10 Visitor Centers You Shouldn’t Miss

10 National Park Visitor Centers that are worth exploring

National Park Visitor Centers offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of the parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Stopping at the National Park Visitor Center is a must!

Our first National Park Visitor Center experience happened by chance. We stumbled upon the visitor center on our way into a park. Stopping at the visitor center wasn’t even on my radar at the time. The visitor center is now the first place that we stop when going to a new national or state park, state, city, or town and I am saddened when I see people pass up on their opportunity to stop at one.

When I was a National Park newbie (for lack of a better word) I really didn’t know what to expect from park Visitor Centers. I thought that they were just a place to stretch your legs and maybe grab a quick snack from a vending machine. But, I was SO WRONG! The National Park Visitor Centers are so much more than any ol’ dingy rest area off of any ol’ winding interstate!

Below are a few reasons that I sing the praiss of National Park Visitor Centers and highly encourage you to not pass them up!

The ability to travel and explore new places is one of the best parts of the RV lifestyle. There’s no better way to truly experience the country. You get to know the areas you travel through and you have the opportunity to participate in local events and visit interesting landmarks.

Visitor centers are one of the best ways to learn about a new area. There are countless visitor centers scattered across the country and they serve a wide variety of purposes. Some of them educate, others entertain, and others showcase interesting features of the area. Lots of national and state parks have at least one visitor center but some businesses, churches, museums, and other interesting locations have them as well.

Since I’m talking visitor centers, here’s a great related article: Why Stop At Visitor Centers?

It’s hard to define what the best visitor centers are but I’ve selected 10 fantastic options below. Check out my list and consider adding one or two of these to your upcoming travel plans. For your convenience, I’ve also provided some additional resources.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

If you’re a fan of geology or just want to see something incredibly unique, it’s hard to top Carlsbad Caverns. The main attraction of this area is the caverns themselves and there are numerous guided tours available.

Enjoy the hands-on exhibits to help you understand how the cavern was formed, discover the animals and plants that make the desert their home, and be amazed by the history of the park.

Before starting on your cavern adventure you may want to enjoy the free, 16-minute, park film Hidden World showing at the visitor center every 30 minutes. Check at the information desk for times.

Browse through a variety of gift items including t-shirts, hat, mugs, and Native American art. You can also enjoy snacks, drinks, and hot and cold meals. The bookstore offers a variety of items including books, photos, passport books, and junior ranger products.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

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

2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to many interesting historical sites and beautiful natural landmarks. Begin your exploration of the park at a visitor center. Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park. For current ranger-led activities, visit the park’s calendar for details.

Four visitor centers are located within the national park at Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cades Cove, and Clingmans Dome.

Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Sugarlands Visitor Center is an excellent starting point as you enter the park’s North District. Learn about the park’s plants and animals with natural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Access public restrooms and drink vending machines. The Backcountry Permit Office is here, too.

Sugarlands is a top-rated visitor center.

Near Cherokee, North Carolina, the Oconaluftee Visitor Center is an ideal starting point as you enter the park’s South District. Explore cultural history exhibits. Enjoy ranger-led programs conducted seasonally. Peruse the park bookstore and shop. Find public restrooms and drink vending machines. The adjacent Mountain Farm Museum contains a collection of log structures including a farmhouse, barn, smokehouse, applehouse, corn crib and others.

About half-way through the Cades Cove Loop Road, pause to speak with park staff and visit various exhibits at the Cades Cove Visitor Center. Learn about Southern Mountain life and culture and see a gristmill (operates spring through fall), the Becky Cable house, and other historic structures. Enjoy seasonal ranger-led activities and peruse the park bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Enjoy sweeping views of the Smokies, weather permitting, and get your park questions answered at the Clingmans Dome Visitor Contact Station Peruse a small bookstore and shop. Public restrooms are available.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Grand Canyon National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon draws crowds from all over the country. The park offers several visitor centers including the South Rim (Grand Canyon Village), Desert View, and the North Rim. Since they may be closed during different periods of the year, be sure to check their availability. All of the visitor centers provide a great experience but the South Rim center is especially noteworthy. Trip planning and hiking information is available through exhibit kiosks and sidewalk signs outside of the building.

Park in one of four large parking lots and get your first look at Grand Canyon by walking to nearby Mather Point. With your vehicle parked at the Visitor Center, you can also board free shuttle buses and be transported around the village and out to scenic overlooks.

Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, the park’s 20 minute orientation film, is presented on the hour and half-hour on the large screen in the theater.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Zion National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park, one of five national parks in Utah (Mighty Five) is known for its distinctive red rock and otherworldly geological formations.

Located near the South Entrance of the park, the Zion Canyon Visitor Center is an excellent place to begin your exploration of Zion Canyon. Park rangers and outdoor exhibits will help you plan your visit and make the most of your time. Inquire at the Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk about permits for backpacking, canyoneering, and other trips into the wilderness. Visit the bookstore for maps, books, and gifts.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

The Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main facility in the North Unit of the park. Stop by to talk with rangers, explore museum exhibits, check out the Fossil Preparation Lab, or visit the Badlands Natural History Association bookstore. There’s something for everyone at the visitor center.

At the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, visitors to Badlands National Park can get answers to their questions from rangers at the information desk. There, park staff can distribute maps and other park materials, provide directions and local area orientation, hand out Junior Ranger booklets, and answer any questions you might have about earth science, wildlife, history, and more. There is also a self-serve passport stamping station at the information desk.

If you’re not stopping by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center during your trip to the Badlands, you can also access rangers at the White River Center, via email or by calling (605) 433-5361

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Sequoia National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Sequoia and Kings National Parks, California

The park’s visitor centers, ranger stations, and a museum offer opportunities to explore the nature and history of these parks, watch park films, and get trip-planning information. Park stores within visitor centers offer books and other products related to the park. All purchases in these stores support park programs through the Sequoia Parks Conservancy.

While the parks are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, not all visitor centers are open year-round. Some close seasonally.

Foothills Visitor Center is one mile past the Ash Mountain entrance station along the Generals Highway. Stop here for information, maps, books, gifts, and restrooms. Browse exhibits about the ecology and human history of the foothills and join a free ranger-led program.

Giant Forest Museum is housed in a historic market in the Giant Forest sequoia grove at 6,500 feet elevation. Explore exhibits about sequoias and learn why this landscape grows the biggest of big trees. Stop here before you explore the grove. During wilderness permit non-quota season, permits can be picked up at a self-issue station outside the museum.

Kings Canyon Visitor Center is in Grant Grove Village at an elevation of 6,500 feet. Learn about three regions in Kings Canyon National Park: giant sequoia groves, Kings Canyon, and the High Sierra. Watch a 15-minute movie. A park store sells books, maps, and educational materials.

Located in the conifer zone at an elevation of 6,700 feet, Lodgepole Visitor Center provides opportunities to view exhibits, get trip planning advice, get a wilderness permit, watch several park films, or shop at the gift shop. New exhibits immerse visitors in the wilderness environments of the parks, from the foothills to the highest peaks and to underground caves, as well as exploring the human history of the southern Sierra Nevada with tactile exhibits and soundscapes from every park environment.

Cedar Grove Visitor Center is next to the South Fork of the Kings River in mixed conifer forest at an elevation of 4,600 feet. Learn about the natural and cultural history of the Cedar Grove area. Nearby services include accessible restrooms and a pay phone.

Located in a mixed-conifer forest at 7,600 feet, the Mineral King Ranger Station houses some exhibits on Mineral King’s human and natural history. Food storage canisters are available. Obtain wilderness permits here.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park is separated into two districts: Rincon Mountain District (East) and Tucson Mountain District (West), each with their own visitor center.

Red Hills Visitor Center (Saguaro West) Tucson Mountain District has cultural and natural history exhibits of the Sonoran Desert.

The visitor center at Saguaro East is smaller and more rustic. There is an interesting and well done exhibit just outside the center that walks you past about 15 major plants that live in the Sonoran Desert. You can see the living plant and plaque with a name and description of each plant.

Both visitor centers are open all year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm everyday except Christmas where you can view  a 15 minute program called Voices of the Desert giving a Native American perspective of the Sonoran Desert. There is also a bookstore operated by the Western National Parks Association.Various Ranger guided programs are held throughout the year. During the winter months (November to mid-April) several different programs are offered daily.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Congaree National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

The Harry Hampton Visitor Center is open year-round. It is the main hub for Congaree National Park which is the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the U. S. and home to one of the largest concentrations of champion trees. The center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. 

Visitors can find the Congaree National Park Passport Stamp at the center. Restrooms and a small gift shop can be found at the center. The Whippoorwill Cafe & Bakery and A Charming Country Cottage Nestled in the Woods are restaurants near the center.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Arches National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Visitor Center is located at the entrance of Arches National Park just off U.S. Highway 191 about 5 miles north of Moab. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. except December 25. The center offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, a bookstore, and restrooms that can be accessed 24 hours a day.Visitors can learn about the park’s history, geology, climate, and wildlife.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Petrified Forest National Park Visitors Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is connected by the 28-mile-long Main Park Road which winds past viewpoints, trailheads, and other attractions. Visitors can get up close to petrified logs by wandering along trails in the park’s southern section. Petrified Forest National Park is a high-desert geologic treasure chest that features loads of petrified wood and eye-popping views of The Painted Desert, which sweeps through the park

Painted Desert Visitor Center is located at exit #311 off of I-40 in Petrified Forest National Park. It provides information, brochures, book sales, exhibits, restrooms, and a gift shop.The center is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm year-round with extended hours as staffing permits.

The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center is located to the south and offers exhibits, books and gifts, limited food service, and restrooms.

Additional resources to enhance your visit:

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

The Top 30 Places to Visit in Arizona

There are a lot of places to visit in Arizona—from admiring the Grand Canyon to experiencing cultural tourist attractions throughout its desert landscape

Arizona’s landscapes are nothing short of stunning. Towering buttes meet hills covered with saguaro cacti. The otherworldly landscape that often feels better suited for Mars than our planet is grounded by what has become Arizona’s other great draw: the proof of human history found in the sites and settlements of Ancestral Puebloans. These archaeological sites which include cliff dwellings, sandstone homes, and petroglyphs dot the state offering a reminder of the people who came before.

With a deep human history and a stunning natural landscape, there is plenty to explore in Arizona, including cities, national parks and monuments, and outdoor attractions. This guide is split into specific sections as Arizona has many different types of places to visit.

So let’s get started.

Best cities to visit in Arizona

Arizona isn’t all desert and canyons; the state has numerous cities that deserve visiting. The following cities are some of the best places to visit in Arizona.

Phoenix from Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Phoenix

Phoenix is the sunny state capital of Arizona. Located in central Arizona, Phoenix is surrounded by mountains and desert landscapes. Its location seems unlikely for a city with skyscrapers and luxury hotels shooting up from what (before 1881) was once sand and dust. However, its incongruous allure is all part of Phoenix’s charm.

Phoenix is the best place to visit in Arizona for a big-city experience. The city is bursting with creativity and attractions including more art galleries than you could see in a whole week.

Phoenix is also home to the Musical Instrument Museum, Natural History Museum, Phoenix Bat Cave, and Desert Botanical Garden.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Tucson

Tucson is another Arizona destination worth repeat visits with history, culture, and outdoor activities galore. Plus, its food game is beyond your wildest expectations. Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Tucson gave us the Sonoran dog—a bacon-wrapped street dog forged in nearby Sonora and packed into a bun filled with burrito toppings.

Home to the University of Arizona, the city nurtures a vibrant downtown arts scene with the contemporary Tucson Museum of Art forming the backbone of a flourishing community of painters, glass-blowers, and jewelers. When the heat drops at night, that same downtown comes alive with bars, breweries, and upscale restaurants embracing the uniquely Tucson convergence of Mexican and Arizona influences, a dose of green chiles, open-faced quesadillas (cheese crisps), and those exquisite hot dogs

View a great variety of plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. Two miles of paths lead through 21 acres of displays. Live demonstrations and tours daily.

A desert oasis, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area is a hiker’s paradise. Tucked in a canyon in the Santa Catalina Mountains in the Coronado Forest, it is easily accessible from Tucson. Ride the narrated shuttle bus and you can get off and back on at any of the stops for a picnic, hike, or a walk back.

One of the top places to visit, San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic Mission. This national historic landmark was founded in 1692 and welcomes more than 200,000 visitors per year. The church is considered the finest Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.

Old Town Cottonwood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cottonwood

If Phoenix is best for a big-city feel, Cottonwood is best for the opposite. Part river town, part wine trail, and part historic hub: Cottonwood offers a fun and lively scene that sets it apart from the arid desert to the south and the soaring mountains to the north.

Although it might be best known as a gateway to the nearby red rocks of Sedona, Cottonwood has plenty of charms of its own. They start with the quaint Old Town district and branch out to the banks of the lushly green Verde River and the nearby historic towns of Clarkdale and Jerome.

Any visit to Cottonwood should start with a stop in the Historic Old Town, a district that dates back to the early 1900s when it was a center for the area’s mining and smelter industry. Today, many of the buildings feature the rock and brick architecture of the 1920s and ’30s. Old Town antique stores, wine-tasting venues, six galleries, and three hotels!

Best National Parks to visit in Arizona

What would a trip to Arizona be without visiting a national park? Arizona’s national parks are renowned for their incredible attractions including the famous Grand Canyon.

You can explore the hiking trails, and biking trails, take off-roading tours, or book a scenic helicopter flight—it is up to you. These are the best national parks to visit in Arizona.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is located just outside Tucson. It is a great place to visit for stunning scenery and hiking trails while visiting Southern Arizona.

The park is most known for its cacti. Indeed, in this national park, you’ll find some of the largest saguaro cacti in the U.S. Some of the cacti live up to 200 years old and grow at a very slow rate. The national park feels like an old American West movie scene and has over 90,000 acres to explore.

Valley View Overlook Trail is a short walk that should take around 20 minutes to complete while hiking to Signal Hill Petroglyphs, a must for anyone interested in ancient art and civilizations.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Petrified Forest National Park

If Petrified Forest National Park sounds fantastic, it’s because it is. However, if you arrive expecting a lush forest full of beautiful trees, you’ll be shocked. The national park is a barren landscape full of fossils and petrified, sliced tree trunks.

The petrified wood is scattered across the national park and you can drive the length of the park in around an hour or two—stopping at whatever spot catches your eye. Some not to miss places include Rainbow Forest Museum, Painted Desert, and Crystal Forest Blue Mesa hiking trails.

Wondering how this natural phenomenon occurs? Petrification of trees takes place when trees have been buried underground without oxygen for thousands of years. Over time, the decaying wood becomes mineralized and turns into fossilized stone creating a replica of the original form, just in a different material.

For a unique natural experience, Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best places to visit in Arizona. We recommend choosing this national park for anyone intrigued by natural mysteries and wanting a memorable experience in Arizona.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon! What can I say? The park is one of the best places to visit in the U.S., never mind Arizona. Visiting the Grand Canyon is at or near the top of most people’s bucket list.

South Rim and North Rim are the most popular areas to explore the Grand Canyon. The North Rim is the lesser-seen side of the Grand Canyon and is best for those who want a quieter place to experience this amazing wonder. South Rim is much busier and is packed with different hiking trails.

A popular hiking route is the Bright Angel Trail. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy. It follows a side canyon, past cliff faces, and various switchbacks before finishing at Plateau Point. Plateau Point has stunning views of the canyon and the park’s scenery.

Of course, you can always splurge on a helicopter ride instead. Many tourists opt to view the canyon from above, which is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in the Navajo Nation in the northeastern part of the state. For those who want to experience nature in the north, it is easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument covers over 80,000 acres and is home to the Spider Rock spire. The spire is a 700-foot-high sandstone rock. Spider Rock spire gained its shape by gradual erosion over time and experts believe it was once connected to a ridge. Nowadays, it makes an unusual natural attraction and a great photograph.

You can drop by the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center for expert local guidance on things to see and do. However, you should make sure to try a hiking trail or scenic drive.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals including its namesake.

There are 28 different species of cacti in the monument ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion. These cacti are all highly adapted to survive in the dry and unpredictable desert. They use spines for protection and shade, thick skin, and pulp to preserve water, unique pathways of photosynthesis at night, and hidden under their skin are delicate to sturdy wooden frames holding them together.

The monument’s namesake, the organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce its first flower near the age of 35.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Chiricahua National Monument

About 27 million years ago, this Land of Standing-Up Rocks was formed when a violent volcanic eruption spewed forth thick, white-hot ash. This eruption was a thousand times greater than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helen in Washington. As the ash cooled, it fused into an almost 2,000-foot-thick layer of volcanic rock known as rhyolite. The Chiricahua Mountains were created as well during this time. Over the eons, wind, water, and ice sculpted what are today the formations that makeup Chiricahua National Monument.

There are hiking trails, both short loops and longer treks that take you back down the mountain and deep into the gorges and other splendors of this spectacular place. More than 20 miles of trails wind through the park. Duck on a Rock, Totem Pole, and Big Balanced Rock are a few of the more famous formations you will see.

Best State Parks to visit in Arizona

Arizona’s 34 state parks have something for everyone from contemplative nature walks to stargazing to camping.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest.

More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. 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.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. 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.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. 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.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. 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 or cabins where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. 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.

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.

Best Outdoor Attractions

After exploring the best national and state parks and cities, let’s look at Arizona’s largest category—its outdoor attractions.

Arizona is perfect if you love being outdoors and experiencing natural attractions. The state is full of things to see and do outdoors including visiting Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley. Ready to be inspired? Let’s take a look.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Monument Valley

Monument Valley is located along the Arizona-Utah border. If you want to visit easily, overnight at the Valley’s View Campground, and what a view you’ll enjoy especially at sunset. The valley is one of the most famous landscapes in the U.S. and easily one of the best places to visit in Arizona.

The valley is over 90,000 acres and is full of hiking trails and spectacular rock formations. It is most known for its towering sandstone buttes which you can experience on scenic drives or hiking trails. Don’t miss Forest Gump Point, the iconic viewpoint used in famous movies and is an important filming location in cinematic history.

The valley is a great place to cut through if you are planning an Arizona road trip. There are many things to see while driving through the valley and the scenery is perfect for memorable road tripping.

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Lake Powell

If you are heading up to the Arizona-Utah border it is well worth detouring to Lake Powell. The lake is a stunning artificial body of water situated between Monument Valley and Grand Canyon National Park. It is a beautiful place to visit in Arizona. The lake’s bright blue water and orange sandstone surroundings cut a picture-perfect scene.

The lake is fed by the Colorado River and covers over 2,000 miles of shoreline. The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is a significant attraction on the lake and the vast stone arc is the largest natural bridge in the world. It is an excellent attraction to combine with enjoying the lake itself.

Many people spend a day or two staying along the shores of the lake. You may wish to visit on a day trip or book a campsite so that you can stay overnight. Full-service sites are available.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Montezuma Castle National Monument

Fascinated by ancient culture and archaeological sites of inhabitation? Montezuma Castle National Monument is the place to visit. The site is home to several cliffside dwellings, built and lived in by Indigenous People around 1100 to 1425 AD.

Sadly, access inside the dwellings has now been prohibited in an understandable attempt to protect the site from excessive damage. However, visitors can take a virtual tour inside the houses. They look incredible from the outside and you can enjoy numerous hiking trails for different views.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Desert Botanical Garden

I mentioned the Desert Botanical Garden when discussing Phoenix. The garden is located in Papago Park in the center of Arizona’s capital city. However, the Desert Botanical Garden is worthy of a spot on our list in its own right.

Why is the Desert Botanical Garden so spectacular? The 150-acre garden has over 50,000 desert plants and is the ideal place to visit for a convenient desert experience. The botanical garden is an easy and fun alternative for those who don’t have time to visit major desert locations like Saguaro National Park.

Glen Canyon Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam is situated in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a one million-acre reserve encompassing biking trails, hiking trails, and Lake Powell.

Planning a trip to Glen Canyon National Recreation Park to visit Lake Powell? I recommend taking a detour to visit the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam is a hydroelectric power plant and has become an iconic attraction along the Colorado River.

Visitors can take boat tours to view Glen Canyon Dam up close or even fly over the dam for a flight experience. The 710-foot infrastructure is incredible from a distance and even more impressive up close. Of course, to save a bit of money, you can always walk across Glen Canyon Dam Bridge where you’ll still have great views over the dam.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead is another impressive artificial attraction. The lake has the highest water capacity of any U.S. reservoir and sits on the Nevada-Arizona border. If you love water activities and lakeside living, Lake Mead is one of the best places to visit in Arizona to unwind and relax.

Allow time to take a Lake Mead cruise as the contrast between desert and an oasis-like body of water is striking and best experienced from the water itself. You can also fish and boat on the lake.

If you are planning a road trip, Lake Mead is ideally located en route to Las Vegas. It is worth detouring to enjoy the lake and consider combining it with a visit to the nearby Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Hoover Dam

Once the tallest dam in the world, the Hoover Dam has a nostalgic kind of power. While it no longer holds that grand title, it is still one of Arizona’s best places to visit. Visitors quickly appreciate its power and strength. It is said that the dam could withstand the force of Niagara Falls which gives you an excellent perspective on how strong it is.

You can view the Hoover Dam from afar or drop by the Hoover Dam Visitors Center to book a guided tour. Tours typically include access to the Hoover Dam tunnels, an elevator ride to the top, and special access to functional rooms throughout the building.

If you are interested in architecture or just want to see a national historic landmark up close, the dam is great to visit. It is also combined with a trip to Las Vegas as the dam sits on the Nevada-Arizona border.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Jerome State Historic Park

Fancy indulging in a bit of history? Jerome State Historic Park is a fantastic place to visit in Jerome. The state park has a couple of acres surrounding Douglas Mansion which has been transformed into a quirky mining museum.

Visitors can wander through two floors of informative exhibits plus outdoor gardens. The museum balances general mining stories and the local town’s history. You can learn about region-specific minerals and mining processes through various mediums including cinematic videos.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. The Superstition Mountains

The Superstition Mountains cover 160,000 acres and are full of gorgeous mountainous and desert scenes. That is not what makes this place famous, though; it is the lost gold mines.

Legends of gold have kept mining companies and independent hunters searching the mountains for years. Many hunters have hit the jackpot and found lots of riches. You can join the crowds or find non-gold-related entertainment in the mountains.

You can visit the Superstition Mountains Museum, explore the surrounding Tonto National Forest, or hike along one of the various trails. These mountains are one of the best places to visit in Arizona for adventure.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Sedona

A magnet for outdoorsy types, Sedona enjoys a picturesque location at the base of Oak Creek Canyon surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land. You could easily get swept away in all the activities to be enjoyed nearby from hiking and biking to rafting and fishing but the town itself is also well worth exploring. Thanks to its longstanding connection to the art world—surrealist painter Max Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning moved here in the 1940s—there are more than 80 galleries to explore as well as street art and performing arts centers.

More places to visit in Arizona

These destinations are special additions to my guide on the best places to visit in Arizona. Whether they are a museum or sacred tribal lands they don’t fit into the outdoor tourist attraction category. I’ve given them a category of their own.

Here is my final subsection, my special list of more places to visit in Arizona.

Chapel of the Holy Cross © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

26. Chapel of the Holy Cross

The Chapel of the Holy Cross is one of the most unique places to visit in Arizona and there’s no way we couldn’t add this unique church to my list.

While I’m not placing the church in the outdoor attraction category, its exterior is a beautiful sight. The church is wedged between two sandstone buttes and has large, plain glass windows that give it a modern, chic design. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is not your typical church.

You can enter the church to look around or join a service if you wish. The church is near Sedona and plenty of other attractions so it isn’t too much of a detour to make.

Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

27. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum is situated on the outskirts of Tucson. However, the museum deserves a place on this list in its own right.

The museum is a bit of everything from a natural history museum to a zoo and a botanical garden. Arizona Sonora Desert Museum covers 98 acres and includes an aquarium section and live animal exhibits plus flora displays in the botanical garden section. There is also an art gallery for visitors to enjoy.

You could easily spend a whole day at the museum. The museum is a chance to experience multiple attractions at once.

Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

28. Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway

Looking for a scenic drive? Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway is an incredible, relatively short scenic drive that you can enjoy from Tucson. Short enough to comfortably squeeze into a day yet long enough to provide diverse scenes and attractions, this scenic byway is a great place to drive.

Mount Lemmon Highway starts near the outskirts of Tucson.

I recommend stopping at Babad Do’ag Scenic Overlook, Molino Canyon Vista, Thimble Peak Vista, Windy Point Vista, and Geology Vista Point. There are quite literally dozens of hiking trails and trailheads along the highway as well. You can easily park up and take a detour on foot.

Allow extra time again once you reach Mount Lemmon’s peak. There is Mount Lemmon Ski Valley, Mount Lemmon Sky Observatory, and a Fire Lookout Station to visit. Mount Lemmon has a small town near the mountain top where you can grab refreshments and do some light shopping.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

29. Tombstone

A relic of the Wild West that refused to become relegated to the history books, Tombstone has a legacy stretching back some 140 years. The Cochise County town started life in 1877 when prospector Ed Schieffelin arrived here in the hunt for silver. He struck lucky discovering huge reserves of the stuff—as well as large gold deposits—and the town boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unlike many similar places, Tombstone didn’t become a total ghost town. Today, it’s filled with everything from saloon-style restaurants to Western boutiques, all paying homage to the days when prospectors and merchants ran riot here. 

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Watson Lake

Although it may not be as well-known as big hitters like the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest, Watson Lake is certainly up there with Arizona’s most beautiful landscapes. This stunning natural lake situated just four miles from downtown Prescott provides a breathtaking backdrop for several outdoor pursuits including swimming, hiking, boating, and kayaking. For the best all-round tour, hike the six-mile Peavine Trail which loops around its granite boulders and follows along the route of the former Santa Fe Railway providing plenty of scenic vistas along the way. 

The Grand Canyon State is packed with wonderful activities and tourist destinations. Visiting Arizona is guaranteed to be memorable and you’ll stay well entertained throughout your stay. The state has so much to offer, whether you want a typical desert experience, a quirky tourist attraction, or a cultural immersion.

Have a fantastic trip. I hope you manage to experience at least a few of these best places to visit in Arizona.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip south.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

The Best National Parks to Visit in February

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in February, this guide’s for you! It will detail five beautiful National Parks to visit in February, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this winter month.

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 seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to the US national parks in February but don’t know which ones to visit? In February, much of the country is cold and covered in snow but there are plenty of parks you can visit to escape the wintry conditions. In this article, I cover the best national parks to visit in February plus several bonus parks and a road trip idea.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This guide 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.

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

Visiting the National Parks in February

In February, much of the United States is cold and blanketed in snow. Like January, park visitation remains relatively low in February making this a great time to visit most of the parks with low crowds. 

Best National Parks to visit in February

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Visiting Petrified Forest National Park is like taking a step back in time. The petrified logs date back hundreds of millions of years to a time when this land was once lush and fertile. These trees fell and became the mineralized versions of their original forms even before dinosaurs walked the earth.

This national park beat all of my expectations. I imagined a barren desert with a few colorful hills, littered with some ancient, petrified stumps. Instead, we were treated to the colorful, uniquely beautiful hills of the Painted Desert, giant, petrified trees that puzzle the mind, and the chance to walk backcountry trails without another person in sight.

Petrified Forest is a very cool, underrated, and easy park to visit.

Why visit Petrified Forest in February: Even though temperatures are on the chilly side, this is a great time to visit Petrified Forest because crowd levels are low and this makes a great February road trip destination with several other parks in Arizona.

Weather: The weather is surprisingly cool in February. The average high is 53°F and the average low is 25°F. Rainfall is low.

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

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, walk the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.

Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.

How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.

Plan your visit

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Why visit Saguaro National Park in February: For the near perfect weather conditions. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February. These great weather conditions do draw big crowds so expect busy trails and make your travel arrangements in advance.

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 42°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 6:10 pm.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Bajada Loop Drive and hike the Valley View Overlook Trail and the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, see the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, and drive the Cactus Forest Drive. Just outside of the park is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum which is well worth the time.

How much time do you need? You will need two days to see the highlights of Saguaro National Park; one for each unit. With more time, you can go backpacking or hike the longer, more challenging hiking trails and visit the above mentioned Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

With sand as white as the snow, this might look like a winter wonderland, but in February, this is one of the warmer parks to visit in the United States.

White Sands National Park is home to the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. These pure white dunes create a fun place to explore, for both kids and adults. Hike out into the dunes, learn about the wildlife that calls this park home, and go sledding on sand as white as the snow.

Why visit White Sands in February: February is one of the quietest months to visit this park in terms of crowd levels. Although the days start off cold, the temperature warms up very nicely during the day making this one of the warmer parks to visit in February.

Weather: In February, the average high is 63°F and the average low is 28°F. This is one of the driest months to visit the park although rainfall is low all year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:45 am and sunset is at 5:50 pm.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping. 

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dune field. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.

How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Plan your visit

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Location: New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is an underground fantasy land of limestone chambers, stalactites and stalagmites, and long, twisting tunnels.

I’m not a big fan of caves and caverns but I found this place to be amazing. If you want to see stalactites, stalagmites, ribbon-like curtains, totem poles, and unique formations called soda straws, Carlsbad Caverns is the best cave system in the US to put on your list.

Why visit Carlsbad Caverns in February: In terms of park visitation, February is one of the quietest months to visit Carlsbad Caverns (park visitation spikes in March with Spring Break). The caverns remain a consistent 56°F all year. With good weather and low crowds, February is one of the best months to visit Carlsbad Caverns and it can be combined on a road trip with White Sands National Park (mentioned above).

Weather: In February, the average high is 61°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 5:44 pm.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Plan Your Visit

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

Located in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park makes a great winter destination especially for those who like hiking and rock climbing. Joshua Tree is a top rock climbing destination in February since temperatures are relatively mild.

Most visitors spend their time along Park Boulevard where the Joshua Trees and enormous piles of boulders form the iconic landscapes that many people imagine when they think of Joshua Tree National Park.

You can also combine a visit to Joshua Tree with Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian, and/or San Diego (more great spots to visit in the winter).

Why visit Joshua Tree in February: With its mild weather this is one of the best hiking and rock climbing destinations in the US in February. However, it is also one of the busiest months to visit Joshua Tree (but March tends to be the most crowded time to go).

Weather: In February, the average high is 61°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall chances are low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 5:30 pm.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top Experiences: Hike the Hall of Horrors, see Skull Rock, explore Hidden Valley, hike to an oasis, hike to Arch Rock and Heart Rock, drive Geology Tour Road, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and go stargazing.

How much time do you need? Ideally, you need at least two full days in Joshua Tree National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights, go rock climbing or take a lesson, hike a few trails, and go on the scenic drives.

Plan your visit

3 more national parks to visit in February

Here are 3 more great national parks to visit in February.

Grand Canyon National Park

February is one of the least crowded months to visit Grand Canyon National Park. If you don’t mind cold temperatures and the chance of snow, this is a great time to visit the Grand Canyon if you prefer low crowds.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a chilly place to visit in February but if you want to visit the park with low crowds, this is a good month to go. February is the second least-visited month to go to Zion with January being the quietest month of the year.

Arches National Park

Like Zion, temperatures are low but so are the crowds. In February, you can visit Arches National Park relatively crowd free.

Bonus! 3 NPS sites to visit in January

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Chiricahua National Monument

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

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona.

February road trip idea: Arizona road trip

Arizona makes a great February road trip destination.

On this 10 day Arizona road trip, you can visit three national parks (Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, and Saguaro) and three NPS sites (Organ Pipe, Chiricahua, and Casa Grande Ruins) plus visit Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, and Sedona. February is a great month for this road trip before temperatures heat up and people start hitting the road for their spring break trips.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month:

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

14 Outdoor Adventures You Can Only Have in Arizona

Adventurers, take note: Whatever you’re into, you can get into it in Arizona

Sunny skies, year-round perfect weather, and stellar sunsets complemented by rugged backcountry terrain make Arizona an adventurer’s dreamland. From the North Country’s pine-forested rim that drops into the depths of the Grand Canyon to the picturesque Sonoran Desert landscape of central and southern Arizona, all the ingredients for the quintessential American adventure recipe are at your fingertips.

Check my list of some of the can’t-miss experiences, possibly life-changing opportunities, and adventures that give a glimpse into the incredible backcountry world of the amazing state of Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine

Nothing more perfectly sums up Arizona’s sense of adventure than the search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. The truth behind the legend is harder to pin down than a Gila monster but the gist is that somewhere hidden in the Superstition Mountains just east of Phoenix is a gold mine once tended by German immigrants Jacob Waltz and Jacob Weiser.

The two men pulled untold amounts of the precious metal from the mountain before a murderous run-in with—depending on who you ask—Apaches or each other left all who knew the mine’s location dead.

To this day, adventurers set out into the Superstitions in search of the mine. Sadly, more than a few have met the same fate as Waltz and Weiser.

If you’re not particularly interested in hunting for gold there are still more than a dozen access points into the surrounding wilderness that can take you on a short day walk or a multi-day expedition. Give the Peralta Trail a shot—this nearly five-mile hike is one of the state’s most popular.

Mount Lemmon Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Longboard (or bicycle) down Mount Lemmon

Rising 9,000-plus feet in the north of TucsonMount Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains and for longboarders one of the truly epic runs in the country. The 20-plus miles of highway are paved smooth and offer great views and a challenging ride.

Don’t take my word for it—check out the plentiful YouTube videos. And watch out for the cactus!

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hike the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim

You simply can’t have a conversation about Arizona adventures without mentioning the Grand Canyon. The 24-mile Rim-to-Rim hike is an immense challenge that gives those who complete it an intimate understanding of the canyon that’s impossible to attain without dipping below its surface.

Start on the North Kaibab Trail and descend 6,000 feet to the bottom of the canyon where the Colorado River awaits. On the way down, you’ll pass through every ecosystem that exists between Canada and Mexico. Cross the Colorado and connect with the Bright Angel Trail and return to the surface along the South Rim passing hundreds of millions of years’ worth of history preserved in the surrounding rocks.

Most guides suggest planning on two to five days to complete the trail at a regular pace.

4. Ride horses around the legendary landscape of Sedona

If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause it’s time to book a trip to Mars because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs, it’s easy to understand why people say there’s energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

There are many ways to explore the desert scenery around the cliffs but none gives you the chance to interact with nature on its own terms quite like riding a horse. Horseback trips typically last between one and three hours with sunrise and sunset options available. Beyond the red rocks, you can catch glimpses of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, and if you’re lucky some wildlife as well.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Explore the Petrified Forest

While it may not be the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, Petrified Forest National Park offers an amazing place to see extinct species. Many of the fossilized logs that dot the floor of the 146-square-mile national park belong to long-extinct trees. Interestingly, the site of the park is not where an actual forest stood but rather an ancient riverbed where fallen plants accumulated.

To get the most out of your Petrified Forest adventure, forget the trails—the National Park Service administers eight off-the-beaten-path routes. Check out Devil’s Playground, an especially old part of the park. Only three permits are handed out for it each week with information on how to access the route supplied only to those granted permission to take on the journey.

6. Off-road to ghost towns

While Arizona is a state known for its epic highways and scenic views, even more, it happens off the state-maintained thoroughfares. For every ghost town worth a visit there’s the main road to take you there and a secret second entrance for those with a hearty sense of adventure and a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.

Off-roading or wheeling to the initiated is a great way to see Arizona’s wildlands and get a dose of history as well. Many off-road trails pass through old mining towns and other long-abandoned remnants of human habitation. The Bradshaw Mountains Trail takes you past the ghost town of Bumble Bee which was once a stagecoach stop for the U.S. Cavalry.

Traveling by these backroads is probably one of the most vastly under-appreciated ways to explore the state. There’s simply no way to not feel like a pioneer when you cross a mountain path or stream named for some long-deceased prospector. For a good off-roading guidebook, try the Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails, or check out the Off-Highway Vehicle Program at AZStateParks.com.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore both well-known and secret ancient cliff dwellings and ruins

Arizona is home to some of the most famous cliff dwellings in the world. Montezuma’s Castle in the Verde Valley is an 800-year-old, five-story structure built by the Sinagua Indians and one of the best-preserved examples of such a site. Three hours northeast on Navajo Land is Canyon de Chelly and its White House Ruins.

While many of Arizona’s ruins require a guide or sit inside well-developed tourist sites there are still plenty that demand a more intrepid spirit. The Sycamore Canyon Cliff Dwellings north of Clarkdale lie at the end of a tough drive and hike but exploring these magnificent ruins away from the masses is a worthy payoff. Just remember that when there’s no park ranger to keep an eye on things, it’s up to you to ensure these locations remain intact and pristine for the following generation of explorers.

8. Stand in a shaft of light in Antelope Canyon

There are other slot canyons but few if any can truly compete with the beauty of Antelope Canyon. Located east of Page on Navajo tribal land, the roughly quarter-mile-long canyon is a tight squeeze through a wonderland of colored sandstone, speckled shafts of light, and a smooth sandy floor. There are two canyon routes here, the Crack and the Corkscrew; both offer jaw-dropping palettes of light and color. Don’t you dare enter without your camera (and the mandated guide)!

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. See the biggest cacti in North America at Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park boasts some absolutely huge cacti. They dominate the desert landscape and make for some very cool photo ops. Located in the Sonoran Desert, it’s worth dedicating at least a couple of days to this park. Tackle the 1.5-hour King Canyon, Gould Mine Loop hike, walk the Signal Hill trail out to ancient petroglyphs, or go for some backcountry camping if you’re looking for a real adventure. 

10. Tour Hopi country

If you’re fortunate enough to take part in a tour of Hopi land you won’t just see some of the most beautiful terrain in the Southwest—you’ll also be given a lesson in the importance of living in harmony with nature and showing respect for all things, alive and otherwise.

The Hopi inhabit 12 villages spread across three separate mesas in northeastern Arizona. These homes have been occupied continuously for centuries, longer than most—if not all—settlements in the U.S. Your tour will include explanations of Hopi beliefs and culture, panoramic views from the high villages, and of course culinary treats.

Make sure to review the visitor etiquette (which includes refraining from taking photos or recordings of any kind) before you go. This is one Arizona-only adventure you can’t post to Facebook—which makes it all the more special.

Off-road adventure at Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Off-road in Sedona

It’s easy to imagine Zeus and the other Greek gods bickering over whether to settle on Mt. Olympus or in Sedona’s sandstone red rocks. During the evening, the massive outcroppings turn a shade of red so intense and worthy of contemplation that they feel like massive antennae signaling to the New Agers who flock from across the planet to admire them.

Like so much of Arizona, Sedona is a place that holds onto its secrets. Many beautiful views are accessible from the road but an entire world opens up when you have an off-road vehicle and a knowledgeable guide. To accommodate, there are several companies offering jeep tours to remote locations among the red rocks. Trips typically last between two and three hours and will take you to sweeping desert views and the ruins of ancient Native American dwellings.

12. Walk in Geronimo’s shadow at Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument is a maze of volcanic rock spires in the southeastern corner of Arizona. Boulders balance on top of each other so precariously it can feel as if the laws of physics have been suspended.

Covering nearly 12,000 acres, this is where Native American warrior Geronimo and other Apaches hid and planned attacks against the invading U.S. Army. Today, the national monument is notable for hiking trails and birdwatching—look out for bald eagles and prairie falcons. For an unbeatable view, be sure to check out Massai Point.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Mine the ramshackle history of Jerome

Lots of people recognize Jerome as a great day trip but it’s time to think bigger. Spend a night or two in this mountainside artist community soaking up the culture and general weirdness.

Visit Jerome State Historic Park which preserves a rambling 8,700-square-foot mansion built in 1916. Once the opulent home of mine owner James Douglas, it now serves as an informative museum filled with photographs, artifacts, mining, equipment, minerals, and models of the network of shafts and tunnels dug through the mountains.

Sitting a mile north of Jerome, Gold King Mine and Ghost Town harbors an assortment of ramshackle buildings, a menagerie of friendly animals, and a sprawling array of rusted machinery that forever teeters between ruin and redemption.

Coronado Pass looking east © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Picnic at Montezuma Pass, hike to a cave

Nestled in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains abutting the Mexican border, Coronado National Memorial commemorates and interprets the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 and its lasting impacts on Southwest culture. Located about 20 miles south of Sierra Vista, the memorial is part of Arizona’s Sky Island Mountains filled with spectacular scenery.  

Enter on the park road, which climbs from verdant grasslands into oak woodlands and continues through heavier forest up Montezuma Canyon. Past the visitor center the road is paved for a mile and graded dirt for the upper 2 miles. It twists around tight switchbacks (vehicles over 24 feet are prohibited) and steep grades as the world falls away below.

Montezuma Pass Overlook sits at 6,575 feet flanked by picnic tables and interpretive signs, a perfect spot for an end of summer picnic celebration. Afterward you can make a short scramble (0.8 mile round-trip) to the summit of Coronado Peak, crowned with a shade ramada and additional signs describing the Coronado Expedition.

Adventurous types will want to visit Coronado Cave, one of the few open, undeveloped caves in southern Arizona. You don’t have to worry about squeezing through. The large cavern is 600 feet deep and in most places about 70 feet wide. Legend has it that Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo often hid out in the cave.

FEATURED IN THIS ARTICLE

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

National Parks at Their Absolute Best in Winter

All the wonder, none of the crowds

America’s national parks were established as places where we can experience its awesome power, often in isolation. Tell that to the summer crowds clogging the trails of Zion or the campfire troubadours whose open mic-caliber guitar playing echoes off of Joshua Tree’s trippy crags until dawn.

The national parks remain America’s Best Idea and something we all can—and should—enjoy, screaming kids at Old Faithful included. But winter can be the best time to go for those who wish to experience the parks with the same sense of solitude as a pronghorn. The trails are clear of obstacles. Campsites might not require a reservation. And, unlike peak season, you’ll feel like you have everything to yourself. These are the parks that are at their absolute best in the winter.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Spoiler alert: You’re going to see four of Utah’s Mighty Five on this list. And to clarify, I’d include Capitol Reef if I had the space. Even with next-door neighbor Arches showing off Grade A sights when temperatures dip each year, Canyonlands stands out as a banger.

The largest yet least-visited national park in the state, Canyonlands’ snow-dusted spires, arches, mesa tops, and sandstone cliffs are made all the better by the fact that crowds clear out almost completely come winter turning this into a place of spectacular, sweeping solitude. (Just be sure to check for road closures before you head out.)

2. Zion National Park, Utah

In the summertime, Zion is basically Disneyland. It’s crowded. It’s hot. You’re standing in two-hour lines to be able to do the one thing you most want to do that day and they’re often out of turkey legs.

End this madness and go in the wintertime. Just 13 percent of Zion’s visitors, journey to the park between November and March, and a wintertime desert is one of nature’s most glorious settings. Even better, once you’ve had your fill of the park and its legendary trails, you’ll be able to explore all the surrounding (and vastly overlooked) state parks unencumbered.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

When it comes to winter wonderlands few national parks come close to the beauty of Bryce Canyon in the snow. The canyon’s red hoodoos and evergreen trees pop under the smattering of white and the majestic sunrises and sunsets cover the landscapes in ethereal light. For the best views, take the two-mile hike from the visitor center to Bryce Point which ends at the Bryce Amphitheater. This is the most famous overlook in the entire park—the perfect place to snap some photos.

Winter sports enthusiasts should especially plan a trip to Bryce Canyon. The park has many daily activities like ranger-led snowshoe hikes, cross-country skiing, and backpacking. National Park Service (NPS) also offers winter astronomy programs and full moon hikes (weather permitting) letting visitors take in the splendor of the unfiltered night sky.

4. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Often overlooked and under-visited despite its proximity to bustling Tucson, Saguaro’s expanses of cartoonishly contorted cacti and relatively easy hikes are best explored during the winter. In the off-season, the already thin crowds dissipate and you’re free to cavort with owls and gaze at petroglyphs with little interruption and minus the oppressive heat.

Even better, the campsites—a relatively hot commodity numbering a scant 20—are easier to bag allowing you to spend the night under the stars with only coyotes (and maybe roadrunners, given the landscape) as your company.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Less than 1 million people drop by South Dakota’s most gorgeous landscape annually and come winter the place is virtually deserted (December sees a scant 8,400 people while February tops out at 13,400). What a stunning time to go full Dr. Manhattan and have 244,000 acres of Mars virtually to yourself, give or take a few bison.

Snag a campsite under a blanket of stars if you’re hardy or a cozy cabin (and maybe some donuts and buffalo burgers) in nearby Wall (think, Wall Drug). Then strap on snowshoes or skis and get ready to truly know what it’s like to be tiny and gloriously alone in the wild.

6. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is an International Dark Sky Park and winter is arguably the best time to see stars. Clear nights mean great views of celestial phenomena; however, they can also bring freezing temperatures to the desert so don’t let the southwest Texas location fool you into thinking it’s always hot.

Cool days are conducive to ticking off some of the more challenging hikes like the 6.5-mile Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail which can be dangerous to attempt in the warmer months.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring sight on its own. Now imagine seeing the fiery sandstone and surrounding evergreen trees with a layer of fresh snow. The winter scenery at this Natural Wonder of the World is absolutely magical.

Visiting the South Rim in the off-season means popular hikes like the Bright Angel Trail are blissfully quiet and much more comfortable than in the summer, thanks to cool temperatures. Grand Canyon National Park’s free shuttles run fewer routes in the winter but there are still plenty that stop at the different trailheads and Grand Canyon Village viewpoints.

8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

This boulder- and bush-dotted park straddling the Colorado and Mojave deserts is a serene winter escape from bustling Los Angeles (130 miles away) and Las Vegas (217 miles away).

Winter in Joshua Tree National Park is a mecca for rock climbers who take advantage of bouldering while the granite is cool. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to snag one of the first-come, first-served campsites.

If you’re able to spend the night in the park, you’ll get access to some of the best stargazing the West Coast has to offer.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

Time slows to a primeval pace in the sequoia groves that make up Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where arboreal giants have watched the seasons come and go for more than 2,000 years. In the winter, hike along quiet, snowy trails to the General Sherman Tree among the world’s largest living icons at a height of 275 feet.

These parks are also great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. On free, ranger-led snowshoe walks, shoes are even provided. For something less strenuous, try driving through the wintry landscape though be aware that tire chains are often required during this time of year.

10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

The famous, striking limestone formations at Carlsbad Caverns have often been compared to floating underground jellyfish or alcoves full of goblins and fairies—however you interpret them, they’re otherworldly.

The best part about visiting this New Mexico locale in the winter months (apart from bypassing the crowds) is that the cave stays a balmy 56 degrees Fahrenheit, rain or shine. Ranger-led tours are available year-round or visitors can opt to check out the Natural Entrance and Big Room Trails on their own.

For those looking to check yet another winter-friendly park off their list while in the area, the nearby Guadalupe Mountains feel like an island in the Chihuahuan Desert with vista-rich hiking trails you won’t want to miss.

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

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Getting out in nature during an East Coast winter doesn’t have to mean shivering in a snowstorm for hours on end. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park roughly half the season’s days boast a high temperature in the 50s—perfect for hiking the park’s more than 800 miles of trails.

Start the day by taking in the views at Newfound Gap, nestled on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina then hike to craggy Alum Cave or explore the old-timey wooden structures at Cades Cove. At night, stargaze by the fire at Cades Cove Campground or retreat to an RV park in nearby Sevierville.

12. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches has some of America’s most breathtaking scenes. In winter, white snow contrasts with the red rocks and blue skies to create some stunning sights. While daytime temperatures can rise above 100 degrees in summer expect freezing temperatures in winter. Even scant snowfall can make trails and roads impassable so be sure to plan if you intend to visit this national park in winter.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Winter stretches itself from October through June at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Clear lakes become icy, volcanoes become topped with heavy snow, and steam vents become especially smoky.

For those seeking fun as well as beauty, winter activities are at their peak here with sledding hills that offer mountain views, snowshoeing for beginners and experts, and backcountry skiing that can’t be beaten.

14. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Make winter plans to visit a warmer locale in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park where park-goers can see the Painted Desert, drive past Blue Mesa, and see the Crystal Forest up close. I drove through here a few years ago on a whim, and it was one of the most unique National Parks I’ve ever been to.

The weather may be cooler in winter, but snow is rare. But don’t forget those warm layers for when temps drop at night!

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Open year-round to outdoor enthusiasts, White Sands National Park in New Mexico is one of the best National Parks to visit in the winter for many reasons. For one, since it’s a less-visited park in general, you’re likely to see very few people and can sled down the dunes all by yourself! 

Plus, as soon as you hike a little ways into the dunes, you’re very unlikely to encounter other hikers. New Mexico does get chilly in winter, but it rarely sees a lot of snow this far south.

By the way, I have a series of posts on exploring national parks in winter:

Worth Pondering…

A national park is not a playground; it’s a sanctuary for nature and for humans who will accept nature on nature’s own terms.

—Michael Frome

Stargazing in Arizona’s Dark Skies: Best Night Sky Places

Why is Arizona such a wonderful place for stargazing? Clear skies and diverse geography set the stage and many communities provide sound stewardship for Dark Skies.

Why is Arizona such a wonderful place for stargazing? The simple answer: is good weather, mountainous geography, and sound stewardship. You can see Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and the Andromeda galaxy on a clear night. The sky is awash in stars, double stars, and star clusters.

Mountains also shield dark-sky oases from urban skyglow. In the case of Oracle State Park which is only 20 miles from Tucson, the Santa Catalina Mountains block out the city lights. Likewise, Fountain Hills, an exurb on the northern flank of metro Phoenix enjoys surprising nights thanks to the rocky veil provided by McDowell Mountains.

The International Dark Sky Places program was created in 2001 by DarkSky International to encourage the preservation of the nighttime environment, educate the public, and reduce light pollution.

Since Flagstaff was named the first International Dark Sky City in 2001, over 200 Dark Sky Places have been certified in 22 countries on six continents. These places including dark sky parks, sanctuaries, reserves, and urban night sky places aim to connect people with the importance of darkness and the conservation of ecologically sensitive areas.

Arizona has over 20 dark sky locations encompassing cities, communities, national parks, and urban night skies.

Here is everything you need to know about the Dark Sky Places and where you can find them in Arizona.

Saguaro National Park, a Dark Sky Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the International Dark Sky Program?

Receiving dark-sky certification involves a variety of measures that may include using outdoor lighting that minimizes light pollution, community outreach and education, and working to affect public policy. It demonstrates the location’s commitment to preserving the nocturnal environment.

International Dark Sky Places in Arizona

An International Dark Sky Place is a publicly or privately owned conservation area that protects its night skies through responsible lighting policies and public education.

Petrified Forest National Park, a Dark Sky Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These are Arizona’s Dark Sky Places:

International Dark Sky Sanctuaries

International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are the most remote and often darkest places. The designation underscores the significance of safeguarding nocturnal environments and protecting them from artificial light.

There are no International Dark Sky Sanctuaries in Arizona. New Mexico has the Cosmic Campground International Dark Sky Sanctuary, a 3.5-acre site in the Gila National Forest in western New Mexico.

The Campground is located in an exceptionally dark part of the Southwest with the nearest significant source of artificial light more than 40 miles away across the state line in Arizona. The Campground features a very basic infrastructure to support campers and offers a 360-degree, unobstructed, view of the night sky.

Chiricahua National Monument, a Dark Sky Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

International Dark Sky Reserves

International Dark Sky Reserves are dark zones surrounded by a populated periphery where strict policy controls safeguard the darkness of the core. These reserves conserve natural nightscapes and promote responsible outdoor lighting practices for the well-being of the ecosystem.

There are no International Dark Sky Reserves in Arizona. The Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve encompasses west Texas and northern Mexico.

Urban Night Sky Places in Arizona

An Urban Night Sky Place is one that fosters an authentic nighttime experience despite being in an area with significant artificial light.

Arizona has one Urban Night Sky Place and its Saguaro National Park in Tucson which received the designation in November 2023.

Check this out to learn more: Saguaro National Park is Arizona’s First Urban Night Sky Place and Why It Is a Big Deal

International Dark Sky Communities in Arizona

An International Dark Sky Community is a city or town recognized for its commitment to outdoor lighting ordinances and educating residents on the significance of dark skies. These communities implement measures to reduce light pollution and promote responsible outdoor lighting practices. This designation aims to balance the needs of urban life with the protection of the night sky.

Fountain Hills, a Dark Sky Community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are Arizona’s International Dark Sky Communities:

Thunder Mountain Pootsee Nightsky on the Kaibab Paiute Indian Reservation on the Arizona-Utah state line

Across Arizona, on rugged public lands and inside scenic city limits, the visitor experience doesn’t end at sunset. Because this state so synonymous with sunshine and blue sky is equally spectacular when the stars come out.

Sedona, a Dark Sky Community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do

Worth Pondering…

I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly—or ever—gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe.

—Brian Greene

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

The 25 Most Beautiful Places in the U.S. and Canada

These are 25 of the most beautiful places for RV travel

What is the most beautiful place in America? To compile most beautiful places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most beautiful places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are definitely worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most photographed sites in the world but there’s no way pictures can do it justice as impressive as they may be. Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term breathtaking. The vast geologic wonderland, one mile deep and up to 18 miles across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.

>> Get more tips for visiting Grand Canyon National Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Historic Antebellum Mansions, Civil War sites, year round festivals, pristine beaches, barrier islands, and mouthwatering Lowcountry cuisine are just a few of the reasons why Charleston is one of America’s favorite destinations. Experience this diverse southern city which blends French, English, West African, and traditional Southern American cultures into the music, art, food, and lifestyle. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Zion National Park, Utah

Glorious Navajo Sandstone cliffs, rainbow-colored canyons, and incredible biodiversity make Zion one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.

>> Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sedona, Arizona

Renowned for the radiant red sandstone formations surrounding it, Sedona is set in a serene spot. The towering red cliffs are almost other-worldly in a way and they are definitely worthy of a photo or two. Make sure to check out some of the area’s most popular sightseeing spots while you’re there such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Coffee Pot Rock.Located in the center of Arizona, the small city has long been considered a sacred and spiritual place. Many New Age shops, alternative healing and wellness centers can be found around town.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.

The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.

Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lake Winnipesaukee

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia

Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 mph, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue. Driving down this highway will allow you to take in the stunning Appalachian Mountains including multiple valleys and peaks such as the Peaks of Otter and Roanoke Mountain.

>> Get more tips for visiting Blue Ridge Parkway

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Banff National Park, Alberta

Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home) and azure glacier-fed lakes such as Moraine Lake set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe is the oldest state capital in the U.S. and as such it has a very colorful history including a historic main plaza that will make you feel as if you’re in an entirely different country. The City Different is renowned for its abundance of unique attractions, a wide array of art galleries, extraordinary museums, and magnificent architecture. Not surprisingly, for decades Santa Fe has also been a haven for artists including Georgia O’Keefe. By staying in the downtown area’s historic La Fonda you can walk to the Plaza to discover handmade jewelry and browse beautiful works of art.

>> Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Monument Valley is a minimalist attraction located along the border of Utah and Arizona. In spite of its simplicity, this red-sand desert may just be one of the most beautiful places you will ever see. A 17-mile Valley Drive leads into the area, and you can spot multiple sandstone buttes that make for amazing pictures. This valley will make you feel like you are part of an Old Western movie, set in the Wild, Wild West. John Ford’s Point is a great way to look over the scenery allowing you to feast your eyes on the Mittens buttes.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

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

10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

There are plenty of reasons to visit the gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is packed with hiking routes ripe with emerald greenery, waterfalls and bodies of water, and pretty wildflowers ready for photos. Plus, there are many great stops along the way such as Clingmans Dome which contains an observation tower resting on top of the area’s highest peak for breathtaking views. There’s also Cades Cove which is a quiet little valley that feels like a calm, quiet place lost in historical times.

>> Get more tips for visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

11. Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

The unusual landforms of Writing-on-Stone resulted from the dynamic interaction of geology, climate, and time. In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos. Indigenous peoples created rock art in what is today Southern Alberta. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de shay) has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is an old city that is home to multiple fascinating sites. Its streets are paved with cobblestones and flanked by old buildings like museums and churches that are simply stuffed with history. Downtown, you’ll find one of the biggest National Historic Landmark districts in the U.S. which also connect to the riverfront and the coast. Forsyth Park was built in the 1840s and fitted with a stupendous fountain, romantic benches, and plenty of iconic oaks covered in moss for an even more calming aesthetic.

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Saguaro National Park, Arizona

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Saguaro National Park

Wells Gray Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Wells Gray Park, British Columbia

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

>> Get more tips for visiting Wells Gray

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park may sound foreboding but in reality it’s one of the most beautiful places in the US. It is famous for holding an extremely rich and diverse fossil bed that is definitely one of the best that earth has to offer. On top of that, Badlands National Park is packed with incredible rock formations that look stunning at all times of the day with their differently shaded stripes. There are also grasslands if you’re more for wildlife where you can spot all the prairie dogs herding sheep for a calm, serene experience.

>> Get more tips for visiting Badlands National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

>> Get more tips for visiting Petrified Forest National Park

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Tombstone, Arizona

You can’t come to the Southwest and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town. With attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and provide the opportunity soak in the town’s history.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tombstone

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. White Sands National Park, New Mexico

An incredibly unique location, White Sands National Park consists of a reaching, widespread expanse of white gypsum crystal sand dunes backdropped by a picturesque blue sky. Though the sight of white sand as far as the eye can see isn’t the most exciting trip for some this tranquil environment is so individual and one-of-a-kind that it is easily one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Bask in the calm peace, feel the soft, warm sand beneath your toes, and marvel at the vastness of this monument.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Hoover Dam, Arizona and Nevada

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard to miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You are able to drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

>> Get more tips for visiting Hoover Dam

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Arches National Park, Utah

The Arches National Park looks like a scene out of a movie. Erosion from millions and millions of years has led to the creation of more than 2,000 arches each fashioned naturally from sandstone. It is worth noting that environmental change has caused 43 of these arches to fall to time which means officials warn against getting too close. Still, the sight of these bright, orange structures is well worth the extra caution and you’ll want to plan your trip soon to catch as many of them as possible in full glory.

>> Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called America’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads.

>> Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park on Rio Grande is an absolute wonder of untamed wildlife, spanning over much of the Chihuahuan Desert and all of the Chisos mountains. You can go on a road trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, relax in the Langford Hot Springs, view the Sam Nail Ranch’s broken-down husk, and enjoy sights of limestone formations across the Rio Grande. There’s so much to do that you may just need to come back again!

>> Get more tips for visiting Big Bend National Park

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Black Hills, South Dakota

In the early 1800s, 60 million buffalo roamed the plains. Rampant overhunting decimated their ranks and by 1889 fewer than 1,000 remained. Today, their numbers have climbed to 500,000; Custer State Park manages a healthy herd. Roading the Black Hills you’ll see the iconic buffalo and other legendary sights including the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, sprawling parks and the town made famous for having no law: Deadwood.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Black Hills

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico

In the Chihuahuan Desert lie more than 100 limestone caves and one of them is none other than the Carlsbad Cavern. Spikes hang from the ceiling in droves and clusters and its winding rocky walls are perfect for spelunkers and adventurers. The way you choose to go is up to you. You can go in through the beautiful, conventional entrance or you can begin 750 feet underground. Either way, you’re in for some enticing exploration,

>> Get more tips for visiting Carlsbad Cavern

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

5 Best Things to do this Spring in America

A whole new world of color opens up during springtime which makes it the perfect time to pack up the RV and explore somewhere new on a road trip or weekend getaway

Springtime can be a magical and refreshing time to travel. Maybe you’re coming out from winter hibernation for a quick road trip or you’re finally able to break in those new hiking boots you were gifted for Christmas. Personally, I look forward to blooms and greenery after nature wakes up from her winter slumber. Everything feels fresh, new, and exciting.

1. Attend a spring festival

When spring has sprung, the festivals are in full bloom! Festivals in spring are wonderful, inspiring experiences that help us celebrate the start of a new season. Which one of these takes your fancy?

International Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon, Georgia

Macon, Georgia, is the cherry blossom capital of the world? No, it’s not Japan or Washington, D.C. With 350,000 cherry trees blossoming each year at the end of March, Macon truly is the perfect place to see these beauties in bloom.

The second or third week of March is peak time to visit as the International Cherry Blossom Festival (March 17-26, 2023) happens. It’s known as the pinkest party of the year! Macon is full of history and is also surrounded by beautiful state parks for visitors who are looking to get outdoors.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, Woodburn, Oregon

Tulips are the main attraction in Woodburn, Oregon. The town is home to the Wooden Shoe Tulip Far which hosts a tulip festival from March to May. With 40 acres of tulips, over 200 acres of outdoor space, and activities, the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival is identified as one of the top spring attractions in the state of Oregon. The 38th Annual Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival runs March 17–April 30, 2023.

Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Springtime is also the best time to catch a ride on a hot air balloon to see the colorful blooms from above. Or stay on the ground and enjoy a sip of wine at any of the areas wineries while your pals fly high in the sky.

Rayne loves frogs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne Frog Festival, Rayne, Louisiaa

Rayne is best known as the Frog Capital of the World. The Rayne Frog Festival was founded in 1973 and has grown by, um, leaps and bounds. At this annual fest, you can see the coronation of the Frog Festival Queens and the Mr. and Miss Tadpole contests.

The 51st Annual Rayne Frog Festival will be held on May 10-14, 2023 at the Frog Festival Pavilion. It’s slated with a full schedule including music, delicious food, a signature festival drink, and souvenir cup commemorating 51 years of tradition, arts and crafts show, carnival rides, frog cook-off, frog-eating contest, folklore tent, frog racing and jumping, and a few surprises along the way.

Charleston home tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Festival of Houses and Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina

It’s no secret that Charleston is a hub for southern charm especially in the spring as dogwood trees and azaleas bloom all over the city. The weather is great during this time of year–hanging out around 60-70 degrees with low humidity―ideal weather for both carriage tours and walking tours of the main attractions of the city.

The premier event of its kind in the country, the 75th Annual Spring Festival of Houses and Gardens, March 15-April 16, 2023 offers guests rare access into some of Charleston’s finest private houses and gardens in the city’s renowned historic district during peak blooming season. The cornerstone of the spring Festival are the daily house and garden tours. The tours provide an opportunity for guests to go inside the private houses and gardens of some of America’s most beautiful residences, some dating to the 18th century.

Ostrich Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ostrich Festival, Chandler, Arizona

Grab your friends and family and get ready to shake your tail feather with our favorite feathered friends, the ostriches! The Ostrich Festival features live ostriches, national and local entertainment, stage shows, over 50 midway rides and games, classic festival food, interactive activities for all ages, meet and greets with your favorite mascots, ostrich-themed educational activities, exciting attractions, upscale arts and crafts and much more. The 33rd Annual Ostrich Festival will be held March 16-19, 2023 at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler, Arizona.

A spring road trip in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Plan a spring road trip

The weather is warming up and late winter rains have turned trees and grass green and encouraged wildflowers to bloom. It’s the right time to take a drive either to a favorite place or a new destination with unfamiliar landscapes and roads. Whether your preferred scenery is mountains, deserts, forests, plains, or coastal views, there’s a road trip for you. You can plan a journey around your interests if you enjoy historic sites, regional food, wineries, or nature, you can plan a journey around your interests.

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

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

You’ll love springtime in the Great Smoky Mountains as the gorgeous wildflowers are in bloom with over 1,500 types dazzling in mid to late March to June. You’ll find perfect picnic weather at this time of year and it’s an ideal time to explore the most visited national parks in the U.S. Enjoy the 800 square miles of untouched wilderness while you enjoy a scenic hike to a waterfall or beautiful overlook. Horseback riding, fishing, ranger-led programs, wildlife viewing, and biking are other popular activities in the park.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

One of my favorite things about visiting national parks is the transformation that occurs in the landscape around me as I enter a park. The distinctive flora and unique geological features create an atmosphere that makes me feel as if I’m entering another world. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those magical places. The sharp angles of the Joshua tree forests are the foreground of a wonderland of gigantic granite boulders and rock outcroppings. It’s an otherworldly landscape that takes you back thousands of years. You feel as if you might see a dinosaur step out from behind one of the jumbo rock piles at any moment.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trail of the Ancients, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona

Experience the beautiful and diverse landscapes of the Colorado Plateau on the Trail of the Ancients, a scenic route that travels through Southeastern Utah, Southwestern Colorado, and Northeastern Arizona. It connects some of the nation’s richest archaeological, cultural, and historic sites in a remote region teeming with towering sandstone formations, deep canyons, and iconic red buttes.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adventure can begin at any point on the trail but many choose to start at the famed Four Corners Monument and then travel in a counter-clockwise circle. Along the way, you’ll see the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and the archaeological sites of the Hovenweep National Monument. You’ll white-knuckle it down the hairpin turns of the Moki Dugway and marvel at the sandstone monoliths and pinnacles of the Valley of the Gods.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Skyline Drive takes you 105 miles through the park along the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. This route stretches through Shenandoah National Park where warm spring weather brings purple and yellow violets, masses of pink azaleas, and white dogwood flowers.

Skyline Drive features 75 overlooks including Spitler Knoll, Range View, and Hogback, all of which offer unobstructed views across the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Winter showers make February and March wildflowers in the desert parks and create yet another reason to explore this beautiful region. During years of average and above average precipitation, it seems every direction you look there is beautiful yellow, red, white, orange, blue, or purple flowers blanketing the landscape. Arizona had a good, rainy winter so far, so our hopes are up for a bright blanket of flowers soon!

The contrast of vibrant flowers against the backdrop of green is a sight to behold so get your camera, comfortable outdoor shoes, and plenty of water and enjoy the rich colors across the state.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak is arguably one of the best spots to see blooming wildflowers and cactus in Arizona with bushels of incredible golden blooms throughout the park. The desert wildflowers here offer a unique and beautiful contrast to the green and brown hues of this Sonoran Desert park.

3. Back to Nature

Time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.

Grasslands Nature Trail, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

The most significant undeveloped barrier island in the world, Padre Island National Seashore offers more than 130,000 acres of dunes, grasslands, and beaches―a national park and a haven for all sorts of family-friendly activities. Immerse yourself in the fauna and flora that populate this marshland environment with a short stroll along the Grasslands Nature Trail. Away from the beach, this trail offers a glimpse of animals that live inland including coyotes, deer, kangaroo rats, ghost crabs, and many others.

Malaquite Beach, Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apart from the actual sands of Malaquite Beach, Padre Island’s Visitors Center holds a breathtaking observation deck for wildlife viewing. Along Malaquite Beach, visitors scavenge for small shells deposited by north currents at Little Shell Beach and comb through the sands of Big Shell Beach for larger shell discoveries. Whichever activity you partake in, it’s safe to say that Padre Island National Seashore is a beachside paradise for a gorgeous getaway.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. With 16,140 acres of land in Bullitt and Nelson Counties in Kentucky, there is an adventure waiting for everyone. Purchased by German immigrant Isaac W. Bernheim in 1929, the land was dedicated as a gift to the people of his new homeland.

Whether it’s hiking one of the many trails, fishing in Lake Nevin, enjoying public art, reading under a tree, or taking part in a scheduled program, Bernheim offers visitors unique opportunities to connect with nature. Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim meaning no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take a culinary tour of America

Go in search of fresh flavors this spring on a culinary trip across America.

Food Festivals

For foodies, warmer weather means one thing: a host of new food festivals to attend where you can eat and drink across the country. Here are seven food festivals to put on your travel list this spring.

  • SoCal Taco Fest, San Diego, California, April 29, 2023
  • Vidalia Onion Festival, Vidalia, Georgia, April 20-23, 2023
  • Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, May 5-7, 2023
  • Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, Des Moines, Iowa, February May 12-13, 2023
  • Nantucket Wine & Food Festival, Nantucket, Massachusetts, May 17-21, 2023
  • Cheese Curd Festival, Ellsworth, Wisconsin, June 23-24, 2023
Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Go hiking

In my mind, there are few things more rejuvenating than hiking or walking in nature. One of the biggest reasons I fell in love with the RV lifestyle is that beautiful nature is so accessible wherever you are. It seems like I am always just minutes away from a spectacular trailhead. Whether I am hiking in the mountains or traversing trails in the desert, nature is a refuge—it’s a change of pace from city life, from being stuck inside, from being sedentary.

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Loop, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

This mile-long trail takes you into a landscape brushed in blue where you will find cone-shaped hills banded in a variety of colors and intricately eroded into unique patterns. Descending from the mesa this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among petrified wood as well as these badland hills.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park features 28 miles of paved trails or boardwalks including seven trails of the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail complex that inspire visitors to explore the nine distinct ecosystems within park boundaries.

Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Trees Trail, Sequoia National Park, California

Located next to the Giant Forest Museum, the Big Trees Trail is one of the best short and easy hikes you can do in Sequoia. This loop trail takes you completely around the meadow and provides impressive views of numerous massive sequoias as well as the beautiful meadow itself.

Courthouse Towers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail, Arches National Park, Utah

The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers. Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.

Getting out and traveling can sometimes be the best way to kick the winter blues especially if you live somewhere that gets very little sunshine. Enjoying the beauty of spring in any one of these destinations is sure to help you recharge and reset. Whether you want to get out and hit the trails or simply sit back and enjoy an afternoon of peace somewhere with warmer temperatures, you’re sure to find a great trip on this list.

Worth Pondering…

Come with me into the woods. Where spring is advancing as it does no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible.

—Mary Oliver, Bazougey

The Ultimate Arizona Road Trip: 25 Places You Must Visit

Arizona is an outdoor-lover’s dream with deep canyons, dramatic landscape, and a host of adventures where the land formations are the star of the show

Arizona is well-known for its beautiful landscapes and scenery. These beautiful, must-experience places are bucket-list worthy; some are well-known while others are hidden gems you might not have known about. From national landmarks to historical towns and breathtaking outdoor landscapes, here are 25 places to visit on your next Arizona road trip.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon

The most obvious landmark and Arizona road trip (and the most breathtaking of them all) is the Grand Canyon. If you have never experienced the sight of this outstanding view you absolutely must add this to your bucket list. You can check into El Tovar Hotel which is a historic property that opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for over 100 years. Just steps away from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar has breathtaking views from every window and the resort’s dining room is as close to the canyon as you can get with cuisine that’s almost as memorable as the views as well as several hiking trails that will leave you speechless. Plus many photo opportunities!

>> Get more tips for visiting the Grand Canyon

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

What seems to be one of Arizona’s best-kept secrets is the interesting town of Bisbee. The former mining town is a small, unique community that sits high in the mountains near the Mexican border and in the far southeast corner of Arizona. With plenty of things to do, activities, events and festivals, shops, galleries, and nightlife plus birdwatching, gallery-gazing, dining, or pub-crawling, Bisbee will offer you a plethora of choices to keep you entertained.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for land- and water-based recreational activities.

This gorgeous lake is located in northern Arizona, stretches up into southern Utah, and is part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails and renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sedona

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

With the Santa Catalina Mountains beckoning in the distance and canyons and seasonal streams dotting the landscape, Catalina State Park provides a delightful respite in the Tucson area. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The park’s 5,500 acres provide miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the nearby Coronado National Forest. More than 150 species of birds call the park home. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking. The state park offers 120 campsites with electric and water utilities suitable for RVs of all lengths. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Globe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Globe

In the foothills of the Pinal Mountains sits the former mining camp known as Globe. Founded in 1876 and incorporated in 1907 this lovely town is brimming with century-old buildings, cottages, and hillside houses. The Besh-ba-Gowah Archeological Park features stunning partially restored ruins of a Salado pueblo along with an accompanying museum. The historic downtown area is perfect for strolls and shopping for antiques while the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts is a great spot to explore and experience the talent of some incredible artists.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Apache Trail

As scenic drives go, the 40-mile Apache Trail (Highway 88) winds through the Southwest’s most stunning scenery. It’s a rugged ribbon of hairpin turns and stark drop-offs that meanders past three lakes and carves through canyons and over the Superstition Mountains before concluding at Roosevelt Dam. 

Highway 88 runs northeast from Apache Junction passing through Tortilla Flat along the way to Roosevelt Lake. While you can still access the road to Tortilla Flat, the portion north of the town is temporarily closed. 

>> Get more tips for driving Apache Trail

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams

The opium dens, bordellos, and other landmarks of Williams, Arizona’s rough-and-tumble past are long gone. But some kinder, gentler vestiges of this town’s Wild West era remain. Today, the town’s Main Street is a National Historic District. Its storefronts house curio shops, an old-fashioned soda fountain, and classic diners and motels which preserve a bygone era. The town of 3,000 residents, considered the gateway to the Grand Canyon is also home to the Grand Canyon Railway an excursion between a historic depot and the canyon.

>> Get more tips for visiting Williams

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

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

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the “forests” of Saguaro (another species of cactus native to the area).

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Picacho Peak State Park

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

Linking Arizona and Nevada, Hoover Dam is one of America’s great engineering marvels to date and a fantastic Arizona road trip. Completed in 1935, this massive and hard-to-miss structure crosses the Colorado River and sits at a total of 726 feet high and 1,244 feet long. You can drive or walk across the dam for free or take a tour of the dam. The visitor center provides information on the tours and has a café where you can stop for some basic grub.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument

With its impressive location tucked in the limestone cliffs in the desert of Camp Verde, Montezuma Castle is sort of like an ancient skyscraper. Towing some 80 feet above the valley floor, the 20-room residence was built by the Sinagua people beginning in around AD 1100 and served as an important shelter to escape floods. It was among the first four sites given the designation of National Monument back in 1906 with the site also including further dwellings around Montezuma Well, six miles from the castle.

>> Get more tips for visiting Montezuma Castle National Monument

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 or cabins where the front porch makes for an ideal spot to spin yarns about the catch of the day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Alamo Lake State Park

Jerome © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jerome

An old mining town-turned ghost town-turned tourist attraction, Jerome sits on a mountainside just above the desert floor. Jerome is unique and quirky, to say the least with the Sliding Jail in Jerome that was originally built around 1928 and was built on a clay slick; it soon began to slide and now sits 2,500 feet from its original location. While you’re there, you can visit the town’s most appreciated historical landmarks including the Gold King Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historic Park.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) has sandstone walls rising to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor. This park is owned by the Navajo Nation and is managed cooperatively. A few Navajo families still live, raise livestock, and farm in the park. For the most memorable experience take a canyon tour with a Navajo guide. It’s a truly authentic, welcoming experience you’ll remember forever.

>> Get more tips for visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Red Rock State Park

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Surrounded by mountains, Tucson is a beautiful city set in the Sonoran Desert and is the second-largest city in Arizona. With many historic sites and cultural attractions, Tucson is a place to unwind and explore. Highlights include the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, El Presidio Historic District, and Sabino Canyon. You will also discover hiking trails and afterward find a bite to eat at one of the many wonderful restaurants Tucson has to offer.

>> Get more tips for visiting Tucson

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Along a 17-mile self-drive route along a one-way gravel road, you will find the heart of the valley, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While visiting this area which straddles the border between Arizona and Utah, you’ll experience the true Arizona desert feel with miles and miles of beautiful landscape and scenery of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, creating all the wonderful and majestic colors of the Valley.

>> Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

With its small-city feel and defined seasons, Prescott has tall Ponderosa pine trees, lakes, and the occasional sprinkle of snow. This charming town has much to offer including the Courthouse Plaza, Sharlot Hall Museum, Smoki Museum, Elks Theatre Opera House, Watson Lake, and numerous hiking areas including Thumb Butte Trail. You can grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown restaurants or spend a night at one of the beautifully restored bed and breakfasts or hotels.

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Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

One of Tucson’s most popular attractions is Saguaro National Park which is a great place to experience the desert landscape around this well-known town and see the famous saguaro cacti up close. With an east and west portion, the park has two sections approximately 30 minutes apart. Both sections of the park offer great opportunities to experience the desert and enjoy hiking trails.

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Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oatman

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman along Route 66. Rising above the town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth. Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities but costumed gunfighters and 1890s-style ladies as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

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Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest is known for its treasure trove of fossilized logs exposed after eons of erosion by wind and water. About 60 million years ago tectonic action pushed the Colorado Plateau upwards exposing the layers of rock containing the park’s Triassic fossils. The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

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Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

You can’t come to the Wild West and not truly experience the Wild West with staged gunfights in the streets and characters walking through town in period costumes to recreate the glory days of this small Arizona town that is great as an Arizona road trip. With top-rated attractions such as OK Corral, Allen Street, Boothill Graveyard/Gift Shop, and Courthouse State Historic Park, each shop, restaurant, and attraction is designed with tourists in mind and gives you the chance to see and soak in the town’s history.

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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, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Step back in time at the Historic Plaza and railway Depot. Gaze at Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the downtown Historic District.

Verde Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bonus trip: Verde Valley Railway

Park the RV and board the train as you embark on a spectacular journey accessible only by rail. Powering the train are two EMD FP7 diesel locomotives built in 1953 for the Alaska Railroad. They were painted in 2019 with an apropos American bald eagle motif. Alert passengers may spot the U.S. national bird soaring in the canyon. From December to March, visitors have a greater chance of seeing these special raptors since migrating and resident bald eagles share the canyon during nesting season.

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