10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2024

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

There is only one success… to be able to spend your life in your own way.

—Christopher Morley

With more than 100 books to his credit, Christopher Morley’s oeuvre includes novels and essay and poetry collections. Perhaps his best-known work is 1939’s Kitty Foyle, a novel that sold over a million copies and was adapted into a film starring Ginger Rogers.

The source of this quote, however, is a satirical novel that the American writer debuted 17 years earlier. In Where the Blue Begins, all the characters are anthropomorphized dogs starting with Gissing, the protagonist.

When three puppies fall under his care, Gissing travels to the city and attempts to earn money in various ways such as managing a department store. His adventures in the workforce remind him that accomplishments are defined by individuals, not society, and self-awareness can clarify our  unique sense of success.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March and April. Also, check out my recommendations from May 2023 and June 2023.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. One of America’s oldest settlements

Santa Fe boasts some of the most eye-catching architecture in the U.S. This historic New Mexico city, also one of America’s oldest settlements, is proud of its long heritage and celebrates it with the conservation of the adobe buildings built by the region’s Indigenous Puebloans as early as 800 AD. 

The Puebloans layered adobe onto a basic wooden framework of vigas and latillas and the Spanish later adapted the technique in the 16th century by filling wooden molds to make brick and then spreading a thin layer of adobe over the rough walls to retain the smooth rounded finish that we still admire today. Features such as covered porches (portales), arches set within interior walls (nichos) and kiva fireplaces also originated during this period.

Be sure to seek out landmark buildings such as La Fonda on the Plaza, San Miguel Chapel, and the Palace of the Governors as you stroll around. 

Here are some articles to help:

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Synchronous fireflies viewing event

With over 2,000 species found world-wide, there are only three species of synchronous fireflies that can be found in North America. Every year, Congaree National Park hosts synchronous fireflies for approximately two weeks between mid-May and mid-June. During this time visitors can experience an awe-inspiring display of synchronous flashing while the fireflies search for a mate. This special and unique phenomenon is extremely popular.

The 2024 Synchronous Fireflies Viewing Event will take place May 16-25. Passes will be required to enter the park on event nights and will be awarded through a lottery system hosted through recreation.gov.

Unfortunately, Congaree is well-known for another insect that certainly isn’t as appealing as fireflies. Yep, mosquitos! So much so that they even have a Mosquito Meter above the entrance to the National Park visitor center.

The Mosquito Meter has a half-circle dial with an arrow that points to numbers 1-6.

The lowest in its range reads all clear, the midpoint reads severe, and at the top of the scale reads war zone.

Visitors laugh at the meter but a ranger told us, “It’s no joke.  Lots of folks call us up and ask what the meter says before they come out here.”  

By the way, I have a series of posts on Congaree National Park:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hoodoos galore

When May comes around in Bryce Canyon National Park, the snow is nearly gone which means the park’s main road and popular trails are likely to be open. Highs are typically in the 60s during the day, too―ideal conditions for hiking the park’s trail. Visitor numbers start to ramp up this month but it’s still early enough in the season that you’re unlikely to have to jostle for a view at the popular Bryce Point which overlooks Bryce Amphitheater, a landscape of otherworldly rock spires (called hoodoos).

With elevations reaching 9,115 feet, Bryce offers about 150 miles of visibility on a clear day. Plus, since it’s exposed to very little light pollution the park offers optimal conditions for stargazing. In fact, in 2019 the International Dark-Sky Association designated Bryce Canyon an International Dark Sky Park. 

Here are some helpful resources:

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Enjoy the season in Charleston

Charleston is a year-round destination but May brings something special. Spring is turning to summer and it’s time for the beach and boats but also Spoleto and the arts. The acclaimed annual performing arts festival, Spoleto runs from May 22 to June 9. But before that, the North Charleston Arts Fest (May 1-5, 20124) highlights dance, music, theater, visual arts, and literature. Named America’s favorite city (again) in the 2023 World’s Best Awards, Charleston’s warm weather in the low 80s makes May a perfect time to explore all the city has to offer. 

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

5. Almost Heaven

Nicknamed The Mountain State and Almost Heaven (thanks to John Denver’s classic song), West Virginia is the home of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Spring is truly one of the best seasons to visit the park. In early spring before the trees leaf out, wildflowers of many colors and varieties carpet the forest floor. Later, the leaf canopy appears and you can see shades of light and dark green as the leaves mature.

Hiking, river rafting, biking, and exploring by car are some ways to enjoy New River Gorge’s 70,000 acres of land and the New River which despite its name is actually among the oldest rivers on Earth.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Spring in Boston

Boston, the capital of Massachusetts is a vibrant city offering plenty to see and do. The weather in Boston in May tends to be cool and fresh but sunny. There also aren’t too many tourists at this time of year but everything is still bustling to a nice degree. So spring is the perfect time for exploring the city.

As part of a fun-packed Boston itinerary, you should make time to relax with a picnic among the colorful tulips on Boston Common. This lush green space in the center of the city looks stunning in May as everything starts to bloom.

Head over to nearby Quincy Market for lunch choosing from the myriad of cuisines available (opt for a lobster roll) before doing the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile tour of American Revolution points and landmarks.

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Georgia Mountains

Anyone who has spent time around charming mountain towns like the Alpine village of Helen or Blue Ridge knows that North Georgia offers a wonderful array of wilderness areas for nature lovers to explore. And May just so happens to be an excellent time to do so!

Picture this: You’re exploring the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains with the morning light revealing a misty haze coming off the trees of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.

The white-tailed deer and black bears begin to emerge with their young and a dazzling array of birds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies flit and buzz about as they search for nectar. Wildflowers begin to crop up everywhere with native Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Honeysuckle adding sweet smells that waft on the gentle breeze.

The spring rains turn everything in these hills a brilliant verdant green, and the temperatures at this elevation (3,000+ feet) remain relatively cool because you’re still in the Deep South.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Texas Hill Country’s most getaway-worthy German town

May is the best time to head on down to Fredericksburg, Texas. The average temperatures sit right in the mid-70s during May offering cooler and calmer weather before the blistering Texas summers hit.

Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is one of the best small towns in the South. Head out to the rolling hills to discover thousands of colorful wildflower varieties. Keep an eye out for the blooming Bluebonnets while strolling the area’s meadows to catch a glimpse at one of the must-see Texas Hill Country spectacles.

Wine lovers will also be happy to visit Fredericksburg in May as there are plenty of wine tastings and tours along the famous Wine & Wildflower Wine Trail.

History buffs will also love this cute Texas town as it is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War. Here, you will find elaborate exhibits illustrating the Pacific Theater with thousands of artifacts and historic machinery.

Make sure to stop in at one of the city’s unique dining venues to try some authentic Fredericksburg food. From Texas Hill Country cuisine at the Cabernet Grill to German cuisine at Der Lindenbaum, your stomach will be thanking you for visiting Fredericksburg in May.

Check out Top 10 Reasons to Visit Fredericksburg for more inspiration.9. Island life.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Oceans of fun

As only established town found on Mustang Island, Port Aransas boasts countless family-oriented activities that people of all ages would enjoy.

Get the most out of the Texas coast at this original island life destination with 18 miles of shoreline featuring wide, sandy beaches. This breathtaking island offers fabulous outdoor activities from parasailing to bird watching to sport fishing, dolphin watching, and kayaking. 

As one of the cutest towns in Texas, you will find plenty of year-round festivals and activities including the famous BeachtoberFest, Texas SandFest, and the Whooping Crane Festival. If you are looking for a place to stay during your visit, there are plenty of cute coastal homes and hotels perfect for a large family vacation or a last-minute getaway.

For more ideas, check out Oceans of Fun: Port Aransas and Mustang Island

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Pahá Sápa (Hills that are black)

Western South Dakota’s stunning Black Hills region is a beautiful part of the U.S. to visit any time of year but May might just be the very best month of all.

Perfectly comfortable weather conditions coupled with fewer tourists than peak summer season make May the ideal time for taking on the spectacular Black Elk Peak hiking trail. Summit views from an old fire watchtower across four U.S. states are extraordinary.

Mount Rushmore is arguably South Dakota’s most famous landmark and late May marks the beginning of the iconic granite sculpture’s esteemed evening light show.

Custer is one of the most beloved U.S. State Parks, in part thanks to its amazing family-friendly, 18-mile wildlife loop drive.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

―Lucy Larcom

The Best National Parks to Visit by Season

Best season to visit each national park

When planning a trip to the national parks one of the most important things to consider is the time of year that you are planning your visit. Most national parks have an optimal time to visit based on factors such as weather, crowd levels, and road closures.

In this article, I 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 two lists that illustrate the best months to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit the National Parks by month

Below is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. Each national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times.

These guides take many factors into consideration: weather, crowd levels, special events, fall colors, the best time to go hiking, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at least one occasion.

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

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete list of the National Parks

This guide covers the best time to visit each national park based on weather, crowd levels, and my personal experiences in the parks. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month by month. I list each of the national parks we have visited in alphabetical order and indicate the best months to visit each of these parks.

This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

There are two different ways to use these tables.

If you have a particular month or season that you are planning your trip, you can look at that column (for example: May) and the parks that are listed for that month make great options for your trip.

If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months listed are the best times to visit this park.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best parks to visit by month

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit national parks by month

  • Arches National Park (Utah): January, March, November, December
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota): April, October
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): March, April, November
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah): March, April, November
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): February, July, August, September
  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): March, May, November
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): January, April, June, November, December
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina & Tennessee): May, September, October
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): January, February, November
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): June, July, August
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): May, September
  • New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia): June, October
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): February, April, November
  • Pinnacles National Park (California): March, April, November
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona): January, February, May
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California): June, July, August
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): May, September, October
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): June, July, September, October
  • White Sands National Park (New Mexico): February, March, November
  • Zion National Park (Utah): January, October, November, 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

Yes, These Are the Most Visited National Parks in 2023

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

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

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

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Record-setting NPS destinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What park are you hoping to visit in 2024?

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

Top 10 most visited NPS sites in 2023

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 most visited national parks in 2023

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

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

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the summer season

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Michael Frome

4 of the Most Underrated, Crowd-free National Parks in America

Tired of crowds? Try these underrated national parks instead.

Contrary to popular belief, fall is the ideal season to visit America’s national parks. Summer is beautiful and all but there’s only so much one can tolerate with the scorching temperatures, parking lot road rage, and crowds swarming like they’re at a rock concert.

Come fall, however, the tides start to shift—kids are back in school, campground availability becomes less of a challenge, and in many parts of the country, the foliage turns scenic drives and trails into luminous leafy tunnels. Also, bears go back into hibernation so that’s one less thing to worry about. 

This is all well and good for clamorous national parks like Zion, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon but it’s even more true of America’s more underrated gems. Of the 63 national parks not including the more than 400 national monuments, memorials, and scenic byways overseen by the National Park Service (NPS) a good chunk of them are far-flung places you’ve likely never heard of—let alone traveled hours out of your way into the vast wilderness to visit. 

These are places with the same level of staggering natural beauty as the well-trod parks minus the crowds and the calamity (looking at you, reckless Yellowstone tourists). When it comes to underrated natural beauty not ruined by overcrowding, these are the best of the bunch. Follow the links below for more details about each park and the can’t-miss ways to visit each one.

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

Even though New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the newest national park in the country upgraded from a national river in 2020 there’s nothing youthful about this ancient landscape. Flowing northward through mountainous Appalachia in West Virginia, this mighty waterway is among the oldest rivers in the world, carving and splashing its way through a 53-mile canyon of trees, hills, and cliffs. Famed as a mecca for white-water rafting and rock climbing along with ample activities both on land and on water, this sleeper hit of a park puts the gorge in gorgeous. 

Marvel at the third-highest bridge in the U.S. The New River Gorge Bridge is to West Virginia as the Space Needle is to Seattle—a feat of architectural prowess and innovation ascending to staggering heights. A centerpiece attraction in the park, it’s the longest steel span bridge in the western hemisphere designed to significantly reduce travel time for drivers on roads. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places it’s an essential sight in New River Gorge best seen from the Canyon Rim Visitor Center north of the bridge.

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

Get wet in one of the oldest rivers on the planet. For a waterway that might be as old as 360 million years, the New River is certainly still spry and lively. Adrenaline junkies come from far and wide to suit up and float the river navigating white water that can reach as high as Class V rapids. Altogether, the park protects 53 miles worth of river from Bluestone Sam to Hawks Nest Lake with the more intense rapids accumulating in the lower gorge. Experienced rafters can hit the river themselves or licensed outfitters in the area provide guided trips.

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

An optimal example of quality over quantity, Congaree National Park is smack dab in the middle of South Carolina’s murkiest floodplains. At just 26,000 acres, it’s a tiny but mighty park that has the mystical look and feel of a mildly haunted forest with some of the tallest trees east of the Mississippi thrown in for good measure. It may look like a giant swamp but Congaree is a huge floodplain of its namesake Congaree River where the constant ebb and flow of water levels is a healthy part of the natural ecosystem filtering nutrients down into the roots of loblolly pines and tupelos so colossal and towering that they block out the sun.

Though it may look like a big ol’ swamp it’s a massive floodplain. The river routinely floods carrying vital nutrients down into the roots of skyscraping giants like loblolly pines, laurel oaks, and swamp tupelos. This being flat-as-a-flapjack South Carolina, the trails are all easy (albeit occasionally muddy). An absolute must is the mud-free elevated Boardwalk Loop Trail which winds through high-canopy forests so dense it gives the park an eerie, Blair Witch Project kind of vibe. But don’t worry—the only wildlife you’re likely to see are owls, armadillos, and otters.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Paddle Cedar Creek. South Carolina is infamously flat and considering the watery focal point here paddling is the main draw. Guests can book a guided kayak or canoe trip with an area outfitter (or bring your own) on Cedar Creek, a moody waterway that meanders through the thick of the forest like a wooded labyrinth. The slow-moving creek is also gentle as can be which means you won’t have to work too hard to paddle in either direction—rather, sit back and enjoy the peaceful journey through an ominous forest so quiet that the only sounds are distant woodpeckers and hooting owls. The longest journey is a 15-mile float from Bannister’s Bridge to the far-mightier Congaree River.

Hike the Boardwalk Trail. Although the park is flat and hiking is really more like scenic strolling, the Boardwalk Trail is a beauty to behold getting visitors up close and personal to the park’s most epic plant life. The easy—and dog-friendly—trail traverses a 2.5-mile boardwalk loop starting at the visitor center and passing through trees, over creeks, and alongside rivers. The boardwalk is raised several feet off the forest floor, so it’s accessible—even during heavy rain—and it’s a lot less muddy than some of the other trails through the woods.

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

A gypsum dune field so vast that it’s visible from space, White Sands National Park truly looks out of this world. This New Mexico park located in a southwestern region of the state once awash in a prehistoric sea is now home to the largest gypsum desert on Earth with dunes 30 feet deep and 60 feet tall stretching for 275 square miles.

Soft and silken, the dunes look more like granulated sugar than sand and the fact that they’re made of gypsum means they don’t absorb heat from the sun so you can walk barefoot without burning your soles. With mountains looming in the distance and rockets roaring in the background from the nearby missile range it doesn’t get much more otherworldly than this.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slide on a sand sled. Because the dunes are snow-white it feels appropriate that sledding is one of White Sands’ premier activities. But unlike snow, sand is not naturally slick which is why waxed plastic saucers are recommended—and available for rent or purchase from the gift shop at the entrance visitor center.

The entire park is accessible for sledding and exploring but sledders are reminded not to slide down dunes that lead towards roads or ones that end on a hard surface (spoiler alert: the area at the base of the dunes is not as soft as it may look). 

Explore the dunes via the Alkali Flat Trail. The longest of the park’s five designated trails this is a five-mile loop at the end of the scenic Dunes Drive with mesmerizing desert views that extend to the horizon. Clip-on shoe covers are a wise choice since you’ll 100 percent be shimmying up and down a plethora of tall dunes through shifting sands and unstable surfaces as you follow the red diamond trail markers. Wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and ample sunscreen are also advised along with plenty of water.

A bit easier, the Dune Life Nature Trail is a one-mile loop through the grassier portion of the park where you might see tracks in the sand of critters like kit foxes, badgers, and lizards. For something truly unique embark on a guided full moon hike offered once a month by reservation.

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

An underrated park Lassen Volcanic is the the least visited national park in California. With its thermal features, soaring peaks, volcanic history, and shimmering lakes it feels like a mini-Yellowstone with a fraction of the crowds. Nestled in a quiet section of central northern California it’s a place where rugged extremes and intensity like the fuming mud pots in Bumpass Hell are juxtaposed by the peaceful bliss of Manzanita Lake. Like Yellowstone, too, Lassen Peak is also an active volcano that could blow at a moment’s notice.

The key difference here, though, is that, unlike the global catastrophe that would ensue from a Yellowstone eruption, Lassen is far tamer. When it last erupted in 1917 shattering a lava dome, spewing a fine layer of ash, and triggering avalanches and floods it certainly caused damage and disarray but it wasn’t the end of humanity. Rather, nowadays the 10,457-foot mountain is a requisite hike for park-goers, and the sleeping giant forms an almost cinematic-like backdrop from many prized vantage points in this explosive, fiery, and gorgeous park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike to the top of Lassen Peak. It’s a five-mile round-trip journey to the cratered summit where panoramic views of the Cascade Range (including Mount Shasta in the distance) await. The trail gets quite steep at points and much of it is in the direct sun so plan accordingly. Even in the height of summer, traces of snow can be found at the top so proper hiking boots and layers are especially recommended for fall.

Another iconic area to explore is Bumpass Hell, a moderate three-mile trek through the largest hydrothermal area in the park, home to vibrant hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and acidic boiling water. Due to its high elevations, it’s an area prone to lots of snow which means it’s closed in the winter and into late spring.

Paddle Manzanita Lake. In the shadows of Lassen Peak this regal-blue lake offers the ultimate in tranquility. Rental equipment for paddle boards and kayaks is available at the Manzanita Lake Camper Store and the utter stillness of the water makes it a lovely place for a leisurely float in the sun. Fishing for trout is another popular pastime here as is strolling the flat trail that surrounds the lake and picnicking in the area.

Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

Worth Pondering…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The Ultimate East Coast National Parks Road Trip 

From Shenandoah in Virginia to Congaree in South Carolina, this road trip hits four national parks, covers 780 miles, and guides you away from the crowds

How’s the saying go? “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” But if you want to connect the most spectacular East Coast national parks and experience the best adventures in between maybe the saying should go: “It’s not just the destination because the journey is kickass, too.”

Follow my plan and you’ll paddle wild rivers, climb storied cliffs, and find yourself in miles of empty, stunning wilderness. Set aside a couple of weeks to complete the whole drive or carve off one leg at a time.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Royal, Virginia to Afton, Virginia

Distance: 108 miles

Route: This is a short but worthy stretch of road through Shenandoah National Park and some gorgeous mountain drives along the way.

The park: Just 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park protects a particularly pretty stretch of the Blue Ridge Mountains offering a quick getaway for denizens of the Mid-Atlantic. And they show up—nearly 1.6 million of them visited the park in 2021. And most stick to Skyline Drive which draws a line through the middle of the park or flock to the summit of Old Rag, a dramatic, rocky peak with tough climbs and killer views.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To avoid the crowds, try the 3.4-mile Chimney Rock loop hike. Or bring your fly rod. The park is packed with pristine backcountry trout streams, 70 of which hold healthy populations of native brook trout. Rapidan River, a headwaters stream, offers cool history along with its bevy of trout as President Hoover established a mountain retreat where two streams join to form the Rapidan.

Need to know: You can fish for trout year-round in Shenandoah but Rapidan is catch and release only.

Stay: Skyland puts you in the heart of Shenandoah as the park lodge occupies 27 acres off milepost 41 of Skyline Drive. Even better than the location are the digs: newly renovated rooms and cabins are well appointed and the mountain views from 3,680 feet are stunning.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When it comes to developed campgrounds, Mathews Arm Campground is your best bet in the north end of Shenandoah. Big Meadows and Lewis Mountain are the most centrally located campgrounds and give you quick access to some of the most popular sites in the park like Dark Hollows Trail and the Byrd Visitor Center and camp store. Loft Mountain, the largest campground in the park is the only one south of US 33. Book your campsite several months in advance via the NPS system—things fill up quickly in peak summer and fall seasons.

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

Afton, Virginia to Fayetteville, West Virginia

Distance: 170 miles

Route: You’ll head deep into the heart of the Southern Appalachians to explore the 63rd and most recently designated national park—New River Gorge with one of the region’s deepest gorges and some of its tallest mountains.

Detour: About 60 miles away in nearby West Virginia, Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area is a hotbed of traditional climbing with hundreds of established multi-pitch routes that traverse the mountain’s unique fins of Tuscarora quartzite which rise from the canopy like a dragon’s back. If you have time, sign up for a three-day trad camp where you’ll master anchors and protection placement.

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

The park: The 70,000-acre New River Gorge National Park protects some of the best whitewater rafting and rock climbing on the eastern seaboard. Less known? The 13-miles of singletrack built specifically for mountain biking. Hit the Arrowhead Trails on the south side of the gorge for fast and pedaly flow through a dense hardwood forest. The three-mile long Adena loop has the toughest climbs and quickest descents.

Need to know: Unlike many national parks, bikes are allowed on a variety of trails throughout New River Gorge including some non-technical paths that cruise by historic mining camps.

Stay: The cabin-heavy Adventures on the Gorge Resort sits on the rim of the New River Gorge, with a 350-acre campus packed with ziplines, pools, aerial adventure courses, and low key restaurants. The resort’s in-house guides will take you climbing and rafting, too. Choose from glamping tents to deluxe cabins.

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

Fayetteville, West Virginia to Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Distance: 275 miles

Adventure along the drive: Take a quick detour back into Virginia on your way to Tennessee to stop at the 200,000-acre Mount Rogers National Recreation Area—5,279-foot Rogers is the tallest peak in the state. Start in Grayson Highlands State Park and hike four miles through high-elevation mountain balds, scramble over rock outcroppings, and spy the herds of feral ponies that live free range on the ridges.

Detour: Before you hit the Smoky Mountains, soak in one of the only natural hot springs in the Southern Appalachians in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Mineral waters fill tubs in the Hot Springs Resort and Spa on the edge of the French Broad River. Book a private tub and make time for a beer at Big Pillow Brewing in downtown.

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

The park: A little over 12 million. That’s how many people visited the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year. That’s the bad news. The good news? Most of those people stick to the scenic roads and short nature trails which means the best way to ditch the crowds is to hit the backcountry. Head to the less crowded eastern side of the park accessed at a remote entrance to the park off of Heintooga Ridge Road to backpack or trail run the 13.8-mile Hemphill Bald Loop which cruises along at 5,000 feet in elevation across mountain top meadows before sinking deep into a forest of old growth poplars, babbling trout streams, and remote campsites.

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

Stay: Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year with 10 locations.

Eat and Drink: Skip the madness in Gatlinburg and head to the much quieter Townsend where traditional Southern fare is given an upscale treatment at the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro. What isn’t grown onsite is sourced locally. Cheese plates are dressed with home-grown figs, and local trout is paired with tomato jam and grits.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Columbia, South Carolina

Distance: 230 miles

Route: This route begins on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most biodiverse in the country and ends in a serene swamp with a stop in everyone’s favorite North Carolina mountain town of Asheville along the way.

Adventure along the drive: Just outside of Asheville, The Riveter combines professionally built bike jump lines with a 16,000-square foot climbing gym, yoga studio, and bar. Send it inside and out then cross the street and grab a beer at Sierra Nevada’s sprawling East Coast campus.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Detour: The Chattooga River in Georgia offers 20 miles of class III-V whitewater in a pristine setting that’s designated Wild and Scenic and was the filming ground for the cult classic film Deliverance. It’s one of the most unique rafting experiences you can get on the East Coast because the number of rafters is limited and groups are spaced out to preserve the remote nature of the river. Knock out eight-mile section 4 for the biggest rapids or combine sections 3 and 4 as an overnighter with a riverside camp.

The Park: Congaree National Park doesn’t get the recognition of Great Smoky but don’t let the lack of hype—or crowds—deter you. The landscape is unlike any other as the park protects the largest expanse of old growth bottomland forest in the east. The best way to explore the park is by boat paddling a canoe along Cedar Creek where a marked 15-mile trail takes you through gnarled cypress knees and loblolly pines that reach more than 100 feet tall.

Need to know: There’s no current in the creek, so it’s an ideal out-and-back paddling adventure.

The Barnyard RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay: Congaree is just 30 minutes from downtown Columbia where Sesquicentennial State Park offers 69 sites with water and electric service. Alternatively, stay at The Barnyard RV Park in nearby Lexington.

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.

—John Denver

The Best National Parks to Visit in October

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

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

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including 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.

In October, fall colors sweep across much of the United States. The majority of the parks that you will see on this list are parks that are ablaze in fall colors. Some of these are obvious picks such as Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains but a few may surprise you. In this guide, I list six beautiful national parks to visit in October plus four bonus parks and a road trip to link several of these together.

Shenandoah 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.

Visiting the National Parks in October

From mid-September through November, the leaves change from green to vivid hues of yellow, orange, and red across much of the United States. To see these brilliant fall colors, October is the best month of the year to plan your national parks road trip.

On this list are parks that show off some sort of fall colors and some are more spectacular than others. Shenandoah National Park is gorgeous this time of year and one of the top national parks to visit to see fall colors. But there are also parks like Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt that put on a show which are places that you might not associate with fall colors.

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

Best National Parks in October

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. 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 trails traverse through the park.

Shenandoah is a beautiful park to visit in October. From the viewpoints along Skyline Drive, you can gaze across the mountains and the kaleidoscope of fall colors.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Shenandoah in October: The last two weeks of October are prime time to visit the park to see fall colors. Plus, the weather is perfect for hiking.

Weather: The average high is 60°F and the average low is 40°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 October 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.

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.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a picturesque wilderness of grasslands and badlands. Bison, feral horses, 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, pronghorn, and other wildlife from your car.

Theodore Roosevelt is a relatively quiet park to visit all year. We visited in early October and had an awesome experience. The weather was still warm, crowds were very low, and the hint of fall colors was a nice bonus.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Theodore Roosevelt in October: The weather is getting cooler but this is a beautiful time to visit the park. The trees turn a nice shade of yellow adding a splash of fall color to the park. 

Weather: The average high is 58°F and the average low is 30°F. On hotter than average days, the temperature can get up into the 80s. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 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

3. New River Gorge National Park

Location: West Virginia

Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent. There is some debate among geologists about the age of this river with estimates ranging from 3 to 360 million years. During this time, the river carved 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.

There are two big reasons why New River Gorge is one of the best national parks to visit in October: Bridge Day and, you guessed it, fall colors.

On the third Saturday in October (October 21, 2023), the New River Gorge Bridge closes to traffic and opens to pedestrians. This is one of the largest extreme sporting events in the world. On Bridge Day, BASE jumpers leap from the bridge and rappelers ascend and descend from the catwalk. There is also a zipline that runs from the bridge to Fayette Station Road (the High Line) that you can sign up for in advance.

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

Why visit New River Gorge in October: To participate in Bridge Day and to see fall colors in the park. For peak colors, plan your visit for the last week in October into early November.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 46°F. October is one of the driest months of the year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 6:45 pm.

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).

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Zion National Park is one of the best places in the United States to go hiking.

Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.

But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

Zion is a busy park to visit all year round but in October visitation begins to ease at least a little bit. And October with its warm weather and splash of fall colors is a gorgeous time to go hiking in Zion.

October is also a great time to visit the rest of Utah’s Mighty 5: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyons National Parks.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Zion in October: For fewer crowds, some fall colors, and pleasant hiking weather. If you have plans to hike the Zion Narrows, this is a good time of year to do it. The water temperature is still relatively warm and the water level is low, prime conditions for doing this hike.

Weather: The average high is 78°F and the average low is 50°F. On unusually warm days the temperature can get into the 90s. Rainfall is low.
Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 6:50 pm.

Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook.

Ultimate adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How much time do you need? If you plan to hike, spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Plan your visit

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park

Location: South Dakota

The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country. Bison, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep roam this larg mixed-grass prairie region. The sunrises and sunsets are magical, the hiking trails are short and sweet, and for those looking for more solitude, you can take your pick from a handful of backcountry experiences.

This is not a park that you might expect to see some fall colors but in October there are a few trees in the gullies their colors as they turn yellow and red.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Badlands in October: For fantastic weather, few crowds, and the chance to see some fall colors. 

Weather: The average high is 65°F and the average low is 38°F. On unusually warm days, it can get into the 80s. October is the end of the rainy season with 1.5 inches of rain.

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

Top experiences: Drive Badlands Loop Road and visit the overlooks, watch the sunrise and/or the sunset, hike the Notch Trail, hike the Door and Fossil Exhibit Trails, drive Sage Creek Rim Road, visit Roberts Prairie Dog Town, hike the Castle Trail, and count how many bison you can find.

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate experience, venture into the backcountry. In Badlands National Park, you are permitted to hike off-trail and the Sage Creek Wilderness and Deer Haven Wilderness are great places to go hiking and spot wildlife.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many days do you need? One day in Badlands National Park gives you just enough time to visit the highlights and hike a few short trails. Make sure you catch either sunrise or sunset in the park because these are one of the best times of day to look out across the landscape. To fully experience the park add an additional day or two and be sure to make a pit stop at nearby Wall Drug.

Plan your visit

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

6. 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, 12.9 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4.7 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 October: For great weather for hiking and an array of fall colors.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 41°F. Rainfall is about 5 inches for October 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 the weekend. Trust me on that one.

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in October

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

Commemorating the Cold War, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site offers visitors a history of the U.S. nuclear missile program and their hidden location in the Great Plains. The site details U.S. foreign policy and its push for nuclear disarmament.

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. 

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

The richly diverse volcanic landscape of El Malpais National Monument offers solitude, recreation, and discovery. There’s something for everyone here. Explore cinder cones, lava tube caves, sandstone bluffs, and hiking trails. Known as the badlands in Spanish, El Malpais was used by early Spanish map makers to describe areas of volcanic terrain. El Malpais preserves an ancient volcanic landscape and a history of human habitation.

October road trip idea

South Dakota Road Trip

With one week, you can go on a road trip in South Dakota visiting Badlands and Wind Cave National Park. Add on Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and even Devils Tower for an epic road trip. The aforementioned Minuteman Missile National Historic Site a few miles from Badlands National Park.

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 14 Most Beautiful U.S. Landmarks to Visit This Fourth of July

When you can go to the beach all summer why not try something new and more meaningful on Independence Day?

The Fourth of July holiday is rapidly approaching promising crowded beaches, sunburns, and lots of travel traffic. Take your weekend in a new direction and visit American landmarks on the anniversary of its birth. Celebrate the natural, industrial, and historic wonders of the US by visiting these iconic sites. From the Grand Canyon to the Alamo, this list of 14 American landmarks proves America has much to offer.

So many great places—so little time. 

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World alongside the likes of the Great Barrier Reef and Mount Everest, the spectacular gorge stands alone as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the stunning beauty of American. The Grand Canyon encompasses a 277-mile stretch of the Colorado River about the distance from Boston to Philadelphia. It is up to 18 miles wide and more than 1 mile deep standing as the world’s greatest example of the erosive power of water. 

“The extent and magnitude of the system of canyons is astounding,” wrote U.S. Army explorer Joseph Christmas Ives, the first European American to explore the canyon in 1857-58. The Grand Canyon still astounds visitors today. 

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah Historic District, Georgia

The colonial south lives today amid the verdant squares of Savannah, a nearly 300-year-old city that enjoyed a rebirth following its haunting, captivating portrayal in the 1994 bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Visitors love Savannah for its charming thoroughfares including the iconic cobblestones of River Street, delicious restaurants highlighting the best of southern fare such as Paula Deen’s flagship eatery The Lady and Sons, and its historic squares such as Chippewa Square featured in Forrest Gump.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

The centerpiece of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains is nothing less than the tallest peak in the northeast (6,288 feet). More famously Mount Washington habitually witnesses the globe’s most severe weather—due to its elevation and its location at the convergence of several major storm patterns. 

Mount Washington’s brutal wind and cold is proclaimed locally as a testament to the hearty nature of Live Free or Die state residents. The summit held the record for highest wind speed ever recorded (231 mph) for several decades and reached a record low temperate of -50 degrees Fahrenheit in January 1885. The Mount Washington Observatory recorded a wind chill of -103 degrees as recently as 2004. The mountain today is a popular attraction for tourists who ascend the top via hiking trail, precarious auto road, or popular cog railway.  

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

This geological oddity is an American wonder for its natural beauty and sobering role in the history of modern warfare. White Sands National Park includes 275 square miles of glistening gypsum sand—the largest dune field of its kind on Earth surrounded by the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range. The park today offers spectacular vistas and touring by automobile, hiking, biking, or pack animals.

It was on this site in July 1945 that American scientists led by J. Robert Oppenheimer first unleashed the power of the atomic bomb, a victory of American ingenuity and industrial power amid World War II. The achievement also had lingering ramifications for mankind. The Trinity test at White Sands was a prelude to the atomic attacks the following month on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan that ended World War II.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

The rugged and wild parkland is celebrated for its rugged badlands, free-roaming bison, and its namesake’s Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River. Stargazing is a popular activity in the isolated park hundreds of miles from the nearest major city, with weekly events and viewing parties highlighted by the August annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania

The stunning human cost of preserving the nation is best seen in this sprawling battlefield in rural south-central Pennsylvania. Gettysburg pitted about 160,000 men in a pitched three-day battle that turned the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. Some 50,000 soldiers of both sides were killed or wounded. It remains the largest battle in North American history. 

Visitors today can stand where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine to fix bayonets and charge down Little Round Top to save the southern end of the Union line or walk in the footsteps of brave Confederates slaughtered during Pickett’s charge on the decisive day of battle or tour the vast battlefield by exploring the hundreds of haunting monuments that dot the landscape today. 

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established by the United States Congress in 1934 and formally dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. It was the first national park to be endowed with land and other expenses paid in part with federal money; previous parks had been entirely funded by state or private donors. The park is divided between the Blue Ridge Mountains which are a subdivision of the broader Appalachian Mountain chain and the Great Smoky Mountains part of the larger Southern Appalachians.

The national park is notable for its mountains, waterfalls, biodiversity, and spruce-fir forests. The park also houses several historical buildings that were part of early European-American settlers’ settlements in the area. The park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo, Texas

Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it is a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort; they had tried without success to hold off Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in late February and early March of that year. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

On the 13th day—March 6, 1836—the Alamo finally fell and its defenders became American legends. The aftermath has inspired Americans for almost 190 years and the battle cry “Remember the Alamo?” has been repeated over and over again.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport Mansions, Rhode Island

The wealth of the Gilded Age springs to life in Newport where the nation’s titans of 19th-century industry built ostentatious summer homes on the cliffs where scenic Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers owned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II is probably the most spectacular built of limestone in the ornate style of an Italian palazzo.

Newport’s legacy as a playground of wealthy lives on today, amid its charming and busy downtown waterfront. The city is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and hosted the America’s Cup, the world’s premier sailing race, for decades. 

Middleton Place, Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston plantations and gardens, South Carolina

The antebellum South both its beauty and the disturbing legacy of human bondage live on today and its vast collection of some 2,000 plantations many of which are centered around historic Charleston and open to visitors. 

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens features what it calls “America’s last large-scale Romantic-style garden”.  Middleton Place, named for Declaration of Independence signatory Arthur Middleton claims “America’s oldest landscaped gardens” across 65 acres. Boone Hall dates back to 1681 and is famed for its Avenue of the Oaks with its moss-covered limbs forming a photogenic canopy along with an array of brick homes that housed slave families. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

This monumental sculpture of four U.S. presidents, each of their faces an amazing 60-feet tall, turned a remote area of a remote state into a beloved symbol of the national narrative. Law school student William Andrew Burkett summed up the purpose of the monument in 1934 in a winning essay he submitted to a contest hosted by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum. 

“Almighty God, from this pulpit of stone the American people render thanksgiving and praise for the new era of civilization brought forth upon this continent,” Burkett wrote, his essay immortalized in bronze at the park. Mount Rushmore attracts some 2 million visitors a year and is a prominent place in the nation’s cultural lexicon with its images of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln staring stoically across the American continent.  

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona and Utah

The spectacular images of eroded sandstone buttes rising from the red rock of the Colorado Plateau along the Arizona-Utah state line are firmly ingrained in America’s natural and cultural landscapes. Monument Valley was forged by tectonic forces some 250 million years ago. It was inhabited by Navajo for centuries who set aside the land as a park within the Navajo Nation in 1958. 

Its stunning landscape has reached audiences around the world as the backdrop of classic western movies such as Stagecoach, the 1939 John Ford flick that made John Wayne a star. More recently its jagged cathedrals of stone framed war hero and shrimp tycoon Forrest Gump as he abruptly ended his famous silver-screen jog across America on U.S. Route 163 hear Mexican Hat, Utah.

Lake Champlain © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Champlain, New York and Vermont

The “Sixth Great Lake” has loomed large in both Native and European American history. Lake Champlain divided the Mohawks to the west and Abenaki to the east while British and continental forces fought for control of the 107 mile-long lake throughout the American Revolution. 

Lake Champlain today is a perfect place to enjoy the pristine wilderness and especially the fall foliage of northern New England or search for Champy. The mysterious Loch Ness monster-like creature was first known to the Abenaki allegedly witnessed by French explorer Samuel de Champlain himself and reported by dozens of other witnesses in the centuries since. 

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

America’s newest national park has long been a symbol of an Appalachian Mountain state so beautiful it’s known around the world as Almost Heaven. New River Gorge achieved its federal designation in December 2020. The park is celebrated most notably for its spectacular New River Gorge Bridge. It was both the world’s highest auto bridge and longest single-span arch bridge when it opened in 1977 though it has been surpassed in both global superlatives since. 

The park offers many recreational opportunities along with insight and exhibits exploring West Virginia’s coal mining history and culture. Among the figures celebrated: coal miner and son of slaves Carter Woodson who recorded the stories he heard digging ore and turned them into a published legacy as the “Father of Black History.” 

Worth Pondering…

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.

—Albert Einstein

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

National Park Week: Discover the Beauty of America’s National Parks

From massive canyons to brilliantly-colored deserts, national parks offer some of America’s wildest and most iconic landscapes

When the US Congress established Yellowstone as the first national park in 1872, it was “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Its founding marked the birth of the US National Park System and eventually launched a worldwide movement to protect outdoor spaces and historical landmarks. Since 1904, some 15 billion visitors have explored the wild wonders of the America’s parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Week is happening April 22 to April 30 this year! Entrance fees will be waived on April 22, 2023, to kick off National Park Week.

In 2016, inspired by the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, photographer Jonathan Irish visited every U.S. national park over 52 weeks.

“National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures,” says Irish. “It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Irish’s journey, the National Parks Service has designated four additional parks:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now 63 spaces to explore across the country. Celebrate National Park Week with images of these priceless national treasures from the cliff dwelling of Mesa Verde in Colorado to the deep, dark recesses of New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns.

Arches National Park, Utah

With over 2,000 natural stone arches, Arches National Park is part of southern Utah’s extended canyon country, carved and shaped by weathering and erosion.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park is made up of jagged and striped rock formations. Striped in yellow, amber, and purple, the colorful eroded formations dip and rise amid the prairie grasslands.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National, Texas

Recently named the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve, Big Bend National Park’s hundred-mile views sweep across the hills, arroyos, and mesas of the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah draws more than 2.7 million visitors a year thanks to its stunning geology of red arches and phantom-like spires called hoodoos.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

The sun peeks through Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park. The largest and most undeveloped of Utah’s national parks, Canyonlands offers backcountry adventures, scenic landscapes, and two major rivers.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Escape the crowds by fording the shallow Fremont River (high-clearance vehicles only) and head out on a 58-mile dirt road loop into desolate Cathedral Valley, an austere landscape dominated by two sandstone sentinels, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

More than 119 caves are hidden beneath the surface of this national park in the Chihuahuan Desert. Cave scientists have explored at least 30 miles of passageways of the main cavern of Carlsbad and the investigation continues. Visitors may tour three of these miles on a paved trail.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park contains North America’s largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland forest. Boardwalk hikes and canoe tours are popular activities among the towering trees.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon National Park is a sprawling gorge of layers in pink, red, and orange hues revealing millions of years of geological history. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Fog lingers among the forested hills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park which spans the southern Appalachians along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. Water and hydrocarbons exuded by trees produce the filmy smoke that gives the mountains their name.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

From 1914 to early 1915, Lassen Peak spewed steam and ashes in more than 150 eruptions. Now, the quieted volcano serves as a scenic backdrop to the park’s jigsaw-puzzle landscape of forest, lava beds, and lakes.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The sun sets early on Cliff Palace, the largest of the ancient stone-and-mortar cliff houses tucked into the park’s canyon walls. The only way to experience the fine detail of the construction is on a ranger-guided tour.

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve spans more than 72,000 acres of wooded hills, deep ravines, and the Appalachian plateau. It was named the U.S.’s newest national park in 2020. 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Walking along the park’s trails, visitors can see hills made of bluish clay and the largest concentration of brilliantly colored petrified wood in the U.S.

Pinnacles National Park, California

Known for its spectacular rock formations, beautiful spring wildflowers, and large groups of endangered condors, Pinnacles National Park is a mecca for rock climbing and day hiking. It offers 32 miles of trails that climb through winding talus caves and shaded creeks.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park takes its name from the largest cacti in the United States. The park, which flanks Tucson, is home to millions of the cacti, which can grow up to 50 feet tall.

Sequoia National Park, California

Nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park is nearly 97 percent wilderness. It holds over 2,000 giant sequoia trees including General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree, measured by volume.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Located between the Shenandoah Valley in the west and the Piedmont region in the east, the park is an expanse of wooden hollows and breezy summits, waterfalls and mountain streams, more than 500 miles of hiking trails and nearly 80,000 acres of designated wilderness.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt is unique among the scenic parks in that it preserves not only an extraordinary landscape but also the memory of an extraordinary man. It honors the president who probably did more for the National Park Service than anyone before or since.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

White Sands National Park protects the largest gypsum dune on Earth, a remnant of bygone lakes and seas, a 275-square-mile basin that glitters white and stays cool to the touch. Visitors come to cruise the eight-mile Dunes Drive, hike one of the five established trails, or see the soft, translucent sand glow blue-white under a full moon.

Zion National Park, Utah

One of the most photographed views in Zion National Park is of Watchman Mountain from the Canyon Junction Bridge. Irish’s favorite spot is at the center of the bridge where the river leads the eye to the Watchman Spire in the background.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

The Ultimate Guide to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

A rugged, whitewater river flowing northward through deep canyons, the New River is among the oldest rivers on Earth

Before visiting the New River Gorge for the first time, I’ll admit that I didn’t know a whole lot about it. I knew it was in West Virginia coal country and I knew that it had a famous bridge over a river. And that was about it!

But this just meant that each discovery—of an amazing view or adorable town or interesting tidbit of history—was both surprising and exciting. I love to be surprised by destinations and the New River Gorge is certainly delivered.

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

Despite its name and although it was only recently designated as a national park, New River Gorge is anything but—this incredible gorge, similar to the Grand Canyon or Columbia River Gorge of the west has been carved out over the eons by the soft but persistent power of flowing water. Along with the mighty New River itself, this West Virginia wilderness encompasses a vast and vivid 70,000-acre stretch of countryside and offers a huge array of both lands- and water-based recreational opportunities. 

Tucked into south-central West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve (which was upgraded from National River status at the end of 2020) is located about an hour from Charleston, West Virginia, and close to small towns such as Beckley, Beaver, and Hinton. It’s also only a short distance from the Virginia border and towns in that state like Roanoke. 

New River Gorge is characterized by its carved-out river canyon which is populated with beautiful Appalachian greenery that paints the rolling hills that spread out from the water. As in most parts of the Appalachian Mountains weather can be unpredictable and quick to change but generally, you can expect temperatures between the 20s and 40s in winter, 30 and 70 in spring and fall, and pleasant summers that range from 50-80 degrees. Precipitation can occur year-round but the wettest month is July.

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

History of the Park

According to the National Park Service, the origins of the New River are almost as old as the Appalachian Mountains themselves. During the birth of the Appalachians 500 million years ago the North American and African plates collided forcing the earth up and forming mountains.

An ancient river, the Teays (once much larger, but then broken up by glacial action) drained from the steep edges of this new range and over time it got faster and bigger cutting through the mountains.

That process has continued until today and this section of the ancient river has now sliced through 1,500 feet of rock to create the picturesque canyon that still contains powerful waters. All of this history might make it the second-oldest river on the planet.

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

Before Europeans arrived in the area in the 1600s, Indigenous peoples had been living there for at least 11,000 years, according to archeological evidence. Those native groups are the ancestors of the Cherokee and Shawnee peoples who fought the White settlers for over 150 years but were forced off their land by the early 1800s.

More on New River Gorge: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Because the New River had cut through so much rock during its history seams of good-quality coal were easy to access. The industry prospered and the area was connected to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1873 to facilitate the moving of mined coal. Soon, towns and settlements followed and for almost 50 years mining was a primary business with at least one mine surviving into the 1960s. Today, rail yards, bridge piers, the ruins of coal mining towns, coke ovens, rusted mine cars, and other remnants of the industry can still be found throughout the park.

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

New River Gorge Bridge history

Before 1977, if you wanted to cross the New River Gorge, you had to drive down into the canyon, cross a railroad bridge, and then drive back up again on the other side. The crossing could take up to an hour on narrow, twisting mountain roads.

This crossing time was reduced to less than two minutes once the New River Gorge Bridge was completed in 1977. Today, it carries US-19 across the gorge, 876 feet above the New River.

The bridge is a modern architectural marvel; when it was completed, it was the longest single-span arch bridge in the world spanning 3,030 feet (today it’s still the third-longest bridge of its kind).

You can learn a bit about the bridge and its history in a video at the Canyon Rim Visitor Center and there’s also a boardwalk trail there that offers up some excellent vantage points of the bridge. (Just note that the lower observation deck does include lots of stairs.)

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

It all started with the Fayette Station Road, originally called the Gentry Road which was 1909. The bridge below the main arch bridge is the Tunney Hunsacker Bridge (often referred to as “the little bridge” by visitors.) It was the first bridge for cars to cross the New River Gorge. At the time that was the area’s engineering marvel.

In the 1960s, construction began on Route 19 also known as Corridor L. It needed to cross the New River Gorge and the only question was how. The answer was to build what was then the largest arch bridge in the world. Construction began in 1974 and was completed 3 years later in 1977. 

The bridge is a structure of amazing statistics:

  • 3,030 feet long
  • 876 feet high
  • 70 feet wide
  • 88 million pounds of U.S. Cor-Ten steel and American cement

Opened and dedicated on October 22, 1977, the span has since become an iconic symbol of West Virginia.

More on New River Gorge: BASE-Jump Off This Bridge on Bridge Day

The bridge is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a national landmark in engineering and is celebrated on the third Saturday in October each year at Bridge Day when the bridge is closed to vehicle traffic and people BASE jump off the side.

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

White water rafting and rock climbing

New River Gorge is called by frequent visitors has long been a haven for outdoor recreationists from across the country. With 53 miles of undammed whitewater, there’s plenty of room for experienced water sports lovers including a 13-mile section of the Lower New River that has lots of class IV and V rapids (the most technically difficult and dangerous).

In the 1990s, rafting boomed in popularity with as many as thirty companies guiding tours along the park’s 53 miles of free-flowing whitewater. One of the most popular stretches is the “Lower New,” a 13-mile gauntlet of Class IV to V rapids. Seasoned companies like Adventures on the Gorge run a number of more relaxed, family-friendly outings as well.

It’s not all about the water at the gorge, though. The sandstone walls at New River Gorge National Park ranging between 30 feet and 120 feet in height feature over 1,400 routes for climbers. New River Climbing School hosts daily climbing and rappelling courses for the rock curious looking to try their hand at sending the gnar (A rock climbing term used to describe climbing a route without falling or resting on the rope).

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

Plus, The New’s Arrowhead section boasts 12.8 miles of Boy Scout–built mountain biking trails perfect for beginner to intermediate riders. Bike rentals (and local craft brews) are available at Arrowhead Bike Farm.

New River’s rugged canyon has been well-known as a world-class rock climbing and water sports destination since it was designated a national river in 1978 but there are other popular activities there, too.

Due to warmer waters than are typically found in the region as well as 12 public-access points in the park, it’s a well-known fishing destination for smallmouth bass, walleye, carp, and other native and non-native game fish.

Detailed maps show the specific areas where hunting is allowed in the park. In general, hunting is not permitted in safety zones near public areas and the Grandview section. Hunting permits, rules, and seasons are all governed by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.

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

Go hiking in the New River Gorge

Within New River Gorge National Park there are about 100 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to challenging. Most of the trails are fairly short but many can be connected if you’re looking for a longer hike.

More on New River Gorge: New River Gorge National River: A River Runs Through It

Since the park stretches along 53 miles of the river there are several different sections with trails. The most popular trails in the New River Gorge include:

  • Endless Wall Trail: This Fayetteville trail is one of the most popular in the park offering up excellent views of the gorge and the “Endless Wall” which is an area popular with rock climbers. You can do this hike as a 2-mile out-and-back from the Fern Creek parking area to Diamond Point or you can do it in a 2.7-mile loop—but if you do the whole loop, note that you’ll have to walk a half-mile back to your car along a road.
  • Long Point Trail: The other popular Fayetteville trail is the 3.2-mile Long Point Trail which leads out to a rocky outcrop that overlooks the New River Gorge Bridge. The trail is pretty tame until the last 0.3 miles when it gets a bit steep and filled with roots to climb over.
  • Grandview Rim Trail: This 3.2-mile trail in the southern part of the park connects the Main Overlook at Grandview with Turkey Spur offering up some of the most stunning views of a horseshoe bend in the New River.
  • Sandstone Falls Boardwalk and Island Loop Trail: Head down to the southern part of the park to visit Sandstone Falls, a 1500-foot-wide waterfall on the New River. A 0.25-mile boardwalk offers up great views and connects to the half-mile Island Loop Trail just below the falls.
New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic drives at New River Gorge

Visiting New River Gorge National Park and Preserve by vehicle is an up-and-down experience. While some roads travel along the rim and some along the river, others wind up and down between the two. Vistas along the rim offer views of the sandstone walls of the gorge and the river below. At the bottom of the gorge along the river, there is relatively little flat land but it provides an opportunity to view the New River and its plants and animals.

Encircling the heart of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, the scenic drive is an estimated three-hour trip. The 83-mile route includes interstates, divided highways, and two-lane roads. The scenic drive is an opportunity to experience the park—its gorge and its river. Along the way are broad vistas as well as small glimpses of both the past and the present. Two park visitor centers, Canyon Rim and Sandstone supplement the tour with the interpretation of the natural and historic resources of the park.

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

Camping

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve provide opportunities for primitive camping only. Camping areas are located along the river. These primitive camping areas have no drinking water or hookups and limited restroom facilities. All sites are managed on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations are not accepted. There are NO FEES for camping.
Stays are limited to 14 days in the same area. Developed campgrounds are available at state parks and private campgrounds throughout the surrounding area.

From the tantalizing glow of evening fireflies to the famous steel arc of the New River Bridge and the exhilarating splash of chilly river water below, there are a thousand reasons to smile about the New River Gorge National Park and Reserve.

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

Fact Box

Size: 46,766 acres

Date established: December 27, 2020 (designated by President Jimmy Carter as a National River on November 10, 1978)

Location: Southern West Virginia

Park Elevation: 702 feet to 3,970 feet, average is 2,267 feet 

Park entrance fee: Fee-free park

Recreational visits (2021): 1,682,720

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

Fun Facts

The New River flows north as it winds its way through the Appalachian Plateau in West Virginia.

More on New River Gorge: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

New River Gorge National Park is home to 1,383 different species of plants, 65 species of mammals, 40 species of reptiles, 50 species of amphibians, 89 species of fish, and countless migratory birds.

Worth Pondering…

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma

—John Denver