: 10 Fantastic Hikes to Ring in the New Year

What better way to kick off the New Year than by getting a jump start burning off those extra holiday calories in the great outdoors?

On New Year’s Day, America’s State Parks will once again be celebrating with a First Day Hike. These hikes provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors, exercising and connecting with nature. For many it has become a tradition.

Distance and rigor vary from park to park but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s State Parks have been entrusted to preserve a variety of magnificent places from California to Georgia. Hikers can experience a plethora of outdoor recreation activities including mountain and hill climbing, walks along lakes and beaches, exploration of trails through great forests, wildlife expeditions, birdwatching, and more.

Furthermore, exercise and outdoor activities rejuvenate the mind and body, promoting overall mental and physical health and wellness. Many believe that time spent in nature enhances creativity and lifts our moods.

Alabama

What better way to kick off the New Year than by getting a jump start burning off those extra holiday calories in the great outdoors?

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First Day Hike at the Nature Center

Gulf State Park, Ocean Shores

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 10 a.m. to 12 noon

Ring in the first day of the New Year on a hike with the naturalists at Alabama’s Gulf State Park. Meet in the parking lot of the Nature Center for this event. The hike begins on Bear Creek to Gopher Tortoise Trail then turn onto Lake Shelby Overlook. These trails weave through freshwater swamp and lake habitats with a chance to see birds, turtles, alligators, and more. The hike will be approximately 3 miles round trip on a paved, flat trail. This is an easy grade hike perfect for all ages and experience levels.

Bring sturdy shoes, water, binoculars and a camera, layered clothes (it may warm up as you start hiking). Leashed pets are welcome to join.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park First Day Hike

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Join the park naturalist on a guided hike through the park to celebrate the New Year. The hike begins at Pavilion 3 (by the bathhouse; parking across the street) then head off on trails and enjoy the wildlife and diversity of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. From there, the hike follows the trail to the back beach while discussing the history of the park, Native American Culture, and the ecological importance of the delta.

Bring weather-appropriate clothing, close-toed shoes (that you don’t mind getting wet or dirty), water, snacks, and a camera and/or binoculars. Leashed pets are welcome.

Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Arizona

We’re only days away from 2023. Start the New Year right and achieve your goals plus spend time in some of Arizona’s amazing parks. Remember to wear the appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, a camera, and your sense of adventure.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park First Day Hike

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

This 1.6-mile hike takes you from the Discovery Trail to a portion of the Siphon Draw Trail and back to the start on the Mountain Bike Trail, all within the park boundary. It is a low-elevation excursion but with some rocky areas and some parts of the trail are narrow.

Meet at Saguaro Day Use. Make sure you have good shoes and water. Pets are not allowed on these guided hikes.

Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park First Day Hike

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

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

Registration is recommended; however, walk-ups will be allowed based on available space. A maximum number of participants is 20. Meet at Harrington Loop. Feel free to contact the ranger station for any questions.

Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

California

Nature has been proven to boost our moods and make us feel healthy. Start 2023 by taking in spectacular views and breathing some fresh air on a First Day Hike.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park First Day Hike

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Starting at the Visitor Center explore desert plants, crypto-biotic crust, and signs of animals as we walk cross-country to the ½-mile Panorama Overlook Trail. Ascend by switch-backs about 200 feet up the moderate-strenuous trail to a scenic overlook of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point with a chance to see bighorn sheep. At the viewpoint, reflect on your new year with a lighthearted introspection guided by Park Interpretive Specialist Regina Reiter. Walk down the mountain as the sun sets on your first day of 2023.

Wear sturdy shoes, bring at least 1 liter of water, a hat, and a flashlight. Trekking poles are helpful.

Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Calvaras Big Trees State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Calvaras Big Trees State Park First Day Hike

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Learn about giant sequoia trees and the winter season and hike a section of the North Grove Trail. This may be a snowshoe hike if it snows. Plan to hike up to 2 miles; however, the length of the hike may vary based on conditions.

Meet at the Warming Hut near the Visitor Center. Dress in layers and bring snow/rain gear if needed. Wear good hiking boots/shoes. Bring water. Bring snowshoes if you have them.

Georgia

The perfect way to jump-start those New Year’s resolutions to get in shape and explore Georgia is to participate in a First Day Hike. When you go, tag your photos with #FirstDayHikes so folks can see where you’ve been.

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

Swamp Island Loop First Day Hike

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.

Start your 2023 with a refreshing stroll around this little island park in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp. Start with the .75-mile Trembling Earth Boardwalk Loop. Those wishing to see more can continue with the ranger around the island perimeter for another 2.25 miles along the Jones Island and Upland Pine Trails.

This is a relaxed, family friendly hike with time to listen for and admire wildlife along the way.

Get more tips for visiting Stephen C. Foster State Park

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bear Hair Gap Trail First Day Hike

Vogel State Park, Blairsville

Located 11 miles south of Blairsville via Highway 19/129

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 9 a.m. to 12:00 noon

Bear Hair Gap Trail is a 4.1-mile partial loop over the lower ridge of Blood Mountain with an overlook of the park. The trail travels onto the Chattahoochee National Forest. Hiking time is 2 to 4 hours; medium difficulty with a 12 percent grade in places. To register call the Visitors Center at 706-745-2628.

Meet at the Visitors Center. Pets are allowed (must be on a 6-foot leash and waste must be picked up and disposed of in a waste receptacle when back to Vogel State Park). Small children may have difficulty walking this trail.

Get more tips for visiting Vogel State Park

Texas

Celebrate 100 years of Texas State Parks in 2023 with a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day.

First Day hikes vary from short, leisurely nature walks on forested trails, boardwalk strolls through wetlands or to the beach, or climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert. They offer both guided and self-guided hikes. Some First Day Hikes aren’t hikes at all: They also lead bike rides, paddling tours, and even horseback rides. After your hike, stop at the visitor center to report on your hike and collect a memento of your visit.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park First Day Sunrise Hike

Located 4 miles southwest of Lockhart (Barbecue Capital of Texas) on Highway 183 and FM 20

Sunday, January 1, 2023. 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.

Start your New Year off right with an early morning hike at Lockhart State Park

Hike at dawn and set good intentions for the year to come. All ages and abilities are welcome. The hike is less than 1 mile (~0.8 miles) on moderately challenging terrain. No registration is required. Meet your guide at the Chisholm Trailhead. After leaving Park HQ, continue straight on Park Road 10 for about a ½ mile. The Chisholm Trailhead is past the golf course on your left-hand side.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park First Day Hike

Located 11 miles northwest of Gonzales on Highway 183

Sunday, January 1, 2023, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Start the year off right, with some peace of mind at your own pace. Join in on this annual tradition of ringing in the New Year by going on a hike. Take this hike at your own pace and breathe in that fresh air to clear your mind. 

Bring sturdy closed-toed shoes, water, and dress for the weather. With this self-guided hike, choose any of the open trails, and once you have completed your journey, head on back to the Headquarters building to pick up your First Day Hike Sticker. This is self-guided, so explore the park. Trails to pick from include but are not limited to:

  • Palmetto Interpretive: 0.30 miles
  • Mesquite Flats Trail: 1.1 miles 
  • San Marcos River Trail: 1.3 miles  

Get more tips for visiting Palmetto State Park

Worth Pondering…

New Year brings blessings yet to behold.

—Lailah Gifty Akita

The Best of Zion

Zion National Park brims with awe-inspiring views and outdoor adventures

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers settled in what is now known as Zion National Park in southern Utah. When they arrived they thought it to be so beautiful, holy with its towering natural cathedrals made of rock that they called it Zion, a nod to Little Zion found in the Bible’s Old Testament. To them, it was a sacred dwelling. It still holds sacred reverence to those who visit it today and is without a doubt one of America’s most beloved national parks.

I will leave the story of the history of the park to another time and focus on what we know best: places to explore when visiting the heavenly landscape. I’ve been to Zion several times and managed to pick up some new spots on each visit. Without further ado, here are my picks for the best of Zion.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a gem of a hike in Zion. This is definitely one of the best hikes at Zion. It’s short, it’s fun, and it takes you to an awesome viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon. It’s also the ideal sunset hike for those who love canyon views but aren’t up to navigating the famous—and more treacherous—Angel’s Landing hike. This is a hike that is perfect for all ages and ability levels. If this is your first or even your second time in Zion put the Canyon Overlook Trail on your list of things to do.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angel’s Landing and West Rim Trail

Angel’s Landing is THE classic Zion hike and one of the world’s most famous hikes. The first four miles bring hikers along the West Rim Trail that leads to Scout’s Lookout from where you can take in the views while deciding whether you have the guts and desire to brave the final one-mile climb along the narrow canyon spine with support chains in hand to the landing.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This last section is not for those who fear heights, exposure, and crowds while at serious heights while facing exposure. Fatalities are not common but they have occurred and like all hikes and adventures in any national park safety is the responsibility of the traveler.

Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable climbing a cliff-face (you are not alone). You can still enjoy the hike along the West Rim Trail. There are incredible views the entire way up to Scout’s Landing—the switchbacks criss-crossing the valley floor are incredibly photogenic. This is not a trail for people with a fear of heights or small children.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Emerald Pools

This is a choose-your-own-adventure area in the park with three main hikes among lush vegetation leading to different water features at each. At an elevation gain of 623 feet, parts of it are quite steep so make sure you wear sturdy shoes and bring lots of water.

The lower pool is perfect for those desiring a relaxed wander and for those with strollers and wheelchairs ending at a collection of mountain streams and small pools. The middle trail is a more moderate hike gaining 150 feet leading to an overlook of the pools found on the lower trail and small waterfalls, and the upper pool is a strenuous climb up 350 feet to a waterfall that streams down from a cliff.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Narrows

Zion: a river runs through it. For millions of years, the Virgin River has been carving its way through layers of rock forming the Zion Narrows. And you can walk on water through the Virgin River while exploring it. This is an iconic hike in the park and it is easy to know why after braving it. Decked out in a dry suit—Zion Outfitter in the nearby town of Springdale can hook you up with water-repellent gear and info—you will make way on foot along a 30-mile wide riverbed beneath limestone canyon walls towering 1,000 feet above the way early explorers and natives once did.

There is no trail so-to-speak, the trail is the riverbed. Sublime! Permits are required and water level and weather are factors in whether or not a visit there is possible as flash floods in the park occur often during peak season and are a danger.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riverside Walk Trail

If you’re not ready to commit to The Narrows hike above, you can still enjoy some of the epic views of Zion’s scenic Virgin River as it cuts through the stunning canyon on this easy riverside walk.

This hike begins at the shuttle stop 9 (Temple of Sinawava) which is located at the end of the Scenic Highway. From there, you’ll make your way along a concrete path between the Virgin River and a steep canyon wall. (Side trails along the river make a nice alternative for strolling in more solitude.)

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observation Point

Observation Point provides one of the best views in Zion National Park but is underrated compared to Angels Landing and the Narrows. This trail is perfect for those who want to avoid the crowds at Angels Landing but still want incredible views. From the Observation Point summit, you look across Zion Canyon. You can even look down upon Angels Landing.

This trail is incredibly strenuous with some steep drop-offs. The most popular route starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead. You’ll climb steep switchbacks from the start-up to Echo Canyon, the perfect shaded spot for a rest.

After passing through this shaded area you’ll climb along sheer cliff edges to the top of Zion Canyon. After the climb, you’ll be rewarded with views from the top of Observation Point, the best in the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watchman Trail

Guarding the park’s southern entrance, the Watchman is arguably the most iconic scene and provides some of the best sunset photography. There is a 3-mile trail leading to a lookout of the towering peak but this entry refers to the viewpoint as seen from Canyon Junction with the Virgin River winding right through the middle of the scene.

The hike ends with a phenomenal view of the Temples, Towers, and lower Zion Canyon. You can see Watchman Peak from here as well and all of Springdale below. Hikers rave about the quality of the light and epic views in the early morning here.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pa’rus Trail

The Pa’rus Trail is one of the newer and most accessible trails in Zion National Park. It is the only trail in Zion open to bicycles and pets and is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible trails in the park. Starting at the South Campground just north of the Visitor Center, this wide, paved trail skirts the Virgin River in the flat and open lower section of Zion Canyon and ends at the Canyon Junction. This trail is great for a leisurely stroll at sunrise or sunset and you are likely to see big and small wildlife from butterflies and birds to mule deer.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel

Driving the 6-mile Mt. Carmel Highway through the park provides visitors easy access to viewpoints while offering that winding-road experience. It is easily accessible throughout the park’s most popular area and the richly brick-colored highway with canary-yellow stripes plays really well visually against the soft color of the canyons.  

A few miles along the highway past the Visitor Center you will cross through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel, completed in 1930, a landmark with a rich history that at the same time allows modern travelers like us passage THROUGH a mile of canyon in what feels like the dark of night.  

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolob Canyon

Zion’s popularity certainly draws in the crowds and for some people this can be a bit overwhelming. For a pleasant escape from the busyness take a trip to the far side of the park and the Kolob Canyons.

This lesser-visited area is almost as spectacular as the main area of the park. Deep canyons and stunning scenery will leave you awed. The most popular activity and the one that provides the most reward for the least amount of energy is the five-mile Kolob Canyons Road. Strategically placed viewpoints afford incredible views out over the surrounding countryside.

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those interested in venturing off on a hiking trail several good options exist. Of the 10-plus hikes available one not to be missed is the Timber Creek Overlook. This one-mile trek is easy with wonderful views along the way and especially at the end.

Kolob Canyons is about an hour from the main park gates. You’ll need to head back out to Interstate 15, head north, and take exit 40. The exit is well marked with National Park signs.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

There are full-service RV parks outside the park gate but camping within the park is a whole other experience. Watching birds and wildlife flitting about the campgrounds, sitting around a fire ring in the evening, and peering up at the night sky creates a different set of memories than simply exploring Zion by day.

Watchman Campground and South Campground are the two main camping areas in the park and both offer beautiful natural surroundings and well-spaced sites. These two campgrounds are close to each other near the West Gate entrance to the park.

A third much smaller and more isolated campground is located in a separate section of the park at almost 8,000 feet. This is Lava Point Campground on Kolob Terrace Road about 50 minutes from the Zion Canyon section of the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More great places to explore in Utah:

Worth Pondering…

It is a place where a family can rest at streamside after a pleasant morning hike.

It is a vast labyrinth of narrow canyons where one can become hopelessly lost, shrinking to invisibility beneath dark, towering walls of stone.

One may feel triumph and exhilaration, or awesome smallness atop Angels Landing; thirst and fatigue, or a rewarding weariness, on the return trek from the backcountry.

Perhaps one’s view of Zion is in the eyes of the beholder.

—Wayne L. Hamilton, The Sculpturing of Zion

Arches National Park: Park Avenue Trail

Hike among high-rise sandstone walls and massive fins on this one-miler that’s a perfect introduction to Arches National Park

Arches should be on everyone’s list of “must-see” national parks. While the park is most well known for having over 2,000 arches including the famous Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch there is more to see than just the arches. Park Avenue is the first stop after entering Arches National Park and is a great way to start your visit.

Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue is a one-mile trail that follows the bottom of a canyon at the feet of some of the park’s gigantic and well-known monoliths. With sandstone walls that rival New York City skyscrapers, this easy, two-mile out-and-back along Park Avenue shows how wind and erosion can create a variety of rock sculptures.

Arches entrance road leaving the visitors’ center for Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Three Gossips, the Courthouse Towers, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Victoria Rock, the Organ, and the Tower of Babel are all visible from the road as visitors drive up towards Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch but there is a large difference in experience when walking through them. All of these natural wonders are famous and often photographed.

More on Arches National Park: A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

Approaching Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trailhead

The Park Avenue Trailhead is located on the Arches Entrance Road 2.5 miles north of the visitors’ center off to the left (north) side of the road. From the parking lot check out the La Sal Mountains in the distance before heading down a paved trail to the Park Avenue overlook. The parking lot has a paved walkway that heads 320 feet to a Viewpoint. From there, a well-worn trail heads down the Avenue and towards the Courthouse Towers Parking Lot.

View down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave the parking area, you’ll follow a wide, paved trail for about 100 yards to a viewpoint of Park Avenue. Many visitors are satisfied with the view from here which is impressive but if you want to understand how this area got the name Park Avenue one has to drop down and walk the Park Avenue trail to feel the immensity of the sandstone monoliths on either side. The real Park Avenue is a wide boulevard in Manhattan Island in New York City with soaring skyscrapers on either side of the avenue.

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the overlook take in the expansive views of the 300- to 400-foot-tall red rock walls that line the wash below. To the right is a deep notch carved into a fin; bulky rock formations sit to the left and Courthouse Towers (an assortment of tall stone columns) rise in the distance. Take the stone steps from the overlook to continue the hike.

After enjoying the view from the Park Avenue overlook descend the rock steps to begin the hike. A “Primitive trail beyond this point” sign sits beside the trail but don’t let that deter you from this well-worn trail.

View of the Organ

The easy trail from the Park Avenue overlook descends some well-maintained path to the floor of Park Avenue. Once on the canyon floor, look around in all directions. Beneath your feet are ripples in the rock and above are towering red cliffs, balanced rocks, and tiny holes in the rocks. Desert shrubs and juniper trees are sprinkled in the red sand throughout the canyon. As the trail makes its way to the road, Courthouse Towers comes into view. Once the trail meets the road, turn around and hike back.

More on Arches National Park: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a one-mile hike down through the sandstone monoliths to the end of Park Avenue. There is another parking area there where groups that have more than one car can park so it becomes a walk-through hike instead of an out-and-back hike. If you only have one car and it’s parking at the Park Avenue viewpoint it will be two miles down and back. Along the way, hikers are treated to great views along the trail of the Courthouse Towers which is composed of formations of The Organ, The Tower of Babel, The Three Gossips, and Sheep Rock.

The Three Gossips © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Three Gossips may be the best name for a rock formation that I’ve ever heard. What a clever description! One of the things that I like about Arches National Park is that there are so many clever names for the arches and formations. Sheep Rock is a clever name too! That rock looks exactly like a sheep!

Approaching the end of the trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue is best photographed in the later afternoon for the deep colors on the canyon walls. Morning is an excellent time to photograph, The Organ, Sheep Rock, The Tower of Babel, and The Three Gossips.

This was my very first hike in Arches National Park and even though there are better-known hikes in Arches, this one is a special one for me.

This is a hike that children will enjoy as well as experienced hikers. This stop will only take about an hour to see and complete. I highly recommend to those visiting Arches National Park to take the time to at least stop at the Park Avenue viewpoint.

More on Arches National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock Formations

The Courthouse Towers

The massive sandstone towers that make up the western background of Park Avenue are called the Courthouse Towers. Like the prows of enormous ships, these landmarks jut out into the desert below, some of them over 600 feet tall.

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ

The Organ is a smaller monolith just to the south of the Tower of Babel off to the right side of the Arches Entrance Road. The Courthouse Towers parking lot sits off to the west flank of the Organ.

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is located to the north of the Courthouse Towers standing just above Courthouse Wash, north of the Organ, and beside the Entrance Road.

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail Facts

Trail Head: 38.624431, -109.599582

Length: 2 miles round trip

Hiking time: 30 minutes to one hour

Elevation at trailhead: 4,560 feet

Trail: Slickrock

Difficulty: Easy

More on Arches National Park: The 5 Best Hikes in Arches National Park

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: This hike has parking lots at both ends, so if you’re short on time and have two cars, you can turn this into a shuttle hike.

Worth Pondering…

These arches are of thrilling beauty. Caused by the cutting action of wind-blown sand (not stream erosion), one marvels at the intricacies of nature.

—Frank Bethwick, leader of a 1933-34 scientific expedition

Outdoor Adventures

The joy of life lived outside

The U.S. Department of the Interior suggests, “Get outdoors in the great outdoors.” Perhaps more than anyone, RVers understand the meaning of that message. After all, the vast lands throughout North America are natural playgrounds filled with hiking trails, lakes and streams, and public and private recreation sites—and that’s just the beginning.

Regardless of whether you travel long distances or set up camp in the next town over, your RV is your vehicle for discovering these fun-in-the-sun pastimes. Enjoy hiking, bird-watching, photography fishing, swimming, white-water rafting, and stargazing, to name just a few activities. Wherever your interests lie, I encourage you to pursue those passions!

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover magnificent natural wonders on a stunning sweep through the beautiful Southwest. From Sedona to Moab to Taos to Santa Fe, beautiful landmarks dot the way with stops at the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Petrified Forest, Montezuma Castle, Mesa Verde, and more.

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finding Outdoor Adventures

If you are an RV full-timer, part-timer, or weekend warrior, seeking your next adventure is probably always on your radar. If you think about it, being on the road is an adventure in itself: always on the go, staying in new places (or returning to your favorites), and exploring the local area.

Related article: Discover the National Forests during Great Outdoors Month

Like most RVers, most of our trips or overnight stays are planned for places we want to explore and have fun. If this is the case for you, consider adding these adventures to your list. They include cities that are known for exciting mountain bike trails, picturesque flower gardens, and ocean exploration.

Glacial Skywalk along Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or maybe you want to explore Canada? The best Alberta road trip is from Banff to Jasper (or vice versa) through the Icefields Parkway. National Geographic named this one of the best road trips in the world!

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If this is your first time visiting Canada, prepare to be amazed! You will pass through ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and emerald lakes surrounded by forests. The drive has many points of interest along the way including Lake Louise, Peyto Lake, Athabasca Falls, and the Columbia Icefield.

Rocky Mountain goat in Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If that isn’t enough to please your eyes, there are also over 53 species of mammals you can spot in the area including bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk. Banff and Jasper are both must-see spots on a visit to Canada and a drive through the Icefields Parkway is the ideal way to get there.

Of course, not all of our trips work out that way. Maybe you’re traveling to visit family or friends and you end up with a little spare time. Or you have a planned overnight stay on the way to your destination and you’re looking for some outdoor adventure—something that you can easily fit into your schedule.

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

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

Park it and hike

Hiking is a fun pastime that can easily be associated with camping and spending time in the great outdoors.

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead.

Blue Mesa Loop Trail in Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Do you want to view a landscape that is out of this world? If your answer is yes then the Blue Mesa Loop Trail in Petrified Forest National Park is sure to please. This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. 

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries. The majority of trails are suitable for walking, running, and biking.

Related article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

Remember to hike safely! Wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots and dress appropriately for the weather. Always take plenty of water and a snack. Incorporating The Three Ts (Trip Planning, Training, and Taking the Essentials) into your hiking regimen will help keep you safe out on the trail.  

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids In Parks

The National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program is one of many great ways to introduce youngsters to the geography, history, and features of U.S. national parks. This activity-based program is conducted at most NPS facilities. During a park visit, kids complete activities and are rewarded with an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate. They also can read, play, and try various projects online, anytime. Help your young RVer adopt the Junior Ranger motto: Explore. Learn. Protect.

Related article: The Beginners Guide to Birding (and Bird Photography) on Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Worth Pondering…

In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.

—John Fowles (1926- ) English writer