The Best of Zion

Zion National Park brims with awe-inspiring views and outdoor adventures

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers settled in what is now known as Zion National Park in southern Utah. When they arrived they thought it to be so beautiful, holy with its towering natural cathedrals made of rock that they called it Zion, a nod to Little Zion found in the Bible’s Old Testament. To them, it was a sacred dwelling. It still holds sacred reverence to those who visit it today and is without a doubt one of America’s most beloved national parks.

I will leave the story of the history of the park to another time and focus on what we know best: places to explore when visiting the heavenly landscape. I’ve been to Zion several times and managed to pick up some new spots on each visit. Without further ado, here are my picks for the best of Zion.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a gem of a hike in Zion. This is definitely one of the best hikes at Zion. It’s short, it’s fun, and it takes you to an awesome viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon. It’s also the ideal sunset hike for those who love canyon views but aren’t up to navigating the famous—and more treacherous—Angel’s Landing hike. This is a hike that is perfect for all ages and ability levels. If this is your first or even your second time in Zion put the Canyon Overlook Trail on your list of things to do.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angel’s Landing and West Rim Trail

Angel’s Landing is THE classic Zion hike and one of the world’s most famous hikes. The first four miles bring hikers along the West Rim Trail that leads to Scout’s Lookout from where you can take in the views while deciding whether you have the guts and desire to brave the final one-mile climb along the narrow canyon spine with support chains in hand to the landing.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This last section is not for those who fear heights, exposure, and crowds while at serious heights while facing exposure. Fatalities are not common but they have occurred and like all hikes and adventures in any national park safety is the responsibility of the traveler.

Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable climbing a cliff-face (you are not alone). You can still enjoy the hike along the West Rim Trail. There are incredible views the entire way up to Scout’s Landing—the switchbacks criss-crossing the valley floor are incredibly photogenic. This is not a trail for people with a fear of heights or small children.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Emerald Pools

This is a choose-your-own-adventure area in the park with three main hikes among lush vegetation leading to different water features at each. At an elevation gain of 623 feet, parts of it are quite steep so make sure you wear sturdy shoes and bring lots of water.

The lower pool is perfect for those desiring a relaxed wander and for those with strollers and wheelchairs ending at a collection of mountain streams and small pools. The middle trail is a more moderate hike gaining 150 feet leading to an overlook of the pools found on the lower trail and small waterfalls, and the upper pool is a strenuous climb up 350 feet to a waterfall that streams down from a cliff.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Narrows

Zion: a river runs through it. For millions of years, the Virgin River has been carving its way through layers of rock forming the Zion Narrows. And you can walk on water through the Virgin River while exploring it. This is an iconic hike in the park and it is easy to know why after braving it. Decked out in a dry suit—Zion Outfitter in the nearby town of Springdale can hook you up with water-repellent gear and info—you will make way on foot along a 30-mile wide riverbed beneath limestone canyon walls towering 1,000 feet above the way early explorers and natives once did.

There is no trail so-to-speak, the trail is the riverbed. Sublime! Permits are required and water level and weather are factors in whether or not a visit there is possible as flash floods in the park occur often during peak season and are a danger.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riverside Walk Trail

If you’re not ready to commit to The Narrows hike above, you can still enjoy some of the epic views of Zion’s scenic Virgin River as it cuts through the stunning canyon on this easy riverside walk.

This hike begins at the shuttle stop 9 (Temple of Sinawava) which is located at the end of the Scenic Highway. From there, you’ll make your way along a concrete path between the Virgin River and a steep canyon wall. (Side trails along the river make a nice alternative for strolling in more solitude.)

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Observation Point

Observation Point provides one of the best views in Zion National Park but is underrated compared to Angels Landing and the Narrows. This trail is perfect for those who want to avoid the crowds at Angels Landing but still want incredible views. From the Observation Point summit, you look across Zion Canyon. You can even look down upon Angels Landing.

This trail is incredibly strenuous with some steep drop-offs. The most popular route starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead. You’ll climb steep switchbacks from the start-up to Echo Canyon, the perfect shaded spot for a rest.

After passing through this shaded area you’ll climb along sheer cliff edges to the top of Zion Canyon. After the climb, you’ll be rewarded with views from the top of Observation Point, the best in the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watchman Trail

Guarding the park’s southern entrance, the Watchman is arguably the most iconic scene and provides some of the best sunset photography. There is a 3-mile trail leading to a lookout of the towering peak but this entry refers to the viewpoint as seen from Canyon Junction with the Virgin River winding right through the middle of the scene.

The hike ends with a phenomenal view of the Temples, Towers, and lower Zion Canyon. You can see Watchman Peak from here as well and all of Springdale below. Hikers rave about the quality of the light and epic views in the early morning here.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pa’rus Trail

The Pa’rus Trail is one of the newer and most accessible trails in Zion National Park. It is the only trail in Zion open to bicycles and pets and is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible trails in the park. Starting at the South Campground just north of the Visitor Center, this wide, paved trail skirts the Virgin River in the flat and open lower section of Zion Canyon and ends at the Canyon Junction. This trail is great for a leisurely stroll at sunrise or sunset and you are likely to see big and small wildlife from butterflies and birds to mule deer.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel

Driving the 6-mile Mt. Carmel Highway through the park provides visitors easy access to viewpoints while offering that winding-road experience. It is easily accessible throughout the park’s most popular area and the richly brick-colored highway with canary-yellow stripes plays really well visually against the soft color of the canyons.  

A few miles along the highway past the Visitor Center you will cross through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel, completed in 1930, a landmark with a rich history that at the same time allows modern travelers like us passage THROUGH a mile of canyon in what feels like the dark of night.  

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolob Canyon

Zion’s popularity certainly draws in the crowds and for some people this can be a bit overwhelming. For a pleasant escape from the busyness take a trip to the far side of the park and the Kolob Canyons.

This lesser-visited area is almost as spectacular as the main area of the park. Deep canyons and stunning scenery will leave you awed. The most popular activity and the one that provides the most reward for the least amount of energy is the five-mile Kolob Canyons Road. Strategically placed viewpoints afford incredible views out over the surrounding countryside.

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those interested in venturing off on a hiking trail several good options exist. Of the 10-plus hikes available one not to be missed is the Timber Creek Overlook. This one-mile trek is easy with wonderful views along the way and especially at the end.

Kolob Canyons is about an hour from the main park gates. You’ll need to head back out to Interstate 15, head north, and take exit 40. The exit is well marked with National Park signs.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping

There are full-service RV parks outside the park gate but camping within the park is a whole other experience. Watching birds and wildlife flitting about the campgrounds, sitting around a fire ring in the evening, and peering up at the night sky creates a different set of memories than simply exploring Zion by day.

Watchman Campground and South Campground are the two main camping areas in the park and both offer beautiful natural surroundings and well-spaced sites. These two campgrounds are close to each other near the West Gate entrance to the park.

A third much smaller and more isolated campground is located in a separate section of the park at almost 8,000 feet. This is Lava Point Campground on Kolob Terrace Road about 50 minutes from the Zion Canyon section of the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More great places to explore in Utah:

Worth Pondering…

It is a place where a family can rest at streamside after a pleasant morning hike.

It is a vast labyrinth of narrow canyons where one can become hopelessly lost, shrinking to invisibility beneath dark, towering walls of stone.

One may feel triumph and exhilaration, or awesome smallness atop Angels Landing; thirst and fatigue, or a rewarding weariness, on the return trek from the backcountry.

Perhaps one’s view of Zion is in the eyes of the beholder.

—Wayne L. Hamilton, The Sculpturing of Zion

Outside the Mighty 5

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Utah’s much more than The Mighty 5. Sure, its famous national parks—Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park—are must-sees but spectacular scenes don’t end at the parks’ boundaries. 

Just beyond their star-studded borders, you’ll find equally-impressive red-rock slot canyons, sandstone cliffs, and limestone plateaus. What these less-popular locales lack in national designation they make up for with easy access, peaceful meandering, and uninterrupted wilderness delight. 

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

Famous: Capitol Reef National Park

Nearby fave: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes, and seemingly endless Slickrock. This area is also remote with fewer services than national parks so ensure you’re prepared to keep yourself safe.

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

The monument is a geologic sampler with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Hike highlights include Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Famous: Zion National Park

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby fave: Sand Hollow State Park and Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with a rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Bryce Canyon National Park

Nearby fave: Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

“Stumbled upon.” “By accident.” “Surprised by.” That’s how some visitors happen to find Red Canyon. As Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known neighbor road travelers encounter Red Canyon en route to the national park and stun them when Scenic Byway 12 runs directly through two red-rock arch tunnels.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding highway displays orange-red pinnacles, spires, columns, and hoodoos. These limestone and sandstone formations line the road making it easy for drivers to stop for photo ops. But for those looking to stay longer, Red Canyon offers camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and off-roading.

Anchored by the town of Panguitch, Red Canyon makes up a small part of Dixie National Forest’s 170-mile wide nature preserve.

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

Famous: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Nearby fave: Dead Horse Point State Park

Oh, the views! The panorama from Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Driving to each of the park’s many overlooks reveals a completely different perspective into Utah’s vast canyon country. The park is a slender peninsula of land extending off the massive plateau that is home to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district.

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

The park sits above the beautiful White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park and offers views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains to the south, and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. The area got its name from its use as a natural horse corral around the turn of the century. According to legend, some horses died of exposure on the plateau.

A visitor center and art gallery provide a good primer to the park’s geology and key features visible from the many overlooks. The visitor center parking lot also serves as an excellent starting point to access the 16.6 miles of non-motorized single-track mountain biking and eight miles of hiking trails that sprawl across the park.

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

Reserve a campsite or yurt at any one of Dead Horse Point State Park campgrounds. Take in the spectacular star show from this International Dark Sky Park.

Get more tips for visiting Dead Horse Point State Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac

Bryce Canyon National Park: “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow”

At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of a human to heights exceeding a 10-story building

The Bryce Canyon landscape is unique—entirely different than nearby Zion as well as other Utah national parks—partly attributed to its high elevation location ranging from 8,000-9,000 feet. The air is thinner up here, the environment colder, and the wind much, much stronger—elements that come together to create an otherworld on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stepping onto any lookout, you are challenged to connect with a most amazing example of the forces of nature affecting this planet and at the same time, you will almost certainly feel as though you are stepping foot onto the edge of another world. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For this article, I want to highlight a few different ideas that will deliver a diverse experience in Bryce—where to drive, stay, hug some trees, and go for the big adventure—with the caveat that at this one-of-a-kind national park, there is nothing more spectacular than the red rock nation that sprawls across Utah’s high desert on the Colorado Plateau. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Drive

Hitting the scenic auto-trails in the national parks is often the best place to start gaining an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon National Park: 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside of the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the recently renovated 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. Any non-park-related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic Site in the Park

There is no view in this park more classic than a sunset view from Sunset Point. It is located just one mile beyond the National Park Visitor Center and access to the overlook is just footsteps from the parking lot. If you look just below and to the left, you will find another iconic landmark: Thor’s Hammer—famed for its unique balanced rock and isolationist position among the larger network of hoodoos that surround it. This area is also stellar for birdwatching (shout out to our bird-ninja friends)! Swallows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Stellar Jays, hawks, and Ravens all soar in the skies catching air from the thermal cliff sides.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hug Some Trees

The forested areas surrounding the national park cross three “life zones” that change with variant elevation gains. In the lower regions, you will find dwarf forests (juniper, pinyon pine, manzanita, aspen, willow, and birch) growing along streams. In the mid-elevations, Ponderosa pine, spruce, and Douglas fir forests thrive. On the high plateau, spruce, aspen, Douglas and white fir continue. At Rainbow Point located at the end of the scenic drive, you can spot the toughest tree on Earth: the ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine, a species categorized among the oldest living organisms on the planet.

Accessible Adventure

Wandering the Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point travels across one 1-mile of flat trail hugging the amphitheater where gorgeous, sprawling views abound! With a large parking lot, restroom facilities, and a paved pathway leading to and fro, this is a great spot for people of all ages and with all levels of overall health to enjoy the storied views of Bryce Canyon. The Rim Trail extends 5.5-miles from Bryce Point to Fairyland with occasional steep elevation changes.  

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Adventure

Hiking through the hoodoos along the Navajo Loop Trail to the Queens Garden Trail allows hikers to choose their adventure along intersecting networks that weave throughout more challenging sections of the inner canyons but with easy access to trailheads at both Sunset and Inspiration Points. This is a moderate outing at just under 3 miles.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those looking to go longer, the Peekaboo Trail (5.5 miles) and Under-The-Rim Trail near Rainbow Point (22 miles) lead trekkers farther into the backcountry. As always, get backcountry guidance at the National Park Visitor Center.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

10 Amazing Places to RV in September 2022

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

Live for each second without hesitation.

—Elton John

Elton John certainly hasn’t wasted any time in his decades-long career. He’s one of the bestselling artists of all time with more than 300 million records sold worldwide across an impressive 31 albums—including seven consecutive No. 1 albums in the U.S.

Along with his music, John is famous for his flamboyant style; he has done more for crystal-covered costumes and oversized glasses than arguably any other person alive. Today, in his mid-70s, the Rocket Man is still going strong. He plans to stop touring in 2023 but has no intentions of slowing down. As he explained to CBS News, “I want to do something different with the rest of my life.” 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

September always feels like a reset. Summer isn’t technically over until later in the month but unofficially… we feel the shift. The temperatures are cooling and the days are growing shorter.

That doesn’t mean that the excitement of summer travel has to abruptly end. In fact, September is actually the best time to visit many popular destinations especially national parks. The shoulder season brings fewer crowds and lower temps with more accessibility and, in some cases, a display of early fall colors.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in July and August. Also, check out my recommendations for September 2021 and October 2021.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start a mile high, finish a mile high, and climb a mountain in the middle. This central Arizona route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon, the road is visually and physically enclosed by vegetation and canyon walls. Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the magic on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The misty blue hills beckon. The road twists and turns along the spine of a billion-year-old mountain range and in the fall months the beauty of the drive is magnified tenfold by the blaze of autumn leaves. They call the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive,” a roadway of mountain vistas, history, and recreation.

Mabry Mill, Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tracing the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains chains, the 469-mile ridgetop route is known for its unspoiled setting and its easy access to wildlife and nature. There are countless scenic overlooks, campgrounds, and not a single stop sign. Busy in the fall, the parkway is famous for its splash of autumn colors. Stop for homemade blackberry cobbler at the historic Mabry Mill (milepost 176).

Eight National Park Service campgrounds are located along the parkway. None have hookups although most can accommodate larger-size RVs. Many neighboring communities have private campgrounds with full RV hookups and amenities. Especially in the fall, it’s a good idea to make campsite reservations. In addition, check driving routes before heading out to ensure a safe match for driving conditions and RV size. The website blueridgeparkway.org lists all 26 tunnels and their maximum height.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Georgia’s Only Bavarian Village

Step back in time in Alpine Helen, known for its Oktoberfest celebrations and shops, restaurants, and hotels with Bavarian-inspired buildings.

Alpine Helen’s Oktoberfest celebrations have been going on for more than 50 years involving multiple weeks of traditional dancing, food, and, of course, beer from September to November. Held in the city’s riverside Festhalle, the permanent home of the festivities, the celebration is the longest-running of its kind in the United States.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Revelers dress in traditional attire, lederhosen, and dirndls while dancing to the polka. Find out for yourself what makes this tradition so unique by planning your trip to the event!

If you’re not visiting during Oktoberfest (51st annual; September 8-October 30, 2022), you can still enjoy seasonal tubing through operators like Helen Tubing & Waterpark and Cool River Tubing. Ride the thrilling Georgia Mountain Coaster down the mountain or see the forest at nearby state parks like Smithgall Woods and Unicoi.

There are also restaurants serving traditional German fares like Hofer’s known for pastries and sandwiches. The Troll Tavern has the best patio in town with burgers and bratwursts.

For a drink, head to the Alpine Brew Deck which has a menu of craft beer and wine as well as live music and river views. Habersham Winery is the closest winery to town and offers tastings.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks

Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty Five,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Stretching 105 miles across Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive offers 75 overlooks, picnic areas, and trails, best enjoyed during peak foliage from late September to mid-November. If you’re making a day trip of it, pick one of the 30-mile stretches such as Front Royal to Thornton Gap where you can stop at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Hiking enthusiasts can head to Mary’s Rock for 360-degree views or enjoy a more leisurely lookout by driving to Pinnacles Overlook perched at 3,320 feet. The area offers numerous wineries such as Little Washington Winery and Quievremont Vineyard and Winery where you can enjoy the views while nibbling on cheese and sipping wine.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg—known for its historic German charm and stone buildings—sits in the heart of Texas wine country. The city is a year-round destination: Oktoberfest is a no-brainer in the fall but the holidays make Fredericksburg look like a gingerbread village.

Texas Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many Fredericksburg RV parks and campgrounds are within minutes of historic Main Street and major attractions while others are located in nearby municipal and state parks. Choose from Fredericksburg RV Park, The Vineyards of Fredericksburg RV Park, Texas Wine Country Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, Oakwood RV Resort, and Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.

Then, meander the wine route—with more than 50 local wineries—check out the farm stands, learn about the city’s pioneer history, and shop and dine along Main Street. After dark, nearby Lyndon B. Johnson State Park is a designated International Dark Sky Park while the one-of-a-kind Luckenbach General Store, Bar & Dancehall hosts a nightly picker’s circle.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drink in the wine and sunshine in the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 170-mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars, and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley Steam Railway and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home to the Miraculous Staircase

When the Loretto Chapel (Santa Fe, New Mexico) was completed in 1878 there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena (devotional prayer) to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself having come in answer to the sisters’ prayers.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stairway’s carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway’s construction.

Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including Unsolved Mysteries and the television movie titled The Staircase.

The nearby Cathedral of St. Francis is also worth a stop as are the Spanish Mission attractions.

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corning Museum of Glass

The glass collections at this offbeat museum in upstate New York are intriguing but it’s the striking 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing that has visitors planning a trip to the Finger Lakes for more than just wine and waterfalls. Live glass-blowing demos are available daily and current exhibitions include Fire and Vine, the history of glass and wine from the grapes of Romans to bacchanal experiences in modern culture. Fire and Vine: The Story of Glass and Wine is scheduled to open in 2022.

In addition to the museum’s ongoing Innovation Center and the Jerome and Lucille Strauss Study Gallery with objects spanning 3,500 years of glass making across the world. Stay for the make-your-own-glass projects available to everyone.

Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panoramic Ocean Views & Gilded Age Mansions

The Cliff Walk along the eastern shore of Newport is famous as a public access walk that combines the natural beauty of the Newport shoreline with the architectural history of Newport’s gilded age. Wildflowers, birds, and geology all add to this delightful walk. What makes Cliff Walk unique is that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District.

The Breakers near the Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1975 the walk was designated as a National Recreation Trail—the 65th in the nation and first in New England. The walk runs 3.5 miles and about two-thirds of the walk is in easy walking condition. Parts of the southern half of the walk are a rough trail over the natural and rugged New England rocky shoreline. Walkers need to be especially careful and alert in these challenging areas.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Mighty 5

All of these locations add up to unbelievable choices for hiking trails that would take more than a lifetime to complete. So, it’s time to get hiking.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”

—Henry David Thoreau

There are thousands of miles of great hiking trails throughout Utah. Some trails are most well-suited to rugged, multi-day backpacking, but there are innumerable “out and back” and “loop” hikes ranging from quick trots to stunning formations, and moderate paths than can be done in a few hours to full-day explorations.

Head to southern Utah where there are five national parks in a relatively small area. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park are all located here.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tips

Before setting out on any hike, check with local rangers or guidebooks about a hike’s difficulty ratings, descriptions, and cautionary advice.

Always carry plenty of water in both the deserts and mountains. Each person should carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. For a full-day hike, that adds up to one full gallon per person. It’s important to keep hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Bring plenty of high-energy snacks that will help keep your energy up back to your car.

Practice Leave No Trace principles along the trail and respect nature’s desired and needed permanence.

Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park Hiking Trails

A day of hiking in Arches National Park pairs world-famous landmark views with a humbling sense of respect for the desolate stretches of sandstone formations. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Primitive Loop

Found within the park’s Devil’s Garden, Primitive Loop is a fantastic longer hike. The eight-mile trail will help stretch your legs while showcasing a brilliant section of Arches National Park.

The entire garden is a labyrinth of trails that burst off in a variety of directions. But the main trail takes you along thin ledges and some tricky but thrilling rock scrambling with rock cairns guiding the way. Some of the many arches you’ll see along the hike include the gorgeous Double O Arch and Private Arch. Double O is the second biggest in Devil’s Garden with one being 71 feet wide and the other 21.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Delicate Arch

Starting at Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot, this 3-mile moderate trail takes you to the most beloved parts of Arches National Park. In a park full of natural arches, this one stands alone, free-standing, and utterly breathtaking.

Owing to its length and popularity, the trail can get crowded. It’s one worth getting up at the crack of dawn for sunrise or waiting patiently for sunset. This will help you avoid the crowds while also seeing the arch at the best times of the day. As anyone who’s been around a desert sky would know, the clear horizon, open sky, and arid colors combine to create a kaleidoscopic world of lights and shadows that will fuel you for the rest of your trip.

Park Avenue, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Park Avenue Trail

The natural arches may bring in travelers from around the world but the park’s wide range of intricate rock formations will linger long in your memory. An easy way to see some of the strangest and sometimes confusing formations, hike the Park Avenue Trail.

The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Start with the brief trek to Park Avenue with the beguiling rocks reminding hikers of a city’s downtown. Then walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers.

Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.

The Three Gossips, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Windows Primitive Loop (1 mile): A relatively short hike where you’ll find three separate arch formations
  • Double Arch (.8 mile): One of the most popular hikes in the park, this short trail ends beneath a spectacular arch
  • Broken Arch (2 miles): Another popular loop trail that leads hikers through a sandstone arch
  • Landscape Arch (1.6 miles): Consider this trail a must-do hike to see the largest arch in Arches National Park; plus, two more arches are easily reached with a short side trip
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park Hiking Trails

Canyonlands National Park is an enormous region; in fact, it’s the largest national park in Utah. As a result, the park is divided into three regions: The Needles, Island in the Sky, and The Maze. The Needles District is the park’s hub for well-developed trails and the most popular place to hike. Island in the Sky offers similarly groomed trails, but now they’re nestled high atop a mesa that’s wedged between the Colorado and Green rivers. Last but not least, The Maze is a desolate and disconnected region (there are no services within 50 miles in any direction), and a classic destination for experienced backpackers.

No matter which region of the park you visit first, consider adding these great hiking trails to your next trip itinerary.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Druid Arch Trail

In the Needles District, the 10.8-mile moderate trail takes you off the beaten path. The entire district is great for overnight hiking and this is its crown jewel.

The primitive trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead. Follow the cairns which guide you through a slot canyon before turning right towards Chesler Park. The remoteness of the trail means every blind turn offers a surprise and a magnificent view. You’ll feel like you’re exploring and not merely hiking.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Mesa Arch Trail

The iconic hike is only 0.5 miles long and will see some crowds compared to other longer treks. However, it’s worth braving and if you want, come at sunrise for an even more memorable hike.

Mesa Arch could be a rival to Delicate Arch for the most beautiful arch in Utah. At sunrise, the sun peeks through the gap shining sections of the desert in light, the rest becoming a gorgeous silhouette. For an even better vista, head to the left of the arch for a short rock scramble. This will provide a complete view without the frame of the arch.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Murphy Point Trail

Covering 3.6 miles with little elevation, the Murphy Point Trail follows the canyon’s rim with vibrant desert views. The trail begins in a desert field leading up to the canyon. The views continue to get better until you find yourself on the precipice. Then turn and follow the rim. Along the way, you’ll look over the rolling Green River, the White Rim Road, and the impeccable Candlestick Tower. Complete the trek at sunset with a headlamp handy for the best experience.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Island in the Sky region:

  • Aztec Butte (2 miles): A somewhat challenging climb to a scenic viewpoint in the Island in the Sky area where you’ll see ancestral Puebloan structures called granaries
  • Upheaval Dome Overlook (1.6 miles): A short, steep hike to get the best view of perhaps the most interesting geological feature in Utah
  • Grand View Point (2 miles): An easy day hike to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking canyon country
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Needles region:

  • Cave Spring (.6 mile): An opportunity to learn about the park’s cultural history and desert plant life on a short hike
  • Pothole Point (.6 mile): A short, educational hike about what life was like in desert potholes; great for families with small children
  • Slickrock Foot Trail (2.4 miles): A scenic trip through the geology of the park; this trail stays high and gives a great overall perspective of the entire southeastern corner of Canyonlands National Park
Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails

The seemingly endless stretch of cliffs you’ll see at Capitol Reef are beholden to The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long ripple on earth’s surface. Millions of years ago, a faultline shift caused a series of uplifts, ultimately creating the daunting stretch of cliffs and canyons you see today. Nowadays hikers from around the world visit the park to experience the geologically spectacular landscape from an easily accessed network of hiking trails.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cohab Canyon Trail

The gilded Cohab Canyon features honeycomb walls mixed with reds, oranges, and oxidized iron. It’s arguably the most multi-faceted canyon in Capitol Reef National Park. Its captivating beauty was once home to the many wives of the polygamists in Fruita.

As you walk along the 3.4-mile return trail, the canyon makes way for mini archways and dramatic hoodoos that exist within the Kayenta Formation. To lengthen the hike, join a duo of trails that lead to views above the Fremont River and Fruita.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Cassidy Arch Trail

You don’t have to go to Arches to admire nature’s incredible engineering. The moderate trail is 3.4 miles long and takes you to the famous Cassidy Arch.

The hike is beautiful throughout, guiding you along the edge of a canyon with plenty of epic views. Just be warned, you’ll often walk alongside a large drop-off.

The arch isn’t just a beautiful sight; it’s one of the few you can walk across. The memorable experience is sure to get the heart racing but will make for some amazing photos.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Those seeking a true adventure should consider the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The 14.8-mile, difficult trail takes you by arches, through narrow slot canyons, and along an elevated rim.

The trail follows the canyon as it carves its way through the Waterpocket Fold showcasing Wingate and Navajo sandstone along the winding canyon. The rock has eroded creating a swath of interesting formations from arches to honeycombs.

The trail meanders through narrow canyons and by slip rock to dramatic views. The trail is marked by cairns but a map is recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Capitol Gorge (1 mile): A quick hike through a beautiful, deep canyon that leads hikers to historic inscriptions from pioneers and miners
  • Grand Wash (2.2 miles): A trailhead at the end of The Grand Wash Scenic Drive leads hikers into a deep canyon with spectacular narrows
  • Fremont River Trail (1 mile): While not too long, this hike starts easy but gets relatively steep; expect impressive views of the Fremont River with every step
  • Hickman Natural Bridge Trail (.9 mile): One of the park’s most popular trails, hikers will see artifacts of the Fremont people and an impressive 133-foot long natural arch
The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park Hiking Trails

Hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best ways to see the park’s famous hoodoos, spires, and sandstone fins. An interconnected network of trails makes it easy to keep hiking all day where trails branch off toward new landmarks and discoveries all without ever straying too far from the park’s main road. Whether you’re a family of adventurers or venturing into a solo backpacking expedition, Bryce Canyon’s trails won’t disappoint.

The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Rim Trail

To see a lot of the park on a single trek, put on your hiking boots and explore the Rim Trail. 11 miles return, the moderate trail comes with a steep incline to begin. But once you’re at elevation, you’ll have splendid, heart-stopping views in every direction.

Start at Bryce Canyon Point which you can reach on the park’s shuttle. The highlight of the experience is capturing the Bryce Amphitheater in all its glory. Hike into the amphitheater on one of three hikes or continue to admire more of the trail’s prismatic topography.

Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Bryce Point to Sunrise Point

This 8-mile moderate hiking trail provides many of the park’s intriguing geological wonders in one place. The trail begins with a beautiful trek to Sunset Point. After your walk at elevation, descend into the famous amphitheater via the Navajo Loop Trail. Venture down into the aptly named Wall Street with sandstone spires soaring left and right.

The magical vistas continue to get better as you trek beside the hoodoos along the brilliant Queen’s Garden Trail. Here, the rock monuments soar through the pines before being replaced by the Two Bridges Hoodoo. Eventually, you’ll reach Sunrise Point for an awe-inspiring view.

Fairyland Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fairyland Loop Trail

Beginning at Fairyland Point, a stop along the shuttle route, the Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the best day hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. Covering 8 moderate miles, the trail will take you to Sunset Point for an enthralling golden hour.

The trail takes you by many spectacular hoodoos but the real highlight is Tower Bridge. Named after the famous bridge in London, the natural phenomenon stands imposingly above the rest of this unforgettable landscape. For many, this is a common turnaround point.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles): A popular trail that makes a short 1- to 2-hour loop from the rim at Sunset Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon; the trail visits favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer
  • Queens Garden Trail (1.8 miles): A short trail descending below the canyon rim that takes hikers to fascinating rock formations including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle, and Queen Elizabeth herself
  • Bristlecone Loop Trail (1 mile): A short loop that stays entirely above the canyon rim as it traverses a subalpine fir forest; the trail is named after the bristlecone pine trees, the oldest tree species in the world which is found more frequently along this trail than along other trails in Bryce Canyon
  • Connector Trails (2 to 4 miles): A series of short “connector” trails that take hikers from the canyon rim to various points along the Under the Rim Trail
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park Hiking Trails

Zion carries a reputation as a bucket list destination for adventurous trail seekers around the world. Here you can gaze down the commanding Zion Canyon from atop Angels Landing, reconnect with nature on a multi-day backpacking expedition, or visit one-of-a-kind destinations like Emerald Pools via easily accessed day hikes. However you imagine a perfect day hiking, Zion National Park has the trails to fill your itinerary. To start planning your trip, browse the park’s trails below.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The East Rim Trail

For an epic full-day trek, don’t look past Zion’s East Rim Trail. The lengthy 22 miles will have you working up a sweat as you venture deep into the park exploring every inch of the eastern canyon. The hike is rated as moderate to difficult.

You can start in two different spots with the East Entrance being the most common. From there, trek up and down into the spectacular Echo Canyon. In the other direction, you’ll hit the fascinating Weeping Rock first.

To get here, jump off at Shuttle Stop 7 readying your legs for 2,400 feet of ascent up the side of Echo Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Narrows

Zion National Park was carved by the Virgin River. The Narrows Trail takes you along the water, deep into the intricate slot canyon. As you wander beside and sometimes through the river, the walls of the canyon rise to either side, curling and rising above your head.

The vibrant colors of the rock cover all shades of browns, reds, oranges, and yellows with some black scars added for good measure. The trek is a sensory experience with each splash of water echoing along the trail.

You can hike the moderate to difficult trail in either direction with a popular choice being the 16 miles down to Chamberlain Ranch to camp overnight. Before arriving at Zion, you’ll need to grab a permit for this hike.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Emerald Pools Trail

The Angels Landing hike may be one of the most popular in the United States. But it’s been written and walked to oblivion. The Emerald Pools trail is an underrated, easy-to-moderate hike that’s as fun for adventurers as it is for families.

The trail’s name promises a certain type of natural grandeur and it certainly delivers. Along the short 3-mile trek, you’ll enjoy a trio of emerald pools sparking under the Utah sun. You’ll reach the first pool in a single mile, one that also features a breathtaking waterfall. A brief stroll will take you to the Middle Emerald Pools Falls, one that will have you sitting and admiring the views for a while yet.

Those feeling adventurous can add in some light scrambling to reach the Upper Emerald Pools. To reach the trailhead, make your way to Shuttle Stop 5.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Northgate Peaks Trail (4.2 miles roundtrip): This family-friendly hike offers expansive views of Zion and makes for an excellent summer route due to its high elevation
  • Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles): This easy out-and-back is not only one of the park’s most pleasant strolls, but the paved trail is also open to dogs on-leash, cyclists, and is wheelchair accessible
  • Riverside Walk/Gateway to The Narrows (2.2 miles): A short, paved stroll along the Virgin River to the stunning mouth of Zion’s iconic slot canyon

Worth Pondering…

I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.

—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Summer 2022: 18 Best Things to Do in America

From exploring a hippie paradise to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 18 best things to do in the US this summer. Your US bucket list just got (a lot) longer …

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within the US and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Along Route 66 in Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Location: Oatman to Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic highways in the world. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Admire Breathtaking Red Rock in Sedona

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails in Red Rock State Park and the renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks

Location: Utah

Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty 5,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Location: Woodstock, New York

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Plunge into the Depths of the Earth at Carlsbad Caverns

Location: Carlsbad, New Mexico

Descend nearly 800 feet below ground into a series of completely dark, breathtaking caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden within the remote parts of southeastern New Mexico. More than just a cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a completely immersive experience. Beginning with a several-mile descent from the cave opening, travelers will emerge into massive caverns full of magnificent rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and more. The paved decline is steep but accessible for most people. There is also an elevator available to transport visitors as needed.

Chihuly glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Observe Stunning Artwork at Chihuly Garden and Glass

Location: Seattle, Washington

At Chihuly Garden and Glass, vibrant colors and organic shapes come together in spectacular visual exhibits. The long-term exhibition features a Garden, theater, eight galleries, and the breathtaking Glasshouse. The impressive glass art was fashioned by the institution’s namesake, Dale Chihuly, a prolific and talented artist.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way. Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mississippi Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Location: Ocean Springs, Mississippi

This quaint, coastal town along the Gulf Coast is the perfect small-town beach getaway. The Mississippi Gulf Coast advertises itself as “The Secret Coast,” and Ocean Springs is a treasure. The quiet town has white sand beaches, a vibrant art scene, and a beautiful downtown area with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Every fall, Ocean Springs hosts the famed Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival but during the rest of the year, visitors can get a taste of the art scene at multiple galleries and museums in the area. If you’re looking for a summer 2022 beach getaway with a side of history and culture, then Ocean Springs is for you.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Wander Cobblestone Streets and Shoreline in Charleston

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

It’s easy to be transported back in time while exploring Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina. Bordering the cobblestone streets are enormous trees and centuries-old Colonial and Victorian homes. Horse-drawn carriages clop through the moss-draped historic district. You can wade in Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or through waves on Folly Beach. Over on Wadmalaw Island, Deep Water Vineyards offers six tasting pours and a souvenir glass for just $15. Even better, the top attraction in Charleston is the ambiance, free of charge.  

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Cortez, Colorado

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Explore an Active Volcano at Mount Saint Helens

Location: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

If you want to explore an active volcano, go to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. There are several visitor centers in the area for people who want a deep dive into the mountain’s fascinating geological history. They help tell the story of the eruption in the ’80s that gave Mount St Helens its distinctive crater-shaped top. 

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Climb a Mountain 

Location: Mount Lemmon, Catalina Highway/Sky Island Scenic Byway

Mount Lemmon, an oasis in the middle of the desert, is 20 degrees cooler than Tucson on average. Driving up the mountain, the plants slowly change from cactus and shrubs to oak and ponderosa pines. The area offers hiking, camping, and fishing. While you are up there, consider stopping by the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for cookies, pizza, chili, and sandwiches. While you’re at 9,000 feet, check out the Arizona stars at the Mount Lemmon Skycenter.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tube down the Guadalupe River

Location: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas Hill Country

Tubing down the Guadalupe River is about as Texan as it gets, and this state park welcomes you with four miles of river frontage. Just one hour from San Antonio and two hours from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is also one of the more popular camping destinations in the state, particularly during the summertime when swimming in its cool waters is extra appealing for families and kids. When you’re not tubing, paddling, or taking a dip, embark on its hiking and biking trails. 

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Escape to San Antonio’s Riverwalk

Location: San Antonio, Texas

A century ago it started as a flood management project, but today San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a flourishing urban waterway and one of the most cherished attractions in Texas. Visitors can drift underneath cypress trees by hopping on board one of the iconic riverboat tours that ply the nearly 15 miles of waterway. The banks of the river come alive all day (and all night) with musical performers, endless shops and boutiques, and numerous dining options. Plan your visit during the week of July 4th to experience the Bud Light Stars, Stripes, & Light exhibition when one thousand American flags will line the banks of the river. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Feel the breeze at Madera Canyon

Location: Madera Canyon, Arizona

With an average high of 102, June 29 has historically been Tucson’s most often hottest day of the year. So says Weatherspark.com. From June through August, Madera Canyon’s average summer high in the low ’90s may still seem warmish but a typical light breeze and the shade from its dozen or so unique Oak species make it nice enough to bust out the cooler and camp chairs and head down I-19.  The coolest low-key adventure there is the Madera Canyon Nature Trail; it’s 5.8 miles out and back with a 921-foot elevation gain, easy for hikers. Take your binoculars because Madera Canyon is rated the third-best birding destination in the US.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Take a Taste Bud Tour at Blue Bell Creameries

Location: Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama

Learn what all fuss is about at one of the most iconic creameries in America. Can’t decide which flavor is for you? Try them all because, hey, it’s only $1 a scoop! Since 1907, Blue Bell Ice Cream has won a special place in the heart of Texans. Many would say it’s the best ice cream in the US. For anyone caring to dispute that claim, you can’t know until you try it for yourself and there is no better place to do that than straight at the source. See how the scrumptious stuff is made and learn about the history of the iconic brand before treating yourself to a sample at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. At just $1 a scoop, it’s one of the best things to do in the US to beat the heat this summer! 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Refresh and Relax at Patagonia Lake

Location: Patagonia Lake State Park, 400 Patagonia Lake Road, Nogales

Whether it’s an ocean, river, or lake, water is the break everyone needs from the hot Arizona sun. Patagonia Lake State Park is an escape offering shade, water, boating activities, camping, picnic tables, and grills for summer barbecuing. The park has fully equipped cabin reservations available but these sell out fast. If you’re late to the reservation game, check out their boat-in campsites or pick from 105 of their developed campsites.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Tales from the Road: Best Road Trip Ideas

Choose your own adventure through stunning national parks, Arizona’s Red Rock Country, and the Deep South

Who doesn’t appreciate winding drives through the lovely countryside? But for a truly memorable road trip choose a location and route that aligns with your passions.

To help, I’ve put together itineraries for specific interests from a national parks tour to a spiritual journey to a southern odyssey.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stunning national parks

Where to: Utah

I have a hundred favorite road trips but I always come back to Utah and the “Mighty Five” which is what they call the five magnificent national parks you can visit on a loop around the southern part of the state.

Itinerary: Starting from anywhere on Interstate 5, the first park to visit is Zion, the oldest and arguably most beautiful park in Utah and that’s a big statement. Zion is huge and mystifying and you understand immediately why it awed early travelers who left these rock faces and canyons with place names like Angels Landing and the Great White Throne.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many visitors combine Zion with a trip to Bryce Canyon which is more of a pocket park. Stare down into the park’s stunning natural amphitheater—the technical term used by geologists (rather than a canyon)—to discover fanciful windows, jutting daggers, chiseled spires, and exquisite bracelet-thin archways seemingly erupting from the fantastical landscape.  

Because of the park’s smaller size, you can achieve a lot here in a day or two. Several novice trails by the park’s main entrance offer a glimpse of the area’s glorious mountain scenery and profusion of flora and fauna.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you continue north from Bryce there’s Capitol Reef, the second largest of the Mighty Five but one that too often gets overlooked. Its most recognizable feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long monocline warp (or step-like dip) in the Earth’s crust. These tilted sandstone layers eroded over time to form an extraordinary landscape of serrated peaks, surreal domes, deep-slot canyons, and mesmerizing formations that straddle different elevations and ecosystems.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest and you could spend days getting lost in the 527 square miles of river canyons and mesas but the Island in the Sky area is the most accessible. Pick almost any spot and just gawk at the miles of mesas and sandstone cliffs.

The town of Moab is a fantastic base for exploring this area. It’s considered the adventure center of the Southwest because there is so much to do: bike riding and hot-air ballooning and biking and its proximity to Canyonlands and Arches.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s 18-mile-long Scenic Drive showcases an array of delicate sandstone arches, deep gorges, rock catacombs, and open valleys among other natural wonders. The most recognizable red stone monoliths and monuments have official names and monikers but sometimes it’s best to skip the guide books and maps in favor of finding a trailhead and letting the awe-inspiring landscape stir your imagination. Balanced Rock needs you to get up close to take a look. The boulder on top resembles a mushroom cloud.

Plan your trip to the Utah parks with these resources:

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deeper consciousness

Where to: The healing energy spots of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

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

Airport Mesa, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert areas have been a sacred space for centuries for Indigenous populations and you can still experience the mind-body power of those rituals and ceremonies in whatever way you choose even if it is simply by driving and noticing what’s around you.

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

Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Itinerary: Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit.

Plan your trip to Sedona with these resources:

La Fayette Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Deep South

Where to: Savannah to Charleston road trip

Driving from Savannah to Charleston is pretty straightforward. If you’re starting in Savannah, you’ll take I-95 North to US-17 North. But along the way, some interesting stops are worth a visit.

Historic River Street, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I recommend several days in Savannah before beginning the drive to visit attractions like Forsyth Park, the Bonaventure Cemetery, and the River Street waterfront area.

Itinerary: Just a 15-minute drive north of Savannah, you’ll find the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. This 30,000-acre wildlife refuge is home to birds, alligators, and other marsh-dwelling flora and fauna. You could easily spend an entire day hiking, biking, and kayaking at this nature-lovers paradise.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, you’ll drive about an hour northeast to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. St. Helena Island is the perfect place to immerse yourself in natural beauty and learn about Gullah culture.

In the center of the island, surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak trees, you’ll find the Penn Center, a 50-acre historic district comprising 25 historic buildings and structures.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From St. Helena, continue driving one island further and you’ll arrive at Hunting Island State Park. This State Park is known for having five miles of amazing beaches and a lighthouse that dates back to the 19th century. You can even climb the lighthouse stairs for a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and wetlands. After visiting the lighthouse, you can spend time exploring the beach or head down to the Nature Center where you can learn about local wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backtrack through Hunting Island and St. Helena Island to the coastal town of Beaufort. Next, we’re heading inland to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Sheldon Church dates back to the mid-1700s. Today, the ruins are hauntingly beautiful and surrounded by a lush landscape. The property is located right off Old Sheldon Church Road and has informational markers.

From the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, head northeast to Edisto Island. Edisto is a peaceful vacation island south of Charleston that’s perfect for a bit of relaxation.

Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to Edisto Beach State Park to stretch your legs on one of the many hiking paths or visit the environmental education center to learn more about the island. The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop on this Savannah to Charleston road trip is Folly Beach. Take a stroll along the Folly Beach fishing pier or spend some time meandering through the beachy downtown neighborhoods.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After you’ve had your fun in the sun, head north for about 20 minutes and you’ll be in the heart of Charleston. You may have reached your destination, but the adventure isn’t over. Charleston has tons of things to see and it’s a great destination to explore for a few days. You won’t want to miss walking along the waterfront park or strolling past one of Charleston’s most colorful streets, Rainbow Row. Hop aboard a historic harbor cruise for a guided tour of the city or try some of the best local flavors on a guided food tour.

Plan your trip to the Deep South with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

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

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

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

Utah wanted all the tourists. Then it got them.

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Related Article: Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.

Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.

Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.

On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion

For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Beyond Capitol Reef

The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.

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

Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Beyond Arches and Canyonlands

One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.

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

The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, head to the lesser-visited west side of Canyonlands National Park for a guided 4×4 tour. Spend ample time in the Bears Ears National Monument area with a scenic drive through Valley of the Gods and visits to Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument—both of which are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac

Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon is a must-see national park and I’ve highlighted the best viewpoints, hikes, and places to camp

Like many of America’s national parks, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has many cool pockets to explore. Nothing compares, though, to the feeling you get when standing before the hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater.

Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on Earth. It is not a canyon at all, actually, but a 6-square-mile field of intricately carved statues that were crafted over the course of millions of years by the forces of erosion. Facing east and south, vast mazes of high promontories, deep canyons, jagged spires of balancing rocks, and other mysterious formations are adorned by bold colors of red, coral, pink, and white.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape at Bryce Canyon is totally unique—entirely different than nearby Zion as well as other Utah national parks—partly attributed to its high elevation location ranging from 8,000-9,000 feet. The air is thinner, the environment colder, and the wind much stronger. These elements come together to create an otherworld on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Stepping onto any lookout you will almost certainly feel as though you are stepping foot onto the edge of another world. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is a world-famous park with hundreds of sights to see. Hiking trails, swimming holes, hidden caves, rocky crags, and a plethora of natural wonders dot the landscape and invite visitors to explore and discover the natural beauty of Utah. The park encompasses thousands of acres meaning every time you visit there’s a chance to see new things and find new vistas to lay your eyes on.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Tour

Hitting the scenic auto trails in the national parks is often the best place to start to gain an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service in an effort to provide access to the most interesting features. A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Trails

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

Sunset Point is usually the first stop on everyone’s list and is a top spot to capture shots of a golden forest of stone. There is no shortage of onlookers capturing selfies and panoramic shots of the amphitheater but you’ll likely find yourself distracted only by the geologic wonder. This area is called the Claron Formation and is made up of deposits from the Claron lakebed comprised of 50-million-year-old limestone that shows rich and vibrant color created by its iron oxide mineral compounds. Whether you are intrigued by geologic processes or just want to marvel at the area’s undeniable beauty, all visitors stop in their tracks at this famed overlook particularly when the sun falls onto the canyon spires.

The Rim Trail

There are multiple trails to try for your first time visiting this iconic national park with the most well-known and well-traveled being the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail allows visitors to gaze into the park’s natural amphitheater and shouldn’t prove too difficult for the less-exercised members of your hiking party. It’s rated easy and while long, there aren’t too many elevation changes. The most famous piece of imagery in the park, Thor’s Hammer” is viewable in its most iconic state from this trail.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail is about 10.7 miles long and features opportunities to view wildlife in its natural state. Utah wildlife you might encounter includes rocky mountain elk, pronghorns, migratory hummingbirds, and even nesting peregrine falcon (the world’s fastest bird).

The Rim Trail is located closest to the Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park which has hundreds of sites suitable for an RV. The Sunset Campground doesn’t have as many amenities as the North Campground but it is much more conveniently located to all of the most popular hiking trails.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Loop Trail

Standing inside of the amphitheater allows you to become a part of the landscape. The Navajo Loop trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail because of its accessibility and amazing beauty. Descending first into the Wall Street section you are thrust upon an iconic scene in the park, a 700-year-old Douglas fir tree that arises in the midst of a slot canyon searching for sunlight in the sky (see photo below). Hiking farther, you will find a vast network of trails leading into the hoodoos where you can chart your own course. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peekaboo Loop Trail

Despite its child-friendly name, this trail may not be as fun for younger members of your party. With a medium rating, this 5.2-mile trail has elevation changes and rough terrain alike and might not be the best option for a fun family hike. However, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t plenty going for it. Utah’s natural rock formations and wildlife are able to be seen in all their glory easily.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horseback riding is an option on this trail for party members who might have some experience riding on rocky and uneven terrain. Trotting over the red rock and gravelly paths makes for a unique experience. With a river running aside this trail which can flood in the spring and fall wildlife naturally gathers along this trail and virtually pose for photo ops.

This trail is located close to the Sunset Campground which has multiple campsites which can house RVs. That means the walk from your campsite to the beginning of the trail won’t make you tired before you even start out exploring.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairyland Loop

Fairyland Loop is a trail that sees fewer hikers due to its sheer difficulty. With 8.2 miles of trail running over steep and difficult terrain, the Fairyland Loop is no joke. Be prepared for limestone hoodoos in all their glory as well as nesting falcons and other sites of natural beauty to absorb. This trail is definitely difficult but that means more open air for you. Plus, it is pet-friendly so suit up Fido and bring him along.

The Fairyland Loop connects with other trails in the park meaning you can branch out and explore instead of taking the same route that others have done before at one point or another. The Fairyland leads to a lesser-known overlook of the park’s canyon and “Thor’s Hammer” in all their majestic beauty.

Since the Fairyland Loop is located closer to Sunset campground I recommend camping there if you’re planning on doing the entire Fairyland Loop in one day—it’s a tough trail and you’re going to need all the energy you can muster.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Camp in Your RV

Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds: North Campground and Sunset Campground. Both campgrounds contain hundreds of sites with different amenities and rules and permissions. The fee varies from site to site but typically it doesn’t go higher than $25-$35.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amenities that are included at the campsites include laundry, power hookups, swimming pools, showering facilities, electricity, Wi-Fi, animal care, freshwater, and even food! If you’re looking for a comprehensive hiking experience but still want to get everything you like at a moment’s notice, both campgrounds should do it for you.

While the North Campground is further away from hiking trails, it’s also the campground with more modern amenities. If this is of note to you, then you’ll do well to remember it. The Sunset Campground is more stripped-down but it offers prime access to hiking trails around the park as it’s much closer to trailheads. It’s basically up to you: do you want more amenities or do you prefer to be closer to the trailheads?

Fact Box

Size: 35,835 acres

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

Location: Southwestern Utah

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,464,655

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: The national park was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant who homesteaded there in 1874. He was sent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) who first scouted the area during the 1850s to determine its viability for settlement and development. Ebenezer Bryce considered to be the first true pioneer of the region lived at the foot of a canyon and herded cows; after a herding mishap he once famously declared that the area is “a hell of a place to lose a cow.”

Did you know?

The Bryce Amphitheater is 12 miles long, 3 miles in width, and 800 feet deep.

As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon