Monument Hopping: El Malpais and El Morro

Trek back through time

Hiking El Malpais and El Morro national monuments prompt a different view of the past.

If people had been there to see it—and there’s a chance Ancestral Acoma or Zuni people were—lava flowing across what’s now El Malpais National Monument might have looked a little like a dark ocean swelling with waves. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When an eruption began, magma poured and oozed from an erupting vent or fissures in the earth spreading across the ground into channels. Everything in its path would be knocked over, surrounded, buried, or ignited by the extremely hot temperature of lava. As the liquid fire continued to flow, it sometimes moved underneath and lifted a blackened crust.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As it reached the rim of sandstone mesas around the southeastern edge of El Malpais, lava rolled away from the rock walls, slipped into cracks, or filled in corners. Here, some of the continent’s newest rock now abuts the sandy floor of the ancient inland sea. 

Behind the park’s western visitor center, lava ran over Precambrian granite. So it’s 1.5-billion-year-old rock and on top of it is a 10,000-year-old rock.

Related: New Mexico’s Land of Fire & Ice: Hike through Volcanic Rock and Ice Caves at This National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), El Malpais has the unusual distinction of having a twin park in El Morro National Monument to its west along State Route 53. Together they offer an action-packed adventure. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I contemplated the geological forces as we drove west on State Route 53 crossing a landscape that has reshaped itself over thousands of years. Every time I stepped out of my car, I shifted back in time by thousands of years. At the eastern edge of the park, the newest flows are about 3,000 years old, give or take a millennium—just a blink of an eye in geologic time. Elsewhere, the lava was last liquid 150,000 to 170,000 years ago.  

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surviving in this region has long meant journeying around, not the shortest path to your destination but the one that passed by water sources which are how Spaniards began visiting what’s now El Morro National Monument. A drive of fewer than 30 minutes takes you from one park to the next. But for anyone on horseback, it would have taken at least a day. Back then, the road we now call State Route 53 which threads between heaps of lava rock and sandstone would have been a major trade route.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For thousands of years, people have found their way to a small pond fed by a reliable spring below a towering cliff. There, they rested, watered their horses, and camped under a diamond-specked sky. Quite a few labored to chisel their names into the sandstone wall.

Travelers knew to head to El Morro’s massive, cream-colored sandstone buttress for the pool of water at its base, the only reliable source in a region with no perpetual streams or rivers.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain and snowmelt still gather there, in a deep-green pool ringed by cattails that rattle in the breeze. Spaniards stopped here on their way to preach to the Zuni and Hopi or to colonize the region. Later, government survey teams and homesteaders spreading into the new U.S. territories in the Southwest did, too. They used knife blades or horseshoe nails to sign their names and record their destinations and purposes, even a poem, on the soft surface of the 200-foot-tall monolith of Inscription Rock. Those markings layer alongside much older petroglyphs and pictographs.

Related: A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

A short, steep hike leads to the mesa-top home of an Ancestral Zuni village perched on sandstone. The trail loops past a few rooms and kivas after dipping and twisting over sandstone bleached as white as the clouds above. 

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today that wall at El Morro National Monument serves as a guest book of history. Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate “passed by here” in 1598; hundreds of others did so as well, before and after. Inscription Rock is just one reason to put El Morro on your must-see list.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A superintendent in the 1920s scrubbed out signatures added after 1906 when El Morro became a national monument assessing them as illegal graffiti and leaving bald patches on the surface. No record remains of who made the arduous drive to see the area’s second national monument or who visited around 1918, during a major war and another pandemic. Now, as water works through and over the sandstone, the etchings’ lines soften, lichen obscures some, and rockfall has taken down others. It’s hard to hold history in place.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission is free—to the visitor center, the half-mile paved Inscription Trail, and even the campground. If you’re up for a little challenge tack on another mile or so and clamber up the Headland Trail. On the mesa top, you can explore the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo and snag some snaps of the nearby Zuni Mountains and remnants of ancient volcanoes.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in these faded bluffs, in the creases of lava flows, I start to see landscape-scale reminders that history is also happening now. We don’t live at the end of the timeline, a terminus point from which history is a fixed and distant object we look back on. Rather, it’s something that is in constant flux, written moment by moment. 

Related: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor centers for El Malpais (off I-40 at exit 85) and El Morro (between mile markers 44 and 45 on State Route 53) provide restrooms, maps, and rangers’ advice.

Travel on an ancient pathway by hiking the eight-mile Acoma-Zuni or Zuni-Acoma Trail (depending on your direction of travel). Trailheads are on SR-117 and SR-53 so set up a car shuttle.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A three-mile loop hike at El Calderon off SR-53 skirts cave entrances and climbs a cinder cone. Wildflowers may be abundant.

At El Morro, a trail passes along the base of Inscription Rock then switchbacks 200 feet up the mesa passing through an ancient pueblo before looping back to the visitor center in just over two miles.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at El Morro is one of nine sites spread among the junipers, each with a fire pit, a picnic table, and a view of stars thick overhead in this official International Dark Sky Park. Open on a first-come, first-served basis with water available seasonally.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

The Ultimate Guide to Custer State Park

With spectacular towering rock spires, gorgeous lakes, scenic drives, and abundant wildlife, Custer State Park is a world of beautiful nature

Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to plentiful wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2 million people from around the world visit Custer State Park every year and it’s easy to see why. With its combination of rolling hills, stunning granite peaks, and abundant wildlife, Custer is a uniquely beautiful location. The park itself can be seen and enjoyed in two to three days but I suggest a longer stay to enjoy the area around the park and all it has to offer.  If you are planning a trip to South Dakota or want to be inspired, read on to find out all you need to know about this beautiful and unique destination.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Custer State Park

Custer State Park was born in 1919. Governor Peter Norbeck had long admired the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota and once elected governor of the state, he set out to permanently preserve the area. Once the park was created, Norbeck himself helped to plan the layout of roads and scenic vistas throughout the park. The twisty turns and narrow granite tunnels of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are designed to offer breathtaking views while blending with the scenery they traverse.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When asked about the routes he had planned throughout the park, Norbeck famously said “You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles per hour; to do the scenery justice you should drive at no more than 20. To do it full justice you should just get out and walk it.”

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer of 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spent three months visiting the Black Hills and Custer State Park in particular. He and Mrs. Coolidge stayed primarily at the State Game Lodge during this time, earning it the nickname the “Summer White House.”

Related Article: Into the Hills: Can’t Miss Spots for Your Black Hills Tour

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for many of the projects we currently enjoy in the park. From 1933 to 1941 they built the dams, bridges, and buildings that makeup Stockade Lake, Center Lake, Wildlife Station Visitor Center, the Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower, and most notably the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location of Custer State Park

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Custer State Park is a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. The drive south from Rapid City on Highway 79 is an easy and pleasant one offering impressive views of the Black Hills. Turn right onto Highway 36 and the main entrance to the park. Once you enter the park gates, the highway name changes to Highway 16A which can be a little confusing. Turning right onto Highway 16A takes you north on Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Monument while continuing straight on Highway 16A takes you west on the park’s main road.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two of the Park’s lodges (State Game Lodge and Legion Lake Lodge) and three of its campgrounds (Game Lodge Campground, Grace Coolidge Campground, and Legion Lake Campground) are located along this route. Turning south just past Legion Lake, one encounters Highway 87 which takes you to the Blue Bell Lodge and campground and Custer’s famed Wildlife Loop Road.

The area immediately surrounding the park is a tourist playground with scenic drives, national monuments (Mount Rushmore), and private attractions such as the Crazy Horse Monument. The town of Custer is located just outside the west entrance to the park and is convenient for restocking on fuel and groceries or for grabbing a bite to eat.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geography of Custer State Park

Granite spires, stunning mountain views, and rolling grasslands all combine in this very special and scenic location. Located in Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park encompasses approximately 71,000 acres of land.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorn antelope, elk, wild burros, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woven throughout this landscape are several streams and lakes that further add to the beauty and ambience of the area. Taken together, Custer State Park offers a unique landscape that creates a stunning palette of colors, shapes, and textures that many consider to be unparalleled in its scenic beauty.

Related Article: Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife in Custer

Wildlife in Custer is abundant and includes bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, coyotes, burros, and prairie dogs. While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along the road.

Burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros (as they are known) have inhabited the grasslands of Custer for nearly a century. Originally, these donkeys were used as pack animals to shuttle visitors between Sylvan Lake Lodge and Black Elk Peak (the highest peak east of the Rockies). When their services were no longer needed these animals were released into the wild to roam freely in the park.

Begging burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros are extremely friendly and easily approachable. They’ve even been known to poke their heads into the windows of passing cars that stop long enough on the side of the road. Although park officials don’t recommend it, visitors enjoy feeding the burros that are eager to accept almost any handout that is offered.

Pronghorns along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The big wildlife draw in Custer is their herd of over 1,500 wild bison. The herd roams freely in the grasslands in the southern part of the park and has thrived in this area. Visitors on the Wildlife Loop Road are almost guaranteed to see bison during their drive. And it’s not uncommon to be caught in a “buffalo jam.”

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This unique experience occurs when the bison herd stops on the roadway or crosses the roadway in the park. Don’t be surprised to find a car or truck surrounded by bison almost like a metal island in a sea of brown hides and horns. While not tame, the bison are also not easily intimidated by people or automobiles. This is truly a unique experience that would be hard to duplicate anywhere in the world outside of Custer State Park.

Related Article: Explore the Black Hills

How to explore Custer State Park

Scenic drives

Almost every road in Custer can be considered a scenic drive! But, there are three that stand out above the others.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway 

The Needles Highway (also known as Highway 87) is a beautiful drive that runs from Highway 16A in the park up to the northwest corner of Custer where Sylvan Lake is located. This 14-mile road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and was once thought to be impossible to build by many engineers. However, through hard work and dedication, it was completed in 1922. This spectacular drive twists and turns its way through forests of pine and spruce, across sunny meadows, and up rugged mountains.

Needles Eye Tunnel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway’s name is derived from the rugged granite spires (tall granite towers) that rise majestically into the air. The road terminates at Sylvan Lake after passing through Needles Eye Tunnel, a one-lane tunnel carved into a mountain of granite that measures only 8 feet 4 inches wide by 11 feet 3 inches tall. With the many twists, turns, and narrow tunnels, this highway is definitely not RV-friendly so leave the rig at the campsite while enjoying this drive. Expect a 45-minute drive one-way from end to end.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iron Mountain Road

Iron Mountain Road is the portion of Highway 16A that travels north after one enters the park from the east on Highway 36. This 17-mile stretch of highway is yet another example of determination and ingenuity. The road was specifically designed with 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and three one-lane tunnels to force visitors to go slow in the hopes that they would enjoy and take in the scenery during their drive.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southern portion of the road begins in Custer then leaves the park after a few miles and ends at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Along the way, visitors are treated to the scenic beauty of the Black Hills including many overlooks and beautiful pine forests. On your journey toward Mount Rushmore, you will cross over wooden “pigtail” bridges (bridges that loop over their road as they climb). As you near the end, be on the lookout for Doane Robinson Tunnel. This tunnel carved through the mountain is 13 feet 2 inches wide and 12 feet 2 inches tall and was designed to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore while you’re heading north. It is quite an impressive sight. This beautiful drive is not an RV-friendly stretch of highway so once again you’ll want to leave your rig parked while exploring this road. Expect a 60-minute drive one way along this route.

Along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Loop Road

As mentioned before, this 18-mile scenic loop travels through the south end of the park and winds through open grassy meadows and hills dotted with pine and crosses clear flowing streams. Depending on the day, you can see pronghorn antelope, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the begging burros on your drive. But, perhaps the most well-known feature of the drive is Custer’s bison herd. At over 1,500 animals strong, this herd roams the grasslands in the park’s southern end and can almost always be seen from the road. We have seen and experienced cars completely surrounded by bison and it makes for an extremely unique experience. Depending on “buffalo jams,” and whether you stop to feed the burros, we recommend planning around 1 hour to 1½ hours for this drive.

Related Article: The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

Hiking in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

The park offers many hiking opportunities that allow visitors to get off the beaten path and explore the park in an up close and personal way. In addition to the designed and marked trails, off-trail hiking also is encouraged in Custer and visitors are allowed to hike wherever they would like. Depending on the area of the park in which you hike, the trails differ greatly in their topography and geography.

Camping in Custer State Park

Camping in Custer

Custer features 10 campgrounds, each with a unique feel, throughout the park:

  • Blue Bell Campground
  • Center Lake Campground
  • French Creek Horse Camp
  • French Creek Natural Area
  • Game Lodge Campground
  • Grace Coolidge Campground
  • Legion Lake Campground
  • Stockade North Campground
  • Stockade South Campground
  • Sylvan Lake Campground

Most campgrounds offer electric sites with water available at various locations throughout the campground. The lone dump station in the park is located at Game Lodge Campground. 

Other activities

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake is a beautiful body of water located in the northwest corner of Custer State Park. It can be accessed via the Needles Highway if you’re in the Park or by Highway 87 from the north. The Sylvan Lake area offers many activities to visitors; you can rent canoes or kayaks or try your hand at fishing for the trout, panfish, and bass found in its waters.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The loop trail that goes around the lake is 1.1 miles in length, mostly flat and comprised of packed gravel making it a relatively easy hike for most individuals. The views from the trail can be stunning as it traverses the shoreline and there are several large boulders along the way that kids and adults alike will enjoy scrambling to the top of in order to enjoy the breathtaking views from that vantage point. There is even a small swimming beach at the lake for those that are interested in cooling off on a hot summer day.

Related Article: Needles Highway: National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Sylvan Lake Lodge offers visitors a chance to grab lunch in the restaurant or stock up on drinks, snacks, and souvenirs while they are there. Due to the many activities and its scenic beauty, Sylvan Lake is quite popular and parking can be somewhat limited. So, we suggest arriving at the lake early in the day when crowds are somewhat minimized.

Hiking in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park is home to a number of other activities as well. The streams in Custer are teaming with trout waiting to be caught. The trails and roads in Custer are perfect for biking and walking. Eagles and other birds fill the skies and are waiting to be seen by all those who are interested. And the lakes in the park are waiting for you to take a cool refreshing dip.

Truly Custer is a magnificent destination unlike any other we have experienced!

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,500 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. 

Related Article: South Dakota: Fly Over State? Not a Chance!

Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m.

At the Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, up to 150 vendors offer their fine arts and crafts for sale including many South Dakota made products.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your morning with a pancake feed and enjoy on-going Western and Native American entertainment under the big top. All events and vendors will be located on the festival grounds across from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.

The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is open to the public. In 2022, the 57th annual Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 30.

Details

Park Size: 71,000 acres

Camping at Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: 10 campgrounds with 341 campsites and 50 camping cabins, horse camp

Park entrance fees: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days); $36 for annual pass; vehicles traveling non-stop through the park on US Highway 16A do not need an entrance license

Operating hours: Open year-round (between October 1 and April 30, showers, flush toilets, and other water systems may be closed; vault toilets usually remain open)

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearest towns: Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone

Note: GPS can be unreliable in the area

Read Next: Doorway to Forever: Badlands National Park

Worth Pondering…

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where never is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

30 Tips for Spring Break Road Trips

A road trip guide

So, you’re planning a road trip for spring break. You’ve got so many options when it comes to where you’ll go and what you’ll do along the way.

Road trips are fun because they can be something that is planned for a while or just planned last minute. You can kind of just have a loose plan and still have a great time.

Additionally, road trips are a great way to meet all kinds of new people. Whether you’re just road tripping to visit friends or relatives or your whole trip is just a big circle, here are 30 tips for spring break road trips.

RV rental at Wahweap Campground in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Rent an RV

Get an RV! If you can fit get into your budget, getting an RV makes a road trip oh such a simple thing. No bathroom stops, a full kitchen, even a place to sleep. An RV can combine several expenses into one. It’s a fun way to travel.

2. Or a rental car

Think about a rental car if an RV isn’t in your budget. Mileage is unlimited and you won’t have to worry about maintenance before during or after your trip.

Wild burros roam the hills along Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Plan your route ahead of time

Plan your route before you leave. Download a map of the area you’ll be traveling, so you can still get directions without a wireless signal.

4. Clean the RV/car before you go

Clean your vehicle before you leave. Start your trip off with a nice clean car or recreational vehicle, all organized for the fun times ahead.

Related: Get Your Rig Ready for Spring Camping

Blue Bell ice cream anyone? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pack the car the night before

If traveling by car, pack the car the night before. Put the things you will need first into the car last. That way they’re easily accessible when you need them. Things like snacks, water, blankets, and pillows should all be in inside the car with you rather than in the truck.

6. Pillows and blankets

Bring pillows and blankets. Road trips, whether in a car or RV, need blankets and pillows. Snuggle up put on your headphones and listen to some jams when it’s not your turn to drive.

7. Fuel up the day before

Fill up with gas (or diesel) the day before you plan to leave. Having everything ready before you leave makes the start of the trip seamless.

Kalaches are great for snacking and, oh so delicious © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Road Trip snacks

Road Trip snacks. Get your favorite snacks. Also grab high protein snacks to keep you going. Relying on fuel stop snacks are expensive and can limit your options.

9. Paper towels and hand wipes

Paper towels and hand wipes for those snacks. I despise being sticky. I need to rinse or have wipes for my hands.

Road trip playlist © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Make a road trip playlist

Music is a must for road trips. Downloading your playlist will make it accessible when you travel out of your cell phone’s coverage area. For the ultimate road trip play list, click here.

Related: Cleaning Your RV Exterior

11. Hoodies, sweaters, and sneakers

Being comfy in the RV or car (and with snacks) is a must. Hoodies, sweaters, and sneakers give me the ability to cool off or warm up a bit when everyone else in the vehicle feels fine.

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

12. Hiking boots

I like to be comfortable and prepared. A road trip may lead me to explore rough terrain. I believe every road trip should include at least one nature adventure. The more the better though.

Springtime in the Skagit Valley, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Bring drinking water

Be sure to bring water bottles and at least a gallon jug per person. You may need to wash your hands or drink it if you end up stuck somewhere for an extended period.

14. Top off your fluids

If bringing your own vehicle, check the fluid levels a couple of days before you go. Coolant, oil, and windshield wiper fluid should be topped off. Be sure you won’t need an oil change in the midst of your trip. If so, get that done before you leave too.

Not a good way to treat your tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Check your tire pressure

When you fill your tank the day before, check your tire pressure too.

16. Bring cash

Stop at your bank and pick up some cash. You may not wish to charge everything. You may also need cash for tipping or for buying things in smaller towns. Always carry cash as a backup.

Spring along the Penal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Tool kit

Carry a basic tool kit and stow on the curb side if traveling by RV. Include the following basic tools: High visibility cones, reflectors and/or vest, wheel chocks, tire pressure gauge, assorted wrenches and screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, duct/gorilla tape, work gloves. You should also keep jumper cables and extra fluids (windshield washer, oil, and coolant). If you’re driving in winter you should also keep an ice scraper, shovel, and traction aid (cat litter or sand).

Related: America’s 10 Best Scenic Byways for a Spring Road Trip

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

18. Consider AAA

You can’t go wrong with an AAA membership. You are covered anywhere in the US and Canada, even if you aren’t on a road trip. In addition to roadside assistance, they offer road maps and trip-planning services.

19. First Aid Kit

Your first aid kit should include: Bandages (different sizes), sterile gauze (different sizes), rolled bandages, triangular bandage, cleansing wipes, tape, safety pins, tweezers, scissors, skin rash cream, anti-itch cream, antiseptic cream, sunburn cream, painkillers, antihistamine, ice packs, emergency blanket, disposable sterile gloves, and first aid manual. You should also have any prescription medications on hand. 

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Flashlights

A flashlight is essential to help you get around in the dark. It can also be used as a signal. Make sure you keep at least one per person and have spare batteries. 

21. Cell Phone Charger

Cell phones are incredibly useful in emergency situations—you can communicate with loved ones, seek emergency help, figure out where you are, and get important information and updates. Always keep a phone charger in your RV emergency kit.

Consider the needs of your pets © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Pet Emergency Kit

If you have pets, you shouldn’t forget to include them in your emergency kit: Pet food, medications, toys, blanket, collapsible food/water bowls, cat litter and pan (if you have a cat), leash, collar/harness, and copy of your pet’s vaccination and medical records.

The World’s Largest Roadrunner is located on I-10 at Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Break up driving with roadside attractions

Break up the driving with numerous stops along the way. All manner of strange and interesting roadside attractions are found across the country. The highways are dotted with oddities that are as head-scratching as they are alluring: highly specific museums dedicated to whatever or gigantic versions of everyday items plunked into a field for no particular reason. For more on roadside attractions, click here.

Related: The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Travel with safety in mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Do the speed limit

Do the speed limit, especially in small towns. They are sticklers for obeying all traffic laws, especially their (sometimes seemingly unnecessarily) slow speed limits, just outside of town.

26. Avoid rush hour traffic

Avoid driving through cities during high traffic times. Highway gridlock and city traffic jams can suck the fun right out of a road trip. Plan ahead to avoid areas of heavy traffic during rush hour (roughly between 7:30 and 9:30 in the mornings and from 3:00 to 7:00 in the evenings).

Old Town Temecula (California) makes a great stop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Don’t be afraid to make some stops

As eager as you might be to reach your destination, the random stops you make along the way are what will make your trip truly memorable. Visiting local businesses will give you a truer sense of the area you’re traveling in and could point you in some directions you didn’t know about before. Not to mention that getting out of the car (or RV) to stretch your legs is essential to ensuring everyone’s comfort the entire way.

28. Travel during daylight hours

It is best to travel during daylight hours. This is the best time to see everything around and it’s the safest time to drive too. A safe road trip is the ultimate goal.

El Morro National Monument is a short distance off I-40 in western New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Consider sights off the main highway

Driving a bit off route for sightseeing can be worth it.  Dark sky communities, for example, are always worth a stop. These are places where you can see the Milky Way. These communities keep artificial light to a minimum, so you can better see the night’s sky.

Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Be flexible

Things don’t always go exactly as planned. The adventure is all in your attitude whether that’s a flat tire or a spontaneous invitation to join others at a campfire. Take (calculated) risks and enjoy the moment!

Worth Pondering…

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.

—Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1968)

10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Not everything comes with a massive price tag in the spring and these activities are affordable and fun

This is the moment we’ve been waiting all winter for! Spring is finally here! Spring means outdoor activities and often it means travel.

Spring is the perfect time of year for outdoor activities. Not too cold, not too hot, and in many cases not yet crowded with summer travelers.

Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Believe me, the older one gets, the more we feel the cold! So, with winter behind us, it’s time to open up the windows and feel that warm spring air.

Look around you and you’ll notice that everybody seems to have an extra spring in their step with those glum winter moods now lifted. There’s a lot to love about spring including RV travel. Spring might just be the best time to travel. Why? Read on.

Rhododendrons in spring bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, the number one reason to travel in spring is the warmer weather. While you may not be guaranteed summer-like temperatures unless you head to Florida or Arizona or perhaps Texas, the weather in spring can be very pleasant especially the later in the season you travel.

Related: The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Summer heat can often be unbearably hot which is another reason spring travel is so appealing.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the arrival of warmer weather, hiking trails reopen, parks become picnic grounds again, children are out playing, and we can start enjoying activities on the lakes and in the forests again.

Be it camping, boating, or hiking, springtime is the best time to enjoy the great outdoors.

An aromatic and visual delight, spring is a rainbow of colors and a bouquet of smells where flowers bloom, skies are blue, birds return from the north, and animals come out from their winter hibernation with newborns in tow.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, these can get costly. But, money is not necessary to enjoy the warm winds, beautiful flowers, and sunny days of springtime. There are many spring activities that are easy on the pocketbook and some are even free. Listed below are ten inexpensive outdoor activities for springtime in an RV.

Spring camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring camping

Talking about camping, America has so much to offer. It is a perfect way to enjoy a mixture of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, picnicking, and birding.

Depending on where you live and when you go, spring can still be a chilly time of year for camping. But isn’t that what campfires and s’mores are for?

Related: Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Spring camping © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picnicking

Take your meals outside this spring. The prettier the setting is the better. Springtime is ideal for picnicking while surrounded by beautiful green fields, serene waters, and blooming flowers.

Local parks make an obvious option.

Rhododendrons in spring bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a great way to catch up with friends and talk about life with good food. Accordingly, it is also great to combine hiking with picnicking as trekking can create stunning views. There are many public parks in America for a less expensive picnic with breathtaking landscapes. Other parks also host live performances, especially at night.

Hiking Catalina State Park in Arizona Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir

Hiking requires little in the way of equipment although you do need reliable hiking shoes and possibly a backpack or hiking poles. You get to enjoy the great outdoors while getting a little exercise.

Hiking Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time to lace up your hiking boots! Maybe a strenuous trek up a mighty peak is what you’re after. Or maybe you see yourself walking along an ancient trail that our ancestors used. Perhaps meandering down a boardwalk is more your speed.

Related: Springtime in the Smokies

There are over 21,000 combined miles of trails for you to explore in the National Park Service. Whether you’re looking for rugged slopes or a flat, smooth boardwalk, there’s a national park trail for you. State parks also offer many opportunities to hit the trail. Get ready, adventure awaits!

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

Biking

Biking, like hiking, is a fantastic way to experience both easy and challenging trails throughout the spring season.

Biking through national parks and state parks is a great way to see beautiful scenery and discover new places. Cyclists can travel by roads (which are sometimes car-free) and, in some parks, on select trails. There are many places in parks where cars cannot go but you can cover more ground and visit new places on a bike. Some parks offer bike rentals and others provide guided biking activities.

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

Fishing

A wide range of people go fishing and if you ask different people why it is their favorite hobby, they will likely answer that fishing gives them relief from stress and they feel free. Freedom is what you experience when you go fishing. Whether you fish in a stream or lake, you experience and appreciate an environment that is entirely different from your ordinary life. When you interact with nature, you become a part of it.

Fishing is an excellent hobby for the whole family and people of all ages. It may appear to be a simple hobby, but the tactics mastered make it a delightful way to spend time in a beautiful setting.

Gambel’s quail in the Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the 47 million birders in the U. S., there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. You can find birds most everywhere: any green space or open water source will do.

Sandhill cranes migrate each spring and fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring and fall bird migration are ideal for observing rare bird species; it is also stunning to see large groups of birds congregating during these seasons. There are many areas in America where anyone can go bird watching, most are free.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beach trips

Beach trips in the spring offer a different experience than in summer. You probably won’t be riding waves or sunbathing depending on the temperature but beach towns offer more than just tanning and swimming.

Lovers Key State Park in Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people enjoy walking on the beach. Dogs love it even more making a beach trip perfect for those with pals of the canine persuasion. You can play beach sports like volleyball, fly kites, go running, or pack a picnic lunch or dinner. Or of course, you can go kayaking or canoeing.

Beach towns tend to be quieter in the spring with lower costs. So skip the crowds and costs of summer beach trips and take your next beach vacation this spring.

Tulips in blossom is a sure sign of spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gardening

Whether you view your RV as holiday accommodation and transportation or as your snowbird or full-time home, growing your own food inside your vehicle is easier than you may imagine. Keeping a garden while traveling can be challenging but it also helps ground you and brings in wonders like fresh herbs and produce or simply beautifies and detoxifies a closed space like an RV. Continue reading for tips on RV gardening.

Related: Beautifully Bizarre Joshua Tree Has Springtime Written All Over it

Wildlife World Zoo in the Phoenix West Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting a zoo

Zoos frequently have lower admission rates during the off-season and lesser crowds than in summer. Visiting the zoo during springtime will allow people to experience seeing more newborn species and more interactive animals because there will only be a lesser audience. Top zoos in America include the San Diego Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission), St. Louis Zoo, ZooAmerica (Hershey, Pennsylvania), and the National Zoo.

Spring wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Create and fly a kite

One of the most fun and creative activities with kids is creating their kites from scratch through the materials available at home. Spring is considered a kite-flying season as the wind becomes steady and constant. Kites range in price from $14 to $85 depending on the model, but it gets much more exciting if the kite is handcrafted. After creatively making the kite, find a more expansive and steady wind spot with less crowds.

Spring wildflowers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final word

Every spring, most of us can’t wait to get outside for fresh air. But after an exceptionally cold and snowy winter, getting outdoors feels all the more urgent. You don’t have to spend a fortune to do it, either. Many spring outdoor activities are free or low-cost.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

From hiking and mountain biking to hot air balloon rides and rafting trips, here are the most-thrilling ways to get outdoors in the Phoenix area

The largest city in the Sonoran Desert—and surrounded on all sides by mountains—Phoenix is a paradise for outdoorsy types. Here, you can hike past towering saguaro cacti, take guided horseback rides on tribal land, and kayak on scenic lakes, all just minutes from the city.

Lake Pleasant Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best of all, the area promises ideal weather. Fall and winter offer pleasant temperatures while spring brings a burst of colorful wildflowers. And in the summer months, travelers can cool off with water activities at Lake Pleasant Regional Park or the Lower Salt River.

Cave Creek Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether you want to explore by land, air, or water, there’s an adventure waiting for you in this stunning Sonoran Desert landscape. Read on for the most thrilling ways to experience the Phoenix area and spend some quality time in the great outdoors.

Related Article: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take an (Awe-inspiring) Hike

There’s a scenic trail for every skill level just a short drive in any direction from downtown Phoenix. If you’re looking for something easy follow one of the meandering walking paths through the Desert Botanical Garden, home to 140 acres of local flora, or explore a saguaro forest on the Go John Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park. There’s also the Blevins Trail in Usery Mountain Regional Park where you can see quintessential Sonoran Desert scenery or the half-mile hike in Papago Park to the popular Hole-in-the-Rock viewpoint.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a slightly more strenuous hike, try the Tom’s Thumb Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve which starts with a series of challenging switchbacks and passes upland boulder fields and desert flora on the way to the top. You could also opt for the two-mile Waterfall Trail in White Tank Mountain Regional Park, home to ancient petroglyphs, massive saguaros, and that namesake waterfall (though only after it rains), or the 3.5-mile Hidden Valley via Mormon Trail loop in the South Mountain Park and Preserve which requires squeezing through a crevice called Fat Man’s Pass and some hand-over-hand clambering toward the top.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most challenging hikes near Phoenix is the Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park which starts in an open desert, travels through a basin of smooth, polished rock, and ends in a flat clearing with breathtaking views to the west. Hikers here must be prepared for some hand-over-hand rock faces and rugged, unmarked areas. There’s also the Summit Trail up Piestewa Peak (the second-highest point in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve) and the steep, rocky Echo Canyon Trail up the famous Camelback Mountain.

Related Article: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore by Mountain Bike

Setting out on two wheels is another great way to discover the Sonoran Desert. 360 Adventures offers mountain-biking tours through the desert on trails selected for your skill level while the REI Co-Op Adventure Center boasts half-and full-day excursions on everything from smooth, groomed flows to big rock drops. If you prefer dirt bikes, opt for Extreme Arizona which features guided trips into the Table Mesa area as well as self-led outings in Tonto National Forest.

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

Hit the Trails on Horseback

Playing cowboy with a horseback ride through the desert stimulates the senses with an authentic experience of history. Horseback rides offer a memorable way to enjoy the scenery. Ponderosa Stables has guided tours in South Mountain Park and Preserve where trails wind past magnificent saguaros while the Koli Equestrian Center located in the Gila River Indian Community features excursions led by American Indian wranglers who take you through their tribal lands while teaching you about their history, culture, and surroundings.

Huhugan Heritage Center at Gila River Indian Community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go Off-road with an ATV Tour

For an adrenaline-pumping experience, try a guided ATV tour with Arizona Outdoor Fun during which you’ll navigate twisting mountain trails to explore Hohokam Indian ruins, visit a former turquoise mine, and learn about Arizona’s history and wildlife. If driving an authentic, military-grade TomCar UTV is more your speed, go with Desert Wolf Tours which covers thousands of acres of Sonoran Desert wilderness to teach cowboy history while soaking up the scenery. Whichever you choose, you’ll get to cover more ground than on a hike or bike ride—all without breaking a sweat.

Related Article: Arizona Lakes: 6 Sonoran Desert Oases

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take to the Sky with a Hot Air Balloon Ride

See the desert from a whole new perspective by soaring above the coyotes and jackrabbits in a hot air balloon. Begin on the ground to view the inflation process then take to the sky for an hour during which you’ll float at different elevations to spot local wildlife, plants, and landmarks. Flights with Hot Air Expeditions and Rainbow Ryders take place at sunrise year-round and sunset rides are available in the winter months.

Along the Salt River east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Waterways

On Phoenix’s eastern edge you’ll find the Lower Salt River where you can indulge in stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and rafting tours to spot wild horses and eagles along the shore. On the upper part of the river, Arizona Rafting leads whitewater rafting experiences from March through May which include a hot fajita lunch, complimentary wet suit rentals, and some of the best rapids between California and Colorado.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For something less intense, consider a tour with Salt River Tubing in Tonto National Forest during which you’ll mosey down mountain-stream waters at a pace that makes enjoying a floating picnic possible.

Along the Bush Highway east of Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 45 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix, you’ll even find Lake Pleasant Regional Park one of the area’s most scenic water recreation areas. The 1,000-acre lake has rentals available on-site, as well as opportunities for swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, picnicking, and more.

Read Next: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Saguaro National Park: Two Parks in One

Saguaro National Park protects America’s largest cacti species, the saguaro, and features hiking trails for every level

The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American Southwest. These majestic plants found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by Saguaro National Park. Here you have a chance to see these enormous cacti silhouetted by the beauty of a magnificent desert sunset.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s largest cactus, the saguaro’s imposing stature, and uplifted arms give it a regal presence. Perhaps that’s why this burly giant whose only bits of exuberance are seasonal blossoms and fig-like fruits at the tip of its limbs has been dubbed the “desert monarch.”

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park is composed of two distinct districts: The Rincon Mountain District and the Tucson Mountain District. The Tucson Mountain District lies on the west side of Tucson, Arizona, while the Rincon Mountain District lies on the east side of town. Both districts were formed to protect and exhibit forests of their namesake plant: the saguaro cactus.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While you can enter the Tucson Mountain District on other roads, it’s best to go in from Speedway Boulevard over the dramatic Gates’ Pass which is part of the Tucson Mountains. Like its counterpart on the east side of town, it offers a variety of trails that range from a leisurely meander around the visitor’s center to full-day treks. The west park is near two other attractions, as well: The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a regional showcase for native plants and animals, and Old Tucson, the one-time movie set where the street scenes of many old westerns were filmed.

Related: Mind Blowing National Monuments in the Southwest

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s east district is about 20 miles away on the opposite side of the city where it wraps itself around the foothills of the Rincon Mountains. It’s also about 500 feet higher in elevation, larger, and boasts both numerous hiking options and a paved 8-mile driving loop.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your visit at the visitor center of either one of the Saguaro National Park two districts. Here, you can view museum exhibits, informational slide shows, cactus gardens, and shop at the bookstore and gift shop. The visitor centers are also the starting point for numerous hiking trails and scenic drives. Guided walks led by visitor center staff are also available—giving you the best close-up experience with some of the most notable areas of the park.

Related: A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Saguaro National Park is open every day of the year except Christmas, the busiest time is from November to March. During the winter months, temperatures are cooler and range from the high 50s to the mid-70s. Starting in late February and March, a variety of cactus and wildflowers begin to bloom. In late April the iconic saguaro begins to bloom. Come June the fruits are beginning to ripen. In August the lush Sonoran desert starts its monsoon season so be aware of possible flash floods.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many activities to partake in at Saguaro National Park no matter the season. There is a multitude of short hikes to choose from or for the adventurous hiker, wilderness hikes, and backcountry camping.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro is offering a number of ranger-guided hikes during February. Two hikes are described below. Contact the park for updates on the day of the program. If you reserve a spot but then cannot make the scheduled hike, call to cancel your reservations by 9 a.m. the day of the hike. 

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 14, 4 p.m. Sunset Hike Hike: 4 hours, 3-½ miles roundtrip 

This hike gains 700 feet with most of the elevation change in switchbacks near the ridgeline where hikers will watch the sunset before descending under the moonlight. This hike is restricted to ages 10 and older. Reservations are required. 

Related: Saguaro National Park: 11 Planning Tips

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 15, 4:15 p.m. Trailing Shadows Hike: 3 hours, 2-½ miles roundtrip 

This walk bridges sunset into moonlight letting hikers experience the desert in both the glow of twilight and the light of the waxing moon. The hike is considered easy to moderate, with an elevation gain of roughly 200 feet. The trail begins and ends on a small stretch of dirt road, proceeding to traverse in and out of a winding dry river bed along with fields of mighty Saguaros. This hike is restricted to ages 8 and older. Reservations are required.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro supports other activities as well. Bicycling around the east district’s Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a popular road bike route as is mountain biking on the Hope Camp Trail and Cactus Forest Trail.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park’s two districts offer more than 165 miles of hiking trails. A hike at Saguaro can be a stroll on a short interpretive nature trail or a day-long wilderness trek.

The best place to view the sunset on the east side is either the Tanque Verde Ridge trail (.5 mile hike) or the Javelina Rocks pull-out. The driving loop does not close until 8:00 p.m. so you have plenty of time to leave the loop after sunset.

Related: Reach for the Sky: Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the west side, Gates Pass (the end of Speedway Blvd to the west) is the ideal spot for a sunset. There is a parking lot at the top of the winding road with Tucson Mountain Park but this closes just after sunset.

Worth Pondering…

The saguaro cactus is the Sonoran Desert’s singular icon, the largest native living thing that exists here, and it appears to be a stunningly robust presence in a harsh land.

—Larry Cheek, Cheek, Born Survivor

Discover a Desert Oasis at San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Neighboring Queen Creek to the South, San Tan Mountain Regional Park is a 10,000+ acres of Sonoran Desert beauty ranging in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. The park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. Goldmine Mountain is located in the northern area, with a spectacular San Tan Mountain escarpment in the southern portion of the park. The vegetation changes from creosote flats to dense saguaro forests. Various types of wildlife may be observed, including reptiles, birds, and mammals.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park also has a Visitor’s Center. Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor’s Center to pick up educational tidbits, purchase souvenir items, visit with park staff, and see the wildlife exhibits or tortoise habitat. Restroom facilities are available and additional amenities are slated for future development. ​

The San Tan Mountain Regional Park is placed at the crossroads of diverse communities, regions, and cultures. The park is in demand to meet the needs of a regional area extending south from central Maricopa County and the East Valley of metropolitan Phoenix, into northern Pinal County.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located just south of the Maricopa/Pinal County line near the Town of Queen Creek, the San Tan Mountain Regional Park has been used for decades for various recreation activities such as hiking, equestrian riding, and wildlife photography. The park is rich with unique historical, cultural, and biological resources. This master plan seeks to provide programmed recreation activities that meet the needs of the existing users, future park visitors, and the growing East Valley population while protecting the park’s natural, Sonoran Desert mountain environment.

Related Article: Pristine Sonoran Desert Camping

Currently, the park consists of 10, 200 acres south of Hunt Highway in Pinal County. Restroom facilities and water are available at the San Tan visitor center. 

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Park Hiking Trails

San Tan Mountain Regional Park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Moonlight Trail is the perfect choice as it provides a scenic and a rather mild hike for all to enjoy. If you are looking for a longer more difficult hike, try the 5.1-mile San Tan Trail. This trail winds you through the Broken Lands and Central Valley portions of the park to the top of the Goldmine Mountains. In addition to its length, some may consider certain areas of the San Tan Trail difficult due to washes, soft soil, and slick or rocky mountain slopes. Use extreme caution in these areas. Another visitor favorite is the Malpais Hills Trail as it displays a unique perspective of Rock Peak and the Malpais Hills.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trails within the San Tan Mountain Regional Park are popular because they offer a unique perspective of the lower Sonoran Desert with wildlife, plant life, and scenic mountain views.

Related Article: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​San Tan Mountain Park Picnic Areas

Enjoy the beauty of the Sonoran Desert while taking in a picnic at one of several picnic tables located near the San Tan visitor center, Nathan Martens Memorial, or San Tan trail-heads. Restroom facilities are accessible at the San Tan visitor center. Picnic tables are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Additional picnic areas are slated for future development.​ 

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​San Tan Mountain Park Programs

To register for a Park program, please call the San Tan office at 602-506-2930 x7.

Mountain Bike Ride, Saturday, February 12, 2022, 9:00 am-11:00 am

This is a 2-hour group ride on moderate terrain.

Roll up to the main trailhead 10-minutes prior to start time and meet with the San Tan Shredders. All abilities are welcome to join in the fun. The trail ride is about 2 hours. Quote of the day: “No matter how slow you go, you’re still faster than a couch potato!” Bring your helmet (required), plenty of water, and an extra inner tube in case of a flat. Limit 10 riders per group.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Wildflowers at San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Ready for Wildflowers, Thursday, February 17, 2022, 10:30 am-11:30 am

Learn about common desert wildflowers that can be found at San Tan during an easy, ranger-led stroll.

Join the ranger on an easy stroll to look for indications that wildflowers are on the way. Learn about some of our desert’s common blooms such as filaree, lupine, bladderpod, Mexican poppy, and more and tips on how to identify what you see. Also learn about the Maricopa County Eco-Blitz species of the month, the Black-Throated Sparrow. These birds might be seen hopping around on the ground near sprouting flowers as they forage for seeds and insects.

Limit 10 participants. Meet at the Main Entrance Trailhead map kiosk/picnic table.

Wildfloers at San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road south to Hunt Highway. Travel east on Hunt Highway to Thompson Road south. Turn west on Phillips Road to the San Tan Mountain Regional Park entrance. 

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Read Next: Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

San Tan Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

Madera Canyon, with active springs and a seasonal creek, is a lush oasis

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species, while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands, the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, with active springs and a seasonal creek, is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. From Green Valley to the 9,453-foot summit of Mt. Wrightson, the mountains rise nearly 7,000 feet. Moisture increases and temperature decreases 3 – 5°F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain, creating a succession of four life zones. Each life zone has communities of plants and animals adapted to the environmental conditions found in the zone.

Madera Creek, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beneath the shade of the trees, Madera Creek tumbles over bedrock and boulder. Water and stream-borne sediment gradually grind rocks to gravel, gravel to pebbles, and pebbles to sand.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

Over millennia, this stream and its side-canyon tributaries have carved the canyon into the form that we see today. Madera Creek is a seasonal stream. It does not flow year-round. But at certain times of the year, water from springs and seasonal run-off drain down the tributaries and feed the main creek in this large bowl-like watershed.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stream system and the abundant plants along its banks form a riparian corridor. The corridor descends through all the canyon life zones and creates excellent wildlife habitat.

This forested microclimate is a perfect habitat for birding. You can, with time and patience, see fifteen species of hummingbirds, elegant trogon, sulfur-bellied flycatcher, black-capped gnatcatcher, flame-colored tanager, and 36 species of warblers. In all, over 256 species of bird species have been documented.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And under the green canopy roam javelinas, deer, rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys, black bears, and mountain lions. Even the occasional jaguar. Coatimundi, the raccoon relative common in the jungles of Guatemala, make Madera Canyon their home as well.

There is a campground suitable for smaller RVs and several picnic areas and the extensive Santa Rita Mountain trail system is easily accessed from here. Bring a picnic lunch and some snacks.

Birding at Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a lovely location for a picnic, especially when escaping the summer heat of Tucson.  Picnic tables and grills are located near parking areas throughout the canyon. The White House Picnic area provides for larger groups—up to 30 or so. Advanced reservations cannot be made.

All picnic areas have nearby bear-proof trash receptacles and accessible toilets. Bring your own charcoal; there is no firewood available in the Canyon. Fires may be built ONLY in the grills and must be fully extinguished before you leave.

Related: Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

The picnic area at the end of the paved road seemed to be the most appealing, particularly on warmer days.

Mt. Wrightson, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mt. Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. For these trails, hiking boots and layered clothing for temperature change are needed. Always bring drinking water hiking and stay on the trails. Do not short-cut switch-back trails, this leads to soil erosion. Hiking brochures with detailed trail maps are available at each trailhead and the Santa Rita Lodge. Pets must be on a leash.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking trails vary from paved, handicap-accessible nature trails, and gentle walking paths in the lower canyon, to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson.

The challenging and popular Old Baldy Trail, a 10-mile trek (round trip) leads to the summit and climbs more than 4,000 vertical feet topping out on one of the most spectacular summits in the state. The views from the summit are, to say the least, breathtaking.

Mt. Wrightson, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Super Trail is longer but has a more moderate gradient. 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 coolest of the two by keeping a more northerly aspect and staying in the trees for almost its entire length. The Super Trail stays within the same drainage as its steeper cousin on the lower loop of the “8”, but it follows a more south-facing slope through a high desert environment.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Above the midpoint of the “8” at Josephine Saddle, the Super Trail loops around the south side of the mountain through even 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 trail you’ve followed to the saddle.

Related: A Lifetime Is Not Enough To Do It All: 6 Arizona Destinations for Winter Fun

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon Road climbs from the Sonoran Desert floor in Green Valley, at 2,700 feet with summer temperatures from 85 degrees to 105 degrees F to 5,500 feet with temperatures 20 degrees cooler. Monsoon rainstorms begin in early July and continue through August into September. Storms do not occur every day and usually are small and highly localized but when they are over you, prepare for hail and a brief downpour with falling temperatures. Dry washes fill with rushing water and Madera Creek can flood, so be careful.

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In winter, expect snow above 5,000 feet and temperatures near freezing in the canyon. For all these climate conditions, be prepared with adequate footgear and layered clothing.

Madera Canyon is in a National Forest Recreation Area where many facilities are provided by the Forest Service, requiring a local Forest Pass or accepted Inter-agency Pass. While parked you must clearly display whichever of these passes you have purchased on your dashboard.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An $8 Day Fee to the U.S.Forest Service can be purchased at five parking area fee stations in the canyon—only with correct cash or check. You must park in a designated area or you will be ticketed, or towed.

Madera Canyon is accessed from Interstate I-19 about 30 miles south of Tucson and 30 miles north of Nogales on the US/Mexico border:

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exit I-19 at exit 63 is titled Continental Road and Madera Canyon.

Turn east on Continental Road, continue straight ahead through a traffic signal, cross the Santa Cruz River, and turn right at the next four-way stop. You are now on Whitehouse Canyon Road.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cross the railroad tracks and continue up the hill to the southeast. Slow down for the Continental School, cross the cattle guard and you are now in the Santa Rita Experimental Range operated by the University of Arizona for research on grasses, grazing, and range fire. For birders, there are many species along this road as you drive through the grassland bajada towards the canyon.

Related: Hiking Arizona

Old Baldy Trail, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After about six miles turn right on the paved Madera Canyon Road. If you continue straight ahead on the gravel road, you can access the headquarters of the Experimental Range or continue through Box Canyon to state route 83.

Heading south on Madera Canyon Road you will cross three one-lane bridges then climb towards Madera Canyon between Mt. Wrightson on your left and Mt. Hopkins on the right.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Following a delightful day, we returned to Mission View RV Resort, our home base of San Xavier Road in southern Tucson.

Worth Pondering…

Stay close to nature, it will never fail you.

—Frank Lloyd Wright

Experience the Journey Within

How the forest can change your life

Who could have imagined that being confined to our homes would bring so many people closer to nature?

As we wrap up the first month of 2022, let’s remind ourselves to hit the “reset” button. America offers RV travelers the opportunity to do just that and tap into true joy and fully relax and reset. Improving your health and well-being can be as simple as getting outdoors to enjoy parks and forests and trails. The health benefits of outdoor recreation inspire healthy, active lifestyles, and a connection with nature.

Enjoying nature at Lackawanna State Park (Pennsylvania) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Humans are custom-designed for nature awareness. Before there were computers, smartphones, and televisions, most of our time was spent outside in the fresh air, tuning in with birds, plants, trees, and all the aspects of nature.

This deep level of knowledge and understanding about edible plants or how to move quietly in the forest and get closer to wildlife was developed out of a need for survival.

Enjoying nature at Roosevelt State Park (Mississippi) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But beyond the surface appearance of a basic need to find food, shelter, and navigate without getting lost, using our sensory awareness in nature also brings significant benefits to our health and wellness.

Related Article: Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Just check out some of these nature awareness quotes by famous people.

“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according to what others think, you will never be rich.”
—Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher (4 BC-AD 65)

Enjoying nature in Custer State Park (South Dakota) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

 “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even
spiritual satisfaction.”
—E.O. Wilson (1929-2021)

Enjoying nature at the Coachella Valley Preserve (California) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
—John Muir (1838-1914)

Enjoying nature on the Creole Nature Trail (Louisiana) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s a reason why history’s greatest philosophers, scientists, and leaders tend to have close relationships with nature!

Yet today things are quite different.

Related Article: Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

Most people today have barely any awareness of the natural world.

Enjoying nature at Bernheim Forest (Kentucky) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve become preoccupied with technology, video games, and how to fit into an expanding world. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities, they simply don’t stimulate the human brain in the same way that nature does.

That is why so many people around the world are now coming back to the wilderness and intentionally rebuilding practices of nature awareness into their daily life.

Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a hefty dose of nature look no further than a National Natural Landmark. From tidal creeks and estuaries to mountain wilderness, underground caverns, and riparian areas, America offers a diversity of stunning landscapes to explore and enjoy.

Enchanted Rock (Texas) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Managed by the National Park Service, the National Natural Landmark program was created in 1962 to encourage the preservation and public appreciation of America’s natural heritage. To date, 602 sites in the country have received the designation.

Francis Beider Forest (South Carolina) is a National Natural Landmark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

With national and state parks, millions of acres of national and state forest, and thousands of miles of trails, America offers a lot of opportunity and free access to the outdoors with numerous options for outdoor recreation including hiking, biking, birding, photography, canoeing, rafting, skiing, and simply taking a walk in the woods. Activities such as these have proven major benefits for human health and wellness due to their ability to clear the mind, engage our senses, and get our bodies moving.

Related Article: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Birding (Little blue heron) at Corkscrew Sanctuary (Florida) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spending time in the outdoors is something we need at any age. Spending time in nature is inherently calming. The patience that birding requires only serves to enhance this meditative effect. As birders learn to appreciate nature’s slower pace, it inspires reflection, relaxation, and perspective. The exercise benefits that come from walking outdoors also contribute to increased happiness and energy levels.

Birding (Sandhill cranes) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a fun hobby you can do anywhere, anytime, without spending much cash upfront? You can’t go wrong with birding, commonly known as bird watching.

Birding (Black skimmer) at South Padre Island Birding Center (Texas) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can do it purely for fun or keep a life list—a birding term for the running list that bird enthusiasts keep of all the different species of birds they see. Whatever your goal, you’ll be rewarded by the sights and sounds of beautiful and interesting feathered creatures.

Birding (Great kiskadee) at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (Texas) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve been considering joining the ranks of the 47 million birders in the United States, there’s no better time than the present to take the plunge—or at least dip your toes in. 

Related Article: Getting Back to Nature: How Forest Bathing Can Make Us Feel Better

Anyone who spends time birdwatching knows intuitively why they keep going back: It just feels good. Being in nature—pausing in it, sitting with it, discovering its wonders—brings a sense of calm and renewal. 

Worth Pondering…

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

—Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Take a First Day Hike on New Year’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Elevate Your Hiking with Mindfulness

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks

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

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

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

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related: Hiking Arizona

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

California State Parks

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

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

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

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

Georgia State Parks

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

Related: Best Hikes for National Hiking Month

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

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

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina State Parks

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

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Related: Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks

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

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

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

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reservedts

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

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia State Parks

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

Related: How Much Time Should You Spend in Nature?

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Muir, Steep Trails, 1918