From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

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

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

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

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

America the Beautiful: The National Parks

63 national parks draw millions of visitors a year to unique natural wonders and unforgettable terrains

In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City and was so struck with inspiration at the summer scene that he immediately composed a tune.

A decade later on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.

From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events but also in the natural splendor of the land spurring several conservation efforts including the creation of the National Parks System. Wilderness areas for people to enjoy the rugged beauty were set aside while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include a shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States and is protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park

Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Worth Pondering…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

—Catharine Lee Bates

Learn How America’s National Parks Got Their Names

The stories behind their names

What’s in a name? A lot, it seems, especially in America’s varied national parks. These vast landscapes of pristine and brilliant nature teeming with wildlife, plants, and rare geological formations have history—much of which can be told simply through their names. Some are named after people while others have Native American names with intriguing meanings. Here’s the lowdown on how 10 of America’s national parks got their monikers.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The early French-Canadian trappers called the region which includes the present-day national park, Le Mauvaises terres a traverser which translated means “bad lands to travel across.” Other traders applied the term “bad lands” to this locality as well as to any section of the prairie country “where roads are difficult….”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For hundreds of years, the Dakota people have also described this area as Mako Sica which translates to “bad lands”. This is largely due to the area’s harsh terrain—its lack of water and rocky surfaces meant it was tricky to traverse. The name has stuck in its English form to this day.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park is still pretty rocky and parched but it’s not so bad to travel through these days thanks to the many hiking trails that make its dramatic and unusual landscapes accessible. Take a walk here and you’ll get to see fossils from the now-extinct animals that once thrived here. You can also meet the bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and deer that roam the region and gaze upon some of the most striking geologic formations in the US.

The park received 1,224,226 recreational visitors in 2021.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is a mile-deep gorge in northern Arizona. Scientists estimate the canyon may have formed 5 to 6 million years ago when the Colorado River began to cut a channel through layers of rock. The canyon measures over 270 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn’t until 1540 by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, several centuries passed before North American settlers explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men on the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Benjamin Harrison first protected the Grand Canyon in 1893 as a forest reserve and in January 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt made more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area into a national monument. Grand Canyon became an official National Park in 1919.

The park received 4,532,677 recreational visitors in 2021.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Named for its large deposits of petrified wood, Petrified Forest National Park covers about 346 square miles encompassing semi-desert shrubs as well as highly eroded and colorful badlands. The Park is known for its fossils, especially of fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch of the Mesozoic era about 225-207 million years ago.

National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the larger animals roaming the grasslands include pronghorns, black-tailed jackrabbits (hares), Gunnison’s prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats, and foxes. Pronghorns, the fastest land animals in North America, are capable of 60-mile-per-hour sprints. They are the second fastest land animal on Earth.

The park’s headquarters is about 26 miles east of Holbrook along Interstate 40 which parallels the  Puerco River and Historic Route 66 all crossing the park roughly east-west.

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

The site, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert, was declared a national monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962.

The park received 590, 334 recreational visitors in 2021.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

On September 25, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation establishing America’s second national park (Yellowstone became the first national park on March 1, 1872). Created to protect the giant sequoia trees from logging, Sequoia National Park was the first national park formed to protect a living organism: Sequoiadendron giganteum. One week later, General Grant National Park was created and Sequoia was enlarged.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1940, Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a new national park to include the glacially-formed splendor of Kings Canyon. The newly established Kings Canyon National Park included General Grant National Park into it. Since the Second World War, Kings Canyon and Sequoia have been administered jointly.

The park received 1,059,548 recreational visitors in 2021.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The native Cherokee people traditionally called the Great Smoky Mountains Shaconage which translates to “place of the blue smoke.” Euro-American settlers drew from this name in their label of “Smoky Mountains,” with “Great” being added at some point or another to reflect the massiveness and grandeur of the range.

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

More often than not, the inspiration for the Cherokee name is plain to see on one of the many long, mountain-upon-mountain vistas the Great Smokies serve up from such vantages as Newfound Gap or Clingmans Dome. There’s a whitish-blue mistiness to the scenery, a beautiful kind of haze that slightly blurs the long ridges and rounded peaks.

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

That haze is the optical result of a natural photochemical process. The trees, shrubs, and other plants of the dense and diverse Southern Appalachian forests emit natural hydrocarbons called “terpenes” that react with ozone particles from the stratosphere. Moisture condenses on these aerosols which then scatter the shorter wavelengths of light in the blue-violet spectrum to produce the signature haziness.

Seeing the soft-edged blush of the Great Smokies from a roadside pullout or a ridgeline bald never gets old. Next time you soak it in, maybe the old Cherokee name for this extraordinary range will come to mind: the “place of the blue smoke”.

The park received 14,161,548 recreational visitors in 2021.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of huge natural amphitheaters carved into sedimentary rocks by the Paria River and its tributaries along the edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau. Water and wind erosion has produced a fantastic array of brightly colored pinnacles, windowed walls, pedestals, fins, and spires.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ancient cultures are known to have occupied the Colorado Plateau for at least 12,000 years. Paiutes were living throughout the area when the first Euro-Americans arrived in southern Utah. They explained the numerous and colorful hoodoos as “legend people” who were turned to stone by the mythical Coyote. When Captain Clarence E. Dutton arrived with John Wesley Powell in the 1870s, he named many of the current features according to the Paiute names including Paunsagunt (home of the beavers), Paria (muddy water), Panguitch (fish), and Yovimpa (point of pines).

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ebenezer Bryce helped settle southwestern Utah and northern Arizona. He arrived on the Paunsagunt Plateau and Paria Valley in 1875 to harvest timber. The canyon behind his home came to be known as Bryce’s Canyon; today it remains the name of both a specific canyon and the national park. After 1900, visitors began to arrive to view the colorful geologic features and initial accommodations were constructed along the plateau rim above Bryce’s Canyon. By the 1920s, efforts were being made to set aside this scenic wonder of the Paunsagunt Plateau.

The park received 2,104,600 recreational visitors in 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument, named so by explorer John Wesley Powell, who believed this to be the Paiute name for the area, Zion got its new moniker in 1863. It was all down to Isaac Behunin, a Mormon pioneer who settled in the area to farm tobacco and fruit trees. He thought it so peaceful that he should rename it, Zion, because, as he wrote: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.”

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The great cathedrals he mentioned were probably the incredible, precipitous red cliffs that rise on both sides of the Virgin River. In Hebrew, “zion” means “heavenly place” and standing atop the cliffs or even at their foot it’s easy to see why Behunin considered it a divine landscape. 

The park received 5,039,835 recreational visitors in 2021.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

In the arid Sonoran Desert, this national park teems with wildlife, insects, and plants. Horned lizards, roadrunners, and Gila monsters are some of the animals that call this harsh landscape home. But, it’s the plants that most people come to see and one plant in particular that has given the park its name: the saguaro cactus.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you were to ask a child to draw a cactus, they’d likely sketch out something that looks like a saguaro which has a thick trunk and vertically reaching “arms” covered in fine spikes. It’s estimated there are almost two million of these iconic plants throughout the national park, so it’s hardly surprising they’ve been given the limelight in this National Park’s name. 

The park received 1,079,783 recreational visitors in 2021.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and Dark Sky Reserve, this national park has a lot to preserve. If you visit, make sure you see the incredible homes carved into and built around the rocky, sandstone landscape. Dating back to around AD 550, these dwellings housed the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in this region for more than 700 years and there are 5,000 or so archaeological sites to explore within the national park.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exploration is how the park got its name. When Spanish explorers in the American Southwest first came upon these towering rock formations they said it looked like a landscape of tables, covered with foliage and forest. They named it “Mesa Verde”, which is Spanish for “green table”.

The park received 548,477 recreational visitors in 2021.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Trees are an incredibly unusual-looking trees, in part because they’re not a tree at all! They’re a plant belonging to the Yucca genus that happens to resemble the size and growth pattern of a tree. Joshua trees are slow-growing adding only 2 to 3 inches each year. It takes 50 to 60 years for a Joshua tree to reach full height. They live on average about 500 years.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is named for the Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) native to the Mojave Desert. Originally declared a national monument in 1936, Joshua Tree was redesignated as a national park in 1994.

The park received 3,064,400 recreational visitors in 2021.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

10 of the Best Scenic Drives in National Parks

National parks with the best scenic drives

A trip to a national park is about more than just the destination. It’s the journey to these remote corners of preserved natural wonders that are equally enticing including drives to and around the parks.

In fact, many US national parks are best seen from your car—really. We’re not saying you shouldn’t get out and breathe the fresh air and smell the flowers and hike a trail but to get the best overview of wilderness and wildlife scenic drives can’t be beat. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips to consider when planning a road trip to a national park 

Prepare your vehicle: National parks are often located in remote areas and it may be a while for help to arrive if you break down. So be sure your vehicle is fully serviced and has a full tank of fuel before you start your adventure.

Download directions: Speaking of being remote, you may not have cell service or Wi-Fi in the parks so make sure to save routing info (including this story) to your phone in advance of your trip. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack snacks and water: Don’t count on food or supplies on the road—bring everything you need with you including picnic supplies (and be sure to carry out anything you carry in with you). 

Following are 10 of the best US national parks for scenic drives this summer and beyond.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for Seussian landscapes

The route: Park Boulevard, drive from North (SR-62) or South (I-10) entrances

Route length: 35 miles

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few roads pass through Joshua Tree but entrances at both north and south ends of the park connect in a cross-park scenic drive with spur roads to specific attractions. Driving the park north to south will give you roadside views not only of plenty of the park’s namesake trees but notable landmarks like Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rock formations. As you continue south watch as the landscape and flora transform from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to get an idea of what you’ll see on a drive through Joshua Tree National Park? Pick up a copy of The Lorax by Dr Seuss. The scraggly armed trees with tufts of needles reaching towards the sky strongly resemble a “truffula tree” and the entire desert landscape has an almost whimsical feel. Make no mistake though, the rocky wonders and unusual vegetation you’ll see driving through this park—which straddles the Mojave and Colorado deserts—are both real and incredible.  

Read More: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.  

Best scenic drive through the park: best for fall foliage

The route: Newfound Gap Road from US 441

Route length: 29 miles

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

The main gateways to Great Smoky Mountains are the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina. Between the two is the scenic Newfound Gap Road which winds for 29 miles neatly bisecting the park on the only pavement traversing the Smokies.

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

The largest national park in the east and the most visited park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains stretches from North Carolina to Tennessee. This park is ideally situated for driving itineraries with 384 miles of roads from which to choose your driving adventure. Newfound Gap, named for the high mountain pass at the state line, offers views for days, great animal spotting, and a high perch to view the hardwood forests and changing leaves come the fall. 

Cades Cove is by far the most popular site in the park. You can meander along the 11-mile driving loop through pastoral landscapes to historic log cabins and churches all the while viewing wildlife without ever having to leave the comfort of your car. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for natural architecture

The route: Arches Scenic Drive

Route length: 18 miles

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches’ Main Park Road traces 18 miles from the entrance to Devils Garden Campground on a paved roadway with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s epic arches and other rock formations. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The red sandstone arches that give this Utah national park its name seem too perfectly balanced to be created by something as fickle as wind and sand. Surely, you’ll think as you drive around the amazing structures, a human architect must have lent a hand? This drive will take you past all of the soaring highlights; be sure to get out the car to get the full scope and perspective of these towering rock formations. 

Tip: After your visit here, you can add stops to southern Utah’s BryceCanyonlandsCapitol Reef, and Zion for an epic Utah national parks RV road trip. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park features trees dating back more than 200 million years that have turned to stone by absorbing minerals from the water that once surrounded them. The park also includes fossilized flora and fauna, petroglyphs, wildflowers, colorful rock formations, and wildlife. Hiking trails allow visitors to see the petrified wood, petroglyphs, and fossils.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for petrified logs

The route: Petrified Forest Road

Route length: 28 miles

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trip from one end of the park to the other is about 28 miles. There’s so much to see from the Painted Desert in the north to the southern half of the drive where most of the petrified wood lies. Hiking trails along the way take visitors close to the sights. Starting in the north at Exit 311 off I-40, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to see an 18-minute film, hands-on exhibits, and a short walking trail.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The drive passes through a variety of environments, colorful rock formations, and scenic pullouts with spectacular views. At the Crystal Forest Trail, petrified logs can easily be seen within steps of the parking area. It’s possible to spot wildlife along the drive as well.

Read More: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

With over 229 square-miles, more than 35 hiking trails, and cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for towering monoliths

The route: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

Route length: 54 miles

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 54-mile route starts at the intersection of Highway 9 and I-15 about nine miles east of St. George and ends at the Mt. Carmel Junction. From November until March, you’ll be able to drive the entire route but from spring through fall the Zion Canyon section is closed to cars. Take the free shuttle which makes nine stops and takes about an hour and a half.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park features the same dramatic desert landscape associated with the park’s main section: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus, and wooded trails along twisting side canyons.

Read More: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space. 

Best scenic drive through the park: best for panoramic canyon views

The route: Desert View Drive

Route length: 23 miles

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert View Drive portion of SR-64 is a scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. Private vehicles can drive east along the canyon rim for 23 miles to the Desert View Services Area and the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Desert View Watchtower is located at Desert View. Traveling west, other stops along this route include Navajo Point, Lapin Point, Tusayan Pueblo and Museum, Moran Point, Grandview Point, Duck on a Rock, and Pipe Creek Vista.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.

Best scenic drive through the park: 700 years of Ancestral Pueblo history

The route: Mesa Top Auto Loop

Route length: 6 miles

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites. From remains of early pithouses and masonry villages to multi-storied cliff dwellings, archeological sites along this loop show how early Pueblo architecture evolved.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the road, you’ll find short, easily-accessible paved trails to view twelve archeological sites. Short trails along the Mesa Top Loop lead to surface sites such as pithouses and pueblos; overlooks of cliff dwellings tucked into alcoves; and viewpoints where you can enjoy the beauty of the landscape that was home to generations of Ancestral Pueblo people.

Highlights include Square Tower House Overlook, and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View and Sun Temple. The Mesa Top Loop Road is open daily, 8:00 am to sunset.

Read More: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventure, historic sites, and dark skies rank among the features visitors enjoy in Big Bend.

Tip: Big Bend is best enjoyed from late fall through early spring. Winter months bring beautiful days and pleasant temperatures. Summer months are scorching and outdoor recreation can be uncomfortable and unsafe. In the winter, five visitor centers are open, ranger programs occur more frequently, and local outfitters offer more activities. In the summer, many of these operations are reduced.

Best scenic drive through the park: best for historic and geologic features

The route: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Route length: 30 miles

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the most interesting of the paved sightseeing routes in Big Bend National Park giving the greatest variety of habitats, geology, and a variety of interesting short walks and interpretive pull outs.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road skirts the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains climbing up to one the park’s most outstanding views at Sotol Vista then winding down to parallel the Rio Grande at Castolon Historic District and winding up at Santa Elena Canyon trailhead where the pavement ends. Heading south from the Ross Maxwell junction there are a number of pullovers to interpretive sites, trailheads to short and longer hikes, and scenic vistas.

Read More: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Most scenic drive through the park: best for surreal and otherworldly

The route: Badlands Loop Scenic Byway

Route length: 39 miles

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (also known as SR-240) connects the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall. This scenic route winds up and down the contours of the Badlands with numerous opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 16 designated scenic overlooks that make for outstanding photo opportunities. Don’t miss the Big Badlands Overlook in the east or the Door, Window, and Notch Trail turnoff just a few miles further south down the road; in the west, make sure to stop at the Pinnacles Overlook and the Yellow Mounds Overlook towards the western end of the loop road. 

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Most scenic drive through the park: best for colorful wildflowers

The route: Skyline Drive

Route length: 105 miles

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness. The only public road through the Park, it takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the Park on a clear day.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These cement posts help you find your way through the Park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 in Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the Park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the Park, at mile 51.

Read More: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

9 of Best National Parks for RV Campers

Looking to get closer to nature and linger longer at a US national park? RV camping is the perfect way to experience the majestic wide-open spaces of the national parks.

Camping in an RV within a national park provides a comfortable base to immerse yourself in a park’s beauty from sunrise to sunset (and beyond for great stargazing). National park campsites also create a fun sense of community between RV campers who share everything from vehicle advice to travel tips, BBQ recipes, and s’mores around the campfire.

The national parks listed below are top destinations not only for the quantity and quality of RV campsites within the parks but for the access that RVs have to tour the parks on paved roadways with key park attractions being within roadside viewing distance. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top tips to consider when RV camping at national parks

Most national parks use Recreation.gov as the website to make reservations for campsites. Each park has its own quirks about the timing and process for making reservations, so check out your target park’s rules and regulations prior to booking. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make reservations as far in advance as possible. National park RV campsites can become fully booked within minutes of dates being offered, particularly for summer high season and holiday weekends. 

For your RV campsite, research the length restrictions and available hookups for water, electricity, and sewage dumps. You don’t want an unpleasant surprise after a late arrival to a remote campground.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re not able to secure a RV campsite within a national park, be aware that many private RV parks and resorts operate just outside the boundaries of most National Parks. Reservations at commercial campgrounds will be easier to make and these campgrounds provide more services and amenities than those within park limits. 

Bringing bicycles or a towed car with your RV can greatly expand your options for exploration in a national park particularly to areas with limited RV access. Also, consider leaving your RV in the campground and using park shuttle services when available. 

Following are nine of the best US national parks for RV camping.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. 

Main Park Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Arches’ Main Park Road traces 18 miles from the entrance to Devils Garden Campground on a nicely paved roadway with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s epic arches and other rock formations. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed. After your visit here, you can add stops to southern Utah’s BryceCanyonlandsCapitol Reef, and Zion for an epic Utah national parks RV road trip. 

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 1 campground with 51 sites

The only camping option inside the park is the Devils Garden Campground, a slickrock-flanked oasis at the end of the park’s main road. Reservations are available and recommended via Recreation.gov, March through October and are available up to six months in advance; its 51 sites are first come, first served the rest of the year. 

Related Article: To Visit a Popular National Park this Summer, Start Planning Yesterday

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is about 1-mile deep and 10 miles wide, measuring 277 miles in length, and it holds more than 10,000 years of history in that space. 

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic RV route through the park: Desert View Drive portion of SR-64 is a scenic road that begins near Grand Canyon Village. Private vehicles can drive east along the canyon rim for 23 miles to the Desert View Services Area and the East Entrance of Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 519 sites available for RVs

Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. There are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, and picnic table. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available; however, there is a free dump station. Most RV spaces are pull-through.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trailer Village is the only in-park RV campground with full hookups (sewage, water, and electrical with 30-amp and 50-amp sites available) Trailer Village features paved pull-through sites which can accommodate vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village is concessioner operated. Reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Great Smoky Mountains got its name from the Cherokee Indians who called the area shaconage (shah-con-ah-jey) meaning “land of the blue smoke,” after the thick, bluish haze that hangs over the mountains peaks and valleys.  

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drives in the park: The main gateways to Great Smoky Mountains are the Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina. Between the two is the scenic Newfound Gap Road which winds for 29 miles neatly bisecting the park on the only pavement traversing the Smokies.

Cades Cove © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cades Cove is by far the most popular site in the park. You can meander along the 11-mile driving loop through pastoral landscapes to historic log cabins and churches all the while viewing wildlife without ever having to leave the comfort of your car. 

Sugarlands Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 9 campgrounds 924 sites available for RVs

Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers, electrical, or water hookups in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Few roads pass through Joshua Tree but entrances at both north and south ends of the park connect in a cross-park scenic drive with spur roads to specific attractions. Driving the park north to south will give you roadside views not only of plenty of the park’s namesake trees but notable landmarks like Skull Rock and the Jumbo Rock formations. As you continue south watch as the landscape and flora transforms from the Mojave to the Colorado Desert ecosystems.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 8 campgrounds with 495 sites available for RVs

With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Related Article: Tips for Reserving a National Park Campsite

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years from AD 600 to 1300.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 1 campground with 267 sites

Morefield Campground is located 4 miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs and includes 15 full-hookup RV sites.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

With over 229 square-miles, more than 35 hiking trails, and cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway (5 miles one way) in the northwestern corner of Zion National Park features the same dramatic desert landscape associated with the main section of the park: towering colored cliffs, narrow winding canyons, forested plateaus, and wooded trails along twisting side canyons.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV Campsites: 2 campgrounds with 303 sites

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Tip: This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures often exceed 95 degrees.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, outdoor adventure, historic sites, and dark skies rank among the features visitors enjoy in Big Bend.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tip: Big Bend is best enjoyed from late fall through early spring. Winter months bring beautiful days and pleasant temperatures. Summer months are scorching and outdoor recreation can be uncomfortable and unsafe. In the winter, five visitor centers are open, ranger programs occur more frequently, and local outfitters offer more activities. In the summer, many of these operations are reduced.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The 30-mile-long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive holds up to its name taking you by noteworthy spots like the Mules Ears viewpoint (where you can see two jagged rock formations that jut up resembling donkey’s ears), Sam Nail Ranch (a historic homestead built in 1916), and Santa Elena Canyon (get those cameras ready).

Related Article: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 5 campgrounds with 196 sites for RVs

Since it takes a long time to reach the park—and then once there, you can spend a good amount of time just getting around within the park—it’s not a good idea to reserve a campsite well in advance. For camping within Big Bend, you have four developed campgrounds to choose from: Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, Cottonwood, and Rio Grande Village RV Park. Reservations required. You can book your site up to six months in advance.

Note: At Chisos Basins RVs over 24 feet (trailers over 20 feet) and are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin and small campsites at this campground.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations of Badlands National Park dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Badlands Loop Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: The 39-mile Badlands Loop Scenic Byway (also known as SR-240) connects the Northeast Entrance with the Pinnacles Entrance near Wall. This scenic route winds up and down the contours of the Badlands with about a dozen opportunities to stop at overlooks and trailheads as well as less formal pullouts for photo ops.

Cedar Pass Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 2 campgrounds with 118 sites

In addition to backcountry camping, Badlands offers two campgrounds. The primitive, first-come-first-served Sage Creek Campground in the park’s northwest has 22 sites (free), vault toilets, picnic benches, and bison trails. For running water and electricity opt for the Cedar Pass Campground adjacent to Cedar Pass Lodge where you’ll find 96 RV and tent camping sites with shaded picnic tables. Reservations recommended.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The name “Shenandoah” is an American Indian word meaning “Daughter of the Stars.” 

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most scenic drive in the park: Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the United States at any time of the year. The picturesque 105-mile road rides the rest of the Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Number of RV campsites: 4 campgrounds with 357 sites

Nothing compares to sleeping under the stars and with four campgrounds there’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah National Park. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. Many sites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.

Related Article: National Parks Inspire Love of Nature

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah’s four main campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service and are open seasonally from early until late fall and feature spacious tent, trailer and RV sites:

  • Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.2) 
  • Big Meadows Campground (mile 51) 
  • Lewis Mountain Campground (mile 57.2) 
  • Loft Mountain Campground (mile 79.5)

Worth Pondering…

If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then that beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese monk and Zen master, How to Love

10 Amazing Places to RV in March 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in March

Don’t plan it all. Let life surprise you a little.

—Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is an award-winning Dominican American poet, novelist, and essayist who drew national attention with her popular 1991 novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and 1994’s In the Time of the Butterflies in which this quote appears. These simple words encourage us not to undervalue spontaneity: While we’re busy grasping for control, our most meaningful experiences are often the result of life’s unexpected twists and turns.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some travelers plan trips minute by minute. Others take a more carefree approach. But, RV travel requires planning. If you’re driving a Class A motorhome, you’ll at least need to know which country roads have low bridges. The smallest RVs, like tiny teardrop trailers and pop-ups, lend themselves to the fancy-free lifestyle where knowing the twists and turns of every route isn’t as critical.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shoulder season in travel is the best time to visit popular places. March may have weather risks but you may have a place to yourself. Some of the most popular national parks may not be entirely accessible in March. Places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountains National Park may have blizzards, ice, and impassible roads to get there or in the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road, for example, is a popular attraction at Glacier that usually doesn’t open until May.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That said, even in March, you can find enough places at lower elevations or with passable access to stretch your legs and breathe crisp air. If you want to have less travel weather risk, try some of the national parks in warmer and more temperate climes. You’ll enjoy your time spent in these places especially when your mode of travel is in an RV. 

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January and February. Also, check out my recommendations from March 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Spring in Zion National Park may have cold nights in March but the days should be beautiful. The tram through the park is running and most of the trails are accessible. This popular park is gorgeous this time of year. Wildflowers will be blooming and trees will be greening, depending on the weather as snow will fall in higher elevations of the park during the month. There are hikes of all levels including the infamous and challenging Angels Landing. Depending on how much rain falls, The Narrows may be closed.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a popular spring break destination and you may find some crowds. Of course, it will be much less crowded than it is in the summer months. There is a lodge within the park that hosts a restaurant and there also is a fast food cafe on site. The little town of Springdale is right at the entrance gate and has many restaurants for visitors. The park tram goes all the way up to The Narrows and makes a number of stops along the way where you can get off to a picnic, get on a trail, or marvel at the sights, like the Court of the Patriarchs. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watchman Campground opens in March but books far in advance. Zion River RV Resort is just outside Springdale and there are more parks in nearby Hurricane. If you like to camp off-grid, there are a number of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels from St. George to Springdale on Route 9 (which leads into the park). 

Related: The Absolute Best Places to RV This March

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of destinations. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s halfway between Los Angeles and Phoenix and is indeed a world away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. There’s no cellphone access in the park and no gas or food for sale. Bring water, food, and enough gas to get around the park before you get here. Indio, California, is 30 minutes west of the park from the south entrance and Twentynine Palms, California, is just outside the north entrance.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. Dirt road enthusiasts can enjoy miles of backcountry roads to get a glimpse of old mines, Eureka Peak with a view of Palm Springs, and roads that lead to bike trails. There are three visitor centers in the park as well as an accessible nature center with a boardwalk that depicts the desert cacti and bighorn sheep that populate the area.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parkland began as a national monument in the 1930s, became a designated wilderness area in 1976, and became a national park in 1994. You may feel like you’re on the set of an old movie in Joshua Tree and you are because numerous Westerns were filmed here. 

There are 500 camping spots inside the park. The popularity of the park makes getting a reservation challenging. There are numerous RV parks nearby and BLM land is available for camping on the north side of the park.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

This may be one of the more crowded national parks in March because the weather is particularly appealing before the brutal summer temperatures arrive. Big Bend National Park is very large, many of the roads are unimproved, and the nearest towns are Terlingua and Lajitas. There is a gas station and a small grocery inside the park but it’s best to bring food and water for your stay. The park, located on the Mexican border in southwest Texas, will bloom with wildflowers depending on the weather.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many trails to hike, you can boat on the Rio Grande, and there are breathtaking drives on paved roads to take you into the Chisos Mountains and through other parts of the park. If you stay inside the park in the Chisos Lodge or snag a camping spot, you will see a wondrous night sky of stars as this is dark sky country. Cell phone reception is hit and miss and mostly not available in this park. There are three trails and four visitor centers.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park is named for its 1,500-foot spire visible from downtown Tucson (45 miles away) and Interstate 10. Used as a distinctive landmark by travelers for centuries, Indigenous peoples built irrigation canals, ball courts, and agricultural settlements in the area which is also home to desert cottontail rabbits, mule deer, and badgers.

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in March

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for their unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. One of the first recordings was in the 1700s by the Anza Expedition as it passed through the area.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park has a visitor center with exhibits detailing the region’s history, picnic spots, and a campground. With 85 electric sites for tent and RV camping, Picacho Peak State Park is a great place to stay while exploring nearby Rooster Cogburn Ostrich Ranch, Saguaro National Park, Biosphere 2, and the Old Pueblo.

Bring plenty of food and water and wear proper footwear. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views. 

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont Maple Syrup

Vermont Maple has been the standard by which all syrups are judged. I think you can taste eight generations of experience in Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The Morse Family has been making maple syrup and related products in Vermont for 200 years. And their folksy maple farm is an interesting place to visit any time of year.

Morris Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled on a hilltop just 2.7 miles outside of Montpelier, the smallest state capital in the U.S., Morse Farm is a throwback to a simpler, quieter time when generations of the same family worked together to carve out a living on the land.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll hear an informative and fascinating presentation about the history and operation of the farm and you can take a stroll on the trail among some of the sugar maple trees. There are farm animals to feed and of course, there is a gift shop with a wide assortment of the farm’s products for sale.

Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take note of the books for sale written by Burr Morse, a seasoned member of the clan collecting colorful stories about the maple syrup trade over the years. Burr is a congenial and funny character who does some of the presentations. He also does the whimsical wood carvings that are on display.

Open daily, with slight variation in hours by season. No admission charge. The harvesting season is mid-March to Mid-April. Ample parking is available, including pull-through parking for RVs.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deep South Charm

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Charleston. Avid tourist? Charleston is the city for you. Lover of good food and charming scenery? Charleston has your number.

Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes Deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a celebrated culinary scene, luxurious accommodations, historic architecture, and big events on the 2022 calendar, Charleston remains a perennial favorite destination.

Audubon Swamp Sanctuary, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 2005, the Charleston Wine + Food Festival infuses homegrown flavor with top chefs, winemakers, authors, storytellers, artisans, experts, and food enthusiasts from around the globe. The city’s popular culinary festival is a five-day event that spans the first full weekend each March (2-6, 2022).

Magnolia Plantation, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The anticipated International African American Museum Center for Family History which explores the city’s role in the history of slavery is also set to open early in the year. This one-of-a-kind research center dedicated to African American genealogy is a part of the International African American Museum. The museum sits on the shoulders of 18 strong columns. On the ground level, the African Ancestors Memorial Garden highlights the original shoreline—the exact spot where so many captive Africans first set foot in America.

Related: Best Places for RV Travel this March

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains

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

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Musical Events

For more than a decade, Savannah Stopover has been putting on stellar lineups of ones-to-watch, saw-them-whens, and look-at-them-nows of music’s hardest-working touring acts before they get to Austin’s SXSW. This spring, the festival takes place at the Georgia State Railroad Museum where live music will radiate from multiple stages at the historic site. Be sure to arrive early for the opening night event on March 10 at Service Brewing.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia’s largest musical arts event and one of the most distinctive cross-genre music festivals in the world, the Savannah Music Festival is a world-class celebration of musical arts. Find a true medley of melodies where music ranges from country to folk to jazz to chamber. Venues showcase the best of Savannah’s walkable vibrancy and include intimate churches, synagogues and club venues, breezy outdoor streets settings, and revered cultural centers and historic theatre spaces like the Johnny Mercer Theater.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With strength in classical music, Americana, acoustic, and jazz—but also rock n’ roll, dance events, and a variety of world music—the Savannah Music Festival is the tie that binds an immersive, global music experience to peak spring in an iconic Southern city.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And while your evenings will be spent listening to some amazing music, Savannah has a lot of opportunities for arts and culture and amazing outdoor activities. Tack on a few days to visit several of the many world-class museums or historic destinations, talk a walk or bike ride and explore the beautiful squares and parks, or visit Tybee Island for a boat ride or a day at the beach.

Savannah’s cuisine is world-famous and extremely diverse. Sink your teeth into extra-crispy fried chicken, authentic shrimp and grits, and finger-licking-good barbecue.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upcountry South Carolina Delight

Greenville has flown largely under many travelers’ radar but this special Southern city is worth discovering in 2022. Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park—Greenville’s downtown oasis of green space, waterfalls, flowers, and walkways.

Related: The Best RV Camping March 2021

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville owes its existence to the 28-foot falls on the Reedy River that powered 19th-century textile mills making it the “Textile Center of the South.” It took 40 years of cleaning after the mills closed to make Falls Park into a regional jewel, crowned by the award-winning Liberty Bridge that was designed by architect Miguel Rosales with a distinctive curve as it pitches toward the falls.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set on a historic rail bed that in places runs alongside the Reedy River, the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail is one of Greenville’s most popular and accessible recreation options. The paved path bisects Falls Park on the Reedy.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be one of the first visitors to the stunning new 60-acre outdoor park, Unity Park in an area west of downtown Greenville. Located right along the 22-plus mile Swamp Rabbit Bike Trail, it’s set to open in the spring. That’s right around the same time as NCAA March Madness comes to town, too. Greenville will host games from the first two rounds of the 2022 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament from March 18 and 20 at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Bernardino National Forest

San Bernardino National Forest has many special places including three National Monuments, eight designated wilderness areas, three Wild and Scenic Rivers, and numerous noteworthy and beautiful locales.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. Providing a picturesque backdrop to local communities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Its extensive backcountry can be accessed via trails from both the Coachella Valley and the alpine village of Idyllwild.

San Bernardino National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palms to Pines Scenic Byway runs from Palm Desert past snow-peaked mountains to Banning Pass. This 67-mile route offers a full variety of ecosystems in the Lower Sonoran region. From clusters of desert palms to high country conifer forests and snow-capped mountains, experience a contrast of ecosystems within a short distance. Admire fantastic views of the urbanized valley floor below, craggy mountains, and the San Gorgonio Wilderness area to the north on the Banning Pass section of the byway.

Worth Pondering…

In March the soft rains continued, and each storm waited courteously until its predecessor sunk beneath the ground.

—John Steinbeck, East of Eden 

13 More Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Here are some of the best parks for snowbirds to explore

There are 63 national parks across the US. That’s not counting the hundreds of national monuments, historical sites, battlefields, memorials, trails, and more. When you count all of them together, the number of protected sites that fall under the US National Park Service is well over 400. And America’s state parks number over 8,500.

So it should not surprise anyone when I say that there are scores of incredible sites worth exploring in America.

Whether you’re looking to explore waterfalls or rivers, volcanoes or deserts, canyons or mountaintops, there’s a park for snowbirds to discover this winter.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park in Texas

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating, and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related Article: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park in New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers restrooms, picnic areas, and developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park in Utah

Zion is a park that you have to see to believe. It is a true desert oasis and an American icon. The surrounding area looks desolate, dry, and barren, but when you drive into Zion Canyon, a massive formation, miles wide, with sheer rock walls that rise thousands of feet, await you. There is something so incredible about seeing the oranges and yellows of sandstone mixed with the greens of the Virgin River and the vegetation that grows so easily there.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park in Texas

Big Bend National Park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles. Big Bend is named after a stretch of 118 or so miles of Rio Grande River, one part of which forms a large bend in the river at the Texas-Mexico border.

Related: Top 10 State Parks to Visit This Winter

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 150 miles of trails give visitors the opportunity to venture out on a day hike on their own or participate in a ranger-led program with a ranger as your guide, teaching you about the science, history, nature, and culture of Big Bend National Park. There is a little bit of everything for those visiting this unique part of the world.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Arizona
Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park in Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy. The park features three campgrounds; 90 campsites offer 50 amp electrical service and water; some with sewer hookups.

Related Article: Ultimate Collection of National Parks Perfect for Snowbirds

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (adjacent to Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s. Buccaneer Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park in Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in Texas

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

plain chachalaca at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico

Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Regardless of the snow and cold temps above, the cave is always a temperate 56-57 degrees.

Related Article: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

The most popular route, the Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25-mile trail is relatively flat and will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree is a diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The park is home to two deserts: the Colorado which offers low desert formations and plant life, such as ocotillo and teddy bear cholla cactus; and the Mojave. This higher, cooler, wetter region is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

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

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

Absolutely Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

The Strip barely scratches the surface

Las Vegas is located in the desert, so daytime temperatures in the summer regularly reach triple digits which can put a damper on outdoor activities. On the plus side, the winter heat is a nice escape for anyone fleeing ice and snow.

Las Vegas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather-wise, the best times to visit Las Vegas are spring and fall with highs hovering around 70 degrees in March and the low 80s in October. March, April, May, October, and November have the best weather for walking the Las Vegas Strip and getting out in the desert for hikes, and exploring the vast wilderness.

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So your idea of fun isn’t drinking yard-long margaritas inside a mind-bending, alternate universe? I get it. One of the benefits of enjoying a city in the middle of a vast wilderness is, in fact, that wilderness. When you’re in Las Vegas, you’re not limited to casinos on the Strip. Some of the grandest scenery is just a short drive away. Whether you head to the Valley of Fire, the famous Hoover Dam, or Death Valley, we’ve got where to go and what to do in each. These are the very best day trips from Las Vegas.

Not only are these destinations beautiful but whether you drive north, south, east, or west out of Las Vegas you’re sure to see mountains, canyons, or lakes, making each trip about far more than the destination but the whole road trip too!

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to Know Before Going on a Road Trip from Las Vegas

Located in the desert, Las Vegas and the surrounding areas are known for varying temperatures throughout the day and year. While these destinations are beautiful year-round, the weather plays a significant role in choosing when to travel.

During the summer months, it’s best to avoid the hottest desert locations located at low elevations. If you visit then, plan more intense activities during the morning and evening hours and plan for scenic drives and swimming during the day. Fall and spring generally have more moderate temperatures allowing for more physical activities during the day. Surprisingly, many places in the desert are occasionally hit with snowstorms during the winter. So stay up to date on weather conditions no matter the season you decide to travel.

The Best Road Trips from Las Vegas

The close proximity of national parks, recreation areas, and other cities make Las Vegas one of the best cities to road trip from. In any direction you travel, you’re sure to hit a beautiful site. Here are some of the best road trip destinations from Las Vegas.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Distance from Las Vegas: 31 miles

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures can be harsh, from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore close to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Distance from Las Vegas: 37 miles

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoover Dam is one of the most recognizable and iconic manmade structures in the world, a 726-foot-high concrete arch-gravity dam that was completed in 1935. Until you visit Hoover Dam it’s difficult to appreciate its sheer size. It’s a dizzying sight from the dam itself. And it’s quite sobering, too, since more than 100 people lost their lives in the building of this spectacular feat of engineering. There are fun stops to make on the way back from a dam visit to complete the trip.

Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seeing Hoover Dam and getting a good tour of the place is crucial to understanding the point in American history when it was built. Take the Dam tour, a one-hour guided tour of the powerplant and its passageways. The tour starts with a film about the development of the dam and includes an elevator ride to the Nevada wing of the plant and eight of the dam’s generators as well as into the tunnels that served as inspection areas.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 130 miles to the West Rim (Skywalk Canyon Overlook); 280 miles to the South Rim; and 270 miles to the North Rim

John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.” A universally recognizable iconic destination, Grand Canyon National Park is a true marvel of nature that’s on every RVer’s bucket list.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deep gorge carved by the Colorado River about seventeen million years ago, the Grand Canyon stretches for more than 250 miles and is up to 18 miles in width and more than a mile deep in some areas. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re seeking a secluded escape to Mother Nature, you should be prepared: The Grand Canyon can be very crowded. The South Rim—home to the Grand Canyon Village and the well-worn Bright Angel Trail—is particularly popular for sightseers and hikers. It is on this side that you’ll find the most amenities. However, for a true escapist experience, head to the North Rim.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 161 miles

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat Zion National Park. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards, and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

Related: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not surprisingly, Zion boasts towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides. The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. The Watchman is even more ornate and colorful as it soars 2,555 feet from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 186 miles

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths (popular with rock climbers), and oases. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. This outstanding scenic point overlooks a breathtaking expanse of valleys, mountains, and deserts.

Related: Joshua Tree National Park Turns 25. But what is a Joshua tree?

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua trees, giant boulders, cholla cacti, and rugged mountains are some of the classic wonders that make up Joshua Tree National Park. The hiking is fantastic! There is a variety of self-guided nature trails and longer hikes that offer different perspectives of the park. The aptly-named Jumbo Rocks has a half-mile nature walk to Skull Rock and the Barker Dam walk (1.1-mile loop) is interesting in terms of the cultural history of the area.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 256 miles

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters. Erosion has shaped colorful limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes collectively called “hoodoos”.

Related: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points. Hiking is the best way to experience stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Distance from Las Vegas: 280 miles

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you delight in gazing at towering red rocks or driving through rugged canyons, then go to Sedona. If you admire exquisite art or are captivated by amazing architecture, then go to Sedona. If you want to see ancient cliff dwellings, hear tales of Hollywood cowboys or thrill to outdoor adventures, then (you guessed it) go to Sedona. Sedona is a must-stop.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

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

6 More Road Trips from Las Vegas (In case you’re not inspired yet!)

Mount Charleston (42 Miles): A cute mountain town, perfect for getting out into nature.

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

Nelson Ghost Town (48 miles): Just past Henderson and Before Boulder City take a right (south) on 95 South and visit this old Gold Mining town now loved by photographers and music video producers alike.

Lake Havasu (155 miles): Visit the famous London Bridge or get out on the lake for some watersports.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (217 miles): And while there be sure to add on a visit to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and Antelope Canyons.

Related: Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park (379 miles): The giant trees of Sequoia will fill you with awe—and give you a crick in your neck from staring up at them.

Road Trips from Las Vegas: Final Thoughts

With so many beautiful places located around Las Vegas make sure you get out of Sin City and explore the natural wonders of the desert! With activities for all types of adventurers, there is something for everyone. It’s rare you’ll drive more than an hour without stopping to take photos of the impressive sites!

Worth Pondering…

Las Vegas is a 24-hour city. It never stops.

—Eli Roth

The 5 Most Spectacular Deserts in the US and Canada

This article takes a look at the four major deserts of the southwestern US and one in Western Canada

People may often think of deserts as hot places; however, some deserts can be quite cold. We have put together a list of some of the most incredible deserts in the US and Canada proving that they can be diverse places.

The Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mojave Desert

The Mojave Desert is in the southwestern United States primarily within southeastern California and southern Nevada and occupies 47,877 square miles. Small areas also extend into southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona. The Mojave receives less than 2 inches of precipitation every year which makes this desert the driest in North America. The hottest temperature recorded here is 134 degrees.

The Mojave Desert in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Across its wide expanse, the Mojave Desert experiences a significant change in elevation. The highest point located here is the Telescope Peak at 11,049 feet above sea level. In contrast, the lowest point is Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level. One of the most famous features of this desert is the Joshua Tree which is native to the Mojave. The Mojave is also home to the stunning Joshua Tree National Park and Valley of Fire State Park plus many unique towns and museums.

The Mojave Desert at Keys View in Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View.

The Sonoran Desert in Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert covers large parts of the southwestern United States in Arizona and California and northwestern Mexico. It covers an area of around 100,000 square miles bordering the Mojave Desert, the Peninsular Ranges, and the Colorado Plateau. The lowest point in the Sonoran Desert is the Salton Sea which is 226 feet below sea level and has a higher salinity level than the Pacific Ocean. Other sources of water for this desert include the Colorado and Gila Rivers.

The Sonoran Desert in Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sonoran Desert is a beautiful landscape brimming with endemic fauna and flora including the Saguaro and Organ Pipe cacti. The Saguaro can reach over 60 feet in height and grows branches from its main trunk resembling human arms. Its flowers are pollinated by bats, bees, and white-winged doves. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Their fruit, like a saguaro, mature in July and have red pulp and small seeds.

The Sonoran Desert in Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is also rich in culture with many Native American tribes calling the area home plus cities such as Phoenix and Tucson. Attractions include national parks such as Saguaro and Organ Pipe, state parks including Anza-Borrego and Lost Dutchman, and wildlife refuges such as the Kofa and Cabeza Prieta.

Saguaro National Park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest that stretches across the valley floor and mountains.  Saguaro is actually two parks separated by the city of Tucson: the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District.

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ—you can almost hear them serenading the desert.

The Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert runs between the US and Mexico and is comprised of an area of 139,769 square miles. The majority of this desert is located in Mexico. On the US side, it can be found in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The Chihuahuan Desert in Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chihuahuan Desert has a unique and ever-changing landscape. Its highest point is measured at 12,139 feet above sea level while its lowest point is at 1,969 feet above sea level but the vast majority of this desert lies at elevations between 3,500 and 5,000 feet. Although an arid desert, it is home to numerous plant and animal species including prickly pear cactus, agave, creosote bush, and yucca. Approximately 800,000 acres of this desert are protected by the Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande River crosses the Chihuahuan Desert providing a much-needed source of water before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.

Located in southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.

The Chihuahuan Desert in White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Given its arid climate, the temperatures at White Sands vary greatly both throughout the seasons and within a single day. The most comfortable time to visit weather-wise is autumn when daytime temperatures reach the 80s with light winds and cooler evening temperatures in the 50s. 

The Great Basin along the Fish Lake Scenic Byway in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Basin Desert

The Great Basin Desert covers an area of around 190,000 square miles making it the largest of the major US deserts. It is considered a temperate desert that experiences hot and dry summers with cold and snowy winters. This effect is in part due to its higher-than-average elevations encompassing Arizona, California, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho. During most of the year, the Great Basin Desert is dry because of the Sierra Nevadas block moisture from the Pacific Ocean. This desert is home to the oldest known living organism in the world, the Bristlecone Pine tree. Some of these trees are estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

The Okanagan Desert near Oliver © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Desert

The Okanagan Desert is the common name for the semi-arid shrubland located in the southern Okanagan Valley in British Columbia and Washington. It is centered around the city of Osoyoos and is the only semi-arid shrubland in Canada. Part of this ecosystem is referred to as the Nk’mip Desert by the Osoyoos Indian Band though it is identical to the shrublands elsewhere in the region. To the northwest of this area lies arid shrubland near Kamloops.

Skaha Lake in the Okanagan Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The countryside is stunning. A ribbon of lakes with sandy beaches threaded between slopes of ponderosa pines, granite cliffs, and vine-covered benchland. The Okanagan Valley is unusual in having been a tourist destination before it was a wine region rather than the other way round.

The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Spotted Lake in the Okanagan Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural world has many wonders. One of the most remarkable is that of Spotted Lake near Osoyoos. It is a polka-dotted body-of-water that looks so bizarre you could be forgiven for thinking you were on an alien planet. During the summer the lake undergoes a remarkable transformation becoming spotted with different colors and waters that resemble a polka-dot design. This lake is also an important spiritual site for the local First Nation Peoples.

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known—as most men have not—either mountain or the desert, is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch