If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December
Children see magic because they look for it.
In his 2004 book Lamb, acclaimed author Christopher Moore tells the story of Jesus Christ’s childhood through the eyes of Jesus’ fictional boyhood friend Biff. Early on in the story, Biff tells us, “Children see magic because they look for it.”
He recounts how Jesus “shone like a bloom in the desert. But maybe I only saw it, because I was looking for it. To everyone else, he seemed like just another child…”
Because the book is written for adults, this line seems almost like an invitation. We were all children once. Perhaps, as adults, we may still see magic if we look for it.
It’s December which means that as of today you’re officially allowed to hang up Christmas lights without any judgment from your neighbors. Don’t just take my word for it: A recent survey of ~4,000 US homeowners found that December 1 was the day most people identified as acceptable to put up Christmas lights.
OK, but what day is it acceptable to set out the holiday chili to appease Yeetch, the snow creature, so it doesn’t cut all the powerlines in your neighborhood?
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in October and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2022 and January 2023.
1. 30 Years of Masa Dreams
The Indio International Tamale Festival taking place every December (30th annual; December 1-3, 2023) is the largest festival in the world dedicated solely to the steamed savory treat. Visitors will see over 300 tamale vendors as well as live entertainment, interactive art spaces, beer gardens, craft stalls, and, of course, the largest-ever tamale. There is also a competition for the best-tasting tamale.
Other bites available at the event include tacos, nachos, carne asada fries, funnel cake, ice cream, and kettle corn. The festival is also known for its carnival rides and—since last year—the World’s Biggest Bounce House for kids and adults alike.
2. Best birding
Arguably among the top birding destinations on the planet, Bentsen–Rio Grande Valley State Park south of Mission, Texas teems with vibrantly hued tropical creatures. You might spot a chachalaca, a great kiskadee, or a green jay, any of which would appear right at home in the Amazon jungle. Climb the two-story hawk observation tower for a spectacular view. Along with more than 360 avian species are bobcats nosing through the brush.
3. Jungle Gardens
Avery Island is known as the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. It’s also home to lush forests, swamps, and a beautiful spot called Jungle Gardens. Wander through azaleas, camellias, and bamboo as you keep an eye out for alligators, raccoons, and deer. Within Jungle Gardens is a bird sanctuary known as Bird City. The sanctuary is the migration site for thousands of egrets, whose nesting season begins in February as well as herons, roseate spoonbills, ibises, coots, and more. Bird lovers can book a tour while others can simply enjoy the scenery.
4. Experience the Great Migration of the Sandhill Cranes as They Return to New Mexico
Celebrate the return of the sandhill cranes at the 34th annual Festival of the Cranes, December 6-9, 2023. Join birding experts from near and far for a chance to learn about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and many of New Mexico‘s overwintering birds. The Festival offers over seventy creative workshops in the field at Bosque del Apache and indoor workshops at New Mexico Tech.
The festival celebrates the survival and yearly migration of the enigmatic sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is an ancient species of waterfowl that migrates from Canada and the northern U.S. to winter in the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.
Both cranes and snow geese begin arriving in smaller numbers at the refuge in late October. By early December, tens of thousands of cranes and snow geese make the Middle Rio Grande Valley their home until they migrate back north in mid-February.
Sandill cranes can also be seen in large numbers at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico and Whitewater Draw neat Wilcox, Arizona.
5. Its cool underground
Take a captivating journey to Bisbee, Arizona, a town that once glittered as a copper mining jewel at the turn of the century. Uncover the tale of hidden wealth, chance discoveries, and the rise and fall of this mining community nestled in the Mule Mountains. Explore the depths of the past with the Copper Queen Mine tour where you’ll don a yellow slicker, and a hard hat, and venture into dark, narrow tunnels guided by a former miner sharing gripping stories of Bisbee’s mining heyday.
Beyond the mine, discover Bisbee’s vibrant artistic scene and consider staying at the historic Copper Queen Hotel where history and charm converge.
6. Newspaper Rock
Bears Ears National Monument includes red rock, juniper forests, a high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts. The Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Hopi Nation, and other tribes are tied to this land in southeastern Utah.
Native American Indians have been engraving and drawing on Newspaper Rock for more than 2,000 years. Their markings in these ruins tell the stories, hunting patterns, crop cycles, and mythologies of their lives.
Newspaper Rock is located 15 miles west of U.S. 191 along the 41-mile Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway (S.R. 211) in Bears Ears National Monument now part of the 71,896-acre Indian Creek unit designated December 4, 2017, by U.S. President Donald Trump.
7. Architectural Digest names Mobile as one of the top 10 winter escapes for snowbirds
Looking at some of the best places for people to travel to avoid the cold, Architectural Digest listed several Alabama cities as among the best little-known places in the country for snowbirds.
Last month, the magazine compiled its list putting Mobile at No. 10 among 75 of the hidden gems in the U.S. for snowbirds or people who travel to warmer parts of the country during the winter.
After Mobile, Huntsville, and Birmingham ranked 23rd and 24th respectively. Rounding out the final three Alabama spots on the list were Montgomery (31st), Tuscaloosa (33rd), and Gulf Shores (38th).
8. The Lady from Twentynine Palms
If this city’s strange name sounds familiar, you might be remembering the Andrew Sisters 1947 tune about a bold young lady who called it home. But although it’s small and far more remote than other popular southern California destinations, Twentynine Palms has a lot to offer.
It’s a gateway city for legendary Joshua Tree National Park whose twisted namesake flora and star-studded night sky are stunners. It’s also just an hour from Palm Springs, of summer film festival fame, a mecca of recreational activities from horseback riding to golf.
Plus it’s deliciously warm and dry in the wintertime although it will cool off at night. (It’s in a desert, after all!)
The Twentynine Palms RV Resort offers 168 full-hookup RV sites as well as a sauna, fitness room, and pool. And according to its website, hardly a day goes by during winter when there isn’t something fun going on in the Clubhouse from ice cream socials to live music.
9. Grand Canyon
Although tourists flock to Grand Canyon National Park in droves from spring through fall every year, the winter and Christmas seasons are some of the best times to visit this famous landmark attraction. With fewer crowds and cooler temperatures in December, you won’t have to worry about cars clogging the most popular destinations or the sweltering heat of Arizona’s summers.
RV camping is available year-round at the Trailer Village RV Park which is located in Grand Canyon Village on the south rim of the South Rim.
The Grand Canyon Railway which is also located in the Grand Canyon Village is a must for anyone visiting the park any time of year but it gets even better at Christmas when it’s temporarily transformed into the Polar Express.
10. Swim with the manatees
When the Gulf of Mexico cools down each winter, hundreds of manatees make for the perpetually 72-degree springs of Kings Bay on Florida’s western coast about 80 miles north of Tampa. The area’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only spot in the U.S. dedicated entirely to protecting the distinctively corpulent creatures. Although a few can usually be found swimming through the preserve no matter the season you’re pretty much guaranteed to see dozens if you visit between November and April.
Tours that let people swim with manatees have grown increasingly popular here but if you’re worried about disturbing these gentle giants, you can watch them from the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs. Marshes, tidal creeks, and the remains of a prehistoric human settlement—possibly the country’s oldest—are worth checking out, too.
Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.
—Dave Barry, Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide
Wondering where to travel in November? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in November!
The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or at lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.
The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including Arches, Great Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.
Planning a trip to the national parks in November and don’t know which ones to visit? The cooler weather in November makes this one of the best times of the year to visit the parks across the southern part of the US. Road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5, go sledding on sand as white as the snow, and explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In this guide, I list 12 wonderful national parks to visit in November plus four bonus parks.
About this National Park series
This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.
These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.
For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.
And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.
Visiting the National Parks in November
By November, the weather has turned colder and the days are getting much shorter. But this cool weather is a great time to visit the national parks across the southern half of the US.
Crowds tend to be low in the national parks in November because of the cool weather and the upcoming holiday season. You can take advantage of this and visit some of the most popular parks in the US with low crowds.
This is a fantastic month to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches). It can be chilly this time of year but this is my favorite month to visit these parks since they less crowded than in September or October. A dusting of snow in these parks which is possible makes them even more beautiful. For the warmest weather and lower crowds go at the beginning of November.
I have a long list of parks to share with you, so let’s get started.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The information we provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Since roads can close in the national parks at any time, I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip.
Best National Parks in November
1. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Why? The landscapes, the hiking trails, and the off the beaten path experiences make this one of the top parks for those who desire adventure.
Explore the Island in the Sky, the most popular area of Canyonlands. Visit the overlooks on the mesa, hike the short trails, and if you want to do a longer hike, you can hike below the rim or hike the Syncline Loop. Journey below the rim for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.
You can also explore The Needles where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the US.
Why visit Canyonlands in November: November is one of the quietest months of the year to visit Canyonlands. It can be chilly if not downright cold in November so go early in the month for the warmest temperatures (or go in October, but it will be more crowded). If you want to drive the White Rim Road, this is one of the easiest months of the year to get a permit.
Weather: The average high is 50°F and the average low is 33°F. Precipitation is very low and could fall as light snow. On warmer than average days, the temperature can get up into the 60s. Canyonlands is colder than its nearby neighbor Arches National Park since it sits at a higher elevation. Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.
Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.
Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive.
How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.
Arches National Park is a beautiful wonderland of arches, rock formations, and short hiking trails. Not only will you find over 2,000 arches here but you will also see hoodoos, fins of sandstone rocks, massive mesas, and balanced rocks.
This small park is easy to visit. One main road runs through the heart of park. You can see the highlights of the park right from this road or by taking short hikes but for those who want to venture deeper into the park, there are several very cool hikes to choose from.
Hiking to Delicate Arch is one of the top experiences in Arches National Park but the Devils Garden Trail is another great hike to add to your to do list.
Why visit Arches in November: Like Canyonlands, this is off-season in the park and one of the quietest months of the year.
Weather: In November, the average high is 56°F and the average low is 33°F. During periods of unseasonably warm weather, daytime temperatures can get into the 70s. Rainfall is very low. Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.
Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, Windows Arch, and hike Park Avenue.
Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.
How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.
Bryce Canyon National Park is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce Canyon may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.
This park is small and easy to explore. You can simply enjoy the view from the rim or venture down into the fantasyland of hoodoos and sandstone pillars.
In November, you have a chance to see Bryce Canyon covered with snow, a magical sight to see.
Why visit Bryce Canyon in November: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. The amount of snowfall increases in December but daytime high’s struggle to get above freezing. I like November since the weather is warmer than the winter months but you still have a chance to see Bryce Canyon with snow.
Weather: In November, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 10 inches of snow in November. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5, making this the coolest one to visit.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.
Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are along the rim and easy to access by car: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.
Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.
How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. But I recommend an additional day or two.
Capitol Reef National Park may be one of the least visited national parks in Utah but don’t let that fool you. This underrated park has not one but three spectacular scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, and landscapes that are some of the most beautiful in the United States.
Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which is an enjoyable experience. But the real adventures lie beyond this highway. Drive through the remote Cathedral Valley or Loop the Fold, a scenic drive that leads to hidden slot canyons and big viewpoints.
Why visit capitol Reef in November: Temperatures are chilly this time of year but crowds are very low. We visited Capitol Reef in early November and absolutely loved it. The weather was pleasant with high temperatures in the 70s.
Weather: In November, the average high is 51°F and the average low is 30°F. A light dusting of snow is possible. Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.
Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.
Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.
How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.
Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. This relatively small park is packed with some of the most thrilling trails in the United States.
Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.
But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.
Zion is also one of the most popular parks in the US to visit. For the best experience, plan on visiting the park in the shoulder season. November is one of the best months of the year to visit Zion since the weather is still relatively warm and crowds are lower than many other months of the year.
Why visit Zion in November: To avoid the crowds. This is one of the quietest months to visit the park in terms of visitation. The weather is also fantastic for hiking.
Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 37°. Temperatures can get into the 80s on unusually warm days. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm which gives you 10 hours of daylight.
Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows.
Ultimate adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Zion Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike, and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.
How much time do you need? If you like to hike, plan to spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.
White Sands National Park protects the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Sledding on the dunes is one of the best things to do here but you can also hike out farther into the dunes on several different hiking trails or take a ranger-guided tour.
Why visit White Sands in November: The weather is relatively warm and crowds tend to be low in November.
Weather: In November, the average high is 67°F and the average low is 30°F. Rainfall is very low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.
Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping.
Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dunefield. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.
How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US with people from all around the world traveling here to see this natural wonder.
Words and photos cannot accurately describe what it is like to look out across the Grand Canyon for the first time. This is a place that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate the immense beauty and grandeur of this place.
In mid-October, the North Rim closes once the snow begins to fall. So in November, the South Rim is where you will spend your time. Along the South Rim, roads and hiking trails lead to jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon. You also have the option to hike below the rim or take a helicopter tour for different perspectives of the Grand Canyon.
Why visit the Grand Canyon in November: The Grand Canyon is busy all year, November tends to be one of the least visited months to visit this park. If you have plans to hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trail loop, November is a great time to do it when temperatures are cooler. Once you get below the rim closer to the Colorado River, the air temperature is much warmer.
Weather: The average high is 53°F and the average low is 25°F. There is a small chance you could see a dusting of snow in November. Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.
Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, and take a flightseeing tour.
Ultimate adventure: In the winter, hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails as one big loop. This is a big day hike and only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.
How much time do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Three days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.
Petrified Forest National Park is named for the petrified wood that dates back millions of years to a time when this land was lush and fertile.
But there is more to this park than looking at chunks of crystallized wood. The Painted Desert and the Blue Forest with their colorful, zebra-striped hills are a beautiful sight to see. There are also a few great trails to hike which are perfect for all ages and ability levels.
Why visit Petrified Forest in November: The weather is a bit on the cool side in November but crowds are low which is worthly bonus. If you have plans to road trip through the American Southwest this month, Petrified Forest National Park is nice add-on.
Weather: The average high is 58°F and the average low is 28°F. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.
Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, walk the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.
Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.
How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.
Congaree National Park protects the oldest bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. Often mistaken for a swamp this floodplain is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country.
This small national park is quick and easy to visit. With just a few hours, you can walk the boardwalk trail but with more time there are longer trails to hike and you can go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, one of the best experiences in the park.
Why visit Congaree in November: The weather is fantastic, crowds are low, and mosquitoes are not an issue. The park tends to be dry this time of year so the boardwalk trails and hiking trails are less likely to be flooded. We visited Congaree in November and the weather was ideal and the leaves were changing color.
Weather: In November, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 42°F. With 3 inches of rain this is one of the driest months to visit Congaree.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.
Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.
Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.
How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.
With its desert scenery, hiking trails, hidden oases, scenic drives, rock climbing routes, and trees that look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park is a joy to explore.
Hike the Arch Rock Trail, learn about the plants that thrive in the Mojave Desert on the Cap Rock Nature Trail, see Skull Rock, and go hiking in Hidden Valley. A favorite experience is hiking the Hall of Horrors and searching for the hidden slot canyon.
Why visit Joshua Tree National Park in November: For November, this is one of the warmest national parks on this list to visit. The conditions are perfect for hiking.
Weather: The average high is 67°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is extremely low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 4:40 pm.
Top Experiences: Hike the Hall of Horrors, see Skull Rock, explore Hidden Valley, hike to an oasis, hike to Arch Rock and Heart Rock, drive Geology Tour Road, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and go stargazing.
How much time do you need? Ideally, you need at least two full days in Joshua Tree National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights, go rock climbing or take a lesson, hike a few trails, and go on the scenic drives.
Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano.
The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and this park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.
This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 19th least visited park in 2022).
Why visit Pinnacles in November: The weather is perfect for hiking and rock climbing. Pinnacles National Park is a very hot and dry place to visit during the summer and early fall with the temperature as high as 115°F on the hottest days. We visited Pinnacles in November and the weather was ideal.
Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 37°F. On unusually warm days the daytime temperature can get into the 80s. Rainfall is low at just over 1 inch. The wet season begins in December and lasts through March. Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 5 pm.
Top Experiences: Hike the High Peaks Loop and the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.
How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience, spend two days here, which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.
Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas. The Rio Grande forms the border between Mexico and Big Bend National Park and Big Bend gets its name from the prominent bend in the Rio Grande on this border.
This national park protects the largest area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US as well as the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend is a top hiking destination with trails leading high into these mountains and into canyons along the Rio Grande.
Why visit Big Bend in November: By November, temperatures in the park are cooling off. The average high temperature is 70°F but during periods of unusually warm weather you could still see temperatures get into the 80’s. Rainfall is low.
Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 45°F. Rainfall is low with about ¾ of an inch.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 pm.
Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.
Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend, go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.
How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.
In November, the weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro National Park. The high temperature averages 75°F and rainfall is extremely low.
Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in November
Cowpens National Battlefield
Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. The battle at the Cow Pens is one of only a few successful double envelopments in history.
Coronado National Memorial
The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley which was the route believed to have been taken by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition. The scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico.
Tumacácori National Historic Park
The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.
Appomattox Court House National Historic Park
Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home where Lee made his formal surrender and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site and have been restored to their original condition.
November road trip idea: Utah’s Mighty 5
November is a wonderful time to road trip to all five national parks in Utah (Mighty 5): Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.
Crowds are generally low this time of year which makes visiting these parks a pleasant experience. The mornings start off cold but it warms up nicely during the day and you could be hiking in 60 to 70 degree weather if you are here while it’s unusually warm. Or, the parks could get a dusting of snow which is very nice too just as long as you don’t mind cold temperatures. So, pack your shorts and your wide-brimmed hat and go on a road trip through Utah.
Pack your bags and check your tires; it’s time for a road trip from Las Vegas
Vegas baby! For many, a trip to Sin City is simply slot machines, video poker, and getting stuffed at all-you-can-eat buffets. But if Lady Luck isn’t on your side or you’re just looking for an adventure away from the strip, Las Vegas is a great starting point for a road trip. Whether it’s a quick day trip or a longer outing Las Vegas is perfectly positioned to give you some amazing experiences.
Ready to plan your route? Here are 10 ideas for road trip destinations from Las Vegas that are less than 300 miles in distance.
1. Lake Mead
Distance from Las Vegas: 30 miles
Estimated time: 45 minutes
The Nevada desert isn’t known for its large bodies of water but believe it or not Las Vegas is home to one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. So if you’re looking for some waterfront fun, Lake Mead has got you covered. Take the boat out for some high-speed adventures or bike around the trails before cooling off in one of the swimming areas.
If you want someone to show you around, there are numerous guided tours on the lake. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning views of this desert oasis.
Not enough for you? They also have kayaking, camping, hiking trails, fishing, horseback riding, scuba diving, and so much more.
The Hoover Dam is one of mankind’s most ambitious projects. It stands at a whopping 726 feet tall and crosses the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona. Bonus, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump away from the dazzling lights of Las Vegas.
Choose from either the 30-minute or 1-hour guided tour that takes you into the bowels of the dam to learn about the power it generates and what it does for the surrounding desert. Don’t want a tour? It’s free to walk along the top and take in the scenery, plus you can still learn a thing or two with the many informative plaques lining the walkway.
Laughlin is more relaxed than Vegas, a natural choice for a quick getaway. The town has created a niche with Nevada-style gaming but without the high-speed lifestyle of the Las Vegas Strip. Stretch your legs while exploring Laughlin on foot at the Riverwalk. Well-maintained and offering fantastic views of the city and the Colorado River, the Laughlin Riverwalk is a great way to get from one casino to the other while soaking up sights like Don Laughlin’s Riverside to the boats sailing by.
The coolest way to get around town is by water taxi. These small boats, piloted by certified captains, zip around on the river from one property to another. Most casinos have their own dock and if you stand around on one, a water taxi will show up fairly quick.
St. George is the first place you’ll run into after cutting through the northwest corner of Arizona and crossing the border into Utah. The city combines a charming downtown area with a thriving art scene and proximity to four state parks including the bright red sandy beaches of the Sand Hollow reservoir. Outdoor explorers will be most excited to know St. George is the largest city outside Zion National Park, one of the most colorful examples of rock formations, sweeping cliffs, and waterfalls.
There’s plenty to enjoy in Southern Utah and visitors can arrive in St. George in two hours. The destination is great for those who enjoy the outdoors as it’s near Zion National Park, Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and Dixie National Forest. Or, travel a little further for a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park or the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
5. Zion National Park
Distance from Las Vegas: 165 miles
Estimated time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
With over 229 square miles, more than 35 hiking trails, cliffs towering more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, and more species of plants than the Hawaiian Islands, Zion National Park is a pretty incredible place. Zion Canyon is accessed from Highway 9 heading east from St. George. Because of this area’s popularity, the park runs a shuttle to accommodate more visitors at once. Two of the park’s most popular hikes (Angels Landing and The Narrows) can be found in the main canyon along with many other incredible trails.
Driving the 6-mile Mt. Carmel Highway through the park provides visitors easy access to viewpoints while offering that winding-road experience. It is easily accessible throughout the park’s most popular area and the richly brick-colored highway with canary-yellow stripes plays well visually against the soft color of the canyons.
Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. Situated on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau, the raised area of earth located in Southern Utah between Interstate 15 and Highway 89, the monument sits entirely above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below taking your eyes for a colorful ride through arches, towers, hoodoos, and canyons.
If you want to vacation at the spot that was popular with old-school Hollywood film stars and the Rat Pack, consider visiting Palm Springs. Visitors can browse vintage shops, art galleries, or boutiques at the El Paseo Shopping District. A ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway can also provide a view over the valley at an elevation of more than 8,500 feet. There are also many options to sit poolside at resorts or visit spas in the city.
See a different kind of desert landscape with a road trip to Joshua Tree on I-15 from Las Vegas. Many people head to the park for hiking through the rugged rock formations and distinctive Joshua trees. It’s also an excellent spot for stargazing, rock climbing, and camping. Just be sure to be prepared for the weather which can be very hot or cold depending on the time of year and day.
Make sure to come prepared for your visit to Joshua Tree. There is no drinkable water available in the park, so bring plenty with you. This is the desert after all!
You’ll go through a few playlists getting to the Grand Canyon but I promise it lives up to the hype. Grand Canyon National Park is a hugely popular destination for hiking, mule rides, whitewater rafting, and other outdoor activities and is well worth the tank of gas to get there and back.
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. Just about everywhere you look the views are amazing and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One looks over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
With a population just north of 10,000, Sedona has a reputation that far outweighs its size. It is, after all, one of the most beautiful small towns in America. The town’s innumerable hiking trails bring you to stunning vistas and iconic destinations like Cathedral Rock.
Forget traditional museums; those visiting Sedona will have museums without walls with Mother Nature leading the exhibition. The town is surrounded by incredible scenery punctuated by vortex sites and rock formations that will have you scratching your head. Plus, after a big day of exploring, you can kick back at the many local wineries before enjoying the iconic desert sunset.
National parks offer some of the darkest skies in the country
From Arches National Park in Utah to Joshua Tree in California, I’ve compiled a list of the best Dark Sky Parks where you can gaze up at the heavens. So grab your binoculars, get to know your constellation, and get ready to feel the vastness of it all.
Stargazing at Arches National Park, Utah
Known for its more than 2,000 delicate sandstone arches that tower toward the sky like magical red rock doorways, this park offers an abundance of easy to moderate hikes that visitors can explore by day—and a glorious sea of stars to gaze upon by night.
By day: Scramble across the rocky and sandy terrain but make sure you’ve got sturdy sneakers or hiking boots. Many of the best hikes are relatively easy and the best trails include the Balanced Rock Hike (0.3 miles round trip), Sand Dune Arch Hike (0.3 miles round trip), and the Double Arch Hike (1.2 miles round trip).
By night: Since it has minimal artificial lighting (there’s light at one administrative area by the highway and sky-friendly lighting for safety at a few spots around the park), Arches offers some of the darkest skies in the contiguous 48 United States. According to the National Park Service (NPS) a pair of simple binoculars on a moonless night may be enough to see even the rings around Saturn. Arches occasionally offers ranger-led stargazing events so keep an eye on the website to find out when one might be planned. Otherwise, the best spots to see the stars include:
Balanced Rock Picnic Area
The Windows Section
Garden of Eden Viewpoint
Each of these spots offers a parking area so you don’t have to be camping to enjoy the views. Just pull up, turn off your lights, and look up. You can stay by your car or walk a short distance into the park to get a more isolated view.
Best time of year to go: Spring or fall.
Note: You’ll see the most stars during the new moon or when the moon is below the horizon. Check sunrise and sunset times and moon phases at discovermoab.com.
Stargazing at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Famous for its thousands of pointed spires called hoodoosBryce Canyon is part of a geologic spectacle known as the Grand Staircase layered over millions of years. While it is known as a hiking mecca by day it’s also firmly dedicated to its night skies with what the NPS calls a “special force of park rangers and volunteer astronomers” keeping its skies dark. On a good night you can see the Milky Way extending from horizon to horizon with a sea of stars and planets glowing all around.
By day: Don’t miss the most iconic section of the park, the Bryce Amphitheater which is home to the greatest concentration of hoodoos on the planet. This otherworldly vista is viewable from the main road from various overlooks where you can get out of your car and take it all in. Of course the best way to see the park is by hiking and there are plenty of day hikes that promise amazing views—from the Rim Trail, an easy walk along the edge of Bryce Amphitheater to the Queen’s Garden Trail which leads hikers on a moderately-easy hike through rock arches and inclines to a sweeping view of the hoodoos.
By night: Bryce Canyon’s astronomy program is considered the longest active astronomy program in the NPS with dark night tours and telescope viewings offered on weekends in the summer. On a clear night, spectators can see between 7,500-10,000 stars including a jaw-dropping view of the Milky Way. Check out the park’s Astronomy Programs page to find out more.
Best time of year to go: May through September.
Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park, California
Located a short drive from Los Angeles, this urban escape offers hikers a vast array of rocks to scramble across as well as desert trails that go on for miles. By night, it has some of the darkest skies in Southern California.
By day: Rock climbers will love climbing the boulders as they traverse the trails throughout the park. I recommend Hidden Valley Trail, a one-mile hike that takes you past many Joshua trees and through a massive rock valley where you can climb and while keeping a lookout for chipmunks, lizards, roadrunners, and cacti.
By night: If you visit April through October you’ll be able to see the Milky Way twinkling across the sky. The park offers regular ranger-led star programs; check the calendar to find more.
And while you don’t need to spend the night at the park to enjoy the night skies you can choose from nine campgrounds. According to the NPS website, Cottonwood Campground has the darkest skies. If you’re just doing a drive-in, NPS recommends parking at any of the roadside pullouts and setting up chairs within 20 feet of your vehicle. Skull Rock is an imposing rock formation near the road that’s a great spot for stargazing.
Best time of year to go: Fall to spring.
Note: Stargazing is great year-round here but if you also want to spend your days on the trails the summers are too hot to enjoy the park safely.
Stargazing at Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Known for its otherworldy mountains and canyons of layered rock as well as the grassy prairies surrounding them, this 244,000-acre park is home to bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, burros, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. Located about an hour east of Rapid City, it is also a rich fossil site.
By day: Take a drive on Badlands Loop Road which takes you past 15 scenic overlooks to see the park’s majestic views. As for hikes, I recommend the easy 0.25-mile Fossil Exhibit Trail, a lazy walk where you can learn about the different fossils found in the area.
Note: Badlands has an “open hike” policy which means hikers are allowed to go off the trail. This means rock scrambling is totally OK.
By night: The national park offers special Night Sky Viewings every night in August and September. At these viewings, park rangers and volunteers use laser pointers to show and describe different constellations, planets, and other objects in the night sky. Spectators are also welcome to use the park’s 11-inch Celestron telescopes to get an even better look at the night sky.
Best time to go: Late spring and early fall (summers can get hot and crowded)
Stargazing at Big Bend National Park, Texas
This expansive stretch of desert—the 12th largest national park in the country—is located on the southwestern border between Texas and Mexico. Despite the fact that it is the largest of North America’s four deserts it is brimming with life due to being carved out by the big bend of the Rio Grande river that gives the park its name. The park’s menagerie of animals includes more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles, and 11 species of amphibians. But all that’s nothing to the number of stars visible on a clear, moonless night.
By day: Hikes around the nearby canyons and within the Chisos basin range from very easy to challenging. Since the park is known to have an active bear and mountain lion population use extra caution if hiking up into the mountains and foothills where these animals tend to live. I recommend the 0.3-mile paved Window View trail around the Basin store.
Note: Be sure to stop at the Panther Junction visitor center when you arrive at the park where rangers can help you plan your day and tell you about any road closures.
By night: This international dark-sky park has the least light pollution of any park in the lower 48 states. On a clear night, visitors can see the Andromeda Galaxy, two million light years away. Consequently, the park offers several types of night sky programs throughout the year with dedicated “night sky rangers” there to teach visitors about all things far, far away.
Note: Since it takes a long time to reach the park—and then once there, you can spend a considerable amount of time just getting around within the park—you’ll want to book a camping site 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. You can book your site up to six months in advance, so get to planning now. If you’re someone who waits a little bit longer before making a move, there are a limited number of sites available for reservation up to 14 days in advance, but again—planning ahead pays big time with this out-of-the-way national park. There are also backcountry campsites and you’ll need a permit for those.
Best time of year to go: Late fall through early spring (the rainy season is June through October and summer days can be too scorching hot for safe hikes).
Other articles on stargazing you may want to read:
I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.
From massive canyons to brilliantly-colored deserts, national parks offer some of America’s wildest and most iconic landscapes
When the US Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872, it was “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Its founding marked the birth of the US National Park System and eventually launched a worldwide movement to protect outdoor spaces and historical landmarks. Since 1904, some 15 billion visitors have explored the wild wonders of the America’s parks.
National Park Week is happening April 22 to April 30 this year! Entrance fees will be waived on April 22, 2023, to kick off National Park Week.
In 2016, inspired by the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, photographer Jonathan Irish visited every U.S. national park over 52 weeks.
“National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures,” says Irish. “It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.”
Since Irish’s journey, the National Parks Service has designated four additional parks:
There are now 63 spaces to explore across the country. Celebrate National Park Week with images of these priceless national treasures from the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verde in Colorado to the deep, dark recesses of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns.
Arches National Park, Utah
With over 2,000 natural stone arches, Arches National Park is part of southern Utah’s extended canyon country, carved and shaped by weathering and erosion.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park is made up of jagged and striped rock formations. Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.
Big Bend National, Texas
Recently named the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, Big Bend National Park’s hundred-mile views sweep across the hills, arroyos, and mesas of the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah draws more than 2.7 million visitors a year thanks to its stunning geology of red arches and phantom-like spires called hoodoos.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
The sun peeks through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The largest and most undeveloped of Utah’s national parks, Canyonlands offers backcountry adventures, scenic landscapes, and two major rivers.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Escape the crowds by fording the shallow Fremont River (high-clearance vehicles only) and head out on a 58-mile dirt road loop into desolate Cathedral Valley, an austere landscape dominated by two sandstone sentinels, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
More than 119 caves are hidden beneath the surface of this national park in the Chihuahuan Desert. Cave scientists have explored at least 30 miles of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad and the investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles on a paved trail.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park contains North America’s largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland forest. Boardwalk hikes and canoe tours are popular activities among the towering trees.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon National Park is a sprawling gorge of layers in pink, red, and orange hues revealing millions of years of geological history.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Fog lingers among the forested hills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which spans the southern Appalachians along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Water and hydrocarbons exuded by trees produce the filmy smoke that gives the mountains their name.
From 1914 to early 1915, Lassen Peak spewed steam and ashes in more than 150 eruptions. Now, the quieted volcano serves as a scenic backdrop to the park’s jigsaw-puzzle landscape of forest, lava beds, and lakes.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The sun sets early on Cliff Palace, the largest of the ancient stone-and-mortar cliff houses tucked into the park’s canyon walls. The only way to experience the fine detail of the construction is on a ranger-guided tour.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia
Walking along the park’s trails, visitors can see hills made of bluish clay and the largest concentration of brilliantly colored petrified wood in the U.S.
Pinnacles National Park, California
Known for its spectacular rock formations, beautiful spring wildflowers, and large groups of endangered condors, Pinnacles National Park is a mecca for rock climbing and day hiking. It offers 32 miles of trails that climb through winding talus caves and shaded creeks.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Saguaro National Park takes its name from the largest cacti in the United States. The park, which flanks Tucson, is home to millions of the cacti, which can grow up to 50 feet tall.
Sequoia National Park, California
Nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park is nearly 97 percent wilderness. It holds over 2,000 giant sequoia trees including General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree, measured by volume.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
Theodore Roosevelt is unique among the scenic parks in that it preserves not only an extraordinary landscape but also the memory of an extraordinary man. It honors the president who probably did more for the National Park Service than anyone before or since.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.
Zion National Park, Utah
One of the most photographed views in Zion National Park is of Watchman Mountain from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Irish’s favorite spot is at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman Spire in the background.
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.
A whole new world of color opens up during springtime which makes it the perfect time to pack up the RV and explore somewhere new on a road trip or weekend getaway
Springtime can be a magical and refreshing time to travel. Maybe you’re coming out from winter hibernation for a quick road trip or you’re finally able to break in those new hiking boots you were gifted for Christmas. Personally, I look forward to blooms and greenery after nature wakes up from her winter slumber. Everything feels fresh, new, and exciting.
1. Attend a spring festival
When spring has sprung, the festivals are in full bloom! Festivals in spring are wonderful, inspiring experiences that help us celebrate the start of a new season. Which one of these takes your fancy?
International Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon, Georgia
Macon, Georgia, is the cherry blossom capital of the world? No, it’s not Japan or Washington, D.C. With 350,000 cherry trees blossoming each year at the end of March, Macon truly is the perfect place to see these beauties in bloom.
The second or third week of March is peak time to visit as the International Cherry Blossom Festival (March 17-26, 2023) happens. It’s known as the pinkest party of the year! Macon is full of history and is also surrounded by beautiful state parks for visitors who are looking to get outdoors.
Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon
Tulips are the main attraction in Woodburn, Oregon. The town is home to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Far which hosts a tulip festival from March to May. With 40 acres of tulips, over 200 acres of outdoor space, and activities, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is identified as one of the top spring attractions in the state of Oregon. The 38th Annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival runs March 17–April 30, 2023.
Springtime is also the best time to catch a ride on a hot air balloon to see the colorful blooms from above. Or stay on the ground and enjoy a sip of wine at any of the areas wineries while your pals fly high in the sky.
Rayne Frog Festival, Rayne, Louisiaa
Rayne is best known as the Frog Capital of the World. The Rayne Frog Festival was founded in 1973 and has grown by, um, leaps and bounds. At this annual fest, you can see the coronation of the Frog Festival Queens and the Mr. and Miss Tadpole contests.
The 51st Annual Rayne Frog Festival will be held on May 10-14, 2023 at the Frog Festival Pavilion. It’s slated with a full schedule including music, delicious food, a signature festival drink, and souvenir cup commemorating 51 years of tradition, arts and crafts show, carnival rides, frog cook-off, frog-eating contest, folklore tent, frog racing and jumping, and a few surprises along the way.
Festival of Houses and Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina
It’s no secret that Charleston is a hub for southern charm especially in the spring as dogwood trees and azaleas bloom all over the city. The weather is great during this time of year–hanging out around 60-70 degrees with low humidity―ideal weather for both carriage tours and walking tours of the main attractions of the city.
The premier event of its kind in the country, the 75th Annual Spring Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 15-April 16, 2023 offers guests rare access into some of Charleston’s finest private houses and gardens in the city’s renowned historic district during peak blooming season. The cornerstone of the spring Festival are the daily house and garden tours. The tours provide an opportunity for guests to go inside the private houses and gardens of some of America’s most beautiful residences, some dating to the 18th century.
Ostrich Festival, Chandler, Arizona
Grab your friends and family and get ready to shake your tail feather with our favorite feathered friends, the ostriches! The Ostrich Festival features live ostriches, national and local entertainment, stage shows, over 50 midway rides and games, classic festival food, interactive activities for all ages, meet and greets with your favorite mascots, ostrich-themed educational activities, exciting attractions, upscale arts and crafts and much more. The 33rd Annual Ostrich Festival will be held March 16-19, 2023 at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler, Arizona.
2. Plan a spring road trip
The weather is warming up and late winter rains have turned trees and grass green and encouraged wildflowers to bloom. It’s the right time to take a drive either to a favorite place or a new destination with unfamiliar landscapes and roads. Whether your preferred scenery is mountains, deserts, forests, plains, or coastal views, there’s a road trip for you. You can plan a journey around your interests if you enjoy historic sites, regional food, wineries, or nature, you can plan a journey around your interests.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina
You’ll love springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains as the gorgeous wildflowers are in bloom with over 1,500 types dazzling in mid to late March to June. You’ll find perfect picnic weather at this time of year and it’s an ideal time to explore the most visited national parks in the U.S. Enjoy the 800 square miles of untouched wilderness while you enjoy a scenic hike to a waterfall or beautiful overlook. Horseback riding, fishing, ranger-led programs, wildlife viewing, and biking are other popular activities in the park.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
One of my favorite things about visiting national parks is the transformation that occurs in the landscape around me as I enter a park. The distinctive flora and unique geological features create an atmosphere that makes me feel as if I’m entering another world. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those magical places. The sharp angles of the Joshua tree forests are the foreground of a wonderland of gigantic granite boulders and rock outcroppings. It’s an otherworldly landscape that takes you back thousands of years. You feel as if you might see a dinosaur step out from behind one of the jumbo rock piles at any moment.
Trail of the Ancients, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona
Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.
The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument. You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods.
Shenandoah National Park
Skyline Drive takes you 105 miles through the park along the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. This route stretches through Shenandoah National Park where warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.
Skyline Drive features 75 overlooks including Spitler Knoll, Range View, and Hogback, all of which offer unobstructed views across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona
Winter showers make February and March wildflowers in the desert parks and create yet another reason to explore this beautiful region. During years of average and above average precipitation, it seems every direction you look there is beautiful yellow, red, white, orange, blue, or purple flowers blanketing the landscape. Arizona had a good, rainy winter so far, so our hopes are up for a bright blanket of flowers soon!
The contrast of vibrant flowers against the backdrop of green is a sight to behold so get your camera, comfortable outdoor shoes, and plenty of water and enjoy the rich colors across the state.
Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers and cactus in Arizona with bushels of incredible golden blooms throughout the park. The desert wildflowers here offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert park.
3. Back to Nature
Time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
The most significant undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore offers more than 130,000 acres of dunes, grasslands, and beaches―a national park and a haven for all sorts of family-friendly activities. Immerse yourself in the fauna and flora that populate this marshland environment with a short stroll along the Grasslands Nature Trail. Away from the beach, this trail offers a glimpse of animals that live inland including coyotes, deer, kangaroo rats, ghost crabs, and many others.
Apart from the actual sands of Malaquite Beach, Padre Island’s Visitors Center holds a breathtaking observation deck for wildlife viewing. Along Malaquite Beach, visitors scavenge for small shells deposited by north currents at Little Shell Beach and comb through the sands of Big Shell Beach for larger shell discoveries. Whichever activity you partake in, it’s safe to say that Padre Island National Seashore is a beachside paradise for a gorgeous getaway.
Bernheim Arboretum and Forest, Kentucky
Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With 16,140 acres of land in Bullitt and Nelson Counties in Kentucky, there is an adventure waiting for everyone. Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland.
Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking part in a scheduled program, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim meaning no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you.
4. Take a culinary tour of America
Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across America.
For foodies, warmer weather means one thing: a host of new food festivals to attend where you can eat and drink across the country. Here are seven food festivals to put on your travel list this spring.
SoCal Taco Fest, San Diego, California, April 29, 2023
Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, Georgia, April 20-23, 2023
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, May 5-7, 2023
Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, Des Moines, Iowa, February May 12-13, 2023
Nantucket Wine & Food Festival, Nantucket, Massachusetts, May 17-21, 2023
Cheese Curd Festival, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, June 23-24, 2023
5. Go hiking
In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.
Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills.
Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, Gulf State Park, Alabama
Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries.
Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park, California
Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, the Big Trees Trail is one of the best short and easy hikes you can do in Sequoia. This loop trail takes you completely around the meadow and provides impressive views of numerous massive sequoias as well as the beautiful meadow itself.
Park Avenue Trail, Arches National Park, Utah
The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers. Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.
Getting out and traveling can sometimes be the best way to kick the winter blues especially if you live somewhere that gets very little sunshine. Enjoying the beauty of spring in any one of these destinations is sure to help you recharge and reset. Whether you want to get out and hit the trails or simply sit back and enjoy an afternoon of peace somewhere with warmer temperatures, you’re sure to find a great trip on this list.
Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.
Summer may be high season but these parks are at their best in the colder months
One of the best-kept secrets about America’s national parks is many are even better in winter. Whether you want to feel the satisfying crunch of snow under your boots or escape those chilly temps for a desert ramble, one thing’s for sure: You’ll be able to do so without the crowds that summer brings. Once-crowded trails turn into tranquil getaways. Quiet winter wonderlands showcase nature’s calm beauty.
And no matter how great the other seasons are for a visit, a visit to your favorite fall foliage or spring wildflower destination is completely different in the depths of winter. Lack of foliage can bring long views.
Below, find the best national parks to visit in winter from the red hoodoos of Bryce Canyon to the stunning desertscape of Saguaro. Be sure to pack a few extra layers and remember to always double-check trail and road conditions before heading out.
1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Although the Grand Canyon is a southern park, its ridges are still blessed with snow in winter. Fog is typical in the early morning hours but afternoons are sunny. The canyon’s North Rim is closed to visitors but the South Rim is open year-round and is less crowded during this season.
Visitors can take a cell phone audio tour or use a GPS device for the park’s EarthCache program. EarthCaches are a type of geocache that provide participants with a learning experience in geosciences. By participating in the program, you will embark on an exploration of the unique geologic story that provides insights into the Grand Canyon.
With the average temps exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, outdoor enthusiasts who love national parks but hate the heat will love the cooler climate of Joshua Tree during the winter. Temperatures can reach 60 degrees making it the opportune time to visit the otherwise-sweltering Joshua Tree. Just be aware that while daytime temps here are generally mild in the winter, nighttime temps in the desert can drop below freezing.
The park is a mecca for world-class rock climbers but it also offers scenic drives and family-friendly hiking trails that any visitor can enjoy. After perusing the Cholla Cactus Garden and scrambling up the enormous, monzogranite boulders along Arch Rock Nature Trail, settle in for some epic stargazing at one of the 500 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park.
Plan your visit here during the cooler months for comfortable hiking temps and incredible stargazing without the huge crowds.
The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly. The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.
While it may be hard to imagine, Bryce Canyon’s earthly spires are even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Bryce Canyon National Park also has ideal stargazing skies and the cold, dry air makes them all the more amazing. Saturday astronomy programs and full moon snowshoe adventures are a couple of the several incredible programs offered here during the winter season. Don your microspikes or snowshoes (available for rent at Ruby’s Inn) and travel between the two points on the Rim Trail then warm up on a views-for-days drive to Rainbow Point—elevation 9,115 feet.
Since the Park is situated at 8,000-9,000 feet, some of the roads and trails are closed due to snow and ice but there are still plenty of things to do especially if you time your visit with the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival (February 18-20, 2023). Just be sure to pack warm clothes and be prepared for winter conditions.
Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close. The weather may be cold in winter but snow is rare. Don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night.
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. America’s most visited park still gets attention after all its gorgeous leaves have dropped. The barren trees become fortresses of ice and snow—a true winter wonderland. Be aware that the main roads should remain clear but secondary ones may be closed. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground.
Many people use Clingmans Dome Road (closed to vehicles December 1-March 31) for walking and cross-country skiing. The road starts 0.1 mile south of Newfound Gap.
Zion’s famous sandstone walls are often eclipsed by tourist throngs from spring through fall with 4.5 million people rushing into the 15-mile-long canyon each year. But with a light dusting of snow, the rust-colored cliffs visible from the Pa’rus Trail take on a magical quality and oft-crowded spots like Canyon Overlook are generally mob-free. Zion’s main road is normally closed to vehicles and serviced by a shuttle but in January, February, and parts of December you can drive your car through Zion Canyon.
Temperatures are generally mild during the day which makes for lovely hiking. Best of all? Winter travelers can savor slow mornings, sipping coffee in a cozy western cabin at centrally located Zion Lodge. And Watchman Campground remains open all winter.
One of America’s hottest parks (at least in terms of temperature), Big Bend is perfect for a winter visit. You can enjoy hikes into the Chisos Mountains, paddles along the Rio Grande, and some of the best star-gazing conditions in the U.S. While Big Bend’s high season is in winter—from October to April—this park is remote and doesn’t see a huge number of visitors, so you’ll still find plenty of solitude.
A natural wonder (especially in the mostly-flat Lone Star State), this park is named after a massive bend in the Rio Grande River that separates Texas from Mexico—and the far-flung locale has enough scenic diversity for a week-long journey or more.
Stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and marvel at high-elevation vistas of the craggy Window Formation as you hike through madrone trees and fragrant junipers. Then, soak your tired bones in the park’s historic hot springs, ideally as the sunset turns the famous Santa Elena Canyon into a hundred shades of amber.
Enjoy the stunning desert landscape of Saguaro National Park at Tucson where visitors can experience the beauty of the largest cactus in the United States—the giant Saguaro cacti which can grow to be more than 45 feet tall and age over 200 years. Winter is the perfect time to visit Saguaro because the temperatures are mild with an average high of 65 degrees and the light gives the desert a golden glow—this is one of the warmest national parks to visit in winter. There are a variety of hiking options within the park.
>> Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park
10. Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures often rise above 90 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and off-roads impassable so be sure to plan ahead. Stop at the Arches Visitor Center to check the conditions and get an orientation so you’re prepared for winter conditions.
For winter camping and hiking, the Devils Garden Campground is open year-round with 51 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis between November 1 and February 28 including restrooms and drinking water at the campground.
Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, it’s a less-visited park in general so you’re likely to see very few people so you can sled down the dunes all by yourself. Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.
Explore the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast at Congaree National Park. South Carolina’s summers are hot and humid and the riverside habitat that makes up Congaree National Park is a favorite spot for mosquitoes. Visit in the cooler months, generally November to April, for mild temperatures and minimal mosquito levels. This is an ideal season to paddle, hike, or fish at the park.
Flooding is most frequent at this time of the year and can happen with little or no warning. It does not have to rain at Congaree for flooding to take place. Laying in a watershed the size of the state of Maryland, any significant rain in the upstate of South Carolina can cause a rise in water levels. Check the river gauges and the weather before you go.
A relatively small park, Pinnacles still packs a punch—especially in the winter. The landscape features shaded, oak woodlands and exposed chaparral. There are canyon bottoms and talus caves you hike inside leaving the other side at the foot of tall rock spires.
You’ll find 15 different hiking options in the park. To check out the caves start at Chapparal (West Pinnacles) and take either the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop (easy), the Juniper Canyon Loop (hard) or the High Peaks to Balconies Cave Loop (hard).
You can have an excellent time at Pinnacles any time of year though winter is one of the best times to visit. From late spring to mid-autumn this region can be very hot making longer hikes difficult. The temperatures are much more pleasant in late autumn through winter and early spring.
Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy and volcanoes become topped with heavy snow and steam vents become especially smoky. For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beat.
More than half of the year Lassen is blanketed in snow. Although the park highway closes to through traffic during the winter months, the Southwest and Manzanita Lake areas remain accessible year-round. Visit the park’s year-round Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center and enjoy the steep slopes in the Southwest Area or explore the gentler terrain in the Manzanita Lake area.
The old Lassen Ski Area located above the present-day Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center closed in 1994. The area is still used by backcountry skier and snowboarders.
15. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Is there a more sublime snow experience than skiing or snowshoeing through the giant trees found in these two parks? Trails can be found in both the Giant Forest of Sequoia and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon.
According to park staff, many trails are suitable for snowshoeing when there’s adequate snow. You can rent snowshoes or bring your own. Purchase a map of ski trails at any visitor center and look for reflective markers on trees that show popular paths. When snowshoeing, stay clear of ski tracks. Check the park newspaper’s winter safety tips.
Rangers lead snowshoe hikes when conditions allow. The park provides the snowshoes; you bring warm layered clothing, waterproof boots, gloves, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, and a snack. The walks are moderately strenuous. Waterproof shoes are required. Walks last 1.5-2 hours and range from 1.5-2 miles in length.
For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.
My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.
Fort Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona
The Fort Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1876 to 1909 was hellish in many respects but it also had more modern amenities than many homes in Yuma at the time including electricity, plumbing, a large library, and even a band. Several of the inmates were Mormons who were convicted of polygamy. Today, the site of the hilltop prison is an Arizona state park with some surviving original features such as the cellblock and other features reconstructed. It’s now a historical museum that not only is open for tours but stages special events such as gunfights and ghost hunts.
Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Merritt Island, Florida
This privately owned center provides educational exhibits and activities about NASA’s mission at the center as well as tours to other facilities nearby. You’ll see a “rocket garden,” an outdoor exhibit of an extensive assortment of rockets, capsules, and engines that have been used for actual space missions.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs, California
Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.
The Valley of the Sun is home to many great attractions, and it can be difficult for visitors and locals alike to pick their favorites. It’s easy to get caught up in the legend surrounding attractions like the world-famous Lost Dutchman State Park, but sometimes you want to take a break from history and explore Phoenix’s more modern side.
Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is also one of the world’s largest collections of desert plants and flowers. It features more than 50 miles of pathways crisscrossing over a dozen outdoor gardens, including the special Children’s Garden, which has a walled maze, garden swings, and plenty of other activities designed especially for the little ones.
Visitors can also see art installations, take a guided tour or enjoy live music during their visit to the outdoor attractions.
A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.
Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona
There are several good reasons for paying a visit to this 110-acre park. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a short hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, there is an observatory that is open to the public to do some star gazing on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. People come just for the birds. Bentsen’s wetland, scrub brush, riparian, and woodland habitats make it a world-class destination to observe birds and wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico. One of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth, more than 530 species have been documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself. Bentsen’s bird-feeding stations are stocked in the winter months making it one of the best and easiest times to view a wide variety of birds from Green jays to Altamira orioles and Plain chachalacas to Great kiskadees.
Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of Hadji Ali, a Greek/Syrian immigrant who was one of several Middle Eastern men hired by the U.S. Army in 1857 (by Secretary Of War Jefferson Davis) to drive camels laden with cargo across the desert. The experiment was discontinued after a short time but it was still much more successful than people often believe. In any case, Hi Jolly stuck around until he died in 1902. A colorful and beloved character, he became a bit of a legend and was honored with this pyramid-shaped monument constructed in 1903 and embellished later. The monument stands in a cemetery with many monuments to military men. You’ll spot the camel motif cropping up in other places in Quartzsite, an interesting little town that is known as a haven for RV boondockers as well as rock and mineral lovers.
While the marshes and bayous of this region make Avery Island worth a visit in its own right, it is the fact that this is the home of the Tabasco pepper sauce that attracts most people. Visitor attractions include a short but informative factory tour where you’ll learn the history of this family owned company and see how this world famous product is created; an excellent country store packed with sauces, souvenirs and gifts; and the Jungle Gardens, 170 acres full of exotic plants and native wildlife including alligators and deer. When you visit the country store, do make sure you try the Tabasco ice cream; it’s more enjoyable than it sounds.
Located just off State Route 88 east of Phoenix, Saguaro Lake has a marina with rentals for everything from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks and canoes. The lake even has a few desert islands where boaters can stop for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Visitors also come to Saguaro Lake to camp at nearby facilities or fish along its banks for bass, catfish, and carp. Hikers and campers also enjoy visiting the lake which has over 25 miles of trails that wind around it.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
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. Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The 16-mile round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, you may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history.
Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
This 21-mile drive, accessible by any vehicles up to 25 feet, is the most popular way to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Pick up the guidebook from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and allow at least two hours to drive the loop which includes 18 stops of interest. As well as the distinctive cactus from which the park takes its name, you will also see examples of the many other plants that flourish in the Sonoran Desert including saguaro, prickly pear, jojoba, mesquite, cholla, and ocotillo.
Speaking of beloved American beverages… Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”
If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of road trip stops. 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.
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.
In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.
Two desert ecosystems combine for an otherworldly experience in California’s Joshua Tree National Park
I speak for the trees.
— Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Several small motorhomes jockey for parking spots along the cul-de-sac at the Keys View overlook in Joshua Tree National Park. Its 10 minutes to sunset and the vista over the Coachella Valley with the lights of Palm Springs winking in the distance takes my breath away. Where else with two feet planted on solid ground can you get a bird’s-eye view of the daunting San Andreas Fault? That crack sketched into the surface of the Earth is a sobering reminder of the fragility of the landscape. The menacing fault line marks one of the world’s most active tectonic boundaries; geological faults crisscross the entire park.
It’s difficult to measure all of the positives that can come from just one visit to a National Park. By simply dipping your toe into the waters of the great outdoors your world is touched by greater health, improved mood, increased knowledge, all the while you are offering support to the preservation of one of the world’s finest treasures… and, national parks are a perfect place to go play.
Joshua Tree is one of my favorites in a long list of spectacular national parks in both Canada and the United States. It is arid, untamed, and remote. The super-sized boulders and wild-armed vegetation look like something from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. The night sky is dark and splashed with stars. When the wind blows, it really howls. The boulders are the size of large vehicles and the landscape is ablaze with cacti and hardy desert vegetation.
Beyond the Joshua tree forests lies a world of adventure that appeals to three important factors that compel people to enjoy it: accessibility, the draw of adventure, and inspiration.
The sprawling national park of almost 800,000 acres is the spot in southeastern California where the high Mojave and the low Colorado deserts converge. This transition zone of two distinct desert ecosystems is noteworthy creating a blended area of significant biological diversity. In desert ecosystems, elevation determines everything as desert plants and critters are extremely sensitive to the slightest change.
The park is home to bighorn sheep, cactus wrens, roadrunners, and desert iguanas. The threatened desert tortoise occasionally meanders across roadways. As in many desert settings, snakes often curl up below the rocks for shade.
On the adventure front, climbers find here a world-class climbing and repelling playground. Photographers visit to capture silhouettes of wonder-shaped trees against the backdrop of the sun, moon, and stars. Equines go there to ride horseback, birders to bird, mountain bikers to ride, nature walkers to walk, campers to camp. It’s a true wilderness playground.
And there is inspiration. Famous artists and musicians have taken from Joshua Tree ideas that have manifested into creative works that we all know and love… anybody out there a fan of Dr. Seuss? How about U2, Selena, John Lennon, Victoria Williams, Keith Richards, Gram Parsons, and Jim Morrison?
And then, there are the Joshua trees. Like snowflakes and fingerprints, each is one of a kind. Every slight change of angle in your view produces what seems like an entirely different tree to look at.
Driving from the park’s northern entrance at Twentynine Palms to the southern entrance just off Interstate 10, you’ll dip from the higher elevation of the Mojave Desert section with some spots topping 5,000 feet to the lower elevation of the Colorado Desert. The higher elevations are home to the park’s namesake, the iconic Joshua trees. The lower, more arid lands are covered with the long, thin branches of the spindly ocotillo, prickly “jumping” cholla cacti, and green-barked palo verde shrubs. In springtime, it’s a blast of colorful wildflowers. Year-round, it’s a landscape with a lot of thorny vegetation encircled by rugged mountain ranges.
If you come properly prepared (water, wide-brimmed hat, sturdy footwear, paper map), the trails and rocks of Joshua Tree are a dream for hiking and world-class bouldering. Pets are not allowed on the trails or in the backcountry so plan accordingly for their comfort and safety.
We explored the main roadways and stopped to hike at spots such as the nature trails through the boulders and the luxuriant Cholla Cactus Garden. Staff at the visitors centers can help you pick a suitable trail from among the almost 30 in the park which range from easy to challenging.
The park lends itself to exploring by short road trips or via a walk from one of the trailheads.
At Hidden Valley, a popular one-mile loop winds through a rock-enclosed valley that at one time created secluded hideouts for cattle and horse rustlers. It’s was a nice way to get up close to the imposing stones. Farther down the park’s main road to the south, the Cholla Cactus Garden is a quarter-mile, flat pathway meandering through dense “gardens” of the “jumping” teddy bear cholla, a very prickly cacti known for attaching itself to unwary passersby.
The Mojave Desert part of the park is marked by jumbles of massive boulders interspersed with pinyon pines, junipers, prickly pear cacti, and yuccas. Thousands of established routes make the park a favorite destination for rock climbers.
The huge, ball-shaped masses of rock are granite that formed when molten fluid within the Earth’s crust was pushed to the surface about 250 million years ago. Over millennia of erosion, these granite boulders were left on the surface, many looking like piles of enormous marbles stacked and abandoned.
You can camp among these truck-size boulders at Jumbo Rocks, one of the park’s eight campgrounds. Only two campgrounds (Black Rock and Cottonwood) have water, flush toilets, and dump stations. Cottonwood is especially popular with RVers. At the Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, RVs are limited to a maximum combined length of 25 feet (RV and a towed or towing vehicle); in the other campgrounds, the limit is 35 feet, space permitting.
The rustic campgrounds offer a true desert experience. Most sites are at higher elevations, so nighttime can be chilly. Joshua Tree is remote wilderness and cell phone coverage is unreliable at best. Many campsites fill during the peak season of October to May—most can be reserved at recreation.gov.
Many people come to contemplate and photograph the otherworldly Joshua trees that pepper the rolling desert of the park’s Mojave section. Growing at an unhurried rate of ½-inch to 3 inches per year, it is not a tree at all but a species of agave that can grow more than 40 feet tall. The clusters of waxy, spiny leaves provide homes for owls, woodpeckers, hawks, and many other birds. The “trees” are incredibly photogenic and one of the main reasons that people visit the park.
Despite the park’s remote setting and its dryer-than-dry ecosystem, I find that Joshua Tree draws me back again and again. It’s one of those indulgent destinations—one of the few spots to find the spiny trees, to feel tiny next to enormous round rocks, and to look upward into some of the darkest night skies in Southern California. It’s a camper’s dream.
Temperatures and weather can vary depending largely on elevation. In the winter months, prepare for chilly camping. When hiking, always carry water and warm clothing to layer. In remote areas, keep your fuel tank topped off. Be prepared for hot weather, too, as Joshua Tree is in the desert and can be sunny with very limited shade available.
Be aware that rocks, plants, animals, and historic objects are protected in all national parks. Best practice is to enjoy but to leave them in their place.
Joshua Tree is operated by the National Park Service. If you have plans to visit several parks over the year investigate the America the Beautiful Pass which is valid for one full year from the month of purchase ($80). The pass covers entry to parks and many other government-operated sites but not camping or tour fees.
Size: 792,623 acres; 591,624 of that is designated wilderness
Date established: October 31, 1994 (National Monument in 1936)
Location: Southeast California
Designation: International Dark Sky Park
Park Elevation: 1,000 feet to 5,500
Park entrance fee: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days
Camping fee: $20-$25
Recreational visits (2021): 3,064,400
How the park got its name: According to the National Park Service and legend of old, Joshua Tree was given its name by Mormon pioneers traveling west in the 19th century who thought that the branches looked like the biblical figure Joshua, reaching up to the heavens in prayer.
Iconic site in the park: There are many iconic sites in this park but none more so than spots from where the Joshua Tree grows. No two trees bare the same exact shape or composition. Their silhouette leaning against the desert sky sings songs of the Mojave Desert, the only place this “tree” (actually a yucca plant) naturally grows.
Accessible adventure: The Jumbo Rock campground is a doorway to some of the best features of the park and it seems that there is not one bad place to camp. Each has its own unique natural feature and some level of privacy. Drive in and choose your camping spot (first come, first served), pay the fee, and set up camp. Try to arrive early in the morning so you can nab a good spot—this place is popular and therefore busy all year long.
Big adventure: Rock climbing! Joshua Tree is regarded as one of the best climbing destinations in the world offering enthusiasts from around the world thousands of climbing routes to venture out on. Rock climbing is not for the faint of heart—proper equipment and training is mandatory. If you aren’t a technical climber, bouldering the tacky monzogranite rock faces offer another, really fun way to rise from the desert and catch panoramic views of this beautiful place.
Did you know?
Joshua Tree is where the Mojave and the Colorado desert ecosystems come together (the Colorado desert is a subdivision of the Sonoran Desert).
According to the National Park Service website there are 93 miles of paved roads, 106 miles of unpaved roads; nine campgrounds with 523 campsites, two horse camps, 10 picnic areas; and 32 trailheads reaching out to 191 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. That’s a lot of access to Joshua Tree parkland!
Cover art of the first Eagles album (released in 1972) was captured in the Cholla Garden—one of my favorite places in the park.
The boulders that Joshua Tree National Park is comprised of is a result of billions of years of heating and cooling of the Earth’s crust, and the effects of wind, sun, and erosion.
I love it there, it’s magical … Joshua Tree is one of those special places where you feel so close to everything.”
What better place to witness the changing of the seasons than at your favorite National Park?
Every year across the national parks, the leaves shift from their familiar green into a rainbow of warm colors. With this change of seasons also come fewer crowds and cooler temps as kids shuffle back to school and winter creeps closer. I’d argue it’s one of the best times to visit most national parks—though some truly stand out during the autumnal season.
Each summer, millions of people head into the great outdoors to enjoy America’s national parks. And while the warmer months are no doubt the most popular time to visit parks overall, there are still some parks that are just as good—or even better—to visit in the fall. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a lengthier fall vacation, here are the top 11 national parks to visit this fall.
1. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon isn’t just one of America’s most recognizable and iconic natural features. It’s also a great destination for a fall vacation. Temperatures can be over 100 degrees in the summer at the bottom of the canyon. While it can still be warm in the area through the fall, average temperatures do start to drop down to a more manageable range of 70 -80 degrees. This means that October and November are great months to visit.
Here’s another national park that’s a great choice to visit in the fall because of dropping temperatures. Joshua Tree National Park’s desert location means extreme heat can make it difficult to enjoy the park in the summer months. A fall visit will allow you to enjoy countless hiking trails with cooler weather.
Those planning a trip will likely want to look into accommodations ahead of time—Joshua Tree National Park is fairly remote. There are two main towns nearby: Twenty-Nine Palms and a town also named Joshua Tree. Camping is also a possibility in the park but you’ll want to secure a reservation as soon as possible. The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation.
Zion is one of the best national parks to visit in the fall for several reasons. Firstly, the weather is more pleasant in fall than in the summer when temperatures can be brutally hot. Secondly, the changing colors of the cottonwoods and brush compliment the giant sandstone walls within Zion Canyon. Lastly, the crowds are less extreme at this time of the year than during the busy summer holiday period. It can still be busy with people looking to see the colors changing, but less so than the summer holidays.
The best time to visit Zion for fall colors is between mid-October and early November. The exact timing can vary year to year but this is generally a safe bet to see some great fall foliage in the park. Fall is an amazing time of year for most of the parks in Utah so you could extend your trip and visit the other parks in Canyon Country.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is another excellent choice for those looking to see some changing colors alongside their outdoor adventure. Located on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is not only home to gorgeous fall leaf displays but also countless hiking trails as well as wildlife such as black bears and white-tailed deer.
Great Smoky Mountains is home to some of the most scenic fall drives in the country. Don’t miss Cade’s Cove, a lush valley surrounded by mountains and filled with history. The drive up to the viewpoint at Clingmans Dome is perhaps the most famous in the park. There are layers upon layers of mountains stretching as far as the eyes can see rich with color this time of the year.
Not far out of the park is the Blue Ridge Parkway. This National Scenic Byway links Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Shenandoah National Park. This scenic drive is famous for its views and fall colors.
Big Bend is one of the lesser-visited national parks due in part to its remote location. Lesser known doesn’t mean less to do, however. The park is home to countless hiking trails, opportunities for river rafting and kayaking trips, camping, and even hot springs. Like Joshua Tree, fall is one of the better times to visit as the area enjoys cooler weather. Temperatures are perfect during October and November. You’ll enjoy beautiful warm days and cooler nights.
Shenandoah National Park is covered in deciduous trees and during fall turns into a golden paradise. Similar to the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah is a fall classic and offers visitors some of the most abundant and vibrant colors in the country. This park takes on a completely new look once the colors change and it’s just hard to beat those scenic drives through the park as the fall leaves drop all around you.
Shenandoah is home to one of the best scenic fall color drives in the country. Skyline Drive is the main road through the park and runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has around 70 different overlooks and spending a day or two exploring this incredible stretch of road is often the highlight of a visit to the park.
Another Utah park best seen in autumn is Arches National Park. The powerful dance of wind, rain and red sandstone over many eons created the 2,000-plus fantastical arches at Arches—but it did not leave much shade or shelter. Visits in 100-degree summer or 10-degree winter weather can be unpleasant but in autumn you’ll enjoy temperate conditions and smaller crowds.
Aesthetically pleasing erosion is the big lure stirring the soul with unusually balanced rocks, fins, spires, and arches. The autumn light cast on the red rocks is spectacular.
The park and its surrounding area offer excellent mountain biking, canyoneering, rock climbing, and hiking. Many people who travel here turn their trip into a national park two-fer adding on nearby Canyonlands, a 30-minute drive south.
The country’s newest national park, the 7,000-acre New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia can be visited any time of year—but it stands apart in the fall. October, after the heat subsides, is a particularly popular time to visit. It’s also when the annual Bridge Day event takes place (in 2022, on October 15), and thousands of visitors congregate to walk across the park’s eponymous bridge and watch BASE jumpers and rappellers descend over the side of the bridge.
And, of course, visitors who head to the New River Gorge in the fall will be rewarded with stunning fall foliage which arrives first in the mountains and works its way down into the valleys throughout the season.
Only a few centuries ago, over half the North American continent was carpeted in the same type of mixed grass prairie one encounters in Badlands National Park. The park retains the largest intact prairie of any in the National Park Service providing an enduring home to the animals that keep this type of ecosystem healthy: bison, prairie dogs, ferrets, pronghorns, coyotes, big horn sheep, golden eagles, and others.
In the summer months, violent thunderstorms and blazing temperatures can make touring the Badlands challenging but come fall the weather mellows to the 60s and 70s. Some of the grasses are yellow in autumn too making it easier to spot wildlife and shutterbugs are rewarded with gold-hued landscapes.
Named for the United States’ tallest cactus (it can reach up to 50 feet), this Sonoran Desert park is split into two parts by the city of Tucson. The Sonoran people also known as the Hohokam settled here in 2100 B.C. and built some of the earliest canal irrigation systems on the continent. The park is pitted with their ruins and tagged with petroglyphs.
The temperatures drop to an average of 70 degrees in October and November making the fall ideal for comfortable visits. It’s also fun to drop by Tucson in the fall thanks to its mix of Mexican and American seasonal celebrations that include pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Halloween activities, and All Souls processions.
To finish my list, here’s a hidden gem! Take time to explore Congaree National Park in South Carolina in autumn when there are fewer insects and the weather is ideal for outdoor activities such as bird-watching, canoeing, and kayaking. Hike the 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop Trail which is a great way to get to know the park. Pick up a self-guided brochure or join a ranger-led walk. More adventurous types may want to hike the 11-mile Kingsnake Trail which takes parkgoers through some of the more remote parts of the park.
In the winter, this park tends to flood and in summer the humidity and heat make human bodies feel like they’re flooding. But autumn is the Goldilocks time in South Carolina’s only national park devoted to the natural world.
Congaree harbors the biggest old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest left in the Southeast. It’s an arboreal paradise and 15 trees growing here are the largest known specimens of their kind on the planet including loblolly pine, cherry bark oak, American elm, sweetgum, and swamp chestnut oak—all of which are over 130 feet tall. Sheltering in and among those trees are feral pigs, bobcats, alligators, river otters, and deer.
It’s hard to go wrong with a trip to a national park during the fall. After all, October and November are really the best times to get out of doors and enjoy the crisp, autumnal air before the winter cold settles in. Whether you’re seeking lower temperatures and smaller crowds or you’re purely in pursuit of peak foliage, pack your jacket, bring the camera, and get ready to have an unforgettable trip.
Autumn brings a longing to get away from the unreal things of life, out into the forest at night with a campfire and the rustling leaves.