Explore More National Parks on These Fee-Free Days in 2021

Have you planned your camping trips for 2021 yet? Plan your travels around these six fee-free days at the national parks!

With over 400 National Park Service sites, there are plenty of options for your next RV weekend getaway or extended vacation. Take pictures of Zion canyon’s narrows, gaze at Arches’ massive sandstone arches, view exhibits about the desert flora and fauna at a Saguaro visitor’s center, or hike one of the many trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. America’s national parks have much to offer in the way of scenery, activities, and history.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. Department of the Interior recently announced that all National Park Service sites will have six entrance fee-free days in 2021. The fee-free days are part of the Administration’s commitment to increase access, promote recreational opportunities, improve visitor facilities, and conserve natural and historical treasures in national parks for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people.

Joshua Tree National Park , California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The six fee-free days in 2021 are:

  • January 18: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • April 17: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: First anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • August 25: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 25: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Mark your calendars and start planning your camping trip.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Each of the fee-free days celebrates or commemorates a significant event including the establishment earlier this year by President Trump of the Great American Outdoors Act. The legislation marks the single largest investment ever in national parks and will result in enhanced facilities and expanded recreational prospects for all visitors,” said Margaret Everson, Counselor to the Secretary, exercising the delegated authority of the National Park Service Director.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Throughout the country, every national park provides a variety of opportunities to get out in nature, connect with our common heritage, and experience the vast array of benefits that come from spending time outdoors. Hopefully, the fee-free days will encourage everyone to spend some time in their national parks.”

There are more than 400 National Park Service sites nationwide, with at least one in every state. Approximately 100 parks charge an entrance fee with costs ranging from $5 to $35. The other 300-plus national parks do not have entrance fees.

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

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt signed Secretary’s Orders 3386 and 3387 granting veterans, Gold Star Families and fifth-graders free access to all national parks, wildlife refuges, and other federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior. Veterans and Gold Star Families will have free access forever while fifth-grade students were granted the reprieve through this academic year as some of last year’s fourth-graders may have been unable to make full use of the Every Kid Outdoors Annual Fourth Grade Pass due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

Active duty military and fourth-grade students will continue to have free access with discounted passes also available for seniors. For other visitors who love visiting public lands, the annual $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is a great option which allows unlimited entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas including all national parks.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, 327 million people visited national parks and spent $21 billion in local communities. This supported 340,500 jobs across the country and had a $41.7 billion impact on the U.S. economy.

Keep track of your visits with a National Parks Passport. Simply stamp your book before departing and continue to add on more throughout the year. Stamps are typically located at the visitor’s center.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

Other federal land management agencies offering their own fee-free days in 2021 include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jimmy Im

2021 Vision: On Travel Restrictions, Freedom to Travel, and Staying Healthy

We’ve been through a lot this past year. 2020 has tested our resolve and proven to be a difficult time for many in the face of the COVID pandemic.

It goes without saying that 2020 hasn’t been the year any of us expected. And as we bid farewell to this year, it’s a good time to look back on what we’ve learned, while we also look forward with anticipation to the New Year and all it may bring.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One thing we’ve been reminded of this year is that spending time outdoors brings a world of physical and mental benefits. This rang even more true in 2020 as we focused on health and well-being. Medical professionals advised us to socially distance from one another and told us that when we did spend time with others, it was preferable to do so outside rather than indoors. This advice seemed tailor-made for the RV lifestyle, so much so that some news outlets dubbed it The Year of the RV.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the first coronavirus vaccinations making their way across the United States and Canada as this is written, we look to 2021 with hope. Our 2020 Vision has left us with a new appreciation for the freedom to travel, to explore our continent, and to spend time in the company of friends and family. Cheers to more of that in 2021! And cheers to always expanding our RV knowledge and learning new things.

Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What can you do to help navigate through what might be another crazy year? My answer is simple…Get outside and start 2021 off on the right foot, right from the trail! Try something new or get back into a familiar, possibly forgotten pastime. Take a breath of fresh air while hiking in our beautiful outdoor places and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Focus on what you can control in 2021. Get outside, stay healthy, and stay connected. Pack your hiking boots and get off the beaten path. Take a look at the following options to help you start 2021 off strong, outdoors, and on a positively healthy note!

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. Choose from 120 RV and tent campsites with electric and water utilities. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking sites are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park is a South Dakota State Park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills. The Park encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, or rock climbing, find your adventure along the roads and trails! Custer State Park’s early pioneers, ranchers, and loggers have left behind miles of hiking trails and backcountry roads to explore.

Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Side-by-side, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have 800,000 acres and 800 miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are famous for the massive trees that grow in their forests. The Sequoiadendron giganteum that grows in this portion of the Sierra Nevadas is famed for its girth with the world’s largest tree by volume found here. General Sherman is the tree in question, and grows in Sequoia National Park. Nearby Giant Forest hosts several more of the world’s largest trees. Moro Rock provides a stunning vantage of the surrounding foothills and granite formations; pair it with Crescent Meadow, which John Muir called the “Gem of the Sierra,” at the head of the High Sierra Trail.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Visit Arches to discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. RV and tent campers can select from 51 sites at Devils Garden Campground. Between November 1 and February 28, sites are first-come, first-served. Sites range in length from 20 to 40 feet. Facilities include drinking water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly the Great Swamp Sanctuary) is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden Isles of Georgia

The natural splendor of the Golden Isles (St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Jekyll Island, Little St. Simons Island, and the port city of Brunswick) extends past its golden-sand shores to tidal marshlands, live oak forests, and delicate estuaries. These impressive landscapes create a springboard for adventure. Hike or walk along the trails to experience the region’s natural beauty. Historical ruins, exquisite wildlife, and unique vegetation give outdoor enthusiasts an exciting variety of routes. From nature preserves to stretches of beach and miles of trail systems, find routes appropriate for all ages and skill levels as well as routes perfect for families and pets. If you’re looking for a diverse network of trails and a day full of fun, head to Blythe Island Regional Park, a 1,100-acre public park. Comprised of more than 30 nature and urban trails, the Jekyll Island Trail System is the best way to explore the island.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court

A Bakers Dozen Campgrounds for an Unforgettable Arizona Wilderness Experience

Sometimes, “great outdoors” is an understatement

As the world grapples with the current reality, the great outdoors have become a welcome respite. Biking is on the rise. RVs became mobile motels for a new generation of traveler. And camping is a now go-to weekend activity for backcountry buffs and newbies alike. With fall in full swing, Arizona is an ideal camping destination. 

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its wildly diverse wilderness, the state is a massive playground for campers of all walks, whether you’re seeking a trip to one of the country’s most celebrated national parks or one of its most underrated. Here, jaw-dropping vistas can be discovered during a hike or by simply pulling off the main road. You’ll find red-rock deserts and dense forests, and dry basins—and much of it is all-seasons. Whether you’re looking to flee Phoenix or stop off for a while in the middle of a cross-country voyage, these are the Arizona campgrounds you need to hit. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

If you love the desert and want some year-round lake views, check out the Alamo Lake State Park campground. With six loops, this large campground has both full hookups and dry camping sites. The park also has cabins for rent with views of the water. Lake Alamo is nicely remote. It’s located less than two hours from the RV-centric town of Quartzsite.  

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

You can learn a lot about yourself after spending some time in the Verde River Valley. Are you the type of person that enjoys solitude under a canopy of towering cottonwood trees? Do you relish the sight of wildlife and soft sounds of a gentle river as you explore nature? Maybe you’re just looking for a gorgeous spot to take your family. A spot that will help simplify life for a while before heading back into the daily grind. Relax, recharge, and return to your “normal” life with less stress. Spending time at a place like Dead Horse Ranch will facilitate this magical transformation and, who knows? Your family might request a return trip. There are more than 100 large RV sites available. Most of the pull-through sites can accommodate 40-foot motorhomes and truck and trailer rigs up to 65 feet and include potable water and 30/50-amp service.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The View Campground, Monument Valley

Monument Valley is basically the image that comes to mind when someone who’s not from Arizona thinks of Arizona. It’s undeniably the picture of the American Southwest. And not only can you visit the iconic sandstone buttes, you can camp on the edge of the park. The View Campground certainly lives up to its name: Equipped with both RV sites and wilderness campsites, it’s positioned on the cliff side of the park which undoubtedly makes for some iconic sunrise and sunset views. 

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Jutting out of the Sonoran Desert some 1,500 feet, you can’t help but see Picacho Peak for miles as you drive along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson. Travelers have used the peak for centuries as a landmark and continue to enjoy the state park’s 3,747 acres for hiking, rock climbing, spring wildflowers, and camping. Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping.

La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Paz County Park Campground

Nestled along the Colorado River La Paz County Park Campground is located 8 miles north of Parker off Highway 95. The campground offers 114 RV camping sites with water, electric service, and cable TV; riverfront armadas with cabana; and dry camping under large shade trees. Amenities include restroom buildings with showers, boat launches, beachfront walkway, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Neighboring the Goldfield Mountains and Tonto National Forest, Usery Mountain Regional Park spans 3,648 acres of metro Phoenix’s east Valley and offers 73 individual camping sites. All are developed sites with water and electrical hook-ups, plus a dump station, picnic table, and barbecue fire ring and can accommodate up to 45-foot RVs. Restrooms offer flush toilets and showers and group camping is also available.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert, at the base of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. Take a stroll along the Native Plant Trail or hike the challenging Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron. The campground has 138 sites: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table, and a fire pit with adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs.

Wahweep RV Park and Marina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the winter solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet.

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountains Regional Park

Maricopa County’s largest regional park, White Tank Mountain Regional Park covers almost 30,000 acres in the West Valley and features 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. All are developed sites with water and electrical hook-ups, plus a dump station, picnic table, and barbecue fire ring and can accommodate up to a 45-foot RV. Amenities also include restrooms with flush toilets and showers.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona, Patagonia Lake State Park is a hidden treasure. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. 105 developed campsites with a picnic table and fire ring/grill. Select sites also have a ramada. Sites offer 20/30 amp and 50 amp electric service. Campsite lengths vary but most can accommodate any size RV.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

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

Twin Peaks Campground at Organ Pipe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake. Twin Peaks Campground offers 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is nestled in the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains 30 miles southeast of Tucson. A renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. A three mile paved road winds up the lower reaches of the canyon beside Madera Creek ending at a fork in the stream just before the land rises much more steeply. Along the way are three picnic areas, a side road to a campground, and five trailheads. Nearly 100 miles of paths climb the valley sides to springs, viewpoints, old mines, and summits including Mount Wrightson.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before. I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Give yourself some space #OptOutside

Especially now, we need outdoor spaces free from the distractions of modern technology and the negativity of our never-ending social media feeds

Approaching Thanksgiving we search for ways to be thankful and pave the way with a positive and an introspective look into our lives. Many people have taken the opportunity to spend more time outside and others have enjoyed outdoor recreation for the first time. As we prepare to leave 2020 in our rearview mirror, take the opportunity to spend it out of doors with a road trip into America’s beautiful places. A camping trip is a great place to start!

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Golfing in Southern Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world has changed immensely since Muir wrote this in 1901. People, now more than ever, seek the benefits of nature. It’s amazing what a couple of hours outside can do for your well-being. Fresh air is a state of mind. One we could all use a little more of these days.

Opt outside with Americas’ national and state parks on Black Friday. Forego the hustle and stress of this traditional shopping holiday and choose to break the mold by enjoying a worry free, socially distanced trip to an outdoor recreation area. On Black Friday and any day of the year, get outside and enjoy a hike in the parks!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get out and explore some of the great parks located across the country! Try something new; if you’ve never seen the beauty of southern Arizona, it’s the perfect time of year to visit Saguaro National Park or Catalina State Park in Tucson. Saguaro has two sections, approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching.

Picacho State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park offers trails for all difficulty levels. Hiking at Lost Dutchman State Park can be a great way to test your endurance as many of the trails are quite steep.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert. Or you can explore two deserts in one at Joshua Tree National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Moab. Mountain bike, hike, and climb your way around the stunning red rocks. Test your hiking limits at the Zion National Park. Zion is filled with impressive canyons, sheer cliffs, and wide expanses of slick rock. This is the type of place where you can take your hiking ability to the limit and beyond.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tour the Louisiana Outback. Life is everywhere along the Creole Nature Trail. Birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and alligators make their home in the four wildlife refuges that can be found along the 180 mile-long byways that make up the Trail.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucked away in southern New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin, White Sands National Park protects a portion of the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The best way to explore is by hiking, horseback, or biking—and don’t miss out on the thrill of sledding down the soft white sand. 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.

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission will be free at state parks in South Carolina on Friday, Nov. 27, as the Park Service joins the national #OptOutside initiative. The promotion, sponsored by REI, encourages people to spend some time in the great outdoors the day after Thanksgiving. State parks are some of the most beautiful outdoor settings in South Carolina and are ideal places for family outings.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or, stop at Guadalupe River State Park just outside of San Antonio in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Here you can camp by the river and spend your days enjoying various water activities like kayaking, tubing, swimming, and fishing.

Northeast Georgia mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle mountains provide a much-needed escape from the bustling city. Hike to the top of Brasstown Bald for a panoramic 360-degree view. Cumberland Island is the largest uninhabited barrier island in Georgia. The adventure starts on the ferry from St. Mary’s, the only way to get to the island which offers a wonderful view of the diverse habitats. Rent a bike, book a tour with park rangers, or bring a pair of good hiking shoes, as the island is a wonderful place to explore. You can spot wild horses roaming freely, raccoons, wild boars, alligators, whit-tailed deer, and many birds.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A great concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings built from the 6th to the 12th century can be found on the Mesa Verde plateau in southwestern Colorado.

The #OptOutside movement was started by the outdoor retail company REI in 2015. The basic meaning of #OptOutside is: Go outdoors on Black Friday instead of shopping.

Everything is easier said than done. So don’t just read or say it; do it!

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Muir

The Ultimate #OptOutside Guide

It’s amazing what a couple of hours outside can do for your well-being. Fresh air is a state of mind. One we could all use a little more of these days.

For a lot of people, the pandemic has turned life upside down. It’s decimated savings, derailed dreams, and thrown the future into dark uncertainty. I’ve been fortunate to have remained relatively unscathed especially compared with those who have fallen sick, lost jobs, or faced other challenges. Fifty-three percent of adults report that pervasive concerns about the virus have negatively impacted their mental health, according to a poll conducted in July by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

#OptOutside at Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Especially now, we need outdoor spaces free from the distractions of modern technology and the negativity of our never-ending social media feeds. There are numerous mental health benefits to be found in spending time outdoors, be it a neighborhood walk or bike ride. But there’s something special about the deep woods, the wide-open desert, mountain landscape, even the forested corners of an urban park. Those places help to remove us from the anxieties and stresses of everyday life.

#OptOutside at Lynx Lake near Prescott, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Black Friday, we’re going outside. Because we need to! Because that’s where we feel good, and awesome, and human again! Join us!

Ways to Spend More Time Outside

Here is a list of ways to spend more time outdoors. Some big! Some small! Some you can do right outside your door wherever you are. I hope this list serves as inspiration and motivation, or at least a little nudge in the right direction (hopefully, that’s outside).

#OptOutside on Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch the sunrise

Explore a local park

Walk a mile

Check out a new neighborhood

Camp someplace new

#OptOutside in Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp someplace old

Dance in the rain

Find the end of a rainbow

Walk in the snow

Park your car and walk and then walk some more

#OptOutside at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just walk out of your door

Take a hike

Take your dog for an extra-long walk

Walk around a lake

Read a book under a tree

#OptOutside at Bernheim Forest, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go RVing

Climb the biggest hill you can see

Reflect on your time outside through journaling

Explore a new trail

Spend a day in the woods

#OptOutside at Raccoon Lake State Recreation Area, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have a picnic

Climb a mountain

Hug a tree

Feel sand in your toes

Splash in a stream

#OptOutside at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kayak or canoe in a lake or creek

Walk in a meadow

Feel the wind on your face

Surround yourself with trees

Walk a dry creek bed

#OptOutside at Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Park, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll around a park

Stop and smell the roses (literally)

Go camping in a tent

Look for a four-leaf clover

Listen to the birds

#OptOutside at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sit on a pier

Visit a national park

Visit a state park

Visit a regional or county park

Enjoy a new path

#OptOutside at Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Optoutside and cast a line

Go bird watching

Observe nature with a camera

Float a river

Stand on a summit (any size will do)

#OptOutside at Natural Bridges National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Listen to the ocean

Pick up trash while on the trail

Watch the sunset

Watch the moon rise

Count the stars in the night sky

#OptOutside at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The #OptOutside movement was started by the outdoor retail company REI in 2015. The basic meaning of #OptOutside is: Go outdoors on Black Friday instead of shopping.

Everything is easier said than done. So don’t just read or say it; do it!

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

Get Inspired To Get Back Out There

Sometimes, “great outdoors” is an understatement

Good morning. Every now and again, it’s good to remind ourselves what a bizarre world we are living in. So far, 2020 has been a year like no other! With less than two months left, no one is sure whether it’s flown by or dragged on. One thing is for sure, though—you deserve some recognition for sticking with us through it all! 

RV Exterior cleaning at Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your impulse to scrub every corner of your home (on-wheels) has benefited household goods companies handsomely. P&G, the consumer goods giant and owner of Tide and Charmin, said organic sales jumped 6 percent higher for the past fiscal year. The company’s fabric and home-care unit (which includes Swiffer, Mr. Clean, and Dawn) grew 14 percent, the biggest-ever bump. 

A clean coach at Vista del Sol RV Resort in Bullhead City, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why? One word: COVID. People who are suddenly cleaning their doorknobs twice a day tend to buy more cleaning products. An added layer of P&G’s success? We kept buying its products even at premium prices during an economic slowdown—P&G’s wares are generally a bit more costly than competitors. 

A clean coach at Sonoran Desert RV Resort (formerly Gila Bend KOA) in Gila Bend, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zoom out: Disinfecting like mad has also polished the reputations of other cleaning-focused brands. Clorox reported overall sales increase of 27 percent from a year ago and double-digit increases in eight of its 10 business units. People are using Clorox’s namesake disinfectant products to clean household surfaces, cell phones, and laptops—but the company is also benefiting from people cooking more at home instead of going out. That’s because Clorox also owns the plastic bag brand Glad and the charcoal line Kingsford. Sales for Clorox’s household division, the unit that includes these products, soared 39 percent compared to last year.

In an Axios/Harris poll of U.S. attitudes toward companies, Clorox got the best grades in “Ethics” and “Products & Services” and came in second in “Trust.”

Autumn colors at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Fall, Y’all

Fall isn’t just a time for pumpkin-spiced everything, cool-weather hikes, and Thanksgiving overindulgence. It’s also when nature shows off the autumnal art display of trees clad in brilliant colors.

Autumn along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the world grapples with the current reality, the great outdoors have become a welcome respite. Biking is on the rise. RVs became mobile motels for a new generation of traveler. And camping is a now go-to weekend activity for backcountry aficionados and newbies alike. With fall in full swing, there is an unlimited supply of ideal camping destinations coast to coast. 

With wildly diverse wilderness, a massive playground for campers of all walks, whether you’re seeking a trip to one of the country’s most celebrated national parks or one of its most underrated.

Autumn in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National parks might get all the fame and glory, but the United States is dotted with some stunning state parks as well. America is home to more than 10,000 state parks attracting some 739 million annual visitors. As more and more travelers seek the open road and open spaces, those numbers will continue to grow. More and more of these parks are catering to RV travelers with campgrounds, hookups, and other amenities.

Autumn in Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t let the cool temperatures of the fall season keep you from getting out and camping. There are great advantages to “cold season” camping including fewer people, fall colors, and seeing areas in different seasons to name just a few. With some preparation you can stay comfortable in cooler temperatures and keep on adventuring.

Driving Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jaw-dropping vistas can be discovered after a long hike or by simply pulling off the road. Whether you’re looking to flee the big city or stop off for a while in the middle of a cross-country journey there are campsites for all interests. 

Autumn in Whitehall, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today’s post is all about road trips going on RIGHT NOW. I am feeling pent up and could use the expanse of the horizon line to keep me going in these COVID-trying times. Filling my mug with coffee, hiking a local trail, and channeling some of my favorite road dawgs from Jack Kerouac and Paul Theroux to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie! Put the phone on RV mode and ride off into the sunset. But also, check it every once in a while so you can keep up with the latest RVing with Rex post.

Walking the trails at Bernheim Forest near Louisville, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All that said, I hope you are safe, and making the best of our challenging times. Be wise. Be careful. Don’t take needless chances. Be kind to others because right now that goes a long way to comforting people who are nervous, scared, or otherwise emotionally hurting over the dramatic upheaval in their lives.

And thank you for reading.

Worth Pondering…

I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.

—Winston Churchill

Redding For an Outdoor Adventure

The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay is a Redding icon and acts as a massive sundial—perfect for this sunny city

With mountains all around, miles of hiking and biking trails, a river running through it, and national parks nearby, Redding is an outdoor paradise for all ages. Cradled by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Redding has 300+ sunny days per year. It’s a great place to escape the chill of spring and the gray days of winter, too.

Turtle Bay Exploration Park with the Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding is also home to the famous Sundial Bridge, world-class fishing, and 200 miles of hiking and biking trails for all abilities. Head out on a day-trip to see the bubbling mud pots and boiling lakes in Lassen Volcanic National Park, or get refreshed by the waterfall at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park. This 129-foot gusher is considered one of the most beautiful in the state. 

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding, an old train town named for a California & Oregon Railroad land agent, is the largest city in the Shasta Cascade region of Northern California. Redding has built a national reputation as an outdoors destination around it trail system, so much so that the National Trails Association is headquartered here. The Sacramento River Trail is paved along both sides of California’s largest waterway and the Sacramento River Rail Trail follows a course that was touted as “the road of a thousand wonders” when it was built in 1888.

Sacramento River looking west from the Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding brags that it’s the “Second Sunniest City in the U.S.,” with 300-plus clear days (86 percent of the time). From the end of May to early September, families can cool off at WaterWorks Park with a trio of waterslides, action rides, and a lazy river.

The area’s wealth of outdoor activities include Turtle Bay Exploration Park with the renown Sundial Bridge, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Shasta Lake, and Lake Shasta Caverns.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a 300-acre campus along the banks of the Sacramento River. Gateway to the city’s 220-mile trail system, the Park features a botanical garden, natural history and science museum, and exploration center in the guise of a traditional forest camp. The 300-acre complex is tied together by Redding’s jewel, the Sundial Bridge that was the first American project by celebrated Spanish bridge architect Santiago Calatrava. The supporting pylon and curving, translucent deck perform as the world’s largest sundial.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight miles west of Redding, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area is located at the juncture of the Klamath Mountain range and the northern edge of the Sacramento Valley, making it home to a special collection of plant and animal life, and year-round beauty. The park features Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta Bally Mountain (6,209 feet), and numerous waterfalls providing outdoor enthusiasts opportunities for water recreation, hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Lake-based recreation is popular.

Sundial Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding is the jumping off point for the spectacular lunar landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park boasts incredible mountain scenery reminiscent of Yosemite as well as fascinating thermal wonders similar to Yellowstone with just a small fraction of the visitors. Lassen features three of the four different types of geothermal features including steam vents, mud pots, and hot springs; all four types of volcanoes (shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite); and all types of naturally occurring lakes.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The focal point of the park is 10,457-foot Mt. Lassen, one of the world’s largest plug dome volcanoes and the southern-most peak in the Cascade range. Most of the park’s major attractions are along the 29-mile link in State Route 89 that encircles the peak’s east side.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning a visit? Surrounded by pristine mountains, lakes, and rivers, Redding offers a wide range of RV parks and campgrounds including Green Acres RV Park, Marina RV Park, Premier RV Park, Redding RV Park, and Win-River Resort.

JGW RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our home base while touring the Redding area was JGW RV Park, a big-rig friendly resort located 9 miles south of Redding on the Sacramento River. This is a beautiful 5-star RV park with water, sewer, and 30/50-amp electric service centrally located. The majority of pull-through sites are back-to-back and side-to side. There is no cable TV; however, we’re able to obtain a satellite signal between trees and pick up numerous local stations on the antenna. Our site backed onto the Sacramento River. Interior roads are paved and in good condition with concrete pads.

JGW RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson 

Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

Finding joy in the outdoors

The world was flipped upside-down when COVID-19 spread to the US and Canada affecting each aspect of human life and social interaction. As humans we have a weapon to fight against the negative effects that come with social isolation—the great outdoors.

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

Many cities across the country issued shelter-in-place orders, directing individuals to stay home to decrease the spread of the coronavirus. The resulting loneliness often led to higher stress levels, increased depression, impaired immunity, or other negative health impacts.

As days go by without social relationships, our mental and physical health is at risk. These ill effects can counter by spending time in the outdoors.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a study conducted by the University of Exeter in England, researchers found that people who spent more time outdoors were less likely to feel anxiety or depression. Another study found that exposure to sun rays was associated with lower blood pressure. People who feel more connected to nature tend to feel more life satisfaction, vitality, and general happiness.

Forest bathing, or nature therapy, has become a popular technique to promote the health benefits of being outside. Exposure to green space has been proven to induce relaxation.

Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since COVID hit, people have been taking the opportunity to explore the outdoors more. A survey conducted by Civic Science found that 43 percent of Americans 13 years or older said they have participated in more outdoor activities because of social distancing rules.

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So what can you do during this time to combat the stress and fatigue that follows social isolation? Go outside! Go on a scenic drive! Go to a state park! Go for a hike! And find the peace that nature provides!

As the weather cools get outside and soak up the beautiful sights and sounds of the autumn season. The yearly spectacle of fall puts changing leaves at the forefront of our imagination but you don’t have to imagine the beauty.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are several great suggestions for fall trips to help you get the most out of this amazing time of year in America’s most beautiful places. So, come along and find out what to do and where to go this fall. Step out of summer and into an autumn adventure. And snap some photos while you do!

Roaring Fork Nature Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

This 522,427-acre park straddling the border between North Carolina and Tennessee comes alive with red, yellow, and orange from mid-September to early November thanks to a collection of 100 tree species, most of them deciduous. The best way to view the likes of flaming cove and northern hardwood, maple, and beech trees is via a scenic drive along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail or Cades Cove or a hike along area trails such as the Appalachian Trail or Oconaluftee River Trail.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Vermont

Vermont

The state’s loveliest drive might just be its largest highway, Route 100—a 200-mile-plus thoroughfare that vertically dissects the state from Massachusetts to Canada. In fact, nature photographers from all over the country hit the highway for guaranteed peak foliage photography. But the main event comes when you turn off Route 100 onto the Green Mountain Byway which takes you from Waterbury to Stowe. This means leaf-watching against a backdrop of bucolic mountains and farmland, cider donuts from Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and a detour into the Ben and Jerry’s Factory (for pickup orders only).

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal, Virginia awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountains to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, and river access make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Often described as a ‘miniature’ version of Monument Valley, Valley of the Gods is arguably, equally spectacular. What Valley of the Gods may lack when it comes to the size and volume of its free-standing monoliths, spires, and fins, it makes up for with solitude. It would be a rare occurrence to pass through Monument Valley without seeing another visitor but at Valley of the Gods you’re likely to have the whole place to yourself to explore and enjoy. Take in a scenic hike or stop for a picnic in the crisp fall air.

Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avery Island, Louisiana

Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.

Jungle Gardens, Avery Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

Best Parks and Gardens to Connect with Nature

Parks and gardens are ideal destinations for picnics, enjoying the outdoors, and simply taking time to relax and enjoy nature

In an earlier article I detailed ways to live healthier and extend both the quantity and quality of your life. There is evidence to support the positive impact of adopting a healthy lifestyle and following certain definitive, scientific, time-tested methods including enjoying nature.

From an ancient forest and coastal wetlands to a botanical garden and desert oasis, here are eight of our favorite parks and gardens for enjoying nature.

Frances Beider Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frances Beider Forest, Harleyville, South Carolina

Feel the beauty and serenity of this ancient forest. Frequented by photographers and nature lovers from all over the world, this 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary offers a beauty unsurpassed in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Audubon’s Beidler is the world’s largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest—a pristine ecosystem. Enjoy thousand-year-old trees, a range of wildlife, and the quiet flow of blackwater all from the safety of a 1.75-mile boardwalk. Paddle the flowing blackwater under towering 1,000-year-old cypress trees. Wildlife is plentiful and varied.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas

Lady Bird Johnson was the First Lady who championed the planting of wildflowers along Texas highways. Her passion was not only for wildflowers but native plants of all kinds. So it’s fitting that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is both a showplace for beautiful plants and a botanical research center. The public botanical garden introduces visitors to the beauty of wildflowers and other native plants and natural landscapes through experience and education. There are 284 acres of gardens, savannas, and woodlands including the Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden, the sprawling South Meadow, and the Erma Lowe Hill Country Stream.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, Arizona

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is a zoo, natural history museum, aquarium, and botanical garden all in one place. Founded in 1952, 85 percent of the Desert Museum is outdoors and primarily a walking experience. Located just west of Tucson, it features 2 miles of walking paths traversing 21 acres of desert landscape. The Desert Museum’s 98 acres host 230 animal species—including prairie dogs, coyotes, Gila monster, and mountain lion—and 1,200 local plant species (totaling 56,000 individual plants). This highly acclaimed Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum deserves all the accolades that it receives.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With over 15,000 acres of land, there is an adventure waiting for everyone, no matter what your interest. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

You’ll never look at cacti the same way again after visiting the 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden. In this environment, every plant represents stunning beauty. Five marked trails, such as the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail, capitalize on views (whether of mountains or flowers) and fragrances. Learn how native ancestors and current ethnic groups survived in the desert climate by traveling along the Plants & People of the Sonoran Desert Loop Trail which documents Hispanic, Tohono O’odham, and Western Apache people’s connection to plants. The Desert Botanical Garden is located in Papago Park in central Phoenix.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boyce-Thompson Arboretum State Park, Superior, Arizona

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, tucked into the foothills of Picketpost Mountain near Superior is a state park like no other. The Arboretum is home to hundreds of species of desert loving plants from around Arizona and other parts of the world. This venerable “Arizona oasis” has nearly three miles of paths and trails winding through colorful gardens, woodlands, and native riparian habitat. Founded in 1924 by mining magnate Col. William Boyce Thompson, the Arboretum is Arizona’s oldest and largest botanical garden and offers over 323 acres to explore.

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary, Walterboro, South Carolina

There is a beautiful wildlife sanctuary located in the middle of the historic and picturesque city of Walterboro, South Carolina. Easily reached from I-95, the Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary is a great place to leave the traffic behind, stretch your legs, and enjoy nature. Located within the ACE Basin, the East Coast’s largest estuarine preserve, the 600- acre Sanctuary features a network of boardwalks, hiking, biking, and canoe trails that are perfect for viewing a diversity of a black water bottomland habitat.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

An Isolation Itinerary: Places to Get Lost and Find Yourself

Looking for a road trip destination this summer? You will feel safe with this ‘isolation itinerary’.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the way we travel in 2020. The more we read, the more obvious it becomes that outside is better than inside.

2020 is shaping up to be the year of the road trip. Unlike a plane, train, or other public transport your RV is your personal space and allows you control the level of cleaning and sanitation and who you share the space with. Plus, fuel prices are low this year while airline availability has been greatly reduced. In an RV you can go where you want and stay in a campground, an RV park, or boondock on public lands.

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Everyone want to get outside after months of the “stay at home” and for all these reasons natural sites like national parks, state parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and other wide open spaces have seen a huge spike in interest.

The National Park Service states that more than 300 million people visit more than 400 national park areas in the U.S. each year. Since summer is typically the prime time for travel, it makes sense that many parks fill to capacity during these warmer months. 

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, with concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, national parks may be even harder to access than usual. Phased reopenings are occurring in many popular locations such as Arches, Zion, and Joshua Tree. Because national parks provide an ideal road trip destination, it’s safe to say they’ll be popular in the coming months. 

Gulf State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State parks can be a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Even better, they usually aren’t as busy as national parks. If you don’t want to take a chance on crowded national parks this summer visit one of more than 8,000 state park areas instead. State parks are often underrated destinations, but they can provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opportunities for outdoor recreation also draw people to national wildlife refuges. Many visitors enjoy fishing, paddling, wildlife viewing, nature photography, and hiking with 2,100 miles of public walking trails and boardwalks available. All these activities offer visitors a chance to unplug from the stresses of modern life and reconnect with their natural surroundings.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, we’ve put together a list of incredible state parks and natural wildlife refuges from coast to coast. You will feel safe with our researched “isolation itinerary.”

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Located along the southern coastline of Alabama, Gulf State Park provides a beautiful escape to the seashore and nearby lakes. Use the in-park camping and full hookup RV sites as your base camp for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Or stay in one of the cottages or cabins found around the park. With more than 3.5 miles of white sand beaches and 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks, there’s plenty of space.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington

The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge preserves thousands of acres of diverse habitats and archaeological sites alongside the Columbia River. Taking a stroll from the parking lot, the pedestrian bridge allow you to stand over the railroad tracks and gaze westward over the mosaic of seasonal wetlands, permanent wetlands, grasslands, upland forests, riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and croplands that become home to thousands of ducks, geese, and swans that winter on the Refuge.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park, West Virginia

The 4,127-acre Babcock State Park is 20 miles southeast of Fayetteville  and the New River Gorge Bridge. You can hike, fish, and mountain bike in this scenic park though a huge attraction is seeing the Glade Creek Grist Mill. This is a fully functioning replica of Cooper’s Mill which once stood in the same area. The mill attracts photographers from all around to capture idyllic scenes along the creek. Campsites are available for overnight stays.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.  Established in 1937 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, the refuge plays a crucial role in the conservation of wetlands in the deser. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented on the Refuge.

Brasstown Bald State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald State Park, Georgia

Plan a trip to Georgia’s tallest mountain for amazing views and quality time with Mother Nature. As the state’s highest peak—4,784 feet above sea level—Brasstown Bald is among the first to display fall colors. Even in summer, you’ll find the mountain a worthy escape thanks to its picturesque location amid the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and its refreshing temperatures. Nearby, take a scenic drive through the national forest via the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From the byway, stop at Vogel State Park which offers ample camping, plus fishing, hiking, and lake swimming.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 as an overlay of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center for the protection of migratory birds. Consisting of 140,000 acres, the Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals.

Worth Pondering…

Hiking a ridge, a meadow, or a river bottom, is as healthy a form of exercise as one can get. Hiking seems to put all the body cells back into rhythm.

—William O. Douglas, Justice, United States Supreme Court