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 Complete Guide to Arizona Spring Training (Cactus League)

Everything you need to know if you’re headed to the Valley of the Sun for baseball spring training and other activities

Are you a baseball fan who is craving a warm weather getaway? Then you need to check out spring training in Arizona—aka, the Cactus League.

A spring training trip is the perfect excuse to watch your favorite baseball team play a few no-stress games all while enjoying an amazing RV road trip somewhere warm and sunny while you’re at it. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

It’s every baseball lover’s dream and this Complete Guide to Arizona Baseball Spring Training will help you plan the perfect getaway to sunny Phoenix without a hitch.

Are you ready to get started? Keep reading for all my helpful tips!

Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About the Cactus League

During spring training, Major League Baseball (MLB) teams hold a series of practices and exhibition games which allows them to try out new players and practice existing players before the regular season starts.

The Cactus League is one of two spring training leagues (the other is the Grapefruit League in Florida) that are home to the MLB during the baseball spring training season.

Phoenix and the cities in its metropolitan area (Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, Goodyear, Glendale, Surprise, and Peoria) are home to the Cactus League. Within a 50-mile radius, you’ll find 10 facilities that host 15 major league baseball teams during spring training which typically runs mid-February through March (February 22-March 26, 2024).

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15 teams across 10 stadiums

American Family Fields of Phoenix

Location: 3600 N. 51st Street, Phoenix

American Family Fields of Phoenix is the spring training home to the Milwaukee Brewers. They were formerly known as Maryvale Baseball Park the facility is owned and operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The facility can hold up to 10,000 people.

Camelback Ranch-Glendale

Location: 10710 W. Camelback Road, Glendale

A state-of-the-art baseball facility like no other, Camelback Ranch-Glendale celebrates its eleventh season as Spring Training home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. This Sonoran Desert-inspired facility offers baseball fans more than top-quality playing fields and facilities; the site also features picturesque walking trails, landscaped grounds, citrus groves, and extensive water features. One of the largest facilities in the Cactus League, Camelback Ranch-Glendale’s main stadium boasts a capacity of 13,000 which includes 3,000 lawn seats, 12 luxury suites, and a party deck.

Goodyear Ballpark

Location: 1933 S. Ballpark Way, Goodyear

Goodyear Ballpark is the spring training and player development home of the Cleveland Guardians and Cincinnati Reds. A great deal of emphasis is put on the fan experience—guests enjoy a fun atmosphere with between-inning promotions, giveaways, kids’ days, family-friendly ticket pricing, and the largest kids zone of all Cactus League facilities.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hohokam Stadium

Location: 1235 N. Center Street, Mesa

Hohokam Stadium is the spring training baseball home of the Oakland Athletics. The venue puts fans near all the action and up close to their favorite players from the major leagues.

Peoria Sports Complex

Location: 16101 N. 83rd Ave., Peoria

Peoria Sports Complex is a baseball complex and Spring Training Home of the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres. There are twelve practice fields around the main baseball stadium.

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick

Location: 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

Salt River Fields, the Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, is the first Major League Baseball Spring Training facility built on American Indian land. The ballpark seats 11,000—7,000 fixed seats and 4,000 lawn seats—and features two large hospitality suites, the Pepsi Patio and Miller Lite Loft/American Airlines Deck for large groups and special events.

Scottsdale Stadium

Location: 7408 E. Osborn Road, Scottsdale

Scottsdale Stadium is the spring training home to the San Francisco Giants. The baseball field located near Old Town Scottsdale was designed by the owner of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards. The new stadium was built in 1992 and holds 12,000 people.

McDowell Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sloan Park

Location: 2330 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., Mesa

Sloan Park is the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs. Distinctive touches of Wrigley Field align nicely with 360 views and a convenient location in this 15,000-seat stadium. Sloan Park is conveniently located next to Riverview Park with playgrounds extraordinaire, splash pads, shaded picnic areas, and miles of accessible sidewalks.

Surprise Stadium

Location: 15930 N. Bullard Ave., Surprise

Surprise Stadium is located at the Surprise Recreation Campus athletic facility. The venue was opened in 2002 and is the spring training home to both the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. The stadium holds just over 10,000.

Tempe Diablo Stadium

Location: 2200 W. Alameda Drive, Tempe

With amazing views of the Buttes, Tempe Diablo Stadium is the spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels.

Weather

The average high temperature in the Phoenix area in March ranges from 72 degrees at the end of February to 80 by the time March ends. In a typical spring training season many afternoons can get into the low to mid 80s which is quite comfortable given the low humidity. 

Pro tip: That low humidity means that once the sun goes down it can be a bit chilly at night. Light jackets or sweatshirts are useful to bring along if you’re going to sample the nightlife.

Papago Park, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting around Phoenix during spring training

No matter which teams/stadiums/games you come to Arizona to visit, you know you’ll need to get to Phoenix, find campgrounds and RV parks in the area and get to know the layout of the region. A car and a handy map and/or a reliable GPS are pretty much all you need to enjoy a Cactus League sojourn but here are a few handy tips.

It helps to think of Phoenix as the dividing line of a valley that is typically split geographically into two regions—the East Valley containing Tempe, Scottsdale, and Mesa among other suburbs, and the West Valley containing Glendale, Peoria, and Goodyear among others.

Only one team, the Brewers, trains in Phoenix proper and their complex in the Maryvale section of the city is closer to the West Valley than to the East.

Depending on which teams you wish to see most consider concentrating your search for an RV park or campground to one side or another (see recommendations below). However, count on a drive of 30-45 minutes minimum to cross over—something to consider if, say, you try to attend an afternoon game in the West Valley and then head over to an evening game in the East Valley.

For reference, Surprise Stadium and Hohokam Stadium are the two venues with the most distance between them at just less than 40 miles.

Get to know Loop 101, the freeway that connects both valleys as it carves a giant inverted U through the region. Not only is it an alternative to driving through a crowded Interstate 10 through downtown Phoenix during rush hour but five Cactus League venues (Camelback Ranch, Peoria, Salt River Fields, Scottsdale Stadium, and Sloan Park) are within a few miles of it.

Public transportation isn’t an option for any Cactus League venue. Phoenix’s Valley Metro light rail doesn’t go near any of the ballparks. As for parking, the cost varies at each ballpark (some have offered free parking for weekday games) but expect rates starting at $15-20.

Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth seeing in the Cactus League

Thanks to a building boom in the 2000s, the Cactus League is full of newer and renovated venues. The newest park is Sloan Park opened for the Cubs in 2015 to replace its longtime home of Hohokam Stadium (which was promptly renovated in order to become the A’s new spring base).

So if you’re a fan of stadium architecture or just like new things be sure to check out Sloan Park, Salt River Fields, Camelback Ranch, and Goodyear Ballpark, all opened over the last 15 years. The Brewers unveiled a renovated ballpark and complex in Maryvale in 2019.

If you’re a fan of regional food many of the ballparks offer specialties of the home teams’ cities in their concession stands. Some notable items worth mentioning: Skyline Chili at Goodyear Ballpark; Chicago deep-dish pizza and pork tenderloin sandwiches at Sloan Park; K.C. and Texas barbecue at Surprise Stadium; fried cheese curds at Maryvale Park; and Dodger dogs at Camelback Ranch.

Queen Creek Olive Mill, Queen Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All 10 Cactus League ballparks have some form of berm seating in the outfield. While they are typically the cheapest tickets offered, they are also some of the most popular throughout spring training. This is particularly true on weekends.

Be sure to bring a blanket to sit on and some sunscreen though many venues have installed sunscreen dispensers in the berm sections.

Scottsdale Stadium stands out among its Cactus League brethren because it is part of the downtown Scottsdale district within walking distance of many restaurants, bars, and other entertainment options.

However, this also means there’s limited space around for other ballpark operations while the Giants’ major-leaguers utilize an adjacent practice field their minor-league complex is actually a couple miles away.

Mesa Market Place Swap Meet © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Things to do in Arizona during spring training

As one of the largest cities in the U.S. you’ll find every kind of attraction in Greater Phoenix. If you’re not sure where you should start I’ve rounded up the top attractions everyone should check off their Greater Phoenix bucket list.

Camelback Mountain

The panoramic view from the hump of this iconic landmark named for its resemblance to a kneeling camel is worth scaling its two tricky trails, Echo Canyon and Cholla. Hikers gain 1,200 feet in elevation to the summit which looks out over the city and Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Camelback is one of the most popular urban hiking spots in Phoenix so expect trail traffic and consider hiking on weekdays.

Papago Park

Just minutes from downtown is iconic Papago Park, home to red rock buttes looped with trails, scenic views from the intriguing rock formation atop Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, and two of the city’s top attractions: Desert Botanical Garden and Phoenix Zoo. 

Sun Retreats Phoenix West, Buckeye © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Mountain Park and Preserve

Boasting 50 miles of trails through 16,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, this municipal park is perfectly suited for outdoor adventure just minutes from the city. The skyline views and Sonoran Desert flora aren’t the park’s only perks. Keep a lookout for ancient petroglyphs carved into the rocks. If you’d rather drive than hike, bike, or hoof it up the trails hop on the 5.5-mile Summit Road up to Dobbins Lookout, the highest accessible point in the preserve.

Desert Botanical Garden

The winding paths of this 50-acre desert garden showcase a fantastic variety of arid plants from towering saguaros to delicate blooms. This beautiful landscape is also the backdrop for the garden’s seasonal events.

Taliesin West

Tours of Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home offer insight on how the masterful architect was inspired by the desert surroundings. Visitors walk through rooms, gardens, walkways, and Wright’s entertainment pavilion on the grounds while learning about his organic architecture.

Cotton Lane RV Resort, Goodyear © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix Zoo

One of the nation’s largest nonprofit zoos is home to more than 1,400 animals. See Sumatran tigers roam the savanna, feed giraffes in an up-close encounter, and discover the local flora, fauna, and critters of the Sonoran Desert on the zoo’s Arizona Trail.

Heard Museum

The tradition, culture, and history of 22 regional American Indian tribes converge in the Heard Museum’s immersive exhibits and authentic art shop as well as annual events like the World Championship Hoop Dance Contest (February 17-18, 2024).

Phoenix Art Museum

The Southwest’s largest fine art museum features a collection of contemporary work and global masterpieces. Complementing the museum’s galleries of fine art and objects from Asia, America, Europem, and beyond are rotating exhibitions.

Pueblo El Mirage RV & Golf Resort, El Mirage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV parks and campgrounds

Consider your preferred teams when selecting an RV park or campground. I’ve selected the following list of parks from those personally visited.

West Valley

  • Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort, 11201 North El Mirage Road, El Mirage
  • Destiny RV Resort, 416 N. Citrus Road, Goodyear
  • Cotton Lane RV Resort, 17506 West Van Buren Street, Goodyear
  • Sun Retreats Phoenix West (formerly Leaf Verde RV Resort), 1500 S Apache Road, Buckeye
  • White Tank Mountain Regional Park Campground, 20304 W White Tank Mountain Road, Waddell
  • Pleasant Harbor RV Resort, 8708 W. Harbor Blvd., Peoria

East Valley

  • Monte Vista RV Resort, 8865 E Baseline Road, Mesa
  • Campground USA, 2851 S Tomahawk Road, Apache Junction
  • Usery Regional Park Campground, 3939 N Usery Pass Road, Mesa
Campground USA, Apache Junction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional resources

Here are a few links that may help you prepare for your RV trip to Phoenix:

Enjoy your trip… and bring lots of sunscreen (and trust me on the sunscreen).

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

Romantic Road Trips for RVing Couples

Spend quality time together discovering the best of what roadside America has to offer

February has arrived and love is in the air! If you’re tired of the same old Valentine’s Day celebrations why not spice things up with a romantic road trip

Forget the cliched candlelit dinners and hit the open road with your special someone. After all, they say that couples who travel together, stay together (Okay, I may have made that up but it’s true). Imagine planning and exploring the most romantic destinations across America, hand in hand with your partner. It’s time to add some adventure to your love life; a road trip is the perfect way!

Whether you’re still in the honeymoon phase or you’ve been together for years, a weekend away—or longer—can seem like magic in its ability to rekindle that spark that first drew you to one another.

And if you’re looking for the perfect way to travel together while enjoying flexibility and convenience, RVing might be exactly what you’re after.

Think about it. Road trips already make for some of the best couples’ vacations. You’ve got all that driving time to simply sit and chat, catching up on those meandering conversations you might not have time or energy for over dinner after a busy day.

The U.S. is home to thousands of miles of scenic roadways with numerous national parks, state parks, beaches, and mountain vistas along the way.

For the ultimate bonding experience, gather your favorite (healthy) road trip snacks, sync your playlists, and embark on one of these romantic road trips for couples with many travel links to make trip planning easier.

May romance be rekindled with these suggestions!

Ferris Wheel on The Wharf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Alabama: Gulf Shores/Orange Beach

The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach area of ‘Bama had plenty of activities for you and your college friends but it also boasts plenty to do now that you’re an adult and attempting to impress someone not wearing an airbrushed tank.

You can ride the Ferris wheel on The Wharf, go mini-golfing on Adventure Island, take a glass-blowing class at the arts center, or, you know, lie on the beach together. But anytime you have the opportunity to eat and drink on a boat while watching dolphins, you should always take it—so make that a priority.

I’ve written several posts about the area if you’re interested in learning more:

2. Arizona: Phoenix/Scottsdale

Scottsdale’s entire raison d’être for the last several decades has been the art of rest. Lucky for you, all of that R&R has begotten a third R: romance. Aside from the bachelor and bachelorette parties romping through Old Town, there are plenty of more peaceful ways to celebrate love in this desert city: candlelit dinners, couples spa treatments at one of the more than 50 resorts around town, watching the sun set behind the mountains silhouetted against saguaros.

Here are some articles to help:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Georgia: Savannah

It’s impossible not to swoon at the Spanish moss in Savannah billowing over every street corner and park. The iconic Southern flora is just part of the charm of this hauntingly beautiful coastal city renowned for its Lowcountry cuisine and ornate architecture. For a small-ish city, there’s a ton to do here.

Itching for some fun in the sun? Take a day trip to Jekyll Island, a gorgeous barrier island in the Golden Isles with historic mansions, miles of unobstructed beachfront, and the majestic Jekyll Island Club Resort, a sprawling hotel that looks like a chic—and harmless—Hill House. 

4. Kentucky: Versailles

Lexington on its own is an ideal place for a romantic city getaway in the Bluegrass State: It’s home to more than 450 incredible horse farms, its fair share of bourbon distilleries, and some of Kentucky’s best restaurants for a special night out.

But what sweetens the deal is the opportunity to stay in a genuine castle during your stay: A short drive from the city in the aptly named Versailles sits the Kentucky Castle which is less Medieval Times and more fairytale hotel complete with high-end farm-to-table dining, a full-service spa, and a chance to unwind like royalty in the Bluegrass region. 

If you need ideas, check out:

Bird City © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Louisiana: Avery Island

Nothing reignites a fiery romance quite like hot sauce, so get yourself to Avery Island, home of Tabasco. Your priority is Jungle Gardens, a 170-acre collection of azaleas, camellias, old Buddha statues, and the rogue croc or deer. If you’re a bird-watching couple, there’s a separate tour of Bird City as well.

After you’ve taken in all the pretty flowers, it’s time to tour the super-romantic Tabasco factory. The hot sauce company has an additional restaurant and Cajun-inspired food tour on Avery Island, just in case your date isn’t impressed with bottling operations. 

Read more:

6. New Mexico: Truth or Consequences

If you want to get away from it all—like really, really away from it all—head out into the desert about two hours south of Albuquerque to Truth or Consequences. Despite the bizarre, Western movie-sounding name, this tiny town is utterly serene. Surrounded by mountains, it was called Hot Springs thanks to the soothing mineral springs found throughout the area.

You’ll find plenty of options in the aptly-named Hot Springs District but the best of them is arguably Riverbend Hot Springs where you and your lover can lounge on the shores of the Rio Grande. Book a soak in the private pools for extra intimacy and be sure to stay until after dark when fairy lights strung along the water turn the riverbank into a sight resembling an ocean of stars. 

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. North Dakota: Medora

We’re obviously sending you to the Badlands—ignore the name, they’re good!—but specifically to historic Medora. The town is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and you know if it’s got Teddy’s name on it, it’s a natural beauty. The town itself is a Wild West riot, especially in the summer when the famous Medora Musical goes full Broadway. For dinner, head to Theodore’s Dining Room to sample buffalo osso buco or indulge in the regional marvel that is Pitchfork Steak Fondue which just as the name suggests involves skewering steaks on a pitchfork and dunking them in hot oil. 

8. Rhode Island: Newport

Newport is so old money and it knows it. The town is home to so many Gilded Age manors, that there’s a separate mansions page on its tourism site. Once you’ve gawked at enough chandeliers (and tour guides in old-timey hats), book a massage at one of the town’s several spas or head to the Newport Vineyards’ tasting room which is also home to the excellent Taproot Brewing.

Learn more about Newport: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. South Dakota: Black Hills

Set your compass toward Spearfish, South Dakota, and get ready to be amazed at the grandeur of the Black Hills. Make haste for Spearfish Canyon whose 1,000-foot walls snake along a roaring river then head to Sylvan Lake home to a shimmering mirror lake.

The spoils of the Black Hills await whether you’re interested in the extraterrestrial wonders of nearby Devils Tower, the majesty of the Badlands National Park, the cowboys-and-casinos delights of Deadwood, or, the kitschy charms of the world’s greatest tourist trap, Wall Drug. All are within an hour or two of Spearfish although you’d be forgiven for snuggling up and enjoying nature by fireside instead of venturing out, too.

By the way, I have a series of posts on the Black Hills:

10. Tennessee: Gatlinburg

The Smoky Mountains setting allows for hiking, horseback riding, and skiing (Ober Gatlinburg is the state’s only slope). Spending the day at Cades Cove is a must for every visitor to the Smoky Mountains,

And the fact that it’s in Tennessee means you can drink moonshine at several distilleries. There are also wineries and breweries if you prefer something lighter.

Here are some helpful resources:

More fun and romantic RV trip ideas for couples

Looking for more romantic road trip ideas?

RVing getaways help create romantic memories by putting you in the driver’s seat of your own adventure. It’s all about helping you restore your relationship with the outdoors while strengthening your relationship as a couple.

If you are ready to plan that long-deserved romantic RV vacation then here are more road trips and great locations that are worth visiting. Because it’s never too soon to start mapping out your next great getaway!

Edisto Island, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

Where there is love there is life.

—Mahatma Gandhi

The Top 10 Christmas-Inspired RV Road Trips

While any corner of the United States brims with holiday joy and magic during the season, these are the top road trips and destinations to mark on your map to experience the creme de la creme of Christmas road trips

This festive season, many people are choosing to avoid flying and hit the road for the holidays instead. Whether you’re looking for famed mountain peaks frosted with snow, national parks devoid of tourist crowds, or iconic routes allowing you to cruise without traffic or something in between, one of these options is sure to fit the bill.

RV road trips are often reserved for the freedom of summer vacation but if you miss the open road there’s no reason you can’t find holiday-inspired adventure along the highway during the winter. Work these festival stops into a trip back to grandmother’s house or follow the trail for a merry and bright day trip.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

While desert landscapes may not provide a winter wonderland experience, Phoenix knows how to do the holidays right with its famous Chandler Tumbleweed Tree tradition, a lighting ceremony, and Christmas parade.

Before or after enjoying it, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon where there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a dusting of snow with the South Rim sitting at about 6,800 feet in elevation, bringing lots of picture-perfect photo-ops without the crowds. And, during the holidays, you can ride the Polar Express Train from Williams to the South Rim.

Here are some helpful resources:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Augustine, Florida to Savannah, Georgia

Winter transforms beautiful St. Augustine, America’s oldest city into a stunning spectacle of lights. Its magnificent Spanish architecture is lit up with over three million individual bulbs and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides to view them all.

Afterward, take off for Savannah to enjoy the Boats on Parade with more than 40 lighted vessels parading both sides of the waterfront accompanied by live music, a tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks. Or enjoy an old-fashioned celebration with Christmas on the River with local entertainment, music, seasonal treats, and more.

Here are some articles to help:

Mount Dora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Dora, Florida

Mount Dora’s slow pace of life and relaxed atmosphere paint the picture of a quintessential small town presenting a sweet escape from the urban hustle and bustle. This quaint destination is famous for its antique shops and festivals and by exploring the lively downtown you will discover several spots worth visiting.

One of the highlights is the Modernism Museum, a great place to admire intricate designs of modern furniture. But if you are interested in actual history, you can step into the Mount Dora History Museum. Here, you will explore a local legacy dating back to the 1880s through exciting exhibits.

Stepping outside, Mount Dora is surrounded by picturesque sceneries like Palm Island Park. This tranquil nature preserve features a promenade passing along Lake Dora and through a wooded area. You can find a laidback picnic area or fishing spot to spend quality time. Meanwhile, one of the best times in Mount Dora is during winter festivals like the Mount Dora Arts Festival or the Mount Dora Half Marathon. 

Check this out to learn more: 11+ Sensational Things to do in Mount Dora

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe makes a great alternative to the norm for your best Christmas travel ideas. A trip here allows you to view Christmas through the lens of Pueblo and Hispanic cultures.

Celebrate a midnight mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis de Assisi. Discover the GLOW light display at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden.

Pick up some unique gifts at the Winter Santa Fe Winter Indian Market. There are also many music and dance performances to check out. The lanterns adorning the rooftops on Christmas Eve are a sight to behold as well!

Santa Fe has more to offer the Christmas traveler than you would think! Activities, traditions, candles, and lights all make this a unique offering. Enjoy sipping hot chocolate while watching the winter sunsets.

Check this out to learn more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

A Bavarian Christmas in America? Yes, it is possible and Helen in Georgia serves it up for you with the snow-capped Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop.

Helen is one of the cutest small towns in the South and it only gets more adorable during Christmas. You can drink Glühwein, visit the Christkindlmarket, marvel at the architecture, and all without having to leave the U.S. For a Bavarian Christmas, Helen offers something different when it comes to the best American Christmas vacations.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park to Moab, Utah

The onset of winter shouldn’t automatically mean that sunny days in the great outdoors are over; to chase bright, dry skies, head for the desert. This jaunt will have you swooning over Utah’s myriad of red rocks, elaborate hoodoos, and slot canyons with pitstops in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, and Arches National Parks. Spend a full week to soak up the scenery (and craft beer).

Begin early in Zion to take in the sunrise glow from within the fabled canyon walls. Stop for photos and say hello to the horses in rustic, cliff-lined Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park then cruise up to Moab for the Arches scenic drive before taking in the sunset at Dead Horse Point.

Here are some helpful resources:

Manatee in Crystal River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal River, Florida

Cool temperatures in Florida bring to life one of the state’s most famous marine mammals. The gentle Florida Manatees escape the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico to warmer springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, such as the gorgeous Three Sister Springs. Crystal Rivers boasts a long list of park spaces that are perfect to visit during the winter season. At Crystal River Preserve State Park, you find various fun recreational opportunities, including kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, and bird-watching. 

Alternatively, you can mix your love for history and the outdoors at the Crystal River Archeological State Park. This pre-Columbian site houses a plaza area, temple mounds, and burial mounds that portray a primitive way of life in ancient Native American societies. A visit to Crystal River would not be complete without an intimate encounter with the town’s most famous marine resident and the Swim with Manatees boat tour provides tourists with this rare opportunity. 

Check this out to learn more: Swim with the Manatees of Florida’s Crystal River

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

It is not just the name. This well-known Alabama jewel provides the ultimate Gulf Coast winter experience. Relaxing coastal breezes, mild temperatures, and heart-ravishing views will see one’s vacation end before it starts. With its miles of white-as-sugar sandy beaches, bayous, rivers, and lakes, winter here is not the time to dress as someone going to the moon.

Gulf State Park boasts 8 miles of paved trails perfect for biking—while Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the Alabama coast is bearably cooler in winter and, hence, an awesome outdoor adventure spot. In winter, you will likely see birds such as Red-breasted Mergansers and Peregrine Falcons—at the wildlife refuge. The latter is not only the world’s fastest bird but also the world’s fastest animal. For those who love skating, The Wharf boasts an ice skating rink and is worth checking out.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Jekyll Island Club at Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

Jekyll Island is home to more than a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 45,000, which is more per square foot than the NYC Rockefeller Center Christmas tree! Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir! 

Don’t miss the light parade, holiday fireworks, and special drive-in movie presentations.

Here’s a great article to help you do just that: Holly Jolly Jekyll.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park to Nashville

One of the best things about East Coast mountains (apart from their rich human history) is their year-round accessibility due to being lower in elevation than their counterparts out west. This trip is all about soaking up the best of both worlds—the human and the wilderness—from the panoramic views of Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive to a spooky tour of Mammoth Cave and even the lively honky-tonk bars in Nashville’s historic downtown. 

Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia is a hiker’s dream with 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail cutting right along the park’s spine. From there, it’s easy to continue onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Great Smoky Mountains. Head to Cades Cove to take in the centuries-old Cherokee and homestead history before veering north towards a self-guided tour of Mammoth Cave National Park.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

70 Degree Road Trip #2: The Interior Expedition

Enjoy beautiful weather all year long on this 70 degree road trip through the interior of the United States

In 2015, a clever climatologist routed a 70-degree Road Trip map that steers you through 69-71 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Brian B.’s map has been shared over 10 million times over various platforms.

He updated the routes in 2023 to make them more interesting. You can now choose a Coastal Route, Interior Route, or United States and Canada Route. 

I’ve already written about the Coastal Route and in this article, I will focus on the Interior Route. Stay tuned for the third route next week.

Route 2: The Interior Expedition

At 7,064 miles, this route is only a few hundred miles shorter than the coastal route but it takes you through the heart of America. It showcases an array of natural wonders, picturesque landscapes, and unique cultural experiences. 

This incredible route starts in Brownsville, Texas, and weaves its way northwards along the country’s interior. You ultimately make your way back down to the same final leg as the Coast Route through Phoenix to San Diego.

Keep in mind you don’t have to drive this entire route. It can serve as a guide to plan trips using segments at different times of the year. But if you have the time and resources, it sure would be an incredible journey to do the entire route.

I will walk you through this epic road trip and link to related articles to help you plan your trip.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January

Begin your journey in Brownsville, Texas where you can embrace the vibrant Tex-Mex culture in the Rio Grande Valley before setting out north to Corpus Christi, a coastal city famous for its stunning beaches and enticing attractions.

Mileage: 140 miles

The Strand, Galveston, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February

Follow the enchanting Texas coastal bend to Galveston and Houston indulging in a thriving urban scene, visiting impressive museums, and sampling diverse culinary delights.

Mileage: 197 miles

Fayette County Court House, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

March

Drive northward from Houston stopping by the bustling city of Dallas before continuing to Oklahoma City. Along the way, immerse yourself in the distinctive combination of Texan and Oklahoman lifestyles.

Mileage: 408 miles

April

Venture farther north from Oklahoma City through Kansas and arrive at Kansas City, Missouri. Savor the city’s renowned BBQ culture, see its famous fountains, and enjoy its jazz heritage.

Mileage: 343 miles

May

Continue your northward trek to Des Moines, Iowa, via I-35. Then journey east to Rockford, Illinois, and north through Wisconsin before reaching vibrant Minneapolis, Minnesota. Discover the cultural and culinary treasures that await you at each destination.

Mileage: 765 miles

  • 10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2023
  • The Best National Parks to Visit in May
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

June

Embark on an early June sprint northward to Duluth, Minnesota, and head west through North Dakota towards central Montana. This leg traverses a total of 1,062 miles of awe-inspiring landscapes and remarkable wilderness areas.

Mileage: 1,062 miles

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July

Explore the winding route from Montana’s picturesque high country to Yellowstone National Park. Continue through Montana, northwestern Colorado, and back into south-central Wyoming. This circuitous route keeps you in the cool temperatures of the high country.

Mileage: 1,255 miles

August

Mosey north through Wyoming and back to extreme southern Montana. Taking this circuitous route since July keeps you in the high country.

Mileage: 384 miles

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

September

Head due east until reaching southwestern North Dakota. Then turn south, traveling towards the Nebraska border. Enrich your experience by exploring the region’s natural and historical wonders.

Mileage: 533 miles

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October

Continue nearly due south through West Kansas and the Texas panhandle before turning southwest towards Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Revel in the rich culture, landscapes, and outdoor adventures the Southwest has to offer.

Mileage: 1,047 miles

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

November

Make your way from Cloudcroft to Phoenix by navigating nearly due east on state and U.S. highways, immersing yourself in the stark beauty of the desert landscape.

Mileage: 399 miles

Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December

Complete your 70-degree road trip by driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles and then to San Diego. Relax and unwind on the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California while basking in the accomplishments of your extraordinary journey.

Mileage: 531 miles

Worth Pondering…

Shoot for the moon, Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.

—Les Brown

Super Bowl and Phoenix: Planning Your Arizona Getaway

If you’re coming to Phoenix for the Super Bowl, have you thought about how you’ll spend your time when you’re not at the game?

Football fans (and fans of multi-million dollar commercials) rejoice because the 57th installation of the Big Game is upon us. In the spirit of its return to Arizona, here’s an introduction to the Valley of the Sun. So whether you’re looking for a home base away from the tailgate or just an excuse to take in the beauty of the desert, I’ve got you covered with a list of activities and campgrounds, and RV parks to explore in the Valley of the Sun.

Activities

When it comes to gorgeously painted landscapes and outdoor excursions, Phoenix is pretty tough to beat. Here are a few reasons why.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert Botanical Garden

Founded by the Arizona Cactus and Native Flora Society, this 140-acre botanical garden has preserved the beauty of more than 50,000 plants for over 85 years. Come for the vegetation, stay for a cocktail, and leave with some prickly pear jelly. Just what the doctor ordered. 

Camelback Mountain

If the adrenaline of a football game isn’t enough, consider an extra 2,704 feet of elevated soul-searching via Camelback Mountain. With two challenging trails and plenty of distinct desert flora, this is a must for any avid hiker.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Papago Park

A round of golf almost feels like a right of passage in Phoenix and if you can also throw in some fishing and hiking, you’re all the better for it. Fortunately, Papago Park has you covered with all of the above as well as archery, a zoo, and the previously mentioned Desert Botanical Garden.  

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

Usery Mountain, one of 13 Maricopa County Regional Parks, is a 3,648-acre preserve at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Located on the Valley’s east side near Mesa the park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

South Mountain Park and Preserve 

Whether you’re looking for adventurous trails or just want to soak in a gorgeous desert sunset, South Mountain Park has it all with some breathtaking views along the way. Be sure to check the trails rating guide on the website to find a route best suited to your preferred difficulty level.  

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park

Located near the Superstition Mountains and about 40 miles east of Phoenix is Arizona’s Lost Dutchman State Park. As you might suspect, the park is full of towering red rock formations, cacti, and enough hiking trails to keep you occupied for days.

Wildlife World Zoo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park, Litchfield Park

Wildlife World Zoo, Aquarium & Safari Park has Arizona’s largest collection of exotic and endangered animals with more than 600 separate species, rides, a petting zoo, and daily shows.

Meet amazing animals from North and South America like the tapirs, mountain lions, and red fox. The aquarium offers guests a glimpse into the wild underwater world of many aquatic animals including sharks, rays and more.

Mystery Castle

A quirky, mysterious mansion randomly built in the desert? Say no more. Created by a loving father to dote upon his daughter long ago, Mystery Castle is a one-of-a-kind mansion made of stone and located in the Foothills of South Mountain Park.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, a 110-acre park in Gilbert. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a pleasant little hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching.

Packing for the desert

As you gear up for a weekend in the Southwest, you’ll want to make sure to pack appropriately. In addition to your team’s colors, consider bringing a few extra seasonal items.

Layers

While there are plenty of reasons a snowbird might flock to Arizona, winter seems to be the chief among them with clear and sunny temps in the 70s. That said, with the dry air it gets chilly in the evenings so bring an extra layer for early morning and late day activities.

Water bottle

Maybe this goes without saying, but heat exhaustion is no joke. Stay hydrated with a trusty water bottle in tow. 

Be aware of the cholla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Footwear

Phoenix boasts impressive landscapes and city-scapes meaning its best to bring more than one pair of shoes to make the most of the hikes and nightlife. 

Sun protection

When you’re in the heat of the afternoon and that sun’s beating down, you’ll want to be covered. Sunscreen, lip balm, long sleeves, and a broad-brimmed hat will serve you well. 

Campgrounds and RV Parks

Between the pigskin, hiking, golf, and fishing, you’ll need some R&R. Here are a few great places to lay your head.

Leaf Verde RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaf Verde RV Resort, Buckeye

Leaf Verde RV Resort offers spacious back-in and pull-through RV sites with full hookups including 20/30/50-amp electric service. Enjoy gravel pads with concrete patios, complimentary Wi-Fi to keep you connected, and a picnic table for your outdoor enjoyment. Other amenities include a swimming pool, shuffleboard, game room, clubhouse, pet area, laundry facilities, restroom, and shower facilities. Located in the West Valley off Interstate 10 at Exit 114.

Usery Mountain Regional Park Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park, Mesa

The previously mentioned Usery Mountain Regional Park offers 73 camping sites. All sites are paved and have water and 50/30-amp electric service, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, fire ring, and can accommodate up to 45-foot RVs. Other facilities include modern washrooms with flush toilets and hot showers and a dump station. 

Destiny RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Destiny RV Resort, Goodyear

A walled and gated community, Phoenix Destiny RV Resort offers 20/30/50-amp service on every site, a heated pool and spa, fitness center, laundry facility, shuffleboard courts, horseshoe pits, pickleball courts, putting green, billiard room, and fenced-in pet areas and a shaded turf dog run. Destiny offers a quiet, peaceful, and friendly atmosphere with easy access to I-10 (Exit 123; Citrus Road).

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

Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction

The aforementioned Lost Dutchman State Park has 135 sites for camping: 68 sites with electric (20/30/50 amp service) and water and the remainder of non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs.

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.

Winter Isn’t For These Birds

Are you dreaming of a snowless destination for the winter?

Winter is for the birds. Do you find yourself repeating this throughout the snow-filled colder months? Or perhaps, some other version of this sentiment that isn’t exactly appropriate for publication?

Winter is a wonderful and beautiful time of year in Canada and the northern states but this season’s charms aren’t for everybody. Freezing temperatures, an abundance of snow, and icy conditions soon have many people dreaming of warmer climes. Many northerners like to temporarily trade in their winter gear for shorts and sandals with a winter getaway to a sunny destination. But this plan only provides some temporary relief until one needs to come back home to frigid reality.

Jekyll Island, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One popular solution is to skip winter altogether by RVing to a warmer location until spring. People who follow this plan are often referred to as snowbirds. Many snowbirds migrate from the northern United States but numerous Canadian snowbirds also make the move. The word has been used in its popular context since the 1980s to mark the trend of retirees flocking south for the winter.

While this lifestyle has long been most suited to seniors, the increasing popularity of remote work options has opened up opportunities for people from all demographics to become snowbirds. They can be found all across the southern states but their most popular destinations are Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Southern California.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond these popular destinations, more and more snowbirds have been choosing other states such as South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada. Generally, these states offer much milder winters than a snowbird’s home state allowing migrating active adults to avoid frigid temperatures and precipitation.

There are many reasons that people choose to travel to warmer locations for the winter. Personal preference is often a big factor but choosing to be snowbirds can significantly improve the quality of life for those with health conditions or mobility issues.

Corpus Christi sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many of us, things like shovelling snow, dealing with icy conditions, and freezing temperatures are simply some of the less enjoyable aspects of winter. These facets of winter living can keep a person housebound and isolated for those dealing with certain health conditions and/or mobility issues.

We know what snowbirds do best: RV south. There are tons of incredible destinations all over the U.S. that are sunny, beautiful, and certainly not frozen over in the winter. Here are some great destinations for northern snowbirds and why they’re so appealing.

Phoenix as seen from the Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix, Arizona

Some reasons you’ll love Pheonix in the winter include the incredible hiking and biking, shopping and live music, time spent in the mountains, excellent opportunities to golf on beautiful courses, the gorgeous desert with blooming wildflowers, warm weather all year, and tons of fantastic RV parks. Phoenix has more than 300 days of sunshine each year and you will instantly forget that winter is ever a thing.

>> Get more tips for visiting Phoenix

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Visiting the desert in winter means idyllic weather. You can expect temperatures over 70 degrees so pack your warm-weather clothing. With its abundance of golf courses, spas, shopping, and upscale dining, Palm Springs is a fantastic option to wait out the colder months. The warm, desert heat is perfect for those looking to escape the snow and there are many luxury RV resorts full of amenities. If you’re looking for the perfect place to park your RV this winter, Palm Springs might be it.

>> Get more tips for visiting Palm Springs

Near Fort Myers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Myers, Florida

A snowbird’s destination list wouldn’t be complete without the Sunshine State. Just about anywhere in Florida could be considered a good destination for snowbirds, but some areas are more popular than others.

Fort Myers has various activities and experiences for all different interests. You can take a fishing charter out before sunrise and make it back in time to soak up the last of the afternoon rays on Estero Island. Spend your days traversing the shops and avenues or stay beachside with clear water views and seaside restaurants. There are plenty of museums for history buffs and national baseball tournaments for athletes and fans.

Texas State Aquarium at Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gulf Coast of Texas

If you have yet to consider the Texas Gulf Coast the ideal snowbird destination, you need to add it to your list. There is a 350-mile-long stretch of sandy beaches and unique places to visit along the whole thing. Kick your feet up and relax on South Padre Island, stroll along Galveston‘s seawall to its one-of-a-kind Pleasure Pier, or explore Corpus Christi‘s fascinating museums.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Gulf Coast

Lesser know snowbird destinations

Increasingly, more and more RV travelers are seeking alternative snowbird destinations in their quest to escape the winter cold. If you’d love to spend some time in a milder climate or are just dreaming of new experiences and the usual hot spots don’t entice you, you might be intrigued by one of these six unexpected snowbird destinations.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia

Full of history, architecture, gardens, and art, Savannah, Georgia, is a fantastic place to spend the winter. Wander the historic squares and see the preserved buildings and cultivated gardens or explore the local restaurants and shops. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Savannah

Signage near Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Vegas, Nevada

For those who love dining and nightlife, Las Vegas can’t be beaten. The temperature stays warm throughout winter and with endless restaurants, shows, and shopping options, there’s always plenty to do. Nearby Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and Lake Mead National Recreation Area provide hiking for outdoor enthusiasts. 

Golfing at Hurricane near St. George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. George, Utah

Think Utah winters are all about cold weather and snow-capped mountain peaks? Think again. The desert city of St. George in the southwestern corner of the state (aka Utah Dixie), is closer in climate (and distance) to Las Vegas than to the ski resorts in northern Utah. St. George has been a snowbird destination for decades but it’s becoming more popular as the city grows. And it’s not hard to see why: Sunny over 300 days a year on average with winter temperatures in the 50s and 60s and relatively little precipitation. Plus it’s close proximity to Zion National Park!

Main Street Downtown La Cruces © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces, New Mexico

While New Mexico might not immediately come to mind when you’re deciding where to spend the winter months, the southern part of the state has a lot to offer. With sweeping views of both the desert and rugged mountains and mild temperatures in the 50s and 60s, Las Cruces is an up-and-coming destination for snowbirds. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Las Cruces

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Florida isn’t the only state where snowbirds can relax on the beach. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, gives visitors easy access to the ocean with fewer crowds. There are plenty of options for shopping, fishing, golf, and, of course, a sandy beach. Myrtle Beach is a fantastic place to spend the winter months on the East Coast. 

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island, Georgia

Jekyll Island lies in southern Georgia on the Atlantic. With its mild weather, you can golf year-round here. It’s also a sought-after location for snowbirds who like to explore nature, birdwatch, and beachcomb. In addition, there’s a sea turtle rehabilitation center on the island.

>> Get more tips for visiting Jekyll Island

Worth Pondering…

One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.

—Dennis Franz

Ditch the Air Travel Chaos! Road Trip this Holiday Season

This year, many people are choosing to avoid flying and hit the road for the holidays instead

What do Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and over 15 million Americans have in common? They are all planning to spend the holidays in their RV. With the projected number of RVers on the road during winter breaks, it’s clear the trend is on the rise.

According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), 29 percent of Millennials and 20 percent of Gen Z will spend some time from Thanksgiving through New Year in the comfort of an RV. If you’re one of the 15 million Americans planning to avoid travel chaos during this time of year by hitting the open road in a motorhome, travel of fifth wheel trailer, van, camper, or converted bus you’re making a great choice.

The holiday season sees airports notoriously packed with stressed-out travelers. Meanwhile, RV parks and campgrounds remain relatively quiet. So, why not leave behind the airlines and travel in style in an RV? There are many reasons to ditch traditional holiday travel and enjoy a road trip.

Christmas in an RV © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Flexible travel plans

Traveling in an RV provides more leeway for planning a trip. Drivers don’t have to be committed to being in specific places at specific times like you do when flying.

Spend time with family and friends

For people working around the holidays taking a few days off for a local road trip is less stressful than planning an elaborate vacation far away from home. It may not be what your family has always done but it might be a fun opportunity to start a new tradition and make special memories.

“Spending time with friends and family is an integral part of the holidays and we know that whether RVing together for a holiday vacation or traveling in your RV for a holiday visit, spending time with friends and family is a primary reason people are going RVing this holiday season,” said RVIA Executive Vice President James Ashurst.

RVing with Fido © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring what you want

Are you worried about leaving the dog at home? Bring Fido along. Have food allergies? Make food in the RV. Spending Christmas break in a recreational vehicle gives people space to enjoy their environment and have creature comforts while surrounded by the magic of this special time of year.

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

Less expensive

Camping at a state park, national park, or RV park is less expensive than a traditional trip where you’d pay for airfare, hotels, and rental cars. On average, an RV vacation costs 50 percent less than a trip requiring airfare and hotel rooms.

According to a study commissioned by Go RVing and RVIA, there are cost savings of 21-64 percent for a four-person travel party while a two-person travel party saves 8-53 percent depending on factors such as the type of RV and type of vacation.

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

Enjoy the great outdoors

Who says the holidays are just for staying indoors and being all cozy? Whether you’re hitting the slopes or taking a hike in nature, getting some exercise while enjoying the company of friends and family is a great way to spend your free time.

Shopping La Petite Gourmet Shoppe in La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Support the economy

RV travel and the outdoor recreation industry have exploded contributing $862 billion to the U.S. economy along with 4.5 million jobs, according to the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA).

“These two studies demonstrate that the RV industry and its customers are vital contributors to America’s economy and all indications are that they will continue to be so,” said RVIA Executive Vice President James Ashurst. “Growth in the industry is being increasingly driven by younger and more diverse RV buyers whose purchases are largely motivated by the desire to experience the great outdoors.”

When surrounded by nature, it’s hard not to relax and appreciate the simple things in life. It is easy to see why millions of people are choosing to road trip during this magical time of year.

Golfing Sky Mountain Golf Course in Hurricane, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make new traditions

All in all, the pros of RV travel and road-tripping far outweigh the cons. In today’s hurried world, more and more people realize that taking the time to slow down and enjoy the ride is priceless. So, this holiday season, ditch the frantic airport lines and opt for a leisurely road trip— skiing, hiking, or visiting friends and family instead.

Best winter road trips for the holidays

If you are in the mood for a road trip to end the year, continue reading for some of the best spots to travel to for your holiday road trip.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, Arizona

While desert landscapes may not provide a winter wonderland experience, Phoenix knows how to do the holidays right with its famous Tumbleweed Tree tradition, a lighting ceremony, and Christmas parade. Before or after enjoying it, take a road trip to the Grand Canyon where there’s a good chance you’ll see at least a dusting of snow with the South Rim sitting at about 6,800 feet in elevation bringing lots of picture-perfect photo-ops without the crowds. And, during the holidays you can ride the Polar Express Train from Williams to the South Rim.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin to Big Bend National Park, Texas

This is one of those drives where the journey is as interesting as your destination. Driving from Austin to Big Bend National Park is 435 miles, a leisurely two-to-three day adventure with time for stops along the way.

You can have two totally different road trips from Austin to Big Bend National Park. If you move west on I-10, you can directly drive from Austin to Big Bend without many stops in between whereas the alternative route which cuts through Highway 90 is a lot more interesting thanks to the number of stops you have in between. If you take the second route, you could choose to stop at Del Rio for food and fuel and make a pit stop at Langtry to visit the Judge Roy Bean Museum.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

Camp near Asheville and take a road trip north or south on the Blue Ridge Parkway to soak up spectacular mountain scenery that can be even more beautiful during the winter. It’s all about the journey so go slow and stop frequently. Before or after heading out you’ll be able to enjoy Asheville’s sparkling holiday light displays and decor and a visit to the Châteauesque-style mansion known as Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest privately-owned home. It’s worth touring any time of year but at Christmas the evening candlelight tour features over 50 Christmas trees.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Augustine, Florida to Savannah, Georgia

Winter transforms beautiful St. Augustine, Florida, America’s oldest city, into a stunning spectacle of lights. Its magnificent Spanish architecture is lit up with over three million individual bulbs and there will be horse-drawn carriage rides to view them all. Afterward, take off for Savannah to enjoy the Boats on Parade with more than 40 lighted vessels parading both sides of the waterfront accompanied by live music, a tree lighting ceremony, and fireworks. Or enjoy an old-fashioned celebration with Christmas on the River with local entertainment, music, and seasonal treats.

Mount Washington Resort at Bretton Woods, New Hampshite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Burlington, Vermont to Jackson, New Hampshire

The drive from Burlington, Vermont to Jackson, New Hampshire is gorgeous, traveling through the White Mountains with its red covered bridges surrounded by a dazzling winter wonderland. Stop in Bretton Woods to take advantage of Mount Washington Resort’s downhill runs, sleigh rides, ice skating, or tubing before continuing to one of the country’s most picturesque Christmas towns, Jackson. Here you can enjoy all sorts of snow sports and the Annual Journey to the North Pole train ride, complete with Santa and his elves.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

What is the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch?

Over 4.5 miles of trails weave through the park welcoming hikers, runners, bikers, horseback riders, wildlife watchers, and casual strollers

Gilbert, Arizona is located 17 southeast of Phoenix and offers a wide variety of activities but one of its biggest attractions is also one of its most natural: the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert was developed in 1999 to provide a combination of three functions: a recreational and educational area, a facility for water reclamation, and a wildlife habitat.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Riparian Preserve is easy to access and enjoy with 4.5 miles of trails both paved and unpaved for walking, biking, hiking, or horseback riding. Plus, it’s pet-friendly so you can bring your beloved pooch along as long as it’s cool enough for them (tip: if you’re visiting Gilbert during the summer you’ll want to visit the preserve in the early morning or later at night to avoid dangerous levels of heat).

Ring-necked duck at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational & Educational Area

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert offers a multitude of recreational and educational opportunities for all ages. There are over four and a half miles of trails throughout with several interpretive education panels on vegetation and wildlife along the walkways. Other educational spaces include a hilltop outdoor classroom, dinosaur dig site, a state-of-the-art observatory, and hummingbird plus butterfly gardens, to name a few. The Gilbert Trail System connects with the Preserve’s trails which allows for hikers, casual walkers, leashed and behaved dogs, also horses on specific equestrian trails.

Related article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

There are seating and viewing areas along the Preserve’s paths. Restrooms and drinking fountains are also onsite. Several ramadas and campsites for group gatherings are available by reservation.

Another huge recreational benefit offered is the Water Ranch Lake for fishing. As a part of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Community Fishing Program, those looking to fish for rainbow trout, sunfish, largemouth bass, and farm-raised channel catfish can do so with a proper fishing license.

Northern shoveler at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water Reclamation Facility

Seventy acres of the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch’s 110 total acres comprises seven water recharge basins for 100 percent of Gilbert’s treated effluent water each filled on a rotating basis. For those of you, like me, who feel compelled to Google the word effluent to get a better understanding of its meaning this is for you. Per Wikipedia, “Effluent is an outflowing of water or gas to a natural body of water from a structure such as a wastewater treatment plant, sewer pipe, or industrial outfall.”

Related article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

American Avocet at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to the seven percolating ponds there is also a recreational urban fishing lake filled with reclaimed water. Also, one of the ponds contains a unique, desert-like distribution stream. The Water Ranch in the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch combines the Town of Gilbert Drinking Water Treatment Plant, the Southeast Regional Library building, Fire Station, Nichols Park, and the Salt River Project Eastern Canal. The Water Ranch property stretches from Greenfield Road east to Higley Road containing most of the land between Guadalupe Road and the utility easement.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Habitat

Arizona wildlife including birds, butterflies, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals call Gibert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch home in its various vegetative zones of native riparian, marshlands, and upland vegetation areas. Let’s delve into the birds a little more; the Preserve is a bird watchers paradise with 298 species of birds identified. The National Audubon Society has also designated the Riparian Preserve as an Important Bird Area. Plus, there is a designated garden exclusively for hummingbirds and butterflies. For a close-up view of fish and ducks the urban recreational lake provides guests with a floating boardwalk that crosses the northern end.

Black-necked stilt at Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Programs

There are a variety of programs from public, school to youth and Scout offered at the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Public programs such as bird walks with Desert Rivers Audubon, The Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory’s Skywatch featuring a 16-inch Meade state-of-the-art telescope managed by the East Valley Astronomy Club, Naturalist Guided Preserve Tours, and the Outdoor Learning Project answering questions like “Can I Feed the Ducks?”.

Related article: Explore Phoenix Naturally

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is an excellent field trip destination for surrounding schools to offer a multitude of fun engaging environmental studies of birds, insects, desert life, Arizona groundwater, pollination, fossils, solar energy, and plants. Scout and Youth Groups also enjoy the Riparian Preserve with nature hikes, overnight camping, scout badge work, dinosaur digs, astronomy viewings, and group lessons on wildlife, water, plants, ecology, and conservation.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Photo Opportunities

The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch offers a fantastic place as a wildlife habitat, water reclamation facility, and community recreational go-to spot. Still, there are extra benefits to be enjoyed. The Preserve might be the place for you if you’re looking for the perfect backdrop for a family or special event portrait. Or perhaps you’re adding to your nature photography portfolio. It might be safe to say many are looking for ways to make their Instagram pop. Can you say fascinating wildlife, stunning sunsets, gorgeous waterways, tranquil colors, and light? Yes, yes, you can. The bottom line is that there are multiple dynamic photo opportunities for cell phone cameras as well as novice and professional photographers at Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hours & Parking

The Gilbert Parks and Recreation Department manages the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch. Hours are from 5:30 am to 10:00 pm with the habitat area open dawn to dusk. The Preserve is at the southeast corner of East Guadalupe Road and North Greenfield Road. The most available parking is on the north and west sides of Maricopa County’s Southeast Regional Library at the furthermost northwest corner of the park near the community fishing lake. Additional limited parking is located on the north side of the park off of E Guadalupe Road.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

Explore Phoenix Naturally

Desert, mountains, lakes, diverse wildlife, and a variety of attractions await exploration within and outside the limits of this bustling Arizona city

Getting out of busy, congested cities to soak in the natural beauty of our planet has long been my favorite thing to do and I wanted to see the natural side of Phoenix.

Phoenix often becomes overshadowed by Tucson or Sedona and it frequently is viewed by visitors as a refueling stop on a journey to the Grand Canyon or Joshua Tree. What many don’t realize is that there is much to see and do in and around Phoenix.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Downtown architecture displays a mix of silver skyscrapers, adobe missions, and vintage Spanish Colonial homes. Phoenix boasts numerous galleries and museums including the Heard Museum with its extraordinary collection of Southwest American Indian art. Another interesting place to visit is the famous Taliesin West home built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in nearby Scottsdale.

I wondered what area campgrounds were like and soon headed out to explore. Starting at the small town of Apache Junction, I took the Apache Trail Scenic Drive (State Route 88) to Lost Dutchman State Park located 40 miles east of Phoenix.

Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1870s, a Prussian immigrant named Jacob Waltz reportedly found gold in the Superstition Mountains. He kept the whereabouts of the mine secret, only revealing the location to his caregiver on his deathbed in 1891. She and countless others since have tried to find the Lost Dutchman Mine without success.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona: Phoenix and Tucson

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state park campground has 138 sites; 68 of them with 50/30/20-amp electric service and water and a paved road network to all sites. The campground has no RV size restrictions. Several hiking trails lead visitors from the park deep into the Superstition Mountains Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest. In March, a carpet of wildflowers takes over the park. Lost Dutchman is in the middle of an area with diverse wildlife habitat, so don’t be surprised to see a desert mule deer, a jackrabbit, a greater roadrunner, or a Gila monster stroll through your campsite.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An internet search for Tonto National Forest yields a five-star-rated description of the desert, mountains, rivers, and camping. What more could one ask for?

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving Lost Dutchman State Park on Apache Trail Scenic Drive, I headed north straight into Tonto National Forest. This is one of the most scenic drives in Arizona. However, a warning: Drivers encounter narrow shoulders and steep grades along parts of this route and some of it is unpaved. Large RVs are not recommended on certain sections of the 120-mile loop. And it’s advisable to check road conditions before heading out.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, this scenic route is well worth the endeavor although nervous drivers or passengers may want to take a pass. Twisting and turning around buttes of alternating layers of rose-, cream-, and rust-colored sandstone canyons sprinkled with stubby pine bushes suggests a scene right out of an old John Wayne movie. It’s best to avoid this road on weekends.

Related article: 15 Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix

Canyon Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I made it as far as Canyon Lake that day. Known for its shorelines with easy access for boaters seeking seclusion, Canyon Lake resembles a turquoise gem trapped between rocky cliffs. Many picnic areas, private campgrounds, and RV resorts surround the lake. Most places are set in a typical desert atmosphere with campsites surrounded by conifer, oak, and aspen trees, depending on their location on the lake. The Canyon Lake Marina and Campground offers marina services, a restaurant, and a beach, as well as 28 RV sites with electric and water hookups.

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto, the largest national forest in Arizona consists of almost 3 million acres of cactus-studded desert among pine-covered mountains. Because of its proximity to Phoenix, the forest is considered one of the most “urban” forests in the United States with more than 3 million people visiting every year.

Some people claim that the forest was not named after the famous sidekick of the Lone Ranger but the Tonto Basin at its core was found on historic maps created when the land fell under Spanish rule. Why the Spanish named the basin Tonto is a mystery. A few historians claim the term tontos which is Spanish for fools or crazy people was often heard in early pioneer days about the Apache Indians. Most speculate the name resulted from the early settlers’ impression of a people who dressed and talked very differently from themselves. Hmm; maybe that ghost was not Roy.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established around the construction of Roosevelt Dam, the forest was created in 1905 to protect the watersheds of the Salt and Verde rivers. These has two scenic rivers are known for their fast-moving clear water, fossil rock formations, and guided raft or kayak excursions. Another terrific place is Tonto National Monument which showcases cliff dwellings occupied by the Salado Indians starting in the 13th century. The museum there hosts a fine collection of pottery and textiles.

Related article: Amazing Places to Discover in Phoenix’s East Valley

Tonto National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tonto National Forest is large with many camping options. Elevations range from 1,300 to 7,900 feet and some areas are difficult to reach with large RVs so it is important to research the many private and public campgrounds in the area. The main question to ask yourself is what Arizona habitat you wish to embrace for your stay—the desert flats or the forested mountains.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I spent a day enjoying nature within the city at Papago Park. The 1,200-acre park is home to “Hole in the Rock” a red rock that is distinctive to its landscape. Its massive, otherworldly sandstone buttes set Papago Park apart, even in a city and state filled with numerous world-class natural attractions. While visitors to Papago can enjoy its extensive trail network through the Sonoran Desert habitat, they can also enjoy the park’s two major residents, the Phoenix Zoo and Desert Botanical Garden, world-class attractions that draw millions of visits each year.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beautifully designed with more than 21,000 cacti and desert flora, Desert Botanical Garden is made for a calming stroll along prickly cacti. Desert plants of many colors were showing off spring blooms of red, lavender, and yellow. Many sizes were represented as well with one cactus as tall as a two-story building. The garden boasts of nurturing 4,400 different species in its Living Collection and 485 plants that are rare and endangered species.

Desert Botanical Gardens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Water features are scattered throughout inviting visitors to stop and rest their feet. I highly recommend the Desert Wildflower Loop Trail and the enclosed Butterfly Pavilion is a must-see.

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Programs for children, families, teachers and gardeners are held routinely at the Desert Landscape School with online or in-person activities.

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Few Fun Facts

  • At Tonto National Forest starting in early November, a special permit can be purchased to cut down your own Christmas tree.
  • The Salado Indians settled along the Salt River near where the original city of Phoenix was built. Salado in Spanish means salty.
  • The Desert Botanical Garden is a popular venue for weddings and nature photographers. During the winter holiday season, 8,000 flickering luminaria candles light up the garden in the evening at the Las Noches de Las Luminarias throughout December.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess