Redding For an Outdoor Adventure

The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay is a Redding icon and acts as a massive sundial—perfect for this sunny city

With mountains all around, miles of hiking and biking trails, a river running through it, and national parks nearby, Redding is an outdoor paradise for all ages. Cradled by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Redding has 300+ sunny days per year. It’s a great place to escape the chill of spring and the gray days of winter, too.

Turtle Bay Exploration Park with the Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding is also home to the famous Sundial Bridge, world-class fishing, and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails for all abilities. Head out on a day-trip to see the bubbling mud pots and boiling lakes in Lassen Volcanic National Park, or get refreshed by the waterfall at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This 129-foot gusher is considered one of the most beautiful in the state. 

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding, an old train town named for a California & Oregon Railroad land agent, is the largest city in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. Redding has built a national reputation as an outdoors destination around it trail system, so much so that the National Trails Association is headquartered here. The Sacramento River Trail is paved along both sides of California’s largest waterway and the Sacramento River Rail Trail follows a course that was touted as “the road of a thousand wonders” when it was built in 1888.

Sacramento River looking west from the Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding brags that it’s the “Second Sunniest City in the U.S.,” with 300-plus clear days (86 percent of the time). From the end of May to early September, families can cool off at WaterWorks Park with a trio of waterslides, action rides, and a lazy river.

The area’s wealth of outdoor activities include Turtle Bay Exploration Park with the renown Sundial Bridge, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Shasta Lake, and Lake Shasta Caverns.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a 300-acre campus along the banks of the Sacramento River. Gateway to the city’s 220-mile trail system, the Park features a botanical garden, natural history and science museum, and exploration center in the guise of a traditional forest camp. The 300-acre complex is tied together by Redding’s jewel, the Sundial Bridge that was the first American project by celebrated Spanish bridge architect Santiago Calatrava. The supporting pylon and curving, translucent deck perform as the world’s largest sundial.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight miles west of Redding, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is located at the juncture of the Klamath Mountain range and the northern edge of the Sacramento Valley, making it home to a special collection of plant and animal life, and year-round beauty. The park features Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta Bally Mountain (6,209 feet), and numerous waterfalls providing outdoor enthusiasts opportunities for water recreation, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Lake-based recreation is popular.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding is the jumping off point for the spectacular lunar landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park boasts incredible mountain scenery reminiscent of Yosemite as well as fascinating thermal wonders similar to Yellowstone with just a small fraction of the visitors. Lassen features three of the four different types of geothermal features including steam vents, mud pots, and hot springs; all four types of volcanoes (shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite); and all types of naturally occurring lakes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The focal point of the park is 10,457-foot Mt. Lassen, one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes and the southern-most peak in the Cascade range. Most of the park’s major attractions are along the 29-mile link in State Route 89 that encircles the peak’s east side.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a visit? Surrounded by pristine mountains, lakes, and rivers, Redding offers a wide range of RV parks and campgrounds including Green Acres RV Park, Marina RV Park, Premier RV Park, Redding RV Park, and Win-River Resort.

JGW RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our home base while touring the Redding area was JGW RV Park, a big-rig friendly resort located 9 miles south of Redding on the Sacramento River. This is a beautiful 5-star RV park with water, sewer, and 30/50-amp electric service centrally located. The majority of pull-through sites are back-to-back and side-to side. There is no cable TV; however, we’re able to obtain a satellite signal between trees and pick up numerous local stations on the antenna. Our site backed onto the Sacramento River. Interior roads are paved and in good condition with concrete pads.

JGW RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson 

8 Creative Ways to See Some Fall Color

The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

You already know that the countryside is filled with trails and vistas that provide great opportunities to catch a glimpse of fiery fall color while you’re hiking. This year, get your thrills while you’re enjoying the season with these eight activities.

Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin picking

Whether Halloween eve brings trick-or-treaters door to door or not, pumpkin-picking, carving and baking are guaranteed fall fun. It wouldn’t be autumn without a trip to the pumpkin patch. Keeping social distancing in mind, plan an excursion when the crowds are less to take in all that many of the area’s fall attractions have to offer. Vast selections of pumpkins are also available from farm stands and markets.

Apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apple picking

Choose from a variety of apple orchards in your area to find the best apple picking near you. Some of the apple orchards only offer apple picking while others have fall festivals with other activities in addition to picking your own apples. Apple picking will look a little bit different this year—timed entries and reduced capacities will be the norm—but luckily, one element that’s not affected are the apples themselves. Most farms will still be open to visitors this fall with many of them offering markets with pie and apple cider (both the doughnuts and beverage kind) along with attractions like petting zoos, hay rides, and corn mazes. So grab your mask, and check out an apple orchard in your area.

Corn maze, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navigate a corn maze

The corn maze is a real challenge that is sure to put your skills to the test as you wind down trails of corn. Some annual corn mazes are canceled due to the pandemic but others are moving forward with the beloved autumn tradition. Assume masks are required and that you should stay home if you feel symptoms or have been exposed to an infected person. Keep social distancing protocols in mind. Check websites for ticketing procedures.

Hay ride coming up! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hayrides

Hayrides are a popular fall tradition that is enjoyed by all ages and are a wonderful way to enjoy the season and the natural beauty that it brings. Some hayrides feature scenic views of endless land while others take you through acres of cornfields. A wonderful way to capture the breath-taking views that autumn offers, hay rides will forever be a part of this favorite season. Some farms have opted to do away with the traditional hay ride, while others are limiting riders and socially distancing.

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

Go hiking

Lace up your boots and be prepared to be wowed with a scenic fall hike. This fall, as the air turns crisp and the rolling hills change from mottled green to a fiery mosaic of yellow, orange, and red, get into the woods, as autumn is prime time for hiking. The worst of the pesky bugs have disappeared with the heat and the forests are ablaze with color.

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

Go canoeing

One of the best ways to see fall foliage is to take a boat trip along a wilderness stream. You can see the autumn colors from the river as you kayak or canoe for a day. Plan your perfect scenic kayaking and canoeing adventure!

Rio Bend RV and Golf Course, El Centro, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan a golf outing

If you’re inclined to spend some time on the links then you’ve probably been taking advantage of the wide open courses this summer. If not, or if you want to try giving it a swing, head to a local golf course to try while you take in the crisp fall air and beautiful foliage.

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

Autumn drives

If you’re feeling an expedition to nature but want to observe from the comfort of your car there’s plenty of great fall drives you can take throughout the countryside. The trees, the leaf-covered lawns, and the early frosts! There are bonfires with a cup of hot cider, pumpkin carving, and corn mazes to explore. Do we have your attention yet?

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning

10 Best Things to Do this Fall

From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, here are the best ways to get out and safely enjoy the season

As the air cools and the leaves start to fall, America offers countless experiences to seek out with your family and friends. From hikes to scenic drives, day trips to weekend getaways, take time to get out and enjoy the seasons best while keeping in mind the guidelines for safe travel.

With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some seasonal events have been canceled. Disney World’s popular event Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been cut for 2020 as well as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. While certain yearly Halloween traditions may be canceled this year such as visiting a haunted house you could still participate in other outdoor fall activities including pumpkin picking and navigating corn mazes.

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

Go hiking

Hopefully you’ve been taking a chance over the last few months to get outside for a breath of fresh air along a nice hike. But if you’re looking for a reason to finally break out the boots or sneakers, the multi-colored leaves and crisp air of fall provides the perfect backdrop to enjoy a wilderness area. Nature centers, recreation areas, local and state parks all offer a variety of trails and sights for hiking in the outdoors.

Pumpkin patch at Seven Oaks Market, Central Point, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit a pumpkin patch

Explore a pick-your-own pumpkin patch for the perfect pumpkin! Vine-ripening pumpkins are perfect for Jack-o-Lanterns, decorating your home or RV, or baking Grandma’s famous recipes. Picking out your very own pumpkin, decorating it, and carving it is one of the very best parts of fall. Not only are pumpkins fun and festive, but they’re delicious to eat in so many ways! There’s nothing that signals fall quite like a trip to the pumpkin patch.

Pumpkins to trick out your RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkin carving

Just because we’re trying to keep our distance doesn’t mean we can’t decorate our homes and RVs. That of course, starts with pumpkin carving. Hopefully you’ve had some experience gouging out these gruesome gourds, but if not, there’s a host of designs online. This is a perfect activity with family and friends of all ages and also yields a good reason to roast some pumpkin seeds.

Picking apples along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go apple picking

What perfectly pairs with the crisp air of fall? Biting into a delicious, juicy apple! When the crisp fall air and soft light descends, it’s time to break out your best argyle sweater and go apple picking. Enjoy the fresh fall air while you pick your own Cortland, Macintosh, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, and Honey Crisp apples then bring them home to make pies, crisps, and other treats. Check with apple orchard first for picking hours and conditions and COVID-19 rules and regulations.

Apple pies at Moms Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall food

With the end of summer we’re gearing up for shorter days, longer nights, cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, sweatshirts, and football. Not only is the weather changing but also the way we’re cooking, from using fresh fall produce, like squash, sweet potatoes, and apples, to creating warming (and, okay, gluttonous) comfort food dishes, like stews, pot pies, and mac and cheese.

Corn maze at Southgate Crossing, Elkhart, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get lost in a corn maze

Are you ready for some corn-fusing fun? Wind your way through acres of corn. Local corn mazes are now open and each one offers something a little bit different between now and November. Many corn mazes this year will have wider paths and additional passing lanes where maze-goers can distance themselves from others at points where they must decide which way to go; some are reducing the number of those decisions or eliminating dead-end options. Phone ahead as some mazes require pre-registration.

Indian corn for fall decorations © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall decorations

Along with pumpkins, there’s several ways you can dress up your RV for the fall. Buy some gourds at the grocery store or make a fall wreath with some of the fallen leaves from your hike in the country. If you’re a Halloween fanatic there’s no better time to spook your home-on-wheels.

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

Plan a long bike ride

If you’re like most people, you either bought a new bike or rekindled your love of biking during the early months of quarantine. The leaves starting to turn and a nice bite to the air will keep you peddling longer. Most cities and towns have paved trails for bikers that range from short connecting rides to long excursions. It’s time to start planning your next trip.

Quilting is a popular hobby © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hobbies

While fall can bring a lot of fun outdoor activities, it also harkens winter and months spent inside. So if you’ve got down time, now is a good time to start a new hobby? Start knitting scarves and toques for your family. Or maybe get on goodreads.com and join your friends in their mad dash to complete end-of-year book reading challenges.

Quilt Garden Trail in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check out your area’s calendar of events

For everything that doesn’t fall into one of these general categories, check out your area’s tourism website for upcoming events. There you may find movies under the moonlight, art installations, walking tours and much more.

Worth Pondering…

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

—George Eliot

The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on Earth

Like many of America’s national parks, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has many cool pockets to explore. Nothing compares, though, to the feeling you get when standing before the hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s essentially a gigantic bowl-shaped valley filled with weird, orange rock spires. These hoodoos are formed by wind and the expanding ice that cracks and weathers the entire canyon resulting in this mysterious and distinctive rock formation.

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, hike, stay, and wander—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 gain 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 in an effort to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby. 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.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hike

Standing inside the amphitheater—even to walk just a short distance into the hoodoos—allows you to become a part of the landscape. The Navajo Loop trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail because of its accessibility and its beauty. Descending first into the Wall Street section, you are thrust upon an iconic scene in the park, a 700-year-old Douglas fir tree that rises in the midst of a slot canyon to search for sunlight in the sky. Traveling farther, you will find a vast network of trails leading into the hoodoos where you can chart your own course. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside 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

The lodge was built in 1919 by Reuben C. (Ruby) Syrett who was so spellbound by the scene at Bryce that he decided to start up a “tourist rest” where he and his family could host visitors to the area. As the park became more popular, so did Ruby’s—it is an absolute can’t miss in the area (you couldn’t miss it even if you tried!)

Everything you need to fuel a park adventure is available there. The operation is still family run—by Ruby’s son Carl and two generations that follow him.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Wander

A 1-mile walk between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point offers panoramic views of the amphitheater and is suitable for the entire family. Each overlook is situated at a trailhead where you can descend into the hoodoos if you want to explore deeper.

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

  • The youngest geologic formations found on the Colorado Plateau dating back just 65 million years are found in Bryce Canyon
  • Hoodoos are jagged pillars of rock that have withstood centuries of erosion caused by water, ice, and gravity
  • Hoodoos can be found on every continent though Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of them of any place in the world 
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At a glimpse

Total acres: 35,835

Date established: September 15, 1928 (dedicated a National Monument in 1923)

Main attraction: Largest concentration of hoodoo formations in the world

Designation: International Dark Sky Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation: 8,000-9,000 feet

Highest peak: Yovimpa and Rainbow Point at 9,105 feet (at the end of the 18-mile scenic park drive)

Number of maintained hiking trails: 8

Cost: Entry $30 per vehicle

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

Fun and Healthy Ways to Enjoy Nature

There are plenty of ways to enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

In his essay Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson dives into the healing powers of the wilderness. “In the presence of nature,” he wrote, “a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.”

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

Spending time outdoors has been linked to increased brain function, amplified vitamin D intake, reduced stress, and more. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outside. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family? Check out this list of fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature.

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

Hit the Trails

If you already take a walk or go for a run each day, getting back to nature can be as simple as changing your location. Rather than hitting the treadmill, take your walk or run to a local park. You can hit a paved path through the park or opt for a hiking trail for an even greater challenge.

Western scrub jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding

Birding is a great way to keep a healthy outlook—physically and mentally—and get outdoors with some level of exercise. Birding activity often includes walking, but it can easily include biking, canoeing or kayaking, hiking or backpacking—it’s up to you. Birding may be the secondary focus of such exercise outings or it may be your primary interest while you know you will get some exercise in the process. A little sunshine and fresh air and interesting avian action will make any day better.

Canoeing at Stephen Foster State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exercise in Green Space

Trees produce phytoncides which help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and boost immunity. The microbes in forest soil have been found to reduce depression and may contribute to the health of our microbiome. A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month while an afternoon walk somewhere green means better sleep at night.

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

Go for a Hike

There are a lot of places where you can hike—national and state parks, trails and footpaths, nature preserves. Being out in nature, you’ll enjoy different types of flora and fauna. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos

Taking photos outside requires a focus on nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or animals to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit for photography since the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching shapes and patterns. You can also visit a nature preserve and looking for photo opportunities with animals or plant life. Simply look for scenes that you find interesting including colorful leaves on the ground, spring flowers, or a stunning sunrise or sunset.

Camping at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentuky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

Camping is not just a weekend escape or a less expensive holiday. Camping comes with many health benefits. In addition to physical exercise, it is also great for your mental health and social wellbeing. There are numerous options when it comes to camping such as a tent, camper, travel or fifth-wheel trailer, or a motorhome—all of which promote a healthy lifestyle.  

Photographing a green jay in South Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby

Hiking, trail running, camping, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting, consider mountain biking. Before you hit the trails on two-wheels, learn more about this exciting sport and the gear that you’ll need to stay safe.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Bathing

Ok, so this one is a little esoteric, but bear with me here. Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Sequoia National Park, California

The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature Today

Get outside today! Any of these outdoor activities can be a great way to spend quality time with friends and family while helping to inspire healthy, active habits.

Worth Pondering…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

—John Muir

It’s Clearer than Ever That We Need our Parks and Natural Areas

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been escaping their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty. Because so many of us have been seeking out nature, in some places, it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A new national park visitation trends tracker from U.S. Travel Association, Rove Marketing, and Uber Media indicates that visitation at select national parks is climbing as people seek healthy ways to travel and #RecreateResponsibly. As the overall visitation numbers begin to climb more than two-thirds of all park visitors are out-of-town travelers and more than half journeyed a distance of more than 200 miles.

Francis Beider Forest, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parks and natural areas are a valuable asset in the effort to promote and improve public health. A large body of evidence correlates time spent outdoors with improved physical and mental health. Access to the outdoors has been especially treasured during a pandemic in which many of us have had to deal with health and economic stress. The benefits of that access are so clear that, even in this time of social distancing, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is underscoring the importance of outdoor activity:

“Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy. In many areas, people can visit parks, trails, and open spaces as a way to relieve stress, get some fresh air and vitamin D, stay active, and safely connect with others.”

Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During a time of national stress such as the COVID-19 pandemic, or just in everyday life, we need to access parks and take a healthy walk, clear our heads, or simply enjoy the serenity of a forest, marsh, or lake.

Take a look at some of these amazing parks and natural areas and don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure—and your hiking boots.

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Canyon, North Dakota

Located in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Painted Canyon is one of the most photographed areas in North Dakota. Painted Canyon Overlook affords views of the Canyon, and a one-mile walking trail dips down below the rim to offer views of the unique strata.

Francis Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Francis Beidler Forest, South Carolina

The National Audubon Society’s Francis Beidler Forest in Four Holes Swamp contains within its 18,000+ acres the largest remaining stand of virgin Bald Cypress/Tupelo Gum swamp forest left anywhere in the world. One thousand year-old trees and native wildlife abound in this pristine sanctuary that has been untouched for millennia. A 1.75 mile self-guided boardwalk trail (handicapped accessible) allows visitors the opportunity to safely venture deep into the heart of the swamp…to see it the way nature intended!

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, Arizona

Madera Canyon, found just twenty-five miles southeast of Tucson is a hiker’s paradise. This natural area is nestled in the northwest section of the Santa Rita Mountains between Mount Hopkins and Mount Wrightson. Madera Canyon has campsites, picnic areas, and several hiking trails. Climbing towards the top, the mountain vegetation ranges from grassland, palo verde bushes, mesquite trees, and saguaro cactus to Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. At 9,453 feet, Mount Wrightson is the highest mountain in the area.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Located in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is one of South Dakota’s biggest outdoor wonderlands. With 71,000 acres to explore, you’ll never run out of things to see and do. There’s biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, rock climbing, wildlife watching, and swimming. There are nine scenic campgrounds available throughout the park.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. The largest protected natural area in Kentucky, Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a huge area consisting of multicolored sandstone cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus.

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Louisiana

A reproduction Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. The Farmstead is an example of how a typical single-family farm would have appeared around 1800. The site includes the family home with an outdoor kitchen and bread oven, slave quarters, and a barn. In the pasture located adjacent to the barn, there are cattle typical of those raised by the Creoles and Acadians at that time.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

The Refuge is 57,331 acres along the Rio Grande near Socorro, located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands—3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

One of the least visited parks in the national park system, Lassen Volcanic preserves the volcanic legacy of Lassen Peak, the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range, and its long-eroded Mount Tehama. Evidence of the burning hot spot below Lassen is abundant with several geysers, boiling pools, steam vents, and boiling pools to visit. Beyond the geothermal activity, Lassen is a beautiful alpine environment with plenty of adventures to offer.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

Best Places to Plan a Hiking Trip

These are some of the best places to hike in the United States from Virginia to Utah and South Dakota to North Carolina

Many Americans are rediscovering favorite pastimes during the COVID-19 pandemic including exploring outdoor areas. Because you can breathe fresh air and get away from enclosed spaces, this can be a great time to plan a hiking trip. Being outdoors is one of the most effective ways to avoid close contact while enjoying exercise and leisure.

It’s possible to explore a natural marvel in your backyard or scratch a national park off of your bucket list. You may also try to find little-known hiking trails to avoid large crowds and to make a memorable road trip.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Moses Cone Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

The National Park Service maintains the Blue Ridge Parkway which is 469 miles across Virginia and North Carolina. While the visitor centers and campgrounds are not open, most hiking trails are. Some notable landmarks to hike include:

  • Humpback Rocks Visitor Center, Humpback Rocks Trail (MP-6; Length: 1 mile one-way)
  • Peaks of Otter, Sharp Top Trail (MP-86; Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Moses Cone Park (MP-294)
  • Linville Falls Visitor Center, Erwins View Trail (MP-317; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Craggy Gardens, Craggy Gardens Trail (MP-364; Length: 0.8 miles one-way)
  • Mount Pisgah, Mount Pisgah Trail (MP-408; Length: 1.6 miles one-way)
Blue Ridge Parkway, Peaks of Otter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 369 miles of hiking trails are in the parkway. Some portions of the parkway are near the Appalachian Trail and the Mountains to Sea Trail. You might be able to hike on these trails if time allows.

Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appalachian Trail

Serious hikers dream of hiking the entire Appalachian Trail spanning 14 eastern states. As life is different this year, you won’t be able to hike the full trail at one-time easily. Most shelters are not open, so you may have to avoid an overnight hiking trip. Each state from Maine to Georgia has its unique gems. You can explore “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia with its 28-mile stretch near Harpers Ferry.

Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park

National parks offer many travel opportunities but several state parks are great too. South Dakota’s Custer State Park has driving and hiking trails. You may enjoy seeing the buffalo and hiking in the Black Hills. Four hiking trails include:

  • Cathedral Spires Trail (Length: 2.3 miles return)
  • Little Devil’s Tower Trail (Length: 1.5 miles one-way)
  • Prairie Trail (Length: 3 miles loop)
  • Sylvan Lake Shore Trail (Length: 1 mile loop)
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Utah has plenty of things to do outdoors. Zion National Park is one of the state’s hiking paradises and has the privilege of being Utah’s first national park. But there are some temporary restrictions to be aware of before traveling. First, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible via park shuttle with reservations required in advance. Second, the Kolob Canyons area is not open until further notice.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may also need to avoid contact with park streams due to toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Make sure you bring plenty of extra drinking water for this hiking trip. Despite these restrictions, there’s plenty to see by foot in Zion including:

  • The Grotto shuttle stop, Angels Landing Trail (Length: 5.4 miles round trip)
  • Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop, The Narrows (Length: 5-9.4 miles round trip, depending on how far you go)
  • Zion Lodge shuttle stop: Emerald Pools Trail (Length: 1.2 mile round-trip loop to Lower Pool; 2 miles round trip to Middle and Lower Pool; 2.5 miles round trip to Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools)
  • Trailhead on UT-9 beyond first tunnel, Zion Canyon Overlook Trail (Length: 1 mile round trip)
  • Watchman Campground, Watchman Trail (Length: 2.7 miles round trip)
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also, consider hiking Utah’s Bryce National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, or Arches National Park if you want to try something different. Utah has laudable state parks as well, including Dead Horse Point State Park.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summary

National parks tend to have the best hiking trails, but state or local parks are hidden gems as well. You may try to explore lesser-known areas to avoid large crowds. You can still enjoy the great outdoors and the views may rival those of the most popular hiking trips.

Worth Pondering…

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

—A. A. Milne

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

Our collective “back to nature” response to the coronavirus outbreak is an important reminder of the irreplaceable value of our parks and natural lands

It took an event that forced the nation to stay at home to remind us how much we need to be outside. The spread of COVID-19 has required that we limit our contact with other people leading many of us to seek out connection with the natural world. From national parks and state parks to local hiking trails, Americans have been pouring out of their homes to enjoy places of peace and beauty.

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

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature. Subsequently, I listed numerous fun and healthy ways to enjoy nature including forest bathing.

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

The tonic of the wilderness was Henry David Thoreau’s classic prescription for civilization and its discontents, offered in the 1854 essay Walden: Or, Life in the Woods.

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Japanese practice of forest bathing is proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of wellbeing.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” It started in Japan in the 1980s and has become an important piece of their preventative health care measures.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest bathing is taking time to unwind and connect with nature to improve your health. Simply put: Forest bathing is retreating to nature to immerse in the forest atmosphere. The idea is pretty straightforward… When you take time to visit a natural area and take a walk in a relaxed way, there are rejuvenating, restorative, and calming effects on your mind and body.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Healed By . . . Trees?

Spending time walking in a forest has positive effects on your body and mind. Following are some conclusions based on various studies conducted by doctors and psychologists.

Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Physical benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Enhanced immune response
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep
Myakka River State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mental benefits of a walk in a forest:

  • Improved mood
  • Improved short-term memory
  • Restored mental energy
  • Improved concentration
  • Enhanced creativity
Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How can walking in a forest do all that? Scientists say some of it has to do with the chemicals plants give off to protect themselves from insects and to fight diseases. These chemicals have antibacterial and antifungal qualities and when we inhale them our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell that kills tumor- and virus-infected cells. Another reason is simple: Forests reduce stress, the root cause of many ailments.

Raccoon State Recreation Area, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Simply living around trees and looking at them is beneficial as well. A medical study found a 12 percent lower mortality rate for people who lived near green spaces with fewer incidences of a wide variety of diseases than people who lived in urban areas.

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (See poem below), North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, next time you’re near a swath of towering timber go right on under their welcoming limbs and take a hike.

Worth Pondering…

Trees

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

—Joyce Kilmer

Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”

The fifteen-mile stretch of State Route 179 from Interstate 17 (Exit 298) is the primary route that millions of tourists use to visit Sedona, a premier world tourist destination. Visitors winding their way along this route are treated to one of the more incredible scenic drives in America. 

The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a tourist attraction onto itself. Many will claim that the natural beauty along this winding road is unparalleled anywhere else in the nation.

Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Forest/Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center

Your first must-stop is the beautiful Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, located just south of the Village of Oak Creek on SR 179. Get maps and tons of Red Rock Country “fun things to do” information, as well as your Red Rock Pass for trailhead parking. Learn all the stories and history of this amazing area, like how the rocks and mesas were formed and named.

Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Crossing on Oak Creek

As you leave the Visitors Center driveway, turn north (left) on SR 179 and you’ll see a major intersection with a stoplight. Turn west (left) onto Verde Valley School Road and drive 4.7 miles where the road dead-ends at the Red Rock Crossing parking lot. Do not park anywhere but the parking lot. This road travels through residential areas so be aware of the 30-35 mph speed limit; also, for the last 1.2 miles, the road is unpaved as well as curvy, hilly, and subject to flooding after excessive rains.

Oak Creek near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the parking lot, it is a very short walk to the pathway that will lead you down to the unique red rock banks of Oak Creek. Don’t forget your camera, because you’re at one of the most photographed sites in the country as well as one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Sedona.

Cathedral Rock near Red Rock Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If it’s a Saturday, chances are there’s a small wedding taking place at the north end of the crossing. Most days there will be artists painting or photographers setting up their shots or people just soaking up the inspiring view.

If the creek water’s low enough, step across the red rock stepping stones which is the crossing to Crescent Moon Ranch State Park situated on the other side.

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bell Rock Vista and Pathway Southern Trailhead

Turn east (right) out of the Red Rock Crossing parking lot and take Verde Valley School Road 4.7 miles back to its stoplight intersection with SR 179, where you will turn north (left).

Bell Rock Vista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proceed through the Village of Oak Creek and just past the next stoplight on your right hand side will be the entrance to the Bell Rock Vista and Pathway parking lot. Here’s where you’ll discover the size and power of the red rocks; this is a travelers up close experience with mystical Bell Rock and mammoth Courthouse Butte. Feel the red rock energy and enjoy the views.

There are many pathways to choose from all going to or near Bell Rock that can be done in a half hour or as long as you feel like walking.

Hiking along the Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Little Horse Trail and Bell Rock Pathway Northern Trailhead

Turn north (or right) out of the parking lot onto SR 179; proceed straight and be on the lookout for signs that say “Little Horse Trail” and “Bell Rock Pathway”; entrance to this stop’s parking lot will come up fairly quickly, on your right.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover a little serenity among the glorious hiking and biking trails that meander to hidden washes and breathtaking red rock panoramas. Little Horse Trail is a local favorite, rated moderate, and 6.5 miles if you do the full round trip. Remember the rules of the trail, and have fun!

Also at this stop, view the “Three Nuns” with the renowned Chapel of the Holy Cross perched below.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Officially, the scenic road ends just beyond this point so after your hike, and before resuming your drive, take a moment to look west and gaze upon famous Cathedral Rock, a huge rock formation with multiple red rock spires. Whether it is silhouetted against a glowing sunset or shining in the midday sun, it is considered one of the most beautiful of all the red rock formations in the Sedona area, and surely a fitting way to end your day of Red Rock Splendor.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Road Trip Ahead! What Do I Pack?

You’ve scheduled your next adventure and couldn’t be more excited. And then it hits you—what do I pack?

If you’re hitting the road for several weeks or months, it’s important to pack smart…or suffer the consequences. Prepping for a long trip is truly an art—one that you’ll need to learn if you want to avoid hauling around unnecessary items, or forgetting truly important belongings.

In this post, we’ll cover both what to pack, and how to pack for a long trip. Get ready. Now is the time to start preparing for your next road trip!

Step 1: Plan Your Clothing Options

Walterboro, South Carolina, small-town America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When packing for a long trip, it can be overwhelming to think about the different outfits you’ll need on your adventure. By following a few of these tips you’ll feel better about packing light and packing smart.

Opt for Neutral Colors

Rent an e-bike © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The key to packing light is to create a variety of outfits with the clothes you choose to bring. You’d be surprised at how many different combinations a few pairs of pants, several shirts, and a jacket can yield!

Try and stick to more neutral colors. That way, everything should match and you’ll cut down on the amount of clothes you’re hauling along.

Do Some Research

Grasslands Nature Trail at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The type of trip you’re taking will impact what type of clothing you bring. About a week before you leave, check the weather to see what type of temperatures you can expect. Packing layers is almost always a safe bet, especially if you plan on visiting a variety of climates or the Sunbelt during winter months.

Shoes Should Be Comfortable

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

We’re big believers in packing shoes that are comfortable.

When it comes to shoes, plan for the three W’s: walking, working, and weather. Walking shoes should be supportive, and could include anything from tennis shoes to hiking boots. Work shoes are a tad nicer, and could be worn for special occasions. And finally, weather refers to the type of climate you’ll be visiting—so think snow boots versus rain boots.

Step 2: Remember All Your Accessories

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

While you definitely don’t want to pack too many accessories, there’s no doubt that a few key items should make the packing list. Here are a few things you can’t forget.

Sunglasses Are a Must

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When hitting the road in your RV, you’ll a good pair of sunglasses, regardless of whether you’re heading to the beaches or to the mountains. No one wants to stare into the sun for hours on end, not to mention that driving without sunglasses can be dangerous. Do yourself (and your eyes!) a favor and remember your shades.

Bring a Backpack

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

Planning on hiking? Checking out some local shops? Grab your backpack—it will definitely come in handy!

Hiking the Appalachian Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When taking a long trip, you might not have every day planned to a tee. That is why backpacks are great—they can accommodate any last minute excursions. We recommend water resistant, so you can take it anywhere and everywhere.

Step 3: Don’t Forget the Entertainment

Hiking Thumb Butte Trail, Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long trips mean a lot of time spent in your RV. And while conversation and the open road are great, it’s helpful to have some sort of entertainment for when things get a little slow.

Podcast and Audio Books

Canoeing near Orlando, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To pass the time, make sure to pile a few books on your phone or e-reader, along with some podcasts. Audiobooks are great too, especially if you tend to get motion sick reading in a moving vehicle.

Last But Not Least, Know Where You’re Going

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okay, okay. You likely have a destination in mind. But if you’re heading out for months on end, you might want to bring along a few suggestions.

Now hit the road already!

Worth Pondering…

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.