Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park: More Than 12,000 Years of Continuous Human Habitation

Imagine a place that has seen the human history of our continent from almost the very beginning—a place that has had continuous human habitation for 17,000 years. Imagine a place with sites that carry the story of the past and an ecosystem found nowhere else in the world.
This is Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park.

In the middle of Georgia, ancient mounds are the centerpiece of a preserve that protect one of the oldest and most important cultural sites in the Eastern United States. 

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park is also part of the original homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation whose citizens were forcibly removed and forced to walk over 1,000 miles to Oklahoma. Today, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the fourth largest tribe in the country with more than 94,000 citizens. Many return to Ocmulgee on pilgrimages or homecomings each year including their current Chief David Hill. 

Ocmulgee is is home to 17,000 years of continuous human history. From 900 to 1100, the original inhabitants of this area maintained a thriving civilization. Mounds were sacred sites built by hand; the Muscogee people hauled at least 10 million baskets full of dirt and clay to build the sacred mounds. The mounds are surrounded by thousands of other cultural sites that remain largely unprotected.

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

Ocmulgee was designated a national monument by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934 but only 700 acres were protected. In 2019, Ocmulgee was upgraded to National Historic Park status. In 2022, the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative (ONPPI) acquired new land for the park more than doubling its size to 1,700 acres. 

Now, advocates and community leaders are aiming for full-fledged national park status and expanding the park to 70,000 acres. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation has joined all efforts from the beginning of the process to create a park and aims to have an equal voice with all partners in the co-management of the final park. The Muscogee Nation has also purchased more than 100 acres of land adjacent to the current site that may soon become part of the national park.  

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

“A lot of healing is happening here,” says Tracie Revis, Muscogee citizen and director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative. Revis was Chief of Staff for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief Hill in Oklahoma. Last year with Chief Hill’s blessing, she made the difficult decision to move from Oklahoma to middle Georgia to focus all of her efforts on the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve.

“This is an exciting moment for us. At Ocmulgee, it won’t be just the park service talking about artifacts. We get to tell our story.”

The National Park Service is slated to finish its three-year feasibility study soon. Congressional leaders in Georgia have already expressed support for Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve. Clark hopes that Georgia’s Congressional leaders will introduce a bill this spring.

“This is our moment,” says Revis. “There has never been a better time to make this happen.”

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

Both Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and National Park Service Director Chuck Sams are Native Americans who have expressed support for protecting Indigenous homelands. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is already deeply committed to the park. Ocmulgee also has widespread support from local leaders and the Macon community. Even nearby Robins Air Force Base supports the park. 

Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve would be unique: it would consist of a patchwork of 70,000 acres along the Ocmulgee River that would be co-managed by multiple agencies and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Other national parks have consulted and included Native Americans as co-managers but never has a park east of the Mississippi been co-created by a Native American nation or tribe. Ocmulgee would be the first park in the East—and one of the only parks in the country—to be co-created and co-managed by Indigenous people.

Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve would include the Bond Swamp, a biological hotspot that is home to endangered species and a rare population of black bears in Middle Georgia. The 70,000-acre mosaic of lands would also protect the Ocmulgee River corridor and some of the best hunting and fishing sites in the South. Its dual designation as a national park and preserve would enable hunting to continue which is typically not allowed in national parks. 

Ocmulgee will ultimately be a hub for hundreds of miles of cultural and recreational trails across Middle Georgia and could eventually connect Ocmulgee with the Altamaha River corridor and public lands along Georgia’s coastal plain providing vital ecological and wildlife connectivity.

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

Plans for Ocmulgee also include a Muscogee Creek Cultural Center that will be owned and operated by the Muscogee people. It will celebrate the traditions, dances, and songs that Muscogee survivors have kept alive for centuries.

Revis recalls hearing songs at funerals and a song that her grandmother used to sing to her. Those were songs that were sung by her ancestors on the Trail of Tears. More than 15,000 Indigenous people died along the way. But the survivors held on.

“We didn’t cease to exist,” says Revis. “We weren’t erased. We are survivors and this is a new day for us,” says Revis. “We are returning home.” 

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

Experience It for Yourself

Ocmulgee Mounds is already a National Historic Park open to the public. Each September, the park hosts an Ocmulgee Indian Celebration. In 2024, the 32nd annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration will take place on September 14-15 from 10 am to 5 pm.

The celebration will feature traditional cultural crafts, storytelling, educational programs, live demonstrations, music, and dance. Native American arts and crafts vendors will be selling their crafts and food with be available for purchase.

Worth Pondering…

This is where it originally started. It’s our history; it’s who we are. So the fire that’s in your heart is also the fire that’s here.

—Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill

The Best National Parks to Visit in September

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

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

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

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

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in September

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

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

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

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

Let’s get started.

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

Best National Parks in September

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

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

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

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

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

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

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan Your Visit

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Plan your visit

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

4. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Colorado

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

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

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

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan your visit

Bonus! More parks to visit

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

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

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

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

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in September

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

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

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

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

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

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

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

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

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

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

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2023

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

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

—Helen Keller

Throughout her life as an author and social reformer, Helen Keller motivated people around the world to overcome obstacles even in the most difficult circumstances. Despite losing both her sight and hearing when she was just 19 months old, she went on to become a prolific writer, lecturer, and disability rights advocate, helping found the American Civil Liberties Union and authoring hundreds of essays. Keller wrote these words of encouragement in her 1940 book Let Us Have Faith, calling upon us to take chances in life and trust in the path of discovery.

Glacial Skyway, Icefields Parkway, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to July! While the sun and warmth may be reason enough to celebrate, there’s even more cause for jubilation in America’s neighbor to the north. Today is Canada Day, a holiday marking the Great White North’s independence from Britain. On July 1, 1867, a Dominion was formed through the British North America Act as approved by the British Parliament. It consisted of territories then called Upper and Lower Canada and of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The act divided Canada into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and it included provisions for other colonies and territories to join in the future which made possible the growth of Canada into its present form. The act served as Canada’s constitution until 1982.

By terms of the Canada Act of 1982, the British North America Act was repatriated from the British to the Canadian Parliament and Canada became a fully independent country. At the same time, the name of the national holiday was changed to Canada Day. It is celebrated with parades, displays of the flag, the singing of the national anthem, O Canada, and fireworks. When July 1 falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following day.

July 1 is now commemorated annually nationwide from Halifax to Vancouver and everywhere in between. In honor of this historic occasion, today’s roundup touches on a variety of cultural histories in Canada and the United States.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also check out my recommendations from July 2022 and August 2022.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

Travel to southern Alberta and you’ll uncover unique landscapes like badlands and hoodoos around lush green river valleys and literal writings on the stone around you. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park offers the natural scenery of the Milk River and the badlands but also significant cultural history.

The Visitor Centre trail is about 0.3 mile with great hoodoo views and information on upcoming events or tours. The park offers guided experiences throughout summer but you can visit for a hike or picnic any time of year. The Milk River is also a wonderful spot for a paddle.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. American History, Alive in Stone

The Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone. Sculpted by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The entire memorial covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level.

South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.  Robinson’s initial idea was to sculpt the Needles; however, Gutzon Borglum rejected the Needles site because of the poor quality of the granite and strong opposition from environmentalists and Native American groups. 

Mount Rushmore National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled on the Mount Rushmore location which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure. Robinson wanted it to feature western heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a more national focus and chose the four presidents whose likenesses would be carved into the mountain.

After securing federal funding construction on the memorial began in 1927 and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941 his son Lincoln Borglum took over construction. Although the initial concept called for each president to be depicted from head to waist, lack of funding forced construction to end in late October 1941.

The National Park Service (NPS) took control of the memorial in 1933 while it was still under construction and has managed the memorial to the present day. It attracts nearly three million people annually.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Best of the Rockies

When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Jasper National Park has it all. From the soaring limestone walls of Maligne Canyon to the breathtaking views of Athabasca Falls and crystal clear Pyramid Lake, Jasper National Park is filled with sensational activities for the hiker, kayaker, and all-around outdoors enjoyer could ever want.

Located at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, Pyramid Lake is one of the most picturesque places to see in Jasper. This kidney-shaped lake is the perfect spot to relax on the beach or picnic at the log frame pavilion.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named in honor of a British nurse who saved the lives of many soldiers during the First World War, Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most recognizable mountaintops in Jasper National Park. Here, you can hike along different trails that lead you to some fantastic panoramic views.

If scenic road trips are your thing, you’re definitely going to want to drive the Icefields Parkway. Named after the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers that reside there, this enchanting stretch of highway passes through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, and is one of the most remarkable routes in Canada.

So tour the world’s most accessible glacier, get front row seats to a diverse range of wildlife including elk, bears, and bighorn sheep and dive into massive mountain peaks, vast valleys, and forests filled with extraordinary evergreens.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where nature and history meet

If you should know one thing about Cumberland Island, know this: The southernmost barrier island in Georgia with its 18 miles of unspoiled beach and acres of breathtaking natural beauty is more than sand and sea.

People obviously appreciate Cumberland for the peace and quiet, the recreation, the beaches, the camping, and whatnot. But they might not know—unless they’ve either done some reading or taken a ranger-led tour—that there’s history here. This place has been an integral part of practically every era in American history—and pre-American history.

Dungeness ruins, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can walk the ruins of the Dungeness mansion and tour the 22,000-square-foot Plum Orchard Mansion, two early 20th-century Carnegie family estates.

Cumberland Island is accessible by ferry only. Reservations for the 45-minute ferry ride are recommended. Board the ferry to Cumberland Island in St. Marys, a historic small town located on the Georgia coast approximately midway between Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick, Georgia.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands Astronomy Festival

South Dakota is home to Badlands National Park which boasts exciting fossil beds and unique geologic formations. In 2023, the Badlands National Park’s annual Astronomy Festival which is held in partnership with the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium will take place from July 14 through July 16.

Per the National Park Service, “Novices and experts alike will enjoy the spectacular dark night skies of Badlands National Park at public star parties each evening. During the afternoon each day, a variety of family-friendly activities will provide opportunities for visitors to learn about the night sky, the sun, and space exploration.”

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomers (and their telescopes) from the Black Hills Astronomical Society, Badlands National Park, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, and the University of Utah will be on hand throughout the festival to lead guests in for day and night observations.

This free event is made possible through funding and support from the Badlands Natural History Association, NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, Dark Ranger Telescope Tours, Black Hills Astronomical Society, The Journey Museum and Learning Center, International Dark Sky Association, University of Utah, Badlands National Park Conservancy, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, and Badlands National Park.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

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

6. Ocmulgee Mounds

It’s been more than two years since West Virginia’s New River Gorge became America’s most recent national park and since then outdoor recreation has continued to soar in popularity. NPS manages more than 400 sites across the United States but less than 20 percent (63) are national parks with the scale and amenities that can support heavy visitation. Currently, 20 states do not have a national park.

There are many benefits to having a national park. They can be a boon for regional tourism and bring federal resources for conserving land that may be vulnerable to development or invasive species.

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

So where could the next national park be? The U.S. is full of worthy candidates. But national parks are created through congressional legislation and there are many considerations including available infrastructure such as roads and restrooms. Community advocacy can help fuel the effort. With strong local and federal support, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park stands a good chance of becoming America’s 64th national park.

The verdant human-made knolls here are a vivid window into more than 17,000 years of Indigenous habitation. The ancestral homeland of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park is a leading contender for the next national park slot thanks to a robust community initiative and bipartisan support in Congress. “We know that our ancestors are buried in this land and national park status would establish protections,” says Tracie Reevis, director of advocacy for the Ocmulgee National Park & Preserve Initiative.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Exploring Carlsbad Caverns

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are tons of guided tours available. Tour guides point out particularly interesting features, teach you about \the formation and history of the area, and help you stay safe as you explore these naturally formed caves.

The visitor center is also quite impressive. If you’re a fan of documentaries, you’ll love the 16-minute Hidden World video presentation that they play every 30 minutes. This will give you additional information about the caverns so you can more fully enjoy your experience once you’re in them. The center also has exhibits about the native plant and animal species as well as hands-on learning experiences about the geology and history of the area. And of course, don’t forget to stop by the gift shop and buy some fun souvenirs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Black’s BBQ, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Travel to Texas for beef brisket 

Travel to Texas and you’ll quickly learn something important about the locals: they know their barbecued meats. So when they line up for four or more hours to get some, it has to be special. That’s the situation at Austin’s Franklin Barbecue six days a week. Through the Franklin’s menu includes pulled pork, ribs, sausage, and more, the main attraction is its smoked beef brisket.

The team here keeps it simple rubbing the meat with a mix of salt and black pepper then cooking it low and slow in oakwood smoke until it’s fall-apart tender and encased in a thin, salty crust. It’s a juicy, smoky Texas classic, judged best-in-class by Texans themselves. 

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You could drive to Lockhart, the state-legislated Barbecue Capital of Texas and be back in the time it takes to get into Franklin’s. But the queue is good fun; you can have a beer and meet some friendly Texans while you wait—and damn, that brisket is good.

Franklin Barbecue can now be shipped to your home anywhere in the United States. Get the best brisket in the known universe without standing in line. 

Learn to smoke meat like a pro! Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.

>> Get more tips on the best of Texas BBQ

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park

The construction is complete on the Gateway to the Delta Boardwalk at Meaher State Park. The park is part of the Alabama Birding Trails Coastal Trail Series making the boardwalk a great place to bird watch.

The Coastal Birding Trail features six birding loops in Baldwin and Mobile counties totaling over 200 miles. Each loop covers different ecological regions representative of the northern Gulf Coast and enables birders to experience different bird species within each region.

Stop number 26 on the Coastal Alabama Birding Trail, Meaher State Park’s 1,327-acres are situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a multi-use scenic park with picnic areas, 61 RV camping sites, 10 improved tent sites all with full hook-ups and a shower house with laundry facilities for overnight visitors. A boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop at the gate house to pay a nominal $3 entrance fee and then drive to the shell road which runs a quarter mile to the aforementioned boardwalk. Park here (there is a chain across the shell road at this point) and walk on toward the boardwalk that extends out into Mobile Bay.

In winter, watch for Swamp and White-throated Sparrows as you approach the boardwalk. Herons, egrets, and gulls can be seen from the boardwalk and Least Bittern (summer) and Clapper Rail. In winter, American White Pelicans find this a favorite spot as do large rafts of waterfowl.

In summer, this is a great place for terns including Gull-billed Tern. In addition, Least Terns often gather on the railings of the boardwalk offering excellent views. On the south side of the island looking west into the bay there are often White Ibis. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron can be frequently seen near the entrance eating crabs.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. New Mexico considers roasted chile as official state aroma

The sweet smell of green chile roasting on an open flame permeates New Mexico every fall wafting from roadside stands and grocery store parking lots and inducing mouth-watering visions of culinary wonders.

Now one state lawmaker says it’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the chile.

Sen. Bill Soules’ visit with fifth grade students in his southern district sparked a conversation about the savory hot peppers and the potential for New Mexico to become the first state in the nation to proudly have an official state aroma, a proposal now being considered by lawmakers.

“It’s very unique to our state,” the Las Cruces Democrat said of roasting chile. “I have tried to think of any other state that has a smell or aroma that is that distinctive statewide, and I can’t think of any.”

Chile peppers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For New Mexico, chile is more than a key ingredient for every meal. It’s life. It’s at the center of the official state question—Red or green?—and is one of the state’s official vegetables.

New Mexico produced more than 60 percent of the U.S. chile pepper crop in 2021 and is home to Hatch, an agricultural village known as the Chile Capital of the World for the unique red and green peppers it has turned out for generations. The famous crop also is used in powders, sauces, and salsas that are shipped worldwide.

>> Learn more about New Mexico’s famed chiles

Worth Pondering…

If I had my way, I’d remove January from the calendar altogether and have an extra July instead.

—Roald Dahl

10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2023

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

A ship is safe in harbor but that’s not what ships are for.

—John A. Shedd

In 1901, a Minnesota newspaper reported that President Theodore Roosevelt wanted his warships on the move and that they would rust and rot if left in the harbor. Twenty-seven years later, a professor by the name of John A. Shedd solidified Roosevelt’s sentiment into a pithy, memorable quote to share with the world reminding us that great experiences are sometimes found over the horizon. Just as ships are meant to sail the seas, so too are we meant to explore new ideas and experiences. It can take courage to leave life’s safe harbors but the reward for such bravery is a life well-lived.

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 2022 and June 2022.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Downtown delight

You can feel Macon’s soul throughout the city. Walk down Cherry Street in Downtown Macon and experience Southern hospitality as friendly store owners help you shop local products. Follow your nose and dine at one of their delicious restaurants. Stop by one of the art galleries and find unique pieces created by local artists. Learn about African American art, history, and culture at the 8,500 square foot Tubman Museum. Walk through the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and see over 3,000 artifacts highlighting some of the best athletes from the state.

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

Hop in the car and take a short drive to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. With over 17,000 years of history, it’s one of Macon’s top attractions. See the Earth Lodge with its original floors dating back to 1015.

Are you a fan of antebellum homes? Tour Hay House lovingly nicknamed The Palace of the South. It’s known for its incredible architecture and technological advancements and is a must-see. 

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Rayne Frog Festival Happens Soon

Ever seen a frog derby? Want to try frog legs? The Frog Festival is the place to check out all things froggy as well as loads of other fun activities.

The Frog Festival is part county fair with local food vendors and rides and part French Acadian cultural exposition with three full days packed with live music and much of it Cajun. And of course, there are plenty of frog legs to eat!

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Local high school artists compete to have their artwork become the festival poster, vendors sell crafts, the frog derby is still going strong, and there is always a frog cook-off, a frog-jumping contest, a dance contest, a grand parade, and Frog Festival pageants. It’s a highly unique, full-weekend festival that is definitely worth a quick deviation off the beaten path (or, ahem, off of I-10).

The 51st Annual Rayne Frog Festival is is slated for May 12-14, 2023 and features a full schedule including music, delicious food, a signature festival drink, and souvenir cup commemorating 51 years of tradition, arts and crafts show, carnival rides, frog cook-off, frog-eating contest, folklore tent, frog racing and jumping, and a few surprises along the way.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Crawfish Prepared Every Way Imaginable

Always held the first weekend in May, the world famous Crawfish Festival began in 1960 as a spin-off of the Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration. The Louisiana Legislature had just named Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World in 1959. The festival is now known around the country and even the world. Every May (May 5-7, 2023), thousands of hungry people flock to Breaux Bridge to be part of the festivities.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crawfish Festival has also become one of the largest gatherings of world famous Cajun musicians. All weekend long you can hear the sound of authentic Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop music rising from the festival. Whether your musical taste is Cajun or Creole, you can witness over 30 bands perform over the three day event if you think you have the stamina. It’s a perfect opportunity to see our musical tradition passed from generation to generation. Watch the Cajun dance contests, and if you’re brave, join in. There’s no better way to learn. There are even Cajun music workshops held in the heritage tent.

Doughnuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Ohio’s Donut Trail

You may want to pair a trip down the Donut Trail with a few of the local hikes. But for those who savor the mouthwatering taste of a cream-filled or glazed delight, traveling this 80-mile path will provide sweet memories. Gather stamps on a Donut Trail passport to earn discounts and other benefits for attractions within Butler County near Cincinnati.

Confused about where to start or how to make the most of your time on the trail? There’s a Donut Trail concierge on call to answer your most pressing questions. Simply call 513-860-0917 for assistance with finding somewhere to stay, planning your route, and finding fun must-dos during your Donut Trail Getaway. Concierge hours are Monday-Friday between 8:30 am-5:00 pm. Once you’ve conquered all of the donut shop stops with your passport you’ll be rewarded with the official Donut Trail T-shirt.

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

5. Admire synchronous fireflies

Sparkling fireflies are synonymous with summer and Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot of them—like tens of thousands. In late spring, these bioluminescent fireflies twinkle in tandem during Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s annual Synchronous Firefly extravaganza which typically runs from late May to early June. The ticketed event draws thousands of nature enthusiasts to the evening shows; it takes place near the Elkmont campground. Attendance is limited to minimize disturbance to the fireflies; passes are awarded via a lottery system with a $1 lottery application fee and successful permits at $24.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Experience Sea Turtle season

With its unspoiled beaches, lush maritime forests, and peaceful marshes, Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, is a dream getaway for nature lovers and wildlife watchers—especially during sea turtle season.

The best time to see adult sea turtles is during nesting season which begins in May with nests often laid through mid-summer. Jekyll Island is one of the few places where you can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles. These gentle giants can weigh hundreds of pounds and adult females leave their saltwater and estuarine habitats to bring themselves onto the sandy beaches to lay eggs.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sea turtle hatching season typically happens in August through October and is the best time to potentially witness turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest and scamper their way across the beach and into the ocean.

At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, take a behind-the-scenes tour into the turtle hospital to learn about sea turtle care and treatment. To spot some sea turtle nests for yourself, head out on the center’s Night and Dawn Patrol programs with a field biologist. You can also take a guided Turtle Walk to learn more.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The heart of Historic Route 66

Kingman, Arizona is known as the Heart of Historic Route 66 because the longest remaining stretch of Mother Road branches out to the east and to the west of town. 

Depending on which way you go cruising Route 66 out of Kingman can feel like going down memory lane in 1950s America with picturesque gas stations, curio shops, attractions, and even a couple vineyards dotting the landscape. Or, it’s like turning a page to the 1930s in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with twisty mountain passes (great for a camper van or small class C, not a Class A motorcoach), a living ghost town, and scenic desert vistas.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In any direction, driving down Route 66 is cruising in every sense. The blacktop rumbles from the undercarriage, a breeze wisps through the cracked window, and the sun beams down from Arizona’s blue skies… it’s how a road trip on a historic highway should feel.

Whether you seek a little history in a small southwestern town, an adventure on your way to the Grand Canyon, or are just looking for a good burger and a hike, Kingman is the dart on the map from which to launch your Arizona RVing adventure.

Shin oak at Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. A massive forest of tiny oaks

Monahans Sandhills State Park is a landscape of shifting dunes under a dry West Texas sky. It’s also home to one of North America’s biggest oak forests, but you might not notice that right away.

Many dunes in this park support thickets of Havard shin oak (Quercus havardii), a native tree that usually tops out at 3 feet. Spreading by way of underground stems called rhizomes the oaks sink roots in the deep sand. They’re most visible on the south side of the park blanketing dune faces with their brief branches and dark grayish-green foliage.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shin oak is found in the Texas Panhandle and parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma. Well adapted to a harsh environment, it lives where few other trees will grow. The groves at Monahans are part of a plant community that occupies 40,000 acres of the surrounding sandhill country.

Their roots and rhizomes stabilize the dunes. Growing close to the ground, they provide nesting sites for scaled quail and cover for the endangered sand dune lizard. Their acorns, measuring up to an inch long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter, provide food for deer and rodents.

Think about it. That scrubby 3-foot oak clinging to the side of a Monahans sandhill may have grown from an acorn that fell when the Big Tree on Goose Island was just a sprout.  

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Alberta’s national parks

Summer in Alberta is truly magical with endless sunshine, stunning landscapes, and unlimited outdoor activities to enjoy. And what better way to experience all of this than by camping in one of the province’s beautiful national parks?

Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most iconic and beloved national parks and for good reason. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Banff offers breathtaking views, incredible wildlife sightings, and an endless array of outdoor activities. The park boasts 13 campgrounds with over 2,400 sites. Banff’s most popular campgrounds include Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack Lakeside, and Lake Louise.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper National Park is another must-visit destination for camping enthusiasts. The park’s rugged mountains, turquoise lakes, and glaciers are truly awe-inspiring and there’s no better way to experience them than by spending a few nights under the stars. Jasper offers 11 campgrounds with over 1,800 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Jasper include Wapiti, Whistlers, and Pocahontas.

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park is a hidden gem that offers stunning scenery and plenty of outdoor activities. The park’s unique blend of prairie, mountain, and lake landscapes makes it a photographer’s paradise and its diverse wildlife makes it a nature lover’s dream. Waterton offers four campgrounds with over 200 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Waterton include Townsite, Crandell Mountain, and Belly River.

Elk Island National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island National Park is another great option for camping in Alberta. Located just a short drive east of Edmonton, this park offers a unique blend of grasslands and aspen parkland and a chance to see bison, elk, and other wildlife up close. Elk Island offers two campgrounds with over 200 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Elk Island include Astotin Lake and Oster Lake.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A braying good time

The ghost town of Oatman is a worthy destination to visit for history lovers and you will find businesses operating there despite the lack of residents. A must-stop on a Route 66 road trip, Oatman is another former mining town that offers the chance for visitors to experience the Old West as pictured in so many cowboy films.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s a ghost town, in recent years it’s taken on new life as a popular tourist attraction. Wild burros roam the streets in search of treats, the carrots that are purchased from one of the numerous carrot stands. In fact, more burros reside in Oatman than humans. The population of about 100 people is mainly business owners who make a living off of the steady stream of tourist traffic that runs through the town annually.

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 Least Visited U.S. National Parks

These least-visited national parks in the U.S. have all of the beauty and none of the crowds

Currently, there are 63 national parks in the U.S., alongside countless more national monuments, national recreation areas, national seashores, and national historic sites overseen by the National Park Service (NPS). These protected spaces represent some of the most important natural and cultural landscapes in the country.

The NPS recently released its latest annual visitation data which will help us (and you) decide where to plan your next hike, whether you’re looking for a communal vibe, or a more secluded and isolated experience.

With almost 13 million visits last year, the Great Smoky Mountains remain undefeated when it comes to the most visitors of any national park. But other, no less spectacular parks see a fraction of those numbers. If you want to head off the beaten path, here are 21 of the least visited NPS service sites in the U.S.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 38,786

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tumacácori National Historic Park

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

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 50,017

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.

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 50,396

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. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Aztec Ruins National Monument

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

State: Pennsylvania

2022 visits: 57,238

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best-preserved iron plantation in North America. Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smokehouses, a blacksmith shop, an office store, a charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 60,501

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

>> Get more tips for visiting El Morro National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 61,377

The most noticeable natural features in Chiricahua National Monument are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore

State: Georgia

2022 visits: 64,387

There is only one place on Earth where you can find wild horses, secluded white beaches, live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and the skeletal remains of a once-famous mansion. Cumberland is one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands along the Georgia coast. The National Park Service protects almost 36,000 acres of the island including miles of unspoiled beaches.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga National Historic Park

State: New York

2022 visits: 70,742

Site of the first significant American military victory during the Revolution, the Battle of Saratoga is considered among the most decisive battles in world history. Here in 1777 American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender, an event which led France to recognize the independence of the United States and enter the war as a decisive military ally of the struggling Americans.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

State: Utah

2022 visits: 71,249

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

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

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 78,557

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing four-story building dating from the late Hohokam period probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle national monuments. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. 

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

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

State: Virginia

2022 visits: 83,483

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home where Lee made his formal surrender and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site, and have been restored to their original condition. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Appomattox Court House National Historical Park

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park

State: Texas

2022 visits: 87,386

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire circle of life gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site

State: New York

2022 visits: 100,665

See the place where Franklin D. Roosevelt was born and buried in Hyde Park at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The home is also the location of the first presidential library.

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

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

State: South Dakota

2022 visits: 105,776

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.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tuzigoot National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 116,639

Built atop a small 120 foot ridge is a large pueblo. Tuzigoot is Apache for crooked water; however, it was built by the Sinagua. With 77 ground floor rooms this pueblo held about 50 people. After about 100 years the population doubled and then doubled again later. By the time they finished building the pueblo, it had 110 rooms including second and third story structures and housed 250 people. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Tuzigoot National Monument

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Memorial

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 131,359

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley which was the route believed to have been taken by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition. If you’re interested in life in this region before the Coronado Expedition, take a tour of the Coronado Cave. For those looking to stay above ground, the scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico.

>> Get more tips for visiting Coronado National Monument

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

State: Arizona

2022 visits: 133,317

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce their first flower near the age of 35.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

State: Georgia

2022 visits: 155,242

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

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

State: New Mexico

2022 visits: 162,755

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting El Malpais National Monument

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

State: South Carolina

2022 visits: 204,522

Some of the tallest trees on the east coast are located inside Congaree which was named after the Native American tribe that used to reside in the area. Unlike many hardwood forests, Congaree was largely spared by the lumber industry in the late 1800s and was eventually designated as a national monument and then a national park. The terrain includes the forest, the Congaree River, and the floodplain.

>> Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cowpens National Battlefield

State: South Carolina

2022 visits: 212,534

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. The battle at the Cow Pens is one of only a few successful double envelopments in history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cowpens National Battlefield

These 21 lesser-known and visited parks have minimal visitors, plenty to do, and much-needed peace and quiet. Consider adding these least-visited national parks to your 2023 list of road trip destinations.

Worth Pondering…

When your spirit cries for peace, come to a world of canyons deep in an old land; feel the exultation of high plateaus, the strength of moving wasters, the simplicity of sand and grass, and the silence of growth.

—August Fruge

The Best Locations to Visit this Spring According to TikTok

As warmer days approach, you might start thinking about your next vacation—and if you’re looking for an unexpected gem you might not have to look very far

International luggage delivery company MyBaggage recently published its list of the 10 most popular places in the U.S. to visit this spring based on a potentially surprising methodology: TikTok views. And for the most part, the winners weren’t typical beach destinations in Florida or tourist attractions in California or New York.

The Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rather, the list primarily featured locations near mountain ranges, national parks, and other natural attractions—mostly in the western and southern U.S.

To get the list, MyBaggage ran a series of location-based hashtag searches through TikTok and sorted the results by total views. At the time the report was compiled, videos tagged with Macon, Georgia had 53.7 million views on the app, according to MyBaggage. Texas Hill Country had 51.3 million views, by comparison.

Check out the top 10 for some great ideas on where to potentially travel this spring:

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon, Georgia

TikTok views: 53.7 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 71 F

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon, Georgia is a nature lover’s wonderland. Nestled in the middle of the state, it’s the perfect place for a getaway to experience the great outdoors. Hike through 180 acres of upland forest at Amerson River Park, pick fresh produce at Lane Southern Orchards or Dickey Farms, hop on your bike for a ride through the Historic Downtown, or kayak along the bubbling Ocmulgee River.

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

Step back in time and visit Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. Ocmulgee has had 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. Explore the museum with over 2,000 artifacts and visit the Earth Lodge with its original floors that are dated to 1015. The park’s 702 acres include fields, forests, and wetlands located along Walnut Creek and the Ocmulgee River. The Ocmulgee Wetlands allows visitors a glimpse into an ecosystem including birds, animal, reptiles, and plants. Immerse yourself in the wetlands environment by taking a stroll on the park’s boardwalk.

Related Article: The Best RV Destinations to Explore this Spring

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country, Texas

TikTok views: 51.3 million

Average temperature in May 2021: 76 F

The Hill Country lies in southwestern central Texas. Although it has no technical geographic boundaries, it generally is defined as the area west of Austin and north of San Antonio—bordered by Interstate 35 on the east, U.S. 83 on the west, U.S. 90 on the south, and Texas State Highway 29 on the north. It is a land of steep, rolling hills; woods; streams and rivers; and small towns. Towns include San Marcos, Boerne, New Braunfels, Canyon Lake, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Johnson City.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a strong German heritage dating to the 1800s, several Hill Country towns are known for their German restaurants and bakeries. Other attractions include wineries, state parks, barbecue restaurants, festivals and fairs, and wildflowers. Canyon, Buchanan, and Marble Falls are three major lakes in the area and among the primary rivers are Medina, Guadalupe, Colorado, Pedernales, and Llano. RV parks and resorts are abundant throughout the Hill Country and along I-35 and I-10.

Related Article: The Best Stops for a Spring Road Trip

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

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Average temperature in May 2021: 51 F

Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is also known as the Red Rock Country, which—as the name implies—is home to red-rock formations and canyons amongst the desert trails and cacti. The springtime offers visitors a mild temperature to enjoy those red rocks before the heat of summer sets in.

Bell Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, Red Rock Scenic Byway (Highway 179) is often called a “museum without walls.” This All-American Road winds through the evergreen-covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric red rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

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Average temperature in May 2021: 79 F

Coachella Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the Coachella Valley with the snow-capped peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains as a backdrop, Palm Springs has long been an upscale escape for area visitors and famous figures. Movie stars and mob bosses ditched L.A. to vacation here during the town’s first boom in the 1920s, popularizing a Spanish-Mediterranean architectural style.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The town received another tourist boost during the ’50s when this became a hip Rat-Pack hangout. They brought with them significant Mid-Century Modern architects who crafted uber-cool homes, many of which were restored in the 1990s.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

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

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

Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee

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Average temperature in May 2021: 67 F

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

The Great Smoky Mountains, also a national park, are a mountain range along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee where visitors can hike, camp, go whitewater rafting, and experience remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. It’s the country’s most-visited national park. The Appalachian Trail also runs through the Great Smoky Mountains.

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

Scenic drives such as the Newfound Gap Road provide a welcome mat to countless brooks, waterfalls, overlooks, and trailheads; along winding roads where we can capture those s-curve-through-nature photographs that we love so much. 

Related Article: 10 Inexpensive Outdoor Activities for Spring

Other locations in the top 10 most popular destinations include:

  • Oregon Coast, Oregon
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming
  • Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
  • Garden of the Gods, Colorado
  • Port Townsend, Washington

Worth Pondering…

You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.

—Florida Georgia Line, Cruise