The Ultimate Guide to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a National Park Service (NPS) site with 1.5 million acres of mesmerizing landscapes, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes of vibrant blue waters. This park is a playground for adventurers who love hiking, watersports, fishing, boating, scuba diving, and more.

This national recreation area offers a chance to see the Hoover Dam, enjoy the waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead, and retreat into nature in one of the park’s 9 designated wilderness areas.

Where Is Lake Mead National Recreation Area?

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located in southeastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. The closest major city to this park is Las Vegas, 26 miles away. 

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area opening hours and seasons

This national recreation area is open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This facility is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

Driving to Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are nine access points to this national recreation area so the route you choose will depend on the area from which you are coming and the entrance you want to utilize for your arrival. The best and most popular entrance is the one that takes you to the visitor center. U.S. Highway 93 is the main road used by those driving to the park. 

Getting around Lake Mead National Recreation Area

The best way to get around this park is by private vehicle. This vast recreation area has so many sites and attractions to explore; the best way to do this is by driving to the different areas and exploring on foot.

Of course, another good way to explore the park on the water is by boating or paddling on the bright blue waters of Lake Mohave and Lake Mead. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you plan your itinerary. 

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

What to see and do in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area covers 1.5 million acres of canyons, lakes, valleys, and mountains. There is no shortage of adventure at this park. Check out some of the most popular activities and sights at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 


Over 290 square miles of waterways are within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave provide some of the best boating opportunities for those who love to explore the park on the water. Whether you want to speed through the open water or float in a private cove, there are many fun and relaxation opportunities here. 

Boat rentals are available at the marinas on Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. Many types of boats are available to rent, including sports boats, fishing boats, paddle boats, pontoons, and houseboats. These locations also rent out water skis and wakeboards for even more adventures. 

Tip: Be sure to read the park’s boating rules and regulations to ensure you have a fun, safe time.

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

Canoeing and kayaking

Thanks to all the water within the park’s boundaries, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at this national recreation area. The views from the calm lake waters and majestic mountains surrounding them are breathtaking.

The Black Canyon Water Trail and Mohave Water Trail are the most popular trails for paddling but there are also many hidden coves throughout the park just waiting to be discovered.

Guided tours

A variety of guided tours are offered at this national recreation area. The park’s visitor center is a wonderful place to learn about the various tour options.

Some of the guided tour options include cruises, ranger-led hikes, and hunting and fishing adventures. The most popular tours include the Cruise to the Hoover Dam and the Float Down the Colorado River. There are also self-guided options should you choose to explore on your own. Taking advantage of the many tour options is a fantastic way to learn about and explore this impressive area. 

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


Although most visitors are attracted to Lake Mead National Recreation Area because of lakes Mead and Mohave more than 87 percent of the park protects a vast area of the eastern Mojave Desert. Perhaps the best way to explore this diverse ecosystem is on foot, traveling across open expanses of rock formations that contain all the colors of the rainbow.

Which trail is right for you? There are a variety of hikes that vary in difficulty and length. These trails are in the Lake Mead and Lake Mojave areas. The hiking trails show off the park’s diverse ecosystems and take hikers past incredible rainbow-colored rock formations, canons, and washes.

Some of the favorite trails include the Historic Railroad Trail, River Mountains Loop, and Owl Canyon. The best time to hike here is from October to April. The temperatures are cooler during these months and the journey is much more enjoyable. Visitors are not recommended to hike during the summer months as the temperatures are dangerously high. 

Scenic drives

There are two main scenic drives in Lake Mead National Recreation Area: Lakeshore Road and Northshore Road. These drives travel through the mountains, canyons, and desert basins. Driving these roads offers visitors excellent opportunities to enjoy the views and capture photos of the bright blue waters and colorful mountains.

Visitors also enjoy stopping for picnics while driving along these roads. Cyclists, pedestrians, and wildlife use these scenic roads, so stay alert and mindful of those sharing the road with you. 

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

Visitor center

The Lake Mead Visitor Center is an excellent place to visit before starting your park adventures. This facility is just a few miles north of the Hoover Dam and has so much to offer park visitors. 

Park rangers are stationed at the visitor center to help you plan a fantastic adventure or answer any questions. You can obtain park maps brochures, get a national park passport stamp, or turn in a Junior Ranger booklet to earn your Junior Ranger Badge.

There is also a store inside this facility that is run by the Western National Parks Association. This store offers guests a chance to buy books about the park, Native American arts, crafts, jewelry, posters, clothing, and postcards.

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

Best times to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area

You’re guaranteed an unforgettable trip any time you’re able to visit this national recreation area. There are better times than others to plan a trip here especially if you hope to participate in particular activities. Take a look at the best times to visit this park.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for summer fun

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is an exciting place for summer fun. The best time to visit during the summer months is in June. The high temperatures typically reach the upper 90s and the lows dip down to the low 70s. There is an average of 0 days of precipitation during the time making the summer adventure opportunities never-ending.

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area to avoid the crowds

The best way to explore a new place is without having to worry about crowds and traffic. If you want to experience this national recreation area without crowds, plan to come in November. This time of year is the least busy making it a perfect time to enjoy the park at your own pace. 

Best time to visit Lake Mead National Recreation Area for ideal weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is a great idea. If you want to experience this park when the weather is ideal, plan to come in April. The daily lows are in the mid-50s and the highs are in the upper 70s. It typically only rains an average of 1 day in April but it’s wise to come prepared for rain just in case.

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

Annual events in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

This national recreation area hosts several events on a regular basis throughout the year. Some of the regularly scheduled events include star parties, guided hikes through the wetlands, and hikes to Majestic Canyon. There are also some annual events.

National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup

Each September, Lake Mead National Recreation Area participates in the National Public Lands Day Litter Cleanup. This free event is an excellent way for visitors to positively impact the park and help remove litter from the beaches and other areas. A benefit to visiting on this day is that participants will receive a voucher to visit a federal public land at no charge. 

Rage Triathlon

Each year in April, the Rage Triathlon takes place at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. This race has taken place since 2001 and offers a fantastic way to experience this park. It winds through beach campgrounds and along river and mountain trails. The Rage Triathlon is considered one of the region’s most scenic desert landscape triathlons.

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

Where to stay in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area has an abundance of options for those who want to stay within the park’s boundaries or in a nearby town. Check out some of the best places to stay both in and near this recreation area. 

Inside the park

There are many options for accommodations within this national recreation area. From campgrounds to resorts and lodges, the options are many. Check out some of the different places to stay within this park.

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


Spend your next camping adventure on the lake. With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes sure to please everyone. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables and shade. RVs and tents are welcome.

Most of the campgrounds can be reserved but there are a few that are only available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some of the campgrounds are operated by the National Park Service such as Boulder Beach, Callville Bay, Cottonwood Cove, Echo Bay, Las Vegas Bay, and Temple Bar.

Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park. These campgrounds include Katherin Landing and Willow Beach.

Bottom line:

If you prefer to set up camp and sleep under the stars, you will find so many options at Lake Mead that you may have difficulty narrowing down where to pitch your tent.

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

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina

Cottonwood Cove Resort and Marina is a beautiful option for those wanting to stay within the park’s boundaries. This Spanish-style resort is right off the shores of Lake Mohave and offers red-roofed motel rooms and lots of amenities for a comfortable stay. 

This lodging option features covered outdoor patios with tables and chairs for lounging and taking in breathtaking sunsets and lakefront views. There are also outdoor barbecues for those who prefer to cook outdoors. 

Another unique choice for visitors who want to get off the grid is renting a houseboat during your stay. This is a great way to experience the lake and take a break from the duties of home.

Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing

Several types of accommodations are available at Lake Mohave Resort at Katherine Landing. Visitors can choose from mid-century-style rooms, a full hook-up RV or tent site, and even private homes. This resort has gorgeous views of the desert scenery and Lake Mohave.

The lodge offers standard double or standard king rooms. These rooms feature a private bathroom, air conditioning, coffee makers, and satellite televisions to make you feel at home. There is also a spectacular restaurant on-site to take care of any cravings you may have during your stay. 

Visitors who stay here can enjoy world-class boating, water skiing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, and fishing for largemouth, smallmouth, and striper bass. 

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

Temple Bar Marina Resort

Temple Bar Marina Resort is located on Lake Mead on the Arizona side of the park. This resort offers lake view lodging, an RV park, access to hundreds of beaches and coves, an on-site store, gift shop, café, bar, and launch ramp. This is an incredible option for a home base when visiting this national recreation area. 

Temple Bar has standard motel rooms and cabins for those who want a more traditional type of stay. Visitors can choose from standard rooms with lake views or desert views, fishing cabins, or suites with kitchen access. Whatever type of stay you prefer this resort has a perfect solution for your travel needs. 

Towns near Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are several towns near this recreation area for those who prefer to set up a base camp outside the park’s boundaries. Whether you seek a quiet, small town or a lively, larger city, there’s a perfect place for you in these towns.

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

Boulder City, Nevada

Boulder City is a charming small town with a rich historical heritage, only 6 miles from the park. For those wanting to stay near the recreation area, this town has a variety of options for dining, lodging, and entertainment.

This city has a variety of accommodations including RV resorts, contemporary hotels, and budget-friendly motels. Whether you’re looking for a unique stay in a themed motel, a luxury stay in a hotel, or a relaxing visit to a resort, there are plenty of options in this city. 

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat in this city. A variety of restaurants, including cafes, sushi bars, diners, and Mexican taquerias are scattered throughout this town.

For recreation, there are incredible opportunities available in this town. From kayaking to golfing, visiting museums, and exploring several types of parks, there’s no shortage of fun here. You are also in the perfect location for exploring famous landmarks like the Hoover Dam. 

Boulder City is an ideal home away from home for those visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Its proximity to the park and its incredible opportunities for food, fun, and lodging make the choice of where to settle an easy one. 

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

Henderson, Nevada

Henderson is located approximately 19 miles from the national recreation area. This city is a great place to make a home base during a visit to this park. It has perfect options for those traveling with family, friends, or solo. 

The accommodations in this town range from luxury hotels to smaller, more affordable motels to 5-star luxury resorts. Whatever budget or type of stay you have in mind, you can find a perfect option for your vacation needs here. 

This city has fantastic restaurants including pizza parlors, formal dining rooms, authentic cultural cuisine, diners, and cafes. This city has something to offer every palate. 

If you’re looking for fun, this is the right place. Henderson has countless opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, playgrounds, splash pads, skate parks, and bicycle trails.

Where to eat in Lake Mead National Recreation Area

There are eight different restaurants within the boundaries of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. These restaurants serve a variety of cuisines and are located in or near the marinas. Here are two popular choices.

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

Harbor House Café and Lounge

The Harbor House Café and Lounge is a floating restaurant and bar right on Lake Mead. This dining option serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks daily. 

The menu seems endless at this restaurant. From freshly tossed salads to stacked sandwiches, breakfast specialties, and fish and chips, there’s something for every palate here. Some of the most popular menu items include the classic club sandwich, buffalo chicken wrap, and the Harbor Burger.

Be sure to stop by this café and lounge when visiting Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Not only will you enjoy a fantastic meal but you can also take in the gorgeous views of the surrounding slips, lake, and mountains. 

Temple Bar Café

Temple Bar Café is located at the Temple Bar Marina. This restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast burritos, stacks of fluffy pancakes, signature sandwiches, juicy burgers, and sizzling pizzas are just some of the items on the menu here. Customers rave about patty melt, Rueben sandwiches, homemade biscuits and gravy, and home-cooked weekly specials. 

For a delicious meal in this recreation area, you won’t regret a stop at Temple Bar Café. It’s a great place to rest up and refuel for more adventures in the park.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area facts

1. Lake Mead National Recreation Area was established in 1964. This was America’s first national recreation area. 

2. Lake Mead National Recreation Area is the third largest NPS area other than the parks in Alaska. This recreation area covers 1.5 million acres. 

3. This area was occupied by desert Indian cultures that existed 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It’s believed that the ancestral Puebloan people were the first to inhabit this land. These people group hunted game, gathered edible plants in the area, and practiced farming.

4. Lake Mead is a large reservoir on the Colorado River. This lake was formed by Hoover Dam located in Black Canyon. Lake Mead is the largest U.S. reservoir by volume coming in right before Lake Powell. 

5. An abundance of animals call Lake Mead National Recreation Area home thanks to its diverse ecosystems. These animals have special adaptations that help them survive the harsh environment. Some commonly seen animals here include the Desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, desert tortoises, Gila monsters, and 19 species of bats. 

Final thoughts

Whether you seek outdoor adventure or solitude in nature, Lake Mead National Recreational Area is a bucket list location. With so many options to hike, fish, boat, view wildlife, attend a guided program, and tour amazing places, it’s easy to spend several days exploring this beautiful park. Book your trip to Lake Mead today and discover what brings in millions of visitors from around the world each year.


  • Area: 1,495,806 acres
  • Established: October 13, 1936
  • Recreation visits in 2023: 5,798,541
  • Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days

Worth Pondering…

Most travelers hurry too much…the great thing is to try and travel with the eyes of the spirit wide open … with real inward attention. …you can extract the essence of a place once you know how.

―Lawrence Durrell

Yes, These Are the Most Visited National Parks in 2023

The new national park visitor numbers are in. The National Park Service says in 2023, 325.5 million people visited an NPS site including national parks, national historic sites, and more. In fact, last year saw an increase of 4 percent or about 13 million visitors from 2022.

If you joined the throngs of visitors flocking to a National Park Service (NPS) site in 2023, this next statistic likely won’t come as too much of a shock: Roughly 325.5 million recreation visits were paid to the more than 400 sites administered by the NPS last year, according to statistics released February 22 in its annual visitation report.

That’s a healthy increase of 13 million visits—or 4 percent—over 2022 as the system continues its long recovery from the pandemic (The peak year for recreation visits remains 2016 at 330.97 million).

“From Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park in Hawai’i to Congaree National Park in South Carolina, parks are attracting more visitors each year to learn about our shared history,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a news release.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Record-setting NPS destinations

20 sites—some well-known but others not household names—broke visitation records in 2023.

Among the more famous ones were Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million) and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (8.09 million).

But the list also includes spots such as Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho and Washington (18,358 visits), a concentration camp that held Americans of Japanese ancestry in World War II and Congaree National Park in South Carolina (250,114 visits) which features the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.

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

Here are the 20 NPS destinations that set records in 2023:

  • Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
  • Congaree National Park
  • Dry Tortugas National Park
  • Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument
  • John Muir National Historic Site
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Kaloko Honokōhau National Historic Park
  • Keweenaw National Historic Park
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Longfellow House Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site
  • Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park
  • Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Memorial
  • Minidoka National Historic Site
  • Mojave National Preserve
  • New River Gorge National Park & Preserve
  • Nez Perce National Historic Park
  • Ninety Six National Historic Site  
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The NPS says despite these good national park visitor numbers, there were some struggles this year. Natural disasters caused headaches for many parks in 2023. Popular destinations like Death Valley National Park closed for long stretches last year after flooding tore up roadways.

What park are you hoping to visit in 2024?

As usual, a select few sites—the bulk of them perennials—proved to be the most popular.

Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2023

A mountainous roadway full of ever-changing seasonal scenery and sumptuous curves landed its usual No. 1 spot as the most visited site in the US National Park system and accounts for 5.15 percent of all visits in the system. The top 10 sites (numbers are rounded down):

1. Blue Ridge Parkway (16.75 million visits)
2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14.95 million)
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
4. Gateway National Recreation Area (8.70 million)
5. Gulf Islands National Seashore (8.27 million)
6. Lincoln Memorial (8.09 million)
7. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7.39 million)
8. Natchez Trace Parkway (6.78 million)
9. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (5.79 million)
10. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (5.20 million)

The sole new entry in 2023’s Top 10 is Glen Canyon Nayional Recreation Area in Arizona and Utah which suffered from extensive drought along with the rest of the Southwest in 2022.

Dropping out of the top 10 from 2022 is the emotionally charged and somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. which still landed a very respectable No. 12 ranking for 2023.

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

Top 10 most visited national parks in 2023

In compiling a list of just the headliner national parks vs. every NPS site (which include memorials, battlefields, recreation areas, and more), a familiar name yet again tops the list for 2023:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million)
2. Grand Canyon National Park (4.73 million)
3. Zion National Park (4.62 million)
4. Yellowstone National Park (4.50 million)
5. Rocky Mountain National Park (4.11 million)
6. Yosemite National Park (3.89 million)
7. Acadia National Park (3.87 million)
8. Grand Teton National Park (3.41 million)
9. Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million)
10. Olympic National Park (2.94 million)

Joshua Tree in California and Olympic in Washington state are the usurpers on the 2023 national parks list knocking out Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio and Glacier in Montana from their top 10 perches in the 2022 list.

While they garner much of the attention, national parks hosted only 28 percent of the total number of visitors to all various NPS components in 2023.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the summer season

Visitation habits to NPS sites are changing with people finding ways to bypass the traditional warm-weather peak.

The NPS said that “data shows that visitation is increasing in the more traditional off-seasons at many parks with more visits in the spring and fall than seen in years past.”

 “Our national parks tell our shared American story,” Sams said in the NPS release. “I’m glad visitors are finding hidden gems, exploring in the off-season and finding new ways to have a great time in our national parks.”

Hoping to check out a new national park (or parkway, or recreational area, or seashore, or some other site type) this year? There are five days left this year in which the NPS will waive entrance fees at sites that would otherwise have one.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

10 Road Trip Destinations from Las Vegas

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.

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

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lake Mead

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Hoover Dam

Distance from Las Vegas: 37 miles

Estimated time: 45 minutes

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hoover Dam

Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Laughlin

Distance from Las Vegas: 100 miles

Estimated time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Laughlin

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. St. George

Distance from Las Vegas: 120 miles

Estimated time: 2 hours

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.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.  

>> Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Cedar Breaks National Monument

Distance from Las Vegas: 226 miles

Estimated time: 4 hours

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument

El Paseo Shopping District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Palm Springs

Distance from Las Vegas: 230 miles

Estimated time: 4 hours

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Palm Springs

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Distance from Las Vegas: 250 miles

Estimated time: 4 hours

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!

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Grand Canyon

Distance from Las Vegas: 280 miles

Estimated time: 5 hours

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Sedona

Distance from Las Vegas: 280 miles

Estimated time: 5 hours

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Worth Pondering…

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

—Eli Roth

Planning to Visit Lake Mead, Lake Powell, or Nevada State Parks This Summer? Here’s what to Expect.

Lake Powell water levels likely to go up nearly 69 feet by the end of July; Lake Mead at about 12 feet

Due to increased visitation and other factors, Glen Canyon and Lake Mead national recreation areas as well as some Nevada state parks have made changes that may affect summer travel plans.

According to Park representatives the majority of the coming changes as well as changes recently implemented are due to “multifaceted reasons” but primarily for the safety of the public.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

According to a press release issued by National Park Service (NPS) concerning Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the spring runoff has increased Lake Powell’s elevation to 3,562 feet. This has enabled access from the north side at Hall’s Crossing and allowed for the opening of its launch ramp.

Visitor services include a boat ramp comfort station and campground with family units. The marina office is open; however, the boat pump-out, boat fuel dock, Village Store, and snack bar are closed.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Midlake fuel remains unavailable. Due to low lake levels, the Dangling Rope Marina closed in 2022 and dilapidated structures have been removed.

The following boat ramps are open: Wahweap Main, Wahweap Stateline Auxiliary, Antelope Point Business, and Bullfrog North.

Other boat ramps that may be used for smaller motorized and non-motorized vessels are “launch at your own risk” and include Rainbow Bridge National Monument and Bullfrog Main.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Higher-than-usual runoff has raised the water levels to 1,054 feet at Lake Mead and produced exciting news as several closed boat ramps and other areas have been reopened, according to an NPS press release.

The fuel dock, Katherine Landing by Boulder City reopened May 5 after four months of closure. The project updated the system utilized since the 1970s to provide safer measures in providing fuel and 47 new transient moorage slips for visitors and their vessels.

“We are really excited about this project,” Lake Mead Chief of Commercial Services Julie Drugatz said. “This partnership continues to enhance the experience for more than one million visitors annually to Katherine Landing.”

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

Echo Bay reopened a one-lane boat ramp on pipemat after closing last year in May. However, there is a caution to stay within the cones as vehicles will get stuck outside of the designated area.

Hemenway Harbor has four lanes available for use. Both Calville Bay and Temple Bar are launch at your own risk for smaller vessels only. All others remain closed for Lake Mead.

However, on the Lake Mohave side all boat ramps are open ranging from one lane to six open lanes.

Trail closures are in effect due to the extreme heat and environmental conditions of the area.

The following trails are closed until September 30: Goldstrike Canyon, White Rock Canyon and Trail, Arizona Hot Springs and Trail, Liberty Arch Trail, Lone Palm Trail, Sugar Loaf Trail, Lone Palm, and Sugar Loaf areas.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Nevada State Parks

According to Nevada Division of State Parks Information Office the main changes for the summer are trail closures. Valley of Fire State Park closed two popular trails on June 1—The Fire Wave and the Seven Wonders Loop Trail. These trails are closed when it is dangerously hot to hike them.

The popular state park nearby Moapa Valley has over 40,000 acres of red sandstone and cliff formations with natural wildlife. It also features Native American petroglyphs.

Currently, Cave Rock State Park is the only other park that has a hiking trailhead closed.

Other closures are campgrounds due to low demand or again due to safety concerns.

The Arch Rock Campground at Valley of Fire will be closed. The Atlatl Rock Campground will remain open to RVs and tents.

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

Several state parks and recreation areas have areas closed due to the high snow-melt and water runoff. Buckland Station State Historic Park, Kershaw-Ryan State Park, Walker River State Recreation Area, Walker Lake State Park, and Lahontan State Park have areas and features closed until further notice due to flooding and rising waters.

South Fork State Recreation Area has an advisory in effect for the dam spillway as running waters have stronger currents.

Cave Lake State Park, Fort Churchill State Park, and Sand Harbor State Park will have ongoing construction and locations closed or with limited access.

Boat ramps are open for those state parks where water activities are applicable.

Ice Age Fossils State Park remains fully closed as it is under development until Fall.

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

The biggest change will come after September 1 when all Nevada parks and recreation areas will have a full online reservation system in place.

According to Nevada Division of State Parks Information Office, a lot of people are happy they are going to reservations because it guarantees they will get to go. A lot of people wouldn’t drive seven hours and not guarantee a camping spot.

The online reservation system titled Reserve Nevada will offer full services including buying day-use passes, booking campsites and cabins, purchasing annual permits, and making special event reservations.

The system will have the parks phased in with Valley of Fire kickstarting the program. Big Bend of the Colorado by Laughlin and Washoe Lake by Reno will follow in October. The rest of the parks including the popular Cathedral Gorge will be fully utilizing the online system by the end of the year.

Visitors need to be aware that that both state and national parks will have fire restrictions and other advisories in effect throughout the summer at different times.

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

For more information on parks and recreational areas, click on the links below:

Worth Pondering…

…a curious ensemble of wonderful features—carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments…

We decided to call it Glen Canyon.

—John Wesley Powell (1869)

8 Colossal Facts about Hoover Dam

Constructed nearly 90 years ago the magnificent Hoover Dam still stands strong and serves the Southwest with power production, flood control, and irrigation

The Hoover Dam can be called both a monument and a marvel reaching a staggering 60 stories toward the sky and at one time reigning as the world’s largest dam. This symbol of American engineering ingenuity—initially constructed to control the Colorado River’s floodwaters—attracts more than 7 million visitors each year to the Arizona-Nevada border to catch a glimpse of the dam’s massive curved wall and its waters below. Read on for six facts about the Hoover Dam from its original name to its dramatic World War II history.

Hoover Dam with shadow of Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Flood damage was a major reason for the Hoover Dam’s construction

The Colorado River helped carve out the American West and Southwest flowing for 1,450 miles and providing water to seven states: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California, and Nevada. However, thanks to snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains the river was also prone to flooding. One such example of this flooding occurred between 1905 and 1907 when the Colorado River broke through its banks and flooded 100,000 acres of farmland in Southern California.

This was around the same time that the Bureau of Reclamation started planning for a dam in the Boulder Canyon region on the Colorado River. Plans were set in motion but flood control was not the only thing they had to think about. Water supply was another main reason for building the Hoover Dam.

Lastly, the Hoover Dam was built for power. Although this was not as vital as preventing flooding or providing irrigation it is a function of the dam that continues to this day.

Hoover Dam with shadow of Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Building the dam meant first building an entire city

Constructing a large-scale dam meant hiring a massive workforce: By the end of the project, the employee roster swelled to 21,000 people. An average day had 3,500 workers reporting to the construction site though that number rose during busy periods like in June 1934 when as many as 5,218 men reported to the jobsite per day. Bringing in that many workers and their families meant the federal government had to have a plan—which is how the town of Boulder City, Nevada came to exist.

In December 1928, President Calvin Coolidge authorized the creation of Boulder City on federal land specifically to house workers. Construction of the town’s buildings began in 1931. Families were housed in cottages while single men slept in dormitories and meals were provided in a jumbo-sized mess hall that served 6,000 meals per day. Boulder City was also equipped with a state-of-the-art hospital to handle jobsite accidents, a fire department, a train station, and a movie theater.

Hoover Dam with shadow of Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Constructing Hoover Dam required massive amounts of concrete

Building a structure as large as the Hoover Dam requires massive amounts of construction materials. The dam reaches 726 feet tall, a whopping 171 feet taller than the Washington Monument and the dam’s base is as thick as two football fields are long. Reaching those dimensions required engineers and builders to use a substantial amount of concrete—so much that the sheer volume (4.5 million cubic yards) could be used to pave a cross-country road starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City.

Ultimately, the dam had a $49 million price tag—about $882 million today—with an additional $71 million for its power plant and generators. However, the dam’s construction costs were fully repaid with interest by 1987 thanks to the sale of the electrical power it generated and continues to generate.

Hoover Dam with shadow of Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Hoover Dam originally had a different name

Hoover Dam gets its name from President Herbert Hoover though it nearly had a different one thanks to the influence of the Great Depression. Before becoming the 31st President in 1929, Hoover was a successful mining engineer and businessman familiar with the Colorado River; as secretary of commerce he had proposed damming the river to prevent flooding and to provide water for Southern California. Once underway, the dam which was overseen by Hoover during his presidency was called the Boulder Canyon Project. However, in September 1930, Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur announced at a ceremony marking the start of construction that the dam’s name would be changed to honor Hoover’s role in its development.

Construction continued through the Great Depression but Hoover’s presidency did not. President Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the Oval Office and in 1933 his pick for secretary of the interior decided to backtrack on the name due to personal animosity and public anger over Hoover’s handling of the Great Depression, once again calling it the Boulder Dam. Both names were used interchangeably until April 1947 when President Harry S. Truman approved the final name: Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam with shadow of Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Hoover Dam was heavily guarded during World War II

In the lead-up to World War II, the federal government became increasingly worried that the Hoover Dam would be a target of sabotage from Axis forces knocking out its ability to provide electricity and water. In 1939, public officials discussed shielding the dam by closing its power plant to the public while also heavily restricting and scrutinizing employees who entered.

In November of that year, the State Department received word from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico that German agents had plotted to bomb the dam hoping to knock out its high-voltage power lines and slow aviation manufacturing in nearby Los Angeles. A massive effort to protect the dam was soon underway including the addition of floodlights, installation of nets that could snag approaching boats, and increased patrols on Lake Mead which was closed to the public. However, the government’s move to protect the dam remained classified with public officials claiming rumors of foreign sabotage were “ridiculous” and unfounded. The incident was kept under wraps until 2001 when historians uncovered unsealed documents at the National Archives.

Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Lake Mead is the country’s largest reservoir

Dams rely on reservoirs (man-made lakes) that store water. As Hoover Dam is one of the largest dams in the world it makes sense that its reservoir would be massive and it is; Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the U.S. and one of the largest in the world. The expansive lake is multipurpose; it provides drinking water for nearly 25 million people and its 550 miles of shoreline have been used by outdoor enthusiasts since it became the country’s first national recreation area managed by the National Park Service in 1964.

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

7. Hoover Dam can be admired from the bridge

While there are more than enough things to see and enjoy at Hoover Dam, visitors can also marvel at and even walk across the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. As the world’s tallest concrete arch bridge, it is the first concrete-steel arch composite bridge in the United States and towers 880 feet over Hoover Dam.

The 1,905-foot-long man made bridge connects both Nevada and Arizona roadways so it’s fitting that it’s named the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge as it honors a hero from each state. With 30,000 cubic yards of concrete and 16 million pounds of steel, the massive engineered wonder is the widest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Visitors who aren’t afraid of heights can even walk across the bridge for some great photo opportunities of Hoover Dam and Black Canyon below.

Hoover Dam as seen from Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Visitors can tour Hoover Dam

A Hoover Dam tour is a fun and interactive way to see and learn what Hoover Dam is all about. Tours are guided and allow visitors to explore lesser-known parts of the dam and lasts longer than the Powerplant Tour.

The Hoover Dam Tour includes a one-hour guided tour of the powerplant and passageways within the dam itself while the Powerplant Tour is a 30-minute tour of the powerplant only. Both tours include admission to the Visitor Center.

Hoover Dam tours cost $30 per person. Hoover Dam Powerplant Tours cost $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and those ages 4 to 16. Military members pay $12 for admission or free if in uniform. Children under 4 are also admitted for free. Parking costs $10.

If you’re short on time or budget, skip the Hoover Dam tour and walk across the Top of the Dam for free. Visitors will enjoy sweeping vistas of the bridge and surrounding geographic features along with vertigo-inducing views looking straight down the dam.

Worth Pondering…

This is our history—from the Transcontinental Railroad to the Hoover Dam, to the dredging of our ports and building of our most historic bridges—our American ancestors prioritized growth and investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

—Cory Booker

How to Plan a Southwest Road Trip

The landscapes across America’s Southwest are some of the most spectacular to be found anywhere on the planet

A Southwest road trip is America at its best. Picture yourself driving along desert roads sometimes for hours on end. Highways snake between burnt red canyons, beside acres of geological anomalies you can’t quite imagine until you’ve seen them for yourself. Your Southwest road trip itinerary may have you passing through tiny towns with names like Tropic and Beaver and diners slinging Navajo tacos alongside more classic greasy spoon fare.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A road trip is a perfect way to explore special spots in the Southwest—Nevada, Utah, and Arizona—where you can see ghost towns, hoodoos, natural arches, sandstone spectacles, dark-sky stars, and a huge hole in the ground.

But, the real reason to undertake a road trip through Utah, Arizona, and the rest of the American Southwest is the National Parks. Legendary parks include the Grand Canyon and Utah’s The Big FiveZionBryce, ArchesCapitol Reef, and Canyonlands. The Southwest is a quintessential part of any US National Parks road trip.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On top of that, there are tons of national monuments (Bears Ears, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Cedar Breaks, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to name a few) and plenty more state parks and federal lands worth checking out. It goes without saying that you might not see everything in the American Southwest in one sweep. While fully customizable, I’d recommend at least a two-week itinerary to get the most out of your Nevada, Utah, and Arizona road trip.

Before you begin, consider purchasing an annual national parks pass at the first park you enter. That $80 pass gets everyone in your car into every national park for a full year. You don’t have to be an American citizen to buy an annual pass but if you are and you’re age 62-plus buy your lifetime pass for $80 and never again pay to enter a U.S. national park. (Considering that Zion National Park’s entry fee is $35 per car, getting the annual pass is something of a no-brainer.)

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nevada: Ghosts, gold and Red Rock

While the lure of Sin City in Nevada is strong, there’s more to the Vegas environs than casinos and outlet malls. So sleep in Las Vegas to start your adventure, if you’d like, perhaps at Las Vegas RV Resort where we have stayed on several occasions.

Start with an easy ride to Red Rock Canyon Park where you’ll need a timed reservation to enter between October and May. It’s just 15 minutes west of the Strip but transports you to a completely different world of massive striated red rocks where easy walking trails lead to ancient Native American petroglyphs.

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

Red Rock is lovely but a favorite Nevada stop is Rhyolite, a gold-rush ghost town northwest of Vegas. Founded in 1904, it grew to a city of 5,000 residents—and was abandoned by 1916. Today it is a delightful mix of art installations (begun in 1981) known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum and the ghost town’s abandoned brick homes, banks, railroad depot, and a house built of glass bottles. The combination is absolutely fascinating and well worth the drive into what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located on the Colorado River about 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. With 1.5 million acres of mountains and valleys there are plenty of activities visitors can enjoy at and around Lake Mead. Bicyclists are welcome to ride on park roads, on routes designated for bicycle use, and hikers can enjoy beautiful trails with impeccable views. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Hoodoos, arches and more

Rolling north into southern Utah transports you into a world of contrasts from vast arid deserts to densely wooded mountains, massive sandstone cliffs, amazing natural-stone arches, and seriously wacky rock formations.

Begin in Zion, Utah’s first national park where most months you’ll need to park your car and ride the free shuttle from the visitor center into the park. This park and its famous sites—Zion Canyon, Kolob Arch, the Narrows, Great White Throne, and Angels Landing—are so popular that massive crowds form especially during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Jump on and off the shuttle as often as you’d like but don’t miss the last one as you’ll be walking nine miles to get out of the park if you do!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is probably the most eye-popping, mind-boggling place you will ever see with its hoodoos (to call them irregular rock formations is just inadequate) of every shape and size. It’s the largest concentration of these magical forms anywhere in the world and a true must-see.

Set up camp at one of Ruby’s beautiful campsites nestled in the pines. Located ½-mile from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Campground & RV Park offers RV spaces with full hookups.

Make your way up the road to see all of the incredible sights, hike down into the canyon for a closer look, and don’t miss the Milky Way stargazing led by a park ranger. Much of the Southwest is toasty in summer but you’ll need a warm coat for this park where the night (and early morning) temps can be seriously chilly at any time of year.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moving on to the northwest, Capitol Reef National Park is the true undiscovered gem of Utah. You’ll be gobsmacked at the huge cliffs of bright, rainbow-colored sandstone looming high above you with peculiarly shaped hoodoos hanging at perilous angles. Find hidden arches and petroglyphs, take a horseback ride or a hike and be sure to spot the iconic white sandstone dome, shaped like the U.S. Capitol building.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border brings a strange sense of deja vu if you’re a film fan. Turns out those iconic landscapes are real, not cinematic sets. Monument Valley served as the spectacular setting of numerous famous movies. Think Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Fort Apache for this is the place that John Wayne and John Ford turned into the world’s ultimate vision of the Wild West; later, Forrest Gump cemented it as an Instagram hotspot.

Monument Valley is owned by the Navajo Nation so book a camping site at The View RV Park and then drive in, paying $8 per person to see the Mittens, Elephant Butte, John Ford’s Point, Artist’s Point and more on the 17-mile loop drive within the park. Taking a Navajo-guided tour is an incredible way to learn more about this sacred place and the indigenous people who still call it home.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sunrise, sunset, and a flyover at the Big Hole

The last stop on our Wild West road trip is Arizona’s big hole in the ground also known as the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s truly astonishing natural wonders, the canyon is the longest on the planet but not the deepest despite being more than a mile down. The Colorado River began eroding away this sandstone and limestone eons ago to create this eye-popping place.

El Tovar Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book way ahead to stay at the iconic El Tovar Hotel inside the park for it’s the best way to see the sun rise and set right out your front door as the canyon changes hues. Alternately book a camping site at Mather Campground (no hookups) or Trailer Village (full hookups) in the South Rim Village.

Hike down into the canyon as far as you can go to see it up close but do remember that climbing back out is a lot harder to do. For an once-in-a-lifetime thrill, hop on a helicopter via Grand Canyon Helicopters at the airport just outside the south rim entrance, soar over the edge and swoop down into the canyon—a perfect ending to a Wild West journey filled with adventure.


Worth Pondering…

One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.

—Eric Metaxas

The Best Lakeside Camping Destinations 

What are some of your favorite places to visit for lake camping?

Summer is prime camping season, but if you don’t pick the right destination, you may be sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why finding a great campground near the water is key!

Lake camping offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in the sunshine. Days by the lake can include everything from kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding to swimming and fishing while balmy evenings call for roasting marshmallows and playing board games. To prepare for a week at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.

Lakes are wonderful for camping and most have some amazing campgrounds nearby to choose from. You can build wonderful memories with your family at a lake. So, pack up your swimsuits, fishing poles, kayaks, and inflatable toys and head to one of these fabulous lakeside campgrounds.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweap Marina RV Park & Campground, Arizona

Enjoy this desert oasis in the Southwest. The Wahweap Marina RV Park and Campground are located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which manages the lake as well as a large 1.3 million-acre swath of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. It is 186 miles long with 1,960 miles of shoreline and over 96 major side canyons.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is a quarter-mile from the lake but set on a tiered hillside to provide fabulous views. They provide a shuttle to help you get around and you can charter a boat or book tours on the lake as well.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. Recently named one of America’s 21st Century Parks, Utah Lake State Park provides many recreation opportunities for visitors. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.

Related Article: Everything You Need for Lake Camping

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities for picnicking, day-use, and overnight camping are also available. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.

The park is west of Provo and 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing camping experience.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, and rest. The lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Five campgrounds offer mixed amenity sites. Campground C offers 25 electric and water sites. Campground F has 15 full hookup sites. Both back-in and pull-through sites are available.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. The 2.5-mile-long lake has more than 7.5 miles of shoreline. Canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. There are three boat launches around the lake.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. Fox Run and Maple Lane loops allow pets at designated sites. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Nestled in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest parks and favorite destinations offers hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats and during summer visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach. This park is rich in history with many facilities being constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers can choose from a variety of trails including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric and water hookups.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. There is plenty of water and plenty of beach room at New Mexico’s largest State Park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Remember to wear your life jacket. Boat safe and boat smart!

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

Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic area, playgrounds, and developed camping sites for RVs. Campground facilities include 173 developed sites: 144 water and electric and eight full hookup sites.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. Lake Mead was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. With more than 750 miles of shoreline, you can enjoy a day at the beach, take a boat out and disappear for hours, or nestle into a cove to try to catch a big one. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes. 

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

With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables, and shade. Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina.

Related Article: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Lakeside Market offers boat rentals and supplies. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several options when it comes to staying overnight. The park offers RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.  There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills; 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups and 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two campgrounds suit everyone from those who want only a basic campsite to those who want it all. Both campgrounds have restrooms with showers. The West Campground offers 50 spacious sites with full hookups, covered picnic tables, and fire rings. Some sites have views of the reservoir. ATVs are not allowed in this campground except on a trailer.

Related Article: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Lake Pleasant State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Arizona

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley regional park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Worth Pondering…

It is not down in any map; true places never are.

—Herman Melville

National Fishing and Boating Week: Exploring National Water Trails

Discover the National Water Trails System during National Fishing and Boating Week

Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors and spend more time in nature. Fishing and boating allow you to release stress, relax, and enjoy wildlife.

The water is open. Take this opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and spend quality time with your family. National Fishing and Boating Week take place June 4-12, 2022.

Rivers are trails. They invite a visitor to put in and travel a distance to a destination or simply float to another landing upstream or downstream. 

Coosa River at Wetumpka (Alabama Scenic River Trail) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is a water trail?

Water trails (also known as blueways) are marked routes on navigable waterways such as rivers, lakes, canals, and coastlines for recreational use. They allow access to waterways for non-motorized boats and sometimes motorized vessels, inner tubes, and other craft. Water trails not only require suitable access points and take-outs for exit but also provide places ashore to camp and picnic or other facilities for boaters.

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the National Water Trails System?

The National Water Trails System is a network of water trails open to the public to explore and enjoy. National Water Trails are a sub-set of the National Recreation Trails Program. National Water Trails have been established to protect and restore America’s rivers, shorelines, and waterways; conserve natural areas along waterways, and increase access to outdoor recreation on shorelines and waterways. The Trails are a distinctive national network of exemplary water trails that are cooperatively supported and sustained.

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail (Champlain Canal) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Trails System Act of 1968 authorized the creation of a national system of trails comprised of National Recreation Trails, National Scenic Trails, and National Historic Trails.

National Water Trails are a subset of the National Recreation Trails. National Recreation Trails are co-sponsored by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and American Trails.

It’s a network of lake and other waterway trails designated as such by the U.S. Department of Interior. The system offers families vacation and recreational opportunities in scenic regions of the U.S.

Enjoy a trail.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bayou Têche Paddle Trail

State: Louisiana

Location: Iberia Parish, St. Landry Parish, St. Martin Parish, and St. Mary Parish

Length: 135 miles

Driving Directions: Access points include Port Barre, Arnaudville, Cecilia, Breaux Bridge, Parks, St. Martinville, Loreauville, New Iberia, Franklin, Patterson, and Berwick

Bayou Teche at St. Martinsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Bayou Têche is a watershed within the Mississippi River Basin draining approximately 58,500 acres of natural, agriculture, and urban lands into Vermilion Bay. Bayou Têche flows through the towns of Port Barre, Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, Parks, St. Martinville, Loureauville, New Iberia, Jeanerette, and Charenton (Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana lands), Baldwin, Franklin, Patterson, Berwick, and small villages in between. Each town has a standard motorboat launch and many are being equipped with floating docks designed for kayaks and canoes.

Coosa River at Wetumpka © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama Scenic River Trail

State: Alabama

Location: From where the Coosa River enters the state in its northeast sector to Fort Morgan on the Gulf of Mexico

Length: 631 miles

Driving Directions: Numerous boat-launches along the Coosa and Alabama Rivers

Tensaw-Mobile Delta at Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Alabama Scenic River Trail is a recreational and tourism route destination for paddled and powered boats. At approximately 631 miles in length, the trail is the longest in a single state in the U.S. The Trail begins at the point where the Coosa River enters Alabama and continues down the Coosa River to its confluence with the Tallapoosa near Wetumpka. From this conjunction, the trail follows the Alabama River to its junction with the Tombigbee/Warrior system. The Trail then proceeds along the Mobile River and through the Tensaw-Mobile delta, along the Tensaw River, and its tributaries to Mobile Bay.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black Canyon Water Trail

States: Nevada and Arizona

Location: Clark County (Nevada) and Mohave County (Arizona)

Length: 30 miles

Location: The 30-mile water trail is assessable at three points: Hoover Dam, Willow Beach, and Eldorado Canyon.

Lake Mead upstream from Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Black Canyon Water Trail is located within Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The trip begins as the river flows at the base of Hoover Dam and meanders through 30 miles of the Colorado River where it enters Lake Mohave. Approximately 12 miles downstream from Hoover Dam, you arrive at Willow Beach, the only road-accessible portion of this stretch of river. Rental crafts are available. The river, in the next segment, becomes a lake but maintains the canyon environment with small bays and beaches appearing as you continue downstream.

Congaree River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree River Blue Trail

State: South Carolina

Location: River trail from Columbia south and east to State Route 601 landing

Length: 50 miles

Congaree River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Starting near Columbia, the blue trail offers paddlers an opportunity to learn about the historic significance of the area. Continuing downstream paddlers cross the fall line and enter the Coastal Plain known for its countless sandbars, high bluffs, and extensive floodplain habitats. The highlight of the trail is the section along the Congaree National Park, a protected wilderness that is home to the largest continuous tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S. Paddlers and hikers alike can enjoy the network of 20-miles of hiking trails within the park and take advantage of opportunities to camp, fish, watch birds, and study nature.

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail

State: Georgia

Location: Saint Marys to Tybee Island

Length: 189 miles

Georgia Coast Saltwater Paddle Trail at St. Marys © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The paddle trail connects Cumberland Island National Seashore, four State Parks, six other state-protected areas, 77 Historic Sites, and other points of interest including National Monuments and city and regional parks. Saint Marys has a rich history dating back to the mid-1500s. The two points of access, Howard Gilman Waterfront Park and North River Landing allow access to the Saint Marys River and Cumberland Sound. West of Cumberland Island is the mouth of the Crooked River, home of Crooked River State Park which has a well-defined and popular kayak trail.

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail (Champlain Canal) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail

State: New York

Location: The Hudson River from Hadley to Battery Park in Manhattan and Champlain Canal at Whitehall to its confluence with the Hudson River at Fort Edward

Length: 256 miles

Hudson River Greenway Water Trail at Whitehall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Hudson River Greenway Water Trail extends from the edge of the Adirondack Park at Hadley and the head of the Champlain Canal at Whitehall to Battery Park in Manhattan. Designed for the day-user as well as the long-distance paddler, it includes 94 designated access sites. Day use attractions include wildlife marshes, islands, historic sites, cities, downtowns, and hiking trails.

Colorado River at Laughlin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mohave Water Trail

States: Nevada and Arizona

Location: Lake Mohave and Colorado River below Davis Dam to the Laughlin/Bullhead City Bridge

Length: 76 miles

Colorado River at Laughlin looking across the river at Bullhead City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Mohave Water Trail stretches along the Arizona and Nevada shorelines of Lake Mohave and the Colorado River below Davis Dam to Laughlin/Bullhead City. It provides access to sandy beaches, scenic desert areas, and unique historic sites including submerged cultural resources. Boat rentals, shuttle, and guide service for paddle craft, scuba diving, fishing, camping, and overnight accommodations and restaurants are available at two marinas and in Laughlin and Bullhead City.

Nantahala National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina Smoky Mountain Blueways

State: North Carolina

Location: Southwestern Mountains of North Carolina

Length: 167 miles

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The trail is located in the Little Tennessee Watershed and contains portions of the five major rivers: Little Tennessee, Nantahala, Tuckaseegee, Oconaluftee, Cheoah, and the lakes of Fontana, Nantahala, Glenville, and Santeetlah. The Little Tennessee River Basin encompasses the Nantahala National Forest and two National Park units—The great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway. In the Nantahala National Forest, visitors enjoy a variety of recreational activities from camping, whitewater rafting, canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking over 600 miles of trails, and horseback riding.

Ohio River at Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio River Water Trail

States: West Virginia and Ohio

Location: The Ohio River and Little Kanawha River

Length: 57 miles

Ohio River at Marietta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: The Ohio River Water Trail is accessible from Marietta and Belpre in Ohio and Williamstown and Parkersburg in West Virginia. It is crossed by Interstate 77 and US Route 50.

There are over 100 species of fish in the Ohio River including spotted bass, sauger, freshwater drum, and channel and flathead catfish. Three of the islands on the Trail are part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Visitors are welcome to pull their canoes and kayaks up onto the shore and explore these islands on foot during the day.

The Okefenokee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee Wilderness Canoe Trail System

State: Georgia

Location: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Length: 120miles

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

Description: There are multiple trails available for varying degrees of experience from one to five days in length. Each trail provides opportunities for viewing wildlife in a pristine natural setting. Alligators, black bears, egrets, sandhill cranes, and other species of animals inhabit the cypress swamps and open watery prairies of the Okefenokee. Visitors can access the trail system from the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, Kingfisher Landing, and Stephen C. Foster State Park. There is also limited access from the north to Okefenokee Swamp Park.

Tennessee River at Chattanogga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee River Blueway

State: Tennessee

Location: Water trail joining many sites on both sides of the Tennessee River from Chattanooga (Chickamauga Dam) downstream to Nickajack Dam.

Length: 50 miles

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway at Chattanooga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Description: Tennessee River Blueway encompasses a 50-mile stretch of the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. Experience Chattanooga’s bustling revitalized waterfront with its historic bridges and a few miles downstream the solitude of the Tennessee River Gorge. Pause to watch a great blue heron rookery on Maclellan Island and bald eagles in Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. Paddle in the wake of the ancients who first rippled these waters some 14,000 years ago.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, and the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

Yes, these are the Most Visited National Parks in 2021

Nearly 300 million visited National Park System in 2021 but most headed to just 25 parks

Stir-crazy from the pandemic, visitors poured into US national parks and related sites last year—especially the marquee names. Visitation to the National Park System approached 300 million, rebounding from 2020 levels, but the bulk of those visitors headed to just 25 of the 423 units, the National Park Service (NPS) announced last week.

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

“It’s wonderful to see so many Americans continuing to find solace and inspiration in these incredible places during the second year of the pandemic,” Park Service Director Chuck Sams said. “We’re happy to see so many visitors returning to iconic parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite, but there are hundreds more that should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whatever experience you’re looking for in 2022, national parks are here to discover.”

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to Park Service figures, the system saw 297.1 million recreation visits in 2021—an increase by 60 million over 2020—but 148.2 million of those visitors were counted in just 25 parks. Indeed, visitation records were set at Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and a number of other parks. 

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

NPS to visitors: Let’s spread it out

In trying to encourage visitors to expand their travels in the park system, the Park Service suggests visitors “create your own circle of discovery. A visit to Redwoods State and National Parks offers a great opportunity to explore Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and Lassen Volcanic National Park.”

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If your 2022 trip will take you to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, also consider Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Carl Sandburg National Historic Site, and Obed Wild and Scenic River.

Related: The National Parks Saw Record Crowds in 2021: Where Do We Go From Here?

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When in Utah for a visit to the Mighty Five, don’t miss Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bears Ears National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to really avoid the crowds and be alone with nature, Kobuk Valley National Park in northwestern Alaska had only 11,540 recreational visits in 2021. Even by Alaska standards, this place is remote.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you plan your travels, the Park Service urges you to take advantage of the search feature on the NPS website to search by state, activity, and topic, as you might find a hidden gem or two. Also, download the NPS App from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store to find up-to-date information about all 423 national park sites.

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

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inside the 2021 visitation report

  • Forty-four parks set a record for recreation visits in 2021
  • Six parks broke a visitation record they set in 2020
  • Blue Ridge Parkway remained the most-visited park in the National Park System
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park set a visitation record in 2021 and passed 14 million recreation visits for the first time
  • Five parks began reporting official visitor statistics for the first time: Alagnak Wild River (Alaska), Camp Nelson National Monument (Kentucky), Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument (Mississippi), Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (Nevada), and World War I Memorial (District of Columbia)
  • In 2021, some parks operated with limited capacities or indoor space restrictions but most were open to visitors. Seven parks—all of them historic sites in urban areas—remained closed throughout 2021 due health and safety concerns related to COVID-19
  • Recreation visitor hours dipped from 1.43 billion in 2019 to 1.36 billion in 2021, a 5 percent decrease
Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2021 by the numbers 

  • 297,115,406 recreation visits  
  • 1,356,657,749 recreation visitor hours
  • 12,745,455 overnight stays (recreation + non-recreation)
  • Three parks had more than 10 million recreation visits—Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Eleven parks had more than five million recreation visits—up from seven parks in 2020 and equal to the number of parks in 2019
  • 73 parks had more than one million recreation visits (19 percent of reporting parks)—up from 60 parks in 2020 and down from 80 parks in 2019
  • 25 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top eight most-visited parks (2 percent of all parks in the National Park System)
  • 50 percent of total recreation visits occurred in the top 25 most-visited parks (6 percent of all parks in the National Park System)  
Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25 most visited parks in the National Park System

1. Blue Ridge Parkway: 15.9 million

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.1 million

3. Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 13.7 million

4. Gateway National Recreation Area: 9.1 million

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 7.6 million

Related: Reservations and Permits Required at Some National Parks in 2022

6. George Washington Memorial Parkway: 6.8 million

7. Natchez Trace Parkway: 6.4 million

8. Lincoln Memorial: 5.8 million 

9. Gulf Islands National Seashore: 5.5 million

10. Zion National Park: 5 million 

11. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 5 million

12. Yellowstone National Park: 4.9 million

13. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.5 million

14. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.4 million

15. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4.3 million

16. Acadia National Park: 4 million

17. Cape Cod National Seashore: 4 million

18. Grand Teton National Park: 3.9 million

19. World War II Memorial: 3.7 million

20. Vietnam Veterans Memorial: 3.6 million

21. Yosemite National Park: 3.3 million

22. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: 3.3 million

23. Cape Hatteras National Seashore: 3.2 million

24. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.2 million

25. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: 3.1 million

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top 10 national parks

Of the 423 sites in the entire system, only 63 of them are actually designated a national park. These are the most visited national parks of 2021:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 14.16 million

2. Zion National Park: 5.03 million

3. Yellowstone National Park: 4.86 million

4. Grand Canyon National Park: 4.53 million

5. Rocky Mountain National Park: 4.43 million

Related: Why America Needs More National Parks

6. Acadia National Park: 4.06 million

7. Grand Teton National Park: 3.88 million

8. Yosemite National Park: 3.28 million

9. Indiana Dunes National Park: 3.17 million

10. Glacier National Park: 3.08 million

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go outside, spring is for feeling alive in national parks.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?

Utah wanted all the tourists. Then it got them.

If it felt like Utah’s Mighty 5 were more crowded than ever last year, that’s because they were. All-time visitation records were broken at four of Utah’s five national parks in 2021, according to preliminary data made available by the National Park Service.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There were at least 11 million visitors at Utah’s five national parks in 2021—far exceeding the 7.7 million recorded visitors in 2020, a year when visitation plummeted as a result of pandemic-related park closures and travel restrictions.

Related Article: Everything You Need to Know about the Mighty 5

The final 2021 visitation figure has yet to be calculated because Zion National Park has not submitted its December visitation. Even so, visits to Utah’s national parks jumped by at least 43 percent last year and Zion is one of the four parks that broke visitation records in 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion again led all of Utah national parks in visitation last year. The southern Utah nature preserves reported over 4.8 million visitors through November besting its previous record of 4.5 million in 2017. The park is still reviewing its numbers before it submits its final 2021 visitation statistics.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion needs a little over 172,000 to reach 5 million visitors for the year—a rare feat that only three national parks have ever reached. Recent visitor trends suggest that Zion will be close to that number. The park has averaged 162,000 December visitors in the previous five years; however, it also recorded 227,244 people visits in December 2020.

Related Article: Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks & Must-See Hidden Gems

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches (1.8 million), Canyonlands (over 911,000), and Capitol Reef (1.4 million) national parks also broke all-time visitation records in 2021. While Bryce Canyon National Park fell short of its visitation record, more than 2.1 million people visited the park last year—the second-most of the five parks and an increase of nearly 640,000 visitors from 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While 2021 produced an eye-popping leap from 2020 because there were no shutdowns and fewer COVID-19 concerns, 2021 also far exceeded the state’s previous total park record of 10.6 million recorded in 2019.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rise in visitors meant more people were enjoying Utah national parks but it also led to an uptick in resources needed to support the public lands. This has been true since the sudden rise of the parks’ popularity over the past decade—the issue came to a head in 2021 because of the dramatic increase in park visitation from the previous year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The year ended with Arches National Park implementing a timed entry ticket pilot program and Zion announcing a permit process to hike Angels Landing both set to begin in the spring. Bryce Canyon National Park officials also increased its backcountry permit fees and implemented a partial campground reservation requirement to match the spike in popularity at the park over the past decade.

Related Article: Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Overrun.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 2,000 arches, as well as rock fins, pinnacles, and balancing rocks, visiting Arches National Park is like escaping to a wonderland of ancient sandstone. Visitors cherish the soaring red rock features—clad in rock formations of red, orange, brown, and purple hues—set against an often-bright blue sky.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To maximize your enjoyment, consider visiting during off-peak times. The park is most active from March through October and especially around Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. The busiest time of day is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Early morning and late afternoon typically offer fewer crowds, shorter lines, easier parking, cooler temperatures, and golden light for photographers. Winter in Arches National Park also offers stunning scenery during the quiet season.

Related Article: The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s national parks feature some of the most astonishing landscapes in the world. But other lands in Utah promise just as much allure including state parks, national monuments, and national recreation areas. It may be time to try other Utah parks and other natural areas because the state has much more to offer than just the five national parks. Those are all things that the state’s newest campaign, Forever Mighty strives to accomplish.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Utah is anchored by Arches and Canyonlands national parks and the active tourism basecamps of Moab and Green River. Further south, travelers can explore the vast stretch of land known as Bears Ears country which includes active and ancient Native American communities and historic sites such as Monument Valley and Hovenweep National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument, located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state, means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The majority of visitors to southwestern Utah focus their efforts on the Mighty 5 national parks. And, for good reason, these parks are spectacular. However, seasoned travelers and savvy locals know that fun southern Utah activities, remarkable scenery, and memorable adventures aren’t limited to national park boundaries. In fact, by stepping off the beaten path, many travelers have found their favorite memories were created in these hidden gems, parks that may leave you breathless but are less likely to leave you standing in line.

Related Article: Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains above Cedar City is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding environs are home to cool hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.”

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

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal. Sun-drenched Utah backcountry spreads out well beyond the visible horizon from the road whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes and seemingly endless Slickrock, prehistoric sites, and abandoned old Western movie sets, among many other treasures

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers more than 1.2 million acres of unparalleled opportunities for land- and water-based recreation. Within the recreation area, Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made lake in the U. S. and is widely recognized as one of the premier boating destinations in the world.

Read Next: Photographic Proof That Utah Is Just One Big Epic National Park

As you plan your next road trip through Utah, look for opportunities to visit less-crowded destinations. While the national parks are open, so are many less crowded and equally brilliant nearby destinations. 

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road