The Grand Circle Tour

11 days, 1,500 miles, 6 National Parks, Monument Valley, adventure towns, lakes in the desert, and something about a Dead Horse Point? Yes, please. Strap your seat belts on for this one.

Millions of years of erosion have created a spectacular display of cliffs, canyons, arches, natural bridges, red slickrock, hoodos, and mountains that you will experience during your two-week travels.

The canyons, sunsets, trails, colors, and rock formations will keep your camera busy so bring lots of flash memory and batteries. And don’t forget your hiking boots.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Zion National Park

Drive from Las Vegas (168 miles) or Salt Lake City (314 miles) to Springdale, gateway to Zion National Park.

Park Fees: I recommend that you buy the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Lands Pass that covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish & Wildlife Service and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at lands managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hike Canyon Overlook Trail (1 hour, 1 mile round trip)

This short moderate hike on a well-marked trail leads to an overlook offering incredible views of lower Zion Canyon. If you time it right, the sunset will light up the whole canyon. The trailhead is at the parking lot just beyond the east entrance of the tunnel. Cross the road and begin the easy 1 mile hike. This hike is great for people who want to see a beautiful overlook of Zion that don’t necessarily like long hikes and it’s great for kids.

Return back to your accommodations by following State Route 9 back into Springdale.

Check into your campground in or near Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Zion National Park

Stop at the local market to get water and (healthy) snacks for the day. You will want a day pack to carry things in since you will be gone for the entire day.

Explore Zion Canyon (all day)

During the summer months, the shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm. Since parking at the Visitors Center inside the park can be difficult from May-October, riding the shuttle from Springdale is a better option. November through March you can actually drive in the canyon.

Shuttle stops:

  • Court of the Patriarchs (5 minutes, 0.1 mile)
  • Zion Lodge: Emerald Pools trailhead (1-3 hours; lower, 1.2 miles; middle, 2 miles; upper, 3 miles)
  • The Grotto: Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hours, 5 miles)
  • Weeping Rock: Weeping Rock trail (½ hour, 0.4 mile)
  • Big Bend: View the Angels Landing ridge trail
  • Temple of Sinawava: Riverside trail, gateway to the Narrows (1.5 hours, 2 miles)

Add a little extra adventure and incredible scenery by walking up the Virgin River Narrows a mile or two. You might want to bring an extra pair of shoes and a walking stick. The trail is the river and you are walking on slippery rocks as you go up the Narrows.

Find my complete guide to Zion National Park here.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

Leave for Bryce Canyon National Park (86 miles). Enjoy the scenic drive through Utah State Route 9 and U.S 89. Pass through historic towns and the beautiful Red Canyon.

At Bryce Canyon, visit some of the scenic overlooks. If you’re looking to relax a little, stay in or near the park. There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. 

Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse.

For sunset, I recommend Inspiration Point, Paria View, or Sunset Point and plan to arrive one-and-a-half hours before sunset for the best lighting. If you want to see mostly all of Bryce Canyon, drive or take the shuttle on the scenic loop. Its 38 miles (one way) of pure beauty and you will cover many viewpoints.

View points of the Scenic Loop:

  • Swamp Canyon
  • Piracy Pointe
  • Fairview Point
  • Aqua Canyon
  • Natural Bridge
  • Ponderosa Canyon
  • Black Birch Canyon
  • Rainbow Point
  • Yovimpa Point

Check into your campground in or near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Eat at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill and enjoy great Cowboy Entertainment. Or check out other restaurants in the area.

Find my ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

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

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Get up early and see the sun rise over Bryce Canyon. The two most popular viewpoints for sunrise are Sunrise Point and Bryce Point.

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles round trip)

This is hands-down the greatest way to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon from the canyon floor. You start by hiking down Wall Street a narrow canyon with high rock walls on either side.

Drive All American Road Scenic Byway 12 (4 hours)

This drive cuts through a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park and then follows a breathtaking scenic route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a good, paved highway but steep in spots. It descends into the Escalante Canyons region and then climbs over Boulder Mountain. From Boulder Mountain you can see the Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park. Stop at scenic turnoffs as time permits. Scenic Byway 12 ends in Torrey near the Capitol Reef National Park entrance.

Highlights of Scenic Byway 12:

  • Mossy Cave, a sneak peak of Bryce (drive past Bryce toward Tropic and there is a pullout on the right; play in the small cave and waterfall down a short half mile path
  • Kodachrome Basin (22 miles from Bryce)
  • Escalante State Park (44 miles from Bryce)
  • Calf Creek Falls (67.6 miles from Bryce)
  • Anasazi Indian Village (80.8 miles from Bryce)

Check into an RV park in Torrey or the 71-site Fruita campground in Capitol Reef National Park.

Check out the restaurants near Capitol Reef too. Torrey is so small that all you need to do is drive down the main road (SR 24) and you’ll see all of the restaurants.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is amazing in its own special way. The formations you see here you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Drive the scenic drive south from the Visitor Center.

The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile mostly paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that weather permitting are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. In every direction the views are fascinating. From the road you can see sheer sandstone cliffs, uniform layers of shale and rocks that have been lifted and folded and carved into shapes that stir the imagination. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. Entrance fees of $5 per vehicle are charged for the Scenic Drive.

Find my ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

In the afternoon begin your drive to Moab, Utah’s Adventure Capital (144 miles).

Check into an RV park in Moab or Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 6: Arches National Park

In the morning, pack a lunch and plenty of water and drive to Arches National Park to watch the sunrise over the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches (2,000 and counting). Drive North on U.S. Highway 191 from Moab for 5 miles. The turnoff for Arches will be on the East side of road. For the more adventurous, get up 1 hour before sunrise and hike the 1.5 mile trail to Delicate Arch and watch the sun rise.

Main points of interest:

  • Park Avenue
  • Balanced Rock
  • Windows Section
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  • Devils Garden
  • Landscape Arch

Eat lunch in route.

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

In the afternoon drive to Dead Horse Point State Park and to the scenic overlooks in Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park offers spectacular vistas with views of Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. From Arches, drive back to U.S. 191 and head north for about 6 miles to State Route 313 and take the signed turnoff to Dead Horse Point. Follow SR 313 for about 22 miles as it winds to the top of the plateau and then south to Dead Horse Point.

Tour Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District (2-3 hours)

Island in the Sky comprises the northern portion of Canyonlands National Park. From Dead Horse Point, return north on SR 313 for 7 miles to the junction with the Grand View Point Road and then drive the Grand View Road south into Canyonlands. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a map and information before continuing to the lookout points.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Main Points-of-interest:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grandview Point
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Green River Overlook

Return to Devils Garden Campground (Arches National Park) or Moab for the night.

Here are some helpful resources:

Day 7: Moab

Engage in one of Moab’s many adventure activities; whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, horseback riding among the red cliffs, mountain bike the slick rock trails, take a Hummer 4×4 ride over red rock trails or hike to Corona and Bow Tie Arches.

If you need ideas, check out: Moab’s Scenic Byways

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 8: Monument Valley

Drive to Monument Valley (150 miles)

This is a scenic drive; plan to stop at the historic towns and viewpoints and take some pictures.

Eat lunch en route. Drive to the Visitors Center and sign up for a Navajo guided tour through Monument Valley at Sunset. Check out the amazing overlooks East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Unique sandstone formations, red mesas and buttes surrounded by desert were used in hundreds of western movies. There is only one hiking path called Wildcat Trail (3.2 miles) that starts at the Visitors Center and loops around West Mitten Butte. At night the stars are absolutely amazing because of the remote area and no city lights.

Check into The View Campground or lodge at Monument Valley and eat dinner.

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

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 9: Lake Powell

Leave for Lake Powell (132 miles) in the morning. Lake Powell offers one of the most beautiful views of water and red rock cliffs. Take a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural stone bridge in the world. I recommend bringing hiking shoes for the trail to Rainbow Bridge (3 miles round-trip). Click here for more information on boat tours: Eat lunch before the tour in Page, Arizona or pack one for the boat tour.

Check into Wahweep Campground and RV Park centrally located at Wahweap Marina about ¼ mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys from which to choose. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. 

Read more: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lake Powell and So Much More

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 10: Kanab and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Drive 110 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim has the most spectacular views and is surrounded with forest of Ponderosa Pines. The North Rim averages 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim! Perfect for hiking and great photos! Eat lunch and enjoy the view at the North Rim Lodge. Be aware that that State Highway 67 leading to the North Rim closes from about mid-October to mid-May due to heavy snow.

From here you can drive to Las Vegas (266 miles) for the night or stay in lodging near the Grand Canyon (77 miles).

Points of Interest on North Rim:

  • Point Imperial is often considered the greatest viewpoints on the North Rim. It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of Grand Canyon and different than other viewpoints.
  • Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a 1 mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon.
  • Cape Royal (0.6 miles round trip) is a long peninsula extending from the North Rim out over the Grand Canyon. It offers a phenomenal view perhaps the most sweeping view of any Grand Canyon vista. You can see much of it from your vehicle but the best views await those who take the short, easy stroll to the end of the cape.

Check into accommodations near the Grand Canyon.

Day 11

Drive to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or destination of your choosing. Need ideas?

Worth Pondering…

RVing and imagination—both take you anywhere you want to be.

The Complete Guide to Dixie National Forest

Dixie National Forest straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River in southern Utah. Scenery ranges from desert canyon gorges of amber, rose, and sienna to high mountain forests, plateaus, and alpine lakes. The forest is a part of the world-renowned landscapes of Southern Utah and provides a backdrop and serves as a gateway to surrounding National Parks and Monuments.

Dixie National Forest covering almost two million acres of natural grandeur is nestled in the picturesque landscapes of southern Utah. The forest boasts a diverse range of ecosystems, climates, and elevations from the rugged grandeur of deep canyons and fascinating rock formations to the serene allure of mountain lakes and towering ponderosa pines. It is a haven for those seeking a retreat into the untamed wilderness.

Based in Cedar City, Dixie National Forest is the largest National Forest in Utah straddling the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River. The forest’s natural beauty is a source of inspiration to adventurers offering countless opportunities to explore hiking trails, fishing spots, and camping sites amidst the enchanting backdrop of the American Southwest.

Join me on a journey into the heart of this natural wonder where each turn reveals a new chapter in the story of Utah’s remarkable landscape. Explore Dixie National Forest’s vast expanse of natural beauty where the rugged terrain and serene landscapes offer a unique experience to those seeking adventure.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Features of the Dixie National Forest

Diverse ecosystems: Dixie National Forest stands out for its remarkable diversity of ecosystems ranging from low desert-like environments to high-elevation alpine landscapes. As you explore the forest’s vast expanse you’ll encounter sparse desert-type vegetation in the lower elevations giving way to a transition zone dominated by low-growing pinyon pine and juniper. Further up, the forest transforms into a lush realm featuring stands of aspen and conifers including pine, spruce, and fir.

Climatic extremes: One of the defining characteristics of Dixie National Forest is its range of climatic extremes. The forest experiences precipitation ranging from 10 inches in the lower elevations to over 40 inches per year near Brian Head Peak. At higher elevations, the majority of annual precipitation falls as snow creating a winter wonderland. Thunderstorms are common during July and August often bringing heavy rains and making August the wettest month in some areas.

Varied elevations: The forest’s topography is marked by varying elevations offering a visual feast for visitors. Elevations range from 2,800 feet near St. George to the towering 11,322 feet at Blue Bell Knoll on Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin adjacent to the Colorado River provides awe-inspiring scenery characterized by multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

Rich wildlife habitat: Dixie National Forest provides a diverse and thriving habitat for a wide range of wildlife species. From elusive cougars and bobcats to majestic golden eagles and wild turkeys, the forest’s varied terrain supports a multitude of creatures. Big game hunting has traditionally been a major attraction and more recently there has been a growing interest in wildlife viewing and photography.

Recreational opportunities: Offering a plethora of recreational activities, Dixie National Forest caters to outdoor enthusiasts. With 26 developed campgrounds, five picnic sites, and group camping areas the forest provides opportunities for camping, hunting, scenic driving, hiking, and horseback riding. Additionally, there are 83,000 acres of designated wilderness areas including Pine Valley, Box-Death Hollow, and Ashdown Gorge ensuring a mix of both primitive and developed recreational experiences.

Archaeological treasures: Beyond its natural wonders, Dixie National Forest holds archaeological treasures that speak to the region’s rich human history. Pictographs, petroglyphs, and artifacts reveal the presence of prehistoric and historic populations. The forest’s heritage program aims to interpret and preserve these clues allowing visitors to explore and appreciate the area’s cultural significance.

In essence, Dixie National Forest encapsulates a tapestry of natural and cultural wonders providing an immersive experience for those eager to connect with the diverse landscapes and historical narratives of southern Utah.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History

Established on September 25, 1905, as the Dixie Forest Reserve by the General Land Office, Dixie National Forest has a history rooted in southern Utah. The name Dixie comes from the local term for the warm southern part of Utah which stuck after settlers arrived in 1851 to grow cotton for the Mormon Church. The forest’s name reflects its warm climate, a connection maintained since its inception.

In 1906, the U.S. Forest Service took over management officially designating Dixie Forest Reserve as a National Forest on March 4, 1907. The forest’s boundaries changed over time including the addition of the western part of Sevier National Forest in 1922 and the full integration of Powell National Forest on October 1, 1944. Despite occasional local sentiments to change the name bureaucratic complexities kept it as Dixie National Forest.

Beyond administrative changes, Dixie National Forest has a history reaching back to Native American cultures like the Desert-Archaic, Fremont, and Anasazi. Spanish explorers, such as Father Silvestre Veles de Escalante in 1776 ventured through the region leaving the Old Spanish Trail. Trappers, traders, and gold hunters frequented the area between 1835 and 1850 establishing it as a well-defined trail with challenges from the local Paiute Indians.

The forest experienced a continuous influx of settlers and explorers influencing the landscape and contributing to the region’s historical richness. Today, as the largest National Forest in Utah, Dixie National Forest’s history is woven into Utah’s Dixie reflecting a legacy of human effort and a lasting connection between the land and its inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique location of Dixie National Forest

Located in the heart of southern Utah, Dixie National Forest occupies a unique and strategically important location in the region’s diverse landscape. Stretching for approximately 170 miles across the state, the forest straddles the geographical divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.

This distinctive positioning contributes to the forest’s exceptional scenic variety featuring everything from the rugged cliffs near the Colorado River to the high-elevation plateaus like Boulder Mountain. The southern rim of the Great Basin where Dixie National Forest unfolds showcases multi-colored cliffs and steep-walled gorges carved by the Colorado River canyons.

This unique location not only makes the forest a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking diverse recreational opportunities but also highlights its significance as a vital ecological transition zone where the Great Basin and Colorado River ecosystems converge, creating a mosaic of habitats that support a rich array of plant and animal life. Dixie National Forest’s distinctive geographical setting thus adds an extra layer of allure to its already captivating natural beauty.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vegetation and plant species in Dixie National Forest

Utah Juniper: Found in the lower elevations of Dixie National Forest, the Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) is a hardy evergreen, well-adapted to arid conditions. Its twisted branches and scale-like leaves characterize the landscape showcasing its resilience in desert-like environments.

Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine: Alongside the Utah Juniper, the Single-Leaf Pinyon Pine (Pinus monophylla) is a common sight in the lower elevations. Recognizable by its short needles bundled in pairs, this small pine species plays a significant role in the ecological tapestry of the forest, demonstrating adaptability to the region’s challenging climate.

Colorado Pinyon: Thriving in the transition zone of mid-elevations, the Colorado Pinyon (Pinus edulis) is a low-growing pine species with distinct two-needle clusters. Its presence contributes to the diverse plant communities within Dixie National Forest highlighting the unique characteristics of this intermediate zone.

Quaking Aspen: As elevation increases, the landscape transforms with the emergence of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves. Known for their fluttering leaves, these deciduous trees create visually stunning landscapes in higher altitudes offering a striking contrast to the evergreen-dominated lower elevations.

White Fir: At the highest elevations, coniferous forests dominate and the White Fir (Abies concolor) is a notable species in this upper zone. With its tall stature and soft needles, this fir species contributes to the overall biodiversity of Dixie National Forest forming a key component of the high-elevation ecosystems.

Engelmann Spruce: Another coniferous species in the high-elevation zones is the Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii). Recognizable by its slender, blue-green needles, this spruce species is well-adapted to the colder and more elevated regions of the forest playing a vital role in shaping the upper reaches of Dixie National Forest.

Limber Pine: Completing the trio of conifers in the highest elevations is the Limber Pine (Pinus flexilis). Its flexible branches and long needles characterize this hardy pine species. As a resilient inhabitant of the alpine zones, the Limber Pine adds to the biodiversity and ecological resilience of Dixie National Forest.

These plant species collectively contribute to the intricate ecological mosaic of Dixie National Forest adapting to the varied elevations and climates that define this unique and diverse natural environment.

Dixie National Forest (Panguitch Lake) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fauna

Cougar: The elusive and majestic cougar (Puma concolor) also known as mountain lion or puma, roams the diverse landscapes of Dixie National Forest. As a top predator, cougars play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling herbivore populations. Their presence underscores the wild and untamed nature of the forest.

Bobcat: The adaptable bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a skilled hunter found in Dixie National Forest. With its distinctive tufted ears and spotted coat, this elusive feline navigates various habitats within the forest. Bobcats contribute to the biodiversity by preying on small mammals, birds, and other smaller creatures.

Golden Eagle: The skies above Dixie National Forest are graced by the majestic Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Known for its impressive wingspan and keen eyesight, this raptor dominates the aerial domain. Golden Eagles are a symbol of the forest’s avian diversity and their presence adds to the rich tapestry of wildlife in the area.

Cottontail rabbit: The cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus spp.) with its distinctive fluffy tail is a common sight in the lower elevations of the forest. These small herbivores are integral to the food web providing sustenance for predators like bobcats and birds of prey. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in diverse habitats.

Wild turkey: The iconic wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) is a resident of Dixie National Forest particularly in areas with mixed vegetation. With their striking plumage and distinctive calls, wild turkeys contribute to the avian diversity of the forest. They play a role in seed dispersal and insect control, further enhancing the ecosystem.

Utah prairie dog: The Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens), a keystone species, creates burrow systems in the meadows and grasslands of the forest. Their activities aerate the soil and provide habitat for other species. Conservation efforts for the Utah prairie dog contribute to maintaining the health of Dixie National Forest’s unique ecosystems.

Blue grouse: The blue grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) adapted to the higher elevations is a distinctive bird species found in the coniferous forests of Dixie National Forest. Their mottled plumage provides excellent camouflage and their presence reflects the forest’s ecological diversity, particularly in the alpine zones.

Dixie National Forest’s fauna represents a harmonious interplay of predators, herbivores, and avian species showcasing the resilience and adaptability of wildlife in this diverse and ecologically significant environment.

Dixie National Forest (Red Canyon) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attractions in Dixie National Forest

1. Red Canyon

Located within Dixie National Forest, Red Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder renowned for its vibrant red rock formations. Often referred to as a mini Bryce Canyon, Red Canyon offers a captivating preview of the geological splendor that characterizes the broader region. Visitors can explore the area through scenic drives, and hiking trails, and witness the awe-inspiring beauty of towering hoodoos and sandstone cliffs.

2. Boulder Mountain

Boulder Mountain, one of the largest high-elevation plateaus in the United States graces Dixie National Forest with its serene landscapes. Dotted with hundreds of small lakes this area is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Fishing, hiking, and camping opportunities abound providing a tranquil escape into the heart of the forest’s diverse ecosystems.

3. Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake surrounded by the picturesque scenery of Dixie National Forest is a haven for anglers and nature enthusiasts. The lake offers excellent fishing opportunities for trout making it a popular destination for those seeking a peaceful day by the water. The surrounding forested terrain adds to the charm creating an ideal setting for camping and outdoor recreation.

4. Box-Death Hollow Wilderness

For those seeking a more secluded and rugged adventure, the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness presents an untamed paradise within Dixie National Forest. This designated wilderness area features deep canyons, meandering streams, and lush vegetation. Hiking trails lead adventurers through this pristine landscape, offering a chance to connect with nature in its raw and unspoiled state.

5. Powell Point

Powell Point provides a panoramic view that stretches for miles allowing visitors to marvel at the vastness of Dixie National Forest and beyond. This viewpoint, accessible by car provides a unique perspective of the forest’s varied terrain from high-elevation plateaus to the rugged canyons below. Sunset views from Powell Point are particularly stunning, casting a warm glow over the diverse landscapes.

6. Hell’s Backbone Bridge

Hell’s Backbone Bridge is a remarkable engineering feat that spans across a deep gorge offering a thrilling experience for those who traverse it. This narrow bridge provides stunning views of Death Hollow and the surrounding forested landscapes. The journey across Hell’s Backbone is not only an adventure in itself but also a gateway to the captivating scenery of Dixie National Forest.

Dixie National Forest (Scenic Byway 12) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Scenic Byway 12

Running through the heart of Dixie National Forest, Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road renowned for its spectacular views and diverse landscapes. The journey along this scenic route takes travelers through red rock canyons, alpine forests, and expansive plateaus. Numerous pull-offs and viewpoints offer opportunities to appreciate the unique features of the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s attractions provide a varied tapestry of natural wonders from iconic rock formations to serene lakeshores and untamed wilderness. Each destination within the forest offers a distinct and memorable experience inviting visitors to explore the diverse facets of this captivating landscape.

Recreational activities in Dixie National Forest

1. Hiking and nature trails

Dixie National Forest beckons outdoor enthusiasts with an extensive network of hiking and nature trails that cater to all skill levels. Whether you’re seeking a stroll amidst towering ponderosa pines or a challenging hike to witness panoramic vistas, the forest provides a diverse range of trails. Popular routes include those leading to scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, and unique geological formations allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the American Southwest.

2. Fishing at Panguitch Lake

Panguitch Lake ensconced within the forested landscapes is a haven for fishing enthusiasts. Renowned for its pristine waters, the lake offers a rewarding experience for anglers seeking trout, including rainbow and cutthroat varieties. The tranquil surroundings coupled with the thrill of a potential catch make Panguitch Lake a popular destination for those who relish a serene day by the water.

3. Camping in scenic campgrounds

Dixie National Forest provides a plethora of camping opportunities across its 26 developed campgrounds. From the shores of Panguitch Lake to the alpine meadows near Boulder Mountain, these campgrounds cater to various preferences. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek amenities like fire pits and picnic tables, the forest’s campgrounds offer a chance to immerse yourself in the peaceful ambiance of nature.

4. Scenic drives along Byway 12

Embark on a journey through the heart of Dixie National Forest via Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road celebrated for its breathtaking landscapes. This scenic drive takes travelers on a visual feast passing through diverse terrains including red rock canyons, alpine plateaus, and forested realms. Numerous pull-offs provide opportunities for photography and contemplation of the forest’s natural wonders.

5. Winter activities

When winter blankets Dixie National Forest in snow, the landscape transforms into a snowy wonderland offering opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. The forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for these winter sports allowing visitors to experience the serene beauty of snow-covered landscapes while engaging in invigorating outdoor activities.

6. Wildlife viewing

Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife and avid nature enthusiasts can partake in wildlife viewing experiences. From the elusive cougar to the vibrant blue grouse, the forest supports a diverse range of species. Birdwatchers can spot golden eagles soaring in the skies adding to the rich avian tapestry of the area. Patient observers may also catch glimpses of deer, antelope, and other forest inhabitants.

Dixie National Forest’s recreational activities cater to a wide spectrum of interests ensuring that visitors can tailor their experiences to match their preferences whether seeking adventure, tranquility, or a cultural journey through time.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Facilities and amenities in Dixie National Forest

Campgrounds and picnic sites: Dixie National Forest boasts a network of 26 developed campgrounds strategically located to offer a range of camping experiences. From lakeside camping near Panguitch Lake to forested retreats, these campgrounds provide essential amenities such as fire pits, picnic tables, and vault toilets. Whether you prefer a rustic experience or seek family-friendly sites, the forest’s campgrounds cater to diverse preferences allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature.

Visitor centers and information stations: Throughout Dixie National Forest visitor centers and information stations serve as gateways to the forest’s wonders. Headquartered in Cedar City, these facilities provide valuable resources, maps, and knowledgeable staff to assist visitors in planning their exploration. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned adventurer, these centers offer insights into the diverse landscapes, recreational activities, and cultural history of the forest.

Scenic byways and viewpoints: Navigating through Dixie National Forest is made seamless with designated scenic byways and viewpoints. Scenic Byway 12 takes travelers on a visual journey through diverse terrains. Numerous viewpoints along the route provide opportunities for breathtaking vistas allowing visitors to pause, appreciate, and capture the natural beauty that unfolds before them.

Winter recreation facilities: During the winter months, Dixie National Forest transforms into a snowy playground and the forest collaborates with state parks to maintain trails for winter activities. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling enthusiasts can access well-maintained trails providing a unique perspective of the forest blanketed in snow. These facilities ensure that winter visitors can engage in invigorating outdoor activities while surrounded by the serene beauty of a winter landscape.

Fishing access points: Panguitch Lake and other water bodies within Dixie National Forest offer excellent fishing opportunities and the forest provides well-maintained fishing access points. These points facilitate anglers in reaching prime fishing spots enhancing the overall fishing experience. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, these access points contribute to the accessibility and enjoyment of fishing within the forest.

Dixie National Forest’s facilities and amenities are designed to enhance the visitor experience providing essential resources, educational opportunities, and well-maintained spaces for a diverse range of recreational activities. Whether seeking information, cultural insights, or a serene camping spot, the forest’s amenities cater to the varied needs of its visitors.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for visiting Dixie National Forest

Stay informed with visitor centers: Take advantage of the visitor centers and information stations within the forest. These hubs provide maps, trail information, and knowledgeable staff to help you plan your activities.

Respect wildlife and nature: Dixie National Forest is a haven for wildlife so approach encounters with respect. Keep a safe distance, avoid feeding animals, and observe quietly. Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out your trash and minimizing your impact on the environment. By respecting nature, you contribute to the preservation of the forest’s delicate ecosystems.

Pack essentials for outdoor activities: Whether you’re hiking, camping, or fishing ensure you pack essentials. Bring sufficient water, snacks, sunscreen, and appropriate clothing for changing weather conditions. If engaging in winter activities, carry winter gear. Having the right equipment ensures a comfortable and safe outdoor experience within the varied landscapes of Dixie National Forest.

Explore Scenic Byway 12: Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road that traverses Dixie National Forest. This scenic route offers spectacular views and diverse landscapes. Numerous viewpoints along the byway provide excellent photo opportunities and a chance to appreciate the unique features of the forest. Take your time to savor the journey.

Check trail conditions and closures: Before embarking on hiking or other trail-based activities, check for trail conditions and possible closures. Weather, maintenance, or wildlife management may affect accessibility. Stay informed by consulting with park rangers, checking online resources or contacting visitor centers. This ensures a safe and enjoyable exploration of the forest’s trails.

Participate in interpretive programs: Immerse yourself in the cultural and historical aspects of Dixie National Forest by participating in interpretive programs. These programs, often organized by the forest service provide valuable insights into the region’s Native American history, early settlement, and ecological significance. Engaging with these programs enhances your connection to the land.

Respect heritage and historical sites: Dixie National Forest holds historical and cultural significance, so respect heritage sites and artifacts. Follow established trails, avoid touching petroglyphs or ancient structures, and adhere to any posted guidelines. Preserving these sites ensures that future generations can also appreciate the rich history of the forest.

Prepare for altitude changes: Dixie National Forest spans a range of elevations from lower desert areas to alpine plateaus. Be mindful of altitude changes especially if you’re not acclimated to higher elevations. Take it easy during the first day to avoid altitude sickness, stay hydrated, and be aware of any health concerns related to changing elevations.

Check for permits and regulations: Depending on your activities, certain permits or regulations may apply. Check if camping, fishing, or other recreational activities require permits, and ensure you comply with all forest regulations. This helps in maintaining the integrity of the forest and ensures a smooth and lawful visit.

By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your visit to Dixie National Forest ensuring a memorable and respectful exploration of its diverse landscapes and natural wonders.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

In summary, Dixie National Forest spanning nearly two million acres in southern Utah showcases a diverse tapestry of natural wonders. From captivating canyons and rock formations to tranquil lakes and towering ponderosa pines, the forest encompasses various ecosystems and elevations. As Utah’s largest National Forest, it straddles the Great Basin and the Colorado River boasting a rich history since its establishment in 1905.

Here are a few more articles to help you explore the area:

As you leave Dixie National Forest, it’s hard not to feel a sense of awe at the natural beauty that surrounds you. Whether you spent your time hiking through the forest, fishing in one of its many streams, or simply taking in the stunning views, you’ll likely leave with memories that will last a lifetime. And while the forest is certainly a place of natural wonder, it’s also a reminder of the importance of preserving our planet’s precious resources for generations to come. So as you say goodbye to Dixie National Forest, take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the natural world and the role we all play in protecting it.

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park

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.

Camping In Utah: Explore the Mountains, Lakes, and Red Rock Country

Some of America’s most spectacular camping spots are in Utah

Whether you want to experience the wonders of red rock country, the many activities in the mountains, or the sparkling shores of the Great Salt Lake, you’ll find there is a little something for everyone in Utah.

When is the best time to go camping in Utah?

There are activities to enjoy year-round in Utah. In the warm spring and summer months, you can hike miles of trails through red rock country or go canyoneering through slot canyons. By winter, the mountains provide a wonderland for activities like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Spring is the perfect time to go camping in Utah when the temperatures are more comfortable, there are fewer crowds than in the summer, and the wildflowers are blooming. 

Driving in Utah

Utah has some of the most scenic roads in the country but not all routes are suitable for RVs. Make sure you have an RV-safe GPS to get turn-by-turn directions based on your vehicle’s specifications. Current weather and traffic conditions are regularly updated on the UDOT website. 

Some of the major highways in Utah include:

  • Interstate 15 runs north-south all the way through Western Utah and connects most of the state’s major cities including Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and St. George
  • Interstate 70 branches off I-15 in the western half of the state near the Cove Fort Historic Site and continues to Maryland on the East Coast
  • Interstate 80 spans east-west in Northern Utah through Salt Lake City, over the Wasatch Mountains, and northeast into Wyoming
  • U.S. Route 6 runs east-west through Central Utah. Stretches of the route are concurrent with the other major highways including I-15, I-70, and US-50.
  • U.S. Route 191 runs north-south through Eastern Utah and passes through Moab and serves as the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
  • U.S. Route 89 spans north-south through Central Utah’s Wasatch Mountains
Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic drives in Utah

Although many roads in Utah provide beautiful views some routes have been designated as Scenic Byways. However, not all of these routes are RV-friendly.

Utah Scenic Byways include:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

This scenic route twists and turns through the towering cliffs in Zion National Park. It follows up a series of switchbacks and through a tunnel built right into the rock cliff. Keep in mind the road has a vehicle length limit of 40 feet (or 50 feet for vehicle combinations) and is not suitable for large RVs. 

Scenic Byway 12

Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road that connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. The byway leads over Boulder Mountain Pass and through Red Canyon tunnels.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24

This scenic stretch of US Route 24 runs through Capitol Reef National Park. The route begins in Torrey and heads east through the park passing by the visitor center. It continues through a remote area before reaching the small town of Hanksville and then follows north to connect with I-70. 

Mt. Carmel to Long Valley Scenic Byway

This byway follows a beautiful stretch of US-89 for about 60 miles. It begins in the town of Kanab and leads north toward Mt. Carmel Junction. Several roads branch off the byway and provide access to Grand Staircase National Monument. The road winds through red rock canyons and a forested mountain landscape until it comes to an end at the US-89 and US-12 junction.

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

If you’re camping in Utah during the fall, the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway is the perfect route to take to see the seasonal foliage. The route runs east-west on US-89 from Logan to Garden City and on to Bear Lake. This area provides access to all kinds of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and skiing.

National Parks in Utah

Utah is best known for its Mighty Five National Parks. The parks are all within a relatively short drive of one another and some can be connected via the scenic byways listed above.

If you plan on visiting at least several of the parks purchase an America the Beautiful Pass ahead of time. This annual pass is $80 and good for the entire year. Considering the entrance fee to these national parks are $35 for each location the annual pass pays for itself after visiting just three parks.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion is the westernmost national park in Utah located 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The landscape is dominated by giant sandstone cliffs and slot canyons providing ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. Hike the park’s scenic trails such as the famous Angels Landing, climb or canyoneer in the slot canyons, or enjoy tubing on the Virgin River.

There are three campgrounds in Zion including South Campground and Watchman Campground. There are also several campgrounds and RV parks within a short drive of the park.

Bordering the eastern entrance to the park is Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. This vast, 4,000-acre ranch offers spacious RV sites, a variety of glamping accommodations such as cabins, yurts, and Conestoga wagons as well as on-site activities available through East Zion Adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Less than two hours east of Zion, Bryce Canyon is known for its massive hoodoos and spires. At 9,100 feet in elevation, Bryce Canyon is nearly double that of Zion (at just 4,000 feet). The landscape becomes blanketed in snow during the winter and one of the two campgrounds in the park closes for the season. 

Sunset Campground is open April 15–October 31 with three loops of campsites. Reservations are required during the peak season May 20–October 15. North Campground has 99 campsites that are available all year on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can get sweeping views of Bryce Amphitheater from both Sunrise and Sunset Points. If you want a closer look hike the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop to make your way down into the canyon. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is perhaps Utah’s most underrated National Park. The park is 116 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon via the Scenic Byway 12. Much like Zion, the landscape is centered round the massive red rock cliffs.

There is only one developed campground in Capitol Reef and it is open year round: Fruita Campground accepts reservations during the peak season March 1–October 31. The campground has spacious sites for all types of RVs as well as a dump station and potable water. The area is remote with no cell service, so come prepared and be ready to unplug. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is not only the most iconic park in Utah but one of the most famous national parks in the country. The park is home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. The natural arches and giant rock formations provide amazing views. Stop by the viewpoint overlooking the famous Delicate Arch or take the 3-mile hike to see the arch up close.

As a relatively compact national park, Arches does not have the acreage of some of the other national parks for guests to spread out. As a result, a timed program is in place to manage the crowds that the park sees between April and October. For additional information refer to 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits.

There is one campground located in the park, Devils Garden Campground. Due to the park’s popularity, reservations are essential if you want a spot. There are numerous full-service RV parks in the Moab area and BLM land for boondocking just a short drive from the park entrance.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is about an hour’s drive from Moab. The park is divided into four districts; the Island In The Sky District is the most popular and the easiest to access. The Needles District is located in the southeastern part of the park with scenic hiking trails, a campground, and a visitor center. The Maze is the most remote district in the park. Those visiting the Maze will need to be completely self-sufficient as there are no services available. Lastly, the Rivers District provides access to the Colorado and Green Rivers which carve the park’s massive canyons.

One of the best known highlights in the park is the Mesa Arch. This iconic rock formation is located in the Island In The Sky District just off Grand View Point Road. The arch is easy to access from the trailhead at just a half-mile walk with minimal elevation gain.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah State Parks

While the Mighty Five National Parks get all the attention, there are several Utah State Parks with equally impressive views. Some notable parks include:

  • Dead Horse Point State Park is just a short drive from Moab and Canyonlands National Park. The park also has two RV campgrounds along with hiking trails and beautiful canyon views.
  • Deer Creek State Park sits about an hour away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir. The park has great views of the Wasatch Mountains, a campground with waterfront sites, and opportunities for fishing and boating. 
  • Goblin Valley State Park located about an hour from Capitol Reef has hiking trails, unique rock formations, as well as an RV-friendly campground with about 23 sites.
  • Jordanelle State Park makes a great home base just 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. The park is located on the shores of Jordanelle Reservoir and offers several activities like hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • Rockport State Park is also just 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Rockport Reservoir. The park has five developed campgrounds with both RV and tent sites available. 
  • Utah Lake State Park is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.
  • Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.
Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping near Salt Lake City

There are numerous campgrounds and RV parks to choose from in the Salt Lake City area.

This includes Salt Lake City KOA Holiday, Sun Outdoors Salt Lake City (formerly Pony Express RV Resort), nearby state parks, forest campgrounds, and private RV parks like the highly rated Mountain Valley RV Resort in Heber City.   

Camping on the Great Salt Lake

If you’re camping in Salt Lake City, you’ll be close to all kinds of attractions, restaurants, and businesses. However, if you want to camp even closer to the Great Salt Lake, there are a few state park campgrounds that will put you just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Antelope Island is the largest island on the Great Salt Lake. The island is preserved as a state park with a few RV-friendly campgrounds, beach access, and several hiking trails that overlook the lake.

Great Salt Lake State Park also has a campground open year-round. The campground can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length. The sites include water and electricity and have access to the park’s dump station. The park additionally offers boat slips and public viewpoints overlooking the lake.

Camping on Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell camping

Lake Powell is located in Southern Utah and stretches into Northern Arizona. It is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as part of the Colorado River. There are several RV campgrounds in the area including NPS-managed campgrounds and privately operated parks that provide spacious RV campsites and access to the river for activities.

Bullfrog RV & Campground is operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas on the north end of Lake Powell. The campground has spacious tent and RV sites with full hookups and concrete pads. They have a camp store as well as a dump station, potable water, and a launch ramp.

Camping near Moab

Moab is a prime destination in Eastern Utah for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its close proximity to the iconic Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and several other parks and trails.

The city has a wide variety of restaurants, guided tours are available, and there are numerous RV camping accommodations to choose from. One of the best options in the area is Moab Valley RV Resort with spacious RV sites, tiny home rentals, and all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay.

Boondocking in Utah

Did you know that nearly 42 percent of Utah is public land? According to the BLM, the bureau manages over 22.9 million acres of public land in the state. This provides endless opportunities for RVers to go boondocking off the grid away from the crowded campgrounds.

Plan your Utah camping trip

Camping in Utah is a great adventure to experience in your RV. For more tips check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park, on Canyonlands

Looking for Your Next Favorite Road Trip? You Need to Take a Scenic Byway!

Take a scenic byway on your next road trip

In This Land is Your Land, Woody Guthrie sang the words, “As I went walking that ribbon of highway / I saw above me that endless skyway.” If Guthrie was singing about some of the most beautiful ribbons of highway in the United States, there’s a good chance he was talking about one of the country’s scenic byways.

In both popular culture and our imaginations, we tend to romanticize road trips as epic journeys across the nation’s vast highways. The only problem is there’s nothing romantic about our nation’s highways. Either you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic as you pass through a major metropolis or you’re the lone motorist on an eerily empty stretch of cornfield-lined pavement. We almost take for granted that the great American road trip should be on a highway—but we’re forgetting about a far more attractive alternative: scenic byways.

National Scenic Byways are officially designated roads that meet a set of government-defined criteria. To become a scenic byway, a road must be recognized for one or more of six intrinsic qualities which include archaeological, cultural, natural, historic, recreational, or scenic significance. As their name suggests, these roads are the most scenic way to see the country by far. Here’s why your next road trip should be on a scenic byway.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The difference between a byway and a highway

On the surface, distinguishing a highway from a scenic byway might sound complicated. The differences, however, are quite obvious especially when you first make the switch from highways to byways. Highways are wide roads connecting big cities, built to facilitate the flow of heavy traffic. Though they can be found all over the country, they’re a staple of major metropolitan areas with high population density. Though highways are certainly the most efficient way to travel, they’re often not free with many requiring tolls to pass.

Byways, by contrast, tend to be narrower, secondary roads often located in rural areas. You won’t find scenic byways wrapping around major cities but rather serve as a means of connection for those living in less populated areas. They’re unstructured, unsurfaced, or even covered with grass.

The National Scenic Byways Program started in 1991 when Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act which aimed to promote roads of special aesthetic or cultural significance. Some byways are even designated All-American Roads which must meet two (instead of just one) of the intrinsic qualities mentioned above. All-American Roads are considered to have unique features that can’t be found anywhere else in the US. Many even consider these roads to be destinations on their own.

Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why ride a byway?

If you still find yourself tempted by the efficient allure of the highway, there are plenty of reasons to give scenic byways a shot the next time you hit the road. The biggest benefit of scenic byways is the access they provide to local experiences like food, history, and scenery. From New Jersey to California and everywhere in between highways feel pretty homogenous. Byways don’t circumvent an area’s natural beauty in favor of efficiency— they take you through the heart of forests, mountains, and small towns giving you a reason to look out the window.

The Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia, for example, gives drivers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway in Maine gives you a sampling of Maine’s natural beauty: lakes, forests, farms, rivers, and wildlife. Meanwhile, the Mohawk Trail Byway in Williamstown, Massachusetts marks where Benedict Arnold led an army during the Revolutionary War, and where the Mohawk tribe battled the Pocumtucks. That’s a slice of culture you just can’t get on a highway.

Byways are also beneficial for local communities. Rather than spending your money at the McDonald’s in the highway rest stop, you’ll be passing through small towns. That means local shops, restaurants, and a warmer introduction to an area than you’d ever receive at a highway visitor center.

Trade the highway McDouble for some steak tips at a local barbeque joint. Rather than stretch your legs at a nondescript rest stop, park on a town’s Main Street and go exploring. A more intimate travel experience isn’t just beneficial for you but for the people living there too. Whether it’s patronizing family-owned restaurants, shopping at small boutiques, or filling up at an off-the-beaten-path gas station, the local economy will thank you.

Explore the byways

Now is actually the best time to start exploring the country’s scenic byways. These are a few byways you should keep on your radar for your next road trip.

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Red Rock Scenic Byway 

Winding through Arizona’s Red Rock Country, the Red Rock Scenic Byway is often called a museum without walls. Traversing incredible red rock and desert landscapes, State Route 179 runs south from Sedona through the Red Rock State Park to the junction with Interstate 17. There are also several trailheads accessed directly from the road offering numerous options for day hikes. Don’t miss the Cathedral Rock and the Bell Rock vista at the start of the southern trailhead.

If you need ideas, check out: Red Rock Scenic Byway: All-American Road

Alabama Coastal Connection Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama: Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

About 130 miles long, Alabama’s Coastal Connection showcases the best of the state’s Gulf Coast from quiet bays and wildlife-rich sanctuaries to immaculate white-sand beaches and historic forts. Alabama’s southern tip offers five different possible itineraries based on your interests, whether it’s history, food, or nature. The full route runs from Spanish Fort through Daphne and Fairhope via Magnolia Springs and Elberta to Orange Beach, along Gulf Shores to Dauphin Island and finishes in Grand Bay.

Check this out to learn more: Experience the Alabama Gulf Coast along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

Just 76 miles long, the Amish Country Byway might seem like a drive you can complete in a few hours but factor in the cultural and historic treasures dotted along the road and you’ll need at least a day. The road curves through and over the hills of pastoral countryside making it easy to forget about the trappings of modern life. Be sure to visit Amish museums, farms and antique shops, and enjoy some seriously good cooking in one of the many places to stop for a bite.

Here are some helpful resources:

Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck National Scenic Byway

It twists and loops over just 70 miles yet this Black Hills byway is the perfect introduction to South Dakota’s breathtaking landscapes. The route is actually four interlacing roads including Needles Highway where the drive takes you through narrow tunnels and below towering granite pinnacles. It also cuts through Custer State Park where buffalo graze the fields and passes Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial.

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

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

At just under 123 miles, this All-American Road cuts through some of the state’s most spectacular scenery (and it’s up against some strong competition). Starting in Panguitch and unravelling east to Torrey, the road feels like it’s always been here curving past moon-grey mountains and ducking under peach-rock arches. Make a brief detour to see Escalante Petrified Forest, filled with fossilised trees. 

Read more: Scenic Byway 12: An All American Road

Colonial Parkway

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

Connecting three of Virginia’s most historically significant cities, the Colonial Parkway links Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Only 23 miles long, the byway is intended for sightseeing so is free of trucks and commercial vehicles and is still a remarkable example of such American parkway design. 

Check this out to learn more: Live in Colonial Times: Experience the Revolution in a Revolutionary Way

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture, and more can be experienced as you travel along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. Download the free personal tour app (search “creole” in your app store.) Once on the trail, open the app and make sure your location is enabled. It’s like having a personal tour guide in the vehicle with you!

Here are some helpful resources:

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia: Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway

The beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds this route as it encircles the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Winding through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians, you will find vistas atop Brasstown Bald that are jaw-dropping and the cooling mists of waterfalls are plentiful. Everywhere scenic wonders fill this region. Colorful wildflowers, waterfalls, and dazzling fall colors are some of what you will see. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Tennessee: Cherohala Skyway

The Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. Popular stops along and near the Skyway include Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Santeetlah Lake, and many Cherokee sites. This byway in particular is known for its fall colors.

If you need ideas, check out:

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Here are a few great articles to help you do just that:

Worth Pondering…

I had spent the day, as Chuck Berry once sang, with no particular place to go. And getting there was half the fun.

Most Scenic Road Trips in Utah

Make plans now to take all 10 of the best road trips in Utah—you won’t regret it

 Utah presents an array of scenic drives that will leave roadtrippers salivating for more. The terrain is vast and scarred with stunning canyons, defiant mountains, random but complex rock formations, fossil and archeological remnants from distant eras, and plenty of cool pit-stop or side-trip lookouts, interpretive sites, hikes, towns, parks, and even additional branching roadways.

Utah is a valued chunk of many inspiring National Scenic Byways and All-American Roadways. Also, it contributes its slew of state-sponsored drives across a wide spectrum of lengths and intensities. Depending on your odometer goals and gas fund, these are the best, most scenic road trips to undertake in the Beehive State. 

Zion National Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Zion National Park Roadways

Picturesque and world-famous Zion National Park has a few great options for exploring with wheels. A lovely lead-up to the East entrance is the Zion National Scenic Byway (State Route 9) which begins at the intersection with State Route 17 in the city of La Verkin and cruises for 54 miles to the park entrance and then onwards to Mount Carmel Junction. Along the way, the byway passes through the towns of Rockville and Springdale and the mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.

Also en route is the turnoff for Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If adventuring after the Thanksgiving long weekend, motorists can continue in their own car along this cherished route. However, during peak season (late spring through early fall) visitors must transfer to the official shuttles to ease the congestion in the heart of the park. 

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway

The Utah segment of the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway provides an extensive tour through the past and present stomping grounds of the Ancestral Puebloan and other Indigenous peoples of the Four Corners region (the meeting point of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico).

It’s best to break this over 400-mile drive into two or three-day chunks to hit all of the amazing stops spread across sections of U.S. 191 and 163 and State Route 261 and 262. Such highlights include the cliff dwellings of the Canyonlands region, Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum, Hovenweep National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Valley of the Gods, and Natural Bridges National Monument to name a few. Round trippers can return the way they came perhaps saving certain stops for the return journey or jumping on this next entry to switch up the scenery.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bicentennial Highway

Southeastern Utah’s Bicentennial Highway (U.S. 95) is a perfect complement to the culturally-focused Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway. This highway goes for 133 miles from the small town of Hanksville back to the San Juan city of Blanding (where the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum, a highlight shared with the Trail of the Ancients can be found).

To the West, views of the Henry Mountains can be enjoyed. The road then dives into classic canyon country before booting across the long and lean Lake Powell/Colorado River at the Hite Crossing Bridge (near the arresting Hite Overlook). As with the Trail of the Ancients, a side-trip loop around Bridge View Drive in Natural Bridges National Monument is a must. 

Arches Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Connecting Arches, Dead Horse, and Canyonlands

This one is more of a makeshift road trip based out of Moab with a bunch of cool stops that can be made at your leisure. For starters, head north into Arches National Park and make the out-and-back journey on Arches Scenic Drive.

Depending on how much time you invest in the various viewpoints and hikes either return to Moab to enjoy the offerings of this pretty desert town or head up to the turn-off for UT-313, marked by the Moab Giants Dinosaur Park. Shoot all the way down to Dead Horse State Park, and then backtrack to Grand View Point Road and descend into Canyonlands National Park/the Island in the Sky mesa. 

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Scenic Byway 12

Utah’s State Route/Scenic Byway 12 is designated as an All-American Road meaning it exemplifies particularly unique features of the country’s landscape. This 123-mile stretch links U.S. 89 just south of Panguitch (the Western terminus) with State Route 24 just east of Torrey (the Northeastern terminus). Travelers will get a taste of the Dixie National Forest, the army of hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, a view of the Henry Mountains, the sandstone cliffs of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the pastel hues of Capitol Reef National Park plus the state parks of Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Anasazi Museum with random tunnels and eye-catching rock formations randomly punctuating the drive. 

Potash Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Potash Scenic Byway

If a short, Moab-based, add-on road trip is all that is desired, scoot off on the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway for 17 miles of bliss. State Route 279 or simply Potash Road is a hidden gem drive and given the low density of traffic is also a favorite among cyclists. This route follows the curves of the Colorado River to the border of Canyonlands National Park.

The river is contrasted by prominent sandstone cliffs and a popular climbing spot known as Wall Street. Right out of the gates, this drive offers terrific views of Moab Valley. Next, jump out at Potash Road Dinosaur Tracks and Petroglyphs to appreciate the accidental imprints left behind by the extinct giants and the intentional markings left behind by some of the area’s first human inhabitants. And all the while, keep a keen eye for those amazing arches and creative rock formations that Utah is famous for. 

Upper Colorado Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (State Route 128)

This spectacular route along the Colorado River gorge begins at the Colorado River Bridge on the north end of Moab. For the first 13 miles, it parallels the Colorado River within a narrow section of the gorge providing breathtaking views of the surrounding red sandstone cliffs. Popular attractions along this portion of the route include viewpoints of the river, public camping areas, and Grandstaff Canyon.

After 24.7 miles the highway passes a viewpoint for an amazing view of the red rock spires of the Fisher Towers. After leaving the valley, the road winds farther up the river gorge until arriving at the site of historic Dewey Bridge at 29.8 miles. Unfortunately Dewey Bridge was destroyed in April 2008 by a brush fire. The road then follows the northern bank of the river before exiting the Colorado River gorge. The highway proceeds across open desert toward the ghost town of Cisco at 44 miles. After another 5 miles the route intersects Interstate 70.

Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Patchwork Parkway

Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The Patchwork Parkway (State Route 143) skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing.

This topmost rise of the geological Grand Staircase showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.

This highway is also known as the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway.

Prehistoric petroglyphs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Nine Mile Canyon

Cutting through the Book Cliffs of Eastern Utah is the must-see Nine Mile Canyon, dubbed the longest art gallery in the world. In this already seemingly sculpted place, the prehistoric Fremont Culture, Ute people, and other indigenous groups inscribed over 10,000 petroglyphs onto the canyon walls.

The 46-mile-long (one-way), winding Nine Mile Canyon Road brings these ancient and captivating works of art into view. Yes, despite the name, this road trip will chew up some solid miles. Thankfully, the road has been recently paved which makes the going a little easier for casual motorists but also spares the petroglyphs from harm that the kicked-up dust was causing over the years. Nine Mile Canyon Road can be accessed off Highway 191 near the Utah/Colorado border towns of Helper and Price. 

La Sal Mountain Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. La Sal Mountain Loop

From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab.

It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.

With so many chart-topping national, state, and native parks/monuments, having a car is essential for taking in all Utah offers. Sometimes the trick is to drive just a little bit at a time, taking many breaks along the way or transitioning to an adventure on foot (rope, boat, or bicycle). But on other occasions, it can be rewarding to bank a ton of miles and appreciate how much the landscape can change with the climbing odometer. The best road trip is the one that calls to you but these ten entries are a great place to start.  

Worth Pondering…

Standing there, gaping at this monstrous and inhumane spectacle of rock and cloud and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me. I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally…

—Edward Abbey, once a park ranger at Arches, from his classic novel Desert Solitaire

20 Scenic Road Trips to Take This Summer in Every Part of America

No matter where you are, an unforgettable road trip is never far away

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. For these 20 road trips, that is definitely true.

America is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world, it is home to mountains, prairies, canyons, deserts, lakes, beaches, forests, and just about any natural landscape you can imagine. If you like road trips, a lot of these incredible landscapes are accessible by road with tons of sights to see and other adventures waiting around each bend. If you’re not a fan of road trips, well, this list might change your mind.

Every corner of the United States has some incredible sights to see and whether you’re looking for history, nature, interesting small towns, or anything in between, there’s a scenic drive for you. Take advantage of the warm weather and check out these summertime drives; the adventures won’t disappoint.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northwest

Spirit River Memorial Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington: Spirit Lake Memorial Highway 

The Spirit Lake Memorial Highway is the only scenic byway in the U.S. that penetrates a fresh volcanic blast zone. This scenic and historic route is a 52-mile journey into the scene of epic destruction that Mount St. Helens caused when it erupted on May 18, 1980. Along the route are four distinct interpretive and tour centers: Silver Lake, Hoffstadt Bluffs, the Weyerhaeuser Forest Learning Center, and Johnston Ridge. Each one tells a different part of the story from the natural history before the May 1980 eruption, the aftermath, reforestation efforts, and the natural recovery of plants and animals. 

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Northeast

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont: Green Mountain Byway

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Little River, Smugglers Notch, Waterbury Center state parks, and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests are along the route. Stowe is a premier four-season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island: Ocean Drive

This loop around the island’s coast is full of seaside views, charm, and historic homes to excite the imagination. Along Harrison and Ocean Avenues, a plethora of 1865-1914 mansions from the Gilded Age come into view that were once summer homes and getaways for the financially and socially elite but now many of the Newport Mansions are open to public tours. For outdoor fun, stop at Brenton Point State Park to enjoy the water or a nice picnic spread.

Lancaster County Amish Country Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Amish Country Drive

A visit to Amish country is a worthwhile addition to your summer drive plans. When all else fails and you’re looking for the idyllic peacefulness of a pure country drive, circle around the city of Lancaster and see some of the gloriously beautiful landscapes. Unplug and experience communities of people who aren’t affected by the hustle and bustle of modern life, instead keeping their treasured traditions alive and strong to this day.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Midwest

Heritage Trail Driving Tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana: Heritage Trail Driving Tour

The 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour winds through Amish Country taking you down rural highways, country lanes, and charming main streets. Stop in Shipshewana to stroll the shop-lined streets where you’ll find handcrafted items, baked goods, and the Midwest’s largest flea market. Enjoy a delightful Amish meal at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury or Amish Acres in Nappanee.

Peter Norbeck Scenic Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota: Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway

Embracing South Dakota’s pastoral landscapes, the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway winds its way from Rapid City terminating at Mount Rushmore. This 70-mile route graces travelers with landmarks like the intriguing Needles Eye and the monumental Rushmore Presidents. En route, small towns like Keystone and Custer dot the journey lending aid if a leg stretch is overdue. Amidst this, Sylvan Lake, a man-made marvel provides a serene break. Its creation is attributed to Peter Norbeck and his predecessors. Norbeck was the byway’s namesake as well as South Dakota’s former governor in the early 20th century. Lastly, the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first week in August (August 4-13, 2023) showcases the byway’s lively side, drawing motor enthusiasts nationwide.

Amish Country Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio: Amish Country Byway

On a map, routes 39, 62, 515, and 60 form a sort of eyeglasses shape throughout Holmes County in Ohio. That’s fitting because exploring these four roads is a great way to explore Amish Country. These routes make up the Amish Country Scenic Byway, designated in June 2002 as a National Scenic Byway. These 72 miles of roadways are recognized for their unique cultural and historic significance. Along these roadways, you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields, and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southwest

Gold Rush Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Gold Rush Highway

Follow in the footsteps of miners and prospectors through California’s Gold Country along Highway 49—a road named after the gold seekers or 49ers who made their way to the state during the 1849 Gold Rush. Plan for five days to provide time to strike its rich panning for gold in the region’s rivers. You’ll also want to spend time exploring the rocky meadows and pine-covered foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Apache Trail

This historic road covers some of the most rugged terrains in Arizona. The land surrounding the road rises steeply to the north to form the Four Peaks Wilderness Area and to the south to form the Superstition Wilderness Area. Steep-sided canyons, rock outcroppings, and magnificent geologic formations are all along the road. Water played a major role in creating the beauty of the area, and it also provides numerous recreation opportunities. Fish Creek Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring section. The road hangs on the side of this high-walled canyon and winds its way along tremendous precipices that sink sheer for hundreds of feet below.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Scenic Byway 12

An All-American Road, Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America. It winds through canyons, red rock cliffs, pine and aspen forests, alpine mountains, national parks, state parks, a national monument, and quaint rural towns. On your 119 mile drive, you’ll discover the vast Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument and the beauty of Boulder Mountain.

Palms to Pines Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California: Palms to Pines Highway

The Coachella Valley is known for its beautiful scenery and warm weather but just a few miles to the south is a scenic drive that offers high mountain wilderness—a two-hour journey (to Mountain Center) provided you don’t stop to admire the gorgeous sights along the way. Palm trees give way to piñon pines and firs as the byway climbs into Santa Rosa and the San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road 

The Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road was designated by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1984. This route follows US 89A through the scenic canyon made popular in the 1920s when it was discovered by Hollywood. This scenic road offers a rare opportunity to study a variety of elements within a short distance. The road traverses seven major plant communities as a result of elevation changes, temperature variation, and precipitation. It begins near the town of Sedona and runs in a northerly direction through Oak Creek Canyon to the top of the Mogollon Rim, traveling areas rich with geologic formations similar to the Grand Canyon

Scenic Highway 28 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: Scenic Highway 28

Roughly paralleling the Rio Grande River, New Mexico Highway 28 travels from Mesilla to Canutillo (at the New Mexico-Texas state line). Along the drive, the Stahmann Farms pecan trees have grown over the roadway making for a sight straight out of a fairytale. Highway 28 is also home to Chopes Bar & Café, known for its tasty New Mexican food. Rio Grande Winery Vineyard & Winery and La Viña Winery are also hot spots along the roadway and very much a testament to New Mexico’s thriving, the centuries-old wine industry.

La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: La Sal Mountain Loop

From the alpine ridges of the La Sal Mountains to the red rock desert and sandstone pinnacles of Castle Rock, this back road is an adventure. This 60-mile route is paved and starts about 8 miles south of Moab off US-191 and loops through the mountains down to Castle Valley and SR 128 where it follows the Colorado River back to Moab. It takes about 3 hours to complete this drive. The narrow winding road while suitable for passenger cars is not suitable for large RVs. The La Sals are the most photographed mountain range in Utah, providing a dramatic background to the red rock mesas, buttes, and arches below.

Best Scenic Road Trips in the Southeast

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Colonial Parkway

The Colonial Parkway, a scenic roadway that spans 23 miles serves as a time machine transporting visitors to the colonial era of Virginia. Connecting three significant historic sites, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, this picturesque drive offers a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Colonial Parkway winds along the Virginia Peninsula linking three pivotal sites in American history. This well-preserved roadway takes travelers on a journey through time, immersing them in the story of America’s colonial beginnings. With its carefully designed architecture, stunning views of the James River, and access to iconic landmarks, the Colonial Parkway provides a unique opportunity to explore Virginia’s colonial heritage and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s roots.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky: Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway

Here’s a must-do for every American history buff. Explore the land of Honest Abe’s youth as well as several significant Civil War sites. Learn what Lincoln’s log cabin life was really like at the Lincoln Museum in Hodgenville, Kentucky; then visit Lincoln’s birthplace and the original Lincoln Memorial at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park. If you’re so inclined, you can pair these educational adventures with a stop or two at one of the many breweries and distilleries the area is famous for such as Jim Beam’s American Stillhouse.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail

One place in Southwest Louisiana that never ceases to amaze is the Creole Nature Trail, a 180-miles-long scenic byway where natural wonderlands abound. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s Last Great Wildernesses. The Creole Nature Trail features four wildlife refuges, three national and one state: Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and Rockefeller Refuge While there are five entrances to the Creole Nature Trail, the most popular entrances are off I-10 in Sulphur (Exit 20) and just east of Lake Charles at Louisiana Highway 397 (Exit 36).

Newfound Gap Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tennessee: Newfound Gap Road

When you get on Newfound Gap, you won’t believe the wealth of overlooks, picnic areas, and trails to explore. Take this spectacular road through Great Smoky Mountains National Park to experience the pristine wilderness that drives millions of Americans to this wildly popular park year after year. The views get more and more breathtaking, putting a lifetime’s worth of astonishing natural eye candy into a couple gallons of driving.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina and Virginia: Blue Ridge Parkway

A meandering road snaking for 469 miles along the crest of Blue Ridge Mountains from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Blue Ridge Parkway provides access to more than 100 trailheads and over 300 miles of trails. It passes through a range of habitats that support more plant species than any other park in the country: over 4,000 species of plants, 2,000 kinds of fungi, 500 types of mosses and lichens, and the most varieties of salamanders anywhere in the world.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia: Skyline Drive

This stunning drive runs a length of 105 miles north and south through Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite its lower latitude, in the winter driving conditions can be rather sketchy, with its altitude bringing in more snow, ice, and cold.

In the summer this ice gives way to views of green rising high out of the Shenandoah Valley. While driving through the elevated winding road, you’ll feel tucked away in the green forest at the top of the ridge and then be rewarded with expansive views of the valley far below at the many scenic viewpoints along the road. In the fall and winter, though, you’ll see even less crowds and even better colors.

Bayou Teche © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana: Bayou Teche Byway

For a road trip that boasts both scenery and history, this is the perfect route. From its southernmost point in Morgan City to its northern end in Arnaudville, the byway crosses beautiful marshes and fields of sugar cane connecting small towns with well-preserved historic districts. Cafés and dance halls serve up Cajun and zydeco music along with boiled crawfish and étouffée.

Road trip planning

Road trips take a little planning. Here are a few tips that will help make your scenic road trip a success:

Worth Pondering…

The journey not the arrival matters.

—T. S. Eliot

America’s Best All-American Roads for your Next Road Trip

Discover America’s All-American roads on your next road trip adventure

There’s nothing quite like packing up your car or recreation vehicle and heading out onto the open road. With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the country, how do you choose where to travel?

In much the same way Congress set aside lands to be protected as national parks, the Department of Transportation has designated a network of spectacular drives that are protected as part of the America’s Byways collection. Currently, the collection contains 184 National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads in 48 states. To become part of the America’s Byways collection, a road must have features that don’t exist anywhere else in the United States and be unique and important enough to be destinations unto themselves.

Without further ado, here are seven of the most scenic All-American Roads for your next road trip adventure.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road

Designation: All-American Road (1996/2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Cultural, Natural

Location: Louisiana

Length: 180 miles

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alligators, over 400 bird species, marshlands teeming with life, 26 miles of natural Gulf of Mexico beaches, fishing, crabbing, Cajun culture, and more can be experienced as you travel along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. Affectionately known as Louisiana’s Outback, the Creole Nature Trail is a journey into one of America’s “Last Great Wildernesses.” Download the free personal tour app (search “creole” in your app store.) Once on the trail, open the app and make sure your location is enabled. It’s like having a personal tour guide in the vehicle with you!

Get more tips for visiting Creole Nature Trail

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock All American Road

Designation: All-American Road (2005)

Intrinsic Qualities: Scenic, Recreation

Location: Arizona

Length: 8 miles

Red Rock Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winding through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, this route is often called a “museum without walls.” The byway winds through the evergreen covered Coconino National Forest and past two famous and beautiful vortexes—Bell Rock and Cathedral Rock. Stop at the several scenic pullouts for great views and enjoy the prehistoric Red Rocks with nearby parking (RV friendly). There are all levels of hiking and biking trails.

Get more tips for visiting Red Rock Scenic Byway

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (1996)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: North Carolina, Virginia

Length: 469 miles

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic roadway offering stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The Parkway meanders for 469 miles, protecting a diversity of plants and animals and providing a variety of recreation opportunities for enjoying all that makes the Blue Ridge Mountains so special.

Get more tips for visiting Blue Ridge Parkway

Lakes to Locks Passage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lakes to Locks Passage

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Recreation

Location: New York

Length: 234 miles

Lakes to Locks Passage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the story-filled regions that connect New York’s historic water of Lake Champlain and Lake George with the Champlain Canal and Hudson River to the south and the Chambly Canal to the Richelieu and St. Lawrence Rivers of Quebec to the north.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. This exceptional route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys ranging from 4,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level. This All-American Road connects US-89 near Panguitch on the west with SR-24 near Torrey on the northeast. It is not the quickest route between these two points but it far and away the best.

Get more tips for visiting Scenic Byway 12

A1A Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway

Designation: All-American Road (2002/2021)

Intrinsic Qualities: Recreation, Historic

Location: Florida

Length: 72 miles

A1A Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the northern boundary of St. Johns County, the Byway bisects the seaside luxury and golf mecca known as Ponte Vedra Beach, and weaves through America’s oldest city, St. Augustine; finally ending at the terminus of Flagler County at a seaside park named for a true folk hero, the Gamble Rogers Memorial Park on Flagler Beach, the A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway connects State Parks, National Monuments, stunning beaches, nature trails, boating, fishing, preserves, estuaries and all of America’s diverse people.

Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 143 – Utah’s Patchwork Parkway

Designation: All-American Road (2002)

Intrinsic Qualities: Historic, Scenic

Location: Utah

Length: 123 miles

Patchwork Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few routes in the U.S. exhibit a 4,500-foot elevation change that crosses six major life zones in 51 miles. The route skirts lava flow only a few thousand years old before passing Panguitch Lake, a spectacular, large mountain lake renowned for its excellent fishing. This topmost rise of the geological “Grand Staircase” showcases the 2,000-foot-deep Cedar Breaks amphitheater with its vibrant hues of pink, orange, red, and other coral colors carved from the Claron Formation.

Worth Pondering…

Our four simple rules: No Interstates, no amusement parks, no five-star accommodations, and no franchise food (two words which do not belong in the same sentence!)

—Loren Eyrich, editor/publisher Two-Lane Roads

The Ultimate Guide to Capitol Reef National Park

Discover the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic wrinkle on earth

I’ve often said that all of southern Utah should be protected as national parkland. The entire region is filled with unusual, ornate, and beautiful geologic formations that take shape, color, and texture to a level that is truly beyond comprehension (unless you are a geologist and if that is the case you already know how special Capitol Reef is). The crown jewel of the park is Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, a feature that is often described as a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust resembling a coral reef turned inside out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This one-of-a-kind landscape has sustained human life since long before European settlers knew about it. From the ancient Paleo-Indians who roamed here some 12,000 years ago to the more recent Ute and Southern Paiute peoples who were displaced from it, the land we now know as Capitol Reef has a much deeper and richer history than the average visitor knows.

Capitol Reef is perhaps Utah’s most underrated National Park. The park is about 2.5 hours east of Bryce Canyon via the Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road. Much like Zion, the landscape is centered amid massive red rock cliffs.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated squarely in the desert, Capitol Reef sees less than 10 inches of rain per year though it does experience occasional snowfall during its chilly winter. Daytime temperatures in July and August can climb past the 100 degrees mark but the climate is generally temperate and pleasant with highs in the 40s even in December and January.

Although undeniably remote, Capitol Reef is served by a variety of small gateway towns which offer camping, restaurants, and other attractions to visitors—the closest of which is Torrey. Park-goers can also reach Grover, Teasdale, and Bicknell within a few minutes.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore a wrinkle in space-time—or at least in the earth’s surface—at Capitol Reef. Surrounding the geological wonder known as the Waterpocket Fold, the park is known for its fairytale landscape boasting a variety of landmarks like the Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Cathedral Valley. Capitol Reef National Park is also home to over 2,700 fruit-bearing trees situated in its historic orchards—apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, mulberries, and more are seasonally available for fresh picking.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park and its surrounding areas protected under the Bureau of Land Management are full of canyons, ridges, buttes, badlands, and monoliths creating a 387-mile playground for modern-day explorers while serving up prize shots for landscape photographers. Beyond the natural landscape is a rich cultural past spanning more than a thousand years that was cultivated by the Fremont Indians and later, Mormon settlers who pioneered the park during the turn of the 19th century. Between easy-to-access areas surrounded by undeniable beauty, boundless backcountry wilderness to explore, and interesting local history, it is unsurprising that Capitol Reef National Park sees high visitation numbers despite its off-the-beaten-path location.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like many national parks, Capitol Reef is divided into separate and very distinct areas— Fruita Rural Historic District, Cathedral Valley, and Waterpocket Fold. I’ve outlined them below, there are three, and included some awesome spots to stop at in each of them. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruita Rural Historic District

The Fruita Rural Historic District is the most popular area in the park in terms of visitation. The paved Scenic Drive starting near the visitor center travels 20 miles (out and back) through gorgeous slick rock scenery and provides access along the way to many established trails that trot off into the landscape. There is an important cultural history in this area of the park as well. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The village of Fruita was established along the Fremont River by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s who found there a rich utopia where they could flourish as the Fremont Indians had many centuries prior. The new settlers planted fruit trees along irrigation lines that were dug by the Fremont culture, trees that remain today. With that, an opportune first stop… 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruita Orchards

The Fruita Orchards are a popular place during the spring, summer, and fall when parkgoers file into the valley to harvest peaches, apricots, and apples. Anyone is welcome to visit open areas to sample and harvest fruit for a small fee. Healthy snacks for the trail! 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyphs of the Fremont Culture

Carved into the sandstone formations in Fruita is the Fremont Petroglyphs, chipped rock art depicting animals, people, shapes, and other forms indicative of their hunter/gatherer existence. The petroglyphs can be seen on several large panels east of the park visitor center on UT Highway 24. There is parking, a boardwalk, and viewing platforms making it easy for all to catch a glimpse of the intriguing relics.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hickman Arch

No visit to a Utah national park could be complete without a sandstone arch framing the scenic landscape. The Hickman Bridge is a 133-foot natural bridge with canyon views in all directions. Getting to it is easy with roadside parking on UT 24. The trail to the bridge is a cool 1-mile.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Torrey Log School and Church

The Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS) with the help of local settlers built this one-room log structure in 1898 using natural resources found in the area that included shingles supplied by a local mill and donations of doors and windows from neighboring communities. The structure was used as a school until attendance superseded the space available. The school then evolved into a meeting house for members of the LDS church. The Torrey School and Church are now on the National Register as a historical building. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gifford House

This rural homestead is a classic example of early 20th-century rural Utah farm homes. It was built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908 who occupied it with his family for eight years. Other private owners followed the Pendleton family until eventually, the land became part of the national park. The homestead sits on 200 acres of land and has seven rooms, a barn, and smokehouse, a garden, rock walls, and a pasture. This homestead is a prized example of earlier times and as such has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gifford House is operated today in partnership with the Capitol Reef Natural History Association and the U.S. National Park Service which operate it as a museum and learning center to preserve and to also raise awareness of Utah’s cultural past.  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panorama Point

Panorama Point is an easy turn-off from US 24 and offers exactly what the name suggests—panoramic views in all directions. After following a short walk on a paved path to the top of the hill, fantastic views await particularly so at sunset. It is also a fine place to get a sense of the lay of the land.    

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Valley

The Cathedral Valley area is a backcountry dream where you can get lost in solitude while exploring Utah’s rugged and remote wilderness ecosystems. Not only is the Cathedral Valley area completely stunning but its far-flung location is infrequently visited allowing visitors a respite from crowds found in more accessible areas. There is much to see and do in the Cathedral Valley—driving on primitive roads under big skies, shooting the sunrise at cool formations like the Temple of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, camping and hiking with peace as your guides… it’s amazing out there!  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glass Mountain

One of the coolest sites in the national park is Glass Mountain, a small formation of exposed gypsum made of selenite crystals. The textured mound looks like it is decorated by broad brush strokes of dirt exposing glassy crystals. You can find it next to the Temple of the Moon monolith and plan for at least 30 minutes to explore it. Even though it is relatively small when compared to other features in the park and climbing on its delicate gem is forbidden it is so unique and interesting that you will probably find yourself doing laps around it spellbound by the incredible textured shapes of the gypsum. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gypsum Sinkhole

Five miles from the Cathedral Valley campground is the Gypsum Sinkhole—a 200-foot deep, 50-foot wide chasm that formed when water dissolved the below-ground gypsum foundation allowing the site to cave in. It is astounding to stand over and look down into a depression like this falling so deep into the Earth, a reminder of the forces of nature always at work beneath the planetary surface. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morrell Cabin

The historic Morrell Cabin and Corral in Cathedral Valley sheds light on how this area has been used during the last century. It was built in the 1920s on Thousand Lake Mountain by a wealthy landowner named Paul Christensen and was moved during the 1930s to its current location in the Cathedral Valley by Lesley Morrell. Locally known as “Les’s Cabin,” it once served as a stop along for cattle ranchers traveling to and from Thousand Lake Mountain where they could eat, sleep, rest, and refuel. The National Park Service purchased the site in 1970. It is listed today on the National Registrar of Historic Places.  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waterpocket Fold

Waterpocket Fold, the geologic feature, is a 100-mile rocky spine extending from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. Its technical name is a monocline which citing the Oxford Dictionary is a “bend in rock strata that is otherwise uniformly dipping or horizontal.”

Waterpocket Fold, the area, is the least visited section of the national park. It has few services and few marked trails that are of course highly enticing for backpackers who want to head out into the wilderness to get lost. The Halls Creek Narrows and the Lower Muley Twist Canyon are two of the most popular spots in the park to set off from on a backpacking adventure.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 37,711 acres

Date established: December 18, 1971 (designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a National Monument in 1937) 

Location: South-central Utah

Designation: Certified IDA International Dark Sky Park

Park elevation: 3,687 feet to 11,574 feet, alverag elevation is 6,384 feet 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: $20/vehicle, valid for 7 days

Camping fee: $25

Recreational visits (2021): 1,405,353

How the park got its name: Capitol Reef was given its name for the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resemble the domes of the capitol buildings found throughout the United States and for the rocky cliff formations, the “reef,” which presents a barrier to travel through this rugged terrain just as it does in the sea. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: The massive monolith formations found in the Cathedral Valley look like church cathedrals as their name suggests and jump out from the backdrop like the subject of a children’s pop-up book. The 57-mile loop drive taken to get there passes through the San Rafael Swell, an all-terrain environment that takes some commitment (and a high clearance vehicle) to get to. The most well-known “cathedrals” are the 400-foot high Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, each of which captures beautiful golden light during both sunrise and sunset depending on where you stand.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: Ancient past meets modern present for auto-tourists along the paved park road (UT 24) and Scenic Drive, two separate roads that wind through the heart of the park in the Fruita Rural Historic District. These roads bring visitors passed rivers, valleys, orchards, historical rural buildings, petroglyphs, and aside formations made of sedimentary rock that is 225 million years old. There are nearly 40 established trails throughout the Fruita area as well as plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled and drive safely.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

Utah is home to what the state calls “The Mighty 5” —Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef National Parks.

The nearest traffic light to Capitol Reef National Park is 78 miles away.

There is no formal entrance to the national park. Payment is due at the visitor center and you are on your honor. Have honor!

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10 sites in Capitol Reef National Park on the National Registrar of Historic Places. 

Capitol Reef is approximately 60 miles long and about 6 miles wide.

Waterpocket Fold is nearly 100 miles long.

Most of Capitol Reef is made of sedimentary strata rock ranging in age from 270 to 80 million years old.  

There are 239 recorded bird species in the national park.

Worth Pondering…

 …of what value are objects of a past people if we don’t allow ourselves to be touched by them. They are alive. They have a voice. They remind us what it means to be human; that it is our nature to survive, to be resourceful, to be attentive to the world we live in.

—Terry Tempest Williams, Exploring the Fremont

Bryce Canyon National Park: 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

Red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Contrary to what its name suggests, Bryce is not one canyon but a series of natural bowls filled with hoodoos (tall columns of rocks) carved into the edge of a high plateau. This otherworldly geology is enough of a reason to visit, but it’s not the only one. Far from major cities and in the higher elevations of the American Southwest, Bryce offers dark skies for stargazing and lots of wildlife.

Home to the largest concentration of hoodoos on Earth, Bryce Canyon is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. More than two million people visit Bryce each year with most staying at least one full day, if not longer. No matter how long you stay, some planning will help you make the most of your visit.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are 5 things to know before visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.

1. Each Season Has Its Pros and Cons

The best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is between June and September when temperatures are between the high 60s and low 80s. Because of the pleasant weather, this is also the high season. If you’re planning on visiting during this time plan in advance and prepare to encounter crowds. In July and August, you can expect frequent thunderstorms, but they don’t last long.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shoulder seasons of May and October are a bit cooler—reaching freezing temperatures at night but still pleasant during the day.

If you don’t mind colder temperatures and want to visit during a quieter time you visit in April or November. Temperatures during this time are lower but still pleasant during the day—generally in the 50s during the day and at times reaching the high 60s but below freezing at night.

Bryce is beautiful in the middle of winter when it is covered with snow and you might find yourself alone there. The restaurant and the lodge are closed, however, so if you visit during this time, make sure you have a place to stay and eat outside the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. There Are a Variety of Accommodation Options

You have a choice of two national park campgrounds both with ample space for RVs and tents; no electrical, water, or sewer hookups. North Campground has 99 sites all available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Loop A of this campground is open year-round. Sunset Campground provides 100 sites available April-October with peak-season reservations through recreation.gov.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

For those not traveling with an RV, the best place to stay in the park is the historic Lodge at Bryce Canyon built in 1925 between Sunset and Sunrise Points. The restaurant at the lodge is also the best place to eat. You should book a room at the lodge in advance, up to a month ahead at the very least.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. You’ll need To Drive a While to Get There

Bryce Canyon National Park is about 270 miles (a 4-hour drive) from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. No matter what direction you are coming from, you’ll need to get to U.S. Route 89, then take the Utah Scenic Byway 12 east, and finally head south on Utah State Route 63.

You’ll be driving for hours in the middle of nowhere, passing through small towns that seem to have been forgotten by time. You’ll also drive through some of the most beautiful, otherworldly parts of the Southwest.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro Tip: Combine your trip to Bryce Canyon with a trip to Zion National Park, 72 miles south of Bryce. About 14 miles before the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, stop at Red Canyon for a short walk among red-rock hoodoos. Alternately, plan to combine your visit to Bryce Canyon with a trip to less crowded Capitol Reef National Park over Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Stop at the Visitor Center before Exploring the Park

Your first stop at any national park should be the visitor center where you can learn about the geology, flora, fauna, and history of Bryce Canyon. Visit the museum and the hands-on exhibits to learn how the iconic hoodoos were formed and about the different layers of life in and around Bryce Canyon from fossils to current wildlife. At the visitor center, you can pick up a map of the park and find out what ranger programs are being offered.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are visiting between April and October and staying outside the park leave your car and take the free shuttle to the visitor center.

Pro Tip: Fill up your reusable water bottle at the visitor center. If you didn’t bring one, it’s worth buying one at the gift shop since you can fill it up at all the trailheads and viewpoints.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: 11 Tips for Visiting a National Park this Summer

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Take Advantage of the Ranger Programs

The park offers daily ranger programs from guided rim walks to geology talks to evening programs at the lodge and the campgrounds. Check out the ranger programs board at the visitor center if you’re interested. While for most programs you can just show up, a few require that participants sign up in advance.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Zane Grey