Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Explore my list of fun things to see and do in the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city

Consider this your introduction to the East Valley of Arizona’s largest city—the essential, can’t miss, make-sure-you-check-out things to see and do in the towns of Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, and beyond.

Northern shovelers at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert

Stroll 110 acres of greenery, ranging from marshland and riparian habitats to upland vegetation areas. Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park with interpretive panels on wildlife and vegetation throughout. Viewing blinds have been established at various locations near the edge of several ponds.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 298 species of birds have been identified on the site. A floating boardwalk crossing the northern end of the lake allows visitors a close-up view of the fish and ducks on the water. Additional educational areas include an ethnobotanical garden, a paleontology dig site, a hummingbird, and a butterfly garden. 

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also at the preserve: the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory where you can see comets, meteors, planets, and the sun Just be sure to check the hours—the trails are generally open from dawn to dusk, but the observatory operates separately.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, the 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy a full program schedule, over 50 miles of multi-use trails, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, and a barbecue fire ring.

Related Article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home.

Gambel’s quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. Discover canyon-walled Saguaro Lake aboard The Desert Belle. Relax in air-conditioned comfort on one of her 80 minute narrated cruises and see exotic Arizona wildlife, towering canyon walls, and dramatic desert vistas. Live music cruises, wine, and live music cruises, and craft beer, and live music cruises are also available.

San Tan Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Tan Mountain Regional Park

Consisting of over 10,000 acres, the southeast Valley park is a fine example of the lower Sonoran Desert. San Tan Mountain Regional Park ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to over 2,500 feet. The park offers over eight miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 1.1 miles to over 5 miles, and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

Named after the Apache Indians who once used the route, the Apache Trail (AZ 88) links Apache Junction at the eastern edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Theodore Roosevelt Lake through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. This mostly unpaved road winds past magnificent scenery of twisted igneous mountains with dense forests of saguaro and several deep blue lakes.

Related Article: What Are You Waiting For? Get Outdoors in the Sonoran Desert NOW!

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road though has been mostly closed since late 2019 because of landslips and other damage associated with the Woodbury Fire. The worst affected is the steepest section just west of Fish Creek; the only part still open to vehicular traffic is the (paved) 18 miles from Apache Junction to Tortilla Flat.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goldfield Ghost Town

Established in 1893, Goldfield was a mining town with saloons, a boarding house, general store, blacksmith shop, brewery, meat market, and a schoolhouse. The grade of ore dropped at the end of the 1890s and the town was all but deserted. The town came back to life from 1910 to 1926.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, visitors can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, visit the Goldfield Museum, pan for gold, take a ride on Arizona’s only narrow gauge train, explore the shops and historic building, eat at the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, and witness an old west gunfight performed by the Goldfield Gunfighters.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

Some cities have a clock that chimes on the hour—Fountain Hills has a fountain (the fourth-tallest in the world) that shoots water 562 feet in the air for 15 minutes on the hour. But there’s much more than that. Jump in on a docent-led art walk around the city and see a large collection of sculptures on public display as the docent explains how each piece was created. Meander some more in the Fountain Hills Desert Botanical Garden where a half-mile trail weaves you past 29 desert plants, interesting rock formations, wildlife, and the abandoned P-Bar Ranch campsite.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Superstition Mountain Museum

Hikers, horseback riders, photographers, and tourists come to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Superstition Mountains now preserved in the Superstition Wilderness Area. But, many are curious about the history and mystery of this intriguing area and visit the museum comprised of a central 4,900-square-foot exhibit hall and Museum Shop and numerous outdoor structures and exhibitions including the Apacheland Barn and the Elvis Chapel, the last surviving structures from Apacheland Movie Ranch, a huge 20-stamp gold mill, a mountain man camp, Western storefronts, and a labeled Nature Walk.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Related Article: Top 10 Day Trips From Phoenix

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a weekend of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit.

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Huhugam Heritage Center, Chandler

This modern cultural center highlights the ancestral, historic, and current cultures of the Gila River Indian Community made up of two tribes—the Akimel O’otham and the Pee Posh. The Huhugam Heritage Center was built in 2003 to create a place for community, culture, land, tradition, and spirit: a place to honor and preserve their Him dak (our way of life).

Huhugam Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience its unique and calming architecture. The Center stair-steps up out of the desert, the building silhouettes designed to blend in with the nearby mountain ranges and hills.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert,

I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy.

The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night.

I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Top 10 State Parks to Visit This Winter

While there are many state parks that are great to visit in the winter, this list is focused on the parks that are generally warm and perfect for exploring

As shorter days and cooler temperatures descend in North America, it’s time to look for the next great outdoor adventure. We encourage visiting a state park at any time of the year, but winter is a unique time to explore.

November to March provide some of the most beautiful, peaceful, and picturesque landscapes, and parks that can be relatively inhospitable during the height of summer become havens during the cold months. Here are the best state parks to visit this winter.

Elephant Butte State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

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

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

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

Related: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature or just relax!

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park, New Mexico

The park is located on the Rio Grande near Las Cruces and 1.5 miles from historic Mesilla. Visitors have many opportunities to view wildlife in natural surroundings while strolling one of the self-guided nature trails. Enjoy a fun ranger-led tour. Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park is an Audubon designated Important Birding Area.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

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

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

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

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Buccaneer has been beautifully restored following the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Today Buccaneer State Park is best known for its wave pool, camping, and winter retreat.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with numerous opportunities to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas.

Related: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, 40 miles east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Enjoy camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and seashells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into.

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, the Gulf State Park campground offers 496 improved full-hookup campsites with paved pads and 11 primitive sites.

Read Next: The 10 Best State Park Camping For Snowbirds

Worth Pondering…

The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.

—Marie de Vichy-Chamrond

The 10 Best State Park Camping For Snowbirds

If you’re planning on snowbird RVing this winter consider one of these state parks

Many RVers prefer state park camping for its scenic beauty and proximity to outdoor activities. Most state parks offer the amenities needed to stay comfortable such as electric and water hookups, bathhouses, a dump station, and some campgrounds offer sewer hooks and laundry facilities.

If you are one of the many snowbirds heading south for the winter in an RV, you can find numerous state parks open for year-round camping. Here are 10 of the finest state parks with camping facilities.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground, and picnic areas. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park’s campground offers 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Related: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (west of Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park. The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge, was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Castaway Cove (campground activity pool) is available to all visitors to the Park for a fee. 

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

The majestic Myakka River flows through 58 square miles of one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. Experience Myakka by boat and by tram on a 45-60 minute tour.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy. The taller tower soars 74 feet in the air to present a spectacular view of treetops, wetlands, and the prairie/hammock interface.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campgrounds make a perfect home base while you go kayaking on the river, hiking the park’s trails, or exploring on their boat or tram tour. The park has three campgrounds with 90 sites total including Palmetto Ridge with full hookup gravel-based sites and Old Prairie and Big Flats campgrounds with dirt-based sites.

Related: The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

120 electric and water sites are available at Catalina. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers primitive camping as well as developed campgrounds including Borrego Palm Canyon which offers 120 campsites including 51 full hookup RV sites and the smaller Tamarisk Grove with 27 well-shaded non-hookup sites. Eight primitive campgrounds and two dispersed camping (boondocking) areas are also available.

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. Elephant Butte is a reservoir on the Rio Grande that was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1916. The name “Elephant Butte” was given due to a butte that has the shape of an elephant. This is one of the few lakes in New Mexico with white pelican colonies.

Related: America’s Best State Parks

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

The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. There are 15 miles of hiking trails, boating facilities, and picnic tables available for day use. Lions Beach Campground has 173 sites including some with full hookups as well as primitive beach and boat-in camping.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a brand new Lodge and Conference Center. Yes, the park has gorgeous white sand, surging surf, seagulls, and a variety of activities, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. Just when you’re done hiking, it’s time to go biking. Tired of swimming and paddling in the Gulf? Swim and paddle in Lake Shelby. There’s an educational adventure at the Nature Center as well as programs at the Learning Campus and Interpretive Center.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill. The park even has three new “glamping” sites and 11 primitive camping sites that include stone campfire rings, grill tops, and picnic tables nestled among the trees and along the creek.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains, east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Related: 8 Wild and Beautiful State Parks

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome, but please pick after your pets.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Happy travels!

10 Amazing Places to RV in December

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

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Lost Dutchman and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

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

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

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

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

Ghostly Experiences

A demon haunted world!

Well, this is my last post before you wander down the dimly lit corridor of Halloween. I don’t have any advice other than “don’t talk to strangers” and “a pumpkin spice jello shot is never a good idea.”

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you going on a trip somewhere scary? Are you hosting a party for close friends in a graveyard? Are you locking the door and pretending it’s Thanksgiving and gorging yourself? Whatever path you may be taking, I hope you have a wonderful ghostly experience. I will be going to Tombstone and asking everyone who will make eye contact with me if they know where the “ghost section” is located. We all have our own unique paths!

The Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

May your Halloween be spooky and fun as hell!

Related: A Haunting Good Time: Your Guide to 5 Ghostly Cities Across America

It’s no wonder that so many ghosts haunt the lonely trails, mountains, and landmarks of the forbidding Sonoran Desert. Desert lore, stories, and quests for loot and gold have made men greedy. Gunfights, murders, and death from starvation and dehydration have left many dead on barren desert trails. Their ghosts still walk the mountain ridges, gullies, and deserted locations where they once traveled or lived, spirits with unfinished business, who cannot rest. Some guard buried treasures and lost mines while others battle perpetually until death, forever replaying their last moments of life.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Ghost Lights of Borrego

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Borrego Springs area of southeastern California is notorious for the many legends, ghost stories, and unexplained phenomena occurring there over the years. The region of the Sonoran Desert is home to the Vallecito Stage Station, Yaqui Well, in addition to the mysterious “Ghost Lights” of Oriflamme Mountain.

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first account of the “Phantom Lights” of Borrego was reported in 1858 by a Butterfield Stage driver. Since then soldiers, prospectors, and explorers have reported seeing similar lights. The sightings have been reported near Oriflamme Mountain, over Borrego Valley, and other nearby areas. The occurrences are always slightly different but the general descriptions of the sightings are similar.

The Beasts of Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1892, a prospector by the name of Charles Knowles and two other men were camping near Grapevine Canyon at the entrance to the Narrows where they reported their sighting of “Fire Balls.” Knowles described the “lights” as balls of fire that rose up approximately 100 feet in the air and then exploded.

Related: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Badlands, Canyons, Mountain Peaks and More

Anza-Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Knowles compared the fireballs to fireworks. He saw three fireballs rise and cascade upon explosion before they stopped. About 30 minutes later the lights started again but this time they were different. The lights rose into an arch pattern returning to the ground without exploding. The light would then reverse itself and go back to the place where it started.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Haunted Tombstone

It probably wouldn’t surprise you that Tombstone is considered one of the most haunted towns associated with the Wild West. After all, with all of the lawlessness, the murders, and seedy behavior, it would be more surprising if Tombstone wasn’t haunted.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve put together a list of the most haunted places in Tombstone. Some of them, you may be familiar with especially if you watch any of the Ghost Hunting TV shows like Ghost Adventures or Ghost Hunters. They’ve all been to Tombstone!

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the town’s name and wild past doesn’t convince you that this place is haunted then a tour through its neighborhoods might turn you into a believer. The Tombstone Gunfighter and Ghost Tour start at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, once the elegant Grand Hotel.

O.K. Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A stroll down Allen’s street takes tour-goers to sites of some of the bloodiest Old West gunfights; guests are advised to be vigilant for spirit sightings. Of course, the tour includes a stop at the infamous O.K. Corral, the place where lawmen led by Virgil Earp gunned down three outlaws in 30 seconds in 1881. Whet your whistle at Doc Holliday’s Saloon after a day spent walking with ghosts.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bird Cage Theatre may be the most well-known haunted location in Tombstone. Thanks to being featured on many TV shows, it seems like everyone who comes to Tombstone knows about the ghosts of the theatre.

In 1882, the New York Times declared that Tombstone’s Bird Cage Theatre was the “roughest, bawdiest, and most wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” 26 deaths and 140 bullet holes later, this American icon is packed with poltergeists (German for loud ghost or noisy spirit). Bird Cage Theatre’s most peculiar poltergeist is the “Woman in White.” This apparition is said to appear as a “proper lady,” a rarity for a brothel.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the “Town Too Tough to Die,” Tombstone is ironically known for the dead. Gunslingers, sharp-shooters, stagecoaches, saddle bums: even the streets of this city conjure tales of the dearly departed.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boothill Graveyard isn’t Tombstone’s first cemetery but it’s Tombstone’s most notorious. Named for those “buried with their boots on,” Boothill interred outlaws from 1878-1884. Notable markers include Marshal Fred White, killed by Curly Bill Brocius, and Tom and Frank McLaury, buried alongside Billy Clanton. Curly Bill and the McLaurys were lost to the “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” the famous 30-second shootout.

Boothill Graveyard © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travelers report spectral shadows, strange lights, and spooky sounds. If you make it over to Boothill, remember those two-bit criminals are known to still be around the boneyard. And I’d be ever so obliged to hear if you meet up with one.

Superstition Mountain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phantoms of the Lost Dutchman Mine

The old prospector of the Lost Dutchman Mine fame, Jacob Waltz, left quite a legacy when he died in Phoenix on October 25, 1891. His death marked the beginning of a period of mystery, intrigue, and myth about a rich gold mine in the Superstition Mountains, more commonly referred to by locals, as the Superstitions. Standing majestically at the forefront of this rough terrain is Superstition Mountain, a 3,000-foot high monolith that seemingly stands guard over the rest of its territory.

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Old mining equipment at Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mine has never been found despite many expeditions. Some believe the mountains are haunted by the spirits of the miners who died in search of the goldmine. Over a dozen men were killed in the 1800s in pursuit of this gold. According to legend, they may be the phantoms that still protect this treasure today.

Old mining equipment at Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So be forewarned modern-day prospectors―if the Arizona heat or the Superstition Mountains’ rugged terrain does not get to you, a ghost or two just might.

Related: Apache Trail: Canyon Lake, Tortilla Flat and Beyond

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m a shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

These 15 state parks across the U.S. have campgrounds that you really need to add to your travel list

While national parks are at the top of many RV travel bucket lists, state parks often offer more camping amenities than national parks. State park campgrounds are located in areas that feature natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historic significance. Some state parks are smaller and may only feature a visitor center and day-use area. Some areas are large as a national park and feature several campgrounds and access to lakes, trails, and nearby towns.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte was active in smuggling and pirating along the Gulf Coast. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp-store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition, Buccaneer has 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. The campground offers 120 electric and water sites with picnic tables and BBQ grills.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst. Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The campground offers 64 RV and tent sites including 44 with partial hookups.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. The “Big Tree,” a massive coastal live oak estimated to be centuries old is one of the natural wonders of Texas.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a new Lodge and Conference Center. Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake is one of the closest to saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. The park has a multitude of activities to participate in that includes hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, exploring, geocaching, and paddling. Reconstruction of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, is complete and new hostel-style accommodations are available nearby as well. The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill.

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 the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. 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.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three lakes. The park’s campground offers 44 RV campsites with electricity utilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, the park is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet. In the late 1800s, Jacob Waltz emerged from this area with gold. When he died in 1891, he was found with 24 pounds of high-quality gold ore under his bed. Purportedly, before he died he left clues to the mine’s location. Needless to say, it is a haven for treasure hunters today. The Park also offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, 35 campsites, picnic facilities, and special programs throughout the year.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a scenic park with a day-use area and modern camping hook-ups. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk offers an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T”. Meaher’s campground offers 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. Four bay-side cabins (1 is handicap accessible) overlook Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.The park offers 26 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter.

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

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas. The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RV and tent camping. No water or sewer hookups are available. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking during the fall when the forest is bright with autumn colors.A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt including 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.The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Spring Is the Season to Hike Arizona State Parks

Pick a trail and lace up your boots

Attention hikers! If you’re looking for a great way to get outdoors any time of year here are some tips about the best hiking trails in Arizona’s state parks. Explore these diverse options throughout this amazingly beautiful state and cross these hikes off your bucket list.

These hiking trails offer a variety of amazing sights and experiences that range from easy to difficult and encompass a wide array of scenery, topography, and temperatures. Some of the best hikes in Arizona can be found right here. Learn more about each state park then hit the trail and have some fun!

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Look no further than Sedona’s Red Rock Country for one of the best hikes in Arizona. The 5-mile trail network consists of interconnecting loops which lead you along the lush greenery of Oak Creek and the famed red rocks of Sedona. The Eagle’s Nest Loop and the Apache Fire Loop are joined together by the Coyote Ridge Trailwhich creates one of the best trails in Arizona for family enjoyment. Eagle’s Nest is the highest point in the park (4,102 feet) with an elevation gain of 300 feet and offers amazing views of the red rock escarpments that have helped make Sedona into a worldwide destination. The park offers hikes for every skill level whether you’re going for a relaxed stroll or looking to break a sweat.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The diverse wildlife, birds and plant life you’ll encounter on a Sedona hiking adventure offer unique perspectives of this gorgeous area. While in the park, keep an eye out for the local javelina and mule deer. Numerous bird species also call Red Rock State Park home especially hummingbirds. Pick up a current bird ID list at the visitor center. Be sure to take tons of scenic photos while at this epic destination, this park lends itself very well to creative shots.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Southeast of Sedona in the Verde River Valley of Cottonwood, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers more than 20 miles of the multi-use trail system for visitors to enjoy. This park just might offer some of the best day hikes in Arizona for beginners and advanced hikers. Distinct scenic options are available for users who desire new and exciting experiences while exploring these premier Arizona hiking trails. Choose to enjoy either the higher desert scenery of the Lime Kiln trail which follows a historic route between Sedona and Cottonwood or the more densely vegetated Verde River Greenway trail.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Completed in 2006, the Lime Kiln Trail connects Red Rock State Park with Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The Lime Kiln Trail traverses a 15-mile section of Arizona’s high desert and is dedicated as a shared-use, non-motorized trail experience.

The Lime Kiln leg follows a portion of the historic Lime Kiln Wagon Road. Originally the Lime Kiln road provided access to a Kiln that was constructed in the 1800s. The Kiln was used to burn limestone to create lime used as an ingredient of the mortar needed to construct fireplaces and chimneys. Soon after the construction of the kiln, the road was extended and used as a route between Sedona and Jerome. The remains of the kiln can still be seen beside the trail.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

There are accessible trails like Native Plant, moderate trails like Treasure Loop or Prospector’s View, and trails for advanced hikers such as Siphon Draw and Flatiron. Regardless of hiking ability, there is a trail for everyone at Lost Dutchman State Park.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Four miles round trip, the Siphon Draw Trail winds up into a canyon known as Siphon Draw. It is possible to hike up the Flatiron (5.8 miles roundtrip) although it is not a designated, maintained trail all the way. It’s advised that only experienced hikers attempt to hike to the top as the climb is steep and difficult to follow.

Because of the close proximity to the Phoenix Metropolitan area, various Arizona hiking groups use the trails at Lost Dutchman for weekly hikes and meetings. There’s a path for every view, timeframe, and difficulty level, so pick a trail and take a hike.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Visitors traveling along I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. There are trails for every skill level. Wear suitable hiking boots. Gloves and plenty of water are strongly recommended.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive in to Hunter’s Peak for a strenuous two mile hike up the rocks, twisting up the iconic mountain and challenging even the most seasoned hikers or take a stroll up Calloway Trail for a less strenuous hike to an overlook as you appreciate the scenery of the Sonoran Desert. Picacho Peak offers two easy trails for families that children enjoy: the Nature trail, a 0.5-mile hike and the Children’s Cave trail, just 0.2 miles and near the park’s playground.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park just outside of Tucson is a well-known, incredibly beautiful and diverse natural area that creates a feeling of remoteness despite the close proximity to Tucson’s metropolitan center. You can hike, take a horseback ride, and bicycle on the trails surrounded by the towering Santa Catalina Mountains. There are eight trails in the park varying in length and difficulty but all with amazing views.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You never know what you’ll run into at Catalina from gorgeous desert plant life to desert tortoises and bighorn sheep; Catalina’s landscapes are always showing off and waiting to be explored. Plus, as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area (IBA), Catalina State Park is a bird-watchers’ paradise.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

10 RV Parks in the Southwest that Snowbirds Love

Stay warm this winter at one of these RV parks across the southwestern U.S.

Many RVers head south for the winter to bask in year-round sunshine.  Having the freedom of a home-on-wheels makes it easy to avoid icy roads and freezing temperatures and instead spend the season near a coastal area or exploring the Sonoran Desert.

RVing with Rex selected this list of RV parks and campgrounds from parks personally visited. Now go forth and be safe.

Palm Canyon Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, California

Located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon campground has approximately 120 campsites and six group campsites. There are 51 RV campsites with full hookups. Each campsite has a table, fire ring, and grill. Several campsites also have shade structures. Campground amenities include drinking water, flush toilets, showers, RV dump station, group camping, and hike/biking camping. Borrego Palm Canyon campground is just a few miles from the town of Borrego Springs. It is also located next to popular hiking trails (including the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail) and about a mile from the Visitor Center. Outdoor activities include biking, hiking, photography, picnicking, exploring historic sites, OHVing, and wild flower and wildlife viewing.

Indian Waters RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indian Waters RV Resort and Cottages, Indio, California

Indian Waters RV Resort is located in the Coachella Valley City of Indio, an area that includes the desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta. Recently renovated, this beautiful property has added cottages, a second pool, lighted pickleball courts, 50-amp electric and city sewer service to all sites, resurfacing of roads and sites, and enhanced Wi-Fi. Today, Indian Waters with its desirable location and numerous amenities is one of the best and most affordable, state-of-the-art RV resorts in the Coachella Valley. With 274 full service sites, Indian Waters RV Resort offers two distinct landscaping themes for its concrete level sites: grass and desert landscape. The typical RV site is approximately 35 feet wide and 60 feet deep with two concrete pads, one for your RV and one for your toad/tow vehicle.

Eagle View RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle View RV Resort, Fort McDowell, Arizona

Eagle View RV Resort is far enough away from the hustle of Phoenix and Scottsdale but still close to numerous attractions. The resort has 150 full hookup sites with beautiful views of Four Peaks, part of the Mazatzal mountain range. Amenities include a swimming pool, dog run, fitness center, complimentary pastries and coffee in the mornings and a clubhouse with an HDTV, pool table, computer room, and library. If you feel like trying your hand at blackjack or poker, Fort McDowell Casino is less than a mile up the road. The park is also a short drive from the city of Fountain Hills which is home to golf courses and one of the largest fountains in the world.

Rincon West RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rincon West RV Resort, Tucson, Arizona

Situated near the beautiful Tucson Mountains, Rincon Country West has 1100 spaces, including deluxe, pull-through RV sites, and a train depot. Amenities include full hookups with 30/50 amp electric, cable TV, free Wi-Fi, gated entry, private mailboxes, gated entry, laundry, showers, heated pool and spas, exercise room, woodworking shop, pottery room, lapidary room, card room, arts and crafts and sewing rooms, billiard room, tennis, pickleball, shuffleboard, and bocce ball.

Casa Grande RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande RV Resort, Casa Grande, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, Casa Grande RV Resort features two swimming pools including a new aerobics/volleyball pool, two pickle ball courts, Bark Park, spa with full power jets, Wi-Fi, Internet Phones (free for calls to Canada and US), computer lounge with free printing, barbeque area, fitness center, billiard room, spacious clubhouse, card room, kitchen area, and exchange library.

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Quintas Oasis RV Resort, Yuma, Arizona

Big-rig friendly, La Quintas Oasis RV Resort is a 55+ park with 460 full-service sites. Easy-on easy-off (I-8; Exit 12 on North Frontage Road) the park has wide paved streets. Pull-through sites are in the 70 foot range with ample space. Back-in sites are 60+ feet in length and 35 feet wide. La Quintas Oasis has a heated pool, hot tub, horseshoes, recreation hall, game room, planned activities, shuffleboard, exercise room, pickle ball courts, and mini golf.

Arizona Oasis RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Oasis RV Resort, Ehrenburg, Arizona

Located on the Colorado River in Ehrenberg, Arizona Oasis RV Resort is a perfect RV park getaway spot. Just across the state line from Blythe, California, Arizona Oasis is just 20 minutes from Quartzsite. Big-rig friendly the resort has over 150 RV sites on or near the Colorado River. The gated resort offers 50/30 amp service, water and sewer hookups, full-through and back-in sites, 1,000 feet of Colorado River beach, boat launch, heated pools and a spa, dog park, free Wi-Fi, and clubhouse. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa, Arizona

Usery Mountain Regional Park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors. The park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electric service, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. The park provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

Lost Dutchman State Park is your gateway to amazing Sonoran Desert experiences and memories. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located at the base of the Superstition Mountains on Apache Trail (SR-88), 5 miles northeast of Apache Junction. The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome.Five camping cabins are situated perfectly so visitors can take advantage of both the sunrise and sunset right from the porch.

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

Benefits of Nature: Exploring Lost Dutchman State Park & Tonto National Forest

With nearly three million acres there is so much to see and do

The renowned naturalist John Muir wrote that “thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature.

Lost Dutchman State Park and Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As in many states, Arizona State Parks offer great campgrounds at reasonable prices. I have chosen to focus on Lost Dutchman State Park. Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman is located in the Sonoran Desert at the base of the Superstition Mountains 40 miles east of Phoenix.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park features convenient locations for exploring the region, as well as a clean, safe campground. The paved camping sites and handicap-accessible restrooms also make the park a good choice for people with physical limitations.

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

Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron.

Depending on the year’s rainfall, you might be treated to a carpet of desert wildflowers in the spring, but there are plenty of beautiful desert plants to see year-round. Enjoy a week of camping and experience native wildlife including mule deer, coyote, javelin, and jackrabbit. A four mile mountain bike loop trail has opened at the park—this is a great way to enjoy the park’s beauty while experiencing the famed Superstition Mountains.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those who prefer a more remote setting, the U.S. Forest Service also offers a range of camping choices from developed campgrounds to dispersed camping in the middle of nowhere.

Tonto National Forest along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The national forests and grasslands are 193 million acres of vast, scenic beauty waiting to be discovered. Visitors who choose to recreate on these public lands find more than 150,000 miles of trails, 10,000 developed recreation sites, 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, and specially designated sites that include 9,100 miles of byways, 22 recreation areas, 11 scenic areas, 439 wilderness areas, 122 wild and scenic rivers, nine monuments, and one preserve.

Wildflowers at Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National forests cover 15 percent of Arizona, mostly mountains or plateaus over 6,000 feet but also large areas of desert between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Besides the varied scenic landscapes within the forests, they provide many locations for camping when exploring Arizona’s national and state parks many of which are surrounded by these public lands.

Bartlett Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto is the largest and most varied of the six national forests in Arizona with terrain ranging from the cactus-covered Sonoran Desert around Phoenix to pine clad mountains along the Mogollon Rim. Highways 87, 188, and 260 are the main routes across the region though most is rough and accessed only by 4WD tracks. The forest also includes rocky canyons, grassy plains, rivers, and man-made lakes including Bartlett and Theodore Roosevelt.

On Peralta Trail in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At over 2.9 million acres, Tonto features some of the most rugged and inherently beautiful land in the country. Sonoran Desert cacti and flat lands slowly give way to the highlands of the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude—from 1,300 to 7,900 feet—offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or cool pine forest.

Peridot Mesa in San Carlos Indian Reservation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tonto is one of the most-visited “urban” forests in the United States with 3 million visitors annually. The forest’s boundaries are Phoenix to the south, the Mogollon Rim to the north and the San Carlos and Fort Apache Indian reservations to the east. 

Peridot Mesa in San Carlos Indian Reservation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During winter months, snowbirds flock to Arizona to share the multi-hued stone canyons and Sonoran Desert environments with Arizona residents. In the summer, visitors seek refuge from the heat at the Salt and Verde rivers and their chain of six man-made lakes. Visitors also head to the high country to camp amidst the cool shade of tall pines and fish the meandering trout streams under the Mogollon Rim.

Along Bush Highway in Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight Wilderness Areas encompassing more than 589,300 acres protect the unique natural character of the land. In addition, portions of the Verde River have been designated by Congress as Arizona’s first and only Wild and Scenic River Area.

First aid kit to the rescue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pack a first aid kit. Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting, or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen. Tailor your kit to your family’s special needs.

Tonto National Forest near Cave Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring emergency supplies. In addition to a first aid kit, you should also have a map of the area, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets, and insect repellant.

Remember: You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of those around you.

Worth Pondering…

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.

—John Muir

The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lakeside retreats! Historical gems! Secluded campsites!

From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.

Arizona State Parks Dashboard

Fast Facts

Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958

Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)

Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)

Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)

Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)

Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)

Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)

Parks Pass

Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance

Fees: $10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.

Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird Journal

Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.

Notable Flora

The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.

Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma

Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Dead Horse State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.

Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park

This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.

Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.

Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.

Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Where to Stay

You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.

Location: I-10 at Exit 219, Eloy

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.

Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Animal Encounters

When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.

Before You Go

Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.

Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.

Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone

Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac

Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Along the Verde River Greenway Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area

This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Location: 2011-B Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: None

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.

Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937