32 Best Christmas Gifts for RV Owners (2023)

The best holiday gifts for RV owners include outdoor gear, interior decor, travel entertainment, kitchen gadgets, and much more. Here’s an ultimate list of gifts in all price ranges.

Whether your RVer likes practical gifts, fun gifts, or unique gifts, there’s something for every RVer on this list.

This article will be your one-stop shop for every RVer you want to buy a gift for!

Here is my ultimate list of the best Christmas gift for RV owners broken into the following categories:

  • Outside the RV: Camping essentials
  • Inside the RV: Home, bath, and storage
  • RV lifestyle tech: Remote workers
  • RV safety essentials
  • Fiction books, movies, and games for RVers
  • RV kitchen supplies

Each category has a range of options, big and small, cheap and luxurious! So be sure to skim the whole list to find the perfect gift for your RVer.

Outside the RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside the RV: Camping essentials

1. Outdoor portable propane fire pit

This is a great gift for those RVers who love to enjoy an outdoor fire but do not want to lug or hassle with firewood. It can be turned on and off quickly so you only have to hassle with a fire when you are ready to enjoy it.

2. Wireless backup camera for motorhome

A backup motorhome camera can be the perfect gift to ease the tension of having to back up such a large vehicle. Not only does it cut down on the driver’s stress level but it can be safer for everyone.

If this gift caught your attention, you should check out 7 Pro Tips for Backing up a Motorhome.

3. Tool set

This is one of the best gifts for RV owners who like practical gifts. This toolset can come in handy for many issues an RV owner might face from a loose screen door to a stuck trailer hitch.

This universal tool kit can easily be stored in an outdoor hatch (on the curbside), utility closet, or cabinet. If you’d like to see more tool gifts for RVers, go to What Every RVer Needs in Their Basic Tool Kit.

4. RV state sticker map

One thing that most RVers love to do is track and talk about where they have been. This sticker map lets them track everywhere they’ve been in the United States in a visually appealing way (Canadian maps are also available).

It is weather-resistant so can be mounted outside or inside the RV. It’s a nice, decorative reminder of travels and a great ice-breaker for those wanting to make friends while camping.

Christmas gifts for RVers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Magnetic hide-a-key case

A magnetic hide-a-key case is a perfect stocking stuffer. This little box can save your RVer from being stranded (it happens way more often than it should).

It’ll also save you from having to frantically express mail or drive their spare RV key to them! Having some kind of hide-a-key is a must-have for every RVer.

6. Folding step stool

A step stool is a super practical gift for an RV owner making it easier to get in and out of the RV and to access the ladder and awnings among lots of other uses. A folding step stool is great because it collapses to easily store in the RV when it’s not being used. Interior folding steps are also available.

7. Hammock

Hammocks would make a fun gift idea for an RV owner to bring some comfiness to their outdoor space when they stop to camp. They can just keep the hammock in the RV and when they get to that epic campsite can set up a cozy reading or napping nook in the trees.

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

8. Georgia State Parks passes & Friends membership

Gift a year of the great outdoors with Georgia State Parks passes or annual membership to the Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites. The combo pass package grants access to more than 60 attractions across the state and memberships have several perks including complimentary nights at the campsites, discounted lodge rooms, and free picnic shelter rentals. Plan a getaway to a state park.

9. Give the gift of the outdoors

Join the Texas State Parks’ 100-year celebration with the 2023 Texas State Parks ornament. This special ornament is crafted on metal and features a laser-cutting technique used to create a distinct dot for every one of Texas’s 89 State Parks. Each ornament is $19.95 plus tax.

Gift cards can be used for park passes, entry and overnight fees, and in-store purchases. 

Inside the RV: Home, bath, and storage

Throw pillow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cute and funny RV throw pillows

RVers love multifunctional items and throw pillows offer comfort while beautifying their RV. Plus, they can be easily exchanged when your RV wants to update their interior design.

11 Folding step stool

This practical gift would come in handy for any RVer. It folds flat for easy storage and can easily be stored under the sink or in a closet. It can even be tucked away under a couch or bed if they are elevated above the floor. If your RVer is vertically challenged this is a must-have.

12. Shower bag caddy

If your RVer regularly uses campground showers this is an excellent gift for them. It’ll make trudging to the shower that much easier and keep their items clean and organized.

You can also turn the bag into a gift basket by adding shower shoes and a travel hair dryer. But for those who mostly shower inside their RV…

13. Adhesive shower caddy

For RVers who mostly use their RV shower a caddy set helps make them feel at home.

Life is a beautiful ride in an RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Hanging closet organizer

Maximizing closet space is always a challenge for RVers. A hanging closet organizer is a game-changer.

15. Charcoal air purifier

If you’re spending an extended amount of time in an RV you might start to notice that it starts smelling a little less than fresh. Charcoal air purifiers naturally absorb odors without adding a fake scent. They can be stashed or hung around the RV to keep it smelling nice and it will be a much-appreciated gift for motorhome and trailer owners.

RV lifestyle tech: Remote work and RV office

Remote working (whether full-time or part-time) has seriously grown in popularity in recent years. More and more RVers are trading in their home office for a mobile office in their RV.

Throw pillow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. HP 2700 All-in-one printer

The wireless HP 2700 series allows you to easily print documents when you are on the go. It is lightweight, compact, and prints high-quality, crisp documents, and photos. 

17. Cell or Wi-Fi booster

Getting away from it all is important but when your family members are on the road for weeks at a time, staying connected is important, too. A Wi-Fi or cell booster will extend and expand any available signal. That could mean taking a campground Wi-Fi signal and making it stronger or improving cellular coverage when they’re out and about.

RV safety essentials

I know the safety of your RVer is of utmost importance to you. That’s why the following safety essentials can make great gifts for RVers.

For one, they bring peace of mind to you. For two, they fill in the void of often overlooked items your RVer sorely needs, an oversight that can leave them in a dangerous situation.

Smoke alarm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Natural gas and propane detector

Carbon monoxide poisoning is an all-too-real threat to RVers’ well-being. Most RVs come standard with CO detectors but some older models do not. Not to mention the ones that need replacement.

19. First alert EZ fire spray

In addition to their standard RV fire extinguisher every RVer should have this quick-and-easy extinguishing aerosol spray. It’s lightweight and as easy as pushing the top to use which is ideal for sudden BBQ or RV kitchen fires. Or even for campfires that jump the fire ring.

20. She’s Birdie personal safety alarm

Originally designed as a personal safety alarm for women, this loud siren is now popular among men, too. It’s a great gift for solo RVers and boondockers who often camp overnight in parking lots.

Many RVers attach it to their dog leashes or hiking backpacks in case they encounter a threat (whether person or animal) on their walks. But for bigger threats, your RVer will need the following…

21. Counter Assault bear spray

Encountering bears is a common occurrence while camping. And, unfortunately these encounters have led to more injuries and deaths than I care to mention.

This bear spray will give you peace of mind and truly help to protect your RVing loved one if they encounter a bear. We consider it a must-have for any RVer who camps in bear country (which covers a LOT of the U.S. and Canada).

Christmas gifts for RVers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Emergency roadside kit

While you can’t always prevent roadside emergencies you can at least be prepared for them. That’s when a good emergency roadside kit comes in handy.

This post will also take you to 23 Must-Have Items for your RV Roadside Emergency Kit.

You can buy a premade kit, make your own, or buy individual items as stocking stuffers.

23. Emergency first aid kit

RVers are usually good at putting a first aid kit in their RV when they first buy it. However, we are often terrible about checking expiration dates and restocking used supplies.

That’s why an all-purpose first aid kit is great for any RVer. Even if they already have one in their RV, they can easily slide this one into their hiking backpack or bike pack.

Fiction books, movies, and games for RVers

Nature offers plenty of entertainment but RVers still need to entertain themselves on lazy afternoons, in the evenings, or on long road trips.

24. Thelma & Louise

Snuggling up to a movie after a great day on the trail is a perk of camping in an RV rather than a tent. There’s a movie for everyone on these lists that covers every genre including the classic Thelma & Louise.

25. Embroidery starter kit

If your RVer loves crafts or is looking for a new hobby an embroidery start kit is the way to go. It’s everything they need to get started in the world of embroidery.

But there are lots of crafty gifts and activities perfect for RVers!

Christmas gifts for RVers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV kitchen supplies

26. Portable ice maker

Ice is often a luxury while RVing and one that many RVers don’t like going without.

A compact and affordable ice maker is the perfect gift.

27. Instant pot

While it’s not just RVers that adore the Instant Pot, it’s especially useful in an RV kitchen where space is super tight. The smallest Instant Pot (6 quarts) will still take up some space but it packs such a punch with what it can do that it’s totally worth it.

Of course, you can make hearty stews, rice, and grains in it but did you know you can also bake banana bread, make hard-boiled eggs, and even cook dessert in the Instant Pot? This is the gift that will keep on giving delicious meals!

Bonus gift ideas

The following are more of the best gifts for RV owners. From gift cards to national park passes here are more gift ideas to go.

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

28. America the Beautiful Pass

One of the greatest things about RV travel is visiting the national parks. The annual America the Beautiful Pass costs $80 and gives your camping loved ones access to more than 2,000 parks and recreation sites across the country. The pass is good for 12 months and covers park admission for everyone in the entire vehicle. It’s a gift that’s appreciated all year long.

29. Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas

Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas books are available for many states and the information includes backcountry roads, trailheads, campgrounds, points of interest, hunting units, RV parks, golf, and boating locations .

30. Dyrt Pro membership

RVers are always looking for great new places to explore and beautiful campgrounds and RV parks. One of my favorite parts of RV living is all of the beautiful places we get to see while we are camping. A great membership to simplify the process of planning a camping trip and saving money is the Dyrt Pro membership.

31. Harvest Hosts membership

Want to give experiences instead of things to your RVer? A Harvest Hosts membership is the perfect option. It is a unique membership service that lets RVers camp overnight FOR FREE at lovely outdoor venues such as wineries, breweries, museums, farms, orchards, and creameries. There are more than 2,000 such places across North America to choose from.

There is also an upgraded membership where you can also camp overnight at golf courses.

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

32. Costco

There are many benefits to having a Costco membership especially during the holiday shopping season. Sure, the advent calendars are fun and the variety of small items for stocking stuffers is superb but there’s something else that is a far better bang for your buck.

Buying gift cards from the retailer may save you hundreds.

Whether you’re looking for gift cards for restaurants, movie theaters, stores, or theme parks, Costco has it all. Here the best deals on gift cards are right now:

  • $500 Southwest Airlines gift card for $449.99
  • $100 worth of Fogo de Chao gift cards for $79.99
  • $100 worth of Domino’s gift cards for $79.99
  • $100 worth of Peet’s Coffee gift cards for $79.99
  • $100 worth of California Pizza Kitchen gift cards for $79.99
  • $100 worth of Spafinder gift cards for $79.99
  • $100 worth of Chuck E. Cheese gift cards for $74.99
  • $100 Xbox digital download gift card for $89.99
  • $60 worth of Krispy Kreme gift cards for $44.99
  • $60 worth of Pinkberry gift cards for $47.99
  • $50 Cinemark Theatres gift card for $39.99

Make sure to periodically check the Costco website, especially during different holidays as the selection of gift cards may vary by season and could be temporarily out of stock at certain times.

Worth Pondering…

Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.

—Dave Barry, Christmas Shopping: A Survivor’s Guide

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

Tired of crowds? Try these underrated national parks instead.

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

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

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

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

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

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia

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

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

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

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

Get more tips for visiting New River Gorge National Park

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

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

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Congaree National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

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

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

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

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

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

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

Worth Pondering…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The Complete Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Spot North America’s largest bird in California’s smallest park

Pinnacles National Park checks all the boxes for nature lovers. Thirty miles of hiking trails from gentle creek-side strolls to stiff cliff-hanging switchbacks, giant monoliths, rust-colored rock cloaked in a kaleidoscope of lichen.

There’s beauty everywhere you look. About 100 varieties of wildflowers bloom throughout the year and more than 180 bird species including North America’s largest bird, the critically endangered California condor and its majestic roughly 10-foot wingspan can be spotted in the park. A concerto of calling quails, gobbling turkeys, drumming woodpeckers, and whistling hummingbirds are also present.

Don’t let Pinnacles National Park’s status as California’s smallest and least-visited national park fool you. This mesmerizing volcanic wilderness on the southern edge of central California’s Gabilan Mountain Range is a hot spot for ecological diversity and outdoor recreation. It is blanketed by a vast network of chaparral forests, pine and oak woodlands, golden grasslands, and 3,000-foot peaks. The park is where Chalon, Mutsun, and other Native Americans lived and used bedrock mortars to grind acorns and pine nuts for millennia.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long overshadowed by its ever-popular park brethren—Yosemite, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon top the in-state visitor list—Pinnacles holds a unique title of its own: California’s youngest national park. When the 26,674-acre wonderland achieved national park status in 2013, Pinnacles became America’s 59th national park and the Golden State’s ninth such accreditation, the most of any state. The designation shed the park’s longstanding national monument rank assigned by President Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago.

A prime illustration of tectonic plate movement, Pinnacles National Park formed about 23 million years ago after numerous eruptions of the Neenach volcanic field near present-day Lancaster, California, 195 miles southeast of the park. In cooperation with the San Andreas Fault, the park traveled north to its current address over millions of years where wind and water erosion have since shaped its eye-popping matrix of rock-strewn terrain. To this day, scientists estimate that Pinnacles is migrating northwest at a rate of 1.5 to 2 inches per year—or, the same speed that our fingernails grow.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a state teeming with natural beauty and park options, Pinnacles’ 41 square miles of spellbinding topography flies under the radar and can be explored relatively crowd-free most of the year especially on weekdays. In 2022, there were 275,023 visitors in the park, an uptick from its historical average of 150,000 to 200,000 people. Still, last year’s figure marked the eighth-lowest head count for national parks in the Lower 48.

For many park visitors, condors and caves is what sets Pinnacles apart from the rest of the national park system. The California condor, one of the rarest birds in the world is often seen soaring over Pinnacles. “And there are two talus caves that are unusual as they are technically above ground. When visiting this moving mountain just find a sunny spot to take in the wonder around you!

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your trip

Just east of the Salinas Valley, Pinnacles’ low-key status stems from its semisecluded location in central California. The park has two entrances—the east and west—with no connecting road between the two. To get from one side to the other, you must exit and drive around the park which takes about an hour and a half.

To access the west entrance, take Highway 101 either south from San Francisco or north from Los Angeles to Soledad. From there, you’ll take Highway 146 east to the gate. To access the east entrance, travel Highway 101 south to Highway 25 south. If traveling from the north, you’ll access Highway 25 through Hollister; if traveling from the south, you’ll connect to Highway 25 near King City.

A great time to visit Pinnacles is between mid-February and early June when the weather is moderate and the wildflowers are showy. Visitation numbers tend to peak at this time especially on weekends. For solitude, arrive early on a weekday and you’ll have no problem with crowds or parking.

As an alternative, a fall visit is recommended. I would aim for October or early November. It has often cooled off by that point but the evenings have not become cold yet. All of Bear Gulch Cave is open at that point and you may also see male tarantulas on the move looking for a mate.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If planning a summer trip, brace yourself for hot and dry weather with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees. Park rangers suggest visitors wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen and drink a liter of water per hour of hiking. You’ll need layers come winter (the park’s cool and wet season) but you’ll have the park all to yourself. No matter the season, pack a pair of binoculars for potential California condor sightings and don’t forget your long-lens camera.

The park’s two talus caves are a top attraction: balconies, best reached through the west entrance and Bear Gulch, best reached from the east entrance. Home to active bat colonies, be sure to check Pinnacles’ website in alignment with their seasonal openings. When the bat population is hibernating in fall, winter, and spring, caves are typically open; if it’s pupping season after bats are born—usually mid-May to mid-July—caves will temporarily close to protect the mammals.

Fun fact: Bear Gulch Cave has the largest maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats, a sensitive species between San Francisco and Mexico.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Important note: The caves are not accessible for visitors with mobility issues and require a bit of rock scrambling. Those prone to claustrophobia should reconsider as well due to the maze—albeit brief—of low ceilings and tight passageways. Park officials ask that you bring a headlamp or flashlight to navigate the momentarily dark crevices (iPhones work as well but it helps to be hands-free). Of course, talk with your health care provider before you go to see what’s best for you.

If entering from the west entrance, stop at the West Visitor Pinnacles Contact Station for books and trail maps, to speak with a ranger, and brush up on the park’s history via the 10-minute park film. The Prewett Point Trail, a new accessible trail delivering panoramas of the High Peaks and Balconies Cliffs, starts at the visitor station. On the park’s east side, a section of the Bench Trail was recently paved for wheelchair access. It, too, provides High Peaks views.

Bear Gulch Nature Center and West Visitor Center are open based on staff availability.

San Benito Wine Country near the east entrance to Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay and eat

There are no restaurants, gas stations, or lodging in Pinnacles. On the east side of the park, Pinnacles Campground offers a combination of 134 tent, RV, and group camping sites in a serene setting of blue, valley, and coast live oak trees. A camp store sells minimal groceries; you’d be better off packing a picnic lunch prior to your arrival.

Several small gateway towns—Soledad (10 miles), King City (30 miles), Hollister (65 miles), and Salinas (37 miles)—have a variety of restaurants and accommodations.

Outside the park, fun area pit stops include the charming Soledad Mission, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, a museum and memorial dedicated to the renowned local author. For added fun, download a map of The Artichoke Trail, a collection of 40 restaurants, farm stands, and markets celebrating Monterey County’s widely grown vegetable.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do

Spot a California condor

Seasoned birders and avian newbies alike travel to Pinnacles each year for one reason: the chance to spot a California condor, one of North America’s rarest birds. In the 1980s, Pinnacles’ year-round banner bird was on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, hunters, and poisoning from lead ammunition in carrion or animal remains, a condor’s main food source. To save the endangered species, conservationists captured 22 birds remaining in the wild and placed them in a breeding program. Considered an ideal habitat for the high-flying vulture, Pinnacles was chosen as a release site in 2003 and two captive-bred birds were set free inside the park. Today, the population has rebounded to 89 condors in the central California flock, many of which fly through the park.

With a nearly 10-foot wingspan, the ability to ride thermal updrafts to 15,000 feet, a top-end flight speed of 55 mph—covering some 200 miles in a single day—the massive scavenger (which can weigh up to 20 pounds) is a spectacle to witness as it drifts above the park’s surplus of volcanic peaks. One of the best spots to look for condors is in the High Peaks before 11 am. If you sit and wait while looking up at the sky, you may find them. In the park’s east section, condors frequently cruise thermal winds southeast of the campground.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro tip for spotting your first condor

Learn the difference between a condor and a turkey vulture. They look similar in the sky. However, a condor’s airplane-esque wingspan is about 4 feet wider than its ever-abundant park relative.

From underwing, condor feathers form a striking white triangle on their leading edge whereas a turkey vulture has a silver-gray plumage on its trailing edge. Flight patterns differ in that a condor has a flat and steady aerial style; a turkey vulture’s pattern is V-shaped and rocking. Binoculars will help you detect the disparity in head color, too, both of which are bald. Adult condors have a yellowish-orange or pinkish head and appear as if they’re wearing a black feather boa; adult turkey vultures have bright red heads.

The biggest identifier between the two birds is man-made: All California condors (save for wild-born juveniles) don at least one numbered wing tag—and many sport two—to track health, behavior, and nesting sites in and around the park.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike to a cave

There’s no better place to appreciate the geologic wonder of Pinnacles than by visiting one of its two main talus caves: Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave. They were formed when a medley of jumbled rockfall—thousand-ton boulders and other volcanic leftovers from the cliffs above— roofed in the steep and narrow fracture-and-fault-made canyons below.

Legend has it that Tiburcio Vásquez, the infamous California bandito, hid in the sometimes-pitch-black caves while evading the law in the 1800s. This was more than a half-century before the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) arrived in the 1930s building a system of steps, trails, and passageways.

The shortest cave to reach is Balconies Cave, best accessed from the Chaparral Parking Area in the park’s west district where the easy-to-moderate Balconies Trail will lead you to the cavern in 0.7 miles. Turn on your flashlight or headlamp as you crawl under boulders and scramble through the uneven ground in the dark—you’ll be through it all in five minutes, so be sure to enjoy the thrill of rushing water (depending on the season) and dance between darkness and light enveloping you. Return to the parking lot via the scenic Balconies Cliffs Trail, completing a 2.4-mile loop.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park in the Bear Gulch lot in the east district to begin your adventure to the Bear Gulch Cave. After a half-mile jaunt, turn left on the Moses Spring Trail (0.7 miles) which winds its way through dramatic pinnacles, some miniature caves and rock debris covered in multicolored lichen en route to the cave’s mossy entrance.

The deeper you get inside of the cave, the narrower the trail walls become. Fret not; white arrows will direct you as you cross puddles, climb stairs, bend, and dip your way through the damp rock jumble eventually letting you out at the Bear Gulch Reservoir, a picture-perfect oasis to have lunch and rest. When you’re finished, hike back through the cave or take the short Rim Trail route back to your car.

The park’s diversity of lichen is one of the more overlooked aspects of Pinnacles, so be on the lookout. Lichens are an interesting organism that is part fungus, part algae, and they adhere to rock. At Pinnacles, they display a kaleidoscopic array of colors through the park.

For the venturesome parkgoer, it’s possible to hike the entire park in a single day on a 9-mile-or-so loop from either side and see everything Pinnacles has to offer: Both caves, the High Peaks, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and the trickling Chalone Creek, one of the park’s flattest strolls on the Old Pinnacles Trail.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird watching

Pinnacles’ varied ecosystem as well as its position on the migratory Pacific Flyway reveal a variety of birding opportunities. Peregrine and prairie falcons are known to nest cliffside on the Balconies Trail (tip: Look for white excrement painting its cliff walls). The greater roadrunner can often be seen dashing after snakes and lizards on the park’s paved roads. California quail, acorn woodpeckers, golden eagles, wild turkey, great horned owls, and a variety of hummingbirds are common park residents.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


From March to May, Pinnacles’ hillsides burst into bloom revealing more than 100 species of bright-colored wildflowers. California buckwheat, elegant clarkia, bush poppy, and larkspur paint the park in a rocky rainbow blossom. For adventurists, Pinnacles’ volcanic breccia rock affords plentiful climbing routes, but only for the well-trained climber. Far removed from the pollution of artificial light, the park’s uber-dark setting displays some of the clearest night skies in central California for stargazers.

Check this out to learn more:

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facts box

Park location: East of Central California’s Salinas Valley

Area: 26,674 acres

Highest peak: North Chalone Peak at 3,304 feet above sea level

Lowest valley: South Chalone Creek at 824 feet above sea level

Miles of trails: 30-plus miles

Main attraction: Balconies and Bear Gulch Caves

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cost: $30 per-vehicle entrance fee, valid for seven straight days; $25 for motorcycles; $15 for bicycles or walk-in entry; $55 for Pinnacles annual passes

Best way to see: On foot by hiking one of its 15 trails

When to go to: Mid-February through mid-May for mild weather and splashy wildflowers

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Head Outdoors and Celebrate National Wildlife Refuge Week

There are hundreds of national wildlife refuges across the country like the one pictured below in New Mexico and now is the perfect time to visit for a day of fishing, hiking, or wildlife watching

October is a great time to visit a national wildlife refuge and next week might be a peak time to observe all the migrating birds you can find at a refuge—plus, it just happens to be National Wildlife Refuge Week.

The National Wildlife Refuge System is an unparalleled wildlife conservation network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts that provide vital habitats for thousands of species of birds and other wildlife and plants. It also provides access to world-class recreation opportunities ranging from birding to hiking, nature study, photography, and environmental education.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s National Wildlife Refuge Week—an annual celebration of the United States’ massive network of public lands dedicated to conservation. Walk, run, or stroll in nature during National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 8-14, 2023. Enjoy great outdoor recreation in America’s largest network of public lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, the National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Founded in 1903, national wildlife refuges offer access to a host of popular activities while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species.

National Wildlife Refuge Week occurs yearly during the second full week of October.

The Refuge System offers many healthful outdoor activities including fishing, wildlife viewing, and wildlife photography while providing vital habitat for thousands of wildlife species including sandhill cranes, American alligators, bison, and sea turtles.

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Refuge System helps many species recover and thrive:

  • About 340 California condors fly free today thanks to efforts by Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, and many committed partners. In 1982, there were just 22 known condors in the wild. Refuge-led tidal marsh restorations in San Francisco Bay in California and Willapa Bay in Washington are providing new feeding and rearing areas for salmon and migratory birds while also protecting nearby communities.
  • There is a national wildlife refuge in all 50 states including refuges located within an hour’s drive of 100 major cities. Almost all refuges provide FREE entry year-round along with great birding opportunities.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Refuge System in 1903 at what is now Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The refuge includes the island and more than 5,400 acres of protected waters and lands in and near Indian River Lagoon on the Atlantic coast.

The Blue Goose, originated by the late cartoonist J.N. “Ding” Darling, is the symbol of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring and former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, said: “Wherever you meet this sign, respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people to preserving for themselves and their children as much of our native wildlife as can be retained along with our modern civilization.”

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National wildlife refuges contribute $3.2 billion per year into local economies and support more than 41,000 jobs, according to the Service’s report Banking on Nature. Visits to refuges have doubled in the last 10 years reaching nearly 65 million visits in 2021. National wildlife refuges also make life better by conserving wildlife, protecting against erosion and flooding, and purifying our air and water.

More than 101 million Americans—40 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older—pursue wildlife-related recreation, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching.

In celebration of National Wildlife Refuge Week I’ve compiled a list of seven of my favorite national wildlife refuges.

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Located in Louisiana’s Cajun Country, Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge conserves over 15,000 acres of once vast lower Mississippi alluvial bottomland hardwood forest and bald cypress tupelo swamp habitats. The Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge’s mix of scenic bayous, oxbow lakes, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forest is a great place to hunt, fish, boat, bird watch, paddle, or just plain enjoy the scenery.

Get more tips for visiting Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331 acre Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover site for migrating waterfowl. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks who winter here each year. Over 30,000 acres of Bosque del Apache are designated wilderness. Celebrate the return of the cranes at the annual Festival of the Cranes.

Get more tips for visiting Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona

Located in Southwest Arizona, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge was originally established in 1939 as a game range to conserve and develop wildlife and other natural resources.

With 803,418 acres of designated wilderness, Cabeza Prieta offers great opportunities to explore the wild Sonoran Desert, home to at least 60 species of mammals, more than 350 bird species, 20 amphibians, some 100 reptiles, and about 30 species of native fish. In addition, more than 2,000 species of plants have been identified in the Sonoran Desert. In 2004, biologists stepped in to rescue the eendangered Sonoran pronghorns by creating a captive breeding program at Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.

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 for the protection of migratory birds.  Consisting of 140,000 acres, the refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, managed impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks. These habitats provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals and 15 federally listed species. 

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge conserves the unique qualities of the Okefenokee Swamp and is the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys rivers.  The refuge provides habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake, and wood stork along with a wide variety of other wildlife.  It is world renowned for its amphibian populations. More than 600 plant species have been identified on refuge lands. There are three major entrances to the Okefenokee.  From the open prairies of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area to the forested cypress swamp accessed through Stephen C. Foster State Park. Okefenokee is a mosaic of habitats, plants, and wildlife.

Get more tips for visiting Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Get more tips for visiting Stephen C. Foster State Park

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge established in 1937 occupies the marshes between Calcasieu and Sabine lakes in southwest Louisiana. This area contains a diversity of habitat including freshwater impoundments, wooded ridges and levees, canals, ponds, lakes, and bayous. Located approximately 26 miles south of Sulphur, Sabine National Wildlife Refuge has numerous recreation areas where you can fish, crab or take a hike. Whether you are looking for an alligator to photograph or just a place to stretch your legs, the Wetland Walkway is always an adventure.

Get more tips for visiting Sabine National Wildlife Refuge

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America. Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies, and many other species not found anywhere else in the U. S. beyond South Texas. Santa Ana is home to resident species like green jays, chachalacas, Altamira orioles, and great kiskadees making it one of the top birding destinations in the world. 

Get more tips for visiting Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

The Most Filmed Locations in Every State

A pop culture road trip

Cinema was born in France but it grew up in Hollywood. Filmmakers of vision and ambition capitalized on the Californian outdoors and built a city of studios that could double for any place on Earth—or beyond. But as cameras got portable and audiences demanded greater story variety, America’s filmmakers branched out or sprouted up in every state.

Some states were chosen for their particular flavor (Minnesota for Fargo) or history (Mississippi for In the Heat of the Night). Others are cast just because they are not Big American Movie States: think of the horror movies of Anytown, USA. But altogether, this huge variety of cultures and landscapes has made American cinema a candy box for global audiences to pick from. Today, the U.S. movie industry makes more money than any other (although notably, India makes the most films, and China sells the most cinema tickets).

Sonoran Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But despite America’s diverse cast of locations, California and New York continue to dominate the U.S. cinematic landscape. While California remains best known for its studio productions, you’d probably guess that New York’s most filmed location is Central Park—and as the new study proves, you’d be right. But what are the most filmed locations in the other states? And what does the cinematic landscape look like when broken down by genre or location type?  

Recent data analysis by HawaiianIslands.com identified the U.S. locations with the most film credits not including movie studios. They categorized the top locations by state, type, and genre to rank the most filmed locations in each category.

>> Related article: Most Iconic RVs from the Movies

Key findings include:

  • Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California is the most filmed location with 399 credits
  • Pearl Harbor is Hawaii’s top film location with 17 credits
  • Union Station in LA has more credits than the White House, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Grand Central Station—but it rarely plays itself
UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the desert to the university, America’s landscape of top locations covers every part of U.S. life—and history. The Sonoran Desert is Arizona’s most filmed landscape with a blazing 268 film credits. A desert is a versatile location: in addition to westerns such as McLintock! (1963), the Sonoran’s history of UFO activity makes it an apt sci-fi setting (A Fire in the Sky, 1978). And it even stands in for the Al-Hajarah desert in Iraq for Three Kings (1999).

Hawaii offers two stand-out attractions for filmmakers: the history around Pearl Harbor such as the classic From Here to Eternity (1963) and the good times in paradise portrayed in pictures such as Blue Hawaii (1961). The latter is a classic musical romance starring Elvis Presley who filmed scenes in locations such as Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, Mount Tantalus, and Hanauma Bay. But Pearl Harbor emerges as the top location with 17 credits including Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and the Michael Bay blockbuster Pearl Harbor (2001).

Movie crew at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, the study identified the most uniquely filmed U.S. location for every top genre—which is to say, the location that is used for a particular genre at a higher rate than others. So, for example, Arizona’s Paiute Wilderness has fewer Western credits than the Sonoran—but the Sonoran’s prominence as a Western location is watered-down by the science-fiction and other genres that are filmed there. The Paiute is America’s most uniquely filmed western location. The 87,900-acre Paiute Wilderness is a remote area in the northwestern corner of Arizona with limited access.

>> Related article: 11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Hawaii’s top movie location, Pearl Harbor, is also the U.S. location most dedicated to the war genre. Most genres have a top location in California or New York but the adventure genre is another exception. Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah is the top location for that genre. Remember when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets a self-destructing call-to-action in Mission Impossible II (2000)? That’s Dead Horse.

Grand Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon and Yosemite stand out as the most filmed National Parks in the U.S. with Yellowstone trailing not too far behind. The latter stood in for the Planet Vulcan in the first Star Trek movie (1979). The crew made extensive use of the park’s otherworldly Minerva Hot Springs but mixed imagery with model shots to create Spock’s home planet.

Montana’s Glacier National Park offers a greener and meltier landscape. The national park with the fifth-most film credits, Glacier, has offered a picturesque backdrop in films ranging from the epic box office bomb Heaven’s Gate (1980) to the family dog picture Beethoven’s 2nd (1993).

The beach: What better backdrop to “play out the liquid politics of time in an attempt to find new temporal realities beyond the horizon of representation”? The most filmed beaches are all in California offering stars a chance to show off their bodies while giving their characters an air of vulnerability. And then there’s Adrenochrome (2017), about “a gang of Venice Beach psychos who are killing people to extract a psychedelic compound from their victim’s adrenal glands.”

Daytona Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Venice Beach has the most credits of all beaches but a special mention goes to 10th-placed Dockweiler Beach. As well as trashy titles like Time Trackers (1989) this stretch can count crime movies like Starsky & Hutch (2004), Point Break (1991), and Lethal Weapon (1987) amongst its modest filmography—and eagle-eyed viewers will even catch a glimpse of it at the start of Moon (2009).

A sports stadium comes with its drama baked in—dizzying heights and memories of nail-biting games, the buzz of the crowd. Perfect for the scene in Space Jam (1996) when alien Nerdlucks check out an NBA game at Madison Square Garden and drain some familiar stars of their talent. Madison Square Garden is the most filmed sports stadium in America.

>> Related article: 10 Iconic Road Trip Movies

Fantastic storylines and sports stadiums seem to go together; perhaps it is the sense of spectacle. Angels in the Outfield (1951) one-ups Space Jam by having its invaders come from Heaven itself. Paul Douglas plays Aloysius X. ‘Guffy’ McGovern, an obnoxious and down-on-his-luck baseball coach who is visited by an angel with the task of making McGovern a better coach and human. The Pittsburgh Pirates were the team with scenes shot at the neighboring Wrigley Field stadium, home of rivals the Chicago Cubs. 

Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nice, orderly museum you got there. Shame if it was to get… messy. Museums in movies are used to contrast calm with the potential for disruption. The template was set at the fifth-placed American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan with Bringing Up Baby (1938) in which Cary Grant’s staid paleontologist has his life (and his museum) turned upside down by Katharine Hepburn and her pet leopard. Night at the Museum (2006) would later add supernatural surrealism to the mix at the same location.

In Manhattan (1979), the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) comes to represent Manhattan itself as well as the best and worst of the gallery experience. On the one hand, Woody Allen’s character is quick to point out pretentiousness and boredom; on the other, the scenes at MOMA put the characters’ lives in perspective and give them a chance to know each other and look twice at the world around them. MOMA is the 10th-most filmed museum in U.S. cinema. 

America’s most filmed buildings are mostly an iconic bunch of big-name structures that convey an immediate sense of place and grandeur. No building catches this essence more succinctly and recognizably than the White House which has 91 movie credits. The president-with-a-gun Jack Ryan franchise makes regular use of the building’s exteriors although only documentary crews get to film inside.

Art Deco in the old train station in Chattanooga, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the big star names among the top buildings, it is a lesser-known character actor that takes first place. The cavernous Art Deco Union Station in LA is America’s most filmed usually doubling as a different building altogether; a futuristic police station in Blade Runner (1982), a fictional movie studio in Hail, Caesar! (2016), and Demi Moore’s evil lair in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) feature among its 97 roles.

>> Related article: 12 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Filmed in Arizona

Whether it’s a cinephile’s pilgrimage or a longing for a glamorous destination that motivates you, visiting America’s most-seen real-life movie locations makes for a high-octane trip—with epic selfies guaranteed.

Better yet? Combine multiple movie locations with exquisite beaches, great golfing, and a sunset spectacle that eclipses Hollywood’s most breathtaking scenes. 

Worth Pondering…

I think cinema, movies, and magic have always been associated. The very earliest people who made film were magicians.

—Francis Ford Coppola

6 National Parks with Fascinating Features

National parks hold some of the most unique geological features in the world

With a diversity of photo-worthy environs including high deserts, rainforests, mountains, beaches, and historical sites, there’s a National Park for everyone.

Here are six of the most striking geological features that you can find in America’s National Parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arches National Park

If you’re heading to Utah to check out the Mighty Five, chances are Arches National Park is at the top of your list—along with Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. This park was aptly named for its more than 2,000 arches, the largest concentration in the world.

These landmarks formed from millions of years’ worth of seismic activity as the area shifted, wrinkled, and expanded leaving exposed sandstone to spread to the surface. The water eventually began eroding the sandstone into fins or narrow, thin rock faces. Then, water seeped into the cracks of the fins and froze and expanded which caused chunks of sandstone to fall out and form a window. Water and wind continued to erode the window until it became an arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among the park’s best-known arches are the Delicate Arch and the Landscape Arch—the largest of them all. Landscape Arch stretches 306 feet across or about the length of a football field. In 1991, hikers heard cracking and popping noises from the arch and suddenly a slab of rock about 60 feet long broke away and crashed to the ground below. A photo and a video of the event were recorded and no one was hurt. 

If you decide to visit, be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water (there is little shade available) and check for timed ticket entry between April and October. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Petrified Forest National Park 

Petrified Forest certainly has a startling ring to it. Not to mention, Petrified Forest National Park isn’t actually a forest—at least not anymore. And it’s not necessarily a dangerous place … as long as you don’t attempt to steal the rocks. 

Nearly 200 million years ago, coniferous trees such as pines grew in this lowland area of what is now Arizona though the climate was more tropical at the time. Fallen trees, some 9 feet in diameter and around 200 feet tall were covered in sediments as nearby rivers flooded from storms. Over time, multiple volcanic eruptions layered the area in volcanic ash, rich with silica. 

The burial of these trees happened so quickly (by geological standards) that the wood evaded decay normally caused by insects and oxygen. As the groundwater mixed with the volcanic ash and silica, it layered over the wood and turned the organic material into stone also known as petrification.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resulting fossils are a beautiful menagerie of reds, yellows, oranges, and whites. They somewhat resemble precious stones which makes them an enticing souvenir. But as with all National Park lands visitors are not allowed to take anything from the site including rocks, plants, and animals. And for good reason, since removing any of these items can harm the local ecosystem or degrade the geological features.

Legend has it that taking a rock from Petrified Forest National Park can bring about miserable luck. The park receives envelopes full of returned rocks each year often with letters begging for forgiveness for fossil theft and hoping their bad luck subsides. Some letters simply state, “You were right!” and some have detailed the years of misfortune that befell the burglar. These correspondences were even turned into a book, Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest.

When visiting Petrified Forest National Park (or any park) remember to take only pictures and leave only footprints.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Mesa Verde National Park

Designated a national park by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the park also holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status and has been the site of human inhabitation since approximately 7500 BC. About A.D. 550 some of the people living in the four corners region of the four states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico decided to move onto Mesa Verde; over 700 years these people raised families in communities of stone built into sheltered coves of canyon walls.

Not only did the cliff dwellings offer shelter from potential invaders but also from rain and snow allowing the ruins to be well preserved for more than 1,000 years. Over a generation or two in the late 1200s, these people left their homes and moved away to locations in Arizona and New Mexico.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spectacular park includes more than 4,500 archaeological sites of which about 600 are cliff dwellings. Located just outside Cortez, Colorado, the main park road is open 24 hours, year-round. Alas, to see some of the most impressive cliff dwellings close up, Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House you must join a ranger-guided tour.

The main park road leads to numerous overlooks offering marvelous views of the cliff dwellings in the early culture. First on our circuit was Spruce Treehouse, perhaps the best-preserved cliff dwelling. Standing on the edge of the rugged canyon and looking down and across to the cliff dwelling gives one the eerie feeling that the residents just departed. Throughout our visit to these early outposts of humanity, one could feel the ghosts of the ancients looking back at us.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. White Sands National Park

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in south-central New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an internally drained valley called the Tularosa Basin. The park ranges in elevation from 3,890 feet to 4,116 feet above sea level. There are approximately 275 total square miles of dune fields here with 115 square miles (about 40 percent) located within White Sands National Park.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This dune field is very dynamic with the most active dunes moving to the northeast at a rate of up to 30 feet per year while the more stable areas of sand move very little. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) that forms these unusual dunes originates in the western portion of the park from an ephemeral lake or playa with a very high mineral content. As the water evaporates (theoretically as much as 80 inches per year!), the minerals are left behind to form gypsum deposits that eventually are wind-transported to form these white dunes.

Many species of plants and animals have developed very specialized means of surviving in this area of cold winters and hot summers with very little surface water and highly mineralized groundwater.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is an otherworldly destination that offers visitors an immersive experience of the natural beauty and geologic uniqueness of the region. The rugged canyons, towering spires, and colorful rock formations create an awe-inspiring landscape that is unlike anything else in the world.

Drive through the park and enjoy the breathtaking scenery that Badlands National Park has to offer. With several scenic drives available including Badlands Loop Road and Sage Creek Rim Road visitors can take in the stunning views and take their time experiencing the park.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the park’s rugged beauty up close by hiking one of its many trails. With more than 60 miles of trails available, there are plenty of opportunities to explore the park on foot and discover breathtaking views, unique rock formations, and diverse wildlife.

Observe the park’s native wildlife including bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, coyotes, and prairie dogs. Badlands National Park is home to one of the largest remaining undisturbed mixed-grass prairies in the United States making it an ideal location for wildlife viewing.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has it all—vast amounts of open space, rivers, canyons, pictographs, and hot springs. Located in southwest Texas, the park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the center of Big Bend lies the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the United States fully contained within a single national park. Given their relatively high elevation—the summit of Emory Peak stands at 7,835 feet—the Chisos are typically 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the adjacent desert and home to a wide variety of shady juniper, mesquite, and oak. Within the 20 miles of trails here it’s a fairly easy hike to a beautiful view at the summit of Emory Peak.

>> Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jimmy Im

Parks Galore

If you are planning your next camping trip, don’t forget to look at state parks. You just might find your new favorite camping spot!

In today’s post, I shine the spotlight on state parks—thousands of facilities across the United States established and operated at the state level. They’ve been preserved for their natural beauty, historic interest, or recreational features—often all three in one location. In contrast to many iconic U.S. national parks, state parks just might be the unsung heroes of outdoor recreation.

State-operated facilities have much to offer. For working folks with minimal travel time, a nearby state park can make a great weekend destination.  

Many RVers have a national park bucket list. If you’re one of them, have you also considered state parks, some of which could be in your backyard? State parks are great places to get outside and explore, and they typically are less crowded than national parks. Even if state parks are usually smaller, you still can find stunning views, great camping options, and fun activities. You also can learn more about local history while supporting the surrounding community.

State parks are not operated by the federal government as national parks are, so they rely on entrance and camping fees to maintain the land and facilities. By RVing to a state park, or even purchasing a day pass, you are helping to preserve the park for other visitors to continue to enjoy. These camping and entrance fees also may be less expensive than national park fees or those charged at a private RV park.

Whether you’re looking for a scenic area to visit for a day, a relaxing spot to spend a weekend, or a place to stay for a week or more, consider a state park. In Canada, the equivalent would be a provincial park of which there are many great options. For inspiration, peruse the info below.

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

Find a State Park

There’s nothing better than being out in nature enjoying its beauty; many would even say it is healing to the soul. Depending on where you live, this can be a beautiful time of year to take in the scenery, hike, fish, camp, leaf peep, or simply enjoy the sounds of nature. And what better place to do it than in a state park?

According to stateparks.org, there are 10,366 state park areas across the United States. They include 241,255 campsites and 9,457 cabins with over 40,000 miles of trails as well as countless waterways and rivers—all covering 18.6 million acres of land. That means RV travelers and others have numerous opportunities to explore a variety of places.

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

So, you may be asking yourself, “Where do I even begin to start exploring over 10,000 park areas?” For starters, here are articles on specific state parks you might find useful:

Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And let’s not forget Canada, also brimming with natural beauty and a vast number of provincial parks—nearly 1,200. Provincial parks in Canada are protected areas of land and water designated and managed by each province to encourage recreation and sustainable tourism and promote science and education. They range from ecological reserves with no facilities to day-use and overnight-stay parks with unserviced and serviced campgrounds including RV waste dumping, and toilet and shower facilities. Features include hiking trails, waterways, and beaches, and outdoor equipment rentals.

The province of Alberta ranges from fossil-filled flatlands to the jaw-dropping Rocky Mountains. The province currently manages more than 470 parks which provide cozy walk-in tenting options and roomy RV campsites.

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

Recommended Provincial Park: Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park

Beachcombing, bird watching, or sunbathing—there is plenty to do in the 600-plus provincial parks of British Columbia. The park system boasts more than 10,700 vehicle accessible campsites and approximately 2,000 walk-in or backcountry ones. Of the parks, 230 have accessible facilities for those with disabilities. Winter activities and basic camping are popular in BC’s provincial parks.

Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recommended Provincial Park: Wells Gray Provincial Park

To find more information on Canada’s provincial parks, check the individual website for each province.

Here are seven of the most enchanting state parks in America.

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park – Apache Junction, Arizona

The Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, about 40 miles east of Phoenix. RV camping is available at 138 sites, with 68 of them providing water and electric hookup services; restrooms and showers are located nearby. Hiking, mountain biking and year-round wildlife viewing opportunities are available for guests.

Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park – Custer, South Dakota

Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison – one of the largest publicly owned herds on the planet – who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from, including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.

Get more tips for visiting Custer State Park

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

Vogel State Park – Blairsville, Georgia

Vogel, one of Georgia’s oldest state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain inside Chattahoochee National Forest. The park is particularly popular during the autumn months when the Blue Ridge Mountains put on a colorful display of fall foliage. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Get more tips for visiting Vogel State Park

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

Gulf State Park – Gulf Shores, Alabama

This Alabama state park promises that you’ll never be bored if your family brings their RV here to camp. Almost 500 improved RV sites are available at Gulf State Park, with pull-thru, back-in, waterfront, and ADA accessibility. All RV sites provide full hookups plus Wi-Fi. Eleven modern bathhouses are scattered throughout the park, and some sites are located near the pool, playground, tennis courts, and hiking trails.

Get more tips for visiting Gulf State Park

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park – Elephant Butte, New Mexico

The largest and most popular lake in New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park provides a setting for every imaginable water sport. The campground offers developed sites with electric and water hookups for RVs. The mild climate of the area makes this park a popular year-round destination. If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Get more tips for visiting Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Myakka State Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka State Park – Sarasota, Florida

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences. Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites. The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Get more tips for visiting Myakka State Park

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

McKinney Falls State Park – Austin, Texas

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups). 12 sites offer 50-amp electricity while the remaining 69 sites offer 30-amp electric service. 

Get more tips for visiting McKinney Falls State Park

Worth Pondering…

Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.

—John Muir

The Best National Parks to Visit in October

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

Visiting the National Parks in October

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

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

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

Best National Parks in October

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Weather: The average high is 60°F and the average low is 40°F. On warmer than average days, it can get up into the high 70s. Rainfall averages about 5 inches per month through the year and October is no different.

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

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

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

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

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Plan your visit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

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

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

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

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Sunrise & sunset (South Unit): Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 pm. The South Unit is in the Mountain Time Zone and the North Unit is in the Central Time Zone.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan Your Visit

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

3. New River Gorge National Park

Location: West Virginia

Despite its name, the New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent. There is some debate among geologists about the age of this river with estimates ranging from 3 to 360 million years. During this time, the river carved out a 73,000 acre gorge in West Virginia. The sandstone cliffs and whitewater rapids create world-class rock climbing and whitewater rafting destinations. Hiking and mountain biking trails wind through the forests leading to overlooks and historic settlements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

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

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

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

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Plan your visit

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park

Location: South Dakota

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

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Plan your visit

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

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. In 2022, 12.9 million people visited this park. Second place wasn’t even close (that would be Grand Canyon with 4.7 million visitors).

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

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

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

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

Why visit Great Smoky Mountains in October: For great weather for hiking and an array of fall colors.

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 41°F. Rainfall is about 5 inches for October which is one of the driest months of the year. 

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

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in October

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

Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

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

Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aztec Ruins National Monument

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

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

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

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

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Malpais National Monument

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

October road trip idea

South Dakota Road Trip

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

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January (to be posted mid-December)
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February (to be posted mid-January)
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March (to be posted mid-February)
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 (to be posted mid-October)
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December (to be posted mid-November)

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

Leave No Trace 7 Principles

Before you head into the great outdoors, embrace the practices highlighted below

The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of how to properly behave and act while in nature. Whether you’re hiking, camping, kayaking, wildlife viewing, photographing, or anything else, the 7 Principles apply to pretty much all outdoor recreation.

Every individual principle tackles a specific subject, offering in-depth information to limit the impact of your activity.

I personally live by these Principles and I encourage everyone who visits state parks, national parks, county and regional parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, or other protected areas to adhere to them. They greatly help to ensure that wild (and less wild) landscapes will be there for the enjoyment of future generations, too.

Observing wildlife at Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Plan ahead and prepare

Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land. Poor planning often results in unhappy hikers and campers and damage to natural and cultural resources.

Rangers often tell stories of campers they have encountered who because of poor planning and unexpected conditions degrade backcountry resources and put themselves at risk.

The basics:

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use
  • Visit in small groups; split larger parties into smaller groups

More information about planning and preparation

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

2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces

The goal of traveling outdoors is to move through natural areas while avoiding damage to the land or waterways. Understanding how travel causes impacts is necessary to accomplish this goal.

Travel damage occurs when surface vegetation or communities of organisms are trampled beyond recovery. The resulting barren area leads to soil erosion and the development of undesirable trails.

The basics:

  • Durable surfaces include established trails, campsites, rock, gravel, and dry grasses or snow
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams
  • Good campsites are found, not made; altering a site is not necessary
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites

More information about traveling and camping on durable surfaces

Keeping a clean campsite while camping at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Dispose of waste properly

The waste humans create while enjoying outdoor spaces can have severe impacts if not disposed of properly. It is crucial to anticipate the types of waste you will need to dispose of and know the proper techniques for disposing of each type of waste in the area you are visiting. Leave No Trace encourages outdoor enthusiasts to consider the impacts they leave behind which will undoubtedly affect other people, water, and wildlife.

Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid pollution of water sources, avoid the negative implications of someone else finding it, minimize the possibility of spreading disease, and maximize the rate of decomposition.

For other waste, pack it in, pack it out is a familiar mantra to seasoned wildland visitors. Any user of recreation lands has a responsibility to clean up before he or she leaves. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash and garbage.

The basics:

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled food. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. Burning trash is never recommended.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Bury toilet paper deep in a cathole or pack the toilet paper out along with hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter dishwater.

More information about proper waste disposal

Leave petrified wood for others to enjoy (Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Leave what you find

Leave areas as you find them. Do not dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables, chairs, or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs, or pine cones replace these items before leaving.

Avoid hammering nails into trees for hanging things, hacking at them with hatchets and saws, or tying tent guy lines to trunks—thus girdling the tree. Carving initials into trees is unacceptable.

Natural objects of beauty or interest such as antlers, petrified wood, or colored rocks add to the mood of the backcountry and should be left so others can experience a sense of discovery. In national parks and many other protected places, it is illegal to remove natural objects.

The basics:

  • Preserve the past: Observe cultural or historic structures and artifacts but do not touch them
  • Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches

More information about leaving objects and living things as you find them

Use firepits carefully © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Minimize campfire impacts

Fires vs. Stoves: The use of campfires, once a necessity for cooking and warmth is steeped in history and tradition. Some people would not think of camping without a campfire. Campfire building is also an important skill for every camper.

Yet, the natural appearance of many areas has been degraded by the overuse of fires and an increasing demand for firewood. The development of lightweight efficient camp stoves has encouraged a shift away from the traditional fire for cooking.

Stoves have become essential equipment for minimum-impact camping. They are fast, and flexible and eliminate firewood availability as a concern in campsite selection. Stoves operate in almost any weather condition—and they Leave No Trace.

The basics:

  • Campfires can cause lasting impacts on the environment; use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light
  • Use established fire rings, pans, or mound fires where fires are permitted
  • Keep fires small. Use only sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, and then scatter cool ashes

More information about minimizing campfire impacts

Observe wildlife from a distance (pronghorns at Custer State Park, South Dakota) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Respect wildlife

Learn about wildlife through quiet observation. Do not disturb wildlife or plants just for a better look. Observe wildlife from a distance so they are not scared or forced to flee.

Large groups often cause more damage to the environment and can disturb wildlife so keep your group small. If you have a larger group, divide it into smaller groups if possible to minimize your impacts.

Quick movements and loud noises are stressful to animals. Travel quietly and do not pursue, feed, or force animals to flee. (One exception is in black bear or grizzly bear country where it is good to make a little noise so as not to startle the bears.) Do not touch, get close to, feed, or pick up wild animals.

The basics:

  • Observe wildlife from a distance; do not follow or approach them
  • Never feed animals; feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers
  • Control pets at all times or leave them at home
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter

More information about respecting wildlife

Yield to others on the trail (Catalina State Park (Arizona) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Be considerate of other visitors

One of the most important components of outdoor ethics is to maintain courtesy toward others. It helps everyone enjoy their outdoor experience. Excessive noise, uncontrolled pets, and damaged surroundings detract from the natural appeal of the outdoors. Being considerate of others ensures everyone can enjoy nature no matter how they interact with it.

The basics:

  • Respect others and protect the quality of their experience
  • Be courteous; yield to other users on the trail
  • Greet riders and ask which side of the trail to move to when encountering pack stock
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and others
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail; avoid loud voices and noises

More information about sharing nature with other visitors

Worth Pondering…

Please leave only your footprints.

Camping, Hiking, Biking, Canoeing, and More at Shenandoah River State Park

About five miles of shoreline border the South Fork of the Shenandoah River

The Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. The park opened in June 1999. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east.

A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are nine river access points that enable visitors to reach the Shenandoah River. These are all good spots for fishing and tubing. If you wish to swim or put a canoe or kayak on the water, there is a boat launch near the trailhead for the Hemlock Hollow Trail and the massive picnic area. Many visitors also drop their inflatable tubes in at the boat launch. In the picnic area, there are three large picnic shelters and plenty of picnic tables.

With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Expansive views of the river and valley can be seen from high points along the trails.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain biking seems to be growing in popularity. While truly advanced cyclists might find the trail system more fun than challenge, new and intermediate riders can find easy, flat routes by the river along with moderate hills and the occasional lactate-searing climb (a cycling term meaning the fastest pace you can maintain).

Here are five of most popular hikes at Shenandoah River State Park. Every one of these hikes rewards with river, mountain, even forest views.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redtail Ridge Trail: This scenic 3.7-mile loop cobbles together three park trails—Big Oak, Redtail Ridge, and Tulip Poplar—plus a connector trail, to create a pleasing walk in the woods. The red-blazed Redtail Ridge Trail is the most scenic of the paths wowing visitors with three west-facing river overlooks. There are comfy benches, too. 

Culler’s Overlook: The hike to Culler’s Overlook is a winner thanks to spectacular views across Massanutten Mountain as well as the Shenandoah Valley. Savor the vistas and read up on Everett Cullers and the role he played in creation of the park. To reach Culler’s Overlook, take the Hemlock Hollow Trail to the Overlook Trail. You’ll pass the visitor center then it’s on to the wooden overlook.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cottonwood Trail & Wildcat Ledge: The easy hike along the Cottonwood Trail leads to a delightful slice of boardwalk trail. There are open clearing views as well as vistas of Massanutten Mountain. As you close the boardwalk loop, look left for the Wildcat Ledge Trail. This narrow, rocky trail is short, but it’s steep. The Wildcat Ledge Trail ascends to a largely unobstructed view of the Shenandoah River and Shenandoah Valley. Settle in on a rocky outcrop for the vistas.

Bear Bottom Loop & River Trail: This scenic hike cobbles together the Bear Bottom Loop Trail, Shale Barrens Trail, Culler’s Trail, and River Trail for a 6.9-mile trek across Shenandoah River State Park. This loop begins as a long walk in the woods. It’s beautiful, quiet, and shady thanks to an abundance of leafy trees. You’ll walk alongside the Shenandoah River. Stop for river views or a rest on a wooden bench. Keep your eyes open for rafters, tubers and kayakers.

Bluebell Trail: The forested one-mile Bluebell Trail is a must in late-March and early-April when visitors are wowed with a lush carpet of iconic bluebells. The blooms last just three weeks but by many accounts they are very much worth the wait. This wooded point-to-point trail set along the Shenandoah River is mostly flat, making it a good pick for families with small children. It’s dog-friendly, too.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is available year-round. Shenandoah River’s developed campground has 31 sites with water and 20/30/50-amp electric hookups suitable for tents, popups, and RVs up to 60 feet in length. More than half of the sites have shade. The shaded camp sites are 1-18 while sites 19-31 are in full sun. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers and a coin-operated laundry.

Sites have steel fire-rings for cooking and campfires, picnic tables, and lantern holders. Twenty-six sites are back-in and five are pull-through. Firewood can be purchased on-site for $6 per bundle. The family campground is a short walk from two river access points (for fishing, not for swimming or paddling) as well as the Campground Trail.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the family campground, there is a primitive campground for tents-only on the north side of the park that has 12 canoe-in or walk-in sites. All camp sites offer shade and require a walk on gravel path from the parking lot. There are wagons at the entrance to help transport gear to your site.

At the back of the Right River Campground is a group campground that can accommodate up to 30 people.

Reservations can be made on line or by calling 1-800-933-PARK (7275). All sites are specifically reserved.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other lodging options include three yurts, four camping cabins (bunkhouses), regular cabins, and a lodge. Camping cabins sleep four people by way of two sets of bunk beds. Yurts sleep up to four people by way of one queen-size bed and a twin-size trundle bed. Bring linens for camping cabin and yurt stays. Pets are not allowed in yurts. You can bring pets to camping cabins but you will pay a $10 per night fee.

A non-refundable $5 per transaction fee is charged for overnight site rentals. The fee is directly tied to expenses that support overall facility rentals—credit card fees, 800 number fees, and overnight inventory and reservation system vendor fees. It is charged per reservation and for walk-in stays.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Be sure to bring confirmation letter(s) or reservation number(s) when you check in. If someone else is checking in for you, make sure the person has the reservation number. The number is needed to enter the cabin or lodge. Camping, cabin and lodge guests should also be prepared to show an ID.

Shenandoah River State Park is a good central location for the area’s many activities. Caverns and caves such as Shenandoah Caverns and Luray Caverns make good activities for rainy days. Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive is a short distance away making for a great day trip. The area is also famous for its many vineyards.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved


Elevation: 547 feet

Park size: 1,619 acres

Trails: 24 miles

Park admission fee: $10/vehicle

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping fee: $40 + $5 transaction fee (Virginia residen); $46 + $5 transaction fee (non-Virginia resident)

Location: The Park is in Warren County, 8 miles south of Front Royal and 15 miles north of Luray. It’s off State Route 340 in Bentonville

Address: 350 Daughter of Stars Drive, Bentonville, VA 22610

Worth Pondering…

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go

—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman