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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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 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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All of these locations add up to unbelievable choices for hiking trails that would take more than a lifetime to complete. So, it’s time to get hiking.
“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”
—Henry David Thoreau
There are thousands of miles of great hiking trails throughout Utah. Some trails are most well-suited to rugged, multi-day backpacking, but there are innumerable “out and back” and “loop” hikes ranging from quick trots to stunning formations, and moderate paths than can be done in a few hours to full-day explorations.
Head to southern Utah where there are five national parks in a relatively small area. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park are all located here.
Before setting out on any hike, check with local rangers or guidebooks about a hike’s difficulty ratings, descriptions, and cautionary advice.
Always carry plenty of water in both the deserts and mountains. Each person should carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. For a full-day hike, that adds up to one full gallon per person. It’s important to keep hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Bring plenty of high-energy snacks that will help keep your energy up back to your car.
Practice Leave No Trace principles along the trail and respect nature’s desired and needed permanence.
Arches National Park Hiking Trails
A day of hiking in Arches National Park pairs world-famous landmark views with a humbling sense of respect for the desolate stretches of sandstone formations. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch.
1. The Primitive Loop
Found within the park’s Devil’s Garden, Primitive Loop is a fantastic longer hike. The eight-mile trail will help stretch your legs while showcasing a brilliant section of Arches National Park.
The entire garden is a labyrinth of trails that burst off in a variety of directions. But the main trail takes you along thin ledges and some tricky but thrilling rock scrambling with rock cairns guiding the way. Some of the many arches you’ll see along the hike include the gorgeous Double O Arch and Private Arch. Double O is the second biggest in Devil’s Garden with one being 71 feet wide and the other 21.
2. Delicate Arch
Starting at Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot, this 3-mile moderate trail takes you to the most beloved parts of Arches National Park. In a park full of natural arches, this one stands alone, free-standing, and utterly breathtaking.
Owing to its length and popularity, the trail can get crowded. It’s one worth getting up at the crack of dawn for sunrise or waiting patiently for sunset. This will help you avoid the crowds while also seeing the arch at the best times of the day. As anyone who’s been around a desert sky would know, the clear horizon, open sky, and arid colors combine to create a kaleidoscopic world of lights and shadows that will fuel you for the rest of your trip.
3. Park Avenue Trail
The natural arches may bring in travelers from around the world but the park’s wide range of intricate rock formations will linger long in your memory. An easy way to see some of the strangest and sometimes confusing formations, hike the Park Avenue Trail.
The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Start with the brief trek to Park Avenue with the beguiling rocks reminding hikers of a city’s downtown. Then walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers.
Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
Windows Primitive Loop (1 mile): A relatively short hike where you’ll find three separate arch formations
Double Arch (.8 mile): One of the most popular hikes in the park, this short trail ends beneath a spectacular arch
Broken Arch (2 miles): Another popular loop trail that leads hikers through a sandstone arch
Landscape Arch (1.6 miles): Consider this trail a must-do hike to see the largest arch in Arches National Park; plus, two more arches are easily reached with a short side trip
Canyonlands National Park Hiking Trails
Canyonlands National Park is an enormous region; in fact, it’s the largest national park in Utah. As a result, the park is divided into three regions: The Needles, Island in the Sky, and The Maze. The Needles District is the park’s hub for well-developed trails and the most popular place to hike. Island in the Sky offers similarly groomed trails, but now they’re nestled high atop a mesa that’s wedged between the Colorado and Green rivers. Last but not least, The Maze is a desolate and disconnected region (there are no services within 50 miles in any direction), and a classic destination for experienced backpackers.
No matter which region of the park you visit first, consider adding these great hiking trails to your next trip itinerary.
1. Druid Arch Trail
In the Needles District, the 10.8-mile moderate trail takes you off the beaten path. The entire district is great for overnight hiking and this is its crown jewel.
The primitive trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead. Follow the cairns which guide you through a slot canyon before turning right towards Chesler Park. The remoteness of the trail means every blind turn offers a surprise and a magnificent view. You’ll feel like you’re exploring and not merely hiking.
2. The Mesa Arch Trail
The iconic hike is only 0.5 miles long and will see some crowds compared to other longer treks. However, it’s worth braving and if you want, come at sunrise for an even more memorable hike.
Mesa Arch could be a rival to Delicate Arch for the most beautiful arch in Utah. At sunrise, the sun peeks through the gap shining sections of the desert in light, the rest becoming a gorgeous silhouette. For an even better vista, head to the left of the arch for a short rock scramble. This will provide a complete view without the frame of the arch.
3. Murphy Point Trail
Covering 3.6 miles with little elevation, the Murphy Point Trail follows the canyon’s rim with vibrant desert views. The trail begins in a desert field leading up to the canyon. The views continue to get better until you find yourself on the precipice. Then turn and follow the rim. Along the way, you’ll look over the rolling Green River, the White Rim Road, and the impeccable Candlestick Tower. Complete the trek at sunset with a headlamp handy for the best experience.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Island in the Sky region:
Aztec Butte (2 miles): A somewhat challenging climb to a scenic viewpoint in the Island in the Sky area where you’ll see ancestral Puebloan structures called granaries
Upheaval Dome Overlook (1.6 miles): A short, steep hike to get the best view of perhaps the most interesting geological feature in Utah
Grand View Point (2 miles): An easy day hike to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking canyon country
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Needles region:
Cave Spring (.6 mile): An opportunity to learn about the park’s cultural history and desert plant life on a short hike
Pothole Point (.6 mile): A short, educational hike about what life was like in desert potholes; great for families with small children
Slickrock Foot Trail (2.4 miles): A scenic trip through the geology of the park; this trail stays high and gives a great overall perspective of the entire southeastern corner of Canyonlands National Park
Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails
The seemingly endless stretch of cliffs you’ll see at Capitol Reef are beholden to The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long ripple on earth’s surface. Millions of years ago, a faultline shift caused a series of uplifts, ultimately creating the daunting stretch of cliffs and canyons you see today. Nowadays hikers from around the world visit the park to experience the geologically spectacular landscape from an easily accessed network of hiking trails.
1. Cohab Canyon Trail
The gilded Cohab Canyon features honeycomb walls mixed with reds, oranges, and oxidized iron. It’s arguably the most multi-faceted canyon in Capitol Reef National Park. Its captivating beauty was once home to the many wives of the polygamists in Fruita.
As you walk along the 3.4-mile return trail, the canyon makes way for mini archways and dramatic hoodoos that exist within the Kayenta Formation. To lengthen the hike, join a duo of trails that lead to views above the Fremont River and Fruita.
2. Cassidy Arch Trail
You don’t have to go to Arches to admire nature’s incredible engineering. The moderate trail is 3.4 miles long and takes you to the famous Cassidy Arch.
The hike is beautiful throughout, guiding you along the edge of a canyon with plenty of epic views. Just be warned, you’ll often walk alongside a large drop-off.
The arch isn’t just a beautiful sight; it’s one of the few you can walk across. The memorable experience is sure to get the heart racing but will make for some amazing photos.
3. Upper Muley Twist Canyon
Those seeking a true adventure should consider the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The 14.8-mile, difficult trail takes you by arches, through narrow slot canyons, and along an elevated rim.
The trail follows the canyon as it carves its way through the Waterpocket Fold showcasing Wingate and Navajo sandstone along the winding canyon. The rock has eroded creating a swath of interesting formations from arches to honeycombs.
The trail meanders through narrow canyons and by slip rock to dramatic views. The trail is marked by cairns but a map is recommended.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
Capitol Gorge (1 mile): A quick hike through a beautiful, deep canyon that leads hikers to historic inscriptions from pioneers and miners
Grand Wash (2.2 miles): A trailhead at the end of The Grand Wash Scenic Drive leads hikers into a deep canyon with spectacular narrows
Fremont River Trail (1 mile): While not too long, this hike starts easy but gets relatively steep; expect impressive views of the Fremont River with every step
Hickman Natural Bridge Trail (.9 mile): One of the park’s most popular trails, hikers will see artifacts of the Fremont people and an impressive 133-foot long natural arch
Bryce Canyon National Park Hiking Trails
Hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best ways to see the park’s famous hoodoos, spires, and sandstone fins. An interconnected network of trails makes it easy to keep hiking all day where trails branch off toward new landmarks and discoveries all without ever straying too far from the park’s main road. Whether you’re a family of adventurers or venturing into a solo backpacking expedition, Bryce Canyon’s trails won’t disappoint.
1. The Rim Trail
To see a lot of the park on a single trek, put on your hiking boots and explore the Rim Trail. 11 miles return, the moderate trail comes with a steep incline to begin. But once you’re at elevation, you’ll have splendid, heart-stopping views in every direction.
Start at Bryce Canyon Point which you can reach on the park’s shuttle. The highlight of the experience is capturing the Bryce Amphitheater in all its glory. Hike into the amphitheater on one of three hikes or continue to admire more of the trail’s prismatic topography.
2. Bryce Point to Sunrise Point
This 8-mile moderate hiking trail provides many of the park’s intriguing geological wonders in one place. The trail begins with a beautiful trek to Sunset Point. After your walk at elevation, descend into the famous amphitheater via the Navajo Loop Trail. Venture down into the aptly named Wall Street with sandstone spires soaring left and right.
The magical vistas continue to get better as you trek beside the hoodoos along the brilliant Queen’s Garden Trail. Here, the rock monuments soar through the pines before being replaced by the Two Bridges Hoodoo. Eventually, you’ll reach Sunrise Point for an awe-inspiring view.
3. Fairyland Loop Trail
Beginning at Fairyland Point, a stop along the shuttle route, the Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the best day hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. Covering 8 moderate miles, the trail will take you to Sunset Point for an enthralling golden hour.
The trail takes you by many spectacular hoodoos but the real highlight is Tower Bridge. Named after the famous bridge in London, the natural phenomenon stands imposingly above the rest of this unforgettable landscape. For many, this is a common turnaround point.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles): A popular trail that makes a short 1- to 2-hour loop from the rim at Sunset Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon; the trail visits favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer
Queens Garden Trail (1.8 miles): A short trail descending below the canyon rim that takes hikers to fascinating rock formations including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle, and Queen Elizabeth herself
Bristlecone Loop Trail (1 mile): A short loop that stays entirely above the canyon rim as it traverses a subalpine fir forest; the trail is named after the bristlecone pine trees, the oldest tree species in the world which is found more frequently along this trail than along other trails in Bryce Canyon
Connector Trails (2 to 4 miles): A series of short “connector” trails that take hikers from the canyon rim to various points along the Under the Rim Trail
Zion National Park Hiking Trails
Zion carries a reputation as a bucket list destination for adventurous trail seekers around the world. Here you can gaze down the commanding Zion Canyon from atop Angels Landing, reconnect with nature on a multi-day backpacking expedition, or visit one-of-a-kind destinations like Emerald Pools via easily accessed day hikes. However you imagine a perfect day hiking, Zion National Park has the trails to fill your itinerary. To start planning your trip, browse the park’s trails below.
1. The East Rim Trail
For an epic full-day trek, don’t look past Zion’s East Rim Trail. The lengthy 22 miles will have you working up a sweat as you venture deep into the park exploring every inch of the eastern canyon. The hike is rated as moderate to difficult.
You can start in two different spots with the East Entrance being the most common. From there, trek up and down into the spectacular Echo Canyon. In the other direction, you’ll hit the fascinating Weeping Rock first.
To get here, jump off at Shuttle Stop 7 readying your legs for 2,400 feet of ascent up the side of Echo Canyon.
2. The Narrows
Zion National Park was carved by the Virgin River. The Narrows Trail takes you along the water, deep into the intricate slot canyon. As you wander beside and sometimes through the river, the walls of the canyon rise to either side, curling and rising above your head.
The vibrant colors of the rock cover all shades of browns, reds, oranges, and yellows with some black scars added for good measure. The trek is a sensory experience with each splash of water echoing along the trail.
You can hike the moderate to difficult trail in either direction with a popular choice being the 16 miles down to Chamberlain Ranch to camp overnight. Before arriving at Zion, you’ll need to grab a permit for this hike.
3. Emerald Pools Trail
The Angels Landing hike may be one of the most popular in the United States. But it’s been written and walked to oblivion. The Emerald Pools trail is an underrated, easy-to-moderate hike that’s as fun for adventurers as it is for families.
The trail’s name promises a certain type of natural grandeur and it certainly delivers. Along the short 3-mile trek, you’ll enjoy a trio of emerald pools sparking under the Utah sun. You’ll reach the first pool in a single mile, one that also features a breathtaking waterfall. A brief stroll will take you to the Middle Emerald Pools Falls, one that will have you sitting and admiring the views for a while yet.
Those feeling adventurous can add in some light scrambling to reach the Upper Emerald Pools. To reach the trailhead, make your way to Shuttle Stop 5.
Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:
Northgate Peaks Trail (4.2 miles roundtrip): This family-friendly hike offers expansive views of Zion and makes for an excellent summer route due to its high elevation
Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles): This easy out-and-back is not only one of the park’s most pleasant strolls, but the paved trail is also open to dogs on-leash, cyclists, and is wheelchair accessible
Riverside Walk/Gateway to The Narrows (2.2 miles): A short, paved stroll along the Virgin River to the stunning mouth of Zion’s iconic slot canyon
See and explore one of the largest and most colorful petrified wood sites in the world
It isn’t the colorful landscapes, the winding trails, the fresh air, or even the wide-open spaces that make the Petrified Forest so interesting—though it offers all of those things. Petrified Forest is home to the world’s largest collection of petrified wood. Its lifecycle began 225 million years ago when an ancient forest was buried beneath a river system where it laid dormant for millennia.
Fast forward to 60 million years ago—that is when the Colorado Plateau began uplifting to expose the trees to oxygen, fracturing them into large pieces that lay upon Earth today for us all to go and see. It’s amazing to look at. The exterior appears just like any wooden tree bark does but upon touch, it is the smoothest, hardest material you’ll ever feel. Flip it over and you’ll see a vibrantly colored, ornately designed interior made of quartz that glints with brilliance in every shift of light.
Perhaps most remarkable is that anyone can pick up a piece and examine the effects of wood exposed to the forces of nature spanning millennia. Wrap your mind around that for a moment—you can hold in your hand a piece of Earth that is 225 million years old. That alone is incredible.
But the wonder doesn’t stop there. The park’s north side is home to colorful badlands at the Painted Desert and Blue Mesa where I was the most enchanted. Here the blue, purple, and ivory sculpted hills are topped with pieces of quartz. There are both petroglyphs and ancient ruins in several areas of the park that tell the story of primitive cultures and peoples.
The Park’s fallen tree fossils mostly date from the Late Triassic Epoch—a massive 225 million years ago. That means that the T-Rex that lived only 65 million years ago was much closer to our time than these fossils. Other popular activities include hiking and horse riding in this vibrant and colorful wilderness.
The sediments of the Late Triassic Epoch that contain all of these trees are part of the Chinle Formation. The Late Triassic was when dinosaur life was at its most spectacular and so this is one of the sites that dinosaur lovers should visit. This formation is stunningly colorful and is where the Painted Desert gets its name. There are some fossilized animals in this park—notably the large flying reptiles and phytosaurs.
Fun Fact: Pterodactyls are not dinosaurs
Over 200 million years ago, this part of what is now Arizona was a lush landscape filled with flourishing trees and other kinds of vegetation. But this was destroyed in a large volcanic explosion and the remains of this forest were preserved and embedded in the volcanic ash and water.
And there is wind—amazing wind that continues to erode Earth, exposing more wood, and shaping what is already there. Like all of the parks, once I dug in and learned more about the reason the park was protected in the first place, I wanted to stay much, much longer.
If history and science aren’t your things, there is another unique draw here—this is where you can get the best of American kitsch while stepping foot onto the Mother Road: America’s Historic Route 66. Route 66 in its original form is no longer in existence but at Petrified Forest, you can visit the only section of the famed road existing inside a national park.
Nearby in the town of Holbrook lives the classic Wigwam Motel—on the National Register of Historic Places—providing a glimpse into the mid-20th century golden age of travel.
Route 66 is a classic destination that all should visit at least once in their lives. But the Mother Road won’t transport your mind’s eye to a place and time where ancient birds flew before dinosaurs roamed the planet hundreds of millions of years ago; for that experience, you’ll need to visit Petrified Forest, National Park. This is one of those places where time and age are your companions. One breath in and one lookout and you can truly sense and feel the tale of prehistoric life on Earth.
After many millions of years of being buried, the sediment has been eroding and exposing the forest entombed within it. Today the petrified wood has been turned into quartz.
The park boasts more than just the Petrified Forest. There are 13,000 years of human history to discover at the park. One of the main human traditions includes a nearly 800-year-old 100 room dwelling. There are around 600 archeological sites in the national park including various petroglyphs. These lands had been inhabited by pueblos but it was abandoned by around 1400.
Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the Petrified Forest National Park and there are several designated hiking trails crisscrossing the park. These trails range from less than half a mile to about three miles.
Length: 1.2 miles one way
Trailheads: Tawa Point and Painted Desert Visitor Center
Enjoy the tranquility of the grassland as the trail leads from scenic Tawa Point to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. In Hopi ideology, Tawa refers to the Sun Spirit, the Creator of the World. The Hopi are one of several current Native American groups who are connected to the rich and varied history of the Petrified Forest.
Painted Desert Rim Trail
Length: 1 mile round trip
Trailheads: Tawa Point and Kachina Point
This unpaved trail winds through the rim woodland, a place for chance encounters with many species of plants and animals and spectacular views of the Painted Desert.
Puerco Pueblo Trail
Length: 0.3 miles loop
Trailhead: Puerco Pueblo parking area
A paved walk amidst the remains of a hundred-room pueblo occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Petroglyphs can be viewed along the south end of the trail. Please do not climb on the boulders or walls and do not touch the petroglyphs.
Descending from the mesa, this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among badland hills of the bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood. Numerous plant and animal fossils have been found by paleontologists in the sedimentary layers of Blue Mesa.
Length: 0.75 mile loop
Trailhead: Crystal Forest parking area
Named for the presence of beautiful crystals that can be found in the petrified logs, this trail offers one of the best opportunities to experience the petrified wood deposits.
Length: 0.4 mile loop
Location: Behind Rainbow Forest Museum
Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. “Old Faithful” at the top of the trail is almost ten feet wide at the base. A trail guide is available at Rainbow Forest Museum.
No accommodation is available within the park. Boondocking, primitive camping, and pulling off to spend the night in a parking area are not permitted.
The gateway to the park is the town of Holbrook. It is around 20 miles to the west of the park and offers a full range of accommodation options. We used OK RV Park as our home base while exploring Petrified National Park. Easily accessible from I-40, the 150 pull-through gravel sites offer water and sewer connections and the choice of 30 or 50 amp electric service.
Size: 93,533 acres with more than half as dedicated Wilderness area
Date established: December 9, 1962 (established as a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906)
Location: Northeast Arizona (the nearest town is Holbrook)
Park elevation: Averages 5,400 feet
Weather: Petrified Forest National Park is a semi-arid grassland. Temperatures range from above 100 degrees to well below freezing. About 10 inches of moisture comes during infrequent snow in the winter and often violent summer thunderstorms. Check out the forecast before you arrive and plan accordingly.
Operating hours: Every day year-round (closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Park hours are 8 am to 6 pm. You must enter the park before 5 pm. Remember that this is Mountain Standard year-round as Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
Park entrance fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days
Recreational visits (2021): 590,334
Roads: Historic Route 66 and I-40 run through the park
Wild animals in the park: Bobcats, pronghorns, coyotes, and over 200 species of birds
How the park got its name: Petrified Forest was named after a wilderness of 225 million-year-old trees that have, over time, turned into solid quartz (and not from being petrified with fear)
Iconic site in the park: The colorful Painted Desert that stretches from the Grand Canyon is the best-known landmark at Petrified Forest and it greets you right as you cross through the northern boundary of the park. It was given its name by Spanish explorers who thought the clay and mudstone badlands looked like a sunset painted onto the landscape. This landmark is a protected Wilderness area so you won’t be exploring its interior by car (although there are viewpoints that you can pull up to). The best way to explore it is to head out on foot on a 1-mile unpaved loop trail where you can see the picturesque rim from a different vantage point.
A must-see cultural stop nearby is at the 100-year-old Painted Desert Inn where you can view in real life restored mural art created by famed Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
Did you know?
Petrified Forest National Park has a world class fossil record with artifacts dating to the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, before the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed our home planet. The Triassic era is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”
Petrified Forest is home to fossils of massive crocodile-like creatures known as Phytosaurs as well as remnants from 13,000 years of human history including the remains of villages, tools, and grinding stones.
Archeological relics prove that humans have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years.
Some of the trees in the park measure up to 200 feet—about the length of the wingspan of a 747 jet.
Petrified Forest is the only national park where a segment of Route 66 exists.
On the wall of the historic Painted Desert Inn you can visually wander along the path of the Native American people in the area as depicted in a painting by famed Hopi artist, Fred Kapotie.
Quite a forest of petrified trees was discovered today…they are converted into beautiful specimens of variegated jasper. One trunk was measured ten feet in diameter, and more than one hundred feet in length…
Where the buffalo roam and the badlands earn their name
The stretch of Interstate running from Minneapolis, Minnesota, through the heart of the North Dakota Heartland is fantastic if you’re big into grain silos and livestock. Otherwise, nobody’s confusing a drive down I-94 with one of America’s most scenic routes.
Then, out of the blue, it happens: About an hour east of the Montana border—and a seemingly endless four hours from Fargo—the Earth drops out from under the highway.
Where endless grass once stretched to the horizon, tree-dotted canyons border the road. Petrified forests and river washes spread out between them and mountains somehow appear out of nowhere.
This is how you’ll know you’ve reached Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a plains-state paradise often forgotten in the world of Arches and Bryce Canyon. The three-unit park is surprising not just in its grandeur but also in its very existence in a state few know much about.
But if there’s any reason to meander down I-94 through North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is it.
The park is broken into three units: North, South, and Elkhorn Ranch. The latter is home to Roosevelt’s old ranch home and little else. But South and North combine for one of the most unexpected experiences in the Midwest.
The best way to see the South Unit is along its 36-mile loop drive which starts just after the Visitors Center in the western town of Medora (come for the pitchfork-fried steak, stay for the Medora Musical, a 90-minute revue telling the history of Medora and the life of Theodore Roosevelt) and continues through most of the park. You’ll roll through fields dotted with prairie dogs under buttes towering into the blue sky and along ridges standing over the jagged badlands.
The best spot for pictures along the 90-minute ride is at Boicourt Overlook where a short 15-minite walk over an easy trail takes you to a sprawling view of the park. This overlook is a ranger favorite for sunsets over the badlands. You’ll be on top of the world when you climb Buck Hill, the highest accessible point in the park. This is a short, but steep trail. The view from the top is worth every step. Enjoy hiking the Wind Canyon Nature Trail alongside a wind-sculpted canyon as you climb to the best view of the Little Missouri River the South Unit has to offer. Another ranger favorite for sunsets.
There’s a better-than-average chance your drive will be delayed by a herd of buffalo but just remember the loop drive is all about the journey and sitting in traffic behind slow-moving bison is an experience you’re unlikely to have again.
For more active travelers, the South Unit offers the most trails of any part of the park. For something otherworldly head down the Coal Vein Trail where you’ll step past steaming patches of dark rock marking large stores of coal. It’s perfectly safe as the coal isn’t burning but if you catch the trail after a rain storm steam still rises out of the ground. Think of it as a little slice of Iceland on the Dakota prairie.
For multi-colored views of the park’s signature Painted Canyon, climb down into the Painted Canyon Trail. The hike lets you delve into steep, desert scenery and only takes about half an hour to complete. Though you can reach it from the Loop Road via a few other trails, it’s still best visited by driving eight miles east on I-94 from Medora and starting at the Painted Canyon Visitors Center.
If you’re feeling strong and want to see some of the park’s more unusual offerings, hike the Petrified Forest Loop trail. Located in the remote northwest corner of the South Unit, this hike takes you through ancient petrified forests and badlands wilderness. The 10-mile loop includes the North and South Petrified Forest Trails as well as the Maah Daah Hey.
The North Unit is smaller than the South but more dramatic. Located about 45 minutes north, the Little Missouri River meanders through deep green canyons, along golden cliffs, and up into soft scenic mountains. Stop at the River Bend Overlook and you’ll see the view that inspired the Bull Moose to preserve the land to begin with.
The North Unit has fewer trails and can be done in one, long day trip. The Caprock Coulee trail is the signature hike, a 4.3-mile jaunt that starts just off the park’s main road. But do yourself a favor and go a little past the official trailhead to the River Bend Overlook. Starting the trail here effectively saves the best for last and makes the hike an experience that just keeps getting better the further your travel.
The Caprock Coulee begins atop the Little Missouri River and takes you through the North Unit’s foothills, inside a canyon, and up the mountains that stand over the badlands and river valley. Every climb brings you to a viewpoint that’s more jaw-dropping than the last, so much so you’ll barely notice the walk takes you almost three hours. No trail in either unit comes close to the scenery you’ll see along Caprock Coulee, so plan to hit it early before the crowds (such as they are) join you.
Along the main road, stop off and see the Cannonball Concretions a few miles in. The mysterious, spherical rocks look almost like they were shot into the side of the butte and offer a quizzical look at the geology of the region. They sit right next to a field of prairie dogs too, making it the North Unit’s best roadside stop.
To experience the whole North Unit on foot, hit the Buckhorn Trail. You can pick up the 11.4-mile loop right past the visitors center and take it through all the scenery that makes the North Unit so cool. The views aren’t quite what they are around Caprock Coulee but if you’re looking for an all-day hike this is the best.
There’s not much of anywhere to stay at the North Unit, though, as it doesn’t boast a fun western theme town outside its gates like its brother to the south. But you can make a full-day field trip north then cap it off with a hearty steak and cool sunset back in Medora.
The park has two campgrounds (both have one group site and many standard sites) and one group site for camping with horses. All campgrounds are primitive (no hookups, no showers). Group sites and half the camp sites in the South Unit are available by reservation. The rest are first come, first served. When choosing a campground, first consider which park unit you plan to visit.
Cottonwood Campground lies inside the park about 5 miles from Medora. It is the South Unit’s only campground. Half the sites are by reservation at recreation.gov while all remaining sites are first come, first served. Most sites are suitable for tents and RVs (no hookups). Cottonwood Campground fills to capacity each afternoon, mid-May through mid-September.
Juniper Campground is 5 miles from Highway 85 and is the only campground in the park’s North Unit. All sites are open to tent camping and most can also be used by vehicles/RVs (no hookups). All regular sites are first come, first served. Juniper Campground is trending to fill to capacity by late afternoon and definitely fills to capacity on holiday weekends.
I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.
One thousand year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia
The Francis Beidler Forest harbors one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare and unusual plants and animals are found in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species.
Part of an 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, Francis Beidler Forest boasts the largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest in the world. The 3,408-acre pristine ecosystem features thousand-year-old trees and extremely rich diversity of species including Prothonotary warblers that nest in the cavities of cypress tree knees.
The forest is part of the Four Holes Swamp, a 45,000-acre matrix of black water sloughs and lakes, shallow bottomland hardwoods, and deep bald cypress and tupelo gum flats. A 1.75-mile boardwalk offers visitors the chance to walk through this unique and wild sanctuary. The Audubon Society also offers daytime bird walks, night walks, and two-hour kayak and canoe trips through the blackwater swamp in March, April, and May when the water level is high.
Francis Beidler Forest is located about an hour from Charleston and Columbia off Interstate 26 in Santee Cooper Country.
Francis Beidler Forest offers two trails, the old-growth virgin forest cypress-tupelo swamp boardwalk, and the newer grassland-woodland trail. Pets and bikes are not allowed on either trail.
A 1.75-mile self-guided boardwalk trail (handicapped accessible) allows visitors the chance to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp…to see it the way nature intended.
The new trail system meanders through Longleaf Pine, grassland, and woodland habitats being restored by Audubon South Carolina. Free to the public and open from sunrise to sunset, the new trails give visitors the opportunity to explore a new section of the sanctuary. The diverse habitat attracts birds and other wildlife not typically seen on the Beidler Forest boardwalk such as painted buntings, indigo buntings, blue grosbeaks, loggerhead shrikes, eastern bluebirds, purple martins, and many sparrow species.
Parking for the trail is located only a few feet from the Beidler Forest gate off Mim’s Road. Be sure to watch the bird feeders for buntings, woodpeckers, and sparrows.
Naturalist-guided walks and programs also are available seasonally and by reservation.
Paddle through Ancient Beidler Forest
Now’s your chance to paddle in the still blackwater of a primeval swamp and experience nature as it existed a thousand years ago. The water level is up in Francis Beidler Forest this time of year making it possible to navigate through the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world.
Francis Beidler Forest is one of only two old-growth floodplain forests remaining in the state. The other is at Congaree National Park. When the water level in the floodplain is high enough, the Audubon Center offers guided canoe trips through this ancient forest located within the Four Holes Swamp.
Trips are offered on a regular basis Friday through Sunday. Four-hour trips are scheduled each of the three days at 1 p.m.; two-hour trips are available at 9 a.m. Saturdays.
The tours start from a remote landing on Mellard Lake, one of the swamp’s “holes”. Paddling through this open section of blackwater, surrounded by dense, undisturbed vegetation, you’ll feel totally removed from the rest of the world.
After just a few minutes, you’ll enter the woods, thick with 100-foot bald cypress and tupelo gum trees. It’s not unusual to see a variety of wildlife from yellow-bellied slider turtles to brown water snakes to Prothonotary warblers.
Be aware, paddling through the swamp can be a bit tricky, especially at lower water levels. It helps to have some kayaking experience to maneuver through the floodplain’s narrow passages. In the spring, you’ll want to steer clear of trees covered with Poison Ivy. But it’s a trip unlike any other in the Lowcountry and so worth the navigational challenges.
Cost is $30 for adults ($15 for children 8 to 12) for the four-hour excursion; $20 for adults ($10 for children 6 to 12) for the two-hour trip. The price for the tour also includes admission to the Beidler Forest boardwalk.
Reservations are required in advance. These trips are popular, so you’ll want to book early.
As the leaves of the trees are said to absorb all noxious qualities of the air, and to breathe forth a purer atmosphere, so it seems to me as if they drew from us all sordid and angry passions, and breathed forth peace and philanthropy. There is a severe and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul, dilates and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.
First Day Hikes are a healthy way to start 2022 and a chance to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature, and connect with friends
Usher in 2022 with other outdoor lovers at one of the many First Day Hikes offered on January 1 at state parks and forests across America.
On New Year’s Day, park rangers across the country are inviting Americans to start 2022 with inspiring First Day Hikes. First Day Hikes are part of a nationwide initiative led by America’s State Parks to encourage people to get outdoors.
On New Year’s Day, hundreds of free, guided hikes will be organized in all 50 states. Families across America will participate in First Day Hikes, getting their hearts pumping and enjoying the beauty of a state park. Last year nearly 55,000 people rang in the New Year, collectively hiking over 133,000 miles throughout the country.
America’s State Parks will help capture the collective strength and importance of the great park systems developed in the 50 states. With 10,234 units and more than 759 million visits, America’s State Parks works to enhance the quality of life.
First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts. The program was launched to foster healthy lifestyles and promote year-round recreation at state parks.
First Day Hikes are led by knowledgeable state park staff and volunteers. The distance and rigor vary from park to park but all hikes aim to create a fun experience for the whole family. People are invited to savor the beauty of the state park’s natural resources with the comfort of an experienced guide so they may be inspired to take advantage of these local treasures throughout the year.
Spend the first day of the year in a state park and kick off the year on a healthy note. There are fun activities for all including hikes, tours, boat rides, and even s’mores! Remember to wear the appropriate shoes, bring plenty of water, a camera, and your sense of adventure.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park: Meet at the West Lagoon parking lot. The guided 3-mile birding and nature hike will go along the riparian area of the Verde River and around the edges of the lagoons to look for evidence of beaver, otter, waterfowl, and other wildlife found in the park. Enjoy cookies prior to the hike.
Lost Dutchman State Park: Start the year off right with a moderate hike on Treasure Loop Trail. Be ready for rocky terrain with a 500-foot elevation gain over 2.4 miles. Bring your water bottle, sturdy shoes, and cameras. A guiding ranger will answer questions you’ve always wanted to ask about the landscape around you.
Picacho Peak State Park:Hike the Calloway trail up to an overlook below the face of Picacho Peak. This trail is moderately difficult. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and bring water. Elevation gain will be 300 feet, 1.5 miles round-trip, and roughly 1.5 hours. Meet at Harrington Loop.
Red Rock State Park: Learn about Sedona’s diverse and beautiful bird species while taking a stroll through this gorgeous park with a veteran bird enthusiast. Bring binoculars to get the most out of the experience. The hike lasts approximately two hours. Meet at the Visitor Center rooftop.
More than 40 state parks and over 50 guided hikes will take place across the state in this National-led effort by the First Day Hikes program which encourages individuals and families to experience the beautiful natural and cultural resources found in the outdoors so that they may be inspired to take advantage of these treasures throughout the year.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Starting at the Visitor Center, explore desert plants, crypto-biotic crust, and signs of animals as you walk cross-country to the ½-mile Panorama Overlook Trail. Ascend by switch-backs about 200 feet up the moderate-strenuous trail to a scenic overlook of the Borrego Valley and Fonts Point. At the viewpoint, reflect on your new year with a lighthearted introspection guided by a Park Interpretive Specialist. Walk down the mountain as the sun sets on your first day of 2022.
Georgia State Parks
In Georgia’s state parks and historic sites, more than 40 guided treks will encourage friends and families to connect with nature and each other. Outings range from a kid-friendly stroll through Mistletoe State Park’s campground, a hike along the banks of the Suwanee River in Stephen C. Foster State Park, a 3-mile hike through Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, and even a night hike at Reed Bingham State Park.
During winter, hikers will notice interesting tree shapes, small streams, and rock outcrops that are normally hidden by summer’s foliage. Many guided hikes are dog-friendly and visitors are welcome to bring picnics to enjoy before or after their adventure. First Day Hikes are listed on GaStateParks.org.
South Carolina State Parks
Kick-off the New Year with fresh air and family-friendly fun on a First Day Hike in South Carolina State Parks. More than 40 ranger-led hikes are scheduled across the state with most parks offering half-mile to 3-mile guided adventures for all ages and skill levels.
All participating hikers will receive an official First Day Hike sticker.
First Day Hikes will also jumpstart a new initiative in South Carolina State Parks. Beginning January 1, use #StepsInSCStateParks to share your walking, hiking, or other active adventures any time you’re visiting a park. The year-long promotion aims to encourage more visitors to get moving in South Carolina State Parks.
For the park enthusiasts who want to visit as many parks as they can on January 1, you can squeeze in four hikes by following the First Day Dash schedule:
Start the day at 9:00 a.m. with a hike on the 1.25-mile Interpretive Trail at Lake Warren State Park
Head north to the Battle of Rivers Bridge State Historic Site for an easy 1-mile hike on the Battlefield Trail at 11
Cruise over to Barnwell State Park for a 1.5-mile hike along the Dogwood Nature Trail at 1:00 pm
Finally, finish your day on the 1.5-mile Jungle Trail at Aiken State Park at 3:00 pm
Other First Day Hikes include a wildflower walk at Oconee Station State Historic Site, stepping into Revolutionary War history on a walk at the Battle of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, and hunting for fossils and shells during low tide at Edisto Beach State Park.
Other events happening at parks around the state on January 1 include a ranger-guided walk on the beach at Edisto Beach State Park and an easy 1.5-mile ranger-guided hike before along the lagoon at Hunting Island State Park.
As New Year’s Eve merriment gives way to New Year’s Day, start 2022 in the great outdoors. Over the years, First Day Hikes have become a tradition at Texas State Parks and across the country.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area: Enchanted Rock hosts three guided summit hikes at 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 4:45 p.m. The park is located at 16710 RR 965 between Llano and Fredericksburg. The two-hour hikes will be led by a park ranger or knowledgeable volunteer. Meet at the gazebo at the start of the Summit Trail.
Pedernales Falls State Park: Located east of Johnson City at 2585 Park Road 6026, Pedernales Falls offers two guided hike options. The first is the Pedernales Falls and Beyond hike which starts at 9 a.m. in the Falls Parking Lot. It’s a 2-mile, moderate hike. The half-mile, moderate Twin Falls Nature Trail hike starts at noon from the Twin Falls trailhead. The park is also hosting a First Day Campfire at 3 p.m. at Campsite 68.
Virginia State Parks
Set the tone for a fantastic 2022 with a New Year’s Day hike in one of Virginia’s State Parks. First Day Hikes are a great opportunity to improve one’s physical, mental, and social health, and what better way to start the New Year than by connecting with nature. State parks offer iconic and beautiful outdoor places that support healthy, affordable, physical, and social activities.
Shenandoah River State Park: Join the Friends of Shenandoah River for a hike celebrating the New Year. Bring your family and leashed pets to Shenandoah River State Park for a hike on the Cottonwood Trail. The Cottonwood trail is about 1.5 miles long with little change in elevation. The loop at the end of the trail is a raised boardwalk but the rest can be muddy in wet weather. The Friends Group will lead the hike and provide light refreshments in the Massanutten Building. The parking fee is waived on January 1.
Conquering a challenging trail on the first day of the year will keep you motivated towards tackling even the toughest goals throughout the year.
In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.
One visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is never enough even when it stretches over a week or two
Some of the wildest terrain the Southern Appalachian region can claim and some of the wildest to be found in the eastern United States can be found in the Smoky Mountains. At their heart is the national park which sprawls across 815 square miles, a swath of land just a little over half the size of Rhode Island.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park has one of the world’s best-preserved deciduous forests, the oldest mountains in the United States, and more annual visitors than any other national park in the country.
The 33-mile long Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) bisects the park, stretching from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina with incredible views. Clingmans Dome is just past the “gap,” commonly referred to as “pass” in other parts of the country.
With an estimated 900 miles of trails, Great Smoky is a hiker’s haven, one that could occupy you year-round. You could focus on the 70-some miles of the Appalachian Trail that runs along the roof of the park or break Great Smoky into regions and hike them one at a time.
Although there are many national parks that are larger, the Great Smoky Mountains have the greatest diversity of plants anywhere in North America. The Smoky Mountains contain more than 300 rare species of plants with as many as 125 on the protected plant lists of either North Carolina or Tennessee.
The Great Smoky Mountains have an explosion of wildflowers in spring and summer. More than 1,500 flowering plants can be found in the region, including delicate spring beauties, several types of trillium, trout lilies, wild geranium, and orchids; visit from mid-April to mid-May for the best blooms. The park’s showy flame azaleas and rhododendrons also burst to life starting in April in the low elevations and into June up high.
The Smokies are famous for their colorful trees in fall. Drive or hike to the higher elevations for sweeping views over the park’s 100-plus tree species painting the hills in bright oranges, yellows, and reds. Peak leaf season is impossible to predict since it is dependent on rain, temperature, and other factors. Generally, you can target the second half of October for higher-elevation colors, and late October through the first week of November for lower elevations.
Before it became a national park, this landscape was home to many settlers who farmed and milled in its hidden valleys. Today, more than 90 historic buildings remain in the park. In Cades Cove, you’ll find the greatest variety of churches, mills, barns, and cabins dating back to the early 1800s. An 11-mile one-way loop road takes you through a lush valley surrounded by mountains. For a quieter ride, head to the Roaring Forks motor nature trail with views of rushing streams, old log cabins, another mill, and forested wilderness.
Visit Oconaluftee to tour the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of structures from the late 1800s, or nearby Mingus Mill. Other beautiful drives include the 18-mile Little River Road from the Sugarlands Visitor Center to Townsend and the Blue Ridge Parkway (outside of the park).
While Cades Cove with its rich collection of homesteading cabins, corn cribs, smokehouses, and churches is arguably the most popular area of the park, much the same history can be discovered without the crowds in Cataloochee (Big and Little Cataloochee). A little over a century ago this was one of the region’s most thriving communities with 1,200 residents in 1910. Today, though, it draws no crowds to its historic buildings, rolling orchards, meadows or forests, which do, however, attract elk, wild turkeys, and black bears.
Nestled near the park’s eastern border, you must negotiate a winding 11-mile gravel road found near Dellwood, North Carolina, to reach Cataloochee. This road will carry you back into a 19th- and early-20th century landscape rimmed by 6,000-foot mountains and some of the park’s best examples of historic frame buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Still standing is the Palmer House, a vintage “dog trot” construction featuring two separate log cabins (that later were planked over) tied together by a covered porch popular with dogs on long, hot summer days. These days the house doubles as a museum of the valley and offers a video that provides an interesting oral history provided by descendants of the valley’s settlers.
As you can see, Great Smoky holds more wonders and adventures than one visit can embrace.
If you drive to, say, Shenandoah National Park, or the Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll get some appreciation for the scale and beauty of the outdoors. When you walk into it, then you see it in a completely different way. You discover it in a much slower, more majestic sort of way.
There’s something special about every trail in Arches which makes it difficult to call any five “the best”. However, based on popularity, here are the five best hikes in Arches.
With more than 2,000 sandstone arches, plus hundreds of looming rock pillars, funky buttes, and striking cliffs, Utah’s Arches National Park offers a different remarkable view around every corner. Hiking trails in Arches vary from short and easy (and wheelchair accessible) to longer and more strenuous. No matter your ability and fitness level, you can find a trail or two that allows you to marvel at geological wonders in an otherworldly red-rock setting.
The scenic drive through the park is stunning but why just drive through it when you can get up close and personal with some of the magnificent sandstone fins, famous arches, and steep canyons. Trails provide access to outstanding viewpoints and arches not visible from the road. In some cases, trails travel under arches affording a unique perspective on the park’s namesake features.
Here are five hikes of varied length that represent the best that Arches has to offer. That said, there are no bad hikes in the park. Any trail that gets you out enjoying nature and breathing the clean, arid air is a great one!
Delicate Arch Trail
Delicate Arch is a spectacle that many visitors want to see when coming to Arches National Park. It’s Utah’s most famous arch and for good reason. Because of that, the trail up to Delicate Arch is usually really busy. To avoid the crowds, get started before 6:30 am. The trail to see Delicate Arch up close and personal is 3 miles roundtrip and climbs 480 feet. The trail has no shade, some steep climbing, and exposure to drop-offs. On your way down it is worth checking out the wall of Ute Indian petroglyphs.
Carefully consider weather conditions (summer heat or winter ice) and your own health and fitness before beginning this hike. Take at least 2 quarts of water per person for this hike and sun protection.
Parking is available at the Wolf Ranch Parking Lot, but be aware it fills up quickly.
The path leading to the Lower Delicate Arch viewpoint is wide and is hard-packed making it perfect for those in wheelchairs. From this viewpoint, you’ll be able to see Delicate Arch as well.
This trail is front and center on my bucket list for our next visit to Arches—hopefully very soon.
Trail length: 3 miles
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 480 feet
Required Time: 45-60 minutes
Required Time: 2-3 hours depending on fitness level
Parking: Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail, but service animals are welcome
Landscape Arch Trail
Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest stone spans, stretches 306 feet yet is only about 11 feet thick at its center. You may wonder how such a narrow span of rock can stay in place. In fact, arches are constantly changing. In 1991 a 60-foot-long slab of rock fell from the bottom of the arch. You can see remnants of this rockfall beneath the arch today.
This is probably one of the easiest hikes you’ll do when you visit Arches National Park. Start your hike at the Devils Garden trailhead. The trail is hard-packed to Landscape Arch. The total distance to the arch and back is 1.9 miles. The trail is relatively flat with some rolling ups and downs but no real elevation gain, only moderate hills. The trail meanders through tall fins to a spectacular view of Landscape Arch. Along the way, you’ll see side trails to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches.
Many people combine this hike with the Devil’s Garden Trail or the Double O Arch trail for a longer hike. The trail path changes to a sandy surface after the Landscape Arch viewpoint.
Landscape Arch is part of the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park. The trail to Landscape Arch passes through tall sandstone fins, a narrow rock wall that eventually forms the Signature Arches before opening up to reveal Landscape Arch. It’s the perfect trail for families and adventures looking for a relatively easy hike with a spectacular view at the end of it.
Trail Length: 1.9 miles
Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Gain: 250 feet
Required Time: 45-60 minutes
Parking: Devils Garden Parking Area
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail, but service animals are welcome
Park Avenue Trail
After passing the visitor center and climbing steeply along switchback roads, the first major area of the park you’ll see is Park Avenue and the Courthouse Towers area. You can walk among massive monoliths and towering walls and see views of the La Sal Mountains.
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 Park Avenue trailhead is located on the Arches Entrance Road, 2.5 miles north of the visitor center on the north side of the road. The parking lot has a paved walkway that heads for 320 feet to a Viewpoint. From there, a well-worn trail leads down the Avenue and towards the Courthouse Towers Parking Lot. Along this trail, you will get a 360-degree view of the La Sal Mountains in the east and distinctive formations like Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, and The Organ. Either arrange a pickup at the northern parking lot or simply do an out-and-back. Either way, this trail is sure to captivate the entire family.
Trail Length: 2 miles round-trip
Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Gain: 320 feet
Required Time: 30-60 minutes
Parking: Park Avenue Parking Area
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail, but service animals are welcome
Balanced Rock Loop Trail
Balanced Rock, one of the most iconic features in the park, stands a staggering 128 feet tall. While this formation may appear to be an epic balancing act, it’s actually not balanced at all. The slick rock boulder of Entrada Sandstone sits attached to its eroding pedestal of Dewey Bridge mudstone. The exposure of these two rock strata layers is ideal for the formation of arches and balanced rocks.
Balanced Rock defies gravity but this won’t always be the case. Eventually, the 3,600-ton boulder will tumble down erosion continues to shape the landscape. In the winter of 1975-76, Balanced Rock’s smaller sibling “Chip-Off-the-Old-Block” collapsed proving that there is no better time than the present to see this awe-inspiring giant.
Unlike many of the other named features in the park, Balanced Rock can be seen from the park road. It is located 9.2 miles from the Arches Visitor Center. Although parking is limited, many visitors stop to complete the short hike (0.3-mile roundtrip) around the rock’s base for unusual and up-close perspectives.
At sunset, Balanced Rock becomes saturated in a deep red-orange making it a great place to end a fun-filled day in the park. This is also an ideal place for stargazing and night photography. Its location is just far enough from the city lights of Moab and provides whimsical rocky spires in the foreground.
Trail Length: 0.3 miles
Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Gain: 55 feet
Required Time: 15-30 minutes
Parking: Balanced Rock Parking Area
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail, but service animals are welcome
Fiery Furnace and Surprise Arch Trail
The only way to enter the Fiery Furnace is with a ranger or with an individual permit. Rangers offer Fiery Furnace hikes spring through fall. Tickets for these hikes are in high demand and reservations are required. At the time of writing, ranger-led hikes in the Fiery Furnace were yet scheduled for 2021 due to the pandemic.
The Fiery Furnace is a labyrinth of narrow sandstone canyons that requires agility to explore. Everyone hiking the Fiery Furnace should be aware of the challenging nature of the terrain and properly equipped for current conditions including temperature extremes. A physically demanding hike, you will walk and climb on irregular and broken sandstone along narrow ledges above drop-offs and in loose sand. There are gaps you must jump across and narrow places that you must squeeze into and pull yourself up and through. In some places, you must hold yourself off the ground by pushing against the sandstone walls with your hands and feet.
Be prepared for extreme temperatures. Due to the maze-like nature of the terrain, all participants must complete the hike once they enter the Fiery Furnace. You must wear good hiking shoes or boots with gripping soles. No sandals or high heeled shoes are allowed. Each person must carry at least one quart of water. You should stow water and other gear in a backpack so that your hands are free to help navigate the terrain. Tripods are not recommended. No children under the age of 5 are allowed on the hike.
Trail Length: 1.6 miles loop
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 385 feet
Required Time: 2-3 hours
Parking: Fiery Furnace Parking Area
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail
The Windows Section is considered by some to be the beating heart of Arches National Park. The area contains a large concentration of arches and is one of the most scenic locations in the park. North Window, Turret Arch, and Double Arch are just a few of the awe-inspiring expanses you’ll find in just over two square miles. Other named features in this area include Garden of Eden, Elephant Butte, and Parade of Elephants.
In the words of Frank Bethwick, leader of a 1933-34 scientific expedition, “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.” This section of the park offers both beauty and variety—hiking, sightseeing, stargazing, photography, and enjoyment for the whole family.
Double Arch is an easy, relatively flat walk to two massive, soaring arches that are joined at one end. Double Arch is the tallest and second-longest arch in the park. You can view the arch from the parking lot or take a short walk to its base.
The Windows Section contains a large concentration of arches and is one of the most scenic locations in the park. Take an easy trail to view North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch.
From the visitor center, drive 9.5 miles up Park Avenue (0.3 miles past Balanced Rock) and turn right toward the Windows Section. Drive an additional 2.5 miles to the loop at the end of the road where the parking area for the trailhead is located.
Trail Length: 1-mile loop
Difficulty Level: Easy
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
Required Time: 30-60 minutes
Parking: Windows Section Parking Area
Note: Pets are not allowed on this trail, but service animals are welcome
A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship.
Start with scenery that makes your heart leap. Sedona nestles among a geological wonderland. It’s hard not to fall in love with Sedona, Arizona. The magic of the red rocks that tower above the town, the gorgeous hikes, the food, and culture.
Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land and buttressed by four wilderness areas and two state parks, this is a landscape built for adventure. Set amid beautiful red rock mountains, buttes, and canyons, Sedona is one of Arizona’s most beautiful destinations. The scenery here is nothing less than stunning with unbelievable views from every street corner and hiking trail. Also known as a spiritual center, particularly for its energy vortexes, the city has a unique vibe and attracts visitors with a diverse set of interests.
Attractions range from the spectacular natural areas and scenic drives to Native American ruins, architecture, galleries, and sacred sites. Many of the best things to do in Sedona are free including hiking, mountain biking, or stargazing. The city is a designated Dark Sky Community.
1. Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock is the most photographed attraction in Sedona and one of the city’s most impressive sites. You can see the rock from Highway 179 as you drive from Oak Creek Village into Sedona or from the backside at several locations. The most classic view of Cathedral Rock is from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. If you feel an urge to climb this amazing rock formation, a hiking trail leads up to the saddle where you’re treated to incredible views to the east and west. It’s also the location of an energy vortex.
2. Uptown Sedona
Uptown Sedona is the old town where you’ll find boutiques, tourist shops, galleries, cafes, and restaurants. This area runs along with Highway 89A beginning where Highway 179 ends. If you are heading up Oak Creek Canyon towards Flagstaff you will pass right through Uptown Sedona.
Establishments here include everything from jewelry and craft stores to crystal sellers and casual restaurants to fine dining. This is also where Jeep tours start. Parking can be at a premium here especially on weekends but there is a parking garage where you can usually find a spot.
3. Red Rock Scenic Byway
The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a stunning drive along Highway 179 running from south of the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona. Along with numerous natural attractions, hiking and biking trails and pullouts allow you to stop and appreciate the sights. Near the north end is the Tlaquepaque arts and crafts village. Some of the most popular sights along this route are Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and a short distance off the road is the Chapel of the Holy Cross.
4. Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive
Stunning Oak Creek Canyon is upstream from Sedona on the road to Flagstaff. Rock formations, cliff walls, and forests line scenic Highway 89A as it follows Oak Creek before climbing up the canyon along a dramatic stretch of twisting road with switchbacks. The sharp corners and steep hills make this a road you will want to drive during daylight. One of the main attractions along this route particularly from spring ’til fall is Slide Rock State Park. You’ll also find hiking trails off this drive. One of the most spectacular hikes is the West Fork Trail.
5. Hiking Trails
One of the best ways to explore the natural beauty around Sedona is to lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails. Many of the hikes are less than three miles and can easily be done in just a couple of hours but they offer access to some of the most amazing views in the area. Longer and more challenging hikes can also be found around Sedona leading to mountain tops and up canyons. Some of the most popular hikes are to Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, and Bell Rock.
6. Jeep Tours
Jeep tours are one of the most popular activities in Sedona. They allow you to enjoy areas you wouldn’t see without an off-road vehicle. These tours are in open-air Jeeps which are an iconic sight in Sedona. Be prepared for a bumpy ride. The drivers are knowledgeable and keen to share the local history and geology of the area.
7. Chapel of the Holy Cross
The Chapel of the Holy Cross sits perched on a small red rock plateau below a multi-hued sandstone ridge creating one of the most impressive architectural sites in Sedona. It was built in 1956 by Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This breathtaking landmark building incorporates a 90-foot cross that dominates the structure and the front face of the chapel is all windows. The modern appearance with sharp lines and angles contrasts with the rounded red rocks. The Chapel is a short distance off Highway 179.
8. Mountain Biking Trails
If you’re a mountain biker you probably already know Sedona is the place to be. And, if you’re new to mountain biking, Sedona will definitely spoil you. The Bell Rock Area Trails include 16 miles of beginner-friendly riding between Courthouse Butte and Little Horse Trail. Once you’re comfortable on the Bell Rock trails head to Long Canyon, a straightforward cruise with flowing turns in upper Dry Creek. You can also link Long Canyon with Deadmans Pass, a relatively flat ride with a few short, rocky climbs.
Sedona is an incredibly beautiful place to climb that happens to have some fairly soft rock. There are sport routes all the way up to seriously tough aid routes. Many of the newer routes feature liberal use of bolts where necessary.
There is so much more to Sedona than meets the eye. People travel from all across the globe to experience the mysterious cosmic forces that are said to emanate from the red rocks. They come in search of the vortexes. What is a vortex? Sedona vortexes (the proper grammatical form ‘vortices’ is rarely used) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. These are places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people feel inspired, recharged, or uplifted after visiting a vortex. Although all of Sedona is considered to be a vortex there are specific sites where the energy crackles most intensely. The four best-known Sedona vortexes are found at Airport Mesa, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Boynton Canyon—each radiating its own particular energy.
11. Bell Rock
One of the key natural sites around Sedona is the aptly named, Bell Rock. This bell-shaped formation is west of Oak Creek Village along the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Easily accessible this is a popular stop. You can park and have a quick look, walk up to it, do a short and easy hike along the side of the bell, and scramble up the rock a short distance. Behind Bell Rock is Courthouse Butte, another famous sight and hike.
12. Boynton Canyon
Boynton Canyon is one of the most scenic of the box canyons that make Sedona Red Rock Country so famous. Boynton Canyon always has been popular for its outstanding scenery. It has become even more so since it developed a reputation as a site of a spiritual energy vortex. Whether or not you follow this belief, you’ll no doubt agree on the beauty found among these towering buttes, crimson cliffs, and natural desert is divine. If you aren’t interested in hiking or vortexes you can simply enjoy some of the best views in Sedona. The upscale Enchantment Resort is a great place for a meal at Tii Gavo and View 180 restaurants with views through the floor-to-ceiling windows.
13. Day Trip to the Grand Canyon
From Sedona, it’s just a 2.5-hour drive to one of the most famous and awe-inspiring sights in America. The drive from Sedona takes you up through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff. From here, you can do a loop driving through Williams or up Highway 180 past Humphreys Peak to the Grand Canyon. Spend the day seeing the sights along the rim of the canyon or take a scenic flight over and into the canyon. Or alternately, ride the rails from Williams. The historic Grand Canyon Railway departs daily to the Grand Canyon.
14. Airport Mesa
Airport Mesa is a tabletop mountain in Sedona looking out over the entire area. The airport is located on a flat field on the top of the mesa thus the name. Many people come here to hike, look out from the viewpoint which is also the location of an energy vortex, or enjoy a meal at the Mesa Grill where you can watch the planes take off and land. Views here extend out over Uptown Sedona towards Coffee Pot Rock and Soldier Pass. For something a little more adventurous, you can also do the Airport Mesa Loop Trail, a 3.5-mile hiking trail that runs along the edge and around the mesa.
15. Red Rock Crossing & Crescent Moon Recreation Area
If you are familiar with the classic site of Cathedral Rock reflecting in the calm waters of Oak Creek, this scene is the view from Red Rock Crossing and Crescent Moon Recreation Area. This is a pleasant place to enjoy the creek on a hot day. You can wade in the creek, enjoy a picnic, or simply relax and appreciate the scenery. This is an incredibly popular location with photographers who come here in the late afternoon when the sun is lighting up Cathedral Rock.
16. Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village
An unforgettable Sedona experience must include spending time at internationally renowned Tlaquepaque (pronounced T-la-keh-pah-keh), Arts & Crafts Village. Nestled beneath the shade of the sycamores on the banks of beautiful Oak Creek in Sedona, Tlaquepaque is the most distinctive Sedona shopping experience to be found in the Southwest. Authentically fashioned after a traditional Mexican village, Tlaquepaque, meaning the “best of everything,” has been a Sedona landmark since the 1970’s. Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque is a perfect setting to witness gifted Sedona artisans absorbed in their work. Shoppers can see artists at work although most of what you will find is interesting retail establishments many of which showcase glass, ceramics, sculptures, weavings, paintings, decorative arts, photography, jewelry, and decor.
17. Red Rock State Park
Red Rock State Park is a 286-acre nature preserve and an environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock. The creek meanders through the park creating a diverse riparian habitat abounding with plants and wildlife. One of the park’s more interesting sites is the abandoned House of Apache Fire built in 1947 situated on a hilltop commanding beautiful views. Easy hiking trails provide views out to the red rock countryside and allow for a close-up look at the House of Apache Fire. One of the more impressive views is the Seven Warriors formation, seen from the Bunkhouse Trail.
18. Verde Valley Wine Country
Many of the old storefronts lining Cottonwood’s Historic Old Town have been repurposed into wine tasting rooms. More than 20 vineyards from the Verde Valley Wine Region grow grapes for commercial wine production. Verde Valley is known for its Rhône-style blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Also, the region has over 100 different varietals growing in the area including Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Viognier, and Zinfandel. Arizona is known for its unique varietals such as Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, Tannat, Aglianico, Negroamaro, Tempranillo, and Seyval Blanc.
19. Schnebly Hill Road
Schnebly Hill Road is a steep, twisty, unpaved, and wonderfully scenic route that drops more than 2,000 feet from a wooded mesa into the wonderland of Sedona. Begin the drive off Interstate 17. (You could do the drive the other way—bottom to top—but starting at the top is more dramatic.) The first stretch takes you through a lovely forest of tall ponderosa pines. Once you reach the rim, the vistas are breathtaking.
20. Coconino National Forest
Just outside Sedona, you’ll find the largest ponderosa forest in the world in Coconino National Forest. But that’s not all this area has to offer. From mountains and canyons to rivers and red rocks, this is the perfect place for some outdoor exploration, whether you prefer hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
Where to Camp in Sedona
Campgrounds and RV parks in the Sedona area offer a wide range of amenities in a variety of settings.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood
Distance to Sedona: 20 miles
Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood and within the Verde River Valley corridor. The spacious campgrounds give quick access to most of the park features like trails, playground, lakes, and the Verde River. Over 100 spacious camp sites are scattered throughout the park. The campground consists of four loops; most campsites are RV accessible with hookups. Many of the pull through sites can accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length.
Rain Spirit RV Resort, Clarkdale, Arizona
Distance to Sedona: 22 miles
Overlooking Tuzigoot National Monument and Verde River, Rain Spirit RV Resort is a new park with 63 full-service sites including 30/50-amp electric service, cable TV, and the Internet. Amenities include private restroom/showers, fitness room, laundry facilities, recreation room, library lounge, pool and spa, and dog run. This 5-star resort is a great home base from which to explore the historic town of Jerome, Sedona Red Rock Country, Old Town Cottonwood, and book an excursion on the Verde Valley Railway.
Distant Drums RV Resort, Camp Verde, Arizona
Distance to Sedona: 24 miles
Distant Drum RV Resort is conveniently located along I-17 (Exit 289) across the Interstate from Castle Cliff Casino. The interior roads and sites are paved and the park is well maintained but many sites are not level. The park features 157 spacious RV sites with concrete pads. Each site comes with full hookups, including 30/50 amp electrical service, cable TV, and Wi-Fi throughout the park. All brand new amenities include an events center, lending library, heated pool and Jacuzzi, laundry facilities, exercise room, spacious dog run, and country store.
Verde Valley RV & Camping Resort
Distance to Sedona: 25 miles
Situated on the scenic Verde River, Verde Valley RV Camping offers 300 acres of picturesque beauty. A Thousand Trails membership park, Verde Valley RV is now open to the public through Encore RV Resorts.