Scenic Road Trips with Unforgettable Stops along the Way

Road trip! Arguably the two sweetest words in the English language, right?

If the United States is good at one thing when it comes to infrastructure planning, it’s probably the highway system. Originally founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, the U.S. Highway system is the backbone for domestic trade and travel and has almost become a cultural phenomenon for the country.

Van life, car culture, and road trips aren’t uniquely American but they are easily folded into the highway-centric lifestyle of most Americans. In fact, taking road trips isn’t even for the destination; it’s for the travel itself!

Today, we are all about celebrating the journey over the destination and a road trip is the epitome of that. Let’s take a look at some of the most scenic road trips in the U.S. plus some of the best stops along the way.

There are a ton of roads and scenic highways in the U.S. and it isn’t possible to include them on every list. Here’s our take on some of the most notable (in no special order), doing my best to spread them across the country in a way that includes the major regions. Let’s get started!

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the most famous drives in all of the United States, potentially the world. In fact, it’s more than just a road; it’s a journey through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina and is absolutely gorgeous. From north to south, it’s America’s longest linear park and one of the most popular destinations for campers, hikers, and day trippers.

Tip: Take the trip during peak season in the fall for some of the best views of your life.

The Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It is at a high elevation most of the way and passes along rocky ridges, stunning valleys, and through some of the best forest land and farms along the east coast.

On top of the scenery, it’s a fantastic way to learn about the culture of Appalachia since there are countless towns, parks, museums, and attractions it takes you through or near on the journey. The Parkway spans 469 miles and can be driven in about 12 hours, but you’ll want to take your time and explore some of the best stops along the way.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable stops along the way include:

  • Natural Bridge (Milepost 61.6)
  • Peaks Of Otter (Milepost 86)
  • Mabry Mill (the most photographed site on the parkway) (Milepost 176.1)
  • Blue Ridge Music Center (Milepost 213)
  • Linville Falls (Milepost 316.4)
  • Little Switzerland (Milepost 334)
  • Mount Mitchell, the highest peak on the east coast (Milepost 355.4)

Read more:

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Route 66

Route 66 is pretty much THE symbol of America’s spirit of adventure and freedom. It was one of the first national highways for motor vehicles in the United States, established in 1926, and it ran from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California covering a total of 2,448 miles.

It crossed eight states and three time zones, all the while passing through some of the most diverse landscapes in the country. It also connected some smaller towns and rural communities that otherwise would have been isolated from the rest of the nation.

Route 66 became an icon in American popular culture. It had nicknames like the Mother Road and the Main Street of America. Many people drove along Route 66 during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II when a huge country-wide migration to the west began. Later, it became a popular destination for tourists, bikers, and road trippers who wanted to experience authentic Americana along the way.

Route 66 was gradually replaced by the Interstate Highway System, however, and the last section of Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985. That being said, many parts of the original route still exist and are preserved as historic landmarks or designated as scenic byways. While the stops along the highway are mostly icons now, the drive itself is incredible unique and showcases tons of landscapes only found in those portions of America.

Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the most notable stops along Route 66 are:

  • The Art Institute of Chicago (Illinois), the starting point of Route 66 where you can see a sign that says Begin Historic Route 66
  • Chain of Rocks Bridge (Missouri)
  • Cadillac Ranch (Texas)
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
  • Wigwam Motel (Arizona)
  • Santa Monica Pier (California): The end point of Route 66 where you can see a sign that says End of the Trail

Read more:

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Route 12 Utah

Route 12 in Utah is a 124-mile highway that runs from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park passing through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area along the way. Essentially, this trip is an outdoorsy person’s absolute paradise plus you get to drive on some incredibly scenic roads.

During the drive, you get incredible views of red rock formations, canyons, mountains, forests, deserts, and rivers. It takes about three hours to drive without stopping, but you’ll want to stop often. Many people even spend a week or two and take the time to hike and camp all around the parks nearby.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the must-see spots along Route 12 Utah are:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Garfield County)
  • Red Canyon (Garfield County)
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park (Kane County)
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Garfield / Kane Counties)
  • Calf Creek Falls (Garfield County)
  • Boulder Mountain (Wayne / Garfield Counties)
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Wayne County)

Read more:

Worth Pondering…

Roads were made for journeys, not destinations.

—Confucius

The Most Breathtakingly Beautiful Road Trips in America

There’s no better way to explore America than from behind the wheel of an RV. Discover my picks of the 10 best road trips in the U.S.

You could say that life is one big road trip but that is bordering a little too close to poetry. Why not just go on a big ol’ RV journey instead? America is filled with incredible roads that stretch on and on, traversing stunning sights and memorable spots that have dominated travel bucket lists for years. You’ll need plenty of fuel in the tank and a carefully curated list of road trip tunes lined up but the rewards are seemingly endless.

My selection of the best road trips in the U.S. will take you through a whole lot of incredible scenery not to mention a healthy portion of the weirdest things on the planet. There’s a lot to love out there.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Route 66 All-American Road

Best road trip for American kitsch

Route: Chicago to Los Angeles

Length: 2,250 miles

Recommended time: 1–2 weeks

Details: It wouldn’t be outlandish to say that Route 66 is the most iconic road trip on the planet. Nicknamed the Mother Road, Route 66 has permanently ingrained itself in the international psyche as the original US road trip. Starting in Chicago, it crosses eight different states and connects travelers to national parks, weird but wonderful roadside attractions, and tons of vintage Americana.

Planning tip: The route can be driven in pieces or all at once but I suggest allotting plenty of time to explore—distances are long and the activities are numerous.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Route 66:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Blue Ridge Parkway All-American Road

Best Appalachian road trip

Route: Cherokee, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Recommended time: 2–5 days

Details: This spectacular route takes you through the heart of America’s oldest mountain range delivering view after view of rolling green mountains chock full of enchanting hiking trails, thundering waterfalls, ancient rock formations, and prolific wildlife. Part of the National Park Service (NPS), the Parkway begins adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and passes through the spectacular Pisgah National Forest, several state parks, and recreation areas before ending at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park.

Detour: In addition to state and national parks many one-off hikes originate along the parkway. Consult trail maps to avoid missing some of Appalachia’s top routes.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the Blue Ridge Parkway:

3. Pacific Coast Highway

Best road trip for Pacific views

Route: San Diego to Seattle

Length: 1,600 miles

Recommended time: 8–12 days

Details: The Pacific Coast Highway delivers one of the US’ most iconic road trip experiences linking together the West Coast’s most notable metropolises, quirky California beach towns, ancient redwood forests, and the dramatic capes and pools of the Pacific Northwest. The route includes Highway 1, Highway 101, and I-5 starting in San Diego; it winds up the coast through LA, Big Sur, San Francisco, and Redwood National and State Parks eventually terminating in Seattle.

Planning tip: Always check for road closures, particularly in the Big Sur area where rockslides are common along the sea cliffs.

4. Natchez Trace All-American Road

Best road trip for Southern history

Route: Pasquo, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi

Length: 444 miles

Recommended time: 2–3 days

Details: The path for the Natchez Trace was originally carved not by humans but by buffalo that wandered the region from middle Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. Indigenous hunters and traders soon followed and later the route became a full-fledged thoroughfare for European colonists, soldiers, and dignitaries. Today, a trip down the Trace yields gorgeous scenery, historic towns, and the experience of traveling on one of the most storied roads in the country.

Merritt Island National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Florida U.S. Highway 1

Best road trip for Gulf Coast culture

Route: Amelia Island to Key West

Length: 545 miles

Recommended time: 6 days

Details: Florida’s U.S. Highway 1 runs the length of the state’s Atlantic Coast before banking east at Miami and ending in stunning Key West. This sublime multi-day journey takes you through tons of Florida’s most iconic stops: historic St Augustine, windswept Canaveral National Seashore, NASCAR-fueled Daytona, laid-back Fort Lauderdale, and the glam and glitter of Miami and South Beach.

Planning tip: Hurricane season lasts from June through October with the most active months being August and September and has the potential to significantly affect Florida. If you’re visiting during this window, keep your eyes on the forecast.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Florida U.S. Highway 1:

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Badlands – Black Hills Loop

Best road trip to experience the Great Plains

Route: Badlands National Park to the Black Hills

Length: 330 miles

Recommended time: 2 days

Details: If you want to get a taste of how expansive the Great Plains are head to South Dakota for this fascinating road trip through a state of huge ecological and cultural importance. Start your trip at the mind-bendingly beautiful Badlands National Park before looping over to the Black Hills, home to the Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and Wind Cave National Park. Along the way, take in views of thriving buffalo herds, fascinating rock formations, and plenty of rolling hills.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in the Black Hills and Badlands National Park:

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. San Juan Skyway All-American Road

Best road trip for Rocky Mountain peaks

Route: Loop that begins and ends in Durango

Length: 236 miles

Recommended time: 1–3 days

Details: The San Juan Skyway delivers some of the Rockies’ biggest views in high definition. This route which includes the renowned Million Dollar Highway leapfrogs across central Colorado’s mountainous core connecting Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Mesa Verde National Park known for the cliff dwellings left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans.

Whether you’re a history buff, ski bum, landscape photographer, or simply someone who enjoys a thrilling drive, San Juan Skyway has something for you.

Planning tip: A fact that can be deduced by its name, the San Juan Skyway runs through high-altitude terrain and that makes road conditions somewhat unpredictable particularly during shoulder season. Always check for closures or local warnings before heading out.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along the San Juan Skyway:

8. Richardson Highway

Best road trip for Alaska outdoors

Route: Fairbanks to Valdez

Length: 364 miles,

Recommended time: 2–4 days

Details: No road trip list would be complete without a journey through the country’s largest, northernmost state. The Richardson Highway, Alaska’s oldest highway connects Fairbanks with Valdez winding past dramatic mountain peaks and glaciers and giving travelers a front seat to some of the country’s most jaw-dropping natural attractions. Be sure to make pit stops for hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting, and of course, photography.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Scenic Byway 12 All-American Road

Best road trip through red rock country

Route: Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef National Park

Length: 122 miles

Recommended time: 1 day

Details: Southern Utah feels like an entirely different planet and this backroads route takes you through the best scenery this geologically diverse state has to offer. Start your journey in the town of Panguitch right outside of Bryce Canyon and follow the road through red rock canyons, historic towns, and pine forests until you finish your journey in Torrey, gateway to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the west’s best-kept secrets.

Detour: From Torrey, it’s an easy 2.5-hour drive to Moab, Canyonlands, and Arches making these routes the best way to see Utah’s Big 5. And the road itself takes you through some amazing lunar-like scenery that contrasts sharply with the red rocks – wild.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do along Scenic Byway and beyond:

Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Coastal New England

Best road trip for Atlantic maritime vibes

Route: New York City to Portland, Maine

Length: 430 miles

Recommended time: 3–5 days

Details: Prep yourself for seafood chowder, picturesque oceanside towns, and all the lobster you can handle, this coastal New England trip will help you find your sea legs. Start in New York City and make your way north along the coast stopping to enjoy the lovely beaches in Rhode Island, Massachusetts’ wealth of historical heavy hitters, and New Hampshire’s lighthouses before arriving in culinary-minded Portland, Maine.

DIG DEEPER: Best things to see and do in New England:

Worth Pondering…

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.

Planning your Summer Road Trip Begins NOW

Mapping your route and stocking up on gear in advance will pay off when you hit the road

In February’s cold, dark days, a summer road trip might be the farthest thing from your mind. Without the need to book a flight or coordinate other transportation, it’s easy to rely on spontaneity for a last-minute escape once the weather warms up. The beauty of an RV road trip is its structured freedom: you can do anything you want just as long as you are willing and able to drive.

But pushing off your planning until sunnier days could affect your vacation down the road. Investing a little time now will go a long way toward making the most out of your summer.

If plotting a course feels daunting, start by clustering destinations that will you give you something concrete to plan around. Depending on the number of days you expect to travel, you can add or remove stops along the way.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For example, a trip through three national parks in New Mexico and TexasWhite Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains—could be knocked out in a long weekend. Tack on Big Bend National Park for an additional few days to account for the extra mileage and time to explore.

A classic way to plan a road trip is to follow one of America’s best-known vacation drives such as Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, or the Lewis and Clark Expedition Trail. Though they may seem cliché these drives are still famous for a reason: They capture the history of America. You can use social media to find modern attractions along these well-tread routes.

Search for geotags along the route for crowdsourced advice on what to visit while you pass through. Use hiking apps like All Trails to explore what nature recommendations people have outside of national park suggestions. Start following accounts of bloggers or local experts who post about the areas you’re visiting. To keep yourself from overcommitting, keep a list of these potential food stops, campgrounds, roadside attractions, and nature areas along the way to reference when you need options.

Whether you’re planning to follow a well-known path or keep a looser schedule, become familiar with your major waypoints by April. This will give you time to research lesser-known sights and dig for local suggestions. By the time you hit the road, you’ll have the confidence to make quick (but informed) decisions.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make reservations at national parks

While reserving a spot inside a national park isn’t the only way to camp near popular nature sites, it is well worth the foresight if you can book a few nights ahead of time.

Every park has its own schedule of openings, reservation requirements, and campsite availability so the best advice is to closely track a few parks for announcements. While some national parks save a portion of their campsite reservations to be released a week before booking, most park reservations open six months in advance.

Most National Parks reserve a few spots per campground as a first-come, first-serve option. They can be impossible to predict so do not rely on their availability if you are set on camping inside the park. Note that reservations often become available at 8 a.m. in the time zone of that park.

Permits for popular hikes and activities also become available at this time at Recreation.gov.

Timed entry reservations will still be required at a handful of popular parks during the peak summer months: Yosemite, Arches, Zion, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Haleakalā National Parks will all require some reservation to enter.

For complete details read 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits

To the National Park Service’s credit, these required dates cluster around the most popular weeks and holidays and there are usually exceptions like entering a park before 5 a.m. that still allow for some flexibility if you can’t score a reservation in time.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buy gear and supplies

A backpack, good walking shoes or hiking boots, wide-brimmed hat, and sun protection are all important regardless of how much outdoor activity you’re planning. It’s not just the outdoor gear to keep an eye out on—road trip essentials range from storage options to electronics to RV supplies.

Be sure to stock up on household and RV-related items: paper products, water filter, plastic bags, tissues, disinfecting wipes, and a fully stocked first aid kit.

That’s why I wrote this article: 35 Little Things to Remember to Pack for Your RV Road Trip

Bluegrass Country, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your vehicle

Don’t forget about a checklist for your RV. A tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, and a roadside tool kit can all come in handy even if you’re renting an RV. And always keep a paper atlas on hand in case you’re out of cell service range.

Beyond the typical under-the-hood checks—engine oil, transmission fluid, hydraulic oil, coolant, and washer fluid—be sure to check your lightbulbs and brake reactivity, even in rentals. Spending hours on the road can decrease your focus and reaction time so ensure that the RV will be safe and comfortable. That’s why you should follow the 330 Rule.

The biggest investment to make in your pre-road trip vehicle is a new set of tires especially if you tend to only drive in the city. If you’re planning on driving or pulling a camper, van or RV and have been putting off upgrading your tires consider buying tires with a longer tread life or thicker tread for more diverse terrain.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are some helpful resources when it comes to tire safety:

Worth Pondering…

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

—Miyamoto Musashi

The Best RV Driving Routes for Snowbirds

Head south this winter on these RV driving routes

Snowbirds migrate from the northern reaches of the continent to the Sun Belt when the weather starts to get cold and snowy just like millions of actual birds that migrate back and forth every year. And just like the flocks of birds that follow familiar routes, RV snowbirds tend to make this journey on a few well-traveled arterials.

The two major routes connecting these two seasonal zones are the two interstate highways near the west and east coastlines. That would be I-5 in the west and I-95 in the east.

Although there are several north-south interstate routes in the interior of the continent, these two main routes carry the bulk of RV snowbirds simply because the coastal regions of the continent are the most densely populated areas; therefore, there are more RVers in the coastal states and more RV snowbirds.

7 Feathers Casino RV Park, Canyonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstate 5  

Interstate 5 is the best RV driving route if you are on the West Coast of the U.S. or Western Canada. It is a well-maintained, RV-friendly route that stretches from Vancouver, British Columbia to the Mexico border.

The highest elevation along this route is the Siskiyou Summit in Southern Oregon just north of the California border. Siskiyou Summit is 4,310 feet above sea level with numerous steep grades on both sides of the summit.

If you intend to travel on I-5 from late fall to early spring, be sure to check the weather conditions in the Siskiyou Pass before you try to climb that mountain range with your RV and discover it is covered in snow, and chains are required. 

The steep grade in the mountains is not the only challenge on this snowbird route. Large sections of I-5 go through state and national forests and wildlife abounds along this route. Daytime driving and extra caution are recommended to avoid a collision with wildlife that might happen to venture into the roadway.

Red Bluff KOA, Red Bluff, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grapevine

Other sections of I-5 may have dangerous winds which may affect your RV’s stability. One of the most notorious sections of I-5 for dangerous winds is the Grapevine which serpentines up through the Tejon Pass at 4,144 feet. This 40-mile section of road north of Los Angeles has several sections with steep grades, high winds, and occasional snow.

As with the Siskiyou Summit, it would be prudent to check with the California Department of Transportation regarding driving conditions in Tejon Pass before embarking on that part of your journey.

Flag City RV Park, Lodi, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to go camping on I-5

You can drive from Vancouver, British Columbia to San Diego, California on Interstate 5 and I suggest you take your time to enjoy the diverse and beautiful scenery as well as some of the most productive agricultural land in the country.  

If you’re looking for great campsites on I-5, check out Seven Feathers Casino RV Resort in Canyonville, Oregon (Exit 99) and Red Bluff KOA Journey in Red Bluff, California (Exit 649). See photos above.

New Green Acres RV Park, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interstate 95 

The other main coastal route for snowbirds runs down the eastern seaboard from the Canadian border in northern Maine to the Florida Keys.

This interstate is over 1,900 miles in total length and it is the longest north-south interstate highway in the US. I-95 goes through 15 different East Coast states. It is the best RV driving route on the East Coast and is used by thousands of Canadian and U.S. snowbirds every year. 

Many of the secondary routes in the east are older construction and can be a problem for big rigs because these secondary routes may have low overpasses, narrow bridges, or weight restrictions. Consequently, I-95 is the most popular route in the east because it’s beautifully maintained and appropriate for all types of RVs.

Most of the major cities along I-95 can be circumvented by using bypass routes.

Coastal Georgia RV Park, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to camping on Interstate 95

If you’re looking for midpoint RV parks on I-95, check out New Green Acres in Waterboro, South Carolina, and Coastal Georgia RV Resort in Brunswick, Georgia. See photos above.

Creek Fire RV Park, Savannah, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Interior snowbird routes

The two main coastal routes carry the bulk of RV snowbirds between their summer and winter destinations. But if you are in the middle of the US or Canada, you might not want to drive to one of the coastal routes to make your north or south snowbird journey. 

If you’re starting from a location in the interior of the continent you can use one of these alternate routes to migrate south for the winter or north for the summer. As you can readily see, the Interstate numbering system uses integers of 5 for major routes with a north-south orientation.

The following is not a comprehensive list of all north-south routes but these are the major thoroughfares and some of the best RV driving routes for snowbirds.

  • I-5 connects California, Oregon, and Washington as well as British Columbia.
  • I-15 connects Southern California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Alberta.
  • I-25 connects New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Manitoba. I-25 ends in Northern Wyoming but turns into I-90 which continues into Montana and points beyond.
  • I-45 and I-35 connect Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ontario.
  • I-55 connects Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois. I-55 ends in Chicago but a multitude of connecting interstates continue up either side of Lake Michigan and eventually arrive in Ontario.
  • I-65 and I-75 connect Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, and Ontario.
  • I-95 as mentioned before goes up the east coast of the US, through Maine and gives you access to all the maritime provinces of Canada.
Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66

In addition to all these major freeways, you could follow the iconic Route 66 from Los Angeles to Chicago for your northbound snowbird journey or go from Chicago to LA on your southern journey.

However, Route 66 is not a freeway. In many places, it literally is Main Street in dozens and dozens of small towns in the West and Midwest.

This route is scenic and historic but not necessarily appropriate for big rig RVs. If you’re in an area of the country near part of this epic roadway, it might be worth a side trip just to say you were on Route 66 and to see for yourself what it’s like. 

If you have a smaller RV, van, or small trailer you could probably follow the entire route.

The Lakes RV and Golf Resort, Chowchilla, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your RV driving routes

The best RV driving route for snowbirds may be the one closest to your starting point or it may be the one furthest away. After all, half the fun of RVing is getting there. Can you think of a better RV adventure than taking a road you’ve never traveled before?

It’s all about discovering new places, people, cuisine, cultures, and scenery. If you’re a regular RV snowbird, you could take a different route every time you go north or south until you have experienced them all.

Here are some helpful resources:

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in May

A ship is safe in harbor but that’s not what ships are for.

—John A. Shedd

In 1901, a Minnesota newspaper reported that President Theodore Roosevelt wanted his warships on the move and that they would rust and rot if left in the harbor. Twenty-seven years later, a professor by the name of John A. Shedd solidified Roosevelt’s sentiment into a pithy, memorable quote to share with the world reminding us that great experiences are sometimes found over the horizon. Just as ships are meant to sail the seas, so too are we meant to explore new ideas and experiences. It can take courage to leave life’s safe harbors but the reward for such bravery is a life well-lived.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March and April. Also, check out my recommendations from May 2022 and June 2022.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Downtown delight

You can feel Macon’s soul throughout the city. Walk down Cherry Street in Downtown Macon and experience Southern hospitality as friendly store owners help you shop local products. Follow your nose and dine at one of their delicious restaurants. Stop by one of the art galleries and find unique pieces created by local artists. Learn about African American art, history, and culture at the 8,500 square foot Tubman Museum. Walk through the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and see over 3,000 artifacts highlighting some of the best athletes from the state.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop in the car and take a short drive to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. With over 17,000 years of history, it’s one of Macon’s top attractions. See the Earth Lodge with its original floors dating back to 1015.

Are you a fan of antebellum homes? Tour Hay House lovingly nicknamed The Palace of the South. It’s known for its incredible architecture and technological advancements and is a must-see. 

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Rayne Frog Festival Happens Soon

Ever seen a frog derby? Want to try frog legs? The Frog Festival is the place to check out all things froggy as well as loads of other fun activities.

The Frog Festival is part county fair with local food vendors and rides and part French Acadian cultural exposition with three full days packed with live music and much of it Cajun. And of course, there are plenty of frog legs to eat!

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Local high school artists compete to have their artwork become the festival poster, vendors sell crafts, the frog derby is still going strong, and there is always a frog cook-off, a frog-jumping contest, a dance contest, a grand parade, and Frog Festival pageants. It’s a highly unique, full-weekend festival that is definitely worth a quick deviation off the beaten path (or, ahem, off of I-10).

The 51st Annual Rayne Frog Festival is is slated for May 12-14, 2023 and features a full schedule including music, delicious food, a signature festival drink, and souvenir cup commemorating 51 years of tradition, arts and crafts show, carnival rides, frog cook-off, frog-eating contest, folklore tent, frog racing and jumping, and a few surprises along the way.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Crawfish Prepared Every Way Imaginable

Always held the first weekend in May, the world famous Crawfish Festival began in 1960 as a spin-off of the Breaux Bridge Centennial Celebration. The Louisiana Legislature had just named Breaux Bridge the Crawfish Capital of the World in 1959. The festival is now known around the country and even the world. Every May (May 5-7, 2023), thousands of hungry people flock to Breaux Bridge to be part of the festivities.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Crawfish Festival has also become one of the largest gatherings of world famous Cajun musicians. All weekend long you can hear the sound of authentic Cajun, Zydeco and Swamp Pop music rising from the festival. Whether your musical taste is Cajun or Creole, you can witness over 30 bands perform over the three day event if you think you have the stamina. It’s a perfect opportunity to see our musical tradition passed from generation to generation. Watch the Cajun dance contests, and if you’re brave, join in. There’s no better way to learn. There are even Cajun music workshops held in the heritage tent.

Doughnuts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Ohio’s Donut Trail

You may want to pair a trip down the Donut Trail with a few of the local hikes. But for those who savor the mouthwatering taste of a cream-filled or glazed delight, traveling this 80-mile path will provide sweet memories. Gather stamps on a Donut Trail passport to earn discounts and other benefits for attractions within Butler County near Cincinnati.

Confused about where to start or how to make the most of your time on the trail? There’s a Donut Trail concierge on call to answer your most pressing questions. Simply call 513-860-0917 for assistance with finding somewhere to stay, planning your route, and finding fun must-dos during your Donut Trail Getaway. Concierge hours are Monday-Friday between 8:30 am-5:00 pm. Once you’ve conquered all of the donut shop stops with your passport you’ll be rewarded with the official Donut Trail T-shirt.

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

5. Admire synchronous fireflies

Sparkling fireflies are synonymous with summer and Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a lot of them—like tens of thousands. In late spring, these bioluminescent fireflies twinkle in tandem during Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s annual Synchronous Firefly extravaganza which typically runs from late May to early June. The ticketed event draws thousands of nature enthusiasts to the evening shows; it takes place near the Elkmont campground. Attendance is limited to minimize disturbance to the fireflies; passes are awarded via a lottery system with a $1 lottery application fee and successful permits at $24.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Experience Sea Turtle season

With its unspoiled beaches, lush maritime forests, and peaceful marshes, Jekyll Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, is a dream getaway for nature lovers and wildlife watchers—especially during sea turtle season.

The best time to see adult sea turtles is during nesting season which begins in May with nests often laid through mid-summer. Jekyll Island is one of the few places where you can experience up-close encounters with sea turtles. These gentle giants can weigh hundreds of pounds and adult females leave their saltwater and estuarine habitats to bring themselves onto the sandy beaches to lay eggs.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sea turtle hatching season typically happens in August through October and is the best time to potentially witness turtle hatchlings emerge from their nest and scamper their way across the beach and into the ocean.

At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, take a behind-the-scenes tour into the turtle hospital to learn about sea turtle care and treatment. To spot some sea turtle nests for yourself, head out on the center’s Night and Dawn Patrol programs with a field biologist. You can also take a guided Turtle Walk to learn more.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The heart of Historic Route 66

Kingman, Arizona is known as the Heart of Historic Route 66 because the longest remaining stretch of Mother Road branches out to the east and to the west of town. 

Depending on which way you go cruising Route 66 out of Kingman can feel like going down memory lane in 1950s America with picturesque gas stations, curio shops, attractions, and even a couple vineyards dotting the landscape. Or, it’s like turning a page to the 1930s in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath with twisty mountain passes (great for a camper van or small class C, not a Class A motorcoach), a living ghost town, and scenic desert vistas.

Kingman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In any direction, driving down Route 66 is cruising in every sense. The blacktop rumbles from the undercarriage, a breeze wisps through the cracked window, and the sun beams down from Arizona’s blue skies… it’s how a road trip on a historic highway should feel.

Whether you seek a little history in a small southwestern town, an adventure on your way to the Grand Canyon, or are just looking for a good burger and a hike, Kingman is the dart on the map from which to launch your Arizona RVing adventure.

Shin oak at Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. A massive forest of tiny oaks

Monahans Sandhills State Park is a landscape of shifting dunes under a dry West Texas sky. It’s also home to one of North America’s biggest oak forests, but you might not notice that right away.

Many dunes in this park support thickets of Havard shin oak (Quercus havardii), a native tree that usually tops out at 3 feet. Spreading by way of underground stems called rhizomes the oaks sink roots in the deep sand. They’re most visible on the south side of the park blanketing dune faces with their brief branches and dark grayish-green foliage.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shin oak is found in the Texas Panhandle and parts of New Mexico and Oklahoma. Well adapted to a harsh environment, it lives where few other trees will grow. The groves at Monahans are part of a plant community that occupies 40,000 acres of the surrounding sandhill country.

Their roots and rhizomes stabilize the dunes. Growing close to the ground, they provide nesting sites for scaled quail and cover for the endangered sand dune lizard. Their acorns, measuring up to an inch long and three-quarters of an inch in diameter, provide food for deer and rodents.

Think about it. That scrubby 3-foot oak clinging to the side of a Monahans sandhill may have grown from an acorn that fell when the Big Tree on Goose Island was just a sprout.  

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Alberta’s national parks

Summer in Alberta is truly magical with endless sunshine, stunning landscapes, and unlimited outdoor activities to enjoy. And what better way to experience all of this than by camping in one of the province’s beautiful national parks?

Banff National Park is one of Canada’s most iconic and beloved national parks and for good reason. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Banff offers breathtaking views, incredible wildlife sightings, and an endless array of outdoor activities. The park boasts 13 campgrounds with over 2,400 sites. Banff’s most popular campgrounds include Tunnel Mountain, Two Jack Lakeside, and Lake Louise.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper National Park is another must-visit destination for camping enthusiasts. The park’s rugged mountains, turquoise lakes, and glaciers are truly awe-inspiring and there’s no better way to experience them than by spending a few nights under the stars. Jasper offers 11 campgrounds with over 1,800 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Jasper include Wapiti, Whistlers, and Pocahontas.

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park is a hidden gem that offers stunning scenery and plenty of outdoor activities. The park’s unique blend of prairie, mountain, and lake landscapes makes it a photographer’s paradise and its diverse wildlife makes it a nature lover’s dream. Waterton offers four campgrounds with over 200 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Waterton include Townsite, Crandell Mountain, and Belly River.

Elk Island National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk Island National Park is another great option for camping in Alberta. Located just a short drive east of Edmonton, this park offers a unique blend of grasslands and aspen parkland and a chance to see bison, elk, and other wildlife up close. Elk Island offers two campgrounds with over 200 sites. Some of the most popular campgrounds in Elk Island include Astotin Lake and Oster Lake.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A braying good time

The ghost town of Oatman is a worthy destination to visit for history lovers and you will find businesses operating there despite the lack of residents. A must-stop on a Route 66 road trip, Oatman is another former mining town that offers the chance for visitors to experience the Old West as pictured in so many cowboy films.

Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While it’s a ghost town, in recent years it’s taken on new life as a popular tourist attraction. Wild burros roam the streets in search of treats, the carrots that are purchased from one of the numerous carrot stands. In fact, more burros reside in Oatman than humans. The population of about 100 people is mainly business owners who make a living off of the steady stream of tourist traffic that runs through the town annually.

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

―Lucy Larcom

Kaleidoscope Colors and Serene Landscape Shine in Petrified Forest

It’s like Badlands meets a rainbow forest meets a desert

It may not be as famous as the Grand Canyon but no visit to northern Arizona is complete without a trip to Petrified Forest National Park. Covering over 220 square miles of Technicolor desert there’s way more to this park than its namesake fossilized wood.

Petrified Forest is also home to numerous paleontological exhibits, petroglyphs, and a wide range of living flora and fauna, including coyotes, bobcats, pronghorns, and over 200 species of birds. The park’s landscape has been inhabited by humans for at least 8,000 years and more than 600 archeological sites within the park’s boundaries reveal just a few of our ancient ancestors’ secrets.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park is situated in the northern reaches of Arizona’s high desert climate which means its temperatures vary widely both by season and sometimes within a single day. July highs can easily reach over 100 degrees while the winter sees temperatures below freezing and occasional snow. Because the weather at the park is so variable it’s important to dress in layers and bring waterproof clothing.

The park is located about midway between Albuquerque and Flagstaff and is easily reached via I-40. Communities in the park’s direct vicinity include the small towns of Sanders, Joseph City, and Holbrook. Winslow—of Eagles song fame—is about an hour west of the park.

Visitors come to Petrified Forest National Park to enjoy this unique and surreal landscape, a surprising splash of color in the desert’s depths. Along with hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding, the Park Service also hosts a variety of ranger-led events including guided tours and cultural demonstrations. For full details on current events, check the park’s official calendar before your trip.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike other tree-centric parks in the National Park System, this is a remote desert terrain with behemoth boulder-sized logs scattered across the land. The name “forest” is a misnomer in this arid land of wind-swept badlands, fossilized bones, faded petroglyphs, and petrified wood.

Located in the sleepy northeast part of the state, this is the only national park in America that’s bisected by Route 66 making it the most quintessential road trip park you never knew you needed. Plus, being overshadowed by that other Arizona national park Petrified Forest is comparatively quieter—with about 4 million fewer visitors than the Grand Canyon—but it’s especially enchanting.

With a dusty, barren backdrop reminiscent of a scene from Cars, this 221,390-acre park is a sleeper hit for geologists, paleontologists, and tree-huggers—even though the resident trees have been dead for 200 million years.

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Whereas once mighty trees stood as tall as sequoias in tropical, dinosaur-dwelling jungles, they’ve long since succumbed to the powers of Mother Nature. Preserved in time, these trees were felled by raging rivers hundreds of millions of years ago then buried under sediment and slowly crystalized by volcanic ash and silica.

Nowadays, remnants of Arizona’s tropical past have long since dwindled, leaving behind gigantic petrified logs that have been almost entirely transformed into solid quartz. Serious desert bling, the logs get their kaleidoscopic shimmer from iron, carbon, and manganese imbuing tints of purple and royal green.

It may not look like much at first but this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it park is home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood on Earth, perfectly preserved relics of a prehistoric era where rivers once raged and terrifying reptilians once prowled. Composed of several smaller “forests,” like Rainbow Forest and Painted Desert the park is teeming with lustrous logs strewn across badlands and buttes. Home to easy hiking trails, Jurassic-level fossils, and ancient petroglyphs, Petrified Forest is like a road trip time capsule to a bygone epoch. Here’s what to know about visiting.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit Petrified Forest National Park

Unlike Grand Canyon National Park which sees more than 4 million annual visitors, Petrified Forest sees a scant 600,000 visitors each year making this one low-key park where you don’t need to worry about crowds, traffic, or a lack of trailhead parking spaces. The only thing you need to contend with when mapping out a stop at Petrified Forest is the weather. This is Arizona after all—a state whose scorching forecasts are decidedly not low-key.

Thanks to its high elevation around 5,800 feet the park isn’t as searingly hot as much of the rest of the state but July and August can still see temps soar well into the 90s. And because you’re that much closer to the sun you’ll feel the burn. This being the desert, things cool off dramatically after sunset plummeting down to the low 50s even at the summer peak.

While summer is prime time for the park your best bet to beat the heat is to arrive early—unlike most national parks, Petrified Forest has designated park hours of 8 am–6 pm and there’s a literal gate on the main park road (keep in mind that Arizona does not observe daylight savings time).

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the park sees very little precipitation, July and August are the months when afternoon storms are most likely which would be refreshing if it weren’t for the fact that rain turns the sandy landscape into one big slippery mud pit. Winter gets shockingly cool by most Arizona standards with highs in the mid-40s. Spring can be windy but dry and fall still gets some of those tapered thunderstorms but with comfortably cooler temperatures.

The ultimate road trip park

With Route 66 conveniently weaving right through the park making Petrified Forest the only national park with a section of the Americana highway, this is one park that’s especially perfect for road trips.

Related article: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main artery is Park Road which meanders for 28 miles from the Painted Desert Visitor Center in the north to the Rainbow Forest Museum on the southern end. Not only straightforward and easy the road is one of the most epic and enchanting scenic drives in any national park with numerous pullouts to park and gawk. You’ll also find several short and easy hiking trails going from the lookout spots heading into the quiet wilderness. Of the park’s seven designated trails none are more than three miles and they’re all dog-friendly.

Painted Desert Visitor Center, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start with a stop at the visitor center where exhibits and an introductory film show how these once-soaring trees transformed into the bejeweled boulders they are today. Driving south, prime pit stops include Puerco Pueblo and Newspaper Rock for petroglyphs and indigenous lore.

Painted Desert Visitor Center, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll also find must-do trails like Blue Mesa which is a prime example of quality over quantity—a short paved loop begins atop a ridge of blue-tinted badlands before descending into the desert dotted with shimmering petrified wood. For even more wow stop at the Giant Logs Trail, home to the largest fallen trees in the park including Old Faithful, a log so large that it’s as wide as an RV.

While designated trails are sparse, visitors can venture into the park’s 50,000 acres of backcountry wilderness, hiking and camping wherever their heart desires (as long as you’re at least a mile from the road).

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

Jurassic life

Sure, you could watch the Jurassic World movie or you can just live your best Jurassic life in Petrified Forest (without the risk of being chased by velociraptor dinosaurs), home to real-deal fossils and some intimidatingly epic history.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When these trees once stood some 200 feet tall in a sub-tropical wilderness that looks nothing like present-day Arizona the region was located further toward the Equator. It once swarmed with dinos so fierce and huge—including crocodile-like nightmare creatures—they would make the Jurassic Park franchise look like a Nickelodeon cartoon. Of the park’s insightful museums, the Rainbow Forest Museum at the southern end contains fossils and exhibits that tell the story of the region’s Jurassic-level past.

Related article: Family-friendly Road Trips Through Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 200 million years later, the “forest” was once again abuzz with new residents. Evidence exists of indigenous people living here for millennia leaving behind preserved remnants like rock-carved petroglyphs at sites like Newspaper Rock.

To delve even deeper into Native American lore, the Puerco Pueblo Trail is a hop and skip to a once-thriving village that stood around the year 1300 comprised mostly of wood and mud. The most intact of the park’s bygone villages, Puerco Pueblo still has multiple open-air rooms anchored by an inner plaza that once served as a communal, ceremonial gathering place.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to camp near Petrified Forest

Around here, campground sites are even more sparse than the hiking trails. Aside from camping in the primitive backcountry, there are no campgrounds in the park, and staying overnight in an RV or otherwise is not allowed—the gates on the Park Road close at 6 p.m. and that means it’s time to go. To camp, you’ll need to acquire a wilderness permit which is free from either visitor center on the day you plan on roughing it.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outside of the park, campgrounds—for both RVers and tents—can be found at nearby national park sites like Canyon de Chelly National Monument as well as in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and state parks like Homolovi State Park and Lyman Lake State Park.

Related article: The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

For a private park with full-hookups, OK RV Park in Holbrook is your best bet.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unlike some national parks where nearby restaurant options are surprisingly abundant, Petrified Forest is not a foodie paradise. Holbrook is comprised mostly of chains save for a few straightforward mom-and-pop spots like Tom & Suzie’s Diner and Sombreritos Mexican Food. But you’re road-tripping here for the fossilized trees, after all, not the haute cuisine.

Worth Pondering…

Quite a forest of petrified trees was discovered today…they are converted into beautiful specimens of variegated jasper. One trunk was measured ten feet in diameter, and more than one hundred feet in length…

—Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, 1853

12 Tracks to Get Your Kicks on Route 66

One of the most popular road songs ever written and a prime force behind the international popularity of Route 66, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” was penned by jazz musician Bobby Troup in 1946

With its neon signs, rustic truck stops, and scenes of classic Americana, no other road captures the imagination quite like Route 66. Driving this highway through the heart of the country is the quintessential American road trip and it deserves a rocking soundtrack to match. So, fuel up the vehicle and press play on this collection of 12 perfect songs selected for your next trip on the Mother Road!

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 by Chuck Berry

No Route 66 playlist would be complete without Chuck Berry’s 1961 version of this R&B standard. Although covered by other artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to Depeche Mode, Berry’s cool delivery and bluesy guitar and piano serve as the perfect backdrop to getting “your kicks on Route 66.”

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Take It Easy by The Eagles

Turn this 1972 classic on for its Route 66 reference (“Well, I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona”), but keep it playing for its low-key, country-rock charm.

Related article: 11 Must Watch Films Shot on Route 66

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Cadillac Ranch by Bruce Springsteen

Visit Cadillac Ranch, a Texas art project featuring ten half- buried Cadillacs (and one of the route’s most photographed stops), while grooving along to the pounding beat of this 1980 rock n’ roll song.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Sknyrd

A must have on any Route 66 playlist, this 1974 rock classic has lyrics that burn themselves into your brain and a tune that you can’t help but sing along with as you cruise across America.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Heartland by U2

No Route 66 road trip playlist would be complete without a few slower jams. This 1988 song, while not one of the band’s most well-known, haunts with lyrics like, “Sixty- six – a highway speaks  / Of deserts dry / Of cool green valleys / Gold and silver veins / All the shining cities.”

Related article: Route 66: The Road to Adventure

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Way Down Watson by Son Volt

With lyrics like “It just goes to show / Someday we gotta go / Feel the heart strings / sinking fast / Another treasure found / Another tumbling down,” this 1997 country-rock song breaks our hearts a little as it tells of the demolition of the Coral Court Motel on Watson Road (Route 66), in St. Louis in 1995.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. All Summer Long by Kid Rock

This Randy Newman song, performed by James Taylor, was featured on the soundtrack of Disney Pixar’s Cars. A slower tune, it’s a beautiful song that speaks to time and change and evokes the nostalgic feeling present as you pass through some of Route 66’s abandoned towns.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Amarillo by Morning by George Strait

This aching portrayal of the lonely life of a rodeo cowboy mentions one of Route 66’s most famous towns, Amarillo, Texas. The traditional fiddle intro and Strait’s characteristically smooth vocals make this 1983 song a Route 66 playlist standard.

Related article: Get Your Kicks (And Burros) On Route 66

10. Life is a Highway by Tom Cochrane

This 1992 track while a little heavy handed with the highway metaphor is almost impossible not to sing along to. Covered by other artists including Rascal Flatts this song made its way onto the soundtrack of the Route 66 inspired Disney Pixar film Cars. Tom Cochrane’s version is my favorite.

11. Tucumcari Tonight by Brian Langlinais

This upbeat bluesy song about a man getting home to his baby in Tucumcari, New Mexico, will get you revved up while you’re driving on the open road. When your energy is flagging, give yourself a hit of this blues rock, steering wheel pounding ditty.

Related article: Route 66 across Arizona

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Hotel California by The Eagles

The Eagles make a second appearance on my list with this tune, possibly inspired by the band members’ journeys on Route 66. It’s a long and intricate rock ballad that serves as the perfect backdrop for driving westward into the sunset.

Worth Pondering…

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way
Take the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66

—Bobby Troup (1946)

10 Amazing Places to RV in July 2022

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in July

The ultimate luxury in life remains nature.

—Robert Rabensteiner

After spending two decades at L’Uomo Vogue—the menswear counterpart to Vogue Italia—Robert Rabensteiner is now the fashion editor-at-large for Condé Nast’s Italian division. Part of his job is appraising runway collections in New York, Paris, London, and Milan, his primary residence. Yet some of his most cherished trips to a remote chalet near his hometown in the Austrian Alps are far less elaborate. Hidden deep in the forest, the chalet is only accessible by riding a chairlift and then taking a half-hour trek. When his mother died, Rabensteiner sought refuge in the house and, more so, it’s calm setting. With this quote, he speaks to a feeling shared by so many of us: that the connection to nature offers an unparalleled source of wonder, healing, and joy. 

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in May and June. Also, check out my recommendations from July 2021 and August 2021.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

A huge swath of Arizona seems to have been designed by cartoonists from the trippy Dr. Seuss waves of the Vermillion Cliffs to the splaying cacti of Saguaro National Park. But Monument Valley is where nature gets serious. This is a land of monolithic red sandstone bluffs seemingly carved by the gods where enormous spires emerge so far in the distance they’re shrouded by haze even on a clear day. Each crevice tells a story and every ledge is its unforgettable vista.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Monument Valley is undoubtedly national park-worthy, this is a Navajo Tribal Park and I hope it stays that way. It’s a place rooted in ancient Native religion and new-school Hollywood iconography serving as an expansive gateway to the wondrous desert landscapes of both Utah and Arizona.

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Search for Well Gray’s breathtaking waterfalls

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

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Best Place in America to See UFOs

The truth is out there.

For a minute there, it seemed like society’s obsession with aliens had become a thing of the past. Once the source of mass paranoia in the ’50s and ’60s—a glorious, unforgettable time during which houses were even built to look like flying saucers—the craze over little green men briefly disappeared taking with it the kitschy, bizarre, and downright wild urban legends we came to know and love.

Roswell Incident © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luckily, with the release of the government’s report on Unexplained Aerial Phenomena last year (results “inconclusive” … sure), we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in UFOs—and in the people who never stopped believing the truth was out there.

All this time, a few towns around America have kept hope alive, commemorating, celebrating, and even displaying artifacts from the years when people regularly mistook military aircraft for Martians (or, did they?). In a few spots, you may even see some unexplained phenomena for yourself. One of the best places in the US to search for aliens, UFOs, and all things extraterrestrial is Roswell, New Mexico.

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the most notable UFO crash in American history went down on the night of June 14, 1947. A farmer named Mac Brazel was driving around about 80 miles outside Roswell when he came across a flaming heap of rubber, foil, and sticks. He contacted local authorities who contacted the military who came to the site and publicly declared that a flying saucer had landed in Roswell.

The country was whipped up into a frenzy and soon after the government changed its tune and redesignated the UFO a “weather balloon.” Many suspect the object was actually a device intended to spy on Russian nuclear development. But, I’m still withholding judgment!

Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though Roswell may not have truly been the land of first contact, the town has since leaned into the notoriety and become the greatest alien-themed town on the planet. It is home to the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It has a McDonald’s shaped like a UFO. The city hosts an annual UFO Festival that’s become a pilgrimage for self-proclaimed “UFOlogists.”

2022 is the 75th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. It all comes down July 1-3. And it’s going to be the biggest, best UFO Festival yet!

Whether you believe in aliens or not, Roswell is an utterly fantastic, highly kitsch slice of Americana.

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

Travel back in time to Writing-on-Stone

A sightseeing and historic destination, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is located on the banks of the Milk River in south-central Alberta. The incredible landscape of hoodoos, coulees, and native rock paintings is a photographer’s paradise. The Blackfoot First Nation people used sharp rocks, horns of animals, and wood from trees to carve their drawings into the sandstone cliffs. For colors—like red, orange, and yellow—they would use a mixture of crushed iron ore and animal fat.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic highways. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is home to one of the world’s most unique geological wonders: the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Formed millions of years ago when a fault line shifted and exposed thousands of acres of rust-tinted sandstone and slate-gray shale, the resulting rugged cliffs and arch formations are the red rocks Utah is known for.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grab a cinnamon bun or freshly baked mini-pie in the historic village of Fruita located within the park’s borders then stroll through verdant orchards and hunt for petroglyphs near the visitor center. Hikers won’t want to miss the 1-mile jaunt up to Hickman Bridge nor the chance to squeeze through a narrow slot canyon in Cottonwood Wash. Stay in nearby Torrey for the best BBQ and wild-west themed hotels and RV parks.

Some roads in Capitol Reef National Park remain closed due to flash flooding that occurred last Thursday (June 23, 2022). Check with the Park Service as to the current status before visiting the park.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Newport Cliff Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is absolutely worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell

Summer 2022: 18 Best Things to Do in America

From exploring a hippie paradise to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 18 best things to do in the US this summer. Your US bucket list just got (a lot) longer …

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within the US and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Along Route 66 in Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Location: Oatman to Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic highways in the world. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Admire Breathtaking Red Rock in Sedona

Location: Sedona, Arizona

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks

Location: Utah

Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty 5,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Location: Woodstock, New York

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Plunge into the Depths of the Earth at Carlsbad Caverns

Location: Carlsbad, New Mexico

Descend nearly 800 feet below ground into a series of completely dark, breathtaking caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden within the remote parts of southeastern New Mexico. More than just a cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a completely immersive experience. Beginning with a several-mile descent from the cave opening, travelers will emerge into massive caverns full of magnificent rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and more. The paved decline is steep but accessible for most people. There is also an elevator available to transport visitors as needed.

Chihuly glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Observe Stunning Artwork at Chihuly Garden and Glass

Location: Seattle, Washington

At Chihuly Garden and Glass, vibrant colors and organic shapes come together in spectacular visual exhibits. The long-term exhibition features a Garden, theater, eight galleries, and the breathtaking Glasshouse. The impressive glass art was fashioned by the institution’s namesake, Dale Chihuly, a prolific and talented artist.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way. Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mississippi Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Location: Ocean Springs, Mississippi

This quaint, coastal town along the Gulf Coast is the perfect small-town beach getaway. The Mississippi Gulf Coast advertises itself as “The Secret Coast,” and Ocean Springs is a treasure. The quiet town has white sand beaches, a vibrant art scene, and a beautiful downtown area with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Every fall, Ocean Springs hosts the famed Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival but during the rest of the year, visitors can get a taste of the art scene at multiple galleries and museums in the area. If you’re looking for a summer 2022 beach getaway with a side of history and culture, then Ocean Springs is for you.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Wander Cobblestone Streets and Shoreline in Charleston

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

It’s easy to be transported back in time while exploring Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina. Bordering the cobblestone streets are enormous trees and centuries-old Colonial and Victorian homes. Horse-drawn carriages clop through the moss-draped historic district. You can wade in Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or through waves on Folly Beach. Over on Wadmalaw Island, Deep Water Vineyards offers six tasting pours and a souvenir glass for just $15. Even better, the top attraction in Charleston is the ambiance, free of charge.  

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Cortez, Colorado

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Explore an Active Volcano at Mount Saint Helens

Location: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

If you want to explore an active volcano, go to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. There are several visitor centers in the area for people who want a deep dive into the mountain’s fascinating geological history. They help tell the story of the eruption in the ’80s that gave Mount St Helens its distinctive crater-shaped top. 

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Climb a Mountain 

Location: Mount Lemmon, Catalina Highway/Sky Island Scenic Byway

Mount Lemmon, an oasis in the middle of the desert, is 20 degrees cooler than Tucson on average. Driving up the mountain, the plants slowly change from cactus and shrubs to oak and ponderosa pines. The area offers hiking, camping, and fishing. While you are up there, consider stopping by the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for cookies, pizza, chili, and sandwiches. While you’re at 9,000 feet, check out the Arizona stars at the Mount Lemmon Skycenter.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tube down the Guadalupe River

Location: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas Hill Country

Tubing down the Guadalupe River is about as Texan as it gets, and this state park welcomes you with four miles of river frontage. Just one hour from San Antonio and two hours from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is also one of the more popular camping destinations in the state, particularly during the summertime when swimming in its cool waters is extra appealing for families and kids. When you’re not tubing, paddling, or taking a dip, embark on its hiking and biking trails. 

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Escape to San Antonio’s Riverwalk

Location: San Antonio, Texas

A century ago it started as a flood management project, but today San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a flourishing urban waterway and one of the most cherished attractions in Texas. Visitors can drift underneath cypress trees by hopping on board one of the iconic riverboat tours that ply the nearly 15 miles of waterway. The banks of the river come alive all day (and all night) with musical performers, endless shops and boutiques, and numerous dining options. Plan your visit during the week of July 4th to experience the Bud Light Stars, Stripes, & Light exhibition when one thousand American flags will line the banks of the river. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Feel the breeze at Madera Canyon

Location: Madera Canyon, Arizona

With an average high of 102, June 29 has historically been Tucson’s most often hottest day of the year. So says Weatherspark.com. From June through August, Madera Canyon’s average summer high in the low ’90s may still seem warmish but a typical light breeze and the shade from its dozen or so unique Oak species make it nice enough to bust out the cooler and camp chairs and head down I-19.  The coolest low-key adventure there is the Madera Canyon Nature Trail; it’s 5.8 miles out and back with a 921-foot elevation gain, easy for hikers. Take your binoculars because Madera Canyon is rated the third-best birding destination in the US.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Take a Taste Bud Tour at Blue Bell Creameries

Location: Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama

Learn what all fuss is about at one of the most iconic creameries in America. Can’t decide which flavor is for you? Try them all because, hey, it’s only $1 a scoop! Since 1907, Blue Bell Ice Cream has won a special place in the heart of Texans. Many would say it’s the best ice cream in the US. For anyone caring to dispute that claim, you can’t know until you try it for yourself and there is no better place to do that than straight at the source. See how the scrumptious stuff is made and learn about the history of the iconic brand before treating yourself to a sample at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. At just $1 a scoop, it’s one of the best things to do in the US to beat the heat this summer! 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Refresh and Relax at Patagonia Lake

Location: Patagonia Lake State Park, 400 Patagonia Lake Road, Nogales

Whether it’s an ocean, river, or lake, water is the break everyone needs from the hot Arizona sun. Patagonia Lake State Park is an escape offering shade, water, boating activities, camping, picnic tables, and grills for summer barbecuing. The park has fully equipped cabin reservations available but these sell out fast. If you’re late to the reservation game, check out their boat-in campsites or pick from 105 of their developed campsites.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

See and explore one of the largest and most colorful petrified wood sites in the world

It isn’t the colorful landscapes, the winding trails, the fresh air, or even the wide-open spaces that make the Petrified Forest so interesting—though it offers all of those things. Petrified Forest is home to the world’s largest collection of petrified wood. Its lifecycle began 225 million years ago when an ancient forest was buried beneath a river system where it laid dormant for millennia.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fast forward to 60 million years ago—that is when the Colorado Plateau began uplifting to expose the trees to oxygen, fracturing them into large pieces that lay upon Earth today for us all to go and see. It’s amazing to look at. The exterior appears just like any wooden tree bark does but upon touch, it is the smoothest, hardest material you’ll ever feel. Flip it over and you’ll see a vibrantly colored, ornately designed interior made of quartz that glints with brilliance in every shift of light.

Perhaps most remarkable is that anyone can pick up a piece and examine the effects of wood exposed to the forces of nature spanning millennia. Wrap your mind around that for a moment—you can hold in your hand a piece of Earth that is 225 million years old. That alone is incredible.

But the wonder doesn’t stop there. The park’s north side is home to colorful badlands at the Painted Desert and Blue Mesa where I was the most enchanted. Here the blue, purple, and ivory sculpted hills are topped with pieces of quartz. There are both petroglyphs and ancient ruins in several areas of the park that tell the story of primitive cultures and peoples.

Related Article: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park’s fallen tree fossils mostly date from the Late Triassic Epoch—a massive 225 million years ago. That means that the T-Rex that lived only 65 million years ago was much closer to our time than these fossils. Other popular activities include hiking and horse riding in this vibrant and colorful wilderness.

The sediments of the Late Triassic Epoch that contain all of these trees are part of the Chinle Formation. The Late Triassic was when dinosaur life was at its most spectacular and so this is one of the sites that dinosaur lovers should visit. This formation is stunningly colorful and is where the Painted Desert gets its name. There are some fossilized animals in this park—notably the large flying reptiles and phytosaurs.

Fun Fact: Pterodactyls are not dinosaurs

Over 200 million years ago, this part of what is now Arizona was a lush landscape filled with flourishing trees and other kinds of vegetation. But this was destroyed in a large volcanic explosion and the remains of this forest were preserved and embedded in the volcanic ash and water.

And there is wind—amazing wind that continues to erode Earth, exposing more wood, and shaping what is already there. Like all of the parks, once I dug in and learned more about the reason the park was protected in the first place, I wanted to stay much, much longer.

Historic Route 66 in Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If history and science aren’t your things, there is another unique draw here—this is where you can get the best of American kitsch while stepping foot onto the Mother Road: America’s Historic Route 66. Route 66 in its original form is no longer in existence but at Petrified Forest, you can visit the only section of the famed road existing inside a national park.

Nearby in the town of Holbrook lives the classic Wigwam Motel—on the National Register of Historic Places—providing a glimpse into the mid-20th century golden age of travel.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 is a classic destination that all should visit at least once in their lives. But the Mother Road won’t transport your mind’s eye to a place and time where ancient birds flew before dinosaurs roamed the planet hundreds of millions of years ago; for that experience, you’ll need to visit Petrified Forest, National Park. This is one of those places where time and age are your companions. One breath in and one lookout and you can truly sense and feel the tale of prehistoric life on Earth.

Related Article: 10 of the Best Scenic Drives in National Parks

After many millions of years of being buried, the sediment has been eroding and exposing the forest entombed within it. Today the petrified wood has been turned into quartz.

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pueblo sites

The park boasts more than just the Petrified Forest. There are 13,000 years of human history to discover at the park. One of the main human traditions includes a nearly 800-year-old 100 room dwelling. There are around 600 archeological sites in the national park including various petroglyphs. These lands had been inhabited by pueblos but it was abandoned by around 1400.

Hiking

Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the Petrified Forest National Park and there are several designated hiking trails crisscrossing the park. These trails range from less than half a mile to about three miles.

Tawa Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tawa Trail

Length: 1.2 miles one way

Trailheads: Tawa Point and Painted Desert Visitor Center

Enjoy the tranquility of the grassland as the trail leads from scenic Tawa Point to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. In Hopi ideology, Tawa refers to the Sun Spirit, the Creator of the World. The Hopi are one of several current Native American groups who are connected to the rich and varied history of the Petrified Forest.

Painted Desert Rim Trail

Length: 1 mile round trip

Trailheads: Tawa Point and Kachina Point

This unpaved trail winds through the rim woodland, a place for chance encounters with many species of plants and animals and spectacular views of the Painted Desert.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Puerco Pueblo Trail

Length: 0.3 miles loop

Trailhead: Puerco Pueblo parking area

A paved walk amidst the remains of a hundred-room pueblo occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Petroglyphs can be viewed along the south end of the trail. Please do not climb on the boulders or walls and do not touch the petroglyphs.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

Blue Mesa Trail

Length: 1 mile loop

Trailhead: Blue Mesa sun shelter

Descending from the mesa, this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among badland hills of the bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood. Numerous plant and animal fossils have been found by paleontologists in the sedimentary layers of Blue Mesa.

Crystal Forest

Length: 0.75 mile loop

Trailhead: Crystal Forest parking area

Named for the presence of beautiful crystals that can be found in the petrified logs, this trail offers one of the best opportunities to experience the petrified wood deposits.

Giant Logs Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Giant Logs

Length: 0.4 mile loop

Location: Behind Rainbow Forest Museum

Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. “Old Faithful” at the top of the trail is almost ten feet wide at the base. A trail guide is available at Rainbow Forest Museum.

Accommodation

No accommodation is available within the park. Boondocking, primitive camping, and pulling off to spend the night in a parking area are not permitted.

The gateway to the park is the town of Holbrook. It is around 20 miles to the west of the park and offers a full range of accommodation options. We used OK RV Park as our home base while exploring Petrified National Park. Easily accessible from I-40, the 150 pull-through gravel sites offer water and sewer connections and the choice of 30 or 50 amp electric service.

Related Article: Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 93,533 acres with more than half as dedicated Wilderness area

Date established: December 9, 1962 (established as a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906)

Location: Northeast Arizona (the nearest town is Holbrook)

Park elevation: Averages 5,400 feet

Weather: Petrified Forest National Park is a semi-arid grassland. Temperatures range from above 100 degrees to well below freezing. About 10 inches of moisture comes during infrequent snow in the winter and often violent summer thunderstorms. Check out the forecast before you arrive and plan accordingly.

Operating hours: Every day year-round (closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Park hours are 8 am to 6 pm. You must enter the park before 5 pm. Remember that this is Mountain Standard year-round as Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

Park entrance fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Recreational visits (2021): 590,334

Roads: Historic Route 66 and I-40 run through the park

Wild animals in the park: Bobcats, pronghorns, coyotes, and over 200 species of birds

How the park got its name: Petrified Forest was named after a wilderness of 225 million-year-old trees that have, over time, turned into solid quartz (and not from being petrified with fear)

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: The colorful Painted Desert that stretches from the Grand Canyon is the best-known landmark at Petrified Forest and it greets you right as you cross through the northern boundary of the park. It was given its name by Spanish explorers who thought the clay and mudstone badlands looked like a sunset painted onto the landscape. This landmark is a protected Wilderness area so you won’t be exploring its interior by car (although there are viewpoints that you can pull up to). The best way to explore it is to head out on foot on a 1-mile unpaved loop trail where you can see the picturesque rim from a different vantage point.

A must-see cultural stop nearby is at the 100-year-old Painted Desert Inn where you can view in real life restored mural art created by famed Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Did you know?

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park has a world class fossil record with artifacts dating to the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, before the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed our home planet. The Triassic era is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”  

Petrified Forest is home to fossils of massive crocodile-like creatures known as Phytosaurs as well as remnants from 13,000 years of human history including the remains of villages, tools, and grinding stones.

Archeological relics prove that humans have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. 

Some of the trees in the park measure up to 200 feet—about the length of the wingspan of a 747 jet. 

Petrified Forest is the only national park where a segment of Route 66 exists.   

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the wall of the historic Painted Desert Inn you can visually wander along the path of the Native American people in the area as depicted in a painting by famed Hopi artist, Fred Kapotie. 

Worth Pondering…

Quite a forest of petrified trees was discovered today…they are converted into beautiful specimens of variegated jasper. One trunk was measured ten feet in diameter, and more than one hundred feet in length…

—Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, 1853