10 Best Campgrounds with Lakes

With summer in full swing these lakefront parks provide the perfect places to camp by the water

There is something about being near water that tends to induce a sense of calm and well-being, and one marine biologist says living close to a lake, river, sea, or ocean actually promotes happiness. Biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols wrote a book called Blue Mind which details how living near a body of water can increase a person’s overall mental health. Nichols asserts that water actually “lowers stress and anxiety, increasing an overall sense of well-being and happiness, a lower heart and breathing rate, and safe, better workouts.

Of course, as RVers, we have known this for quite some time. There is something very calming about spending a few days near the sounds and sights of a beautiful lake, river, or ocean.

There are numerous RV parks and campgrounds that take advantage of this psychological benefit. In today’s post, I will discuss 10 of the best RV parks and campgrounds with lakes. These locations not only have quick access to some of the nation’s most beautiful lakes but also great amenities and water activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures campers, hikers, boaters, and anglers year-round. The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, one of Utah’s newer state parks is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in a campground on the beach. Boating and fishing on its warm blue waters is the most popular activity in the warmer months but visitors can also go off-roading amidst wild red sandstone dunes in the park’s Sand Mountain area.

Glen Canyon National Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Centrally located at Wahweap Marina, the campsites are about one-quarter mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. This RV park/campground is a great place to enjoy the off-season solitude of Lake Powell. The campground offers 139 sites with 30 and 50 amp service, water, and sewer. Sites accommodate up to 45 feet. The season is an ideal time to visit nearby attractions including Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and Horseshoe Bend. 

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

Offering gorgeous vistas of fall foliage, the 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake, is surrounded by picnic areas and about 15 miles of multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Conveniently located between Meridian and Jackson, Roosevelt State Park is known for gorgeous scenery thanks to its close proximity to Bienville National Forest. The park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking in autumn when the forest is bright with fiery colors. The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, a motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Utah Lake is unique in that it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the West and yet it lies in an arid area that receives only about 15 inches of rainfall a year. Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, paddleboarding, and fishing. The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and electric hookups.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona

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

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Vogel State Park, located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest, is one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. With miles of easy hiking paths, a 22-acre lake, a mountain-view beach, cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites this much-loved park has something for everyone. Of particular interest during the fall is the drive from the south through Neel Gap.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

The Ultimate Guide to Arizona State Parks

Lakeside retreats! Historical gems! Secluded campsites!

From hiking and backpacking to birding and wildlife watching, this compendium of facts, figures, and travel tips about 14 Arizona’s state parks will inspire your RV adventures for months to come. The other 20 parks are on our bucket list. Founded in 1953, Arizona State Parks and Trails have evolved into an important part of the state outdoor recreation.

Arizona State Parks Dashboard

Fast Facts

Oldest State Park: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park, founded in 1958

Newest State Park: Rockin’ River State Park (due late 2021)

Closest to Downtown Phoenix: Lost Dutchman State Park (41 miles)

Closest to Downtown Tucson: Catalina State Park (15 miles)

Largest State Park: Oracle State Park (4,000 acres)

Smallest State Park: Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park (12,000 square feet)

Annual Visitors: 3.2 Million (2019)

Parks Pass

Arizona State Parks sells two annual passes to help you save money and time. The Standard pass ($75/year) allows day-use access for you and up to three adults at all parks except for Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove, Buckskin Mountain, and River Island. The Premium pass ($200/year) allows day-use access at all parks for you and up to three adults. 

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park

As far as lakeside parks go, this one in western Arizona has no beach and not much shoreline hiking. But! It’s considered one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Anglers: Pack your gear and reserve one of the 15 full-service camping sites ($25/night) or cabins ($65/night) where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Location: From Wenden, take Alamo Road 33 miles north to the park entrance

Fees: $10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Anchoring the rugged Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson, this park sprawls through the Coronado National Forest’s wild backcountry. Trails dotted with hikers, bikers, and horseback riders trace the spines of high-elevation ridges and snake through deep canyons. One challenging trek, the Sutherland Trail, navigates the steep slopes to deliver determined hikers to Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalinas. Another trail climbs 80 steps up to the stone and adobe ruins of a Hohokam village from 500 A.D. In the 19th century, Francisco Romero built a ranch on the land likely using this same stone to fortify his home from the Apaches.

Location: 11570 N. Oracle Rd., Tucson

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird Journal

Birding isn’t for everyone, we get it. But more than 170 diverse species inhabit the park, so you’re bound to spot a winged creature worthy of mention, whether you intend to or not. The 1-mile Birding Trail offers an easy loop for ambling. Bonus points for the signage with bird facts.

Notable Flora

The nearby Saguaro National Park boasts a lot (like, millions) of its namesake cactus, but Catalina is home to nearly 5,000 of them. Not too shabby. Throughout the state park, thick clusters of the mighty saguaro jut from the hillsides giving way to glittering city views of Tucson.

Colorado River State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colorado River State Historic Park

Over the years, the buildings at this park have served an oddball assortment of government agencies. Starting in 1864, the U.S. Army used them as a supply depot for forts in the Arizona Territory; later, the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Customs, and the U.S. Weather Service were all tenants. Today, the buildings maintain exhibits on the rich history of the Colorado River region including a research library open to professionals and curious members of the public.

Location: 201 N. Fourth Ave., Yuma

Fees: $6 per adult; $3 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Dead Horse State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Attention RV campers: More than 100 spacious sites ($20-$35/night) grace the grounds of this riverfront getaway in the Verde Valley. If you can’t snag a campsite or one of the park’s cabins, drive up for the hiking—nearly a dozen trails wind through the sprawling high desert environs along the Verde River.

Location: 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome State Historic Park

This 2.5-acre property shows off the Douglas Mansion with its commanding views of the Verde Valley. James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy copper mine, built it in 1916 as a hotel for mining investors. Today its luxurious rooms exhibit photographs and artifacts about Jerome’s mining history. But you can only look and browse—no overnighters.

Location: 100 Douglas Rd., Jerome

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Since the 1840s, many have claimed to know the location of the Peralta family’s lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains but none of these would-be fortune-seekers became more famous than “the Dutchman” Jacob Waltz. The German prospector purportedly hid caches of the precious metal throughout the Superstition Wilderness. Fact or fiction, Waltz’s windfall gave the park its name. You might not find gold during your visit but other treasures include great hiking and biking trails and 138 RV camping sites (68 with electric and water) with sunset views.

Location: 6109 N. Apache Trail, Apache Junction

Fees: $7-10 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park

South of Sonoita, the blue waters of Patagonia Lake glisten for 265 acres. Unlike the craggy escarpments that border many desert lakes, here it’s all rounded corners and gentle slopes. The surrounding hills ease down to the tall grasses that line the shore. A trail meanders from the beach to Sonoita Creek which formed the lake when it was dammed. And a marina provides boat rentals: canoes, pontoons, rowboats, and paddleboats. In a former life, this land was the home of the Sobaipuri and Papago tribes, both related to the Pima Indians. Today, it’s the home away from home for campers, birders, swimmers, sunbathers, boaters, and anglers.

Location: 400 Patagonia Lake Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Where to Stay

You’ll find 105 developed RV campsites and 12 boat-in campsites at Patagonia Lake. Accessible by boat only, each comes with a picnic table and a fire pit and not much else—except for a remote spot with uninterrupted water views.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho rises from the desert seemingly out of nowhere, its sharp buttes like lighthouses guiding travelers home. It wasn’t always a sight for road-weary eyes, though. In 1862, Confederate and Union soldiers clashed here in the Battle of Picacho Pass, a fight marked in history as the westernmost battle of the Civil War. These days during the spring, vibrant wildflowers carpet the ground; come winter, the challenging trails that ascend the sunny peaks draw thrill-seeking hikers.

Location: I-10 at Exit 219, Eloy

Fees: $7 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park

Oak Creek runs for nearly 2 miles throughout this 286-acre state park, adorning the sandstone mesas and red boulders with leafy riparian habitats. If we’re judging Sedona hiking hot spots, it doesn’t get much better than the park’s juniper-studded trails and vortex-framed vistas. Red Rock State Park is one of the most ecologically diverse parks in Arizona which is why it makes sense that it serves as an environmental education hub. From the Visitor Center’s interactive exhibits and film presentations to guided nature walks and full moon hikes, programming offers insight into Sedona’s majestic landscape.

Location: 4050 Red Rock Loop Rd., Sedona

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Animal Encounters

When it comes to Arizona wildlife, you’ll see the usual suspects—javelina, mule deer, maybe a coyote—but to meet the cutest, most playful creatures ever, hike the Apache Fire Trail. It leads to Oak Creek where the resident river otters frolic. Cross Kingfisher Bridge to glimpse them below.

Before You Go

Due to the park’s popularity, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before your visit. Of note: Most of the trails are off-limits to cyclists; there is no swimming or wading in Oak Creek; don’t climb the rocks; and keep your four-legged buddy at home.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area

The perennial stream of Sonoita Creek feeds this natural area’s bounty of trees: cottonwood and willow, ash and walnut, mesquite and elderberry. Hike 20 miles of remote trails where you’ll likely encounter no one save for the dozens of species of dragonflies and butterflies. You’ll access the natural area by Patagonia Lake State Park.

Location: 400 Lake Patagonia Rd., Patagonia

Fees: $15-20 per vehicle; $3 per individual/bicycle

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park

Get to know Wyatt Earp. Stand in a reproduction of the gallows where convicted baddies met their demise. And learn all about the other gunfight at the OK Corral. The museum inside the courthouse exhibits interpretive displays on all of this and more including the history of Tombstone and Cochise County.

Location: 223 Toughnut St., Tombstone

Fees: $7 per adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

As part of the expansion of “New Spain” throughout Mexico and the Southwest, the Spanish Empire built Catholic missions along with forts, or presidios, to protect them. At Arizona’s first state park, dedicated in 1958, see the ruins of the oldest Spanish presidio in the state, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Location: 1 Burruel St., Tubac

Fees: $7 adult; $2 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Along the Verde River Greenway Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde River Greenway State Natural Area

This natural area’s raison d’être is preservation of the Verde River’s delicate riparian ecosystem, so although swimming, fishing, and hiking are allowed, a “light footprint” is encouraged. Connect with the riverside trails from Dead Horse Ranch State Park.

Location: 2011-B Kestrel Rd., Cottonwood

Fees: None

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park

After 33 years housing hardened criminals, the Yuma Territorial Prison gained new life as Yuma Union High School in 1910. Cellblocks became classrooms and the hospital held assemblies. I’m sure there’s a joke to be made likening school to jail but the truth is the history of this prison is so darn fascinating. Take Pearl Hart, for example. In 1899, she chopped off her hair, donned men’s clothing and, armed with a revolver, robbed a stagecoach bound for Florence. She became a national media sensation for the crime and even though she was sentenced to five years in the all-male Yuma Prison she got out in two thanks to what’s politely been described as “deft use of her feminine wiles.” The prison’s preservation today is impressive; you’ll see the guard tower, original cellblocks, and a museum displaying artifacts and stories of notable convicts. Plus: Great gift shop.

Location: 220 N. Prison Hill Rd., Yuma

Fees: $7 per adult; $4 per youth, ages 7-13; children, ages 6 and younger, free

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Most Scenic Towns in Arizona

Use this guide for a scenic road trip that will surely leave you amazed

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

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Established in 1880, Bisbee is a charming town with a mining history located in the Mule Mountains. Once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps”, the town is home to artists and retired folk. Neighborhoods with Victorian and European-style homes sit on the steep hillsides, while many unique shops, art galleries, and cafés reside in redesigned former saloons. Attractions include the Queen Mine Tour and Old Bisbee Ghost Tour.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Nestled at an elevation of 5,200 feet amongst a large stand of ponderosa pine, Prescott’s perfect weather provides an average temperature of 70 degrees, with four distinct seasons, and breathtaking landscapes with mountains, lakes, streams, and meadows. Popular activities include horseback riding, golfing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, local breweries, restaurants, shopping, and a hometown feel.Once the territorial capital of the state, Prescott is rich with history embodied in its world famous Whiskey Row and abundant historical landmarks.

Old Presido, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert, the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. Saguaro National Park is situated on either side of the city. These tall and ancient cacti stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges which cradle the Tucson valley and are showered with sunshine over 300 days a year. The average winter temperature is 70.

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holbrook

Several miles west of Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook boasts pretty epic scenery. Backcountry hikes take you through the eponymous petrified logs and other archeological wonders. Park guides will show you the daylight sights, but you can also join a night adventure in the newly designated International Dark Sky Park.

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

Located near the top of Cleopatra Hill is the historic copper mining town of Jerome. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was born a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents into a roaring mining community. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist hub with a population of around 450 people. Jerome resides above what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona which was producing an astonishing 3 million pounds of copper per month. Once a thriving mining camp full of miners, bootleggers, gamblers, and prostitutes, now a bustling tourist destination full of artists, musicians, and gift shop proprietors.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keneta

As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must. Be sure to stay for sunset.

On the road to Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia

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. 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.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Joyce Woodson

The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

If you’re planning on snowbird RVing this winter consider one of these state parks. They all offer warm weather and beautiful views of the Gulf or Technicolor deserts.

Many RVers prefer state park camping for the access to outdoor activities. Depending on the area, most state parks have all the amenities needed to stay comfortable such as hookups, bathhouses, a dump station, and laundry facilities.

If you are one of the many snowbirds heading south for the winter in an RV, you can find dozens of state parks open for year-round camping. These are 10 of our favorite spots for their great location, spacious RV sites, hookups, and other modern amenities.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Myakka River State Park can be found north of Fort Myers with wetlands and forests surrounding the Myakka River. The campgrounds make a perfect home base while you go kayaking on the river, hiking the park’s trails, or exploring on one of their boat tours. The park has three campgrounds with 90 sites total, including Palmetto Ridge with full hookup gravel-based sites, and Old Prairie and Big Flats campgrounds with dirt-based sites.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers primitive campgrounds as well as developed campgrounds, including Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and Tamarisk Grove.

Borrego Palm Canyon has full hookup sites that can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 40 feet in length. The smaller Tamarisk Grove campground has 27 well shaded sites with no hookups but potable water and showers available. The state park is recognized as a Dark Sky Park with some of the darkest night skies for stargazing. It also has miles of great hiking trails with beautiful mountain, desert, and canyon views.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities. Located near Meaher State Park is the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center; which features a natural history museum, live native wildlife, a theater, gift shop and canoe/kayak rentals. 

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks. Camping is available at 100 campsites with water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground. Camping reservations must be made for a minimum of two nights.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

In Southern New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park sits on a large reservoir along the Rio Grande River just north of the town Truth or Consequences. State park camping is available at Lions Beach Campground along with a variety of activities on the lake such as boating, fishing, kayaking, and jetskiing. The campground has 173 sites including some with full hookups, as well as primitive beach and boat-in camping. There are also 15 miles of hiking trails, boating facilities, and picnic tables available for day-use.

Note: The park is currently open to New Mexico residents only. Reservations are required for camping and can be made online.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart! With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Visit their nature center to learn more about the park and its programs.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity, are open on a limited basis and are only available through the park office. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby. Castaway Cove (campground activity pool) is available to all visitors to the Park for a fee. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

Focus on Birding in Arizona State Parks

Hit the trail and search for your favorite birds in Arizona State Parks

Many Arizona state parks are considered world-class birding destinations, and, depending on migrations, hold literally hundreds of species to watch throughout the year.

Come along as we hit the trail and search for our favorite feathered friends in some of Arizona State Park’s best birding locations and get to know the birds of Arizona. 

Species lists are available from each park and give birders a preview of what they might encounter on a trip. Simply decide which type of habitat you would like to explore and hit the road!

Oh, yes—don’t forget your camera and telephoto lens.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park

This great blue heron snags his dinner at Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Long celebrated as a world-class birding destination, Dead Horse Ranch State Park offers varied opportunities for birders of all levels. The riparian zone trails flanking the Verde River give birders a chance to see nesting black hawks, numerous waterfowl species, plus the chance of seeing a majestic bald eagle in its native environment. Near the lagoons, great blue herons can often be seen snagging a fish lunch near the shore, and seasonally, the hummingbirds buzz around hurriedly in search of sweet nectar.

Picacho Peak State Park

Gambil quails are often seen in the desert parks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Desert birds abound at Pichaco Peak State Park, enjoying the cooler weather among the saguaros as winter visitors. Hawks, falcons, quail, and hummingbirds are commonly seen at the park, and if you look closely, you’ll catch sight of woodpeckers, curve-billed thrashers, flycatchers, and warblers. Ask for a bird list at the park’s Visitor Center to guide you as you experience the incredible wildlife within the park.

Red Rock State Park

Cactus wren © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Red Rock State Park trails offer a peek into the habitats of myriad bird species. The riparian area along Oak Creek offers a cool spot for wrens, swallows, hawks, and eagles. Some waterfowl species use this portion of the park seasonally. House finches and lesser Goldfinch offer a splash of color for visitors within the native vegetation.

Pair of house finches © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The park also features a feeding area for birds where you can sit with your binoculars or camera as birds come to eat and enjoy the park themselves. The Visitor Center roof is also a great place for spotting birds, and offers a gorgeous view of the park. 

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Hummingbird at Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserv

Founded in the 1920s as a botanical garden, the 323 acres of Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park serve as a wildlife preserve. The main trail is 1.5 miles and begins at the Visitor Center. Allow yourself at least two hours as you will encounter numerous trails that branch off from the main trail.

The fast-running greater roadrunner is a common sight in the Southwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Arboretum’s irrigated gardens and protected grounds are a magnet for birds. With more than 250 species the Arboretum has been designated as an important bird area. Gambel’s quail, canyon wren, curved-billed thrashers, and black throated sparrows are among the most abundant species. Bird lists are available at the Visitor Center.

A nesting hummer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, broad-tailed, and broad-billed are among the species of hummingbirds that find nectar in the diversity of flowering plants.

Patagonia Lake State Park

Vermillion flycatcher © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Patagonia Lake State Park and the adjacent Sonoita Creek State Nature Area hosts vultures, owls, and roadrunners in sight of visitors daily, and that’s not all. Occasionally, birders will experience the Gould’s turkeys, white-faced ibis, warblers, vermillion flycatcher, and the elegant trogon! Waterfowl species abound here as well and can often be seen cruising around the lake or flying around looking for a place to land.

Catalina State Park

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Set against the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park consists of 5,500 acres of high Sonora Desert habitat with eight trails traversing a landscape dominated by ocotillo, cholla, and saguaro cactus. This Sonoran life zone includes seasonal streams providing habitat for mesquite, desert willow, cottonwood trees, and walnut groves.

Mourning dove at Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Ladder-backed woodpeckers, greater roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, Say’s phoebes, and Harris’s hawks call the park home year-round. Migrants and seasonal residents include the vermilion flycatcher, black-headed grosbeak, and 10 species of migrating warblers.  

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

6 Scenic Lakes for Camping in the Southwest

Enjoy waterfront camping at these six scenic lakes in the arid Southwest

Since the Southwest is known for its iconic desert landscape, you may be surprised by the many scenic lakes where you can enjoy waterfront camping.

These lakes are an oasis for activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking, and have camping facilities that can accommodate RVs.

1. Lake Pleasant, Arizona

The cool blue Lake Pleasant is located in a regional park about an hour north of Phoenix. The recreation area is open year-round and has campsites, hiking trails, boat ramps, and a Discovery Center where you can learn more about the area’s plants and wildlife.

The developed sites are complete with water and electricity, a covered ramada, picnic table, barbecue grill, fire ring, and access to a dump station. If you don’t mind dry camping, the semi-developed sites have similar features except for utilities.

2. Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Patagonia Lake is well known for its great fishing, hiking, and bird watching. This southern Arizona state park also has a beach, boat ramp, and a picnic area with tables and grills. If you don’t have your own watercraft, canoe, pontoon boat, row boat, and paddle boat rentals are available.

The campground has over 100 sites with electric hookups, picnic tables, and fire rings. Waterfront cabins can also be rented on the southeast end of the lake. The park can get crowded, but it’s usually more peaceful during the off-season and middle of the week.

3. Parker Canyon Lake, Arizona

Parker Canyon Lake is off the beaten path and not as easily accessible but it is usually much less crowded than Patagonia Lake. The US Forest Service campground is open all year; in the summer boat and paddleboard rentals are available.

Lakeview Campground overlooks the lake with 65 campsites (maximum length 36 feet) on top of a hill. There are no hookups, but there is potable water, a general store, and restrooms.

4. Lake Mead and Lake Mohave, Nevada/Arizona

Lakes Mead and Mohave are both on the Colorado River and worth a visit in the RV. The two reservoirs are located within the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, a short day trip from Las Vegas.

There are several campgrounds and RV parks along the shores of the two lakes. The National Park Service sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These include Las Vegas Bay Campground, Callville Bay, Boulder Beach Campground, and Echo Bay. Lake Mead RV Village offers pull-through and full hook-up sites.

5. Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

The largest state park in New Mexico surrounds the state’s biggest reservoir. Elephant Butte Lake has beach access, a fishing pier, marinas, and boat rentals. The park has 15 miles of hiking and biking trails as well as several picnic areas where you can enjoy lunch overlooking the lake.

There are about 170 RV sites in Lions Beach, Desert Cove and South Monticello campgrounds. Primitive beach camping, group sites, and boat-in camping are also available.

6. Alamo Lake, Arizona

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights 40 miles away.

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 27 mixed-amenity sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites 15 full-hookup sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Worth Pondering…

A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature.

It is earth’s eye, looking into which, the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

—Henry David Thoreau