The Complete Guide to Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River in southern Utah. Scenery ranges from desert canyon gorges of amber, rose, and sienna to high mountain forests, plateaus, and alpine lakes. The forest is a part of the world-renowned landscapes of Southern Utah and provides a backdrop and serves as a gateway to surrounding National Parks and Monuments.

Dixie National Forest covering almost two million acres of natural grandeur is nestled in the picturesque landscapes of southern Utah. The forest boasts a diverse range of ecosystems, climates, and elevations from the rugged grandeur of deep canyons and fascinating rock formations to the serene allure of mountain lakes and towering ponderosa pines. It is a haven for those seeking a retreat into the untamed wilderness.

Based in Cedar City, Dixie National Forest is the largest National Forest in Utah straddling the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. The forest’s natural beauty is a source of inspiration to adventurers offering countless opportunities to explore hiking trails, fishing spots, and camping sites amidst the enchanting backdrop of the American Southwest.

Join me on a journey into the heart of this natural wonder where each turn reveals a new chapter in the story of Utah’s remarkable landscape. Explore Dixie National Forest’s vast expanse of natural beauty where the rugged terrain and serene landscapes offer a unique experience to those seeking adventure.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Features of the Dixie National Forest

Diverse ecosystems: Dixie National Forest stands out for its remarkable diversity of ecosystems ranging from low desert-like environments to high-elevation alpine landscapes. As you explore the forest’s vast expanse you’ll encounter sparse desert-type vegetation in the lower elevations giving way to a transition zone dominated by low-growing pinyon pine and juniper. Further up, the forest transforms into a lush realm featuring stands of aspen and conifers including pine, spruce, and fir.

Climatic extremes: One of the defining characteristics of Dixie National Forest is its range of climatic extremes. The forest experiences precipitation ranging from 10 inches in the lower elevations to over 40 inches per year near Brian Head Peak. At higher elevations, the majority of annual precipitation falls as snow creating a winter wonderland. Thunderstorms are common during July and August often bringing heavy rains and making August the wettest month in some areas.

Varied elevations: The forest’s topography is marked by varying elevations offering a visual feast for visitors. Elevations range from 2,800 feet near St. George to the towering 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin adjacent to the Colorado River provides awe-inspiring scenery characterized by multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

Rich wildlife habitat: Dixie National Forest provides a diverse and thriving habitat for a wide range of wildlife species. From elusive cougars and bobcats to majestic golden eagles and wild turkeys, the forest’s varied terrain supports a multitude of creatures. Big game hunting has traditionally been a major attraction and more recently there has been a growing interest in wildlife viewing and photography.

Recreational opportunities: Offering a plethora of recreational activities, Dixie National Forest caters to outdoor enthusiasts. With 26 developed campgrounds, five picnic sites, and group camping areas the forest provides opportunities for camping, hunting, scenic driving, hiking, and horseback riding. Additionally, there are 83,000 acres of designated wilderness areas including Pine Valley, Box-Death Hollow, and Ashdown Gorge ensuring a mix of both primitive and developed recreational experiences.

Archaeological treasures: Beyond its natural wonders, Dixie National Forest holds archaeological treasures that speak to the region’s rich human history. Pictographs, petroglyphs, and artifacts reveal the presence of prehistoric and historic populations. The forest’s heritage program aims to interpret and preserve these clues allowing visitors to explore and appreciate the area’s cultural significance.

In essence, Dixie National Forest encapsulates a tapestry of natural and cultural wonders providing an immersive experience for those eager to connect with the diverse landscapes and historical narratives of southern Utah.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Established on September 25, 1905, as the Dixie Forest Reserve by the General Land Office, Dixie National Forest has a history rooted in southern Utah. The name Dixie comes from the local term for the warm southern part of Utah which stuck after settlers arrived in 1851 to grow cotton for the Mormon Church. The forest’s name reflects its warm climate, a connection maintained since its inception.

In 1906, the U.S. Forest Service took over management officially designating Dixie Forest Reserve as a National Forest on March 4, 1907. The forest’s boundaries changed over time including the addition of the western part of Sevier National Forest in 1922 and the full integration of Powell National Forest on October 1, 1944. Despite occasional local sentiments to change the name bureaucratic complexities kept it as Dixie National Forest.

Beyond administrative changes, Dixie National Forest has a history reaching back to Native American cultures like the Desert-Archaic, Fremont, and Anasazi. Spanish explorers, such as Father Silvestre Veles de Escalante in 1776 ventured through the region leaving the Old Spanish Trail. Trappers, traders, and gold hunters frequented the area between 1835 and 1850 establishing it as a well-defined trail with challenges from the local Paiute Indians.

The forest experienced a continuous influx of settlers and explorers influencing the landscape and contributing to the region’s historical richness. Today, as the largest National Forest in Utah, Dixie National Forest’s history is woven into Utah’s Dixie reflecting a legacy of human effort and a lasting connection between the land and its inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique location of Dixie National Forest

Located in the heart of southern Utah, Dixie National Forest occupies a unique and strategically important location in the region’s diverse landscape. Stretching for approximately 170 miles across the state, the forest straddles the geographical divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

This distinctive positioning contributes to the forest’s exceptional scenic variety featuring everything from the rugged cliffs near the Colorado River to the high-elevation plateaus like Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin where Dixie National Forest unfolds showcases multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

This unique location not only makes the forest a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking diverse recreational opportunities but also highlights its significance as a vital ecological transition zone where the Great Basin and Colorado River ecosystems converge, creating a mosaic of habitats that support a rich array of plant and animal life. Dixie National Forest’s distinctive geographical setting thus adds an extra layer of allure to its already captivating natural beauty.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vegetation and plant species in Dixie National Forest

Utah Juniper: Found in the lower elevations of Dixie National Forest, the Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) is a hardy evergreen, well-adapted to arid conditions. Its twisted branches and scale-like leaves characterize the landscape showcasing its resilience in desert-like environments.

Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine: Alongside the Utah Juniper, the Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla) is a common sight in the lower elevations. Recognizable by its short needles bundled in pairs, this small pine species plays a significant role in the ecological tapestry of the forest, demonstrating adaptability to the region’s challenging climate.

Colorado Pinyon: Thriving in the transition zone of mid-elevations, the Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) is a low-growing pine species with distinct two-needle clusters. Its presence contributes to the diverse plant communities within Dixie National Forest highlighting the unique characteristics of this intermediate zone.

Quaking Aspen: As elevation increases, the landscape transforms with the emergence of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves. Known for their fluttering leaves, these deciduous trees create visually stunning landscapes in higher altitudes offering a striking contrast to the evergreen-dominated lower elevations.

White Fir: At the highest elevations, coniferous forests dominate and the White Fir (Abies concolor) is a notable species in this upper zone. With its tall stature and soft needles, this fir species contributes to the overall biodiversity of Dixie National Forest forming a key component of the high-elevation ecosystems.

Engelmann Spruce: Another coniferous species in the high-elevation zones is the Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii). Recognizable by its slender, blue-green needles, this spruce species is well-adapted to the colder and more elevated regions of the forest playing a vital role in shaping the upper reaches of Dixie National Forest.

Limber Pine: Completing the trio of conifers in the highest elevations is the Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis). Its flexible branches and long needles characterize this hardy pine species. As a resilient inhabitant of the alpine zones, the Limber Pine adds to the biodiversity and ecological resilience of Dixie National Forest.

These plant species collectively contribute to the intricate ecological mosaic of Dixie National Forest adapting to the varied elevations and climates that define this unique and diverse natural environment.

Dixie National Forest (Panguitch Lake) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Cougar: The elusive and majestic cougar (Puma concolor) also known as mountain lion or puma, roams the diverse landscapes of Dixie National Forest. As a top predator, cougars play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling herbivore populations. Their presence underscores the wild and untamed nature of the forest.

Bobcat: The adaptable bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a skilled hunter found in Dixie National Forest. With its distinctive tufted ears and spotted coat, this elusive feline navigates various habitats within the forest. Bobcats contribute to the biodiversity by preying on small mammals, birds, and other smaller creatures.

Golden Eagle: The skies above Dixie National Forest are graced by the majestic Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Known for its impressive wingspan and keen eyesight, this raptor dominates the aerial domain. Golden Eagles are a symbol of the forest’s avian diversity and their presence adds to the rich tapestry of wildlife in the area.

Cottontail rabbit: The cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus spp.) with its distinctive fluffy tail is a common sight in the lower elevations of the forest. These small herbivores are integral to the food web providing sustenance for predators like bobcats and birds of prey. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in diverse habitats.

Wild turkey: The iconic wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a resident of Dixie National Forest particularly in areas with mixed vegetation. With their striking plumage and distinctive calls, wild turkeys contribute to the avian diversity of the forest. They play a role in seed dispersal and insect control, further enhancing the ecosystem.

Utah prairie dog: The Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), a keystone species, creates burrow systems in the meadows and grasslands of the forest. Their activities aerate the soil and provide habitat for other species. Conservation efforts for the Utah prairie dog contribute to maintaining the health of Dixie National Forest’s unique ecosystems.

Blue grouse: The blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) adapted to the higher elevations is a distinctive bird species found in the coniferous forests of Dixie National Forest. Their mottled plumage provides excellent camouflage and their presence reflects the forest’s ecological diversity, particularly in the alpine zones.

Dixie National Forest’s fauna represents a harmonious interplay of predators, herbivores, and avian species showcasing the resilience and adaptability of wildlife in this diverse and ecologically significant environment.

Dixie National Forest (Red Canyon) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attractions in Dixie National Forest

1. Red Canyon

Located within Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder renowned for its vibrant red rock formations. Often referred to as a mini Bryce Canyon, Red Canyon offers a captivating preview of the geological splendor that characterizes the broader region. Visitors can explore the area through scenic drives, and hiking trails, and witness the awe-inspiring beauty of towering hoodoos and sandstone cliffs.

2. Boulder Mountain

Boulder Mountain, one of the largest high-elevation plateaus in the United States graces Dixie National Forest with its serene landscapes. Dotted with hundreds of small lakes this area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities abound providing a tranquil escape into the heart of the forest’s diverse ecosystems.

3. Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake surrounded by the picturesque scenery of Dixie National Forest is a haven for anglers and nature enthusiasts. The lake offers excellent fishing opportunities for trout making it a popular destination for those seeking a peaceful day by the water. The surrounding forested terrain adds to the charm creating an ideal setting for camping and outdoor recreation.

4. Box-Death Hollow Wilderness

For those seeking a more secluded and rugged adventure, the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness presents an untamed paradise within Dixie National Forest. This designated wilderness area features deep canyons, meandering streams, and lush vegetation. Hiking trails lead adventurers through this pristine landscape, offering a chance to connect with nature in its raw and unspoiled state.

5. Powell Point

Powell Point provides a panoramic view that stretches for miles allowing visitors to marvel at the vastness of Dixie National Forest and beyond. This viewpoint, accessible by car provides a unique perspective of the forest’s varied terrain from high-elevation plateaus to the rugged canyons below. Sunset views from Powell Point are particularly stunning, casting a warm glow over the diverse landscapes.

6. Hell’s Backbone Bridge

Hell’s Backbone Bridge is a remarkable engineering feat that spans across a deep gorge offering a thrilling experience for those who traverse it. This narrow bridge provides stunning views of Death Hollow and the surrounding forested landscapes. The journey across Hell’s Backbone is not only an adventure in itself but also a gateway to the captivating scenery of Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest (Scenic Byway 12) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Scenic Byway 12

Running through the heart of Dixie National Forest, Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road renowned for its spectacular views and diverse landscapes. The journey along this scenic route takes travelers through red rock canyons, alpine forests, and expansive plateaus. Numerous pull-offs and viewpoints offer opportunities to appreciate the unique features of the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s attractions provide a varied tapestry of natural wonders from iconic rock formations to serene lakeshores and untamed wilderness. Each destination within the forest offers a distinct and memorable experience inviting visitors to explore the diverse facets of this captivating landscape.

Recreational activities in Dixie National Forest

1. Hiking and nature trails

Dixie National Forest beckons outdoor enthusiasts with an extensive network of hiking and nature trails that cater to all skill levels. Whether you’re seeking a stroll amidst towering ponderosa pines or a challenging hike to witness panoramic vistas, the forest provides a diverse range of trails. Popular routes include those leading to scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, and unique geological formations allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the American Southwest.

2. Fishing at Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake ensconced within the forested landscapes is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Renowned for its pristine waters, the lake offers a rewarding experience for anglers seeking trout, including rainbow and cutthroat varieties. The tranquil surroundings coupled with the thrill of a potential catch make Panguitch Lake a popular destination for those who relish a serene day by the water.

3. Camping in scenic campgrounds

Dixie National Forest provides a plethora of camping opportunities across its 26 developed campgrounds. From the shores of Panguitch Lake to the alpine meadows near Boulder Mountain, these campgrounds cater to various preferences. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek amenities like fire pits and picnic tables, the forest’s campgrounds offer a chance to immerse yourself in the peaceful ambiance of nature.

4. Scenic drives along Byway 12

Embark on a journey through the heart of Dixie National Forest via Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes. This scenic drive takes travelers on a visual feast passing through diverse terrains including red rock canyons, alpine plateaus, and forested realms. Numerous pull-offs provide opportunities for photography and contemplation of the forest’s natural wonders.

5. Winter activities

When winter blankets Dixie National Forest in snow, the landscape transforms into a snowy wonderland offering opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for these winter sports allowing visitors to experience the serene beauty of snow-covered landscapes while engaging in invigorating outdoor activities.

6. Wildlife viewing

Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife and avid nature enthusiasts can partake in wildlife viewing experiences. From the elusive cougar to the vibrant blue grouse, the forest supports a diverse range of species. Birdwatchers can spot golden eagles soaring in the skies adding to the rich avian tapestry of the area. Patient observers may also catch glimpses of deer, antelope, and other forest inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest’s recreational activities cater to a wide spectrum of interests ensuring that visitors can tailor their experiences to match their preferences whether seeking adventure, tranquility, or a cultural journey through time.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities and amenities in Dixie National Forest

Campgrounds and picnic sites: Dixie National Forest boasts a network of 26 developed campgrounds strategically located to offer a range of camping experiences. From lakeside camping near Panguitch Lake to forested retreats, these campgrounds provide essential amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and vault toilets. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek family-friendly sites, the forest’s campgrounds cater to diverse preferences allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature.

Visitor centers and information stations: Throughout Dixie National Forest visitor centers and information stations serve as gateways to the forest’s wonders. Headquartered in Cedar City, these facilities provide valuable resources, maps, and knowledgeable staff to assist visitors in planning their exploration. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned adventurer, these centers offer insights into the diverse landscapes, recreational activities, and cultural history of the forest.

Scenic byways and viewpoints: Navigating through Dixie National Forest is made seamless with designated scenic byways and viewpoints. Scenic Byway 12 takes travelers on a visual journey through diverse terrains. Numerous viewpoints along the route provide opportunities for breathtaking vistas allowing visitors to pause, appreciate, and capture the natural beauty that unfolds before them.

Winter recreation facilities: During the winter months, Dixie National Forest transforms into a snowy playground and the forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for winter activities. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling enthusiasts can access well-maintained trails providing a unique perspective of the forest blanketed in snow. These facilities ensure that winter visitors can engage in invigorating outdoor activities while surrounded by the serene beauty of a winter landscape.

Fishing access points: Panguitch Lake and other water bodies within Dixie National Forest offer excellent fishing opportunities and the forest provides well-maintained fishing access points. These points facilitate anglers in reaching prime fishing spots enhancing the overall fishing experience. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, these access points contribute to the accessibility and enjoyment of fishing within the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s facilities and amenities are designed to enhance the visitor experience providing essential resources, educational opportunities, and well-maintained spaces for a diverse range of recreational activities. Whether seeking information, cultural insights, or a serene camping spot, the forest’s amenities cater to the varied needs of its visitors.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for visiting Dixie National Forest

Stay informed with visitor centers: Take advantage of the visitor centers and information stations within the forest. These hubs provide maps, trail information, and knowledgeable staff to help you plan your activities.

Respect wildlife and nature: Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife so approach encounters with respect. Keep a safe distance, avoid feeding animals, and observe quietly. Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out your trash and minimizing your impact on the environment. By respecting nature, you contribute to the preservation of the forest’s delicate ecosystems.

Pack essentials for outdoor activities: Whether you’re hiking, camping, or fishing ensure you pack essentials. Bring sufficient water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions. If engaging in winter activities, carry winter gear. Having the right equipment ensures a comfortable and safe outdoor experience within the varied landscapes of Dixie National Forest.

Explore Scenic Byway 12: Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road that traverses Dixie National Forest. This scenic route offers spectacular views and diverse landscapes. Numerous viewpoints along the byway provide excellent photo opportunities and a chance to appreciate the unique features of the forest. Take your time to savor the journey.

Check trail conditions and closures: Before embarking on hiking or other trail-based activities, check for trail conditions and possible closures. Weather, maintenance, or wildlife management may affect accessibility. Stay informed by consulting with park rangers, checking online resources or contacting visitor centers. This ensures a safe and enjoyable exploration of the forest’s trails.

Participate in interpretive programs: Immerse yourself in the cultural and historical aspects of Dixie National Forest by participating in interpretive programs. These programs, often organized by the forest service provide valuable insights into the region’s Native American history, early settlement, and ecological significance. Engaging with these programs enhances your connection to the land.

Respect heritage and historical sites: Dixie National Forest holds historical and cultural significance, so respect heritage sites and artifacts. Follow established trails, avoid touching petroglyphs or ancient structures, and adhere to any posted guidelines. Preserving these sites ensures that future generations can also appreciate the rich history of the forest.

Prepare for altitude changes: Dixie National Forest spans a range of elevations from lower desert areas to alpine plateaus. Be mindful of altitude changes especially if you’re not acclimated to higher elevations. Take it easy during the first day to avoid altitude sickness, stay hydrated, and be aware of any health concerns related to changing elevations.

Check for permits and regulations: Depending on your activities, certain permits or regulations may apply. Check if camping, fishing, or other recreational activities require permits, and ensure you comply with all forest regulations. This helps in maintaining the integrity of the forest and ensures a smooth and lawful visit.

By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your visit to Dixie National Forest ensuring a memorable and respectful exploration of its diverse landscapes and natural wonders.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

In summary, Dixie National Forest spanning nearly two million acres in southern Utah showcases a diverse tapestry of natural wonders. From captivating canyons and rock formations to tranquil lakes and towering ponderosa pines, the forest encompasses various ecosystems and elevations. As Utah’s largest National Forest, it straddles the Great Basin and the Colorado River boasting a rich history since its establishment in 1905.

Here are a few more articles to help you explore the area:

As you leave Dixie National Forest, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe at the natural beauty that surrounds you. Whether you spent your time hiking through the forest, fishing in one of its many streams, or simply taking in the stunning views, you’ll likely leave with memories that will last a lifetime. And while the forest is certainly a place of natural wonder, it’s also a reminder of the importance of preserving our planet’s precious resources for generations to come. So as you say goodbye to Dixie National Forest, take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the natural world and the role we all play in protecting it.

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park

Most Beautiful Towns in the Southwest

An area full of history, the American Southwest is dotted with beautiful towns worthy of exploration

From former mining town gems to desert beauties, and mountain charmers, here are seven of the most beautiful towns in the Southwest.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac, Arizona

Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries situated along meandering streets with hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options.

Related: American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page, Arizona

A small town in northern Arizona, Page is located on the southern shores of magnificent Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The location is ideal for exploring many of the American Southwest’s national parks and monuments and discovering the unique culture of the Navajo Nation. Marvel at the beauty of the slot canyons as you hike with a Navajo guide in Antelope Canyon. Enjoy the majesty of the lake and surrounding red rock desert. Explore hundreds of miles of shoreline by houseboat powerboat, or kayak.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome, Arizona

A charming National Historic Landmark on Cleopatra Hill, Jerome is a former mining town. Meandering around the hilly, winding streets, visitors will discover galleries and art studios. Not forgetting its past, Jerome offers history buffs a wealth of experience through the Mine Museum, displaying artifacts representing the town’s past and present, and the Jerome State Historic Park, home to the Douglas Mansion.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman, Arizona

There is perhaps no better small-town welcoming committee than a group of friendly donkeys. Such is the case in Oatman where visitors will see the wild burros that freely roam the streets.

Related: Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek (Out)

The oldest continuously-inhabited mining settlement in Arizona, the town has stayed (relatively) populated thanks to its desirable location on Route 66—which it pays hearty homage to with the main street full of themed souvenir shops. It’s also notably home to the Oatman Hotel where actor Clark Gable and starlet Carole Lombard are rumored to have stayed after getting hitched in the nearby town of Kingman. 

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesilla, New Mexico

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high-quality restaurants. The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia, Arizona

Spectacular scenery, Old West culture, mining history, and ghost towns meet art galleries and Arizona’s Wine Country vineyards. Patagonia is a renowned destination for birders attracted by the area’s spectacular array of exotic and unusual birds.

Related: Fascinating Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next Road Trip

The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve and Patagonia Lake State Park are known for the 300 species of birds that migrate through or nest along their creeks and waterways. The Paton’s house is well known for its hospitality to hummingbirds and the people who like to watch them.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs, California

Smack in the middle of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park lies the unpretentious town of Borrego Springs, population 3,429. It’s the only California town that is completely surrounded by a state park, and that’s just one item on its list of bragging rights. It’s also an official International Dark Sky Community—the first in California—dedicated to protecting the night sky from light pollution.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The downtown area has a passel of ice cream shops, restaurants, and lodgings, but the local art scene evokes the most community pride.

Here, in the middle of the desert, is a magical menagerie of free-standing sculptures that will astound you. Supersize prehistoric and fantastical beasts line area roads, the work of metal sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone is a notorious, historic boomtown. Originally a mining hotspot, Tombstone was the largest productive silver district in Arizona. However, since that was long ago tapped dry, Tombstone mostly relies on tourism now and capitalizes on its fame for being the site of the Gunfight at the O.K Corral—a showdown between famous lawmen including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the Clanton brothers.

Related: Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

East Allen Street is worth exploring: its boardwalks are lined with shops, saloons, and restaurants. Visit the Cochise County Courthouse and gallows yard which is now a museum.

Worth Pondering…

Oh, I could have lived anywhere in the world, if I hadn’t seen the West.

—Joyce Woodson

American Small Towns Can’t-Wait To Visit Again

The bright lights and swinging night life of the big city is fine for some but others will appreciate the subtle pleasures of small town living

Many RVers get caught up in visiting large cities and popular tourist destinations. Overlooked by many, small towns are easier to navigate and often provide the greatest insights into local culture. Here, life is lived at a slower pace and locals are happy to engage visitors.

During 20+ years of living the snowbird lifestyle, we’ve visited 25 states and camped at hundreds of RV parks and campgrounds. Here are 10 of our favorite small towns in America. Each town earned its spot for individual reasons. We hope you enjoy it!

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Amador City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amador City, California

One of California’s smallest incorporated burghs, Amador City has a lot to offer. The original mining-era buildings are now home to unique shops including Victorian clothing, custom quilts, locally handmade gifts, a kitchen store, shops offering unique house and garden items, garden art, and antiques and books from the Gold Rush Era. You will also find wine tasting, an old-fashioned soda fountain and lunch counter, an artisan bakery, and gourmet lunches and dinners. The Imperial Hotel (from 1878) affords visitors an opportunity to stay the night and enjoy Amador City’s Gold Country small-town way of life.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montpelier, Vermont

Montpelier, the smallest capital in America with a population under 8,000 people, is a charming historic town with the largest urban historic district in Vermont. The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. Montpelier is a walking city. The heart of the downtown is three blocks from the State House. Downtown Montpelier is a vibrant center of interesting, independently owned shops and restaurants.

Urbanna Oyster Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival (November), more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, chefs, and townspeople. You will see where tons of tobacco were loaded into ships to sail back to Europe and the Famous Mitchell map is displayed at the visitor center located in the James Mills Scottish Factor Store.

Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nappanee, Indiana

Many of the towns in Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is lovely Nappanee, a bustling community of woodworking shops that has been dubbed one of America’s “Top 10 Small Towns”. Nappanee is home to numerous woodworking shops, restaurants, antique stores, and Amish Acres, a restored 80-acre Old Order Amish farmstead. The historic complex consists of 18 restored buildings including the quaint farmhouse, a pair of log cabins, a smokehouse, and an enormous barn-turned restaurant where meals are served family-style with seating for 500.

Related: Experience the Past in the Present along the Amish Country Byway

Bibb Graves Bridge, Wetumpka

Wetumpka, Alabama

The name is a Creek Indian word meaning “rumbling waters” describing the sound of the nearby Coosa River. The Coosa River flows through the middle of Wetumpka dividing the historic business district from its residential counterpart. Bibb Graves Bridge, a focal point of the City was built in 1937. Proceeding across the Bridge to the largely residential west side discover a number of historic and beautiful homes and churches within a five-block area mainly on Tuskeena Street. On the largely historic business district east side, the Wind Creek Casino overlooks the beautiful Coosa River.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

The year was 1969, and Helen, Georgia, once a thriving lumber town, had fallen into decline. Jobs were scarce and the desolated main street did little to attract the attention of new investors and residents. Just when things were at their bleakest, three local businessmen hatched a scheme to renovate the business district to inject new energy into the town. They called on a local artist who recast the town in a new alpine light and within months many of the old buildings had new German-inspired facades that began to inspire the imagination of tourists. Almost 50 years later, Helen is the third most visited town in the state of Georgia, and yet this little piece of Bavaria in Appalachia is home to little more than 500 residents.

Altavista © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Altavista, Virginia

A relatively young town by Virginia standards, Altavista was founded in 1905 by the Lane brothers. In 1912 the Lane family opened a box plant, today known for its cedar chests and furniture. Steeped in railroad history, the town is part of the Virginia Railway Heritage Trail and the state’s Historical Railway Trail. Housed in the 1901 Queen Anne Victorian home of Revolutionary War soldier Col. Charles Lynch, the Avoca Museum features Native American artifacts and Civil War items. An arboretum, an antique log cabin, and a Lynch family cemetery are on the grounds. Guided tours of the restored African-American cemetery located about 50 feet from the former plantation house are available.

Red Rock Canyon between Panguitch and Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options. Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown, Kentucky

Georgetown keeps its small-town feel with a Victorian-style downtown. The town prides itself as the possible home of bourbon, and though not all may agree with that claim, you can still enjoy that heritage by sampling locally crafted spirits. At Georgetown’s Toyota manufacturing plant take a tram tour and see a car constructed from the ground up. If horses are your preferred form of transportation, you’ll enjoy Old Friends Farm, a thoroughbred retirement facility that’s home to 100 retired horse racing champions.

Worth Pondering…

This is not another place.

It is THE place.

—Charles Bowden

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Summer

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your summer adventure

The smaller towns in the United States feature many great locations to visit when looking for an underrated summer vacation. Each of the towns has its own standout attractions that will make for a good trip in your RV. These are ten small towns in America that should be on one’s travel bucket list.

Red Rock Canyon between Panguitch and Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options. Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medora, North Dakota

Situated in the Badlands, Medora has established itself as a popular destination despite having fewer than 200 residents. Visitors flock to Medora to visit outdoor attractions including Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to take in the sights and sounds of the American Frontier. Perhaps the town’s most notable and unique event is the annual Medora Musical. Every summer from June through early September, the town hosts a professionally produced musical celebrating President Theodore Roosevelt’s sojourn in the region.  

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months. Incorporated in 1770, it stakes its claim based on an early mansion built by Governor John Wentworth on what eventually became Lake Wentworth, just east of Winnipesaukee.

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

Many of the towns in Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is tiny Shipshewana known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through October. Due to the Amish lifestyle, you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations and historical displays, you’ll travel back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone, South Dakota

You may not have heard of this little town of less than 350, but if you’re planning a road trip to one of America’s most iconic monuments, chances are you’ll drive through its winding streets or rent a room in one of its many lodges and resorts. Located a short drive from Mount Rushmore, this former mining town has successfully pivoted to become a desirable destination for tourists, while maintaining its small-town charm.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams, Arizona

West of Flagstaff in the Coconino County, Williams is on the historic Route 66 and at the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Williams is named after a mountain man called William “Old Bill” Williams. A popular destination for tourists, there are many fun activities to keep you entertained here in Williams.

Tour historic Route 66—Williams was the last town to have its section bypassed. Check out the Williams Depot and see a steam locomotive before wandering the historic Business District.

Woods Hole © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

This tiny, bustling Cape Cod town was once a pass-through destination for Martha’s Vineyard ferry travelers. Now it holds its own thanks to a charming waterfront filled with restaurants and shopping. Woods Hole is the epicenter of marine and biological science in the US with more than five major science institutions headquartered here (WHOI, MBL, NOAA, SEA, and Woods Hole Research Center).

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!