Mount St. Helens Erupted 44 Years Ago Today: Here’s How It Unfolded

After the eruption, ash poured into the atmosphere for nine hours

Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted for nine hours on this day in history, May 18, 1980, killing 57 people and triggering the largest landslide in recorded history. 

Prior to the eruption, Mount St. Helens stood at 9,677 feet, says the website for the United States Geological Survey (USGS). It was the fifth-tallest mountain in the state of Washington.

“It stood out handsomely, however, from surrounding hills because it rose thousands of feet above them and had a perennial cover of ice and snow,” said the site.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That changed on May 18 when the volcano erupted for the first time in more than a century. Instead, there was a horseshoe-shaped crater in its place. The crater’s highest point located on the southwestern side of the mountain is 8,365 feet. The eruption came almost exactly two months after seismic activity began on the long-dormant volcano. 

On March 16, 1980, a series of small earthquakes began to shake the area. Eleven days later, on March 27 following hundreds of small earthquakes, Mount St. Helens had a relatively small eruption—it’s first since 1857. 

In that eruption, steam explosions blasted a 200- to 250-foot wide crater through the volcano’s summit ice cap and covered the snow-clad southeast sector with dark ash. 

These eruptions continued through April 22. 

After about a two-week stop in volcanic activity, smaller eruptions and earthquakes continued from May 7 through May 17. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By that time, more than 10,000 earthquakes had shaken the volcano and the north flank had grown outward about 450 feet to form a prominent bulge. 

This bulge was strong evidence that molten rock (magma) had rose high into the volcano and was growing at a rate of up to five feet per day.

At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, a 5.1 earthquake with no immediate precursors struck Mount Saint Helens triggering a rapid series of events. 

At the same time as the earthquake, the volcano’s northern bulge and summit slid away as a huge landslide—the largest debris avalanche on Earth in recorded history. 

A small, dark, ash-rich eruption plume rose directly from the base of the debris avalanche scarp and another from the summit crater rose to about 650 feet high. 

The volume of the avalanche was the equivalent of one million Olympic-sized swimming pools. 

Following the landslide, the destruction continued. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landslide had removed part of the cryptodome which was a very hot and highly pressurized body of magma. With the cyptodome removed, Mount St. Helens’s magmatic system depressurized, triggering powerful eruptions that blasted laterally through the sliding debris knocking 1,000 feet off the height of the mountain. 

The cloud of tephra or rock fragments reached 15 miles within 15 minutes. 

The aftermath of the initial eruption was devastating. 

Virtually no trees remained of what was once a dense forest in the six-mile radius of the former summit and other trees were knocked to the ground and seared.

The eruption then became a Plinian eruption defined as as one that produces a sustained convecting plume of pyroclasts and gas rising more than 15 miles above sea level.

The Plinian eruption lasted for nine hours sending 520 million tons of ash into the air.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ash was so thick that the city of Spokane, Washington, located 250 miles from Mount Saint Helens was plunged into complete darkness. Over four inches of ash covered Yakima, Washington. 

Major ash falls occurred as far away as central Montana and ash fell visibly as far eastward as the Great Plains of the Central United States more than 930 miles away. 

The ash cloud spread across the U.S. in three days and circled the Earth in 15 days.

The blast also triggered something called a lahar which is an Indonesian term that describes a hot or cold mixture of water and rock fragments that flows down the slopes of a volcano and typically enters a river valley.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Mount Saint Helens’ case, the snowy peak melted in the initial eruption. That rush of water combined with the rock flow created a lahar. 

In the weeks leading up to May 18, people who lived near Mount St. Helens were evacuated.

The area immediately surrounding Mount St. Helens was divided into a red zone and a blue zone

Of the 57 people who died in the eruption, only one Harry Randall Truman did not have express permission to be near the mountain the day it erupted and most of the deaths actually occurred outside the boundaries of the blue zone. 

Truman, an 83-year-old man who had lived near Mount St. Helens for 54 years refused to comply with evacuation orders and leave the red zone. 

In a colorful interview with National Geographic prior to the eruption, Truman said, “I’m going to stay right here because, I’ll tell you why, my home and my (expletive) life’s here.” 

“My wife and I, we both vowed years and years ago that we’d never leave Spirit Lake. We loved it. It’s part of me and I’m part of that (expletive) mountain,” he said.

Truman’s remains were never found. 

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mt. St. Helens eruption 44th anniversary

Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980 at 8:32 am

The volcano, located in southwestern Washington used to be a beautiful symmetrical cone about 9,600 feet above sea level.

Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!

On March 1, 1980, a new system of seismographs at the University of Washington went into operation to monitor earthquake activity in the Cascades. On March 20, it recorded a magnitude-4.2 earthquake deep beneath Mount St. Helens inaugurating a round-the-clock watch that was to save many lives. From March 25 to March 27, quakes of magnitude 4.0 rocked the mountain as many as three times a day and smaller quakes occurred several times every hour.

At 8 a.m. PST on March 27, the U.S. Geological Survey issued an official Hazard Watch for Mount St. Helens; around noon, the first eruption of steam from the summit sent a column of ash and steam 6,000 feet into the air. Twin fissures opened on the mountain’s north face.

On the morning of May 18, USGS volcanologist David A. Johnston camped on the ridge with his lasers, radioed in his regular 7 a.m. report. The changes to the bulging mountain were consistent with what had been reported several times daily since the watch began. At 8:32, a magnitude-5.1 earthquake registered on the seismographic equipment. His excited radio message, “This is it!” was followed by a stream of data. It was his last transmission; the ridge he camped on was within the direct blast zone.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the numbers

  • 57: Lives lost
  • $1.1 billion: Damage costs
  • 9,600 feet: Height before eruption
  • 8,300 feet: Height after eruption
  • 200: Homes destroyed
  • 90 mph: Mudflows speed
  • 5,400,000 tons: Estimated ash
  • 2,200 square miles: Ash covered
  • 185 miles: Roads destroyed
  • 15 miles: Railways damaged
Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go deeper

Worth Pondering…

Each volcano is an independent machine—nay, each vent and monticule is for the time being engaged in its own peculiar business, cooking as it were its special dish, which in due time is to be separately served.

—Clarence Edward Dutton, American geologist (1841-1912)

The Best National Parks to Visit in September

Wondering where to travel in September? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in September!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashoresnational recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

September is one of the best months of the year to visit the national parks. The weather is fantastic across much of the US, the busy summer season is coming to an end and in some parks you can see the first of the fall colors. In this guide, I list five of the best national parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in September

In my opinion, September is one of the best months of the year to plan a national parks trip. In September, the weather is still warm and the snow has melted on the higher elevation trails. After Labor Day, crowds get lower in the national parks now that children are back in school.

During September, you can visit almost any national park and have a great experience. The parks in the northern half of the US are still relatively warm and the roads are still open. In warmer climates like Utah and Arizona, September is still a hot month to visit but not as bad as June through August especially if you can delay your visit to the end of the month. And in a few places, you can even catch the first fall colors at the end of September.

I recommend avoiding Everglades and Congaree in September as they tend to be hot, humid, and swarming with mosquitoes.

For this guide, I could have listed 30 great parks to visit in September since there are so many good options. Instead, I list five of the very best parks to visit with more suggestions at the end of this guide.

Let’s get started.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in September

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in September: Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s weather is defined by the seasons. Summers are warm with occasional hot periods. Thunderstorms occur in the afternoons. Spring and fall are mild. Winters can be quite cold with high winds.

Weather: Although some days will be in the 80s, the average high is 74°F and the average low is 42°F. Rainfall is low with only 1.3 inches of rain falling in September.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

An underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

From late May through October you can watch the Bat Flight program. At the Bat Flight Amphitheater, grab a seat and watch as the bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave. The best time to see the bats is in August and September when the baby bats join the show. The Bat Flight Program takes place every evening and it is weather dependent.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in September: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: Carlsbad Caverns National Park has a semiarid climate with generally mild winters and warm to hot summers. In September, the average high is 83°F and the average low is 60°F. September is one of the wettest months of the year with 2.9 inches of rainfall. The average temperature throughout the cave is 68°F and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100 percent.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour.You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Plan Your Visit

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.

Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking traverse the park.

Shenandoah is a beautiful park to visit in September. From the viewpoints along Skyline Drive, you can gaze across the mountains and the valleys below.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Shenandoah in September: The fall colors begin the last two two weeks of September in the higher elevations. Plus, the weather is perfect for sightseeing and hiking.

Weather: The average high is 66°F and the average low is 58°F. On warmer than average days, it can get up into the high 70s. Rainfall averages about 5 inches per month through the year and September is no different.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:20 am and sunset is at 6:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Skyline Drive and visit the overlooks, hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain, visit Dark Hollow Falls, enjoy the view from Hawksbill Mountain, hike to Mary’s Rock, and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike Old Rag Mountain, a 9-mile loop trail.

Old Rag is generally considered a challenging route. The best time to hike this trail is May through October. You’ll need to leave pups at home—dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. From March 1-November 30, visitors to Old Rag Mountain including hikers on the Saddle, Ridge, and Ridge Access trails will need to obtain an Old Rag day-use ticket in advance.

How many days do you need? You can drive the length of Skyline Drive in one day, visiting the overlooks and hiking a trail or two. For a more leisurely experience or to do several more hikes plan on spending two or more days in Shenandoah.

Plan your visit

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

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, over 12 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4 million visitors).

This national park straddles the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. The ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains runs through the center of the park and it is here that you will find some of the tallest peaks in eastern North America.

With over 100 species of trees that cover various elevations in the park, the peak time for fall colors lasts quite a while in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The trees first begin to change color at the higher elevations as early as mid-September. From early to mid-October, the colors slide down the mountains. Peak season comes to an end at the beginning of November when the trees at the lower, warmer elevations finally change colors.

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

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in September: For great weather for hiking and the beginning of fall colors.

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 52°F. Rainfall is about 4 inches for September which is one of the driest months of the year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7 pm.

Top experiences: Enjoy the view from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap, hike the Alum Trail to Mount LeConte, drive through Cades Cove, and drive the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

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

How many days do you need? You can drive the park’s main roads and visit the highlights of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in one day. To explore the parks more fully plan three to four days and avoid Cades Cove on weekends. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close with the cliff dwellings on a tour.

Why visit Mesa Verde in September: Fall is one of the best times of year to visit Mesa Verde. There are fewer visitors in the park than during summer and cooler temperatures make conditions more comfortable for hiking and other activities. September brings sunny days, pleasant temperatures, and fewer rainy days.

Weather: The average high is 75°F and the average low is 48°F. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 6 am and sunset is 8:15 pm.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Take a ranger guided tour of a cliff dwelling, see the Spruce Tree House, hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, drive Mesa Top Loop, explore the Far View sites, and hike the Point Lookout Trail.

How many days do you need? One to two days are all you need to take a cliff dwelling tour and go on the scenic drives through the park. Consider spending a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. 

Plan your visit

Bonus! More parks to visit

As stated earlier, September is a great time to visit just about any of the US national parks.

In the east, September is a beautiful time of year to visit New River Gorge National Park.

In the west, the list is long and includes Pinnacles, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Badlands.

September is still a bit warm for Utah’s Mighty 5 and the American Southwest but the later you go, the cooler it will be. I prefer October into November for these parks.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in September

Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River Valley. In use for over 200 years, the site contains several multi-story buildings called great houses, each with a great kiva—a circular ceremonial chamber—as well as many smaller structures. 

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, Georgia is a significant Native American landmark dating back over 10,000 years. Visitors can learn about the Mississippian culture, climb atop the seven mounds, and even go inside one of the mounds’ Earth Lodge. Eight miles of walking trails wind through the park including by the namesake river. The park is making efforts to become a national park and hosts annual events like the fall Ocmulgee Indian Celebration (31st annual; September 16-17, 2023).

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

The Best National Parks to Visit in July

Wondering where to travel in July? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in July!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

The list of national parks to visit in July is wonderfully diverse. Visit Carlsbad Caverns, go hiking in Lassen Volcanic, spend some time in the tranquil forests in Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks, and explore one of the most underrated US national parks, Theodore Roosevelt.

In this guide, I cover five great parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in July

July is the busiest month of the year to visit the national parks. The weather is warm, the days are long, and many people are hitting the road for summer vacation.

By July, all of the national parks are fully open with the last high mountain roads opening by early July. So, you can pretty much visit any park you want. However, some parks are very hot this time of year (particularly across the south and into the American Southwest) and some are extremely crowded (Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Great Smoky Mountains make this list). You won’t see these parks on my list for July but there are some parks with lower crowds and great weather that make excellent picks this month.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures, since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time, so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in July

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: California

This national park protects Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. In Lassen Volcanic you’ll see steaming fumaroles, pretty lakes, colorful landscapes, and Lassen Peak.

Snow lingers on the roads and trails at the higher elevation of the park into June and sometimes into early July. If you want to hike to Lassen Peak and have full access to the park, July is the earliest time of the year when this is possible.

Cool fact: Lassen Volcanic National Park one of the only places in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes: shield, stratovolcano, cinder cone, and plug.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Lassen Volcanic in July: By early July, the roads and trails in the higher elevations of the park open, so this is about the earliest you can visit Lassen Volcanic and have full access to the park. Plus, the weather is pretty much perfect this time of year.

Weather: In July, the average high is 72°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:30 am and sunset is at 8:40 pm.

Top experiences: Walk Bumpass Hell Trail (isn’t that the best name for a hiking trail?), capture the reflection of Lassen Peak in Manzanita Lake, go for a scenic drive on Lassen Park Highway, visit Kings Creek Falls and Mill Creek Falls, visit Devils Kitchen, and hike to the top of Lassen Peak.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike to the summit of Brokeoff Mountain for panoramic views of the park. Note, this hike is best attempted in late summer to early fall when the trail is free of snow.

How many days do you need? One day is just enough time to see the highlights but plan on spending two to three days here to hike several more trails and thoroughly explore the park.

Plan your visit

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2 & 3. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks sit side by side in central California. Filled with alpine peaks, deep canyons, and the largest trees in the world, you should spend several days here.

Kings Canyon preserves a glacially carved valley (named Kings Canyon) and Grant Grove which is home to General Grant, the second largest tree in the world.

Sitting right beside Kings Canyon is Sequoia National Park. It is here that you will walk among towering sequoia trees and see the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Kings Canyon & Sequoia in July: July is the busiest month of the year to visit but the weather is great.

Weather: The average high is 83°F and the average low is 65°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 5:40 am and sunset is 8:05 pm.

Top experiences: Visit Grant Grove and drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, visit Zumwalt Meadows, see the General Sherman Tree, hike Moro Rock, and visit Crescent Meadows.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate experience: Explore the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. 77 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail runs through Kings Canyon National Park making this a top backpacking destination in the U.S.

How many days do you need? Spend a minimum of one day in each park.

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in July: For those seeking out a little solitude in nature, the somewhat out of the way location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park can be a blessing in disguise. While many national parks are battling traffic congestion and parking problems during the peak summer season, you may see more bison than people during your time at this amazing national park. While summer is the busiest time at the park, though by national park standards, it’s still not very busy. 

Weather: Summer also brings the warmest weather with high temperatures averaging in the 80s, and sometimes into the 90s. Rainfall is relatively low with about 2 inches of rain falling in July.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

An underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels is located in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico.

From late May through October you can watch the Bat Flight program. At the Bat Flight Amphitheater, grab a seat and watch as the bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave. The best time to see the bats is in August and September when the baby bats join the show. The Bat Flight Program takes place every evening and it is weather dependent.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in July: To watch the Bat Flight Program when bats emerge by the thousands from the natural entrance of the cave.

Weather: In July, the average high is 91°F and the average low is 67°F. July is one of the wettest months of the year with 2 inches of rainfall. The average temperature throughout the cave is 68°F and the relative humidity remains close to a constant 100 percent.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:20 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Tour the caverns on your own or on a ranger-guided tour. You can also go star gazing, hike a surface trail, or go on a scenic drive. 

How much time do you need? A half to a full day is all you need to explore the caverns on your own and/or take a ranger-guided tour.

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in July

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah. Outdoor activities are what Glen Canyon is all about. There is something for everyone’s taste. 

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

16 Under the Radar National Monuments to Visit

For travelers who love to avoid the crowds, these 16 lesser known national monuments may be perfect spots for your next road trip

Since Wyoming’s iconic Devils Tower became the first U.S. National Monument in 1906, America is now populated with well over 100 of these unique cultural and geographic gems. In addition to volcanic landscapes like Malpais and Mount St. Helens and Utah’s oft-photographed Cedar Breaks there are numerous others that you might be less familiar with—and which absolutely merit a visit. From ancient petroglyphs to the geological wonders these are 16 under-the-radar national monuments to visit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cedar Breaks, Utah

Like a mini Bryce Canyon, minus the crowds, Cedar Breaks contains a stunning assortment of hoodoos and cliffs in southern Utah. Technically an amphitheater, the monument is three miles wide and 2,000 feet deep, filled with craggy rock formations jutting up from the base like natural skyscrapers. Considering the monument’s high elevation, it gets cold and snowy in the winter which lends vivid color contrast from the white powder atop the orange-hued hoodoos and lush green forests surrounding it. It’s a popular destination for snowmobilers as well who can ride along the rim and gaze out over the illustrious expanse.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Petroglyph, New Mexico

Located on the western edge of Albuquerque lies one of the most concentrated collections of ancient petroglyphs on the continent. Native American tribes settled here hundreds of years ago and they left their mark in the form of symbols carved into volcanic rock across the desert terrain. With around 24,000 images and symbols, there’s plenty to see here. In addition to the petroglyphs, the monument contains hiking trails throughout its 17-mile park along with dormant volcanoes and canyons.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petroglyph National Monument

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus, Arizona

Some folks might be surprised to learn that Arizona has another national park unit dedicated to the preservation of a rare cactus. Saguaro National Park in Tucson is famed far and wide while Organ Pipe Cactus is more of an under-the-radar gem. Located along the Mexican border at the southern edge of the state, the monument is the only place in the U.S. where the organ pipe cactus grows wild. One glimpse at this sprawling, soaring species will clue you in to where the cactus gets its name. An ideal place for desert camping and hiking, the monument also has horseback trails, scenic drives, and biking opportunities.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Natural Bridges, Utah

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden whereas arches are usually high and exposed as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges. The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges. 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 overlooks the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Mount St. Helens National Monument, Washington

National park-like amenities like the Johnston Ridge Observator tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano while guided cave walks are available in the monument’s expansive Ape Cave lava tube. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mount St. Helens National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. While some may see a desolate environment, people have been adapting to and living in this extraordinary terrain for generations. In the area known as Chain of Craters, 30 cinder cones can be found across the landscape. La Ventana Natural Arch is easily accessible. Trails lead up to the bottom of the free-standing arch for a closer look at this natural wonder.

>> Get more tips for visiting El Malpais National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A one-of-a-kind landscape and the cherished homeland of the Navajo people, Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a truly special place. Sheer cliffs rise on either side of this flat-bottomed, sandy ravine. Native Americans have worked and lived there for thousands of years and today Navajo people still call it home. South Rim Drive and North Rim Drive, each more than 30 miles long, are excellent driving routes along the canyons. The scenery is spectacular, including the White House Ruin cliff dwellings and the 800-foot sandstone spire known as Spider Rock.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

9. Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah

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. 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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Hovenweep, Utah and Colorado

Human habitation at Hovenweep dates to over 10,000 years ago when nomadic Paleoindians visited the Cajon Mesa to gather food and hunt game. These people used the area for centuries following the seasonal weather patterns. By about 900, people started to settle at Hovenweep year-round, planting and harvesting crops in the rich soil of the mesa top. The towers of Hovenweep were built from about 500 to 1300. Similarities in architecture, masonry, and pottery styles indicate that the inhabitants of Hovenweep were closely associated with groups living at Mesa Verde and other nearby sites.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hovenweep National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Montezuma Castle, Arizona

Montezuma Castle National Monument is dedicated to preserving Native American culture. This 20 room high-rise apartment nestled into a towering limestone cliff, tells a story of ingenuity, survival, and ultimately, prosperity in an unforgiving desert landscape. Although people were living in the area much earlier, the Sinagua began building permanent living structures—the dwellings you see at the monument—around 1050.

>> Get more tips for visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Tuzigoot, Arizona

This village was built high on a limestone ridge over a hundred feet above the floodplains of the Verde River. It has clear lines of sight in every direction and can easily be seen from many of the other hills and pueblos in the area. Tuzigoot was a prime spot to build with excellent views, easy access to reliable, year-round water, and floodplains where cultivation of water-intensive crops like cotton was relatively easy.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tuzigoot National Monument

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country. At the base of the bluff called Inscription Rock are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot.

>> Get more tips for visiting El Morro National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona

Explore the mystery and complexity of an extended network of communities and irrigation canals. An Ancestral Sonoran Desert People’s farming community and Great House is preserved at Casa Grande Ruins. Archeologists have discovered evidence that the ancestral Sonoran Desert people who built the Casa Grande also developed wide-scale irrigation farming and extensive trade connections which lasted over a thousand years until about 1450.

>> Get more tips for visiting Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona

A Wonderland of Rocks is waiting for you to explore at Chiricahua National Monument. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base seemingly ready to topple over at any time. The 8-mile paved scenic drive and 17-miles of day-use hiking trails provide opportunities to discover the beauty, natural sounds, and inhabitants of this 12,025-acre site.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

Built and used over a 200-year period, Aztec Ruins is the largest Ancestral Pueblo community in the Animas River valley. Concentrated on and below a terrace overlooking the Animas River, the people at Aztec built several multi-story buildings called great houses and many smaller structures. Associated with each great house was a great kiva—a large circular chamber used for ceremonies. In addition, they modified the landscape with dozens of linear swales called roads, earthen berms, and platforms

>> Get more tips for visiting Aztec Ruins National Monument

Worth Pondering…

The time to prepare for your next expedition is when you have just returned from a successful trip.

—Robert Peary

The Best National Parks to Visit in June

Wondering where to travel in June? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in June!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

The list of national parks to visit in June is wonderfully diverse. Visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, go hiking in Lassen Volcanic, spend some time in the tranquil forests in Sequoia and King Canyons National Parks, and explore one of the most underrated national parks, Theodore Roosevelt.

In this guide, I cover six great parks to visit plus four bonus parks.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in June

From the end of May into June, numerous parks fully open their roads. In June, the weather is warm and the days are the longest of the year giving you plenty of time to explore the parks.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures, since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time, so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in June

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1 & 2. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Location: California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks sit side by side in central California. Filled with alpine peaks, deep canyons, and the largest trees in the world, you should spend several days here.

Kings Canyon preserves a glacially carved valley (named Kings Canyon) and Grant Grove which is home to General Grant, the second largest tree in the world.

Sitting right beside Kings Canyon is Sequoia National Park. It is here that you will walk among towering sequoia trees and see the largest tree in the world, the General Sherman.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Visit Kings Canyon & Sequoia in June: The weather is pretty much perfect and crowd levels aren’t yet at their peak levels (that usually occurs in July and August).

Weather: The average high is 71°F and the average low is 46°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is 5:30 am and sunset is 8:15 pm.

Top experiences: Visit Grant Grove and drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, visit Zumwalt Meadows, see the General Sherman Tree, hike Moro Rock, and visit Crescent Meadows.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate experience: Explore the backcountry of Kings Canyon National Park. 77 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail/John Muir Trail runs through Kings Canyon National Park making this a top backpacking destination in the U.S.

How Many Days Do You Need? Spend a minimum of one day in each park.

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, extraordinary…these are all words that describe the Grand Canyon. But in all honesty, words, and even photos, cannot quite capture what it is like to stand on the rim and gaze out across the canyon.

This massive national park has several sections to it. Most visitors spend their time on the South Rim where roads and hiking trails lead to stunning viewpoints of the Grand Canyon. This is also the place to hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails.

In mid-May, the road to the North Rim opens. If you visit the Grand Canyon in June, you have the option to add on the North Rim and it’s worth it. Be aware that the travel distance between the North Rim and the South Rim is 210 miles.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit the Grand Canyon in June: To visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon which opens in mid-May. Now that the North Rim is open it’s also possible to hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim but just be aware that temperatures in the canyon will be very hot. A better time to do this hike is September into October when the temperatures are cooler and the North Rim is still open. 

Weather: On the South Rim, the average high is 82°F and the average low is 63°F. The high temperature can climb up to 100°F on unusually hot days. Below the rim, temperatures are much hotter. Down by the Colorado River, the temperature can easily be over 110°F.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 7:40 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, enjoy the view of the Grand Canyon at sunrise and/or sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, and take a flightseeing tour by airplane or helicopter.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim. This is a massive day hike and should only be attempted by those with excellent fitness and lots of hiking experience.

How much time do you need? I recommend spending two to three days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Three days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Plan your visit

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: California

This national park protects Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. In some ways, it’s like a combination of Yellowstone + Mount Rainer just on a smaller scale. At Lassen Volcanic, you’ll see steaming fumaroles, pretty lakes, colorful landscapes, and Lassen Peak.

Cool fact: Lassen Volcanic National Park one of the few places in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes: shield, stratovolcano, cinder cone, and plug.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Lassen Volcanic in June: In May and June, the snow is melting in the park and many of the roads are cleared of snow. By June, many of the roads and trails around Manzanita Lake are open. However, some roads and trails at the higher elevation (for example, Lassen Peak), may not open until July. If you want full access to the park, delay your visit for the second half of July into August. However, crowds are also at their peak in July so if you want good weather and fewer crowds, June is a nice time to visit Lassen Volcanic.

Weather: In June, the average high is 71°F and the average low is 36°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 5:30 am and sunset is at 8:40 pm.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Walk Bumpass Hell Trail (isn’t that the best name for a hiking trail?), capture the reflection of Lassen Peak in Manzanita Lake, go for a scenic drive on Lassen Park Highway, visit Kings Creek Falls and Mill Creek Falls, visit Devils Kitchen, and hike to the top of Lassen Peak.

Ultimate adventure: Hike to the summit of Brokeoff Mountain for panoramic views of the park. Note, this hike is best attempted in late summer to early fall when the trail is free of snow.

How many days do you need? One day is just enough time to drive through the park and see the highlights but plan on spending two to three days here to hike several more trails and thoroughly explore the park.

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, pronghorns, and elk roam the landscapes, hiking trails meander through the colorful bentonite hills, and scenic roads take visitors to numerous stunning overlooks.

This national park is made up of three separate units: the South Unit, the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Of the three, the South Unit is the more popular. In the North Unit, the views of the badlands are beautiful, there are several short, fun trails to hike, and there is a very good chance you will spot bison and other wildlife right from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in June: Unless you are here during a heat wave, the weather is warm and fantastic. June is the beginning of the busy summer season but crowds are lower in June than the rest of the summer and the weather is cooler.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 53°F. On hotter than average days the temperature can get up into the 80s. This is one of the wettest months of the year however rainfall is still relatively low with about 3 inches of rain falling in June.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 5 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Hike the Caprock Coulee Trail, enjoy the view from Sperati Point and the Wind Canyon Trail, drive the Scenic Drive in both units, visit the Petrified Forest, hike the Ekblom and Big Plateau Loop, and visit River Bend Overlook.

How many days do you need? If you want to explore both the North and South Units, you will need at least two days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (one day for each unit).

Plan your visit

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

6. New River Gorge National Park

Location: West Virginia

For millions of years, the New River has been carving out a 73,000 acre gorge in West Virginia. The sandstone cliffs and whitewater rapids create world-class rock climbing and whitewater rafting destinations. Hiking and mountain biking trails wind through the forests leading to overlooks and historic settlements.

This is a newcomer to the US national parks list. New River Gorge officially became a national park in 2020 but it has long been a whitewater rafting destination in the United States.

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

Why visit New River Gorge in June: With warm weather this is a great time to go hiking and biking in New River Gorge National Park. The water temperature is also warming up so this also becomes a good time to go whitewater rafting.

Weather: The average high is 78°F and the average low is 60°F. June is one of the wettest months of the year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:00 am and sunset is at 8:50 pm.

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

Top experiences: Do the Bridge Walk, hike the Long Point Trail, drive Fayette Station Road, go mountain biking and rock climbing, enjoy the view from Grandview Overlook, hike the Castle Rock Trail, and visit Sandstone Falls.

Ultimate adventure: Go white water rafting on the New River (rafting season is April through October).

How many days do you need? If you want to visit the three main areas of New River Gorge National Park (Canyon Rim, Grandview, and Sandstone) and have enough time to go whitewater rafting, you will need three to four days. However, with less time, you can visit the highlights and hike a few of the trails.

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in June

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

National park-like amenities tell the story of America’s most infamous active volcano. Gorgeous wildflower-packed views of the volcano can be enjoyed in spots like Bear Meadows while those seeking a closer view of the crater rim may drive to the Windy Ridge viewpoint or even summit the rim of the 8,365-foot volcano with a permit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking this is Bryce Canyon National Park. It looks almost identical to its more famous national park cousin which is located about an hour to the east. Yet with less than a quarter of the annual visitation of Bryce, this small but mighty national monument makes a worthy alternative for those seeking color-packed canyon views stretching across three miles at an elevation of around 10,000 feet.

Colonial National Historical Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial National Historical Park

Want to go way back in American history? Then you’ll head to some of the first colonies in the New World. The Colonial National Historical Park in Virginia covers Historic Jamestowne (the first permanent English settlement in North America) and Yorktown Battlefield (site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War).

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

The Vanderbilt Mansion is a symbol of a country in the grip of change after the Civil War. Visitors to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site will learn about the architecture and landscaping of the grounds as well as the influence of the Vanderbilt family.

More information about the National Parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

Celebrate Volcano Week!

Volcano Week 2023 takes place during the first week of February

It’s Volcano Week! You may not have heard of this annual celebration hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) but it’s the perfect opportunity to learn more about the lava-filled peaks that continue to shape our Earth. 

There are about 1,350 potentially active volcanoes around the world, 161 of which are in the U.S. and its territories.

Volcano Week 2023 takes place February 5-11.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Some volcanic eruptions are witnessed by people who remember what they’ve seen by writing it down, painting about it, telling stories, or collecting detailed scientific data. Other eruptions go unseen, hidden in the distant past. How do we discover, learn about, and remember those eruptions? We have to look at many lines of evidence to reconstruct the activity and eruptions of volcanoes,” the park service said.

Volcanoes are diverse! They range from the majestic Mount Rainier to colossal shield volcanoes like Mauna Loa (Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park) and volcanic fields that can cover hundreds of square miles such as at Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Some volcanoes are picturesque, others less so. They vary in size from small cinder cones that stand only a few hundred feet tall to the most massive mountains on earth. Some have textbook-perfect conical shapes and others are more irregular in form.

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some volcanoes erupt only once and last for only a few days or less while others may have periods of activity that span expanses of time as great as a few million years.

Each volcano is somewhat unique, but most can be classified into several types. The most common types of volcanoes are cinder cones, composite volcanoes (stratovolcanoes), shield volcanoes, and volcanic domes.

Several other types of volcanoes exist and are part of the diversity of volcanic landforms found on land. Examples of these volcanoes are also found in national parks.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cinder cone volcanoes

Cinder cones are the most common type of volcano in the world. They may look like an idealized depiction of a volcano as they are steep, conical hills that usually have a prominent crater at the top. Cinder cones are the most common type of volcano in the National Park System.

Capulin Volcano and Sunset Crater Volcano national monuments were established specifically to preserve especially large and picturesque cinder cones. These volcanoes are the tallest cinder cones in the National Park System with a height of approximately 1,000 feet each. Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park is a cinder cone that formed after the caldera-forming eruption.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 24 units in the National Park System contain cinder cones, including:

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Composite volcanoes

Composite volcanoes can be the most picturesque of all volcanoes. A classic composite volcano is conical with a concave shape that is steeper near the top. These mountains commonly have snow-covered peaks standing high above the surrounding mountainous terrain.

Composite cones are large volcanoes (many thousands of feet tall) generally composed of lava flows, pyroclastic deposits, and mudflow (lahar) deposits, as well as lava domes. Composite volcanoes are active over long periods (tens to hundreds of thousands of years) and erupt periodically. Composite volcanoes are also called stratovolcanoes.

Mount Rainier is an active volcano and the tallest peak in the Pacific Northwest. It is also considered to be the most dangerous volcano in the Lower 48. Brokeoff Volcano (Mount Tehama) in Lassen Volcanic National Park is a deeply eroded large composite volcano. It consisted of lava domes, lava flows, and pyroclastic deposits that are between 590,000 and 385,000 years old.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least eight units of the National Park System contain composite volcanoes, including:

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shield volcanoes

Although shield volcanoes are the largest volcanoes on Earth, they do not form soaring mountains with conical peaks like composite volcanoes. Instead, they are broad volcanoes with gentle slopes and are shaped somewhat like a warrior’s shield lying flat on the Earth. Shield volcanoes have a convex shape as they are flatter near the summit.

Shield volcanoes are truly massive with volumes that dwarf other types of volcanoes even large composite volcanoes. Shield volcanoes are usually constructed almost entirely of basaltic and/or andesitic lava flows which were very fluid when erupted. They are built by repeated eruptions that occurred intermittently over vast periods (up to a million years or longer).

Mount St. Helens National Monument, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 13 units of the National Park System contain shield volcanoes, including:

Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic Domes

Domes form from the slow extrusion of highly-viscous silicic lava. These lavas are too thick to spread out into a lava flow. Most domes are small and many do not have a crater. Domes are sometimes called lava domes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park contains multiple lava domes. Lassen Peak (see above photo) is the world’s largest dome with a peak elevation of 10,457 feet. It was emplaced 27,000 years ago. Chaos Crags are a set of six lava domes that grew during eruptions approximately 1,050 years ago. In Valles Caldera National Preserve, at least seven lava dome complexes formed along the ring fracture of the Valles Caldera during post-caldera volcanic activity.

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Park, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 12 units of the National Park System contain volcanic domes, including:

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other types of volcanoes

Maars and tuff rings

Maars and tuff rings are low-standing volcanoes with wide, bowl-shaped craters. They commonly have a donut-like profile. Their low edifices consist of shallowly-dipping deposits of tuff made mostly of ash and angular, nonvesicular pebble-sized pyroclasts (lapilli).

A maar is a volcanic crater in which the crater lies below the surrounding ground level and is surrounded by a low pyroclastic cone. Because they are topographic lows, maars frequently contain lakes in their craters. A tuff ring is a pyroclastic cone with a crater above the surrounding ground surface. Tuff ring craters are usually dry.

Big Bend National Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least six units of the National Park System contain maars or tuff rings, including:

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fissure volcanoes

Fissure volcanoes are produced by eruptions that occur along elongated fissures versus at a central vent. Fissure eruptions occur when magma-filled dikes intersect the surface. Fissure eruptions usually do not build substantial edifices but instead, feed lava flows that can travel great distances. Fissure eruptions may also occur in rift zones on shield volcanoes. They also frequently occur in monogenetic volcanic fields.

Fissure eruptions may be large or small, depending on the magma supply and length of the fissure. Fissure volcanoes have been the site of the largest volume of volcanic eruptions in Earth’s history in terms of the magnitude of lava erupted.

Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least four units of the National Park System contain fissure volcanoes, including:

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monogenetic volcanic fields

Volcanic fields are clusters of volcanoes or areas covered by volcanic rocks. Monogenetic volcanic fields consist mostly (or exclusively) of monogenetic volcanoes. These volcanoes (cinder cones, maars, tuff rings, and eruptive fissures) each experience one period of activity. Most monogenetic volcanic fields include areas covered by basaltic lava flows and clusters of cinders cones and/or maars and tuff rings, sometimes with a composite volcano or shield volcano located near the center of the field.

Chiricachua National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 13 units of the National Park system contain all or parts of monogenetic volcanic fields, including:

Chiricachua National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Calderas

Calderas are collapse features that form during large-volume volcanic eruptions when the underlying magma chamber is partially emptied and the ground above it subsides into it. Calderas are large, generally with a diameter greater than 0.6 miles. The largest calderas are tens of miles wide. A defining characteristic of calderas is that they have diameters that are much wider than their included vents.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At least 16 units of the National Park System contain calderas, including:

Worth Pondering…

Each volcano is an independent machine—nay, each vent and monticule is for the time being engaged in its own peculiar business, cooking as it were its special dish which in due time is to be separately served. We have instances of vents within hailing distance of each other pouring out totally different kinds of lava, neither sympathizing with the other in any discernible manner nor influencing other in any appreciable degree.

—Clarence Edward Dutton, Report on the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah (1880)

The Best Stops for a Summer Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International UFO Museum, Roswell, New Mexico

The International UFO Museum and Research Center at Roswell is the focal point of the industry that has built up around The Roswell Incident, an event that took place nearby in July 1947. What’s beyond question is that something crashed. This could have been a UFO or a military project, either way, there appears to have been some kind of cover-up. The wealth of testimonies, photographs, and other exhibits leaves you in no doubt as to what they believe here.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Believers and skeptics alike are invited to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the famous “Roswell Incident.” Mix and mingle with UFO and space enthusiasts at the Roswell UFO Festival (July 1-3, 2022) while enjoying live entertainment, family-friendly activities, guest speakers, authors, costume contests, and maybe even an alien abduction.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District, Jekyll Island, Georgia

The Jekyll Island Club was called “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world” by Munsey’s Magazine. The Club House is now the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the hotel and 33 other historic structures on 240 acres have been designated by the National Park Service as a Historic Landmark District. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can visit the museum and take a historic tour, plus visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located near Brunswick, Jekyll Island is one of the barrier islands designated as part of the Golden Isles. In addition to the historic district, recreation opportunities abound golf, biking, birding, fishing, swimming, and more. Other hotels as well as a campground with primitive and RV sites provide accommodations.

Bryce Canyon from Rim Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Point, Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon, Utah

The views over Bryce Canyon are spectacular from any of the park’s 14 viewing points but Bryce Point, the last stop on the shuttle route allows you to appreciate the full scale of this natural wonder. Stand at the viewing point and the sheer breadth of colors of the hoodoos from snow white through pale rusty to brilliant orange is amazing. Bryce Point is also the starting point of the Rim Trail, a relatively easy hike that offers outstanding views of the hoodoos from above.

Bryce Canyon from the Rim Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rim Trail passes by all the viewing points served by the shuttle (Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise Points) so you can hike as much or as little of the rim as you like. Drop your car off at the shuttle parking area opposite the visitor center.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Newport, Rhode Island

Newport, Rhode Island is where America’s wealthiest families chose to build their summer “cottages” in the late 19th century. Today, known collectively as the Newport Mansions and managed by The Preservation Society of Newport County, these lavish properties offer a rare insight into the Gilded Age of American history. The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, is the largest and most opulent of them all and was owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

Mount St. Helens from Hoffstadt Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, Toutle, Washington

If, like most people, you approach Mount St Helens by the northern route SR 504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway. Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center provides one of the best panoramic views along the way. As well as looking left towards the volcano, look down into the valley and you may be lucky enough to spot members of the elk herd that has moved into the mudflow area of the Toutle River Valley. Facilities available at the center include restaurant and helicopter tours.

Powerhouse Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Powerhouse Visitor Center, Kingman, Arizona

As its name implies, this 1907 building was once the source of electrical power for the city of Kingman and remained so until 1938 when the Hoover Dam was constructed. It was such an eyesore by the 1980s that the city considered demolishing the building but fortunately, it was saved, restored, and in 1997 reopened as the Powerhouse Visitor Center. Today it is also home to the excellent Historic Route 66 Museum which tells the story of the highway from its earliest years through the 50s and 60s.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont

Fans of “The Sound of Music” will love visiting the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. Take one of the daily Von Trapp Family History tours. Pictures of the family and its history are also hung in public areas. For resort guests, there are a variety of activities for all seasons, tours, and food choices.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A variety of accommodations are available. History tours are $10 for adult guests, $5 for children, and $15 for adult day visitors. Services are available in nearby Stowe.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, South Dakota

This beautiful—and extremely photogenic—the lake was created in 1881 when Theodore Reder built a dam across Sunday Gulch. Described as the “crown jewel” of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake offers a swimming beach and boat rentals and there’s a wonderful loop trail that leads between the rock formations that make this such a distinctive site.

The Sylvan Lake campground is open from late May to the end of September (not suitable for large RVs). The upscale Sylvan Lake Lodge, built-in 1937, is also nearby.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington Cog Railway, Mount Washington, New Hampshire

At 6,288.2 feet, Mt. Washington is the highest peak in New Hampshire. Ride in style to the summit on a historic cog railway that has been operating since 1869. Grades average 25 percent! Keep your eye out for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, which crosses the line about three-quarters of the way up. Enjoy far-reaching panoramic views at the summit on the Observatory deck on a nice day. The visitor center has snacks, restrooms, and a post office. And, don’t miss the Mt Washington Weather Museum.

Perrine Bridge and Snake River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls, Idaho

The Perrine Bridge spans the majestic Snake River Canyon on the northern edge of Twin Falls. The bridge is 486 feet above the river and 1,500 feet long and offers pedestrian walkways with views of the river, lakes, and waterfalls. BASE jumpers can enjoy the Perrine Bridge year-round as the launching point for parachuting to the canyon floor below.

Snake River from Perrine Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the south side of the bridge is a large parking area (RV friendly) with the Twin Falls Visitor Center and access to the canyon rim trails leading to the bridge. To the east of the bridge along the south rim of the canyon the dirt ramp used by Evel Knievel when he unsuccessfully attempted to jump the canyon on his steam-powered “skycycle” in 1974 is still visible.

Mitchell Corn Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Certainly one of the most famous roadsides stops out there, the Corn Palace is a great place to take a short break from the road while traveling across the prairie. Located a few miles off I-90 in Mitchell, South Dakota, The Corn Palace is a big building that’s covered in the corn! Each year, artists design murals that are created using nothing but locally grown corn. Inside the building is a small museum showing the site’s history dating back to 1892 and pictures of the murals from previous years, a basketball arena, and a gift shop.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential colony in the budding republic. The restored version of Colonial Williamsburg has provided the public with a detailed, vibrant re-creation of this city with the opportunity to travel back in time amid 88 rebuilt homes, taverns, restaurants, and shops.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia, was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Each of these sites has its unique features and historical significance.

Lake Winnepesaukee Cruise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Winnipesaukee cruises, Laconia, New Hampshire

Take a narrated day cruise on New Hampshire’s largest lake, Lake Winnepesaukee. The M/S Mount Washington holds over 1200 passengers and has several ports of call. Dinner cruises are offered in the evenings plus Sunday brunch and specialty cruises. Or, ride along on the M/V Sophie C, the only U.S. Mailboat on an inland waterway, as it delivers mail to five islands.

The season begins near the end of May and runs through most of October.

Hole N’ the Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hole N’ the Rock, Moab Utah

Located 12 miles South of Moab on Highway 191, ‘Hole N’ the Rock’ is a unique home and Trading post carved into a huge Rock. Take a tour through the 5,000-square-foot home with 14 rooms. Have a wander around the Gift store and keep the kids happy with a visit to the Petting Zoo and an ice cream from the General Store.

Gilroy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gilroy, California

If you don’t already know that Gilroy is dubbed the Garlic Capital of the World, your nose might tell you as you approach the town. So will your eyes as you see not only plenty of garlic fields and numerous shops selling garlic and other produce, and garlic-related items such as garlic-flavored chocolate and garlic-flavored ice cream. The city also holds a garlic festival every year that has drawn worldwide attention. The Garlic Festival is held in late July each year (42nd annual, July 22-24, 2022). Some of the most interesting and longest-established garlic shops are located on Highway 101 on the outskirts of town.

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York

The museum is just about all that remains of the original Owens-Corning Glass Factory in Corning. All but a few commercial products are now made in other parts of the world. The museum houses a fabulous collection of rare glass artifacts, a modern art/glass gallery, and several demonstration areas where visitors can watch glass being blown, heated, and worked into practical or artistic shapes. There is even an area where you can make your glass pieces.

A reasonable entrance fee covers two days which you might need to see everything. A cafe is on the premises to accommodate lunch guests. There is a massive gift shop, too, so you can purchase just about anything made in glass.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wall Drug Store, Wall, South Dakota

Love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore Wall Drug, not least because of the dozens of signs that announce its existence from miles away. The original signs were erected back in 1936 as owners Ted and Dorothy Hustead used the offer of cheap coffee and free ice water to tempt travelers to their drug store in the small town of Wall.

Wall Drug © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the store is so tacky it’s brilliant with dozens of specialty stores and a collection of novelty items from fiberglass dinosaurs to animations that can be activated for a quarter. It’s not subtle but makes no pretense to be. Yes, they do still offer free ice water and coffee at 5 cents a cup.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough, New Hampshire

Completed in 1914 as the estate of shoe tycoon Thomas Plant, Lucknow Estate, as it was called, is considered a prime example of Arts and Crafts architecture. Opened to the public in 1959, Castle in the Clouds is now a museum that preserves the opulent lifestyle of the period.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is known as the City Different and within one visit you will know why. Santa Fe embodies a rich history of melding Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American cultures whose influences are apparent in everything from the architecture, the food, and the art. Santa Fe has more than 250 galleries and has been rated the second largest art market in the country, after New York City. Canyon Road is a historic pathway into the mountains and an old neighborhood that has become the city’s center for art with the highest concentration of galleries.

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal.

Loretto Chapel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The visitor is drawn to Loretto Chapel to see the spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

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

10 Amazing Places to RV in June 2022

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

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature.

—David Lynch

Throughout his long career as a filmmaker and artist, David Lynch has recognized the tension between suffering and happiness that is essential to great storytelling. Despite the dark themes and difficult challenges his characters often face, the Twin Peaks creator feels that humans were not created to endure constant sorrow. Instead, we have an innate desire—and capacity—to experience pure happiness and joy.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consult a dictionary and the answer to one of life’s most pressing questions—what is happiness?—can be summed up quite succinctly: a state of well being and contentment. But ask 10 different people what happiness is on a given day and it’s unlikely you’ll get the same response twice, much less in just six words.

While happiness can be universally characterized by feelings of joy, gratitude, and contentment, the roadmaps we use to arrive there are entirely unique. 

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I look at the past, today, and my hopes for tomorrow. All of this is enhanced by the RV lifestyle.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in April and May. Also check out my recommendations from June 2021 and July 2021.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens Eruption and Legacy

The tranquility of the Mount St. Helens region was shattered in the spring of 1980 when the volcano stirred from its long repose, shook, and exploded back to life. The eruption caused the largest landslide in recorded history sending enormous amounts of rock, snow, and ice down the mountain’s north flank at speeds greater than 200 miles an hour. Within hours, an ash cloud rose 15 miles above the summit and spread northeast turning daylight into the night for at least 125 linear miles.

Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest.

Johnson Ridge Observatory Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the main roads into Mount St. Helens, State Route 504 provides spectacular views of the landscape including the crater, blast zone, and Toutle River Valley. At the end of the road is Johnston Ridge Observatory, a popular visitor center that is open daily mid-May through October.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. Forest Service has recently approved a plan to develop what would be the first overnight tourist facilities within Washington State’s Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument including a campground. The existing Coldwater Ridge visitor center will be remodeled and a trio of 10-room lodge buildings, a cluster of cabins, and a 40-space campground will be added, all arrayed on and around Coldwater’s vast parking lot.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoodoos and more hoodoos

Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent but Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth. Situated along a high plateau at the top of the Grand Staircase, the park’s high elevations include numerous life communities, fantastic dark skies, and geological wonders.

Bryce Canyon National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is not a single canyon but a series of natural amphitheaters or bowls carved into the edge of a high plateau. The most famous of these is the Bryce Amphitheater which is filled with irregularly eroded spires of rocks. Perhaps every visitor to the park will spend at least some time marveling at its four main viewpoints, all found within the first few miles of the park: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North and Sunset Campgrounds, located in close proximity to the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and the Bryce Amphitheater.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get your Kicks: Route 66 Turns 96

The inspiration for numerous songs and countless road trips, Route 66 turns 96. The cross country route proposal from Chicago to Santa Monica was made to Congress on April 30, 1926. While parts of the route have been replaced by interstates, the older areas of the road have been named a national scenic byway.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roswell Incident

Do you remember the Roswell incident that took place in June 1947? For those of you who do not know or remember it, let’s refresh your memory. Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history came on June 14, 1947. That night, a farmer named Mac Brazel was driving about 80 miles outside Roswell and came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who ultimately came to the site and issued a public statement that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The government changed its tune and deemed the UFO a “weather balloon” but many suspect the object was a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. To this date, the incident is still a subject of controversy and the town of Roswell celebrates this incident with a UFO Festival run by the City of Roswell.

Roswell UFO Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien theme town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center and has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.” Whether you’re a believer or not, the town is a goofy, cheezy place, a fantastic slice of Americana.

This is a special year for the Roswell UFO Festival! In 2022, the town marks the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. UFO Festival takes place on July 1–3.

Highway 89A © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome-Clarkdale-Cottonwood Historic Road

From the intersection of state routes 260 and 89A in Cottonwood (Arizona), do NOT follow the signs to Jerome. That leads you out of town via the bypass. Follow Historic 89A which will pass Dead Horse Ranch State Park with hiking trails, fishing lagoons, horseback rides, and RV camping before proceeding through Old Town Cottonwood. Here you’ll find galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms housed in Prohibition-era buildings. Outside of town Tuzigoot National Monument, an ancient Pueblo ruin, perches atop a limestone ridge overlooking the Verde River.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then you drive through quaint Clarkdale, Arizona’s first company town. Built by the owner of Jerome’s largest mine, Clarkdale was designed with precision planning and technological advancements far from the norm in the early 1900s. Don’t miss the Copper Art Museum featuring 5,000 objects, copper art, and collections dating to the 16th century.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Clarkdale behind, the road merges with the bypass (see all you would have missed?) and begins a short ascent into the foothills of the Black Mountains. Soon you’re climbing the shoulder of a hogback ridge with houses above you hanging off the edge. You sweep around the old high school now a collection of art galleries and follow the final twists and turns into Jerome.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park

Enjoy the best of nature and city life at this beautiful urban park located on the edge of Austin. McKinney Falls sits along rocky Onion Creek and is a local hotspot for hiking, mountain biking, road biking, bouldering, geocaching, and picnicking. So hot, in fact, that the park frequently experiences capacity closures on nice weather weekends. McKinney has 81 campsites, all with water and electric (12 with 50-amp connections). The campground is located away from most of the park’s attractions so there’s plenty of peace and quiet even when the park is busy.

McKinney Falls State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, hey, if the park does get too crowded for your taste, escape to downtown Austin and explore the city’s vibrant culture including its top-notch restaurants, art museums, and legendary music scene.

If you’re looking to stay in the Austin area with quick access to the city without feeling like you’re in the city, this is the spot. While it’s only a few miles off of a main highway, once you enter the park, you feel like you’re nowhere near an urban area.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest Road

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

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Crystal Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

California is filled with some of the most iconic—and crowded—national parks in the nation including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Joshua Tree. One park that miraculously flies under-the-radar though is Lassen Volcanic National Park, the least visited in the state with only 359,635 visitors in 2021. (for reference, Yosemite saw 3,287,595 in 2021).

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in central Northern California, this sleeper hit has a lot of elements similar to Yellowstone: your bubbling mud pots, hot springs, and freezing royal-blue lakes. Another thing the two share? The potential for volcanic eruption at any moment! Lassen Peak is an active volcano, though the most recent eruptions took place back in 1917, so there’s (probably) nothing to fear as you trek up the mountain and drink in the views of the Cascade Range. If you’d rather keep things closer to sea level, try paddling on pristine and peaceful Manzanita Lake or exploring the Bumpass Hell area, a hydrothermal hot spot filled with billowing basins and kaleidoscopic springs.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham, Texas

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop at the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope.

Blue Bell Ice Cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the ice cream alone is worth the trip, Brenham is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius. Highlights include the Texas Cotton Gin Museum and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed on March 2, 1836, liberating the state from Mexico. Located on the scenic Brazos River, the park includes The Star of the Republic Museum, which details the Texas Republic period, and Barrington Plantation, the home of the last President of the Texas Republic.

Other highlights include feeding the alpacas at Peeka Ranch Alpacas and sipping a glass of wine at the family-owned Saddlehorn Winery.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop by Wilson Arch

Wilson’s Arch is a natural sandstone arch. The arch takes its name from a 19th-century pioneer named Joe Wilson. The natural feature is red-tinted, huge, and surrounded by desert—cutting a dramatic picture.

Wilson Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike many attractions, the Wilson Arch is completely free to access. Visitors can pull straight off of Route 191 and park at the Wilson Arch Scenic View Area—making the short hike up to the rock feature if they wish. Wilson Arch is only a half an hour drive from Moab and located just after the turn-off for La Sal. If you visit the mountains, it is worth the detour.

Worth Pondering…

It is the month of June, The month of leaves and roses, When pleasant sights salute the eyes and pleasant scents the noses.

—Nathaniel Parker Willis

On the Road to Mount St. Helens

Before Mount St. Helens blew its top it was a beautifully symmetric rounded snow-capped mountain that stood between two jagged peaks, Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams

The tranquility of the Mount St. Helens region was shattered in the spring of 1980 when the volcano stirred from its long repose, shook, and exploded back to life. The local people rediscovered that they had an active volcano in their midst and millions of people in North America were reminded that the active—and potentially dangerous—volcanoes of the U.S. are not restricted to Alaska and Hawaii.

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The eruption of Mount St. Helens caused the largest landslide in recorded history, sweeping through the Toutle River Valley and removing 1,306 feet from the top of the volcano. The powerful lava flow, savage winds, and deadly heat destroyed much of the previous landscape. What the mountain left behind is the history of a violent eruption that shook the surrounding region and left many with stories of that tumultuous day on May 18, 1980.

On the road to Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens, located in southwestern Washington, is one of several lofty volcanic peaks that dominate the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest; the range extends from Mount Garibaldi in British Columbia to Lassen Peak in northern California. Geologists call Mount St. Helens a composite volcano (or stratovolcano), a term for steep-sided, often symmetrical cones constructed of alternating layers of lava flows, ash, and other volcanic debris.

On the road to Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people visit the area around Mount St Helens by leaving Interstate 5 in Washington state at exit 49 and traveling East along a road called Spirit Lake Highway. The road is so-called, because, before 1980, it used to terminate at Spirit Lake. The lake is no longer accessible by road from the West, and even from the East, a substantial hike is required. So, I like to refer to Spirit Lake Highway as the Road to Mount St Helens.

Four visitor centers tell the story of the mountain and the people living in the region surrounding it. The awesome views from each of the centers bring you face to face with a monumental natural event. These centers are located along the 52-mile-long Spirit Lake Memorial Highway, the only scenic byway in the United States that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone.

On the road to Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like a book with four chapters, each visitor center tells a different part of the story: the mountain as it was before the blast at Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center; first-hand accounts from survivors who experienced the explosion at Johnston Ridge Observatory; the recovery of the mountain and the region at the Forest Learning Center; and its present state at the Silver Lake Visitor Center. Each center offers a unique experience that brings visitors face-to-face with one of the most memorable natural phenomena of our era. 

Mount St. Helens Visit Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount St. Helens Visitor Center

Located 5 miles from I-5, Silver Lake Visitor Center is a world-class facility located on the western shore of Silver Lake. With its high ceilings and massive windows, the outdoors becomes a part of the architecture. Your senses will come alive as you enjoy the interactive exhibits, a step-in model of the volcano, and theater programs. Outside, a mile-long trail takes you into marshy plains surrounding Silver Lake where you can see waterfowl and picture-perfect views of the mountain. 

Hoffstadt Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center

Located 27 miles from I-5, Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center offers an up-close view of the mountain and the flood plain where mud rushed down into the valley, raising it a mile higher than it was prior to May 18, 1980. Take a short walk to another viewing point where a grove was dedicated in 2000 in memory of the 57 people who perished during the eruption. 

Hoffstadt Bluff Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large post-and-beam structure, Hoffstadt Bluff houses the “Memories of a Lost Landscape” exhibit, which provides an excellent depiction of the mountain prior to the blast, when the area was full of youth camps and visitors enjoying the outdoors.

Forest Learning Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Forest Learning Center

The Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, at milepost 33, describes the work of foresters before, during, and after the eruption, with an emphasis on the rebirth of the forest.

Walkthrough the forest, hearing the sounds of the birds and animals on the mountain prior to May 18, 1980. Enter the “eruption chamber” to view a video of what the forest looked like immediately after the eruption. Breathtaking photographs and life-size models of loggers working in the blast zone bring the experience to life.

Johnston Ridge Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Johnston Ridge Observatory

At the end of the scenic byway, 52 miles from I-5, Johnston Ridge Observatory is tucked into the side of Johnston’s Ridge, a mere 5 miles from the north side of the mountain. Providing visitors the opportunity to come within a stone’s throw of the crater, the observatory is unparalleled. Walkout on the viewing deck or take a stroll along one of the trails and feel the energy of the mountain as it continues to puff steam into the sky.

Johnston Ridge Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 16,000 square-foot structure offers a fully-equipped theater where visitors can watch a video about the eruption. Just as the mountain surprised the world with its blast, the movie does likewise as the show concludes and the screen rises to deliver a picture-perfect view of the mountain.

View the many exhibits and read through personal survival stories from that fateful day in 1980. For more detailed information, catch a formal talk or join a guided walk led by one of the observatory’s volunteers.

Worth Pondering…

Looking back across the long cycles of change through which the land has been shaped into its present form, let us realize that these geographical revolutions are not events wholly of the dim past, but that they are still in progress.

—Sir Archibald Geikie, Scottish geologist (1835-1924)