The Ultimate Guide to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on Earth

Before visiting the New River Gorge for the first time, I’ll admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I knew it was in West Virginia coal country and I knew that it had a famous bridge over a river. And that was about it!

But this just meant that each discovery—of an amazing view or adorable town or interesting tidbit of history—was both surprising and exciting. I love to be surprised by destinations and the New River Gorge is certainly delivered.

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Despite its name and although it was only recently designated as a national park, New River Gorge is anything but—this incredible gorge, similar to the Grand Canyon or Columbia River Gorge of the west has been carved out over the eons by the soft but persistent power of flowing water. Along with the mighty New River itself, this West Virginia wilderness encompasses a vast and vivid 70,000-acre stretch of countryside and offers a huge array of both lands- and water-based recreational opportunities. 

Tucked into south-central West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (which was upgraded from National River status at the end of 2020) is located about an hour from Charleston, West Virginia, and close to small towns such as Beckley, Beaver, and Hinton. It’s also only a short distance from the Virginia border and towns in that state like Roanoke. 

New River Gorge is characterized by its carved-out river canyon which is populated with beautiful Appalachian greenery that paints the rolling hills that spread out from the water. As in most parts of the Appalachian Mountains weather can be unpredictable and quick to change but generally, you can expect temperatures between the 20s and 40s in winter, 30 and 70 in spring and fall, and pleasant summers that range from 50-80 degrees. Precipitation can occur year-round but the wettest month is July.

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History of the Park

According to the National Park Service, the origins of the New River are almost as old as the Appalachian Mountains themselves. During the birth of the Appalachians 500 million years ago the North American and African plates collided forcing the earth up and forming mountains.

An ancient river, the Teays (once much larger, but then broken up by glacial action) drained from the steep edges of this new range and over time it got faster and bigger cutting through the mountains.

That process has continued until today and this section of the ancient river has now sliced through 1,500 feet of rock to create the picturesque canyon that still contains powerful waters. All of this history might make it the second-oldest river on the planet.

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Before Europeans arrived in the area in the 1600s, Indigenous peoples had been living there for at least 11,000 years, according to archeological evidence. Those native groups are the ancestors of the Cherokee and Shawnee peoples who fought the White settlers for over 150 years but were forced off their land by the early 1800s.

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

Because the New River had cut through so much rock during its history seams of good-quality coal were easy to access. The industry prospered and the area was connected to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1873 to facilitate the moving of mined coal. Soon, towns and settlements followed and for almost 50 years mining was a primary business with at least one mine surviving into the 1960s. Today, rail yards, bridge piers, the ruins of coal mining towns, coke ovens, rusted mine cars, and other remnants of the industry can still be found throughout the park.

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New River Gorge Bridge history

Before 1977, if you wanted to cross the New River Gorge, you had to drive down into the canyon, cross a railroad bridge, and then drive back up again on the other side. The crossing could take up to an hour on narrow, twisting mountain roads.

This crossing time was reduced to less than two minutes once the New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977. Today, it carries US-19 across the gorge, 876 feet above the New River.

The bridge is a modern architectural marvel; when it was completed, it was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world spanning 3,030 feet (today it’s still the third-longest bridge of its kind).

You can learn a bit about the bridge and its history in a video at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and there’s also a boardwalk trail there that offers up some excellent vantage points of the bridge. (Just note that the lower observation deck does include lots of stairs.)

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It all started with the Fayette Station Road, originally called the Gentry Road which was 1909. The bridge below the main arch bridge is the Tunney Hunsacker Bridge (often referred to as “the little bridge” by visitors.) It was the first bridge for cars to cross the New River Gorge. At the time that was the area’s engineering marvel.

In the 1960s, construction began on Route 19 also known as Corridor L. It needed to cross the New River Gorge and the only question was how. The answer was to build what was then the largest arch bridge in the world. Construction began in 1974 and was completed 3 years later in 1977. 

The bridge is a structure of amazing statistics:

  • 3,030 feet long
  • 876 feet high
  • 70 feet wide
  • 88 million pounds of U.S. Cor-Ten steel and American cement

Opened and dedicated on October 22, 1977, the span has since become an iconic symbol of West Virginia.

More on New River Gorge: BASE-Jump Off This Bridge on Bridge Day

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a national landmark in engineering and is celebrated on the third Saturday in October each year at Bridge Day when the bridge is closed to vehicle traffic and people BASE jump off the side.

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White water rafting and rock climbing

New River Gorge is called by frequent visitors has long been a haven for outdoor recreationists from across the country. With 53 miles of undammed whitewater, there’s plenty of room for experienced water sports lovers including a 13-mile section of the Lower New River that has lots of class IV and V rapids (the most technically difficult and dangerous).

In the 1990s, rafting boomed in popularity with as many as thirty companies guiding tours along the park’s 53 miles of free-flowing whitewater. One of the most popular stretches is the “Lower New,” a 13-mile gauntlet of Class IV to V rapids. Seasoned companies like Adventures on the Gorge run a number of more relaxed, family-friendly outings as well.

It’s not all about the water at the gorge, though. The sandstone walls at New River Gorge National Park ranging between 30 feet and 120 feet in height feature over 1,400 routes for climbers. New River Climbing School hosts daily climbing and rappelling courses for the rock curious looking to try their hand at sending the gnar (A rock climbing term used to describe climbing a route without falling or resting on the rope).

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Plus, The New’s Arrowhead section boasts 12.8 miles of Boy Scout–built mountain biking trails perfect for beginner to intermediate riders. Bike rentals (and local craft brews) are available at Arrowhead Bike Farm.

New River’s rugged canyon has been well-known as a world-class rock climbing and water sports destination since it was designated a national river in 1978 but there are other popular activities there, too.

Due to warmer waters than are typically found in the region as well as 12 public-access points in the park, it’s a well-known fishing destination for smallmouth bass, walleye, carp, and other native and non-native game fish.

Detailed maps show the specific areas where hunting is allowed in the park. In general, hunting is not permitted in safety zones near public areas and the Grandview section. Hunting permits, rules, and seasons are all governed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

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Go hiking in the New River Gorge

Within New River Gorge National Park there are about 100 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to challenging. Most of the trails are fairly short but many can be connected if you’re looking for a longer hike.

More on New River Gorge: New River Gorge National River: A River Runs Through It

Since the park stretches along 53 miles of the river there are several different sections with trails. The most popular trails in the New River Gorge include:

  • Endless Wall Trail: This Fayetteville trail is one of the most popular in the park offering up excellent views of the gorge and the “Endless Wall” which is an area popular with rock climbers. You can do this hike as a 2-mile out-and-back from the Fern Creek parking area to Diamond Point or you can do it in a 2.7-mile loop—but if you do the whole loop, note that you’ll have to walk a half-mile back to your car along a road.
  • Long Point Trail: The other popular Fayetteville trail is the 3.2-mile Long Point Trail which leads out to a rocky outcrop that overlooks the New River Gorge Bridge. The trail is pretty tame until the last 0.3 miles when it gets a bit steep and filled with roots to climb over.
  • Grandview Rim Trail: This 3.2-mile trail in the southern part of the park connects the Main Overlook at Grandview with Turkey Spur offering up some of the most stunning views of a horseshoe bend in the New River.
  • Sandstone Falls Boardwalk and Island Loop Trail: Head down to the southern part of the park to visit Sandstone Falls, a 1500-foot-wide waterfall on the New River. A 0.25-mile boardwalk offers up great views and connects to the half-mile Island Loop Trail just below the falls.
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Scenic drives at New River Gorge

Visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve by vehicle is an up-and-down experience. While some roads travel along the rim and some along the river, others wind up and down between the two. Vistas along the rim offer views of the sandstone walls of the gorge and the river below. At the bottom of the gorge along the river, there is relatively little flat land but it provides an opportunity to view the New River and its plants and animals.

Encircling the heart of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the scenic drive is an estimated three-hour trip. The 83-mile route includes interstates, divided highways, and two-lane roads. The scenic drive is an opportunity to experience the park—its gorge and its river. Along the way are broad vistas as well as small glimpses of both the past and the present. Two park visitor centers, Canyon Rim and Sandstone supplement the tour with the interpretation of the natural and historic resources of the park.

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Camping

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve provide opportunities for primitive camping only. Camping areas are located along the river. These primitive camping areas have no drinking water or hookups and limited restroom facilities. All sites are managed on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are not accepted. There are NO FEES for camping.
Stays are limited to 14 days in the same area. Developed campgrounds are available at state parks and private campgrounds throughout the surrounding area.

From the tantalizing glow of evening fireflies to the famous steel arc of the New River Bridge and the exhilarating splash of chilly river water below, there are a thousand reasons to smile about the New River Gorge National Park and Reserve.

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Fact Box

Size: 46,766 acres

Date established: December 27, 2020 (designated by President Jimmy Carter as a National River on November 10, 1978)

Location: Southern West Virginia

Park Elevation: 702 feet to 3,970 feet, average is 2,267 feet 

Park entrance fee: Fee-free park

Recreational visits (2021): 1,682,720

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Fun Facts

The New River flows north as it winds its way through the Appalachian Plateau in West Virginia.

More on New River Gorge: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

New River Gorge National Park is home to 1,383 different species of plants, 65 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles, 50 species of amphibians, 89 species of fish, and countless migratory birds.

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma

—John Denver

Magical, Mystical, Enchanted: Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Climb the ancient dome for amazing Hill Country views

The massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas has drawn people for thousands of years. But there’s more at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area than just the dome. The scenery, rock formations, and legends are magical, too!

An incentive for reaching the peak of this pink granite dome is the breathtaking view of the Texas Hill Country that awaits you at the top. Just a short 20-minute drive outside of Fredericksburg brings you to the enormous batholith that’s part of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area which was once Native American sacred grounds. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike, picnic, and camp overnight in the state park.

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

Short, sweet, and steep are the best descriptors of the flagship trail at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Characterized (and named for) a massive pink granite dome—the same unique Texas pink granite that was used to build the State Capitol building—this park is a popular outing for those visiting or residing around Central Texas. From the top of the Summit Trail, you’ll see unparalleled 360-degree views of untouched terrain.

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

For centuries, visitors have been going to the massive pink granite dome rising above Central Texas. They become entranced by the scenery and rock formations of the area. Over the years, the 425-foot batholith has given rise to myths and legends. Climbing Enchanted Rock is a Texan rite of passage where you’ll get once-in-a-lifetime Hill Country views. Hikers will find nearly 11 miles of trails including the iconic Summit Trail. Relax under the stars at this International Dark Sky Park which offers one of the best night sky views in Texas. Enjoy interpretive exhibits and cave exploration too.

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Why is this giant dome here?

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma or hot liquid rock perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away.

Related article: Texas Hill Country Is the Ultimate Road Trip

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Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park―Enchanted Rock, Little Dome, Turkey Peak, and others.

Although Enchanted Rock appears to be solid and durable it continues to change and erode.

Enchanted Rock is an exfoliation dome (as are the other domes here). That means it has layers like an onion.

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After the rock and soil on top wore away, the granite expanded slightly because there was less weight bearing down on it. That expansion caused the dome to split into curved sections. As the outer layer of rock breaks into smaller pieces and slides off, the next layer begins to peel away from the dome. This is a process that continues today.

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building.

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Vernal Pools

On more level portions of the dome, water collects in low spots or weathering pits. The granite in these pits wears away faster than the surrounding granite. Pits that hold water for several weeks are called vernal pools. Over time, these pools develop into microhabitats, home to a unique group of plants and animals.

The pools are very fragile. Enjoy them from a distance. Protect this special habitat by keeping pets and people out.

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Tiny, translucent freshwater shrimp live in the vernal pools. These little fellows lay eggs that somehow survive the dry season. The eggs hatch when the pools refill with rainwater. The shrimp swim upside down, eating algae and plankton. In turn, they are eaten by birds providing an important link in the food chain. These creatures are an integral part of the fragile vernal pool habitat.

Related article: A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

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Hiking Enchanted Rock

There are 11 miles of hiking trails to explore when visiting Enchanted Rock.

Of the many hikes in the park, the most renowned is the Enchanted Rock Summit (Summit Trail), a 0.8-mile trail that winds to the top of the park’s namesake. The hike is short but is considered challenging due to the steep path and lack of shade along the entire way. At the top, you’ll have epic 360-degree views of the Hill Country. Look for rare vernal pools at the top (see above for details).

A more moderate hike, Turkey Pass Trail (0.7 miles) gives you excellent views of Enchanted Rock on one side and Turkey Peak and Freshman Mountain on the other.

From the intersection of Turkey Pass Trail or Echo Canyon Trail, take the Base Trail (0.9 miles) around the back side of the Rock for a different perspective.

From the Loop Trail via Moss Lake Trail, hike the Echo Canyon Trail (0.7 miles) around Moss Lake and into the saddle between Little Rock and Enchanted Rock. Stop and rest in the shade of massive boulders.

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

The short Scenic View Trail (0.1 miles) starts from the south end of the Loop Trail and brings you to a scenic view of the surrounding Hill Country landscape.

A short hike starting from the south end of the Loop Trail will bring you to a scenic view of the surrounding Hill Country landscape. The Interpretive Loop (0.5 miles) is a good choice for an easy, family-friendly trail. This short stroll is suitable for all ages and offers a glance at the many plants and animals in the park. A trail guide is available.

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From the base of Enchanted Rock, take Fontside Trail (0.3 miles) through shaded oak trees and connect to Turkey Pass.

If you have time, head over to the Loop Trail (4.6 miles). This trail goes around the park’s limit and allows you to explore the entire area. Carry plenty of water with you on this trek around the perimeter of the park. The granite pathway leads you to incredible views of the natural area. This is the only trail open after sunset. Bring along a flashlight if you’re planning to stargaze. 

Related article: Head For the Hills: Texas Hill Country

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Things to see near Enchanted Rock

From Enchanted Rock, you can visit Fredericksburg for a taste of German; explore downtown, grab a bite to eat at its many restaurants, join a wine tasting, or sip a coffee.

Learn about President Lyndon B. Johnson who was born and raised in the Texas Hill Country at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.

And if you want to visit another Hill Country attraction, plan on visiting the Pedernales Falls State Park, another natural area in Texas.

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Fact Box

Park elevation: 1,825 feet

Size: 1,644 acres

Date established: October 1978 

Location: Texas Hill Country

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

Address: 16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg

Attractions: Hiking, backpacking, tent/car camping, rock climbing

Park hours: 6:30 am to 10 p.m. daily, gates closes at 8 pm.

Park entrance fee: $8/person daily. Reservations recommended online or by calling 512-389-8900. Paark closes for those without entry permits when the capacity is reached. Busy season is September to May.

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

Designation: Certified IDA International Dark Sky Park

Distance to the Park:

  • San Antonio: 90 miles
  • Austin: 100 miles
  • Houston: 250 miles
  • Dallas: 250 miles
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

Enchanted Rock opened as a state natural area in October 1978.

More than 400 archeological sites have been discovered in the park of which about one-quarter are State Archeological Landmarks.

Related article: 7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

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

As temperatures fluctuate, particularly in the evening, the rock can be heard groaning and creaking—a once-mysterious trait that lends itself to legends of the “enchanted” nature of the park. We now know that these sounds are caused by the thick sheets of granite contracting and expanding across one another.

Translucent Fairy Shrimp are known to live in the dome’s vernal pools. The depressions are frequently dry but the eggs can survive without water, hatching after rain refills the pools.

The vernal pools also support rock quillwort—an endangered species of grass only found in Central Texas

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Kaleidoscope Colors and Serene Landscape Shine in Petrified Forest

It’s like Badlands meets a rainbow forest meets a desert

It may not be as famous as the Grand Canyon but no visit to northern Arizona is complete without a trip to Petrified Forest National Park. Covering over 220 square miles of Technicolor desert there’s way more to this park than its namesake fossilized wood.

Petrified Forest is also home to numerous paleontological exhibits, petroglyphs, and a wide range of living flora and fauna, including coyotes, bobcats, pronghorns, and over 200 species of birds. The park’s landscape has been inhabited by humans for at least 8,000 years and more than 600 archeological sites within the park’s boundaries reveal just a few of our ancient ancestors’ secrets.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park is situated in the northern reaches of Arizona’s high desert climate which means its temperatures vary widely both by season and sometimes within a single day. July highs can easily reach over 100 degrees while the winter sees temperatures below freezing and occasional snow. Because the weather at the park is so variable it’s important to dress in layers and bring waterproof clothing.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located about midway between Albuquerque and Flagstaff and is easily reached via I-40. Communities in the park’s direct vicinity include the small towns of Sanders, Joseph City, and Holbrook. Winslow—of Eagles song fame—is about an hour west of the park.

Visitors come to Petrified Forest National Park to enjoy this unique and surreal landscape, a surprising splash of color in the desert’s depths. Along with hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding, the Park Service also hosts a variety of ranger-led events including guided tours and cultural demonstrations. For full details on current events, check the park’s official calendar before your trip.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike other tree-centric parks in the National Park System, this is a remote desert terrain with behemoth boulder-sized logs scattered across the land. The name “forest” is a misnomer in this arid land of wind-swept badlands, fossilized bones, faded petroglyphs, and petrified wood.

Located in the sleepy northeast part of the state, this is the only national park in America that’s bisected by Route 66 making it the most quintessential road trip park you never knew you needed. Plus, being overshadowed by that other Arizona national park Petrified Forest is comparatively quieter—with about 4 million fewer visitors than the Grand Canyon—but it’s especially enchanting.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a dusty, barren backdrop reminiscent of a scene from Cars, this 221,390-acre park is a sleeper hit for geologists, paleontologists, and tree-huggers—even though the resident trees have been dead for 200 million years.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Whereas once mighty trees stood as tall as sequoias in tropical, dinosaur-dwelling jungles, they’ve long since succumbed to the powers of Mother Nature. Preserved in time, these trees were felled by raging rivers hundreds of millions of years ago then buried under sediment and slowly crystalized by volcanic ash and silica.

Nowadays, remnants of Arizona’s tropical past have long since dwindled, leaving behind gigantic petrified logs that have been almost entirely transformed into solid quartz. Serious desert bling, the logs get their kaleidoscopic shimmer from iron, carbon, and manganese imbuing tints of purple and royal green.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It may not look like much at first but this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it park is home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood on Earth, perfectly preserved relics of a prehistoric era where rivers once raged and terrifying reptilians once prowled. Composed of several smaller “forests,” like Rainbow Forest and Painted Desert the park is teeming with lustrous logs strewn across badlands and buttes. Home to easy hiking trails, Jurassic-level fossils, and ancient petroglyphs, Petrified Forest is like a road trip time capsule to a bygone epoch. Here’s what to know about visiting.

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When to visit Petrified Forest National Park

Unlike Grand Canyon National Park which sees more than 4 million annual visitors, Petrified Forest sees a scant 600,000 visitors each year making this one low-key park where you don’t need to worry about crowds, traffic, or a lack of trailhead parking spaces. The only thing you need to contend with when mapping out a stop at Petrified Forest is the weather. This is Arizona after all—a state whose scorching forecasts are decidedly not low-key.

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Thanks to its high elevation around 5,800 feet the park isn’t as searingly hot as much of the rest of the state but July and August can still see temps soar well into the 90s. And because you’re that much closer to the sun you’ll feel the burn. This being the desert, things cool off dramatically after sunset plummeting down to the low 50s even at the summer peak.

While summer is prime time for the park your best bet to beat the heat is to arrive early—unlike most national parks, Petrified Forest has designated park hours of 8 am–6 pm and there’s a literal gate on the main park road (keep in mind that Arizona does not observe daylight savings time).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the park sees very little precipitation, July and August are the months when afternoon storms are most likely which would be refreshing if it weren’t for the fact that rain turns the sandy landscape into one big slippery mud pit. Winter gets shockingly cool by most Arizona standards with highs in the mid-40s. Spring can be windy but dry and fall still gets some of those tapered thunderstorms but with comfortably cooler temperatures.

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The ultimate road trip park

With Route 66 conveniently weaving right through the park making Petrified Forest the only national park with a section of the Americana highway, this is one park that’s especially perfect for road trips.

Related article: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main artery is Park Road which meanders for 28 miles from the Painted Desert Visitor Center in the north to the Rainbow Forest Museum on the southern end. Not only straightforward and easy the road is one of the most epic and enchanting scenic drives in any national park with numerous pullouts to park and gawk. You’ll also find several short and easy hiking trails going from the lookout spots heading into the quiet wilderness. Of the park’s seven designated trails none are more than three miles and they’re all dog-friendly.

Painted Desert Visitor Center, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start with a stop at the visitor center where exhibits and an introductory film show how these once-soaring trees transformed into the bejeweled boulders they are today. Driving south, prime pit stops include Puerco Pueblo and Newspaper Rock for petroglyphs and indigenous lore.

Painted Desert Visitor Center, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll also find must-do trails like Blue Mesa which is a prime example of quality over quantity—a short paved loop begins atop a ridge of blue-tinted badlands before descending into the desert dotted with shimmering petrified wood. For even more wow stop at the Giant Logs Trail, home to the largest fallen trees in the park including Old Faithful, a log so large that it’s as wide as an RV.

While designated trails are sparse, visitors can venture into the park’s 50,000 acres of backcountry wilderness, hiking and camping wherever their heart desires (as long as you’re at least a mile from the road).

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

Jurassic life

Sure, you could watch the Jurassic World movie or you can just live your best Jurassic life in Petrified Forest (without the risk of being chased by velociraptor dinosaurs), home to real-deal fossils and some intimidatingly epic history.

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When these trees once stood some 200 feet tall in a sub-tropical wilderness that looks nothing like present-day Arizona the region was located further toward the Equator. It once swarmed with dinos so fierce and huge—including crocodile-like nightmare creatures—they would make the Jurassic Park franchise look like a Nickelodeon cartoon. Of the park’s insightful museums, the Rainbow Forest Museum at the southern end contains fossils and exhibits that tell the story of the region’s Jurassic-level past.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 200 million years later, the “forest” was once again abuzz with new residents. Evidence exists of indigenous people living here for millennia leaving behind preserved remnants like rock-carved petroglyphs at sites like Newspaper Rock.

To delve even deeper into Native American lore, the Puerco Pueblo Trail is a hop and skip to a once-thriving village that stood around the year 1300 comprised mostly of wood and mud. The most intact of the park’s bygone villages, Puerco Pueblo still has multiple open-air rooms anchored by an inner plaza that once served as a communal, ceremonial gathering place.

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Where to camp near Petrified Forest

Around here, campground sites are even more sparse than the hiking trails. Aside from camping in the primitive backcountry, there are no campgrounds in the park, and staying overnight in an RV or otherwise is not allowed—the gates on the Park Road close at 6 p.m. and that means it’s time to go. To camp, you’ll need to acquire a wilderness permit which is free from either visitor center on the day you plan on roughing it.

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Outside of the park, campgrounds—for both RVers and tents—can be found at nearby national park sites like Canyon de Chelly National Monument as well as in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and state parks like Homolovi State Park and Lyman Lake State Park.

Related article: The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

For a private park with full-hookups, OK RV Park in Holbrook is your best bet.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike some national parks where nearby restaurant options are surprisingly abundant, Petrified Forest is not a foodie paradise. Holbrook is comprised mostly of chains save for a few straightforward mom-and-pop spots like Tom & Suzie’s Diner and Sombreritos Mexican Food. But you’re road-tripping here for the fossilized trees, after all, not the haute cuisine.

Worth Pondering…

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…

—Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, 1853

Ahh, the Blue Ridge Parkway in October

How to plan a fall adventure to Blue Ridge Parkway

Tracing the spine of the southern Appalachian Mountains from Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park to the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway is an epic East Coast road trip.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first motorway in the country designed purely for recreational purposes, the parkway weaves through six different mountain ranges and four massive national forests first following the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and then snaking through the Black Mountains, the Great Craggy Mountains, the Pisgahs, and the Balsam Mountains before arriving at the edge of Great Smoky Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stringing together some of the wildest spaces in the East, the 469-mile motorway also showcases some of the most spectacular fall colors in the country as the richly biodiverse forests of the southern Appalachian Mountains blush with autumn color.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to catch peak fall color

In terms of flora and fauna, the southern Appalachian Mountains are incredibly rich. More than 100 different species of trees can be found in the forested peaks flanking the parkway meaning the fall colors are guaranteed to be spectacular. The seasonal transition typically begins in October but several factors can delay or extend the autumn display. And with elevations topping out above 6,000 feet along the Blue Ridge Parkway seasonal color varies by location with the transition beginning at higher elevations and spreading downslope.

Related article: Finding Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Beyond

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodation options

For road-trippers, the parkway has eight developed campgrounds offering both tent sites and RV sites with fire rings and picnic tables. For campers, amenities include potable water and bathroom facilities at the Julian Price Campground and the Mount Pisgah Campground also offers hot showers. All eight of the parkway’s campgrounds are open seasonally from early May through the end of October. For backpackers, there are also three hike-in backcountry campgrounds scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway—Rock Castle Gorge, Basin Cove, and Johns River Road.

Peaks of Otter along the Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also two year-round lodges situated along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In Virginia, the Peaks of Otter Lodge is situated along the parkway in southwest Virginia (MP 86). Named for the trio of peaks overlooking the town of Bedford all of the lodge’s rooms have views of Abbott Lake and Sharp Top (and dog-friendly rooms are available, too). The lakeside lodge also offers an attached restaurant and bar along with a gift shop stocked with trail snacks, guidebooks, and locally sourced artisanal products.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In North Carolina, the Pisgah Inn (MP 408) is open from the beginning of April through the end of October. Perched on the flanks of Mount Pisgah at an elevation of 5,000 feet the alpine inn presides over the massive Pisgah National Forest. To help guests savor the sweeping vista each room features attached porches complete with lounge-worthy rocking chairs. The inn also offers a formal dining room (open to the public for lunch) and a café with easy-to-grab meals and snacks.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For late fall and winter travelers, the parkway also provides access to a handful of state parks with year-round accommodation options. In Virginia, just west of Buena Vista, Douthat State Park has cabins for rent and a campground open year-round along with more than 40 miles of hiking trails. Further south in North Carolina, the campground at Stone Mountain State Park is open year-round and offers sites for both tents and RVs. And for hardy backpackers, North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain State Park has 13 hike-in backcountry campsites.

Related article: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Appalachian Trail Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spectacular fall hikes

For hikers, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 360 miles of trails offering everything from leisurely nature walks to lengthy rambles through parcels of roadless wilderness. And for leaf-peepers, there are several superb foliage hikes. In Virginia, the 2,193-mile Appalachian Trail traces the path of the parkway for just over 100 miles beginning at Rockfish Gap (MP 0). In North Carolina, the state’s 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail also crisscrosses the parkway between the Folk Art Center (MP 382) and Mount Pisgah (MP 408).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the northern end of the parkway in Virginia, Humpback Rocks (MP 5.8) is among the scenic highlights. Perched at 3,080 feet, the craggy outcrop presides over the northern section of the parkway providing expansive views encompassing the Rockfish and Shenandoah Valleys to the west and the pastoral Virginia Piedmont to the east—although the mile climb to the craggy pinnacle includes 700 feet of elevation gain.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Further south, the three-mile out-and-back hike to the 3,875-foot summit of Sharp Top (MP 85.9) serves up 360-degree views of the Peaks of Otter portion of the parkway with the Shenandoah Valley to the east and the Allegheny Mountains silhouetted against the horizon to the west.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In North Carolina, Mount Pisgah is supremely positioned for fall foliage views. After the 1.3-mile climb to Mount Pisgah’s 5,721-foot summit, hikers are rewarded with an eyeful of the Black Mountains to the north and the rugged Shining Rock Wilderness to the west.

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

Closer to the parkway’s southern terminus at the eastern edge of the Great Balsam Range, the grassy summit of Black Balsam Knob also treats trekkers to a jaw-dropping panorama. The 6,214-foot peak is a prototypical southern Appalachian bald meaning Black Balsam Knob’s treeless summit dishes up 360-degree views extending to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Watching

Fall is also an ideal time to spot wildlife along the parkway. Along the southern portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina resident, elk are particularly active. Once prevalent throughout the Appalachian Mountains elk disappeared from the southeastern United States in the mid-1800s after populations dwindled due to overhunting and loss of habitat.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk were reintroduced to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park between 2001 and 2002 and now the brawny ungulates roam the southernmost section of the parkway in Western North Carolina typically gathering in the Cataloochee Valley. And during the fall, the region’s resident elk begin their mating season also called the rut with males bugling, sparring, and strutting ostentatiously to attract females.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black bears are also active along the parkway during the fall. While the bruins do hunker down for portions of the winter in the Southeast they don’t entirely hibernate and if seasonal temperatures are mild the black bears will remain active year-round. However, fall is a strategic time to spot the opportunistic eaters gorging on calorie-dense nuts and berries along the parkway in preparation for the leaner days of winter.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn is also a spectacular time for birders along the Blue Ridge Parkway. From early September through the end of November the lofty ridgelines of the southern Appalachian Mountains become a superhighway for birds migrating south to warmer climes for the winter especially birds of prey including a diversity of hawks, eagles, kestrels, and falcons.

Related article: 10 Most Beautiful Places to See Fall Foliage in 2022

There are a number of hawk-watching spots scattered along the Blue Ridge Parkway designated by the Hawk Migration Association of America including Rockfish Gap (milepost 0) and Harvey’s Knob (MP 95.3) in Virginia and Grandfather Mountain (MP 305) in North Carolina.

Worth Pondering…

I loved autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.

—Lee Maynard, writer

Bryce Canyon National Park: “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow”

At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of a human to heights exceeding a 10-story building

The Bryce Canyon landscape is unique—entirely different than nearby Zion as well as other Utah national parks—partly attributed to its high elevation location ranging from 8,000-9,000 feet. The air is thinner up here, the environment colder, and the wind much, much stronger—elements that come together to create an otherworld on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stepping onto any lookout, you are challenged to connect with a most amazing example of the forces of nature affecting this planet and at the same time, you will almost certainly feel as though you are stepping foot onto the edge of another world. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For this article, I want to highlight a few different ideas that will deliver a diverse experience in Bryce—where to drive, stay, hug some trees, and go for the big adventure—with the caveat that at this one-of-a-kind national park, there is nothing more spectacular than the red rock nation that sprawls across Utah’s high desert on the Colorado Plateau. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Drive

Hitting the scenic auto-trails in the national parks is often the best place to start gaining an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon National Park: 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside of the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the recently renovated 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. Any non-park-related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic Site in the Park

There is no view in this park more classic than a sunset view from Sunset Point. It is located just one mile beyond the National Park Visitor Center and access to the overlook is just footsteps from the parking lot. If you look just below and to the left, you will find another iconic landmark: Thor’s Hammer—famed for its unique balanced rock and isolationist position among the larger network of hoodoos that surround it. This area is also stellar for birdwatching (shout out to our bird-ninja friends)! Swallows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Stellar Jays, hawks, and Ravens all soar in the skies catching air from the thermal cliff sides.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hug Some Trees

The forested areas surrounding the national park cross three “life zones” that change with variant elevation gains. In the lower regions, you will find dwarf forests (juniper, pinyon pine, manzanita, aspen, willow, and birch) growing along streams. In the mid-elevations, Ponderosa pine, spruce, and Douglas fir forests thrive. On the high plateau, spruce, aspen, Douglas and white fir continue. At Rainbow Point located at the end of the scenic drive, you can spot the toughest tree on Earth: the ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine, a species categorized among the oldest living organisms on the planet.

Accessible Adventure

Wandering the Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point travels across one 1-mile of flat trail hugging the amphitheater where gorgeous, sprawling views abound! With a large parking lot, restroom facilities, and a paved pathway leading to and fro, this is a great spot for people of all ages and with all levels of overall health to enjoy the storied views of Bryce Canyon. The Rim Trail extends 5.5-miles from Bryce Point to Fairyland with occasional steep elevation changes.  

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Adventure

Hiking through the hoodoos along the Navajo Loop Trail to the Queens Garden Trail allows hikers to choose their adventure along intersecting networks that weave throughout more challenging sections of the inner canyons but with easy access to trailheads at both Sunset and Inspiration Points. This is a moderate outing at just under 3 miles.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those looking to go longer, the Peekaboo Trail (5.5 miles) and Under-The-Rim Trail near Rainbow Point (22 miles) lead trekkers farther into the backcountry. As always, get backcountry guidance at the National Park Visitor Center.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you go, check Bryce Canyon’s official website for park alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

Discover Blue Ridge Beauty at Shenandoah River State Park

The Park encompasses more than 1,600 acres of Blue Ridge beauty

Virginia Route 340 between Front Royal and Luray is perhaps one of the more underrated scenic drives in the state. And as more and more RVers and outdoor adventurers are discovering one of the best places to get out of the car and adventure in that scenery is Shenandoah River State Park (also known as Andy Guest State Park).

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As many great outdoor spots are, it can be a bit easy to miss. Driving south on 340 from Front Royal, go about eight miles and the park entrance is on your right. Admission for a vehicle is $10.

The Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. The park opened in June 1999. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Expansive views of the river and valley can be seen from high points along the trails.

The visitor center features native wildlife and has touch-screens on display to educate about park history and local birds. There is also an aquarium. Outside the visitor center, there are several picnic tables, an overlook, a koi pond, and a nature garden. The center’s gift shop sells snacks and souvenirs.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife watching opportunities in the park are diverse and range from the herons, waterfowl, and otter on the river to the white-tailed deer, black bear, scarlet tanager, and other neotropical migrants of the forest. Overhead, almost anything might appear from osprey and bald eagle fishing the river to broad-winged hawk and American kestrel. While moving from the river into the forest, search blooming wildflowers for butterflies such as eastern tiger and spicebush swallowtails, hackberry emperor, and a variety of skippers, sulfurs, and whites.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers car-top access in the day-use area located 3.2 miles downstream from the Bentonville access area. The “fish trap” access area near Shelter 3 is suitable for wade fishing. Freshwater fishing is available for those with a Virginia freshwater fishing license. The park does not rent boats. There are three car-top launches and two outfitters within five minutes of the park.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smallmouth bass fishing especially in spring will give anglers all the action they want. While popular tales of catching “100 fish in a day” are probably a thing of the past, the Shenandoah River is still a very good bass fishery.

Some of the trails lead into deep woods and sightings of wildlife such as deer, turkeys, and the occasional black bear are not at all uncommon. Ask for the trail map where you pay your entry fee to choose from various trail lengths and degrees of difficulty.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adventure races—such as the Shenandoah Strong where competitors have 12 hours to traverse 50 miles of terrain by foot, bike, and kayak/canoe—lie partially within the park as well as George Washington National Forest.

There are over 24 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails that criss-cross Shenandoah River State Park. You can enjoy both river and mountain views. The trail network offers a wide range of fun, easy and family-friendly trails as well as more moderately difficult routes.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly 20 named hiking trails allow visitors to traipse all across the park. At 5.4 miles, the teal-blazed Bear Bottom Loop Trail is the longest park trail.

It’s a cinch to cobble together a few trails to create a fantastic day hike. It’s also easy to return again and again and not complete the same hike twice.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups suitable for tents, popups, and RVs up to 60 feet in length. More than half of the sites have shade. The shaded camp sites are 1-18 while sites 19-31 are in full sun. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers and a coin-operated laundry. Sites have steel fire-rings for cooking and campfires, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in, and five are pull-through. Firewood can be purchased on-site for $6 per bundle. The family campground is a short walk from two river access points (for fishing, not for swimming or paddling), as well as the Campground Trail.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the family campground, there is a primitive campground for tents-only on the north side of the park that has 12 canoe-in or walk-in sites. All camp sites offer shade and require a walk on gravel path from the parking lot. There are wagons at the entrance to help transport gear to your site.

At the back of the Right, River Campground is a group campground that can accommodate up to 30 people.

Reservations can be made on line or by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275). All sites are specifically reserved.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, numerous ranger-led interpretive programs are offered for park visitors. Topics vary widely but include outdoor photography, fishing, butterflies, astronomy, birding, and wetland walks. Shenandoah River State Park also offers a variety of kid-friendly programs including Feeding Time, as well as Skulls, Tracks and Scats. Both ranger-led programs educate about animals found in the park. Most programs are offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park is a good central location for the area’s many activities. Caverns and caves such as Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns make good activities for rainy days. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive are a short distance away making for a great day trip. The area is also famous for its many vineyards.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Elevation: 547 feet

Park size: 1,619 acres

Trails: 24 miles

Park admission fee: $10/vehicle

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping fee: $40 + $5 transaction fee (Virginia resident); $46 + $5 transaction fee (non-Virginia resident)

Location: The Park is in Warren County, 8 miles south of Front Royal and 15 miles north of Luray. It’s off State Route 340 in Bentonville

Address: 350 Daughter of Stars Drive, Bentonville, VA 22610

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

National Park Fees: Great Smoky Mountains Introduces Parking Fees

Most popular US national park introduces parking fees, increased camping charges

Great Smoky Mountains National Park—the most-visited national park in the U.S. with 14.1 million visitors in 2021—is instituting fees for parking passes and increasing charges for camping, the park announced last week (August 17, 2022).

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

Visits to the park have increased 57 percent over the past decade to a record 14.1 million last year and have taken a toll on facilities, the park said in a news release. Additional revenue from the changes would allow the park to address renovations along with law enforcement staffing challenges and services including trail maintenance and trash removal.

These fees are part of a nationwide trend as parks manage record-breaking crowds and seek to generate revenues to support the staffing and facilities required for this increased visitation.

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“We take great pride in being the country’s most visited national park,” Cassius Cash, the park’s superintendent, said in a statement. “But that distinction comes with tremendous strain on our infrastructure. Now we will have sustained resources to ensure this sacred place is protected for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.”

Here are details on the new fees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as some other national parks to help you plan your next national parks trip.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

Great Smoky Mountains fee details

As part of its “Park it Forward” fundraising and development campaign, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will require any vehicle parking within the park to purchase and display a parking pass beginning March 1, 2023.

The parking fees will be $5 for a day pass, $15 for a weekly pass, and $40 for an annual pass. Passes are good for a single vehicle and do not allow upgrades or transfers. The pass will be valid anywhere within the park for the duration of time paid for. There is currently no cap on the number of passes that will be sold in a given day, week, or season.

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

Interagency passes (aka America the Beautiful passes) will NOT be accepted instead of the parking tag and will NOT provide a discount for the purchase of the parking tag.

Visitors just passing through the park or stopping for less than 15 minutes will not be required to purchase a pass. “If you want to come by the visitor center and use the bathroom you don’t need a pass,” Cash said in an Associated Press interview. “We are trying to capture the costs of services used not nickel-and-dime every vehicle. If you want to stop at an overlook and take a selfie with the beautiful scenery you can still do that (for free).”

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

Admission to the park is free and there are no toll charges for driving along its many scenic roadways.

Camping fees throughout Great Smoky Mountains National Park will also increase for the first time in a decade. Backcountry camping fees will double to $8 per night with a maximum of $40 per camper. Frontcountry family campsite fees will rise to $30 per night for primitive sites and $36 per night for sites with electrical hookups. Group camps, horse camps, and picnic pavilions fees will increase by 20 percent to 30 percent. Daily rental rates for the Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin in Elkmont will rise to $300 and $200, respectively.

All of the revenue generated by the parking passes and increased camping fees will “directly support operational costs for managing and improving services for visitors including trail maintenance, custodial services, trash removal, and supporting more staffing,” according to the park website.

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

Parking Tag Basics

Effective March 1, 2023

Valid parking tags will be required for any vehicles parking in the park starting March 1, 2023.

Display of physical parking tags in each vehicle will be required.

Three tag durations will be available for purchase for all vehicle sizes and types:

  • Daily – $5
  • Up to 7 Days – $15
  • Annual – $40
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking tags will not be refundable, transferable, or upgradable.

Each tag will be valid for a single vehicle.

Parking tags will be available for purchase both online and onsite.

Parking tags will not be required for motorists who pass through the area or who park for less than 15 minutes.

Parking tags will not be location-specific. A parking tag will be required to park in any designated parking spot anywhere within park boundaries.

Related: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fee increases at other national parks

Many other national parks are implementing fee increases for parking, camping, and facilities access (although few have increased park entrance charges). The National Park Service says these fees are necessary to maintain and improve the infrastructure and to improve staffing to handle the dramatically increased visitation.

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

During busy summer peak visitation times, popular U.S. parks and certain areas within the parks have been requiring reservations and charging nominal reservation fees of about $2. Yosemite National Park and Arches National Park are among those charging for timed-entry passes. Zion National Park has been charging reservation fees to hike the popular Angels Landing Trail.

Rocky Mountain National Park increased its one-day vehicle entry pass to the park from $25 to $30 this May.

Related: What to Expect at the National Parks this Summer 2022

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

 “The fee increase is necessary to improve and maintain high-quality visitor services,” according to the park. “While basic park operations are funded by direct appropriations from Congress, the recreation use fees collected by the park are used to support new projects and the ongoing maintenance of park facilities that directly enhance the visitor experience.”

The park also is increasing camping charges across the board. Winter campground fees will increase from $20 to $30 per night beginning on October 12. Summer campground fees will increase from $30 to $35 per night beginning summer 2023. In addition, group site campground fees will increase by $10 for each tier in group size to $50, $60, and $70.

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

Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks announced this month that they will increase camping fees in 2023 and 2024 to fund needed improvements to the camping areas. Standard campsite charges will rise from $22 to $28 in 2023 and $32 in 2024. Prices for other group campsites and stock campsites will see similar 25 percent-30 percent price increases.

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

It’s not just national parks increasing visitor fees. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside of Las Vegas which is also experiencing record visitation has proposed raising its fees. Admission for cars to drive its 13-mile scenic loop will rise from $15 to $20 in 2023 with the annual park pass fee rising from $30 to $50. The Bureau of Land Management which governs the park is also proposing to add a $2 online and on-site reservations fee ($3 by phone). Campground and picnic area reservation fees will rise to $8 online and on-site ($9 by phone).

Related: 11 Tips for Visiting a National Park this Summer

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

Bottom line

Over the past year, destinations across the U.S. national park system have faced crowding and traffic issues as record-setting numbers of visitors came to the parks during the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to better manage these crowds—and to fund the staff and improvements necessary to provide infrastructure—many parks across the country are instituting new fees and reservation systems.

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

The new Great Smoky Mountains National Park parking fee should not discourage anyone from visiting as the nominal charge of $5 a day is a bargain considering there are no park entrance fees.

However, the increased parking fee coupled with the increased camping fees and new fees at other national parks signal a trend that visitors should expect higher charges going forward.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Arches National Park: Park Avenue Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trailhead

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

View down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

View of the Organ

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

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

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The Three Gossips © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock Formations

The Courthouse Towers

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

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ

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

The Tower of Babel

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

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail Facts

Trail Head: 38.624431, -109.599582

Length: 2 miles round trip

Hiking time: 30 minutes to one hour

Elevation at trailhead: 4,560 feet

Trail: Slickrock

Difficulty: Easy

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

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Outdoor Adventures

The joy of life lived outside

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

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

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finding Outdoor Adventures

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

Related article: Discover the National Forests during Great Outdoors Month

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

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

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

Columbia Icefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

Park it and hike

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

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

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

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

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Hiking Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kids In Parks

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Fowles (1926- ) English writer

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Mighty 5

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.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tips

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.

Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

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

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.

The Three Gossips, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

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
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

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
The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Fairyland Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

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 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

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

Worth Pondering…

I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.

—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel