Southern Utah State Parks near the Mighty 5

Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond the borders of the Mighty 5 national parks. Visit some of the best state parks in Southern Utah offering a range of outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery.

There are many ways to explore Southern Utah. Stunning images and the promise of big adventure lure travelers from around the world to The Mighty 5 National Parks. Once here, visitors soon realize Utah’s natural beauty extends well beyond their borders. Some of Utah’s best state parks dot the landscape of Mighty Five country swaddled by adventurous national forest or the rugged Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are eight enticing state parks along the The Mighty 5 road trip which means each day you’ll have the option to stop at the national parks if it’s your first time in Utah or leave them for the other travelers if you’re looking to see Utah from another angle. Best of all, most of these parks offer a wider array of recreation opportunities including mountain biking, ATV riding, kayaking, SUPing, boating and fishing (with a Utah fishing license of course).

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

1. Sights and bikes at Dead Horse Point

Get up early to start your trip on the right note: Sunrises are spectacular in Canyon Country. Many visitors find Dead Horse Point State Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon. Grab your camera. You’ll want to be sure to take lots of pictures to try and share the experience with your friends.

For mountain bike enthusiasts, Dead Horse has a splendid network of rolling singletrack trails over gentle slick rock domes and through the knee-high sage. The trails offer several opportunities to stop and savor the views before tackling the next leg of trails. Though technically mild by Moab standards, the trails are a hit for riders of all abilities.

In the neighborhood: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle up to eight passengers; $15 for Utah seniors 65 and older; $10 per motorcycle; $4 pedestrian or cyclist

Camping: Reserve a Yurt for a unique overnight experience or overnight in one of two campgrounds (most sites offer RV electrical hookups)

2. Hoodoos, yurts, and slots of Goblin Valley

Sandstone goblins and fascinating formations cover Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park which Hollywood frequently turns for its unusual landscapes like alien worlds. Explore the geology and camp among the nooks and gnomes. Bring the family and experience this amazing place by hiking, camping, mountain biking, and exploring the surrounding canyons.

Three established trails through the Valley of the Goblins suit almost everyone. If you brought mountain bikes be sure to check out the nontechnical Wild Horse Mesa Mountain Bike Trail. If not, introduce yourself to the family-friendly canyoneering of Little Wild Horse Canyon (may not be suitable for smaller children).

In the neighborhood: Capitol Reef National Park

Entrance fee: $20 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older; $10 per motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian

Camping: Goblin Valley also offers a couple of yurts in addition to standard back-in and tent sites (no hookups).

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cool waters and kaleidoscopes at Escalante Petrified Forest

Explore the kaleidoscopic colors of wood reclaimed from the Earth and find yourself in awe at the ancient remnants at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Pause to take in the expansive vistas of the reservoir and surrounding mountains from the top of the hiking loop. Then, cool off in the refreshing waters of the reservoir, popular for boating, canoeing, and fishing.

The Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a .75-mile loop that is much steeper than the other trails but has the densest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

In the neighborhood: Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 day-use pass; $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older

Camping: Escalante Petrified Forest State Park has 19 standard RV sites (some with electric hookups) and 1 group site.

4. Pillars and pictures at Kodachrome Basin State Park

If ever a state park was made to be photographed, it is Utah’s Kodachrome Basin State Park. Many of the gorgeous rock columns in the park can be seen while driving but it’s worth your time to get out and explore. Some of the popular sites include Chimney Rock, Shakespeare Arch, and Ballerina Geyser.

Kodachrome Basin covers 2,24 0 acres and is surrounded by Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument on three sides. With its close proximity to other popular destinations down Cottonwood Road, it makes for a spectacular base camp or a stop on an event-filled day in the desert. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park making it a great place for stargazing too.

In the neighborhood: Bryce Canyon National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (max. 8 people per vehicle); $5 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max. 8 people per vehicle)

Camping: Kodachrome Basin has more than 30 stand sites and 14 sites with full hookups.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5 & 6. Get Out and Play at Sand Hollow and Quail Creek

Sand Hollow and Quail Creek state park are less than 10 miles apart where warm reservoirs play host to an array of water sports and quality fishing and the surrounding landscapes provide sites for camping and extensive off-highway action. Lovers of hiking, nature, and wildlife alike will want to visit one (or both) of these sister reservoirs. 

Quail Creek State Park lures swimmers, boaters, and anglers year-round with its exceptionally warm waters and mild winter climate. Spend a day on the water then retire to a campsite in a spectacular red rock desert setting. 

Sand Hollow State Park is a favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts and provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes within the vast 20,000-acre park. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. At nearly twice the size of the nearby Quail Creek Reservoir, Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

In the neighborhood: Red Cliffs Desert Preserve and Zion National Park

Entrance fee (Quail Creek): $15 per vehicle (max 8 people per vehicle); $10 for Utah seniors 62 and older (max 8 people per vehicle)

Entrance fee (Sand Hollow): $15 per vehicle; $10 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Climb the dunes of Coral Pink

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is where weekend warriors can leave footprints in soft sand. Walk among old juniper and pinion and ponderosa pines. Then take your shoes off to leave footprints in the orange-red sand dunes.

These geological oddities were formed by the continual erosion of the nearby Navajo sandstone cliffs. Coral Pink Sand Dunes are open for hiking and kid-friendly playing. About 90-percent of the dunes are open for ATV riders, an attraction for which this state park has become ever popular.

Visitors to Coral Pink Sand Dunes have a world of outdoor adventure just around the corner: Several additional trailheads access Grand Staircase–Escalante along U.S. 89 in the extreme southern part of Utah. Explorers will discover some of the best slot canyons while lovers of the water have Lake Powell’s thousands of miles of shoreline just a little further along the road. 

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle; $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older

Camping: Coral Pink Sand Dunes has 16 standard campsites and 1 group site (no hookups).

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mojave majesty at Snow Canyon

Located at the edge of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin, and Colorado Plateau, Snow Canyon State Park explodes with dramatic geology perfect for your outdoor adventure. Snow Canyon State Park is a 20-minute drive from St. George and just an hour from the entrance to Zion National Park.

Snow Canyon is popular with road cyclists touring the park’s scenic drive and hikers exploring the network of trails through the main canyon and numerous side canyons. Numerous bolted routes throughout the canyon lure rock climbers.

In the neighborhood: Zion National Park

Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 for Utah seniors 65 and older per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)

Camping: The Snow Canyon Campground has 27 total available campsites including accommodations for groups, pets and partial hookups.

Snow Canyon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make it a road trip

With this many marvels of nature in such close proximity why not extend the fun and make it a road trip? Visiting these destinations makes for an unforgettable tour of southern Utah’s state parks. This trip assumes a start in Salt Lake City and heads toward Moab though travelers arriving via Las Vegas should reverse the order and launch their Utah trip from St. George.

Though they aren’t as highly trafficked as the national parks, you can still improve your trip by making reservations where permitted as some state parks near national parks are popular base camps. Please note some state parks close their gates at night.

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

A strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

Utah State Parks Set New Visitation Record in 2023

2023 wasn’t just another banner year for Utah’s state parks, it was a record-breaking one

Visitation to Utah’s 46 state parks last year reached a little over 12 million people for the first time on record, according to the Utah Division of State Parks visitation data. It’s a 21 percent increase from the previous year’s visitation total and a 4 percent increase from the previous record of 11.6 million set in 2021.

It’s also the third time that all of Utah’s state parks surpassed the state’s Mighty 5 national parks in total visitation. More than 10.6 million visited Utah’s five national parks in 2023.

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

What’s driving visitation?

The data doesn’t explain what’s behind the increase or why some parks fared better than others but a spokesperson for the Utah Division of State Park offered a few theories. It’s possible that people wandered out to new areas during the COVID-19 pandemic and found new gems they’ve decided to come back to including visitors from out of state.

Another possibility is that Utah’s drought switch essentially flipped in 2023 reopening more ramps and other water recreation amenities last summer. Utah reservoirs including several that are state parks jumped from a maximum peak capacity of 58 percent in 2022 to 86 percent in 2023.

Last year’s good water numbers, water reservoir level numbers, were a big part of that, explained the spokesperson. People were looking to play in water a lot last year and they had a lot more to play on.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This tracks with the data. Utah’s most-visited parks didn’t change at all between 2022 and 2023; however, the order of the top 10 did as some parks experienced sharper visitation spikes than others. Some of the largest spikes happened at parks offering water recreation activities.

For instance, Sand Hollow State Park with a reservoir in Washington County, and Dead Horse Point State Park without a reservoir in Grand County placed first and second respectively in visitation again last year. Yet Sand Hollow outpaced Dead Horse Point in year-over-year growth by a staggering 30 percent to 1 percent differential.

Four of the remaining top 10 most-visited parks in 2023 primarily feature water recreation. These all experienced increases ranging from 6 percent at Bear Lake to 63 percent at Willard Bay. Utah Lake, Quail Creek, Gunlock, Palisade, and East Canyon state parks, all of which offer water recreation as a key feature were among the parks that landed just outside of the top 10.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s most-visited state parks in 2023:

  • Sand Hollow (Washington County): 1,415,555
  • Dead Horse Point (Grand County): 1,080,536
  • Snow Canyon (Washington County): 954,572
  • Antelope Island (Davis County): 936,147
  • Willard Bay (Box Elder County): 880,332
  • Jordanelle (Wasatch County): 829,945
  • Deer Creek (Wasatch County): 702,504
  • Wasatch Mountain (Wasatch County): 678,082
  • Bear Lake (Rich County): 569,903
  • Goblin Valley (Emery County): 398,961

It follows a trend that emerged in the National Park Service data. The federal agency reported that Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which includes Lake Powell topped all five of Utah’s national parks in visitation last year.

But state parks that offer scenic alternatives to national parks and natural wonders just outside of urban clusters also drew in a heavy number of visitors last year led by Dead Horse Point near Arches National Park. Snow Canyon, Antelope Island, and Wasatch Mountains state parks—all near large populations—experienced strong visitation increases between 2022 and 2023, too.

The overall growth isn’t at all surprising, either, considering the state has focused on what’s called the Red Emerald Strategic Plan in recent years. It highlights more than just the Mighty 5 national parks spreading out visitation to different parts of the state to prevent overcrowding.

It’s worth noting the state park visitation began rapidly accelerating after it went into effect.

It will be interesting to see if that’s a pattern that we continue to see in the future.

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

Gems still to be discovered

But not every state park is generating the same levels of visitation as the top ones. Utah’s least-visited state parks also didn’t change much from 2022.

In general, Utah’s state park museums and historical centers don’t fare as well as parks with reservoirs or trails. State history-themed parks still have plenty to offer but people may only go to one maybe once a year or once in their lifetime. People are far more likely to visit natural spaces multiple times in a year driving up the final tally.

Utah’s least visited state parks in 2023

  • Piute (Piute County): 1,321
  • Flight Park State Recreation Area (Utah County): 3,828
  • Territorial Statehouse (Millard County): 9,519
  • Camp Floyd – Stage Coach Inn (Utah County): 12,240
  • Lost Creek (Morgan County): 13,382
  • Edge Of The Cedars (San Juan County): 13,616
  • Red Fleet (Uintah County): 14,009
  • Frontier Homestead (Iron County): 15,289
  • UtahRaptor (Grand County): 17,570
  • Anasazi Indian Village (Garfield County): 19,950
Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s not the only reason some parks don’t get as much attention. Piute State Park features a reservoir that was virtually empty through most of the summer in 2022. It still ended up at the bottom despite better water conditions in 2023, potentially because of the aftereffects of the long-term drought.

There were some newcomers to the bottom 10 in 2023, but those all come with caveats. Red Fleet State Park entered the 2023 list because most of it remains closed for a construction project that began last year. It’s expected to reopen later this year with new improvements.

Construction projects also hampered visitation at Lost Creek and Utahraptor State Parks, Utah’s newest state parks. All three of these will likely increase visitation numbers once enhancement projects are over.

State park visitation will only continue to rise in the future especially as tourism initiatives promote Mighty 5 alternatives and the park system grows. That, in turn, builds up the economy because outdoor recreation plays a large role in Utah’s $12 billion tourism industry.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

12 of the Best State Parks for Snowbirds

State parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your own backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Furthermore, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, which bode well for overnight guests.

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

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

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

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases you’ll still want to plan ahead to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in-person. And some parks are first-come, first-served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

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

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, make its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

White-sand beaches might not be what comes to mind when you think of Alabama but a visit to Gulf State Park might change your perspective. From the Gulf Coast’s sugar-sand shores, you can kayak, bike (28 miles of trails), swim, bike (rentals available), play pickleball or volleyball, or do absolutely nothing.

Located 1.5 miles from the white sand beaches, Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 improved full – hookup campsites with paved pads and with 11 primitive sites. All full hookup camping pads are large enough for RVs with pullouts and have picnic tables and pedestal grill tops. There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the Campground.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Alabama Gulf Coast

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

>> Get more tips for visiting Meaher State Park

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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

Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Catalina State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

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.

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 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. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lost Dutchman State Park

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

Finding accurate and complete information on Anza Borrego camping can be difficult to track down. There are two ways to camp in Anza Borrego: 1) in established campgrounds which come with varying degrees of amenities and cost, or 2) in dispersed camping areas where you can set up camp where you like in accordance with a few rules set by the state park system.

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

There are a dozen established campgrounds in Anza Borrego Desert including eight primitive, first-come, first-served campgrounds that are free but offer few amenities, and four developed campgrounds that offer more amenities to varying degrees.

Borrego Palm Canyon Campground is divided into three sections. Two of the sections offer tent and RV camping with no hookups. The third section offers full hookups.

Tamarisk Grove Campground offers 27 camping sites. The campground’s amenities include coin-operated showers, non-potable water (don’t drink it), flush toilets. Each site has a picnic table with a shade ramada as well as a fire pit with a metal grill.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

>> Get more tips for visiting Myakka River State Park

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitats for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks. 

Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through the hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine Flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.  

The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition, primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (west of Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The French Buccaneer, Lafitte, inhabited the old Pirate House located a short distance from what is now the park.

The park site, also known as Jackson’s Ridge, was used as a base of military operations by Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson later returned to this area and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.

Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. Fish from the shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries. In 1969, it was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak.

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. The park also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

>> Get more tips for visiting Goose Island State Park

Cerulean Warbler at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Falcon State Park, Texas

Falcon State Park provides refuge from the cold for both humans and wildlife. But that’s not its only draw. Anglers come here to access one of the best freshwater fishing lakes in South Texas.

At Falcon State Park you can fish, swim, camp, bird watch, water ski, boat, geocache, hike, or just relax and enjoy the mild climate. Anglers mainly catch largemouth bass and channel catfish here. Bird-watch along the lakeshore and in the brushy areas away from shore. Besides the common bird species of the American Southwest, many tropical species also visit the park. Explore 2.8 miles of trails, visit the recreation hall for a snack or domino game, or rent the hall for a family gathering.

Greater roadrunner at Falcon State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stay at a campsite, shelter, or cabin. Falcon offers pull-through campsites, half with water and electricity, and half with full hookups. The water-only sites are non-reservable.

31 full hookup campsites with 30/50 amp electric (sites # 201-231) are available in the Cactus Loop. 31 sites with 30/50 amp electric and water (sites # 101-131) are available in the Cenizo Loop. 36 sites with water (sites # 43-79) are available in the Javalina. Other amenities vary by loop and may include a covered picnic table, fire ring, barbecue pit, and waist-high grill.

Or choose a screened shelter or cabin.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, Utah’s newer state park is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle. A favorite destination for local off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts, Sand Mountain provides 15,000 acres of perfectly sculpted dunes. The red sand is an incredible backdrop for Sand Hollow reservoir. Sand Hollow offers boating and other water recreation in a spectacular setting.

Sand Hollow offers three campground areas ranging from full hookups to standard camping. Camp in the full hookup Westside  Campground or stay close to the action and ride your OHV from your site to the dunes in the new Sandspit Campground. Choose from 43 full hookup sites, 17 standard sites including six with partial hookups, and 60 camp-vehicle primitive sites.

>> Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

12 of the Best State Parks for Winter Camping

Parks contain the magic of life. Pass it on.

National Parks are a treasure and worth putting on your travel list. But while you’re dreaming, consider adding State Parks, too. It takes a little planning (every state has a different reservation system) but well worth the effort.

You may dream of seeing the geysers of Yellowstone or the overwhelming greatness of the Grand Canyon but chances are you have a handful of little wonders in your backyard. State parks like Dead Horse Point in Utah hold their own against the neighboring Arches National Park (or Canyonlands, for that matter) while California’s Anza-Borrego State Park is arguably just as wild as the well-known Joshua Tree National Park. Plus, state parks tend to be less crowded and more affordable, two things that bode well for overnight guests.

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

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a well-developed RV site with all the bells and whistles or a wooded tent spot far from any sort of road or development, there’s a state park campsite for you. To lend a hand—there are over 10,000 state parks, after all—I’ve profiled a list of some of the best campsites in state parks that are known for their popularity and unique beauty.

No matter your level of camping expertise, spend the night beneath a canopy of stars and awake to a wondrous landscape when you park your RV or pitch a tent at some of America’s beautiful campgrounds from the beaches to the desert to the mountains.

Before I dive in, take a moment to review the following state park camping tips.

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

State Park Camping Tips

State parks may not see the heavy traffic of national parks but in most cases, you’ll still want to plan to secure your camping spot. Each state runs its own reservation system which may be online, via phone, or even in person. And some parks are first-come, first served, so you won’t want to show up too late in the day.

Before you pack up and head out, make sure to research the available amenities— some state park campgrounds are extremely primitive requiring you to pack in your own water and pack out your trash while others have full RV hookups, hot showers, and laundry.

Related article: The 10 Best State Park Camping For Snowbirds

And finally, be sure to respect any wildlife you encounter, manage your campfire responsibly, and follow the principles of Leave No Trace.

Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Park Camping Reservations

Making reservations at state parks, especially when planning a trip that crosses multiple states, can be both complex and frustrating. Each state, and in some cases, individual parks, makes its own rules for when and how they’ll take reservations for camping sites.

Georgia State Parks allow for reservations up to 13 months in advance and require a 50 percent deposit for most reservations. Reservations can be made over the phone or online. Mississippi’s state parks have one of the most generous reservation windows and can be booked 24 months in advance. The parks also welcome walk-ins when there is availability. The vast majority of Alaska State Park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a few exceptions.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking, and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman and a self-guided walk on the boardwalk will give visitors an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. There are 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. The park also has four cozy bay-side cabins (one is handicap accessible) overlooking Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

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.

Related article: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 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. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Campsite reservations are available. There is a $5 non-refundable reservation fee per campsite.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

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

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina offers 120 campsites with electric and water hookups. Each campsite has a picnic table and BBQ grill. Roads and parking slips are paved. Campgrounds have modern flush restrooms with hot, clean showers, and RV dump stations are available in the park. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park, but reservations are limited to 14 consecutive nights.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 76 campsites with water and electric service, most sites have 30 amps. A wastewater dump station is located near Old Prairie campground. All campsites are located within 40 yards of restroom facilities with hot showers. All sites are dirt base; few sites have vegetation buffers. Six primitive campsites are located along 37 miles of trails.

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida

Supporting a beautiful yet delicate ecosystem, central Florida’s Highlands Hammock possesses a unique collection of plant and animal life. With more rare and endemic species than any other Florida State Park, Highlands Hammock is a place where wilderness and history are preserved. The park features 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres with a diversity of habitat for wading birds, raptors, songbirds, migratory birds, and ducks. 

Highlands Hammock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eight of the nine trails are located on the loop drive and visitors can easily extend their walks as several connect via a bridge or catwalk. Trails run through hydric hammock, cypress swamp, hardwood swamp, and pine flatwoods. Be sure to travel the 3-mile bike loop or take the tram for those who prefer to sit back and leisurely take it all in.  

Related article: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

The family campground offers water and electric hookups, a dump station, access to restrooms with shower facilities, laundry, and dishwashing areas. Campsites have picnic tables and fire rings. Sites vary from being open and sunny to partially or fully shaded and range in length from 20 to 50 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance. In addition primitive tent camping and youth camping areas are available.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites with electricity as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. In addition 10 Eco Lodge bedrooms are available for rent. The RV sites range in size from 15 and 25-foot back-ins to 50-foot pull-through sites.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island State Park, Texas

With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Hike or bike four miles of trails through the park’s varied habitats. Stop at the observation platform or photo blinds, and stroll boardwalks over dunes and marshes.

Galveston Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20 water and electric (50/30-amp hookup) sites are available on the bayside of the park with 1.5 miles of beach to explore. Sites are close together with a communal pavilion and shared ground fire rings. Restrooms with showers are about 150 yards away. These sites are for RV camping only. Weekly and monthly camping rates are available from November to February.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites. Turkey Sink Campground offers 48 sites with 50 amp electric service. Cedar Sage Campgrounds offers 37 sites with 30 amp electricity. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring with grill, tent pad with restrooms with showers located nearby.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad State Park, Texas

The whitewashed walls of Mission Espíritu Santo tower over the park. Workers with the Civilian Con­ser­vation Corps restored this Spanish colonial-era mission in the 1930s. Tour the colorful chapel and exhibits, ring the church bell and learn about the mission’s ranching heritage.

Take a drive west to visit the ruins of Mission Rosario. Stop by El Camino Real de Los Tejas Visitors Center which features exhibits on the historic Spanish “King’s Road.” Just a short walk south on the Angel of Goliad Trail, you’ll learn the story of Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza, the hero of the Battle of Puebla at the Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set up camp at Goliad. Located toward the front of the park near the Mission, the Karankawa camping area offers 20 pull-through sites with enough space to accommodate most large RVs. All sites offer full hookups with 20/30/50 amp electric service, a picnic table, a lantern post, and a fire ring with a removable grill. Restrooms with showers are located nearby.

Goliad River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Jacales Camping Area located near the Group Hall offers 14 sites with 20/30/50 amp electricity and water. These sites are suitable both tent and RV camping. Restrooms with showers are located nearby.

Also, there are 14 sites are in the Vaquero and Longhorn tent camping areas along the banks of San Antonio River and 10 walk-in tent sites in the Jacales Camping Area. 

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart State Park, Texas

Spend a relaxing night camping under the stars. Tee off on the historic golf course built by the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps over 80 years ago. Look for geocaches and wildlife while exploring the hiking trails. Stroll the easy Clear Fork Trail for views of the creek, plants, wild­life, and check dams built by the CCC to create fishing holes. Or hike the short but challenging Persimmon Trail. Try your luck fishing in Clear Fork Creek year-round and swimming in the pool in summer. Pick up a souvenir at our park store. Drive into Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas.

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reserve a campsite with water and electricity or full hookups. Eight full hookup sites with 30/50-am electricity are available. These sites can now accommodate RVs up to 40 feet and are in the Fairway View Camping Area. Eight sites with 30-amp electric and water are also available. These sites are in a wooded area with large trees along a creek and are in the Clear Fork Creek Camping Area. Campground amenities include a picnic table, fire ring, upright grill, and washroom with showers nearby. A dump station is located nearby.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palmetto State Park, Texas

A little piece of the tropics lies just an hour from Austin and San Antonio. With multiple sources of water including the San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park is a haven for a wide variety of animals and plants. Look for dwarf palmettos, the park’s namesake, growing under the trees.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can swim, tube, fish, and canoe here. Besides the flowing river, the park also has an oxbow lake, an artesian well, and swamps. Hike or bike the trails, camp, geocache, go birding or study nature. Hike the Palmetto Trail which winds through a stand of dwarf palmettos. Canoe the San Marcos River. The river has a steady current but no rapids; check river conditions at the park. Bring your canoe and arrange your shuttles.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose one of our 19 tent sites or 17 RV sites. The RV sites are long back-ins and offer a 30/50 amp electric and water hookup, picnic table, outdoor grill, fire ring, and lantern post. Restrooms with showers are located nearby. The maximum length of the vehicle is 65 feet. The tenting sites have enough space for families with multiple tents or families camping together. Or rent the air-conditioned cabin (for up to six people). The cabin is next to the San Marcos River near the small fishing pond and four-acre lake with a pathway down to the river for fishing and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures boaters and anglers year-round. Quail Creek reservoir was completed in 1985 to provide irrigation and culinary water to the St. George area. Most of the water in the reservoir does not come from Quail Creek but is diverted from the Virgin River and transported through a buried pipeline.

Related article: The Absolutely Best State Park for RVers

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two dams form the reservoir. The main dam is an earth-fill embankment dam. The south dam is a roller-compacted concrete dam, constructed to replace the original earth-fill dam that failed in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1989.

The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet, so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass, which is also stocked, and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek offers nine partial hookup sites, 13 standard sites, and one group camping area.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Outside the Mighty 5

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Utah’s much more than The Mighty 5. Sure, its famous national parks—Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park—are must-sees but spectacular scenes don’t end at the parks’ boundaries. 

Just beyond their star-studded borders, you’ll find equally-impressive red-rock slot canyons, sandstone cliffs, and limestone plateaus. What these less-popular locales lack in national designation they make up for with easy access, peaceful meandering, and uninterrupted wilderness delight. 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Capitol Reef National Park

Nearby fave: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes, and seemingly endless Slickrock. This area is also remote with fewer services than national parks so ensure you’re prepared to keep yourself safe.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Hike highlights include Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Famous: Zion National Park

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby fave: Sand Hollow State Park and Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, and explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with a rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Bryce Canyon National Park

Nearby fave: Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

“Stumbled upon.” “By accident.” “Surprised by.” That’s how some visitors happen to find Red Canyon. As Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known neighbor road travelers encounter Red Canyon en route to the national park and stun them when Scenic Byway 12 runs directly through two red-rock arch tunnels.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding highway displays orange-red pinnacles, spires, columns, and hoodoos. These limestone and sandstone formations line the road making it easy for drivers to stop for photo ops. But for those looking to stay longer, Red Canyon offers camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and off-roading.

Anchored by the town of Panguitch, Red Canyon makes up a small part of Dixie National Forest’s 170-mile wide nature preserve.

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

Famous: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Nearby fave: Dead Horse Point State Park

Oh, the views! The panorama from Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Driving to each of the park’s many overlooks reveals a completely different perspective into Utah’s vast canyon country. The park is a slender peninsula of land extending off the massive plateau that is home to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district.

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

The park sits above the beautiful White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park and offers views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains to the south, and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. The area got its name from its use as a natural horse corral around the turn of the century. According to legend, some horses died of exposure on the plateau.

A visitor center and art gallery provide a good primer to the park’s geology and key features visible from the many overlooks. The visitor center parking lot also serves as an excellent starting point to access the 16.6 miles of non-motorized single-track mountain biking and eight miles of hiking trails that sprawl across the park.

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

Reserve a campsite or yurt at any one of Dead Horse Point State Park campgrounds. Take in the spectacular star show from this International Dark Sky Park.

Get more tips for visiting Dead Horse Point State Park

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

These State Parks Should Be On Your Radar

Ready to get your outdoor adventures started? Why not choose one of these awesome state parks, prep the RV, and hit the road? Your wanderlust is sure to thank you!

National parks are some of the very best attractions America has to offer. These beautiful spots are especially wonderful for RVers and outdoorsy people because they provide opportunities to park your rig in gorgeous places, spend time outdoors, and connect with nature.

The problem? The most popular national parks are often extremely crowded, especially during the busy summer travel season.

Quail Gate State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some people, these crowds are a real buzzkill and they will simply avoid the parks altogether. Others will choose to spend less time in the more crowded parks or they’ll simply visit during the off-season. No matter which of these options you choose, you will likely be looking for ways to fill those days when the crowds are too heavy to visit a national park but you still want to get out into nature.

Babcock State Park, West Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is where state parks come into play. There are hundreds of amazing state parks all over the country and these are often completely overlooked as they are overshadowed by the national parks that everyone knows and loves. Why not avoid the crowds at national parks and take the time to visit some of these amazing state parks instead?

Below I’ve listed some of the most crowded national parks and the best state parks I could find to replace them. In some of these cases I’d even go so far as to say the state park alternative is as good as, or better than, the national park itself, and that’s saying something!

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of Zion National Park, try Sand Hollow State Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Quail CreekSand Hollow, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is an amazing place. Unfortunately, it is also extremely crowded. More than a few individuals were frustrated when they discovered that timed entry tickets were required to enter this past summer and I fully expect this to happen again when the busy season rolls back around.

These parks are great alternatives to the busier national park particularly on weekends and during Zion’s high season. Expect low entrance fees, uncrowded trails, plenty of wet and wild water sports, starlit campgrounds, and breathtaking scenery.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of Badlands National Park, try Custer State Park

Even the wide-open Badlands National Park can get overly crowded during peak season. Fortunately, the crowds don’t feel quite so bad here, but if you’re looking for a way to avoid crowds altogether, you can always choose to go to the fabulous Custer State Park instead.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is easily one of the best state parks in the country and seeing as it’s just a short drive from Badlands, it should be woven into any trip to the area. This is one of the best places for seeing bison, pronghorns, and other local wildlife, and the granite peaks, rolling hills, and clear waters make for some fantastic photos.

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

Instead of Arches National Park, try Dead Horse Point State Park

Like the state park above, Dead Horse Point is one of the best state parks in the US. This is awesome because it’s located just outside of Arches National Park and near the town of Moab.

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

Therefore, if you ever find Arches too crowded for your taste, you can just leave and head to this incredible park. Dead Horse Point State Park is stunning. This is one of those unique state parks just as awesome as a national park. Incredible red canyons and high desert woodlands beg to be explored and the vast trail system makes it easy to do just that. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time in this amazing place.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of Saguaro National Park, try Catalina State Park

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. This scenic desert park also offers equestrian trails and an equestrian center provides a staging area for trail riders with plenty of trailer parking.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of Shenandoah National Park, try Shenandoah River State Park

Shenandoah River State Park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure. Twelve riverfront tent campsites, a developed campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. The developed campground has 32 sites with water and electric hookups suitable for RVs with sites up to 60 feet. The campground has centrally located restrooms with hot showers.

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

Instead of Joshua Tree National Park, try Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Like Custer and Dead Horse Point mentioned above, Anza-Borrego is one of the best state parks in America. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the California Desert.

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

The park is named for Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza and the Spanish word borrego, or bighorn sheep. The park features washes, wildflowers, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas. Visitors may also have the chance to see roadrunners, golden eagles, kit foxes, mule deer, and bighorn sheep as well as iguanas, chuckwallas, and the red diamond rattlesnake.

Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of New River Gorge National Park, try Babcock State Park

The New River Gorge National Park provides incredible outdoor recreation opportunities and stunning landscapes but there are also several nearby West Virginia State Parks waiting to be discovered and explored. These state parks offer accommodations, mountain adventures, and unparalleled scenic views. One such state park is Babcock, home to 4,127 acres of iconic scenery and stunning views.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Babcock State Park is best known for the Glade Creek Grist Mill, a fully functional replica of the original Cooper’s Mill that once ground grain on Glade Creek long before Babcock became a state park. Other attractions include recreational activities like hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. Babcock is home to 28 cozy cabins tucked away in the woods. Babcock also includes a 52-unit campground, and 28 sites with electric hookups.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson

The Best Lakeside Camping Destinations 

What are some of your favorite places to visit for lake camping?

Summer is prime camping season, but if you don’t pick the right destination, you may be sweltering in the heat instead of enjoying yourself. That’s why finding a great campground near the water is key!

Lake camping offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in the sunshine. Days by the lake can include everything from kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding to swimming and fishing while balmy evenings call for roasting marshmallows and playing board games. To prepare for a week at the lake, there are a few essentials to check off the list to make sure you have a great time while lake camping.

Lakes are wonderful for camping and most have some amazing campgrounds nearby to choose from. You can build wonderful memories with your family at a lake. So, pack up your swimsuits, fishing poles, kayaks, and inflatable toys and head to one of these fabulous lakeside campgrounds.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wahweap Marina RV Park & Campground, Arizona

Enjoy this desert oasis in the Southwest. The Wahweap Marina RV Park and Campground are located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which manages the lake as well as a large 1.3 million-acre swath of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Lake Powell is one of the largest man-made lakes in North America. It is 186 miles long with 1,960 miles of shoreline and over 96 major side canyons.

Wahweap Marina RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is a quarter-mile from the lake but set on a tiered hillside to provide fabulous views. They provide a shuttle to help you get around and you can charter a boat or book tours on the lake as well.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park, Utah

Utah Lake is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. Recently named one of America’s 21st Century Parks, Utah Lake State Park provides many recreation opportunities for visitors. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.

Related Article: Everything You Need for Lake Camping

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities for picnicking, day-use, and overnight camping are also available. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.

The park is west of Provo and 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park, Arizona

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing camping experience.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, and rest. The lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky, with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Five campgrounds offer mixed amenity sites. Campground C offers 25 electric and water sites. Campground F has 15 full hookup sites. Both back-in and pull-through sites are available.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through forest. The 2.5-mile-long lake has more than 7.5 miles of shoreline. Canoeing, kayaking, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. There are three boat launches around the lake.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites. Campground shower houses provide warm showers and flush toilets. Fox Run and Maple Lane loops allow pets at designated sites. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance.

Related Article: 12 of the Best State Parks for Summer Camping

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

Nestled in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest parks and favorite destinations offers hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats and during summer visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach. This park is rich in history with many facilities being constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hikers can choose from a variety of trails including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric and water hookups.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

If you like camping, fishing, boating, or just being outdoors, Elephant Butte is for you. There is plenty of water and plenty of beach room at New Mexico’s largest State Park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes: kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Remember to wear your life jacket. Boat safe and boat smart!

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

Besides sandy beaches, the State Park offers restrooms, picnic area, playgrounds, and developed camping sites for RVs. Campground facilities include 173 developed sites: 144 water and electric and eight full hookup sites.

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada

Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. Lake Mead was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam. With more than 750 miles of shoreline, you can enjoy a day at the beach, take a boat out and disappear for hours, or nestle into a cove to try to catch a big one. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes. 

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

With over 900 camping and RV sites at 15 different locations, there is a variety of desert and lakeside landscapes. Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s campgrounds offer restrooms, running water, dump stations, grills, picnic tables, and shade. Concessioner campgrounds including recreational vehicle hook-ups are also available within the park.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina.

Related Article: 7 Serene Arizona Lakes for Water-related Activities

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Lakeside Market offers boat rentals and supplies. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking. Hikers can stroll along the creek trail and see birds such as the canyon towhee, Inca dove, vermilion flycatcher, black vulture, and several species of hummingbirds. 

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt State Park. Facilities for use include a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several options when it comes to staying overnight. The park offers RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility.  There are 109 campsites available for RV camping which features picnic tables and grills; 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups and 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups. Many campsites feature views of Shadow Lake and some feature water front access.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two campgrounds suit everyone from those who want only a basic campsite to those who want it all. Both campgrounds have restrooms with showers. The West Campground offers 50 spacious sites with full hookups, covered picnic tables, and fire rings. Some sites have views of the reservoir. ATVs are not allowed in this campground except on a trailer.

Related Article: 14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Lake Pleasant State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park, Arizona

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley regional park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Worth Pondering…

It is not down in any map; true places never are.

—Herman Melville

Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.

Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.

Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.

On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion

For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Beyond Capitol Reef

The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Beyond Arches and Canyonlands

One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.

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

The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, head to the lesser-visited west side of Canyonlands National Park for a guided 4×4 tour. Spend ample time in the Bears Ears National Monument area with a scenic drive through Valley of the Gods and visits to Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument—both of which are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’ while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac

16 of the Best State Parks in America

The U.S. has more than 10,000 state park areas covering a total area of more than 18 million acres

The United States is a complex landscape that stretches from coast to coast and offers steep mountains, dense forests of deciduous trees, towering pine trees, open plains, harsh deserts, and amazing RV and tent camping opportunities. Among the 50 states are an abundance of parks. What they all have in common is the passion to conserve these wondrous worlds filled with wildlife, history, and adventure. Exploring the world around us gives us a greater appreciation of the natural beauty we find and reconnects us to the simple pleasure of enjoying life.

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

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Big Bend Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park follows a stretch of the Rio Grande in West Texas along the US/Mexico border. The park is a rugged landscape of desert, mountains, and steep canyons. Outdoor adventurists can choose between hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding on over 230 miles of trails. Four-wheel-drive enthusiasts can explore over 70 miles of rough dirt road terrain. Campers will find a vast selection of primitive sites for overnight stays that have a picnic table and fire pit with the exception of the backcountry spots.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

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

Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico

Elephant Butte State Park is the quintessential place for outdoor excursions like camping, boating, and fishing. The expansive campground offers a wide range of campsite set-ups including several full-hookup spots for RVs. Popular water sports and activities include swimming, scuba diving, and an array of boating and personal watercraft endeavors. The park features 15 miles of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Elephant Butte Reservoir was created in 1916 when a dam was constructed on the Rio Grande River. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Utah

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. The park offers a wealth of technical routes for rock climbers and mountain biking. The park is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas

Many folks come here to swim, but the park is more than a great swimming hole. With four miles of river frontage, the Guadalupe River takes center stage at the park. Step away from the river to find the more peaceful areas. On the river you can swim, fish, tube, and canoe. While on land you can camp, hike, ride mountain bikes or horses, picnic, geocache, and bird watching. Explore 13 miles of hike and bike trails. Trails range from the 2.86-mile Painted Bunting Trail to the 0.3 Mile River Overlook Trail which leads you to a scenic overlook of the river. The park offers 85 water and electric campsites and nine walk-in tent sites.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park. You can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Stay at one of 81 campsites (all with water and electric hookups).

Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes. Take the Rock Shelter Trail (only for hikers) to see where early visitors camped.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park, Florida

Located half an hour outside of Sarasota this verdant sanctuary is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. A popular destination for outdoor adventure, visitors can rent a kayak and paddle along the park’s waterways in search of alligators or choose from close to forty miles of hiking trails that snake through wetlands, pine forests, and dry prairie. Myakka River State Park is a renowned location for birding and for good reason—some truly fascinating avian species can be spotted searching for food along the river banks with the vibrant pink-colored roseate spoonbill standing out as one of the area’s most coveted sights.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

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

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park, Utah

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species. Nearby attractions include St George, Red Cliffs BLM Recreation Area, and Zion National Park.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park, Utah

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. This sprawling 20,000-acre park offers three campground areas that range from full hookups to standard camping. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Shenandoah River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah River State Park, Virginia

Just 15 minutes from the town of Front Royal awaits a state park that can only be described as lovely. This park is on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River and has more than 1,600 acres along 5.2 miles of shoreline. In addition to the meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic views of Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. A large riverside picnic area, picnic shelters, trails, river access, and a car-top boat launch make this a popular destination for families, anglers, and canoeists. Ten riverfront tent campsites, an RV campground with water and electric sites, cabins, camping cabins, and a group campground are available. With more than 24 miles of trails, the park has plenty of options for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and adventure.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park, Georgia

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction. It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. Cottages, campsites, and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations. RV campers can choose from 90 campsites with electric hookups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

14 of the Most Beautiful Lakes for RV Travel

Hot summer days + refreshing water = endless fun!

There are few things more relaxing than a lake vacation. The US and Canada are chock-full of scenic lakes from Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Lake George in New York to Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the Southwest to Okanagan Lake and Lake Osoyoos in southern Canada. And we specifically wanted to hone in on the best lakes as a way to help travelers pinpoint exactly where to aim their RV for their next lake vacation. 

Lake Pleasant, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some lakes offer wide sandy beaches and others expansive mountain views and hiking trails. You can visit these lakes all year round but the spring, summer, and fall are the best times to go for outdoor sports like boating, fishing, and swimming. Winter can also provide some beautiful views especially if you’re a snowbird in the Sunbelt states.

Head out to your nearest lake to enjoy any of these outdoor activities or opt for one of these suggested best lakes from coast to coast.

Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake George, New York

The place to be in the Lake George region is on the 32-mile long lake, considered by some to be the most beautiful in the U.S. Lake George checks off all the boxes of what you’d look for in a typical lake retreat—hiking, boating, camping, shopping, dining, and lodging options set the lake apart not to mention those one-of-a-kind views. And, the many water-based activities in the area are one of the best ways to enjoy it. From water skiing and jet skiing to rafting and kayaking, you’ll find it all on Lake George.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Pleasant, Arizona

One of the most scenic water recreation areas in the Valley of the Sun, this northwest Valley regional park is a recreationist’s dream. This 23,362-acre park offers many activities including camping, boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Lake Pleasant is a water reservoir and is part of the Central Arizona Project waterway system bringing water from the Lower Colorado River into central and southern Arizona. Lake Pleasant Regional Park offers 145 sites for camping. Each “Developed Site” has water, electricity, a dump station, a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and fire ring. Each “Semi-developed Site” and tent site has a covered ramada, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Lake Wawasee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Wawasee, Indiana

There are seven lakes in and around the town of Syracuse with more than 3,500 acres of water making it a water lover’s paradise. Lake Wawasee, the largest of these lakes, is the largest natural lake in Indiana. Lake Wawasee hosts the state-owned Wawasee Family Fishing Site. Located on the southeast shores, opportunities to fish, picnic, and relax in the outdoors await you. Several local marinas are also available; you can rent a fishing boat, pontoon boat, or jet skis at several locations on the lake.

Sand Hollow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow, Utah

Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in the modern campground.

Quail Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Lake, Utah

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. This park has some of the warmest waters in the state and is a popular area for fishing as well.

Okanagan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okanagan Lake, British Columbia

Stunning Okanagan Lake spans 84 miles from north (Vernon) to the south (Penticton). Kelowna sits just about halfway and the east and west sides of the lake are connected by the five-lane William R. Bennett Bridge. Okanagan Lake is known for its beaches with over 30 throughout the region. Many beaches are equipped with playgrounds, concessions, and bathrooms. Enjoy the lake from a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), wake boat, sailboat, pedal boat, charter boat, flyboard, kayak, or canoe. Okanagan Lake’s water temperature in July averages 69-71 degrees F.

Elephant Butte Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. The lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers 173 developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Utah Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake, Utah

Known as Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. Utah Lake State Park offers fishing access for channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, and paddleboarding. The RV campground consists of 31 sites complete with water and power hookups.

Alamo Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, Arizona

Alamo Lake State Park is one of the best places to fish for bass in Arizona. The crystal clear lake is surrounded by mountainous terrain speckled with brush, wildflowers, and cacti making for a visually pleasing experience. The area has good wildlife viewing opportunities and you may spot a bald or golden eagle. Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor fun, premier bass fishing, rest, and relaxation. For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year-round including waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. The campgrounds offer a variety of amenities including 15 full-hookup sites. Stargazers are sure to enjoy the amazing views of the night sky with the nearest city lights some 40 miles away.

Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead, Nevada

Swim, boat, hike, cycle, camp, and fish at America’s first and largest national recreation area. With striking landscapes and brilliant blue waters, this year-round playground spreads across 1.5 million acres of mountains, canyons, valleys, and two vast lakes. See the Hoover Dam from the waters of Lake Mead or Lake Mohave or find solitude in one of the park’s nine wilderness areas. This national recreation area, just minutes from Las Vegas offers Joshua trees, slot canyons, and night skies illuminated by the Milky Way. A national park where the rocks are as red as fire and the mountains are purple majesties!

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah

It’s not often that man creates something of such extraordinary natural beauty but that’s Lake Powell. This man-made lake’s warm blue waters wind through red sandstone cliffs filling more than 90 side canyons. Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches up into southern Utah. It’s part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground. Rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging. Nearby, take the view of one such canyon with the sandstone Rainbow Bridge, regarded as the world’s longest natural arch.

Patagonia Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia Lake, Arizona

A true Arizona gem, Patagonia Lake State Park lies in the gently rolling hills of southern Arizona and is renowned as a great spot to fish for bass or catfish. This beautiful destination offers RV and tent camping, overnight cabins, and boat-in campsites. Plus, the surrounding trails connect to Sonoita Creek State Natural Area. If you’re looking for a day trip or weekend adventure, this park will take your breath away.

Osoyoos Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos Lake, Washington and British Columbia

14-mile-long Osoyoos Lake is the southern-most chain of lakes along the Okanogan River. Osoyoos Lake is known as the warmest lake in Canada averaging approximately 75 degrees F in July and August. Derived from the word sẁiẁs meaning “narrowing of the waters” in the local Okanagan language (Syilx’tsn), Osoyoos Lake is surrounded by desert landscape, vineyards, orchards, hills, and mountains. Osoyoos Lake can be accessed in Washington State at Lake Osoyoos State Park, a 47-acre camping park.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Saguaro Lake was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam which was completed in 1930. It was the last of the reservoirs to be built on the Salt River. The lake is named for the Saguaro Cactus which stands majestically in the surrounding desert landscape. Saguaro Lake has more than 22 miles of shoreline creating a great environment for boating, kayaking, sailing, skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and camping. There are a variety of activities and businesses at Saguaro Lake. Rent a boat from Precision Marine, have a meal at the ShipRock Restaurant, and take a delightful tour on the Desert Belle. Saguaro Lake is a jewel in the middle of the Arizona desert.

Where will your summer adventures take you?

Worth Pondering…

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

—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)